‘Round the Salthill Prom

Once again, the only time I’ve found to write real posts is in transit — there’s not much else to do after a while when you’re only an hour in on a three-hour journey between one Irish city and the next.  We’re on our way to Dublin now, the last of five stops on our two-week journey through Sweden and Ireland.  I can’t believe how wonderful everything has been so far, and am excited to finally be in Dublin at the end of this adventure.

We’re leaving Galway today, and it was our longest stop in Ireland:  arriving on Friday afternoon, we then spent two full days in the small coastal city before boarding a bus this Monday morning at 10:30 to head onwards to the Republic’s capital. And what a lovely weekend it was, indeed.  Though we left Donegal in utterly miserable weather, it did clear up quite nicely by the time we got into Galway City on Friday afternoon and it lasted well into Saturday before the wind blew the clouds back in.  Sunday was full of blustery winds and clouds, although the rain didn’t come back until late last night.  So, weather-wise for the West Coast of Ireland, Galway was rather kind to us.

 

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Low tide below the Spanish Arches looking out onto Galway Bay.

If the Salthill looked anything like it did a couple of days ago when the girl from the song met the boy, I don’t blame him for falling madly in love with her right then and there.  I mean, look at it on a beautiful sunny morning:

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I do love Galway and am glad we took two full days in this small city.  Our B&B this time around did, naturally, include an Irish fry-up with black and white pudding — both of which proved that when done right, a breakfast pud can be quite tasty and highly enjoyable to eat. At any rate, we were always well-fed first thing in the morning and made ready for long hours of exploring.  And, for a city so small, there’s still lots to see and do.

This region is home to the world-famous Claddagh Ring — the heart, crown, and hands symbolizing love, loyalty, and friendship — and, as such, Galway City is full of souvenir shops selling this particular ware as well as numerous family-owned jewellery shops where the rings are still hand-crafted in small batches of each family’s distinct designs.  My travel partner got hers up at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold  and I found mine down at Claddagh & Celtic.  Wherever you do decide to get yours, one of these is probably your best bet for a fair price for hand-crafted silver and gold; other stores ranging from tourist shops to high-end jewellers didn’t seem to have quite the same caliber of quality for the prices listed, and either shop we went to you’ll be treated to the more intimate experience of meeting the crafters who make it their business, literally, to keep a strong Galway tradition alive and authentic.

If bookshops of the world are your thing, Charlie Byrne’s is your best bet.  With stock ranging from antique (World Book 1865, full set) to hot bestsellers from last week’s New York Times, and covering every topic, genre, and area of interest you can imagine, Charlie Byrne’s offers bookworms from all over a haven from tourist traps and large crowds.  Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves groan with knowledge and wonder and endless hours of potential.  This is where I found a beautiful green leather-bound edition of the works of Tennyson for the princely sum of €4.  Given more time, money, and room in my luggage I would have bought more. Way more.

As with any tourist stop in Ireland, Galway is full of pubs and restaurants. We took two dinners at The Daíl Bar for our Ireland pub-grub-and-pint fix, and one dinner at Eastern Tandoori to break up Isles meat-and-stodge with the aromatic spices and tender meats of Indian cuisine.  Both are equally enjoyable (the seafood chowder at the Daíl is amazing and chock-full of sea-fresh fare, while classic dishes like balti and patala at Eastern Tandoori are flavourful masterpieces that serve as a lovely departure from pub f00d).  On a longer trip with a deeper pocketbook, there are many other places dubbed “foodie stops” for you to try, and so if you do go to Galway City I’d highly encourage you to look up the restaurants online and try a few new ones for yourself as well.

On Sunday after Mass at the Galway Cathedral I had “alone time” in the city, and I had vague romantic notions of going down to the Salthill and finding a large rock on the beach upon which to perch and write some postcards and more entries in my travel journal.  However, the wind literally blew all those fancies out of my head as soon as I hit the Salthill, and I made a valiant effort indeed in walking as far as I did on the beach before making a hasty retreat back into town towards hot tea — and, because bracing oneself against gales off the sea actually does use up a lot of energy, a nice lunch.

My travel companion has been to Galway before and already knew some of its delicious secrets — in the case of Cupán Tae, quite literally – and I’m happy that she was eager to share them with me. In the case of this cosy, shabby-chic tea house facing the bay, I was so enamoured after one round of hot tea and fruit scones that after coming back form the Salthill on Sunday afternoon I beelined straight for the shop to enjoy another full pot of tea, a scone sandwich, and a slice of carrot cake during a long, leisurely lunch. Heaven on Earth does exist if you look hard enough, and I’m rather convinced that a corner of it is to be found at Cupán Tae.

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A pot of Emerald Isle brew (black tea with notes of whiskey and cocoa, followed by a creamy vanilla finish) and fruit scones for round one at Cupán Tae.

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Ham-and-cheese sandwich served with greens, red onion, and tomato on a savoury rosemary scone — perfect for lunch with a pot of Dreamy Creamy Galway bend (black tea with roasted coffee beans and jasmine flowers, with a creamy-smooth and aromatic finish).

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What else do you do when you’ve finished your lunch but still have half a pot of tea left?  Indulging in a slice of homemade carrot cake was a perfect way to finish my solo experience at Cupán Tae.  It came highly recommended by one of the serves who hailed it as her favourite slice in the whole shop, and I’m inclined to agree with her.  www.cupantae.eu for more info and to order online, if you can’t wait to get there in person, and @cupantaegalway for social media.

All in all, Galway was good to us — so good, in fact, that it will definitely be a permanent stop on all future tours of the Emerald Isle I’ll be taking in the future.  As we head into Dublin for the final stretch of our journey, I’m leaving Galway with many fond memories and the added bonus of seeing this small city in the September sunshine.

 

A full, rich day

We slept in on Friday morning — a well-earned lie-in, because ever since Wednesday evening we’d been on the move from YUL through CDG to ARL, not to mention getting into Danderyd via Stockholm (roundabout, to say the least).  Our first Airbnb booking for Sweden turned out to be a studio apartment renovated from a basement mudroom off the garage of a quaint yellow family home.  Danderyd, being a rather affluent Swedish suburb, offered us quite a scenic walk from our rental to the Tunnelbana in Mörby Centrum.   Getting between Central Stockholm and Danderyd was much easier on Friday compared to navigating the system on Thursday, and on Friday once we hit Central Stockholm we walked down from the station into Gamla Stan.

Oh, Gamla Stan!  I love the “old town” of cities, and make it a point not only to visit my own in MTL often but to also explore those of the few other places I’ve been to during my shorter travels.  There’s something exhilarating about being in such an old place: older than any city I’ve ever walked in, as its earliest strata is somewhere in the 13th Century while most of what’s visible now dates from the 16th and 17th.  As Elizabeth Kostova wrote in The Historian,  For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”  

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These #leadinglines in #Stockholm, #Sweden that I found in #GamlaStan along #Skeppsbrokajen show my first steps on roads older than anything I’ve ever known back home in Canada, maybe even including Canada itself… A loving reminder from this #venerable #city to a #young #traveler:  to trust the journey, to bloom where she is planted, to always remember that the #curiosity of a hungry mind and a wild heart can only be satisfied by actually going out there and doing something to gain #knowledge.  

 

As this was our first full day in the environs of Stockholm before heading into central Sweden for the weekend, we were quite pleased that the weather blessed us with lots of sunshine and a bit of a breeze for our hours-long stroll through Gamla Stan.  After numerous times reminding each other that “we have time – we’re on vacation” my companion and I finally let go of any vague notions of an actual itinerary and just wandered through narrow cobbled streets, popping in and out of stores as we pleased and even picking up a few things on the way.

After walking down and seeing about six or seven “cafés” we clued in that around here, it seems that the word is used to describe a place that serves coffee as well as real bistro menus, we finally settled on stopping at an actual “just coffee” shop.  We had our first official Swedish fika at a café at Stora Nygatan 6 — Naturbageriet Sattva — where you can find organic pastries (including gluten-free, sugar-free, and even a few vegan options), pretty good coffee and tea, and a cosy table for two inside or out.  We opted for outside, enjoying coffees and a cinnamon roll as we chatted and people-watched during a long, long fika.  I myself had nearly forgotten the pleasures afforded by long coffees with old friends, and by the time we were ready to hit the stones once more I felt refreshed and bright.

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A little ways down the road, we stumbled upon a boutique selling household linen products that proudly bore the phrase, “Made in Sweden.”  Knowing my BigSis is back home planning her future nest with her fiancé, I had to stop in and take a closer look at what was afforded at HAPPYsthlm, Stora Nygatan 36. I ended up buying her two tea towels, both made from a lightweight pure cotton, one of which in a navy-blue and bright tomato-red print of birds and florals that seems to be one of the shop’s signature designs.  Not only was it on household linens of all sizes, but also on other products inside including various forms of stationery and ready-to-frame prints.

 

After lunching on a park bench across from the Riddarhuset, we took a roundabout route back down Stora Nygatan to Skeppsbrokajen, circling up around the eastern side of Gamla Stan past the Royal Palace.  Crossing over Strömbron, we strolled through the Kungsträdgården where my knowledge of Swedish kings (gained from the odd mixture of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex and my own mother’s hobby of studying world royalties) came in rather handy.

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Karl XII / Charles XII of Sweden — also known as Carolus Rex.  He ruled from 1697 to 1718, from the age of 15 until death by bullet to the head.  To this day it’s unclear whether enemy or friendly fire ended his reign, during which he was known for his moral austerity and brilliant campaigning on the battlefield.  A staunch believer in the Divine Right, his death marked the end of autocratic rule in Sweden and was followed swiftly by the Age of Liberty. 

Nearly 20 000 steps later, we made it back to Danderyd where we passed the evening editing photos, discussing further all the sights we had seen, and planning out our next day’s worth of travelling.  In fact, I’m tucked safely into my seat on the train towards Falun, where we’ll arrive soon to spend the weekend with an old, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for literally half my life but have never yet met.  I’m excited beyond words to finally make a face-to-face connection with him, as over the years he’s been a loyal and kind soul through my most difficult experiences.

So far this vacation has been so much more than just “time away” from both of my jobs.  It’s been about discovering more of my truest and best self, about finally turning dreams into reality, and about bringing the best of what I’ve already experienced in life with me to get the most out of what’s new.  It might be rather rainy and  chilly right now outside the train window, but my heart is warm and cosy.  This trip has been everything I wanted it to be, and more besides, and that bodes well for the remainder.

Good thing, too, as I’m flying home from Dublin on the 14th!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

The Food of Love

Most of my defining moments happened around the family dinner table, mainly because my parents raised my siblings and me on a steady diet of hearty home-cooked meals eaten as a single family unit every night of the week.  The family dinner table was where I learned life skills like the art of conversation, proper mealtime etiquette, and how to appreciate every morsel of food put in front of me — especially when I did not like it.  It was also where I learned how to value the time and effort of others, and how to give back to them in kind.

The dinner table of my childhood still stands in my mother’s home today and is a stately piece carved from narra wood, the national tree of the Philippines, that my parents shipped over from the Philippines to Canada when we emigrated in 1992.  I find it rather poignant and highly suitable that a Filipino family gathered daily around a table made from our homeland’s national tree, especially considering that everyone who’s taken a seat around it has helped build and strengthen the bridge between the old world and the new.

No matter where they started, family discussions always ended around the dinner table.  Get-togethers with friends and extended family also inevitably ended there, particularly during the summer months when the conversations of day-long barbecues outlasted the last encore of crickets.  Holidays never really saw us leaving it, except of course to clear away empty serving dishes and dirty plates only to return with more food and clean flatware. We ate around it as a family in both immediate and extended forms, adding not one but two leaves on countless occasions to accommodate more guests.  As a baby my nephew crawled on it in between mealtimes, we older folks standing on all sides to keep him from zooming off its polished top; as a toddler, he crawled and then ran under it before whacking his head one day on the edge.  Our dogs sat beneath it as we ate, often indulging in morsels that fell (or were surreptitiously held) under it.  We presented new friends and partners to one another around it, the “others” sizing “us” up against the yardsticks which we ourselves had measured our own progress as sociable human beings.  ((And, when not in use for its original function, my mother used it to sew clothes and curtains and sheets while we put together school projects.))

Nowadays, eating out is a slightly more frequent occurrence than it used to be during my youth and I don’t get many chances to join my mother and BigSis (and now, her boyfriend) around any table, but the family dinner is still integral to our relationship.  More recently than my BigSis, I too have started bringing my own new boyfriend along to dinner, and seeing his face around our table along with the faces of those who know me and love me best warms my heart immensely.

Last week we all went out to Junior, a Filipino restaurant on Rue Notre-Dame .  It was a grand occasion, mostly because MiddleSis and Nephew are in town as well.  As a kid I grew up desperately wanting to eat the North American fare that my classmates and neighbour-kids always tucked into instead of the dishes of islands I couldn’t even remember, but these days my more matured palate can’t get enough of the flavours and textures packed into Filipino food. I love the crisp saltiness of lechon kawali mixing with the tangy sweetness of Mang Tomas sauce; the heat and crunch of a sizzling sisig tempered only slightly by mayo and white rice; the limey zing of a fried bangus served whole, minus the needle-sharp bones of course.  Even the alarmingly sweetness and chewiness of sticky suman dipped into matamis na bao or the cold crunch of shaved ice mixed with ice cream, evaporated milk, sweet beans, young coconut flesh, fruit jellies, and jackfruit – in other words, halo-halo – seem to hit the spot on my cravings so much more accurately than North American desserts these days.

What  I loved most about this latest outing to Junior was that my new boyfriend – an Xth generation Quebecois from Sherbrooke whose Irish, French, and German roots stretch back a few centuries – is a good eater who thoroughly enjoyed the best of my homeland’s cuisine.  Of course it helps immensely that Junior is hands-down the best Filipino food you can get in the city, but even the greatest  and tastiest dishes can be lost on an unappreciative palate. I’ve witnessed it before with past boyfriends:  the polite smile with a barely-discernible trace of apprehension or even dismay at what’s on the Filipino table; the thinly-veiled suspicion of any meat that isn’t instantly recognizable as beef, pork, chicken, or fish; the staunch refusal to even try one mouthful of something new.  That is definitely not the case with this one, which in my book makes him a true keeper.

My family is somewhat leery of picky eaters, and not without good reason. Clearly, since I’ve just spent a few hundred words on the subject, our family dinner is a sacred and precious ritual, and those we invite to partake in food, drink, and company are not only invited to witness them but are indeed being welcomed into our family’s most intimate and telling moments.

But for me, having grown up with one foot in Canada and one occasionally still on the boat back to the Philippines, it means the world to have a non-Filipino partner with whom I can share my cultural roots on every level – especially when it comes to the weird food I have grown to love and re-adopt as “my own.”

The story of my family was written around that narra table; the story of the Philippines, by Spain’s use of the islands as a gateway to the New World.  In both cases food played a huge role in the shaping of such narratives, the exploration and development of which appeal to me as both an amateur writer and as an enthusiastic food-lover.  I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky and rather blessed to have grown up at a table that always had homemade meals upon it, especially from a cuisine that like the table itself was brought over from the home islands to the True North, Strong and Free more than twenty years ago.  And I certainly can’t help but feel extremely proud to share that table now, in all its laden groaning glory, with a person who will add his own words – his own chapter of the story – to that warm and loving narrative.

Shakespeare called music the food of love, but in this family the food of love is the food itself as well as the company we keep when we partake of it around our narra table.

Cookies for a Cause

Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday over on my side of the world and, as has been the case since 2012, it’s another occasion in the year for me to remember my father and reflect upon his legacy.

This year, though, there’s the added element of my favourite first brother now also being a father – so of course the question of my father’s legacy and what we, his children, inherited from him is rather in the forefront of my mind. These are the thoughts and ideals and pieces of wisdom we’re supposed to pass on to our children, after all.  And while I don’t have children of my own I am an aunt (twice over now) and that, perish the thought, means at some point in the future my niece will be following in her older cousin’s footsteps and asking me questions.

I’m very close to my nephew, and maybe that’s why when I consider what my father left behind I immediately look over at my sister and brother-in-law, and then at this twelve-year-old boy. This kid came into our lives twelve years ago on our dad’s forty-ninth birthday and though his memories of his beloved “Grampy” are of a child, it’s up to him to give his younger cousin (hopefully that’ll be plural someday) the grandchild’s view of the man who raised their adults, filling in the gaps of the grown-ups’ memories with his own.

And although his time with Grampy – to us older folk, Poppie – was short indeed, my dad’s legacy of faith, hope, and love was passed down to this kid through my sister and her husband. I’ve always been aware of this because I’ve witnessed my nephew’s big heart in action before, but this week just how much of that heart is like Poppie’s hit me in full force.

My nephew has decided to take a stab at summer entrepreneurship, but he’s foregoing the lemonade stand in favour of chocolate chip cookies sold to raise funds not for more NERF Guns but rather for Parkinson’s research. I think chocolate chip cookies are a suitable choice, as my father loved sweets and would never say no to anything we’d make for him.

This is the disease that affected Poppie’s life for the better part of fourteen years, creating the conditions in which the entire family’s strength of faith, hope, and love was constantly tested. This is the disease that robbed Poppie of his motor functions and slowed down his ability to speak, but in turn gave him more time to sit still, ponder the wisdom he could give to his children, spouse, and friends, and learn to use his daily struggle greater purpose of teaching compassion, understanding, and fortitude to others, as well as to teach those around him the value of every human life.

It’s a disease that doesn’t get much attention compared to cancer or diabetes, but affects life for all involved in profound ways just the same. It’s a disease whose slow but steady progress in research has now, four years after my father’s passing, only just started producing better, more focused, and more grounded forms of treatment and management for those diagnosed.  There is still a long way to go before Parkinson’s is conquered and those physicians charged with treating it are able to give their patients a course of treatment that truly does give them back a normal standard of living, but without big hearts willing to do small things like baking cookies or selling flowers or running miles to raise funds, I don’t think even my father’s difficult journey would have been anywhere half as manageable as it would have been.

If you are in the greater Cincinnati area and would like to part with a few dollars for some amazing cookies for a worthy cause, please send an email to the address listed below. I don’t know yet if my nephew will be taking out-of-region orders, which has been suggested by many family friends on social media, but in the meantime if you would like to find out more about Parkinson’s and even donate, I invite you to check out the links below.

 


 

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – “Dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson’s Disease within this decade”

Parkinson Canada – “Support and Hope to Canadians with Parkinson’s Disease”

National Parkinson Foundation and Understanding Parkinson’s

 

Trusting the journey

One of the constants in my life has been, and I hope always will be, the lovely cacophony of different languages spoken by my nearest and dearest. Even though English is my mother tongue and that of my parents, I still grew up to the almost sing-song quality of the Tagalog my parents, older sisters, and extended older family spoke.

Going to school in English and French alongside a myriad of foreign exchange students and being a young pioneer of internet music forums added new sounds and writing systems to this wonderful confusion: English from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand have mixed with Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Bulgarian in my ears over the years.  And they’ve all been interwoven with my own English, French, and (albeit limited) Tagalog in my mind into a warm blanket for my heart.

Being exposed to so many different cultures through these friendships, along with all the books I ravenously devoured in my spare time, awakened my sense of wanderlust at a young age and I’ve been longing to travel ever since. And finally, after more than a decade of such yearning, I’m finally able to do something about it.  The problem is that there are too many places to go to – a good problem to have, I know – especially with a Canadian passport, but at some point plane ticket prices start creeping even higher.

Choices needed to be made, and I’ve finally made them…and come September my well-worn boots will stir up the dust of older lands when I set foot in Sweden and Ireland. More than a decade after first messaging them on online music forums, I’ll finally be able to bother some of the humans I love best in this world right to their faces.  (Sorry in advance, guys.)

In all seriousness though, life is all about the journeys we make. Internal or external, it’s more than just about getting from Point A to Point B.  It’s about experiencing to the fullest what’s in between Point A and Point B, and if you have to take some detours along the way that’s not always a bad thing.  The scenic route always leaves lasting memories, after all.  As long as we keep making our away, eventually we’ll arrive precisely when we mean to and as the people we were meant to be when we get there.

The current leg of the adventure of my life has been a long one. It’s lasted a few years and the last two have been particularly fraught with uncertainty and worry, life-changing events and realizations, and daily struggles with my personal sense of identity.  In the last few months, I’ve had to throw a lot of things out the window, especially particular opinions, prejudices, and beliefs whose origins I could not discern.  Did these views come from me, or from others?  Were these things my true views, or did I adopt them in order to be accepted?  How authentic was I really, and how much of my identity was made for me by someone else?

Doing my internal spring cleaning has led to new discoveries about what I’m really made of and therefore who I really am. As a friend of mine told me once, “Trust the journey.”  And to me, the first step on that journey was learning to trust myself enough to start over from scratch.

I am a free spirit. To be happy, I need to know that the final decisions of my life come from within me and are made under circumstances where I feel totally informed and totally free to choose in the first place.  With this comes a personal need for openness to curiosity and exploration, to informing and educating myself about the world beyond my social bubbles, and to forging my best self out of what I have learned in this process.  I know my foundation intimately – what it is made of and where I stand on it – and I know it is sturdy enough to build a new self upon.

I also came to realize that I am made with a wild heart. A wild heart takes in and learns to cherish every experience.  A wild heart loves passionately and lives exuberantly.  A wild heart cuts all of the strings that would keep it flying in circles but still carries what’s necessary for the journey.  And a wild heart can’t be broken.

Transitions. Changes.  Growth.  A better version of myself, discerned from looking and listening inwards, that can stand firmly upon any physical ground because the internal foundation is strong and well-made.  The road rises up to meet me, and I am on my way.

 

 

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #6: Appointment Television, Healthy Living, and Writing Letters

Appointment Television: At a certain point in my early adolescence, my parents cut the cable to our family room TV. Given that the overall cable viewing schedule of the household was limited to news, educational programs, and family-friendly TV shows, I didn’t really miss it. My classmates would fill me in on what was currently happening on TV anyway when we should have been conjugating irregular French verbs or solving for X, so I never really felt like I was missing out to the point of being culturally irrelevant.

I really got into British programming during university thanks to my parents finally re-entering the current century by installing a dish as well as online streaming services like Netflix, but as a working full-time double major undergrad I didn’t have much time to really expand my TV schedule beyond the few tried and tested classics of my youth and the new shows I really got into in between semesters.

And even now, as a two-job working stiff of a gymrat, I don’t have a whole lot more free time for TV – which is more problematic now than it used to be because missing out on all the new shows and not having a regular time slot for friends to catch me up means I actually do run the risk of being culturally irrelevant insofar as television is concerned.

Praise the Lord, then, for Appointment Television. It’s a podcast all about the TV you should be making time for, and because it’s produced by a trio of hardcore television watchers (my lovely friend Margaret H. Willison and her co-hosts, Katherine van Arendonk and Andrew Cunningham) it means that it’s a trustworthy source of a variety of recommendations, information about TV I really should know more about, and explanations as to why some shows really are as important for society as their fandoms say they are.

Take the segment “TV vs TV” for example, in which two shows of similar premise, style, and production are put head-to-head on trial to determine which is the better production. In fact, the first episode of Appointment Television included this segment and put Star Trek: The Next Generation against Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Now, I would have kept listening simply because Margaret is on this podcast but the fact that Andrew and Katherine were able to succinctly explain the differences between two separate series of a complex universe with a hot-blooded fandom in a way that I, a staunch non-Trekkie, was able to kind of get why any iteration of Star Trek has cultural relevance is what really got me hooked from the get-go.

The other segment I really love is “TV Book Club,” which has broadened my viewing scope because I just don’t want to be left out of anything these guys think is cool to watch. After experiencing Terriers and Black Mirror because of Appointment TV (in retro-listen, as I jumped on the bandwagon after the podcast was already well on its way) I’m now current with the podcast itself as well as with the current TV Book Club series, Bunheads.

Go check out Appointment Television now. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.

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Healthy Living: After the holidays it’s always tough to get back into the routines of everyday life, but I’m so glad that I’m finally resettled into my usual rhythm of working out, eating clean, and giving it all 100% to continue my transformation.

I’ve written at length about why this new lifestyle is so important to me and if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m one of “those” people who post workout selfies, food photos, and hashtag the holy crap out of words and phrases like transformation, girlsworkouttoo, legday, cardio, workout, girlswholift, gettingfit, eatclean, homemade…and so on and so forth.

After years of constantly making unhealthy choices (physically and nutritionally as well as emotionally and spiritually), I stand here in 2016 as somebody who is done with toxic living on all those levels. I’m so much happier, stronger, and wiser now than I ever have been before – and especially than I was this time last year.

My daily hour at the gym is one of the few I have on any given day that’s entirely all to myself that doesn’t involve sleeping, so I tend to try and make the most out of it.  I’m actually getting to a point in my journey where I can legitimately start pointing out all my “gains” – namely those “booty gains” (I’m telling you now, women who look good in yoga pants do more lifting than yoga) – and where people I’ve known for a while  are pointing them out to me.

2016 is already shaping up to be full of new fitness challenges and goals, and new milestones to work towards every day.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity and the means to take control of my health and wellness when I did because now I can’t imagine having ever made it through the last year with the self-empowerment I’ve gained and all the support my gym family gave me.

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Writing Letters: Those of you who drop by on a regular basis will know that another part of my 2016 Resolutions involved writing letters to anyone and everyone who would ask me for one. The first person to officially take me up on this offer was one of my friends from Job2, Frederique. She and I were hired at Job2 in the same group back in 2011, and she’s never been anything but an awesome friend. I’m so glad that the first piece of mail in my letter campaign was for her; she was my first real friend at the store when we got hired and she is such a joy to know.

I’ve got a few more letters on the way to other people who have given me their addresses and I hope each envelope contains in it as much joy for those recipients as the one I sent to Frederique. Handwritten letters are one of the greatest little pleasures of my life. Whether it’s writing them or receiving them, I love how letters are tangible evidence of the connections between two people and two places. I write these letters in the hope that something I have to say could touch a life, and therefore make two lives all the more better for the sharing of one talent.

My offers to send you handwritten letters still stands and will continue to stand into the foreseeable future, so please don’t be shy to let me know if you’d like one!

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That’s all for this week’s instalment of “In Pursuit of Happiness.”  Keep on finding the happiness in the little things around you, and I’ll be back soon with a proper post – I promise!