Life & Death

In a nutshell, this post is about death.

It’s a difficult topic to talk about. It happens everyday, yet we never expect it to happen to our loved ones. When it does, it’s like the ground opens up from beneath us and we feel a loss that leaves a deep, irreplaceable hole in our hearts. Knowing we’ll never see that person again is probably the most difficult part of all; if we didn’t get to say our final goodbyes, that feeling of regret is something that stays with us forever.

Recently, a young man in my religious community was involved in a fatal accident. I never met him or his family, but my parents did and were able to attend his funeral. He was just 19 years old. When something so tragic happens to someone so young, there are no words to describe how unfair it is that that person didn’t get to live the long life they deserved. There were 2000 people at this young man’s funeral, though I’m sure that was just a fraction of the people who knew and loved him. From what I understand, he was a great son, a great friend, and a great brother. The sad part is that he’ll never get the chance to become a great father, a great husband, and a great grandpa. Life can be unfair, and what’s more, death can be unfair.

One of my favourite aunts passed away when I was in high school, and although I still carry that sadness around with me, I feel lucky that we knew her death was coming. Yes, she was young and vibrant. Yes, seeing her health deteriorate was incredibly hard to witness and is something I’ll never recover from. But we were given a chance to say goodbye, unlike the family of this young man. It is so horribly cruel that their goodbyes had to be at his funeral, after he was already gone.

I didn’t look into my aunt’s open casket at her funeral because I wanted to remember her in her prime: beautiful and happy, with a permanent smile that truly lit up rooms. I think of her as a ray of sunshine. That may not make sense to you, but to me, that’s just who she was. She was sunshine, to everyone that knew and loved her.

I don’t think we’ll ever understand why good people are taken from us. I like to think it’s because someone “upstairs” needed them more than we do here on Earth, though even that isn’t a good enough explanation. We’ve all known someone who’s passed away, and I think all we can do is to remember them at their best. That’s how they deserve to be remembered: full of love, laughter, and life.

RIP to all of them.

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20 Crazy Facts You Didn’t Know About Canada! 🍁

Made In Canada. Source: swanparadise.com.

Made In Canada. Source: swanparadise.com.

Hey there, fellow Canucks! Today, I hope you’re joining the millions of Canadians whose sole mission is to celebrate this great nation we live in. From BC to NFLD, ladies and gents are barbequing, drinking, swimming, drinking, picnicking…and did I mention drinking? We sure know how to party on this side of the pond! This year, my family-friendly Canada Day will be alcohol-free, but I invite the rest of you to grab a cold beverage (maybe a Molson Canadian if you’re feeling especially patriotic) and enjoy this list of facts you probably didn’t know about Canada.

1. Canada actually got its name by mistake. When French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived in the new world, locals invited him to their “kanata”, meaning “village”. He and his companions thought they meant that the name of their country was “Kanata”, which was later changed to the name we know today.

2. You know that green ink used on American dollar bills? That was invented in the 1850s at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

3. Toronto, Ontario is home to the longest street in the world. Yonge Street stretches from Lake Ontario to Minnesota; that’s almost 2000 km.

4. Canada holds the record for most gold medals won at one Winter Olympics with 14 Golds at the 2010 games. Impressive!

5. St. Paul, Alberta, is home to the world’s first UFO Landing Pad, which was built in 1967.

6. Kids around the world count on Canada Post to answer their Christmas letters on behalf of Santa Claus. Our postal service has replied to more than 1 million letters written in over 30 languages – including braille!

7. Roughly 15,500 of the world’s 25,000 polar bears live right here in Canada. And FYI: we do not ride them to school! Where did that myth come from, anyway?

8. Halifax, Nova Scotia is closer to Dublin, Ireland than it is to Victoria, British Columbia. Think about that for a moment – it’s kind of mind-blowing!

9. The country’s longest place name is Pekwachnamaykoskwaswaypinwanik Lake, in Manitoba. (Try saying that five times fast.)

10. The number of annual car accidents involving moose: 247.

11. Canada has one desert. The 15-mile-long stretch of land located in British Columbia is apparently the only desert in the world that has a boardwalk.

12. We have 20% of the world’s fresh water and more lakes than all other countries combined. It’s safe to say that you’ll never be thirsty here!

13. We take credit for the inventions of basketball, peanut butter, IMAX, Trivial Pursuit, garbage bags, egg cartons, the walkie-talkie, and standard time, to name a few.

14. It is said that Canada produces 80% of the world’s pure maple syrup, most of which is made in Quebec. You’re welcome, world!

15. Halifax has more pubs per capita than any city in Canada. (No wonder it’s home to thousands of out-of-province university students.)

16. More than two billion Tim Hortons coffees are sold each year. Funnily enough, only 56% of Tims customers can roll their r’s.

17. Thought the Loch Ness Monster was the only mysterious lake creature out there? Think again: locals say a fierce water monster named Ogopogo lives in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia.

18. In Dawson City, Yukon, you can join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club by sipping on any beverage, so long as it has a real human toe at the bottom. The club’s motto: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – but the lips have gotta touch the toe.” (Gag.)

19. The beaver has been Canada’s national symbol for over 300 years. Contrary to popular belief, a Canadian snack called a “beaver tail” doesn’t actually include any beaver; it’s a fried pastry made of dough and icing, flattened to look like a beaver tail.

20. Americans have been known to masquerade as Canadians when travelling (seriously), likely due to the hospitality we often encounter simply because of our nationality. We always knew y’all wanted to be more like us!

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for reading! Enjoy the rest of your Canada Day and make sure to keep an eye out for UFOs, polar bears, and Ogopogo. Oh, and fireworks. ;)

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A Day to Celebrate Women…As If We Needed an Excuse!

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! I said this last year and I’ll say it again: please remember to celebrate the women in your life today. Whether it’s your mother, sister, grandmother, daughter, friend, wife, or girlfriend, I’m sure she’ll enjoy a reminder that she’s special to you. Tip: flowers are always appreciated!

Every woman deserves to feel like she’s beautiful, unique, smart, and irreplaceable – you’re a superstar if you already make the women in your life feel like this every day. And ladies, let’s remember that the men in our lives should be made to feel brave and intelligent and appreciated. It goes both ways, right? :)

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Happy New Year!

Ah, 2013. The year we met Prince George, were shocked by the bombings at the Boston Marathon, saw devastation in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, celebrated Obamacare, and said goodbye to Nelson Mandela. It’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? And it’s gone by SO quickly. What are you guys thankful for this year? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? I think my one resolution is to laugh more. :) Though I did stumble upon a blog post the other day that said our end-of-year resolutions are simply a to-do list for the first week of January…I know it sounds a bit pessimistic, but for a lot of us, it’s kind of true! Maybe 2014 will be the year we change that.

I’m off to ring in the new year with my family, but before I go: JibJab, a website notorious for making music videos that poke fun at politicians and celebrities, has posted its 2013 “Year in Review” video (http://www.jibjab.com/originals/2013_what_a_year). It’s worth a view (or two)!

Hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season. Cheers, 2013!

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The Art of A Genuine Smile

A smile is a powerful tool. It can light up your face, trick your mind into believing that you’re in a good mood, and give you a chance to show off your pearly whites. According to numerous surveys and studies, a genuine, lit-from-within grin on your face can make someone’s day and can even make someone fall in love with you. Smiles are insanely contagious; sometimes we don’t even realize that someone else’s happy or excited expression has put a similar expression on our own faces. I saw this short clip today and wanted to share it with all of you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-FNZyVzoJA. If you don’t automatically smile at this heartwarming exchange between a professional hockey player and an overjoyed young fan, you must be made of stone!

If you’re nerdy like me and want to learn more about smiling, here’s an article from http://www.wired.com that delves into some interesting aspects of it: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/science-behind-smiles/. It explains how to tell if someone’s smile is real or fake, if animals possess the ability to smile, and why it benefits our mental health when we turn our frowns upside down. It also mentions that our tendency to display genuine smiles, as opposed to “social” smiles (which some of us force ourselves to wear in public because we think we’re being scrutinized by those around us), can reveal a lot about our personalities. The article also tells us that women and men have very different perceptions of what a big, genuine smile can signify. Most men are attracted to smiling women because they think it’s a sign of flirtatiousness, whereas many women who see men smile are able to assess not just the authenticity of that smile but also its object of affection, whether it’s a woman, a buddy, a child, or a plate of food. Pretty cool, huh?

So, wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re smiling (genuinely!) as you enjoy the winter weather. As for me, I’m off to the Bahamas for a few days – stay tuned for a post about that! (Still working on posts about my May trip to Cuba and September trip to New York City. Have I mentioned that I procrastinate?) Before I sign off, here’s your feel-good quote of the day: “The world is like a mirror; frown at it, and it frowns at you. Smile and it smiles, too.” – Herbert Samuels.

That’s all for me, folks. Until next time! :)

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Remembrance Day: What Does It Really Mean?

In anticipation of Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day in the US), I thought I would write a short blurb about the significance of this day. The sad truth, however, is that I’m not entirely sure of the meaning we should derive from November 11th. I know Canadian soldiers fought for our freedom and that a great number of them were killed amid their efforts to make this country a better place, but what does that mean for us? What’s the lesson to be learned here? It hit me this morning that maybe Remembrance Day is a reminder that life is short and that we should appreciate everything – and everyone – that we have.

We’ve all lost loved ones, from grandparents to close friends to acquaintances we hardly knew yet missed once they were gone. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible these days to turn on the news and not hear of recent tragedies around the world. They’re unavoidable because they happen so often, and it always feels more personal when the tragedy occurs within our home country. So perhaps this Monday is not only a day to remember those brave soldiers who died for their country in the line of duty, but also to remember our deceased loved ones as well as those around the world who have passed away before their time and/or lost personal battles.

That’s not to say that we should spend the 11th being sad and depressed. Here in Canada, we’ll wear our red poppies (seen above) with pride and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and admiration when we think of the courage and commitment of our armed forces. As we do this, maybe we’ll remember to thank our lucky stars for the special people that we have in our lives. Parents, children, significant others, close friends…we’re all so blessed to have them with us, so why not use Remembrance Day as an excuse to remember that?

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Tales from a Grocery Store

Hello again, dear readers. Happy November!

I realize I haven’t blogged in a while, and I’d like to apologize yet again to anyone who visits this page on a regular basis. As of right now, three or four posts are in the works; I plan to get those out within the next month. In the meantime, here’s a short story I wrote last year for a journalism class at King’s. As always, your thoughts, critiques and praises are welcome. Enjoy!

“Tales from a Grocery Store”

A baby screams from his stroller, his mother frantically trying to shush him while balancing eggs, bananas and a carton of milk in her arms. The child inadvertently kicks an ill-placed stack of apples and they tumble off their display and onto the floor, a few of them smashing upon impact, others rolling away to places unknown. The mother looks around for help, but none is to be found; the butcher is not at his station behind the deli counter and there are few customers here today.

“Please stop crying, Jamie,” she says to the baby in a soothing voice, although the look on her face tells me she’s on the verge of tears. “Mommy is so sorry she had to bring you with her today, but Daddy’s on a business trip and our babysitter is on vacation. Can you be a good boy and stop crying for a little while?”

Jamie doesn’t listen to his mother. He continues to scream bloody murder and I realize that my headache from earlier is rapidly getting worse. The mother looks at me imploringly, noticing that I’m not carrying any groceries and that I don’t even have a shopping cart, but I’m busy struggling with the reality that this is how my Sunday has turned out.

I’ve always regarded Sunday as a universal day of rest during which I sleep in, finish my homework and catch up with various TV shows that I missed during the week. However, my roommate Rachel has convinced me that I’ll starve to death if I wait until Tuesday (my usual grocery day) to buy food. Flawed logic aside, I figure there’s some truth to her words which is why I’m with her right now. I’ve only known Rachel for two months, but in this short time it has become clear that the fourth-year Dalhousie student is smart, funny and great at giving advice. Her energy is infectious and I can now personally confirm that she has little trouble convincing people to do things with her, no matter how mundane the activity might be.

We’ve just walked from our house on South Street to the Atlantic Superstore by the waterfront. It’s a surprisingly warm day (for October) and our faces are red from exertion as we survey the empty-looking store before finding shopping carts. As the baby’s shrieks get louder, Rachel makes a beeline for the fruits and vegetables and I follow suit, half-heartedly tossing items into my cart and paying little attention to the price stickers. A minute later, I glance over at Rachel and am slightly alarmed to see that she is using her BlackBerry to take a picture of a large, deformed-looking fruit with dark green skin.

“Don’t mind me. I’m weird sometimes,” she says by way of explanation, then walks over to me and rests her forearms on the edge of my cart. “This store totally has a better selection of veggies than the one on Quinpool Road, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, it does,” I agree. “But here they have about twenty different types of mushrooms and I don’t know which is best for making a stir-fry.”

“I do!” she says enthusiastically, gesturing towards a section of small white mushrooms and handing me a brown paper bag. I take the bag and look at the mushrooms wearily, unsure if they’ll be worth the effort.

“Take ten, and make sure they’re not wimpy-looking,” she instructs me in a businesslike tone. “You can use my sunflower oil to fry them later.”

I thank her as I try to distinguish the wimpy mushrooms from the apparently stoic ones. The baby’s shrieks are getting louder and all I want to do is get home and collapse in front of the TV. I start to wonder if Criminal Minds is on, then suddenly remember that a Friends marathon was scheduled for today.

“Oh my God, Gazalla, we’re missing the Friends marathon right now!” Rachel gasps, somehow reading my mind. “Shit. Think it’ll still be on by the time we get home?”

Avoiding her eyes, I mutter, “Not at the rate we’re going.”

Rachel smiles and gives me a knowing look before taking off in search of white cheddar cheese. Fifteen minutes later, she is laughing and tickling baby Jamie, who has stopped crying and actually looks cute with his dimples and flushed cheeks. Mother and baby are behind us at the checkout counter, so Rachel and Jamie’s mother make small talk while I load my items onto the conveyor belt. As I hand my debit card to the clerk, Rachel steps forward to unload the items from her cart and cheerfully calls out, “It was great meeting you, Lisa! And Jamie, you little cutie-pie…make sure you take care of your mommy, all right?”

When we finally leave the store, I’m carrying three heaving, overstuffed bags and a 12-pack of Nestlé water bottles. What we hadn’t realized earlier was that the South Street bus stops running at 5:30 on Sundays; it is now 5:45. I take a moment to let this sink in, closing my eyes as I do so. This is the cherry on top of a crappy day, and right now I’m struggling to keep my cool. My arms and back are already sore from effort and, thanks to my heavy sweater, I’m sweating like a cold glass of water on a hot day.

Rachel’s shoulder-length light brown hair glistens in the sun as she turns to look back at me while she talks. I smile and nod where appropriate, but she can see that it’s a struggle for me to concentrate on what she’s saying. This prompts her to offer to carry some of my grocery bags. She asks me twice, once as we pass a bus stop and again as we start our ascent up South and towards our house. I decline her offer, mostly because she’s not a donkey and I don’t want her to feel like one by making her carry my bags.

As if right on cue, I trip over a twig on the pavement and the heaviest of the three bags slips from my grasp, landing with a thud on someone’s grassy lawn.

“Okay, I can’t take it anymore,” Rachel says, exasperated. “I hate seeing people in pain. Hand ‘em over!”This time I don’t resist, although I can’t help but hesitate when she grabs the bag from the ground as well as one of the ones I’m carrying.“Rach…are you sure?”

She’s already smiling, as if she anticipated that I would give in and then immediately question her generosity.

“Of course I’m sure. It’s what good friends do. Plus,” she adds with a wink and a flex of her toned bicep, “it’s a great arm workout.”

As we continue up the hill, my headache grows smaller with each step I take and my smile grows larger. My whole body will be aching tomorrow, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve just discovered that Rachel is truly a wonderful friend. I know she’ll help me get through it.

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