Sunday, 20 November 2016

This One Time I Turned 32 and Called a Time Out on Drinking

Well, let's just ignore the fact that I haven't written a post since February. My only excuse is travelling to Canada twice, moving into a new apartment, spending the month of July responsible for over 60 teens in Barcelona, constantly playing catch up with work and friends in between trips, organizing an educational fair for over 300 students in September, a quick work trip to Sao Paulo and well, that pretty much brings us to today. 2016 has kept me going at an unreal pace and I have very gladly been slowing things down since the beginning of October. Despite all of this, I'm not going to write about any of those things that kept me busy. I want to write about an article that I read recently and how it inspired me to take a break from drinking alcohol.

A couple of girlfriends on Facebook posted this article called, “The Real Reasons Why Women Drink.” I read it and immediately had a reaction, although I couldn't tell if it was positive or negative. I can't say that I wholeheartedly agreed or disagreed with the article, but it left me asking myself a lot of questions. I wanted to discuss it with friends and hear what they thought, so I shared it on Facebook and I brought it up with other women in conversation over the next few weeks.  In the article, the female author tries to connect feminism and women drinking. She suggests that women drink to cope with a sexist and macho world, where we are constantly trying to keep up with men and out do them, plus out drink them. She touches on modern culture surrounding women and alcohol, and describes her experience after abstaining from it. 

What I most liked about the article or what it most left me thinking about was HOW MUCH we drink and HOW MUCH we encourage each other to drink. Forget the gender aspect for a second, how many times do we finish a tough day with a drink and what if there are more tough days than not? How many times do we start the weekend off with a drink? (I've often said, that, that first drink on a Friday tastes the sweetest.) Then I started to think about how rarely I don´t drink. 

Girls dinner on a Sunday night, one of my last drinks.

Once a year I don´t drink for about four weeks, when I'm working with groups of teens abroad. Then another two to four weeks during the year I don't drink because I'm cleansing. The rest of the time, it's a birthday, holiday, trip, dinner, party, rough day, girl's night, date night, a Wednesday, and well the list of occasions to drink goes on and on. 

Even more frightening, I asked myself, “When is the last time you went more than four weeks without drinking?” I didn't even know what the answer was, probably never.

And that was when I decided to take a break from alcohol. It started September 1st and it will end December 1st – in total it will be 91 days. Here is what has happened during this dry three month journey:

Day 1 – We have a work dinner with colleagues that are in town visiting, and we are celebrating a successful student event with beers and pizza. I celebrate with coke and thankfully no one questions me. I feel a little anti-fun.

Day 5 I wake up feeling hangover, but not from drinking, am I detoxing? Am I in withdrawal? I tell myself to get a grip. 

New conference friends in Sao Paulo - hotel bar hanging.

Day 8 – I´m texting a friend saying we should get together for drinks and catch up, I rewrite my text to say that we should do coffee instead.

Day 9 – I go to a dinner and show with girlfriends, it´s a set price menu that includes drinks, I wish my water were more expensive. 

Days 22-24 – I go to a conference in Brazil for work and everyone is drinking, the caipirinhas are flowing, non-stop. I feel super anti-fun and since these colleagues have just met me, they probably actually think I am anti-fun. 
Day 45 – My friends finally seem to know and remember that I’m not drinking. Thank goodness, I was getting tired of explaining myself every time we got together!

A very sober and glowing lumber Jill at Halloween!
Day 46 – My good friend Dan jumps on the bandwagon, "Yay, I’ve recruited!" We start drinking juice and pop in solidarity at get togethers with friends. 

Day 59 – I have so much fun at a Halloween house party, on a natural high, because I love costumes and dancing. I feel like a kid again. 
Day 62 – It’s November! I am plotting my first drink already, with a month still to go. My fantasy includes my favourite bar for craft beer and a nice amber on tap *drool* (insert low lighting and a cute boy, it is a fantasy after all!)

 In addition to these moments, I have declined invitations to day-trips and events, three bodega visits and two craft beer festivals to be precise. I thought this was the perfect time of year to do this experiment, after my birthday and before Christmas, but it turns out we drink up all year long! 

Besides repeatedly sharing with people why I’m not drinking, only after they ask, the second most common question has been, “But, did you drink a lot before!?” People seem to think that I must have been on the verge of alcoholism if I thought I needed such an extended break. Interesting?

What does it all mean though? Have I learnt something profound? What was gained by repeatedly declining alcoholic beverages? Although I’ve had these questions in mind the entire time, I feel like they’ll be better answered once the three months is up and I get to choose when to accept and when to decline a drink. 

So with ten days to go, I raise my water bottle and say, “Salud!" I will report back in December. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

International Love

I’ve wanted to write a blog about dating and travel or dating in Uruguay for a while now, but I’ve hesitated because there is so much out there already on dating and I didn’t want it to be read as bitter. Lately though,  I’ve had some relevant conversations with friends and I’ve even had some interesting articles on love and dating abroad sent my way, making me feel like I can’t ignore this nagging feeling any longer. The timing seems right, so I’ve decided to finally scratch this itch of an idea and just in time for Valentines!

Valentines last year at the beach with a friend.

Two things have especially stuck out to me, from chatting with friends, reading online articles, and my own personal experience, regarding modern relationships and dating. The first, is that the current state of dating or the experience of it is more similar than different from Canada to Uruguay to the UK.  I was home for the holidays, as were other friends, and as we swapped tales from Tinder to texting, the scene was the same. We were living all over the world, but trying to meet people and date in the same way. We were all on Tinder, doing more messaging than meeting, having people suddenly abandon communication, chatting to people we never plan on meeting or wondering why that funny cute texter won’t invite us out for a drink. I can’t say that we were all looking for the same thing, but I can say that we were all playing the same game and the rules didn't seem too different from one continent to another. Globalization strikes again, and this time it has taken the romance and human connection out of looking for love. 

How can it possibly be, with the variations in language and culture, never mind people and personalities, that we are trying to date in a one size fits all kind of way?

Castles in the sky, hearts in the sand.

 The second thing that struck me, is that most people sound like they have gone into auto-pilot when they talk about dating now. Like they are going through the motions, but with few expectations and without being very invested in the outcome - all the wrong ingredients for romance if you ask me. Today, people’s heads are buried in their phones, with five different dating apps, judging pictures and over analyzing messages, plotting when and what to write back, but nobody seems to be happy or satisfied. I think people are actually craving authentic connections more than ever, but modern apps and dating are getting in the way!  

How did we let this happen? We are hiding behind our phones and treating people like they aren’t people at all. We are becoming the very person we don’t want to date, acting in ways we never would in person and treating people like they are only their photo. (Check out this article, The Rise of Dishonest Dating Culture, for more on this). I have the suspicion that most of us have just somehow succumb to using dating apps and sending messages, because it’s what everyone else is doing. Maybe we don’t know how else to meet people? Or maybe we feel like if we don't do it, we'll be missing out on something? (FoMO) I’m not sure, but I am sure that tindering and texting is hindering more than helping. 

The average Tinder user puts in 90 minutes a day, 10.5 hours a week – it is nearly a part time job! I am calling a Tinder Time Out! (TTO my friends!) Let’s look up more, let’s swipe less, let’s be present and perhaps by being more genuine with one another we can bring the excitement and possibility back into dating. Lets actually get to know new people when we meet them. And most importantly let’s have fun and get real…before Amazon sells us a button that brings a date to our door! 

Need some inspiration? Here's a fun article on living it up in Barcelona and enjoying dating, 12 Things Moving to Barcelona Taught me About Sex

Don't forget to share and comment, I want to know what you think or better yet, how you feel!?

Happy Valentines to all! 
Wishing you all kinds of love/amour/amor in your day!

Looking for love, 'hello, it's me...'

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Canta, La Vida Es Una Fiesta!

I can't believe I let so much time go by without writing. Since my last post I have visited Canada for one week, then travelled to Spain for one month to lead a Spanish language program for teens, and since then I have come back to Montevideo, started a new job and helped pull off a successful event where 300 people attended! Wow! A lot has gone done in four months!

Right now, I am excited to celebrate my birthday this week, and I am simultaneously wondering if by turning 31 the title of my blog needs an edit!? I am also excited for my first visit to Buenos Aires this coming weekend! Happy Birthday To Me! And I am planning a one year anniversary party for the beginning of September to mark my one year living in Uruguay! Also coming up in September is a visit from a good girlfriend for two weeks. I'm super excited to show her the city, have girl time, and have some T.O. vibes here with me!

So as you can see, there is a lot to be thankful for and lots to celebrate! As the popular (only in Uruguay) song by VI-EM says "Canta, la vida es una fiesta" and that has been my anthem since June!  

Okay, so more details and updates...since I haven't written in so long! The visit to Canada was energizing, it was SO NICE to see family and friends. I got my fill of hugs, ate almost all of my favourite and most missed foods and even found time to be productive, aka: a dentist visit. Although the trip was a whirlwind and I could have spent more time with everyone I saw, I left with an overflowing heart. 

A tanned and happy staff in Marbella!
Everything in between that trip and leaving for Spain is a blur. It was only a couple of weeks and I was a mad person trying to wrap up work in Montevideo and getting myself and my team ready for the trip. The actual time leading the trip flew by as well. A lot of people wonder what this job I do with teens and touring every summer is’s hard to describe. It is the best job, truly,  it is a mixture of utter exhaustion and adrenaline. We had an amazing group of teens this year.  They were a kind, smart, and hilarious group of young people. We also had a wicked staff team that had so much fun being together we would exhaust ourselves and stay up too late just so we could keep laughing and hanging out! Spain also meant eating delicious foods. I indulged in cortados multiple times a day and gelato nearly everyday. Thank goodness we walk a lot on these trips! I also got to see my good friend Ari and she got to tell me in person that she is expecting! Que felicidad! Lastly, my love of Spain never dwindles and one day I simply won’t get on the plane to leave. (Curious about what being a Westcoast Connection Trip Director for 50 teens is really like? Watch this video!)

Our first ever LAE Fair/Feria in Montevideo! Go team celeste!
After indulging in the VIP lounge at the Barcelona airport and sitting beside a handsome Uruguayan stranger for my 12 hour return flight, I arrived back to Montevideo in time for the last week of July. I was excited to get back to work, see my students, catch up with friends and get back to regular life. I was especially excited to start a new job as a student advisor for study abroad programs! Currently, I am continuing to teach with Plan Ceibal (the remote teaching program through the government) and in the afternoons I am working with Latino Australia Education (LAE) and helping students figure out how to study abroad. My first few weeks back I jumped right into planning an educational fair here, which turned out to be a huge success. I still have a lot of learning to do, but this new job is already expanding my professional vocabulary, and plus, I always love a new challenge!   
I think that's all. My heart's still wild and free, which proves to be good and bad at times. I am still in the same apartment, but will definitely need to be in a new place before the end of the year, since they want to sell this place. And as happy as I am here, I'm still counting my rewards points for a potential visit 'home'!?

Promise to write sooner!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Travel and Friendship

When you're 'away' people constantly ask you what you miss from home. Well, I don't miss things or places, I miss people (and food, but that's for another blog post). April marks my eighth month in Uruguay. It doesn't feel like eight months at all, it actually feels like a lot less. I was blessed in March to have my Mom visiting for a whole month! If anything can ward off homesickness while you're abroad, it's a visit from your Mommy. Plus, I recently confirmed that I get to go home quickly in June to visit family and friends in Toronto. I'm so excited for hugs and time with loved ones! 

When I think about my quick visit in June, a big part of that excitement comes from being able to see my friends! I've been especially thinking about them lately, the amazing people I get to call friends, how important those relationships are, and the positive energy and support that we give each other, even from thousands of miles away! 

Jennifer and I make each other laugh with breathy voice recordings,
as we hustle through our days in Toronto and Montevideo!  

Since I moved to Uruguay I've had so much BIG and good news flooding in from my friends back home. I've had two really close girlfriends also move abroad, one to Belgium and the other to Tanzania. We all studied development and graduated in 2007, so it’s a beautifully fulfilled plan for us to all be living abroad right now. It's just like we had imagined in our 20's! I have another friend that went back to school at 28 and is just about to graduate from his four year degree program and start his dream career in urban planning. Another close girlfriend recently told me she is expecting baby number two this summer. And another good girlfriend just took the plunge and moved into a brand new duplex near her work. Plus, I have two girlfriends planning to visit me here in 2015, could there be a better thing to look forward to!? And those are just a few examples! 

They say that when you go abroad and then come home you'll find things haven't changed much. I would have to disagree this time around. When I was in Toronto a large portion of my friends were single, we had been career focused for years, without homes or children, we were holding out for the 'next step', but maybe not entirely sure what that was. Now,  I see my friends making big moves, big decisions, and I am really excited for them! I feel surrounded by intelligent, strong minded, and determined people that I am lucky to call friends. Despite the distance, they support and inspire me consistently. 

Simply put, I've been feeling really happy for my friends lately. It makes me happy to see them living out their dreams and loving their decisions. I miss them like crazy and the distance only reminds me of how irreplaceable they are. The hour long skype sessions, random facebook messages, real mail, and whats app voice recordings, all help to maintain the connection, but I know the connection would still be there with or without those things. These are friendships where you could be anywhere in the world and you will always be important to each other and you will always support each other. It doesn't get more real than that!

To be fair, you meet a lot of very cool people when you're travelling and Uruguay has been no exception. I am constantly making new friends and getting to know new people. They support me in other ways, we explore together, we look out for each other, we help with bouts of loneliness or heartbreak. I think this blog post may need a Travel and Friendship Part Two, dedicated to the relationships you build while abroad as they are also unique.

Veneise made her home my home as I transitioned out of Toronto!

To my friends at home and in other parts of the world, I love and miss you guys and will always be grateful for how you listened and encouraged me in the year leading up to my moving abroad. If I had different friends, I may not have made it here. I was a crazy person with big dreams for most of 2014 and you put up with me and all of my worries. Who are we kidding, I am generally always crazy about something and you always put up with me! That’s love! 

See you in June amigos! 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Surfing the Waves of the Culture Shock Cycle

This week marks six months that I have been living in Uruguay. The beginning of March also marks the end of the summer holiday and the return to school, work, and routine. Coincidentally, my Mommy will also be arriving in one week, for a one month visit. Thus, making March a big month. As I reflect on the six months gone by, what I consider to be a summer of a lifetime, look forward to the routine of work, and get excited to see my Mom....I can't help but wonder what part of the culture shock cycle I'm living in!?  The longest I've ever been away from home is six months total, so I'm officially entering uncharted waters!

Can you hear the call of the drums? #candombe
The idea of culture shock and the cycle or waves you go through while abroad was first introduced to me while in University. Later on, working with students and in international settings I became more familiar with these ideas. Although the number of stages and their titles can vary depending on what you read, the most common ones are the following. The first one is the honeymoon phase when you first arrive and you are starry eyed and everything is bright and new. My very first blog post about 'First Impressions' was filled with honeymoon like observations. For the most part this phase is over for me. I get brief honeymoon type moments now, from time to time, when I take in something new, like scenery or a cultural event. Most recently the desfile de llamadas, the big drumming parade for carnival here in February, wowed me, as it was all completely new!

It was all glitter, dancing, and the beat of the drum at Carnival.

The second phase is culture shock, where you are constantly comparing things to home and you find even simple tasks difficult or frustrating. This phase is also associated with hostility, depression, and homesickness. I distinctively remember the very first time I went abroad, to study for three months in Havana, that at about the half way mark I was thinking 'why did I come  here?' and 'I just want to go home'. Needless to say, I stuck it out and it is one of my most treasured experiences. Now having travelled more and being a little older my thoughts aren't quite so dramatic, but of course I have lows. Sometimes I have what I call 'bad days' here.  They are usually triggered by something small, like feeling misunderstood, your debit card not working in 10 different ATM's or just wanting to be around the people back home that you love and that know you so well. The bad days are few and far between and they are usually trumped by really incredible moments where you feel so lucky and so blessed to be as happy as you are. I had a mixture of frustration and really euphoric moments this summer while balancing not working with loads of beach time and sight seeing.

One of those bliss-ed out moments from this summer. Exploring the interior of the country near Minas.

The next phase has to do with acceptance and integration, this is the recovery and adjustment phase. Here, you get into a routine and you feel like you are successfully living 'normally' in your new country. I suspect that this phase will happen more fully as I get into the routine of work this month and in the coming months. By the end of March I will be teaching English at two schools, plus maintaining activities like zumba, bachata lessons, hanging out at the Coffee Shop, and finishing an online course. Life will be busy and I think the integration will feel more complete with this new and fuller schedule.

I am really excited to start working regularly here and to get back into a routine that feels less traveller like and more citizen like. I am even more excited to see my Mom! I am sure that her being here will in a way 'hold me over' for a few more months without getting horribly homesick. It will be really fun and special to be able to share parts of my new life here with her. I already have my colleagues at work, 'my work moms', and my friends at the coffee shop excited to meet her!

In short, the adventure keeps evolving and the gratitude continues. As for the cycle, or the waves, you truly do ride them. I think that with so much ongoing change you can't help but continuously be shifting and adjusting, moving back and forth within the cycle. With all of this in mind, I'm especially excited for the next six months, because I'm potentially building up to feeling really at home here and that would be an all new experience/achievement! The final phase is mastery after-all!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Welcome 2015! / Bienvenidos a 2015!

Homemade pizza cooked on the grill, de-lish!

As the clock struck midnight here in Uruguay, I was a couple of hours outside of the city in a small beach town. We were a small group of thirty-somethings ringing in the new year with bursting bellies, topped up drinks, lots of fresh air, good music, and of course fireworks. We rented a humble cottage a few blocks from the beach, so that we were guaranteed our first few days of 2015 would be spent in the sun and sand! We also grilled everything in sight for five days straight, including corn on the cob, red peppers cut in half with a fried egg in the centre, provolone cheese, and even pizza. (They throw everything on the grill here and it's all delicious!) Although the sun didn't really come out until January 3rd, there was no shortage of good food, drinks, or company! 

Ringing in the first few days of the new year at the beach!
On a more reflective note, I was feeling grateful and relaxed as the year came to a close. I'm not sure what I enjoy most about celebrating the new year. Looking back on the wins and losses of the past twelve months or looking ahead and planning for another equally fulfilling year. There is no doubt that 2014 was a big year for me. I had a lot of help and I used all of my resources, in every sense of the word, to make one of my dreams a reality. Thus my gratitude as the year came to an end. Looking ahead though, I couldn't help but ask, 'how could 2015 compete with moving to Uruguay!?'

Well, so far the year is off to a great start! Being an English teacher, I have been on holidays since just before Christmas and classes don't start again until the beginning of March. I began the new year on holiday, in the heat of summer, in a country filled with beautiful coastlines and beaches.  Hello 2015!

Wishing you lots of AMOR for 2015!
There is an expression here when you like the vibe or energy of a place or person. People say that it or they have buena onda. Literally, it would translate into 'good wave', but it means a good or positive vibe. Well that's how I am feeling about the year ahead and being in Uruguay. I am in the right place, just where I need to be, meeting so many new and incredible people and I am feeling the good vibes all around me! It's exciting to not know how the year ahead will unfold. It's exciting to say 'yes' to new experiences and to be open. Personally, I feel ready and I can't wait to see how this year plays out. It is sure to include new challenges, adventures, many new friends, more beautiful landscapes, and so many more great memories - what more could I ask for out of the year ahead!?

Wishing everyone a very full and fulfilling year. May the buena onda find you wherever you are!

P.S. Looking for a little astrological direction as you start the new year? Here's my favourite author of all things astro!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Feliz Navidad / Merry Christmas! From This Southern Continent to Yours!

Okay, the Michael Bublé Christmas album is on as I write this,  the tree is lit in the background, and there is wine in hand! This is my very first year away from home for the holidays and it's given me a lot to miss and a lot to think about.

Since December 1st I've been contemplating what Christmas is all about  if you take away close family and friends, which is mainly what it was for me, and then when you take away the crisp cold air and snow and snuggles,  needless to say, I was at a loss for a couple of weeks!

Then I realized Christmas was in my hands this year and that on the flip side of the many special people and traditions I'm missing, I get the 'holiday getaway' Christmas for the first time in my life too. I have sand, sun, beaches, less shopping and preparation to do, and I have new friends and family to embrace this year. I made a conscious decision to pick and chose what parts of the holiday to hold onto while I'm here and to bring a little of my own holiday style to my new life in Uruguay.

Next step, I asked my Muslim roommate if he'd mind, and with his approval I giddily put up my skinny Christmas tree! Then I started making plans. I've been reaching out to family here and making plans to spend quality time with them. And lastly, I've been making beach getaway plans...all in an attempt to have a new kind of Christmas this year! I'll also still be baking my annual double chocolate banana almond drop cookies. Mmmm Christmas baking, some traditions just had to stay!

The little tree. El arbolito.

This year I'll be spending the 24th, which is the big day of celebrating here, with my Grandpa's sisters and brother, we will be about six in total for dinner and fireworks at midnight. Then on the 25th, when most people are comatose from too much food and festivity, I'll be hitting the road with friends and headed east ward to the best beaches, to do some camping and a lot of nothing for four days. Then for the end of year I'll be at a beach house in Cuchilla Alta for four days with my cousin, her boyfriend, and their friends.

Are you jealous yet? Well don't be. I would challenge those of you at home surrounded by your nearest and dearest to take a moment and really appreciate who is around your table this year. We live in a crazy, chaotic, fast paced state of mind. I was lucky this year to escape some of the nonsense of Christmas, the hustle, the over importance put on gifts, the glitter and glam of holiday parties, the over indulgence of chocolates and alcohol, and I don't miss any of it. BUT, I am especially missing the people, the warmth and familiarity of close friends and family. This is the first time in 15 years (okay maybe the second) that I miss our annual Christmas potluck with my best friends, and that alone is enough to make me tear. So when I post those beach pictures later this month, please know that we both have it good!

In the end, a warm holiday season does feel odd to this Canadian, but I'm savouring the differences and finding small ways to keep some of the spirit from home alive. There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays, if we are lucky, we have some good food on the table and some special people to share it with. Hot or cold outside, green grass or white snow, there really is a spirit to Christmas that you can take anywhere with you. Family, new friends, baking, some small gifts, a couple of modest holiday work parties, beach, beer, and quiet, that is the spirit of my Christmas this year and I am grateful for it.

Before I sign off, I want to sincerely wish each of you a VERY Merry Christmas. You are in my thoughts and I hope that you are enjoying this holiday season to the max with the ones you love. Wishing you much love, peace of heart and mind and many wishes come true in 2015!

Did I mention, I'm feeling really good about 2015!? *wink*

Love always,