Ahh a new year, a fresh slate of unmolested vacation time. Was that a weird way to phrase it? Sure, I could've substituted "unused" for "unmolested" but it's a goal of mine to attempt new ways of expressing things. For example, in last week's post I wanted to use "corpulent" to describe an egg yolk BUT I felt it was too vulgar.
Anyways, the new year always inspires travel bloggers to write blog posts listing the top spots they want to explore that year but I’m adding a little twist to the theme. While I love immersing myself in different cultures in pockets all over the globe, what inspires me to ventureout are specific experiences that I want to collect. I’ll start planning a trip by choosing an experience – like sleeping under the stars in the Saharan Desert – as a central pillar then I build the rest of the trip around that.
Remember when I said that in Paris that "breakfast is not a thing”? I don’t mean in terms of it being the first meal of the day or what time it's eaten. I mean in the sense that their "breakfast" errs on the conservative side – continental, subsisting simply of coffee and a croissant. Is the coffee a high quality, caffeinated delight? Mais oui. Are their croissants delicately flakey, golden, buttery goodness? Not the point!
How “American-style breakfasts” – fit for several, massively hungover, starving, midseason, linebackers – are not en vogue in Paris is almost as unfathomable as people who skip breakfast all together. Why would anyone willingly deprive themselves of the complete and utter joy of eating? You don't need to be a mathematician to estimate that more meals = more happiness.
Provided that you haven’t been living under a rock, Instagram has an app that generates your “Best Nine” of the year in order of popularity. While it’s interesting to see what content that you created has resonated the most with your audience, end of the year is usually a time of SELF-reflection. What posts meant the most to YOU?
The first year of blogging for me was a lot of trial and error – figuring out the ins and outs of maintaining a blog. My second year has been much more personal – finding my niche, releasing ghosts of my past, recording my most treasured moments and discoveries.
What is a recipe for restaurant success these days? Good food is essential for a solid foundation, the vibe should be dynamic and the décor should be stylish. But nowadays, establishments are also paying attention to whether they are “Instagrammable”. As ridiculous as that sounds, being IG-worthy is a smart marketing strategy since the more photos that are snapped, the more eyes see your place in an organic way, and the more clientele you gain through free, word-of-mouth advertising.
Not gonna lie, I find out about most restaurants – especially ones in different cities – through Instagram and Pink Mamma in Paris was no different. From the minute it popped up in my food-dominated feed, I was on a mission.
The French are widely renowned for having one of the most refined cultures in the world and that kind of thing doesn’t happen without a strict social etiquette. There is an accepted way of being – talking, eating, socializing, thinking – that is somehow bred into the population from the womb. It explains why France is where the term “faux pas” originates from, to describe a deviation from the accepted French way.
Completely merged into everyday usage, faux pas was first coined in the 1670s, meaning “false step” that can be an actual loss of physical balance but more commonly refers a social gaffe. Think drinking gravy in front of party guests. Apparently a HUGE faux pas, no matter what country you do it in (or so I’m told).
The first time I made a conscious effort to take photos for blogging and Instagram purposes, was during my trip to Colombia. I discovered that my love of creating content warred with my resolute desire to live in the moment and my distaste for being attached to my phone.
How could I balance the two? How could I be present in my life AND #doitforthegram without compromising the quality of either? I could never be that kind of person who treks for an hour to an awe-inspiring waterfall only to snap a quick photo without really enjoying the view IRL.
The moment/memory/experience would always take precedence over the photo but was there was happy medium?
The sun had long retreated below the horizon and replaced by the moon when our driver and guide – dubbed ‘Fancy’ to reflect his tastes – pulled the white van over on the gravelly dirt road.
Our troupe of self-proclaimed ‘Spinster Sisters’ – as we were deemed unfit to be Moroccan wives due to our lack of mint tea brewing knowledge – emerged into the crisp air of El Kelaa M’gouna, eyes adjusting to the darkness and ears to the deafening quiet. We were in the middle of a huge, empty stretch of land outside of town, only barely able to make out a looming building through a thicket of trees in the faint glow of the moon.
Full of trepidation, I thought to myself: “This is it. Kelly has finally bartered me for 3,000 camels and a shoe store and this is the hand-off!”
Let’s do some math: If you go to Peru for 12 days and visit 4 vastly ecologically diverse cities (while factoring in travel time in between), how long can you spend in each place?
Answer: Not very effing long.
But what is the alternative when you have limited vacation time and Peru has so many amazing experiences to snatch up faster than you can grab the last slice at a work pizza lunch?
They say that it's unrealistic to expect to get everything from one person and I agree. I don't need to gossip about boys to my parents and I don't need to have in-depth discussions about why leggings should never be worn as pants to the guy I’m seeing. Unless HE wears leggings as pants, in which case we have much more concerning things to discuss.
It's the same with friends – specific friends are more suited for different situations. I have pals to wax philosophic with over expensive wine, gym buddies to get my sweat on with, and amigos to eat myself into a coma with because we share the same values….those values being that tacos trump abs. Every. Time.
Normally I avoid writing about social issues, not out of indifference but rather because I feel like it’s all been said already or that my voice won’t make a difference. In fact, up until yesterday, I was in the process of writing an entirely different post when I suddenly felt compelled to barrel down a completely different route.
If you are female, know anyone female, and have social media (see: everyone) then no doubt you have come across a post in some form – a tweet, Facebook status, Instagram caption, news article – starting or ending with “Me Too.”
What is “Me Too”?
A powerful online movement has risen in the wake of the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein – a hugely influential film producer and studio exec who has launched many a successful Hollywood career.
Sometimes not having a plan can be liberating and the notion of going where the wind blows – like a barefoot, wild-haired, nomadic gypsy – appeals to the romantic in us. But sometimes, it’s like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute – thrilling then immediately followed by all-consuming regret.
On one hand, we should be open and flexible to what the universe brings to us BUT if you really want something in life – a promotion, to lose weight, a family – are you willing to gamble it by leaving it up to chance? Understanding that we can’t control everything, don’t you want to do whatever you can to at least put yourself in the ideal position to achieve your goals?
If that’s the case, then your new mantra should be:
Don’t blow with the wind. Be the storm.
Within minutes of stepping through the door after returning from a life-changing home from a trip to Cuba, I donned my rattiest pyjamas and was devouring an entire pizza while getting teary-eyed while watching Dirty Dancing Havana Nights. The post-vacation blues hit me hard.
It wasn't the reality of working nine-to-five or the return to routine that had me depressed because after running around a foreign country nonstop, the familiarity can be comforting.
Despite the countless hardships of the country’s past that has continued on to this day, the people are still so full of infectious joy and passion. That resilient enthusiasm for life crystallized for me what was really important in life, liberating me from the trivial worries that cluttered my day-to-day. I loved how Cuba made me feel free.
Before attending the Pursuit Series in San Jose, I believed myself to be a reasonably fit individual. I lift (bro), twist myself into pretzel-esque, yoga positions, and while I hate running, I trick myself into a healthy amount of cardio by boxing, dancing, and spin.
But by the time two shiny, air-conditioned shuttle buses pulled up to the edge of a forest (a 15-minute drive outside of Sanborn County Park) with 14 active, outdoorsy Californians (who live in a state of perpetual summer) this carb-obsessed Canadian was seriously questioning her physical competency.
We picked our way through the forest, avoiding questionable patches of poison ivy, enjoying the light hike as rays of sun came streaming through the towering trees. Upon entering the clearing where the Adventure Out guides were waiting to teach us the ropes (literally) of rock climbing, I slipped on loose dirt and leaves and tumbled in on my ass. Elegant as always. If this was an indication of what my first experience rock climbing outdoors would be, it was going to be a difficult couple of hours.
People don't think that I'm the type of person who can camp but I have a very strong, (some might say) overdeveloped survival instinct.
In grade nine self-defense class, when the padded instructor lumbered threateningly towards me, I punched him in the ONE place I was told not to. Not there you sickos! His face was off limits because it was only protected by a thin sheet of plastic but when you have a large man coming at you…you react without thinking!
One time, when someone jumped out at me during a ghost tour of a cemetery in Scotland, I (to my everlasting shame) pulled my friend in front of me like a human shield! True story.
After spending the morning at Yves Saint Laurent’s infamous Jardin Majorelle, my motley crew of five ladies – hailing from all corners of the globe – hopped in a cab to make our 1pm reservation at a Marrakech restaurant that tops all the must-visit lists. Interrupting our discussion (debating what to do with the 3,000 camel dowry Kelly was being offered for my hand in marriage), the taxi driver dropped us in front of a grand archway and informed us that we had to proceed the rest of the way by foot.
Not wanting to miss our reservation, our group hurried into the narrow, twisting alleys of Souk Semmarine. We stopped on every corner, not only to confirm with local shopkeepers that we were on the right path but to collect members of our party who inevitably became distracted by some shiny or embroidered souk treasure or another.
Some days feel so terrible and heavy, like you’re one of those sad little orphans in A Series of Unfortunate Events or at the mercy of Murphy’s Law. Days so low that even the heartiest bowl of pho cannot salvage it. I know. What can’t be remedied by carbs!? I’ll blame my savage mood on the weather, lack of sleep, crossing a black cat, mercury in retrograde – legit reasons. But sometimes you just gotta call it what it is: A bad friggin’ day.
The hardest part about it is understanding that having a bad day isn’t a reflection on who you are as a person. There are starving children in Africa, who am I to have a bad day? But we do, and when we do we need to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we feel – even if it’s negative – instead of internally berating ourselves for being ungrateful or a horrible person. We’re only human!
"Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it."
I came across this line while reading What I was Doing While You Were Breeding by the hilarious comedy writer, Kristin Newman. While I related to her prioritizing adventure over the traditional life path – marriage, house, babies – this phrase really resonated with me, articulating what I have long felt to be my personal travel mantra. What is the thing that I can only do/eat/see here and now in this moment? Carpe that diem!
When I travel, I take what I want much more boldly and decisively, maybe because life flies by at a more rapid clip and my time in any given place is so limited. Maybe I'm just more aware of life’s brevity so I'll shed my inhibitions and ride a camel or get a mud massage in a volcano because why the hell not?
Studying design is not only learning how to actually design but learning how to see. The problem with that is you can’t STOP seeing everywhere you go, from a hack Photoshop job on subway posters to misaligned items on a menu that lowers your opinion of the trendy restaurant you’re dining at. It’s enough to make a designer lose their appetite. Almost. But not really because nothing makes this designer lose her appetite.
I loathe being dependent on someone or something to achieve a goal so much so that I refuse to drink coffee to avoid of becoming too reliant on a caffeine fix to start my morning. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t play favourites with lipstick shades for fear of the colour becoming discontinued so imagine how having to depend on another person to travel must chaff me. Finding a travel buddy with the same budget, flexibility, and goals is a feat of Herculean proportions akin to finding a seat on the subway during rush hour.
Itching to hop on a plane and too impatient to wait for other people to become available to make it happen, I booked a flight to Costa Rica – an ideal destination for solo female travellers. Not only is it a tropical paradise but it’s full of escapades that was sure to get my heart racing.
The prevailing misconception of the food scene in Cuba is that it’s no bueno, largely because of the limited trading and access to fresh produce. But since Raul Castro’s economic reforms in 2010 that stripped the limitations on at-home restaurants in Cuba, paladars have been changing the game, creating innovative dishes and working around the restrictions placed upon them.
If you can’t find drool-worthy meals then you didn’t do your homework. Lucky for you, dear readers (all two of you), I did the digging for you and scoured the internet prior to my trip, finding feasts all over Havana to satisfy all types of foodies.
Now that I’ve detailed how to get from Marrakech to the Saharan Desert and all the epic stops to make along the way, I can tell you about sunset camel rides across rippled stretches of golden sand, “glamping” in the desert at Kam Kam Dunes, and sleeping under the Saharan stars. It was truly a magical experience that I would highly recommend placing at the top of your bucket list.
During one of my classes in my first year at OCAD, the instructor posed the question “Why did you choose to get into graphic design?” To which I distinctly recall a classmate responding “Because I want to change the world.” While lacking the BS factor, my motivation was somewhat less noble having chosen design because I wanted to combine my love of art and writing.
That, in combination with not coming from an art-focused secondary school always made me feel like a bit of a fraud throughout my tenure at university. I imagine it’s how hipsters feel when they wear a Ramones tee without ever hearing a single track by the band.
Wobbling precariously along the edge of a dusty road by one of many little farms outside of the tiny rural town of Viñales, my feet scrambled for purchase on the pedals of my little-too-tall-for-me bike. I finally managed a smooth turn of the pedal when my wheel went over the lip of the road and steeply tipping me forward, down into the tobacco field I had been struggling besides.
As I hurtled through the leafy plants at an alarming speed, I thought:
“Tobacco is going to kill me and I’ve never even smoked in my life!”
In any travel group, people take roles based on what they are naturally inclined to do. As a perpetually hungry, plant obsessed designer, I am the one dragging everyone to inspiring activities and the most Pinterest-worthy restaurants serving delectable dishes that make you crave it long after you return home. But I’m not just looking for great food, customer service, interior design, etc…but the place must also possess a vibe with a certain je ne sais quoi.
Tall order? Definitely but I’m very single-minded when it comes to sniffing these spots out and as Montreal is a culinary destination with a vibrant art scene, it was an easy task. Here is A Designer’s Ultimate Guide to Awe-Inspiring Spots In Montreal:
A cool wind from the nearby ocean cut through the dry heat that persisted into the night at Jardines 1830. As soon as darkness engulfed the outdoor patio of the restaurant/club, based in a colonial mansion situated in the Vedado district of Havana, it began filling up with local and visiting “salseros” alike.
Any performance anxiety I felt in anticipation of showing off my skills (or lack thereof) was dulled by tangy lime and mint-muddled mojitos, the rum buzzing in my head was just enough to ease my nerves without hampering my coordination. Standing right in the thick of the swelling crowd, the four-beat measures (characteristic salsa music) played by the live band reverberated through my chest, stirring the restlessness in my soul.
Fear is absolutely necessary for our survival but nowadays, as we don’t have to worry about sabre tooth tigers lurking around every corner, it has more time on it's hands. Understandably, that makes fear hyperactive and overeager but just because we understand it’s excess of energy, it doesn’t make it any less annoying that it yaps at every shadow and rustling leaf like a chihuahua with a Napoleon complex.
This hyperactivity makes it difficult to distinguish when our actions are motivated by legitimate concerns versus an involuntary, knee-jerk reaction. Even if we manage to determine that fear is being a dramatic worrywart, that doesn’t mean that the anxiety magically subsides. It’s not as easily convinced. It’s sweet in an overprotective, wake-you-up-at-6am-to-tell-you-to-check-the-peephole-before-opening-the-door kind of way (thanks, Mom) but fear isn’t going to back down just because you assure it that you have twenty-four hour security in your building.
Prior to my trip, I knew I would be appreciated in Cuba the way I know if I go into any country bar, I could literally be on fire and still be completely ignored by the male clientele. I knew this NOT because I am – as one, misguided, would-be suitor put it – “a spicy concoction” which I assume is a reference to my decidedly un-Asian derrière, but because Cubans worship ALL forms of beauty.
In general, purchasing a plane ticket to this Caribbean country is a worthwhile investment every woman should make if they’re in need of an ego boost because the Cuban appreciation of beauty is all-inclusive. With limited and controlled access to media, not only are locals blessedly unaware of even the LEAST famous Kardashian (Kourtney? Rob? Maybe censorship isn’t always such a bad thing…) but nor do they have a standardized ideal of what is considered beautiful. Full, tiny, dark, light, curvy, slim – listing all the womanly virtues that Cubans enjoy sounds like the beginnings of a Dr. Seuss book.
Sometimes when I’m completely unknowledgeable about a topic, I don’t even know what questions to ask because I don’t know what issues are even relevant. My only expectation of Cuba because my only expectation was that the weather would be nice and that there were a lot of generic resorts but after experiencing the country for myself, I am more aware of all the questions people should be asking before embarking on a trip to Cuba.
I’ve compiled a list of the questions that kept cropping up from people and attempted to answer them fully:
When a company tell me to “trust” them that their product is the best, I trust them about as much as the guy at a bar who has a face tattoo, telling me that he’s not a serial killer. So…not very much. I rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or online reviews because it’s either someone who’s taste and judgement I trust or real people who have no skin in the game.
I have now reached the level of traveller that packing for trips has become a breeze. My strategy is to imagine all the various situations I'll be in – salsa dancing, fancy restaurants, horseback riding, biking through tobacco fields (more like crashing through...) – and pack accordingly. Here's some inspiration to get you started packing your suitcase for adventures in Cuba:
Prior to researching Cuba for my upcoming trip, my feelings about the destination ranged on opposite ends of the spectrum. I loathe all-inclusive resort vacations where your experience is as culturally authentic as chicken balls from Golden Wok. However, I loved the colourful, crumbling buildings and sultry salsa clubs depicted in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (don’t judge me…too much) which is my only other point of reference for Cuba….even though it was filmed in Puerto Rico. Naturally.
After some digging beyond my preconceptions on the country, I realized that it has so much more to offer than one-size-fits-all vacation packages and overly chlorinated pools. Here are a couple of tips for how you can ensure that you have an authentic Cuban experience:
There’s a comfort in watching and rewatching a much loved movie till you know every twist and turn by heart. The predictability is as restorative as a gigantic glass of wine or donning the rattiest – and therefore softest – sweater that you’ve had since you were in braces. You know the one I’m talking about – it’s full of holes and makes you look homeless (or cheap) but you refuse to throw it away because it’s so damn cozy.
This post about the other jewel of a spot I stayed at in Marrakech, Riad Jardin Secret, is an ode to two movies that I’ve watched an embarrassing number of times over the years: The Secret Garden and 10 Things I Hate About You.
Surfing is one of those activities that is really idealized in popular culture (Blue Crush anyone?) as being sexy, adventurous, set in exotic locales like Costa Rica and the coast of Portugal, with local instructors with golden tans and more abs than Angelina Jolie has children. While those things are all true, what isn’t depicted is all the times you almost lose your bathing suit, get hit in the head with your board, and end up with enough sand up your butt to build a castle.
Even though I’ve had my fair share of sand in places sand ought not to be, by no means do I consider myself a good enough surfer to impart any kind of advice. However, technical skills aside, my experience has led me to pick up lessons from surfing that can easily be applied to life:
Whenever my family goes out for all-you-can-eat sushi, my mom hides red-faced behind a menu as the rest of us fatties shout out “Twenty orders of the salmon sashimi! Forty of the surf clam! Five orders of the spicy tuna maki!” She may demurely request “just a tea for me” from the waiter but as soon as our food arrives, she’s devouring all the dishes, exemplifying our family motto of “survival of the quickest,” forcing us to order more to accommodate for her embarrassment for our lack thereof.
While I don’t understand shame when in reference to my hunger, it has recently become a familiar feeling, rearing it’s ugly head when I travel and the more I explore content creation on my Instagram and blog. It wasn’t until my trip to Morocco that I realized how much embarrassment and ego limits me, similar to how it limits my mom from ordering her OWN sushi.
"I will give you a deal because I just want to make you smile. I’ll let you have this authentic, Moroccan [fill in the blank] for [approximately 5x what it’s actually worth]!”
……says literally every person selling anything in the souks of Marrakech.
Morocco is known for their expert artistry and craftsmanship which became evident the more I explored the labyrinth pathways of the souks, losing myself in shops full of treasures, from hanging lanterns to hand-painted tagine cookware, and chunky jewelry in silver and gold. However, the country is also known for their intense tradition of haggling. Instead of there being a fixed price like in stores at the mall, in the souks you’re expected to engage in a cutthroat negotiation to get the lowest price.
There are an endless number of reasons to visit Morocco – the fragrant, drool-worthy cuisine, the luxurious hammam spas, the artisan craftsmanship in the architecture, the treasure-filled souks. While I revelled in all of these delights, I had fixed my sights on this North African country specifically so that I could ride a camel in the desert and fall asleep under the Saharan stars.
However, when I made Marrakech our home base, I didn’t realize just how far this former imperial city was from the Sahara as I’ve never been very adept at gauging distances. Google Maps walking time estimations don’t help the matter as they do not compensate for the abbreviated, high-heeled stride of an individual with fairly stumpy legs.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 as in, it is only after you’ve eaten the entirety of an enormous, garlicky, onion-filled chicken shawarma that you realize that it was a horrible thing to do before salsa class. You learn from experiences and missteps, moving forward with more consideration for your dance partners (and anyone else you speak to, I suppose). But despite the futility of it, you can’t help but wonder “If only I had known back then what I know now…”
Some people make a point to try foods they don’t like once a year to confirm whether their tastebuds have evolved or that they still don't like it. This is similar to how I occasionally attempt to diet. Whether it's a new year's resolution to be more healthy or in anticipation of a beach vacation, I determinedly pretend to enjoy sad, leafy lunches. Fake it till you make it, right?
“You will thank me later when you’re not doing an impression of the Michelin Man in a bikini,” I sternly inform my rumbling stomach.
In between celebrating my birthday yesterday with red velvet cupcakes and being beaten with eucalyptus leaves at a Russian bathhouse, I was reflecting on how far I’ve come since I took this self-portrait, the first in what became an annual tradition. Other than to serve as proof to my 80-year old self that I didn’t always resemble a member of The California Raisins (remember them?!), the point of taking my yearly version of a “selfie” was to remember exactly how I felt in that moment and remind myself of what I learned since then.
People are always complaining about the effects of aging – their metabolism slows down, they can't handle alcohol the way they used to, etc… But having reflected on the birthday that just passed, what I notice has less to do with my body and more to do with my mind.
You know the famous quote by Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world”? It was re appropriated by Austin Kleon, a New York based writer and artist, to motivate creatives with the phrase “Create what you want to see in the world” and inspired me to write this post. While I was researching Morocco and compiling experiences for my bucket list, visiting a hammam was a recurring list topper but none of the articles that I came across really provided the unvarnished, uncensored account of the experience that I was looking for. In the age of information overload where “googling” has become a verb, I was so frustrated that I decided to “write the blog post that [I] want to read.”
So, what is a hammam?
A public bathing establishment as well as a method of cleansing, in Arabic, hammam means “hot water bath” and is the Islamic version of the Roman steam baths/sauna or the Russian banya but with a focus on the water (versus steam). It’s a traditional purifying and beauty ritual that combines heat, fragranced steam, warm water, and a cold plunge pool.
Before I go on a trip, I receive well wishes from friends that go like this: “Have an awesome trip! Take lots of pictures. Please don’t get kidnapped! But seriously….” That may sound like it’s a joke but when it comes to me, it’s a legitimate concern. Not only am I a convenient kidnap-able size at 5 foot 4 inches but evidently I never got the memo about not speaking to strangers. Home or abroad, I’m the first one to wander off and make friends with a bartender in Frankfurt or dash off in a rickshaw pulled by a friendly, redheaded Scottish local.
Despite my seemingly carefree attitude towards strangers, I’m pretty vigilant and I’m usually travelling with friends. While it’s generally safer (and more fun!) to use the buddy system when you’re exploring foreign lands, sometimes they’re the ones putting you in compromising positions for their own personal gain as was my experience in Morocco.
It embarrasses me to admit that I blog; to own it out loud. It sounds so 90s but not in the so-retro-it’s-cool-now kind of way like choker necklaces and the Backstreet Boys (Vegas road trip anyone?). It seems like everybody and their half-deaf, kind of racist grandmother has a blog these days. It makes me feel so unoriginal (worse than death for a creative soul) but here I am a year later and I can no longer deny it. Hi, my name is Teri and I am a blogger.
This week marks my one year anniversary of blogging consistently, achieving in sticking with a weekly pursuit that I long suspected would bring me joy. How could it not be? Since I was old enough to spell, I kept the OG version of a blog – a diary – that I keep obsessively to this day to record all my inner, squishy feelings. Writing posts for the whole world to see is an entirely different beast and I’ve learned a lot of lessons that don’t only apply to blogging but to life in general.
It is one of my greatest ambitions in life to transform my city-situated apartment into a jungle. I’m well on my way to filling every sunny nook with a variety of hearty (see: hard to kill) plants – Zanzibar Gems, Sansevierias, Hanging Philodendrons, and countless succulents. No lie, it takes me almost an hour to water all of them and I get a little angsty when I have to leave them for longer than a week. I imagine that this is the way dog owners do about getting home to walk their pets which is why I maintain I can’t own a pet.
I didn’t expect that Marrakech – infamously known as the Red City – in north Africa, would enable my plant addiction but surprisingly, there were hidden pockets of oases all over the city for me to get overly excited over. I wanted to share my verdant discoveries with other self-professed “crazy plant ladies” who are considering Marrakech as their next destination to conquer.
When I was a kid, I used to have dreams that I could fly. Not in one powerful, instantaneous whoosh like Superman but more like an effortless floating upwards. I never remember all of the particulars of a dream once I’m shaken from sleep’s hold. It’s like they evaporate out of my consciousness with every waking breath I take. The residual wisp that lingers in my bones long after I awake is the the glorious feeling of wonder – the breathlessness, the surprise, the relief – I had in shedding those strings that kept me tethered to the earth.
That’s how I feel when I travel – the same awe and disbelief in the magic that the world has to offer except that I’m not asleep.
From the minute I crossed the threshold of Le Riad Yasmine from the hectic, bustling streets of Marrakech, I was enveloped in an atmosphere of perfect calm. All the noise of the city that was threatening to overwhelm me were left on the other side of the unassuming door as I was ushered into the leafy canopied courtyard to wait for the customary glass of mint tea, a sign of Moroccan hospitality.
The riad – a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard – was so zen-like and serene that it seemed as if I was the only one there in that moment. I couldn’t believe that after a year and a half of planning (and a LOT of Instagram stalking), I was finally seeing the lush jungle of foliage that surrounded an emerald green tiled pool with my own eyes instead of on my phone. It was even more beautiful than I had hoped!
As much as I planned, strategized, organized, scheduled, researched, and TripAdvisor-ed (that’s a verb now, right?) before my travels, nothing could prepare me for just how magical Morocco is.
While my preparations painted a brilliant picture of a vibrant and bustling country, rich with history and culture, experiencing things – in this case, a country – firsthand revealed many unexpected revelations that I was thrilled to discover….in most cases.
January 1st is just another day. It’s just a random date that someone decided was the beginning of a calendar year and how we would mark the passage of time. But who can deny how good it feels to have a clean slate?!
We get to look forward to the renewed possibility of becoming a “better” version of ourselves. Perhaps a more svelte version of ourselves…
But we don’t just love new beginnings because of how fresh it feels. It’s also because we feel lighter, and it’s not because our new year’s resolution is #MORESALADS. It’s the most opportune time to purge ourselves of the mistakes of the past year and only take with us the lessons we learned from them.
2016 was a hard year both personally and on a universal scale. So rough that I have sequestered myself away under lock and key, counting down the last couple of days in this cursed year. But instead of sitting here, bemoaning all the ways the past was a mess, I will reminisce about all of my most treasured travel moments that I was #blessed (<—ironic usage) enough to experience in 2016.
“This flight has been cancelled due to mechanical issues.”
Both infuriatingly vague and panic-inducing. I suppose it’s preferable to going down in a fiery plane crash but no anxious, novice solo traveller – excited to embark on an adventure – wants to hear an announcement like that.
My gut sank into the floor at Toronto Pearson as I realized that if I missed this flight to New York, it would set off a domino effect, making me miss my connecting flight to Costa Rica and therefore missing the bus I had booked upon arrival to Monteverde and the cloud forest excursion I had planned for that day.
Growing up, I never believed that I had to choose between my passion and a paycheque. I doggedly pursued my hobbies in the hopes that one day I would attain the millennial dream and the “holy grail of a creative career,” as Jamie Varon put it, and “do what I love” for a living.
But no matter what you get paid to do – travel the world, watch Netflix all day, taste test ice cream(!!) – the moment you monetize an activity that you love, it taints the purity of the experience. It carries an added pressure that didn’t exist before and it becomes easy to lose sight of why you loved doing it to begin with.
Struggle can feel like failure and can manifest in many forms like heartbreak, being fired from your job, moving back home, being unable to lose that holiday weight, not getting that raise or promotion…No matter what struggle and failure looks like to you, it feels the same across the board. It sucks.
I’m a big believer in not pushing something, especially when it comes to travel. We may want things to happen a certain way (usually immediately) but we may not be ready for it. I had wanted to go to Thailand for 2 years before an opportunity presented itself. The same happened with Peru, a place I wanted to visit for years. It just so happened that 3 weeks before we were going to go on vacation, a flight deal to Lima popped up. My upcoming trip to Morocco in December was no different.
In Contagious by Jonah Berger, he explains the various reasons why certain things catch on; what compels people to share things. There are a variety of psychological reasons why we share such as social currency – if I tell you about a cool and trendy restaurant, that makes me seem cool and trendy. Other reasons range from defining ourselves to others to nourishing relationships and feeling more involved in the world.
Peru is generally associated with the lush mountainous peaks of Machu Picchu, the cobblestoned streets of Cusco, the gastronomic delights of Lima, and the leafy heights of the humid rainforest. You probably don’t expect a country that is home to those climates to also host an expansive, dry desert but that’s what I was most excited to experience!
After a week and a half of 6am wake-up calls, never sleeping in the same hostel for more than 2 nights in a row, and a particularly heinous bout of altitude sickness endured during a 7-hour tour of the Sacred Valley, Janelle and I were ready to chase the damp of Cusco from our bones. Somehow we had even managed to get caught in a hailstorm in the cobbled stone city at the beginning of the Peruvian summer!
When I was a kid, fashion to me was wearing my favourite Spice Girl T-Shirt and spandex shorts, a sartorial crime that my mother humoured. Paired with my stereotypical Asian bowl haircut (thanks again for that, MOM), the result was quite hideous and displeasing to the eye, even the untrained one.
Luckily, I burned all photographic evidence and my sense of style began to improve after I started studying design in university. The more I learned about myself and how to “see”, the more refined my eye and tastes became. Without even thinking about it, I apply my design sensibilities to everything from how I decorate my room to how I dress myself, not just in terms of aesthetics but functionally as well.
“‘Let your passion spark your profession’. I mean that both figuratively and literally.”
OCAD University is Canada’s biggest art and design institution and my alma mater. I know firsthand that they encourage boundary pushing attitudes and help develop problem solving mindsets in students, producing some of the creative industry’s best talent. While I may have reason to be biased, I truly believed this (and still believe it) when I was applying to post-secondary degree programs.
When my roommate told me she had planned a trip to Ireland, I insisted that she absolutely had to have her first Guinness there. The first time I ever had one was in a little town in Cork. It was full and flavourful, reminiscent of their brown bread. When I returned home, deeply mired in vacation blues, I ordered the beer at a local bar but instead of being poured very slowly (because of how dense it is) from the tap, it arrived in a tall can and tasted so weak and watery in comparison.
Ever since share-and-tell sessions in kindergarten, I’ve been a big believer in transparency; of being open with who I am and what I do in the hopes of passing on potentially helpful information to others. Peeking behind the curtain allows us to learn and understanding how things work can motivate us towards action.
This line of thinking has led me to today’s post, sharing my process and what I’ve learned thus far about climbing my personal Everest: this website.
There are some places in Toronto that makes you feel like you stepped into an episode of Jersey Shore in the sense that the clientele resemble really muscular and over-sized oompa loompas. Instead of enormous lollipops, they clutch really girly cocktails that they hope are offset by their bulging masculinity (I mean their arms, you pervert).
A friend and I made plans to meet for drinks and by the looks of the crowd, we had the misfortune of choosing the Toronto equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Being the alcoholics that we are, we ordered a huge mason jar of blanco sangria but little did we know, it’d be the last drink we’d pay for all night.
Are you one of those people who have a to-do list that’s a mile long? You really want to start a blog, train for a marathon, start a tumblr photoshopping elf ears on stock photos*…whatever… but when push comes to shove, you never seem to be able to get started?
*I know someone who does this and it’s the best thing I ever heard of
I am a woman of the world. Or at least I look it.
For some reason I am extremely confusing-looking to people or “ethnically ambiguous.” People seem to be very tortured by the mystery of it all and subsequently berate me with the poorly-phrased “What are you?” question, whether by some random man on the subway, a friendly uber driver, or a curious acquaintance.
You're probably sick to death of hearing me wax poetic about my time at Playa Manglares but it was the cherry that topped off the indulgent sundae that was my trip to Cartagena. Every memory on Isla Baru was on the list of my best moments in Colombia, along with all the eating in the Centro Historico District and flopping around in El Totumo Mud Volcano.
When you think of vacation, what generally comes to mind are white sandy beaches and lounging next to crashing waves in a hammock, most definitely with some kind of alcoholic concoction in a coconut, topped off with a colourful umbrella (and a lot of high quality rum).
So many places to visit and not enough vacation time! What a first world problem to have though #ChampagneProblems. Nevertheless, when the world is your oyster, the possibilities for exploration are endless. There are so many nooks and crannies; corners of the universe, tucked away just waiting for you to discover.
As an enthusiastic eater and designer, nothing satisfies me more than when the 2 worlds overlap, whether in a beautifully branded restaurant or on liquor labels at the LCBO. Today’s post is a Joie de T of sorts. It is food and design themed collection of things that combine the 2 that I’m really loving right now!
I have a bad habit of pretending that I am on vacation for at least a month longer than I actually am. I put myself in social purgatory; hiding out from the world, giving ambiguous responses to the pile of “Are you home yet?” text messages. My friends know me well enough not to take it personally. Without fail, every time I return from a trip, no matter the length, I suffer from an intense, suffocating bout of post-vacation blues.
The first morning I woke up at Playa Manglares, it was with the sunrise. Not voluntarily as I'm neither crazy nor masochistic but because the sun was in my eyes. After running around nonstop in Colombia for a week and a half, devouring everything in sight and salsa dancing until the wee hours, I was overdue for a bit of a lie-in. I know, poor me.
A foodie is generally not a composed person because their enthusiasm for food is so great that they lose their mind at the sight of a plate of cacio e pepe. They bowl over small children and shove the elderly out their way to get to a Nutella-filled beignet. A foodie is someone who, even if they were lactose-intolerant, you’d never suspect because they eat cheese with abandon and just pay for it later (thankfully, when you’re not there). Cheese is worth it.
I feel like volcanos are my Pokémon. In Costa Rica, I hiked a volcano then waded in the naturally heated hot springs. I boarded down a volcano made of compressed ash in Nicaragua on little more than a thin, metal toboggan. I seem to “catch ‘em all” when it comes to volcano-centric experiences, but never before had I been given a mud massage IN a volcano.
Generally, when you think of volcanos, what’s called to mind are things like majestic peaks, spewing fire, virginal sacrifices…not so much getting mud massaged by a Colombian man. Am I the only weirdo/pervert who immediately thought that sounded like fun?! In fact, the moment I saw fellow wanderer, Room + Wild, post a photo her chest-deep in mud, it was scored on my heart as a bucket list item that I needed to experience. In fact, it was the main attraction that inspired my most recent adventure to Cartagena, Colombia.
The last leg of my Peru trip was spent in Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of a desert just outside of Ica. During the late afternoon, we took a buggy that looked like it was straight out of Jurassic Park, on a roller coaster ride among the sloping sand dunes that we would later be boarding down. That night, after purchasing a couple bottles of cheap wine, a group of us clambered barefoot up the steep incline of sand. Already a majestic sight during the day, the desert looked unreal bathed in moonlight. All you could see in every direction were mounds of sand that met a night sky, filled to the brim with stars and a low-hanging moon.
It’s moments like those, when I am in the presence of great and awe-inspiring forces, that I am keenly aware of how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things; as inconsequential as a speck of dust…and I LOVE IT.
I provide endless entertainment for my co-workers who will see me wandering around on lunch break and creep up in an attempt to scare me. They will follow me very closely and silently, waiting to see how long it takes for me to notice them there (It usually takes about a block). When I finally DO notice, they can count themselves fortunate if I don’t punch them in the throat in fright and I’m lucky if I don’t have a coronary. I get startled frequently and easily whether it’s due to poor hearing, not being very observant, or because I get touched a lot by strangers. Probably a combination of all.
You can’t really say something like “I get touched a lot by strangers” without elaborating so let me provide an example:
I’ve always considered myself to be a water baby.
As a hardcore Pisces, I was never afraid of the water, even when I almost drowned as a kid. To my 3-year-old eyes the patch of lily pads at the edge of the lake looked as solid as the ground I was standing on. Take note: they are not. I distinctly remember that moment of plunging under the water in the lake and instinctively holding my breath. I wasn’t scared, just mildly curious like “Huh, that is not what I thought would happen…” It wasn’t bravery. I think I just didn’t understand that there was anything to be afraid of. Maybe ignorance (of fear) is bliss.
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, then you will already know that my next adventure will be to Colombia, specifically Cartagena! Prepare to have your social media feeds bombarded with “spontaneously” artistic photos of me “casually” posing in front of vibrantly-coloured buildings in outfits that are totally inappropriate and impractical for gallivanting around in, holding empanadas, arepas, paletas (probably all three at the same time) that I will proceed to drop on myself. The photo of me, food-stained and disappointed at having wasted a treat will be culled from the selection of content that I will choose to share online (natch). Ahhh the “magic” of social media.
Possessing the fleeting memory of a goldfish means that I feel INTENSE joy, repeatedly, each time I remember that I have leftover black forest cake in the fridge that my dad made from scratch (as in, the maraschino cherries were soaked in liquor, high quality chocolate was shaved, whipped cream was hand whipped, three layers of fluffy gorgeousness, etc..) but some memories are so intense and precious that even a faulty memory can’t impede.
One of my favourite quotes I discovered just before the first time I travelled to Rise Up Surf Camp in Nicaragua:
“There are moments that I know I will long for even as I live them.”
- Judith Katzir
The other day someone asked me what the weirdest thing I ever did with Barbies was. It was one of those I-am-SO-bored-that-I’m-asking-you-the-most-random-thing-I-can-think-of kind of question. I suppose they were expecting me to say that I stripped them naked and chased my brothers around the house with them, but what I did was far more weird.
I’d write and illustrate newsletters based on the adventures my Barbies would go on.
I know, I really marched to the beat of my own drum.
When I came back from Peru and people asked me how my trip was, there were so many things I could’ve told them. I could’ve told them about how amazing Machu Picchu was in person and how there was a sign that said “No nudity against the sacredness.” The poor application of English is hilarious in and of itself but then you have to wonder just HOW many people got naked on the grounds to warrant having a sign put up.
I could’ve waxed poetic about the amazing food (in Lima especially) and how Peru grows over 4,000 varieties of potatoes (!!!!) and 55 types of corn. Mind. Blown.
I could’ve expressed my awe at the diversity of landscapes in Peru – from urban jungle, to literal (Amazon) jungle, mountainous peaks to an oasis in the middle of a blissfully hot desert.
All these awesome Peruvian tales and what do I say when people ask how my trip was?
“Well….a dog stole my wet shoe.”
I embarrassed myself the other day which, for me, is not an unusual occurrence. Since it’s such a common affair, let me clarify that I’m NOT referring to the incident over the weekend at a restaurant when I made my ravenous companions wait while I climbed on a chair to take a photo of my food. IN PUBLIC. Clearly I any vestiges of shame I may have once had has escaped me after performing Teddy Bear’s Picnic in a ballet recital at the age of five.
I’m talking about when I went to the Sheraton the other day to pick up CMW wristbands and I went a little fan girl. The logo and creative I designed for the event was on everything from laminates to wristbands to signage and the gig guide! I was so excited to see my work everywhere that I couldn’t help but do a little dance on the spot, clapping my hands like the child I am on the inside. If I still possessed the capacity to feel embarrassed, I would have been since I was in the company of one of my co-workers.
Sometimes kids makes me really anxious about the future. Not because I’m thinking about my age and how many eggs I have left or anything gender specific to my child-bearing capabilities. Don’t get me wrong, I love squishy little humans but until I miraculously forget where babies come from, my womb will remain occupant-free, the dusty vacancy sign lying in a forgotten storage room.
*Note to ninth grade science teachers: If you’re going to show “The Miracle of Childbirth” in class, DON’T rewind the birthing part so we can witness the process BUT IN REVERSE. #Scarred4Life
Going to Thailand for Yi Peng was something I had always wanted to do. It was something I had wanted to do, hoped I would do, but something I didn’t think I would ever actually GET to do. Kind of like when you say “I’m going to go to the gym tomorrow” or “I’m only going to have ONE glass of wine.” Never happens (Who only has one glass of wine?! No one I want to spend a Saturday night with).
Yi Peng is The Festival of Lights and celebrated throughout Thailand with the release of brightly lit lanterns. Specifically I wanted to go to the main celebration at Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) that was attended by thousands of people, local residents and international tourists.
I get really angry when I see articles like Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Travel. I want to travel, I don't need your reasons! Your list is useless to me! You want me to travel? Give me your money! Drive the getaway car while I rob a bank!
My motivations for travelling are a combination of adventure, experience, clarity, and of course, eating. Food and the culture around eating helps you get the feeling for a place as much as visiting museums and inspecting ancient relics. It tells a story in flavours and spices; in the cooking methods and ingredients indigenous to the area. We don't need to speak the language to appreciate it. It's universal!
Diary entry from 9 year old Teri:
“Today is pizza lunch at school. Pizza tastes good. I wish I got more.”
I kid you not, in every entry from my childhood I mention what I ate or was planning to eat. I remember when I was 8-years old and I wrote my very first entry in my very first sparkly, sticker-covered diary, I pointedly learned the tricky spelling of “spaghetti.” I had wanted to record what my favourite food was (still is) because #priorities. Honestly, children are like little drunk adults.
The other day it took me THIRTY MINUTES to choose a toothpaste. Shoppers only had three brands of toothpaste (one of which I ruled out right off the bat because baking soda is abrasive on enamel). I settled on a subsection of Colgate but was still stuck with the choice between Sparkling Mint, Luminous Mint and Cool Mint. Why do you make my life so difficult, Colgate?! What’s the difference? Is it in the taste? The colour?? By this point, I’m getting visibly agitated, stomping back and forth in the aisle and muttering to myself like a crazy person. The upside is that no one wants to kidnap a crazy person which is the sole tidbit of knowledge I retained from grade 9 defence class. Luckily I don’t often audibly argue what toothpaste to choose but I do talk to myself a lot more than I care to admit. Not in the “I’m eating at a restaurant and asking myself how I like the fish” kind of way but more like repeating my personal mantras to myself to find equilibrium.
In grade 5, I was only allowed to watch 2 hours of TV a day so I had to strategically plan every show I watched. Between The Fresh Prince and Saved by the Bell (90s sitcom GOLD), little time was left for MuchMusic. One day in class, an opinionated classmate shouted "Smashing Pumpkins suck!" I've never had much tolerance for complainers and the solution seemed painfully simple to me so I responded “Then stop smashing them…"
Instead of graciously thanking me for the life-changing advice, I was laughed out of class. That day after school I kicked off my pop culture education by pondering the mystery of why girls my age were going wild for the androgynous Taylor Hanson. To this day, I'm horrible with band/artist names and song titles despite working in the Entertainment industry. I guess I didn't learn much from the experience except to let loudmouthed jerks solve their own problems.
When the shininess of the new year started to fade in mid-January, I retreated to Rise Up Surf for a much needed vacation. It’s a surf camp in Northern Nicaragua that provides the perfect balance of being active and relaxing. I would wake up as early as 5am to surf, volcano board, horseback ride, practice my downward dog, eat deliciously healthy meals, and drink on boat trips until my liver begged for mercy. Once I completely exhausted myself I would eagerly surrender to the seductive wiles of a low-swinging hammock. This recent trip was my second time there. I usually don’t visit a place twice (so many places to see in the world!) but it has a liberating narcotic effect on me. It’s like suddenly all the things I used to care about at home just dissipate into the sea salt air and all I’m left with is the most essential part of me that just wants to run and laugh and live.
Another birthday has come and gone which means ANOTHER year I’ve been sorely disappointed that I didn’t receive the one thing I really wanted: 4 muscular, oiled up men in loincloths carrying me around in a golden litter, Cleopatra-style, waving palm fronds at me and feeding me peeled grapes. It’s not because I don’t like the skin on grapes but it’s more about the effort! But seriously (seriously!) I actually celebrated the big 3-0 with amazing friends and family who accept me for who I am, overly dirty thirty sense of humour and all.
“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.” ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The first time I read this quote, something in the rhythm and the words chosen really resonated with me. I loved it so much that I bought this print by Oh My Deer and put it right on my nightstand. It’s just so basic. That’s all we want – someone to eat, drink, and sleep with…the things that are essential to us as human beings to live. If that’s all we want, then why is it so hard to get past a first date these days?
If you’ve been paying attention to my Instagram, you may have noticed these little food-centric, stop motion animations. Since everyone loves a good origin story (if the success of superhero movies has taught me anything) I thought I’d explain a bit more about what they’re about.
I work at Cosmic Design, “A full-range design agency, navigating problems, driven by the shared intention of arriving at a common destination” (Do you like the copy? I wrote it ;) Probably my favourite thing about working at Cosmic are my co-workers. We share a kinship….or at least we share snacks and our insatiable hunger. Habitual snackers, we shamefully congregate in the kitchen to munch on popcorn or to steal someone’s food in the common fridge.
The beginning of the year is marked by familiar things: overcrowded gyms, shopping carts filled with fresh veggies, and good intentions. We start each New Year with well-meaning resolutions that we hope will come to pass.
But let’s get real (because this is a no-judgement zone) – we’re probably already back on the couch, binge-eating cheetos, dusted with shame and orange powder with our best friend, Netflix.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all do it (right?). But this year let’s do more than hope that we can make our resolutions stick. If we're more strategic about our approach, we can turn our resolutions into a reality!
Here are some tips I’m using to help me to stay on track with my own resolutions:
A little while ago, I joined an online community of creatives called The Creator Class. It’s an initiative developed by Free Agency in Toronto and in their own words, they are “A channel for Creators, by Creators.” They invite you in to become part of a “Movement in the Making,” through member projects.
These books blew my mind. I didn’t suddenly become aware that men were the devil. I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to burn my bra in protest (undergarments are expensive!). These books are not about man-bashing but rather about how women hold themselves back. My eyes were opened to all the ways I was limiting myself because of how I’ve been socialized. In their book, Darling, You Can’t Do Both, Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin, the women warriors in the advertising world, summed up perfectly why this clarity is such a revelation: “It’s just important to recognize barriers you may not have thought existed, because when you see them in front of you, you can get around them.” Awareness is key to moving forward.
No one, more than Canadians can relate more to the Game of Thrones motto Winter is Coming. For House of Stark it’s about warning and constant vigilance; preparation for danger ahead. For us, it’s more literal. Winter is actually coming. It’s cold and it sucks and we hate it. Almost as much as we hate the extreme heat in the summer. As soon as August hits, I scramble to soak up as much summer as I can get to last me for the coming months of being bricked into my home to avoid snow (and polar bears), with only Netflix for company. I’ve put together a Summer Eating Hit List, my personal selection of spots that maximize the the good weather. Goodbye beach body. Hello winter padding!
Originally I wanted to name this post Things I Wish Had Been On The 'What You Need to Know Before Going to Peru' Lists. Accurate but convoluted.
1/ MUST hang on to your immigration card
Sounds like a no brainer, right? But when flight attendants hand you this bit of paper, no one explains what it is or how essential it is. At least not in English. You need your immigration card to book accommodations, tours and to eventually leave Peru. Your troubleshooting options are to either pay 18% more for those things or pay for a new document that you need to get either at the airport or an immigration office. my advice? Keep all papers that could potentially be an official document that you’ll need later. If you know which document is your immigration card, staple it to your passport.
If you ever go to Mexico, bypass Cancun and go straight to Tulum! It’s full of expertly decorated, boho-hippie chic boutique resorts on idyllic, white, sandy beaches and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten myself sick on in life (think paletas, authentic tortas, cactus salad, and pear, brie, granola towers) savoured in magical, secret garden-esque open-air restaurants. Unfortunately, my Asian double and I didn’t know how good we had it until we left Tulum for Cancun, arriving with bellies distended with last minute paletas, and covered in a thick layer of dirt and sweat. Chilling by the pool with horny, middle-aged divorcées got old after a couple hours. We were also deeply unimpressed by the resort chef’s idea of “Oriental Night” that consisted of sushi with toasted coconut on top (gross). We planned a day of respite to Isla Mujeres, easily facilitated through the resort excursion centre.