Anniversary

“Like an ocean in between the waves . . .”

Exactly a year ago tomorrow, I was making my way to London, via Calgary, Edmonton, and Reykjavik.

From my journal: “Edmonton airport, glass of wine, here we go. Hardly seems real . . . Half an hour out of Iceland, 4:30 a.m., sun slivers, stars, clouds, distant pink. Wishing I could put this feeling in words.” I’m still not able to. Maybe this is why I’m an editor, not a novelist.

I had met two of my future roommates, for a few hours total, a year earlier. And I had freelance work lined up. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect. I leapt out of my mind’s stagnant water across an ocean to find . . . something.

The practice of yoga focuses on cultivating contentment in the present moment, wherever you happen to be. It’s an idea that guides my life, but yet, the need for a change of scenery has always been vital when I need to reset, get creative, feel inspired.

London quickly became home. We adapt quickly. This ability never ceases to fascinate me. I remind myself to be a tourist, to enjoy floating in the ocean while it’s still, before the waves rolls in. Because they will.

Windsor Castle Westminster

I think about my equal and constant desires: to build a home and “root” and to keep watching the sun rise somewhere new. Is it possible to have both? It’s thrilling to think so. A place to float, and a place to play, rushing forward, pulling back, in cycles.

Brighton

But the stagnant waters? They’ll always be there waiting, regardless of how far I travel. We must learn to access contentment, joy, inspiration within, wherever we physically find ourselves.

For now, London is still home. And the water is so inviting.

Namaste 🙂
Rachel

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Back to Basics

Okay, so do I even bother apologising for my lack of blogging this past year? I mean, I have no excuse. I’ve had loads of time to write, and no shortage of inspiration in this incredible city of London (gah, so many bookshops!). But as a dear friend so aptly put it, I’ve been in my “hermit cave” these last few months.  And that’s where I’ve needed to be.

Bookshop

So many books, so little time … bookworm Heaven!

Part of what drove me to live abroad was a need for silence. So logically, I moved away from the serenity of Canada’s mountains and lakes and threw myself into one of the busiest, most crowded cities in the world. Makes sense. Seriously though, what I needed, what I’m still coming to learn I need, was a much more profound silence. I needed to hear only my own voice because I’d forgotten what it sounded like.

When it comes to the support network in my life, I couldn’t be luckier. I have friends and family encouraging me daily, and offering an ear whenever this hermit cave of mine gets just a little too isolating. What I’m truly realising now though is that I need the time and space and quiet to trust my own decision-making processes, my own intuition, my own heart.

I’ve carved out the time for just ten minutes of meditation every morning, and it’s made more of a difference that I ever could have imagined, not just in my overall peace of mind but also in my ability to focus on whatever is happening in the moment, work included – productivity bonus!

When’s the last time you made some quiet space to really listen to yourself? Get back to basics – turn off your phone, go for a walk, breathe deeply in the moment. Life is short, but life is also very long, and we need to enjoy spending time with that one person who will be with us the entire trip …

Namaste 🙂

p.s. I really am going to start blogging again. I swear.

London Sunday

The perfect London Sunday stretches infinitely ahead of me as I wake. I greet the Thames, running like a grey ribbon alongside the city underneath low-hung clouds of the same shade. There is vibrancy in the seemingly dull. London is a bright city of grey.

An Americano from Cafe Del Rey, Putney, in hand, I hop on the 22 bus to Piccadilly Circus, earphones bumping with old-school British tunes, to set the mood. It’s a day of immersion in this new home of mine. One hour later, past Fulham, Chelsea, and Hyde Park, it’s on to the Tube, Bakerloo line to Warwick station, which opens up to the gem of Little Venice, a taste of Italy in the middle of London.

Little Venice 1

After a second Americano accompanied by eggs in a diner overlooking the canal, I stroll along said canal, watching painters immortalize the scene, friends chat, and lovers meander.

Little Venice3

Little Venice2

Back on the Bakerloo to Waterloo and the highlight of my London Sunday. But first, a stop at Foyles for some new reading material, two travel memoirs. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but something about this city lights up my inner bookworm to no end. Maybe it’s the thought of all the literati who’ve walked these streets. Armed with my purchases, I make my way to the Southbank Centre for some tea and to wait for the 3:00 p.m. performance of the London Philharmonia Orchestra.

Symphony

As I settle in to immerse myself in the music, I can think of no better way to spend a solitary afternoon, and as I leave the concert, I feel more alive than I have in quite some time.

After a stop at the local Sainsbury’s, I head home to end the day with a cuppa. And I recall Samuel Johnson’s famous quote: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

Namaste 🙂

Rachel

The First Christmas Abroad, and All That Jazz

“May the New Year bring you courage to break your resolutions early! My own plan is to swear off every kind of virtue, so that I triumph even when I fall!” – Aleister Crowley

Nothing beats the last week of the year, just after Christmas and before New Year’s. I set aside an evening, just me and my favourite jazz and a bottle of wine, to go through journals and reflect on the year before starting a fresh new journal and filling the first few pages with musings on my desires and goals for the year ahead. Ah, I’m such a cheeseball at heart, but it just starts the year off on a good note.

Speaking of cheeseballs, I sure missed my mom’s this year. And her baking. And her turkey. My waistline is thanking me though. I survived my first Christmas away from home. One hurdle down. And though it was strange and not something I’d like to repeat next year (I’ll start looking at flights for next Christmas soon, Mom!), the last few days reminded me that distance is truly a non-issue when it comes to feeling the love of family and friends.

Enjoying the festivities in Trafalgar Square.

Enjoying the festivities in Trafalgar Square.

I'm terrible at night photographs, but these lights were dazzling. Christmas is truly magical in London. Where's my photographer roommate when I need him!

I’m terrible at night photographs, but these lights were dazzling. Christmas is truly magical in London. Where’s my photographer roommate when I need him!

I’m especially grateful this season for my friend Dallas, who made the trek across the ocean to spend Christmas with me. We celebrated with roast chicken (homemade by Waitrose), copious amounts of Baileys and mulled wine, and terrible (awesome) chick flicks. And thanks to the magic of Skype, we were able to invite our families into our little celebration for a few hours on Christmas Day.

It still felt Christmasey, even miles from home.

It still felt Christmasey, even miles from home.

A feast for two

A feast for two.

On Tuesday we’re heading to Edinburgh for the famous Hogmanay celebration, and I’m fairly bursting with excitement. After the festivities (and the day of sleep that I’m sure will be much needed), we’ll spend a few days touring Scotland. Pictures and an update to follow.

It’s certainly a resolution to begin blogging on a regular basis again, so I hope to connect with you all in the new year. From my cheeseball heart to yours, have a wonderful holiday season. Wishing you so much joy for 2015.

Namaste 🙂
Rachel

Merging: a weekend in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, cyclists weave seamlessly within the flow of traffic. They continually merge for brief moments into crowded intersections to find the next bike lane.

This March an old friend weaved her way back into my life, unexpectedly and to my delight. I had decided to meet a crew of friends for impromptu drinks one evening, and when I arrived at the restaurant, I found the party had begun hours ago. I immediately scolded the most raucous of the boys: “I hope you’re treating the waitress well. The poor girl!”

That’s when I noticed her taking an order at the far end of the table. “Eloise?” I said tentatively. Confusion quickly shifted to excitement. “Eloise!” This lovely lady and I had worked together as waitresses years ago in Saskatoon but lost touch. I didn’t even know she’d moved to Calgary. In the “What’s new?” portion of our happy reunion, we quickly established we had mutual plans to move abroad, and decided some coffee dates were in order.

Several months later, here we are in Europe. I made the trek to Amsterdam last weekend for a visit — and I don’t use “trek” lightly. Rather than booking the relatively cheap round-trip flight, I booked a one-way flight, Amsterdam to London, and opted for a very cheap night bus to Amsterdam. Aren’t I clever with my money, I thought.

Now I’m no stranger to the bus, but a bus inside a train inside a tunnel under the ocean? Maybe not the best option for someone with massive claustrophobia. Oh yeah. That was not a good time. Deep breaths, Rachel, deep breaths. Just don’t think about where you are. Thankfully, the Chunnel adventure lasted only thirty minutes. And thankfully, my seatmate decided to get chatty at just the right time, providing a welcomed distraction.

Twelve hours later, I arrived bleary eyed and in awe. I had heard a little of Amsterdam: people bike a lot and certain substances and practices are legal. But this picturesque gem of a city is so much more than that. I felt as if I’d stumbled upon a fairy tale.

Canal2 Canal1 Ams4

I’ve never been much of a cyclist, but I had to adapt quickly! There really is no better way to see the city.

Bike parking lot

Look what I found! What are the chances?

Ams1 Ams2

Ams3 Ams8

At the airport, after patting myself on the back for booking a flight home, I thought about how odd it was to be flying “home” to London for the first time. And as I weaved my way onto the Tube for the last leg of my journey, I thought about how people don’t just weave their way into our lives randomly. They merge when the time is right. And they remind us that home is never very far away.

Namaste 🙂
Rachel

 

London’s Music

If you see me on the street, I’ll probably be boppin’ along, earbuds in as I go about my day. Most of the time, music enhances my experience of a moment. There’s nothing like hard rock for an adrenaline-infused run, sultry jazz for early-morning coffee or late-night wine, and heart-wrenching classical for a writing session. I’ve even found a site that features music designed to increase focus and productivity, and it works wonders, let me tell you.

Lately though, I’ve been doing some little experiments, and I’m finding there’s a time and a place, a right way and a wrong way, to get lost in music:

“London Music”

Earbuds in I walk,
in time to the music. Meanwhile,
the pulse of the city beats . . .
in time around me, unnoticed.
So I take them out, my earbuds,
take in rain-soaked streets
saturated in vibrant London energy,
And I listen to the music.

When I listen to this music, my awareness is heightened. Scenes play out around me. Snippets of life emerge: excited conversation, a street performer’s song, a mother laughing as she watches her child playing in the leaves, a stranger’s smile when I catch her eye.

This weekend I’m heading to Amsterdam — my first excursion out of England since arriving! Very much looking forward to it, and I fully intend to wander earbud free. Some new music. Stories and pictures to follow next week.

A quiet walk along the Thames in Putney.

Not-so-quiet walk in Waterloo Station. London’s ever-present contrast of peace with chaos, of old with brand new, continues to amaze me.

Namaste 🙂

Rachel

A Place In the World

Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place . . . Nothing outside you can give you any place . . . In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” – Flannery O’Connor

Home. It becomes a more confusing word with each chapter in my life. And I find myself intrigued by the concept of “place” in the world, and where I fit. Growing up in a town of five hundred people in rural Saskatchewan, I was blessed with the love and friendship of a tight-knit community, but I couldn’t wait to move to Saskatoon. I’d always been drawn to the idea of “the city,” a place of wonder and mystery, of seemingly endless things to do.

Mad football skills at home in Hafford.

Mad football skills at home in Hafford.

When I arrived in Saskatoon for the next chapter of my life, university, I felt I couldn’t be happier. Big city, fresh start. I knew it all. I was an adult. I had arrived in “my place,” where I wanted to be. But two years in, I realized I felt no particular tie to Saskatoon itself, and started wondering where I’d settle down and build my white picket fence life. After four years of undergraduate studies, I had a gap year — one not spent travelling but taking online courses and figuring out where I wanted to be while pondering the favourite question of the twenties-something: “What do I want to do with my life?”

In my university years, I spent time each summer in Calgary and came to fall in love with the city, and even more so with its proximity to the mountains. Spurred on by big dreams of building a career in a city that seemed to hold endless promise for all aspects of my life at the time, I headed west for the next chapter.

Banff    Calgary skyline

Again, when I arrived, I felt I couldn’t be happier. Bigger city, fresh start. I knew I didn’t know it all, but I was learning. My first year in Calgary marked significant shifts in my personal and professional life. Perhaps for this reason, I felt that Calgary was truly “my place,” the place where I was supposed to put down those roots everyone talks about.

And then two years into this chapter, an impromptu trip, my first solo excursion abroad, changed all that. The travel bug didn’t just bite me: it started gnawing at my core. I returned to Calgary with an ever-growing sense of restlessness that I largely ignored for the better part of the next two years. Was Calgary my place? Where did I want to “be”?

Oh beach life ...

Oh the life in Costa Rica …

Then almost a year ago to the day, a friend and I headed to Europe for a month. Ah Europe. The cobblestone, the intrigue, the stolen moments of laughter, reflection, rendezvous, and oh, the wine, the wine, the wine. And the croissants. The minute I set foot on London soil, I felt I had arrived home. There was a pull, a tie to “place” unlike any other I’d felt before. And on our last day in Europe, as I sat in Rome contemplating the month that had passed, I realized that I wasn’t done with Europe, or rather, that Europe wasn’t done with me. And with that realization, the weight of restlessness lifted. It was time to prepare for the new “place” in my life.

Monterosso

Thanks to the lovely Sarah for these photos.

Eiffel Tower  Wine in Lucca

Now settled in my new chapter in London, I’ve arrived. I couldn’t be happier. Biggest city, fresh start. I’m keenly aware of the fact I don’t know it all, and never will. In fact, I might just be more confused than ever. But right now, London is “my place.” I don’t want to imagine living anywhere else.

Underground  London BridgePutney   Daunt Books  Brighton

For the moment.

And in this contentment I wonder, am I destined to wander, forever feeling the pull of new “place”? But what I do know for sure is the most important truth I own: home is in the people we love, not the place. Home is within.

Namaste.
Rachel

Arrival