Saturday, December 5, 2015

Grounded...sort of!

As many of you know, July is my birthday month.  This year it was something of a sporting weekend celebration.  Having been priviliged to attend the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony for the Pan Am Games, I then scored more free tickets to watch the rugby sevens with five friends. Canada eventually won.

My actual birthday itself involved an early start to get myself to a local cinema which was screening the Wimbledon men's final.  Despite my hopes and sporting my Roger Federer hat, my tennis hero sadly lost to Novak Djokovic so the rest of the day was spent trying to pull my bottom lip in!

A few weeks later, I set off on a cross-Canada adventure.  I flew to Vancouver Island and boarded a ferry to sail up the British Columbian Inside Passage.  It was a long and chilly but spectacular sea journey punctuated by wonderful views, breaching whales, soaring eagles and First Nations culture.

I arrived in Prince Rupert and enjoyed another incredible day sailing out on the water, very close to the Alaskan border, to watch humpback whales.  We were treated to an amazing sight of three whales bubble-net feeding.  The whales team up and then dive blowing bubbles.  The bubbles confuse the fish into thinking they are inside a net.  At this point, the whales breach and swallow as many of the dazed fish as they can.  The whales came so close to us (with engines off) you could smell their stinky bad breath!

Prince Rupert was also the start of an epic rail journey which would eventually bring me back home to Toronto.  The first two days were spent about the Skeena as we travelled inland towards the Rockies and Jasper.  Much of my time was spent in the 1950s observation car pretending to be Marilynn Monroe and peering out across the vast landscape.  Eventually, we caught sight of Mt. Robson, Canada's highest peak, and as we neared the town of Jasper, I caught a glimpse of a young bear ambling along the tracks just feet away from an oblivious lady walking her dog.

I had two nights in Jasper and stayed at a lovely place, Storm's Retreat, in the centre of the town.  This was my second visit and I spent a couple of days driving from lake to mountain to lake taking in the crystal clear water, fresh mountain air and even having a close encounter with a wolf along a back road. Jasper and its surrounds really are one of my happy places! 

Boarding a different and much longer sleeper train in Jasper, I again hit the rails.  On board the Canadian, I spent the next three days and nights rattling across the Rockies, Prairies and Canadian Shield to get back home.  Disappointingly, the weather was not that good so it rained or was misty for much of the ride but it still gave me a wonderful perspective on just how vast Canada is.  I also enjoyed life on board the train meeting lots of interesting travellers and enjoying the excellent service.

In September, after a lot of reflection, I decided it was time for a bit of a change at work in order to give myself a new challenge and develop my skills set further.  I am now on a one-year secondment at the Faculty of Medicine, still at the University of Toronto, where I am now Associate Registrar for Enrolment Management.  They are not short of students applying for the Medicine program but the work I am doing is to ensure the quality and diversity of applicants.  I am not travelling overseas on business this year but am visiting other campuses across the Ontario region.  I'm also involved in some interesting developments such as a new website launch and implementation of a customer relationship database as well as initiatives to bring in more black, indigenous and low income students.  Although I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss working in the international arena, it's been interesting to see a different side of university recruitment and to develop my knowledge and connections further.

One advantage of being in Toronto a bit more has been the opportunity to see more friends and places locally.  Over the past few months, I've managed to squeeze in a couple of lovely out of town trips with friends.  Stratford, the home of Justin Bieber, was visited twice.  Firstly, to see some Shakespeare and the Sound of Music at the Stratford Festival and secondly, to take in the edible delights of the garlic fest.  The Biebs did not put in an appearance!

I also made a trip north of Toronto to Midland and Penetanguishine where we stayed in a floatel on a lake and visited Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons, one of the first immigrant settlements in the region.  We also managed to get a bit of team rowing in on one of the wetland areas.

Another weekend was spent in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is a very pretty town not far from the US border and the famous falls.  Here, I encountered Steampunk for the first time and was very intrigued by this quirky sub-culture.  We had a great afternoon watching magic shows, listening to lectures on 18th century surgical techniques and seeing cookie-dunking duels - believe me, it's a thing!  The wacky costumes people had made were amazing.

Perhaps this is where I became inspired to develop my latest hobby - sewing.  I've taken a few courses at the Make Den to learn how to sew over the past few months and am planning on a few more in the new year.  I think I've inherited my mother's passion for it and am really enjoying the creativity and using my hands to make things that are both useful and pretty.  I was even kindly donated a sewing machine that a friend found by the bins at her apartment building but which, after a service, works just fine.  I'm not yet taking orders but I am now able to alter my own clothes and make a few bits and pieces from scratch.

Anyway, on that note, I shall sign off and wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year!  I will be spending the next month with my family exploring the jungle and beaches in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  Happy Holidays one and all!

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