Moving.

I’ve been here before, but it still feels new. Slowly packing my boxes as I prepare to leave the place I call “home.” It’s the end of an era, I guess. Finishing college and making this move is a game changer.

I’ve been here before, of course I have. My mind immediately jumps to five years ago, when I took off for University. It’s a familiar story: By the end of high school, I had messily carved a suburban teenage “self” out of high school essays, basement parties, and bad attempts at French cuisine. The time had come to challenge that identity. So I moved to the City (mine was Ottawa; my friends scattered all over). I remember leaving my parents’ house in 2010, taking pictures off the walls as my younger brother prepared to take over the space. The process of packing up your old life, even if you’re truly ready for it, is necessarily emotional. It was emotional then, and it is emotional now.

It’s good emotional, for the most part: I’m excited, I’m ready. My family and career and soul will all be better for this.  I sat down with a friend from first year yesterday and just vomited out all the cool stuff I want to do with my life: “I want to make this website! I want to make that app! I want to run this Twitter account! I want to make education better! I want a dog and a house and a panini press!”

Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!
Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!

It’s time to challenge the identity again. That’s how I see these big moves. I’m attracted to the idea of putting myself in a new environment and seeing how my outlook and personality change…and how they stay the same.  “Finding myself in college” wasn’t about “doing new stuff” (though that was cool, too). It was about figuring out what parts of my identity were who I was, and which parts were just a product of where I was. Would I still like History when I left the guidance of my high school teachers? (Yes, it turned out, I fell even more desperately in love). Would I still adore my high school friends after a few years in a new place? (We had a wicked party last month, actually). Would I hold on to my lack of religious beliefs, my relationship, my bad habits? (No, no, and I’m sure I’ve traded them in for some more).

The move helped me. It didn’t save me, it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all “solution.” It just helped, for the same reason travelling or “trying something new” helps. It’s powerful to see that there is more out there. And it’s powerful to see how you respond to that. Embracing new space can show you what sticks when you shift the environmental factors—the social pressure, the family dynamics, all that. Whether you love the new place or hate it, the whole experience can give you a much more solid grasp on who you are and what you want.

And what I want now is to move forward with my life, which means leaving Ottawa. It means reclaiming a Southern Ontario “self” (this time as a job-seeking big kid) and shedding some of the capital city student life. Just some of it. I’ll still be me, of course. But with this move, I’m hoping I will get a better idea of what that means.

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The Impact of a Single Act of Kindness: OC Transpo Edition

This is a story about an OC Transpo bus driver who made my week.  Like, actually made my week. I’m still significantly happier and better off because of this person, and I figured I should pass on his awesomeness.

As a broke student, losing my bus pass is the worst thing that can happen. Besides my need for daily transportation, I use my plastic pass holder as a stand-in wallet.

bus pass

This little red folder is everything to me–without its contents, I can’t even buy groceries. If I lose it, the best case scenario is that I’m stranded in Vanier, counting change and praying I have enough money/time to bus down to OC Transpo’s awkwardly located Lost & Found.

I assume you see where this is going.

It was Wednesday, March 12 when I lost my bus pass. It was my fault, of course; the pass had fallen out of my pocket while I was riding home, and I didn’t notice until it was too late. To make matters worse, this was particularly bad timing (an out-of-town friend was coming in that night, I had projects due at school, et cetra). I was stuck.

Then my phone rang. It was my bus driver. He had found my bus pass and, since my business card was stuffed alongside it, he was able to contact me to let me know. The heads up was incredibly kind, but what he offered next was truly above-and-beyond:

“I was just gonna bring it into work tomorrow, but I’m heading out for a bit after dinner. Did you want me to just drop it off with you?”

I was stunned. Seriously? Was this person actually willing to bring my lost bus pass right to my doorstep? Was this real life? He insisted that it wouldn’t be out of his way, and I thanked him repeatedly him over the phone.

Not even an hour later, he was on my doorstep with the little red plastic pass holder that held my life. Every card was still in place. My out-of-town friend gaped as I came back inside. We couldn’t believe it.

The driver who came to my rescue had such a cheery disposition, so willing to do something nice for someone else. There was no awkward speech about how I should watch my things, no passive aggression, no expectation that I grovel in exchange for my bus pass. Instead, this man just seemed genuinely happy to help.

This attitude and gesture left a profound mark. This past week, I have actively tried to be less naggy and more giving. If this complete stranger could forgive my absentmindedness and kindly help to minimize the damage, then surely I could be more understanding and helpful to my friends or my roommates. By going out of his way for someone, and by showing so much joy in doing so, this bus driver started a pretty great chain of kindness and positivity. He also made the City of Ottawa look really, really good to my out-of-town friend (who left with a great impression, and is now considering moving here).

I am so proud to live in a city with kind people in the driver’s seat (literally).

Travelling Abroad Advice for Canadians: Crazy (But Accurate) Edition

Today, I spent some time on the phone with an expert on Canadian safety and protocol while traveling abroad. He was…quirky. The phone call was informative, for sure, but it was also hilarious.  Here are some highlights:

“Make sure you give copies of all your papers to someone who loves you. I define ‘someone who loves you’ as ‘someone who put up with you for your teenage years and still talks to you.'”

“You have to Register with DFAIT if you’re a Canadian going anywhere abroad for more than 2 weeks. Otherwise, you’re just being stupid.”

“If you find yourself in North Korea, you go to the Swedish Embassy. If you find yourself elsewhere and there’s no Canadian Embassy around, go to the Australian Embassy. Don’t try the American Embassy…if you think they’re going to help you, you’re dead wrong.”

“You have to be careful.  Washington DC is kinda like Vanier.”

“And now comes the part where I talk to you about Love. Ready? Okay. When you are in love, your brain chemistry changes.  I get it. You’re 20.  If you call me and you’re in trouble but you say ‘Oh, but I’m in love!’ I will not judge you. You have no control over that. It’s just your brain.”

“Canada is the only country in the world where we elect people, they pass laws, then people don’t follow the laws, and no one cares. Other countries aren’t like that. You should probably follow laws outside of Canada.”

“You’re a student of history, so I love you already. Everyone should be a student of history.”

“I might seem like a nice guy right now, but I can be an asshole when I negotiate. I will bust in on a gang and get you out of there.”

“I believe in the Trudeau years when everyone could do whatever they wanted and just had to be accountable to the consequences. Like, you can be involved with drugs while you’re living abroad if you want, but if you do I won’t care about you. ”

Word.

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20 Things to Do in Ottawa this November

I know the exact conversation we will ALL be having in exactly two days. It’s the same conversation we had last year. And the year before. And the year before that. You know, this one:

“Wait…wasn’t it just Halloween? Why is there Christmas music on? Why is there tinsel on that cash register? It’s NOVEMBER FIRST, you guys! What gives?! ”

I’m a big ol’ holiday season nut, I’ll admit it, but the commercial transition between seasons is always a bit over-the-top. Truth be told, I find November pretty boring. It’s a bit too far from Christmas for decking any halls, so I just see it as the mellow spot between Halloween season fun and Christmas season fun. Mellow is alright, I suppose, but…I kinda like my fun.

Luckily, Ottawa is full of fun no matter what.  I know this.  I know this firsthand. I know this in spite of people telling me it isn’t, because after living and breathing this city for a few years I can assure you that it’s anything but boring.

My proof: A calendar-esque list of 20 things happening in throughout November that are worth checking out.  I’ll also be tweeting these out each day as a reminder that cool stuff is happening.

Yep, that’s right, cool stuff in Ottawa. In November. Don’t even question it.

November 1: Thursday nights from 4 to 8, admission to Ottawa’s national museums is FREE.  It should be an interesting time to check out the Museum of Civilization, as it (controversially) prepares for rebranding into the Canadian Museum of History.

November 2: I’m all about those Halloween leftovers, like Pheonix Players’ presentation of The Death of Dracula. It’s only $15 for students, and is on until November 3rd.

November 3: Last day of the Haunted Walk Halloween season! If you want one last taste of Halloween, take a special evening tour of Ottawa’s creepy past. The 3rd is also the last chance for the Zombie Adventure at the Diefenbunker. Yeah. Shooting Zombies in the Deifenbunker. Amazing.

November 4: If you have never seen the Ottawa burlesque scene, here comes a chance to check it out! Ottawa Burlesque Playground Presents Movember Mahem at the Elgin Street Yuk Yuks.  These shows are always such a creative, brilliant, sexy, entertaining time–and a portion of your $10 ticket goes to a Movember drive!

November 5: Hit the market for some local talent with The Rainbow Bistro‘s Monday night open mic.

November 6: Get your hockey fix!  The Ottawa 67s play Kingston at Scotiabank Place at 7 pm.

November 7: My favourite local improv troupe, GRIMprov, holds a show on the first and last Wednesday of each month at The Imperial on Bank Street.  $5 is a small price to pay for some side-splitting hump day hilarity.

November 8: Check out WWII play, Padre X,  at the Canadian War Museum. $7 for youth, $10 for adults. Runs from the 8th to the 11th.

November 9: Opera Lyra’s presentation of Cinderella promises to be a great introduction to Opera for performance fans young and old. I’ve heard great things about OLO lately! (Note: If your budget’s too tight, or you want to introduce a young’un to the scene, a 20 minute excerpt of the opera for kids will be performed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the 25th.)

November 10: Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street presents its monthly late-night showing of The Room, aka the worst movie of all time. This also makes it, of course, the best night out with your friends of all time.

November 11:  Remembrance Day in the capital is always a big deal. Be sure to go early to get an okay view of the national ceremony and pay your respects at the War Memorial.

November 13: Back to the Mayfair for an epic double feature tonight: Kill Bill Vol 1 and Kill Bill Vol 2 hit the big screen at 7 and 9:15, respectively.

November 14: I feel like Wednesday night karaoke at the Bytown Tavern is Ottawa’s best kept secret. There are always a handful of really fun, spirited, off-key singers from all walks of life every time I go. Not too full, not too empty.  Cheap drinks and a total judgement-free zone? It’s a party.

November 15: All Gershwin, All Pops is the latest installment of the NAC’s Pops series. I have gone to see Pops shows several times since moving here–$12 student Live Rush tickets for the best seats in the house are hard to resist. World-class talent backed by the full NAC Orchestra always makes for a brilliant show.

November 17: Photojournalist Louie Palu will be at the Canadian War Museum from 2:00 to 3:30 to talk about his experience in Afghanistan.  Admission to Kandahar: Photographing the Frontline is free.

November 18: The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is happening at the Convention Centre all day Sunday. If you’ve never been to a show at the Convention Centre…it’s awesome. So is vintage. So, this is double awesome.

November 20: Tuesday is open mic night at the Laff. I know the place had quite the rep back in the day, but as far as I can tell the 2012 Laff is one of  the chillest, cheapest places for a beer and some tunes…places really don’t get any more come-as-you-are than this.

November 24: Saturday Night Drag @ the Lookout. ’nuff said.

November 28: Wednesdays are Pro/Am night at Absolute Comedy. I’ve been to Absolute on a Wednesday more than once, and I have to say…a solid comedy show for $6 makes eternally grateful that I don’t have classes Thursday mornings.

November 29: Anyone else down for geeking out to old war stuff? The Canadian War Museum is hosting a special presentation of Hamilton and Scourge: Archaeological Exploration of Two War of 1812 Shipwrecks. The illustrated talk starts at 7 pm, and it’s free!

There you go, Ottawa–twenty things to keep your November exciting.  Hopefully, this will tide me over until Christmas spirit can be in (guilt-free) full swing. I promise you, come December, I will be outrageously jolly. Till then I will just be…well, out!

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November Events Added by Readers (aka YOU!):

November 2: Shannon Lecture Series presents Dr. Barbara Lorenzkowski’s “Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-194.” Dr. Lorenzkowski will be at Carleton University (303 Paterson Hall) at 3:00.

All month: Mo’vember is here.  Personally, I’m not usually a huge fan of the mustachioed look…but, hey, it’s for a good cause right? Register now!

November 15 to December 2: 27th European Union Film Festival presented by the Canadian Film Institute.

November 21-December 8: Pride and Prejudice, part of the NAC’s English Theatre series, hits the stage for 2 1/2 weeks starting November 21st. Live Rush tickets available.

November 29: The Rotaract Club of Ottawa presents the Roaring Twenties Cocktail Fundraiser with proceeds going to rebuilding an orphanage and daycare centre in South Africa. Awesome awesome awesome!

Pick-Your-Path Lunching (is awesome).

Recently, I read a tweet claiming that there are more Subway sandwich shops than McDonalds(es?) in Canada.  I was surprised by this, but upon Googling it found that it was actually old news–Subway has been ahead for awhile.

Why not, right? The lunchtime Subway line on campus is rivaled only by coffee shops in the morning.  From where currently sit, I’m about a 10 minute walk from four (yes, FOUR) highly popular Subways. The reason I know this, of course, is because I frequent them. I frequent ALL of them.

The appeal is simple: The food is affordable. It’s quick.  It’s addictingly good. It’s a lot less guilt-inducing than other fast food options. Most importantly, though, it’s highly customizable. Companies in almost every sector have realized that, courtesy of the 21st century, people want and expect to pick their own path.  Heightened sense of individuality-cum-entitlement? Check .  Welcome to the iWorld, folks. iDig the iWorld (sorry, iWill stop writing like that now…), but us first world kids are undoubtedly spoiled by all this access to options.

Subway definitely knows what’s up: It’s a sandwich. It’s a GOOD sandwich.  Most of all, though, it’s YOUR good sandwich. Subway, along with many other companies that are really rocking it right now (Freshii, for example), know how to appeal to our semi-newfound “BTCHPLZ, I DO WHAT I WAAANT” mindset.  Clearly, combining choice with cold cuts SELLS.

It sells to me, at least. Subway and Freshii are easily two of my favourite lunch spots. Recently, I’ve found myself drawn to other businesses running from that same formula: serving a simple favourite with lots of options on top.  I’ll chat about specific places around downtown Ottawa, but almost every city will have at least one place specializing in…

Gourmet Grilled Cheese. Recently, a little place called Melt opened up at 399 Dalhousie. I went for the first time last week with my friend Rebecca, who shared my opinion that a sandwich shop dedicated to grilled cheese is “such a GREAT idea!”  She was very impressed with her “Herbivore” sandwich, while I was psyched to pack a grilled cheese full of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, and prosciutto. The taste was okay, though a bit too buttery (that one kinda comes with the territory) and slightly dry (“I’m thinking this needs some ketchup”).  All in all, though, this is such a cool concept that we will definitely be stopping back in.

Oh, and Gourmet Grilled Cheese? It’s TOTALLY a thing.  It’s huge in Toronto (because everything awesome is huge in Toronto), while Vancouver has a popular grilled cheese truck. “Say Cheese” in New York even hosts “cooking parties” for kids’ birthdays. Yup. Totally a thing.

Poutine. When I first moved to Ottawa, Smoke’s Poutinerie literally became something to write home about.  A place open until 3 am that puts onions/mushrooms/bacon/sausage on a poutine? Sold. Game over. Cue my first year of University–and, of course, the first meal I presented to any out-of-town visitors when they came to the capital.

Smoke’s Poutinerie has since exploded across the country, so I can no longer claim it as a reason people should really (really…REALLY) come visit Ottawa. I never actually could–Smoke’s started in Toronto,  a city which now boasts a monstrous SIX locations. There’s probably a location in your city, too, so I suggest you go. Now.  My favourite dish so far is the “Nacho Grande”; Chili and guacamole make for one hell of a poutine.

Burgers. Okay, we all know this one. Harvey’s, right? Personalizing burgers is their game. And I agree with that, I do. I don’t seek to de-throne the fast food joint responsible for any and all bacon-covered veggie burger cravings (if you haven’t done this, you really should. Both the burger and the irony are delicious).  I do, however, wish to point out that there are some other major players taking burgers and their toppings to another level.

Enter the “gourmet burger bistro.” When I first heard of The Works, I was immediately enthralled.  Initially, I was drawn to the restaurant atmosphere: picnic tables, drinks served from measuring cups, salt & pepper shakers crafted from lightbulbs…cool stuff everywhere.  The menu fits that “cool stuff” category too, with six patty choices and over 70 topping combinations.  Topping burgers with anything from peppercorns to pineapple to peanut butter, The Worked has earned itself a local reputation of being the pinnacle of everything a burger joint should be.  That might sound over-the-top, but I’ll stand by it. I’m a really big fan.

I should backtrack a bit, though: The Works’ reputation is no longer local.  It recently expanded to Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo, Kingston, London, Peterborough and Oakville…basically, yet ANOTHER of my Ottawa selling points is no longer exclusive to the city.  On the bright side, there are a lot of happy people in Waterloo.

Mexican Food. Sorry, I know I should be more specific here.  Basically, I’m talking about tacos, burritos, quesadillas…stuff that, strangely, Ottawa really knows how to serve up.  Specifically, stuff that Corazón De Maíz in the Byward Market really knows how to serve up.  The owners are known for providing some of the best customer service around, and they always offer GREAT suggestions as to what to put into a taco. Ultimately, in true pick-your-path fashion,  it’s still your call. My mind was blown when I was first offered pork as a meat option alongside the traditional beef/chicken deal, and it continues to be blown every time I go there.

I know other cities have great, independently-owned vendors in their market(s) serving up traditional fare, and I think it’s always worth supporting those companies (bonus points: the food is almost always fantastic).  As for Corazón De Maíz?  Well, this is one place that I can definitely claim for Ottawa…at least for now!

Pitas. One of my closest high school friends used to work at a small pita shop outside of Kitchener’s Stanley Park mall. I have more memories of Mega Pita than I do of even my own teenage work places.  So many late nights were spent waiting for my friend to get off work as I “helped,” mopping/sliding across the floors. I once rushed a cheap dollar store fan to her while she sweated in the non-air conditioned kitchen, and we shared it as I kept her company on a boring and blistering hot Sunday. I even called the Mega Pita owner “The Boss,” a title I denied even my own high school bosses. As far as I’m concerned, that guy is still “The Boss.”  He will always be.  He is ESPECIALLY the boss because  his business is the reason my friend can make a damned good pita. He is also the reason why I continue to frequent pita spots like Byward Market’s Pita Pit–that is, when I’m not at Subway.

How about you? What’s your favourite “I DO WHAT I WAAANT”-friendly spot? Anything I missed? I’m pretty sure I could live off those five foods for months (re: last summer. Sorry, mom.) but if any other central dishes are getting amped up, I would love to give it a shot!

Home-slices…and some other slices, too

Student life is pretty crazy.  Ideally, we can make it equal parts “pretty” and “crazy.” At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

Currently, I am surrounded by Chatelaines and scissors, but also by books and brainwaves. My goal? To inject a little bit of beauty and a whole lot of crazy into everything around me. “Everything around me” also happens to be awesome, since I’m living in Ottawa.

I’m kind of obsessed with this city. Also with my home. Also with life.

So let’s chat about those things, shall we?

Every Friday, I will be posting something in the “Homestyle” category.  The weird look I got from my roommate yesterday when I told him it was time for “Autumn Apartment Phase 1” says it all, my friends.

Every Tuesday, I will be posting something in the “Lifestyle & Brainwaves” category. This will mostly be about student living in Ottawa because, well, that’s kinda what I’m doing!

Cheers!