Tuesday, 30 August 2016

We All Live In Glass Houses

We All Live In Glass Houses
The Diary of An AuPair

One thing that remains constant in the ever chaotic pile of crap that is my life is the fact that things NEVER go according to plan. Disappointment has become such a common element in my life that it forever lingers in the background just waiting until it can come out and sucker punch me in the stomach Jackie Chan style.

Two years ago I came across a similar situation where my plans were altered significantly and after this experience I had talked about how these changes aren't necessarily a bad thing...funny enough, I still stand true to this belief. No matter how shitty things may be, it has all been a learning experience and something to look back and reflect on.

We humans are fascinating creatures. We have the need and desire to put up walls around ourselves and don masks to the rest of the world which paint a drastic different picture of our true realities. To the outside everything appeared to be amazing and perfect; I was clearly living the dream! But the truth of the situation was vastly different: I write about what I want you to see; what I want to see, but sometimes things aren't all sunshine and roses. Sometimes things suck; it is an all too apparent truth in this great bleak world. So ladies and gentlemen, since I've had a bit of an unfortunate incident with my current AuPair hosts, let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the challenges you may face if you do indeed choose to follow a similar path that I did. 

Yes folks, I'm about to tell you all the things that SUCK about being an AuPair because while I've had some great experiences in this profession, I've also had some crappy ones...and like an angry Yelp review, I'm going to prepare you for the worst right about now. Hold on to your seat belts cause it's bound to be a bumpy ride!

The Dark Side Of AuPair Life
Some Things That Suck When You're An AuPair

1. The Language Barrier

This is bound to be one of the biggest issues you will come across if you ever find yourself in a foreign country, whether it's for work or just for leisure. Now for me, I knew going into my situation that there were going to be difficulties in regards to language. In fact - ironically enough - I welcomed it because I figured that this was an opportunity for me to improve my Italian...which let's just say is less than spectacular at the present moment. You know when you've been laughed out of a gelato shop TWICE for attempting to speak the language, you have a problem

So to get into this problem (since it's a big one) let me tell you a little about my current AuPair family:

When the agency matched me with my host family back in June, I thought it was a perfect fit. Why? Well all the children were ages that I felt comfortable working with (over 7 years of age), the family lived in the center of Rome and vacationed in Tuscany (two of the places I aimed to visit during my stay in Italy), the pay was pretty good for an AuPair gig (let's get serious, it's never a pay check that you can really live off of) and finally, the family had a flexible lifestyle (which I believed meant that they were open minded and easy going). Safe to say I thought that this family and I would get along great despite the fact that their English wasn't the greatest - then again my Italian is shit, so I'm not exactly one to talk. So yes, I knew that communication issues were bound to arise but I honestly felt that I was prepared and willing to take on this challenge since all that was really required of me for the job was being a companion for their 8 year old daughter Emma. This meant that I would play with her and help her with her English (essentially being a big sister figure or a glorified babysitter) and I wasn't even required to cook or clean for the family. Sounds easy enough right? Yeah, I thought so!

So when I first met the family and they were all so incredibly nice and friendly, my expectations for the summer immediately skyrocketed (should have been a huge warning sign for me since it was basically too good to be true). I honestly thought that this summer was going to be aces: I had a great family, who lived in a great location, made me feel at home immediately, and genuinely seemed to enjoy having me around. I will admit that the first few weeks of the summer were perfect but both you and I know that the longer you stay with a person (or people), the more you learn about them and the more you start to notice their annoying habits, the faster that mask starts to drop (Snap goes reality). So after those first few weeks of AuPair bliss, the "honeymoon phase" was LONG GONE, I began to noticed something plainly obvious: I had no idea WHAT I was doing there.

Let me explain what I meant by that: For one, the family seemed to have zero need for an AuPair - their older children were more than capable of looking after Emma and there were always family around to help. Secondly, I don't think they really understood the purpose of an AuPair. While it's great that the family is super flexible and their schedules change on the daily, it is important - no make that VITAL - for me to know what these changes are. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on or for how long I was needed, which made it super difficult for me to plan activities for Emma and I to do, and even more difficult to figure out when I had down time. Sure we were able to have a few English lessons, play games, watch movies, go to the park, etc... But anytime I tried to plan anything, all of a sudden the children informed me that they were going to visit an aunt or a cousin or another relative and these plans fell through. The fact that all the kids knew what was going on every day and I - the one that was supposed to have responsibility over them - knew nothing, was not only confusing but difficult to work around. And on top of all this we had the language barrier which made it almost impossible for me to really express my feelings and concerns in a way they would understand it.

At other AuPair jobs that I've had, each family had made a constant effort to speak English at the dinner table or when I was around, since it helped not only improve their abilities with the language but made me feel more comfortable and at home. Instead I was only graced with English conversation when the parents wanted to inform me of something...which didn't happen as much as I would have liked. Indeed, I had in fact welcomed this barrier in the beginning thinking that it would help me understand the culture better but little did I know how much this would end up biting me in the ass. How am I supposed to perform a JOB when I don't know what's going on majority of the time? How am I supposed to plan activities or teach English to Emma or the kids when all of a sudden there is a change in schedule and now we only have less than an hour before we are supposed to be off to meet a family member. And of course when we are at this family member's house, no one speaks English and they are busy doing things with said relatives, which leaves me in a really uncomfortable position not knowing what I am supposed to be doing since I no longer have access to any resources to use at my disposal and so I am left feeling like I am taking advantage of the family for practically doing nothing. How Canadian of me: complaining about getting paid to do nothing. So yeah, language barriers are definitely a shitty thing that you may come across if you ever plan on becoming an AuPair but funny enough, it wasn't the worst.

2. Italians Are UBER Critical of Their Own Language

Alright alright, this may not be a huge issue for everyone and I'm pretty sure this might have seemed worse for me only because there were many other issues hiding beneath the surface. Either way, let's delve into this problem shall we?

Okay, so you're probably thinking: if they didn't attempt to speak English with you, why didn't you at least attempt to speak Italian with them? Isn't that what you wanted; to learn? Well good people of the Internet, I did try to speak Italian on many occasions. In fact, I have heard so much Italian whilst being here that I can now understand a fair amount, especially when people are talking shit about me - which I believe was one of the perks to this particular crappy situation. However, every time I tried to attempt the language - and showcase whatever it is that I remembered from that beginner Italian course I took back in University - everyone critiqued each and every word I said to the point that it became useless to keep trying. No matter how many times I tried to perfect the pronunciation, I was always wrong and I was always going to be wrong, do you know why? Because I HAVE AN ACCENT

Yes Italians, you heard that right. You know that funny way that I speak that is so different and unsuave from your eloquent speech? That something is an unavoidable fact that you can't simply ignore because no matter how hard I try I will never sound perfect to your ears. It's just like how you will never perfectly pronounce every single English word, since - sorry for bursting your bubble Italians but - YOU TOO HAVE AN ACCENT. But you know what the major difference that sets us apart is? It's the fact that I'm not over here laughing at you every time you try. No way! See, I actually appreciate that you are even trying in the first place and the way I see it, if I understood what you were getting across, why the tit does it really matter if it wasn't perfect? Yeah I may correct you if what you are saying is far off of the actual pronunciation just like I would hope that you would correct me as well but I would NEVER nitpick every word that you said because that's not going to encourage you to want to improve.

For example, I had to correct one of my Italian friends when he kept insisting that his job was walking around Rome and collecting people for Couchsurfing meetings. "I collect people on the street!" He would tell people. I NEEDED to tell him that people would get the absolute wrong idea if he kept saying that - and as my other Italian friend put it so eloquently, "people [were] going to think that you collect people on the street to chop up and display on a shelf". Yeah, so things like that need to be corrected but not necessarily mocked or ridiculed to make the person feel stupid. That never leads anywhere good.

So ladies and gentleman who ever dream of AuPairing in Italy and plan to learn a bit of the language - and I can only speak for Italy since most of my AuPair positions have been here - do note that many Italians are critical of non-Italian speakers speaking the language just like many are critical on other cultures attempting to recreate their famous dishes. It may seem personal but I think it's just a cultural thing that you're going to have to take with a grain of salt. Sure it'll suck but you don't have to let it get to you, I did and look where that got me: writing an angry rant like a mature toddler. Kids, don't be like me.

Oh and for all you Italians, you need to understand that learning ANY language isn't easy, so try to be a bit more accepting. And the same goes for English speakers: don't be a twat. I really don't think that is too much to ask for, is it?

3. The Many Awkward Situations You'll Find Yourself In

If you were born with the unfortunate habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having to endure many awkward moments , then do note that this job is filled with such moments that are unfortunately, unavoidable.

Have you ever been over at a friend's house when a family argument blows way out of proportion and escalates into a full out scream fest? If you have, then you sure as hell can understand how awkward a situation that is to be in. Yeah okay, my family fights all the time and if a game of Monopoly is in progress, you just know that things are gonna turn sour eventually. It's normal for there to be disagreements, we are only human so it's bound to happen sometimes. But let's just think for a moment how it would feel to be living with a foreign family when all of a sudden every one starts screaming at each other, one of the kids ends up crying and you are stuck eating your dinner not knowing what the hell is going on. Should you get up and leave? Should you try to intervene? Should you just keep your head down and finish your meal? Yeah...a bit different than a typical family squabble in your household so be prepared for that complete and utter carnage.

4. Mary Poppins Syndrome

This commonly occurs when the AuPair hosts are new to the idea of an AuPair. They have this idea that AuPairs are superhuman and love to be around children 24/7. They sing songs on the daily, love to braid hair and read the children to bed at night. They cook, they clean, they teach your children to read and write and speak new languages, and basically do what you as parents should be doing. Yeah, I went there. Oh, in addition to these fine qualities these particular AuPairs are also required to be willingly available at the parent's beck and call (and are completely okay with this since they obviously don't have a life of their own), they don't get sick or upset or God Forbid homesick, and are basically modern day Mary Poppinses. I'm sure the parents are so loved up with this idea, they will even provide an umbrella for you if you asked. In any case, these are impossible standards to have for your AuPair and it's unfair to assume that each AuPair is going to work the same way. 

Families, your AuPairs are GOING to have bad days. And AuPairs, some days you will want to run away screaming "I am never going to have children". It's inevitable. And if you happen to be a woman, you are guaranteed to have at least one or two of these bad days PER month. Yeah, Mother Nature is a bitch and sometimes so are you, so you cannot be expected to be 100% happy 100% of the time. That being said, try not to let your personal affairs seep into your work environment and affect the work you do because even though AuPairing is unconventional in terms of career paths, it still is a job.  

Parents, you need to understand that this job is a collaboration between the AuPair AND the family. You shouldn't expect the AuPair to know what they are supposed to do when you give them nothing to work with and AuPairs, you shouldn't expect the parents to create you a detailed itinerary with your expected duties (although many host families do this, I have the charts and laminated papers to prove it). The most important thing you need for a successful relationship between the host family and the AuPair, is an open communication. If you cannot provide feedback or give suggestions to each other, then how are you going to know if things are working out and people are happy? Now AuPairs, this does not mean that you should tell the parents how to raise their children - that is NOT your job and frankly, none of your business. But if you are unsure what you are supposed to be doing, then talk to the parents - that's what I did...unfortunately, it didn't help in my case (I'll go into that a bit later) but that doesn't mean it won't work for you!

5. Culture Barriers

Sometimes miscommunication has more to do with a difference in culture and upbringing than it has to do with the actual language differences, so if you ever plan on being an AuPair, this is something you need to be prepared for as well. On top of this, each family is going to be different so you can't expect them to react to situations the same way or even treat the AuPair the same.

I think this was more likely the problem in my current situation. I tried to express my concerns with the parents when we felt that things weren't working out, but there always seems to be a giant gap in understanding. I don't want to generalize all Italians by thinking that they ALL have an issue with empathy, but this seemed to be the case with my host family. When I tried to explain my discomfort and how I NEEDED to know what was going on each day, the mother told me that her family is not a camp - they do not have a strict schedule of what they are doing each day and don't plan to have one. See, this is just the beginning of a long line of miscommunication. I never, in no way, insinuated that her family was a camp, I had only asked to be put in the know of what time each of the parents were working each day, any plans to visit family/friends and what my working hours were. I am NOT supposed to be available 24/7 and you should not expect me to be. If you need me to babysit, I am more than flexible and with gladly help you out. But if I don't know when you need me - and I am not given any schedule to work with - then it is terribly unfair to expect me to be "Mary freaking Poppins". I'm not asking for an itinerary, but I do need to have a basic understanding of my hours and I really don't think that this is too much to ask for. Again, this IS a job no matter how unconventional a job it is and I'm not a mind reader so parents please please PLEASE for the sake of your aupair's sanity, give them a rough schedule to work with. Believe me, it will not only benefit your AuPair but it will benefit you and more importantly, your children.


Okay it's fair to say that I've exhausted my ranting but it definitely is important to know these things going into the job. When I work service related jobs I like to tell the newer employees who I train that encountering a shitty situation is bound to happen but it's important to remember that "other people's problems are not your problem". I think this is something that extends far beyond the service industry and is definitely relevant for AuPairing. Things are going to suck sometimes and people will try to blame you for things that are out of your control, but you need to try not to take things personally. And if it does become personal, know that you are no way obligated to stay in a situation or job that has become uncomfortable. Screw 'em, you're over qualified for this job anyway.


That aside, now I think it's time for me to say some of the perks of being an AuPair because more often than not, the perks far outweigh the downfalls. So if after all those prospective shitty situations you still want to dabble in AuPair life, I will have you know that it's hardly a shabby job.

Livin' La Dolce Vita
The Perks of Being an AuPair

1. Getting Paid to Travel

Anytime you are invited to travel with the family, you are not only getting paid for your company BUT the family also covers all your expenses. Yeah, you basically get paid to vacation, which - if I'm not mistaken - is the dream. Also, your room and board is covered, you get a weekly/monthly stipend, bus/metro passes and phone plans are provided, and anytime you are invited out for dinner...yep, you're one of the family now. Not too shabby, let me tell you.

2. An Introduction Into A Different Culture

While there may be a few cultural differences, you also get the amazing opportunity to fully immerse yourself into a different culture. Through AuPair jobs I have tasted many delicious foreign cuisines while also learning to cook said dishes, I've learnt how to play local games, been accepted into many different family traditions, broadened my musical taste and of course, admired the local talent while enjoying a nice cool glass of Prosecco ;). 

Just like Couchsurfing is a cultural exchange, AuPairing is right along the same track...except you are getting paid for it which is pretty sweet.

3. You Will Appreciate Days Off More Than You Would In Any Other Job

I've been a waitress, bartender, camp counselor, retail associate, fast food employee, theatre specialist and certified badass in the art of odd jobs, but while days off are coveted in any job, taking a break from the children and family you see 24/7 makes you appreciate free time more than ever. You will more than likely become a local in a pub where they know your drink order as soon as you walk in and you may even dabble in the art of spending your hard earned cash on cheeky day trips around Europe. You will also appreciate that iced cold pint at the end of a hard night SO MUCH MORE

4. You'll Learn Of Your New Found Exotic Status

Yeah, being foreign has it's perks because you are now the person with the cool accent...unless you are from Minnesota and unfortunately were graced with a slightly less than pleasant accent. You will also stand out like a sore thumb especially if you are as white as I am. Unfortunately that also means that you will also buy up all of Italy's supply of sun cream and still manage to be made well done with a hint of melanoma on the side. Knock on wood... 

You will also remember that it doesn't matter how exotic you seem or how you manage to overexpose in every photo, you are still you and are incredibly awkward and prone to public humiliation. Thus, you will still manage to be forever alone...but at least the local talent will be a refreshing site to endure. Damn those Italians and their model bodies...

5. Family Life

Okay, I've already talked about the difficulties about being in another family but the truth is, it isn't all bad. In most cases, I've loved all the families and children alike...except the three fuckers I had to look after while I was in Novara, Italy...yeah, getting plastic animal toys thrown at you day in and day out with only three hours off between 7am and 11pm is NOT my idea of a good time. Have you ever had a plastic T-Rex thrown at your head? And I'm not talking about the cheap plastic toys, I mean the heavy, thick plastic that is in no way hollow and will cause a gaping hole in the wall if you throw it hard enough. No? Well it fucking hurts let me tell you that. 

But this aside, most of the families have been great! I've learnt so much from working with children that it's actually pretty hilarious to think of how the thought of such a thing used to give me hives three years ago. 

When you are an AuPair you become part of the family and even the extended family welcomes you in with open arms. And if you are lucky enough to have access to an Italian Nonna well say goodbye to your dreams of ever being a size 2 because you are guaranteed to get some junk in that trunk after one of her meals. So while being away from your family may prove to be difficult if you are a homebody, just think of how great it is to be welcomed into a whole new family. Yeah, it's not the same but sometimes it's even better!

The best part of it all though, would definitely be the children you meet. Kids are fascinating creatures let me tell you this! They will teach you patience just as much as they will teach you impatience. They will teach you tolerance; they will challenge your imagination; they will teach you to find joy in the small things in life. They will make you long for your childhood and wonder if you just as crazy when you were their age. Spoiler Alert: you were worse. 

You will teach them not to cry over spilled milk...or Fanta...or the food that you slaved all day making...or that really expensive glass vase that was passed on through their family for generations...okay you will be the one crying for that. You will teach them patience...you will also fail at teaching them patience. You will teach them that being nice is the best way to get on people's good side and they will throw a shoe or a T-Rex at your head in response. You will teach them that you hate hugs and they will make it their job in life to convince you otherwise.

So yeah, sometimes things might suck even when it all appears to be perfect on the outside: We all live in glass houses and what you see isn't always what you get. But sometimes it's more...I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

You need to accept the good with the bad, and take each and every moment as a learning experience. And even though I've had some unfortunate experiences, I don't regret any of them because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have learnt to appreciate the better ones. Maybe being an AuPair isn't my dream job but it's still a job that could end up leading to my dream job. Who knows? Either way I've seen some pretty amazing places, ate some positively delicious cuisines, met some absolutely incredible people and done some downright awesome things that I won't soon forget. Hardly a waste of time let me assure you :)

So if you think that you have what it takes to AuPair for your life, then I encourage you to go for it! It's hard work, long hours and stressful conditions (at times) but it is a experience you won't soon forget! 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

London Calling

London Calling
One Girl's Need For Some Serious Change

I am all for new beginnings. You know, clean slate and all that. A fresh start opens you up to an endless new array of possibilities and opportunities. It's also a chance to kick those proverbial "what ifs" in the arse. God I hate those sodded what ifs, it's just another way of defining regret and regret implies that something is currently holding you back. Seeing as I hate commitment and anything holding me to a place/idea/lifestyle is commitment in its finest, I despise such a notion. So let's raise a glass (preferably alcoholic but you do you) and cheers to New Beginnings and other fruity, magical crap like that.

Now that I've practically outed myself as a certified commitment-a-phobe, I feel like I need to elaborate a bit more on the concept as it plays a huge factor in my need for a fresh start. It goes a bit further than my hatred for staying in one place for too long or how the thought of getting comfortable in a steady routine job gives me hives; it's more to do with my need for change.

Basically, the point is that I crave - no, I NEED - some spontaneity in my life to keep me sane. I developed this love for the nomadic lifestyle when I really travelled alone for the first time. As soon as I stepped foot off of the plane and onto English soil, I felt this complete and utter shift. From that moment on, home became more than where I was born or where I grew up; it became where I felt the most comfort.

That year (and a half) of traveling taught me more than any high school or university education ever did. My appreciation for art and cultures grew, I found a passion in writing and I also uncovered an entirely different side of me that I never knew existed. This new side of me was confident, spontaneous, adventurous, and even brave at times. I never thought that I would become a cliche and that traveling resulted in me finding myself. But I did, in a way.

This is how I knew that returning to Canada would be a bittersweet homecoming and it explained why I felt so caged and trapped in suburban hell. Basically, ever since I have returned to this perpetual suburgatory known as Mississauga - the bottom feeder of the GTA and where dreams come to die - I have been bored out of my mind. I convinced myself that this current state was temporary and I wasn't getting comfortable with routine life, but rather biding my time until I could settle up university debts (with the hopes of someday venturing off far far away from this place). In fact, that was the only thing that truly kept me sane these past two years. Unfortunately, it didn't make things any easier.

The nomad in me could not physically allow myself to settle, the explorer in me was constantly searching for the next spontaneous adventure and the neurotic masochist in me was refreshing the travel websites for flight deals and work abroad every chance I got. Again, all this was just to remind myself how temporary my situation was.

I even distanced myself from writing because I didn’t believe that my mundane lifestyle was worth reading about. And it wasn't (unless you enjoy reading about my trip to Loblaws or how a customer yelled at me for getting charged $1.50 for bbq sauce. I know, riveting stuff). But since life is all about perspective, I've decided to forgo dwelling on the things I cannot change for the moment, and instead focus on the things that I can.

I've always believed that if you don't like something about your life, you should change it. So that's what I am doing, I'm changing it - or rather, switching things up - which brings me to my current predicament and the main reason for this blog post.

This summer was supposed to be different. I had some pretty exciting news to share with you all; things that were meant to change the very course of my life. It was supposed to be big, like seriously adulting big. I may have even been slightly presumptuous as to have already written up a blog post about this particular news as a means to share it to you all, but then things fell through and now it's pretty much moot. Which is irritating on so many levels...for one, I had the best title for the post and now I can't use it *sigh*.

Okay maybe I am being a touch too dramatic but that aside...I'm not going to lie guys, I am pretty gutted about this particular thing. I know I am being incredibly stupid and vague about this - for all you know I could have been sharing the news of becoming a high class escort (I'M NOT becoming an escort by the way, neither high class nor low class....no, not even middle class) - but honestly, the truth is that I'm not ready to share this part of my life right now. I will, eventually. But right now the disappointment is still fresh and I need to just move on.

Even if my luck isn't the greatest and my plans tend to always fall through, one thing I can count on in my life is my ability to rationalize in any given situation. It's a survival tactic I have developed as a result of things not always going according to plan. See, instead of dwelling on the past and things I can't change, I try to move forward and retake control of the situation. So when disaster stuck - or rather disappointment struck - I did the one logical thing I could think of: I went home.

One place that always gave me the distinct feeling of coming home after a long and tiresome journey was London, England. I've never had that overwhelming feeling of home until I stepped foot onto the Tarmac at Gatwick Airport a mere 3 years ago. Little did I know that leaving England mean't leaving a piece of me with it. England has my heart guys. So the only justifiable option for me during a time of crisis is to return home and get my heart back: London's Calling and I'm Answering.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Our Epic Detour: The End of the Road

Our EPIC Detour:
The End of the Road

The Drive from Austin to Florida took some time but we managed to make it into Tallahassee by early afternoon. We had spent the night passed out in a parking lot somewhere in Alabama but another nights sleep in the car wasn't as bothersome as the other times since we were all too tired to care or notice. I think spending the majority of our time in the car had made us accustomed to the lack of comfort or maybe we had just accepted that it wasn't going to get better than that...either way, it made the night's sleep tolerable.

Since Becca and I were dead set on going skydiving, our new goal for the day was to find a place to do so and this required calling places that offer last minute skydiving gigs (as usually people plan this stuff ahead of time..who knew?). We managed to find a Groupon deal for a skydiving place outside of Jacksonville Florida, but when we called ahead to ask if there were spots left to skydive for the next day, they informed us that the only available spot was in 3 weeks time (which was OBVIOUSLY not going to happen). It's a good thing that we checked before we purchased the Groupon because it would have been a useless purchase and a waste of money - and when you are traveling on a shoe-string budget, you want to avoid spending money when it just goes to waste (but that's just common sense).

Luckily we found a place in Titusville, Florida just outside Orlando that offered skydiving jumps for $199 per person (which is still very expensive but it wasn't like we were going to find anything better than this, especially last minute). We scheduled our jump for the next day and then got back on the road to drive towards Jacksonville where we planned on camping for the night. 

Finding couchsurfing hosts in Florida turned out to be slightly more difficult than normal as not many people accepted last minute requests and the only confirmation we got happened too late for us to accept (which is a darn shame since the guy lived on a beach...oh well, next time!). So instead we found a place where we could camp on the beach (or at least SUPER close to it)...yeah we were trying for a round two of beach camping since Galveston was an absolute failure and a half. 

We stopped off at a Walmart to grab supplies and snacks before we headed over to the campsite but it was only after setting up the tent (much easier this time without the hurricane winds) and making ourselves at home when we noticed that we didn't have any firewood to start a campfire. While the most obvious solution to this problem would be searching for wood and branches, unfortunately the proximity to the ocean made it so any available wood was too wet to use. And any seasoned camper knows that wet wood will not spark a fire...but I think that's just common sense as well. 

With this new predicament, we found ourselves back on the road in search for the nearest gas station to purchase a starter log (not ideal but it would get us a small fire started at least). Afterwords we headed over to a nearby restaurant for a proper meal.

During our delicious seafood dinner - of which I can't remember what I ate but know that it was delicious - we met this group of guys sitting at a table beside us who worked on a ship that was docked close to the restaurant. One of the men looked like a captain off a pirate ship, long white beard and all...actually I think he might have even had an eye patch...but that may just be my imagination running wild. Either way, I like to think that he had an eye patch. Anyway, he was sitting next to two younger guys (around our age) and after we discussed plans and shared travel stories, they offered us a place to sleep on their ship for the night. Now normally, one might find this request slightly fishy (ha!) if it happened under normal circumstances, but seeing as we had a genuine conversation with them before hand, we had a pretty good idea on each of their characters. Honestly, if they had asked us sooner before we already set up camp and figured out our accommodation, we would have been totally up for it...however, it was bad timing so we had to respectfully decline. But sleeping on a ship...how cool is that? Okay, yeah I've been on a cruise before and I know that it isn't such a big deal BUT it would have seemed cool regardless. Geez can't a girl dream?

After a lovely dinner we returned to camp with our starter log and proceeded to find kindling and tinder in order to properly get a fire going. As I had mentioned before, much of what was available near our campsite was too damp but we managed to gather a good enough pile to get a small fire going - which ended up being perfect as we were able to roast our marshmallows over it and make s'mores. I was a little disappointed that the campsite wasn't as rowdy as it is known for as we were hoping to meet people there. There was a small group of guys we had met earlier but they had already gone to sleep by the time we got back (which was like 9:30/10pm so that was super lame of them).

As such we decided to get ready for bed so we could lounge around for a bit. I had gone to take a shower and as I was walking back this one guy stopped me  and asked if I had a flashlight he could borrow as he was looking for the batteries for his which had fallen on the ground. I gave him a light from my phone and we made idle conversation when all of a sudden a large boom sounded out from above and when we looked up we saw a fireball shooting over our heads. It all happened in the span of like 5 seconds but after it disappeared and the sky went silent around us, we looked up at each other at the same time and said "did that just happen?" It was one of those things that happened so fast, you need to pinch yourself afterwards to convince yourself that it actually occurred. After we confirmed to each other that it did in fact happen I returned to my tent to ask if Jelena or Becca had heard and/or seen the fireball. They looked at me like I was insane and said that they heard nothing which completely baffled me as it was SO loud when it happened - like I almost I thought it was a bomb. 

I actually had to google the incident when I returned home to find out if I dreamed it up and found out that YES, it did happen. I was not crazy. See here: Florida Fireball . Either way, it was such a surreal experience that it continues to baffle me even just writing about it now. It's definitely one of those things you have to see to believe it but even then it doesn't seem real.

After this strange occurrence I settled back into the tent and curled up in my sleeping bag with a beer and a good book. Jelena had fallen asleep quite early so Becca and I decided not to wake her and because the beach was completely dark and empty, we went for a cheeky streak. Eh, when you are on a trip streaking or skinny dipping is a right of passage plus it is incredibly freeing...this must be how nudists feel every day!

The sleep in the tent was one of the best nights sleep we got on the trip, mostly because the waves hitting the shore was so incredibly peaceful. Seriously, a girl could get used to this!

The next morning we woke up early and drove south to Titusville for our skydiving appointment. I won't go into detail about the actual dive as I am going to write a separate blog about it but do know that it was a great day.

Overall, Florida was an excellent choice for a detour and an experience we won't soon forget. Now it was time for us to head back to cold and snowy St. Catharines but not before a cheeky detour to straddle the state lines between North Carolina and Virginia -for an actual Walk To Remember experience...sans Shane West unfortunately - and then a cheekier detour to Washington DC to say a quick hello to my man Abraham Lincoln.

As we left New York and crossed back into Canada, we each looked at each other and took a collective breath; it was finally over.

However, while the road had reached it's destination, it wasn't the end but rather the beginning of a new one. 

And so the countdown began.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Our Epic Detour: Sandboarding in New Mexico

Our EPIC Detour:
Sand boarding in New Mexico

Okay, I have definitely reached the moment during a blog series where it gets more and more difficult to write...mainly because I just end up becoming sick of the whole thing. This happened once before when I did the Christmas Chronicles...however I think it's actually worse this time because I ended up stretching the entire trip into WAY more posts than I initially intended. But the show must go on, so let's power through these last 3 posts! You with me? Nope? Cool.

I don't know if this just happens to me, but I constantly find myself watching travel video after travel video wondering how the hell some of these wonderful places can possibly exist - and also, why am I not there right now? Photographers and Scenographers have this amazing ability of showcasing these glorious landscapes and turning them into something out of a dream. Seriously, it's a talent. I'm talking those jaw dropping scenic montages where an adventurer is driving alone on a deserted highway and the road just continues on into oblivion. It is the highway out of an Aerosmith music video; every road tripper's dream and an urban legend...until now.

Ladies and gentleman, I have found one such highway that offers some of the most amazing views from the road: Texas Hill Country. Sure this glorious place may not have majestic mountains and stunning ocean views BUT it does have some quaint little Texan towns, rolling hills AND desert lands that stretch on as far as the eye can see. We even drove past some abandoned towns that looked like something out of a John Wayne movie. I almost expected a tumbleweed to roll across the road in front of us....instead we got discarded McDonalds takeout bags blowing along in the wind. Ah 'Merica. There you go taking something wonderful and throwing up commercialized crap all over it. 

Anyways...back to the trip.

So when I last left you we had reached a bit of an impasse in our trip which we solved by pushing through towards our next destination: New Mexico.

New Mexico was my choice in destination for the road trip. I originally decided on this state because it was one state further than Texas and closer to the coveted route 66 highway but when I found out that White Sands National Park was a thing, it was a given. I researched a bit about this place enroute from Austin (and by that I mean a quick efficient google search of New Mexico's "hidden gems") and found out that this National Park not only looks INCREDIBLE but you can also rent circular discs and go Sand-boarding (or rather, sand tobogganing). Hell to the Yes!

So now we were more than just excited, we were absolutely stoked. It was just what we needed to lift our spirits from the other night (and a few nights before that).

While we had driven through the night we still had a ways to go, so we trekked on only to stop for gas and breakfast once we reached El Paso (or at least just outside it). After a luxury meal of McDonalds, the standard road trip fare, we took some time to walk around and admire the surrounding view as the weather was all too lovely to pass up and the empty desert roads stretched on for miles.

The trek from Austin to New Mexico was the first time that we really felt like we were on a road trip across America. These are the roads that Willie Nelson and Neil Young sing about; these are the roads Jack Kerouac wrote about; these are the roads that wanderers dream about...but maybe not the roads that you want to end up stranded on as there are usually no rest stops for miles and most likely plenty of snakes. A terrible way to die if you ask me...but then again you could argue that all ways to die are terrible. Regardless, you do not want to get stuck on the darn road.

Once we reached the sign marking the border between Texas and New Mexico, we stopped our car and got out to properly give ourselves a New Mexico welcome. Yes, we straddled the state line and took MANY - and I mean MANY - pictures. We couldn't help ourselves, we are products of cheesy 90s/early 2000s movies like A Walk to Remember so it was a must, especially since the scenery was so incredibly picturesque. There was no shame.

We arrived in Alamogordo shortly after 3pm and easily found our way to the national park. After we rented our sand boards we drove in closer to the park and got our gear out of the back. It was hot as hell so we changed into our bikini tops, loaded up on sunscreen and donned our sun hats. If you are as pale as me you know to add on multiple layers of sun cream unless you want to look like a lobster the next day, which is hardly flattering unless that's the look you were going for.

One thing that was especially cool about the park is that we didn't need to wear flip flops or sandals as the sand was perfectly cool on our feet. The sand is made up of gypsum crystals which are soft to the touch and do not absorb the sun's heat, which is one of the many things the park is known for. Even in the hottest part of the summer - in the desert heat - you can still safely walk on the sand without doing the "walking on eggshells" jig you usually do when you are on the beach. I thought this was particularly cool and it almost felt like a continuous foot massage every time you took a step :)

While there were a few cars in the parking lot, it was not busy at all (probably because we were visiting during the off peak season) so we had no trouble finding a secluded place to wander. Once we trekked to the top of the largest hill, we set down our stuff and cracked open the beers..well I did at least. Okay so the park said that alcohol was forbidden during the fall/winter months (strange but whatever), however WHO could possible reprimand us when the hills stretch on for miles? Surely they can't possibly patrol every single sand dune, it's impossible! I figured I would take my chances and as long as I didn't litter or leave anything behind, I'd be in the clear. Lord knows a day like that NEEDED a nice cold beer to complement it!

After a while we decided to try and sand board/toboggan down the hills. While I said I was super excited about this before...I was slightly less eager by this point. Probably because when we first got to the park I tried to plummet head first down a small hill and ended up face first in the sand with my mouth completely filled with the coveted gypsum crystals. Was it a smart option to go head first on my first try? No probably not, but that hasn't stopped me from doing stupid things in the past and surely wont stop me from continuing to stupid things in the future.

I always thought that my stupidity was only heightened in hindsight...and while this is true it clearly hasn't given me enough insight to change my ways. Oh well, I guess I will remain willfully ignorant to my stupidity. I wonder if they offer a Blue Peters Badge for this feat? I should look into it...

Anyway, back to round 2 of sand boarding failures. This time I went feet first with my butt firmly planted on the disk. Of course I chose the highest point on the hill (go big or go home) but as I needed to break in the fresh sand and leave the first trail, I also got to be the one who removed extraneous obstacles from the path. Lucky me. Unfortunately round 2 had me defeated by a cactus and just as much sand in my mouth. 

However, now that I had made a path, it was much easier and less hazardous to toboggan down. And while it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows at first, I have to admit...it was so much fun! Seriously, it you ever find yourself near New Mexico, detour to Alamogordo and visit this place. You wont regret it! But bring water! If it was this hot in just February, lord knows how hot it gets in the middle of the summer.

After we left the National Park we grabbed some dinner at Sonics, a drive in burger joint where you park and order at a kiosk and a server delivers your food. Becca and I had each ordered a burger, fries and a milkshake while Jelena ordered at least 3 combos. Seriously! That girl could eat! On a side note... no, they did not deliver our food on roller skates much to my dismay but after working as a waitress many a years I can vouch that roller skates and delivering food would NEVER be a good combination. 

Once we finished up our food and watched the sunset over the horizon, we decided to pack our stuff back up and head back to Austin as we wanted to visit this Texas roadside buffet/restaurant that Austin had recommended to us earlier but we never got the chance to visit. One of the things on our road trip "bucket list" was to eat one the state's famous dishes and since this place has one of the best Briskets in Texas, it was a sure thing.

Unfortunately on our drive back to Austin we were stopped by border police just outside El Paso. It was in the middle of the night - possible 3am - we were all groggy and exhausted and the lovely officers made us stop our car, get out and show them our passports. Even though we were MILES from the Mexican border and did not cross any borders except the state borders, we had to show our passports...which makes zero sense to me but whatever. Unfortunately we had hid our passports and emergency money in a small compartment under the lining of the trunk...you know, in case someone broke into the car. While this was a good idea originally, it now proved to be a pain as we had to remove everything from the trunk to get to it.

Which took some time to the amusement of the officers and less amusement of us. Once we finally pulled every last item from the trunk, removed the lining and got our passports, the officer barely glanced at them before handing them back to us and letting us go.

Wow, thanks for nothing mate. Now we have to put everything back into the trunk *sigh* it was just a giant waste of time.

Alas the journey continued and the next morning we went to the roadside buffet and tasted the most amazing brisket and sweet tea ever. We then spent some time at Hamilton Pool, a hidden grotto near Austin. Even though the water was arctic temperatures and I'm pretty sure I lost all circulation in my limbs after swimming in the grotto, I braved the cold until I reached the waterfall and then booked it back when I felt something brush against my completely numb leg. I have an irrational fear of fish touching me...so yeah, it's safe to say that I'm not a snorkeler or scuba diver.

That aside, the past two days had both exceeded our expectations so to continue the adventure Becca and I decided to amp up the trip with another cheeky detour: skydiving. And what better place to do this than the sunny state of Florida?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Our Epic Detour: Keeping Austin Weird

Our Epic Detour:
Keeping Austin Weird

It was clear that our venture into Texas wasn't off to a great start (especially with the whole Galveston Island debacle) but alas the journey must go one with the hopes of turning things around. Next up was Austin, Texas, Becca's choice of detour on our road trip.

Becca chose Austin because she loved the city's motto - "Keep Austin Weird" (a slogan that was introduced to promote Austin's small businesses) - and when she told us that the city had an indie music following and generally good vibes all around, we knew this information going forth was a hopeful indication of good things to come.

While on the road from Galveston to Austin, we sent out some last minute couchsurfing requests and while we got a few potential responses, one in particular stood out to us. This host used to live in Hawaii and avidly plays the ukelele, which immediately sparked an interest from Becca as these are some of her favourite things. But the thing that sealed the deal was his name: Austin. Yes folks, we stayed the night at Austin's house in Austin. The chance for such an opportunity was too perfect to pass up, so we accepted his offer and 45 minutes later we were pulling into his driveway.

Choosing Austin as our couchsurfing host ended up being an ace decision on our part. First of all, he wasn't cynical of the city which would have been a huge deal breaker - just look at how the New Orleans trip went. And second of all, he ended up being a great example of an ideal couchsurfing host (which was surprising since it was actually his first time hosting travellers).

When we got to Austin's place, he welcomed us into his house with a seemingly never-ending supply of mimosas - always a positive sign. He was incredibly hospitable, showing us around to a great burger place and even offering to make us a delicious - and healthy - meal. Things were definitely turning around!

After another much-needed shower - something that we often take for granted when we aren't travelling - we got ready to spend the night out in the city. Austin dropped us off at 9th street (a popular place in the city for nightlife) and we spent the next couple hours hopping from bar to bar. We even got the chance to visit a proper Coyote Ugly bar, where we were given free shots and I was invited to dance up on the bar...which I did OF COURSE. Never turn down the chance to dance on a Coyote Ugly bar especially if Shania Twain is playing #rulestoliveby.

Soon enough, Becca and Jelena joined in as well and we showcased our awesome (awful) dance moves while trying not to fall flat on our asses in our high heels - a difficult feat, let me tell you!

Overall, it ended up being a great night and was made even better when Austin and his friend joined us later on. Nothing beats a good night with good company!

The next afternoon Austin took us on a hike to a swimming creek where we just chilled, enjoyed the beautiful scenery and listened to some lovely ukulele music courtesy of our awesome couchsurfing host. While we had every intention of leaving for our next destination that night, we made plans to all go camping at this stunningly gorgeous campsite that Austin recommended. Seriously, this place had a grotto and waterfalls, and had a swimming creek that looked like something from a disney movie. Frankly, we were all super excited for this detour but like the detour in Galveston...things didn't go to plan.

STORY TIME! (a.k.a Ranting time...)

Basically, plans fell through as soon as we got to the campsite and discovered that the owner (at least I got the impression that he was the owner) was a massive twat. We had gotten through the gates with no problem and went to park in front of the office so we could pay for a campsite and unload our supplies. Before we got out of the car we saw a man with a long white beard and moustache standing in the shadows near the office watching us. NOT MOVING AT ALL, just watching us. So that was slightly creepy and should have been a huge sign to turn straight around but alas we just stayed in our car and stared back. Yeah, we were not getting out of the car with creepy mcgee just a stone throws away. Well...we didn't have to wait very long because then he started to come over to our car with a very disconcerting expression (in other words: not helping the creepy factor). So we rolled down our windows to find out what he wanted and were greeted with - by far - the rudest and downright obnoxious welcome. The guy asked us what we were doing - were we going to go in and pay or what? - and we told him we were going to pay to camp but we were just waiting for our friend to arrive. This is when the guy laughed in our face and said that the park is closing in 5 minutes, we either pay or leave the premises. See, we had the impression that the gates closed at 9pm - as this is what Austin told us - and as it was only 7:55, we thought we still had plenty of time. When we tried to explain that we were from out of town - "clearly - and didn't know, oh was he happy to set us straight and call us idiots for not knowing.

He was willing to let us stay but refused to wait fifteen minutes for our friend Austin to join us, seeing as the office closed in 5. We were willing to pay for both our stay and Austins but the guy was not having any of it. Seeing how we didn't want to ditch Austin since he was the reason we were even at the campsite in the first place, we had a bit of a predicament which wasn't made better with the owner breathing down our necks and being a huge dickhead. I seriously needed to bite my tongue when I tried to reason with him since he was grating on my every nerve but when he called us stupid tourists, we drew the line and immediately left.

Look I understand the need to go home after a busy day at work and not wanting to wait one minute more. I understand that some people think they are the exceptions to the rules set in place, and that he got the impression that we were one of those people just trying to stretch the limits. Dude, I've worked in the service industry many-a-years. I have dealt with tons of those people and much more bullshit that any person should ever have to handle BUT NEVER have I EVER been unintentionally rude to a customer/client. Scratch that, I have NEVER been rude to a customer/client EVER, even when it was warranted. What I am trying to get at is the fact that regardless of the situation, there is a better way he could have handled it - and that's putting it lightly. There is no reason he needed to be incredibly rude to us when he could have just explained the problem to us in a polite and professional manner. He was dealing with Canadians for goodness sake!?! We are reasonable people! Probably the most reasonable people he could have encountered! We had no intention of skirting the rules, we just didn't know what those rules were and needed someone to explain them to us. Sorry but I don't think confusion or a miscommunication on the park hours warranted such abusive and downright ignorant comments from the OWNER of all people. It was not a pleasant experience I'll tell you that much. I was almost driven to write a really long and nasty yelp review but thought better of it. There is no good in stooping to his level because that doesn't make me any better than him.

It's such a shame that things went down the way they did because the place did have huge potential. Oh, and if you want to know the place it's called Krause Springs; there's no reason I need to censor the name of the campground....it just made me angry thinking about it all over again. I'll even post a picture to show you how much potential this place did have.

Yes. This was the abyss we were supposed to stay in Austin...
You can now cry. 
Alas, I think we can all agree that it was good that we didn't stay there in the end as I think I would have felt ashamed if I actually gave my hard earned money over to that shmuck and encouraged such horrific customer service.

I think the biggest downfall of the night was that we weren't able to see Austin again or give him a proper goodbye, but he was incredibly understanding when we sent him a message discussing the encounter - and also thanking him profusely for his amazing hospitality. See, SOMEONE had the ability to be understanding and NOT an asshole! IT IS POSSIBLE PEOPLE!!!! Honestly, the whole experience was incredibly surreal, especially since we had received amazing Southern hospitality thus far but I guess it just goes to show that some people just suck regardless of where they come from.

With these unfortunate turn of events we came to another roadblock: we now had no place to stay for the night and sleeping in the car just felt like another defeat. At this point, Jelena and Becca turned to me and asked for my opinion on what we should do. It was yet another opportunity for us to either give up and accept this defeat or move on. But giving up just isn't an option.

I thought about it for a bit and then decided with finality that we would start driving towards New Mexico - our next destination - and then stop off on a deserted roadside after a couple of miles to lie on top of the car and stargaze. It was one of the things we had talked about doing for quite some time, so it was as good a time as any to do so. And that's what we did. We stopped off on the grassy shoulder of the Texas hill country highway, talked for a bit and just unwound.

Sometimes you just need to take a moment when things go sour to stop and reflect on your experience. It's obvious that things won't always go the way we plan them to, so it was time to stop planning and just start doing. This way, we couldn't be disappointed when things didn't meet our expectations #roadtripsurvival101.

As we all lied on top of the car starring up at the starry night sky, we collectively decided from that moment on, nothing - I repeat, NOTHING - was going to ruin our road trip. Moving forward, we were going to make the best out of the remainder of our trip.

And that's just what we did.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Our Epic Detour: Slightly Windy in Galveston

Our EPIC Detour:
Slightly Windy in Galveston

Well folks, we've made it this far, Day 4 of the (completely lame and hardly) EPIC Detour. I realize that this odyssey hasn't been the greatest of stories but bare with me because the adventure had only just begun! There is still plenty of time for more excitement and opportunities for public humiliation, believe me!

So where were we? Aha yes, we had just left Louisiana and by nightfall, had made it into Houston, Texas. Since it was later in the evening and we didn't have any immediate plans, we needed to find somewhere to crash for the night. It was at this point where Becca turned to me and asked: "where should we go from here?" Jelena was knocked out cold in the back seat, so it was up to me to make a decision...this is somewhat of a regular occurrence since both Becca and Jelena are incredibly and frustratingly indecisive. Don't get me wrong! They are both great road trip companions, but indecisive as hell! A typical conversation goes like this: Me: where do you want to stop for food? Both: I don't care. Me: Okay, that's great that you don't care but that's not going to solve the problem now is it?!?! Agh! 

Anyway, since a decision needed to be made I figured that when in doubt, go south (#wordstoliveby). And south is where we went...hence, we found ourselves in Galveston, Texas.

As soon as we realized that Galveston was an island and camping on the beach was in fact a thing, both Becca and I agreed that this was an top class idea. Oh the possibilities!

As soon as we made it to Galveston we stopped off at a gas station for sustenance and supplies (for Smores of course). At this point Jelena had finally woken up and as she was still a bit disoriented from sleep, we filled her in on our magical and brilliant idea. See, here we are imagining up this perfect scenario where we would camp on the warm beach, drink beers and eat smores by the fire. Oh yeah, and there would also be hot guys there who coincidentally were also musicians. As they jammed out on their guitars, we would all join in on a chorus of kumbaya and live happily ever after, the end....ah, the dream. Well, SURPRISE SURPRISE reality wasn't so nice.

I look like I'm smiling but
 I'm crying on the inside
We got to the park where we planned to camp for the night and luckily just made it in before the gates closed. The office wasn't open so we had to pay for our stay using their honour code - which entailed dropping off the funds in an envelope into the pay slot - which we proceeded to do with huge smiles on our faces thinking that it was going to be a great night. HAHAHAHA! Boy were we WRONG!!!

We parked the car at the camping spot and started to unload our supplies from the car. We noticed that there were quite a few other RV's in the area but no other tents...now why would this be the case? Hmm? Well, let me tell you why...

Because it was cold as tits with hurricane-like winds that's why! A bloody monsoon!

Now I will have you know that I am a seasoned camper. I can put up a tent blindfolded, drunk off my ass, with one arm tied behind my back AND in record time, BUT under strong winds in the arctic tundra?! HA! I couldn't get one bloody peg in the ground before the entire thing nearly blew away, ALMOST taking me with it! When I finally wrestled the freaking thing into the ground, it was damn near impossible to put the rain fly on since the wind practically capsized the entire tent. And if that wasn't enough, the universe then decided it was a good time to rain BUCKETS on us.

At that point it was time to admit defeat and so, we packed up the tent once more and hauled ass back into the car. This was becoming a recurring event...

Feeling pretty crappy since our dreams were once again crushed by reality, we unanimously decided that it was another failure of epic proportions. For this reason, we agreed to just bite the bullet, leave the park and drive somewhere else. Bye Felicia!

Which would have been fine IF we could have gotten out of the bloody park! You know how I said we were lucky to have got into the park before the gates closed? Well, they were sure as hell closed now (of course they were) and we now had no way of leaving. Yeah, really lucky we were...

So once again, we found ourselves sleeping in the car...which I guess is still better than sleeping outside. Since we had no choice in the matter, we figured that we would park directly in front of the office and as soon as it opened in the morning, we would go in and try to get our money back. Which we did and the lady was nice enough to give us a full refund. I don't know if I should be happy that she felt sorry for us or embarrassed that it should have been common knowledge that no one really camps there...apparently Galveston is known for attracting tropical storms. Who knew? NOT US!

So after we finally escaped from another one of my TERRIBLE ideas, we decided to celebrate our misfortune with some hard-earned pancakes at Dennys. It was Fat Tuesday, so pancakes were necessary but then again...they always are. Plans flake? Eat pancakes! #wordstoliveby

After our delicious and completely heart attack inducing breakfast, we wandered off to the shore to walk along the beach, take pictures and admire the pier. Even though it was still quite nippy out, this plan actually managed to salvage the detour to Galveston Island...although I still have nightmares about trying to put up that tent! Grr...

So folks, what did we learn from all this? First and foremost, DON'T rely on me to make a decision unless you want your plans to fail. Secondly, all it takes to break me is an unreliable tent and harsh weather conditions. And lastly, there is nothing that some pancakes can't fix.

Universe, just kill me now.