The One With Keeping On and Making the Most of Winter

Alternatively titled: The One With An Escape to the Country, A Trip to the Theatre and a Whole Lot of Free Cheese

I honestly struggled for a title for this, as you can probably tell. ‘Keeping on’ implies a certain mundanity, a dogged day-to-day existence, plowing through the necessities because sometimes that’s what life is; just keeping on. That alone is certainly not a wholly accurate image of how my first month of 2017 in Canada has treated me, but it is partially true. Those January blues? They’ve been tough to shake, and have required some pretty persistence determination to keep on. My classes for the year aren’t nearly as exciting as last semester (more on that later), and as I’m now training 5 times a week with the team for 2-3 hours a day I am shattered too. Emily, bless her, (and I hope she’ll forgive me for sharing this), has had a particular rough time. While I had my real low point last semester, she’s definitely struggled more recently, what with an injury that stops her going out with her lovely Ottawa running group, and having to return to Canada after a family-filled Christmas holiday in the UK. It has been Emily’s turn for the tears, for the hugs (which I am told I am very good at it and am always willing to provide); but she’s getting through. That girl is one tough cookie, and I respect and love her enormously.

All this being said, I have had some truly lovely, exciting and awesome moments over the past month, and in part to remind myself of just how far from merely ‘keeping on’ January has been for me, I thought I’d document them here. They were all a little too small and unrelated in their own right, but they work well as a ‘feel good’ list, as well as proof of what a good job Emily and I have done at maintaining our motivation to get out and do things. Honestly, I’m not the type to blow my own trumpet, but I’m so proud of us. It’s still around 5 months till we’re back home with family, our class assessments are piling on, the winter shows no sign of letting up, there are meals to be made, roommates to be reconciled with; and yet we’re still trying our damnedest to do something ‘touristy’ at least once a week.

We’ve done good Emily, and we’ve had a bloody great time doing so.

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A List Of Cool January Things And Why It Didn’t Totally Suck As A Month

  • An Escape to the Country

The only family I have here in Canada is my Aunt who lives a bit of a way away over on the West Coast near Vancouver. Fortunately, one of my Dad’s good friends through work lives in Ottawa. Even more fortunately, he’s also one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, and that’s by Canadian standards. Andrew and his wife Mary work in Ottawa, but they also are slowly transitioning to their retirement home, a cottage they built from the ground up on Amherst Island, just outside of Kingston. They also have two gorgeous labradors. Me being me, (i.e in a continual state of denial over how much I miss my own dog) I was all too enthusiastic to accept an offer from Andrew a few Fridays ago to go and spend that weekend with them and the dogs.

The drive to Kingston felt like a long one for just the one night, but this is North American’s attitudes to distance for you. By the time we arrived, darkness had fallen and aside from pootling across a stretch of lake for 15 minutes on a ferry, I couldn’t see much of the island, or Lake Ontario. Even so, in their cosy and beautifully furnished cottage I had as much dog -love as I could possibly want (the dogs are called Vicar and Dibley. I know.) and a lovely homemade veggie lasagne. I went to bed feeling incredibly full, overwhelmed with puppy affection and oddly more at home than I ever have in my student flat in Ottawa.

The following morning I woke up early, and padded out onto the landing in my pjs. The house was silent (I forgot how quiet the countryside is compared to the city); the sun just rising and lighting up the living room in a golden glow.

This was my chance to see the lake properly for the first time.

Not bothering to change, I tiptoed past sleeping dogs and slipped on my coat and walking boots before heading out onto the deck.

When I say lakeside cottage, I mean lakeside. The gentle waves of Lake Ontario were lapping on an ice-covered beach not 30 feet from the back door. I wandered along the pebbles, tried to spy upstate New York on the horizon, and breathed. I remembered the lyrics of one of my favourite ‘contemplative’ songs –

‘Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge, remember your place / Many moons have risen and fallen long, long before you came’

The spell was broken just slightly when Andrew called “good morning Tessa, look out!” from the deck, and I was promptly barrelled into by two very much awake and very excited labradors. Breakfast was homemade oatmeal pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup sitting at the kitchen table in the rising sun, and the rest of the day passed very pleasantly with a dog walk and an explore of Kingston on the way back to Ottawa. Andrew treated me to a fish and chips for tea, and I felt immensely lucky to have been blessed with such hospitality.

On the drive home, we listened to one of Andrew’s favourite CBC radio shows, Vinyl Tap. The show explores all kinds of music relating to a certain theme, the host introducing the tune before he plays it. I guessed from the introduction, but I couldn’t help but laugh when the opening chords of Smash Mouth, ‘All Star’ rang out. My eternal karaoke go-to track, my anthem of this year abroad, my in-joke song with Natalie, my ‘feel good mood booster’ on the way to 6:30am basketball practices; and it was playing on the radio.

I loved my trip to the country, but it was good coming back into Ottawa with that song blaring through the speakers.

  • Cinema Road Trip With the Girls

I’ve been on a few road-trips now to the Tuesday deal night at the Scotiabank theatre with teammates, and it’s always a really good way to spend an evening. Kat, my fellow post player, gives us a lift in her car (once we’ve all helped de-snow it), and a various assortment of the team comes each time. The other week we went to see La La Land, and although the film was perfectly watchable and I loved the music (and Emma Stone) I think I probably enjoyed the car trip there and back more. Listening to Ed Sheeran under duress to perform karaoke from our point-guard Jules, getting stuck in a snow bank trying to leave the car park, and just joining in on the banter about how fair/unfair those additional sprints were in practice that day. They’re a good group of girls, and I feel more a part of the team every week.

  • The Best Eggs Benedict I Have Ever Had (really) 

So Emily is a fan of researching places to eat. It’s one of her favourite past-times I think, along with watching Location, Location, Location, that is. Fortunately, I get to benefit from this non-academic research, mainly by being invited out to said-eating places on weekend excursions. The other week we trekked across Downtown to Art-Is-In Bakery (I know, pun goals) for brunch and my gOODNESS was it worth the trip. Honestly the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. As it was a Sunday it was absolutely heaving with people but we lucked out with a table by the window and spent the next half an hour in raptures over our meals. For fellow Ottawa-ians, I cannot recommend enough.

  • First Skate on the Canal

This was a few weeks ago now (since then the canal has sadly closed again) but the canal finally opened!! It was all with much fanfare and excitement, and Emily and I didn’t get a chance to go until a Tuesday afternoon – but it actually turned out to be the best time. The excitement had worn off a little, and midday on a weekday it was pretty quiet. We wandered down with our skates in our backpacks, and finally got to go down the steps that have been there since November onto the ice. Jostling for space on the benches just casually lining the skateway, we laced up and set off along down towards Parliament.

There is something I really, really love about skating. I think it’s partly the novelty of moving so much faster than walking speed but with about the same amount of effort exerted. Also, there’s a little part of me that still believes I am the Ice Princess, and even on battered second-hand hockey skates in an enormous puffer coat, I can picture myself as that. I’m pretty comfortable skating (having gotten used to rollerblading at a young age) but Emily has only learnt recently, so it was mitten in mitten that we skated along so she felt secure. Apart from really being the most couple-y thing we’ve done to date (and honestly, we’ve done a lot) it was so, so lovely. We glided all the way along the 5km marker before turning back (into the wind, I might add – slightly less fun), passing fathers’ teaching their tiny kids how to play hockey; mum’s with pushchairs chatting while skating along; kids with backpacks just out of school. We even picked up a Beaver Tail from one of the stands on the ice, and munched on the hot cinammon-y dough as quickly as we could before our hands went numb out of our mittens. It felt magical, unique, and wholly Canadian – a winter novelty rooted in a society that just gets on with their lives even in -23 degrees. I can’t wait for it to open up again so we can go for the full 7.8km stretch.

  • A Trip to the National Arts Centre

Another date night with Emily, but we’ve been meaning to see a theatrical production for a while now, and got our chance on Friday. After some slightly stressful online ticket purchasing (there’s a 13-29 year old ‘tickets on the day of’ deal for just $15) we went out for half-price pizza at The Grand (fast becoming Our Thing) before heading on to see ‘The Colony of Unrequited Dreams’ at the NAC. It was an interesting premise, based on a book about the first Premier of Newfoundland Joey Smallwood, and his campaign to bring the country into Confederation with Canada in 1949 – but as political as it sounds it was a truly great show. The stage production was very simplistic but incredibly effective, and the script was witty, historically-rooted and downright funny at points too. Particularly interesting was the presentation of the ‘Evil Brits’, who were against Smallwood and in favour of keeping Newfoundland under dominion status. At one point, during a scene with the uncompromising British general in his office, a union jack hanging in the corner, I realised with a slightly surreal sense of déjà vu I’d seen this image before; in all and any presentations of Nazis in WW2 films. I will never get over how interesting it is to see colonial Britain from another country’s perspective (more on that another time I think.)

  • Winter Celebration at Rideau Hall

This was our most recent excursion, on the Saturday just gone, to the Winter Celebration hosted by the Governor General at Rideau Hall. Emily had found the event a while ago, and as it promised free entry to the grounds and free cheese via the Embassy of Switzerland, we felt it looked fun enough to justify a trip. We arrived only around 20 minutes after it had opened and it was already packed. Stalls not just from the Embassy of Switzerland, but from Turkey, Norway, Finland, Germany, Italy and many others lined the walkways of the grounds, offering free food and drinks and various winter activities. The Norway Embassy had cross-country skis for the children to have a go; the Italian stand snowshoes on a little woodland trail; the Finnish tent a photo competition to win a signed hockey jersey of the women’s national team – there was so much going on. I have also never had so much free food in one go in my life, from cubes of cheese and sweet crackers, to an Austrian walnut and vanilla cookie, to hot stewed blueberry, we spent our time flitting between queues collecting the freebies.

We also got to poke around the beautiful (and blessedly warm) greenhouses of the Governor General, and had brought our skates to have a go on the free rink by the recently renovated winter pavillion. It was bustling, busy and generally a really lovely, international atmosphere. I heard so many languages spoken, saw so many families trying out traditional winter sports for what was clearly the first time; it was a heartwarming sight. Particularly following the news of Trump’s travel ban and the crazy protests taking place across America at airports, it was a moment that really restored my faith in humanity. We can live together, and in Ottawa, that’s exactly what we’re doing. I guess we’re all keeping on in that way really.

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