Toronto vs. Everybody

It’s finally spring- hurrah!

I’m going to start this season off with a post on my favourite places in Toronto. I realize that my past few blog posts have been a bit on the heavy/wordy side. While I recognize not everyone is interested in reading such posts, I think it is so important to maintain transparency in our experiences; this is one of my main goals in writing this blog. It’s so easy to walk through life and not connect with those around us.

However, I don’t want everyone to think I’m a constantly in a negative headspace because of my last couple posts. While moving out east (yes, Albertans consider Toronto to be “out east”) has had its challenges, I continue to have amazing experiences in this city. Having lived in Toronto for over a year and a half now, I really feel at home here. Sherwood Park will always be my home base though.

Anyways, here is a list of my top ten favourite places to go in Toronto! This is by no means an exhaustive list. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

  1. BMV

BMV is a book lover’s dream. Those of you that have me on Snapchat know that I often take snaps whilst wandering around the aisles. BMV sells both new and used books at extremely low prices (and the used books are in mint condition). Not only are the prices great, but the books are also great: the selection is astounding and always changing. You can also often buy new releases. There are three locations in Toronto, but the Bloor location is my personal favourite for a few reasons: it is the largest store, it is in a cool neighbourhood (the Annex), and they always play amazing music (last time I went it was old Elvis tunes). Another bonus is that all BMV locations are open quite late. I always feel at peace wandering around endless shelves of books. You can check out the website here: http://www.bmvbooks.com/

  1. The Cameron House

The Cameron House is my favourite live music venue in Toronto, by far. You can pop in every day of the week and hear a variety of music being played. It looks partially like a 1920s theatre, and partially like someone dug up random décor from their basement (I say this in the best way possible. Really). They also have a second stage and bar at the back. Their cheap beer is an added bonus to an already stellar time. If you’re in Toronto, you need to check it out: http://www.thecameron.com/index.html

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  1. Queen West

 Queen West consists of every kilometer on Queen Street west of Yonge Street, all the way to Roncesvalle Avenue; admittedly this is a long stretch of road. However, it is incredibly dynamic, which is the reason why it is one of my favorite places to wander in Toronto. Stretching through the heart of the trendy downtown core all the way to the up-and-coming Parkdale, there is no shortage of sights to see. On the downtown section of Queen Street you can find Eaton Centre (including a six-story Bay), Old City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square, and a variety of retailers and restaurants (both chain and independent). Just past Spadina, you can dive into Graffiti Alley and explore the stunning murals that Queen West is famous for. Nearing Bathurst and the hipster neighborhood of Trinity Bellwoods, you can find quirky independent stores as well as a local brewery. Continuing west, you’ll eventually wander into Parkdale, known for its plethora of vintage shops.

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  1. Kensington Market

Kensington is more than just a market. It has permanent store fronts year round, ranging from vegan bakeries to dispensaries. In the summertime on weekends, streets are shut down for pedestrians, and a few market-style booths are set up. It’s an incredibly quirky and unique area, and many of the storefronts are old houses painted in bright colors. The best spots to hit are Bunners (a vegan, gluten free bakery that is a major weakness of mine), Blue Banana (they literally sell everything), and the huge number of vintage stores.

  1. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

 I’ve seen my fair share of museums, and the ROM is the cream of the crop. The variety of exhibits is astounding, and the sheer number and importance of the artefacts they have on display is incredible. You could easily spend days inside the ROM. My favorite permanent exhibit is the Egyptology one (and yes, they have several mummies). Just go to the ROM. Right now. Go.

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  1. Steamwhistle Brewery

 Although more on the touristy side, I just love going to Steamwhistle. Every time a friend comes to visit me (which happens fairly frequently- I have wonderful friends), I take them to Steamwhistle. Tours are only $10 and include a charismatic (but not annoying) tour guide, beer, and a souvenir. I’ve been three or four times now, and I love it every time. I also now hold a vast (and perhaps unneccessary) amount of knowledge about the Steamwhistle brand.

  1. Distillery District

 The Distillery District is extremely picturesque and celebrates Toronto’s old warehouse brickwork. El Catrin is a great Mexican restaurant in the District that I highly recommend checking out- their guacamole and margaritas are incredible. This district is also home to Mill Street Brewery. Summer is a great time to check out the variety of shops and restaurant the Distillery District has to offer, but my favourite time to visit is during the annual Christmas Market, a European-style market complete with wooden outdoor booths and mulled wine.

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  1. The Lockhart

 Those of you that know me are aware that I am a massive Harry Potter fan. So, when it was announced that The Lockhart—a Potter-themed bar—was opening up in Toronto, you can imagine my extreme excitement. I was most definitely lined up around the block on opening night (and in a strange twist of fate, the person ahead of me in line was also from Sherwood Park). Because it is not a licensed Harry Potter establishment, the bar is extremely suggestive in its connection to Hogwarts, but does not have any identifiable logos from the series. The drinks are also delicious and creative, including a drink inspired by the Goblet of Fire (and yes, it does involve fire).

  1. Saint Lawrence Market/Saint James Park

 The Saint Lawrence Market is a traditional indoor market that primarily sells meat, seafood, cheese, and bread/pastries, and is located by the iconic Flatiron building on Front Street. What makes this market stand out is the high quality of products, although you will often pay more than when you go to the grocery store. The Saint James Park is one block north of Saint Lawrence, and boasts a gorgeous flower garden during the summer. Attached to the park is the Saint James Cathedral, with architecture that is definitely worth checking out. 

  1. University of Toronto- St. George Campus

 Lastly, the reason why I moved to Toronto in the first place: to attend U of T. Little did I know, U of T has more than one campus in the GTA. However, I got to attend the coolest one, located in downtown Toronto: St. George (I may be slightly biased). The campus is gorgeous—particularly in autumn—and boasts some of the oldest buildings in Canada.

 

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A Love Letter to Books, the Present, and Myself

My entire adult life, I’ve consistently asked myself one question: where will I be one year from now?

This question leads to a string of follow-up questions: where will I be five years from now? Will I fulfill all of the goals I’ve set for myself? Will my goals change?

Will I fail?

Asking myself that final question, my brain immediately retreats under the comfort of my past accomplishments mixed with the utter denial that failure is possible. However, I then get hit with the reminder that failure is indeed possible, and that I have personally failed many times. I’ve failed as a sister, daughter, friend, student, and in many other capacities as well. I’ve failed to write a blog for the past few months, and have failed to even keep to my initial goal of writing two posts per month. We all fail, and failure is inevitable.

The thing is though, without failing, we are unable to fully understand the importance and excitement of fulfilling our goals. Goal setting can be a very scary prospect because it means that we are acknowledging that we wish to accomplish something, and that we may or may not accomplish it.

I have always been dedicated to goal setting, and I believe this practice has helped me earn a lot of the success I’ve experienced. Excluding the past year of my life, it has been fairly straightforward for me to set goals: they almost always involved school. However, upon the completion of my Master’s degree—and knowing I’m not interesting in pursuing a PhD—I realized that my main source of goal setting and fulfillment was now a chapter of my past.

This realization lead to a tumultuous and at times excruciating process of extracting myself from a formalized education system and into what is often terrifyingly described as “the real world”. Trying to pursue a career in my field has been difficult, as I’ve touched on in past blog posts. Living far away from my family and friends in Alberta was extremely hard right after my schooling was done. I was depressed for several months even as those close to me cheered me on, repeating that ambiguous statement that soon things will get better. To this sentiment, I kept telling myself that success was not happening fast enough. This is not to say I didn’t appreciate encouragement from my friends and family; this is to say that I did not know how to live in a world where I didn’t know where I would be a year from now. Hell, I didn’t even know where I would be in a month or two at the time.

My parents kept telling me to enjoy the present. They promised they wouldn’t let me starve or get evicted, knowing that I was searching for jobs every day. However, I found that I could not accept the present. I was hell-bent on hating the position that I found myself in. As you might imagine, this became tiring. Yet, I didn’t care: the present fucking sucked and no one could make me like it.

Books ended up saving me from my constant state of negativity. I started reading with renewed vigor, trying to provide myself with some sort of escapism. I first escaped to rural Sweden with Stieg Larsson’s thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I continued to read my way through other faraway locales such as Paris and England. What had started out as escapism eventually (over the course of several months) led me to appreciate my own present, and gave me the perspective that I am an actor in my own story. Along with reading, starting my current job, making new friends, and rediscovering yoga continued to help me appreciate the value of the present.

I now try to seek out opportunities to appreciate the present as much as possible. I continue to be inspired by books, and have coincidentally (?) read many books recently that use the present/notion of time as a major theme. These books include A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, Room by Emma Donoghue, The High Mountains of Portugal The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I highly recommend all of these books, and would love to hear your thoughts on them if you’ve read them.

I am proud to say that I’m now more comfortable living in the present, and am more able to appreciate the opportunities that the present affords me. I’ve learned to create more manageable goals that strike a balance between keeping me motivating and not threatening my ability to appreciate my life right now. While I am far from figuring this whole adult thing out, I finally feel like I’m taking control of the pen and writing my next chapter.

Home.

If you had told me at any point in the past that I would work for a financial institution, I would have laughed you out of the room. I’ve never gotten along with numbers no matter how hard I’ve tried; just ask my poor (and extremely patient) high school math teacher.

Perhaps I shouldn’t make my lack of numerical understanding sound so desperate; I am capable of doing social statistics at a graduate level (anything else involving numbers results in my eyes instantly glazing over). I’ve recently started working as a bank teller, which has involved a steep learning curve, but has been going quite well. Since the last blog I’ve written, I’ve worked two jobs at once, have ultimately transitioned to my current position, and have officially convocated from my MA program (YAY!): sadly the regularity of my blog has suffered, as I just have not have enough hours in the day to write a quality blog post.

As I continue to pursue my search for the Big Girl Job (i.e. career job in my field) and get continuously farther away from when I completed my MA coursework back in May, I’ve had two questions in my head pop up with increasing regularity.

What is home? Where is home?

Perhaps you might be questioning how these two questions are related to what I’ve written so far.

Having worked a couple of jobs here now that have nothing to do with my field of interest make me wonder if Toronto is my home. Then I wonder why I didn’t question this inquiry as strongly last year as I am now.

When I think about it, I feel strangely at home (comfortable but lacking something), as opposed to strangely at home (a feeling of immediate and secure comfort). Let me explain. I feel comfortable and safe in Toronto. I love my neighborhood, and I couldn’t ask for a better building to live in. I’ve made some amazing friends. Although these factors are part of what I consider a home to consist of, something is missing, besides my friends and family from back home. However, I know that if I moved back to Alberta, I would miss the excitement of Toronto, particularly the unique food and cocktails, the live music, and the ability to explore such a diverse city. This contradiction has confused my brain immensely the past few months, so I’ve started asking myself more and more: what is home? Where is home?

Many rely on the cliché ‘home is where the heart is’ to answer these two questions. I think this is a valid place to start. Being close with my family and being blessed with a fantastic set of friends, I’ve never doubted that these people have woven a sense of home into my life. Contradicting the idea that home is usually where your family and friends are is the immense sense of ease I felt when moving to Toronto to pursue my masters: I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. While my move to Toronto and tackling graduate studies was no easy feat, I became comfortable with my new city and new friends rather quickly. But still, my brain is confused: why am I feeling less at ease now?

I think I’ve found the answer in a book. Currently I’m reading The High Mountains of Portugal by Canadian author Yann Martel. In the pages I have read so far, Martel suggests that home can be found in the journey to fulfilling our ambitions; it is the focus and dedication we pour into achieving our goals. He also writes “that human life is no more than this: an attempt to feel at home while racing towards oblivion” (p.34). In applying this to my own life, I am reminded to be patient and to trust my journey as I work to fulfill my career goals, despite the frustrations and challenges. I’ve realized that to me, home is not only a place with my friends and family, but also a place where I wholeheartedly pursue my ambitions. This is currently a major challenge for me, which therefore makes me question what and where my home is. Sometimes answers are hidden in places we least expect to find them, yet I would expect nothing less from a book.

If you have made it this far in reading my blog post, thank you for hearing me out. If I annoy you with my babbling, I’m not sorry. I know that many people in my situation—recently graduated, young, little work experience—face similar frustrations. It’s okay to be angry that many job postings ask for entry-level applicants to have over five years of experience. It’s okay to be angry that when you try your hardest, you’re not rewarded for your efforts. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to be passive and let your circumstances define you. One of the main reasons I started this blog is to ensure people in situations similar to mine know that they are not experiencing the same frustrations alone.

If we had everything figured out, life would be boring and we would not have the experiences that make us who we are. Keep on keeping on, my friends.

My Complicated Relationship with Food

This weekend, one of my best friends from high school is getting married! I’m also incredibly excited because I am one of her two maids of honour (couldn’t break up a trio of high school best friends!).

Big events involving food, however, are often sources of fear for me. Having had anaphylactic food allergies for my entire life, weddings, graduations, and parties are all synonymous with that big question: will I be able to eat anything? And if that question seemed anti-climactic to you, I will have you know I am an extreme foodie and would probably weigh six hundred pounds if I didn’t have my food allergies.

On a more serious note, this question is an important one. The risk of eating anywhere—but particularly at large events—can be increased by so many factors, including carelessness, honest mistakes, and misunderstandings. Personally, I find choosing to eat anywhere outside of my home rests on the amount of trust I am able to place in the people making the food. However, I never fully trust anyone; I’ve had too many close calls.

I’ve had allergy attacks in strange places: the tallest building in China, rural Peru at 4000 meters of elevation (no they don’t have 24/7 emergency rooms and yes the elevation makes it hard to breathe to begin with), a corn maze, and my own kitchen (sadly true on more than one occasion). Although the locales, circumstances, and the severity of reactions change, the emotional burden remains fairly consistent. Being in my twenties I have developed a system of monitoring my physical symptoms, but emotionally staring death in the face is never an easy thing. While allergy attacks can become severe quickly, especially if you have anaphylaxis, I often feel like time slows down. The back of my throat starts swelling; then if my entire throat begins to swell I know I need to reach for my Epi-Pen and call an ambulance. I continuously swallow in order to judge how worried I need to be about the quick arrival of the paramedics. All the while, at the back of my mind I know that I can die within minutes.

This may sound dramatic to you, but it is my reality. Recently, my fellow maid of honor in the upcoming wedding has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Although celiac disease and allergies affect bodies very differently, living with celiac and allergies is very similar. With her recent diagnosis, my friend has been experiencing frustration with those who do not understand her condition, along with frustration at coping with her food restrictions. Hearing her experiences makes me reconsider how I cope with my food allergies. While I’m pretty used to receiving comments such as “wow, having allergies must really suck” or “wow, so what do you even eat?”, they continue to be difficult to respond to. Yes, having allergies sucks, but I’ve learned to live with them. Yes, I do eat food besides lettuce.

Luckily, understanding and tolerance of food restrictions has grown significantly in recent years. I am very fortunate to have friends (like my friend getting married this upcoming weekend) who are extremely careful with my allergies. I am also very fortunate to live in a country that understands the importance of universal healthcare, thereby giving me the ability to acquire an Epi-Pen for significantly less than $600 (a cruel act of capitalism my allergy brethren in the United States are currently facing).

I thought this blog post would be particularly fitting for October; Thanksgiving is next weekend, and Halloween will soon be upon us. If you know someone with a food restriction, please be mindful of that. If you have sincere questions about a person’s dietary needs, just ask. If—Heaven forbid—someone has a reaction, call the ambulance immediately. Also, a bonus to calling the ambulance is that you will get to see attractive paramedics: my favourite part (although I always look like complete shit by the time paramedics arrive when I have allergy attacks; lack of oxygen will do that to a girl).

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and happy (safe) eating!

That Time I Accidentally Met Prince Harry

This past May—you guessed it—I accidentally met Prince Harry.

I was walking to school to clean out my locker, which for some reason was the only day I was able to do so. I could see some people gathering at Queen’s Park (the Ontario legislature- see the picture above) but brushed it off as one of the many protests that regularly occur there. After talking to a couple of the admin ladies, I was told that Prince Harry was on his way to meet with some officials in order to promote the Invictus Games (note: the Games are basically the Olympics for retired and previously injured military personnel, and will be taking place in Toronto next summer).

Naturally, I had to see if I could get a glimpse of my future husband. As many of my friends and family know, I often seem to find myself in circumstances in which I see famous people. I have no idea why this happens to me, but I am definitely not complaining about it.

As I readied myself for what I was hoping would be a short stakeout, I did one of my favourite things: people-watched. Someone had brought their baby in hopes of getting it blessed with the prince’s lips. Women of all ages were hoping HRH would fall in love with them at first sight. The majority of people were (unsurprisingly) hardcore royalists. As excited as I was about seeing Prince Harry, I am not necessarily a royalist. Fully realizing this in such a setting made me question why I was therefore so excited to see Prince Harry.

Canada has the United Kingdom to thank for many of the things we might assume are inherently ‘Canadian’: our court system and governmental system, to name a couple of examples. Traditions that have been passed down for centuries from our English friends across the pond have no doubt influenced Canada in ways we probably can’t even fully realize. Personally, I can’t help but question how necessary the English monarchy are for Canada’s future (aside from my future marriage to Prince Harry). While they are not government decision-makers, the monarchy does continue to be incredibly and significantly symbolic. I didn’t understand the extent of how important the monarchy continues to be as figureheads until I was waiting for Prince Harry to arrive: and let me tell you, royalists would probably give up their firstborn child to catch a glimpse of a royal.

Continuing to ponder Canadian identity, I had to think of my move to Toronto last year. After driving across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and being fortunate enough to visit Quebec last summer, I felt much stronger in my identity as a Canadian. Prior to this adventure, I felt much stronger in my Albertan identity as opposed to my Canadian identity.

Canada is a large country with a diverse population, which is one of the most beautiful things about Canada. However, the vastness of Canada also means that it is often cheaper to travel abroad rather than travel to a different part of Canada, which is quite unfortunate. I think it makes sense that we identify more intimately with the geographical location where we spend most of our time, but after this past year, I’m of the opinion that Canadians—myself included—need to start investing more time into our Canadian identities as both individuals and united citizens.

Long story short, I realized that I was excited to see Prince Harry because I am a major history nerd. I may or may not be slightly obsessed with medieval English history. However, this obsession doesn’t stem from some sort of romantic notion of a prince sweeping a princess off her feet. Being the criminology geek that I am, I love this period of history because of the political deviance: the brutal and regularly bloody political deviance of the monarchy (and other nobles) that used every tool they had to maintain and gain power.

To summarize: I was excited to see Prince Harry because to me, he is a direct connection to the centuries of intricate medieval politics that I so love. And another reason for my excitement might be that I find him attractive.

I ended up getting an amazing selfie with Prince Harry; he came right up to me (which doesn’t always happen with public figures, in my experience) and it resulted in one of my favourite pictures ever. He was incredibly sweet, and joked around a bit with me. A British newspaper then interviewed me on my experience meeting HRH, since he did take the time to talk to me. I haven’t been able to find the article yet, unfortunately. However, the journalist took my information, so I rest easy knowing that Prince Harry has the ability to find me once he realizes I am his dream girl.

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For those of you who are familiar with my facial expressions, you can tell how excited I am in this picture!

P.S. I apologize for how long it’s been since my last post; my parents’ visit coupled with starting a new job has resulted in a tad bit of craziness. Now that I’m in the swing of things, I plan to continue with weekly blog installments! Meanwhile, I’ll be over here questioning my life decisions over a cup of tea.

Statistics, Failure, and Other Uplifting Topics (No, Actually)

Today, I became a statistic.

(To be fair, you can quantify nearly everything, and virtually anything can be interpreted as a statistic; this can be a rather restrictive and depressing thought, especially if you’re as bad at math as I am.)

More clearly, then, today I became a statistic that I don’t like. I became one of many graduating grad students who have to rely on a minimum wage job to pay the bills until I manage to get a career job.

This elusive ‘big girl job’, as I’ve been calling it, is frustratingly—you guessed it—elusive. Part of the reason why I wanted to pursue grad school was to hopefully mitigate the difficulty of starting a career. But, as much of my MA cohort is finding out: easier said than done. We can argue anyone under the table about the definition and implications of liminal space, yet we largely remain unemployed.

Part of what makes my current ‘failure’ to find a career job so difficult is that this past year has been a year of success. I got into my top choice of school, and I did really well in school. I’ve been able to experience living in downtown Toronto, and I’ve been able to travel to Quebec and Chicago.

However, the farther I drift from frustration (which truthfully depends on the day), the more I realize how intertwined failure and success really are. With the failure of getting a job, I’ve found success in the (vast) amount of time I’ve had to think about my goals for the future; I’ve been able to discern which job applications are even worth spending the time on, and which ones are not worth applying to. In my opinion, both failure and success are relative.

As trying as life has been lately, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had so many amazing experiences over the past year, and I wouldn’t trade them in for the world. I know I’ll look back on this time later in life, and envy the feeling of freedom I have right now.

I’ve also tried to have a bit of fun with my current predicament. As some of you know, I’ve recently become a Professional Background Actor (the fancy way of saying a movie extra): because, why not? I was pretty into drama in high school, and recently (during my vast amount of time to think), I thought, why can’t I still be into drama? The ending of school doesn’t have to mark the ending of certain hobbies that are normalized as extracurriculars in schools.

And so concludes my musings for this week. My next blog post may be a bit late next week, as I will be in Montreal with my parents! Maybe I’ll find a bit of inspiration there for my next instalment. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here questioning my life decisions over a cup of tea.

That Time I Accidentally Went on a Date with a Nazi Sympathizer

Yesterday, I had the unfortunate (and trust me, completely accidental) experience of going on a date with a Nazi sympathizer.

This bizarre and highly unexpected situation had me thinking a thought that I’ve played with since moving to Toronto; the thought that I should start a blog. You just can’t make some of the situations up that I’ve found myself in since moving out of my hometown of Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada.

So why start a blog? My dad has his own blog here on WordPress (https://brainfoodcafeforthemind.com/), which has also been a huge source of inspiration for me. I’ve always been encouraged to use my words to speak my mind in a detailed—yet succinct—manner, thanks to my dad. Also, now that I’ve finished my MA degree, I find myself sorely missing the writing that used to consume so much of my time. Although admittedly I’m more familiar with research papers than blogs, there is no time like the present to try something new.

Speaking of trying new things, I’ve recently been trying to make more of an attempt to meet people and make some new friends. I’ve definitely made some fantastic friends here in Toronto, but as I’ve learned, you can never have enough friends.

Through this pursuit, I found myself agreeing to a sushi date with a guy who seemed decent over text. Even if the date himself wasn’t my Prince Charming, at least I would be eating some delicious sushi: and in my world, you really can’t go wrong with sushi.

I was wrong.

The sushi was delicious; all was well in the raw fish department. Things were going fine initially, but when it became apparent he thought Alberta was situated on the west coast of Canada, I knew he was not my true love. But hey, I’m all for meeting new people and eating sushi, so I continued on with the random conversation that often saturates first dates.

Partway through dinner, however, my date decided to start discussing World War II and how the world (particularly the United States) would have not squandered the world’s natural resources so thoroughly if Nazi Germany had been successful in its endeavors. Now I’m not a person who disregards other people’s opinions; however, if it involves a pro-genocide attitude, I’m going to speak up. To clarify, I asked my date if he was prioritizing natural resources over human life, to which he responded that in the long run, human destruction of the earth will eventually kill more people. More awful, racist, and discriminatory comments were made in his pro-Nazi argument, and they would be a waste of time for me to type out.

Worst. Date. Ever.

I’m not telling this story on my inaugural blog post to invoke shame on my date. Instead, I’m telling this story to show a few things:

  • I am a humanist. Several of my upcoming blog posts will involve social justice, and naturally, elements of criminology. As such, I will hopefully avoid going on dates in the future with people who do not share a similar point of view.
  • I like to share stories. If you know me personally, you will likely be aware that I like to tell long, detailed stories which (usually) have a point to them.
  • I like to find humor in every situation. Simply, life is short and I believe it’s important to laugh as often as possible.
  • I like to relate to others. I know that I’m not the only one who has gone on a date that has left much to be desired (those supporting the Holocaust included)!

So with that, my friends, I end my first blog post. Please share and comment below! I would love to hear of any wild first date stories. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here questioning my life decisions over a cup of tea.