Tuesday, June 13
As so many of my blogs start, I'm sitting in an airport bar with a fabulous glass of wine. I'm channelling my dear friend and mentor JoAnne who, like me, loves to travel, drink good wine, and think big thoughts. While I usually think along side the buzz of whatever is happening around me, I've recently discovered that I have free access to Spotify. Ya, I know, I'm a bit slow out of the gate on that one but I blame my non-existent boyfriend. My exes will attest to the fact that along with the job of doing up the zips on the back of my dresses, it is their responsibility to sort out my tech devices and services. Anyway, I've sorted it myself, albeit a bit late, and am really enjoying Spotify's coffeehouse-themed playlists. Chill, warm and easy is how I'd describe them. Perfect for thinking.
Anyway, I digress. I'm in San Francisco. While it's only a transit point for my flight to Canada, just being in the airport and looking out to the nearby range delivers some creative inspiration. The buttery Californian chardonnay doesn't hurt either. You may turn your nose up at my wine selection. I admit, Chardonnay hasn't always been for me either. It's been my travels around New Zealand that have opened my pallet to them. The bigger, bolder, and buttery, the better. I bet you didn't even know a wine could be buttery. It can and it's sooo good when it is. If you're following along with my blog, you'll know that I once got a job at a winery (although I never actually worked a day) just so I could get a deal on their amazing chardonnay. For today, I'll have to make due with California's.
I got here by crossing the International Date Line - an "imaginary" line of demarcation between dates. Created in 1884 - a century before I was born - it goes from the North Pole to the South Pole, zigzagging around the not-so-imaginary political borders. An interesting concept when you think of it. It's a simple line that separates people, dates and times. This line, while imaginary, makes me think of the things that have separated me from my family and friends for nearly a year and a half. Some things have perhaps been imaginary, some not so much. Time is an obvious one. Being 16 hours ahead causes some logistical challenges when trying to connect with people. I like to think that I can see the future. I can't. However, having my birthday celebrated for two days is definitely a perk. But even though I see the sun rise first, I always feel behind when I catch up with my friends and family. Things happen. Life continues. Babies are born. Houses are bought. Illnesses arise. The world spins.
I need to make my way to the gate so I go to pay my bill. I hand the server my card and he hands me back the machine. I'm confused. It has pay wave. I guess I have to punch in my pin. The screen reads, "How much would you like to tip? 15% 20% or 25%" Oh. Right. Tipping. After living abroad where tipping is never expected, I can't help but see what an awkward cultural practice it is. I haven't missed it one bit.
Wednesday, June 14
As the pilot announces we're nearing Canadian airspace and on track to land just after midnight, I start to get anxious. This is the first time I've ever returned to Canada for a visit. It's going to be weird to be amongst the familiar while knowing it's only temporary. Familiarity is a luxury for me. I love it when I begin to learn a new town or city so well that I no longer need a GPS. Once I begin to learn my surroundings, however, it's usually time to move on. Same goes for this trip.
Three weeks isn't a lot when there are so many people that I want to visit. Family, friends and old colleagues. A few weeks ago I started making plans to meet up with friends and family on certain days. Family was pretty easy to coordinate but some of my friends made it challenging. Either they didn't reply or when they did, they said that they had already made other plans. What a weird feeling. I get it. I'm the one who left. In fairness, I don't expect them to drop everything but it's tough to accept that I may not get to see everyone. Eventually, I get just about everyone locked into a day(s) for a visit. As I map out the cities, visits, dinners and events, the anxiety builds. Three weeks is beginning to feel like three minutes. And I'm not even home yet.
Sunday, July 2
And just like that, I'm back on a plane. No sooner then I started this blog in the San Francisco airport then I'm en route to Los Angeles where my connecting flight will take me back across the Pacific Ocean. I'm typing with the hopes of fending off a much needed hangover-induced nap courtesy of my friends Jenny and Kent. It was one hell of a wedding but I'm feeling it now. Sleep will have to wait until I'm at least in the Southern Hemisphere because when I land at 7:30am in Auckland on Tuesday, I'll have to go straight to the office. So, for now, I write.
When I set out for this trip (as evidenced above), I worried about how it might feel to return home and more importantly, leave again. I wondered if everything would be different or just as I left it. I wasn’t even sure which I wanted. I worried that when I returned, I would feel out of place. Would I be disheartened by how much I had missed? Would I feel pressured to stay? Selfishly, I worried that everyone would have had as much of an adventure over the last year and a half as I had.
Over the course of the last three weeks, it's clear that life in Canada has gone on while I've been living my own abroad. I returned feeling like an entirely different person, and apparently with too much emphasis on my "E"s. My parents renovations continued, my nieces grew taller, my nephew's voice got lower, my friends' children more numerous, my cousins are older and more independent, and the list goes on. Sadly, it became clear that a friendship or two were casualties of my adventure. However, the many friendships that remain are stronger than ever. With my family and the majority of my friends, it was as though I'd never left.
As an added bonus, were a few new friends I made back in Canada while being thousands of miles away. Old colleagues or friends of friends who I rarely interacted with when I lived in Canada have since become some of my most loyal followers, sharing their kind thoughts and helpful advice when I post about this or that. When you've been on your own for months at a time, sometimes going days without having a true conversation, you really appreciate those messages, comments, likes, and general signs of awareness that people are with you wherever you might be. Doing what I love made me a natural magnet for others who also love travel and adventure. It was awesome to catch up with these people in person over the course of my trip.
The whirlwind visit to Canada kicked off when I landed in Toronto. Landing just after midnight, I picked up my car rental and to my great surprise, I got a sweet upgrade which is a real treat considering I would have the vehicle for three weeks and over 2500 kilometres. Thankfully, the roads were quiet at that hour so I could reacquaint myself with driving on the right without threatening too many lives. I checked into my hotel at 2am, starving. It was when the night-shift worker at the front desk offered me a few slices of the pizza he'd just had delivered for himself, that I knew I was home.
This would only be reinforced by the big family dinner that I'd get the next night with Uncles, Aunts and cousins coming together from across the GTA. I felt so grateful that they opened their home and fought 401 traffic to visit. Of course, getting hugs that closely resembled my Dad's was exactly what I needed hours after landing. When I got to Deep River after three days of visits, I fell into my parents arms exhausted and happy to finally be home.
Over the next three weeks, I'd continue to drive from city to city, town to city, and back again seeing former work colleagues still holding onto the dream in Ottawa, friends from Dragonboat, and of course lots of family. The best days were spent helping my Dad put the finishing touches on a new deck. I also got to take my nieces out of school so we could go zip-lining, water-sliding and just generally have an all girls day. I even got to have a delicious turkey dinner including all the fixings in 25 degree June weather! Other days I got to get to cuddle, play with, and read to my many nieces and nephews. Some were related, many were not. All are loved and now missed. I was sad to not see Gussy or Juno but overjoyed that their mom, Bliss made the long drive from Toronto despite having a broken arm. Talk about commitment. The three weeks were a blur. I couldn't ask for a better way to cap them off then spending an amazing night with all my dearest friends celebrating the marriage of Jenny and Kent.
Sunday, July 30
Having been back a few weeks and fully reflected upon the trip, I have to say that it was awesome. People ask me if I miss home or if it was hard to leave. The only really hard part was hugging my Dad goodbye. That's not something particularly new in my life though. So long as I can remember, I have always hated to leave my dad. He rightfully pointed out that it seemed easier for me the last time (in January 2015 when they dropped me off at the airport). Of course it was. I was going on a wild adventure. The excitement of the unknown was ahead. Plus, I knew I'd be seeing my parents in Cambodia in just over a month. This time, I was returning to a city I knew, to a busy new job, and to a country nearly 30 hours away by plane. So for at least a few minutes (read: quite a few) after I pulled out of the drive and turned towards Ottawa, tears fell.
Overall, however, I left feeling fortunate. Fortunate that I had enjoyed such a good visit in with my family and was able to reconnect with so many friends. I cherished every day that I was home and really left feeling as though I'd made the most of it. Once the tears dried up, all that was left were fond memories of that time I went from Down Under to Deep River and back again.