Oświęcim & Auschwitz

It is Day 13 or so as I write this, which is wild to think about! I have trouble believing that I am nearly halfway through this program after so much anxiety going into it – because I have come to really appreciate my being here – but I am also acutely aware of how exhausting it has been to partake in the program. I cannot think of a time where I was this tired for this long. Days come and go where I am exhausted all day through lectures and walks and the like, but there has not been one day where, upon returning to my accommodation, I have not wanted to sleep immediately.
The constant intake of information – heavy, frustrating, inspiring, and complicated information – in addition to the frequently lengthy walks and long periods of sitting and taking notes is much more tiring than one might think. However, it wasn’t long before all of us in the program realized how much work it is.
“How is Poland? How is your trip? What do you think of the country?” These are difficult to answer right now. I can tell you factually what has been going on in the program, but processing my thoughts and emotions has been a delayed process due to how busy and tired I am (this is a shared sentiment among every student I’ve spoken to). The program is certainly a very unique and amazing opportunity, but I haven’t really had any “down time” to explore how I feel about it, nor to physically explore this part of the world outside of my program requirements so far.
I wrote the above reflections a little over one week ago, when we were spending the majority of our days in the former concentration camp complex and surrounding area. A few things have changed.

Continue reading “Oświęcim & Auschwitz”

Poland: Warsaw I

It’s been three days of content for the course and as I write this we are preparing for a travel day that will be wrapped up with a seminar in Auschwitz, our next destination and residence for 12 days.

The city of Warsaw is beautiful, and it is difficult to comprehend how much of it has been destroyed and rebuilt when you look at the style of the buildings and the composition of the streets and towns. Some of them look very classic while others are more modern. We started our learning in Warsaw inside the Jewish Historical Institute, which is one of the only buildings that in part survived the Warsaw Uprising destruction. Burned portions of the floor in the entrance hall remain visible and a part of what the institute stands for.

While in Warsaw, we are staying in Pokoje Goscinne Zwiazku Metalowcow – a place that definitely struck us as decent-but-not-great upon our arrival. However, we received a small lecture and saw a documentary about the building, and learned that it was a part of a bigger story of Hotel Polski, a story that isn’t clear on where the “good” and the “bad” people are, and who ran it (despite the article’s position). This certainly increased my appreciation of the space! I do still itch quite a bit, but that’s okay.

We have aleady visited multiple sites, as Warsaw is an epicenter of Holocaust activity. We have visited Szucha Gestapo Prison (an interrogation and torture chamber), Muzeum Więzienia Pawiak (a prison where mostly Jewish individuals were held captive and where death was usually imminent, and the Polin Muzeum (where we received a special-guest curatorial tour of the Holocaust portion of the exhibit from Jacek Leociak). There have also been a handful of walking tours to acquaint us with everyday aspects of the city (such as where to get food, drinks, and produce) as well as historical aspects of the city to help us understand where we are situated and what has occurred in the space.

I will update with photos and more details on my experience later on! For now, as usual, we are on the move and are all feeling quite tired but ready for more learning.

Poland: Before (Good-byes and Panic)

Allegedly I am going to Europe tomorrow.

In the autumn, on a bit of a whim, I applied to a unique opportunity to study the Holocaust through a psychological lens. The application was free to submit and required some commitment to fill out but not so much that I felt obligated to go if given the opportunity. As a risk-averse individual with no noteworthy travel experience or history studies under my belt, I became a little more nervous when offered an interview for the course. I learned how intensive and challenging it might be, but also many inspiring aspects of it that would ensure it was a memorable and worthwhile experience. However, as a graduated student outside of the program’s scope by a year I was not certain I would receive an offer. After a great delay, I was told I would have to submit an appeal; I submitted the appeal and waited a bit longer.

Then the offer came.

I will not lie to you, reader friend, I cried. Not from joy, but from the sudden onset of fear that resulted from my general anxiety around decision-making and the weight that seemed to come with this particular decision. Days passed, but within hours of the allotted time to do so, I submitted my acceptance documents and pushed the reality of travelling to Poland to study a topic I knew little about from my mind.

In the last month and a half, wrap-up for my work and the dispersal of beloved colleagues commenced. I had by now been able to ask questions about the course and had physical evidence of the fact that I was going (currency, a bus ticket, and a gift for experts abroad); however, the distractions that come with saying good-bye and packing up one’s apartment allowed me to deny reality for just a bit longer.

Cue: Monday morning. It’s go time.

Goal: Move out by Saturday evening whilst managing to gain closure with team.

Tasks: Pack up entire apartment; mentally prepare for flying to Poland on Sundayfeel satisfied with time spent with colleague friends.

Accomplishments: Packing up entire apartment; moving out by Saturday afternoon.

Still to do: Feel satisfied with time spent with colleague friends; feel mentally prepared for flying to Poland.

I anticipate the next series of posts will be a flurry of reflections that I haven’t processed from the past year as well as personal observations and teachings as I move through the journey of this course. Thank-you to anyone who has been a part of me getting to this very scary but (so I’ve been told) also very exciting place. Some of you pushed me to the end of the application and some of you will help me to the airport. More of you will certainly help carry me through the next several weeks.

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Big Valley Jamboree 2014

Two weeks after my inaugural music festival experience, I found myself making another 3-hour road trip towards another weekend filled with musical entertainment; this time, it was from Calgary to Camrose, and it was all about the country music.
It was also a lot flatter than B.C.’s Pemberton.

After 45 minutes of futile pumping of an air mattress, discovering the unplugged hole, then successfully inflating it in about 10 minutes, we made the 2-kilometre trek to the music grounds where we listened and danced to the band playing on stage before finally returning to bed around 1:30AM. It was around this time we began to realize what our weekend would look like:

Very loud music. A lot of alcohol. A lot of people consuming alcohol. Alcohol being consumed by people at every hour of the day (and night). Temperature fluctuations in our small tent. High-energy crowds to pump up the atmosphere and get everyone psyched for exciting evenings.
It seemed that all of those things occurred in cycles throughout the first night we spent in Camrose, listening to the incessantly loud music of our nearest neighbours and watched the lightening flashes illuminate our tent; these events went on until around 7AM. 
The morning finally hit us, after repeatedly waking and sleeping, and we decided to get to know our campgrounds and festival grounds a little better – the day was sunny, hot, and full of partyers continuing from the night before!

While few artists played through the first day that we knew, we spent a lot of time making the trek back and forth from our campsite – a solid exercise after three times in one day (about 12 kilometres total, not counting the dancing in between). The Marketplace was a favourite stop of ours to get out of the heat – we took in many sales pitches and came so very close to purchasing two app-controlled bartending packages – “The Perfect Drink” – because they are COOL, man.  That is really the only word that seems to capture it, and I do not use that word to describe almost anything.

Our first big show to take in was Hunter Hayes, who jumped and ran and sang and guitar’d for an impressively long time during his 1:15 hour set. His very pop-country style was livened by his enthusiasm for what he was doing, and it made you want to join him!

The next two days went a lot like the first: Wake up, eat our hummus and tarts and fruit for breakfast, avoid the food vendors (who did not cater well to anyone hoping to eat healthy, let alone following a veg*n diet), take in a couple of songs from unfamiliar artists, and walk back and forth from the campsite while dodging tipsy festival-goers. We took some time off to go drive into town and re-stock a couple of grocery items and explore the town of Camrose during the middle of the days where we found we had little to do if our desires did not include drinking from sunrise.

While we generally avoided the food vendors, I did decide that it is part of the experience to indulge at least once – so we shared a fried-bannock vegan hot dog. It was more bannock with a side of hot dog than the other way around, but it inspired us to avoid indulging again! I should note that it was good – but it would have been better if it was smaller.

The bannock bun vegan hot dog.

With no pictures to capture any degree of their magic, I can only describe the Saturday performance by Zac Brown Band (the second time I’ve seen them live!) as magical and unifying for the crowd. Their music, in my opinion, can be appreciated by a wide variety of individuals with a variety of tastes in music.

Additionally, by Saturday, I was really feeling the momentum my cold had been gaining – my evening coughing had become a more constant event, and my voice was becoming lost to the world as I sang along to Zac Brown Band. When my voice was only half-functioning on Sunday, I began to rest it in preparation for Kip Moore – our final show to take in before hitting the road back to YYC.

Kip Moore was great! He addressed the glaringly obvious issue with the set-up of the stage at the festival: Half of the audience was sitting down, maybe more, while the rest who wanted to dance were in the general admission 3/4 of the way back in the field from the stage. He came all the way over to us and sang just feet away from J and I! It was glorious and exciting and a perfect end to a fun weekend!

Since we skipped the final act (sorry, Miranda Lambert), we were able to quietly take in the scenery of the campground on our way back to the truck…

 The ride home began with a red sun, setting along the prairie horizon that had been painted with light hues of reds and purples and oranges. Once it fell beyond the land, and the sky grew dark, we witnessed a lightening storm come and go over top of Calgary from over 100 kilometres away – it was awesome!

Now I am back home, and it turns out that my cold was a bit more of a chest infection sort of dealio, so I have time to blog! Hopefully I’ll be back on the health wagon soon, because I only have two weeks left until I begin my contract as a Residence Advisor – summer is speeding by me, and I must ensure I grab on to the rest of it while I can! Some final relaxation probably would do me some good, anyhow.

#PembyFest: The Ressurrection

Two weekends ago, I had the exciting experience of being an attendee at the comeback-year for the Pemberton Music Festival! My first music festival experience.


While I missed almost the entire opening night’s lineup of artists (including Nine Inch Nails and Cage the Elephant), I was able to catch some serious bass at Bass Camp stage, and get my groove on into the wee hours of the morning within an hour of arriving to the festival grounds.


Come the next morning, the cycle of…

Find food > Walk around > Listen to a new artist > Find an already-loved artist > Find lunch > Nap > Prepare for evening festivities > Find dinner > Dance dance dance dance > Sleep

… began! The weather also had a cycle of rain, heat, silly wind and clouds going on that kept things cool and interesting. 


 We explored vendors (selling a variety of goods from fair-wage Thai-made clothing to bannock) and took in the beautiful scenery that exists in that part of the world.

I think what made this particular event extra-special was that I was able to enjoy it with a large part of my family being there – swinging around a corner every couple of hours to find a friend or relative made it fun and comfortable to take everything in.





Delta Rae performing for a crowd of new (and loving) fans!


The Pemberton balloons that seem to become
lunar come nightfall.


The daisy that I would like to grace my future
home’s yard.
I was able to see a multitude of artists,
some notable ones included…
Delta Rae
Snoop Dogg (oh boy)
Modest Mouse
Deadmau5
Chance the Rapper (fun!)
Hey Rosetta!
Randy Newman
Matthew Good
Outkast
Frank Ocean (ahh)

There was, of course, food to be explored – I think that my favourite item to be found was the deep-fried-avocado taco (referred to as “The Green Bastard”). Holy guacamole, was that texture and taste soooooooo good.


Besides the scenery, the people speckled throughout the grounds always served for fun entertainment or friendly company (or impressive athletic feat inspiration).

I should note that she was doing leg presses with
him balanced like that – no support!


A mini Snoop Dog fan enjoying the show with Dad!




The last night was fun – the atmosphere seemed to have a tangible feeling of building momentum, as it was very quiet and calm leading up to 6PM. Slowly, though, crowds began to gather as a few notable names (Modest Mouse, for example) hit the stages – then darkness descended…

… and with it came Outkast (with, which them, came topless women, clouds of smoke, and a lot of jumping)…

These people seemed to come out of nowhere!










Animated faces decorated the trees, while a light show
was displayed on the mountains behind us.

 … and then Frank Ocean! What a sweet-seeming fellow with a wonderful voice.


By Monday, we vouched for leaving early and finding breakfast along the way – and we found a lovely road-side diner through Whistler! Many vegetarian options to be chosen from, and it was good.




All-in-all, a very enjoyable weekend with good people, music, and memories made.

Catching Up

The last month has been full of family, travel, work and, of course, food. Where to begin?

Summer sunsets.


Belated birthday outings, featuring friendship with
a side of veggie burgers and vegetable chips.


Canada Day relaxation.
A necessary 3AM trip to The Naam.
Drive-in dates!
Summer time BBQs of veggie
dogs and tofu kabobs!
Mischievous kittens.





Birthday sushi fun times!
Riverside chats.
Young entrepreneurial-themed discussions over
newly-discovered (and huge) vegan breakfast dishes. 


In the last month, I have knocked a few items off of my spring/summer to-do list:

  • A new healthy food routine: I’ve gone devotedly into one of my favourite snacks – green smoothies – with new recipes from Simple Green Smoothies! The recipes are delicious and refreshing and give me a little cleansing boost in my days.
  • Attended my 3rd Calgary Stampede and did some serious two-stepping.
  • Consistently spent at least one hour per day outside – power walks with mi madre are almost essential in ensuring that this happens, while simultaneously offering good exercise!
  • I tried out a new exercise regimen for one month, courtesy of the kind-hearted Sophie Gray and her Plyo Madness eBook (only $10!). It was intense and included 3 rest days per week and made me (especially my legs) feel tight and lean by the program’s end.
I also started to read a new book (Gone Girl, for anyone who is curious), and am currently making my way through a philosophy book I bought in Portland that critically examines different aspects of sexual practices in college (from the “walk of shame” concept, to the act of gay/lesbian individuals experimenting with opposite-sex encounters).

Additionally, I have expanded my résumé further: This summer, I have been both a baking intern at Vegan Vices, as well as more recently a host at Nuba! For anyone who is in this city and is not yet familiar with Nuba’s Lebanese cuisine – I can assure you, you will find something that you like, and the prices and service and taste will keep you coming back for more. It is very exciting to have been employed at a restaurant that I so dearly advocate for as a customer, especially a veg*n customer!

While I have not yet exercised my world-wide legality since my birthday, I enjoyed a relaxing day at home with my family and have used one gift received as inspiration to take up hats as a new wardrobe element.

The weekend before last, I partook in my first music festival! The Pemberton Music Festival was resurrected this year, and it was exciting to be there with my whole family and see such an array of talent and individuals all in one place over the span of a few days. More photos from that event will be posted following this.

Overall, the last month has been good to me. I can feel both the strength of the summer season and the imminent autumn, bringing with it my standard crazy year with some new twists. There is barely 3 weeks until I begin my residence advisor training, and from there it will only become more interesting as the school year rolls into effect, I’m sure.



More details and thoughts to come…



10 Days of West-Coast Moseying – Complete (Trip 2)

One trip down, one to go: With one and a half days of rest following a delayed flight home from God’s Country, G and I set out on the road for Seattle!

I cannot recall the last time I visited Seattle, and I had never been to Portland before; so with a taste for new adventures we began the first leg of our journey.

The Space Needle.

After two to three hours of traveling, we recognized our need for some food (no dinner is not okay) – so we wandered around the somewhat quiet streets of Seattle in search of something that “spoke to us.” It took some devotion to the concept, but eventually we heard the restaurant speaking to us – it kept trying to pronounce its name, and we couldn’t quite understand it..

“Manmoon… Mammoon… Mannoon?… Maw-m-noon… Mah-m-noon…” it whispered.



Mamnoon turned out to be an unassuming-yet-elegant Lebanese-Turkish-Iranian fusion restaurant; “a modern union of Eastern cuisines.”

We looked at the menu listed on the street, were inspired, and went to sit down inside what turned out to be a very upscale-looking restaurant! Dimly lit, dark interior, candles… However, the menu was not the same as that on the street, and we somewhat awkwardly requested to go eat off of the ‘to go’ menu instead – a great decision!

Appetizer, or “mezze”:
Baba ghanoush – Charred eggplant, tahini, lemon


Our shared meal, or “kulage”:
Falafel – Tarrator, tomato, mint, pickles

After our eventual meal, we went to explore the neighbourhoods a little bit before heading back to meet the pets and go to sleep.



The next day was our day to explore Seattle! We made our way to the Theo Chocolates factory for our first stop, and signed up for an hour-long tour of the factory – and sampled a great deal of delicious chocolate. Theo Chocolates was the first fair-trade, organic producer of chocolate products in the U.S.! And its owner brought organic, fair-trade cocoa beans to the U.S. for the first time before beginning his chocolate-making business.





After consuming and purchasing delicious chocolate goodies, G and I moseyed over to Pike Place Market to sample more food, take some pictures, stick some chewed gum to the infamous wall, and stand within the first-ever Starbucks Coffee store!

Hugging my giganto pig friend at the market.
My contribution to the wall!





To satisfy the lyrics of Tim McGraw’s “Southern Girl” where he says: I’ve had some Seattle coffee, some Chicago wind… I tried some coffee from “Seattle Coffee”! G’s favourite spot to go. I had a rice milk sweet chai tea latte, and it was pretty superb (sorry that it spilled in your bag, amiga). 

After that, we walked for a long while uphill to find the vegetarian noodle bistro In The Bowl, which, sadly, was not open during their stated hours of operation! So back down the hill and across the streets we went in search of an excessively late lunch – and we found the Veggie Grill. Boy oh boy oh boy! The choices on the menu were all available to us veggie folks, and it was overwhelming! All of my favourite pretend-meat products were being placed in healthy and delicious home-style meals…

The Crispy Chickin’ Plate with kale salad
and mushroom gravy.



G and her Grillin’ Chickin’ burger.

The search for lunch took us basically until the end of the day, at which time we finally wandered back to the vehicle and started to make our way home – not before stopping to grab some bubble tea from G’s family’s favourite bubble tea shoppe! Then we relaxed around the house, drank tea, watched Wallace and Grommit, and slept for a while in preparation for the next leg of the journey – Portland.

Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe – our juice stop
before hitting the road down to Oregon!
After a great deal of indecisiveness with a great menu,
I decided upon the Zen Calm juice:
A blend of orange, apple, spinach, and mint.

With copious amounts of coffee and cocoa in hand, G took the wheel and I took the camera as we neared our final destination for the next few days. First stop: The Stash Tea outlet. The hype that G built around this magnificent shop was not a let-down as we entered to find walls on walls of teas to smell and choose from, as well as accessories and mugs to go with them. I decided upon a gift for him and a Portland Oregon blend for me! G and I split a root beer tea package that I am excited to rip into and put over ice soon.


At Savor Soup House food truck!
Me: Vegan grilled cheese ‘wich with sweet potato,
kale, & coconut soup.
G: Daily special featuring the Veggie Baguette!



Our first day consisted of establishing ourselves in our residence for our time in Portland, exploring the neighbourhood surrounding the tea store, and grabbing some food to snack on throughout our time there.

The next day, we went walking around downtown and went in search of cafes, well-known stores, boutiques, and of course – food. The food cart district of Portland consists of what looks to be 70-80 carts parked all within a block of one another, and it is AMAZING! I had a difficult time deciding between so many delicious-looking options, but – as pictured above – we finally did decide on lunch.

Portland is known as “The City of Roses.”




On our second-to-last day, we explored the Hawthorne District, which was a wide street lined with endless food stops, boutiques full of jewellery or books or kitchen accessories, vintage clothing stores, and everything else you could hope to find in a 10-block radius. It was hot and beautiful outside that day and I would certainly enjoy going back to that particular area!


Food Fight!: The vegan grocery store!






















It was agreed that we would indulge in some salads for dinner that night from a location recommended by a local newspaper author. Of the three possible salad stops, we decided upon the one right next door to our residence: The Garden Bar. While I did not strategize my salad creation very effectively, I was certainly impressed by the quantity of salad I received for $7.00 and enjoyed my fruity seltzer drink to go with it (so many interesting and non-pop drink options in this city!).



Before consuming our salads, we stopped by Powell’s Books to find some new summer reading – I decided upon a philosophy book that complements my psychology studies and a book about the history of sexuality in Canada! The options in this multi-level bookstore were very impressive, and I think anyone could find a book in here that they would enjoy.

Salads and literature – what more does one need?!
Evening snacks: Whole Foods vegan chick’n and falafel
with some superb tea from the Stash Tea house.
For dessert, we went to Henry’s Tavern to have some amazing bread pudding and fruit crumble between the three of us! It was a nice way to end our last full day in Portland, and gave us lots of fuel to head out for our drive the next day. 

Making our way out of Seattle – Space Needle

On our final day, we drove back to Seattle to change vehicles, and we made excellent time getting back to the land of beavers and maple leafs! The trip was a great getaway and I developed a great fondness for Portland and a desire to spend more time there – certainly Seattle as well, as I did not get to explore it very much in our journey!