25 years with Diabetes

I’m sure not many people can remember what they were doing 25 years ago today. I can. I was 7 years old. I was always tired and had an uncontrollable thirst that I couldn’t quench no matter how much I drank. After a holiday to Florida where I’d drove my parents round the bend needing to find a bathroom every 5 minutes, they made me an appointment at the doctors. I can still picture the doctor’s room as I sat there beside my mum, and heard the doctor tell her she had to take me to hospital right away, “I think she’s got diabetes.”  It’s one of those flashbulb memories, something so vivid and life altering that you never forget it. My life changed forever that day.

Thankfully for me I was too young to be scared. I had never even heard the word diabetes before so I had no idea what it meant and naively I was quite excited about going to a hospital. I can’t imagine though the fear that my parents must have felt that day. It’s something that as a child I was oblivious to, but now as an adult I can’t even appreciate how scared they must have been. Back then there was no internet or social media and we didn’t know anyone with diabetes so their knowledge on it would have been minimal and I imagine they would have thought the worst.

I spent the next 9 days in hospital. I remember parts of this time. I remember the nurses giving me an orange and a syringe to practise injecting; the pressure needed to puncture the skin of an orange is supposedly the same as that needed to puncture the human skin. I remember my best friend Jillian coming to visit and us playing kitchens with the box of plastic food that the nurses had given me to help me learn how to count carbohydrates. I remember being allowed out with my mum and dad for the afternoon and going to pick a cabbage patch doll which I named after my favourite nurse, Susan. I remember the nurses taking it in turns to come in and play with me and do my cabbage patch doll’s hair.

I remember one nurse, Sister Brown, who I’m sure was lovely but at the time I was scared of, wanting me to take my injection in my stomach and for some reason this really freaked me out and I remember crying. She promised me if I was brave and let her do it there just once she’d give me a gold star. I succumbed and true to her word she brought me a large gold star, something that I kept for years. I’ve never done an injection on my stomach since that day though. I remember my mum and dad taking it in turns to sleep on the pull out bed in my hospital room. I suppose actually I remember quite a lot of those 9 days when I was 7.  I don’t remember a lot of the struggles that I’m sure my parents do though. I also don’t remember ever being scared (other than that injection on my stomach).

Most of all though I remember the most wonderful nurse, Sister Leitch, who gave me the best advice anyone ever has. She spoke to us openly and frankly about diabetes, she didn’t speak to me like I was young and stupid,  which I wasn’t; I was a pretty savvy 7-year-old, and I remember being grateful that she spoke to me so honestly. She didn’t shy away from what a serious condition it is but she told me that I had to make a decision, I could either sit back and let this thing rule my life or I could choose to rule it. Her words have stuck with me over the last 25 years.

My parents, despite how worried and scared I’m sure they were, were wonderful. They never let on. They stayed so strong and matter of fact in front of 7-year-old me that I never felt I’d any reason to be scared. They learned everything they could about diabetes and how to manage it and they adjusted our lives accordingly. They never treated me as though I was any different and as a result I never felt the need to behave like I was. And so the years moved on.

I know a lot of diabetic teenagers rebel against their diabetes, stopping taking insulin and trying to manipulate their illness. I never did this. I never even contemplated it. Not because I’m perfect; I probably didn’t test my blood sugars anywhere near as often as I should have, and I could definitely still work on getting my overall control down, but simply because, to do that would have been to let my diabetes win, and I had no intention of doing that.

My diabetes put me in hospital once; 9 years ago this month I ended up in high dependency suffering from DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis) and it was the most terrifying experience of my life. I remember once I was on the mend a  consultant I had never met before coming round and asking me, in such a patronising tone; “Did you just not bother taking your insulin?” If I’d had the energy I wouldn’t have thought twice about punching him. I have never, in 25 years, just “not bothered” taking my insulin. I’d had a violent sickness bug where I couldn’t keep anything at all down and because I wasn’t eating I’d underestimated how much insulin I needed. We all make mistakes and this one almost cost me my life, but for him to insinuate that I’d just “not bothered” taking my insulin was, for me, the most offensive thing anyone has ever said to me.

I often get frustrated and angry at how diabetes is portrayed on TV shows and in the media, and diabetic jokes make my blood boil. Not because I don’t have a sense of humour around it, you have to to survive but because they’re so often filled with such ignorance. Eating sweets or cakes doesn’t give you type 1 diabetes. My pancreas doesn’t work how it’s supposed to, it doesnt produce insulin and without insulin you would die. This is why I have to inject myself with insulin up to 7 times a day. There is no known cause for type 1 diabetes, it cannot be prevented so jokes on how I must have eaten too many sweets as a child are not only very offensive but entirely inaccurate.

Being diabetic isn’t something I speak about a lot, not because I’m ashamed of it, I’m not at all, it’s part of who I am, but just because I don’t always feel the need to. I can’t abide with the ‘woe me’ attitude I often see relating to diabetes. No it’s not always been easy and even now some days are hard. A few fluctuating blood sugars can leave me feeling terrible, but that’s life. Everyone fights their own battles and diabetes is mine. If it wasn’t that, it would be something else so there’s no point in sitting moaning about it. It’s an illness I have but I’ve had it for so long now that it’s just part of me, I can’t even remember what life without diabetes was like.

So why write this? I guess because 25 years seems a pretty big milestone. As much as I take it in my stride I’m not a fool and I do know how serious a condition it is but I guess I just want to show other people that you can still live a normal, happy life with diabetes. I know that a lot of the way I react to my diabetes is due to the way my family managed it as a child and to the excellent support we had from our hospital diabetes team, and in particular Sister Leitch, and I will always be so grateful for that.

I strongly believe that in the future they will find a cure for diabetes, I also believe though that this is unlikely to be in my lifetime, and I’m okay with that. As I get older diabetes gives me new obstacles and challenges to face but I intend to face each of them with the same attitude as I’ve had since I was that little 7-year-old girl sitting in her hospital bed, ready to rule it and not let it rule me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Leaving, on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll back again.

When we left for Montreal two and a half years ago it never occurred to me that one day I would end up feeling the same about leaving it as I did then about leaving Scotland. In fact, if anything, I’m struggling with this move much more than I ever did with our initial move from Scotland to Montreal.

These last weeks in Montreal have, for me, been quite difficult. I’ve found the prospect of leaving here much harder than I ever imagined I would.  I’m devastated at the thought of leaving the city that I love. This is no reflection on my feelings around moving to Calgary, because I am also just as equally excited and happy and bursting to see what our new life in Calgary will bring. I may have only had a very flying visit to Calgary but my initial impression was very positive. My feelings around Calgary might be positive but that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel sad at the prospect of leaving here. I knew I would miss Montreal but I actually feel quite bereft now at the thought of it.

When we left Scotland I didn’t know what to expect, but Montreal was everything and more than we could possibly have hoped for. A city that previously I had no desire to even visit, never mind to live in, has ended up being the best thing that could ever have happened to us, so understandably I’m sad to leave it.

While I was devastated about leaving my family behind when we came here, I didn’t feel the same nostalgia about leaving the place itself. I think this could have been because I knew that we would always go back to Scotland. Our family and friends are there so of course we’ll always visit. We also still have a house there meaning that, should we wish to, we can move back to Scotland at any point. Whereas leaving here feels a lot more final. Our families aren’t here so we won’t have the same pull to return each year to spend time with them. Yes I’d like to think that we’ll come back one day to visit friends but many of them too either already have, or are now, moving on, so the Montreal we leave will unlikely be the same place we would return to. This move is final. We may visit but we know we won’t ever live here again. It’s officially the end of that chapter of our lives and that seems quite a daunting thought.

I know that we’ve given Montreal everything we had though, we have literally done everything we wanted to do here and made the absolute most of our time and for that I am very grateful. Our Montreal bucket list is ticked off and we’ve revisited all our favourite places one last time. I know that it’s now time to say goodbye. But I also know that doing so is proving to be much more emotionally challenging than I ever expected it to be. I am so sad to be leaving here, the city that has now became our home. I know that as we board the plane to Calgary on Sunday I’ll likely be in floods of tears, not because of what we’re going to but because of what we’re leaving behind. I also know that in time I’ll move on, though I’ll always be so grateful for the time we had here, the experiences Montreal gave us, the people it made us become and for those that it brought into our lives. Thanks for the memories Montreal, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

 

The Next Chapter

If you know me personally, or follow me on social media you’ll probably have heard our news by now, but if not, we’ve made the decision to leave Montreal and start anew out west, in Calgary. To say this decision was difficult would be an understatement. We sat up many nights until the small hours weighing up the pros and cons but at the end of the day we just couldn’t argue with the fact that, despite how much we love it here,  Calgary can give us a future in Canada that Montreal never can.

I’m confident that in time I will love Calgary but I know that Montreal will always be my favourite Canadian city, probably now my favourite city anywhere in the world. It was the first place we lived abroad and we have made so many happy memories here that I’ll always think back on our time here so fondly. But despite this, I do believe that we’re doing the right thing.

This has always been my greatest wish; that we would know when the time was right to leave. That we wouldn’t out stay our welcome. That we would never become bitter or start to resent our time here and that we’d leave on our terms, knowing we’d done as much as we could here and yet still with love for the city. Because loveable it is.

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Montreal is unlike any other city I’ve ever visited in my life. It’s vibrant, it’s multicultural, it has more going on in terms of arts and festivals and entertainment than anywhere I’ve ever been. It has more restaurants per capita than any other North American city, other than New York, and it has a thriving nightlife (probably too thriving at times). It has an arrogance about it that on some days I find so frustrating, but that most of the time I love. I feel like Montreal sticks two fingers up to the rest of the world. It really doesn’t care what you think of it; it’s confident, self-assured, and more than a little bit sassy and it definitely doesn’t take any crap. But despite this you can’t help but fall head over heels in love with it. It really is the most beautiful place; North American but with a strong European influence, the architecture is stunning, the parks are tremendous and it takes my breath away regularly. So, why are we leaving? A question that I have to admit right now I ask myself daily.

Well, Montreal is the perfect home for us…. now, but long-term it just won’t be the right fit for us. The language barrier means that unfortunately our life here will always have an expiry date. When the project my husband is working on ends he will undoubtedly have the same issues as I did, meaning he is unlikely to be able to find other work in his field, without being entirely fluent in French and while our French may certainly be a lot better than when we arrived, we will never be fluent. The “Frenchness” of the city, which is partly what makes it so wonderful, is also essentially what means it can never be our forever home.

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I feel, for us, Montreal is like a fling. A short-term, fun relationship that you enjoy immensely but it’s someone you know you can’t have a long-term future with. Despite how much we love it, it is somewhere we can’t remain forever. The fire will eventually, for us, fizzle out. Calgary is different. It has the potential to be marriage material. English being the first language means that my husband has been able to secure a new post and it should give us both better opportunities career wise in the future.

It will also give us the chance to look at the big picture regarding our future and think about whether we wish to stay in Canada long term or not. We may still decide to return to Scotland in a year, or two, or five but if we do at least in Calgary it should be on our terms, because we wanted to and not because we had to, like it would end up being if we remained in Montreal.

People keep asking me if I think this is a forever move. A rather difficult question to answer when my time in Calgary thus far has been limited to around 12 hours. I genuinely don’t know. We may love it, we may hate it, but I know we’ll give it our all just like we have with our life here. However we feel about Calgary in 6 months or a years time and however much we may love our new life there, I do know that I’ll always miss Montreal.

Now that our departure date is looming, I feel like the city is doing everything it can to remind me quite how much I love it here (we had three weeks of 30+ degree weather at the end of September, I mean are you kidding me!) The place has literally never looked more beautiful, basking in the glorious sunshine as the leaves start to change colour and fall. Give me a break, this is hard enough already!

And hard it is; to leave a place you love and people you love, to start fresh somewhere new; where you know nothing and no one but each other. That isn’t easy. But you know what, the last time we did that it worked out pretty bloody great! See you in 3 weeks Calgary!

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What am I doing here?

What am I doing here? The thought that won’t stop running through my head as I sit on the couch and cry my heart out after saying goodbye to my Mum and Dad who have just left for the airport. Why am I here? Why am I choosing to live over 2000 miles away from the people who mean the most to me in the world? Why?

All rational thought is gone right now and I hate my life choices. I hate that it’s my fault that I’m having to say goodbye to them at all. I hate that it’s my fault that they’re upset. I’m the one that made the decision to leave and now the consequences of that decision are what are causing the tears to pour down my face. I know that tomorrow I’ll be more composed, probably still not happy; that will take a few days but by tomorrow I’ll be able to reign my feelings in more and remember why I am here. I’ll remember that living abroad has given me so many amazing opportunities and that I love my life in Canada. But not today.

Today, the day that they leave is awful. I held it together quite well this time. Normally I cry on the day they leave from the second my eyes open that morning but today I managed to hold it together until their Uber was ordered and they were pulling their packed suitcases into the hall before I crumbled and became a sobbing mess.

It’s never long enough. Their two-week holiday should have been plenty of time but it wasn’t, it positively flew past. A sign of what a wonderful time we had. We did and saw so much and spent so much quality time together and I know that they had a great holiday but I guess I’m just greedy because I just wasn’t ready for them to go. I’m never ready for them to go.

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“You’ll see them again soon.” The most well-meaning but unhelpful platitude you can be offered at this time. The last time they left it was seven months before I next saw them. Okay, this time I actually will see them again soon, very soon in fact. I’m travelling back to the UK for a wedding in six weeks time and while there I’m planning to go back to Scotland for a few days. A very fleeting four days in which I’ll try to fit in seeing them and also all of the family and friends I haven’t seen in almost a year, but still four days is better than nothing. But right now the fact that I’ll get to see them in six weeks doesn’t help, like i know it should. Because today all I can focus on is the fact that they’re gone. That I won’t see them for the next 6 weeks and when I do it will be only for a brief few days and then I’ll not know when I’ll next see them again. I told you, today I can’t be rational.

I take this hard I know I do. I know friends here who are pretty good at the whole saying goodbye thing. I’m not one of them. I’m terrible at goodbyes,  I always have been. I hate saying goodbye to anyone. I even hate watching other people say goodbye so it’s not unfathomable how much saying bye to this, such important, pair upsets me but I do wish it was easier. I’ve written previously about homesickness and how most of the time I can rationalise my feelings of homesickness but this day, the day they leave, this is the day where the homesickness overwhelms me. Where I can’t eat, I can’t watch TV, I can’t even think straight I’m so overwhelmed by the sadness I feel that they’re gone.

A friend and fellow blogger wrote an excellent post recently about how to manage the sadness you experience as an expat when visitors leave (http://kathrynrelocated.com/stop-feeling-sad-after-visitors-leave/ ) and I will dutifully follow her tips, knowing that she’s right and they do work, and in a few days I’ll be back to my cheery self. But just not yet. Today I will wallow in my sadness (the post says that’s allowed too, I should acknowledge the sadness that I’m feeling).  So today I will cry as much as I want and feel the loss that their absence in my Canadian life, and even just in my apartment leaves. The silence kills me. It feels so quiet and empty without them here. The sadness of my dog Max, who doesn’t have to talk to show how heartbroken he is at their departure, makes it even worse, though at least I know I’m not alone in my feelings.

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I have written previously of the rollercoaster of emotions that them visiting brings, tears of happiness to tears of despair in a short two weeks. I know that it is worth it. The time we shared and the memories we made were amazing but today I can’t look at pictures from the last two weeks, they make me too sad and remind me of what I’m missing. Tomorrow though I will look at them again. I will smile at the wonderful memories we made. I will count down the days until I see them again. I will make plans for the coming weeks and months. I will return to my life here, visit my favourite places, meet up with friends, do chores and carry on, making the most of our life here and remembering why we chose to move here and why we choose now more than two years on to continue living abroad. But just not today. Today I will cry and resent myself and my life choices. And hug my dog, who understands.

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Change…

In my previous life, back in Scotland (sometimes it really does feel like that), I spent a lot of time thinking about change and more specifically change management. I worked in mental health services and was acutely aware of the impact (often negatively) that change could have on the vulnerable service users we worked with and how to do everything we could to successfully support them to transition through it. Moving to Montreal I became aware once again of the impact of change, this time though relating to ourselves and the huge changes that were happening in our lives. This time the change brought about both positive and negative impacts but it was still stressful. Now two years on, we’re going through change again.

As human beings most of us are programmed to not like change. Some change is of course for the good, new opportunities in life, new adventures, travels, but all change whether good or bad still inevitably brings with it a certain degree of uncertainty and anxiety. Personally, I’ll admit that I’m not very good with change; ironic from someone who moved halfway across the world I know. Actually though that change I was okay with, as it was our decision. Where I’m not very good is when I have no control over the change, where it’s outwith my hands. I’m a little bit of a control freak and so having that control taken away from me causes me all sorts of issues.

In the last five months our apartment which we rent in Montreal went up for sale and this immediately caused an uneasiness to wash over me. Now before I sound like I’m just being dramatic I am aware that there are other nice apartments in Montreal, plenty of them, in fact many probably much nicer than ours. So, why was I so bothered at this news? Well, because I love my home. It’s nothing particularly fancy, its a nice apartment yes but that’s not it, it’s because it is our home. It became a sanctuary in a city that we didn’t know. The place I’ve felt safe, the place we’ve been happy, the place where we celebrated our first Christmas in Canada, where we have sought refuge after the bad days and celebrated after the good.

It was the first and only apartment we viewed when we arrived in Montreal, as I knew within seconds of walking in the front door that it would become our home. Mark thought I was being ridiculous when I insisted that he had to come back and view it with me again that same evening, telling him, “It’s ours! I can feel it!”, until he too walked through the door, and smiling gave me the nod of agreement. We signed for it there and then. And ‘home’ it has been now for over 2 years but I know that one day soon when the apartment sells it will become someone else’s home and we’ll need to find a new place to live. I also know that I’ll probably grow to love a new apartment and area just as much and the nostalgia I feel towards here will fade over time but I still can’t help but feel sad at the fact that we have to leave here and uneasiness at the change that is coming.

Like many things in life (buses, bad luck and such like) change seldom occurs as a one off event but often comes in threes. At the same time as our apartment went on sale we also became very aware that our visas were due to run out at the beginning of May. There was a lot of uncertainty for a few months as we waited to hear, firstly if Mark was needed for the second stage of the project he is working on which would determine whether his contract in Canada would be extended and then secondly whether we would get a new visa which would allow us to stay, and this too brought a lot of unease and anxiety. Sometimes just the suggestion of change is enough to bring about these feelings and on top of the prospect of having to move, this became a challenging time as we didn’t know what the future held for us. Thankfully Mark’s contract has been renewed and we received a new 3 year visa, which certainly takes some of the pressure off.

The last change we’ve experienced in recent months has been our best friends moving away. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts we have been so lucky to have made wonderful friends here. We have a fantastic social circle and I feel so grateful to have met these people from all over the world and know that many of them will now be friends for life. There was however one couple who we became particularly close with. We met them the weekend they arrived in Montreal, which was exactly 4 weeks after we ourselves arrived. Within minutes of meeting I knew I had found a friend as we bonded over our love of Mulberry handbags and matching bracelets we had. We, by total chance, ended up living a couple of blocks apart and because we met them so early into our Montreal adventure they have very much been a part of this whole experience with us. So many of my best memories from here involve them and I know that Montreal will inevitably change for me now they’re gone. I do still have many wonderful friends here and I know that we’ll create many more amazing memories but their absence will still definitely be felt.

Two years might not seem like a long time to know someone but the expat friendship is not a normal friendship. You are so far removed from your comfort zone and everything and everyone you know, that friendships accelerate so much quicker than they ever would/could in normal circumstances. These friends become your family in a country where you don’t have any family or any childhood friends. The highs and lows are magnified in this situation and she saw me at my very best and also at my very worst, on the days when I am so grateful for this experience and throw myself wholeheartedly into everything and on the days when I cry because I just want to be able to see my Mum and Dad. She’s been there for it all. The day a few weeks ago when we said goodbye I cried inconsolably because I felt an actual physical loss. I know that technically nothing will change, a small matter of an ocean between us now won’t change our friendship, we have a bond now that we’ll have for life but I will still miss not physically having them both here though, for the big events and also for the little things. This is however not the first time we’ve had to say goodbye to people we care about though and I’m sure it wont be the last either. That is both the wonder and the price of the expat journey

Accepting change may not be the easiest thing in the world for some of us but like it or not it is something we all have to deal with in life. It’s important though to acknowledge the feelings that we are experiencing, understand that it is okay to feel like this but not to dwell on them and instead to find a way to accept the change for what it is, and move on.

Two Years On….

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Two years ago; this one, the pup and I, all got on a plane to Montreal with no idea what would be waiting for us on the other side, yet with a naïve hopefulness that it would be something good. We were lucky. Or maybe we weren’t lucky, maybe it was that unfaltering optimism we had that things would be okay which meant that they were. Regardless, in Montreal we found not just a city that we love but a home and wonderful friends but more than anything we found an adventure that brought out the best in each of us and also brought us closer together as a couple. There’s been plenty of bad days too, of course there has, but for the most part they’re still very much outweighed by the good.

Two years has gone by in a heartbeat. When we first landed in Montreal and had that two year visa stapled into our passports I remember thinking that two years felt like an eternity. I suppose in some ways it has been, it’s hard to imagine a life now where we didn’t live here but in other ways it has completely flown by. The fact that today our two years are up seems unbelievable. I was so sure back then that I would be ready to return to Scotland at the end of the two years but it would seem now that that isn’t quite the case.

Our future is still uncertain and I suppose it might always be. We don’t know where we’re going to be in a year, or 5 or 10. At some stage we may just wake up one day and think, “We’re done! It was fun while it lasted but we’re ready to head back home.” Because as I’ve said before Scotland will always be home to us. Whether we return in a year, 10 years or only ever for holidays it will always be home.

For now though, despite how I anticipated two years ago I would feel at this point, we aren’t ready to leave Canada. For now, it is our home, providing us with the opportunities and quality of life that we’re looking for. Despite the difficult days, the homesickness and the days when you wish so badly you could just magic yourself back to your mum and dad’s for a cuppa, we are happy and that’s not something to take for granted in this life.  So for now we’ll be raising a glass to toast the next stage of our Canadian adventure, whatever that may be and for however long it may last.

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Ta Pies, A Little Taste of Home

Living abroad there are many things about Scotland that we miss, other than obviously our friends and family, and I have to say food items are very high up on that list. Some of this is specific items; for me, diluting juice, diet Irn-Bru, potato scones and British chocolate but others are home cooked meals that no one can make quite like family, or favourites from local eateries. Something that is definitely missed by my other half is a pie, primarily a steak pie.

A pie is very much seen as comfort food in the UK, and is something that us Brits eat on a multitude of occasions;  in winter, for Sunday dinner, New Year’s Day, it’s also perfect hangover food and it of course tastes so much better when someone else makes it for you. However it’s something you don’t really get here in Montreal, at least not in the same form as we do back home; or at least so we thought, until we discovered Ta Pies.

Located at 4520 Avenue du Parc, just off the corner of Parc and Mont Royal, Ta Pies has most definitely in recent months filled a void for us and many of our expat friends. It specialises in Australian and New Zealand cuisine but it seems that the Aussie/Kiwi version of a pie is very similar to ours back in the UK. Pie Gods we thank you!

The shop itself is small but there is a couple of tables if you’d prefer to sit in and tuck into your pie there and then. There are options to buy their pies hot, ready to heat or frozen and in small individual form or in a larger family sized pie.

When it comes to variety of pie there are so many different types that there is sure to be one to please everyone – steak, steak and Guinness, steak and cheese, steak and mushroom, butter chicken, lamb rogan josh and for the vegi’s amongst us there are 3 different options – spinach, ricotta, tomato and mushroom;  sweet potato and curried vegetable (my personal favourite) and vegetable chilli.

They also offer all the trimmings – mashed potato, mushy peas, gravy and a variety of sweet treats from Oz including lamingtons, anzac biscuits, afghan cookies, as well as my favourite the Yoyo, a shortbread cookie with a passion fruit buttercream filling.

They also stock some goodies such as Vegemite and Branston Pickle and also some Cadbury’s chocolate (the good stuff not the Canadian version).

Price wise you’re looking between $5-$6.75  for an individual pie or between $15-$18 for a family sized one. A trio of mash, mushy peas and gravy will set you back a very reasonable $4.50. Trust me though it’s all worth every penny. They get extra bonus points because they also deliver through the Just Eat app, or you can call them directly for delivery on 514-277-7437…… hello perfect Sunday dinner with zero effort required. So if like us you’re missing a little bit of British home comfort food I highly recommend you check this place out.

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Get Your Skates on (One Last Time)

The start of March in Montreal has shown us that winter is most definitely coming to an end. It slightly feels like we’re living in the twilight zone as we have very little snow left and the temperature on Wednesday reached 9 degrees! Don’t get too excited though, as if the weather reports are to be believed it could reach as cold as -30 over the next few days. However, whatever the next month may have in store for us weather wise, winter is definitely on its way out, sooner, rather than later. So, before the snow is completely gone it’s time to make the most of the few weeks of winter activities that we have left this season.

Rather controversially for living in Montreal my favourite thing to do in winter is ice skating (I know it’s expected here that this would be skiing but for me skating wins every time). Perhaps because this was a childhood favourite of mine, which despite not having done for 15 years, it turns out I still love. So time to don those skates and have one last shot on the ice, before it melts. The outdoor rinks in Montreal are scheduled to close for the season this Sunday, so this weekend really is your last shot!

There are over 100 outdoor ice rinks in Montreal (wild I know!) but there are 3 which, to me, stand out, and if you haven’t already checked these out I recommend you do so this weekend.

Beaver Lake

beaver lake ice rink 3Beaver lake (or Lac aux Castors) is located at the top of Mont Royal. However, don’t panic if you don’t feel like a walk up the mountain, or the thought of facing those stairs puts you off, (who could blame you) you can always jump on the number 11 bus from Mont Royal metro. However you choose to get there it is beautiful once you’re at the top and you won’t be disappointed seeing it in it’s winter glory. A relatively short walk from the ice rink will also take you to the lookout point giving beautiful views out over Montreal, and killing two birds with one stone (or one climb rather). There is a refrigerated section to the rink, meaning that part of the rink is open, even on the milder days (not a problem I think we’re going to have this weekend but you never know). The rink is open from 9am-10pm Friday and Saturday and from 9am – 9pm on Sunday. Skating itself is free and if you need to hire skates this is $9 for two hours, however if you have your own you can just turn up and head straight on.

 

Parc La Fontaine

parc la fontaine ice rink 3As my favourite place in Montreal, it’s no surprise that the ice rink in La Fontaine makes it into to the top of my list. It’s a natural rink so it is weather dependant but it was open last weekend so fingers crossed it will also be open for this final weekend (highly likely with the forecasted temperatures). Being able to ice skate in our local park is, for me, something pretty special. I’m sure to those from Montreal it’s such a normal thing to do that they don’t even give it a second thought but the first time I saw people on the ice here I was so excited as it’s so far removed from anything I’d had the opportunity to do before.  La Fontaine is a truly beautiful park in all seasons but in the snow (and despite the thaw La Fontaine is still pretty white) it’s magical and being able to skate there is, for me anyway, a total dream. Like Beaver Lake the skating here is free, and skate hire is $10 for up to 3 hours. The skate hire and rink are open 10am- 10pm while the rink is still usable.

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Old Port

old port ice rink 2The ice rink in the old port is the one that you can guarantee will definitely make it open to its end date of Sunday as it has a relatively decent sized refrigerated rink (the natural rink was closed when we went skating here last weekend and I think it’s quite unlikely, with the weather we’ve been having this week, that it will reopen by the weekend). The setting for this rink, at the Bonsecours end of the Old Port, is quite beautiful, especially at night, or even better if you can catch it as the sun is setting. Unlike the other two rinks though you do have to pay to skate here, though it is pretty reasonable, $6.95 for adults, $4.60 for kids aged 6-12 and under 6’s go free. It is also probably the best option if you are a beginner and want to be able to hold onto the barrier as the other two don’t have any barriers around the edge to cling onto, so if you’re not too sure on the ice you will need a friend/ partner for that purpose. The rink in the old port is also groomed every three hours making it a much smoother skate than the other two options. It will be open all weekend from 10am-10pm.

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Maybe by now you’ve had enough of the winter activities but if not I highly recommend checking out one of these beautiful rinks this weekend before it’s too late.

My Top Tips

  • All three rinks have an on site café where you can buy a bite to eat and a hot drink to heat you up afterwards (or as somewhere to keep the spectators warm)
  • Layering is key, clothes wise; especially if it is a cold one like we’re expecting, as skating is hot work and you’ll be surprised how quickly you heat up when actually on the ice and similarly how quickly you cool down when you come off.
  • All three rinks update their status (if they’re open and what the condition of the ice is) each day online on the sites below so check that before heading so you don’t have a wasted journey. Or call 311 for information on the rinks.

The Ville de Montreal portal page (http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94954214&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL )

http://www.oldportofmontreal.com/activity/skating-rink

  • La Fontaine’s skate hire takes cash only.
  • Take a padlock with you to store your shoes/boots/bags etc in a locker without having to pay to hire a padlock (the locker rental is free at all three rinks but they will charge you to rent a padlock if you don’t have your own)

Have fun and be sure to let me know if you check any of the rinks out!

Rose Island Lighthouse- Where my childhood dream came true

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to spend a night in a lighthouse. Where this dream came from I’m not entirely sure; I’m assuming it must have been something I saw on TV or read in a book when I was little and for some reason it’s always stuck with me. Years ago I mentioned it in passing to my husband and as my 30th birthday approached he told me that he’d booked me a trip away for my birthday, to a lighthouse in the south of England. I was ecstatic and so touched that he had remembered. However before my 30th came round our lives did a bit of a 180 and we ended up in Canada, so we never made it to the lighthouse. So last summer when I turned 31 I was over the moon to get a voucher for an overnight stay at a lighthouse – this time Rose Island Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island.

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So one Friday in November we drove down to Rhode Island and at 10am on the Saturday morning we were waiting at Newport Shipyard for a boat to take us to Rose Island. I’ve been very lucky to have visited some amazing places over the years but for me none of them compare to the night we spent in Rose Island lighthouse. It’s taken me a few months to put this into a blog post as I felt very overwhelmed with how to convey in words my feelings about the island.  It definitely isn’t the most glamorous location we’ve stayed in, it wasn’t the most exotic and undoubtedly not the most exciting but it was certainly the most beautiful, and without a doubt the most special place I have ever had the pleasure of staying.

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The lighthouse is no longer manned, being abandoned in 1970 after the building of the nearby Newport Bridge brought sufficient light to the area to make the lighthouse obsolete. The island and the lighthouse then lay abandoned, falling into disrepair for the next 14 years before being saved by the volunteers of the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. Over the coming years they worked tirelessly to restore the lighthouse to it’s former glory and in 1993 the Rose Island light was once again lit and the island has since been used as a hotel and living museum. The downstairs area of the lighthouse is the museum area, having been lovingly restored as to how it looked around the year 1912 with the help of Wanton Chase who back in the early 1900’s was a child living with his grandparents on Rose Island.

I loved hearing the stories behind it’s restoration from Chris, the captain of the boat who very kindly came back later in the morning and gave us a tour of the lighthouse and the island. He didn’t need to do this and we really appreciated him taking the time to fill us in on the island’s history. His stories made the island’s history come to life for us and we were very grateful at having such a gracious host. I would also urge you, if you go, to read the edition of the Rose Island Beacon written by Wanton Chase which is on the bookshelf in the lighthouse, telling stories of what it was like to be a young child growing up on Rose Island.

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The upstairs of the lighthouse where we stayed for the night is the lighthouse keeper’s apartment.

There are also 2 other main rooms for rent – one of which is the old Fog Horn room and the other the Barracks room, part of the old Fort Hamilton barracks. It is also possible to rent the bedrooms within the museum area, the Curt Bunting room and the Wanton Chase room. Other than the lighthouse keeper’s apartment all of these other rooms are open to the public during the day as part of the living museum which is worth keeping in mind when choosing which room you would like to rent.

The Fog Horn room and the Barracks rooms are far more basic than the keepers apartment – no electricity or running water and you need to use an outside bathroom, which in the cold and rain we had that November night I can’t imagine would have been too much fun but they are charming and it would, I’m sure, all be part of the experience in summer. Though I have to say I was glad of my creature comforts – indoor bathroom, electricity and heat.

The lighthouse itself is an Aladdin’s cave of artefacts, some dating back to when the lighthouse was built. The decor is quaint and traditional, and it was clean and tidy. This isn’t no room service and chocolates on your pillow type of place, so if that’s what you’re looking for it isn’t for you. It is basic but it’s ridiculously charming and has everything you could possibly ever need. There is obviously no amenities on the island so you need to take all food and drink (other than drinking water) with you. You’re expected to tidy up after yourself and change the bed and empty the bins when you leave which didn’t bother us. We wanted the next guests to find it in as lovely a condition as we did.

We were particularly fortunate the night we stayed that we had the whole island to ourselves, bar a couple of tour groups who visited during the day; but after 4pm it was just us, no one else was staying on the island that evening, the other rooms were all unusually empty. I can’t even put into words how special it was to have this little piece of paradise all to ourselves. Whoever was looking out for us there, thank you.

The island itself is such a peaceful, idyllic spot. It isn’t quiet per se but the noises that there are, are peaceful ones and vastly different from those we are used to hearing on a daily basis. The waves lapping at the rocks, the tinkling of the bell on the buoy out on the water, the birds chirping and as the fog set in at night the fog horn of another lighthouse sounding across the water were soothing rather than disturbing. It was bliss. There is no wifi on the island, no TV and as we only had Canadian mobile phones, for us we had no phone signal either. To be separated entirely from the outside world, even just for 24 hours, was wonderful.

So with no technological distractions we explored the lighthouse, took a walk around the island, skimmed stones at the beach and by late afternoon I was wrapped up in a blanket on one of the deck chairs overlooking the ocean with my book in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.

I have watched many beautiful sunsets over the years (my favourite thing to do in life is to watch the sunset) but this one was different. It was special. I truly felt like we were miles from anywhere and anyone (in reality we were only about a 15 minute boat ride away from Newport) but you wouldn’t have known that as it felt like our own little uninterrupted corner of the world.

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As night fell we cosied up in the apartment with the fire lit and champagne flowing. We listened to a country music station on the radio for hours and played monopoly and dominoes from the extensive cupboard of games. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played a board game on a Saturday night, probably the best part of 20 years, but it was one of the best Saturday nights I’ve ever had.

We waited until it was pitch black outside and then we climbed back up to the light. Watching the darkness be illuminated by the light before everything being plunged back into darkness again just seconds later was breathtaking. This was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.

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There were lots of beautiful little quirky things about Rose Island that helped to make it so special – the log books where you write a little note about your stay, what the weather was like and anything of note that happened while you were there, went back years and I loved looking through these, the sea shells collected from the beach and stored in a cabinet in the lighthouse keeper’s apartment, the rocks placed outside the front door with messages from past visitors are all charming little touches.

We were sure to get involved in all of these traditions, leaving our own little mark on the island.

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Some say the island is haunted but if it is the ghosts were certainly kind to us, though we did hear a dog (not Max) barking outside late at night which we knew was impossible, only we could find a ghost dog!

We were very fortunate in that we got to see Rose Island in all of it’s forms – we arrived to dark,cloudy, moody skies but by lunchtime the clouds had cleared and it was hot and sunny hitting 16 degrees, practically unheard of in November.

As darkness fell the rain started and the island felt even more isolated as we became surrounded by fog, listening to the rain battering off the windows. We were woken the next morning by the sound of high winds which certainly made for an interesting boat journey back to Newport!

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I loved this! It may seem ridiculous but seeing the lighthouse in all weather conditions made it even more wonderful and the island’s beauty shone through in all of these conditions. The only element we didn’t face while on the island was snow, but we drove through a snowstorm in Vermont on our way back to Montreal so we didn’t escape that one entirely.

My lasting memory of Rose Island will be how struck I was by the stillness and by it’s immeasurable beauty. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so relaxed anywhere as I did for those 24 hours. It truly is a magical place.

I cannot urge you enough to visit this tiny little piece of heaven resting in a corner of Rhode Island. I guarantee that you won’t regret it. Staying in a lighthouse may have been an apparently silly notion to take into adulthood with me but I will be forever grateful that I did as the night we spent on Rose Island was one of the most wonderful I have ever spent anywhere. And I am very grateful to my thoughtful husband for making that childhood dream a reality and giving me, if just for 24 hours, my own little piece of heaven. I am also very grateful to Rose Island itself for making the reality of a night in a lighthouse even better than I could ever possibly have imagined.

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If you would like to book a stay at Rose Island Lighthouse or for further information please visit http://www.roseislandlighthouse.org

 

Thank you

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. So what’s your thoughts on today? A load of BS? Yes, I suppose to some extent it is just that. It’s obviously consumerism at it’s worst. A marketing ploy based around the assumption that we need a specific day to say I love you to the people that we should always tell that we love; we shouldn’t need a day dictated by Hallmark to do this. But you know what, life happens and in reality sometimes we forget to say these things. We forget to show those we love quite how much they mean to us. We forget to say thank you for all the little things that they do that we love and appreciate them for.

So here is my thank you to my husband for the things, both big and small, that I love him for but perhaps I don’t say as often as I should.

Thank you…..

For 8 years of fun and endless adventures.

For asking me to marry you.

For making me smile, at some point, every single day.

For always being there when I need a shoulder to cry on or just a cuddle.

For knowing that pizza and prosecco will always cheer me up more than anything else.

For taking me on this adventure with you.

For not caring that I’m the world’s most unlikely housewife.

For not shouting at me when I buy more books, even when they no longer fit in the bookcase.

For giving me space when I’m homesick and nothing can console me.

For looking after me the next day when I’ve tried to drink like I’m 18 again and I forget that I can’t do that anymore. (Seriously though when will I realise this?)

For loving me, even when I’m not very loveable.

For making me laugh, really laugh. Having someone to laugh with is so important in life.

For reminding me daily, even on the days that I want to kill you, that I genuinely couldn’t live without you.

For cuddling me at night when I can’t sleep (that damn brain of mine always has too many tabs open).

For telling me that loving you “to the moon and back” isn’t very far. (It is so!)

For sharing my dreams and plans for the future.

For always insisting that you love me more. (You don’t, it’s not possible)

For helping me scratch off the map (literally) and create memories to treasure across the world.

For loving Max so much.

For always sharing my blog posts, that little gesture means so much to me.

For being my partner in absolutely everything.

For bringing me breakfast in bed while you watch early morning football.(I know this is only to keep me occupied so you get to watch your beloved Arsenal play in peace but that’s okay, its a win win situation)

For showing me that even when times get tough, that we’ll always have something worth fighting for.

For not getting annoyed when we watch a movie and I ask a million questions because I wasn’t paying attention at the start. (Every single time).

For carrying the 16 litres of bottled water home from the shop every week because I really hate the tap water (despite the fact that you think it tastes just fine).

For eating the vegetarian meals I cook even though I know you’d always rather have a steak.

For no longer even mentioning that our house is overrun with candles.

For buying me more candles (even in light of previous point) because you know how happy they make me.

For putting up with my hysterical tears every time I have to say goodbye to my Mum and Dad.

For spoiling me even when I’m sure I don’t deserve to be spoiled.

For listening to me rant on the days when I hate living here.

For not saying “I told you so” the following day (or sometimes just 30 minutes later) when I love living here again.

For being my partner, my best friend and my husband.

For just being you.

Happy Valentine’s Day xx

(Lastly thank you for not killing me for sharing this with the world…..the curse of a blogger wife)