Monthly Archives: January 2013

The ingredients of a perfect day: simple things that make me happy

After two heavy, rather personal posts (on traveling and death), I decided that this week’s piece would cover a lighter subject: everyday moments of joy.

Louise Hung wrote a fun piece for, titled Is happy really that simple? 10 tiny things that make me ecstatic.

This inspired me to make my own list of simple things that I like to do and that are, to me, among the necessary elements of having a great day.
Like most people, I’m at my workplace 40 hours per week. My schedule is tightly packed with long work days from Wednesday to Saturday and although I love my job, I cherish my days off. When I’m not blogging for this site or for Untapped Cities, I love to fill them with the many activities that make life enjoyable: long walks to discover the city, meals at yummy restaurants, going to the movies, getting together with friends, painting and crafting…

Sunday is the day where I best like to indulge. Usually, I’m in no shape to be productive in any manner since I’m coming off of having been through 3 consecutive 11.5 hour shifts (with minimal sleep between), so here’s what I like to do:

Sleep in:
A classic way to enjoy your day off is to sleep a little later than usual. Of course, when your weekday alarm sets off at 5h30AM, sleeping in means a rising time of 8h30AM at the very latest. Still, it feels so nice to rise after the sun has.

Sleeping in

Eat pastries for breakfast:
During the week, my first meal regularly consists of a dry bagel, orange juice and some Sesame snaps later on in the morning (I know, I know, this bad habit shall be changed soon). Come Sunday, I’m craving a good pancake or a gooey chocolate croissant. We are lucky to have a great bakery (Nigelle Café)at less than 3 minutes walk from our place and the walk to get there mostly takes us through alleyways. This means that we can walk to and from the place without changing out of our wrinkled sweats!


Paint my nails properly:
This is what my fingers look like during the week:

Ugly fingernails

Now here is what they look like after a good moisturizing treatment and some pretty polish. A simple, superficial but pleasant thing to do!

CUte nail art

Chill with my cats:
I do this because I love them and because if I don’t give them a bit of attention at least once a week, they’ll come to think of me only as that strange lady who serves the food (some particularly busy weeks I think my boyfriend sees me that way too).

Jack the cat

Experiment with fun hairstyles:
For the last year and a half, I’ve been dying my hair. The new shade I’m trying out is hot pink. I also need some new dos that are cute but practical for workdays. When I get up to go to work, I don’t have time to think about pins, barrettes and elastics. I want to be able to do my hair with my eyes half open and a toothbrush hanging loosely off my lip.
Sunday is the day where I take care of my hair, make it nice and learn how to do those cute fishtail braids or those 40 ways to wear a headscarf, so that when I’m getting ready on Wednesday at dawn, the fingers will do all the work and the brains can stay asleep a bit longer.

Pink hair blue flower

Watch some corny TV.
Ah, the couch. Such a warm, lovely place to spend a few hours. What better a thing to do on this comfy piece of furniture, than to sit, cover yourself in a warm blanket and enjoy the pleasures of turning off your brain for 21 minutes. I’m a sucker for cheesy sitcoms and lately I’ve been watching Will and Grace (I got the box set for Christmas). Friends, Modern Family, 30 rock… Watching hilarious (and often witty) TV shows, is one of my favorite ways to relax.

Cook a nice meal:
I’ve said it before here, I like to cook. For the new year, we are trying to reduce the number of pre-prepared meals we eat, so I try to fit cooking into my busy schedule.


Discover some new music:
I’ve been working on learning Spanish lately (Fluenz software is the best!) and I like to get lost in the deepest realms of Youtube, trying to find some good music en español that does not sound like this (no offense to the fans). I know it’s out there and I’m very open-minded about music (I like electic things ranging from Britney to Buena Vista Social Club or the Black Keys, yes that was me lazily going through the Bs on Itunes).

Here’s one gem that I discovered last week: Los Super elegantes.

As for music in English, I learned about the band Temples last week, through NME music magazine’s 2013 watch list.

Read, read, read and read some more:
I’ve always been a big reader. When I was young, it was babysitter’s club books. Then I developed an obsession for magazines of all kinds and never went back. I rarely read books but I read dozens of articles every day. I guess I prefer the shorter format of storytelling.
I often go to the same websites everyday, as they always release new content, but I still love to find new sites (using Stumble Upon is a great way).
Here’s a list of great websites I discovered lately:

Daily Nibbles

The Jealous curator

Stars for streetlights

This isn’t happiness

Seven spoons

Elise Blaha

Sincerely Kinsey

Poppy talk

comfy clothes leggings and a wool shirt

So that’s it, a list of simple pleasures that make life good on a regular basis. It may be nothing compared to visiting the Louvre, tasting a new dish on a side street of Sapporo or watching your favorite band live but as banal as these small things seem, they are just as important as the bigger, more extraordinary moments.

What are the little things in life that make you happy?

Life changing moments: my first time traveling abroad

In life, there are a few moments that prove to be crucial in forming you as a person.

A trip to France in the summer of 2006, was one of mine. I was still slowly coming out of a long depression that even lead me to require homeschooling for my last year of high school. After graduating in June 2004, I had managed to get a summer job, quit my medication and start CEGEP(college). I was finally doing good and starting to build self-confidence. By early 2006, I felt ready to realize one of my life-long dreams: traveling to Europe.

Since I’d never been abroad, I researched the option of participating in an international volunteering program (like Katimavik, Habitat for Humanity, Québec sans frontières). Many of these seemed great, but costly, requiring me to save money for two years before I could envision partaking in them. That’s why I was so pumped when I learned about volunteer workcamps and Chantiers Jeunesse.

Since 1980, Chantiers Jeunesse has been sending young Quebecers abroad to join short and long-term workcamps in 30 countries around the world. All this for a small fee (costs depend on length and destination but I paid less than 400$).

I hear you asking, what are workcamps?

Workcamps as we know them today started in Europe after World War I. The idea was to bring people from different countries, religions and cultures together to work as a group in order to rebuild areas that had been destroyed by bombs.

Nowadays, the main goal is to keep on breaking cultural barriers by learning to live and work together. Workcamps are held in hundreds of countries around the, and can take place in many different environments, from slums to castles. They usually regroup a dozen to twenty young adults, between the ages of 16 and 30 (though some programs let people of all ages participate).

Chantiers Jeunesse is the organisation that makes this type of experience available to Quebecers. Others can visit the Alliance network website or Volunteers for peace to find which program they can contact in their country.

Let me tell you a bit about my experience:

I could say it started when I sent out my inscription form, but the truth is that things truly got real when I received my acceptance letter, officially confirming that I was going to take part in a workcamp in France.

The next few months were kept busy by the many steps it takes to arrange such a trip: heading to preparation meetings in Montreal, choosing my project, buying my plane ticket and learning more about the region that I had picked: Gironde (the Bordeaux area).

Finally, my departure date came. I left Montreal for Paris, embarking alone on my first flight ever. The journey was rough, as was my first day in France (which I’ve recounted here). Before I went to meet my group, I was going to spend one week in Paris and two days in Bordeaux, in order to get adjusted with my new environment and to spend a bit of time visiting the cities I’d long dreamed to see.

Bordeaux, Saint-Catherine Street

Bordeaux, Saint-Catherine Street

Although the beginning was tough, things got much, much better. By the time I was supposed to join my workcamp group, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go! I’d loved traveling alone, doing my own thing. I pulled myself together and dragged my heavy bags to the Bordeaux train station to meet the people I was going to spend the next three weeks with.

Three weeks is a short amount of time on the full timeline of lifespan, but I must say that these where up there in the most important ones of my life so far. At first, I was shy and found it hard to break out of my shell. I’m pretty sure I cried, regretting my decision to be there. Those feelings didn’t last for long and by the time the end of the workcamp came, I didn’t want to leave and neither did any of my 14 new friends.

We were working on restoring an old abandoned barn. It was fun but quite an intense undertaking, physically speaking. The 40 degree celcius (100 degree fahrenheit) weather didn’t help much. We could only work from 7AM to noon, most days. Afternoons were spent napping, chatting and discovering our small town (Montussan). On weekends, we partied, went to concerts, met other workcamp groups and visited the surrounding region (Bordeaux, Arcachon, Dune du Pyla, Saint-Émilion vineyards, Grand Crohot beach).

Montussan France

One of the barn buidings

Workcamp volunteering

Pulling out a huge beam of wood. It took 15 people to get it out!

workcamp volunteering before


Workcamp in France

During the cleanup

workcamp volunteering result


In the end, I don’t think the city of Montussan actually did anything with the barn. They just enjoyed hosting workcamps because they know how great it is for the people that participate and it’s also fun for the small community to meet new people from all over the world.

Dune du Pyla

Dune du Pyla

Our group was very eclectic: 3 South-Koreans, 3 Turks, 2 Slovakians, 3 French, 1 Spanish, 1 Congolese, 1 Italian, 1 Lithuanian, plus me. We were inevitably affected by cultural differences and clashing personalities and it caused frictions at times, but things would quickly fall into place. For example, we initially had a bit of trouble organizing meals, cleaning schedules and how we would share the work at the barn, but we made it work. Even the language barriers, due to a poor grasp of the English language by some participants, created more laughs than frustrations.

concordia france

Our group on the cover of a local newsletter

Our group on the cover of a local newsletter

In terms of the living situation, we were lucky. Most people have small dorms or share houses with one or two bathrooms for 15 people. We lived in the town’s gymnasium so we had a dozen toilets and showers, along with a good sized kitchen and plenty of living space. We slept on gym mattresses that were fairly uncomfortable but it was a small price to pay for such a great experience.
living in a gymnasium

I can’t possibly come close to expressing how important this 3 week adventure has been so far in my life. I believe that even when I’m old and I look back on the past, I’ll still see this decision to take part in a workcamp as one of the best ones in my life. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Arcachon Oyster farm

Arcachon Oyster farm

If you are young and looking for new experiences, or if you know young adults that would enjoy this type of experience, encourage them to do it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it wasn’t always easy and some days I was confronted with things that were hard for me but it was all worth it. I changed a lot during those few weeks. I grew up, came out of my shell and never recoiled back to the scared, anxious person I used to be.

Since doing my work-camp, I’ve moved to Montreal, studied in university, traveled alone in Europe, lived in France for one semester and visited Japan among many other achievements. I couldn’t ever have dreamed of as this a young 17 year old that barely managed to get out of the house without having a panic attack. This goes to show that everything is possible. We all have strength in us, we just have to find it. For me, participating in the workcamp was the catalyst.

If anyone has any questions or any similar important experiences to share, please do! I love hearing about how people came to know themselves and develop self-confidence.

For those who are just on the cusp of deciding to travel for the first time, I’d love to be the one to encourage you. If I can help by giving tips and ideas, I’d love to be of any help.

Me, feeling happy and emancipated!

Me, feeling happy and emancipated!

Things that remind me of him: dealing with loss

For my latest post, I’ve decided to write about something very personal and important for me that I had yet to share on here.

A few days ago marked the one year anniversary since my father passed away, after a long bought with cancer. I won’t get into details about how it’s affected me because grief is complex and it is a long process, but I thought that as a tribute and a way to meditate on the past year and the time we had together, I’d share a list of common everyday things that remind me of my dad, along with memories to go with them. Many of these are silly but that’s what life is. It’s often the most mundane things that will get you reminiscing, making you smile or starting the waterworks.

coffee in a bowl

The taste of coffee. My father loved coffee. He loved it even more than most regular coffee aficionados do. He abhorred Nabob and Nespresso, preferring strong Colombian or Ethiopian brews. Every morning he’d have a cup, or two, or three. When I turned 12, he started to make a cup for me before school. That new habit didn’t last for long because we learned that coffee gives me terrible heartburn and palpitations. I was sad, as I loved the moment we shared each morning. Eventually, I began preparing his coffee. It was a simple gesture but I was glad to make it for him because I new how much he loved it and that it was an important part of his morning schedule.

funky fabric

Funky clothing patterns. His wardrobe was filled with many tee-shirts and blouses with patterns each more colorful than the other. When I was a young kid in elementary school, I’d get really embarrassed at his taste in clothing. One childhood memory that I particularly recall is the time when my father came to a school assembly and went up to the front of the group to receive a gift in return for driving us to a book conference. I was super happy for my dad, but he was wearing a bright pink shirt so I cringed badly and actually felt a bit angry. Later in life, I came to love his kooky clothes and I’ve now adopted some of the patterns myself. I recently bought one pair of pants (seen on the right) and every time I wear it, I get lots of comments and I tell people that I was inspired by my father.

nutritional yeast

The smell of Nutritional yeast. My dad would probably be saying: ‘Yeast, really, that’s what reminds you of me?’ (followed by a laugh). I hadn’t seen this pungent yellow, unfortunately named powder in years but a week after my dad died, during dinner at a friend’s house, someone prepared salad dressing with it. Upon tasting and smelling it, I immediately imagined my dad. I didn’t know why but the strong, very particular odor and taste brought me back to my childhood. Weeks later I told my mom and she said that it was because my dad used to put some in his popcorn.

In October, I started working at a grocery store with a large bulk section, and among the various and spices and flours, I found the yeast. Right away, I bought a bag. Now, every time I open the bag, just to smell or to grab a bit to sprinkle on my salad, I remember us turning on the popcorn machine and putting in an old Chaplin film in the VCR. It reminds me of fun times.

mad magazine monty python giles

Dry humor.  My father had a great sense of humor, for years treating us to his bad joke of the day (he was only aloud to tell one). His type of comedy was a sort of cross between satire, sarcasm and wordplay. Like many other boys of his generation, he grew up reading MAD magazine so I believe this had quite an effect on shaping his view of the world. He also developed a fascination with comedy from Britain,  especially when he spent some time living in London. Because of that, my brother and I grew up reading Giles and Doonesbury cartoon books and watching Monty Python films.

Cesaria Evora. Her soft voice cradled my childhood. My father was always humming and often times, he’d be singing the melody of one of her songs. The Barefoot diva was one of his favorite singers. None of us had any idea what she was singing about (in Portuguese creole), so to make us laugh,  my dad would change the lyrics to some of her songs so that they were talking about us kids (Léa is too tired, Manu is too excited). 

He was an avid music fan with a vast collection of CDs ranging all genres. At any time of day, our 5-CD player would be turned on, skipping seamlessly from the crooning saxophone of Louis Armstrong to the playful guitar of Georges Brassens.

Most nights, when we were all going to bed, he or his girlfriend would choose 5 albums to create a beautiful soundtrack to play along while we all fell asleep. The song that I most loved hearing was Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Nowadays, I can’t hear this beautiful, haunting melody without getting a bit misty.

Posters and paintings. On the one year anniversary of his passing, my aunt wrote that his gentle spirit was still with us. Even though I’m not a spiritual person in general, I do feel him still being there in many ways. He’s constantly in my thoughts, in my memories and in my heart. He’s also on my walls! Despite the fact that he never made a career out of it, my dad was very creatively inclined and he explored a few artistic practices, namely photography. I inherited this beautiful photograph that he took on the Champs Élysées in Paris. He’s right there, standing on the left, wearing his big beard, curly head of hair and over-sized glasses.

Paul in Paris

He was also very much attracted by creative people, with many of his friends being artists of some kind. His girlfriend of the last decade masters the paint brush very well and she made this funky family portrait (seen below) as a gift for my 20th birthday.

Paul in new york Paul in New York detail

After he died, she spent months painting portraits of him, including this one which captures the deep bond between a father and his daughter.

Father and daughter painting

I love this photo and have it up on my refrigerator. It is comforting to see the calm, loving energy he had, which shines right through his big brown eyes.

Father and daughter

Loss is hard, without a doubt, but my father had an extremely positive and easygoing outlook on life and this optimism has stayed and blossomed in me. I’m thankful to have had such a wonderful father and to have had the chance to spend 24 years with such an incredible human being (who’s been called an angel on earth by atheists and believers alike!).

I love you Paul!

Downtown Montreal: Untapped Outtakes

I wrote another article for Untapped Cities: Downtown Montreal: the lavish mansions of the Golden Square Mile. (Click the link to read the full article)
It’s about how the former homes of the city’s late 19th century bourgeoisie, located in downtown Montreal, are being used today.
Here are some more photos of the area that I took whilst out for the photoshoot:
Streets of Montreal
Reflections in the windows of a building on Sherbrooke street west
The sky reflecting into the windows of a building on Sherbrooke Street West.
A building in the Golden Square Mile
A building in the Golden Square MIle
Mcgill campus
Buildings on the campus of Mcgill University.
Ravenscrag Montreal
Ravenscrag, a former mansion turned into a psychiatric institute.
Near Ravenscrag, Montreal
Ravenscrag’s beautiful premises.
Street art in Montreal
Street art on Prince-Arthur street.
Sky light Montreal
Carré Saint-Louis, Montréal
These colorful rooftops are not located in the Golden Square Mile. They are a bit farther east, at Carré Saint-Louis, where the francophone bourgeoisie lived during the same era when the Golden Square Mile was thriving (for anglophones).

Philosophizing in Kyoto

It’s already been 4 months since we’ve been back from our trip to Japan and it occurred to me that I never came around to posting more pictures.

After our time in the crazy metropolis of Tokyo, we headed to a much more peaceful place in Japan: Kyoto.

We stayed in the city of 2000 temples and shrines for 9 humid, often rainy but very fun days. Since we had a rail pass we also took day trips to other cities near and far: Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima.

Kyoto tower

Kyoto tower, near the main train station.

Kinkakuji temple

Kinkakuji temple bird

The gardens of the famous Kinkakuji temple.

5- Toji temple

The Tō-ji temple,famous for its tall pagoda.

Fushimi inari shrin

Fushimi-Inari shrine. Located on the outskirts of Kyoto, there is a mountainous sanctuary where thousands of torii doors create mazes leading to small shrines and cemeteries.

22- Temple people

People heading to visit a temple.

15- Gion Kyoto

A restaurant in the Gion quarter, which is known for it’s vast number of entertainment establishments, such as tea houses, restaurants and bars. It is here that you are most likely to see geishas or maikos (geishas in training) as they run through the side streets, trying to make their next appointment on time.

41- Nara Mountian

42- Nara Mountain

These last two photos were taken (respectively) on the third and second summits of Wakakusayama Mountain in the town of Nara.


The view as taken from the roof of a building near Osaka’s main train station.