Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Fond Farewell

For as long as I've been blogging, I've written a New Year's/year-end post to sum up the year and look forward to the year ahead.

  • Travel: This year, I've hiked along the Great Wall of China, ridden Icelandic horses, driven through the Scottish highlands, visited friends in the UK, taken a "self-portrait" with the Penny Lane street sign in Liverpool, eaten soup dumplings in Shanghai, driven a snowmobile on a glacier in Iceland, earned a certificate for mastering the "perfect pour" at the Guinness factory in Dublin and watched musicals in London. Oh, I will certainly miss all of the long breaks that come with the student lifestyle! On the plus side, I have fairly ample vacation time at work and, oh yeah, an income.
  • Graduation: In May, I fulfilled a long-term goal of graduating with my MBA. I can't even begin to sum up how much the decision to move to Charlottesville and pursue this degree has changed my life. I now have friends across the globe, opportunities that just weren't there for me three years ago, and a job which I love and at which I am challenged.
  • Move to Boston: In the back of my mind, I dreamed of living in Boston ever since I visited on my MBA school tour over three years ago. I remember telling my sisters how excited I was about going to Boston Pops concerts if I ever did get to the city. While I was job searching, I wanted to be as flexible as possible, but really, really wanted to live in a "walkable" city. Since moving to Boston in August, I've felt incredibly blessed. I ditched my car less than a week into life here and have not regretted it even for an instant. I got a Zipcar membership, but have only used it once. Also, in December, I made it out to my first Boston Pops concert!
  • Physical Health: Not being one for New Year's Resolutions, I waited about three weeks into January to take my first visit to the North Grounds Gym. Not being one to do anything halfway, at that time I got back on the Weight Watchers train, started running and hired a personal trainer. Nearly a year later, I'm proud to report that I've dropped two to three sizes (depending on whether you go by numbers or letters) and can run a full 9.5 km (could probably do more, but I'm slowly building up my endurance).
  • Faith: If anything is really responsible for the joy I'm experiencing right now, it's renewed relationship with God. I've had my ups and downs in this area all throughout my life, but after struggling during my first year at Darden, I found an AMAZING small group at my church in Charlottesville, and they encouraged me tremendously. I've really been focusing on getting involved with a church here in Boston and making sure that I make time for my relationship with God... But most importantly, if I've learned anything in 2011, it's that ultimately there is nothing on this earth that really satisfies us. What matters most is that I'm falling in love with the God with whom I will spend eternity.
While 2011 certainly had it's fair share of challenges, heartbreaks and disappointments, the overwhelming theme of the year was hope, joy and adventure. And the best part is that it isn't joy from life events or external blessings, but a deep, abiding joy that comes from feeling like I finally have my priorities straight and am deepening my relationship with my amazing God.

Some things I am looking forward to in 2012:
  • Now that I'm in a stable routine for the foreseeable future (no more switching between work, school, internships), I'm planning on finally getting down to the goal weight I set nearly three years ago
  • Running a half marathon
  • Getting settled and established in my job - it's been a steep learning curve so far!
  • Getting to know new people here in Boston
  • Serving at my new church

Monday, November 21, 2011

Church Shopping

There are all sorts of analogies which can be applied to the process of finding a new church congregation to be a part of when moving to a new city. Given my past experiences with moving to a new city, I wasn't expecting the process to be so laborious that it would need an analogy, but alas, the Boston church hunt was not as easy as the Charlottesville church hunt (first one I went to was amazing AND I found the best small group ever) or the Edmonton church hunt (some 20 years ago... again, the first church our family went to was having a picnic and that was enough to garner our loyalty...).

Anyway, the most fitting analogy that I can find regarding finding a church is one on dating. As with dating, the first thing you do is find some sort of superficial characteristic by which you can judge whether a church is worth a visit. In my case, a whole variety of characteristics appealed: young adults group, church plant by my favourite pastor Tim Keller, recommendation from a friend, good music. Some churches lost my interest after a first visit (we didn't make it past the first date). Others I tried out small groups or attended multiple Sundays. After a few weeks, not feeling particularly well on a Sunday morning, I got frustrated and simply gave up altogether. I won't say that I attended "Pillow Pentecostal" or "Bedside Baptist" because I think that's a cop out, but I also didn't drag myself across town to find a church.

With some churches, it wasn't that there was anything wrong with them, it was just that they didn't quite fit right. I didn't see the connection, and while I didn't see it at the time, it was because God was directing me to the place I have ended up.

Anyway, I came across Mosaic in a completely unsuspecting way. There was a T ad that caught my eye every morning. I didn't think anything of it until I was doing a search on Google for something completely unrelated to church, and an ad popped up there. Following the ad brought me to the webpage, at which point I discovered that two of my favourite superficial church characteristics were met: it was a ten-minute walk away and the services were at 10:45 a.m. (A Goldilocks time: not too early, not too late)

Still debating Saturday night over which church to go to, I slept in on Sunday morning and my timing to get to Mosaic was perfect. I went to the first service and... well, it was fine.

Mosaic may never have made it to a second date, except that I just had a feeling... and being lazy, the default is always to attend the closest church with the most convenient time.

Something amazing happened the second Sunday I attended Mosaic. In case you are not familiar with how church works (and have somehow made it this far), community happens something like this: at some point in the sermon, someone at the front tells everyone to stand up and greet their neighbour (at my Cville church, we were supposed to give them a "high five, handshake or hug"). Everyone stands up, has a brief conversation with their neighbour, and promptly sits down and forgets the person sitting beside, in front or behind them. At the end of the service, if you came alone and don't know anyone, you duck out without being noticed, and if you want to find "community" in a church, you join a small group or volunteer.

There was no mid-service greeting time at Mosaic. Instead, as I was ready to make my I-don't-know-if-this-is-where-I-want-to-attend bolt out of the door, someone came up to me and said "hello." Completely unprompted by the pastor! Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...? After talking to her, as I was leaving, the pastor shook my hand at the door, had a lengthy conversation with me, and told me we should go for coffee.

I'd be lying if I said I was sold right there. That very afternoon I saw another T ad for a church only a five minute walk away. I considered trying THAT one out, but when I went to the Mosaic community group on Wednesday night and everyone was so WELCOMING, I decided against trying something new. In the dating analogy, I was seeing Mosaic almost exclusively.

Anyway, this past Friday, Mosaic and I had the equivalent of the "DTR" (define the relationship talk). It was a "family meeting" and we talked about membership classes. Membership classes are pretty much the equivalent of church marriage, except until death do us part, it's until a move to a new city do us part. While part of me feels some commitment phobia, I also feel excited about what God is doing in and through Mosaic, and I desperately want to be in on the ground floor.

But, more importantly, Mosaic is a place where I've found community. When I said someone greeted me after the service however many Sundays ago, I was underemphasizing the quality of the community. This is a church where people hang out on their own volition, everyone looks out for one another, people stay after church to eat together (I'm cooking this Sunday - lasagna, if you're interested and live in Boston!) and everyone genuinely cares. I can't even begin to tell you all the amazing experiences I've had over the past few weeks, but I'm so happy and excited.

I know that, just like falling in love, I'm in the honeymoon stage. There will be bumps along the way. But commitment means getting the good and the bad and it means holding on and fighting for great community when obstacles come up. In the meantime, I'm just going to soak in the blessings and spend my days grinning widely.

PS I don't actually know anything about dating or falling in love, so hopefully my analogy is accurate.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Can't Go Wrong in the North End

It seems that since I've moved to Boston, I've spent more time with company or out of town than at home alone. This past week has been no exception. My aunt and uncle were in town and looking for a good restaurant where they could take me (and my cousin who is staying with me) out for dinner.

Anyway, from my month experience in Boston, I've discovered two types of really good food options: Italian or seafood. The choice of Italian naturally led us to the North End.

I love the North End. It is fast becoming one of my favourite places to hang out in Boston. You can pretty much pick any restaurant and it will be amazing... So I always wonder at the insane lines outside places like Giacomo's and Mike's Pastry. It seems the theme is to serve only dinner and wine at the restaurants, and leave the dessert and coffee up to one of the many other cafes along Hanover Street.

We stumbled upon Panza - the highest rated in the "$$" price range on Yelp that accepts credit cards. It was delicious, incredibly delicious, with portion sizes big enough that I still have leftovers two days later. (It didn't hurt that my aunt and uncle didn't have a fridge in their hotel!)

After dinner, we moved on to Caffe Vittoria, a place I discovered last summer because it was a favourite of one of my friends who already lived here. My first experience at Cafe Vittoria was with the cannolis, but my Little Black Book of Boston suggested was the best place in Boston for tiramisu. So I finally tried the tiramisu, and it did not disappoint.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back in the Saddle

So I am alive, as it turns out.

My last blog post was over a month ago, but life has been crazy since then. I spent the first three weeks of August settling into Boston and entertaining guests.

On Sunday, I flew out to Chicago for my first week of training. It was intense. Like, 7:30am-until-6pm-social-activities-starting-at-6:15 intense. The important thing, though, is that I can't wait to get started! This whole week made me think I needed to pinch myself because I'm at a place where I've wanted to be for a long, long time.

I could go into details, but I'm exhausted.

Of course, my life took an interesting turn today.

You may have heard of Irene. She's heading toward New York as I write this, and she stopped all air traffic heading to the East Coast tomorrow. Since I have to be in Princeton on Monday morning, and there's no telling what Irene is going to do, I was scheduled last minute on a flight out of Chicago and get to spend the weekend in Princeton, NJ, where the power is most likely to go out tomorrow. I am celebrating the occasion with chocolate cake and cava. My original plan was to stay with a friend in Manhattan for the weekend, but since Manhattan is pretty much getting evacuated, that fell through.

What an adventurous first week of being a consultant.

Anyway, if you still read my blog, please leave a comment and let me know if I should keep blogging. I enjoyed blogging about my life at Darden, and if anyone out there would enjoy reading about my "exciting" life as a consultant, let me know!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eye Spy

The very last thing I did in London was ride the London Eye to get a bird's eye view of the city before I left. Unfortunately, the rains came and ruined all my potential pictures, but at least they left behind a beautiful full rainbow spanning the city.

Castles and Roses

Call me cliche, but roses have always been my favourite flower. So when I discovered that roses grow everywhere in the UK, I was quite excited and took the expression "stop and smell the roses" quite literally. I also took a lot of pictures of them! Given the ever-present threat of rain in the UK, when I had two back to back days of rain in Edinburgh and London, I took the opportunity to wander through parks and gardens: Princes St. Gardens in Edinburgh which is right under the castle, then Hyde Park in London.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Airline Woes

Is it just me, or are airlines competing to see who can provide the worst customer experience possible?

When I found a direct flight from London to Edmonton at a reasonable price, I was so excited! I booked with Air Transat because it was a little bit cheaper than Air Canada.

Well, it looked cheaper through Expedia.

Air Transat has a reasonable weight limit for long haul flights, but what they don't really tell you up front is that Thomas Cook, who actually operates the flight, only allows 20 kg for your checked baggage. And while I have a handy fold up bag that I can attempt to stow some of the excess weight, they put a 5 kg weight limit on your carry-on (I was allowed 10 kg on my 50 minute flight from Dublin to Edinburgh), AND you're only allowed one bag. So forget carrying on a purse and extra bag.

Air Transat also sent me a very helpful email today, three days before my flight leaves, to tell me that I can select my seat ahead of time. Yay! So I called their customer service, only to discover that Thomas Cook requires you to book at least five days before the flight leaves. Five days? Seriously? So yippee... I get to show up to the airport super early on Tuesday morning or risk being sandwiched in the middle seat. Thanks Air Transat and Thomas Cook for your assistance with my stress-free travel.

The frustrating thing is that if I'd known to look for this, I could have checked before I booked my flight and made a decision knowing all the relevant facts. But I feel stupid for not looking into it, and am now paying the consequences. It won't be a big deal: worst-case scenario, I pay an extra $100 and have to spend nine hours between two linebackers. It just frustrates me that the entire airline industry seems to be in a competition to outdo each other to belittle and nickle-and-dime the customer. If JetBlue can make air travel low-cost and low-hassle, with no hidden costs and a pleasant experience, why have so few other players caught on?

I've heard Virgin Atlantic is supposed to be good. And the fact that JetBlue has started to codeshare with them instills some confidence in that conclusion. Having a home base in Boston will hopefully offer a few more options so I'm not stuck with Air Transat ever again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Highlands and Islands

After two Londoners both told me I HAD to do a Highlands tour while in the UK, I figured I'd better heed their advice and book one. As I was looking through my photos trying to narrow down the few that I actually wanted to post, I realized how breathtaking the whole trip was. There are two main features that really stood out in the highlands and the Isle of Skye. First, the castles. They are all built into the natural landscape. The history that goes along with them is always interesting, and a big reason why I'd rather pay more for a tour than rent a car myself. Second, I love being on the island and seeing the distant islands. After the first day driving up to Skye, I was expecting a cloudy mystique, but the sun came out for the last two days of the tour.

This was the view outside my B&B in the morning. We stayed in the town of Portree, which is little more than some B&Bs, seafood restaurants and gift shops.

The Old Man of Storr. I was disappointed we didn't climb up there, but it was cool seeing it shrouded in clouds.

View from the Quraing mountains.

Lighthouse at the very edge of Skye. I have a million pictures I could post of the ocean with the mountains in the background, but as I've always been partial to lighthouses, I chose this one.

A highland cow on the side of the road. Just for the record, though, it's pronounced "heeland coo".

Eilean Donan castle. This is the most photographed castle in Scotland, and I'm sure I contributed significantly to the count as I sorted through 30 or so pictures in an attempt to decide which to upload.

I don't love this picture, but I didn't get any really good ones and HAD to post a picture of Loch Ness. I didn't see Nessie, but being on the big lake (all the water from all the other lakes in England and Scotland combined could fit in Loch Ness) and seeing the black water (from all the peat runoff) gave me some insight into why there is so much folklore around Loch Ness.

After three days exploring nature, it was time to head back to the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle is the focal point of the city, and the reason the city is even here. The high hill presented a perfect place to set up a defense against the English, and over time, the city grew around it.

Ever since arriving in Scotland, I've been told I need to try the scotch whiskey. Even one of my friends from home who does not drink told me I needed to bring back scotch. Since I am not partial to whiskey, however, I figured that if I was going to invest in a bottle of scotch, I had to learn something about it and find one I like. So, I went off to the scotch whiskey experience to learn about whiskey and find one I liked. I am posting this picture because another friend told me I needed more pictures of me. (now that I've learned about scotch in Edinburgh and Guinness in Dublin, neither of which I particularly enjoy, I owe myself a visit to France or Italy for some wine!)

Okay, so I wore down... Just had to post another photo of the Skye coastline.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Edinburgh Sunset

So the truth is that I haven't been up to much today other than packing (I had a 20 kg weight limit for my plane ride and had to figure out how to get my suitcase below that... And I had success! 19.4 kg), flying, riding in taxis, catching up on overdue Skype conversations and getting completely drenched in what the people from Edinburgh call "not even a shower".

But as I ate dinner in my hotel restaurant, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful landscape beyond the hotel, so I climbed up the hill beside the hotel and snapped some photos.

Friday, July 08, 2011

St. Paddy's Land

After getting a good deal on a hotel in Dublin on one of my travel websites, I added Ireland to my UK trip. Even though the trip has been quite quick, I've thoroughly enjoyed Ireland and can see why it's been the beautiful backdrop for many a movie.

The one thing I was told I HAD to do in Ireland was drink a pint of Guinness. Not being a particularly huge fan of beer, and even less so of dark beer, I not only obliged, but took a step further and visited the Guinness Storehouse (essentially a museum) and got my certificate for mastering the perfect Guinness pour. I also managed to consume my requisite pint.

Today I got up bright and early (I don't care how early you get up, it's likely too early if you're setting your alarm before 6 am on vacation!) to take a trip to Connemara and Galway City. It was in Connemara that I could see every romantic Irish movie ever made, and it was great to be there, jumping on the bog and walking along the side of the road next to the sheep.

Galway Cathedral. The inside is made of Connemara marble.

Connemara countryside.

Kylemore Abbey

Killary Harbour

Thursday, July 07, 2011


If I've learned anything while traveling, it's that you simply have to pause, enjoy the moment and know that you can never adequately capture an experience in a photograph or describe it in words. But as my train zips along the Welsh coast somewhere just beyond the Penmaenmawr train station, I want to attempt it, no matter how impossible a feat, (that is, during the moments my view is obscured by tunnels or walls) if only so that I can remember this serendipitously beautiful moment.

A rainbow stretches across the bay, though not quite full as the right side fades into the low cloud cover that brings a hazy blanket to cover the rolling hills just beyond the bay. Ahead of us, and visible on the left of the bay, a low, tree-covered hill holds the tunnel we are about to pass through. And to my right, endless stretches of sandy beaches with gentle waves rolling up on the shore - the same kind of beach that always invites me to pull off my shoes and walk in the area where water meets sand.

There are castles and city walls and sheep, all set against the Welsh countryside - green, rolling hills and the occasional rocky hill thrown in the mix. Some fields contain cows, normally not an exciting sight, but British cows are the cow-iest kinds of cows: white and covered in black patches. And rolling through towns, the train window affords me a glimpse of old houses and churches nestled in among the hills.

I did snap a picture, but with the angle I wanted, there was no way to avoid the reflection of the train window. So it will serve only as a reminder of a beautiful sight I witnessed on an unexpected July morning.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Penny Lane is in My Head

It's Tuesday, I think.

I left London on Friday to head to Bristol and spend the weekend with some good friends from home. She is pregnant and had her 30th birthday while I was there, so it was a good time to visit! We spent the weekend going for a lot of walks, celebrating with some of their friends and going for dinner at a fabulous restaurant (if ever in Bristol, Zizzi's was amazing!). I also stopped to smell a LOT of flowers, which didn't abode well for my once dormant allergies.

Monday while they worked, I headed off to Bath to take a tour to Stonehenge, see the Roman Baths and take a free walking tour of Bath. I was tired by the end of the day, and moderately underwhelmed by Stonehenge, so my photos reflect this. I will post a "true" picture of my Stonehenge experience: surrounded by tourists! (of which I am one, I know. Sigh.)

Today I hopped on a train to Liverpool. Not really knowing what to expect, other than knowing it was the birthplace of the Beatles, I've really enjoyed Liverpool. As it turns out, the entire dock is a World Heritage Site because so many of the individual buildings had already earned that distinction. While there, I had to take a Beatles tour, of course, and I was glad that it was accessible to even me, who enjoys Beatles music but doesn't know much beyond that.

This inconspicuous looking house is where John Lennon grew up!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

When You're Tired of London, You're Tired of Life

There are places in the world more different than Reykjavik than London, but at the moment, it hardly feels like two places could be more different. I got my first London wake-up call when I went to watch the changing of the guard yesterday morning only to discover I was too frustrated with the crowds to stay until the end and escaped instead to Green Park to sit under a tree and read. Vowing to avoid all places touristy, I started ambling along only to break my vow when I stumbled on Westminster Abbey.

Traveling in London has given me a bit of a traveler's epiphany: I want to see a place for what it is, not what the postcards and travel books make it out to be. In London, that means accepting the fact that a million tourists are going to get in your attempted shots of Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, so understand that is part of the package and photograph accordingly. It also helped me get through today, when a massive strike/demonstration meant the tour bus I was on got utterly off-track. I decided to hop off the tour bus and just walk, ending up seeing a side of London you don't see every day: the London filled with Police everywhere and the London street full of people picketing and marching for whatever justice they are demanding. The Julie that would have been eager to check sites off a tour list would have been frustrated at the inconvenience, but with this new travel paradigm (which I started to develop in China) of just wandering to see what you see, I must say I ended up enjoying the day.

Of course, it can't hurt that in two days in London, I haven't felt a drop of rain. (it was threatening while I was on my river cruise today, but I missed the rain ducking into a Starbucks for a reading break)

So the pictures I share of London are less focused on all the famous sites (though I did get a nice photo of the parliament buildings and Big Ben) and more on the things I found interesting along the way. Google images, I'm sure, will provide much better pictures of the famous buildings and parks, though sadly, they won't have my face in them. ;-)

A butler out walking dogs in Green Park near Buckingham Palace.

Tourists clamor to take pictures with the guards.

Possibly the most useful signage in all of London, "look right" reminds you which way the cars are coming from on this side of the pond so you don't inadvertently walk in front of one!

Police walk with the peaceful strikers.

A group of teenagers (I think? My age radar has been way off lately) also demonstrates. I find it kind of ironic seeing as how I think the strike was somehow related to pensions, but it's nice to see they are thinking of their future.

One of only two photos of famous sites I'll post, we saw the bridge go up on the Tower Bridge during our river cruise. The guide seemed to imply it was some sort of treat, but also said it happens 500 times a year... Don't know that I'd call that a rare occurrence.

And finally, the Parliament buildings and Big Ben.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Today, I booked a last minute tour to Landmannalauger. I haven't figured out exactly what the name refers to, but my day involved another waterfall, multi-colored mountains, swimming in a natural hot spring stream, hiking through a lava field and driving the 4x4 tour bus through some fairly barren landscape.

It's my last night in Reykjavik. Tomorrow, I'm hoping to get in a run along the harbor before I fly off to London. I'm a little worried because the luggage weight limit is lower than it was flying out here... And lower than my bag weighed in at... So I guess I'll have to wear a few more layers to fly into Britain!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Golden Circle (Iceland Part Three)

Iceland is growing on me very quickly, though it's hard to say whether that can be attributed to it's sheer beauty and the amazing people and how much of that is due to my need for "nesting" and the fact that I have been here long enough to know my way around my little corner of Reykjavik.

Yesterday, I had the funnest time I've ever had doing laundry. There is a little cafe called the Laundromat Cafe, and in addition to having a great conversation with the girl seated next to me at the bar after dinner, I met a couple from Edmonton (my home town) and had a glass of wine with them as we all waited for our laundry to dry.

Here are a few pics from biking around yesterday and climbing up the eight-storey, tallest tower in Reykjavik.

Today was an absolute highlight. My aunt had a connection with a tour guide from her recent trip to Iceland, and I joined him and a nice family from Norway to tour Iceland's Golden Circle and snowmobile across a glacier. The tour was given from a luxury 4x4 and included off-roading up crazy hills and driving through glacial rivers. Thanks Svenni!

View at Thingvellir National Park, site of the Icelandic Assembly.

Gullfoss Waterfall

View from my snowmobile

On the middle of a glacier

Strokkur, the geyser, goes off every five to seven minutes

Hot pots in a meadow

Crater lake