Week 18: To Niagara!

Have you ever gone down to Niagara Falls for a night, in the middle of winter, mid-week? No? That’s so weird. Perhaps you are gainfully employed?

Well I’m not so I went! Actually my boyfriend had some vacation time he had to use, so we decided to go down and see the Falls, eat some nice food, and stay in a fancy (read: not fancy) hotel.

Groupon is great for a lot of things, and one of those things is travelling to Niagara. We got a hotel room with a king size bed, meal vouchers, and some other stuff we didn’t use (who would ever need a coupon to East Side Mario’s… no one wants to eat there! A slight discount won’t help), for about sixty bucks. And if the Canadian dollar weren’t in the toilet, it would have been even less.

We took a Via train down from Toronto bright and early Wednesday morning, and arrived at a desolate train/bus depot in Niagara. Even though the weather had been really nice the week before, it was snowy and windy and frigid that day. Perfect timing, Mother Nature, thanks for that.

A taxi was the only reasonable way to get from the train station to the hotel, so we taxied. We warmed up and relaxed in the room for a while before trekking outside to find nourishment. At 2pm on a Wednesday in winter, there’s not a whole lot going on in Niagara – who’d have thought? We coldly walked past chain restaurant after chain restaurant, and finally decided on a chain restaurant. Niagara is a bit of a tourist town (read: hard-core tourist trap).

But the Falls were beautiful. There was one bus of tourists to share the view with, and that was it. We were free to wander and take photos leisurely, without competing for space with the hordes. We walked the whole length of the boardwalk, read up on the history of the area (OK, I did this), and took some photos.

After a quick afternoon nap (because it’s vacation time and that’s what one does on vacation), we were off to dinner. We had made reservations at Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse, unnecessarily. There were two other people there when we arrived. But the reservation got us a gold booth, not just a red booth. They were the same booth, but with different colour fabric. Most of the booths, which made up 90% of the seating, had big walls between them, and privacy curtains. This was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

We ordered some delicious (yet overpriced) steaks and sides, and shared a bottle of wine (and three bottles of water). The food was delicious – the steaks are seared in butter. I don’t like steak much, but I really liked this steak, and the butter.

You know how when a server puts a plate down and says “careful it’s hot.” And you’re like “but how hot is it?” And you touch it and it’s warm, but not too hot. This was a hot plate. I guess it goes in the oven beforehand to help keep the steak warm on the table. Fortunately our server told me this beforehand, because otherwise I would still be growing back my fingerprints.

While we ate the main course, the curtains were closed. It was very fun, strange, and oddly exciting. It felt like a mix between what I imagine a harem looks like, what I think the VIP area of a club looks like, and how I want the private room of a strip club to look like. But in a classy way.

After our delicious (but expensive) meal we went to the casino. This was a compromise on my part because casinos are pretty boring. But I learned how to play blackjack! Sort of. It seems like it would be a pretty easy game, but once you get into the theory behind it, apparently it gets a little more complicated. When I had a 15 I would look at the guy next to me, and he would either say “book says stay,” or “book says hit.” I lost $9.

We had a leisurely breakfast on Thursday and made our way back to the bus/train depot to return to Toronto. It was much colder on Thursday, so on the way over we were able to see white, frozen trees lining the edge of the Falls. While the Falls weren’t frozen, there were huge icicles hanging from the cliffs nearby. It looked like we’d gone beyond the Wall.

Next time I go to Niagara (which will be in another 5 years, because Google images exists), I will drive. The area is not designed for pedestrians. Most of the times the cross signal at an intersection doesn’t go, because they don’t expect people to actually use them past September. Or maybe I’ll just go in the summer.




Week 8: Red Lipstick!

I have done it! I have purchased, and worn, red lipstick. And it has looked good.

This was a bit of a weird one for me (although really no weirder than a bikini wax), but also very exciting. I don’t know where I got the idea of adding red lipstick to my challenges list, but I’ve always admired women who could confidently wear red lipstick. They always look so polished and classy and put together. I, on the other hand, usually look dishevelled and like I haven’t showered in a few days… which is sometimes true.

I felt that buying and being able to pull off a devilishly red lipstick would make me feel grown up and fancy – much like a child wearing their mom’s clothes. And it worked.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t often wear makeup, and as a result don’t really know how to apply or buy it. Whenever I do buy makeup (once every three years) I go to Mac, because they know what they’re doing. The employees there are always very well coiffed and have probably been experimenting with makeup well before any formal beauty education. Whereas I made mud pies and wrote snarky blog posts.

And so I ventured to the mall to get the help of a Mac employee… on a Friday evening. This was a mistake. With only six Mondays left until Christmas, the mall was pretty busy on a Friday at 4pm. This blog post should really be titled “Katharine visited a mall and DIDN’T leave.” Because if I hadn’t had a timeline to adhere to, I would have been out of there.

But I stuck to it and battled the crowds until I met Gabriela, a makeup artist and my new BFF. Gabriela had a perfect cat eye, on both eyes, so I knew I could trust her. She asked me a few questions and helped me select a good colour. And then, bless her, she showed me how to apply lip liner and lipstick.

Apparently there’s a technique to this, and I had no idea. I listened carefully, watched her in the mirror, and absorbed all of the information she was dishing out.

I have since applied and worn my favourite new lipstick (Brave Red) and lip liner (He Said She Said) out of the house. Admittedly I did not do as good of a job as Gabriela, but she’s had a lot more practice than I have. I felt real pretty in this shade, and I am happy that I’ve finally grown up into a real lady.


Me and my awesome new lipstick!

Week 7: I call your (Scarborough) Bluff…

I was really excited to go to the Scarborough Bluffs! And then I was very disappointed when I got there.

I had come close to getting to the Bluffs before, but only because I took a wrong turn on my bike. Like most of my adventures. I had seen photos of the Bluffs as well, and was very excited to see this beautiful natural wonder in my very own backyard!

So, my boyfriend and I set out on the subway, all the way to Victoria Park (which is super far), and then caught a bus. Over an hour after we set out on the transit system, we arrived! Or so I thought.

We got off the bus in front of what appeared to be an extremely expensive private school, and started walking south toward the lake. You know what’s surprisingly hard to find? The Scarborough Bluffs! There’s a bunch of small residential streets with big signs that say “No Access to the Bluffs.” Which seems elitist and exclusive, but I can also understand how in peak season those signs would be completely necessary.

Eventually we found the park on one side of the Bluffs. The view was pretty nice, but not was I had imagined. Then we walked some more over to the other side of the park, and got an OK view there too. Much of the Bluffs is closed off for safety: there has been a lot of erosion in the area, and visitors are not allowed to walk in dangerous areas. I can understand why the City would need to close this off (can we say lawsuit) but it also took away a lot of the view from the Bluffs.

Some of the locals just sort of ignored the “do not enter” signs, but I was unwilling. I’ve heard too many news stories of people falling from the bluffs and injuring themselves. I am also nervous about heights, so this was a no-go zone for me.

The area was quite beautiful because the leaves were all changing, and the weather was gorgeous. But overall, I was underwhelmed. On the bright side, we did get to walk around the neighbourhood, and see all of the amazing houses down there. As it turns out, that’s a real nice area.

The sort-of-view of the Scarborough Bluffs.

The sort-of-view of the Scarborough Bluffs.

Week 5: Oh my god it’s hot (yoga)

They are not exaggerating when they call it hot yoga.

The idea of hot yoga was brought to me by a friend I used to work with, Sienna. She’s been doing hot yoga for about three years, and had a “free buddy” pass, and suggested that I join her. I’ve done yoga before, and I’ve been in hot places before, but never have I thought, “you know what would be fun? Combining this unbearable heat with a good workout.”

We set up a day and time to attend the class. And then she warned me. “I should warn you that you might feel nausea.” Great. Instead of making me feel prepared for this, the statement made me a good deal more nervous.

While attending an improv show, I mentioned to someone that I would be going to my very first hot yoga class. And then she, too, warned me. She said that bikram was very intense and pushy and she didn’t like it as much as moksha. Which would I be doing? Oh goodness I hope moksha.

Saturday morning finally arrived and I met Sienna at Yonge and Bloor to make our way down to Bikram Yoga Toronto. Perfect. Sienna further warned me not to drink too much water during the class, and that the first half of the practice was done standing, and the second half was done sitting. There would be no clock in the room so this would help me gauge how long was left in the torture session… sorry, yoga practice. I had brought my own yoga mat but borrowed a towel for 2 dollars (which turned out to be the best idea of my entire life). I got changed and Sienna and I chatted for a bit, and then we entered the room. To be honest, my first reaction was, “oh good, my toes will finally be warm.” I constantly have cold feet.

My next thought was, oh my, I might be overdressed for this. It was only that morning that I realized I had no exercise shorts. I’m a fitness instructor, and I only own capri length exercise pants. In fairness though, I don’t know that fewer clothes would have made much of a difference. Everyone got real sweaty in this class, regardless of their attire.

Our instructor was very good. His name was Richard and he was a pretty big dude (for a yogi), who wore only a pair of pretty small, grey, leopard-print shorts, and who spoke constantly and with a slightly Jamaican accent, and remembered everyone’s names. This proved to be extremely helpful because he would call out “Katharine!” if I need to shift my pose a little, or if I was doing a good job.

We started with some breathing techniques, which probably also helped us get accustomed to the extreme heat warning. We then moved through 26 poses, twice. Full disclosure, I googled the difference between bikram and moksha yoga today. As it turns out, bikram was invented in 1946, and moksha was developed in 2004. So much for the ancient practice of yoga. Fun fact, Bikram Choudhury called the hot room a “torture chamber.”

Honestly, I did not find this enjoyable. There’s been a movement in the fitness industry lately to move away from spinal flexion (bending the spine forward) and hyperextension (bending the spine far back). While I haven’t read the science behind this (it’s real complicated), it’s been explained to me by several very smart people, and it seems logical to me. We spend so much time hunched over our phones and computers and desks, that our spine experiences flexion excessively throughout the day. What we don’t need is to do this action more (it can cause herniated discs and back pain for a lot of people, as well as contribute to worsened posture because the muscles become overstretched instead of strengthened). Spinal flexion is especially advised against in the lower back (yay, no more crunches!).

But the fitness industry is pretty slow to change. So I had gone into the bikram class expecting to have a lot of spinal flexion moves, and I was not disappointed. What did surprise me is that some people bounced in these moves… which is really not a good life decision. I was also a little surprised to hear Richard encouraging us to stretch beyond our flexibility. Here’s the thing though, our muscles stop us from going beyond a certain point in order to prevent injury. So… hard pass.

One thing that did make me laugh was when Richard told us that once we had “improved our skeletal system” a certain pose would be easier. OK, how is my skeletal system going to change from yoga? I’m 27, so my bones are pretty set at this point. Unless he’s walking around with a baseball bat and a bad attitude, I don’t think my bones will change before I leave.

While I had thought the class was 60 minutes, I was a little disappointed to find out it was 90 minutes. It was a hard class! During the second half of the practice, I had to take it easy and sit some poses out. There was a lot of lying down/sitting up motions, and my stomach protested against this. I guess Sienna’s warning of nausea was warranted. Richard walked past me (he didn’t perform any of the poses, with apparently is how bikram goes) and checked on me a few times, which I greatly appreciated.

I also noticed that I wasn’t quite as flexible as I would have been after a workout. The hot room was heating me from the outside in, while a workout would warm me from the inside out. I can touch my toes better after a good weight lifting session than I can halfway into a bikram yoga class.

At the very end of the class, Richard left us lying in a meditation/relaxation pose, and then propped the door to the studio open. I loved Richard at that point because cool air slowly began to filter into the room and I felt like I could breathe again. I was completely soaked in sweat, as was my towel, but I was not as sweaty as some of the other participants. A couple of people had a small moat around them and their mats.

I slowly got up and made my way out of the studio. I drank a lot of water. Sienna and I caught up a little more, and then I changed out of my sopping wet clothes to go home.

I deliberately waited a day before posting this because I wanted to see how I felt the next day. Answer… OK, but not great. My side is pretty sore where I overstretched it. Would I go back to hot yoga again? Heck no. But I’m realizing that one of the benefits to my challenges challenge is that I’m getting to see some old friends I haven’t seen in a while, and that’s pretty awesome.

Finding My Voice… Again

I first started finding my voice in university. I went far away from my home in Oakville, Ontario, to the beautiful little Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec. It was tough being away from my family and high school friends, but it was also one of the best decisions of my life.

During my first year at university, Bishop’s full-time students numbered about 1800, which was only a little larger than my high school. The small size, in addition to the rampant partying at the school, allowed me to make some life long friends, and a huge amount of acquaintances. I would walk 15 minutes to campus in second year, and be able to say hi or wave to about half of the people I saw.

It was here that I realized that my voice was valuable. In class, at parties, and in extra-curricular activities, I started speaking up and voicing my opinions. I had done this a little in high school, but I didn’t think anyone was listening to me. Now, at university, I was not just saying words, but making my statements heard.

Between my third and fourth year at school, I decided to take some time off and do some travelling. I travelled for 10 months throughout Europe and Australia, and most of my travel was done solo. I had to speak to complete strangers at a new hostel every few days, in addition to meeting locals (many of whom did not speak English) on a daily basis. I gained a sense of independence and self-confidence that had eluded me before: if I could navigate my way around a foreign city, I could do anything.

After completing my university degree, I found a couple of jobs and moved to Toronto. I was working as an executive assistant at a retail design firm, and also giving tours on the big red sightseeing buses. As the youngest person in the retail design firm (by several years), I focused on being clear and well-spoken, and through a lot of trial and error (as well as some very supportive bosses), I learned to state my thoughts confidently.

A few months into these employments, I also started doing improv comedy. Once I got over my stage fright (six months and countless silent performances later), I felt pretty confident going up on stage and being ridiculous in front of a crowd. I was finding my voice, and learning to use it.

I left those jobs to cycle my way across Canada, and when I returned I started working at a fitness facility, which included a pool and gym. I was working as a lifeguard in the pool, and a sort-of consultant in the gym – basically, I was enforcing rules, while also getting to know members.

This meant that a lot of people didn’t like what I had to say. A lot of people were either defensive and rude to me, or angry and aggressive. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great people there, but on bad days they were often overshadowed by a horrible member’s behaviour. I had a guy yell at me for several minutes because I asked him to put his bag in a locker. I got called more names than I care to recount.

Even when I had pleasant conversations with members, I was still guarding my tongue. I stopped stating my opinions because no one wanted to hear them; people were happier talking at me than to me.

There were also a lot of sexist undertones to the conversations I started having. When I was carrying a 45 lbs. weight up a flight of stairs, someone told me it was good practice for motherhood. While I was cleaning a machine, a guy told me I would make a great housewife. I had to explain to a member why it wasn’t ok for him to say to his male buddies that he loved Lululemon while I was walking away from him.

I also started watching the way I spoke to members: I found that asking politely and succinctly worked better when enforcing rules, because it meant I wasn’t embarrassing anyone. Apparently men don’t like having behaviour corrected by a female, especially in a gym setting.

I started realizing that new people I was meeting (outside of the gym and pool environments) weren’t getting to know the real me, because I was getting lost under layers of fear, self-doubt, and apathy. My stage fright came back, and I stopped pushing myself to try new things. I was at a complete stand still and started getting frustrated with myself for my lack of drive and passion. I was losing the things I loved about myself.

And then I quit my job.

I quit because this wasn’t the career path I wanted to be on, and also because I had identified the source of my stalemate. My job was making me doubt myself and my abilities, and stopped me from being myself, finding a vocation I was passionate about, and pursuing hobbies that I loved.

I’m two and a half weeks out of work, and I haven’t been this happy in a long time. I’ve been doing my challenges, writing, reading, doing good improv again, podcasting (more to come), cycling, leading tours, making friends with strangers, reaching out to old friends, and applying to amazing jobs. I feel more confident; I’m starting to recognize again that my opinions are valid, and that by not speaking up and out I am denying people the privilege of getting to know me and hear my voice. Because I’m worth knowing.

Girl Yelling Close Up

Week 4: Head Shots

I know it seems like a long time since I posted a weekly challenge – it’s just because I did my tattoo last Monday, and then head shots the next Friday. So while it seems like I cheated, I didn’t!

Last year, my friend’s boyfriend, Sam, wanted to learn to swim. So we came up with an exchange: I taught him how to not drown in 3 feet of water, and he would do head shots for me (he’s an amazing photographer). We met a couple of times and he made a lot of progress in the water, but I never took him up on the head shots. I don’t know why, it just wasn’t a priority.

When I mentioned my challenges challenge on Facebook, Sam and Liz (his girlfriend) suggested I actually get the head shots done. So we arranged a time.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous for this. OK, a lot nervous. I don’t like being the visual centre of attention; while I don’t mind being on stage or speaking in front of a large audience, the idea of walking down a catwalk with all eyes on me makes me nervous. And don’t think that I don’t realize how ridiculous this sounds. No one has ever asked me to be in a fashion show (obviously), and these head shots would be me in a room with a friend whom I feel comfortable with. But I still felt a lot of pressure.

People would be looking at these photos. Really looking at my face, and all my features, and my ability to pose for a picture, and my ability to look pretty. Yep, there it is. Would I look pretty enough in these pictures? I wasn’t so worried about what other people would think, but about what I would think of myself.

I think we all probably feel this way at some time. “I don’t like the way I look. I don’t like the way I dress. I don’t like myself.” Pictures have a way of forcing us to look at ourselves in what can be a harsh light, and we don’t always like what we see.

Whoa. OK, I realize how deep that just got, so I promise the rest of the blog post will be a lot lighter.

Because it was a great experience! I showed up to Sam’s apartment/studio on Friday afternoon, and mentioned my nervousness to him. I was also feeling a little under the weather, at the very beginning stages of a cold, so I wasn’t feeling particularly beautiful. He said not to worry, and so I didn’t.

He sat me down and asked me what I would be using these head shots for. Ummm… to have? That’s probably not a great answer. In retrospect this may have been another influencer for why I waited so long to get the head shots. I don’t know what I want to use them for. Do I want to act? Do I want them for a business profile? Or do I want to have them just to have a nice photo of myself? Deep thoughts, my friends.

Sam helped me pick out the right shirt to wear (I had spent the morning frantically selecting and ironing a few shirts), and we began.

Sam had me sit on a stool in front of a white back drop, and started chatting with me. We talked about my unemployment, my challenges challenge, his new employment, and other things. He was snapping photos the whole time. Occasionally he would ask me to move a little this way, or tilt my head a little that way, but otherwise I was left to my own devices. We laughed quite a bit and it was a very relaxed atmosphere.

An hour and several poses later, we were done. That was it. Completely pain free.

I am now very excited to see the end results.

A "sneak peak" of my head shots! Photo credit: Saajid Sam Motala

A “sneak peak” of my head shots!
Photo credit: Saajid Sam Motala

Week 3: Tattoo me!

Oh man, it’s been a painful couple of days. Because my week 2 challenge (waxing) happened on a Saturday, and my week 3 challenge (a tattoo) happened on a Monday, my body sort of hates me right now.

Long ago, when I first thought about getting a tattoo, I promised myself that I would have to absolutely love something for one whole year before getting it permanently inked into my skin. Over a year ago, I saw a friend’s tattoo of the world map on the tops of her feet and decided I had to have it. (Side note: I just realized this was also Natalie, the girl from the aerial class. I promise I’m not obsessed with her and copying her every move.) Thirteen months later, here we are.

I went into BluGod in downtown Toronto last week for a consult, and met with John Russo, my tattoo artist. He had been recommended to me by a heavily tattooed friend from work, who insisted that Johnny was the best person for what I wanted. I think Johnny had just woken up (my appointment was very early for artsy folk, at 11am), and it was a brief and to-the-point consult. I was pretty sure I was ready.

I went down again today and signed yet another waiver! Although, the girl there said that if a tattoo parlour doesn’t make me sign a waiver, I should probably walk away. Good point.

John and I discussed the placement of the tattoo, what thickness of needle he would be using (to balance detail with staying power), and how big the image should be. After my mis-communication with my waxer, I was not afraid to be vocal with my tattoo artist. He made a stencil of the image and placed it on my feet. I was getting very excited.

“Do you have any other tattoos?”

“No, this is my first”

“And you started with your feet? Why?”

Oh shit. Was this a bad idea? I told John about quitting my job and my challenges challenge and how I had gone for a bikini wax a few days ago, so this couldn’t possibly be as bad as that. John just laughed a little. But he also told me how he used to be in construction and quit that a few years ago to pursue tattooing.

Here’s how I chose to look at it: women get brazilian waxes every few weeks, but I only have to sit through a tattoo once. So really, who’s smarter? Except I had both in a matter of 3 days, so maybe this isn’t the best way of looking at things.

The needle started and I took a deep breath, and it wasn’t that bad. Just like the waxing, there were parts that weren’t so bad, and there were parts that were quite bad. I quite enjoyed the northern countries, but did not care so much for the southern hemisphere. John was nice to talk with; I imagine many tattoo artists double as therapists.

One of the other employees is a very nice person named Kat. She has more piercings and tattoos than I can count (and I can count pretty high). She walked by the room I was in during a particularly painful country, and just stood there and laughed at the expression on my face. I’m glad I amused her.

After less than 30 minutes under the needle, I was done. I got the instructions for touch ups and after care, got a big black bandaid, and was on my merry way. Because of the location of my tattoo (on the top of my feet), I wore flats. This was a mistake. I hadn’t worn these shoes in a while and they ripped up the backs of my feet, making the commute home much more painful than piercing my skin repeatedly with an inky needle.

I am very happy with the results of my tattoo, and I can completely understand why people get addicted to them. I think I get a discount if I go back for a facial piercing, which would be really cool. Just kidding, mom.

My cool new foot tattoo! (Red lines are just pen to mark the middle of my feet)

My cool new foot tattoo!
(Red lines are just pen to mark the middle of my feet)