the 100 postcard project

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As soon as I read this post by Naomi Bulger, I ran to the library and bought a thick stack of postcards to put in the mail. Mrs. Bulger, an avid snail-mail advocate and illustrator, is on a mission to send one thousand postcards to strangers around the world in 2017. You can sign up on her website to receive yours very soon.

Her project made me think about how much I love receiving handwritten notes in the mail, and how I want to give other people the excitement of spotting an unexpected card in their mailbox.

My mail slot is the top one in my corridor. I have to stand on my tippy-toes to look inside every morning, convinced that a tiny envelope or sweet postcard could have slid to the back. Most days it’s empty – but when it’s not, I unlock the little door, grab my mail and twirl down the hall to my room to open it.

So I went out and bought a stack of postcards, and if you’d like, I’ll send one your way. Just fill in your name and mailing address below. I’ll never share it or use it for anything else.

As Naomi writes on her blog, I’d love to send you a line from a poem, a story, a recipe, or something else that I hope will brighten your day. And maybe (fingers crossed) you’ll turn around and send someone a postcard, too.

all the things I didn’t know

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I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafes as I write this. The walls are covered in blue and white striped wallpaper, and when you order a piece of cake they always ask if you want ice cream on the side. My kind of place.

I didn’t expect this when I moved to Sweden just over two months ago. I didn’t know about the country’s obsession with coffee or how meeting at a cafe (aka going for fika) is a national institution. I had no idea how to order in a restaurant, and to be honest I’m still too afraid to try, but I’m getting there. I didn’t expect to find a cafe right next to the river in my home-away-from-home where I can sit and work for hours, and feel like I belong.

I had never been to Sweden before I moved here for an exchange (although I go to IKEA on a regular basis, so there’s that). Despite all my research and devouring every Swedish detective series on Netflix, there are still so many things I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know before I got here.

“You never know until you try,” has been ringing in my ears since I got here. Or, in my case, “you never know until you pack a suitcase full of woefully weather inappropriate clothes and hop on a plane.” So here are a couple things I’ve learned. Maybe you can tell me some of yours, too.

(Some of) The Things I Didn’t Know:

  • Tote bags and purses will hit your wheels while you bike and make steering a nightmare – use a backpack instead
  • Swedes say “Hej!” but Norwegians prefer “Hei!” (both conveniently English-sounding so it’s easy to fake)
  • Everyone has a black wool coat and everyone looks amazing even when it’s -10 degrees outside
  • It will be -10 degrees outside at times. Pack more sweaters
  • Every window you pass has plants and flowers in it. It makes the long, dark winter a little more cheerful. Also, people leave their living room curtains open a lot – stop looking in, it’s weird
  • There are vegan, soy, and laktosfri options for everything here (including yogurt and feta cheese. I mean everything)
  • Sweden has great secondhand shops, even if half the clothes inside are from H&M (it’s still Swedish though, right?)
  • Spring in Sweden goes from 20 degrees and sunny one day to grey and snowing the next. Dress in layers and try not to be too disappointed
  • Fika is everything. It basically means going for coffee, taking time out from your day, by yourself or with friends, and it will become your new way of life
  • Swedish is similar enough to English and German that sometimes you can catch what people are saying. Okay, maybe “sometimes” is too strong a word
  • Riding your bike home on the first warm (ish) day of spring is the best feeling in the entire world

It took me a long time before I even knew why I had come to Sweden in the first place. But two months in and I think I finally have something close to an answer: I want to be the type of person who, when presented with crazy, amazing, outlandish opportunities, is brave enough to say yes.

So here’s to three more months and a lot more learning, with love from Uppsala, Sweden.

hey Monday

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It’s a Monday, and that usually means one of three things:

  1. It’s awful
  2. It’s awful
  3. It’s really not that bad

I’m writing this because this morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I’m on my second cup of coffee, slowly coming to terms with the fact that the weekend is over and giving up isn’t an option. I’m writing this because these are all the things I needed to hear, and I thought you could use them too.

So if you’re ever having a tough day – Monday or otherwise – here are a few things I’d like you to remember:

Good morning. It’s a Monday, and that means that you need to wake up and face the day. Stare down your to do list, hop on the bus, get to class and just keep going. Because no matter what you have to do today, you are the very best person for the job.

You are strong – the kind of strong that can stand up to chilly mornings and 7 am alarms. Even rude drivers and grumpy professors can’t match you. You are strong enough to move mountains, carry around venti lattes, and lift other people up.

You are kind – kind enough to meet eyes with gloomy strangers on their way to work and smile. Kind enough to shake off your tiredness, say thank you when the barista hands you your coffee, and give up your seat on the bus even when you really, really don’t want to.

And lastly, you are graceful. You might be the kind of person to complain – loudly, vividly – when forced to get out of bed before noon, but you’ve got the kind of grace that makes Monday bearable. You aren’t afraid of struggle and you don’t back down from bad days. You pull yourself together, not just once a week but on the daily, toss off the blankets and go.

Monday might be the day that we blame for our troubles (see: Garfield), but you are so many great things every day of the week.

It takes grit, heart, and a whole lot of willpower to to keep on going. So this is a friendly reminder to stop, add an extra sugar to your tea and play some Kanye on your commute. I hope you have a good Monday, Tuesday, any-day-of-the-week and remember, it can be tough but you are so much more.

on consumption (part 2)

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I met a boy once who wore the kind of jeans you could tell were ripped by hand, by accident, by adventure, not by a machine not in a factory. He had dark brown eyes and grass stains on his knees. We introduced ourselves, exchanged names and majors, and then moved on to something bigger.

I have this charming (read: unsettling) habit of flying through small talk at a thousand miles a second until, ten minutes in, we’re discussing religious extremism, global warming or, in this case, consumption.

“I’m trying to live a zero waste lifestyle,” he said, then went on to describe how he brought mason jars to the grocery store to buy things in bulk.

The most remarkable thing about this boy, though, was that he didn’t make me feel bad. Me, standing in front of him in my H&M jeans and my Forever 21 sweatshirt. Me, who was so used to feeling guilty that anything else felt strange.

He wasn’t showing off or trying to make me feel small. Sometimes people are looking for more than that.

I didn’t know this would turn into a conversation about consumption. In hindsight, it seems obvious. How can we talk about the things we buy without talking about why we buy them, where they come from, and what we owe in return?

After 30 days without buying any material items – that doesn’t seem like a lot when I write it down until I stop and think about all the times in those 30 days that I considered buying something extra and said no and I realize how easy it is to buy stuff unless you have a good reason not to – I want to make what I do purchase worthwhile.

Nancy Ray’s original Contentment Challenge has a lot to do with God. With pushing yourself to be more spiritual, more devoted. I think my challenge has more to do with people.

I’ve talked to friends, neighbours and loose acquaintances who are probably alarmed by my enthusiasm to chat about sweat shops. I am hearing stories and tips from people who build capsule wardrobes and sew their own clothes.

I didn’t know this would turn into a conversation at all, but it has.

In order to continue the conversation, here are six beautiful brands that are changing the game. They produce quality goods in ethical ways and make you look great in the process:

1/ Purpose Jewelry employs survivors of modern-day slavery to make handcrafted necklaces, earrings and rings. The proceeds support International Sanctuary, a non-profit that cares for women rescued from sex trafficking.

2/ Loly in the Sky is just the cutest thing. Their quirky flats and ultra-girly aesthetic are all handmade with love in Mexico.

3/ The Peace Collective is close to my heart and to my country. Their line of t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats are both stylish and a shout out to Canada. Plus, a portion of every sale goes to buy school lunches for low income Canadian kids.

4/  Madewell is another brand that’s, um, made well. They have everything from jeans to dresses to purses, all with a focus on quality and responsible sourcing.

5/ Everlane‘s #knowyourfactories option lets you take a look inside the places where their products are made, keeping things as transparent as possible.

6/ Oliberté is a sustainable shoe company that manufactures its products in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and supports African workers’ rights. In 2013, they became the first ever fair trade shoe company.

Check out The Good Trade for more ethical fashion choices and please sent me your recommendations. Cheers to 30 days – and many more – of trying our best.

travel guide: Portland, OR

You’ve probably heard this before, but let me be the first to say it bold-italic-underlined: Portland is cool. From handmade stationary to vintage clothes to overflowing bookstores, Portland officially lives up to the hype. It’s all cloudy mornings, long bike rides, and books with notes scribbled in the margins. I spent four days there in May and if you can ever make the trip, I promise you’ll want to get Big Foot tattooed on your chest immediately. Here are a few things to do once you get there!

Eat:

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A rosemary and kalamata olive bagel (plus one of every other kind). I don’t know if I’ve been living under a carbohydrate-deficient rock my whole life, but bagels have never been a big deal to me. Until Portland. My dear friend Lillie took me to Bagel Land (as if the name alone isn’t proof of it’s quality) and we got back to her house with a paper bag full of different flavours of amazing. Spielman’s is just as good but more expensive and trendy.

Food carts. These compact food-trucks-turned-permanent-residents line a whole city block. You can find Polish food, Thai curries and cheese burgers – and if enjoying all that amazing food means sitting on the curb next to a parking inspector’s booth, that’s just fine. Check out this site for more info.

Homemade rhubarb crumble ice cream at Salt & Straw. Usually there’s a line up going around the building, but it’s worth the wait – and they’ll let you sample every single flavour it you ask nicely.

Shop:

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Thrift stores – and Portland has a huge selection. They vary in price, though, so if you’re expecting Salvation Army prices you might be disappointed. The quality and variety more than makes up for the $15+ price though (USD am I right?). Crossroads Trading Co. is a bit more hipster while Buffalo Exchange feels a little rock and roll, but you should devote at least an hour to each.

Powell’s Books. Powell’s isn’t exactly a hidden gem but it is definitely a gem. Most people who’ve heard of Portland have also heard of this massive bookstore which takes up an entire city block (and that’s only one of their locations). Even if you don’t want to buy anything, grab a book and curl up on the floor for a couple hours (you won’t be the only one).

Friends of the Library store, located right next to Portland’s stunning Central Library. This was the first place my friend took my in Portland, and I couldn’t have been happier. You’ll find all kinds of book-themed products, like socks, bags, and t-shirts. You’ll also find a wall of postcards designed by local artists – send one to everyone you know, telling them how much you heart Portland.

Do:

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See a movie at Living Room Theatres and grab dinner at the same time. Yes, they serve full meals and bowls of buttery popcorn right to your seat (I hope I’m not the only one who finds this very, very cool)! And you can enjoy an independent or foreign film while you’re at it.

Visit Saturday Market (now available on Sundays, too!). This overflowing stretch of vendors includes everything from home decor made from bent cutlery to handbags made from old children’s books. It’s a very eclectic bunch and an easy way to spend a whole morning. I had my palm read by a woman named Maria who misspelled half the words in her bio. I couldn’t understand half of what she was saying, but that only adds to the mystique, right?

Grab a car (or a willing friend with a US driver’s license) and leave the city. Oregon is full of stunning nature, waterfalls, hiking trails, and Cape Kiwanda. We made it to the Cape on a gloomy morning and took dramatic ocean pictures, but by midday the sun came out and families and surfers crowded the shore. There’s also excellent milkshakes at a cafe nearby.

Enjoy every brick building, Mexican restaurant, colourful mural and public library you can. Portland will take you in with open arms.

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on contentment (part 1)

 

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I was standing in the middle of the mall in late November, weighed down with shopping bags from half a dozen stores, and I felt more like a wisp of smoke than a person.

A boy had broken up with me (like boys sometimes do), and it left me reeling. I didn’t want to continue being who I was. So I went for Plan A, my first course of action whenever I was feeling stressed, depressed or lost from myself, my coping mechanism and my guilty pleasure – I went shopping.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve tried to exchange dollars for a new identity. When I was thirteen, I bought a pile of black clothes (t-shirts, dresses, too-big corduroy pants; I wasn’t picky) at the thrift store because I decided I needed to be more serious. A few years later I loaded up on all things flowy and lace and filled my iPod with folk music, because obviously this made me thoughtful and dreamy.

Sometimes I wish I had kept everything (I haven’t) so that my closet could double as a museum of all the people I have wanted to be.

A couple hours later, frustrated and tired and desperately craving a Cinnabun, I was forced to admit something that I had hoped – had wished – wouldn’t apply this time:

Stuff doesn’t change you. Stuff can’t make you who you want to be.

To clarify: No, I’m not a hoarder but yes, I like stuff. My dorm room is full of Christmas lights and coffee mugs; I have way too many shades of red lipstick; and I fundamentally disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t own more books than you can read in your lifetime.

For 21 years, my identity has changed, my priorities have shifted, my style has radically improved (I don’t care if you don’t like the way I dress now, you should’ve seen me in 5th grade), and I’ve always used material possessions to reflect that.

I know that I’m lucky. I know that it’s an outrageous privilege to be in my position, and I am trying to recognize that privilege rather than abuse it.

Let me be clear: I’m not a horrible person. I don’t spend money I don’t have, I try to donate to causes I believe in, and I know the things we have don’t make us who we are. But I always manage to convince myself to add one more thing to my shopping basket while I’m in line to pay at the store (it’s probably Pez. It’s almost always Pez).

So, for thirty days this June I am trying something new: Contentment.

A blogger named Nancy Ray created something called the Contentment Challenge. You don’t buy anything beyond the essentials, and replace all that time and energy with powerful books or a new hobby.

Nancy kicked it off with 90 days – I’m starting small and working my way up. If you want to save money, live simply, or practice the art of contentment, please join in.

This means that throughout June, I will limit my spending to gifts and groceries. I will try to be thoughtful about the things I do buy and stop dwelling on the things I don’t. And I will stop confusing who I am with what I have.

dark circles

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Last night I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed. My neighbour came in and we made eye contact in the mirror in that sort of half-true way when you aren’t sure which face to look at. He raised his eyebrows.

In the mirror, side by side, the differences between us were striking. His olive skin next to my paleness, his short hair to my curls. His brown eyes met my green ones, then instantly darted down: to the splotches of purple, black and blue that have been a fixture on my face for as long as I can remember.

“You should get some sleep,” he said. “You look so tired.”

Thumbing through my phone somewhere around midnight (maybe he had a point), I found an old note that I remember writing on my commute home from work last summer. When I used to fall asleep on the bus nearly every morning and smile at the floor when people looked my way.

If anyone has ever told  you you look tired; if you’ve ever felt tempted to give up on something big and take a break from your dreams; to the people with dark circles under their eyes – this is for you:


Today I am tired. Today the skin under my eyes looks bruised, like someone has been pressing their thumbs against my cheekbones and I guess that would explain the lack of sleep.

Today I layered on foundation, concealer, foundation. I tried to patch up sleepless nights like cracks in the concrete.

Thought but never spoken: My face is a construction zone. I am something to be fixed.

But why can’t we look at each other – Monday morning or Friday afternoon, over breakfast or on the way to work – and instead of pointing out our flaws, whisper, “You look so strong this morning. You look determined. I am proud of you for waking up.”

Because bags under your eyes don’t mean ugly. They don’t mean worn thin or barely holding on. They are your body’s clumsy sign language, characters in an unfamiliar alphabet, litmus strips marking dedication and grit. They stand for late nights dreaming and planning and doing. Those circles under your eyes mean flashlights under blankets, the soft glow of a laptop screen, the solo beating of your heart when everyone else is fast asleep.

And so the next time someone points it out to me, with concern or with laughter in their voice, I will smile, thank them, and keep going.

I look tired because I’m trying. And I will rep my tribe, purple and blue smudges under messy, half-asleep eyeliner scribbles. 7am or half past midnight. The early risers and late night dreamers.

We are here and we are trying.