A kind of home. Canada Photo Diary.

I left Canada when I was young with a broken heart and every intention of going back as soon as I could. I traveled to the north of England for university and cried every night for a month because I was so home sick - I missed my friends, I'd just sold my horse and it broke my heart, I missed my life. But slowly over time I built a new life for myself without even realising it. For the next five years I walked such a rocky, slippery path that was the most challenging part of my life up until that point, although I didn't realise it at the time - I was becoming myself.

I did go back to Canada. For a summer at first, and then a quick passing visit, and then a four year gap, and then I started dating a Canadian boy (spoiler alert: my future husband) who grew up a few streets over from me. It always makes me laugh that I traveled half the world to marry someone I met when I was eight.

But somehow between that first summer and now, over a decade has passed and I've spent almost no time roaming the city that held my heart so many years ago. It has been a long time since it felt like home and while I loved that time in my life, I couldn't wish for it back again - only because what I have now is so amazing. The life I've created for myself is so much better.

This visit I had a little more time to myself, and I wandered around taking it all in. A part of me realised I'd been holding it at arms length for so long because I almost didn't want to remember, in case it was painful. But it wasn't in the end. I just remembered how much I used to love it and how it used to feel like home. It doesn't anymore and that's ok, it doesn't always have to feel painful to let things go. It feels like a different kind of home now, mostly a home to so many people I love - and a wonderful place to keep returning to.

A summer life.

Some photos from our trip to Canada this summer, and some thoughts on making decisions.

I feel like it’s been so long since I’ve written anything of any length that I’ve almost forgotten how to write! My ability to put down words is nothing short of temperamental at the moment, and sometimes the mood hits and other times I’m left staring at a blank screen, and then wandering off to make a snack and think about it another day. I’ve become the master of putting things off lately, not because I’m being lazy, but because sometimes that’s the only way I can cope. I put an absurd amount of pressure on myself and the burden of that is sometimes paralysing – in the urge to make myself make decisions, I just don’t. I freeze and then get mad at myself for failing.

So taking the pressure off by telling myself “it’s ok, you don’t need to decide right now” has worked so well for me over the past few months. I’ve just drifted along in a sea of doing things when they “feel right”. And for these past few beautiful summer months I have lived almost pressure free, with only a few lapses into stressful thoughts.

And now that we’re nearing the end of summer and I’ve given myself a good solid break from making any decisions, I now find that I don’t feel like I need to put things off as much anymore. I’ve gone from feeling like I need to give myself some room to breathe, to feeling like it’s time to stop worrying and just go with my gut right in the moment.

I’m so surprised that making quick decisions can feel as liberating as allowing myself room to decide.  But as much as I crave solid rules for life and living (the title of my future memoir – jokes!), the best thing I feel I can keep in mind is that each situation is going to require me to act differently. Sometimes I’m going to have to pause and tell myself “it’s ok, you don’t have to decide right now”, and other times I’m going to have to tell myself, “don’t look, just leap”.
There are no sold rules for life and living, there is only being patient with yourself and taking the time to know when you need to pause, and when you need to run.

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You'll find me at the lake.

I wish I had enough photos to post about our time in Canada all year round. I'm a little sad that this is my last post about the cottage, and that we only managed to be there for one week when I don't think one month would have been enough.

For all of September I don't have one single flight to catch! I'm happy to have so much time at home as I have so many projects that have been waiting for my attention for far too long. I'm almost as excited for a month of life admin as I am for our next trip! Almost.

But considering the next time we catch a flight we will be making our way to Hawaii, I don't think I could be much more excited about anything else. 

This chilly London weather does make me wish for that wood burning stove up there though. It makes me miss my long swims in the lake and then warming up in a big jumper afterwards. I still refuse to believe that this strange weather means the end of summer, but the fact that I'm wearing my coat indoors doesn't give me a lot of hope.

Still though, the changing of the seasons is a beautiful thing and I'm always excited for the wonderful things that colder weather often brings with it.

 

 

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Cabin Life

Unless you break up routine, days can easily flow seamlessly up here without too much to distinguish one from the next. And that's the best part about it. It sounds monotonous, but it isn't, it's such a relief. For a short time, there's no friction, no surprises, no deadlines, and rain or shine you know that the only responsibility you have is to make the most of each day - and the only person you're responsible to for that is yourself. 

At Adam's family cottage there are two beaches on either side to choose from, and on this visit we spent most days planted firmly in the sand, reading books and playing with babies. We used the Lovin Summer shade from Bear&Bear to keep out of the sun, and as much use as it was for the kids, I think Friday the Dog was the biggest fan.

{she just bided her time until it was unoccupied and moved in like it was no big deal}

I spent some time with a different sort of baby when I found this little red squirrel - or rather, it found us. As cute as it was, it broke my heart a little. It clearly didn't know that people were to be avoided, he was desperate to climb up and sit on a person any way it could manage, and kept chasing me through the woods and along the beach just trying to get as close as possible.

I carried it in my t-shirt out into the forest and left it on a log, making sure it had some food and trying not to touch him too much, even though my heart was breaking to wrap it up and keep in warm and safe. Every time I put it back it would chase me along the path just trying to catch up, and Adam had to remind me that leaving it was the right thing to do, and that I wasn't doing it any favours by encouraging it's attachment to people. But I was kept awake at night worrying about it, and how it would survive acting more like a house pet than a wild animal. We never saw it after that, and sometimes I still worry about where it is and how it's doing. 

Apart from the odd lost baby animal, most days are about eating, swimming, and making the most of chatting in person instead of over Skype. Catching up on all things from the celebrations to the daily routines that you don't always get to know about when you live countries away from each other. 

 

 

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From sunset to sunrise, Canada.

I've been deliberating over how to share our time in Canada here for a few days, and I've decided to go chronologically - keep it simple. So let's start with the travel: one taxi, tube, train, flight, road-trip and boat ride later later, we arrived at the cottage on the lake feeling sleepy and content. Full of roadside poutine and the realisation that we're getting better and better at handling jetlag, we stayed up to watch the sunset and catch up with family, and woke up just in time for the perfect sunrise. 

This trip to Canada was the first time that Adam and I had met baby Charlie, the latest addition to the family. So the first thing we did when we woke up was have a cuddle with him while we drank our coffee and waited for the wood-burning fire to heat up the cottage.

Adam hilariously (and I say that with only a mild touch of sarcasm) bought his three year old nephew this book as a present - so I would love to say that it was the soft chirping of birds and rustling of woodland creatures that roused us from bed, but it was actually the loud squeaks of a little voice yelling "POO BUM!!". 

Most mornings at the cottage look like this. Lounging around in pyjamas, making endless cups of coffee until everyone has had their fill, porridge for breakfast or maybe pancakes, and then that moment when you realise that maybe it's time to go outside...

 

 

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Coming home to yourself.

There is no better spot to recharge your body and refresh your mind than floating in the middle of a lake on a cloudy day, a good ten minutes swim from shore, staring up at the sky and thinking of nothing at all in the world but kicking your legs to keep above water.

On our annual trip back to Toronto, Adam and I try to get to the cottage for as long as possible. These days the cottage is more of a priority than the city because it usually works out to be our only week of phones-off relaxation every year. And it always surprises me how quickly my worries fall away, and it makes me realise that this blog seems mostly to be about how to maintain that feeling of worry-free living even when you live and work in a busy city.

Another thing that occurred to me on this trip was that I have now been living in the UK for longer than I have lived anywhere else. Does that make me officially British? I mean, a UK passport is the only passport I have so maybe so? I don’t really feel like any nationality though, I just feel like Freya – making my home in people and places since my time began.

It used to bother me that I didn’t have a home town, and while I also thought it was kind of cool being nomadic, it was also lonely and a bit of an exhausting feeling of not having a physical place to belong to.

These days I feel at home in a lot of places, and I find my home town in the feelings that come back to me from being little in a variety of places. Feelings such as floating in a big Canadian lake, becoming wrapped up in those lingering Ontario sunsets, the smell of an old growth forest with a history longer than I can even comprehend. The feeling of being wrapped up in a brand new Roots jumper that smells like a combination of back-to-school and chilly summer evenings around the fire.

As I get older and too busy to take in the world around me as much as I did when I was young, I anchor that feeling of home mostly in people, and I am more selective about those people than I ever used to be. I also ground that feeling of identity in the things that I choose to pour my time into: my photography, the books I read, the places I spend my time, the trips I go on.

And most of all I believe that home is yourself, it's where you belong. It’s in you and it’s somewhere that will never leave you. It will always be there to take care of you and welcome you with open arms, wrapping you up in comforting memories and smells like a brand new jumper, or lifting you up and encouraging you with the promise of new adventures and the belief that you can do anything. 

Sweater and Leggings c/o Roots

 

 

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Honest Ed's

What can I tell you about Honest Ed's? As far as ancient department stores go, it's pretty much the chief purveyor of half-priced junk you would never ordinarily buy, but do anyway because you can always find something you didn't know you've always needed - if that makes any sense.

This cavernous (and I really do mean cavernous) bargain bin is shabby in an iconic way. It has stood on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst for what seems like forever, and even though I was in Canada for roughly thirteen years, these photos are from my first and only visit a couple of weeks ago. 

As it turns out, Honest Ed's probably won't be around next time we go back to the city, the whole block on which it sits is up for sale. This seems to be happening a lot in Toronto lately, places like this that really give the city a personality are being knocked down to make way for condos and a Walmart. It's all a bit depressing.

Since the store opened in 1948 it has gained a reputation not only for bargains, but also for the lavish birthday parties thrown by Ed Mervish and their innovative marketing techniques. For example, Adam assured me that with every purchase at Honest Ed's you receive a free baby raccoon.

Even though I never got my baby raccoon, and I've only ever been to Honest Ed's once, I'll certainly miss seeing it whenever I head to downtown Toronto. With its hand-painted signs and the 23,000 lighbulbs it requires to light up its signs, there really isn't anything like it left in the city.

The Cottage - a Photo an Hour

7am the mornings are a bit chilly so we light the fire

8am coffee x 3

9am pancakes for breakfast

10am go fishing, without success

11am snack time for baby Felix

12pm time to chop some wood

1pm give Friday some cuddles

2pm currently reading The Rose Project (it's ok...)

3pm cut some trails until the bugs get too bad

4pm go for a walk, maybe a swim

5pm scrabble, I never win.

6pm bath time in the best tub ever

7pm ribs on the BBQ

8pm give Friday some cuddles

9pm watch the sun set

10pm bedtime, because the quiet just puts you to sleep

I look forward to this week up at the cottage every year and I'm always more than a little sad when it's over, I may have shed a tear or two this time. I spend the whole week reading while Adam goes all 'old man river' and chops wood for hours while talking about future construction projects and wearing his dad's beat up old Patagonia.

It really is my idea of heaven on earth. We have plans to one day live up there for an entire summer, but until then, we'll just have to wait until next year.

That Holiday Feeling

Looking back over these photos it's hard to believe that we were in Canada just two days ago. I was looking forward to that holiday so much, for so long, and then it just went by in a flash. I tried not to count the days while I was there, and lose time a little bit - just long enough to let that holiday feeling set in.

I'm glad to be back in London though, in my own place and my own bed. I'm also glad to be back to blogging, it's nice to take a break once in a while but I do miss it.

I've got some pretty fun posts to share over the next little while (including a couple of recipes that'll knock your socks off), I'm really looking forward to posting them.

The Cottage

The highlight of every trip back to Canada is always the time we take to go up to Adam's cottage. It's on a lake north of the city and so remote that we only saw a handful of people for the whole seven days we were up there. It's only accessible by boat, runs for the most part on solar power, and is miles from the sounds of the city.

Life at the cottage all about sleeping in, pancakes, chores in the sunshine, beer-o'clock, snacking, swimming, napping, cocktail hour, and amazing foods like ribs and homemade peach pie.

It's one of the things we look forward to the most when summer rolls around, and it's one of the hardest things we have to do every year when we pack up and leave. 

The cottage is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to be. Adam has a dream of taking a sabbatical from work to spend three months solid up there one summer - maybe one day.

Back from Toronto

I'm finally back in London, back to high-speed internet connections and Photoshop, which means no more neglecting my blog. I've missed writing a post every day and I'm happy to be back, if not overly happy to be back to my real grownup life. Why can't holidays last forever? Why? WHY?!

Anyway, the next few posts over here are going to be about Toronto, they're what I would have posted if I wasn't away from the internet or if my Dad actually had wireless at his house in the city (I know, right? Maybe the only person left who doesn't have wireless). I hope you like them:

Kensington Market is one of my favourite places to have a walk around when I go back to Toronto. It's all vintage shops and yummy coffee places, it's also conveniently located in China Town and right behind a certain Pho restaurant we all know I have a problem with.

I spent so much time in Kensington when I was younger, I think every teenager did, it was the cool place to be and still sort of is in a way. It's still full of ageing hipsters and has a lot of underground venues for fringe artists trying to ply their trade - it's very atmospheric.

Adam and I went for a walk after Pho one day and wandered into a few of our favourite shops, mine was always Courage My Love, probably because of the name - it's a hoarders paradise. We didn't buy anything, I'm not too much into vintage clothes because while I love to shop, I like to be in and out of a store as fast as possible and I don't have the patience for rooting around for those hidden gems. But I like the feel of vintage shops, snooping around old things and wondering where they've been and what they've seen. 

Vintage cowboy boots for example, I bet they've seen a lot!

I'm so happy to be back to my little blog, I've missed it, and I've missed catching up with all your blogs too. That's something to look forward to this week.

Toronto - More Pictures of Pho

A bloggers worst nightmare: taking photos and finding yourself unable to get them off your camera. Oh the frustration! I have so many lovely posts planned, but my computer is refusing to read my card or my iphone and after an hour and a half of trying to make it see reason, we're now at a bit of a stand off and refusing to speak to each other. I've tricked it into receiving some iphone photos that I uploaded to my Dad's computer and then emailed to myself... and here they are, surprise surprise, it's Adam and I eating pho (for the third time in three days I might add) and looking goofy.

Tomorrow I will have a serious heart to heart with my various bits of technology, and try to reconcile my camera and my laptop, hopefully I will be able to post something more interesting than just pictures of me stuffing my face. But for now, this will have to do.

Hello from Toronto - For the Love of Pho

Just a quick hello from Toronto - I'm pretty jet-lagged and off to bed for some much needed rest. Before I go though, I wanted to share some pictures of just one of the things that makes my annual long haul to Canada completely worthwhile (you know, apart from visiting friends and family): a large number 7 from my favourite pho restaurant.

It's a ritual for my Dad and I to go for pho almost as soon as I land in the city. I'm exhausted and craving my bed, but that doesn't stop me from jumping in the car and driving down town and trying not to lose consciousness into my giant bowl of soup before I can finish it. It's a balancing act between trying not to pass out, burn myself from eating too quickly, or feel sick from eating when It's 1am for my body and it's actually not even hungry. It's all very much worth it, really it is.