Books – 2018

So a couple weird things happened this year regarding me and books. First, I read a heck of a lot of non-fiction. Second, I listened to a lot of audiobooks. If you know me well, you know I am a ‘read a physical copy, fiction only’ type of reader. The answer to this weird year is that I worked at the sawmill for a large portion of it. Working at the mill meant that I had nearly two hours of commuting time every day in which I could listen to books but not read them – I get carsick plus it was always dark at least one way (hello shift work). Sometimes I had even more time where I could be listening to a book during the day, it depended on which particular job I found myself in. So that explains the audiobooks. But the reason for the non-fiction is related. I have tried audiobooks before and never really liked them because they changed the way I experienced and imagined the story. I started out listening to podcasts and when I got bored of those I realized that non-fiction books were kind of like listening to podcasts. I started out with autobiographical books that were read by the authors (very much like podcasts) and slowly branched out from there.

Here are the books I read. If there is * it means it was an audiobook. I ended up listening to a couple fiction audiobooks. This was mostly unintentional. I didn’t know The Hate U Give was fiction until after I had started it. And One More Thing was read by the guy who wrote it, so it slipped in as well.

Fiction

  • A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
  • One More Thing – BJ Novak*
  • Equivocation – Bill Cain
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Slapstick – Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Outside Circle – Patti LaBoucane
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas*
  • Birdie – Tracy Lindberg
  • Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  • God Bless You, Mr Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut

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Non-Fiction

  • Bossypants – Tina Fey*
  • Yes Please – Amy Poehler*
  • Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick*
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling*
  • Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling*
  • The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher*
  • When They Call You a Terrorist: a black lives matter memoir – Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele*
  • Wildflower – Drew Barrymore*
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou*
  • Mom & Me & Mom – Maya Angelou*
  • The Last Black Unicorn – Tiffany Haddish*
  • Orange is the New Black – Piper Kerman*
  • Beautiful Boy – David Sheff*
  • Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher*
  • Confessions of a Sociopath: a life spent hiding in plain sight – M.E. Thomas*
  • Tweak – Nic Sheff*
  • We All Fall Down – Nic Sheff*
  • Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter*
  • A Million Little Pieces – James Frey*
  • The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson*
  • Quiet – Susan Cain*
  • 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup*
  • Bitter Medicine – Clem and Olivier Martini
  • Hunger – Roxane Gay*
  • You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – Sherman Alexie*
  • This Will Only Hurt a Little – Busy Philipps*
  • I’m Afraid of Men – Vivek Shraya*
  • first, we make the beast beautiful: a new journey through anxiety – Sarah Wilson*

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My recommendations/favourites:

  1. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (Sherman Alexie) – This book was beautiful and has stuck with me in a visceral way. I think it was even more so because of the way Sherman read it. It is the first of his books that I have read and I must read more. It is a book that reflects back on his relationship with his mother and has a lot of stories from his childhood on his reservation. I highly recommend it.
  2. When They Call You a Terrorist: a black lives matter memoir (Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele) – If you want to learn about how the BLM movement started, this is the book and these are the people. It is very good and got me started on a trend of seeking out books by those who have had different experiences than me and doing my best to listen. I know it might be more enticing to read The Hate U Give if you are looking for a book about BLM because it is fictional and there is a movie, but you should really read this one instead. Or better, read both. But I would recommend this one first.
  3. Beautiful Boy (David Sheff) / Tweak (Nic Sheff) / We All Fall Down (Nic Sheff) – I know this is three books, but it is the same story. You kind of need to read all three to get the whole story. These books were very very engaging. At times they were sad and at times they were very frustrating. It feels like a very real description of addiction and the struggle to reach recovery. The upside of venturing into these is the knowledge that Nic is very much alive and well today.
  4. Bitter Medicine (Clem and Olivier Martini) – I had to read this one for school, but it was very good. It was written by brothers from Calgary and tells their story of learning to cope with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and interact with the health care system. Olivier drew the pictures and Clem wrote the words and together it is both powerful and informative.
  5. One More Thing (BJ Novak) – I love a good book of short stories and this is one of those. The first story in the book is one of my favourite short stories of all time.
  6. God Bless You, Mr Rosewater (Kurt Vonnegut) – I love Vonnegut. He has been my favourite author for years. I am working towards reading everything he has written.
  7. Birdie (Tracy Lindberg) – I selected this one off a list for one of my assignments last semester. It is fiction, but was written by Indigenous author and the events that it portrays very closely mimics things that have and continue to happen to Indigenous women. It is powerful and moving. If you want to start to understand the legacy of trauma embedded in Indigenous families and how it affects people differently, you should read this book. Even if you don’t, you should still read it.
  8. Quiet (Susan Cain) – This book is about introversion and helped my understand myself a little bit better.
  9. Mom & Me & Mom (Maya Angelou) – I read two Maya Angelou books this year and both were very good. She is a beautiful writer. I put this one on the list because I loved the way it used vignettes and stories throughout her life to show the relationship she had with her mother and how it changed and flowed.
  10. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) – This book took me FOREVER to finish. I’m talking like over a year. But it was a good story! And it left me with that heavy sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a long but good read. I am not going to dive into another Dostoyevsky right away, but I will be reading more of him in the future.

What I Read in 2018

I always used to set my reading goal at 52 books a year. It’s enough books that I have to push myself a bit to keep on reading, but also enough that I can usually exceed it and therefore feel accomplished and good about myself. Cut to my masters degree and my reading stats significantly dropped, and instead of ending the year with good feelings of accomplishment I found myself feeling bad about not reading “enough”. One of my 2018 resolutions was to be more gentle with myself, and one small way to do that was to lower my reading goal from 52 books to 30 books. Of course, I finished my degree in April and my reading took off, and I finished the year with a grand total of 71 books read.

I’m gonna insert a caveat here for the folks at home. I read a lot! Me reading a lot doesn’t make me a better person than anyone else! There is no reason to feel bad/guilty/ashamed if you read less than anyone else! Okay now to the list.

In the order I read them, with some notations:

Key: underlined = non-fiction, *asterisked = comic, bold = re-read, ^this symbol = in a series

  1. *The Coldest City / Anthony Johnston
  2. From Here to Eternity / Caitlin Doughty – if you read one book about death rituals this year let it be this one.
  3. Rosemary’s Baby / Ira Levin – terrifying!!!!!!!!!!!!
  4. ^Akata Witch / Nnedi Okorafor – Nigerian magic school!!
  5. *^Monstress, v. 1 / Marjorie Liu, et al – the art in this series is truly remarkable.
  6. *Hostage / Guy Delisle – I read and enjoy pretty much everything I find that Delisle writes, and this is in my top three of his books.
  7. *^Monstress, v. 2 / Marjorie Liu, et al
  8. */ Jon J. Muth – LISTEN I appreciate the Art of this book but if I wanted to watch I would just WATCH it I don’t need to read an exact transcription!!!
  9. *Mr. Higgins Comes Home / Mike Mignola
  10. *^Silk, v. 0 / Robbie Thompson, et al
  11. *^Silk, v. 1 / Robbie Thompson, et al
  12. Iron Cast / Destiny Soria – between this and Hadestown I can’t get enough of Prohibition.
  13. *^Silk, v. 2 / Robbie Thompson – a curse on Marvel for cancelling this ongoing!
  14. Horrorstor / Grady Hendrix
  15. *^Paper Girls, v. 1 / Brian K. Vaughan
  16. The Rules Do Not Apply / Ariel Levy
  17. The Book of a Thousand Days Shannon Hale – I have listened to this audiobook so many times that I have a great deal of it memorized; I love it so much. Whenever Josh is out of town I check it out of the library and listen to it to fall asleep.
  18. Attachments / Rainbow Rowell
  19. ^The Rook / Daniel O’ Malley – you can tell I was in the throes of the end of my last semester by three comfort reads in a row.
  20. ^Retribution Rails / Erin Bowman – I LOVE REVENGE.
  21. *^Paper Girls, v. 2 / Brian K. Vaughan, et al
  22. ^Birds of a Feather / Jacqueline Winspear
  23. ^Annihilation / Jeff VanderMeer – highly recommend this book, highly do not recommend reading it “to fall asleep” because you won’t and if you do have fun with those dreams.
  24. The Midwife’s Apprentice / Karen Cushman
  25. Overture to Death / Ngaio Marsh
  26. *^Scott Pilgrim, v. 1 / Bryan Lee O’Malley – it is almost jarring how many of the locations in this book are EXACTLY replicated in the movie (because they were modeled on irl places).
  27. *^Paper Girls, v. 3 / Brian K. Vaughan – if you like Stranger Things you will like Paper Girls.
  28. The Beauty / Aliya Whiteley – perhaps the weirdest book I have read in my entire life and that’s saying something. I loved it.
  29. The Ivington Diaries / Monty Don – I love plants, here I stand I can do no other.
  30. Eileen / Ottessa Moshfegh – I think I stared blankly at a wall for a good ten minutes after finishing this book.
  31. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death-Cleaning / Margareta Magnusson
  32. *^Scott Pilgrim, v. 2 / Bryan Lee O’Malley – tbh at this point I kinda lost interest in this series!
  33. The Princess Diarist / Carrie Fisher
  34. The Fire Next Time / James Baldwin – this was my first time reading Baldwin and I was absolutely floored. This slim volume is a must-read, for your own good.
  35. ^Pardonable Lies / Jacqueline Winspear
  36. Death With Interruptions / Jose Saramago – I was glad to have read Blindness before delving into this one. It was good to be a little bit prepared.
  37. *^Paper Girls, v. 4 / Brian K. Vaughan, et al
  38. ^Messenger of Truth / Jacquline Winspear – what can I say, I like a good mystery with a good female protagonist.
  39. ^Jurassic Park / Micheal Crichton – 2018 was the Year of the Dino for me and I have no regrets.
  40. Killer Fashion / Jennifer Wright – too short
  41. Undead Girl Gang / Lily Anderson – promising premise, ultimately disappointing.
  42. Pride and Prejudice / Jane Austen – I wanted to re-read this and discover if it is better than teenage me thought and newsflash: this book is an absolute treasure, how am I the FIRST person to figure this out?
  43. *Super Late Bloomer / Julia Kaye – recommend!
  44. ^Binti / Nnedi Okorafor
  45. The Problem With My GardenKendra Wilson
  46. *World War Z / Max Brooks – another audiobook I listen to repeatedly every year.
  47. NigelMonty Don – did I cry while reading this book about dogs and gardening? YES.
  48. Scatter, Adapt, and RememberAnnalee Newitz
  49. *^Inkheart / Cornelia Funke
  50. ^All Systems Red / Martha Wells – this is book one of the Murderbot series, and I urge you: do not pass go, do not collect $200, read Murderbot AS SOON AS POSSIBLE this is not a drill.
  51. The Poisoner’s Handbook / Deborah Blum – this book has it all: Prohibition! Poison! The beginning of modern toxicology!
  52. ^Binti: Home / Nnedi Okorafor
  53. Malagash / Joey Comeau – this is such a beautiful book, I want everyone to read it.
  54. One Bloody Thing After Another / Joey Comeau – Malagash was so good that I had to IMMEDIATELY read more by Joey Comeau.
  55. The Essex Serpent / Sarah Perry – not NEARLY enough paleontology, WAY too much adultery!
  56. Down to Earth / Monty Don
  57. The Mist / Stephen King – sometimes I get an Urge to read horror novels. I don’t know why!
  58. ^Binti: The Night Masquerade / Nnedi Okorafor – this series is excellent, I highly recommend for anyone who a) likes science fiction, or b) wants to expand their reading horizons.
  59. *Woman World / Aminder Dhaliwal – fun!
  60. ^Artificial Condition / Martha Wells – I’m not kidding: read Murderbot.
  61. *^Monstress, v. 3 / Marjorie Liu, et al
  62. They All Love Jack / Bruce Robinson – IT GOES ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!
  63. Sunshine / Robin McKinley
  64. *Spill Zone, v. 2 / Scott Westerfeld – kinda lackluster and unsatisfying, unfortunately
  65. Bird Box / Josh Malerman – saw the preview and said “it is time” and then went and got this book off my shelf and finished it post haste. It’s fine.
  66. *An Age of License / Lucy Knisley – I really like Lucy Knisley and “license” has got to be top ten worst words to spell in the English language.
  67. ^River of Teeth / Sarah Gailey – what if the wild west but with hippos?
  68. *The Initiates / Etienne Davodeau – tbh I’m not exactly sure when precisely I read this book this year because apparently Goodreads didn’t track it?? But I know I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have read Sabrina. Also: it is very good!
  69. *Sabrina / Nick Drnaso – I read this one because Nick Drnaso is one of the artists mentioned in The Initiates, and going in to the book I didn’t actually know what it was about. I’m not sure if that made the experience of reading it better or worse, and I’m not sure I liked this book.
  70. No Stone Unturned / Steve Jackson – if you’re interested in forensics this is a v good read.
  71. ^Rouge Protocol / Martha Wells – me, chanting: MURDERBOT! MURDERBOT! MURDERBOT!

Overall, a very good reading year! Here’s to 2019 and all the books to come.

I’m going to end this post with a strong exhortation to suggest books to your local library if that’s a thing you can do! In Edmonton I can suggest five books a month, and I try to hit that number regularly. Suggest authors from independent presses! Suggest books you think should have a wider audience! Suggest books you think would fill a hole in the library’s collection! Take part in the collection building at your local library!

Movies – 2018

I watched quite a few movies this year. This is not all of them, just most of them. Movies were included in this post because I particularly liked them or liked a part of them or they felt significant in some way or they were critically acclaimed movies I finally got around to seeing. Some movies I saw this year I didn’t include. Either because I didn’t like them/found them boring (hello, Ready Player One) or because they super didn’t live up to the hype and I didn’t understand why everyone loved them so much because even though parts of the movie were unique, the story as a whole was so unbelievable predictable that it almost wasn’t enjoyable at all (I’m looking at you, The Shape of Water).

Not all of these movies came out in 2018, but they are only included if I watched them for the first time in 2018. Anyways, here are the movies. I present most of them without comment or judgment simply because that would make for far too long a post. Please feel free to engage me on any of these movies the next time you see me or in the comments and I’d be happy to tell you what I thought. I will give my top 10 at the end.

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20th Century Women

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A Royal Affair

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A Simple Favor

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Almost Famous

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Annihilation

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Beautiful Boy

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Black Panther

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Blindspotting

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Call Me By Your Name

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Carol

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Crazy Rich Asians

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The Danish Girl

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The Edge of Seventeen

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Ex Machina

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Frances Ha

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Girl, Interrupted

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Happy Anniversary

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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I, Tonya

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Ingrid Goes West

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Landline

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Landline

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Like Father

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Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

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Mary Poppins Returns

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The Other Woman

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Sleeping With Other People

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Thor Ragnarok

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Up in the Air

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Okay, my top 10 (in alphabetical order, not in ranked order because it was hard enough just picking 10):

  1. 20th Century Women – a simple, authentic, indie drama. Honestly, my favourite kind of movie. Feels authentic and genuine without being overly heartfelt and emotional. I think this was the first time I’d seen Greta Gerwig act. I immediately looked up other movies she was in and watched Frances Ha, which was also very good.
  2. A Simple Favor – this movie is equal parts awkward and suspenseful. It was a very weird combo of feelings I shifted between while watching it. It went from absolutely cringeworthy – so awkward I can’t even watch – scenes to the biggest jump scare I think I’ve even encountered in a theatre. If I had been holding popcorn I definitely would have thrown it and I’m pretty sure I actually made audible noise. It manages to straddle a few different genres and leave you feeling like you watched something unique. I would definitely recommend it.
  3. Almost Famous – I met the lead singer of The Matinee in the summer of 2016 and he was shocked that I hadn’t seen this movie. He told me that I had to watch it and I told him I would. Then this fall I saw The Matinee play again here in Edmonton. I had to tell him I hadn’t seen it yet. I remedied the situation pretty soon after. Turns out he was right and this movie is fantastic. I don’t know how I missed it. I feel like I need to watch it a bunch more times because it had so many things to say about so many different things. It left me with the feeling that I definitely didn’t take it all in the first time. I loved it.
  4. Beautiful Boy – I listened to the books this movie was based on while I worked at the sawmill. It is based on the books David and Nic Sheff wrote about Nic’s meth addiction. The books were very good and I was looking very forward to the movie. I think I would have actually enjoyed the movie more if I hadn’t read the books first. I was so concerned that they were going to get the story wrong that I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the movie. But Timothée Chalamet was fantastic, the soundtrack was AMAZING, and it was filmed in the quiet sort of indie way that I love. I am not sure I am in love with Steve Carrel as David, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the movie for me.
  5. Black Panther – I feel like a million other people have watched this movie and written things about it. You already know what made this movie so good so I will just say that I liked it a lot.
  6. Blindspotting – this movie didn’t play at any theatres around here so I spent months waiting for this movie to finally come to iTunes so I could see it. It was written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal and is set in Oakland. It felt very important while not being overly heavy. Daveed and Rafael also play the main roles and they are both amazing. The movie follows Daveed’s character as he navigates his last three days of parole and witnesses a police shooting. You should watch it.
  7. Ex Machina – This is one I missed when it came out. I would definitely say it is in my top three for the year. I love this genre. This movie was beautiful and quiet and the first time you watch it you have no idea what is going to happen next. I love it. I’ve watched it two or three times this year and it feels like one of those ‘watch at least once a year’ kind of movies.
  8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – If you are picking up on the clearly defined type of movie I am into, it is probably no shock to you that this is on the list. I loved this movie. It made me nostalgic for NZ and it was quiet, beautiful, and unique.
  9. I, Tonya – This one mostly made the list because I was not expecting to enjoy it at all. I wouldn’t have chosen to watch it except that I was on a plane and the options were limited. I was almost annoyed that I liked it. But that scene, were Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is re-enacting Jeff Gillooly’s statement that she chased him with a shotgun and she turns to the camera and says, “this never happened,” won me over. It was the way that the movie was made that I loved.
  10. Landline – I love Jenny Slate. You might remember me writing another time about a movie I liked called Obvious Child. Well, this movie was made by the same people who made that one. I watched it in my hostel in Wellington and I had to watch it in two sittings because my daily wifi allotment ran out halfway through. And yes, you guessed it, it is a quiet, genuine but not trying too hard to be heartfelt, indie drama.

Honourable mention: Mary Poppins Returns – Maybe I am including this because I saw it most recently. But I don’t think so. I wasn’t expecting to love this movie, but I wanted to see it because Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins seemed like a great fit and I do love me some Lin-Manuel Miranda. Movies feel different now than they did when the first Mary Poppins was made; that is to say, I don’t think you could every recreate these days how those old movies feel. So this one didn’t feel like the old one. But it also didn’t feel like a watered down sequel. It lingered with me much longer than I thought it would and some of the songs are still stuck in my head. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda were fantastic. I liked it a lot.

Not So Merry Christmas 2018

The light is getting low, the year is winding down, the halls are being decked, and you know what that means: time for the most honoured tradition of this Christmas season. Yes, yes, it is time for a curated selection of some of the most depressing Christmas songs I could lay my paws on. Not So Merry Christmas has gone through so many stages and evolutions, from the mix CD made by my sister and I, to the new, improved, expanded CDs we burned each year, to a disk I mailed out to people who asked, to a giant list on spotify, and now, returning to its roots, an album-length selection of some old classics, some new favourites, and some only tangentially related to Christmas but it’s my party and I can cry if I want to. Literally!

Please, sob over enjoy this list of some exceedingly sad songs. I made it for you.

Here it is

Not So Merry Christmas 2018 will be public until Epiphany, as is tradition, and then it shall disappear until next year.

Vax.

As you know, my program (Occupational Therapy) is a course based Master’s program which consists of about 40% fieldwork (i.e. practicums or placements in the community). This means I will be interacting with and treating people in any number of environments and circumstances. It then makes perfect sense that in order to be in those places (hospitals, clinics, outpatient programs, home care, etc.) and to work with those people (babies, children, seniors, etc.) I need to prove that I have had all of my vaccinations. Both to protect myself from any diseases clients might attempt to pass to me and to protect clients who have not been vaccinated or have weakened immune systems (we all know about vaccines and herd immunity, right?).

Anyways, it turned out to be a slightly more involved process than I initially thought and in the end I was actually missing a few vaccinations. So here is the outrageously interesting story of my vaccination journey over the summer (spoiler: it’s not actually that interesting).

I should preface this with some history:

I don’t particularly like getting vaccinations. I mean to say, I don’t enjoy them. Who does I guess. When I was a child, I was given allergy shots for a few years. If you don’t know what that is, it is when they inject you with slowly increasing doses of certain allergens in an effort to desensitize you. Each round would be a particular allergen or combination of allergens. The first shot would be 1 ml, then a month later 2 ml, then a month later 3 ml, etc. until you were at the point where you were getting 9-10 ml shots. Now, I can’t recall if those numbers are exactly right. Maybe they are wrong, but the premise is correct. And the take away for me was that the first few shots you barely felt, but by the end they were absolutely massive and were quite painful. After a round is done, they begin another one.

Now, to be honest, these didn’t bother me too much. I certainly didn’t like getting the big ones. But they didn’t leave any lasting issues with injections themselves. If anything, they made other vaccinations seem like no big deal. I had just received a massive allergy shot, I wasn’t even concerned I’d feel the little Hepatitis B shot I had to get in school.

BUT THEN. Oh then. I was about to leave on my first trip to Australia and decided I should get Hepatitis A vaccinations. I was just about to leave and didn’t have time to go in to a doctor, but luckily for me (spoiler: it was not lucky), I could get in to a pharmacist to get them done. The pharmacist suggested I also get Tetanus since it had nearly been ten years since my last one. He said he would do the Tetanus in my left arm (since it tends to hurt more) and Hep A in my right. He started with the Hep A and when he put the needle in it hurt like the dickens. Not like, “ow that feels like a lot of liquid in my muscle” pain, more like “I’ve just been thoroughly stabbed” pain. I got instantly dizzy and while he did the Tetanus shot in my other arm I tried to make my eyes focus and stop blurring. As soon as he was done the second shot (which didn’t hurt at all, by the way) I passed out in the chair.

I have never fainted before, at least not out of anything other than extreme illness. And even then, I am not sure I have. When I woke up, the pharmacist was in a sort of quiet panic. I had to call my dad to come and pick me up because I still could not see straight and I certainly couldn’t drive. It took the rest of the day for the dizziness to wear off and the pain in my arm only got worse. I could not move my arm for two or three days. It was horrendously painful. Turns out (as I learned later – when I got my second Hep A shot a year later and explained previous experience to the doctor) he hit my bone with the needle.

Needless to say, this has coloured my feelings about needles being put into my arms. I am still almost always fine. But every once in a while I get just a little bit of a vasovagal response (I get light headed and woozy). It has never lasted more than a few seconds and I have never again fainted (most likely because I have never again been hit in the bone with a needle). But it means vaccinations are no longer the “no big deal” they used to be. It also means that I have to check yes on the “have you ever fainted after an injection” box all the prevaccination forms. Which is annoying and forces me to tell the story over and over and then assure them that I will not faint as long as they don’t push the needle into my bone. Sometimes they still make me lie down while I’m getting the injection.

I also think time has something to do with my feelings about vaccinations. The longer it has been since I have had a vaccination, the more likely I am to feel not awesome about it. I think this is because the most memorable vaccination experience I have (the one that most readily comes to mind) is the terrible one. But as soon as I have a good one I remember that they are not that big of a deal. All this is to say, by the end of this process, vaccinations felt like no big deal. But at the start, it was a less appealing process.

It’s also worth including that these vaccinations and tests came right in the middle of my second and third HPV vaccinations. I missed getting HPV vaccinations when I was younger and finally decided on my own to get them done. They are a doozy of a shot and are more likely than most to cause fainting.

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Anyways, back to this summer. The first thing I had to do was locate my vaccination records. If you had your vaccinations done through school or at a Public Health Unit, the records should be there. However, when I was a baby, there were no digital records, so while a few of my vaccinations were probably on record at the Health Unit, I was forced to rely on written immunization records given at the time. Luckily for me, my mom was diligent in keeping these and she knew exactly where to find them.

With these records and my program requirements in hand, I made my first appointment at the Health Unit. At this appointment, a public health nurse officially entered all my recorded vaccinations into my official record and we went through the requirements for my program (public health nurses are great!). The requirements for my program are:

  • Three doses of Tetanus/Diptheria (with the last dose within ten years)
  • A dose of acellular pertussis given after the age of 18
  • A strong history of varicella at 1 year or older, positive varicella serology, or proof of vaccination
  • Two doses of measles, mumps, rubella
  • A minimum of three doses of Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis B serology to prove adequate immunity
  • A tuberculosis skin test (and follow up chest x-rays if required)

My tetanus/diptheria were all done (thanks to the pharmacist who also gave the fateful Hep A vaccination). I had one dose of measles/mumps/rubella (they changed the dosing after I received mine – if you were born before 1995, there is a chance you also only got one MMR vaccination, which means you are susceptible to getting the diseases and also means you can get your second booster for free from Public Health. Which you should do because you don’t want to get the mumps. Remember all those hockey players who got mumps? They are all older than 1995 and probably only had one MMR vaccine and then they got mumps!). I had all three doses of Hepatitis B and although I have a strong history of varicella (chicken pox), I was only 8 months at the time so I required serology to prove my immunity. I had not had a pertussis vaccination after the age of 18. Pertussis is whooping cough and apparently (as my mom related to me from personal experience) it is absolute hell to get as an adult. So even though this one wasn’t covered by Public Health, I felt good about getting it. So this means I had to get a pertussis vaccination, a MMR vaccination, Hep B serology, varicella serology, and a Tb test.

Unfortunately, all of these things had to be done in different places. The Tb test could only be done at the local travel clinic. Pertussis is offered as a dTap (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis). While I was more than up to date on tetanus and diphtheria, my last dose did not include pertussis. This was is considered outside of the government vaccination plan, so I had to pay and have it done at the travel clinic as well. So that is where I started. A Tb skin test is a test that requires two appointments scheduled two days apart. At the first appointment they inject some stuff (neutralized Tb) under the skin of your forearm. Then at the second appointment they measure your reaction. The appointments have to be precisely spaced and if you miss your second one, you have to start all over. When I returned for my second appointment I was also given my dTap. My Tb test was negative, so no chest X-ray needed.

(A few days after this I had to get my third HPV vaccination, which was unrelated to this whole deal, but added to my general vaccination load).

Then it was off to the doctor for blood work. For Hepatitis B, it was a check to ensure I did not need an additional round of vaccinations. They had to measure the antibody level in my blood. It was similar for varicella. Since I had the disease so young, they were not sure I would have retained my immunity. If I was not immune, I would need to get the full round of varicella vaccinations. It took a few weeks for the results to come back. I was found to have adequate immunity to both, which saved me from multiple additional injections.

Lastly, my final measles, mumps, rubella. I got this one for free at the Public Health Unit. MMR is a live vaccination. This means that I could not get it before my Tb test as it could affect the test results. You can’t get a TB test if you have had a live vaccination in the last 4-6 weeks. Live vaccinations are not given intramuscularly. The are given subcutaneously (just under the skin). This allows the body to absorb the vaccination slower, which is important given that there is live disease in the injection. I got this vaccination about two weeks before moving to Edmonton. She informed me after giving it to me that I should expect to experience symptoms around 7-10 days after the injection and that they could last up to 5 days. Mainly fatigue, body aches, a rash, and other flu-like symptoms. I was very excited to hear that these would hit me just as I was scrambling to pack and move. Luckily, however, they didn’t seem to bother me too much.

Then the public health nurse went through my forms and records again and we made sure everything was filled out and backed up (did I mention public health nurses are great?). Once I got to Edmonton I had to make an appointment at the University Health Centre to have my forms and records inspected and approved. Luckily the public health nurses I saw were diligent and this was a relatively painless process.

So there you have it. My immunization records are up to date and I am approved to do my school placements. My advice to anyone reading this is that it would probably be a very good idea to locate and take a look through your own immunization records. Before this, I really had no idea what vaccinations I had and just assumed that because I was vaccinated as a child and got all the offered vaccinations in school I was up to date. You might be missing a MMR! Your tetanus might be overdue! You might not have a current pertussis! It would be real bummer to come down with a terrible disease simply because you were unaware that you weren’t protected. If you are missing any vaccinations from the government vaccination plan, they are probably free for you to get. You just need to go to a public health unit. And even if you have to pay, wouldn’t it be better to pay $50 for a pertussis vaccination now than to suffer for months with a insatiable and painful cough?

Get your vaccinations friends.

Garden

I have many things to write to you about – mostly my convocation and Xavier Rudd – but here we are with another garden update.

Josh and I have been digging, digging, digging in the front, and on Canada Day we planted a small and promising tree. Before driving out to the garden centre to get our tree, we made as much room as we could in the car, and concluded that we could get a tree eight feet tall and still be able to close the back of the car and therefore drive safely home. We looked at all the trees and decided that we wanted a Japanese lilac, which will grow to about 15 feet tall and wide, and has lovely white flowers in late spring but which doesn’t set seed, so there’s no concern with it spreading itself around.  We planted it in the end of the new bed we’ve been painstakingly digging out (it is so much easier to say “this year we’ll dig out all this turf and then build up the soil to extend the front bed” than to actually do it), and every time I look at it I feel joyful. It’s a very small tree, and will take a long time to grow, but I love it. We staked it to give it support against the wind, and have bee keeping it well watered, and it seems to be feeling healthy and happy.

I’m slowly finishing and filling the rest of the front bed. I’ve added several wheelbarrows full of better soil, and done a great deal of soil loosening and quack grass root removing, and am trying to make the garden inhospitable to ants. Josh’s parents came for a visit this past weekend, and they brought a wealth of plants (irises! day lilies! sweet woodruff! false spirea! so much more!), which in addition to my giant goats beard, peony, scabia, globe thistle, lavender, and spurge makes for a well-stoked garden bed. At the moment it’s looking sparse and freshly planted, but I’m confident it’ll fill itself out. In September there’s a perennial swap in my community, and I’m hoping to get some good plants from there as well.

My veg patch is thriving, and things are going nicely in the raised bed we built, and of course the weeds are loving it too even though I feel like I’m constantly weeding.  I’ve got tiny, adorable cucumelons growing, despite my not giving them something proper to climb and them just clambering up the neighbouring tomatilla instead. I’m learning about what each plant needs, and how to better care for all of them, and I’m being rewarded by things like seeing my goji berry bush finally beginning to thrive, or adding things from the garden into our meals. It’s still early in the season for most of the veggies, but we’ve been eating a modest amount of strawberries, radishes, and tomatoes. It’s not all going perfectly however, I’ve pulled up some radishes that were going to seed, only to discover the evidence of cabbage/radish fly larva, and went on to discover that all the root crops in the main veg patch were toast. It was discouraging to pull up plant after plant, but I also know the other plants will be happy to have some extra space. I underestimated how large everything would get when I planted out the babies in the spring. The tomatoes could do with more breathing room (and more support, oops), and the sunflowers are slowly taking over. But now that I’ve pulled the ruined root crops out, there’s more space for everyone else.

The raised bed is pretty crowded, and I’ve found root maggots in there as well. Next year I’m thinking I’ll plant more things like chard and fennel (which are both doing splendidly) and I won’t do as many radishes, turnips, and rutabaga. I have a very tiny squash on one of the plants in there, and while I know that a single squash won’t exactly keep us fed through the winter, I’m very glad to see it there. In the main bed my peas are continuously producing, my pumpkins vines both have small pumpkins growing on them, and I keep finding more and more tomatoes.

I’ve found myself thinking of what I can do next year: what to plant, what to do differently, new things to try, on and on and on. The pumpkins I planted this year keep getting dirty and weighed down, I’ll mulch them nicely next season so they don’t get so splashed with mud. The strawberries are growing well but the berries keep getting icky before I pick them, next year I also need to mulch them with straw before they start to fruit. The tomatoes in the ground are doing much better than the tomatoes in pots, maybe I’ll dedicate a whole corner of the garden or build a new raised bed for them next year, and grow something else in the pots. The hanging baskets are looking so great, even if they’re a bit behind the rest of the garden; next year I’ll make sure to plant them up a bit before the last frost so the seeds germinate sooner. I’ve been looking at grow lights and figuring out my plan for starting things in the spring, I’ve been adding things to the compost and turning it regularly, we’ve built a turf stack and are waiting for it to become loamy and lovely, I’ve bought plants and soil additives that I didn’t know existed until the last couple of years, and my heart is soaring. I have lilies and poppies and delphinium blooming in full force, and it makes me so happy.

The indoor plant collection has also grown, and now includes a fig tree, a banana plant, a small tropical terrarium, a couple different kinds of pilea, and – most exciting of all – two lithops/living stone plants. I hope to coax them both into flowering, so that I can pollinate them and hopefully end up with some seeds. My spider plants are once again sending out as many babies as they can muster, so anytime you want a new plant, just let me know.

 

 

Imprinted.

I often attach memories to music. It is not uncommon to remember a memory when hearing a song, or to think of a song when I think of a memory. But often it is transient and requires me to be in a reflective mood to actually pull the memories up. I can easily just listen to the music without recalling. But with some songs, I have memories burned so deeply into them that I cannot hear the song without actually reliving an entire memory in my head every single time I hear it.

Music has always been very important to me and I have always seemed to use it to connect to and relate my emotions. So it makes sense that sometimes it would be a vessel for strong memories. Sometimes mundane things that I wouldn’t normally remember become burned into my memory because of their attachment to a song or an album. Sometimes it is the first time I hear a particular song and whatever I happen to be doing becomes ingrained, other times it is a song I have known for a long time that becomes associated with a memorable event. I am sure this happens to everyone? It must. Anyways, I thought I would share a few of these imprinted music memories with you.

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Yeah – Usher

I am in grade eight and on a basketball trip. I am in a nondescript hotel room and it is the first time I have ever watched MTV. This song is brand new and plays over and over. MTV is always on in our hotel rooms and I watch this video multiple times every weekend as we travel from tournament to tournament. I’m going to embed the video because the music video is part of the memory. When the song starts now, I see Usher alone on that dark dance floor with those lights behind him and Ludacris in that bucket hat.

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Waiting on an Angel – Ben Harper

I am a camper and Caleb is singing this song. He tells me about Ben Harper. Alex is in my cabin and we ask him to sing Waiting on an Angel every time we see him.

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The Parting Glass 

It is dark and I think we are in the sauna and I am in PIT and Lewis is singing.

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Me vs Madonna vs Elvis – Brand New

I am at camp and Jesse is singing. Molly and Joannah are there and we don’t know the name of the song so we call it the sad song. Joannah doesn’t like the sad song, but Molly and I keep asking Jesse to sing it. He always does.

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I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing – Aerosmith

I am directing a camp for the first time and a cabin sings this song at the talent show. They pull me and Amy up to the front and sing it to us. We are extremely suspicious of their intentions and at the end of the song they pour cupfuls of glitter on us and it takes me days if not weeks to get it out of my hair.

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Hands Down – Dashboard Confessional

I am driving in a car with Amy and we are screaming this song at the top of our lungs.

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Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

Glynis and I are singing this song at a coffee house or talent show of some sort. It does not go well. There are too many words and we have not practiced enough. When I think that maybe I want to sing in front of people, this is the memory I pull up to remind myself I don’t.

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Lies – Chvrches

I am driving to the mill with my brother and it is very early but there is a beautiful sunrise and the bottoms of all the clouds are pink. He introduces me to Chvrches, they are new and only have a few songs out. We listen to this song often.

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Moles – The Courage

I am at a little outdoor amphitheatre at a small college in Spokane and it is my 23rd birthday. I am seeing Noah Gundersen for the first time and I am standing at the front and he is so close and I can’t believe I am there. I am so entirely and perfectly happy and he plays this song. I have never heard it before and it is beautiful.

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Undone – The Sweater Song – Weezer

I am in COLTS and Josh sings this song every single time he puts on, takes off, or is wearing a sweater of any kind. I am sure it was not quite as often as my memory tells me, but seriously, in my memory he is ALWAYS singing it.

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Bronte – Gotye

I live in Lethbridge and am going to the University. My roommate shows me the music video for this song and tells me it made her cry. I am having trouble sleeping so I make a playlist that is just this song five times in a row and then I listen to it on repeat until I finally fall asleep.

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Closer – Tegan and Sara

Glynis and I are at a Towers and Trees show in the basement of a bar in Calgary. They play a cover of this song and we dance. The lead singer is dancing in the crowd and now I can never hear this song without thinking it needs more tambourine.

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Broken Song – Towers and Trees

I am laying in the shade at the back of Annex Park in Fernie half asleep in the afternoon. Wapiti is going on and Haley and I are taking a break from the sun. This song gets to the bridge and we both wake up and slowly sit up and fumble for the schedule to find out who is making this beautiful noise. We go and meet them when the set is done and the lead singer is very nice.

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Words in the Water – Thrice

It is 2012 and I am leading PIT. Sami is singing.

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I Could Have Been Your Girl – She & Him

I am driving along the north coast of Tasmania. The ocean is on my left and is so close. The sun is shining and I am peaceful and happy.

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Dust Bowl Dance – Mumford and Sons

I am in the basement of the sawmill by the head end of the 1085 belt. I am sweeping the concrete in a dark corner around a waste conveyor.

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Two – Ryan Adams

I am sitting in the living room and my brother is teaching me how to play a song with him on the guitar. I don’t really know the song while he is teaching me, but then we play it and it is this song.

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San Antonio Fading – Noah Gundersen

I am driving by myself in my car, I think somewhere between Cranbrook and the Crowsnest Pass, and even though I have heard this song a hundred times I listen to it and it makes me cry.

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Friday – Rebecca Black/Glee

I am in Graham’s old civic. We both live and work at camp and we are driving into town to help with youth group. It is Friday. We only listen to the Glee version because it is this weird thing where there is a combination of two things that we don’t really like (Glee + Friday) that makes a thing we like. There are often lenticular clouds.

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Thunder – Imagine Dragons

I am in Vancouver with my dad watching the Maori All Blacks. I am excited, more excited than I thought I’d be when I bought the tickets. The All Blacks crush Canada and I love every minute of it.

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The Calling – The Killers

I am in the TSB Bank Arena in Wellington and the band has just come out for the encore and Brandon is wearing a ridiculously shiny golden suit. I am covered in confetti and streamers and I am perfectly happy.

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New Slang – The Shins

I am in Wellington by myself walking down Courtenay Place. It is busy and I have my headphones in. People are swarming and weaving around me and it feels like I am in an indie movie.

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Occasionally an entire album has a distinct and vivid memory attached.

Hybrid Theory – Linkin Park

I am 10 years old. I just got a new discman and I am using it to play this cd over and over and over while I do my paper route. I listen to the same cd every single day. When Papercut starts I can actually see the sidewalk and the houses on my old street.

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A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out – Panic! At The Disco

It is 2010. I am in my first semester at the U of L and I am taking Biomechanics. The final is worth a very large percentage of my final grade and it is not a particularly easy class. I close myself off in the basement of the library for a full week to try and study. I listen to this album for the first time and then listen to it incessantly for the entire week.

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Goodnight – William Fitzsimmons

I am in Tasmania. I listen to this album while I am falling asleep every night.

Two Healthcare Anecdotes

I have had recurring shoulder pain for about five years now, to the degree that, when it’s really bad, I have to screw my courage to the sticking place and grit my teeth to do things like open car doors, change my shirt, or do any kind of reaching/pushing/pulling. It’s not always that bad, sometimes it pretty much goes away, and sometimes it’s just a dull ache, and sometimes it only hurts when I make a big, sudden motion, but when it’s bad it’s awful. Recently it has been bad all the time. There wasn’t a big injury that started all of this off, I think my joints were just fatigued.

When it first started, I was confused and in pain for about a week before making a short-notice appointment at my doctor’s office, and since they don’t do walk-in appointments the receptionist asked if I wanted to see a doctor other than my usual doctor, as she was booked pretty solid. My shoulder hurt so much that I would gasp and almost cry every time I had to use it to get out of my car, so I said yes. On the day of my appointment, the (male) doctor moved my arms around, but didn’t do tests other than looking at my range of motion. I explained that it didn’t hurt when he moved my arm in circle, it hurt when I moved it in an outward motion, but he didn’t ask me to show him the painful motion, and didn’t feel my shoulder joint, and he seemed annoyed with me that I had come in and had an alright range of motion. He said, “it’s inflamed, take an ibuprofen,” and left the exam room.

On Thursday I went to the doctor again. Between my first appointment and my second one, the shoulder pain had escaped the bounds of my left shoulder and had begun to affect my right shoulder as well. If my left started hurting, I knew it was only a matter of time before my right started hurting just as the left eased up. It was an unpleasant cycle of shoulder distress. In the past year or so, my right shoulder got worse and worse and worse while my left remained at about the same level of bad. On the day of my appointment, my (female) doctor felt my shoulder joints, asked about the nature of the pain, asked me to show her the painful movements, demonstrated where I had weakness in my arms by having me push against her arms, had me show her my range of motion beyond doing arm circles, and when I said “that hurt right here,” pointing at a spot on my shoulder joint, she said, “it’s your bursa in your joint that’s causing you trouble, you pointed right at it.” She told me that I have tendinitis in my left shoulder and bursitis in my right shoulder. And then, she said that for the bursitis she recommended a steroid injection, and if I went down to the pharmacy to get it, she could do the shot right now. I left my appointment with two actual diagnoses, and a freshly jabbed shoulder joint, and an exhortation to go the physio.

When women talk about not being believed by healthcare professionals, it extends beyond reproductive health and into the rest of the body. I was so hurt and upset by the first appointment and the irritated “it’s inflamed” comment, so anxious that I had overreacted to my own pain, so put off by the interaction, that it took me five years to talk to a doctor about it again. I decided that I must just be being a baby, and the doctor made it pretty clear that I had just wasted his time, so it seemed better to me to just live with severe shoulder pain which has affected my life in a myriad of ways rather than hear another “you have inflammation, take an ibuprofen” from a doctor who didn’t care about me or believe me.

It took a long time (and a traumatic IUD experience) to build enough trust with my doctor to ask her about my shoulders. It had to get to the point where my right shoulder hurt all the time, and I would be icing it and taking painkillers multiple times a week. I played down how much it hurt to myself and to Josh, and didn’t mention it to many other people. I broke down crying Thursday night, overwhelmed by the feeling of being believed and being told that I was right, there is a serious problem, and that I know my body well enough to say “this is where it hurts, and this is how”. I’m imagining my life with a shoulder that isn’t constantly in pain, and it’s a marked improvement.

The thing is, this isn’t the only pair of healthcare stories I have where a male doctor dismissed my knowledge of my own body and didn’t believe me, and where I had to build up trust for years to even mention the same, continuing issue to my doctor. I know I’m not the only woman who has these stories, and while I also understand that having a doctor who is a woman when you’re a woman isn’t a universal cure-all, still, if you have a uterus, I cannot recommend finding and going to a doctor who also has a uterus highly enough.

Travelling alone, or NZ 2018 pt. 2.

I’m not sure if this will be an interesting post or not, but I will describe for you the process of planning and booking my trip. I felt like since I was travelling alone, it was important for me to be a bit more pre-planned and pre-booked than I might normally be to save myself from getting lost or stranded somewhere along the way. I would definitely say that I was way more prepared for this trip than for any other trip I have taken. Last time I was in NZ I think we booked our car rental in advance, but literally nothing else. So this trip was much different. I’m glad I took the time to plan it out well, I think I used my time far more efficiently and saw and did a lot more because of it. I also had very little stress while I was on the trip because I did not have to worry about any of my accommodation or transportation.

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Okay, so I should start out by saying that New Zealand is very likely one of the safest places in the world to travel alone. I am kind of a big chicken and also have never travelled completely alone before, so it seemed like a good fit. It would have been too intimidating to try and plan my first solo trip to a place that (1) wasn’t particularly safe, (2) I had never been before, or (3) where I didn’t speak the language.

Even still, the lead up to the trip was accompanied by, I guess not really a fear of something happening to me, but more just fears that I would be lonely, get lost, or just not enjoy the trip as much as I would if I was a friend. See, I’m not really a do things completely by myself person. Up to this point I was only ever interested in travelling with a friend. But that was not an option for this trip; it was either go alone or don’t go. I am getting better at doing things alone. Something about getting older, having more life experience, and generally liking myself/having confidence in my own abilities made it so that I was willing to consider a solo trip as an option. Also my heart has been literally burning to get back to NZ the last few years. And it all turned out very well. Turns out travelling by yourself is great.

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FLIGHTS

The first thing I did was obviously to decide where in NZ I wanted to visit most. I knew I wanted to spend a full week in Wellington. I also knew I really wanted to go to Wanaka. It quickly followed that it would make sense to fly in to Wellington then work my way down the south island and fly out of Queenstown. Wellington to Queenstown is a short enough distance that it would give me the chance to move kind of slowly and stop for a few days in a few places on the way. I started looking up things that were going on in Wellington during my trip and realized that The Killers were playing there during the last week of my trip. So I very quickly decided to flip the trip around and fly into Queenstown and out of Wellington.

The next obvious step was plane tickets. There is no sense in planning anything until you know for sure that you are going and what the exact dates are going to be. This meant waiting until my vacation request was finalized at work and then monitoring flight prices for a month or two. I actually really lucked out and got some pretty cheap flights. What happened is that I had kind of forgotten about checking flight prices for a few weeks. Then one morning after a night shift in January I remembered and opened the Kayak app on my phone to do a quick search on the bus ride home from work. And what do you know, flights were $500-$800 cheaper than I had ever seen them. So when we got back into town, I got in my car, went directly to a travel agent, showed her the flights and asked her to BOOK THEM RIGHT NOW.

I have booked flights through a travel agent before. I have also just booked my own flights on the internet before. I decided to book with a travel agent this time for a few reasons, the biggest one being that when you book and insure your flights through a travel agency they give you a toll free number and then if anything goes wrong (i.e. you miss a flight, lose your luggage, etc) you just call the number and THEY FIX IT FOR YOU. I mean, I’m sure it’s not a flawless system. But knowing that I had someone who would rebook my flights, arrange hotels, etc should something go wrong was a nice assurance. The only difference in price between booking yourself and booking with a travel agent is a booking fee (at least at the travel agency I have used). In my experience this fee is between $30-$40. Then you have access to 24/7 assistance throughout your trip.

Also travel agents understand how airlines work better than me so I can just say “please try to get me a window seat on my long flight” or “could you see if you could get me on an earlier flight to cut down this layover?” and they know what to check and how to do it. I know I could probably do those same things myself if I wanted to. But $40 to have someone who knows what they are doing do it and ensure that it is all done correctly is worth it to me. Travel agencies often have deals set up with airlines and travel companies, so sometimes they have access to cheaper fares. In this case, she was able to find the exact flights I wanted and give me the same super cheap price I had found online. I literally took in my phone, showed her the flights I had found on Kayak and she went and found the same ones for the same price.

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TRANSPORTATION

Last time I was in New Zealand there were three of us travelling together. We rented a car and split it three ways and it was pretty affordable. I looked up how much it would cost me to rent a car on my own and very quickly decided I needed to find a different option. I had heard the buses are pretty good in New Zealand so I did some research and quickly landed on the InterCity bus company. With InterCity you could book single trips or buy passes. They sell their bus passes not by length of time (ex. a month long pass) but by time spent on the bus (ex. a 30 hour pass). This meant that since I already knew the places I was going to need to travel between, I could buy a pass for almost the exact amount of time I would spend on the bus.

The pass I got was called a Flexipass. You decide how many hours you want to buy and the pass is valid for a year from the time you purchase it (obviously the more hours you buy, they better deal you get on those hours). You can pre-book all of your trips online and you can log on and make changes up to two hours before a trip. You can add more hours to your pass at any time. Also you can book Interislander Ferry tickets with your pass. Buying a walk-on ferry ticket from the ferry company costs $65. If you book your ferry ticket through InterCity, you just pay for the ride with hours same as you would if you were on the bus. The ferry trip is about three hours. A three hour top up to your Flexipass costs $35.

InterCity buses also have wifi. Which was a huge selling point for me. Pretty much all my Instagram photos and stories were uploaded from either a hostel or a bus. It was so very convenient to be able to use bus rides to check emails, upload photos, and catch up with any messages I had.

Lastly, every driver I had was great. They were kind and helpful and most of them would sort of tour guide a bit as they were driving. Not talking constantly or anything like that, but they would point out things of interest as we passed and would sometimes give you a bit of the history of an area. As a tourist it was great. Also if I wasn’t feeling it I could just stick in my headphones and browse Instagram.

It was fairly easily plan out my route online. The only hiccup I encountered was when I wanted to go from Wanaka to Kaikoura. If I had a car, I could have easily done that trip in a day but it spanned three different buses so it was a bit more complicated to coordinate and I had to break the trip up over two days and take a stop in the middle in Christchurch. That was a relatively small issue though. Booking ahead of time with this pass gave me the peace of mind of knowing that I definitely had a seat on the buses I wanted but also the peace of mind of knowing I could change and adjust my trip at any time.

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ACCOMODATION

Before I went on my first Australia/New Zealand trip I had a friend recommend YHA hostels to me. Take this now as my recommendation to you. I have stayed at quite a few YHA hostels in New Zealand (Wellington, Queenstown Lakefront, Wanaka, National Park, Picton, Hamner Springs, Christchurch Rolleston House, Taupo) and I have had only good experiences. I know that when I stay at a YHA hostel I can expect it to be clean and safe. Every YHA I have stayed in has had a kitchen, laundry facilities, and secure storage. (Not all have secure storage in the rooms, which is best, but they all had somewhere secure you could keep valuables). YHAs also all have free wifi. Sometimes it is not the fastest connection (especially in the evenings when everyone is trying to use it) but you get 2gb per device per day and that is pretty great.

Once I knew where I was going and  how many days I would be in each place, I started booking hostels. I felt a bit nervous booking and paying ahead of time. My brain was saying things like “are you sure you want to tie yourself down to such a rigid schedule” and “what if something happens and you get delayed.” But YHAs have a reasonable cancellation policy and I knew that if I did end up changing my plans I could get most of my money back. Also I would rather lose $30 than show up and have them tell me they have no rooms.

YHAs (and most hostels, I assume) have a number of different room options. You can book anything from a private room to an eight bed dorm room. Obviously, the more people in a room the cheaper the bed. Last time we stayed in a few hostels and since there were three of us we usually just booked out a three bed private room and split the cost. It ended up not being too much more than a bed in a share room. This trip that was obviously not an option and I was going for cheap, so I usually booked into the bigger share rooms. I stayed in four, six, and eight bed rooms.

The hostels that had storage lockers in their dorm rooms were my favourite. There is a locker for each bed, you bring your own lock, and voila! no more lugging all your stuff around so that it doesn’t get stolen.

I imagine that if you are a very light sleeper shared rooms might be a terrible option, but I didn’t really have too many issues. I did make sure that I brought a sleep mask and ear plugs. I never ended up wearing ear plugs, but I did use the sleep mask every night. Also, there was a snorer in almost every shared room I was in. Usually I got to sleep before them so it didn’t bother me too much. (If I can fall asleep initially, nothing can really bother me too much).

Staying in share rooms means being a bit more organized. If you are getting up early to leave for the day, you have to pack the night before. You do not have the luxury of waking up, throwing on the light, and figuring out what you need for the day. Technically you could do that, but I’m guessing that if you did, the other people in your room would physically pick you up and throw you out the window. If you are leaving in the morning, you need to have as much of your stuff as possible packed the night before and then do your last minute packing and bed stripping silently in the dark. Basically you just need to take some extra steps to be respectful and accommodating to the other people in your room.

I had very good experiences in all my rooms. I met some nice people and usually had the option to engage and chat with other travellers or just sort of keep to myself. Nothing of mine was stolen (I was pretty diligent about locking up my camera and laptop, but often left clothes, shoes, etc laying on my bed).

Staying in hostels also allows you to save even more money because you have a place to both store and cook food. Sometimes hostel fridges smell a bit funky, but YHAs have a pretty thorough kitchen cleaning schedule. The staff clean the kitchens every day and most seemed to clean out the fridges and storage areas weekly. They provide labels you were required to use that included your check out date. Any food that was not labelled or was past the check out date is thrown out. YHAs are also pretty environmentally conscious and all had extensive recycling facilities.

I bought a YHA membership. It costs about $25 for a year and it gets you a cheaper rate at any YHA hostel as well as discounts on some other tours and activities.

I basically just booked into YHAs in every town I was visiting. The only time that wasn’t an option was Kaikoura. Even over a month in advance, there were no hostel rooms available at the YHA in Kaikoura for the nights I wanted to spend there. I broadened my search, but it turned out there were no rooms in any hostel for those two nights. I realized I was going to have to either skip Kaikoura or book into a BnB of some sort. I love Kaikoura and skipping it wasn’t going to happen so I started looking on AirBnb. I decided I could handle the higher price of an AirBnb for one night, but not two. So I changed my bus trip and increased my stay in Christchurch from one night to two (thank goodness for this or I never would have gotten to hold that lemur’s hand). Then I found a nice little BnB on the point. It actually ended up being so perfect. I was the only person booked into the BnB that night so I got the entire guesthouse to myself. Kaikoura was about half way through my trip and I didn’t realize until I got there how much I had missed having my own sleeping space. I lounged around, turned the light on and off when I wanted to, and played music while I fell asleep. It was so so restful and refreshing.

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So at this point I had flights, transportation, and accommodation booked. Before I started booking I was worried that by doing so I would lock myself in too tightly to a schedule. I thought that I should leave more of my time open so I could decide in the moment where to go and where to stay. But honestly, so much peace of mind came from having these things booked. It was calming to know where I was going to go and that I had a place to stay. Also, at this point, everything I had booked could be cancelled or rebooked with very little loss to me.

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ACTIVITIES

By this time I had known I was going to NZ for months. As a result I had sort of gotten my heart set on a few activities in the places I knew I would be. Some of them (i.e. climbing Roy’s Peak) required nothing more than simply showing up in the areas and doing the thing. But some required booking a spot on a tour. Again, I was a bit worried about locking myself in too rigidly to a schedule and not leaving days open to do things as they came to me. I figured out what I needed to book ahead of time by looking at each activity and asking myself how devastated I would be if I showed up to try and book it on the day and they said it was full.

I had printed out a calendar page for April and had all my flights, bus trips, and accommodation drawn on to it. It was easy to see which days I had available in each place. This helped me figure out which activities would be more time sensitive (like there would be only one day where I would be able to do a certain thing) and which ones could fit into a variety of places.

Things I pre-booked:

  • The Killers concert: by the time I had flights, this concert was already sold out. Once I knew I was going to be in Wellington on the night of the concert, I started obsessively checking the certified ticket resales on the ticketmaster site. A few months later a general admission ticket came up and I jumped on it. I paid almost double the initial ticket price, but you know what, it was 100% worth it.
  • Hurricanes game: when I planned my time in Wellington, I made sure to schedule it so that a rugby game fell on one of the days I was there. Turns out that this game did not sell out and I could have bought a ticket on the day, but still, I knew I would be crushed if I had missed out.
  • Milford Sound: we didn’t do Milford Sound last time and it is kind of a NZ classic. I booked this tour from Queenstown. I picked this company because they had a backpacker rate and therefore ended up being cheaper than anything else. The bus portion of my tour was on an InterCity bus (wifi and charging stations!) and the cruise was through Jucy.
  • Wine Tour: I decided I really wanted to do a wine tour this trip and I found this company. They offer a full day wine tour for significantly cheaper than any other company I found. They also had good reviews. I only had one full day in Picton and I quickly realized I would be very disappointed if the tour on that day filled before I got there, so I booked.
  • Glenorchy: I knew I wanted to try and get to Paradise and I found this small family run company that offered tours. I put off booking this one for a long time because it wasn’t quite as burning “I need to do this” activity. But since it was out of Queenstown and within a few days of the the start of my trip, I did end up booking it in advance.

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Everything else that I did I just booked while I was there or walked up on the day. Really, the only other thing I booked at all in advance at all was the lemur/meerkat experiences at the Wellington Zoo. I think I booked those a week or so in advance. I often had a vague idea of things I wanted to do in a place and just sort of played it by ear once I got there. Like I knew I wanted to go to Te Papa and to a play at Circa, so once I was in Wellington I sort of felt it out and picked a day and went and did them. When I was in Christchurch I knew that there were some museums and galleries around my hostel. So when I woke up I wandered around to a few of them. Then when I didn’t have anything to do in the afternoon, I wandered down to the iSite to browse through some activities and ended up at Willowbank feeding grapes to lemurs.

I feel like I had a good mix of pre-planned and spur of the moment activities. The part of my trip on the south island, when I was moving around every few days, was more strictly planned. This allowed me to ensure I would see the things I wanted to see and not waste any more time than necessary in moving from place to place. My time in Wellington I left almost completely open (I just had concert tickets and rugby tickets). This allowed me to settle in to Wellington and tackle all the things I wanted to do in an order that made sense once I was there and let me take things like weather and how I was feeling into the equation each day. When you only have one day in a place, you will do an activity (i.e. Milford Sound tour) rain or shine, sick or well. But when you have a whole week you then have the option to wake up and say, it’s really cold today, perhaps I will hold off on the outside activity and go to the museum instead. It worked very well.

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I’m sure there is much more I could talk about but that feels like a good summary. If you ever have any questions about things I did or how I planned them, or if you are ever looking for New Zealand recommendations, seriously come talk to me. I will never get tired of talking about travelling there.

 

A brief look at NZ 2018.

I have been meaning to write a post or two about my trip. But I keep putting it off because it feels too daunting. If I write a post, I should post pictures, and if I’m posting pictures, I need to go through all my photos and edit them. And then that feels like too much work and I just go to sleep instead. But I am here to do it now. I may not have photos for everything and some of them might not be edited and beautiful, but it will be okay.

Here is (briefly) where I went and what I did:

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QUEENSTOWN

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I flew into Queenstown and it was beautiful. The mountains felt so close you could almost touch them.

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I went on a day trip to Milford Sound. This was a 5 hour bus trip into Fiordland, and 2 hour boat tour, and then 5 hours on the bus back to Queenstown. Fiordland was unspeakably beautiful. It was kind of overcast, not too cold, and kind of windy. I got to stand on the front of the boat while they sailed under a waterfall and dolphins appeared right underneath where I was standing on the deck on the way back to the harbour. There was a really great girl named Bri on the bus with me and we took photos for each other at some of the stops and it was great. She took some amazing photos of me on her phone and I have still not quite given up hope that she might still email them to me. (I’m guessing not though due to the fact that it has been almost two months. Note to self: next time make sure that in addition to giving my email, get their email too).

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I went to Paradise. Last time I was in NZ, we got stranded just outside of Paradise and spent the entire day on the side of a tiny back road waiting for a tow truck. This time I made it.

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WANAKA

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I climbed Roy’s Peak for sunrise. This was something I decided weeks before I went that I HAD to do. So despite the fact that I had come down with a pretty significant chest cold/sore throat, I woke myself up at 3 am, walked the 6.7 kilometres from my hostel to the trailhead, and then slogged up the mountain in the dark. Honestly, I was miserable. But you know that because I sent you a constant string of texts that said “I AM MISERABLE,” “MY FEET HURT,” and “I WISH I WAS DEAD.” (Very early in the morning NZ time was late morning/early afternoon Canada time – which was very convenient and allowed me to talk to someone while I was alone and miserable in the dark). I also did not bring hiking shoes with me. I figured one day of hiking was not worth it for the amount of space they would take up. This was a mistake. I have never had so many blisters on my feet at one time. I did make it to the lookout for sunrise, which kind of made it all worth it. Before the sun came all the way up it was windy and FREEZING, but beautiful. Then I walked all the way back. The first hour or so of the downward climb was the only part of the hike I enjoyed. By the time I got to the parking lot and started the walk back to Wanaka I was in some severe blister/foot pain. The last couple kilometres were honestly agony. Like when all you can think about is how much you hurt. But you have no choice but to keep walking. By that time I was also very much feeling the sore throat and chest cold. It was all around bad. However, now that I am fully past all the pain I am glad I went.

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CHRISTCHURCH

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The hostel I was staying at was right in the heart of the CBD, which was awesome. The Canterbury Museum and the Botanical Gardens were literally across the street. I went to both of those places in the morning of my day there. I was also just down the street from the Art Gallery, which I stopped in at in the afternoon.

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I went to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and fed grapes to ring-tailed lemurs. It was kind of a spur of the moment decision to go and involved me figuring out the buses and busing out to the edge of the city, but oh man, was it ever worth it. It was a very magical time. I didn’t know how much I loved lemurs until there was one sitting on my lap holding my hand. If I am ever back in Christchurch I am doing this again. Like, even before I do something I haven’t done before.

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KAIKOURA

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I arrived on the bus, booked on a whale watching trip, and then ran across town on my blistered feet to make it for the sailing. I was super nervous that I was going to get seasick because they were so many warnings about seasickness and I sort of tend towards motion sickness, but it was all good. We only saw one whale. It was a bit disappointing if I’m being honest. But that whale was still cool. His name was Tiaki and we saw him surface twice. We also very briefly saw some dolphins.

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I stayed at a lovely little BnB up on the point because even more than a month in advance there were literally no hostel rooms available anywhere in town. But it was so wonderful to have my own space for the the first time on my trip. I walked down into town and bought a bunch of jewellery. I have a soft spot for things made out of Cat’s Eye Shell (or Shiva Shell) and Kaikoura always has the goods.

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PICTON

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I decided I really wanted to do a wine tour this trip and the Marlborough region just seemed like the right place to do it. I went on a full day tour and we visited six wineries and a chocolate factory. I now know a reasonable amount about Sauvignon Blancs and could probably pick one out of a line up of white wines (although I apparently still do NOT know how to spell it – you should have just seen the number of attempts I made at sauvignon where spell check told me it had no suggestions before I gave up and googled it).

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WELLINGTON

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I went to The Killers. It was the best concert I have ever been to, I loved it so much.

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I went to the Wellington Zoo, which is kind of in the city, and is basically a hill on top of a hill overlooking the city (my feet were still not feeling super great après Roy’s Peak). I fed meerkats and black and white ruffed lemurs. It was wonderful. The meerkats were especially entertaining and gosh do I love lemurs.

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I went to Te Papa. Te Papa is a really great (and free!) museum down on the waterfront. I was there right before Anzac day which meant that the Gallipoli exhibit was packed and had massive lines. I went to Te Papa last time I was in NZ and the colossal squid was my favourite part by far, so you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the exhibit that holds the giant squid is being rebuilt and is closed until next year.

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I walked through Mt Victoria, went to the lookout, and found the spot where they filmed the “get off the road” scene in LOTR.

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I saw a play at Circa Theatre. This is the theatre where I first saw Equivocation, which is still the best play I have ever seen. The play I saw was called “The Lie” and two of the actors in the play were also in Equivocation, which was quite nice.

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I took the Cable Car up to the Botanical Gardens, went to Zealandia, and saw a show at the Planetarium.

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I went to the Wellington Museum and the New Zealand Portrait museum.

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I went to see a rugby game. The Hurricanes were playing the Sun Wolves and can I just say that rugby is so much more interesting national sport than hockey and if I lived in a place that had a rugby team (like Wellington) I would buy season tickets.

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I have many many more photos, quite a few videos, and a lots stories that didn’t make it into this post because I know it gets tedious when people talk about their vacations for too long. Also it would be far too daunting to write a post that long. But I am always happy to talk about New Zealand, so if you want to see or hear more, you know where to find me. Also I will probably post pictures from the trip on my Instagram for the next year. Also all the videos I posted to my stories while I was away are saved in my highlights and categorized by city. I am probably going to write another post about my trip where I will talk about what it was like travelling alone and how I planned for it. I’ll probably sneak some more photos in that one too.