Travel Isn’t Always as Glamorous as the Facebook Pics

I hope the woman sitting beside me can’t smell my feet.

But I had to take off my hiking boots because my feet were swollen and sweaty and I have a 3.5 hour flight followed by 3 hour bus ride before I make it to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Patagonia, and my destination.

If I make it tonight.

I arrived in Ottawa around 7pm last night, about 24 hours earlier, to catch a flight from Ottawa to Toronto (I had spent Christmas at my family cottage in Norway Bay, Quebec). My flight from Ottawa was delayed more than an hour due to freezing weather conditions which required the plane to be de-iced and the engines reset.

So when I got to Toronto, I had to sprint through Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport to catch my connection to Santiago. RUN! The lady at the gate urged me.

When I arrived at the gate, I learned that the flight to Santiago was overbooked and would be delayed more than an hour. Once we finally boarded, we waited on the runway for more than an hour for more de-icing and for the runway to clear.

When we finally took off I knew I was going to miss my connecting flight in Santiago to Punta Arenas.

I did.

The plan was to meet my friends in Puerto Natales just after midnight (a 3hr bus ride from Punta Arenas). We were going to spend the following day planning our food, gear, and route to hike the popular and rugged “O Loop,” an 8-day trek in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile.

Anyone with common sense would have spent the night in Santiago and given themselves a bit of a buffer in case there were delays, and to avoid a stressful travel day of plane, plane, plane, taxi, bus, taxi. But I was itching to meet my friends and get started on the big adventure.

As time passed, it seemed like my travel itinerary was a little too ambitious for the Christmas rush and record breaking cold temperatures in Ontario.

I was sure I was going to spend the night in Santiago alone. I had been mentally calculating how much it would cost. I figured it would be a minimum 250$ US to re-book my flight to Punta Arenas and another $50-100 US for a last-min hotel room near the airport. Plus meals. I had a Costco-sized pack of protein bars in my bag, so maybe I would skip dinner to save a bit of money.

It took about an hour for me to get my collect my bags and go through customs. I tried to calm myself down, reminding myself that’s there no point beating myself up for buying a cheaper ticket with another airline which meant that the airline I had traveled with from Toronto had no responsibility to ensure I would make my next flight. They were completely separate bookings. Being cheap and thrift can sometimes have consequences. Luckily, I could speak a bit of Spanish now and the agent who is in charge of managing delays tells me I have to go upstairs and hope that the next airline will re-book me. Probably for some exorbitant fee.

I email my friend to tell her that I will be spending the night in Santiago.

I don’t.

Instead, the next agent tells me if I hustle I can make the last flight to Puerto Arenas which will leave in 45 min. I run towards the Domestic Departures area with my nearly overweight bags.

El hombre me dijo que necesito traer mis maletas allí.

A bit of broken Spanish comes out as I try to catch my breath.

The woman nods, hands me my ticket, and gestures towards security.

When I get there I’m dripping in sweat. I’m smelly from 24 hours of wearing the same clothes and stressed from the uncertainty of the journey. I’m so thirsty because I didn’t even have time to buy a bottle of water. Remind me again why I choose to spend my vacations in a stinky state of panic and chaos?

Importantly, I’m excited to begin the next adventure, unsure as to whether I will be spending the night alone in Punta Arenas or if I will catch the last bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales where my friends have booked a room in a hostel.

So far this adventure has gotten off to a stressful start. But I’m learning how to accept things I can’t control, to surrender to the unknown, to stay calm in stressful situations, and to advocate for myself in Spanish.

If I don’t get to Puerto Natales tonight, I will get there tomorrow. It doesn’t really matter because the adventure’s already started. (And the women to my left hasn’t said anything about my stinky feet.)

Toying with Tinder: Is ‘Out There’ Really Where I’ll Find My Flame?

 

Since we live in a digital age of quick fixes, limitless options, and increased opportunities for connection, lots of people have turned to online dating sites to meet people and “find” love.

Many of my friends have had positive experiences with online dating, others have not. While I can see the benefits of online dating sites and apps like Tinder, I find myself resistant to going that route.

Maybe I’m too romantic for the digital age.

Honestly, I’d much rather stay at home with a cup of tea and a good book, blog in a quiet café, or go for dinner with a close girlfriend, than spend my time and energy into scrolling through guys online like I’m rummaging a sales rack for a new pair of jeans.”

For my thoughts on finding love in the digital age while living authentically, check out my article published on Rebelle Society.

Click here to access the full article.

Rebelle Society is a unique, revolutionary online magazine publishing daily acts of Creative Rebellion and celebrating the Art of Being Alive through words and mixed media.

Living Through Fear Versus Fearless Living

I recently published my first novel, See What Flowers. But it took me almost 30 years to find the courage to start writing.

“What was stopping me was my assumption that people who pursue their dreams were a different class of human: the fearless.”

For more info about how I learned to accept my fears and pursue my dreams in spite of them, check out my article published on Rebelle Society.

To access the article, click here.

Rebelle Society is a unique, revolutionary online magazine publishing daily acts of Creative Rebellion and celebrating the Art of Being Alive through words and mixed media.

Am I a Bad Mom if I let my Child Fall & get Hurt?

“In our happiness-obsessed culture, we often feel like bad parents, bad teachers, bad friends—bad people—when we allow others or ourselves to fall.”

Shannon Mullen, Elephant Journal

This isn’t an article about parenting.

Not really.

I’m not a mom.

But I know that my amazing mom friends seem to be asking themselves this question a lot.

To access my article in Elephant Journal, an online magazine about mindful living, click here.

See What Flowers

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books About See What Flowers

All that remains is a note: “Gone to get pancakes.”

Her 30th birthday party’s over, yet it’s the happiest Emma Watters has ever been. Life couldn’t be more perfect. She’s an emergency room doctor and shares a home in Toronto with the love of her life, Adam Davison. The next morning, Adam is gone.

Emma’s shocked. At first, she decides that Adam’s having an affair and scavenges through photos on Facebook, trying to identify “the other woman.” But as the days pass, Emma seeks out help from the Toronto Police and floods social media with pleas for assistance. Where’s Adam? Has her life become an episode of Breaking Bad? Has she been dating Walter White all along?

Wild, beautiful, and terrifying, See What Flowers is a thrilling depiction of love’s attempts to survive in the face of undiagnosed mental illness. Set in the hectic, cosmopolitan cities of Toronto and Vancouver, as well as against the harsh, rugged landscape of the Canadian Arctic, it’s a raw and compelling journey towards understanding, forgiveness, and, ultimately, escape.

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Writing Process & Inspiration

For more information about my writing process and inspiration behind See What Flowers, check out my interview on She Does the City or my IndieView.

While it was scary to share my story, it was most definitely worth it.

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How to Purchase See What Flowers:

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Amazon: http://amzn.to/2u0yYQZ

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Chapters/Indigo: http://bit.ly/2vjY1Ok

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Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2yJ9QMT

Author Profile on Goodreads

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You can join the discussion and read customer reviews about See What Flowers on Goodreads. Click hereto access my author profile.

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See What Flowers Book Launch

Toronto

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The Toronto Book Launch for See What Flowers was Thursday, June 16, 2017 at The Steady Café & Bar. It featured musical performance by Keira Loukes, author Q & A with Louise Johnson, book reading and signing. Click here for more info about the event or check out Louise’s Johnson’s article on the Toronto Book Launch.

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Ottawa

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On Thursday, August 24th, 2017, I launched See What Flowers in Ottawa, the city where I grew up at Terrace on the Canal. The event was magical and beautifully situated in the heart of the nation’s capital. It featured a musical performance by the Bristol Hum, author Q & A with Megan Valois, and author reading.

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See What Flowers Terrace

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Q and A

On the Shelves

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I can’t explain the feeling of seeing a book that I wrote on the shelves at Chapters Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore. It is magical. Amazing. A dream. I feel so proud that I did that thing that I always wanted to do.

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The Secret Garden: Magic, Solace & Adventure

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Why stand when you can JUMP in front of Cotopaxi, the world’s highest ACTIVE volcano?!

When I was in Grade 2 a teacher at my school gave me the children’s novel, The Secret Garden, as a gift.

thesecretgardenbookAs I was quite the avid reader, I read it in less than a weekend. It’s a story about an orphan, Mary, who is sent to England to live with a a grieving uncle. At first she feels isolated and neglected, but eventually finds solace in a rose garden she discovers. Being in the secret garden is a magical experience for Mary and transforms her into a healthier, happier version of herself.

Maybe it was my love of nature, the outdoors, and summers at the cottage, but I instantly connected with the story of a girl who is transformed by the power of nature.

I was also enchanted by the idea of secrets; the playful privilege of holding onto information that others would never know about.

So after reading The Secret Garden, I did something that seemed like the obvious next step: I created a fake cover in the book and hid a couple of crisp $2 bills inside (which had recently been discontinued from circulation), thinking that they might be worth something someday. They are still there.

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More than 20 years later, I was reminded of that childhood secret I created–the discontinued 2$ bills hidden in a secret cover inside The Secret Garden, bills which are now valued at more than 20$–when my friend, Michelle, recommended that I visit The Secret Garden Cotopaxi“It’s literally the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at.”

Two months later, The Secret Garden Cotopaxi became my favourite hostel as well.

After spending almost a year living and working as a teacher in Colombia, I took a two week trip to Ecuador before heading back home. The previous five weeks, cinco semanas de viaje en Colombia, had been spent with people I love: my parents, my brother Brian, and my friend, Ashley. So I was craving a bit of time to myself for quiet reflection on Las lecciones: What I learned from teaching & traveling in Colombia.

I took a 2 hour bus ride from The Secret Garden Quito (sister location in Ecuador’s capital) to The Secret Garden Cotopaxi for four days of activity and adventure in the Andes at the base of Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano.

When I arrived it felt like I’d stepped into a fairytale. The landscape: golden grasses of high Andean tundra, rolling green pastures, and clear blue sky contrasted against the snow-capped peaks of Cotopaxi (which means the neck of the moon in Kichwa, one of Ecuador’s Indigenous languages), was enchanting. It was like I’d stepped into Mary’s rose garden, the majestic Eden I’d read about as a child but that I knew didn’t really exist in real life. It was beautiful. Enchanting. Real.

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Cotopaxi clear day

The hostel itself was as magical and special as the surrounding landscape. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I felt like I’d become part of a family. There’s no WIFI, so travellers are forced to talk to each other, share dinners together, play cards, and relax in the hot tub, basically, a kind of summer camp for adults.

During the day, we could opt to go hiking, mountain biking, fishing, horse-back riding, or even summit the volcano (this option was not available to me as Cotopaxi was closed due to recent volcanic activity).

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Even though I met many amazing people from all over the world at the hostel, I appreciated being able to take time to myself to write, read, and reflect.

For me, it was a time of transitions.

I was moving back home after living in Colombia for nearly a year, and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to leave. Part of me wanted to stay. There was so much more of South America that I wanted to discover. I wanted to improve my Spanish. I would be leaving behind a special community of friends that I had made. The story felt, in a way, unfinished, and I wasn’t ready to write the ending just yet.

But I knew I needed to go back to Canada, at least for a little bit, to publish my first novel, to spend time with my family, to gain a little bit of stability before the next adventure (Patagonia: Dec 2017!!!).

I’m thankful that the mountain air of Cotopaxi helped me to find some peace and clarity about moving forward at a time when all I wanted to do was take a u-turn and go back.

The thing I’ve learned about journeys and paths from traveling is that they don’t have to be linear. Mine is winding and twisted, with just as many u-turns as straight stretches. I’ve learned that just because you leave doesn’t mean you can’t, or won’t, ever go back.

Sometimes I do go back.

We hear the expression “going full circle” all of the time. Maybe our paths in life aren’t lines but circles.

When I was in Grade 2, I was enchanted by The Secret Garden. More than 20 years later, I was enchanted again. And the value of my 2$ bills just keeps growing.

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Me and Volcano

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There is Poetry in a Pint of Guinness

My parents are celebrating their 30th anniversary (a few years late!) in Ireland. One of their first stops was the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, where my Mom, who’s not much of a beer drinker, enjoyed her first pint of fresh Guinness. 

This made me nostalgic for the first time I sampled Guinness in its ‘homeland.’ I originally published the post below in 2009 on Bangers ‘n Mash, my blog about teaching and traveling in London, UK. Since it is my most viewed blog post EVER, I thought I’d republish it here. 

 

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My first pint of “fresh” Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

“Guinness tastes so much better in Ireland,” I had been told before my trip to Dublin. Intrigued as to how a mass produced brand could taste distinctly different in one country, I felt obligated to sample “a few pints” of the famous brew in its homeland. Prior to the trip, I had only tasted Guinness a couple of times, and was not a huge fan. I found the beer bitter and was worried that its heaviness would do damage to my dainty waistline (haha). I had also perceived it to be more of a ‘Dad drink’ so wasn’t inclined to order it at pubs (as weird as that sounds). Thus, I did not expect to enjoy the notorious perfect pint of Guinness that I would be served in Ireland.

The production of Guinness began in December of 1759 when Arthur Guinness bought a 9000 year lease on an old brewery (which had been on the market for 10 years!) on St. James Street in Dublin. The purchase was quite a risk, as the location was very popular for competitors. More than 60 small breweries had already established their business in Dublin due to its excellent water supply from the rivers Liffey, Dodder and Poddle. Through hard-work and perseverance, Guinness was able to surpass the competition. A dry stout, Guinness has just four ingredients: barley, hops, water, and yeast. Through trial and error, and pure craftsmanship, Arthur Guinness combined these ingredients to create what is now often referred to as the “perfect pint.”

By 1833, Guinness had become so popular that the St. James Gate Brewery was the largest in Ireland, and by the 1880s, it had become the largest brewery in the world. As a side note, I have a soft spot for the Guinness Brewery because I played on the St. James Gate (an Irish pub in Banff) basketball team when I lived in the wonderful little mountain town, although I never drank Guinness while I was there…

Today, 35 countries brew Guinness worldwide. However, each brewery must include the famous secret ingredient, a flavoured extract that is still brewed exclusively in Dublin and sent to international breweries so that the flavour of the perfect pint is consistent.

My first sip of Guinness in Dublin was at the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub. Dating back to 1198, The Brazen Head had been serving alcohol well before official licensing laws came into effect in 1635. A neat bit of trivia is that the pub is featured in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses: “You get a decent enough do at the Brazen Head.”

It was the perfect venue to sample the perfect pint: its “medievally, tavern-esque” dark, cozy atmosphere and cobble-stone courtyard create the Irish pub that I’d envisioned. All that was lacking was the music, which was to start in a couple of hours (we went for dinner, the traditional Irish pub food- stew, chowder, fish and chips, so were there a bit early).

When I put the ‘liquid gold’ (as Guinness is known due to its flawless flavour and profitability) to my lips, I was surprised at how smooth, creamy, and delicious it was. The thick creamy head is the result of the taps injecting nitrogen gas into the beer as it is being poured. With aftertastes that hinted flavours of rich coffee and dark chocolate, Guinness was not at all the bitter black stuff that I remembered. I am not sure if it was the beverage itself that I was enjoying, or merely the excitement of drinking Guinness in Dublin, but I was hooked. I literally began to crave the beverage’s distinct malty, mocha flavours. Thanks to Lululemon and stretchy denim I was able to put all of my waistline anxieties aside and continue to contribute to Ireland’s economic growth (in truth, at 198 kcal per pint, Guinness actually contains less calories than most non-light beers).

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Me, my brother Pat and my friend Kirbie (another Canadian teacher)

The next day, we visited the Guinness Storehouse, where you can go on a self-guided tour of the brewery, learn how to pour the perfect pint, and purchase Guinness merchandise. The tour was really interesting, well-organized, and informative. At the end of the tour, you receive a freshly brewed pint of Guinness. Actually, you have the option of learning how to pour the perfect pint, or enjoying a pint poured for you at the top-floor Gravity Bar, which is walled with windows and offers a 360 degree view of the city. It is worth going on the factory tour simply to see this fantastic view of Dublin.

Pat and I opted to enjoy our pints on the top floor, while our friends earned certificates of mastery in Guinness pint pouring. Did you girls remember to update your résumés?

The slogan, “It’s alive inside” is used to advertise Guinness.

Although this is not literally true, there is something magical about drinking Guinness, especially drinking Guinness at the St. James Gate in Dublin.

The pint I had in the Guinness Storehouse was pure perfection. It tasted smoother, creamier, and more delicious than the pint I had at the Brazen Head (and at subsequent pubs…). In terms of its physical composition, I doubt that the beer poured at the St. James Gate is in actuality any different than the beer poured at any other pub in Dublin. However, the allure of drinking Guinness at the Guinness brewery definitely adds to the richness of the experience, and makes you feel like you are consuming an extra special recipe.

One sign that caught my eye in the Guinness Storehouse read “There is poetry in a pint of Guinness.”

I thought a lot about what this means. I suppose I would define poetry in an English class as a “written expression of human emotion”. But another interpretation could be that, poetry is, essentially, life. Therefore, the poetry is not the pint of Guinness itself but the life experiences created by the pint: sampling Irish pub food with my brother and friends, discovering that musicians in Irish pubs seem to only play American covers and U2 (I guess I had expected the fiddle??), the feeling of panic when I looked in my wallet and realized I had spent more on a night at the pub than on my return flight from London to Dublin (alcohol is ridiculously expensive in Dublin- I literally spent 7 Euros on pints at some pubs), meeting other interesting travellers, and of course, the memory of tasting my first sip of Guinness in Dublin.

It is interesting to note that despite the love of Guinness that I developed while I was in Dublin, I haven’t had a drop of it since I got back a couple months ago*. Perhaps this is because I subconsciously know that it just won’t taste as good as it did at the St. James Gate? Although I am sure that I will order the odd pint of Guinness every now and then, I doubt I will ever choose it regularly over other options that I would, of course, drink responsibly.

Since my perspective of Guinness consumption in Dublin came from a tourist’s point of view, I am interested in learning more about whether Guinness is actually the drink of preference for most Dubliners, or if that is simply a stereotype. I suppose the commercial success of Guinness suggests that people do, in fact, drink it quite often, but do Irish people link Guinness with part of their cultural identity? Or is its Irishness simply the brand image that Guinness promotes to the world?

I’m sure I’ll sample many more pints in the future, but none will have quite the same ‘magic’ as my first Guinness in Dublin!

*Since I published this article in 2009, I have consumed many more pints of Guinness. Yet none have been as tasty as that first sip of Irish magic!

See What Flowers Book Signing at Indigo

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This past Sunday, I was thrilled and honoured to have had the opportunity to sign copies of my début novel, See What Flowers, at the Yonge and Eglinton Indigo location in Toronto, Canada.

Set in Toronto, Vancouver, and the Canadian Arctic, See What Flowers is a contemporary fiction about love and mental illness.

While this is not the first event I’ve done to promote my book–I launched it in both Toronto and Ottawa, and did a book signing in Shawville, Québec–I was most nervous to talk about my book in front of Indigo customers, most of whom I had never met before.

Chapters/IndigoChapters/Indigo is Canada’s biggest bookstore, so it felt like I had entered the “big league” with this event.

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During the event, there were most definitely awkward moments. I felt shy about encouraging readers to purchase copies of my book when copies of Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings were prominently displayed on the shelf in front of me.

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But I kept reminding myself that my last name is “Mullen”…which gives me the alphabetical order advantage to be shelved beside “Munro” (as in Alice).

This little self-pep talk gave me the boost of confidence I needed to chat about the plot, setting, and characters of See What Flowers, my writing process, and about book publishing in general.

In the end, many customers took a chance on my book, choosing to place See What Flowers alongside the many books that fill their own personal libraries.

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I am very fortunate and grateful that Chapters/Indigo has such an active “Local Authors” program to support emerging authors like me promote their work.

The best part of the day was when one of the staff members placed the remaining copies in Indigo’s CanLit section, complete with “Signed By Author” stickers.

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Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto


On Sunday, October 1 from 1-4pm, I will be signing copies of my début novel, See What Flowers at the Yonge & Eglinton Indigo location in Toronto.


For more info about the event click here

See What Flowers is on the shelves at select Indigo locations and in the online store

For more information about See What Flowers you can follow me on Goodreads or check out the Amazon listing. 

Thank you to all of my friends & family for your ongoing support!

Ottawa Book Launch for See What Flowers

The Scariest Thing About Sharing Our Story

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“I guess I’d been experiencing it for the 30 years before I actually started writing the book,” I admitted. “I knew that I wanted to write a book ever since I was a kid, but I was too afraid to try.”

It’s true. My fears—of failure, of not being good enough, of what people would think, of not getting published—had held me back from starting at all. So I made a lot of excuses and told myself a narrative of “shoulds.”

I should work toward a more stable career.

I should accept that it’s too hard to “make it” as a writer.

I should appreciate my life as it is.

I should be more realistic.

In my latest piece for Elephant Journal, an online magazine dedicated to mindful living, I write about fear, self-doubt, success, and why it’s not selfish to pursue our dreams.

You can access the entire article here.