Lessons from Birding During the Pandemic

Birding has helped me appreciate moments of beauty, like seeing this Common Loon come up beside my kayak, during this difficult time in history

I’ve seen that bird before, but not here.

Using my zoom lens like a pair of binoculars, I fixate on a pale-bodied woodpecker with a distinct cherry tomato nape on the back of its head, and black and white checkered wings. It’s not a Hairy or a Downy– the ‘regulars’.

It’s a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a bird I’d first observed a few months earlier on a canoe-camping trip in Frontenac Park. I take a few photos, but the woodpecker is so high up in the tree that I know it will be difficult to see clearly.

I stand silently in the snow, watching the woodpecker hammer frozen bark in a calming drumbeat. I lose myself in the peacefulness of the moment, like being mesmerized by a flickering campfire.

For a few glorious minutes, I forget about the pandemic and the lockdown and Donald Trump and virtual schooling and the sad reality that, due to travel restrictions, I haven’t seen my boyfriend since 2019.

It’s similar to the feeling that I get at the end of a yoga class, when I’m lying on my back with my eyes closed.

Worrying about nothing.

Thinking about nothing.

Breathing in. Breathing out.

I take another photo just before the woodpecker flies away. 

Such is the beauty of birding. 

*

The first time I saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was in May 2020, even though they migrate to my cottage area every year.

I somehow unexpectedly and unintentionally fell into birding, much like other people fell into baking or puzzling or home fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After I was forced to cancel a March Break trip to Ecuador, I went to my parents’ cottage in Norway Bay, Quebec for what I had thought would be three weeks: a week of Spring Break followed by two additional weeks of school closures as we waited for the pandemic to clear.

Three weeks became six months.

My brother even mailed me some spring and summer clothes from Toronto via Canada Post: a few t-shirts, shorts, a couple of summer dresses to save me a drive.

To give myself a break from virtual teaching and long hours in front of a screen, I went for walks behind my cottage, and worked on my photography skills by taking pictures of wildlife. Birds were particularly challenging subjects to practice on because most of them don’t pose or wait for the photographer to be ‘ready’.

Photographing birds introduced me to diverse species that I had never noticed before, despite coming to the cottage since I was a kid. I became addicted to learning as much as I could about the birds in my backyard and brought my camera everywhere I went– on walks along the beach, kayaking, on bike rides, and on drives–so I would always be ready to capture a chance encounter with a rare species.

Throughout the pandemic, as more and more milestones were cancelled, like my high school’s graduation and several friends’ weddings, birding was a constant, reliable source of joy. It was something I was always allowed do, as everything else was shutdown.

Birding also taught me many lessons. Here are a few of them.

Adventure can happen in my own backyard

My parents and I acted like safari guides and tracked this family of eagles.

I have spent the last decade actively seeking adventures away from home—Hiking in Patagonia, teaching in Colombia and the High Arctic, cycling in Spain and Italy. The more I learned about diverse people, cultures and environments, the more I would learn about myself.

Learning about the birds in my backyard has sparked similar feelings of excitement and aliveness that I get through travel. It seems that encounters with the ‘unknown’ can happen wherever we are in the world and when we stay still enough to pay attention to our surroundings, we give ourselves a chance to know a place more deeply.

In Spring 2020, after the river thawed, my parents and I acted like wildlife safari guides and tracked a family of eagles that nested nearby. We learned which trees they preferred to perch on as they hunted and were able to predict where they would be depending on the time of day.

We watched three eaglets grow into juvenile eagles and saw them hunt for the first time. I felt like a cameraperson filming a nature documentary as I watched one juvenile eagle feed its sibling some sort of small mammal (from the photos we think it might be some sort of weasel?).

One juvenile eagle feeds its sibling some sort of small mammal.

Although I had originally planned to spend the summer of 2020 teaching a course in Costa Rica and the rest of my time in Ecuador, being able to adventure in my own backyard helped me develop deeper knowledge for one of the places I call home.

There is beauty in the ordinary

It was comforting to watch familiar birds like the Blue Jay while the world was transforming in unimaginable ways.

Pre-pandemic, a few of my friends from Toronto came to the cottage for a weekend getaway. When they saw all of the blue jays that come to our feeder, they immediately got out their phones to take pictures and videos of them, commenting on how “pretty” and “colourful” they are. For me, blue jays are quite common so I rarely take pictures of them.

As the pandemic progressed many everyday things like going to work, meeting up with friends, going to the gym, making plans, were canceled. The ordinary, common birds like blue jays, chickadees, blackbirds, and nuthatches, started to bring me just as much, if not more joy, than the rare species I was discovering.

Watching Black-capped Chickadees always makes me smile.

From hearing the sweet whistle of the chickadees to watching nuthatches battle each other for space at the feeder to noticing the innocent way that song sparrows hop over a log pile, I found comfort in paying attention to the familiar while the world was transforming in unimaginable ways.

I also found myself appreciating the ordinary, everyday moments in my daily routine that stayed constant through this time of turbulence and change.

I quickly learned how much I had taken the ordinary, everyday routines in my life for granted.

Little things like my morning coffee, chats with friends, students showing up for virtual classes, and watching the sunset with my parents: these little doses of normalcy provided a sense of comfort and routine when so much of life was out of my control. Not surprisingly, I started to take more pictures of blue jays!

Borders are both real and artificial

We watched in awe as Canada Geese migrated across the Quebec-Ontario border.

My cousin Laura texted me a video of Canada Geese on the Ottawa River a couple of days after the Quebec government closed the borders between Ontario and Quebec.

We had been talking a lot about the consequences of borders in the previous weeks. How long would her American fiancé be able to stay in Canada? If he went back to the US, would he be able to come back? Should my boyfriend and I continue an already complicated relationship now that international borders were closed indefinitely? When would we be able to return to Ontario? Would our friends and family be able to travel to their cottages in Quebec at all this summer?

For the next couple of weeks, we watched as what must have been thousands of geese flew overhead. It was like this section of the Ottawa River in front of Laura’s cottage had transformed into a migratory check point.

Migratory birds represented a freedom we no longer had, something we had clearly took for granted with our Canadian passports and cosmopolitan international lives. While we were stuck within our provincial and national borders, the birds were free to continue their journeys.

A Canada Goose takes flight! Travel is a freedom I took for granted before the pandemic.

Throughout the spring migration, we connected with friends, coworkers, and loved ones in different postal codes via Whatsapp, Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms for meeting in cyberspace. We showed that we could transcend border closures. Even though this feeling of connection was artificial, it allowed us to maintain relationships across borders.

It was exciting to discover various species of birds that migrate to Norway Bay, Quebec, like this Baltimore Oriole.

Now more than a year has passed and the birds are traveling north in the spring migration once again. I continue to take pictures, excited by the return of the blackbirds and the herons, and warblers, and other migratory birds, inspired by the freedom of their movement and fueled with hope that, we too, will be able to cross borders this season.

Being Present Brings Joy

I had never seen Cedar Waxwings prior to 2020. Once I noticed them, I realized they were everywhere.

Prior to the pandemic, I began the training process of completing the 200-hr Yoga Instructor certification. It felt timely that I had been learning about the health benefits of being still and living in the present moment at a time when we couldn’t do much else.

I was surprised to learn that birding required me to practice mindfulness in a similar way that yoga does. Often with birding, we hear birds before we can see them. So in order to identify birds, I need to be still, breathe, listen and wait for them to appear.

Once I learned the whistle of a Cedar Waxwing, I started seeing them quite regularly around my cottage. I had never seen them before and suddenly they were everywhere—in cedar trees in the islands I passed when I went out kayaking, or trees I biked by while cycling in Gatineau Park. Learning to be more present allowed me to see birds that I had been passing by year after year without really noticing them.

The Common Yellowthroat was another species I saw for the first time during the pandemic.

I have a habit of taking on too many responsibilities to the point where I often feel like I’m sprinting towards a dead end. Birding has helped me to learn that when we are quiet and still, what we are seeking can show up when we least expect it.

I was lucky to photograph this rare Black-bellied Plover when it stopped on the beach for a rest en route to the Arctic.

When I’m observing or photographing a bird, whether a common sparrow or a rare owl, all that matters in that moment is watching the bird exist as it is. When I look at a bird, I am captivated by beauty. I am not doing anything else or thinking about anything else. I’m just present with something beautiful in nature.

So why do I like birding so much? It brings me joy. It forces me to slow down, be still, and pay attention to the everyday moments of beauty.

Birds connect us.

Several members of the Norway Bay community connected as a result of this Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The last year of lockdowns and social isolation have been very difficult. Birding has helped me manage these feelings of loneliness and disconnection. When I’m looking for birds, I don’t feel “lonely” even if I am alone. Instead, the solitude in nature brings me a sense of peacefulness and calm. I feel connected to the environment around me- the trees, the elements, and of course, the birds. Hearing birds chirp, call and sing, also reminds me that nature continues to thrive around me, which inspires me to feel more resilient.

My Dad keeps me updated on the bully White-breasted Nuthatches!

In addition to helping me connect with nature, birding has helped me connect with other people. Sharing the pictures of my sightings with my parents and other family members has brought me just as much joy as the act of birding itself. Since I started photographing birds and learning about new species, my small COVID “bubble” has developed a collective curiosity about backyard birds. We text each other updates on new birds at the feeder and share in the excitement when someone spots a rare species. Birding has given us something positive to chat about other than the pandemic or virtual teaching, like the bully White-breasted Nuthatches at the feeder, or updates on the latest sightings of the Red-bellied Woodpecker!

I made new friends while photographing this Eastern Bluebird!

After I posted some photos on Instagram, a friend suggested that I register with eBird, a citizen-science conservation program managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to share my sightings with other birders and learn more about birds. eBird has introduced me to a wealth of local knowledge and has connected me with other birders in my community. eBird has even helped me to make new friends!

An eBird reviewer contacted me after I has reported this sighting: A Common Merganser mama and 37 ducklings seen in Algonquin Park.

Life continues.

I have brought my love of birding back to Toronto with me and have been pleasantly surprised to learn that there are lots of great places to go birding in the city, like Tommy Thompson Park where I saw this Red-tailed Hawk.

The pandemic has caused us to make changes to the lives we thought we would be living right now. Even for those of us who have been fortunate to stay healthy and keep our jobs, we have all experienced some level of grief or loss for the life we used to live, and for the future we thought we would have.

Many of us have referred to this pandemic life as being “on hold”. However, from watching the birds continue to migrate, mate, visit the feeders, and sing their songs, I realized that life goes on in spite of all of the global hardship.

While it takes a lot of work and resilience to accept the many tragic losses of the past year, life is not “on hold”. It continues, and it is up to us to make the most of what we are living right now.

Birding has helped me appreciate the little things in life, like seeing a cute Red-breasted Nuthatch, as our world was turned upside down.

I have been fortunate and privileged throughout the pandemic to keep my job and my health. I haven’t experienced the tragic losses that so many have had to endure. Still, it takes a daily practice to remind myself that I am lucky when I feel sad.

One thing that has helped me foster a sense of greater gratitude was actively putting myself in the path of joy by identifying little moments in the day that make me smile—watching the chickadees come to the bird feeder or seeing a couple of geese swimming with their goslings. Many of my moments of joy in the past year involved birds.

***

When we are quiet and still, magical moments can appear when we least expect them to. After months of looking for owls, a Great Gray Owl posed for some photos when I went for a walk to watch the sunset.

Maybe birding will become another one of my short lived passions like learning guitar, knitting, podcasting, and questionably blogging. 

The Hairy Woodpecker is one of the more common species that I learned to appreciate more.

Regardless of birding’s future in my life, I am so grateful for all of the birds, for adding joy to my days and for teaching me to live life more fully during a difficult time in history.

Thank you to all of the people who shared in my love of birds and who encouraged my enthusiasm.

Photography

Travel has allowed me to see the world through a different lens. So I’ve started taking some photos of what I have learned along the way.

Recently, I’ve started publishing my photos as stock photos so others can use them for their own creative projects.

Check out my portfolios to see more of my photos:

iStock

Shutterstock

Here are some of my favourites:

White-tailed deer buck in Norway Bay, Quebec, Canada

Blue jay sitting sitting on pine tree in Norway Bay, Quebec, Canada

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Rare puma sighting in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

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Enter a captionHoatzin mother & baby in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

 

Capuchin monkey in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

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Fishing in Ontario, Canada

debbie and dave canoeing through clouds
Canoeing in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada

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Condor flying in Patagonia, Chile

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Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

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Locals catching a ride on the back of our jeep in la Zona Cafeteria, Colombia. 

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Hiking in the Valle de Cocora, Salento, Colombia

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Hummingbird in Colombia

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Playa Cabo, Tayrona National Park, Colombia

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Central Park, New York, New York

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Peluqueria, Guatape, Colombia

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Bogota, Colombia

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Llama, Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

Cottaging, Camping & Book Promo: My Summer at Home

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Camping on Little Coon Lake in Algonquin Park

 

“It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.” 

― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life

Since I’ve been living and working away from home over the last couple of years, I’ve taken every opportunity to travel during my holidays.

For me, the purpose of travel is to deepen my understanding about people and life. Through exposure to new people, places, and cultures, travel has broadened my perspective about the many different ways that one can live a happy and meaningful life. It has also helped shape my identity by reinforcing which values I held onto and which ones I let go of.

So it may seem strange that I chose to stay home this summer during my holidays from teaching…especially since my bucket list keeps getting longer and longer.

One of the main reasons that I stayed home was to promote my first novel, See What Flowers, which I recently published through Amazon CreateSpace. As I self-published my novel, I’m required to do all of the marketing and promotion myself. While this work has been very fun and interesting, it’s also quite time-consuming. As writing a novel has always been a dream of mine, it was important to me that I invested the time and energy into making this happen.

Another reason that I stayed at home was to spend time with friends and family. Several of my closest friends live abroad and came home for parts of the summer and it was important to me to hang out with them as much as possible while they were here.

By staying at home, I was able to go to the ROM in Toronto for the first time with my friend Meira who lives in Israel. I was able to meet my friends’ Lisa and Jessie’s new babies. I was able to attend my friend Paige’s wedding in Creemore. I was able to have some long chats with my friend, Laura, who lives in New Zealand, and attend a Blue Jays game with my friend Jill who lives in Colombia and her awesome dad. I was able to explore a few of Ontario’s Provincial Parks with friends and family. Oh, let’s not forget that I was also able to spend last Saturday night alone with my parents at the cottage listening to Taylor Swift on repeat.

While I still intend to travel to as many different places as I can, my summer at home has helped me see the value of making time for the people and places that matter most to me. Although travel has been one of the most incredible teachers in my life, some of the most formative experiences for me have resulted from building deeper connections with the people and places I’ve known forever. Turns out that some of my best adventures have happened in my own backyard.

Here are a few photos from ‘local adventures’ that I partook in this summer:

Looking for moose
First annual cousins canoe camping weekend in Algonquin Park!

 

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Pink Hues over Little Salmon Lake in Frontenac Provincial Park

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From South Africa to Collingwood, E-Bay and I make excellent wedding dates! (At our friend, Paige’s wedding in Creemore, ON)

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Kayaking at my cottage in Norway Bay, Quebec

debbie and dave canoeing through clouds
Canoe camping with friends I met in the Arctic in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

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Practising my nature photography skills while canoeing and kayaking

Cooking camping
I spent a lot of time in the kitchen…Cooking fajitas in the backcountry at Frontenac Park!

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Camping with my cousin, Jenn, and her son, Cameron, at Bronté Creek Provincial Park

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Book signing at Café 349 in Shawville, Quebec

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Book Promo! Scruffy says “It’s a page-turner!”

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Teaching fitness classes at Goodlife whipped me in shape for this 1.5 km portage at Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

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Exploring my neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant Village in Toronto

Mundo Lingo
Practising my French and Spanish at Mundo Lingo in Toronto

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Checking out the Blue Whale exhibit during my first visit to the ROM (even though I’ve lived in TO for 4 yrs on and off)

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^ My heroes ^ Many evenings at the cottage were spent binging GOT with my parents!

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My first novel, See What Flowers, is on the shelves at Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore at Yonge & Eglinton in Toronto

^ I started teaching myself how to windsurf at the cottage…this involved at least 20 wipeouts. Thanks to my Aunt Pat for rescuing me from a near storm.

In addition to these things, I also did a lot of NOTHING. (Although I’ll admit that a lot of this nothing was spent watching fan commentary about GOT Season 7 on YouTube!) I’ve learned that doing nothing every once in a while fuels creativity, reduces stress, and makes space for spontaneous surprises. It also makes me excited to get back to work in a couple of weeks once I feel fully rested and recovered (However, I’ll likely be saying something different on Labour Day weekend!)

See What Flowers Book Signing at Café 349

flowers cafe

Thank you to everyone who came out and supported my first novel at Café 349 in Shawville, Québec today! It was so nice for me to chat with some new and familiar faces about books, publishing, and summers in Norway Bay.

One thing I find hard about self-publishing, is that I am required to do all of the book promotion and marketing myself. This means that I have to sell myself and my work. As a shy and humble person, it is quite a challenge for me to ‘knock on doors’ and self-promote. Luckily, I have an enormous support network of friends and family who have helped me along the way. I have been touched and overwhelmed by all of the ongoing support you have provided for me.

Thank you to everyone from Norway Bay, Shawville, and the Pontiac who came to my book signing. Special thank you to Ruth Smiley Hahn at Café 349 for providing me with the opportunity to promote my work.

Paperback copies of See What Flowers are available to purchase in Café 349, or through Amazon.ca, and Chapters/Indigo. See What Flowers is also available as an eBook.

Upcoming Events

Thursday, August 24, 7:30pm-9:00pm

Ottawa Book LaunchTerrace on the Canal, Ottawa, Ontario, featuring acoustic performance by The Bristol Hum

Sunday, October 1, 1pm-4pm

Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto, Ontario

signing books at cafe 349

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Flowers on shelf 2

Flowers on shelf

 

Ottawa Book Launch: See What Flowers

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Reading from See What Flowers at the Toronto Book Launch

I’m excited to announce that I will be launching See What Flowers in Ottawa!

The event will feature acoustic performance by Ottawa-based band The Bristol Hum, author Q & A with Megan Valois, and book reading and signing.

Event Details:

Thursday, August 24, 7:30-9:00pm

Location: Terrace on the Canal

Cost: Free, no tickets required, first come, first serve

Copies of See What Flowers will be available to purchase for $20, cash only.

Facebook Event: http://bit.ly/2vexe6u

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Signing books that I wrote at the Toronto Book Launch

Additional Information:

Amazon listing for See What Flowers: http://amzn.to/2u0yYQZ

Chapters/Indigo listing for See What Flowers: http://bit.ly/2vjY1Ok

Shannon Mullen’s Author Profile on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1e6r62f

Louise Johnson’s article on the Toronto Book Launch: http://bit.ly/2f59Cuw

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Upcoming Events:

Saturday, August 12, 11am-2pm

Book Signing at Café 349, Shawville, Quebec

Sunday, October 1, 1pm-4pm

Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto, Ontario

My novel, See What Flowers, is now available at Chapters/Indigo!

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How exciting that Chapters/Indigo, Canada’s leading bookstore, has made See What Flowers available through the online store! You can find the listing here.

Paperback copies of See What Flowers will also be available in select Indigo locations in both Ottawa and Toronto soon.

See What Flowers: Upcoming Events

Saturday, August 12, 11am-2pm

Book Signing at Café 349, Shawville, Quebec

Thursday, August 24, 7pm-9pm

Book Reading and Author Q & A at Terrace on the Canal, Ottawa, Ontario

Sunday, October 1, 1pm-4pm

Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto, Ontario

Have you read See What Flowers? Please support me by writing a review!

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 11.44.14 AMIf you have read the book, you can support me by writing a short review and providing a star rating via:

Amazon (if purchased through Amazon)

Indigo (if purchased through Indigo)

Goodreads (if purchased directly from me, borrowed from friend, purchased through any platform)

Thank you and happy reading!

Where I Wrote It! The Making of See What Flowers

Toronto Reference Library
My début novel, See What Flowers, is available on Amazon in paperback and eBook

The first draft of my début novel, See What Flowers, was written in Toronto, after I’d returned from just over a year of teaching in Nunavut, Canada. (Check out my interview in Shedoesthecity for details on how living and working in the Canadian Arctic influenced the writing and research for my novel. )

In addition to Vancouver and the Arctic, much of See What Flowers is set in Toronto, particularly on Dufferin Street and Bloordale Village. Landmarks such as Christie Pits Park, the Baldwin Steps (Spadina stairs by Casa Loma), Snakes & Lattes, Toronto Western Hospital, High Park, and the #29 Dufferin bus are described in the novel.

Not only is Toronto featured in See What Flowers, but various locations in the city also inspired the writing of it. Here’s a few Toronto landmarks where See What Flowers was written:

1. Boxcar Social (Summerhill)

Boxcar

Boxcar Social is my favourite café in Toronto. I love the ambience, the lattés, and the back patio. One Sunday afternoon, I even saw Andrew Coyne, one of my heros in Canadian writing, there. He was writing too. I was writing. He was writing. I thought, maybe one day, we’ll both be Canadian writers. Maybe one day.

Boxcar will always have a special place in my heart because that is where I finished the first draft of See What Flowers.

It was a Saturday night in October 2015, just a few weeks before I left Toronto for a year to teach in Colombia. I arrived at the café at about 7pm intending to stay for a couple of hours. The café turned into a nightclub and I didn’t even notice. At midnight I was still writing. Some guys came over to ask me if I was freezing and if they should close the back door. I didn’t even notice that the back door was open. I didn’t even notice that it was dark out. I didn’t even notice that the café had turned into a bar. It was like I was in the zone on a long run. All I could focus on was what I was doing right then. The writing.

The last thirty or so pages of the book contain the strongest writing. They are also the most autobiographical and get as close to the truth of life as I know it. I’m really proud of them. So thank you, Boxcar Social…maybe it was the music, maybe it was the coffee, maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the crowd, but you certainly inspired something in me the night I finished the first draft of my first novel.

2. Toronto Reference Library

Reference Library

In 2015, I took almost a year off teaching high school to write. But I kept my job as a fitness instructor at Goodlife Fitness Clubs and taught lunch time classes from Monday to Friday at the Yorkville, Manulife Centre, and Bloor Park locations. My days usually involved writing at my aunt and uncle’s Forrest Hill mansion (where I was living) in the morning from about 8:30am-11:30am, then I would go teach my class from 12:15-1;15pm, and in the afternoon, I would go to the nearby Toronto Reference Library from about 2:00-5:00 pm.

Luckily, my good friend, Keira, was writing her Master’s thesis at the time, so we would often meet and write together at the library. This enabled us to take coffee breaks together and support each other in what can be a very isolating process.

One thing I loved about writing at the Toronto Reference Library was that I was surrounded by thousands of books. The books were written by humans. Maybe I could write a book, too. It was also great to have a free space to use for the afternoon during a time when I had very little income.

3. Balzac’s (Toronto Reference Library)

balzacs

All of those afternoons spent writing at the Toronto Reference Library made for many, many coffee breaks at Balzac’s. I often brought my laptop with me and stayed there for an hour or two for a change of scene. Balzac’s coffee is some of the best in Toronto. They even have an Atwood Blend, named after Canadian literary icon, Margaret Atwood. So perhaps Balzac’s coffee contains some secret ingredient to inspire great writing.

4. Saving Gigi

Saving Gigi.jpgSince she lived in the west end at the time, often my friend Keira and I would meet at Saving Gigi a hip café on Bloor at Ossington. It serves coffee, beer, brunch, and amazing salads and sandwiches. The part I loved most about writing there is that it attracts the staring artist type. I was always surrounded by others working on screenplays, articles, blog posts, graphic design, and other creative projects. Their work made my own creative venture seem less of a silly fantasy and more of a worthwhile venture.

I was inspired and motivated by others struggling to pursue their dreams at a time when social pressures were encouraging me to develop a sustainable financial plan and settle.

5. Bloomer’s 

Bloomers

Just west of Saving Gigi is Bloomer’s, a homey vegan café which serves coffee, tea, beer, whiskey, salads, sandwiches, and delicious home baked goods. It is an amazing space to write, especially in the summer. It has big booths and tables, a positive vibe, and a garage-style open window which allows you to write while people watching the passerby’s on Bloor Street.

Bloomer’s is the only café in Toronto that I wrote at which is actually featured in the novel, See What Flowers. Adam and Emma’s basement neighbour, Jess, describes a terrible Tinder date experience that she had at “Bloomer’s, you know, that great vegan café at Bloor and Ossington?”

6. TTC

TTC

Most of my writing happens when I’m not writing. I get ideas when I’m walking or running or biking or thinking or staring into space. Or reading. I get inspired by ideas that were written by other authors and incorporate them into my characters and plot.

So when I get an idea in the midst of doing another activity, I often stop and write it in my phone. Then I email it to myself and incorporate it into the draft of my writing.

In March 2015, I marked the OSSLT (Ontario Literacy Test), which is a great opportunity for teachers to gain experience in assessment. But it is also a bit soul crushing. It is like an assembly line for grading essays. I marked the same answer from thousands of students across Ontario for two weeks straight! It took me over an hour to travel to the location of the OSSLT at the Toronto Congress Centre. I had just started writing the first draft of Parts 1 & 2 of See What Flowers, and much of it was written on the 52 Lawrence West bus as I worked a little creativity into an extremely monotonous work day.

Where I Wrote It: Outside of Toronto

While I wrote the first draft of See What Flowers in Toronto, much of the editing happened outside of the city.

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Many of the edits were done at Juan Valdez café in El Cable, Manizales

Kaffe Florida
I went to Kaffe Florida almost every other day while I was working in Manizales. Much of the second draft was written here.

norway bay sunset
The final draft and edits were completed at my cottage in Norway Bay, Québec in August 2016.

See What Flowers is available as an eBook and paperback on Amazon. Thank you everyone for all of your support.

Book Cover for my Début Novel!

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I’m excited to announce that my début novel,  See What Flowers, will be available on Amazon on May 20.

The fantastic cover was designed by Stella_e, a platinum-level Croatian designer who won the contest I ran through 99designs, the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace.

I would HIGHLY recommend using this site for any graphic designs you need ex. posters, merchandise, advertising, packaging, books & magazines, etc.

For more info about the contest click here.

See What Flowers, Toronto Book Launch:

Thursday, June 15, 7:30pm

The Steady Café & Bar

1051 BLOOR ST WTORONTO, ON, M6H 1M4

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I Told a Story at True Stories Told Live Toronto!

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Storytellers Charlotte Blake Alston, Erin Rodgers, me, Karima Armin, and Marsha Shandur

I’ve trekked in the Andes & Alaska and moved to the Arctic by myself. I’ve taken risks for love, even though I wasn’t sure if it would work out.

Telling a story at True Stories Told Live Toronto was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

Why?

I’d been to TSTL several times and the storytellers are always engaging and entertaining.

At school, students fall asleep in my classes all of the time…even during gym…

The last time I tried to tell a story to my friend at the bar, she excused herself after five minutes to go to the “bathroom”…

Plus, my story was scheduled during the Toronto Storytelling Festival so I was in the line-up with Charlotte Blake Alston and Karima Armin, ACTUAL storytellers who’d traveled from out of town for the event.

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My storytelling début at TSTL Toronto!

True Stories Told Live Toronto is a fantastic monthly storytelling event held at The Garrison. It’s organized, curated and hosted by Marsha from YesYesMarsha.com.

Although the bar is packed for shows–I’d estimate 200+ people were in the audience for my story, it feels personal, like your at a family gathering.

It’s a fresh space for connection and intimacy in a city that can sometimes feel cold, lonely, and isolating.

Somehow, I pushed through my fear and sense of impostor syndrome and told my story. It was really fun, and while of course there are things I would change for next time, my first live story definitely went better than expected. I feel proud of myself for standing up and doing something that scared me.

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Stephan wearing his Cavs jersey on the frozen Arctic Ocean

Click here if you want to watch my story, Arctic Basketball Team. Join the Facebook group for info about future TSTL events!

Inspiring Women Series: A Conversation with Sarah Davis

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Sarah (on right) with her three daughters (left to right): Madeleine, Julia, and Christine during a family trip to Africa

“Both personally and professionally you have to learn to accept yourself and forgive yourself. You’re never going to be perfect…”

Sarah Davis was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, and is the youngest of four children. After moving briefly to Chicago while her father completed his PhD, then to Montreal, her family eventually settled in the Greater Toronto Area, where Sarah attended high school in Port Credit.

After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Queen’s University, Sarah worked as a Chartered Accountant at Ernst & Young, and then moved into telecommunications where she held roles for both Bell and Rogers.

In 2007, Sarah left Rogers for a Financial Executive position at Loblaw Companies Limited. From 2010-2014, she served as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Loblaw’s, and currently serves as the company’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

As the mother of three daughters, Sarah’s managed to find some balance between her personal and professional roles. However, she emphasizes that it is hard to do everything well, and has learned to accept herself, forgive herself, and recognize when she is doing the best that she can.

“I certainly had some feelings of guilt when I thought that I wasn’t the mother who was going on the field trip or who wasn’t going to the school and volunteering.

Sometimes that made me sad. That I couldn’t be that mother.

But I think you just have to decide how you are going to be and then accept yourself or else you just feel guilty all of the time.”

Particularly while she was going through a divorce at the age of 32, Sarah was motivated to work hard and efficiently in order to support her daughters at home. Throughout her career, she has made it a personal goal to eat dinner with her family as much as possible, and tries to avoid bringing work home. As her two oldest daughters are away at university, Sarah currently lives with her second husband and her youngest daughter (who is in Grade 12).

Despite having reached a high level of career success, Sarah never placed heavy expectations on herself to achieve specific promotions. Instead, Sarah always “thrived on doing a good job” in whatever role she held.

“From a career perspective, you have to recognize that your career is really long. So don’t worry if you don’t achieve everything all at once.”

In this episode, Sarah talks about accepting herself as a mom and a business professional, the challenges and opportunities for women in the business world, and learning not to worry about “things you can’t control.”

The Inspiring Women Series is a podcast dedicated to sharing the stories of the many women who have inspired me in my life or who have inspired the lives of others. You can subscribe to the Inspiring Women Series podcast in the iTunes Store and can listen to my conversation with Sarah below.