My First Time Abroad (for Ketchup With Us)

It’s time to participate in the greatest blog hop out there, hosted by the amazing Mel – at According to Mags – and Michele – at ODNT. It’s Ketchup With Us, and the writing prompt for this one is Tell us about [a first] in your life. Because I met my friend Sarah, from Ireland, on my first trip abroad, and she is here for a visit TWENTY-ONE YEARS LATER (!) I decided that my post would be about my first trip overseas.

I was 18 years old, hopping on a plane – and I hated flying – to go someplace where I didn’t know anyone or speak the language. But I was going on a youth exchange, so I would be taken care of. After flying all night I arrived at the airport outside of Amsterdam to find my brand new suitcase slit from one end to the other. I still have no clue what the heck happened. As I made my way to the place where I was to be picked up, I saw no one resembling my host parents. I did, however, see a young woman with a sign that said something like Salmon…Was that supposed to say Shannon? There were a few of the same letters, so…maybe…? Turns out it WAS a woman there to pick me up – someone from a neighbouring town who was also hosting a Canadian exchange student – and off we went.

That first week was a great one.  My host parents were (and still are!) lovely people who showed me so much of their part of Holland. They also had a son a year older than I, and we became fast friends. There was another exchange student there as well – from Indonesia – and it was wonderful to have another female my age to share the experiences with.  That week I did a lot of sightseeing, learning about Holland, and talking about Canada, but it was nothing compared to what I was going to experience next with 39 other young folks from all over the world.

After leaving my host family, I was placed on a bus full of people around my age.  There were young adults from France, Hungary, Romania, Thailand, Sweden, England, Finland, Austria, the US, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, as well as another Canadian.  These were my busmates and roommates for the next several weeks.  And what a fun and memorable several weeks it was.  Complete with birthday celebrations, discotheques, laughs, romances, and lasting friendships.

Some of us have kept in touch since the trip, way back in 1993.  My friend Sarah has come to Canada three times now to visit, and I’ve gone to Ireland three times.  We’ve also met in the UK while I was backpacking after university, in France one summer, and in the Bahamas for my wedding.  That’s what I call a lasting friendship.

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And it’s not the only one.  Thanks to social media, many of us who met that summer in Holland can keep up with each other’s lives twenty-one years later.  I actually just heard from several of my old friends on Facebook today, and we are determined to have a reunion in 2018…Twenty-five years after first meeting.  How cool would that be?!

Speaking of cool, I thought it would be fun to recreate a picture of me and my friend Sarah that was taken during one of our nights out in Holland in 1993.  On the left is the original, and on the right is the recreation, decades later.

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My first trip abroad was memorable for a number of reasons, and it became the first of quite a few in my life.  That trip to Holland – and the people I met – made me want to see and experience the world.  What a fantastic “first” it was for me.


The recent death of Robin Williams shocked and deeply saddened me, as it did millions of people around the world. Perhaps it is because I was so profoundly moved by his portrayal of John Keating in my favourite movie “Dead Poets Society”. Brilliant. Inspiring. The kind of teacher I aspire to be. I know that wasn’t him, it was his character, but from the comments I have seen online from those who knew him, he was also kind, thoughtful, and inspiring.

Perhaps I was particularly affected because of the way it happened. So sad. A childhood friend of mine also took his own life a few years ago, the same way. And when I saw something about it on social media, and it was confirmed, I “lost it”. Broke down. This was a wonderful, fun, kind soul who I had just gotten a sweet message from on Facebook not long before. Someone I had grown up with. Someone who still had many years of life left to live. Someone who had children. But someone who was lost. I found out later that he was bipolar and had stopped taking his medication several weeks before.

Perhaps I felt it so deeply too because on the same day that Robin Williams passed away, I saw on Facebook that another one of my childhood classmates had passed away. In his sleep. At age 40. How could this happen? It certainly reminds me that life is short. Sadly, often much too short.

We must remember to seize each day…

The Dreaded End of Summer (for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop)

Ah, summer.  It’s always been my favourite season, for many reasons.  Unfortunately it doesn’t last long enough, and, in fact, this one’s coming to an end quickly.  I’ll definitely miss it, even though this has been one of the busiest summers I’ve had.  This blog post is in response to Mama Kat’s latest Writing Prompts.

Writing Prompt:  List 6 things you are going to miss about summer.

1)  Having no fixed time to get up and out the door.  My husband and I are secondary school teachers, so summer is one long break from work for us.  Actually, since I’ve been on a leave of absence since having our daughter, who is now 3, I’ve been working at the radio station in town.  So I don’t actually have a break from work.  That said, I don’t work full time, so on many days I don’t have a fixed time to get up.  Most importantly, there’s no fixed time for my 7 year old son, in school full time during the school year, to get up, get ready, and get out the door.  That is often a source of stress for me, because there’s the “Do I have to go to school today?”, “I think I’m sick”, “I’m too tired”, and “I’ll get dressed later” that I hear daily.  I don’t hear it in the summer.  I’m going to miss the absence of those excuses when summer ends…

2)  Having my husband home all day long.  It’s so nice having him home to help with the kids and to help with everything else that needs done in the day.  He also gets up every morning with the kids, so I can try to sleep in a bit, which I will miss greatly when summer ends.  Back to getting up at the crack of dawn.  Yuck!  (You can read about how great my hubby is here.)

3)  Being able to go to work when I’m needed.  Because I am the “swing shift announcer”, I’m called upon when someone is sick for an on air shift, or can’t make it in for any other reason.  In the summer it’s easy to go in at the last minute because my husband is home with the kids, and so I don’t need to scramble to find a babysitter for my daughter and someone to either get my son to school or pick him up at a certain time.  Once summer ends my availability is limited, and I feel like a jerk saying no when I’m needed.

4)  The weather.  Living in Midwestern Ontario, Canada – otherwise known as the “snowbelt” – means there are only really a few months of lovely weather to enjoy.  Those are the summer months.  It’s nice having the windows open daily, going outside in shorts, and feeling the sun beating down on me.  And it’s so much more convenient when getting the kids ready to go anywhere!  When the summer ends, the cool fall weather begins, and it just gets nasty after that.  (You can read about the damage our winters can do here.)

5)  The kids being able to stay up late.  It’s nice to be able to stay up with the kids and play, or watch movies, or do whatever we please, and we stay up later in the summer.  No school or work in the morning means Harry Potter marathons for Zander, and Mommy can lie in bed with Zoey for a long time without worrying about how long it actually is and how late it actually is.  The kids and I even went for a walk tonight – way past bedtime – to get a good look at the brightest and biggest moon of the year.  Beautiful.  The end of summer means the beginning of more stringent bedtimes.

6)  The many hours of daylight.  I love that it is light out until late right now.  There’s something WRONG about being somewhere at 5:00pm and it being PITCH BLACK.  Freaky.  But when fall is upon us so are the shortened days, unfortunately.

I need to squeeze the last bit of summer out of these next few weeks…and I’ll definitely miss it when it’s gone.




The Olympics I Could Qualify For…Maybe…

I am not a sporty person.  I wish I was, believe me.  I dream of running, and have for years.  The problem is that when I get out and start running, my body says, “Shannon, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”  I have a bad back, bad knees, and a bad neck.  And, to be honest, even when I was young and sprightly (that word was once used to describe me, by a newspaper reporter!), I wasn’t the athletic type.  So I will never be involved in an Olympic sport.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t ever compete in the Olympics…the Lazy Olympics.  Oh yes, this could be the perfect one for me.  (The problem is I have a hard time staying still…and so I’m not really lazy…)

The 2nd annual Lazy Olympics is scheduled to take place in Montenegro – in southeast Europe, which sells itself to tourists on its famously slow pace of life.  The only event at the Lazy Olympics is this:  lie lazily under an oak tree.  Don’t put too much effort into it though.  Just be.  The winner is the person who continues to be lazy for the longest period of time.

To show you just how lazy I CAN be, here’s a pic from my recent vacation with my husband.  It was our first in 9 years.  It was difficult to do nothing all day long, because we’re not used to it, but we managed to do it for a few hours a day at least.


Yep, I think I could be a contender!

Show Me the Ussies (for Ketchup With Us)

The lovely and talented hosts of the best blog hop out there, Ketchup With Us – Mel at According to Mags and Michele at ODNT – have asked participating bloggers to post an “ussie” – or a “selfie” with more than one person.  And because I am terrible at making up my mind, I’ve decided to post more than one.  I hope that’s allowed!! 😉  If you’d like to show the world your ussies – um, that sounded a little bit inappropriate! – all you need to do is go to Mel or Michele’s websites and link up.

The subject of my ussies, at least for this blog post, is the most important thing in my life:  my family.  They are the centre of my universe, and the centre of my ussies!  Here we go!

All of us on Christmas Eve last year – 2012 – and we were excited for Santa to come!


And then a few weeks ago – July, 2014 – on a quick vacation to Great Wolf Lodge!


My sweet babies taking an ussie a few weeks ago, during some cuddle time!  It’s incredible to believe that both my 7 year old and my 3 year old know how to use my phone to take selfies…and ussies.


And me and my precious beings.

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These last ussies are of me and my husband.  We just went on a week-long vacation – just the two of us – to celebrate our 10th year anniversary and my 40th birthday.  It was a great time to relax and recharge our batteries, but we missed our kids. Still, we managed to have some fun in the sun and capture it on camera.  (The yummy drinks served in coconuts certainly helped!)

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Again, if you’d like to show off your ussies, why not do it, and then link up to Ketchup With Us?  It’s the blog hop that’s entertaining, exhilarating, and engaging!