The Adventure of Life: Update

I feel like the last few posts of mine have been very much produced by the self-reflective realm of my brain. I guess the past year and a bit has made me contemplate a lot.

But it’s been a while since I last wrote and, honestly, I don’t want to think too hard about anything right now. So, I figured a good ol’ fashioned update-on-life post was in order ;)

Well, after the fiasco with getting sick and having to bow out of the show I was supposed to sing in back in March, I decided to reach out to another venue. Luckily they said they’d be glad to have me perform there!

In the meantime though, I had great adventures to tackle — a solo trip to Peru …!

I tried out hostel living for the first time and met some seriously awesome travellers. I went on a walking tour and ended up making friends with our guides Arturo and Mario. It was great to hang out in Lima both with my hostel roomies as well as some locals.

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Arturo and I taste-tasting desserts at the Plaza de Armas in Lima’s historic center

Of course I needed my getaway in nature, so I took off from the busy streets of Lima to the remote Andes mountains. Tucked away at 3,200 metres in those grand ranges is a tiny village called San Pedro de Casta. From there, you can do a hike up to Marcahuasi which is known for its strange and sacred monolithic stone sculptures.

After trekking up to 4,000 metres elevation, I felt like I had run a marathon. Once reaching the top, my young guide Oswaldo and our faithful canine companion Chance had our lunch at this panoramic vista and all passed out for a nap.

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On the Marcahuasi plateau, trying to stay vertical for this photo

I was only in Peru for eight days, but felt like I had been gone forever thanks to the full experience I had while I was there.

When I got back to Toronto, it was time to buckle down and prepare for the show! I actually had a 2-hour slot, so lots of new songs had to be learned. Then, one day I received word that the venue I was going to perform at was closing down its doors. I couldn’t believe my luck (or complete lack thereof)!!

I debated giving up … or giving this performing thing one more shot. After a hopeful phone call to the most awesome Michael Burton at the Free Times Cafe, I had a date and time booked there for July!

In the meantime though, summer was in full swing. I was finally coming out of hibernation mode and June saw my birthday, which basically amounted to an eating spree over four days and change. I was honestly kind of dreading turning 34, but by the time the day came around, I had accepted my fate. Really, I have lived such a full 34 years and am so grateful for everything all of my life experiences have taught me thus far!

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Starting the birthday eating marathon (not pictured here: my lunchtime scotch)

After all the food and wine consumption, I needed to summon some restraint so I could get my voice into gear for the show. This was such a long time in the making, but all of the practicing and prepping was worth it. We had a full house and some of the most dearest people to me came out to support <3

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Special thanks to Roarshack Photography for capturing the memories :)

A cover of one of my fave love songs, “Ready For Love” by India Arie <3

After the show, my brain had to switch to camping mode fast. I had three weeks(!) in Killarney Provincial Park planned for August, but was way behind in being prepared for it!

In the meantime, I kick-started the camping season with a short trip to Bruce Peninsula, hiking the Lion’s Head trail. It was also my first time volunteering for Parkbus, the awesome service I took last year to do my solo camping trips.

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Enjoying solitude and dreamy clouds at McKay’s Harbour on the Lion’s Head hiking trail

Then, my epic three-week backcountry adventure in Killarney Provincial Park arrived. It was so unreal to be out there for so long — but at the same time, it felt completely right.

I went canoeing with my friends Dave and Steve, who had taken me on my very first backcountry trip ~15 years ago. We enjoyed the hot weather, lots of swimming, and the super addictive game Hanabi.

After they left, I was joined by my cousin Lilli, friend Lucy, and their dogs Smokey and Noodles for the first ~5 km of the La Cloche Silhouette hiking loop. We got the rainy part of the trip, but some sunshine for a day hike to The Crack and lots of food and laughs.

Then we parted ways and I took off for a ~12-day solo trek around the rest of the loop. Words just can’t do justice to the experience … at this time, it feels like a complete dream that I was standing on those beautiful ridges, looking out onto those awe-inspiring views.

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Proof it wasn’t all a dream …

After sadly rejoining civilization, reality hit big time. It was September (still is September), a really big month for me. It’s the ending of a couple of journeys, including my current job and the career path I’ve been walking down the last ~8 years.

I’ll also be saying good-bye to not only my apartment but to the city I’ve grown up and lived in all my life. It’s a sort of temporary farewell, but it marks a huge life change … I’m nervous, excited and ready to take the leap into The Great Unknown.

Over the past couple of years, I have come to realize without a doubt that living more of my life in nature is the right thing to do for myself. I love being in the outdoors, perhaps need to be out there. Every time I get back onto the trail, amongst the trees, that sense of comfort and happiness comes over me. And so, I’ve made the decision to do just that.

To start this new journey, I’ll be taking a vacation of sorts to Tuscany, Italy to volunteer on an organic vineyard (hey, someone’s gotta help make the vino). When I get back, I’ll be living the farm life and exploring a new career path that lets me live more in the outdoors and travel abroad. I’ll keep writing about my adventures, whether it’s here in my humble abode in the blogosophere or on a new website currently brewing in my mind :)

In the meantime, I hope you’ve all had a full and exciting past few months and that you never stop dreaming for the future.

Yours truly,
Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

Nature Selfie

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The assignment of taking a self-portrait compels one to ask themselves: “What words would you use to describe yourself? How will the viewer know what matters to you? What story do you want to tell?”

While in some ways there’s nothing particularly fascinating or unique about this photo, I feel like it answers all three of those questions.

What words would I use to describe myself?: I enjoy the simple things in life, I absolutely love and need to be immersed in nature, and I strive to be genuine and honest (which I think is expressed through the direct, open relationship between myself and the camera, or viewer).

How will the viewer know what matters to you?: The position of lying in the grass, book and  removed sandals in the background, and I think even the simple t-shirt I’m wearing communicates this aspect of my personality.

What story do you want to tell?: The story of returning to a less complicated life — one where my practice of happiness includes quiet spaces and time, and being in nature.

When I lay here in the park, my toes in the grass, marvelling at the puffy clouds in the blue sky, I mused to myself: This is why children are so happy and free in their minds — they immerse themselves in nature and find joy in these simple, quiet moments. Here, the demanding worlds of the work grind, social standards and even digital connection fade away.

What would your self-portrait look like?

~ Cafe <3

Photo taken: August 7, 2015
Camera: Blackberry Q10 cell phone

This photography assignment was from National Geographic’s Getting Your Shot.

Eating Ethically: The Chickens that Changed My Life

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A few weekends ago, I volunteered at Cavaleiro Farm, my friend’s business located just outside Toronto.  It was one of those events that, when I look back years from now, I’ll be saying changed my life.

I’ll be writing up an article for the Farm about my full volunteer experience.  So I’ll save the details for that piece.  Today, I just want to talk about two things.  Chickens.  And eggs.

And no, not about which came first.

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My hiking boots are a hit for these peckers. 

When I arrive at the farm, one of the first things to greet me is a group of birds — chickens, turkey and guinea fowl — who promptly begin to peck at my shoes.

Apparently, there’s a bunch of reasons for their pecking tendencies, but a main one seems to be to establish “who’s boss”.  So, I guess they’re trying to tell this farm foreigner (i.e. me) that they were here first.

Throughout my visit, the farm fowl are ever-present as they follow us around the land, chill with us on the porch as we sip our beers, and try to sneak their way into some potted plants that are temporarily sitting outside.

I meet Rudy, the gentle, spirited farmer who is taking care of the birds, and learn more about his lifelong passion for raising these animals. They seem to be drawn to him when he stoops down to take a photo for me.

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Hmm, don’t seem to recall them pecking at his shoes.

I end up having an awesome volunteer experience at Cavaleiro Farm and say good-bye to my newfound farm animal friends the next day. I can sense that this is only the tip of the iceberg and the start of a new relationship with the world of food …

* * *

When I get back to the city, I make a trip to NoFrills to stock up on some groceries. NoFrills is a large supermarket chain in Canada known for its super cheap prices.  I would typically be psyched to have one of these in the neighbourhood, but as I walk around the aisles now, I just feel downright confused.

I’m especially perplexed standing in front of the shelves of eggs.  One farm purports to be selling eggs from hens “raised in enriched colony housing equipped with perches and nesting areas.”

The lightbulb in my researcher brain automatically flashes and the bullshit detector zones in on the term “enriched colony housing.”

Immediately, an image materializes before me: A team of marketers are sitting around a boardroom table, excitedly brainstorming how they can reel people in to the farm’s new line of egg products. They have to find a way to describe the living environment of the egg-producing hens (photo below, from the farm’s website) to their unassuming target consumer.

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According to the farm’s website, Enriched or furnished cages” have more room than a conventional farm for the hens to “move around, stretch, and spread their wings.”  Oh yeah, baby, these birds are living the high life.

“So, how are we gonna sell this thing?” one of the marketers kickstarts the discussion.

“Well, these cages have perches that the birds can roost on,” another marketer points out emphatically.

“Right, right,” the first marketer murmurs, furrowing his brow as a fury of buzzwords whips across his mental whiteboard. Suddenly, genius strikes: “Furnished! The cages are furnished!”

A third marketer claps his hands together with glee. “Yes! People will love the idea of a homey environment. Shit, we could even use the word ‘housing’ instead of ‘cages’.”

The second marketer nods vigorously, then adds: “You know, these cages are definitely bigger than those jail cells all the other birds are crammed in.”

“Bigger,” Marketer One repeats in agreement. “Bigger. Better. Improved. Enhanced. Enriched. … Enriched!!

“BRILLIANT!” Marketer Three is about to fall out of his chair. “Enriched! No one will know what the hell that means!”

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Conventional egg farm — “the jail cells” and where the majority of Canada’s table eggs are born. (Screenshot from the aforementioned farm’s website).

Shaking myself from the marketers’ meeting I have just imagined myself to have witnessed, I scan the shelves for a more promising carton.

Another brand is selling eggs from hens “who live in an open-concept barn environment where they are free to roam, feed and nest.”

I start to ponder: Just how large is this barn? How many hens do they throw into this “open” space? And if that’s the best description this farm can come up with to describe the hens’ living environment, is it safe to assume that the birds aren’t living outside the barn at all?

And what do you know?  When I start to do more research on open-concept barns, I run into images like the one below.  These fall into the “free-run” category of eggs.

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Yes, run free in your wide open-concept abode.  Run free.

While these birds may not be locked up in cages, they aren’t allowed to go outside. They’re also typically de-beaked, which makes me sad for these natural peckers.

Coming from a criminal justice background, I can’t help but liken this to our prison system. These birds are serving a life sentence in confinement. Except, what crime did they ever commit? At this moment, in my mind, humanity sucks.

My head is spinning from all of the advertising nonsense that seems to be screaming at me from the row of shelves. In the end, I just walk away from the whole section of confusing labels and say screw the eggs.

Thing is, I don’t think I could even trust an “organic” label on a product at this point unless I’ve seen those birds roaming freely firsthand. I’ve started learning how even that term can encompass a vast area of greyness.

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The Cavaleiro Farm birds.  I believe they’re happy :)

I never really understood what it meant to eat organically and ethically, but I’m starting to get it now.

I’ll be waiting for the Cavaleiro Farm chickens to start laying eggs, but until then, I’m still stuck pondering how I’m going to make my next over-easies for breakfast.

What’s your take on eating ethically? 

– Cafe <3

Want to learn more?:

  • Rolling Stone article on farm animal cruelty undercover activists: Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat
  • The Meatrix, a humorous but compelling series of educational videos on how farm animals are treated: www.themeatrix.com
  • Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food — a can’t-put-down book written by Sonia Faruqi, a Wall Street investment bank analyst turned investigative farm animal crusader: Project Animal Farm on Google Play

Know any other great resources on ethical farming and eating?  Please share in the comment box!

Inspire Me

Lately, all I’ve wanted is to be inspired. Inspired to dream. Inspired to know that there’s bigger things out there waiting to be experienced. Inspired to think outside the box of my own little world as I know it.

When I was younger, one of my secret wishes was to be a photographer for National Geographic. I loved reading the magazines, marvelling at the extraordinary photos that someone got to take. Yes, some other person was in that place that I could only stare at on the page before me.

They got to view that beautiful landscape in person, or witness that animal as it was gliding in motion. I would daydream that I was that world explorer, riding along the Serengeti in Africa in a jeep, waiting for the opportune moment to capture something crazy spectacular that unfolded before my eyes.

That dream was eventually forgotten, but I still love reading National Geographic and I still get that inspired feeling when I gaze at the photos that have been shot all around the world by adventurers. Or that feeling of complete disbelief when I read articles like the one about free-climbing (where people mountain climb up thousands and thousands of feet without any ropes or harness).

It’s not that I necessarily want to be inspired to scale a mountain ropeless (I don’t). But I want to be inspired to know that there’s a whole wide world out there that’s so incredibly different and beautiful, and that if someone else could have been there to take a picture of it, well, then no doubt I could be there too.

– Cafe <3

Top photo: Moonlit Canoe, Alagash River

Morning Landscape, Lithuania

Tundra Trek, Svalbard

Aurora Borealis, Iceland

Olympic National Park, Washington

Waikawau Bay, New Zealand

Yosemite Free-Climber

Serengeti, Tanzania

Oceanic White Tip Shark, Bahamas

If you could be teleported to anywhere in the world — on the peak of a mountain, at the bottom of the ocean, or maybe just on the patio of a coffee shop in another country — where would you want it to be?

 Dream big!

All photos from National Geographic

My Favourite Place in the Entire World

I cannot find my Killarney map anywhere. This is so distressing. I feel as though I have lost a piece of my soul *sob*

Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario is my favourite place in the entire world. Yes, I have left the province before. Yes, I’ve been to places like Australia, Japan and Hong Kong (God bless their dim sum). But no matter how many amazing experiences I’ve had traveling the world, no other place has ever gotten me as excited and happy as Killarney has and still does. Continue reading