My Sweet Escape

Two Sundays ago I sat sweltering in our living room unable to escape the 44 degree Celsius weather outside.  The husband and I considered driving to a lake nearby before we remembered that our car broke down the day before two hours prior to attending a wedding. And considering we live in a boring suburb with minimal bus service we weren’t about to rely on public transportation to get us anywhere.

So I sulked.

“I want to get out of this city soooo bad!!!”

That evening I prayed one of my whimsical prayers that someone would just invite us to a cottage freeing us from the city heat.

The next day I got a text from my friend Sarah in Toronto.

“I know you’re probably both working, but my parents rented a cottage halfway between both of us and I’m up here for the week. If you have the time, feel free to come.”

“YEEEESSS!” I responded. “We will BE there!”

I work two jobs; one Mon-Wed and the other Thurs-Fri. I knew I couldn’t get out of job #1 because I had rearranged my schedule the week prior when husband’s parents came to visit. However I decided not to worry about getting time off work and considered this instead an answer to prayer. Of course it would work out! On Tuesday morning’s conference call for job #2 I began the conversation by saying I wouldn’t be in that week. As a casual employee, there’s a little more leniency when it comes to time off. Not a problem, they said. YEAH!

And so Wednesday evening Simon picked me up from work and we drove to a beautiful cottage on Oak Lake.

I told Simon on the drive down, “I just can’t wait to be buoyant!”

He put his hand on my knee and asked me lovingly, “When’s that going to happen?”

I responded with a laugh, “As soon as I get in the water!”

He looked at my quizzically.

“Buoyant.” I repeated. “Like, I just can’t wait to float.”

“Ohhhh,” he said.

“Did you think buoyant meant joyful?” I asked.

“Yeeeeah,” he replied sheepishly.

Not surprising, considering how down in the dumps I’ve been lately, and how on the same Sunday I prayed for a cottage I told Simon how much I missed my hometown friends.

We arrived at nearly 10pm and I was dying for the time in the lake. I love the lake. And I missed an entire summer last year of lake swimming. Not once did I jump of a dock or lounge around in a floaty. Thankfully Sarah and I are almost always on the same wavelength.

“Want to go swimming?!” she asked.

“Yes!!” I said. And the return to buoyancy commenced.

The next day we slept in, spent hours in the lake, went for a boat ride, ate delicious food, sat in stillness, read books, and played Settlers of Catan – twice. It was glorious.

On our drive home on Friday we talked about how necessary it is to unplug – no phone, no computer, no internet, no distractions, and ultimately, nothing to do. It’s an amazing feeling, and one I’ve gone way too long without. I don’t know if I’m just getting old and grey, but sometimes city life is just too much for me. I need a quiet, restful place. I need the lake. I need my friends – the ones who have known me for years. I look forward to settling down in a community, and gasp – we never thought we’d say this! – one outside of the city.

And that, my friends, was my sweet escape. I didn’t even take a picture – I was too busy enjoying the moments.

Goin’ to the Chapel

We’re engaged! Hear the story of the proposal from both sides:

In Simon’s words…

A Pre-Engagement Story

On June 1, unbeknownst to Natalie, I took a trip out to her parents’ house for lunch. I had asked to have lunch with just the two of them and asked that they not tell Natalie. They provided a delicious meal and we enjoyed great conversation. After dessert, I decided it was time to ask what I had come out to ask and said, less than eloquently, “I would like to marry your daughter, and I was wondering what you thought of that.” With subdued enthusiasm, they shared their blessing and encouragement (and also thanks for keeping Natalie from heading back to Thailand a second time).

Now that I had their blessing, the next step was to get a ring. Natalie’s mom provided me with 2 rings, that Natalie has kept at their house, for a ring size. I started to research online and even looked on kijiji to see if I could find a steal of a deal. Despite my limited budget, I was able to find a beautiful ring at a significant discount, thanks to my good friend Garry at People’s. He was actually very friendly and did, in fact, help me find more than I thought I could get on my budget.

Preparing for this past Sunday had been in the works for some time now. Months, actually. I had loads of ideas, and now it was just a matter of creating a cohesive plan and tightening up the details. I recruited some good friends and am very thankful that everyone kept it a secret. As you’ll read below, she had no idea that an invitation to have breakfast with her Dad would turn into an adventure…

In Natalie’s words……

An Engagement Story

This past Sunday morning what began as a Father’s Day breakfast with my parents at their home in the country turned into much more when my boyfriend Simon carried out an elaborate plan that sent me on an adventure across Ottawa, leading me to various locations to answer a set of interview questions, and finally ending with a private concert at Gatineau Park in Quebec, where he asked me to be his wife.

When my mom pulled out the video camera at breakfast and my dad began asking me a series of questions about Simon (Do you remember the day you met? What impressed you most about him?) I took this as an opportunity to ham it up for the camera, as I love to do. My impression was that Simon had asked my parents’ permission to marry me the night before at a family dinner and they were just making sure I was certain about him, and recording it all for posterity, until…

Until my mom presented me with a gift. “But it’s Father’s Day!” I remarked. I opened the gift, which was a scrapbook from Simon called, “Songs for My Love.” (He is a gifted musician with his Masters in Classical Guitar and has written me a number of songs). The first page described that this book contained songs for each chapter of our story, and when I flipped the page I found the lyrics to the first song he wrote for me, called “What If”. My parents handed me a sheet of paper with a set of directions. Disbelief mingled with excitement as I gathered my belongings, hopped in the car, and hit the road to the city.

My first stop took me to Joel and Pac’s home. I entered their apartment to the theme song from Mission Impossible and was forced to play a game of Simon Says and answer silly questions about my relationship with Simon in a high pitched voice and a Scottish accent (all on video). I stood the test, whereupon I received lyrics to the second song he wrote for me and directions to my next location.

“Mission accomplished.”

Next I arrived at Kyle’s, whose complete aloofness regarding my presence had me doubting that this day was going to end up with a proposal (he was just acting, for the record). The following directions led me to Simon’s apartment, where his roommate Austin grilled me with the most serious questions yet.

After receiving the fourth song lyrics and directions I arrived at Pink Lake in Gatineau Park, where Simon was waiting for me with a picnic. When we finished eating he grabbed his guitar and led me deep into the woods where we found a secluded area. I sat on top of a massive, fallen tree trunk, and Simon took out his guitar and began to sing.

He played the songs that I had collected in the scrapbook and finished by pulling out a ring and asking me to marry him. I said, “Yes. Absolutely!”

How We Met

I met Simon on October 2 on my first day at a new church, just hours after declaring, “I’m not going back to Thailand! …And I’m going to have a boyfriend by Christmas.”

Transitioning to life in Canada after living in Thailand was an enormous struggle, and though I desired to flee back to Bangkok I knew it was time to settle down and make roots. I walked into The Journey, a Mennonite Brethren church that meets Sunday evenings (where Simon is an intern) to see him leading worship at the front with just his guitar. I was immediately attracted to him, which of course meant a “ring check” was in order. A quick glace at his left hand told me he was single. After church Simon invited me out to dinner with a group of young adults…for Thai food. He drove me home that night, and many Sunday nights to follow.

There was little “connection” or “chemistry” between me and Simon at the start, but that didn’t matter. What drew us together was the character we saw within one another. It was that character that gave us the confidence and wisdom to continue walking in our relationship, and as time progressed we built a foundation that grew into a deeper friendship with each passing month (not to mention a lot of chemistry!) I am so thankful to God for bringing Simon into my life and I can’t wait for all the joys and sorrows we will share together.

He is worth the risk and most definitely worth the wait!

picnic

Pre-Proposal Picnic

the betrothed

After the Proposal

the ring

The Ring

(I burned my arm last week…the bandage has nothing to do with the day!)

On Being Burned

I’ve been burned – literally. And here’s what I’ve learned less than 24 hours later:

Lesson # 1: Buy a kettle that shuts off automatically

I was making ginger tea for my roommate Pip, who had a stomach ache. Our kettle is the kind that boils and boils until you unplug it. I forgot about it, and then I neglected to unplug it before I poured the water – at which point I don’t even want to think about how hot it was. It boiled over and spilled onto my stomach and left forearm.

“I’m buying you a new kettle. Consider it a pre-engagement gift.” – Mom

Lesson # 2: Don’t downplay your pain

Pip kept asking how I was doing and I assured her I was fine. So she went to bed, and I took 2 Advil, 2 cold showers, 2 cold baths, and iced my wounds with 2 frozen milk bags before realizing that maybe I wasn’t fine. Then I googled “scalding” and got scared. I had texted my parents, who called to see if I was ok.

“I really don’t want to talk to you right now. There’s nothing you can do for me.” Click!

Sometimes I’m such a snob.

Thankfully, they called back, and at that point in time I was sobbing. “I think I have to go to the hospital.”

“How are you going to get there?” They asked.

I took a cab.

A CAB? I know…

Lesson # 3: Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I really hate asking for help. It’s a pride thing. I am fully aware of this. I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. I didn’t want to wake up Pip, my amazing roommate, to have her help me get dressed and come with me to the hospital. I didn’t want to call my loving boyfriend close to midnight, waking him from his sleep, when for all I knew the doctors would take one look at my burns and tell me to apply ice. So I called a cab.

While I was waiting in emergency my parents showed up at the hospital, and to be honest, this made a feel a little silly. Despite the pain (and I truly can’t remember the last time I experienced so much pain) I felt small, young, and a little foolish that my parents were meeting me at the hospital. I didn’t want them to come all this way for nothing. I don’t like being a burden. This goes back to pride.

Lesson # 4: Use caution with narcotics

The doctor who treated my burns (second degree – with a nice bubbly blister across my stomach) gave me some narcotics for the pain and then a prescription for 30 more.

Never again.

At least I hope I’m never again in so much pain that I have to take them. I laid in bed until past 3am. My body was sleeping but my mind was fully alert. I decided to go into the living room to get my book, but as I walked down the hallway I nearly fell over, and then I was certain I was going to vomit. I crawled back to my room on my hands and knees and remained in body sleeping/mind awake limbo until about 6am. The fuzziness hasn’t worn off 12 hours later.

Lesson # 5: Be Thankful

As I laid face down in a bath of cold water (which slowly became warm due to my skin) I couldn’t help but think of all the people who experience my pain or worse on a daily basis. I can’t imagine what life is like for a burn victim. I said a prayer for these people, and later in the night when the narcotics made the pain tolerable, all I could do was thank God that it had passed. I may very well have some large scars across my stomach and my arm, but I’m thankful for doctors and nurses and that I have a fully functioning body that will be restored to health.

Lesson # 6: The Sky is Falling! (No, it’s not)

I’m not as important as I think I am. And why do I think I’m so important? Oh yeah, pride. I woke up at 8am after very little sleep and got dressed for work. The bosses are gone for the rest of the week, leaving me in charge. Better go, because they need me. My coworker Alex took a look at me, asked what happened, and sent me home. “We can handle things today Natalie.” Riiiiight….humbled once again.

Lessons Learned

So my goals? To be humble, to ask for help, and to receive. I am not a burden, people care deeply for me, and they want to bless me. And I am certainly blessed!

The Balanced Life

My seasonal job at Lululemon Athletica comes with some perks: like free yoga classes. And while I’m busy shoving new information into my brain (even while I sleep, yikes), such as luon, circle mesh, luxstreme, and moisture wicking, I’m also remembering the reason why Lulu gifts their employees with free yoga.

Balance.

I’m sitting in my favourite chair in my parents’ house with the sun streaming through the window and some fresh snow sprinkled on the ground. This favourite chair is also my writing chair, and as I sit here I can hear all those voices from my friends asking why the heck I haven’t updated my blog in so long.

So here’s to more balance when it comes to writing (even if I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write about anymore).

It’s Getting Hot in Here

This is not a reference to Nelly’s Hot in Here, which was my dorm’s theme song in first year (ew, gross memories), but instead to hot yoga, which I experienced for the first time on Thursday night. (In hot yoga the temperature is set to between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

My friend Pip and I decided to begin our hot yoga experience with some French-Canadian cuisine called Poutine. For those non-Canadians out there, Poutine consists of fries, gravy, and cheese curds. Take a look:

poutine

Since we made it on our own, it looked a little bit different. We used sweet potato instead of regular potato, and grated cheddar instead of cheese curds. It’s all about balance.

We started walking to Rama Lotus with a bit of hesitation. Did we drink enough water? Will we faint in exhaustion? How hot is hot?

As the lights dimmed, the temperature soared, and we began a series of poses, the sweat began dripping from our faces and our arms, our pores emanating the sweet stench of onion and garlic mingled with beef stock. By the time the class was over and our muscles were fully relaxed, we looked in awe at the minimal amount of sweat across our stomachs and backs and exclaimed, “This fabric really is moisture wicking!” (We were wearing Lulu products, naturally).

We walked home from the studio, eager to engage in a post-hot yoga celebration of white wine and black forest cake.  Upon reaching Pip’s house, however, we chose to exchange the white wine for water and grabbed two forks to indulge in one piece of chocolate-cherry goodness.

Like I said – balance is key.

Retail Therapy

Know what I’m thankful for?

I’m thankful that I really love my coworkers.

Even if I’m not exactly in a place I want to be right now, I’m happy that I work with a great group of women with whom I can laugh, act goofy, and share pieces of my life.

I’m thankful that despite my daily mental breakdowns, I can go to work and cheer up in an instant, simply because of the people that I’m with.

That is a blessing that I don’t take lightly.

At the end of the day, I love to be with people. And if that means I’m selling clothes instead of doing a thousand other things that my prideful attitude says is “better”, then so be it.

Conversations with Erin

I love Erin Z. She’s my Bangkok sister. We lived across the hall from each other on the fifth floor of Baan Bunrapa. I miss seeing her everyday.

Both of us are back in North America, adjusting to this awkward season. In a recent Skype conversation we bonded over being unemployed and single:

Me: Update me on life!

Erin: My life is “www.livingwithmyparents.wordpress.com.”

Me: Glad we can relate.

Erin: Do you know how embarrassing it is to meet guys?

Me: Yup.

Erin: ‘So what do you do?’ ‘I’m unemployed.’ ‘Where do you live?’ ‘With my parents.’

***

Erin: How are you liking your apartment?

Me: Well my roommate’s getting married so–

Erin: OMG! Your life is totally like 27 Dresses! (Not the first time she’s compared my life to the movie. Read about it here).

Me: YOU ARE SO CRUEL!!!

Erin: Everyone around you gets married!

Me: [Not pleased] Thanks Erin.

Erin: Seriously, out of all of my friends, you deserve it [marriage] the most.

Me: Aww [softened a little] …thanks Erin.

One Month Later

I’ve been in Canada for one month now. These are my thoughts. Perhaps disjointed and unpolished, they describe how I’m feeling amidst the adjustment:

Language

Though I’m no longer bowing at people when I greet them, I still have to remind myself not to say, “sawatdee ka” in place of hello/goodbye as well as “korp khun ka” for thank you. And the fact that I have to tell myself not to do so makes me sad.

Size

Where are all the people? Seriously, where are they? I know that Canada is sparsely populated when you take the size of our country and compare it to the amount of inhabitants, but even living in the city I have to wonder where everyone is. Is it just my street that’s sleepy, or what? I also have a large distaste for row upon row of cookie cutter houses, and recently commented to my mom, “the suburbs make me itchy.” Yes, I am a city girl indeed.

Transportation

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BTS at National Stadium

Nothing beats the BTS (sky train) in Bangkok. Really. Hop on, hop off, get where you need to be quickly and efficiently. I have a car and I do love driving, however it baffles my mind how far apart everything is. Also, there’s no parking spot for me at my apartment and seeing as how I already got a ticket, it’s going to be public transportation for me. Unfortunately the bus system isn’t as speedy as the sky train. On a positive note, I did the math and it’ll cost me the same for a bus pass as it did for a BTS pass.

Convenience

I would love to walk down my street and get some fresh fruit from the stand or a hot yummy omelette served on rice. Or anything else for that matter. I didn’t have a kitchen in my apartment in Bangkok so I always ate street food. I do enjoy cooking, but I don’t enjoy always needing to have the right ingredients on hand, and that I can’t just step outside and find everything I need within a few blocks.

Cost

Yikes. With the exception of my bus pass, most things are more expensive here. Especially food. One thing I loved about Thailand is that I could eat out all the time. Not just street food, but in a restaurant with my friends. And unless I was eating Mexican food I could do it for about $3, drink included. My family and I went to Boston Pizza for my niece’s 2nd birthday last week and a large pizza cost nearly $30 – more than that with tax. Yikes! At $1 a plate, that means I could have dined on Pad Thai from my favourite stand or Pad See Ew from my favourite lunch time restaurant (Corner Soi 12!) 3o times for what we paid for one pizza.

People

What I miss most about Thailand is the people. I love interacting with the Thai people, and I love the fact that there is always someone to interact with. I love that as you pass someone in your neighbourhood (and beyond) you will always engage in a wai (bowing your head and bringing your hands together like you’re praying), accompanied by “sawatdee ka/kap!” and best of all, a BIG, HUGE, friendly smile! That’s the best.

There was the lady who made crepes outside of the 7-11 on the way home from work who would wave and call me beautiful, sometimes offering me some corn that she just bought from the vendor across from her; my dear, lovely security guard at my apartment, who was always so joyful and hospitable; Khun Noi at The Ruth Center, who knows everyone in her slum community by name and cares for them with a love that is so evident and inspiring; Som at ECPAT who would rifle through the drawer of medication to find a remedy for whatever ailment I had; and many, many more.

Friends

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Nat & Gigsy

It goes without saying that I miss my friends and my community dearly. If I have ever felt a place of belonging in my 27 years, it was in Bangkok. Sunday morning breakfasts with Gigsy. Vietnamese dinner dates with Erin. Chats over coffee with Hannah and the girls. Saturday nights at NewSong. Thursday evenings with some of the most influential women I’ve ever known. Songkran with Jenny and Michelle (one of my favourite memories). Sundays at ECB and all of the lunches that followed. Outings with the awesome staff at ECPAT. The list goes on. And I’m seriously tearing up right now.

The Positive

Of course, I must say some positive things about being in the western world.  One thing that I really appreciated right after I got home was the peace and quiet. It was so nice to sit on the deck in my parents backyard, where all I could do was stare at the trees and listen to the birds. Bangkok is a busy city and if you want silence you need to be intentional about carving out those times. That said, I’m ready for some noise again.

Amy & Nat, friends for 25 years

Friends and family are undoubtedly a highlight. I had the opportunity to attend my dear friends Steph & Andrew’s wedding, reconnect with great pals on a camping trip, and spend some rich time with my life-long friend, Amy. I also got to catch up with my friends Melissa, Rachel, and Kaitlyn – girls that I can connect to and are inspired by because they are mission-minded – Asia in particular.

Oh yeah, I even, finally made some friends here in Ottawa. Now I can breathe. (I had two friends here prior to going to Bangkok. It wasn’t pretty).

The best part of all would be reconnecting with my dear niece Olivia, who just turned 2 and is more adorable than ever (I always think, “How can she get any cuter?” but she does!) Olivia became a big sister on August 6 when Isabelle came into the world. I lived out of province when Olivia was born so I never got to see her as an infant. Undoubtedly I look forward to having that opportunity with Isabelle.

It’s an Adjustment. A Hard One

I’m a proud Canadian and always will be, but this adjustment period has been hard. Right now I’m still mourning what was an amazing 6 months in a place that truly felt like home. Adjustments take time so I’m thankful when people are patient with me and don’t get offended if/when I’m a little withdrawn or not completely sold on North American culture as of yet. It took me very little time to adjust life in Thailand (probably because I felt like I had already been there with all the reporting/dreaming I did about it) and it feels like it’s taking centuries to adjust to life in Canada. The hardest part is knowing that I want to go back, but not knowing how/when/if that’s going to happen, and what it will look like if I do. Not yet at least. Time will tell. And time is not my enemy.

I think that’s it. Thanks for reading my blog post-turned-journal entry. And if you’re thinking of me…I could definitely use some prayer.

Thanks!