The Year That Was

Dec 25, 2013 by

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My everlasting love… hockey.

I’m not going to sugar coat this year and tell you how fabulous it was, how utterly inspiring everything I’ve done has been. The truth is, as you will soon come to see, my life has been completely imbalanced. That, and this past year has been the most difficult time in my life to date. One of the main reasons I haven’t been able to write about all that properly just yet is because I’m still not quite sure where the story begins and where the story ends. I have been actively searching for the beginning and conclusion in the mess of this trying tale, yet it sits idly on the horizon, just out of reach. Part of my problem is that the huge imbalance in my life prevents me from making the trek over to the horizon – the border of my mind – where this story sits packaged, waiting for me to unwrap, consume and digest. Soon, I pray, that what energy I have remaining will allow me to make the journey.

The Year Begins…

I’d had a wonderful Christmas at home. January, for as long as I can remember, has always spelled out not only my birthday but the return to school. This year was no different. I flew back to Waterloo to be greeted by my optometry family and some homemade cupcakes spelled out into my initials.

Term started with our annual hockey competition amongst the 4 different years of optometry students. The Corneal Cup was probably the highlight of my term. Too bad that it had to come and end so soon…

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My friend Karen and me, getting ready for a smackdown.

Things get slammed into the boards pretty quickly after this, and before I know it, I’m swamped with school. What happened to January, February, March, April? School, that’s what. I’ve written about how difficult school is and has been, and while I tried to make time for some things like a trip into Toronto with friends, the occasional hangover brunch with friends – the occasion hangover-inducing night for that matter – when I look back on that term, I don’t remember it fondly. I was still adjusting to life at Waterloo, and most days, that adjustment just wasn’t going very well.

Being in a long distance relationship has been less than perfect, but for no other reason than the distance between my love and me. One of my favourite memories from this winter was when he flew to Guelph on business. The trip happened on short notice, so it was a surprise and a treat for the both of us.


Giggles in Guelph

The Year Continues…

This is how it all goes: I’m in school 5 days a week, and an average day is from 8:30-4:30, give or take here and there. After, we all go home and study. Rarely do I have the energy (or time!) for going to the gym, studying, cooking myself a good meal and making time to be creative (which I need to survive) all in one night. Therefore, I’m always choosing between the things I’d like to do in a day. Oh yeah, and keeping my place clean and tidy? Ha!

Going home for reading week during February was nice given that I could see family and some of my dear friends, but the trip proved to be more stressful than I had anticipated. Most days I was holed away in my parents study, breaking my back trying to get ready for midterms.

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With my dear, dear friend Claire on a surprise visit to Winnipeg during reading week.

Midterms are a beast of their own genetic mutation, especially in a program like mine. We write one exam and immediately begin preparing for the next. An idealist would advise against neglecting ones other courses, but often it is the impending exam that takes sole priority. Once that one is done, we move on to the next. And so on and so forth, until we’ve come to the end of midterms, and we realise we’re horrendously behind, and then guess what! Time to prepare for finals… because if you don’t start now, you may as well drop out of school and become a stripper.

That term was terrible on so so many levels, for reasons I don’t want to discuss at this moment. For a while, they were personal reasons, and I felt that I was struggling alone. Then one night, one of my classmates was in a life-threatening accident, and suddenly, our class was united in our pain. When I dawdled into my morning class 10 minutes late with my hot tea and my laptop, I saw the line of professors standing at the front of the class, and everyone was mute, frozen, unmoving. I knew something had happened. I knew something was wrong. The head of the school was saying standard lines like “if you need someone to talk to” and “counselling services has been notified.” My heart dropped when I heard these mutterings. I don’t know of many people who have never received tragic news like this before, and this certainly wasn’t my first time hearing something like this. I knew it wasn’t good. One of my friends came to me where I sat, with a pink nose and tears in her eyes and told me that our classmate “was hit by a car.” To me, that immediately meant the worst. I asked what she meant, and at that time, we had little information other than she was alive. As the days passed, and we all plodded on with our studies the best we could, news kept coming back of a slow recovery, but a recovery nonetheless. Each piece of news we got was encouraging and positive. But school was unrelenting. The turmoil we’d all faced had been great, and while I can’t compare and am not comparing what happened to my friend and her long recovery to what I went through, the damage, the heartache, the pain was there. And for me personally, that was compounded on top of all that which I’m choking on to process and make my peace with

I guess it wasn’t all bad… 

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A couple of events happened to brighten up my term. Eye Ball 2013: everyone got gussied up and headed to the annual banquet where I confirmed once and for all that there must be an attractiveness component to the interview. I mean, just look at my gorgeous classmates!

After our last final exam this spring, 4 of my friends and I piled into my car (with a giant Claude Noel head) and headed to Buffalo for a hockey game. This was probably the single happiest night of first year for me. Exams were done, I was wearing a blue wig, the king can beers kept coming, and oh yeah, the Jets won.

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Oh hey, Claude.

My friends Colin and Claire…

Every so often, we are blessed with friendships that are fast and easy, full of mutual love and shared enjoyments. These kinds of friends are rare, and I’ve been blessed with a handful of friends like this – people from Brasil and Denmark, friends from elementary school, friends through random connections who very quickly worked out a little niche for themselves in my heart. These people are inexplicably dear to me, and it is because of them that I believe the saying friends are the family you choose to be true.

Claire and Colin were no different. We met a year and a half ago and immediately became inseparable. These two quickly became integral to my plans whenever I came home, either from school or traveling. In fact, when I came home for Thanksgiving this term, I spent nearly an entire day with them, which would have constituted about 40% of my visit. In February this year, I came home as a surprise – I surprised my grandparents, I surprised my boyfriend, and together, Colin and I worked out a way to surprise Claire. Nothing brought me greater joy than her reaction when she saw me.

I say we met a year and a half ago at a wedding. Oddly enough, we actually officially met on St Patrick’s Day that year. Having been raised in a predominantly Irish family, with céad míle fáilte nailed to our front door and always hearing stories of the old sod and of the Potato Famine, I was drawn to these two people who had come to Winnipeg from Dublin. I was curious about them and wished I could have gotten to know them, but it hadn’t been the right moment to create a friendship. At the wedding, however, we bonded instantly.

This fall, they told me some news; I was both thrilled for them and terribly saddened. They would be leaving Winnipeg to travel South East Asia for 5 weeks before returning home to Dublin to try again. The weak economy had forced them to seek jobs elsewhere, thus bringing them to my hometown. But I knew they, especially Claire, had been pining away for home for a long time, so I am happy they are there, but I miss them terribly.

The real good news now is that I have friends to stay with when I go back to Ireland. And the absolute best part is that I get a local’s perspective, which as we know, is my favourite part of traveling. Claire has already sold me on her favourite haunts in Dublin, and I can’t wait to see the city (and country) through her and Colin’s eyes.

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Always nice to have friends to go to a wine festival with…

A summer of travel…


Moscow, Russia


St. Petersburg, Russia


Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

It would be nearly impossible to sum up my summer of travel in one paragraph. If you are following my blog regularly, you will know that I am slowly working my way through thousands of photos and hundreds of stories, and I don’t even do this chronologically or methodically. I write based on my mood, and this is how my blog unfolds. I wrote a post to give an overview of the path I took around the world, and for the rest of it, you’ll just have to stick around won’t you?

The one thing I will say is that this past summer, though thrilling and rewarding, added to my imbalanced life. There was nothing sustainable about this form of travel. I packed a lot into my summer, and while I do not regret it for one second, I knew it was ambitious and I wondered if I would succeed with all my plans. While I did manage to get everything done that I wanted (even seeing more than I had expected) and thankfully did not get jailed in Russia whilst crossing the border to Mongolia, I can say with all honesty that I’m not sure how many more trips like this I will be able to physically manage. Sleeping on the trains and in horrible hostel beds and lumpy hard beds in gers really did a number on my body, and I know I have to travel differently in the future. This trip was epic by all means, but in the future, epic is going to have to take on a new meaning. And I’m okay with that…

Back to school…

When I got back from my summer travels, there was time for a trip to the lake, a football game and a wedding, and before I knew it I was on the road again.




I don’t even understand football…


Before all hell broke loose, and we still looked presentable

Thankfully, my mum and I were able to take a trip to Boston before school was cranked up too high on the intensity scale. This is another trip I’m working my way around in photos and stories, slowly but surely. I fell in the love with the region and I just can’t wait to visit again.


We’d been dreaming about those lobster rolls…

First term of second year began, and for the first time in my life, I realised how introverted I am, and I really began to embrace this. It was so deliciously liberating. I’ve had friends in the past, who I now understand to be genuine extroverts, who told me how they couldn’t understand how I could be so happy to be alone, to spend time by myself, and not constantly be surrounded by other people. I understand now that this is my introversion. Reading a book with my cat on my lap brings me immeasurable peace and satisfaction. That’s difficult to explain to an extrovert, but here we are.

The term goes like this: study, study, study. Home for thanksgiving. Write a butt-load of exams. Carve pumpkins! Study, catch-up, study, catch-up, study study study. MONTREAL. Study. Exams, snow, balsam scented candles. Home.


Thanksgiving and snow leopards, and oh yeah, those Irish people too…


Carving pumpkins with my family

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My optom family in Montreal

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Crazy eyes and these kids in Montreal

Despite all the difficulties this year and last have brought, I can’t deny one thing: how unbelievably lucky I have been. I went to school last year wondering if anyone would like me, and I came away with a new family, people from all over Canada I will be friends with for the rest of my life.

There were some brushes with cancer, and then cancer took a couple kicks to the teeth. Fuck you, cancer, is all I have to say. That shit is everywhere, and anytime cancer takes a hoof to the ‘nads is a win in my books.

And school, the all-consuming portion of my life, has been more challenging than I ever could have imagined, and while I know the hardships I’ve faced in that arena were complicated by the competitions of other mental arenas, I remain faithful and full of hope that my life is going to be so much better in the long run thanks to the hard work this program has demanded of me. Plus, I’m beginning to plan how I’m going to set up my clinic on Easter Island, and just thinking about it is titillating.


Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

As someone who travels often and regularly, one of the most frequently asked questions I am asked lately is “Where are you going next?” Last year at this time, I was already putting my paperwork together for my Mongolian and Russian visas. This year, however, I’m in a different place. I’ve been craving a Canadian summer, full of patio beverages, bike rides and swimming at the lake, picking berries and making blueberry crisp, reading in the sunroom and having brunch with friends. I feel that it is time for me to spend some time at home, home being Canada, and that is my vague answer to you regarding where I will be next summer, or at least for a portion of it. While I will not be going around the world, and I will not be eating mutton fat in Mongolia, it looks as though I may be spending time in a quintessentially Canadian destination, a place I’ve never actually visited before, and until the plans are confirmed I am not going to be announcing where that is. All I will say is this: it is a place I’ve been told countless times from innumerable sources that I will undoubtedly fall in love with.

Where do you think 2014 will take me? 

Let’s make 2014 a year of friendship – like my Facebook page and follow me on twitter. I’d love to get to know you!

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  1. Colleen, to answer your question. I think 2014 will take you to yet another new, higher level of inner growth. A continued journey maybe not neccessarily to inner peace (that’s a biggie) but that of resolve. Your enlightmentment will grow exponentially and your smile will continue to be contagious. Or was that a geographical question? 🙂 I will pick someplace where you will go dog sledding!! LOVED the post btw…:)

    • Colleen

      I like your vision of 2014 for me… although I’m not sure about the dog sledding. Still, I wouldn’t say no if the opportunity came up!

  2. Oh Colleen when did you find time to study? *laugh*
    Great year in review – love seeing you in your hockey gear… one of these seasons I’ll get up there for a game with you.

    • Colleen

      Maria – do you mean to play or watch hockey? Either way, I’m in.
      And as to your (likely) rhetorical question… I don’t know. 😐

  3. What a year! Your ability to balance studies and travels is so impressive.

    • Colleen

      Thanks Silvia! It definitely isn’t easy, and it has taken me a while to find my groove. Thank you for your kind comment. Please stop by again sometime!

  4. Sounds like you have had a busy year. Looking forward to reading about the next one 🙂

    • Colleen

      😀 😀 Thank you so much. I’ll have lots of stories, you can be sure of that.

  5. Ah I’ve just found your blog and am glad this was the first post I’d seen as an introduction to it! What an amazing year. I can’t wait until the day I get to see Russia! A Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year! Excited to be following your blog in the new year!

    • Colleen

      Thank you so much for your positive energy Rebecca! I hope you do stop by again. Let me know if you ever have any questions about Russia.

  6. Emy

    I just love this post. I love looking back on things and you did it so well. It’s crazy how no year looks like the previous one. Yours definitely looked like a really busy one, with lots of ups & downs. You actually inspired me to do a post like this one! I’ll try to write about 2013, but my memory of dates is so bad I’m not sure I can do it as well as you.
    I am sorry that you had to deal with what seems to be really unpleasant things. I hope they’re behind you now and you feel much better ( looks like it is the case so that’s good!)
    One of my uncle died of cancer this year, I agree with you 100%. Cancer is such a shitty shitty thing. It makes me scared a little bit..
    Your plans for summer sound amazing. I’d love to go to Canada and the States this summer but ah. money is always the issue. It would be lovely to meet you!
    I hope you’re doing really good Colleen!

    • Colleen

      You’re such a good friend, Emy! Thank you for your kind words and honesty. I will look forward to seeing your post like this. Don’t worry too much about the dates – just go for it!
      I’m sorry to hear about your uncle. *Sending you a hug*
      And I can’t wait to share more about my summer plans… 🙂 😀 Stay tuned!

  7. Damn you’ve been busy! I’m envious of your travels to Russia this year — I’m getting so excited to watch the winter Olympics in a month. Maybe in 2014 you’ll make a trip out to Los Angeles? You can stay in my tiny fingernail-sized apartment? Bring your cat? Yes?

    • Colleen

      Um, yes yes and yes?
      But seriously. Yes.
      I’ve only been to the LA airport, and every traveler knows THAT doesn’t count…
      My travel plans are just beginning to bud at the moment but who knows where 2014 will take me.. Any plans for you to come up north? x

  8. Looks like an incredible year to me, especially considering you managed to find time for school in all of that! Well done.
    A Canadian Summer sounds like a dream to me… Honestly our country could be travelled in for years & still not be discovered. All the best in 2014 for you! Can’t wait to hear more about your past travels. x

    • Colleen

      Jacquie, sometimes I don’t know how I fit school in at all!
      I agree with you about Canada – such a huge and diverse country. I don’t think I will ever get bored of being Canadian!

  9. It was a fabulous year, Colleen! Your posts from Russia were my worldwide favorites 🙂
    Best wishes for 2014!

    • Colleen

      Oh thanks Alex! I do look forward to hearing from you in the future and seeing more of your beautiful photography. Keep it coming!

  10. All the best in 2014 Colleen. Sorry I have dawdling on your request. I am actually quite stuck with where and what I want to write about. You have had quite a year and it’s inspirational.

    PS – Love that there is a pic in there of Breezy Bend. Jenny and I got married there and I play there as much as I can!

    • Colleen

      Thanks so much Kevin. I always love hearing from you – and I love coincidences like the Breezy Bend one. I knew there was something special about that place! 😉
      Sending you my best wishes for 2014 as well. Hugs to Jenny!

  11. How you manage to juggle such a demanding course with travel and the general day-to-day mechanics of life is beyond me! After discovering your blog late in the year, I’m now going to dip into your archives and riffle through your posts on Russia, it’s a country I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time.

    • Colleen

      Listen, it hasn’t been easy! 🙂
      I’m so glad we’ve connected in the blogosphere – I just love your blog. You visit some wonderful places, you always have gorgeous photos (and cute outfits) PLUS we seem to like to do all the same things. *ahem* penis museum *cough*

  12. I love this post – I very nearly published a similar one yesterday, for many of the same reasons. Bring on 2014!! Enjoy your time at home in Canada – sometimes there’s nothing like being at home x

    • Colleen

      Oh thank you Alli! I would love to see your year in review. It’s not too late… 😉
      Thank you for your well wishes. Sending mine right back at you. x

  13. I love your roundup style-fresh, witty, and inspiring! I do have to ask if the understanding of football was indeed actual football or American football? Either way, I understand neither!

    It sounds like you had a whirlwind of a year. I hope 2014 is a bit more mellow but still filled with plenty of amazing and stress free adventures…for the most part.

    Sláinte 🙂

    • Colleen

      Thank you Julie!
      The football I’m talking about is American style (or Canadian, really…) football. It’s never been my cup of tea, but I’ll go for the beer and the atmosphere.
      Thank you for your well wishes. I send you the same. 🙂

  14. I often wonder how sustainable long term budget travel is on bodies… you can’t be the only one that ended a long trip completely exhausted. I’m excited for your Canadian adventures, though! I’m sure it’ll be a bit of a relief to explore without the added stress of a second culture/language to deal with.

    Also on the introverted note, I feel ya. There’s nothing I’m looking forward to more this month than books, maybe a day at the local library and some quality time with my puppy. Even being home a week, responding to all the text messages has tired me out. Embrace the alone time! You’re definitely not the only one.

    May 2014 be invigorating, exciting and free of cancer and tragedies! I can’t wait to read my way through your life. 😀

    • Colleen

      No… I know I’m not the only one, but I don’t think enough long term travellers admit how hard it is on ones body or take the time to recuperate. Too many people think they have to travel a certain way to be “authentic”, and the truth is that few people can actually hack the permanently traveling lifestyle without any r&r.
      So far, it looks like this year is going to be a year of flux, and I know I learned an equation for flux in physics class, but that all seems irrelevant now that this year is happening. This is going to be a year of change, and I’m okay with that. I’m so glad I’ve got a friend like you to join me on the journey, to read your way through my life. I love the sounds of that.
      A day at the library surrounded by books would be divine right now. I’m glad you have that soul healing at your fingertips.
      Thank you for your well wishes. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go this year (and beyond) as well. I know you are going to do wonderful things.

  15. Looks like such a fun year! I can’t believe it’s 2014 already! And cute photos by the way! I love when bloggers include photos of themselves and friends. Makes it more personal!

    • Colleen

      Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and my photos!

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