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The gorgeous walled city of Carcasonne

The gorgeous walled city of Carcasonne: part of our 10 year anniversary trip through France, Spain and Morocco this past summer

Happy New Year, everyone! May you all have a wonderful and auspicious 2013.

It’s been a while since I’ve done my milestones column–I don’t know if I actually wrote one in 2012 at all!

And, while I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions (I figure, I don’t need to wait till the New Year to make changes–for me that’s just procrastination. If I want to change, then that’s the best time to make the change), I do think the clicking over of one calendar year to the next is a good point at which to look back and see what all has happened in the past year.

For me 2012 has been exceptionally busy and dotted with milestones–atypically so. It marked the fruition of many longer term, multi-year undertakings. I expect I’ll be looking back on this year rather wistfully (but happily–even if I only get a year like this once in a while, I’ll take it and be grateful!). Just as 2005 was a year of personal challenges and many, many losses, 2012 has been a year which has reminded me how blessed I truly am–thanks, world!

I’m really grateful to all the family and friends in my life, both online and in person–you all have helped, inspired and supported me in so many ways. I know that without all of you, in all your different ways, both large and small, none of this would have been possible. Thanks especially to my supportive husband Tom.

I’m also deeply thankful to have been born where and when I was born, to have lived in this time and this country where women of mixed ethnicity have such amazing opportunities, and for the choices made by those around me, which helped to make me the person I am. And yes, I have worked really hard for all of the things I managed to accomplish this year, but I don’t fool myself into imagining that hard work is everything. It makes a big difference, of course, and while it is a necessary prerequisite to all this, it isn’t sufficient. Some of it is pure, blessed and amazing good luck–accidents of birth, blessings of nature and nurture, and the ability (for which I take no credit) to  learn something from the setbacks, the losses and the challenges.

Career/Education

Falconer Hall, one of the two buildings of the law school, taken on my last day, just after I handed in my final, written assignment.

Falconer Hall, one of the two buildings of the law school, taken on my last day, just after I handed in my final, written assignment.

By way of background: in 2009, I was fortunate enough to gain admission to the University of Toronto’s law school–the top ranked law school in Canada. This has meant that for the past three years I’ve gotten to attend classes taught by amazing legal thinkers, alongside dauntingly bright, amazing and accomplished fellow students. That’s been a fantastic experience of itself: engaging with fundamental issues about rights, law and the ways in which they intersect with politics, society, culture and the world at large. Absolutely fascinating.

  • 2011/12 was my strongest year academically–hooray! Got the hang of the law school thing just in time to leave it, alas. I already miss the great discussions I used to have with my classmates, and have felt really privileged to have been able to attend law school in the company of such a great group;
  • Graduated from law school;
  • Studied for and wrote the barrister and solicitor exams (aka the “bar exams”)–and passed!
  • Started articling;
  • Made my first court appearance;
  • Researched and drafted my first real factum, as well as many other such claims;
  • Prepared documentation for the sale of a franchise among other such transactions.

Writing/Publishing

  • Konstantin's GiftsReleased my fantasy novel, Konstantin’s Gifts, which is set in an alternative version of 19th century Russia–a story in which a psychotic nobleman experiments with his serfs, injecting them with various mixes of viruses that cause mutations which, in the wild, form the basis of our myths and legends about supernatural creatures like werewolves and rusalki, and in the process creates a new kind of creature: the virunetic. This is the story of some of the serfs who have been changed–their escape and their process of coming to terms with the ways in which they’ve been changed. The book is the result of extensive research into 19th century Russia, as well as a lot of work writing, revising and editing the book itself. Releasing the book was the culmination of all that work, and deeply satisfying, at so many levels (and in 2013, I hope to release a print edition);
  • Released a short story anthology, Of Myth and Memory, consisting of some previously published, and some totally new short stories, all of which relate to myths and fairytales in one way or another;
  • Passed the 1500 mark for book sales–and counting! I don’t know that this is great by professional standards (I really have no idea)–but with zero advertising budget, and minimal resources of time, money, and knowledge (I have no clue how to package and sell a book except what I’ve been able to pick up in a very ad hoc way), I’m genuinely thrilled by this figure. Thanks to everyone who was kind enough to buy one or several of my books!
  • Finished writing The Cobra’s Bride, a NaNoWriMo novel I’d written a number of years ago, and completed a preliminary revision;
  • Completed NaNoWriMo–length-wise at least. The resulting lump of writing is pretty rough, but I like a lot of the ideas that surfaced from doing it and I’m excited to add it to the list of future projects for development;
  • Completed a contemporary, women’s fiction/romantic novel (~70 k words, but it needs cutting and extensive revision–I haven’t re-read it yet, but it’s on the list…);
  • Shadow City_500x750Started a ground-up rewrite of Shadow City, another NaNo, set in a country where the laws are integrated with a powerful telepathic entity, known as the Tree, which exerts a mild telepathic compulsion to obey upon the population, while also being able to detect any transgressions. Pela, who has grown up as a Guardian of the Law, believes in the system–until she learns that someone has found a loophole and is the only person in the country able to break the law without detection. The next thing she knows, she is abducted and wakens in the Shadow City, a barrio beyond the borders, where the compulsion doesn’t reach and there’s no law at all. Her life is in danger, and she must keep a few steps ahead of her pursuers as she works to return to her own country and to unmask the transgressor. I’ve changed the setting, the ages of the main characters and so on. The premise is still there, but much of the rest is being re-tooled.

Personal

  • Celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with my wonderful husband, in Spain;
  • Lost twenty pounds–and counting. I’m going to give a bit of background because I feel that as a culture we have an unhealthy obsession with thinness and self-dissatisfaction (fostered by many sources). For the last several years, I’ve fought towards self-acceptance. My weight was steady and I was content. I also genuinely believe that women are beautiful at any weight–it’s all about attitude and confidence–and that in general we’re way too hard on ourselves. But, I also have a form of arthritis that requires me to make regular visits to the hospital every couple of months–I receive special medication, but also get monitored for various things. On my first visit after starting my articling, my blood pressure had shot way up–I was at stage two hypertension. Meanwhile, the additional pounds I’d gained during the stresses of studying for the Bar Exams were getting supplemented by even more weight as I tried to adjust to my newly-sedentary lifestyle as an articling student. The weight kept creeping on, in spite of daily cardio and resistance training–and excess weight is one of many contributors to blood pressure. I went out and bought a blood pressure monitor, and it was those consistently high readings (mostly in the stage 1 hypertension range) that were the wake up call. I made changes and lost some weight. The BP is mostly in the “healthy” range these days. And I figure, having summoned up the wherewithal to change my eating, I might as well aim for a weight that Health Canada says is within my healthy range, and see what that looks like. If it’s two low, I expect I’ll have no problem gaining a few pounds back! It hasn’t been easy, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas–but I suspect the real challenge will be maintaining that lower weight over the long term. Still, in order to do that, I have to get down to that target, oh-so-elusive healthy weight in the first place. A work in progress;
  • A number of wake up calls about the importance of family, including my father in law’s emergency triple bypass surgery, my aunt’s cancer diagnosis and my uncle’s ongoing health issues. We made a point of trying to spend more time with family, including visits to Vancouver, to see those wonderful and beloved people in our lives;
  • Completed PRIDE training, one of the required prerequisites to being able to adopt in Ontario. It was an amazing course, and really gave us both a lot to think about. Even if it weren’t required, I’d recommend it for anyone contemplating adopting a child.
The Louvre from the Musee d'Orsay

The Louvre from the Musee d’Orsay

Travels

By way of background, between the milestone of our tenth anniversary and the accomplishments of finishing law school, studying for and writing the bar exams, and the fact that we weren’t sure when, once I started practicing law, I would get another holiday of sufficient length to justify an intensive tour of interesting places, we decided to splash out and take a trip abroad. What follows is a list of some of the amazing things we got to do–as much by way of a reminder to myself, when I’ve had one of those days, and am feeling a bit down, as anything else.

  • Saw the Foucault’s Pendulum at the Arts et Metiers museum in Paris;
  • Had the best manooshi I’ve ever eaten, at Chez le Libonais in the Latin Quarter in Paris;
  • Tried my first LaDuree macaron;
  • Ate goat cheese salad and watermelon at the McDonalds outside of the palace at Versailles (let them eat watermelon!);
  • Had a picnic of baguettes, meats and cheeses on the banks of the Seine;
  • Saw 15,000 year old cave paintings at Font-de-Gaume;
  • Rocamadour

    Rocamadour

    Snacked on local cheeses and meats while contemplating the improbable, dreamlike prospect of Rocamadour;

  • Discovered that almond and chocolate croissants in France are different from anything I’ve had elsewhere that purport to be croissants;
  • Got to visit with my high school drama teacher who lives in France with his wife–and to meet a great group of other folk who were also in the area, amid the backdrop of the stunning Loire Valley;
  • Experienced the fantastic French medical system when one of my chronic conditions caused a complication that looked almost indistinguishable from a potentially fatal condition (phlebitis thrombosis)–that was quite the adventure! And I have nothing but amazing things to say about the French doctors and medical facilities we visited;
  • Spent the night on a farm in the French countryside and enjoyed a multi-course  meal that consisted entirely of products of the farm–and a fantastic breakfast there to boot! Talk about eating local;
  • Fontevraud Abbey

    Fontevraud Abbey, resting place of Eleanor of Aquitaine (mother of Richard the Lion Hearted)

    Wandered the ceremonial gardens and austerely lovely buildings of Fontevrault abbey, resting place of Eleanor of Aquitaine;

  • Walked through the absurdly beautiful walled city of Carcasonne;
  • Drove the hairpin bends of the narrow, winding mountain roads to Peyrepeteuse (hint–you need nerves of steel to take some of those back roads. I stepped aside and handed the wheel to my husband after one too many blind corners on single-car-width, two-way roads with sheer cliff drops on one side);
  • Saw the miracle that is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona–a longtime dream of mine;
  • Spent an afternoon (far too little time) wandering the Alhambra–a moorish city of haunting beauty, perched on the hilltop above Grenada;
  • Stood at the southernmost point of continental Europe, gazing out at continental Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, the mediterranean to my left, the Atlantic Ocean to my right;
  • My first ever visit to Africa (Morocco);
  • An impulsive stop at a roadside party celebrating the birth of a goat--couscous for everyone!

    An impulsive stop at a roadside party celebrating the birth of a goat–couscous for everyone!

    Wandered the winding streets of Tangier–noting familiar corners and sights from films such as Inception, before sitting out on a balcony and relaxing with Moroccan mint tea. A surreal moment arose when suddenly, the opening strains of Edith Piaf’s “No, je ne regrette rien” (if you’ve seen Inception, you may remember why that would have been surreal) sounded out from no visible source, and was cut off after the first little bit, prompting us to wonder if we were going to be waking up soon (and which of us was the Architect and which was the Dreamer);

  • Met a wonderful family while we waited for the Marrakech Express in Tangier. We communicated in French and through gesture. The children had exquisite smiles that combined shyness with delight at speaking to such strange-looking foreigners. At the end of the conversation, the eldest of the younger ones summoned up one of his few English phrases: “Nice to meet you”, and shook our hands, prompting all the younger ones to do the same, so we had a veritable receiving line of children shaking our hands with shyly delighted smiles and saying “nice to meet you” with an air of almost ritual formality, before we set out for our next leg of the journey;
  • Journeyed on the Marrakech Express–an overnight ride from Tangier to Marrakech;
  • Enjoyed an exquisite meal in an open-air courtyard, before spending the night in a restored Moroccan palace;
  • Feasted on tagine whenever possible;
  • Rode a camel into the Sahara Desert;
  • Slept under the stars amid the outlines of a Berber camp, and the dunes of Erg Chebbi beyond;
  • Wandered through the twisting roads and raucous markets of Marrakech–and hardly got lost at all!

2012 has truly been an amazing year. So much of this would not have been possible without the help and support of so many wonderful people in my life. Thank you, everyone. I don’t think I’m going to be able to top this year for a good long while to come, but it’s the kind of year that it’s worth documenting, just so I can look back and remember all the amazing things that have happened. Thank you world! I am brimming with gratitude as I write this–and am humbled to have been so fortunate.

(Click on any of the images below to see a slide show of photos with captions)

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