Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sex, Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Let me just preface this by saying that my views on love are very different from most people's. I'm not suggesting that my opinions are correct and that everyone should think like me. I understand that love is a very personal subject, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, whatever that may be. There is no right and wrong on love, just different perceptions of it. Again, I'm not judging, just thinking.

This is the fourth and final post in an exploration on love in the world of today. The first part can be found here, part 2 is here, and part 3, here.

Is sex only meant to be shared between two partners who are very much in love? That's what all our social and ethical guides seem to tell us. And yet, there is so much more to sex than intercourse between one man and one woman.

Lets just quickly take a look at some options. Picture yourself in grade school - math class. You're working on groups and trying to find how many combinations are possible.

Man and woman vs woman and woman vs man and man, vs man and woman and woman or man and man and woman... and the list goes on...

Then there's all the different acts, settings, actions, positions...

I think we can all agree that sex is more than a man and a woman in the missionary position on their bed in their master bedroom at night with the lights off trying to have a kid.

Then why is it so hard for us to accept that there can be more than one interpretation of sex? Of course, you've got the extreme views that sex should not be pleasurable if you're doing right. Or that anything sexual is demeaning to females. Or that only men are allowed to be in control.

Yeah, right.

Society's views on sex stem from a religious background. As mentioned previously, religious and social guidelines, though perhaps influenced by revelations from a higher power, are deeply rooted in the social settings of the time when they were created.

Monogamy was a solution to recklessness, disease, and the lack of self-control.
Sex for copulative purposes only was a solution to over-population, and recklessness.

But in our time, in our world, where (hopefully) the use of contraceptives is widespread, do we really need such restrictions?

In many cases, these ingrained values force us to shut down, close up, and hide from the world. We try to protect ourselves from the potential hurt that we've been told exists all around us because of sex. We see sexual acts as a form higher than regular everyday actions like washing your face - as it should be - but then put sex on a pedestal, high above other forms of pleasure.

Our understanding of sex makes us reluctant to let go and give in to the positive feelings that sexual play can bring. Our social environment doesn't accept that the purpose of sex can be purely a physical and often emotional release. That it's a perfectly acceptable, normal response to the hormones flowing in our bodies. That it is a form of pleasure that should not only be tolerated but encouraged. That the high that comes during and after sex can stem from more than just a sense of duty.

Sex, really, is the highest, purest form of physical pleasure a human being can enjoy. That being said, religion teaches us that the highest, purest spiritual pleasure we can experience is finding God and bathing in the understanding of life, the universe and everything. Then why is it so hard to believe that the orgasm that comes from sex is the material equivalent to the spiritual orgasm of being one with God?

I'm not suggesting you go on a sexual rampage with the purpose of finding God. That's definitely not going to work. Because just like in your quest for spiritual upliftment, you can only reach your zenith when everything works. The emotional longing, the intellectual stimulation and the physical attraction are all essential elements of a phenomenal sexual experience, aka orgasm. Without one of them, it might still be good - just not as good. Something will be missing. Something, perhaps, that will keep you from completely letting go and embracing the orgasm. Embracing that moment when everything stops, when the world waits for you, when light surrounds you and you just get it.

Back to society's interpretation of sex. Understandably, we can't go around screwing everything that moves. But that doesn't mean that it's wrong to want someone... many people, whether or not you're in a committed relationship. No matter what society says, sex should not be on a pedestal. It is not sacred to that extent. It's definitely something to be thoughtful about and careful with, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be explored to the fullest - no many how many different combinations or experiences you need in order to be fulfilled sexually.

Sex does not have to be tied to a relationship. It doesn't have to be done exclusively with someone you love. Or even just like, for that matter. Take, for example, rape. Just because it's not wanted by both parties doesn't make it not "sex".

Our perception of sex is muddled by our wants and needs for a relationship. Rarely do we examine sex alone, free from pretenses. And when some brave souls try to do so, they get shot down with prejudices and stereotypes. They're called whores and sluts, players and pervs. They're not good for you, your family will say. They only care about one thing, your friends will say. But no one will dare say that they're exploring ways to release the sexual tension that's building up inside of them. Because that's just wrong.

It's wrong to want to be happy on a sexual level. It's wrong to love someone yet long to feel another's body next to yours. It's wrong not to be fully committed, sexually, to one person alone.

Uhm, sure.

Do I need to bring up trust and honesty and feelings of insecurity once more?

What about love? Remember those different kinds of love? One of them is definitely sexual love. Pure physical attraction, the matching of your body with his or hers - or his and hers!

Sex should not be a taboo. It should not feel uncomfortable to talk about sex, at least, not much more uncomfortable than it is to discuss other natural need-fulfilling acts. Eating or sleeping, for example. Or going to the washroom, for that matter, which is only weird because we associate the body parts that take care of those natural releases with sex. Circular logic, perhaps, but none of those subjects should be taboo.

That's not to say that what happens between the bedsheets - or on the kitchen counter, in the movie theatre or on the backseat of a car - should be freely shared with everyone. There is such a thing as privacy, and I'd like to hope that people engaging in sexual acts together have spoken about what's fair game and what isn't. Again, it's all about the trust.

Just like having sex is all about trusting your partner(s), and therefore being comfortable enough to tell them how you feel and what you want, honest enough to tell them what you like and don't like. The concepts blend harmoniously well together, from the emotional and intellectual aspects of sex to the act itself.

And when I mean sex, I'm not talking simply about intercourse. I mean all forms of sexual play, from oral to anal to masturbation, multiple partners, same-sex or transgendered partners, role playing, fetishes and BDSM. None of this should be taboo. All of it is completely natural, no matter how many props you use or holes you choose to fill.

For one thing, sexual activity and the release of associated hormones does seem to have positive effects on one's health - from reducing the chances of senility to keeping your heart strong and your muscles active.

The observations I am making here also apply to sexualized situations. I mean being topless - male or female - or dressing seductively. I mean talking about your period, an itch in your crotch, or that porn you caught on TV last night. I mean walking around in your underwear. If you can stroll public beaches in a tiny bikini, why isn't it acceptable to wear your more covering undergarments in a semi-private location? As long as you're respectful about it and not doing it just to spite someone who is clearly uncomfortable with the subject, then why can't you be overt with your sexuality?

By not investing in sex as necessarily a physical extension of your feelings, you bring the concept and acts down to a more reasonable level. One where it can thrive and help you thrive without all the emotional attachments and heartbreaks that society suggests are inevitable. The feeling of intimacy is there, there's no doubt about that, but you can be physical for the sole purpose of feeling good and releasing sexual tension. No strings attached.

Again - I'm not implying that sleeping around just to be sexually satisfied is optimal. In fact, you'll probably be less satisfied overall. You'll probably feel like something is missing. That final piece of the puzzle that you just can't find even though you've looked inside the box, across the floor, and all over the room.

But sex can and should exist outside of relationships, not only to keep your body healthy, but also to keep you sane. As long as it is a safe connection, that you have the same understanding as all parties involved, and that you're not hurting anyone, betraying or helping to betray anyone's trust, then engaging in sexual activity is a-ok, no matter what society says.

I think that pretty much wraps up this exploration on love. I had a lot of fun - thoughtful fun - writing these, and it feels good to get my impressions out in the open. I hope that sharing them with you has caused you to think or rethink your perspectives, and perhaps this series can spark a discussion on the place and perception of love and all associated concepts in today's society.

Thank you for tuning in, and please stay tuned for more similarly enlightening (hopefully) posts and explorations...

Please feel free to leave comments, as long as they promote the exploration of the topic rather than bash my thoughts and opinions. I'm looking for constructive criticism, not hate mail. If you have nothing helpful to say, please don't bother saying it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Affairs of Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Let me just preface this by saying that my views on love are very different from most people's. I'm not suggesting that my opinions are correct and that everyone should think like me. I understand that love is a very personal subject, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, whatever that may be. There is no right and wrong on love, just different perceptions of it. Again, I'm not judging, just thinking.

This is the third installment of an exploration on love in the world of today. The first part can be found here, and part 2 is here.

Ah, "affair". A word with many connotations, good and bad. Whether it's used to refer to a flashy political or social event or a secret proscribed relationship, it has a sort of sexy, risqué flair to it.

Wikipedia lists several different types of relationship-related affairs, from forms of non-monogamy, to infidelity and adultery to emotional affairs.

As per most sources, "affairs" take place when one or both of the partners in a relationship are dissatisfied with their current situation. This dissatisfaction might come from falling out of love with your partner, from personal growth in separate directions, or a life change that has impacted the relationship in such a way that it is different from what it was before. In this case, honesty is primordial.

In order for the relationship to overcome a life change, you must be honest with your significant other, plainly laying out your feelings and impressions. And, not to be harsh, but if you're in a committed relationship, be it open or closed, you shouldn't have issues with being honest with your partner. You may perhaps be afraid of hurting them, but be warned that dishonesty leads to a lack of trust, and is the first crumbling freckle of sand in the castle you've built together. In the long run, it's always better to be honest now and cause only some pain rather than letting the betrayal drag on and causing increasingly more pain.

Fundamentally, an affair is betrayal of trust. But the current definitions of affair assume that love exists in fixed quantities, not that it's an energy, a life force. In adultery, the betrayal is the act of having intercourse with someone other than your partner. This assumes that sex is a higher, more important act than, say, playing a game of Scrabble together. In a purer sense, playing a game of Scrabble with someone else than your partner could be a form of adultery... if those are the boundaries you've agreed upon with your partner. But in most cases, couples base their definitions of affairs on the what society has dictated as being right and wrong. In this case, we're talking about sex.

Of course, adultery can be caused by more than just the act of intercourse. In most cases, it is understood to include other sexual acts, such as oral and anal sex. In some cases, one or both members of a relationship can believe it to include mutual masturbation, virtual sex (cyber or phone), masturbating or performing other sexual acts while thinking of someone other than your partner (unless that's the game, of course), and even flirting. As you can see, the list can go on and on. It's important to discuss, with your partner, what constitutes an affair.

Some couples have been known to have provisions such as celebrity lists, aka, if one of the members of the relationship were to be propositioned or have a chance of engaging in sexual activity with someone on the list, it would be okay. It would be temporarily acceptable for that person to engage in otherwise adulterous behaviour. If that's the case, that act of infidelity would not be considered an affair.

In other cases, certain people have trouble even "allowing", for lack of a better word, their partners to engage in platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. The extra person tends to be attractive and so the partner might feel threatened by his or her presence in the life of their significant other. Sometimes, the woman feels that her partner might be tempted to be unfaithful, or worse, corrupted by this other woman. Sometimes, it is a man who feels insecure and unable to keep his female partner from resisting the temptation of being with another man, or worse, they think that the other man will steal her away from him.

This does happen in real life and I'm sure we can all think of at least one example of a similar situation.

It all sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? Childish, even. But the feeling of threat is real and is powerful. It incites jealousy and initiates control. Slowly, these feelings take over, causing hurt to all parties involved. And yet, it can be traced back to a lack of trust in each other, and a lack of openness. Why not ask your partner how he or she feels about this new "threat"? Even if there is a sexual attraction, there is little cause for concern if both partners are comfortable being honest about their feelings. But from what I can tell, this pure form of honesty doesn't always exist in a relationship of "in love" and even in some relationships of "love".

Still, your partner would not abandon you for another simply because of sexual urges. There is an underlying need that he or she feels could be met in the new relationship. In an honest, trusting relationship, you would have already talked about what's missing, what needs are not being met. Perhaps there are needs that cannot be met in your relationship; a hobby that one partner simply does not enjoy, for example.

The line between friendship and a potentially sexual relationship can be blurred at times by feelings of insecurity. If you become jealous of the amount of time your partner spends with that other as opposed to you and are not upfront about it, the dynamic of your relationship will change, and that will be the cause of the hypothetical break up. If you cannot be honest about your wants and needs, how can you entrust your heart and soul that person? How can you be absolutely certain that they will care for you the way you do for them, when you can't even explain to them what kind of caring you want and need?

This consequences of this lacking can flow in two directions. On the one hand, a partner can become over controlling, limiting the time spent with others, whether of the same or opposite sex. This is obviously not a healthy relationship. And yet, so many of the couples around us live in a similar kind of confinement, feeling uneasy being friends or simply hanging out with someone because their partner "won't like it", or "might find out and get angry", "disapproves of me spending (so much) time with you".

To be blunt, that is so not cool.

It's stifling to the spirit and is clearly not a relationship based on love. It's a relationship based on hurt. Nothing good can come out of it, save for learning an important lesson on life.

On the other hand, the lacking can cause what has become referred to as an "emotional affair".

This is a topic that is close to my heart for several reasons. An avid supporter of open relationships, emotional affairs, to me, don't exist. They are a restrictive term applied to a completely natural process - that of caring for someone you are close to, on a platonic level or on a loving level.

For Wikipedia, an emotional affair is one where there is a certain amount of intimacy, with or without romance and/or sex. Some consider relationships where there is casual sex, aka friends with benefits, to be a type of emotional affair if one or both of the members are involved with someone else. Of course, some would consider that to be more than just an emotional affair.

Most of the time, an emotional affair is a friendship where the subjects are very close, perhaps even intimate in terms of physical comfort - from hugs, to snuggles, to kissing, even. In order to be an emotional affair, though, there must be caring that is different than in a regular relationship. There must be a connection on a higher level. There could even be love, without being in love. Unless it's an emotional affair that is characterized by a racy romance and a whole lot of flirting, perhaps without any true intention of being friends in every day life outside of the flirting, there must, in fact, be love, in one or several of the forms we explored last time.

To me, there is nothing wrong with having an emotional affair. It's a bond that is special, and unique, in the same way that all relationships are unique. Your relationship with your mom, for example, good or bad, is unique, because it is only between the both of you and is not the same as anyone else's relationship with their mom, as well as not the same as your relationship with anyone else. Based on certain definitions, your relationship with a close sibling or your best friend might be considered an emotional affair.

An emotional affair is also not a relationship, close or otherwise, where flirting is a regular part of the conversation. That's just teasing without any intention of following through on the actions. That's harmful to no one, and in fact, makes most people happy - unless it becomes an emotional affair.

Where it gets tricky is when the emotional affair takes away from the connection one shares with his or her significant other. Still, this is simply a perception since, if love is a limitless energy, it cannot be taken away from someone. Time, however, is fixed in the material world, and so an emotional affair can take away from your quality time with your partner.

Again, the only way an emotional affair becomes a problem is if there is a betrayal. If there is deception. Secrecy. If, in other words, there is a lack of honesty between you and your primary partner. If there is a lack of trust in the other to understand and to love and care for you enough to let you explore your feelings - and not necessarily sexual ones - in this so-called emotional affair. If there is a threat caused by a un-discussed and so undisclosed lacking. If jealousy and doubt are seeds sprinkled across your relationship. If insecurity is the reason you long to stay together. If love is not the underlying energy keeping you together.

Emotional affairs are only negative when they're not in the open. Because they prevent at least one of the participating parties from being happy. I believe that an open emotional affair is a positive addition to a relationship, a way for partners to relax, in a sense, from trying to meet a need they either can't or don't want to fulfill (think hobbies, for example), and a way for them to stop aching and feeling undeserving and perhaps even inferior for not being able to provide for their partner in some respects.

To me, a close friendship, whether or not it has sensual dimension, is essential to the success of a relationship. Sometimes, that close friendship happens to be your relationship with your partner. When that's not the case, it should not be referred to as an emotional affair because of the stigma associated to those words. Because of the negative connotations society assigns to it.

And that's why I don't believe in the term "emotional affair". An emotional affair is society's way of stereotyping the roles of men and women and perpetuating the concepts of love that were imposed long ago to help reign in our recklessness and high birth rate. It is society's version of right and wrong, based on ideas that prevent true love from flowing. That tells couples that it's okay not to talk about your wants and needs because society has already decided on them for you. Society makes some open relationships fail due to a difference in perception that was not broached prior to entering the open relationship, or ideas and ideals that may have changed over the course of the relationship, but due to the absence of honesty and trust, were not discussed. Societal norms and rules are also why closed relationships fail, for the same root reason: a lack of communication.

And yet all of this stems from the way sex is perceived, or rather, what society tells us we should think about sex, a subject I will tackle in my next post.

Stay tuned...

Please feel free to leave comments, as long as they promote the exploration of the topic rather than bash my thoughts and opinions. I'm looking for constructive criticism, not hate mail. If you have nothing helpful to say, please don't bother saying it.

Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness: On Gender

Let me just preface this by saying that my views on love are very different from most people's. I'm not suggesting that my opinions are correct and that everyone should think like me. I understand that love is a very personal subject, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, whatever that may be. There is no right and wrong on love, just different perceptions of it. Again, I'm not judging, just thinking.

This is the second part of an exploration on love in the world of today. The first part can be found here.

Women and Men are traditionally depicted as having different views on sex and on love. Society tells us that women don't think about sex as much as men do, and they don't enjoy it either. For them, it's more about the romance. These societal norms make women feel like they must hide their sexual thoughts. In truth, women think about sex just as much as men. If anything, because their sexual feelings are repressed, they might think about sex more then their male counterparts. Men, on the other hand, are free to express their sexual desires, because society tells them it's perfectly normal to do so.

This leads to a difference in opinions on love and therefore, on sex. But lets start with love.

Societal norms lead us to believe that men are pigs, who, even if they say they love you, just want to get busy with you - and everyone else. Obviously, I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. Men, it is said, are incapable of romance and true love, except for certain exceptions. Girls, on the other hand, dream up a perfect love story, a Prince Charming rescuing her on his white steed... yet have little hope of it actually happening. So when a guy does care for them in that way, it's a welcome surprise. In some cases, it also plants the seeds of doubt.

Why? Because women are insecure. So are men, really, but society conveniently forgets to point that out, instead referring time and time again to a woman's apparent lack of self-confidence. I'm not a man, but I've spoken to many of them, and let me tell you - men are just as insecure as women. We have the same fears, and so, the same desires.

In other words, men and women approach relationships differently mostly because society tells us we should. There are stereotypes and discriminatory statements identified with each gender, and we tend to blindly take them to be fact. In the end, abiding to those societal norms makes it tougher for true love to exist. It makes it tougher for open relationships to take place, because society doesn't accept them, and in fact, rejects them almost in the same way Christianity has rejected Pagan practices.

These stereotypes actually encourage negative feelings to enter a relationship, be it insecurity, jealousy, doubt... And all of these can be attributed to a lack of trust. Trust, as we discussed previously, is the fundamental pillar of all relationships. Yet, for some reason, it almost seems to disappear in what should be one of the most important partnerships of our lives.

Why don't we pause for a second. Let us take a look at what trust actually means. Webster defines "trust" as:

1 a: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
b: one in which confidence is placed


5 a (1): a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship
: something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another
b: responsible charge or office
: care , custody

Trust is not a one-way street, especially in a relationship. You must have confidence in each others' feelings and actions, but you also take custody of a tiny element of your partner's heart and soul... of their spirit. And you become responsible for caring for it, as they are responsible of caring for your spirit. Therefore, in order to function properly, trust must flow both ways.

Coupled with trust is the concept of honesty. According to Webster, "honesty" is:

2 a: fairness and straightforwardness of conduct
: adherence to the facts : sincerity

Without honesty, there can be no trust. And since trust is essential to building and maintaining a good relationship, honesty is a must.

Which brings me to the topic of affairs, addressed in the next post, for readability purposes.

Stay tuned...

Please feel free to leave comments, as long as they promote the exploration of the topic rather than bash my thoughts and opinions. I'm looking for constructive criticism, not hate mail. If you have nothing helpful to say, please don't bother saying it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness...

Let me just preface this by saying that my views on love are very different from most people's. I'm not suggesting that my opinions are correct and that everyone should think like me. I understand that love is a very personal subject, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, whatever that may be. There is no right and wrong on love, just different perceptions of it. Again, I'm not judging, just thinking.

I strongly believe that love is a feeling in the truest of senses. It does not exist in fixed quantities. You don't have a certain amount of love that needs to be divided in pie chart fashion. It is very possible and in fact, necessary to love several people at the same time and be loved by many people at the same time. Of course, there are different kinds of love, and we need and live for all of them: familial, friendly, sexual, deep caring that goes beyond the basics of friendship, love that is borderline sexual, and what I'll term, for now, "true" love.

True love is the love most people are referring to when speaking of finding their soul mate. It's a love that, like other loves, flows freely and doesn't need to be worked on, at its basic form. I'm not saying that love comes devoid of work. I just mean that sometimes love just is. True love goes beyond caring, beyond sexuality - and in fact, can exist coupled with or free of sexual love. True love for someone means letting them go, wanting to do anything and everything to let them be happy, no matter at what cost to yourself.

When you find true love, you understand how all the different ranges of emotions enter the equation. It's when your love flows from your fingertips, over space and across time, reaching for your soul mate. It could be compared to the insane burst of feelings felt for an intense crush or infatuation. The difference is that it flows deeper. You feel it in your depths, in your soul, in your heart of hearts. You know it to be true.

Finding true love also reveals that trust is the absolutely most fundamental concept of any relationship. Without trust, there is no foundation for building friendship, investing in caring, or developing a long-term relationship. And in my opinion, the ultimate form of trust is releasing your grasp on your true love, allowing them to grow freely, with or without you. In other words, you trust your true love to feel the same way for you as you do for them. You trust them with your heart, after all.

You trust them not to break you, not to hurt you or betray you. You trust that the decisions they make in life and love are made with the intention of not harming you in any way. You trust that no matter what, they will come back to you. And you trust that they want all of this for you too.

This sacred bond flows deeper than physical relationships. It has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with soul. In my opinion, this pure love can only truly exist in the material world as an open relationship.

Now lets explain open relationships, shall we? According to Wikipedia, "An open relationship denotes a relationship (usually between two people) in which participants are free to have other partners."

It's actually more than that. An open relationship is one where the trust is so great that jealousy cannot exist. The love flows so deep that your partner's happiness is the single most important factor in the decisions you make about life and love. So this means that if your partner craves the company of another person, sexually or otherwise, you, as a member of the open relationship, agree and even encourage your partner to explore and release those feelings because of the happiness it would bring them, and therefore you. Whether or not you, as a couple, decide on restrictions or rules for your relationship doesn't affect the fundamental nature of the relationship - that it is based on trust and true love.

For me, there is no alternative to an open relationship. Perhaps I'm just a bit idealistic, but I truly believe that human beings are capable of an enormous amount of love. Yet we restrict ourselves, burden ourselves with right and wrong when those values were imposed in ancient times as solutions to problems like overpopulation or recklessness. I would like to think that at this point in existence, we're able to have safe sex and control our primal urges. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be ethical reasoning behind our actions. Far from it. I do, however, believe that love crosses those boundaries. You can't choose who you love or who you fall in love with.

Because there is a difference between loving and falling in love. And I think that's the main thorn in society's side. Most people can't tell love from being in love. My view is that love is uncontrollable. You can't tell it that it's okay to love some people and not others. You can't tell it to stop loving someone - it usually just is or isn't. However, in the same way that you can control anger and other impulses, you can work on love, and eventually not feel the same kind of love or the same intensity of love for someone. It's like having a passion for something. You can learn to be less passionate, but somewhere deep down, you'll always care about the things that have made you passionate in the past.

Being in love, on the other hand, is a state of being that can vary from a small, quick crush to an intense infatuation. It can lead to love or stem from it. Most of the time, people who are in long-term relationships are in love with their partners, whether or not they truly, fully love them. It's almost like the material manifestation of love, the day to day of a relationship. That's being in love.

Hopefully, most married couples are not only in love with each other but they love each other too. The couples who get divorced either stop being in love with each other, perhaps because things change and the day-to-day of the relationship becomes too tedious, or because they realize that their love is not true, not full and free. Either way, they stop being happy pursuing life and love together. If they can work things out amicably throughout and after the separation, they most likely love each other but have simply fallen out of love.

That was my situation. Which brings me to gender differences on the concept of love, which I'll take on in my next post.

Stay tuned...

Please feel free to leave comments, as long as they promote the exploration of the topic rather than bash my thoughts and opinions. I'm looking for constructive criticism, not hate mail. If you have nothing helpful to say, please don't bother saying it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

On Blogging

I would just like to point out that in the last week, I've had 2 spikes in traffic to the blog.

The first was when my comment about NISTAR was picked up by a community blog.
The second was when I linked to my blog in comments on

For me, an average traffic day is somewhere around 9 to 12 people. A good day, ie, when I update my blog, hovers around the high teens.

When my ISTAR blog got picked up, I had nearly 30 unique visits for 2 days straight.

When I posted on HIO, my traffic spiked to over 350 unique visits, approximately, for a few days, with a high of 696 loads on Sunday.


I had no idea the sheer amount of people that read HIO, including the comments, and actually post comments, follow links, and interact with the website in other ways. Incredible. The people who actually clicked on my link represent only a small fraction of HIO's daily traffic, of that I am sure.

So on one hand, I wonder why HIO doesn't get more interactive - a facebook group, automatic twitter feed, etc - and also why it doesn't have more fan-generated content on the site. Also, I'd like to point out that the picture gallery is really tough to navigate fluidly.

On the other hand, I really have to thank everyone who visited my blog, especially those who commented on my posts, whether here, on facebook, or through other means. It really means a lot to me. In fact, it's given me the drive to post more... Even if I don't have much to say.

Once again, thank you!!!

And stay tuned...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Training Camp: Day 2

For me, day 2 of the Habs training camp started at 1pm, not the advertised 11am. Despite my lateness, I still caught a fair amount of play, and I tried to catch up on those players who I'd missed yesterday.

Once again, I've come up with one-liners... I didn't get to see Saku Koivu, Georges Laraque or Olivier Fortier (F) at all this weekend, and I missed most of Price's performance today. Koivu sat out to rest his foot and Laraque apparently has a bit of a pull in the groin. I also didn't get much on Conrad Martin (D), Mike Glumac (F). You won't find anything on them here; I guess they don't stand out.

Here goes...

Pavel Valentenko (D) - Has a strong shot and makes strong, clean passes. He really understands the game and gets what's happening and what is going to happen. His skating is definitely up to par. Sometimes indecisive when bringing the puck up through the neutral zone.

Matt D'Agostini (F) -Looks ready for the big leagues. He's got speed and is aggressive when he needs to be. Presses the opposition well. Good puck handling and smart shooting.

Mathieu Dandenault (D/F) - Looking in tip top shape with good point action and comfortable speeding up with younger forwards.

Marc Denis (G) - Apart from being a good goalie in general, he sees the rebounds really well and has no trouble controlling them.

Brock Trotter (F) - Looks smarter in play than in drills. Solid all around... The type of player that's good at everything but not excellent at anything in particular.

Cedrick Desjardins (G) - Not bad stick handling behind the net, but definitely no Price. He's got good rebound control and easily re-directs them where he wants them to go.

Ryan O'Byrne (D) - Looks solid and very aware of what's happening. He's playing smarter, it seems, and is not as overly aggressive as before... Which is a good thing.

P.K. Subban (D) - Smart at the blue line, good with split-second thinking. Killer point shot.

Christopher Higgins (F) - Rushed the net and scored in the confusion. He seems smarter, tougher and more full of energy and will not to give up on plays. Has unexpected bursts of speed that are mostly yet unseen. Looks great playing with D'Agostini.

Sergei Kostitsyn (F) - Scored on a breakaway thanks to a pass from Tomas Plekanec, while legally cherry picking, one of the many times he tried. Had 3 consecutive breakaways (including the aforementioned one). Knows how to use the body in order to steal the puck and then gets away easily thanks to his speed.

Ryan Flinn (F) - Looks better in play. You can see his experience. Still, won't make it higher than Hamilton.

Gregory Stewart (F) - Has a viable chance of making the team. He would look great on the fourth line, but has enough skill, will and potential to be so much more. Good speed, thinking, and passing, in both ends.

Chad Anderson (F) - Also better in play than in drills. Knows where to be and looks around quickly before deciding on the correct course of action.

Ryan Russel (F) - Good speed, decent positioning, but seems unsure at times of where he should be.

Maxime Lapierre (F) - Good positioning in front of the net and defensively. Passing has definitely improved... tape to tape most of the time. Seems smarter so far than last year, and faster too.

Steve Begin (F) - Ready to rock and roll and have fun doing it. The Beg we all know and love is back.

Yanick Lehoux (F) - Is speedy, sees the ice well under pressure. Excellent passing and positioning.

Patrice Brisebois (D) - Same as always. Speedy at times. Still decent positioning, which keeps him out of trouble most of the time.

Robert Mayer (G) - Young but solid. Knows when to get into the butterfly position. Great in a crowd. He does need to work on his 5-hole when he's down. Seems to just know how the puck is going to bounce.

Loic Lacasse (G) - Quick on his feet. Made a nice long cross ice pass - very Price like.

Kyle Chipchura (F) - Needs to work on his passing while in movement. He's good when he has to be, but might be over thinking. Not aggressive enough when he has the puck. Seems confused, and out of it.

Mathieu Carle (D) - Seems a bit uncertain when stuck in the defensive zone, mostly in front of the net, where he seems to have trouble playing the man if the opposing player is aggressive.

Tom Kostopoulos (F) - He's ready to step out of his goon-only role and get more involved with the play. Handles the puck well, better than last season, it seems.

Roman Hamrlik (D) Solid, as usual. Lets O'Byrne take the lead but is always there and always ready.

Some random notes...

The Tanguay-Maxwell-Pacioretty line is a great combination. Tanguay looks really comfortable playing with young speedy guys.

Begin- Lapierre -Dandenault with O'Byrne and Hamrlik works really well. They have good positioning and communication, and the passing is excellent. Seems like a viable combo.

Lang - G. Latendresse - Kovalev is a line that takes some getting used to. At first, Latendresse seemed like a little bit of dead weight because it takes him so long to get into position if his linemates break off. However, when he is at the right spot, there is a whole lot of chemistry. Sometimes Latendresse tries to stick handle a bit more than we'd like, but it seems to work well. When this line was on the ice with Markov and Komisarek, the crowd was going nuts. Also noteworthy, Kovalev seems to talk to Latendresse a lot, pushing him to push himself on the ice.

A. Kostitsyn - Plecanek - S. Kostitsyn also had the crowd on their feet. They have so much talent and so much spark, but they need to work on their communication a bit more. They're a very fluid line, constantly moving across the ice. This combination is so full of energy and potential and just about ready to burst.

I have a feeling that not only will Chipchura not make the team this year, he never will. He'll be traded soon. Why? Well, last year it seemed that he was satisfied just to have made it through the cuts. To be playing in the NHL, as was his goal. When he got sent down to Hamilton, he could have stepped up as a leader while Ajay Baines was out with an injury, but he didn't. It's almost like he had no motivation to be better. This year, it's like something inside of him has died. He has no drive, he doesn't care. When he's on the ice, it almost seems like he doesn't want to be there. I hope he figures out what's bothering him and steps up and finds a place on the team, or that he gets traded and gets his spark back.

Well, that's it for my scouting report for now!

Stay tuned for more Habs goodies...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Training Camp: Day 1

Hockey season is upon us once again. And I am extremely ecstatic about it!

I attended Day 1 of training camp today, at the Pierrefonds Sportsplexe. It was, indeed, open to the public, which is not usually the case for Day 1. Usually the open practices at Pierrefonds happen later on during camp, starting on a Friday and ending on Sunday.

Instead of writing a long long paragraph about my overall impressions on each player, I decided that I would take quick notes on the guys on the ice and share them with all of you.
I watched Groups A and B - which means I missed out on Group C and Saku Koivu, Christopher Higgins, Ryan O'Byrne, Georges Laraque and other storied names.

So here goes...

Keep in mind: there were only drills today, no matches.

Group A:

Shawn Belle (D) - I was really impressed by Belle. He's strong and fast and has good hands. Definitely noticeable on the ice, and not because of his skin colour ;)

Josh Gorges (D) - Solid as usual... Nothing new to report, nothing old to report.

Yannick Weber (D) - A bit weak at times, needs to work on anticipating plays, but has soft hands when he wants to.

Robert Lang (F) - Looked easy going, comfortable on the ice... At first, wasn't pushing too hard but seems to be a highly intuitive player, with creative passing, which includes a good use of the boards.

Alex Kovalev (F) - Got right back into it, so ready for the season to start... Hands are soft as ever.

Alex Henry (D) - Always gave a second effort, but needs a lot of work.

Tom Kostopoulos (F) - So full of energy... I think he can be a real player this season. He's already working hard, and looks ready to start pounding the opposition.

Ryan White (F) - Solid top shelf shot. He'll definitely be a leader in Hamilton this season. His shot is pretty hard, but he needs to think faster in sticky situations, ie behind the net.

Guillaume Latendresse (F) - Trying hard but I'm not sure it'll be enough. Still needs to work on his speed. Basically, the same Gui we all know.

Loic Lacasse (G) - Wow. Impressive. He sees the puck very well, has good, quick reflexes and is very intuitive. He has good composure and looks solid in nets.

Carey Price (G) - Good reflexes/reaction time. He's much quicker on his feet and faster reaching with his stick.

Olivier Latendresse (F) - He's strong and aggressive in front of the net. Needs to work on skating backwards. Thinks well in offensive and even defensive situations, but doesn't react well in 1-on-1s.

Mathieu Aubin (F) - Plays the man well, has good speed and positioning.

Kyle Chipchura (F) - A way different player from last year. He's not into it at all. Needs to work on skating backwards. Still thinks well, but doesn't read the play well in 1-on-1s.

Brock Trotter (F) - Good positioning. Is missing that spark that really gets you noticed, but is a hard worker and seems to provide a solid, constant effort. Should fit in well in Hamilton.

Gregory Stewart (F) -A strong player with good passing. He thinks and sees the play well, but needs to get more involved at times in defensive play.

Group B

Andrei Markov (D) - Looked decent. Not in season shape yet. Mostly going through the motions, even seeming bored at times. Will probably have a slow start to the season if he doesn't pick it up soon.

Benjamin Maxwell (F) - Good hands. His shots are clean and he gives a second effort. Definitely a finisher.

Mathieu Carle (D) -Very impressive. One of my favourite guys to watch so far at camp. He aims well, has a strong shot and is a good forward skater. He's got those seeing-eye passes. He should be the number 1 D in Hamilton and the first to be called up to the big league.

Chad Anderson (D) - Good backwards speed, but sometimes commits to the play too soon in a 2-on-1 situation. He's pretty good defensively in the zone, and has good positioning.

Tomas Plekanec (F) - Hasn't lost his spark at all. Looks like he never stopped for the summer. He knows how to pace himself though, giving a solid effort when needed and relaxing when not. Will, once again, be great.

Mike Komisarek (D) - Strong skating from Mike. Looks his opponent right in the eyes... with a freakish amount of intensity. He is ready to be fantastic and was very focused throughout practice.

David Deharnais (F) - Impressive, just like last year. He has a solid shot and good hands. Knows how to deke, and when not to. He's small but smart - reminiscent of Koivu.

Sergei Kostitsyn (F) - As fast as ever. The finesse is still there, as is the intensity and grit.

Alex Tangay (F) - He's got really soft hands. He sees the plays well, knows how to make those key passes in front of the net. Also has an uncanny ability to find the holes in the goalie's stance... and hits net more often than not.

Ryan Flinn (F) - Was very average. Didn't stand out much, but has good positioning. He should be a good veteran in Hamilton.

Max Pacioretty (F) - Consistently made good clean shots, but needs to work on passing - both making them and receiving them, especially in motion. He doesn't seem to like passing very much, in fact. He has good speed and nice hands, but doesn't seem to be able to finish when chooses to deke.

Thomas Beauregard (F) - Needs to work on his aim. He's got strength but only average to poor skating... Much like Guillaume Latendresse. Also has trouble staying up to speed when skating backwards.

James T. Wyman (F) - An average skater, with an average shot. The kind of player you don't dislike, but don't necessarily like either because he doesn't stand out positively or negatively.

Cedrick Desjardins (G) - Has solid positioning. Makes the key saves and sees well when his net is crowded.

Jaroslav Halak (G) - Needs to work on cross-crease movement when he's doing the splits. Looks a little slow and out of practice, and didn't seem to be focused enough.

And now, some random observations:

- Carey Price was wearing white pads again. In fact, the only goalie I saw with a bit more colour than white with some accents was Lacasse.
- Ryan Flinn had some kick ass facial hair
- The Plekanec - Kostitsyn x2 line looks like it's ready to take over the league... They're sparking and sparkling!
- Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn had a nice little 2 on 1 with Pleky in D... Andrei roughed him up a bit but they laughed about it later... That's good chemistry!
- Halak was being really hard on himself... I wonder if he's sick or injured, or just out of it. Personal issues, perhaps?
- Similarly, Markov didn't look like his head was all there... though it got better as we went along.

Looking forward to intersquad matches tomorrow... if I can make it!

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yoga: My first time

Yoga was amazing.

It's a lame opening sentence, sure, but it's also true.

My expectations going in were pretty dull. I was very interested in doing yoga, but I hadn't really thought about it since I made the decision to take classes. Also, I wasn't really in the mood to go. Thankfully, I had already called and reserved my spot... which compelled me to actually show up.

And I'm so glad I did.

We started with breathing exercises, which were useful with reconnecting myself with, well, myself. It also reminded me of breathing for singing, using the three different chambers. Very interesting stuff, that's for sure.

We then evolved to sun salutations and basic positions like the Sphynx. Then we did some standing poses and ended with more breathing and relaxation positions.

Not only did I feel my muscles work, it felt great to stretch for a reason, in a systematic manner as opposed to just for the need to stretch. I also loved the end relaxation period, where the teacher helps you relax by working on your muscles a bit... Yoga AND a massage? Awesome.

But the best part is, for the whole 1.5h, I did not think of anything else than my breathing and getting the positions right. No one and nothing else entered my thoughts. Even when people's cellphones rang, which was jarring. Yes, mine was on silent mode.

This was just an initiation class but I'm pretty sure I'm signing up for the 8-week beginner's lessons. Hopefully, I'll be committed enough to practice outside of class.

And to all my friends who knew I'd love it: thanks for constantly tell me how great it would be. Your stories did nothing to lower my expectations, and yet, each one of them was met!!

Yoga made me feel relaxed, whole, and peaceful... and yet it did make me work, and my muscles will be sore tomorrow. I think this is the perfect type of class for me... Something that combines how you feel with what you do, spirituality with materialism. I don't think I'll ever quit yoga.

Okay, I might quit temporarily, but the teachings will always be a part of me, in one way or another.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What I've been up to

Finally, after much anticipation, here's that 2 minute wrap of the past 6 months...

1- I graduated! I'm all done with school for now, having finally obtained my B.A. Specialization in Journalism (Print and Broadcast) from Concordia University, in my hometown of Montreal. As much as I love school, I was ready to get out in the real world, where people are theoretically as committed to their work as I am. How naive of me! Still, I have the stamped piece of paper, and I'm not planning on going back to school until the summer of 2010 so as to not compromise any chances of working on the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in that same year.

2-In early July, I made my way to Calgary for a trip I will remember for the rest of my life. Not only did I meet some wonderful youth in my community, I made some very good friends, albeit much younger ones ;) Though that shouldn't come as a surprise to those who know me well! The purpose of the trip was for the National ISTAR (aka Ismaili Student Total Academic Recognition) Awards. It was the first time these awards were handed out on a national scale. Though I was nominated in a couple of categories, namely Arts and Culture, I didn't make any finalists list or win any prizes. That experience helped me realize that no matter how creative journalism is, most people don't consider it to be an art. I guess it is more of a technical trade in the mind of the general public. But then again, journalism isn't as well regarded a profession as it was in the time of legends like Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite.

3-While I was in Calgary, I got to attend my first ever Stampede. The quick version? LOVE! The awards were purposely timed to correspond with this exceptional Calgary event. The country music fan in me was totally and utterly thrilled. I caught my first ever country shows, Emerson Drive at Nashville North and Dierks Bentley at the Coca-Cola Stage. I also went behind the scenes at the Stampede grounds thanks to my press pass, obtained because of my participation in a documentary on the Stampede that used the Ismailis' values of volunteerism and community as a central character. I was one of three young girls who were chosen - mostly due to timing and availability - to be stalked over three days in Calgary. It was an experience on several levels. I made good contacts with the staff working on the documentary, and I learned a lot about shooting in the field. To be able to understand both sides of a documentary was extremely interesting to me, and I have to admit I had a lot of fun secretly communicating with Mike the sound guy!! For days after the shooting finished, I actually missed knowing someone was listening to my random conversations and lame jokes. Oh, the tapes are going to be a hilarious listen...

The documentary was made for CityTV and should be broadcast nationally sometime before Stampede 2009. I can't wait to see what made the cut, how silly I look and speak, and what ends up on the cutting room floor! And, of course, I wouldn't mind flying out to Calgary for the premiere ;)

4-On my way home from Calgary, I made a pit stop in Toronto, where I got started on my Olympics contract. That's right! I had the honour of working on the 2008 Beijing Olympics with CBC. For the month of August, I was working night shifts covering the events in Beijing - but from Toronto. Basically, with a producer, announcer and editor, we put together 2 minute video highlight updates based on what the main network was putting out. The updates were due every hour and a half, which amounts to about 6 a shift. It was a lot of fun because I got to keep track of a lot of the Olympic happenings. I also got to get re-acquainted with a lot of the people I met and worked with during the NHL playoffs last season.

I'm very proud of myself for achieving my Olympic goal 2 years earlier than anticipated. I'm still working on making a bigger impact for 2010, but as Scott Moore, head of TV Network Sports at CBC said at the wrap party, "Every element, every person who worked on the 2008 Beijing Olympics contributed to our success and made it that much better a product."

That's a loose quote, of course.

This most recent trip to Toronto made me realize that I was psyching myself up for a potential move to Canada's main business hub. And so, I thought I actually wouldn't mind living there too much. What I realized, once I came home, is that the city itself is toxic. In fact, I wouldn't enjoy living there. What I like about Toronto is the people that I know there. I have a whole lot of really good friends in that city, and that's what I miss when I miss Toronto. Also, it helps that whenever I'm there, I have a job and a certain amount of independence that I don't get in Montreal... but that aside, Toronto is no more spectacular than it was before.

My Olympic experience also helped me build new contacts and regain my faith in the ability to successfully work in sports (and media in general) in a city other than Toronto. Hopefully, some of this networking will pan out sooner rather than later!

Also when I was in Toronto, I attended the first ever (hopefully annual) Rhinestone Country Music Festival at Downsview Park. What a blast it was!!! I only went for day 2, but I got to see a bunch of new artists and current favourites: Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, and Jason Aldean specifically. Those who have seen the pictures know how much fun I had wearing my cowboy boots, enjoying the sun and singing along to every song.

The trip as a whole helped me centre myself and re-discover my priorities. It wasn't just hanging out with friends I hadn't seen in a while or making new ones. It was about having the time and ability to ask myself what I really wanted and what I really care about. A lot of those conclusions are having an impact on the decisions that I take daily, and in a positive way.

All in all, I'm very satisfied with my summer, although I sometimes wonder where the time - and sun - went! Now back in Montreal after my quick trip to New York City, I have to reacquaint myself with the changing downtown landscape of my city. But with hockey season just around the corner, the city is starting to come alive again like it does in the middle of the winter.

And that's what I love about MY Montreal.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

2 in 1 + 1

A bit of a delay due to intermittent Internet access, but here's the breakdown of the rest of my NYC trip, late but present.

On Monday, I made my way to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, which, it turns out, is located right next to Rockefeller Plaza. Hence the "Rock". And therefore, I got to do an extra touristy thing I hadn't intended on doing. The sculpture was impressive, as were all the flags, but I must go back to NYC in the winter so I can skate at Rockefeller. It might be cheesy but I need to do it.

Also, next time I'm in town, I'm doing all the studio tours. I didn't realize NBC was in the vicinity or I would have planned to include that tour in my activities that day. I did get a bit of NBC history anyway, thanks to a short video on the way up to the "top of the rock". Not much I hadn't learned in History of Broadcast/Journalism, but some cool random timbits anyway.

I also caught a short video on being a Rockette, which totally makes me want to take a Christmas trip to NYC. There were actually 2 observation levels... three if you count the one on the roof, a mezzanine 10 steps above the "top" deck. I, of course, took pictures on all three of them, so I have many repeats. Also, I killed my battery, which means I had limited juice for the rest of the day.

The scenery itself was pretty impressive. You really get a feel for how large the city is in terms of buildings and so you wonder about just how many people, tangibly, live on Manhattan. It was a gorgeous day too, so the view was even more, well, scenic.

After Top of the Rock, I made my way to the NHL store, which wasn't very impressive. I actually was kind of disappointed. Their "largest hockey stick sculpture in North America" was just, eh. The NHL motorcycle was kinda cool... but wouldn't really stand out in a crowd, save for the miniature Stanley Cup replica on the back. The amount of gear they had was relatively low, and there was absolutely nothing from Alyssa Milano's "touch" collection, which really frustrated me, since that was basically the whole reason I went to the store. To see if they had more apparel than advertised online and to actually see and get a feel for it. In other words, sucky.

Before my Top of the Rock excursion, I'd made a pit stop at a lovely store called Anthropology, where I bought a heavily discounted gorgeous halter top. Apparently, they're trying to open stores in Toronto or Vancouver... I can't wait!

After the NHL store, I headed to the Museum of Sex, which is not a porn museum, for the record. Along the way, I caught a random sighting of the Flatiron building. Very cool.

The Museum featured 3 exhibitions at this time. The permanent collection, which takes a look at sex toys and sexual culture since way back, was on the 3rd floor. The second floor examines sex through film, from the early days when actors couldn't kiss for more than 3 seconds on screen to celebrity sex tapes and the emergence of sexually charged films. And porn. Though it stayed away from the porn thing, mainly because this is supposed to be an educational museum.

My favourite part was the first collection, which focused on sex and the animal kingdom. It went through regular sexual behavior, demystified the fact that animals have sex just for procreative purposes, and exposed the truth about same-sex and polygamous relationships in the animal kingdom. In other words, all these "extremes" in human sexuality are completely natural and also exist in more "primitive" animals. In fact, some primates have even been observed to trade sex for food and other goodies. Prostitution, it seems, is also natural.

I found it interesting to see that so many animals are asexual or have multiple or changing sexual organs. In other words, being female doesn't necessarily mean the animal is biologically female. It's a matter of attitude, not organs. A lot of sexual concepts that are tough to talk about in our modern world are shown here to be entirely natural and so, if closed-minded individuals took the time to examine the data, they'd realize that homosexuality and other touchy subjects should, in fact, be accepted by society at large. They've always existed, through evolution and through time, and should not be repressed. It was definitely the most enlightening part of my trip.

Armed with all this new knowledge, I headed to the shops. I purchased a few goodies from Bath and Body Works, then made my way to Century 21, where I ravaged through racks upon racks of discounted clothing. I ended up with 2 tops for myself, a couple of ties for family gifts, and some stuff for Ryan.

After that, I met up with my cousin for prayers, and we then found our way to Crumbs, a Manhattan area bakery that makes amazing cupcakes. We split a lemon cupcake and a large apple caramel cupcake that really tasted more like a delicious piece of cake. So moist, sweet but not too sweet. Perfect.

Late night snacking with one of Aleha's friends from school included a sushi delivery, left over dim sum, and that amazing apple cupcake.



On my last full day in NYC, I decided to take it easy. NOT!

My full day started with a tour of the United Nations Headquarters in NYC. Well, not really. As soon as you pass through the gates at 45th St and 1st Avenue, you enter international territory. I think it's basically the only place in the world - apart from other UN buildings - where you can be in international territory, and not in a specific country, like in Embassies. Cross that one off my list!!

The tour itself was pretty uneventful. It included lots of information most educated people already know about the UN and its operations, in general. However, the bit of info I found most interesting was how every year, the UN draws from a list of countries to figure out who gets to sit at the front of the General Assembly. The tables are usually organized by alphabetical order, with 2 countries sharing each table, and about 3 seats each for delegates (I think). In theory, Afghanistan should be first, and Zimbabwe should be last. But since that's unfair, it changes every year, on the third Thursday of September, which is also when the "new" session of the GA starts. The GA sessions are always underway, in theory, with each year marking a full session.

As for the Security Council, it's on call 24/7. Emergency meetings, like the one called on August 8th when Russia and Georgia were going at it, can be called late at night - in this case, 11pm - and last into the wee hours of the morning, aka 4am. Members of the Security Council rotate every few years, which we already knew. What I didn't know is that if the meeting relates to a country that's not currently sitting on the council, representatives are invited to attend the otherwise closed meeting. The same is true for countries that hold a special interest in the subject of discussion. So if the topic was the war in Afghanistan and Canada was not part of the Council, we'd probably be invited in.

All in all, it was cool to just be there. Seeing some of the gifts donated by member countries to the UN was impressive as well. A few from Thailand were pretty spectacular, all covered in gold and intricately carved. Some countries have offered tapestries, some with global themes, others mostly just cultural and pretty. The only Canadian gift I could find was an Inukshuk that sits in the main lobby of the main building. It's a beautiful piece of work, but it's nothing compared to the lavish pieces some other countries have given.

After the tour, I went down to the gift shop, which also displayed Canada's lack of "typical" items. While some countries had shelves and shelves of cultural sculptures, fabrics and jewelry that could be purchased, Canada had a shelf and a bit, and a display of maple leaf broaches. I got myself a UN panda buddy and some gifts for random people.

Then, I rushed off to Grand Central Terminal to meet up with my friend and HIO co-conspirator Brian for lunch. We went to Oyster Park, which is known for its seafood, and it did not disappoint! I had a grilled Maine jumbo scallops with herbs dish, and it was to die for. Also, the conversation was great... The Habs being the main topic of discussion.

Once my tummy was full, I made my way to 59th St and 5th avenue to dance on the Giant Piano at FAO Schwartz. First off, let me confirm that this store is a designer toy store. It's got gigantic displays and it's like an enormous playground - just not in a tacky way. In fact, it's organized the way every parent wants their kids' toy rooms to be displayed. The dollhouse section was impressive, with its multiple fabric couches and tiny pillows to go along. There's an impressive lego collection and a big baby section too. The candy area is probably a parents' worse nightmare... hyper kids in a giant toy store? No thanks.

The piano was upstairs and definitely worth a visit. I was shy and didn't jump around too much, which is probably a good thing considering the little girls who were might have gotten crushed by my intervention ;) I did tiptoe around and took the "feet on piano" masterpiece photo. Next time, I hope to go with a couple of crazy friends and destroy the thing - musically, of course.

I decided to skip Macy's and Bloomingdales, because, honestly... they probably weren't that interesting anyway. I did make a pit stop at Lords & Taylor on an errand for my cousin, and so I got my fill of expensive branded department stores that are better in folklore than in reality.

Instead, I took the subway down to Union Square and toured the shops in the vicinity. I hit Forever 21, DSW and Filene's Basement. I was going to go into Strawberry, but that never happened. Which is probably a good thing, because by then, I was all shopped out.

At 6ish, I took the 42nd St crosstown to Pier 86 and borded a Circle Line Sightseeing tour. The Harbour Lights tour is a 2-hour trip that does a semi-circle around the southern tip of Manhattan Island during sunset. And it was gorgeous! I finally got to see the Statue of Liberty up close. The camera was freaking out due to the crazy twillight light, but I did manage to get some great shots. The tour itself was a suggestion from one of my friends. She'd done the 3-hour daytime tour, and as much as I loved the sunset, next time, I'll go during the day and circle the whole island.

Exhausted from a busy day, I headed home to leftover macaroni and cheese heart attack triangles from Maxies and delicious chocolate from Sarah. And then, just like that, my trip to NYC started to come to an end as the packing began.


My Montreal-bound train left Penn Station at 8am, so I was an early riser at 6:30. I took a cab to the station because, lets face it, my purchases made my Beijing bag way heavier than it was coming in. The cab ride was interesting. I got to read the MSNBC ticker on their backseat monitor, and I guess I can now say I've ridden in a Big Apple yellow cab! I also got to see some of the landmarks I'd skipped out on, like Macy's (ugh) and Madison Square Gardens, which is actually where I went in to the train station.

This time, the ride took the correct amount of time, and I arrived safe and sound and sleepy in Montreal at 7:40pm. This time, I had to share seats since, despite my early arrival, the car was already full. I had an interesting experience with a Kahanwake woman sitting ahead of me, but most importantly, a made a new friend in Rachel, my seatmate. Actually, I was more like her seatmate. Either way, we chatted on and off throughout the trip and exchanged contact info on the way out. Hopefully, we'll stay in touch - though Facebook will make that much easier.

I finally got home at 9pm, pooped and hungry. And I still haven't unpacked.

Real "the last six months of my life" updates to come, I swear.

Stay tuned...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Goodbye Love

Yesterday was a day of goodbyes. After a good sleep-in, I made my way to the Bronx to catch the last game the Blue Jays will ever play at Yankee Stadium. Mostly, I just wanted to attend a Yankees game the old fashioned way.

The game itself was pretty okay. The Jays took an early lead and never let up... The final score was 6-2. My seats were fairly high up - read 3 rows from the top of the top - but it was about the experience, not the view.

Yes, I had a hot dog. I wanted to get Cracker Jacks, but that didn't end up happening. I'm just glad I got there in time for the National Anthems... and I stayed until Frank Sinatra's "New York New York" made its 3rd loop through the sound system.

Also, I got a better look at Alyssa Milano's "touch" line. Gorgeous! I can't wait until it's fully implemented in the NHL!

From Yankee Stadium, I made my way to Times Square where I took in the sights and lights... and the mind-numbing ads. I saw the indoor carousel at Toys 'r Us, NASDAQ, and more, then met Isabelle for supper. After a bit of a walk, we settled on our original choice: Joshua Tree, on Restaurant Row, aka 46th St between 8th and 9th avenue. Good food, decent service, nice location.

I ate quickly because I had to make my way to the Netherlander Theatre to see RENT! I took 41st street up simply because that's where the Theatre is located, and got lucky... Despite my rush, the traffic lights let me get a good glimpse and a fairly decent photo of the New York Times building.

Our seats for RENT! were provided for free from one of Aleha's med school classmates... and they were great seats! Orchestra level, section 110... Awesome. We had loads of fun. It was great to see the acting part of the musical. Because I own the soundtrack and know all the lyrics by heart - yes, I was a RENThead - I found it really interesting to see the interpretation of it, both stage and song wise. There were some voices that stood out, like Will Chase's, aka Roger. All in all, a great show, emotional in many ways... and great memories to preserve. Apparently by way of a RENT zip up hoodie.

After the show, we started a quest for food - that landed us in the gigantic M&M store. Wow. First off, I can't imagine why you'd want anything from T-shirts to oven mitts covered in the M&M brand... but people must buy it, because it's there! I, honestly, am all about the chocolate. So I got $17 worth of funky-coloured M&Ms - both regular and dark chocolate peanut.

Then, we crossed the street to the Hershey store. What a dissapointment!!

We also explored the Virgin Megastore. It was having some super sales, so I got a couple of DVDs and CDs. What an insanely huge store! So many goodies...

Finally, we stopped at Maxies for a late night bite to eat. We ordered sweet potato fries (Montreal's are better) and these to-die for (probably literally) deep-fried macaroni and cheese bites. Delicious!!!

Today, I'm off to shop around town. Stay tuned...