Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Friday: Hockey’s Back!

Sara Hamil, hockey, Habs, Montreal Canadiens, NHL



50 Book Pledge Love it Personal Projects

Book Review: Garth Stein’s “A Sudden Light”

As I’ve mentioned on this blog on a few different occasions, one of my all-time favourite books is Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. I’ve read it and re-read it and will most likely continue to do so for the rest of my life. It’s a book that means so much to me.

So, with that said, it should come as little surprise that, when I first learned that Stein would finally be releasing his latest novel (his first since Racing, which was published back in 2008) this fall, I was extremely excited to get my hands on it. I was so excited, in fact, that I wasn’t willing to wait until its release this past Tuesday. Instead, I reached out to Stein himself on Twitter…

Garth Stein, A Sudden Light, The Art of Racing in the Rain, author, Twitter

Obstacles overcome and my worth proven, an advanced reader’s copy of A Sudden Light arrived at my home last week and I don’t really remember much else about my life between then an now. I dove into the book with gusto and only really came up for air when I finished it last night. And so, not wanting to waste any time in upholding my end of the bargain, here’s my review…

Before starting the book, there was a part of me that worried that I may be too attached to Enzo, the beloved canine narrator of Racing, that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate another work by Stein without him. I’ll be honest: I think of Enzo often. I think about his observations of the world and his sense of wonder to a point that I actually miss him. But I guess that’s one of the best things about books: when you miss a character you can always go back and re-read their story. In that sense, Enzo has never been very far away.

Thankfully I was quickly relieved to discover that I was perfectly capable of enjoying A Sudden Light. Or, perhaps it’s more apt to say that I had no choice in the matter. From the very start, the story pulled me in and took no time in completely engrossing me in its mysteries and enchanting narrative. Even when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about Trevor, the story’s 14-year old narrator. I was mulling over Riddell House and its secrets. I was hooked.

No, there is no Enzo in A Sudden Light; not even a hint of him. What we’re presented with instead is a rich tapestry of one family’s complicated history and an overlap of stories from a variety of perspectives across generations. The story begins with one big hole of a mystery, which quickly turns into a series of smaller, albeit equally pressing, mysteries. The reader is left scratching her brain, trying to piece together the big picture with the clues and evidence dutifully collected by Trevor who is as much as our partner in this as he is our narrator. The answers we’re looking for always feel so close and yet just out of reach until everything comes together almost peacefully in what I felt was a fairly satisfying, although in some ways surprising, conclusion.

A Sudden Light is also, much to my delight, a ghost story. I’ve been aching to read a good ghost story for quite some time. Not the kind set on a backdrop of grizzly murder and terrifying hauntings and leave you too afraid to sleep with the lights off. I wanted a more subtle fear and craved a ghost whose haunting came with a sense of purpose that was more than just old fashioned revenge. I wanted a ghost story with creepy bits that would frighten me just enough to keep me glancing over my shoulder yet still leave me feeling brave enough to keep hunting for more. This is the kind of ghost story I feel Stein has given us.

Without going into any details that might spoil the story, there were a few developments that I feel were left unresolved. Perhaps I missed something along the way and need to re-read the book with a closer eye on the details (which I probably would have done regardless. It’s the type of book you lament finishing because, as desperate as you were for a conclusion, you still did’t want it to be over). Still, what I realized as I read was that, as much as I still love Enzo, Stein’s real gift to us is his masterful storytelling. His narrative is often much like poetry but without being pompous; it is thought provoking and yet not so heavy that it slows the story down.

A Sudden Light is a captivating story that will lure you along with its words as well as its mysteries. While ghosts and deception aren’t new themes, some of the story’s plot points may surprise you and, if you mind isn’t already open, this book just might be able to help you out with that too.

Garth Stein, A Sudden Light, books, good reads, literature, cover art, ghost story, mystery

Thank you, Garth, for rising to challenge of writing this wonderful story. I don’t doubt that The Art of Racing in the Rain left you with some high expectations to meet, but as a passionate fan of Enzo’s I can happily say that you succeeded. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the good people at Terra Communications for not forcing me to wait to experience this book. You’ve all given me a real gift.

Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Fridays: The Hadfield Hat-Trick

Chris Hadfield_Belleville


I’ve now seen Chris Hadfield three times: once for a book signing, once very unexpectedly, and now at a speaking engagement. In case you’re wondering, he’s a passionate and eloquent a speaker. He’s also hilarious.

Who knew?


Get Your Game (Time) On! [Sponsored! With Games!]

As a blogger I occasionally find myself on the receiving end of various PR pitches. I have never exactly sworn off the idea of writing something in response to a pitch. Still, the majority of them are way off base (as in, you’ve never actually read my blog, have you?) or simply just don’t feel right. I’ve generally been a pretty good sport though. After all, as a fellow PR pro, I understand that the struggle is real.

Then along came the folks with Mattel and their fun little “Game Time is Anytime” contest. How did they know I love games? Did someone tell them about the card game debacle of last Thanksgiving? HOW DID THEY KNOW?

It doesn’t matter. The point is, I really enjoy games.

So, when they asked if I’d be interested in helping them promote their Facebook contest in exchange for some new games to add to my collection I couldn’t even play hard to get.

Game on, indeed.

The challenge was this: They would provide me with my own Game On kit and I in turn I would drop a surprise game night (or anytime, really. Because that’s the point. Game time? IT’S ANYTIME) on the good people in my life.

Apples to Apples, Mad Gab, Uno Bounce-Off, games, Mattel

Challenge accepted.

I thought about it for a long while. When and where was I going to drop a surprise game time on Kyle? Dinner? (But… But, food!) While we were watching TV? (Too obvious…)

Then it dawned on me that there was at least one regular routine in our lives that could definitely use an injection of random, spontaneous fun: Laundry day.

Not that doing ones laundry is ever fun but we are among the unlucky masses that need to visit a laundromat, which just makes the chore a million times worse. You have to lug your clothes out into public, spend way too much money doing something you hate, and you end up wasting valuable time literally watching something dry.

It was the prefect time to bust out the “game time” button!

The beauty of card games like “Uno” and “Apples to Apples” is that they’re portable, which means that it was easy to toss the card decks in with our haul of dirty gym clothes and detergent. And BAM! Just like that, laundry time  = game time.

You don’t need to be a kid (or have them, for that matter) to appreciate playing a game with friends. Seriously, I’ll bet you’re reading this and remembering that fateful game night back in university and thinking to yourself, “That’s the stuff that dreams are made of, right there!”

Want to recreate the magic? Skip on over to Mattel’s Game On Facebook page and enter their weekly contests (which also happen to be games! EVERYTHING IS SO MUCH FUN!) for a chance to bring home a new game for you to surprise your friends and family with too! And/or shake up laundry day! Or any other time because, if it isn’t abundantly clear by now, game time is anytime!


Hockey and Horseshoes: A Tale of Ridiculously Good Luck

Let me first preface this post by stating that I am a Habs fan. My hometown Winnipeg Jets come in a close second. To be honest, here isn’t a profesional hockey team out there that I hate, it’s just that if they aren’t from Montreal or Winnipeg I’m rather indifferent.

My boyfriend, however, happens to be a pretty big fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

If you know anything about the NHL then you can probably imagine that this coupling gets pretty interesting during hockey season.

But I love that man, dear reader. So much so that I was more than happy to join him at Toronto Maple Leafs Fan Fest with him last weekend. I may not bleed blue but I do enjoy hockey and thought it would be pretty cool to tour around behind the scenes at the Air Canada Centre.

I mean, for all I knew this could finally be my chance to bump into someone like Ron McLean! CAN YOU IMAGINE? Oh, man…

Plus I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to witness Kyle in his version of Disneyland.

Despite being behind enemy lines (I was worried that they were going to be able to tell that I wasn’t one of them. It felt that that scene in Shaun of the Dead where the gang pretends to be zombies to make it through the hoard and get to the Winchester. Not that I’m comparing Leaf fans to the undead or anything but… Err, anyway. Good vocal work.) I was actually really impressed with the event. We went on Sunday which, according to accounts on social media, was much better organized than the previous two days. There were activities, behind-the-scenes tours, main stage talks, and lots of autograph opportunities (which we totally didn’t indulge in because the lines were crazy long. Not that we expected things to be any different but apparently plenty of other attendees did and due to a fair bit of griping everyone got free tickets to a Marlies game. Still not complaining!)

In general, it was a pretty awesome thing for any hockey fan to be a part of and it was clear that the Leafs fans were loving every minute of it. Personally, I was loving the Gardens pricing on concession items. $3 pizza? $5 beer?? Now that’s what I call an incentive!

I kid – I was having fun too.


I got into the spirit of things…

My overall expectation going into the day was to tag along and let Kyle soak in the glory of his team, but what neither of us realized was that we were both in for one hell of a surprise that would absolutely epitomize what it means to be in the right place at the right time.

After seeing some sights and participating in some photo ops we roamed the concourse looking for something to do next.

“Want to get our picture taken at the Hockey Central desk?” I asked, having spotted people waiting for their turn to pose behind the media desk. Kyle was game.

We were finally two spots away from the desk when Kyle gasped,

“Ooooh my God! Look who it is!”

My initial thought was, If it’s a Leaf then it doesn’t matter because I’m not going to recognize a single one of them without their uniform…

But I looked anyway. Because you never know, it could have been Rob McLean.

It wasn’t

What I saw instead was a grey-haired, mustachioed face making its way up from behind the desk.

OMG that looks like Chris Hadfield.

Spoiler: It was totally Chris Hadfield.

*Insert hyperventilation and a couple of barely concealed curse words of surprise here*

His handler came up beside me and seemed very entertained by my inability to contain myself.

“Can we talk to him??” I all but shrieked.

“You can! You can even have a picture taken if you want!” She was like a genie. A magical, wish-granting genie.

I almost passed out. (If you know me at all then you know what a big deal this was)

And talk to him we did; Col. Chris Hadfield with his awesome customized jersey.

“We had no idea you were going to be here!” I squeaked.

“That’s the fun part!” He laughed.

We chatted about travel (he was leaving for Calgary as soon as he was done at Fan Fest, followed by a bunch of other places in very short order. I got jet lag just imagining it), he signed Kyle’s jersey (and was flattered to be in the fine company of Pat Quinn’s autograph), and he even got in on our Don Cherry-inspired thumbs-up pose.

It was awesome.

Chris Hadfield, Toronto Maple Leafs, Fan Fest, NHL, hockey
Chris Hadfield: Not a cardboard cutout.

Not only was he not scheduled to be at the event but we seem to have caught him during a very brief window where he was meeting fans. Ten minutes after we had met him, he was gone again.

So, did I just write an entire post about my incredibly dumb luck?


Experiences Personal Projects The Let's Go Ladies

Why studying abroad was the best decision I’ve ever made

Ed. Note: A version of this post originally appeared on my other blog The Let’s Go Ladies as part of our September “Study Abroad Month” but it was just such a fun personal story that I thought it deserved to live here too.

travel, study abroad, studying abroad, China, school, learning

Have you been considering a study abroad term but aren’t quite sure whether or not you’re ready to take the leap? Well then settle in, dear reader, for I am going to tell you why doing a semester overseas was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Which is to say, maybe I can help you decide. (Spoiler: I’m in the “you should do it!” camp.)

I was 16 when I did my study abroad semester. Destination: The People’s Republic of China.

In all honesty, I had never thought about anything less when I made my decision to apply for the program. My familiarity with the country was extraordinarily limited, my knowledge of the language nonexistent, and I had actually never even been out of the country. I mean, my mom likes to remind me that we went on a family trip that took us through Chicago when I was an infant but I think we all know that’s not really the same thing.

All I knew at 16 was that I was afraid of my future and had to get away from my present for a while. China was, for all intents and purposes, as far away as I was going to be able to get. In other words: It was perfect.

Weeks of  language lessons and the step-by-step visa application process that was handled by our school board ensured that I was fundamentally ready for China, but I was still as unprepared mentally as I had ever been by the time I left for my big adventure. In fact, it was only as we were flying in over Hong Kong that it hit me just how crazy the whole plan may have been.

“I’ve made a terrible mistake,” I remember muttering to myself as our plane descended, the pilot jovially playing tour guide as we passengers crushed our faces to the porthole windows. The city was gorgeous, I was on the other side of the planet, and all I could think of was getting on the first plane back to Canada.

Don’t worry, I didn’t.

And, as it turns out, I also hadn’t made a terrible mistake by going in the first place.

Sure, I was unprepared. My Canadian classmates and I wrestled with a mighty combination of homesickness and culture shock for our first couple of weeks (more on that in a future post). We had learned the wrong language (we had been taught Mandarin, but our new home was a city called Jiangmen in the southern province of Guangdong where people speak Cantonese. As we quickly discovered, the two are not interchangeable). But what I couldn’t possibly have known as I quietly panicked away in that airplane was that my life was never going to be the same again.

And that was a very good thing.

Here’s the thing about studying abroad: It is so much more than just getting to go to school in a cool new place.

When you study abroad, you’re learning both in the classroom and out of it. Unless you’re incredibly stubborn and refuse to open yourself up to new experiences (which I highly discourage) living and learning in a new country will force you out of your comfort zone and will expand your mind in ways that books (and, yes, even the internet) just can’t.

You’ll try new food and get to experience local customs. You’ll have to live in ways that seem strange and sometimes backwards (nothing builds character like having to squat over a pit toilet) and you’ll come out better for it. You’ll make new friends who will show you things about their culture that will make you feel like you’ve stumbled across a secret door to treasures unbeknownst to the average tourist because, really, you kind of have.

And that’s awesome. It’s all worth it.

You’ll make memories, you’ll feel braver, and when you’re done and you’ve returned home you will undoubtedly have a new perspective on life. The world will all at once feel both bigger and smaller. You’ll question your place in it and, if you ignore your fear and listen to that little voice in your head that tells you, “there’s got to be more than this” you’ll have set the wheels in motion for a life open to other exciting new experiences and who knows what else.

Or at least that’s what happened to me.

I was a real play-it-safe kind of girl before China. I liked feeling as though I completely understood the world around me and I liked knowing what I had to do to get to where I wanted to go in life. I studied hard and threw myself into whichever pursuit I thought was going to get me to the next stage of life, regardless of whether or not said pursuit made me happy. My worldview was painfully limited.

Studying and living in China opened my eyes to possibilities I had never considered before. It didn’t seem to make sense to waste my energies on things that didn’t make me happy or feel fulfilled anymore. There were too many awesome things to see and do to spend my life being bored! I had more respect for the things I didn’t understand and a thirst to make the unfamiliar into the familiar. I found in myself a courage I hadn’t known before and that courage urged me to keep trying new things, to keep learning, and to keep experiencing the world.

I came back from my study abroad term a very different person and I can say without a shred of doubt it was all for the best. I can thank the courage and perspective I gained from that experience for the things I’ve gone on to do and accomplish in life . I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

So, are you still thinking about studying abroad?

Because I think you should do it.

Jasper Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Friday: Just Jasper

Jasper the dog, Shiloh Shepherd, cute, doggy, puppy, They Call it Gumption, Sara Hamil


I’ve got nothin’ for you today, folks. So, here: Have a picture of Jasper looking like the incredibly cool dude that he is.

Life Personal Reflections

Grown but not forgotten: Adventures in forgetting what decade it is (and being perfectly okay with that)

You know how, as kids, you would listen to people older than yourself reminisce about the good old days and you couldn’t help but sigh? Perhaps to you their nostalgia was a touch embarrassing; the way they’d cling to the past almost felt desperate. Things couldn’t have possibly been that great or they wouldn’t have changed, you might have thought to yourself. That was then and this is now! Stop trying to make 1975 happen (again!) and get with the times already! We have the internet, how can you not be excited about this??

You know you’re getting older (or at least growing up) when you stop quietly judging the people stuck on their past and start becoming one of those people.

The further I get from student-hood (this is my fourth consecutive September of not starting a new school year. Well, not as a student, anyway) and the closer I get to 30 the more wrapped up in nostalgia I seem to find myself. I never anticipated becoming this person. In fact, there was actually a small part of me that always wondered if people who held on to the past were simply afraid to move forward.

I can’t say for sure whether or not that’s true (there’s a lot on my horizon so maybe I am subconsciously starting to linger in the past a tad just to feel like I’m safely in the cocoon of the familiar for a little bit longer). What I do know is that I’ve officially become one of those “remember when?” people and I can’t even say that I’m sorry for it.

Case in point: This past weekend I almost forgot what decade it was.

On Saturday night Kyle was officially fed up with our portable record player. The sound warbled and paled in comparison to a set-up we had witnessed in a record shop in Penticton. He was on the hunt for the real deal. After prowling through Kijiji listings and firing off a message or two he had a hit before we even went to bed. The next morning we were on the road to pick up our new player, receiver, and speakers. I had Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” spinning before dinner time.

They Call it Gumption, Sara Hamil, record player, vinyl, JVC, Sony, speakers
This is what we call an upgrade.

That night my brother came to hang out with us and we decided to bust out my Super Nintendo. Y’know, for old time’s sake. And also Mario Kart. A few harmless rounds of that devolved into a long night of screaming and laughing as the three of us played our way through some of the classic games that my brothers and I had enjoyed as kids.

It was as I sat on the floor switching out records and watching the guys howl through NHL Stanley Cup circa 1993 that I experienced that moment of, “wait, where am I? WHEN AM I?” Everything about that scene screamed back to my childhood. To my father and the time he would spend at his record player, methodically leafing through his vinyl collection and delicately swapping one for another. I remember watching his movements and being mesmerized by the ritual involved in listening to records because you didn’t just listen – you participated in the experience. Those motions now, ingrained still after all these years, come naturally to me. I laid on the floor, my head at the speakers and an album cover in my hands, appreciating the experience for myself.

And the video games. Oh, the video games! These games, this console in particular, were daily staples in the lives of my brothers and I back in the early 90s. Say what you will about video games but I don’t regret a single moment we spent engrossed in the adventures and stories doled out by our SNES. And it all came back to us so quickly that night; every combination of buttons, each sneaky cheat. Those pixels were like a wormhole that sent through them waves of youthful glee and excitement and left hints on nostalgia lingering when it was all over.

Sara Hamil, They Call it Gumption, Mario Kart, SNES, video games
Beware the red shell.

That night I felt like we had the best of everything. Who needed computers and streamed music when we had pristine vinyl and 16-bit entertainment? It was then that I really started to understand – without the bitter jadedness of “kids these days” ringing in my ears – why so many of us like to hang on to the past. Those relics that ring back to time we’ve grown out of but would rather not forget.

Photo Fridays Projects

Photo Friday: Back from BC

I’m back from BC. I’ve been back since Tuesday, in body if not exactly in spirit.

I cannot even begin to express how difficult it was to leave British Columbia. If not for the fact that I missed Jasper the Dog SO MUCH while we were away I would have been tempted to find a way to stay. It honestly felt like it would have been that easy; like I could have just stepped out of my whole life here in Ontario and started anew on the other side of the country without missing a beat.

BC is beautiful and it has an enviable rhythm that made me question so much about my own life and the way I’m living it. My vacation was everything it should have been: fun, relaxing, and full of good and new experiences. In moments of quiet serenity – on a beach in the Okanagan, gazing up at the peaks that surround the Coquihalla Highway, enjoying the feel of the Pacifc Ocean lapping around my ankles – I wondered how I could have ever let the things that worry me get to me in the first place and questioned just what I thought I was doing with my one wild and wonderful life. Life is simple, the BC breeze whispered in my ear. Live well, worry less, hang out with the people you love in places that make you happy.

I’ve been slow to organize my thoughts since I’ve been home. The only tangible things that I’ve put out for public consumption are a bunch of Instagram photos (i.e. the ones below. If you already follow me on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook then you’ve probably already seen them. Sorry, the new material will surface eventually) and a blog post on The Let’s Go Ladies about the extraordinary amount of stuff Kyle and I were able to cram into our brief stay in Vancouver. Ah, Vancouver. The city of my dreams…

There are so many experiences I want to share from this trip. It meant a lot to me and it feels important for me to write it all down. Some of those stories will end up on TLGL, others should live here. I just have a lot of feelings, okay?

Until I get there though, here are some of my favourite shots (of which there were many) from my trip:

A beautiful sunrise in Vancouver on our last day in BC.
A beautiful sunrise in Vancouver on our last day in BC.
'Flow 1 & 2' from the 'Encounters With Iceland' exhibit at Mission Hill Family Estate in Kelowna, BC
‘Flow 1 & 2′ from the ‘Encounters With Iceland’ exhibit at Mission Hill Family Estate in Kelowna, BC
The view of Okanagan Lake from the pier in Penticton.
The view of Okanagan Lake from the pier in Penticton.
The "replica Great Wall" at Pagoda Ridge Golf Course in Abbotsford.
The “replica Great Wall” at Pagoda Ridge Golf Course in Abbotsford.
The view from The Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery in Penticton. This view came perilously close to completely convincing me never to leave the Okanagan again.
The view from The Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery in Penticton. This view came perilously close to completely convincing me never to leave the Okanagan again.
Wine tasting at Red Rooster Winery in Penticton. Life was pretty tough.
Wine tasting at Red Rooster Winery in Penticton. Life was pretty tough.
Vancouver, as see from our room at the Delta Vancouver Suites.
Vancouver, as see from our room at the Delta Vancouver Suites.

Social media doesn’t have to be complicated but it should be, y’know, social

These days it’s not hard to find examples of brands and businesses that are using social media well. I mean, yes, there are still plenty of examples of brands that are doing a terrible job, and even more that are just puttering along. But for the most part there’s a good group of them out there that recognize the potential of the tools at their disposal, the power of their audience, and the value of doing something with it.

As far as I’m concerned, a brand doesn’t have to launch a big, flashy, innovative campaign to be impressive (although those are undoubtedly cool). In fact, sometimes it’s the simplest things that catch my attention online, and usually all a brand has to do is put the “social” back in social media.

I always mean to write about some of the cool experiences that I’ve had with brands and businesses while living on the internet but, obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. So, because it’s on my mind right now, let me tell you about a simple bit of online brand outreach that I thought was pretty memorable.

In my work with The Let’s Go Ladies I spent a lot of time reading and commenting on other travel blogs. After all, networking is a valuable part of social media success. whether you’re trying to grow your readership or just want to create meaningful connections with other content creators, taking the time to network is a good thing to do.

“Time”, of course, being a key word here. Building relationships takes time – something many brands still don’t necessarily want to commit to.

But last week I read a post on The Travel Hack about things to pack in your carry-on luggage. One of the items the author highlighted was this neat travel scarf called the Trtl Sleepscarf. The wrapped tube-style scarf has built-in supportive ribbing that holds your chin up while you doze off. I’m notorious for falling asleep on long trips and this is SO much better than a neck roll, crushing your face against a window, or the classic “nod n’ bob” (which I’m embarrassingly close to perfecting).

I was instantly sold. There was only one problem: The UK-based company didn’t ship internationally.

trtl, travel, The Travel Hack, The Let's Go Ladies, Sara Hamil
I was crushed.

In love with the idea, I resolved to keep an eye on the site and wait for international shipping to open up. I was going to be ready.

I made that comment on Tuesday. On Friday morning I woke up to a tweet on the TLGL Twitter account from Trtl:



To which I responded enthusiastically.

And they RT'd and fave'd it, OBVI.
And they RT’d and fave’d it, NATURALLY.


Guys, I was super impressed. I’m still super impressed. In fact, the only reason I didn’t rush off to buy one right away was because the chances of it arriving before I leave for B.C. were slim to none.  But you’d better believe I’ll be ordering one when I get back because, seriously, both their product at their social media savvy have won me over.

Sure, this method takes a bit more time. It’s also not a new concept. But is it effective?

I hadn’t tweeted them or sent a message begging for international shipping. They saw my comment on a blog and went out of their way to find me and let me know that my wish had been granted. It’s a simple approach but it works. Now I not only know that I can get the product I want but the company made me feel important in the process.

Well played, Trtl. I look forward to napping all over the world with your sweet Sleepscarf. I’ll tweet you the pics ;)