New year, new beginnings…

Watching my younger sisters and cousin head off to university this year was no easy feat for me.  As our parents cried because they’d miss them, I was sad for another reason: I started university FOUR years ago.


I didn’t want to come back to Ottawa (after my much-needed August vacation) because I 1) felt like a loser for being a fifth-year, 2) didn’t want to face the inevitable j-school stress that was upon me and 3) wanted to be starting fresh like my younger siblings.

But, other than my first year, September 2012 has been the most filled with surprises and, as the blog post suggests, new beginnings.

With a new addition to the house, new neighbours, and a new DSLR, the past two weeks have been filled with lots of fun.

I made the (financially irresponsible) decision to buy a new Canon T2i when the opportunity to take a photography class basically fell into my lap. (It should be noted that I got up at 8 am in a thunderstorm and had a garage sale, selling clothes and making $90 profit!)

I have always been interested in photography but never had the skills (or tools) to take good ones. So, I bussed out to Costco to get a great deal on the camera, a lens, a tripod, and Photoshop.  I decided that the class was an opportunity for me to really learn about photography and potentially make a great portfolio. That also meant that I would have to invest, and after much consideration I decided to do it.

I love my new camera and I am starting to develop a relationship with it. It’s a great outlet for stress and I love that I can go and being doing “journalism” without having to talk to people. It’s so enjoyable that I would do it if I didn’t have a class to hand it into, but it’s even better that I have a purpose! My dad told me yesterday: You are now dating your Canon! Go spend some time with it!

I’ve been shooting a lot and want to share a few pictures that I like. I have been playing around with settings and I don’t actually know anything about photography so, if you do, cut me some slack.  If you want to give me any suggestions on how to make them better/ if you have some tricks, please let me know!!

A few kayaks on the Ottawa River. I was snapping for a photo assignment. Didn’t think it was good enough to submit but I like it anyways!

The lighting is all wrong, but I still think this is a great picture of Christian.

I made this Swedish birthday cake for Sheilagh’s 23rd. It didn’t rise (old baking powder) but I’m starting to love baking!

Presenting the cake to the birthday girl…

Breakfast and coffee with good friends.

Beautiful flowers at the Farmers Market. The market is now at Brewer Park, which is close to my house. I went three times yesterday! It’s the best way to spend a Sunday.

A cute little boy checking out some flowers. Love this shot.




Harry Potter applies to everything in life.

This summer I have unexpectedly done a huge amount of soul-searching. In March, I was determined to make $15,000 waitressing and go into the school year feeling financially stable (somewhat) and exhausted from serving endless numbers of tables. However, when I got the call that I would be headed to Brussels, my work ethic flew away like dust in the wind and my focus was entirely different.  I was now determined to have a great time in Europe for at least a month.

Since I had not gone completely insane (and I knew my finances were still hurting from my two previous Eurotrips), I decided to do it on a budget. I started off in great hands because transportation and my expenses for the first leg of my tour were covered by the Delegation of the EU to Canada. *I cannot express enough gratitude towards them! So what to do when you didn’t expect to be in Europe and you don’t want to spend tons of money? Well, visit friends of course. Most of my European connections lie in Scandinavia so I spent three weeks (and even expended my trip a bit while over there) in Denmark and Sweden.

I felt like I had gone home. So much so, that I wasn’t able to write anything about it due to the emotional turmoil that came along with thinking about the fact that I am not Danish, as much as I try to pretend I am via wearing converse and all black.

But now that summer is almost over I am feeling quite reflective on what this trip back to Denmark had really done for me.  When I got back to Canada I was of course sad, and it was not easy going back to serving when I had just had a fun, carefree European experience. It was the reality check of all reality checks. At the same time, a friend and coworker of mine announced that she would be moving to Arctic Bay in the middle of August.

Yes, Nunavut. Yes, that’s further from Ottawa than Venezuela. Except North.

Her mentality was that she needed to make money serving, but at the same time, she needed to take advantage of every chance to have fun with her friends, too. She dragged me in with a simple phrase: YOLO.

Yes, I am aware that saying You Only Live Once a la Drake is a little annoying, and quite frankly, I don’t even believe it! But the idea of living like you only have one life is an easy way to enjoy your time here on earth without worrying too much about the future.

So I went from determined to serve tables 7 days a week and beef up my bank account to… make sure I was always having a good time.

But something was holding me back. I read the book “The Defining Decade” by Dr. Meg Jay while in Europe. I read a chapter a day when I was alone to try and really get the full meaning of the book. It’s all about how the 20s are the most important decade, and we need to seize the opportunities that are presented to us to move forward with our careers, love lives, and health before it’s too late. So, I felt a bit of stress coming from what I learned from that book. It even sparked a few of us at work going “What would Meg do?” when faced with the temptation to eat white bread, have a triple vodka soda, etc.

So, the combo of WWMD and YOLO was the source of many internal panic attacks when deciding if I should just go out, take the day off work and do something fun, work on resumes etc. But something really great came out of this combo of two different mantras. I was able to do two really important things that I usually have a hard time doing because anxiety doesn’t allow it.

  1. I had an amazing time with friends and family and while I was not working I really didn’t think about how much money I “could be” making, something that I have struggled with in the past.
  2. I decided to jump start my CAREER, regardless of the pay cut.

So, at the beginning of August I decided to quit serving (hopefully) forever for a few reasons.  The main reason was that I was mentally exhausted and needed to YOLO  a bit before school. The other reason is that while serving I have no energy to do anything to get my career going as a journalist. I keep thinking “well I’m still in school so it’s okay if I don’t have a job in my field.” But no—extending my degree does not mean I can extend the time I do a job that doesn’t advance my life.

Phew. Since I’ve been jobless, I have made a few steps career-wise (which are all under wraps!) and I’ve also spent quite a few days watching daytime talk shows and snuggling with my puppy. So it’s a bit of both—I’m doing nothing yet I feel more productive and like I am moving forward than I have in years.

On the ground in Brussels

Capturing some nighttime beauty in Brussels, Belgium.

It has been about two months since I have returned from my trip to Brussels, Belgium, so I think it’s about time I do some blogging.

Ironically, we all brought laptops because we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to blog along the way, but the week European Union study tour was so busy we barely had time to check our Facebook. I spent the week with two other young journalists, Kaitlyn and Patricia, thanks to a competition that the three of us won through the Delegation of the European Union in Canada.

Firstly, I need to express huge thanks to the Delegation for all they did in organizing and sending us on this super educational experience.  In addition, the College of Europe in Brugges, Belgium, did tons of work planning all of our meetings and making sure we had the most beneficial time in Belgium. *Special thanks to Aymeric Astre and Shane Heneghan for dealing with our Canadian-girl shenanigans and providing us with lots of guidance and FUN!*

The week consisted of us touring all bodies of the EU and meeting journalists, press officers, and politicians from all walks of the EU. Our eyes were opened to the depth of the institution. For anyone who has tried (and failed) to understand how the EU works, I understand the struggle. But after this trip, I was so happy to finally understand how this confusing body works. Many people would argue that the institution doesn’t work at all—many feel that there is too much discussion and not enough action. However, considering that there are 27 countries (and it’s growing) and 22 official languages, I think it is very impressive that the body manages to exist at all. It is a real example of how peace and working together is so important to Europe. The EU serves as an example to the rest of the world. And considering there are so many different people with differing needs and wants, the conflict makes for some great news stories!

Something that really stuck with me on this trip was the important of languages. Sadly, the only language that I can work in (at this stage of my life) is English. I can read and understand French but although I have a knack for a Quebecois accent, my skills just don’t cut it for journalism. As most North Americans know, Europeans tend to speak more  at least three languages. At the EU level, this is true. The least amount was two, and the most was eight.

Luckily for me, the EU has taken a big English-speaking turn since the introduction of the Scandinavian countries. (One more reason for me to love Scandinavia.) Before that, it was primarily French. I think to have nothing holding you back as a journalist in Brussels you would need to speak English, French, and Spanish. I found when I was reporting in Strasbourg in 2011, I was sticking to interviewing Brits, Danes, and Swedes, because I knew they’d be comfortable speaking in English.  This did really push me to want to learn a third language. Luckily for me, I have lived the past 4 months with a Costa Rican and can now understand Spanish soap-operas. So I think I’m on the right path.

Here’s a little journal entry that I wrote while in Brussels to give anyone interested in the program a taste of what it’s like.

Brussels is like Strasbourg on crack. Even construction sights are blocked off in blue and yellow. I brought my blue and yellow Lululemon headband accidentally, and it’s perfect. I don’t know what you saw when you went on your morning run today; but I saw the European Commission, a park the size of 10 football fields that looked like Washington, D.C., a lake, a man-made red tree, and countless embassies. It’s so political here!

As our supervisor introduced himself on Monday morning, he told us that we were professionals. For a journalism student who has been second to “real” journalists for four years, this was an amazing moment for me. And now, as I sit in my own hotel room with massive windows looking over the European Union quarter of Brussels, I couldn’t be happier.

Basically, I have made more contacts than I can ever have hoped. Today I went to a press conference with President Barroso (of the European Commission), and met an editor at Thompson Reuters just to name a few of my activities.

I haven’t seen a ton of Brussels- we are staying in the European quarter where everything screams EU and all the bars are filled with interns and staff. It’s a cool environment. We checked out the Grand Place (tourist central) of Brussels last night and it was decked out with chocolate and waffle shops, as you’d expect. I had dark Belgian chocolate and strawberries on my waffle. Delish!

We’re just starting to get comfortable (aka understand what is going on) and we only have two days left! I am so sad, although I will need a vacation after this week. It’s 10:30 pm (I just got home!) and we left at 8:25 this morning!

Oh, and the food has been incredible.

It was a busy and exciting trip. I felt like a real journalist and it really pushed me to get moving on my career. At the same time, I was a bit sad knowing that European Union news doesn’t have a huge place in the media at home. However, the whole point of this trip was to strike interest and get young journalists like myself thinking about the EU and how it can be related and incorporated into news here in Canada. With the huge trade agreement (CETA) in the final stages, there will be lots of negotiating and exciting things to talk about.

In the mean time, take a look at some photos of Brussels and I will continue working on a European passport.

EU Careers – I’ll take one.

Meeting with a press officer who recently visited Canada! He showed us all around the Parliament. We loved him.


Doing a bit of sight-seeing at Grand Place.

Walking around, going for dinner, taking photos, etc.


Finally getting a little social time on our last night! Having a great time with Aymeric, our organizer/guide. He did so much work for us!

Week 1 at the Whig

This week has been a change of scenery from my Old Ottawa South lifestyle.  I packed up my things, moved into my parents’ waterfront home and started interning at The Kingston Whig Standard, Canada’s longest running daily!

View from my computer... Thanks to Tori Stafford for letting me take over her desk!

I had a busy week! My first assignment was a really fun one. I got to interview Tom Axworthy, who was Trudeau’s principal secretary from 1980-84. He was working with Trudeau through the entire Charter of Rights and Freedoms extravaganza. He told me about negotiating with the premiers to come up with a deal to pass the charter. SO interesting. To read my article (which ended up on the front page!) click on the photo.

I was super excited to see my name on the front page of a newspaper! Crazy!

Wednesday I was assigned a video about a Model UN going on at a Kingston high school, but since it wasn’t starting until 5 p.m., I took the day to work in a Starbucks (the cutest one in the history of the world) and teach myself how to use the camera equipment. I never figured out the tripod, so did the entire video hand-held. It’s bad at times.

Thursday was very exciting—the federal government announced the closure of the Kingston Penitentiary. It’s pretty cool to be working for the daily paper of the town that the entire country is focused on. I had a bit of a stressful time with the historical timeline and had to really swallow the fact that I am an intern and I didn’t get to be ON the scene. It was awesome to be in the newsroom seeing everyone bouncing stories off each other, discussing leads, watching the news updates, and calling sources non-stop.

After what seemed like a week of interviewing high school students, I think the story I got out of the Model UN is extremely cute. Click on the photo of these boys to read about their rise to fame. You can also see my (shaky) video!

Two Grade 7s rise up the ranks at a Model UN conference.

Overall, I learned a lot about my own writing. I need to work on writing leads…I’m looking forward to getting a chance to write more next week.

A sticky situation

So, apparently I am going to Europe again!  But more excitingly than usual, the European Union consulate in Canada actually chose me to go to Brussels for a study tour of the EU institutions! I guess the moral of the story is, if you obsess about something enough, someone will recognize it and reward you.

But in all seriousness, I am honoured and thrilled to have been one of three journalism students to be chosen for this award. I’m excited for the opportunity to learn more about the EU, as reporting there has always been an interest of mine.  I’m definitely ready to add to my “European Travels” section, too. I can’t wait to meet some new people, reconnect with European friends, and challenge myself academically. I get antsy if I’m left in Ottawa for too long.

*I also need to take a second to explain my quote to live by (cheesy, I know) has proven to be right, yet again. EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. When I was in France in December, I had a strange feeling that I should take the 7 am train from Toulouse to Rennes. I couldn’t really explain it. My friends in Toulouse begged me not to, and I wept hysterically in between the train cars for at least two hours of the eight hour ride. After I tired myself out and fell asleep (I am so dramatic, I know), I was woken up by a woman who started chatting with me. Turned out, she spoke great English. (Refer to my other article, Parlez-vous Anglais for my previous experiences speaking English in France.) Suzanne really interested me and seemed to like to talk. I asked her what story she would tell if she could tell a journalist. She started telling me the story of her life as a beekeeper, and I started taking notes on the back of my printed-out boarding pass.

When I got back to Canada, I had about 5 pages of messy notes written in barely visible pencil, and a nagging voice in my head saying that I needed to do something about it. I almost didn’t go forward with this story because I thought it was too much work to do in the middle of the semester. Moral: 1) there is always a moral in my life, it seems. 2) LISTEN TO YOUR GUT! Oprah was right after all these years…

So here is my article that I wrote for this competition. I love honeybees. Read on and you will, too!

A sticky situation: bee deaths continue in France and abroad

By: Emily Dickinson

Flickr: billhinsee's photos via Getty Images

Suzanne Vermandere and her husband, Philip, have spent the last 33 years in a dying profession.

“We took risks to do something we thought would be nice to do,” she said.

The Vermanderes, originally from Belgium, moved to France in 1978. Since then, they have lived on a farm in Le Langon, making their living as apiculturists, otherwise known as beekeepers.

But it’s not their profession that’s dying; it’s the honeybees. Research shows different factors contribute to the downfall of the honey industry that has occurred in France since 1994. The most prominent factors are varroa mites, a honeybee parasite, and a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, explained Dr. Jeff Dawson, a biologist at Carleton University.

If they don’t die, they become confused and experience what French beekeepers call “Mad Bee Disease.” But this issue is not specific to France—it’s happening all over Europe and in North America, too.

New research as of January 2012 from Purdue University shows a small-scale example of how this problem has made its way to North America.

Dr. Christian Krupke is a Canadian entomologist—a scientist who studies insects —who has been conducting research on honeybees in Indiana for the past two years.

“We found piles of dead bees near the hive entrance,” he said. The research showed high concentrations of neonicotinoids in waste that is exhausted from farm machinery during planting.

He compared the effect of neonicotinoids on a honeybee’s nervous system to how alcohol affects humans.

“Lots of things can go wrong when you give an animal that uses its nervous system a dose of a chemical that targets the nervous system,” he said.

Yet because neonicotinoids are generally safe for mammals, they are the most widely used pesticide in North America, Krupke explained.

If the dose isn’t lethal, it can result in honeybees that are too disoriented to produce honey.

1And a honeybee that cannot produce honey is exactly what the Vermanderes are dealing with. She said it has been difficult making a living.

Before 1994, France was producing 40,000 kg of honey a year. Nearly 20 years later, the country produces between 9,000 and 11,000 kg annually, she said. The Vermanderes lose about 15 per cent of their 500 hives a year.

Vermandere isn’t just worried about her own livelihood and other beekeepers in France. She is outraged that even as some evidence proves that neonicotinoids are incredibly dangerous for honeybees, they are still widely used.

Vermandere, whose former career was in science, recognizes that there are other factors that contribute to the Mad Bees, such as the varroa mite. However, she places a lot of the blame on a certain strain of the neonicotinoid pesticide— imidacloprid. In France, the seed-coating imidacloprid is sold under the brand name Gaucho.

Chemical company Bayer CropScience introduced Gaucho to French crops in 1994. Gaucho, along with other neonicotinoids, has faced a lot of scrutiny in Europe in the past decade.

Gaucho alone has caused riots in France, forcing the government to conduct research and regulate its use more closely. In 1999, the French Minister of Agriculture suspended the use of Gaucho on sunflower seeds, and in 2004 restricted it for use on corn crops. The product is still in used on other crops, such as wheat and sugar beet.

“Even though it’s banned, it never goes away,” said Vermendere. “It’s persistent, nature can’t get rid of it.”

Rain washes the pesticide off the crops and into the soil, and when the soil dries out, the pesticide-ridden dust blows onto other crops, explained Dawson.

“Neonicotinoids are residual pesticides, which can linger for years without being re-applied to a crop,” he said.

Although the pesticide can linger in the soil, the dose is not high enough to affect honeybees, explained chief scientist of ecotoxicology of Bayer CropScience, Dr. David Fisher.

He said scientists at Bayer CropScience do not think the product should have been banned on sunflower and corn crops.

“If these products were responsible for the problems that French beekeepers were having—they had higher than normal losses of bee colonies—once those products came off the market you would expect that the problems the French beekeepers had would go away,” said Fisher. “And that did not happen. Those problems continue to today.”

Fisher says that the main problem that should be looked into is varroa mites.

Bayer CropScience also believes that since most of the research about neonicotinoids is done in a laboratory, it cannot be trusted.

“In the laboratory, you can see effects, but in the field as the product is being used, all of the studies show no effects,” said Fisher. “Our position has been that the field exposure is what’s relevant to deciding whether a product should be registered or not.”

At the European Parliament level, the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee agrees that the current data is not reliable.

According to a press release from October 25, 2011, the committee is calling on the Members of European Parliament to “see national surveillance systems put in place and harmonized standards developed at EU level for data collection.”

The detailed 56-point bee health report also called for bee-friendly plant- protection products. It was voted through at the November 2011 plenary session in Strasbourg, France, which happens monthly.

MEP for Luxembourg Astrid Lulling, European People’s Party, thinks the report by Hungarian MEP Csaba Sándor Tabajdi, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, is too broad.

“Unfortunately the rapporteur had very large approach to the subject, in my opinion too large, so that a lot of the key messages have been diluted in the unreadable unstructured final text,” said Lulling, who is a member of the committee.

Lullling, who believes both neonicotinoids and the varroa mite play leading roles in problems in the beekeeping industry, has several suggestions for improvements in the future. She encourages support of the beekeeping sector so it can get recognized in the 2013 EU budget. She also calls for more research to be conducted for fighting the varroa mite.

She requests that the European Food Safety Agency, which has the power to create an EU-wide ban on a substance to be implemented by the member states, to have a closer look at how pesticides react together, as well as enhancing the bans on dangerous neonicotinoids.

Vermandere said she is wary of the decisions made at the European Union level, even scientific evidence.

“It’s ridiculous because in any case, the European Union and the agencies that evaluate the situation of course are under strict fire of lobby firms,” she said.

“Politically, a decision has to be taken, and the financial benefit of [Bayer] is more than the benefit of a bee.”

Like many apiculturists, what the Vermanderes are left with is a depleting collection of disoriented bees, and a decreasing yield of honey.


Driven to Design

I AM SO EXCITED! I have spent the last 6 months searching and searching for this Soundslide that I made during my final project in Stockholm last May.  Today as my multimedia class presented the audio slideshows we made this week (I’ll post that one later), I figured out how to find this. It was a wonderful moment!

At the time I did this assignment, these two were students at Textila, a free school in Stockholm for fashion design.

My final project was about the free school system in Sweden. Click here or here to read my stories about that.

Click on the photo to view the audio slideshow.

Diana and Saman have individual businesses, but help each other out.

Words of Wisdom

Considering it’s Spring Break of my senior year in college (that catchy phrase is a shout-out to my American friends) you’d think I’d be jetting off to some super tropical location to get an amazing tan to help get me through the rest of the winter. However, due to my impulse Euro trip in December, I knew that I would be stuck at home this year, maybe doing an internship or picking up a few shifts here and there at work.

All of the sudden, it was reading week, and I hadn’t applied for an internship.  Since I got laid off right around the time I booked a flight to France (perfect timing) I didn’t have a job to work at. So, since I literally have nothing else to do, I guess this would be the perfect time to get my wisdom teeth removed.

In fact, right now I am writing this purely as a way to distract the throbbing pain on the right side of my face. Luckily, I haven’t really swelled up too much. I look like myself, but in grade four. It’s not that bad!  The pain, however, is something much worse than I had imagined. In the past six days, I have come a long way (and significantly decreased my drug intake!) so I am here to share some words of wisdom about how to deal with this apparently “minor” surgery.

1. It is very important to take before and after photos, just for your own entertainment. It is also a good idea to get your parents to videotape you as you wake up from the anesthetic. Every time I watch it, I almost cry. I look and talk like I am five years old. My mascara-smeared face looks directly into the camera and innocently asks, “Mommy, is my face swollen?” I was swollen, but due to drugs and freezing it didn’t feel like anything had happened. I’d post the video, but I don’t think I’d ever be taken seriously as a journalist again.

2. Don’t try and walk by yourself after laying down/ being on drugs. I didn’t think much of it, and got up to go to the bathroom a little too fast. Luckily my sister was beside me because I completely blacked out. I couldn’t walk on my own for 36 hours.

3. Drink more fluids than you think your body can handle. It hurts like hell trying to swallow, especially when there are large chunks of bloody gauze in your mouth (sorry for the visual). Dehydration is just about the worst thing that can happen, because the last thing you want is to throw up. Not having control of your jaw is a post-wisdom teeth removal nightmare.

4. Last night when I was two hours away from being able to take pain medication, I finally turned to the tip my cousin gave me– eating ice chips. I didn’t think it would work, but it actually numbed the inside of my mouth and I was able to fall asleep before it started to hurt again.

5. This is the most important lesson I learned: set an alarm to take pain medication throughout the night. Since the surgery, I had been on pain killers for about 48 hours so I didn’t realize how bad the pain could actually get. I fell asleep and woke up 7 hours after taking the medication (you’re supposed to take it every 3-4)… it was excruciating. Once you let the pain get out of control, it’s hard to get back on top of it.

I wasn’t going to include the picture of myself post-surgery, but now that I have resurfaced from my week of hell I can confidently say I look like a normal human being again. Although I am still on house arrest, I am on the mend and can finally see the humour in it…sort of.

Hope this helps.

I wore mascara because I took the photo for my new license before the surgery. What a mistake! I have iPhoto-ed this to try and make it kind of artsy because the original is just terrifying.