Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)

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A trip to the Mekong Delta

One of my favourite experiences during our visit to Vietnam earlier this month was a trip to the Mekong Delta. It was a fantastic experience, organized by one of our sisters. Even though we participated in an organized tour, I felt like a true adventurer (my childhood dream was to be Indiana Jones!), especially as we paddled along one of the channels of the Delta.


The Mekong Delta produces over half of Vietnam’s rice as well as many kinds of tropical fruit, like jackfruit, mangosteen, bananas, and others. The vegetation is lush and exotic, particularly to my Canadian eyes.

On the day of our trip, we left Ho Chi Minh City early in the morning and traveled two hours to a spot along the Mekong River. From there, we took a boat down along the river to explore a few different islands. On our first stop we observed how rice paper is made. We also had a delicious traditional Vietnamese lunch – fish, pork, greens, and yummy fresh spring rolls. At each stop there were tourist souvenirs on display.


Coconut monkeys!


Wending our way through the jungle.


The river is brown but it’s not dirty. It is rich with mud and sediment that keeps the Delta fertile.


Rice paper drying on racks.


A paste of rice is bubbling away. Soon it will be rolled out into paper.


I was so tempted to buy a Vietnamese hat.



Our feast! Notice the remains of the elephant fish. It was delish.

After lunch we were taken to another island to visit a bee farm and to taste delicious honey tea.


I found the water mesmerizing.


Honey tea – nectar of the gods!

From the bee farm we were led by donkey to a local restaurant to listen to traditional South Vietnamese music and to enjoy a selection of tropical fruit.


It was a rather bumpy ride.


Not a great shot but I was trying to capture the ornamental dogs on top of the gate posts. I noticed a lot of houses with ornamental dogs or dragons.


A feast of fruit! Watermelon, longan, pineapple, dragon fruit, and rambutan.

Finally, we went to a third island to learn how to make coconut candy and try a sample (or two!).


Coconut candy being mixed. It had an enticing aroma.


Samples on offer.


Coconut candies drying and ready to be cut and packaged.

My favourite part of the trip was our jaunt along one of the Mekong channels. It was beautiful and enchanting.


At the end of the day I was exhausted but I felt so blessed to have had a little taste of Vietnamese culture.


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Beautiful Vietnam

The members of our novitiate house had the incredible opportunity to travel to Vietnam last week to visit the IBVM community there. It was a whirlwind week of new sights, sounds, and tastes. I loved exploring Ho Chi Minh City with our sisters (usually on the back of their motorbikes) and learning about their culture. I really fell in love with the city, the culture, and the people. Such an intoxicating mix of East and West.

More to come soon on our visit but first a selection of photos to whet your appetite!


The Post Office – a beautiful example of the French architecture found in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.


A portrait of Ho Chi Minh is prominently displayed in the main hall of the Post Office.


At Ben Thanh Market.


Bags, bags, and more bags!


Bowls made from coconut.


Amazing embroidery work – gorgeous scenes stitched by hand.


“The Church of 3 Bells” or the “Dominican Church” – an extraordinary example of the fusion of East and West. The church was built in the style of a traditional pagoda as a way to incorporate the Catholic faith into Asian culture.


A pair of dragons greet you at the entrance to the church.


A mountain of fresh spring rolls!


I visited the museum that commemorates the American War (Vietnam War) – shocking photographs of the atrocities of war and the effects of the war on generations of Vietnamese. A lot of propaganda as well.


After the museum, I visited Independence Palace – the seat of the Vietnamese government in the 60s and 70s.


If you visit Ho Chi Minh, look up! Tangles of wires greet you everywhere.


It’s a work of art.


A hem (lane) leading into a Japanese neighbourhood.


Beautiful Vietnam!


Island hopping

For three days last week we were the IBVM beach babes.

After a 2.5 hour bus ride and a 1.5 hour ferry ride, we arrived at Talipanan beach on the island of Mindoro for our first (mini) vacation! We spent a glorious three days enjoying the sun and surf.




It was so good to get out of the city for awhile, to breathe fresh air and see the sparkling ocean. It was actually a startling reminder of how polluted Manila is when I saw how beautiful and clean the ocean is in other parts of the country. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. I felt a spiritual lift just seeing it.


We stayed in a little house owned by Amami Beach Resort. It wasn’t quite as cute as the cottages below but it had a lovely view of the sea.



We had the beach to ourselves!


When the rain came we sat on the front porch and watched nature at work. The force of the rain and wind was pretty spectacular.




The calm after the storm.




Lots of places to swim and relax. And then enjoy a cappuccino.




Talipanan was a gorgeous place to escape to and experience the beauty of the Philippines. We’re already planning a return trip!


The flora and fauna of paradise

I’m still reflecting on the graces I received during the retreat and am taking time to process everything that happened but I wanted to share more photos of the retreat centre and its grounds. Here are my favourite photos of the beautiful plant and animal life that made the retreat centre such a special place.


This was my usual view for my first prayer of the day. It was so wonderful to be outside.


These flowers were fiery bright – I loved seeing them in the morning sun.



These trees with aerial roots were amazing.




I could see this tree out of my window. It became very special to me during the retreat.


When we arrived it was so dry and the earth was cracked like this everywhere in the property. When we left it had begun to rain so the cracks were beginning to close up.




My favourite place to pray in the late afternoon with the golden sun.


The yellow version of this beautiful flower.



I took this picture at the end of our retreat. You can see the grass is starting to turn green again.


A seed pod beginning to open. It was the size of a corn cob!


And here are the seeds embedded in a sort of cotton.


Another favourite place to pray in the late afternoon.


The sheep had free reign during the day to graze where they liked. They tended to follow a very particular route and timetable as they travelled the property. I usually saw this parade of sheep around 8:30am.


Our beloved “mini lamb”, or “lambie”. Also known by his given name, “Cha-Cha”. As a little lamb with fleece as white as snow, he was spoiled by everyone. He was later adorned with a little cross pendant, like a little monk.


A rear view of the two other lambs – they did not want to pose for a picture.


The nocturnal amphibian.


We couldn’t escape the roosters, even at the retreat centre – another noisy bunch.

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La Mesa Eco Park

This past Thursday we had the opportunity to visit an oasis in Quezon City. La Mesa Eco Park is a public park in the middle of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation and is the largest remaining rainforest in Metro Manila. The lush greenery and vegetation were a welcome sight. The air was fresh and clean and the temperature felt at least 5 degrees cooler than where we live in Quezon City. It was a real paradise to wander through and relax in. Enjoy the photos!



So much to see and do at the Eco Park!

CIMG4373A cat in the tropical jungle

CIMG4376Terraced flower garden


Sparkling clean water of the fishing pond.

CIMG4381Lily pads




CIMG4389A gorgeous array of plant life

CIMG4394Interesting waxy corkscrew leaves


CIMG4397Another variation of corkscrew leaves


My favourite plant – I don’t know the name but I love the shocking pink


Beautiful dramatic flowers

CIMG4405Bright, almost fluorescent green leaves, not caught very well by my camera

CIMG4407After some time of exploration we sought refuge under a cabana

CIMG4408The view from the cabana

CIMG4415It’s a hard life – napping in the rainforest


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Back to my roots

This prairie girl has been back and forth to her favourite province, Saskatchewan, a couple of times this month. The first time for summer vacation and the second for a funeral.

Both trips gave me the opportunity to reconnect with family members I hadn’t seen for a long time and to be reminded of how wonderful they are and how much I love them and miss them.

I spent my summer vacation visiting family in a little town called Rosthern. I have been there many times. Saskatchewan has been the destination of choice for most of my vacations growing up – either in the summer or at Christmas – fluctuating between Rosthern and Saskatoon. The annual (sometimes biannual) pilgrimage to visit grandmas, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

In Rosthern I visited my paternal grandmother. She is the grandmother of homemade chicken noodle soup, of dough dogs and doughnuts. Of Scrabble and Skip-bo and Phase 10. I always feel like I am entering a protected space when I am visiting her, where everything is safe and feels very wholesome.

Grammy is getting older now and it’s harder for her to be as active as she used to be so instead of her pampering me, this time I tried to do my part to pamper her (although I admit I was still spoiled by her). We took a few road trips, going down to southern Saskatchewan to Lumsden to visit my cousin and her family (where I finally got to meet her adorable little girl), over close to the edge of Alberta to check out the Great Sand Hills, and then along through central Saskatchewan to visit a Benedictine Abbey and a Marian shrine. I made a special trip to Batoche as well.


The South Saskatchewan River


Just outside of Leader, Saskatchewan


The Great Sand Hills

For me, it was a chance to see more of the province I love, to experience the slow, rolling hills of the prairie, which are beautiful and in stark contrast to the province’s reputation for boring flatness. More importantly, it was a chance to spend time with my grandma before I start my novitiate year in the Philippines, and to make sure she knows that I am still me. I wanted to reassure her that my year with the Loretto Sisters hasn’t turned me into some unrecognizable version of the girl she used to know. The week, as all vacations tend to do, went by far too quickly. All too soon I was boarding the plane back to Toronto and I felt a tugging on my heart. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

While I was in Rosthern I found out that my maternal grandmother had died. My mom’s mom is the grandmother of the American South, of hominy grits, and milk gravy on toast. She is the family storyteller, sharing tales of her childhood during the Depression in North Carolina, and her great love story – marrying my grandfather and moving to Montreal after the Second World War. She always made me feel that our family had exotic roots.

Although she passed away in Calgary, she wanted to be buried in Saskatoon with my grandfather. And so it was with deep sadness, and an anxious need to be with my family, that I returned to Saskatoon. It was hard to say goodbye to the woman who had been the symbol of the family for so long. My grandmother was a true matriarch. She built a family legacy. And even though she lived to an honourable age (91), it was still hard to let her go.

Woven in to her death was the death of my mother. My grandma had been a strong link to my mother. After my mom’s death, my grandma would tell me stories about my mom’s childhood, helping me to know the sides of her I had never seen. I even have a cassette tape she made me of her memories of my mom. So my grandmother’s death felt like two deaths, in a sense.

I am blessed to have a very close and supportive family and the time together brought much comfort. Even though we were only together for a couple of days, I felt very close to them, reconnected. After the funeral we visited many familiar sights – the university campus where my grandfather had taught and my mom and aunts and uncles had studied, the old houses where they had grown up, even parks I had visited as a child. It felt good and right to see those places again; they hold so much sentimental value. I am grateful that I have my aunts to maintain the family traditions and our family history.

As I get ready to enter the novitiate and move to the Philippines for a year (though I still have a few months before that happens), I am already thinking about my family and starting to dread that I will have to leave them. A lot can happen in a year. Birth, death, all kinds of change. I have to admit that I feel some anxiety about being so far away from them for 12 months. I’ve lived away from them for the past 11 years but I’ve always been a fairly short plane ride away. Being with family also rekindles in me a longing to move back west. I hope that at some point I will be able to spend more time with them, more than just vacation time, to actually live close to them again and be part of the regular family rhythm.

Ultimately, I trust that God knows what is best for me. And right now (or, in the near future), what is best for is going to the Philippines, joining my companions there, and journeying through at least the first year of the novitiate together. And I trust that God will be watching over my family and will find ways for us to stay connected across distance and time.


The Shrine at St. Laurent de Grandin


The Great Sand Hills



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here and there


Original painting by Maria Steller

This week is a (mostly) quiet week – squashed between two ‘away’ weeks.

Last week I was in Ottawa. It was so wonderful to be back in the office with my coworkers and have the chance to work together in person rather than by email or over the phone. I also had to spend in the evenings with friends that I love and miss (check out the gorgeous painting created and given to me by the talented 5 year old Maria!) and spend time at my old parish. I had so much fun. I felt like I was on a high all week.

And yet, I was equally happy to come back to the Abbey and see the sisters here.

When I first moved to Toronto, I felt a real mix of excitement and apprehension. I didn’t know what I was getting into (still don’t, frankly) and I worried that I was making a huge mistake. Being back to Ottawa last week made me realize that as much as I love that city and the people in it, it really isn’t the place where I am meant to be right now. It felt so good to visit, but I know that God is calling me to something else. It was a true gift from God to recognize that I am at peace with my decision to be in Toronto, discerning this vocation.

Next week, I go to Southdown Institute for a candidate assessment (psychological assessment). Four days of learning about my personality, and my strengths and weaknesses (I hope there will be chocolate). I’m not really looking forward to it, but it’s part of the journey and could turn out to be yet another gift.