A Weekend in Washington, Part One

This time last week, I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., a scarf tucked into my jacket to make the chilly wind bearable. The sky was a bright blue that I’ve rarely seen since winter started, but I was still cold. I didn’t mind, though—I was so excited to be there. My family and I spent two days—bookended by two days of road trips—in Washington. I have so many photos and experiences to share that I decided to split my trip up into two posts. Here’s the first instalment.

We were about a week early for the full cherry blossoms, but we still saw a few!

We left on Thursday night, staying in Buffalo overnight to beat what we assumed would be crazy lines at the border as March Break drew closer. We woke up early and started the eight hour drive. Along the way, my sister and I watched Netflix, slept and each tried to make a list of all the states (we both did pretty well, although she beat me by a few states).

The route was scenic, despite the bare tree branches and the fact that you could almost feel the chill outside just from looking at it. We passed snowy mountains and blue lakes turned silver by the sun’s reflection. The eight hours passed quickly, save for the heavy traffic going into Washington itself. We found our hotel (a struggle, as our GPS took us in circles) and ate dinner. Then, as the day faded into night, we walked to the White House.

A Shakespeare quote outside the National Archives Building.

The white buildings and monuments stood out in the darkness; American flags hanging from the sides, swaying ever so slightly. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Washington, and I continually mistook several grand-looking white buildings for the White House. When we arrived at the actual White House, I realized my mistake.

The real White House.

We walked around for a bit longer. To distract myself from the wind, I started humming Hamilton, changing the song when I saw something that inspired a new lyric (the Treasury Building, for example, reminded me of the part of What Did I Miss where Thomas Jefferson sings, “Treasury secretary, Washington’s the president/Every American experiment sets a precedent”). By the end of the trip, I think my whole family had Hamilton stuck in their heads thanks to my incessant singing.

When we reached our hotel, we warmed up with hot chocolate; although my dad got a milkshake, which should tell you a lot about his priorities. That night, we slept soundly, knowing we had a full day ahead of us.

American flags on the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.

I was smiling the moment I woke up on Saturday morning. The first item on our itinerary was something I’ve been looking forward to visiting ever since the day I found out it existed: the Newseum, an interactive news museum. We arrived right when it opened and, after watching a video about the museum, took the huge glass elevator to the top floor. There, we were met by an amazing view of Congress—and a gallery of that day’s front pages from around the world, one of my favourite features of the museum.

The Newseum.

As you can probably guess, I loved the Newseum. One room contained historic front pages, showing headlines about events like the Titanic sinking and the 1961 Freedom Rides. I think it’s remarkable to look back at the front pages and read about these now well-documented events as they were first told. All of the news artifacts and exhibits reminded me of this quote by Philip Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, which is displayed on one of the walls of the Newseum: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history.”

Some of the day’s front pages from around the world.

I left the Newseum feeling not only incredibly proud to be a journalist, but also excited about what the future of journalism holds. After visiting a museum that was so up my alley, it was time to go to one focusing on one of my sister’s favourite things: space. I’ve been to The National Air and Space Museum when I was younger, so I had some strange moments of déjà vu as I walked through it. My sister, wearing a NASA t-shirt, was totally in her element; she explained some of the exhibits to me, and was super excited to see one of Amelia Earhart’s red planes on display.

The National Air and Space Museum.

We stopped at a street vendor for lunch, and then carried on to the Capitol building. Since it was Saturday, the House and Senate weren’t in session, but we toured the Rotunda and National Statuary Hall. It was really cool to see parts of U.S. history displayed through paintings and sculptures. We also passed the offices of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Although we didn’t see any politicians, it was exciting to be in the place where so many important political decisions happen (“the room where it happens,” for my fellow Hamilton fans).

A painting by John Trumbull in the Capitol Rotunda.

We also passed through the tunnel to the U.S. Library of Congress, which is a beautiful building with high ceilings and colourful, ornate art.

The Library of Congress.

That night we saw the comedy group The Capitol Steps, who were like a real-life Saturday Night Live, but with more singing. It featured songs like “Wake me up in Mar-a-Lago” and Democrats singing “All about that ‘base.’” It was a great show, and cool to experience so close to the actual institutions housing the subjects they were satirizing.

The U.S. Capitol Building.

With that, our first full day in Washington came to an end. I fell asleep thinking about everything I’d seen and learned, and feeling excited to see what tomorrow would bring. That will be a separate post, though—otherwise I’ll be writing for ages! In the meantime, you can find a full gallery of photos from the first part of my trip on my Flickr.

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A Year in the Life of a Blogger

A few weeks ago, I told one of my best friends that I published 60 blog posts in 2017. Her eyes bulged out of her head. I thought her reaction was comical because, while 60 is certainly a large number (especially considering my posts fall in the range of 500-1,000 words and take a while to write, edit and promote) I don’t think of it as a huge number. Last year, blogging once a week felt very natural to me.

At the end of the year, I wrote about my favourite posts of the year. I had lots to write about, from posts about my life to posts about political news. Thinking back to my winter semester at school, I realized I had a pretty regular blogging schedule. I don’t know how I kept up such a consistent routine of posting but, like I said, blogging became a pretty natural part of my routine.

Towards the end of April, I had a sherinaspeaks first—a photography post! This was really exciting for me because I had a lot of fun taking photos. I continued the trend of photography posts throughout the year. I remember thinking it was really cool that, although I had been blogging for almost four years, I was still finding new aspects of blogging.

In June, I had another exciting blogging moment. A post I wrote largely on a whim was selected for WordPress’s Discover page, resulting in lots of new followers and comments. This traffic continued into July. It was really nice to know that other people connected with my writing and wanted to read more of it!

Since last year was my first year studying journalism at university, I wrote a lot about journalism and what I was learning at school. These are some of my favourite posts because I had the opportunity to connect with other young journalists. I think writing about journalism also helped me learn that I’m really passionate about the inner workings of the field. I’ve continued analyzing journalism through my writing, so I’m glad I developed this interest last year through my blog.

I also really liked the post I wrote for my 19th birthday. Instead of writing hundreds of words about my life so far, I challenged myself to write 19 things I’ve learned. This is probably the blog post that I find myself re-reading the most. As strange as it may sound, I love reading the advice from my past self.

In 2017, my follower count surpassed 1,000. And then it kept growing. Numbers are not the most important part of blogging, but I was (and am) still very proud of, and humbled by, the growing number of people who follow my blog. I still remember the dance I did when I got my first follower, back when I started this blog for a school project. 2017 felt like an amazing year to look back and see how far I’ve come.

I also had two really cool experiences relating to my blog in the fall of 2017. In two separate cases, students reached out to me to ask if they could interview me for a school assignment. I had the chance to speak with a fellow journalism student about my thoughts on journalism and blogging, and I also spoke to a high school class about my journey as a blogger. These experiences felt surreal to me, because I remember being a student in high school and listening to journalists come in to share their experiences. I’m so happy that I can share my knowledge and passion for blogging and journalism with other students.

You may think it’s strange to reflect on 2017 two months into 2018. But as I read back this post, and scroll through my blog’s homepage, I’m incredibly proud of—and inspired by — the growth of my writing in the last year. Reflecting on that growth makes me even more excited for the year ahead. I truly can’t wait to see what comes next.

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The Best of Sherinaspeaks: 2017 Edition

With the end of 2017 just days away, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my favourite posts from this year. As I scrolled through my blog, jotting down post titles, I realized that narrowing it down to nine posts (as I did in 2015, based on the “Instagram top nine”) would be difficult. I wrote a lot of blog posts this year—over 60, in fact.

Looking back, I’m amazed that I was able to write so much while being in school for most of the year (and having a 9-5 job when I wasn’t in school). But I love writing blog posts, so throughout the year I always made time to write—meaning I have lots of posts to choose from. It wasn’t easy to pick, but here are nine of my favourite posts from this year!


This post was one of my first from this year. I wanted to use my personal experiences as a journalism student to give some perspective on Trump’s attitude towards the press. As I wrote, “Being a journalism student in the age of Trump means a lot of good discussions and valuable learning experiences. But it also means preparing for a profession which the president of the United States of America frequently bashes, and one in which the public does not have a great deal of trust.” The post was also published on HuffPost.


A common theme for my political pieces this year was Donald Trump. After one of my friends remarked that I often write about Trump, I took a step back to reflect on why this is. Although I’m not even American, I’m deeply interested in U.S. politics. In this post, I essentially write about writing about Trump—and I conclude that because his words and actions matter, I will continue writing about him.


After driving through the end of a rain storm and witnessing a beautiful rainbow, I arrived home to see that Mother Nature was not done. The setting sun made for a beautiful sky, so I grabbed my camera and started photographing the sky and flowers, which were still wet with rain drops. I compiled my favourite photos into this post; my first-ever photography gallery on my blog. After the success of this post, I made a point of continuing to take original photos—you can check out more of my photo galleries by following this link.


Speaking of photography, this post was inspired by witnessing beautiful scenes and feeling unsure if they’d be captured on a camera. I wrote about the tendency that some of us have to try to make moments “immortal” when really they are fleeting, and how our instinct to take photos impacts this. This was a fun post to write because I tied together a few moments—a stunning sunset, an impromptu fireworks display and a serene day on the lake—and tried to tell a bigger story.


When Trump didn’t immediately condemn the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, I knew I wanted to write about his reaction. “Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong?” I wrote in the opening of the piece. This post was another one which was featured on HuffPost.


While reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened, I started thinking about how, despite the time that had passed, some people (including myself) are still so curious about the 2016 U.S. election. I wrote about my interest in the election, as well as some of the reasons why it has a lasting impact (like the fact that Trump still holds “campaign rallies”). This was another piece featured on HuffPost.


When my family and I ended up on the wrong path during an autumn hike, I immediately thought of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. In the post, I wrote about trying to find the right path in life. The post also features another photography gallery, because the trees, lake and fall leaves I saw on the hike were too pretty to not share.


This was another post inspired by nature. On one Thursday in October, I woke up to a sunrise, and saw a sunset as the day dwindled into darkness. I wrote about the colourful skies that “bookended” my day, and talked about what I did throughout the day. Sometimes, life feels like it is passing by quickly—but this post was a reminder that taking the time to treasure small moments, like sunrises and sunsets, can help ground you in reality.


This post was my first “experiment” on my blog, and it was so much fun. As the title suggests, I relied on email newsletters as my only form of news consumption for a week. (I subscribed to 34 of them.) It was an interesting experience, especially relying on newsletters to update me on the Alabama Senate election and net neutrality vote. At the end of the week, I had a lot of insights about newsletters, to say the least. And in case you are wondering, I’m still subscribed to all 34 newsletters. Whether I read them all now is another story…

There you have it! Nine of my favourite posts from this year. While looking through my blog to narrow down posts for this list, I was reminded of how much fun I had this year, challenging myself with new post topics. I’m so proud of everything that I wrote in 2017 and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!

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The Path Less Travelled

There’s a certainty to nature, I think to myself as I walk along a trail with my family on Thanksgiving weekend. So many aspects of the outdoors are unpredictable—grey skies can brighten in seconds and, similarly, a sunny day can turn stormy before you even have a chance to produce an umbrella—and yet, something about nature does seem so inevitably grounded in an unchanging reality. Maybe it’s the way that, year after year in the fall, the leaves turn crimson and flutter to the ground; maybe it’s the way I watch the fiery leaves every year at this time with the same awe.

Roots cross the path I walk, creating a kind of haphazard staircase covered in pine needles, fallen leaves and the occasional fern. Massive, mossy rocks line one side of the trail; the sparkling shoreline on the other side is framed by red and orange leaves. It is beautiful, and fleeting, because while the forest hasn’t completely turned to fall—many of the tall trees are still green—in the grand scheme of time I’ll blink and the trees will be skeletons sitting in pools of coloured leaves. But it is in that certainty, that time will pass and the trees will do what they do every autumn, that I find solace as I walk.

Somehow on our afternoon hike, my family and I have traversed off the trail we meant to walk. We planned to take the short route, soak up the scenic sights before heading into town for a bit. But we’re on the longer route now—something we discovered only when we realized that the walk was taking a lot longer than we had thought it would. We laugh about this as we continue walking, past a little waterfall trickling into a stream, past fallen birch trees with white bark.

Nature might be sure of itself, certain that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening and life will carry on—but as humans, we aren’t always as certain about our own lives. Sometimes we end up on the wrong path (both literally and figuratively). When this happens, we have to look at where we came from, figure out how we got to where we are and decide where to go next. Because sometimes, we’re actually on the right path—we just, for whatever reason, doubt that it is truly what is right for us.

We’ve all had those moments in life where we feel as if we are standing at a crossroads, looking at two paths, imploring one of them to show itself to us as the correct one to travel down. There is no way to be certain in life that we are going in the right direction—we have to trust ourselves and the decisions we make, and be brave enough to turn back when we’re wrong or forge ahead when we’re right. As poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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Algonquin Escape

As I write this, I am sitting on an empty bag of firewood with my back up against the base of a tall, twisted tree. I’m writing in a notebook, my cursive letters tripping over each other like the tangled roots of the trees around me. By the time you read this, I will have typed my words; but I don’t want to think about that in this moment. Right now, I am content where I am—on a hill facing a lake, listening as loons cry out and waves gently lap against the rocky shoreline.

I go to school in a big city, and I love the skyscrapers and bustle. But I also love where I am now; camping in Algonquin Park. Here, tall glass buildings are replaced by soaring trees and the craziness of the city is replaced by, well, the solitude of fleeting nothingness. I say fleeting because I will not be here forever—tomorrow, my family and I will pack up our tent and canoe back to where we started out from. But for this moment, I am here, and I am happy.

Now, a week later, I am on my couch, typing the words I wrote as I sat against the tree at my campsite. I could write about my camping trip all day, but I think photos capture the essence better. Since I’ve been getting into photography recently, I brought my camera on the trip. I wanted to capture a bit of everything; the big lakes which reflect the trees in the water, and the small branches and water lilies. 

These photos bring me back to where I began this post: breathing in the scent of campfire mixed with pine. In that moment, I was peaceful and content. Even if you’ve never been to Algonquin Park, I hope looking at these photos of the floating fields of lily pads and fiery flames of a nighttime fire fill you with that same feeling.

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Spring Nostalgia

There is a certain nostalgia, I think, in the way the seasons turn. We revel in the autumn trees, red, orange and yellow like a campfire captured in leaves; then one day the leaves are brown and falling to the ground, leaving us with the memory of the fiery forests that stood what seems like only yesterday. We sometimes forget the true beauty of the season around us—fall leaves, freshly blanketed snow, flowers beginning to blossom or the feverish heat of the summer sun—until the weather shifts and we are left with memories.

This spring I was struck by the simple elegance of the flowers that sprouted around my house. My wonder is nicely summarized in this passage from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: “There is something subversive about this garden… a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently.” I love those words because they paint flowers as more than delicate pink petals on green flesh. Flowers are a subtle sign of nature’s strength; that a seed can be buried and then grow bravely, deliberately, through the soil and towards the sky.

Back in April, I published a post of photos on a whim; I had just arrived home to find a colourful sky and flowers still with raindrops from a storm. I loved photographing the flowers so much that I continued throughout the spring. Now, although I am enjoying the warm summer weather I find myself missing the bright yellows and painted pinks. In case you, like me, are having a nostalgic moment for the beauty of spring, here are some of my favourite photos of flowers; bursting up, wordlessly, to show themselves to the world, if only until the seasons inevitably turn.

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Fleeting Moments

A bowl of citrus fruits was smeared across the sky, deep oranges and smoky yellows blended together like paint on an artist’s canvas. Then someone threw a shower of glitter on top of the fiery mosaic sky. It was a long weekend at the cottage and, over the lake, fireworks were exploding into the sunset. I wanted to run and grab my camera, but I paused. Could I have captured the beauty of the sky, without the camera altering the colours? Maybe. But I was less confident in my ability to change the camera’s settings and press the shutter at the perfect moment to photograph the fireworks. So I stayed by the window and watched not through the lens of a camera, but with my eyes.

The next day, I was struck by a similar situation. It was a sunny afternoon, the kind that feels too good to be true. I was in a kayak, enjoying the rippling water in the otherwise calm bay. In front of me there was a pathway of sorts, an arch of tree trunks bending over the water. I passed a cluster of lily pads as I paddled under the hanging trees. The trees, the water and the sun gave way to pure serenity. If I had my camera, could I have taken a photo that reflected the absolute silence of the bay? Could I have immortalized, in pixels, the clear water and the reaching branches? Maybe, but maybe not. I stopped wishing I had brought my camera and started to soak in the scene, sans technology.

Believe it or not, the evening after the fireworks display, the same thing happened again. The sunset had come and gonepink this night, not orangeand outside it was pitch black. But then the sky lit up. Someone was setting off a spectacular firework display from a raft. Red lights flew into the sky; then green, then what appeared to be purple. Then dazzling white lights erupted, stark against the black backdrop of the evening. This time, I grabbed my phone. I didn’t worry about taking the “perfect shot”; I used Instagram’s “Boomerang” feature to capture short videos that reversed themselves. In my videos, the fireworks exploded spectacularly and then retreated into themselves.

Oftentimes the moments we want to saviour are fleeting. We sometimes have a tendency to try to make those moments immortal; in other words, fool ourselves into thinking that we can make them last forever. Taking a photo is one way to make a moment last forever, but there are so many things that a photo doesn’t capture: the scent of fresh air on the open lake; the feeling of complete calmness when the blue sky fades into a painter’s palette; the screeching sound that the fireworks make as they soar into the sky, and the crackling sound they make as they fall.

Sunsets fade to black. People run out of fireworks. Moments end: this is an inevitable fact of life. But the fact that these moments exist at all is what makes life worth living. Because the sun rises the morning after it sets; because there is another firework-filled holiday to look forward to in the future. If we capture a beautiful moment, however imperfectly with a camera or however hastily with our eyes or other senses, we can find something to remember it by. And maybe, then, in a way, we really can make a moment last forever.

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A Weekend in the Windy City

On the weekend I went to Chicago with my family. I’m home now, but part of me still feels like I’m in the windy city — steps away from shopping on the Magnificent Mile, walking in Millennium Park and alongside Lake Michigan. I’ve been to Chicago twice now, and there’s something indescribable about the city that I just love.

This visit was made even more special because I had the opportunity to see Hamilton, AKA the best two hours and 45 minutes of my life. I think that experience warrants a separate post, but as you read on, remember that more is coming. I can’t stop thinking about Hamilton, so I won’t stop talking (and writing) about it. If you can’t tell, that’s kind of my unofficial blog mandate.

It was hard for me to narrow down photos to include in this post, but I’ve selected a group of photos that, to me, capture that indescribable feeling about my visit to Chicago. It’s the ornate architecture juxtaposed against the trees in the park; it’s the tourists milling around the stainless steel Bean and the locals jogging past Lake Michigan on a sunny morning. It’s all of these things, and more. There’s always more. But for now, here are some of my favourite photos. Enjoy!

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4 Things I Learned In My First Year of Journalism School

I recently wrapped up my first year of journalism school. It went by so quickly, and although it was challenging I had a great year. In some other blog posts where  I’ve mentioned my journalism experiences, some commenters have been curious about the program. And, seeing as I’ve interacted with some bloggers who are also either aspiring or current journalism students, I decided to write a post about four of the many things I have learned this year. If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments!

I took these photos in the morning of Nov. 9, just before I went out to interview people for my article about the election results. 

1. As a journalist, you have the opportunity to witness history.

I didn’t have any journalism exams this year; instead, we had “Story Days”; four or five days throughout the semester where we had to conduct interviews, take photos, record audio… to file by 5:30 p.m. the same day. One story day in first semester fell on Nov. 9, the day after the U.S. election. I was planning to write about Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president; but I ended up getting people’s reactions to Donald Trump winning the election.

Even though I wasn’t able to add my personal opinion in my article (I saved that for a blog post that I wrote a few days later) it was still an incredible feeling to be writing the same story that other journalists all over the world were writing. Witnessing Trump’s historical victory through writing an article about it was a really cool moment in my first year of studying journalism.

I took tons of pictures of the CN Tower this year, but this is one of my favourite shots. 

2. Get photo composition right in the moment.

I learned pretty early on this year that heavy photo editing is frowned upon in journalism because it means altering the reality of an image. Not relying on editing or filters after the fact means it’s important to pay attention to compositional elements when taking the photo. I took most of my photos horizontally, and tried to remember elements like rule of thirds, lines, and framing. Thinking of these things when taking photos — and taking multiple shots instead of just one — helps you take good photos, without needing to edit them afterwards.

OK, this photo is vertical (and slightly edited). But, hey, artistic rules are meant to be broken… right?

3. Forget “Less is more” when it comes to gathering material.

The adage “Less is more” may be true for word counts due to readers’ increasingly shortening attention spans, but it doesn’t ring true for the process that comes before writing. My journalism professors gave us guidelines on how many voices to include in our stories; often we’d need at least four.

However, this didn’t just mean going out, interviewing four people, and calling it a day. Four voices means four good voices who have interesting stories to tell. This means getting more interviews than required so that you can narrow it down to the best ones. As one professor said in our last lecture, you know you’ve done your job well when you have good quotes on the cutting board.

The same thing can be said of research, and even emailing sources; I remember one story day where I was looking for an expert in war journalism. I reached out to several war journalists, but ended up only hearing back from one. If I had only contacted one person, I probably wouldn’t have had a quote to include in my article.

Toronto has no shortage of cool buildings to photograph!

4. You can do so many cool things with a journalism degree — and you don’t have to wait to graduate to get started.

When I reflect back on this year, I wrote a lot of things that I’m really proud of. For one of my last story days I pitched a story about press freedom on campus since there had been some incidents where student journalists were denied entry to on-campus events. This was a story that was important to me, and it ended up being my favourite article that I wrote this year. Having that opportunity to choose the story I wanted to cover has made me even more excited to branch out into other types of news writing and to continue pitching my original ideas.

And that was just for an in-class assignment — outside of class, there are so many interesting opportunities, from writing for on-campus publications to working on your own journalism-related projects. Working towards a degree in journalism is exciting because you don’t just get to do “real” journalism once you graduate; you get to do it while you’re in school!

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A Glimpse of Spring

Today was one of those too-beautiful-for-words kind of days. It was warm and sunny during the day, but by early afternoon dark clouds had set in. The clouds gave way to rain and a tiny thunderstorm (I say “tiny” as if I didn’t jump out of my skin when I was walking outside and was surprised by a clap of thunder). After the clouds parted, a double rainbow appeared. Now, as I write this, the sky is pink and yellow and orange; all of the colours, all at once.

It’s been a rainy April where I live, but I’m not complaining about it — the rain has made the grass green, and brought beautiful, blossoming flowers. I decided to photograph the flowers tonight, alongside the sky, and I immediately knew I wanted to include my photos in a blog post. If a picture says a thousand words, then this post is a spring novel.

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