I'm currently sitting somewhere around 43º 40' N, 79º 24' W or, for the less geographically inclined - Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Canada was a country I had never visited before mid-December, 2011.
When I was growing up, it was probably a place of numerous but loosely held together associations in my head: there was a proper winter, and wild animals; my great aunt lived here; it had the sense, somehow, of a more friendly, warmer (not literally) part of North America.
One of my closest friends during high school had grown up living here for eight years and her related experience probably informed a lot of my mental images of this place - children sealed into snow suits, U.S./Canada ice hockey rivalries, a whole smattering of vocabulary previously foreign to me.
But Canada became something different to me - a place about which stories were woven and brought to life, the land where some of my best friends were born and have lived most of their lives, the country where my partner in crime (for which read "boyfriend") was born. For nearly two years together in Japan, he spun me tales about cities and expanses of winter I started to dream about visiting.
And now I find myself here, where everyone we chance upon in the simple processes of shopping or errand running seems to be a virtual stereotype of Canadian warm-heartedness and generosity of spirit. And where I have felt so welcomed not only into a family of, well, family, but also into a a family of friends.
As a fervent lover of winter and snow, of meeting new people and seeing new places, of cities and of great swathes of open countryside, it's a damn good place to be.