Go where you feel most alive

Hap·py Place

a place which a person associates with happiness, visualized as a means of reducing stress,
calming down, etc.; (hence) a happy state of mind.

The earliest documented usage of the phrase happy place was found in a article of The Ottawa Citizen in the 1990s quite possibly making it originally a Canadian idea. It makes sense to me, we’re overall a pretty content people at least in the world’s eye. But of course the concept of a happy place is not likely a new one. I’m sure there were ancient Greeks who considered an afternoon in the Forum to be their happy place, or English fisherman whose happy place was dry land after days on the sea, and so on and so forth. The idea of a happy place just seems like a very human concept, one that ignores all boundaries and differences. And yet it is such a unique thing for each individual; every person may have a slightly different idea as to what their happy place is. In fact, I would venture a guess that most people have more than one.

When I think of the phrase I immediately conjure up images of Disney World and trips with my family. The most magical place on earth has been our happy place for almost fifteen years now. Trip after trip we’ve felt ourselves slip into relaxation mode the moment the Magical Express has picked us up from the airport. While other families have the combined stress and excitement of such an overwhelming experience, my family, as Disney veterans, no longer feels any pressure to get things done or to see every little thing. We take it easy and just let the magic take hold.

But of course one can’t be at Disney World every single day, especially not when it’s a three hour plane ride and the Canadian dollar has seen better days. With my happy place a bit out of the way I’ve had to find an alternative or two. Luckily enough, my true happy place happens to be the city I live in.

With every new adventure I’ve gone on in the past year of living here I’ve realized just how much I adore this city. I’ve always been a Toronto girl in my heart but now that I actually live here I’m reminded daily about how good the city is for me. I know a lot of people who feel the same way about the country, and while that’s never been my cup of tea I can appreciate how open fields and an endless blue sky can bubble up the same feelings that I get walking amongst monstrous skyscrapers and the diversities of my city.

On Thursday I will get the chance to explore what I hope to be a new happy place in my life. It will be my very first trip to the Big Apple and while I’m sure the four days will pass by way too quickly, I’m excited to take a break from long hours at work and early nights in bed. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it once I’m home.

But for now, I’m curious, what’s your happy place?

 

Continue Reading

A ghost will follow you home

Don’t be fooled by the strange title, this is actually just my latest Toronto Eats post. Still, we’ll get to the ghost part soon enough.

Here’s the thing: I hate paying for pasta. There are some great Italian joints out there but it’s frustrating to me to pay $20-25 for a dish I could make at home for under $10 (and that’s with leftovers). It’s one of those meals that doesn’t seem worth the markup to me because it is so simple to make. I have a few exceptions of course: there’s an eatery in Orillia called Theo’s that has the best chicken parmesan, and there’s Tony’s at Disney World which is a family fave, even though it’s sort of just average. I’m also a big fan of some of the spaghetti combos at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Toronto but it’s one we usually avoid for the mark-up as well.

With that all being said, I think I found a restaurant that was worth the crazy price, and it’s the most expensive of all I’ve tried.

Terroni is an Italian chain that boasts a few locations in Toronto and Los Angeles. I had no idea it even existed until I started giving ghost tours with The Haunted Walk. You see, one of Terroni’s locations in Toronto sits inside the old courthouse. There’s some interesting history about the building, and some spooky stories that you can hear on The Original Haunted Walk of Toronto if you ever decide to come along. In fact, if you go sometime tonight or tomorrow, you may even hear the stories from me personally.

While I’m used to seeing Terroni from the backside in Courthouse Square, last month I decided it was time to venture into the old courthouse to check it out. Matt and I’s anniversary was at the end of the month and so a special dinner treat to somewhere that’s a little out of our normal price range seemed like a great idea.

I will admit, I was more excited to just see the inside of the restaurant than I was about the actual food. The fact that Terroni has maintained much of the old courthouse made the venture into this unique dining establishment a special one. Terroni is quite a grande space, as it turns out, with bars and tables on all four levels of the old historic building. Not every space was in use the evening we went but we did get the chance to look around every floor.

Upstairs features two additional bars separate from the main one downstairs, one which was open and the other closed. They rent out the spaces for private events sometimes or they open it up on busier nights. It was on a Tuesday, after all, and the place was still pretty packed, with people on three out of the four levels. We ventured upstairs after dinner to take a look around, peering into rooms I had heard some interesting stories about from my tours. It’s a beautiful place, and dining in any of the rooms would have been lovely.

But I do kind of wish we had been seated in the basement.

That’s not something I would normally say about a restaurant but Terroni’s basement is quite unique. They have beautiful wine cellars lit by crystal chandeliers that are locked up by cell bars. Yes, you read that right. They’ve maintained some of the courthouse’s old jail cells in the basement, filling them with expensive bottles of wine. The other cells are used as the lavish men and women’s bathrooms.

In addition to this, they have a smaller dining room in the basement that appears to be used for larger groups or private affairs. The ambiance was very different down there, as it seemed little had been done to renovate much of the space. It had the vibe of a winery with dim lighting, wooden barrels, and dark wood features.

In our ventures through the old courthouse there were no ghostly sightings, though we did jump a little when we caught something moving in one of the closed dining rooms from a reflection in the mirror. It turned out to be just another staff member.

While I could write on and on about the unique architecture and decor of Terroni, I think most of you are probably more interested in the food. You’re in luck, because I have quite a bit to share. A lacking lunch led to a rumbling stomach which demanded an appetizer, dinner, and dessert for both Matt and I. My bank account would’ve liked if I exercised an ounce of control but what fun would that be? Besides, it was a special occasion: six years is a long time to put up with my craziness.

Terroni’s dinner menu is split into four main sections and there was a seasonal menu presented for the evening as well. The main sections are as follows; apristomaco (starters), insalate (salads), primi (pasta), pizza (pizza). At lunch time they also offer a selection of paninis which are served until 5pm. It was around six o’clock when we arrived so that helped narrow our choices a little.

It’s funny because charcuterie boards are another thing I often refrain from ordering because of the mark-up. Plus, we make meat and cheese boards for meals at home all the time. But I’d seen pictures of Terroni’s boards online and I was incredibly intrigued. Terroni’s boards claim a selection of local and Italian meats and cheeses. You can order just the cheeses or just the meats, or you could go overboard like we did and get the Tagliere Mezzo e Mezzo which is a selection of both.

I wish I had taken notes on what selection of foods we had received that evening but I was simply too hungry to care. I know the darkest and smallest of the meats was a cured salami and it was not surprising that it was my favourite. There was fresh parmesan amongst the cheeses and one with shaved truffles. Overall, everything was delicious and the honey was a particularly unique addition to the board which was allowed for some unique flavour combinations. This, plus a small basket of fresh bread with oil put off those hunger pangs that I had coming into the restaurant.

For dinner, Matt ordered off the seasonal menu. He picked the Tris di Carne which was a trio of beef tenderloin, lamb sirloin chop, and a house maid duck and pork sausage that was served with oyster mushrooms, peppers and potatoes. It came out as quite a small dish but it was very delectable. The steak was the best steak I’ve ever tasted, Matt could almost cut it with the dull side of his knife, that’s just how tender it was. The lamb and the sausage were tasty as well, and I even enjoyed my taste of the oyster mushrooms.

For myself, I ordered off the pasta menu, which is a surprise given the big blurb I gave at the beginning. But I do have a main caveat when it comes to ordering pasta: if truffles are involved, you will likely rope me in. My obsession with truffles began on my first venture onto a Disney cruise boat. The truffle pasta that was served as an appetizer at Animator’s Palate remains one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

The Tonnarelli alla Norcina from Terroni is pretty high up there as well.

When the pasta comes to the table it really doesn’t look like much, which only affirmed my hatred for ordering the overpriced dish. I worried I would still be hungry afterwards. But the way Terroni serves their pasta is very deceiving. This meal was incredibly filling and I would say I only ate half of it before handing the bowl of perfectly cooked al dente pasta to Matt. There was a generous amount of black truffle shavings and tons of their homemade spicy sausage. It was definitely one of the best pastas I’ve ever had, and it’s not something I think I could make at home.

I was honestly stuffed enough after the pasta that I could have just left Terroni perfectly satisfied but we asked for a dessert menu anyway. Special occasion, remember? As suspected, with any good Italian joint, Terroni offered up a tiramisu, which is my prompt that I have just a bit more space in my tummy. It is probably my favourite dessert on the planet and this one did not disappoint. Served in a unique little pot with circular lady fingers that were drenched in coffee, the tiramisu was light and very tasty.

Matt opted for a unique dessert which consisted of a butterscotch pudding like base with a caramel sauce. But it was markedly different from regular pudding, though we’re not sure why. I failed to take note of what it really was and no google search had provided me with Terroni’s dessert menu unfortunately so we will be left wondering. Unfortunately, at $10 a dish, their dessert was a bit pricey in my opinion, especially for the small sizes, but I’m still glad we ordered them. What’s a celebration without something sweet?

Overall, it was a beautiful way to celebrate our anniversary. I won’t be making Terroni a regular stop any time soon but I’m glad we went. Service could have been a bit more attentive, especially with the volume of servers around the restaurant, but we weren’t in a rush to get out of there and it was nice to just enjoy each other’s company.

So that is another Toronto restaurant in the books. We’ve had some great luck this year and I still have lots to share. I think the food is one of my favourite parts of living in the city; there is always something different to try. So what have you been eating lately?

Continue Reading

Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

There are some blogs and vlogs out there that give stellar, in-depth, and wondrous book reviews: this is not one of them. If you scrolled through the long list of pages here you will find images of books but never reviews of them, and that’s simply because I’ve never felt quite inspired enough to write one. I’ve also never really been sure where to start (or where to end for that matter). What is too much sharing? What is not enough? These are questions I’ve had to ask myself while starting this post but while reflecting on them I realized this isn’t going to be a traditional book review. Instead, I’d just like to tell you what this book means to me.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks is a collection of Sabrina Benaim’s poems that have been put together in a neat little book. The cover art is quiet gorgeous and the thin lightweight structure of the book makes it easy to tuck into a laptop bag on transit rides in the morning (unlike most books I seem to read).

I was inspired to pick up the book after seeing Sabrina’s poems on my newsfeed once more from Button Poetry. I’ve been listening to her stuff for a while now but the resurgence was a prompt to check her out and see if there was anything new. That’s how I found out the book even existed. I grabbed it Sunday night after a day of adventure with family and friends. When I got home I was exhausted from a week on non-stop somethings, where every day had been filled with work, plans, and commitments. I was honestly ready to sleep and it was only seven o’clock. But I tucked in with the book, and an hour or so later I had reached the last page.

While I did not connect with as many poems as I might’ve liked, the shear rawness and honesty in Sabrina’s words is undeniable. Experiences I’ve never had came to life as I read them out loud. She talks quite a bit about relationships that have ended and love that has been lost. She has a beautiful way of capturing her memories and feelings in broken verses, regardless of the length of poems. Some were a few lines, others took up whole pages, texts scrawling from one end to the other.

There is a poem about her father that spoke to my own experiences, even though I’m sure her family circumstances were different. Even without connecting to most of the work personally, I’m glad to have read it. In many ways I believe it will help me understand the people around me. It seems that art has the power to do that.

You see, when I mentioned the book to my mother she was encouraging. I am very lucky in the sense that my mother is not the type to shy away from the topic. She does not put what I’ve experienced in some box that gets tucked away in a dusty garage. We speak openly about things, we explore the difficulties of the past, and we do our best to meet the challenges of the present together. While it would be easy to consider those darker parts of my mind a struggle that past Casandra had to deal with, it is most definitely something that carries forward to this day. It’s just something I’m much better at responding to now.

But what was more important than the encouragement my mother shared was when she told me Sabrina had helped her understand me more. What’s funny about this is I always refrained from personally showing her Sabrina’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” because I was worried she would feel I was criticizing her. I was scared every time Sabrina repeats “Mom says…” my mother would feel like she had said the wrong things to me every time I called crying. The fact is, there was never a right thing to say.

But as is the way with viral videos, unknowingly to me, mom had found the poem on her own and thankfully it’s something that helped the conversation rather than hindering it.

I listened to the poem once again after reading it, and I realized it has also helped me understand me more. I love that art, in its many forms, can open up conversations and thoughts that we too often steer away from. Art allows us to feel something with someone we’ve never even met. We share connections to people who live oceans away just by watching or reading the same thing. From what I’ve seen online, many listening to or reading Sabrina’s poems have found themselves in the words just as I have. It’s a beautiful way to find out you’re not alone; it makes the lonely a little less isolating.

Finally, there is one small poem from Depression and Other Magic Tricks that I connected to more than any of the others. It’s amazing how six lines can say so much. On releasing light spoke to me because too many times I have felt like both the hero and the villain in my own story. My own worst enemy is something I call myself on a frequent basis. I am the reason my posts don’t get done on time, and why I’m overwhelmed with all my commitments. I am the reason I hate my body after eating a box of cookies for dinner instead of actually taking the time to nourish myself. As Sabrina says “in my story, I am the protagonist and the bad thing.”

But it’s the last two lines of that short poem that matter most:

“I have to learn to bend the light out of myself.
I can do that magic.”

So much of my journey through mental health has been learning how to help myself. It has taken years to recognize warning signs and symptoms. It’s taken even longer to find effective ways of combatting them. I have had to be the sword wielding princess while I was also the dragon. I have been the ambitious hero while also being the frightful witch. I may be my own worst enemy, but I am also my own hero.

I’d like to thank Sabrina for putting that experience onto a page, even if it was just six short lines, and I’d like to thank her for sharing her story as a whole in this wonderful book. I devoured it in one night and now I’ll be sure to share it with friends. Maybe they’ll find themselves in the words, and then we’ll all feel a little less alone.

Continue Reading

Me Too

Chances are your newsfeed has been filled with this hashtag over the last few days. Some just post a simple status, others are sharing their stories, and many more have decided to stay silent. It does not matter whether an individual has shared or not, every survivor of sexual harassment and sexual assault deserves our respect and admiration.

I did not post myself until this very moment because all I kept thinking was how my experiences weren’t that bad compared to what I’ve heard from others. I know friends who have had it much worse, and the world I work in right now serves as a reminder of how bad things can be for women. But my internalization and the downplay of my own experiences is a symptom of the sickness that is our hyper-masculine, heteronormative society. Choosing not to share just because my experience is lesser is a disservice to myself and others.

I, like many who identify as women, have learnt to expect intrusive comments and uncomfortable situations with men in my everyday life. We who identify as women or girls have come to expect that sometimes someone will stand too close on the subway even when there’s tons of room. We’ve come to expect those awful comments from across the street when we’re walking alone or even with friends. We’ve come to expect the way men’s eyes devour our bodies no matter what we are wearing.

But just because they happen all the time, just because it’s part of our expected reality, that doesn’t make it okay.

I’m here to say it doesn’t matter what your #MeToo involves. It doesn’t matter if it has happened once or if it’s still happening. It’s not right. It shouldn’t be happening and we shouldn’t just have to accept that it’s part of identifying as a woman.

Through the campaign I was exposed to Emma Thompson’s conversation on Harvey Weinstein and I think she makes a really important point (around 1:49) when she talks about how he is only the tip of the iceberg. This really drives home the point that it doesn’t matter what happened, how bad it is perceived, or how many times it happened. The fact that it happens is bad enough.

“Maybe not to that degree. Do they have to all be as bad as him? To make it count? Does it only count if you’ve one done it to loads and loads and loads of women or does it count if you’ve done it to one woman, once. I think the latter.”

While I know posting a hashtag does not solve the problem, I do think it can help open up these conversations and allows us to raise awareness to an issue that is often hushed. We’re told not to talk about it. We’re told to be grateful that it wasn’t worse. But we should talk about it and we should be doing something to stop it, regardless of who we are or how we identify.

This hashtag has started a conversation that has jetted off into many useful topics. Awareness has been raised that that #MeToo campaign was started ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke who started the campaign in hopes to connect survivors. Other conversations have focused on the role men have in this movement to change and to enact change in the men around them.

I’d like to invite any of my readers who identify as male to take the pledge on White Ribbon. But don’t just take the pledge, actually put it to action. Give the girl on the subway a bit of space if you can, say something when one of your friends starts to cat call someone, and stop these types of conversations from happening behind closed doors too. Stop writing things off at boys will be boys or as typical locker room banter, challenge your friends and your family members to be better as you should be better yourselves. Help enact the change we so desperately need.

I recognize there are also male survivors, and I am of the point of view that we can still acknowledge the gendered part of this issue, where women are targeted more often while still acknowledging the struggles and triumphs of survivors of all genders.

Lastly, to every survivor out there, whether you’ve shared your story or not, you did not deserve this. It does not matter what you were wearing, how much you had had to drink, how many partners you’ve had in the past, or anything else. It does not matter if he was your friend, your boyfriend, or your husband. It does not matter if it was one comment or if it was a full on attack. It was wrong.

Continue Reading

You were born for the stars darling

This Friday the youth leaders at my work are hosting a self-love event with spoken word, photo books, visual artistry, and other interactive art that promotes self-acceptance, resiliency, and healthy relationships in youth. I’m saddened that a double tour shift means I won’t be able to attend the actual event but I’ve been inspired by the work the youth leaders are doing and wanted to take part in this practice of self-love.

So for today’s post, I want to combine a more traditional things about me post with this concept of self-love. I’d like to share with you 25 things (since I just turned 25) that I love and appreciate about myself. I’d also like to encourage you to do the same; whether you do it in blog form or you just write it out in a journal for yourself, challenging yourself to pick out the things you love rather than the things you dislike is a good practice in self-care and self-compassion. We could all use a little more love in our lives, and who’s to say it can’t come from ourselves?

I will say in creating this list it took some time. It started off as easy and then I really had to self-reflect. It was uplifting in the end as I realized more and more things about myself that I often take for granted. I hope to look back on this list when I’m having a hard time, hopefully it will inspire me to pick myself back up again.

1. I am compassionate and my ultimate goal in life is to help people in some way. I am the happiest when I am making a difference in someone’s life, whether that’s through crisis counselling or if it’s just giving someone directions on the street.

2. I do not let the fear of not being ‘good enough’ stop me from participating in art forms I enjoy. It’s okay if my writing isn’t perfect, if my pictures are sometimes grainy, and if the only thing I’ve mastered drawing is a cartoon portrait of a character who is neither myself nor Felicity Smoak but is somewhere in between.

3. I am pretty damn good at video games, especially first person shooter.

4. I put a lot of thought into gifts and events that I plan for other people. I care about what their reaction will be and if they’ll actually get use of the gift.

5. I’ve worked to embrace the body I have, rather than the one I’ve been told I should have.

6. I asked for help when I needed it the most. While I spent years denying my true feelings and suppressing pain because I thought that was how you handled it, I did come forward when I realized it had all become too much.

7. I do not let my anxiety and fears of social situations stop me from attending things all the time. I challenge myself to go even when I am uncomfortable and I try to make the best out of the situation.

8. I have a strong and wonderful relationship with my parents and my grandfather who all mean the world to me. I make the effort to call or visit whenever I can because maintaining that closeness means a lot to me.

9. Even when I’m crazy busy I always try to make the time to listen to friends when they need to vent.

10. I can really rock dark lipstick shades.

11. I have a wonderful sense of adventure that has allowed me to find hidden gems on a regular day out.

12. I enjoy cooking and I’ve become quite the master in the kitchen. I’ve challenged myself to new dishes and I have found ways to make healthy food exciting and enjoyable.

13. Despite considering myself an introvert who isn’t great at small talk, I have found ways to connect with guests from all over the world to the point where they feel comfortable sharing bits and pieces of their lives with me over an hour and a half walking tour.

14. I have never stopped being a student, even with my schooling finished I look for any opportunity to learn more about the world around me. I challenge myself to go to seminars and talks to get a broader view on life.

15. I can give you directions to pretty much anything from anywhere in the parks at Walt Disney World. I can also do this while I’m not even in Florida.

16. I believe in raising my friends up whenever I can, whether it’s by liking a selfie, giving a pep talk, or reminding them how amazing they are.

17. Most cats love me which is a pretty good sign I should love myself too because cats hate everyone.

18. I’m self-taught in photoshop which is an accomplishment I usually shrug off but it is something that has taken me a lot of time and practice to get good at, and of course I cam still learning.

19. I am physically stronger than anyone has ever given me credit for.

20. While I often feel like my life is a mess and I’m drowning, I do make an effort to maintain organization and control so I make sure that things get done. I do not procrastinate and I work harder when it’s time to hustle.

21. I am able to connect with kids of all ages on topics that really matter. I am able to make a difference by bringing these topics into schools and opening up about them, allowing kids to ask their questions in a space that is safe and inviting.

22. I am incredibly creative. I’m always thinking up new projects and ideas, whether it’s for work or if it’s just for gift giving. I challenge myself to not just go with the flow but to change it.

23. I am vocal about the causes I am passionate for, even if speaking up puts me in conflict with others around me. I stand up for what I believe in, I try to enact action as much as I talk, and I challenge myself to become better.

24. I have not let adversity stop me from doing what I want to do. I have fallen, I have been pushed, and I have continued to get back up again. I have felt the sting of bullying and the pain of disappointment but I have come out of every challenge stronger than before. This has not always been easy and many times it has taken years to rise from the ashes but I’ve come back like a phoenix time and time again.

25. Even after everything, I am still here.

Continue Reading

A Dame and a Dog: in loving memory of my Grandmother

It’s funny how you can have years of memories about a person and yet there are a few that stick out more than others. It is not always because they are more meaningful or special, but just because they seem to be triggered by the smallest of things. With my grandfather it’s sharing moments at the breakfast table at 5am before he would go to work, him sipping coffee and me hot chocolate. A trip into Tim Horton’s or even just seeing him with coffee cup is enough to conjure the memory. Meanwhile, the Canada’s Wonderland parking lot always makes me think of my birth father because I once cried in his car in that parking lot because of a cancelled trip to the theme park.

But with my grandmother it’s just dogs, and a silly story that I’ve heard time and time again. I’ve heard it so many times that it’s become one of my dearest memories of her, even if I wasn’t actually part of it.

During my grandmother’s battle with cancer my mother went to her hospital room to hear a rather detailed and vibrant story about the dogs who had been in the room a while before. She adamantly described a large poodle that had got up on her bed with her. I imagine it was a ray of sunshine in that rather grey cloud filled room of chemotherapy.

Now, even I’ll admit that the story sounded quite delusional, as amusing as it was. The whole family was convinced that perhaps the hospital had gone a little overboard with her medications that day and that she’d simply hallucinated the whole thing.

That is, until the next week when they saw the St. John’s Ambulance dogs in the building.

At the time I don’t think therapy dogs were quite as well known or talked about. A dog wasn’t something you immediately pictured in a hospital unless it was for someone with blindness or vision loss. Now, emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, and trauma dogs seem to be around every corner. I had the pleasure of meeting many St. John’s Ambulance dogs myself while at university because they were brought in during exam time for the school’s wellness week. But at the time the idea of a giant poodle visiting a very ill woman didn’t make much sense.

But my grandmother had in fact had a lovely little visit with some dogs who had brightened her day, even if the whole family had thought she was completely loony at the time.

The story always brings a smile to my face (and sometimes a few tears to my eyes). I will admit that I couldn’t tell you every little fact about my grandmother if I tried. There are others who remember her mannerisms better than I do and who could probably pick her voice out on a recording much quicker than I could. But I try to remember as much as I can from those eleven years I had with her. I remember that she was funny, I remember that she was kind, and I remember that she never failed to make me feel loved.

You may be wondering why I’ve decided to share this story with you. Perhaps it seems too personal to put on the open web but there is a reason for it. You see, tomorrow is my birthday and it’s also the anniversary of her death. A tragic coincidence, I know. Through the years it’s been hard to celebrate and to really appreciate the day when it took so much from my family. It took the glue that had always kept us together. But over time I’ve learned to honour her memory more and grieve her less. This year, I have a particular way I’d like to do just that.

You see I remembered the story about the dogs at the hospital once again because of another lovely canine who has recently come into my life. Dandy is the trauma dog at Victim Services Toronto. Dandy is mostly used to comfort young victims of sudden crime and tragedy, and has begun comforting victims before court appearances. She is there to provide unconditional support and comfort to individuals during the most difficult of times. Just like the St. John’s Ambulance dogs were there for my grandmother, Dandy is there for many during their struggle.

 


This wonderful trauma dog has become a light in my life, a little reminder of my grandmother, and also a source of comfort. Even just to see her in the office is enough to make a tough day a bit easier.

Coincidently, there is a third party fundraiser for Dandy that is just about to wrap up on Friday. Toronto Police Superintendent Heinz Kuck raises money for Victim Services Toronto every year with wonderful campaigns and this year he completed a 3 day climb of 3 mountain peaks for The Climb campaign with 100% of the proceeds going to Dandy and the work she does.

So instead of gifts this year (although a generous number of early birds have already given me some) I am asking for donations for this wonderful cause. Every dollar counts. Every dollar brings another person a bit of light in a dark time. I’ve made my own donation just now in loving memory of my grandmother, Theresa Miller. Or Terry, as most knew her, though to me she will always be just grammie.

To donatehttps://www.crowdrise.com/the-climb2

To learn more about The Climb and Dandyhttp://victimservicestoronto.com/events/the-climb-2/

Lastly, I just want to say that fourteen years has not made a difference: I still miss you every day, and I love you more than you could ever know. My only hope is that I’ve made you proud.

Continue Reading

I’m thankful for…

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always one of my favourite holidays because it coincided with my birthday. Everyone would gather at my grandparents house. It wasn’t odd to have over twenty people amongst the brood at the table (read: tables). But after we lost my grandmother things changed for a while. Family dinners became smaller, quieter, and a somber mood hung over us as the anniversary of losing her approached. As much as I was always happy to be with my family, it wasn’t much of a holiday anymore.

A few years ago we made the decision to try and make a change. We did a big Thanksgiving dinner while I was home during my first year at university. Family had been visiting from the east coast and we invite all the usual guests from Thanksgivings of old. It had been the first time in eight years that things had felt normal again. Since then we have spent the holidays with our extended family and while nothing will ever replace the feeling of getting together at my grandparents house with my grandma there, this comes as close as it could possibly get.

This afternoon will be filled with family visits, laughter, and way too much food. But before I head off to a day stuffed with… well, stuffing, I wanted to take a moment to actually reflect on what I’m thankful for:

Two jobs I love

While I’ve made a pretty good hobby out of complaining about working two jobs, the only thing I really have to complain about is not being home a lot and having feet that constantly ache. In the grander scheme of things these are two tiny consequences of having two wonderful jobs that I actually enjoy.

I understand that most people thought I would give up my job with Haunted Walks once I found full time work. I honestly thought I would too. I’ve never been a night owl so working until 10 or 11 o’clock at night is quite draining and I wouldn’t choose to do so if I didn’t actually enjoy myself on these tours.

The tours are a creative outlet that I haven’t had in a long time and it really is fun to meet new people from around the world every tour. It’s challenging me to be more social and outgoing which is helping me in my ever day life too. When presented the opportunity to facilitate workshops to high school and elementary school students at my other job I didn’t hesitate to say yes because I’ve become more confident in my ability to engage a crowd.

Plus, what other opportunity am I going to have to wear a cape outside of Halloween?

As for my day job, I am so thankful to be surrounded by such an awesome and hardworking team. I’ve been in too many positions where people are just fine with doing the bare minimum and it’s driven me crazy. But my coworkers now are so dedicated and they work so hard. It truly makes me feel like I fit in. I haven’t felt this comfortable in a work environment in so long and I don’t think I’ve ever connected with a team so quickly. I get up every morning excited to go to work and see what the day brings. Sometimes that’s loads of paper work, and other days it’s a birthday party for a very special trauma dog.

Family who raises me up

If you look at my immediate family it’s very small but if you expand out to who I actually consider family I have quite the large web of people around me. While I don’t always get to spend as much time with them as I would like, every time I do get to see them all, I am reminded how lucky I am to have them. They are always in my corner. They get excited to hear about my successes and always make me feel good about what I’m doing.

I am especially lucky to have parents who support me in every zany adventure I go on. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to continue to travel with them, especially as I look forward to my first adventure to New York City with my mother. I could not be better supported or more loved. People always worry that only children will be lonely but I never felt that; I had two best friends with me the entire time.

A partner who stands by me

I’m pretty bad at writing sappy stuff when it comes to my relationship. I’m much better at talking about the food we ate or the weird adventure we went on (this weekend it was a giant lightsaber battle) but the sentimental stuff is usually something I don’t get into. But the fact of the matter is, I’m very lucky to have fallen in love with my partner. Things are not always easy, for either of us, but through it all I am thankful to have someone who supports me and has stuck with me through some dark times. He’s patient and understanding, he has stood by me through some very big ups and downs without judgement, and he reminds me to not be so uptight all the time. My life would be a lot less fun without him.

Friends old and new

I’m thankful for the new friends I have made through both of my jobs. I’m always so anxious about meeting new people but around each corner everyone has made me feel welcomed. I’m no longer the person eating lunch by herself in the corner, I’m no longer too anxious to go out to events with coworkers where I have to be outgoing and social. Each new person I’ve met in the past year has made things easy which is something new for me. Being without my core group of friends all the time has been like losing my anchor. I floated around aimlessly for a while but now it seems I’ve found my true north.

Still, that core group of friends is something I’m very thankful for, even though we’re not altogether anymore. It’s hard to make plans and to coordinate schedules but we still try. I’m grateful for every Skype date, every group message, and every unlikely get together. The girls I grew up with have become my sisters which is something I never knew I needed or wanted but my life would be so much duller without them.

For you

Last but definitely not least, I’m thankful for this blog and I’m thankful for each and every one of you who reads it. It’s been over ten months since I’ve started this journey and while some days I struggle to keep up and write new content, for the most part I’m very lucky to be able to put my thoughts out there. Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

Continue Reading

Toronto Eats: Pie Pizza Bar

I keep wondering where the time goes. It feels like our lovely little adventure to Fan Expo (read a bit about it here) was only last weekend and yet it’s been over a month since we wandered the convention halls. That means the pictures of some of the most delicious pizza I’ve ever have had have just been sitting in my camera roll for over a  month.

Well, enough of that, it’s time to share.

As I mentioned in my Fan Expo post, we headed out for dinner after the convention, wandering down to Harbourfront as we had a few weeks prior when we’d checked out Joe Bird and The Fix Ice Cream Bar. Queen’s Quay Terminal is home to a handful of eateries and since we were in much need of comfort food we decided to try another one of the options in the building. And what is more comforting than pizza?

Pie Bar Pizzeria is a brand new joint that mixes traditional Italian pizza with some interesting flavour combinations. With options of pastas or pizzas, it’s pretty standard in terms of Italian faire but the unique topping mixes on Pie Bar’s pizzas definitely make it stand out. On their website they claim “While our roots may be Italian, our take on food is a bit quirky, unexpected… a little off the wall. Nonna would definitely not approve.” and after trying some of the joint’s options, I’d definitely say this statement hits the mark.

Their pasta options are limited to spaghetti, linguini, and rigatoni but there are multiple options in terms of flavour and sauces. Interestingly, their Spaghetti Bolognese is made with a mixture of beef and wild boar.

After looking over the pastas I decided I was more in the mood for pizza. Since it had been such a long day we decided waiting for mains was going to be pure torture so we used that as an excuse to get an appetizer. We ended up going with the cheapest item within the “sharing plates” section of the menu: the garlic bread. The cheaper cost did not deduct from flavour; it turned out to be an excellent choice.

The garlic bread was done on fresh-baked pizza bread which was deliciously soft and just covered in garlic. I’m a pretty big fan of garlic bread in general but this one was spectacular. There was just enough garlic butter and the Reggiano cheese was a nice change from the usual mozzarella blend that most restaurants seem to serve.

Held over by the delicious starter, we proceeded to order our pizza choices. Naturally, the blogger in me was extremely happy when we all ordered something different: you know, more things to share.

My personal choice was That’s a Spicy Pie which had a red sauce base (not my favourite in general) fior di latte (cheese), pepperoni and spicy soppressata (meats), and Calabrian chili’s. Despite the fact that I prefer non-tomato sauce based pizzas, this one was actually delightful. The sauce was light and the dough was nice and thin, allowing the flavour of the meats, cheese, and chili to really shine through.

Matt’s choice ended up tasting pretty similar to mine but the addition of honey on top made it more sweet than spicy. He ordered The Angry Bee which happened to be my favourite of the three we tried just because the honey really took the flavours over the top. It had the same Spicy San Marzano sauce that my choice had, along with fior di latte, spicy soppressata, and Calabrian peppers. With the subtraction of the pepperoni and the addition of garlic and honey the similar looking pies departed from each other in their unique flavours.

Lastly, Keeragh had the most unique of the pizzas with a white sauce base, a mixture of cheeses, and a good amount of prosciutto. Simply named Prosciutto, the simple and elegant pie was light and tasty (thanks Kee for letting me have your leftovers).

Somewhere some time ago someone said to me even bad pizza is still good because it’s still pizza. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this statement, I am pleased to report that Pie Bar’s pizzas really are excellent pizzas and not just good bad pizzas. They still don’t top my personal list (that honour still goes to Descendant) but it’s somewhere I’d happily go back to again: especially for the atmosphere.

Just like Joe Bird, Pie Bar is right on the water. We enjoyed our time shaded by a canopy in what should have been the last of the hot weather (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). I’m usually the first person to refuse patio seating but this time it turned out to be great way to relax and unwind after a somewhat overwhelming day. We got some nice pictures in the sunshine, and although we may look a little tired I’m taking that just as a sign of a good day.

I honestly have no idea where the time is going (as can be seen by this 10pm blog post). It’s already almost Thanksgiving weekend which means somehow it’s my birthday next week. I’m about to launch into my first Halloween tours of the season and then once October wraps off I’m off to New York City for the first time. Things kind of feel surreal right now; I’m very, very busy but I’m also happy. I’ll be sure to tell you more about it soon.

Continue Reading

The two jobs I ran away from and one I didn’t.

This past week I was standing on the platform of York Mills station when this overwhelming feeling washed over me. I realized that the last time I had been on that platform I had just finished sobbing in the bathroom. I spent the morning filled with anxiety and an overwhelming sense of unhappiness at the job I had started two days prior. Before showing up to work on that first day I had been filled with excitement and optimism about a new journey that might lead to bigger things. By the end of the first day I had been less convinced but determined to try again. But after the second day I was dreading even stepping foot inside the building once more.

I didn’t make it through half of the third day before I decided I was going to resign.

But on this past Tuesday morning I stood on that platform, my music drowning out the sound of late morning commuters. There was a smile on my face that could’ve stretched the length of the station, and all I was doing was running an errand for work.

My journey into the working world has been a messy one. Things were not everything I expected it to be. After months of applying to jobs and having few offers I just wanted to make what came up fit. Unfortunately, I was trying to fit square pegs into a circular hole.

The first job you get might not be the right fit for you, and whether you leave after a day or two or have to stick it out for a few months, know that is it okay to change your mind. For me, that lesson was a hard one. At the time I felt like a failure but now looking back on it all I know what I did wasn’t failing at all. I knew it wasn’t the right fit, I knew I was not in an environment where I could thrive, and so I didn’t stay. I realize I am privileged to have had that luxury and that under other circumstances I might’ve had to stick it out but I still believe the lesson remains; you can change your mind about what you’re doing and that’s okay. It does not mean you failed.

So what I wanted to do with this post is really reflect on what I had deemed as massive failures and come to look at it as more of a learning experience. I think by getting my toes wet in different positions I was able to find out more about myself as an employee, especially by figuring out what I wanted out of work and what I didn’t want. So lets start with that…

Job #1 – The Health Company

I have always been comfortable in administrative work so even though I didn’t fully understand this company in the beginning I had been confident in my ability to be the go to person for any big or small random tasks that come up in any business. I interviewed very well and the team members I spoke with helped excite me about the position. Unfortunately, within an hour on the first day I began to feel let down.

The position was a new combination of roles that others had taken on but didn’t have time for. They tried to squash these altogether into a new part-time position. It was one of the first things that was annoying about this role; it was five days a week but only five hours a day. I would’ve much preferred three full work days to get my work done rather than coming back every day. But that wasn’t the main problem. The real issue was that they didn’t have a real plan for the transfer of work.

The girl who had taken on many of the tasks was too busy with her own work to train me and so that resulted in her doing most of the things that should have been being transferred to me. A bulk of the proposed tasks had previously been done by someone who was on maternity leave and since she’d already left there was no one to train me on those either. The financial employees had some ideas on how I could help but they also didn’t have the time to hand anything over. So I sat there with nothing to do because they didn’t even have a computer set up for me yet. I went home telling myself over and over again that the next day would be better.

It wasn’t.

I do believe they needed someone to take on these responsibilities but they hadn’t taken the time to figure out what that looked like. There was no clear direction and there was a lack of support from the team. This was especially frustrating from a company that seemed like a very innovative and youthful environment where camaraderie was encouraged. Unfortunately that didn’t extend to the new girl.

Frustrated that I had done nothing but watch a powerpoint and search for new office furniture in my three first days I decided this wasn’t a good fit.

Job #2 – The Vacationers Hostel

So it was back to the soul sucking process of job hunting but I luckily managed to get an interview just a few weeks later as a hostel downtown. I thought the interview went okay but I was still surprised when I got the offer. I went in the first day nervous but excited. I knew the job would challenge me to be more social but I was prepared to handle that challenge. At least that is what I had told myself.

I ran tons of events the previous summer while working at Canada’s Wonderland. I assisted clients and guests from all over and never had any problems. But when asked to talk to complete strangers with no real purpose things fell apart really quickly. I spent more time wandering around the stairwells of the hostel than I did actually talking to the guests. I felt panicked and uneasy. I checked my phone over and over again, just dying to go home and get away from all of this.

My direction from my supervisor on that first day was to just ‘mingle’ which was not what I was expecting from the job. I thought I would be planning outings and big events but instead I was supposed to just engage with people to see if I could help them figure out where to go that day. I was there to promote already existing events and to try and get people to go down to the hostel’s bar that evening. Wanting to make this work, I sucked in a deep breath, tried to push down my fears, and then the first person I tried to talk to waved me off, got up, and left. After this happened a second time I kind of gave up on trying and spent the rest of my shift just sitting in the lobby. The only time a guest actually talked to me was when she asked me to watch her bag while she went to flip her laundry.

Once again I was frustrated by the lack of training, directive, and support from my team. I was more or less thrown to the wolves with no idea of what I was supposed to do or how I was meant to approach people. I feel like if I had had someone with me to support me through the process it could have went smoother. I hardly had any more information about the hostels events than what was on the giant chalkboard in the lobby.

One thing my supervisor did tell me was his plan for me that week. All but one of the days I was scheduled for were going to just be mingle days. Knowing well that it wasn’t something I was comfortable with and likely would not become comfortable with, I decided to resign.

Honourable Mention – The Granting Organization

Between the hostel and my current job I had a part-time administrative position that I was actually sad to leave. While the work was not entirely challenging, my team was extremely supportive and reliable. I was trained on each meticulous task and I was eventually given extraneous duties that were fun and interesting. It was certainly not the kind of work I wanted to do forever but it was a great environment and I felt quite guilty handing in my resignation. The small office was something that really illuminated the fact that while I am an independent worker, I do enjoy having a team around me that I am able to actually go to for support.

That’s exactly what I found at the job I’m in now.

Job #3 – The Non-profit

It would take me seven more months to find another full time position after the hostel. In the meantime in addition to working part-time at the granting organization I started giving ghost tours, I joined the gala committee for a local shelter, and I began volunteering as a crisis counsellor. Eventually all this hard work would pay off and I ended up getting an offer for the position I am in now. During the first week at this job those familiar new experience anxieties bubbled up and there was one night I found myself so anxious that I fell apart. But with encouraging words from my mother and a friend I went back the next day only to find I had been worrying about nothing. What helped me stay was the fact that I wasn’t let down by an unsupportive team or a lack of direction. In fact, I found the opposite.

While my position is very much based in doing random tasks as they come up, I was given some heads up about what the tasks would be. My awesome predecessor created a whole manual which has information on every little thing she was ever asked to do. Things have already come up that aren’t in the manual but I’ve always received the training and support on what to do when something new arises. I’m not left floundering with no assistance, it’s there if I need it. 

And that’s the big difference; I feel like my team wants me to succeed. They’re not just throwing me into the deep end with no idea what to do. I’m over a month into the position and I’ve had multiple staff members check in on me just to make sure I’m happy with the work. I’m delighted to say that I really, really am.

In addition to this I’ve been trusted with tasks that challenge and excite me. New opportunities have opened up just from me saying that I’m interested in them. I’m finding work all over and while this makes my days busy and sometimes overwhelming (driving the company car is not my idea of fun) it is extremely fulfilling. I not only love the work I do but I actually feel like I’m contributing in a positive way.

So that was my long and twisted road into full time work after post-secondary. It took a lot of ups and downs to get where I’m at now so I wanted to share that journey with all of you, especially if you’re soon to leave school and jump into the working world. Some people will find their place right away, but many of us do not. Don’t forget that paid work isn’t the only way to fulfill yourself (as I’ve said in posts before) but that even if you don’t get the job you thought you would (read: Police Officer) you might find something even better. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

 

Continue Reading