Exhausting Adventures as an Amateur Fangirl: Do’s and Don’ts of Conventions

I seem to be making it a habit lately of missing my regular posting days, thereby making this blog quite irregular. I remember when I first started blogging I browsed through a lot of tips and tricks on what to do and what not to do. It seems I have fallen into the trap of irregularity where my posts are unpredictable and inconsistent. I would feel bad about this but you know what: that’s life. I never want to give the illusion that I have everything figured out, that my life is a perfectly scripted adventure with a solid schedule laid out before it. After all, if last weekend reminded me of anything it was that the best laid plans don’t always work (and that Stephen Amell is truly even better looking in person).

Last Thursday evening, Fan Expo, which isToronto’s version of Comic-Con, rolled into the International Convention Centre for a four day weekend of comics, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and just about anything from geek culture that you could want, except for maybe a Bitch with Wifi t-shirt, but maybe that’s just me.

This was my fourth venture to the convention and while I was originally just going to share some stories from our adventure I figured it would be more useful for me to share some of my do’s and don’ts of convention going. Even if I haven’t been very good at following the do’s and don’ts of blog writing.

Anyway, lets get on with it.

Do not feel limited in what you can and cannot cosplay or wear

The first time I went to Fan Expo I had no idea how big cosplay actually was. I claimed to be in a low key Wonder Woman tribute but in reality I had just wore red, white, and blue. But after seeing people of all ages, skin colours, sizes, and diversities absolutely kill it in cosplays from fandoms across the board, I knew I wanted to do a little more than match the colour scheme of a character. The thing is, I’ve never felt like I look anything like any of the characters I love.

Turns out, this doesn’t matter.

Do represent your fandoms however you choose

I am not pencil thin with blonde hair and I wear glasses so wearing superhero masks is a little tricky but I still managed to do a Black Canary cosplay. I am not a fifty something year old British man but Colin Firth’s Harry Hart from Kingsman: The Secret Service still looked pretty damn good on me. And then this year I went more lowkey again with a Han Solo casual cosplay dress I ordered from Think Geek.

My cosplays have never been the most intricate or skilled but I have still loved them and ultimately that is what matters. If you are comfortable in your version of whatever character you’ve picked then you’re on the right track. Some people will get every detail right and that’s amazing but if you just want to piece together an undercover Superman costume with a t-shirt, an unbuttoned dress shirt and some oversized glasses then go right ahead. Cosplay is for everyone, there are no limitations.

  

Do not force yourself to stick to a set plan

A week or so before the convention rolls into town you will likely find that they’ve posted a schedule for everything going on that weekend. It’s a great idea to open that up and even highlight some of the stuff you want to do. You can even plan your day(s) out but you should be aware that conventions are a messy beast.

Timelines don’t always work as planned for a number of reasons. You might get stuck in a long line just trying to get your wristband, the actor you are hoping to get an autograph from might not be at the table the exact moment you’ve planned to go meet them, and you might get stuck talking to someone about the functionality of a hand-crafted vampire stake (No? Maybe that’s just me). Regardless of what happens, these little things pop up often and can put a wrench in your plans. But if you’re willing to change and adapt you should be fine.

Do still plan ahead

Saying to not force a plan is not saying you should ditch the planning altogether. Our first year at Fan Expo we exhausted ourselves by just wandering around all day. We didn’t really know about the Q&A sessions and we hadn’t thought about how damn long the line for pizza would be. It was a fun time but it was definitely an exhausting mess. Moving forward we structured our days a bit more, and this Fan Expo I had pretty much everything figured out before we even bought our tickets.

That didn’t stop the plan from changing of course.

Just to give you a visual on what this looks like, I thought I’d share my original plan and then the altered one that quickly came about after spending all of an hour inside the convention centre.

The original plan

815AM – Leave home
9AM – Pick up wristbands (North building)
9AM – 1030AM – Locate panel rooms for later / explore South building
11AM – Stephen Amell Panel (Room 106)
After panel – finish exploring the south building
1230PM – Lunch @ THREE10
2PM – Catherine Tate Panel (Optional)
After panel – North building exploration
415PM David Ramsey Panel (Room 206B)
5PM – Bobbie Sue’s Mac & Cheese (501 Queen Streetcar)

What actually happened

830AM – Leave home
915AM – Pick up wristbands
940AM – Locate panel rooms / explore South building
10AM – Get in line for Stephen Amell
11AM – Stephen Amell Panel
12PM – Food truck lunch
1220PM – Get in line for Jason Isaacs
1PM – Jason Isaacs Panel
2PM – North building exploration
330PM – Get in line for David Ramsey
415PM – David Ramsey Panel
530PM – Dinner at Pie Bar Pizzaria

So there you have it: everything from who we were seeing to where we were eating changed on the go and that was okay. The original plan helped up figure some things out and then we regrouped when new things were added and others were switched around. Cons will throw curveballs at you, don’t be afraid to work with them.

Do not forget to eat and drink

This is probably one of the most important reminders I can give because it’s so simple and therefore so easy to forget about. Making sure you have the proper energy in your body to battle through a long day is important. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything around you and just try to push through. Your body will not thank you for this. You’ll burn out and that’s when the grumpiness and exhaustion can start to set in.

Do pack snacks, water, and get lunch at some point

From my knowledge most conventions will let you bring outside snacks so you don’t have to spend a fortune grabbing food from the vendors inside. Packing water and a few things to nibble on is a good idea. It’s great for when you’re sitting in the hall waiting in a line for a panel or even just walking from area to area.

If you’re doing a full day it’s a good idea to make lunch and dinner plans too. It’ll help you break up the day a bit. Be mindful of the fact that the food stalls in the convention will likely be very busy around lunch time and you may be waiting for a bit. Food trucks and hot dog vendors outside are easy grab and go that allow you to get right back into the action but a sit down lunch is not a bad idea either as it breaks up the day a bit. It doesn’t matter too much where or what you eat, the important thing is simply that you do.

Do not try to pack everything into one day

This is a funny tip coming from someone who has only ever done one day of the con each year but it’s something I am mindful of when trying to plan what we’re going to do at Fan Expo. There’s simply too much to do at these conventions to try and do it all in one day. In fact, I don’t think you can do it all over the entirety of the four days either. If you try to pack too much in you will definitely burn out. These things are much more exhausting than one would think. It’s a lot of time on your feet and the crowds can drain a lot out of you.

Do make a list of your must dos so you don’t miss something

Conventions are pack full of things to see, people to talk to, and stuff to do. Even if you spend the whole weekend soaking in every minute of the con there will be things that overlap. So you’re going to want to figure out what matters the most to you. It’s important to consider wait times for panels and even things like photo ops and autographs. In order to make sure you get everything you want out of the convention it’s useful to go through the schedule and figure out the things you don’t want to miss.

Do not touch someone or take pictures without their consent

This year Fan Expo had some signs up talking about consent and how it applies to cosplay. As someone who is now working in a non-profit where issues of consent are talked about a lot, it was nice to see this acknowledgement out in the open.

It does not matter if someone is in a spray on body suit, a suit of armour, or a string bikini; cosplay is not an invitation to touch. It’s important to remember this as you’re wandering the convention halls and watching as some of your favourite characters are brought to life. You may be in awe of some of these creations and that’s perfectly normal but don’t forget to ask before you start snapping pictures of someone. It’s always a better idea anyway, most people will stop and pose for you.

But if they say no: respect that.

Do acknowledge the awesome cosplays around you

A lot of con goers spend all year on their cosplays, others put them together in a few short days. Regardless of the timeline, cosplay is awesome and a lot of hard work. The geniuses behind these costumes should get to hear how much their work is appreciated. Don’t be too shy to stop and say something if you really admire a cosplay.This goes for the artists and crafts people at the convention too; you can’t always buy everything you think it amazing but you can tell the artist that you admire their work.

Do not spend the whole day on your feet wandering the main floor

While the main convention halls are packed full of beautiful art, game previews, free giveaways, and a geek’s paradise of merchandise; they are also packed with people. Moving slowly through tight claustrophobic crowds can suck the life right out of you, especially if you do it for hours on end. You could no doubt walk Artist Alley for a whole day, especially if you actually stop at most of the booths, but your feet and your body will not thank you for it. Neither will your friends. On our first adventures to Fan Expo there was a fair share of snapping and bickering and I blame that on sore feet and pure exhaustion.

Thankfully, we’ve learned.

Do consider using panels or Q&As as a way to break up the day

Instead of just walking around all day, there are lots of options that will get you out of the main crowd and off of your feet. From cosplay contests to writing or sketching workshops to the ever so fun celebrity Q&As, there are lots of things included in convention schedules that don’t involve wandering around the convention floor all day. Consider slotting these in to give yourself a bit of a break.

Do not ask Jason Isaacs what house he is in

He’s a Slytherin, of course.

Do laugh at all his jokes, he’s pretty damn funny

Okay, so not everyone is going to have the pleasure of seeing Lucius Malfoy several rows down from them but if you ever do have the chance to listen to this wonderful man do a Q&A I suggest you check it out. He was incredibly charming, honest, and very intelligent with his answers. He was great with the younger fans who wanted to know a lot more about Harry Potter and his stories from that set as well as others were really something. He is just one example as to why Q&As are a definite do for conventions. I still can’t believe we missed out on them our first two years going.

Do not let someone else tell you what you should and shouldn’t do

I know we just went through a whole list of this so perhaps this one seems counterintuitive but here’s the thing: these are just my tips. This is not the Holy Grail of convention experiences. In fact, I still consider myself an amateur when it comes to attending cons. This is only my experience, you will all have your own so don’t let me or anyone else tell you how you should experience a convention.

Do have such a great time that you’re already thinking about next year

Whether you spend the day in Q&A panels or you lose your mind a bit when you meet your favourite actor, just make sure to soak in all the awesome that conventions bring. If you’ve never been and there’s one in your area, I strongly suggest giving it a chance. Who knows, maybe it’ll be your first of many.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Streetcar Trip Outside My Comfort Zone

The long weekend rolled in and I realized we had no plans. I was scheduled to do tours on Friday and Saturday but that still left my days wide open. After doing a quick little search to see what was going on in the city, I decided it was finally time to venture away from my usual haunts in downtown all the way out to The Beaches.

The Beaches is a neighbourhood east of downtown and since I live Northwest of Toronto’s core, I don’t often venture out too far east. The Beaches was unexplored territory and since trips to the beach are generally a summertime activity, I figured it would be a good idea to have this adventure before the summer months leave us and we roll into fall.

We made our trip down and out very slowly, having a later start in the morning since I’d be working late in the evening. After grabbing a quick bite to eat (which will be featured in another post) our adventures moved on Queen Street East as we ventured into an area known as The Beach Village. Here you’ll find an array of beautiful houses and cutesy shops.

  

We wandered inside antique shops, stores full of arts and craft supplies, and we even decided to stop in at a little bakery. Brick Street Bakery has a very rustic vibe to it with dark wood accents and low lighting. There’s a little four seater table at the front window for anyone looking to get off their feet while enjoying a treat or two.

We decided to just grab and go, eating in the doorway next door while we waited for a little sun shower to move along. Our treat of choice was a soft and gooey blueberry cinnamon bun. And lucky for us it was a good choice.

After checking out what the street had to offer we headed down to the actual beach. It was a windy day with a lot of cloud cover so Woodbine Beach wasn’t as busy was it likely would have been on a bright sunny day. But there were still lots of people about, enjoying the fresh air and taking in a game or two of beach volleyball.

Woodbine Beach is lined with a long beautiful boardwalk and peppered with Muskoka chairs. We didn’t actually make our way out onto the sand or into the water but just hanging by the boardwalk was nice and relaxing. It was also perfect for people/dog watching. We parked ourselves on a park bench for a little while and just enjoyed the summer breeze.

From the beaches we moved into Woodbine Park in order to find The Toronto Food Truck Festival. Over 40 food trucks rolled into the park for the weekend with foods ranging from authentic Belgian waffles to Southern-style BBQ plates. There were tons of options to choose from, which of course just made my life more difficult.

The only thing I found disappointing about the Food Truck Festival was the lack of small snack plates. Most of the trucks were serving full menu items priced between $10-15. We had been hoping to grab a bunch of little plates under five dollars so we could try more. Unfortunately only a few stands had anything close to that price range.

Since it was only three o’clock and we had already had lunch we weren’t hungry enough to gorge ourselves on anything like the chicken and waffles in a waffle or the bacon wrapped poutine burger. Instead, we order a twisted potato and an order of original apple fritters with vanilla ice cream from two different trucks. The two items together cost about $15. It was a bit of a pricey snack but they were both delicious in their own way.

The neatest thing about the twisted potato was the different kinds of gourmet ketchup offered to go with it. We sampled each of their unique flavours; bacon, mesquite, ghost pepper, and dill pickle. The dill pickle had the most flavour but I really enjoyed the mesquite (it had a barbecue taste) and the ghost pepper (it had a hot sauce taste). The bacon was a little disappointing as it didn’t really taste much different than plain old regular ketchup.

Of the two treats we sampled, the apple fritters were definitely the more memorable of the two. I learned in the first bite that old style apple fritters apparently have thick apple slices inside and icing sugar covering the top. Dipping these warm pockets of apple goodness in the runny vanilla ice cream was an absolute delight.

After making our way back out of the park we decided to check out more of Queen Street East simply because it’s an area we haven’t explored before. We walked back in the direction we had come from in the morning, taking a look into more of the stores we had passed by after lunch. I quickly began to recognize a lot of restaurants from lists that I’ve scrolled through on BlogTO including a little unique coffee house called The Sidekick.

The name hints to a super hero theme which is executed perfectly through the inclusion of a small comic book shop on the inside. Exposed brick and chalkboard menu signs are complimented by hanging tesla bulbs and the inclusion of a number of comic figurines and statues. In the back corner there’s a small fireplace surrounded by comfy chairs and a board game selection for patrons spending a bit of extra time in the cafe.

 

Our stop at The Sidekick was brief but it was a nice way to rest tired feet before wandering into a gastropub for dinner. A quick look at my watch told me it was time to head back downtown in order to get to work. We decided to walk rather than hopping on the 501 streetcar and the trek put me over 20,000 steps for the day before I headed in for my Saturday night tour shift. We adventured well and now that we’ve seen how easy it is to get out to The Beaches and the surrounding neighbourhoods I’m sure we’ll be back.

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Bring out the Board Games

Since so many of my posts on this blog involve sharing my adventures, it might often come across that I’m out and about a lot more often than I am home. While that may be true for some weekends, especially lately because of summer and all of the things going on in the city, I am still very much a homebody who enjoys a good weekend lounging on the couch, sitting around in pyjamas. While many of these weekends included a good ole Netflix binge or reading for an hour in the bathtub, there are many weekends that also include a bit of table top gaming.

Now, board games are something I’ve always enjoyed but they’ve wavered in and out of favour in my household over the years. As a kid I didn’t have as many opportunities to play board games because I was an only child. I was much more likely to sit down and play a game of cribbage with my grandparents than I was to set up a game of Monopoly (mostly because most of the adults in the house refused to play it). Occasionally games would be pulled out and dusted off for an afternoon but more often than not I relied on my Playstation to keep me entertained. High school brought about party games like Partini, Cranium, and the ever whacky Quelf. In University a friend brought over the Marvel deck building game Legacy and while my one friend Jessica really struggled to grasp the point system it was a great time. Still, these games seemed to only be dragged out whenever we were lacking something to do. They weren’t great constants in my life but they were always a fun time.

When Matt and I moved in together last year we started to find things for the two of us to do that didn’t always involve going out for the evening and dropping $100 like it was nothing. On a whim we picked up a new game from Chapters after reading that it was a cooperative board game. You see, we’ve always been weary about head to head games because I can get quite competitive and while that’s fun in a group one-on-one it can be a little infuriating. Even in a group it can get a bit heated (tip: be careful playing Ticket to Ride, there’s a lot of anger over plastic trains).

The game was Pandemic and it’s really the game that kicked off this obsession I have with board games.

The idea is quite simple: there are four strains of diseases spreading across the globe and it is up to your team (whoever is playing) to stop that from happening. There’s lots of ways to lose in Pandemic but only one way to win: cure all four diseases.

Each player gets a unique character to help your cause. Each character has a different special ability based on their occupation. Now, I definitely have my favourite character to play as (the scientist) but what is interesting about Pandemic is that different games will lend themselves to different characters. Sometimes you’ll lose and realize that you wouldn’t have been so screwed if you had been playing as someone else. Of course, you’ll never really know that until after all the plastic cubes have taken over the board.

As with most board games the set up the first time can take a bit but after two of three games it’s a pretty easy process to remember. I don’t even think it takes five minutes for us at this point and that includes my horrid deck shuffling.

Once you’ve moved through the set up steps of infecting the board it’s time to get to gameplay. Every turn each player gets to do a total of four actions (moving, building research centres, curing disease cubes, etc.) and at the end of their turn they draw two cards from the player deck. Player deck cards are used to help cure diseases; you need five of the same coloured cards to cure a disease. But inside the player deck there are also helpful event cards and the ever dreaded epidemic cards.

When an epidemic card is pulled an outbreak of disease cubes happens and if you’re anything like us there’s a large amount of cursing. Epidemics can completely screw over a perfectly fine game and there’s four of them mixed into the player deck. During an epidemic you infect a new city with three cubes and then you shuffle the cards of infected cities back onto the deck. This can be disastrous of course because often times these cities are the worst of. If an infection card is pulled and the city already has three cubes you then trigger an outbreak which spreads the disease into every connected city.

Now that sounds pretty bad, but it gets worse.

If the outbreak bursts into another infected city then that city outbreaks as well, thereby creating a chain reactions. Too many outbreaks is just one of the ways you can lose the game. There’s a counter on the side that you move down every time an outbreak happens and if you reach the skull you’ve lost.

The other two ways of losing include the following:

  • Running out of cubes of any single colour
  • Running out of cards in the player deck

For us, outbreaks and running out of cubes seems to be the most common. I can only recall one game where we actually got to the bottom of the player deck.

Pandemic generally plays out in 30 minutes to an hour. I find the more players you have the longer it takes because there’s a lot more debating about where to go and what to do. What had surprised me about this game is that it hasn’t becoming boring even though we’ve had it for a year. The relatively simple concept still throws you off your guard sometimes. We’ve had games where we’ve lost in fifteen minutes and we just kind of sat there gaping at the board. We’ve also had games that were going really poorly and ended up turning themselves around.

Our love of the game led to expansion games being thrown onto a Christmas wish list last year, alongside the standalone Pandemic: Legacy, which is essentially the base game on drugs. You change the game as you play over the span of a year, making it incredibly unique. When we’ve finished our year I’ll definitely come back with a review of that. It’s definitely pricier, especially for a game that is more or less a one off but it’s also great. Still, I strongly recommend starting with just the regular old Pandemic.

And now, I’m off to try and save the world, one small plastic cube at a time.

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Oh Darling, Lets Be Adventurers

It’s time for an adventure share my lovely readers.

This weekend’s adventures started off with a trip downtown that turned into a celebratory dinner and movie with my best friend Keeragh. She’s kicking so much ass lately and with plans to already hit up Wonder Woman Friday night it only made sense to tack dinner on beforehand to really celebrate. I had hoped to score a reservation at Teronni now that I know a little bit about its haunted past from my training at Haunted Walks Toronto but unfortunately that six o’clock time slot we were looking for was all booked up. That’s okay though because it led to us finding a different joint that I quickly fell in love with.

BATCH, named because of the brewhouse history of brewing in small batches using a simple copper kettle up in Creemore, is a little gastro-pub downtown Toronto just a short walk from Queen Subway Station. The overhang sign with vanity lights positioned underneath almost makes it look like another theatre hidden amongst the downtown core but instead the old historical building has been turned into quite the place for craft beer and good eats.

There’s a muted retro tone inside the restaurant that comes in teals, burgundy, and soft brown and black leather. At the front you’ll find fully stocked fridges with bottles and cases to bring home while the long bar just inside hosts fresh pours of the many beers on tap. By the end of diner our crew had sampled all six of BATCH’s current selection from a Whitbier with 17IBU to a Indian Pale Ale with 70IBU. I’m not a beer drinker myself but I still like to take a sip here and there because I have been known to surprise myself. The citrus flavours from the Whitbier were what got me onboard, though I still couldn’t finish the small glass. The other two enjoyed themselves though.

So the menu at BATCH is pretty straight forward. You’ve got a handful of starters, a selection of seasonal flatbreads, salads, and your main entrees. But here’s the thing, despite the fact that the menu was simple we still all struggled with narrowing down what we were going to order. There were too many unique options for me to just know off the bat. It didn’t help that I had checked out some of the pictures of the food online and that only made things harder. As we hemmed and hawed Matt suggested ordering one of the flatbreads as a starter (since we were all looking at them) and so we went with that.

We ended up with the Niagara Salami flatbread which had a tomato sauce base with fior di latte cheese and both prosciutto and soppressata. The meats had a good heat to them and even though they kept sliding off my slices (the others oddly enough didn’t have any issues) the flatbread was awesome. It would have made a fine dinner on its own but once our actual entrees arrived I was happy to have just split this one.

So what did I have for dinner that made me so happy? It’s something really simple actually: perogies. Now, generally when I think of perogies I think of it as a side dish or an appetizer. I’ve had some good perogies over the years but generally the little scrumptious pockets of goodness are accompanied by more than just bacon and onions. However, in BATCH’s case, it was all I needed. Maybe it was the two slices of flatbread beforehand that helped or the fact that I just don’t eat that many heavy carbs anymore but I was struggling by the end of this dish to finish it all. But I just had to. The sauce that accompanied the sour cream, whatever it was, was absolutely heavenly and the perogies were cooked to perfection. It was a tough choice between them, schnitzel, and fried chicken but ultimately I’m happy with my choice.

Judging by the reactions at the table, Keeragh and Matt were pretty damn satisfied with their meals as well. The portions aren’t huge by any means but they don’t leave you hungry or too bloated. Well, they wouldn’t have had we stopped after dinner but lets not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Matt ended up ordering the reuben which came on a beautiful pretzel bun with cabbage slaw and Russian dressing. Both his meal and Keeragh’s lamb burger came with the largest fries I’ve ever seen in my life. They were probably about two fingers wide and they came out piping hot. They were lightly salted and once they weren’t burning your mouth they were pretty tasty.

Then of course, celebrating and all, I just couldn’t seem to keep to my goal to keep away from the sweets for a bit. I was good though and opted for sharing one piece of coconut cream pie with the table instead of having my own dessert. I don’t regret it for a second. It went down so smooth and while I probably could’ve finished off a piece for myself, my tight jeans were pretty happy that I didn’t. Our waiter, who was all sorts of fun, had told us the sticky toffee pudding was great as well but after reading so much about the cream pie online I just had to try it. I guess I’ll just have to go back again to try it later.

BATCH, like almost all the restaurants right downtown was a bit pricey but nothing too much past your run of the mill chain restaurant these days. Plates averaged $18-20 dollars and they were well worth it. I never mind paying for good food.

With our bellies full it was time to make the trek up to the Yonge and Dundas Cineplex to take in Wonder Woman in 4D. It was Matt and I’s second time to the 4D theatre but Keeragh’s first. For those of you who aren’t familiar with 4D it’s an enhanced version of 3D where more effects (fog, rain, movement, wind, snow, etc.) are added in. You’re in a row of 4 seats each that move as a unit. We saw Rogue One like this back in December and it was a lot of fun so we despite the steep price ($25 a ticket) we decided to take another go.

This time it wasn’t the 4D that amazed me.

I could probably (and may still) write a full post about how happy I am with Wonder Woman. Even with all the hype it still blew me away. There were two moments where I found myself crying but most of the movie I was just smiling so much that my cheeks began to hurt. The No Man’s Land scene is probably the most important scene in Super Hero flick history in my opinion and I just can’t wait to see how this movie empowers those who go to see it, especially those who identify as women. If you haven’t seen it yet I strongly suggest going to check it out, it has elements of humour, history, action, and a whole lot of heart so I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it.

Of course the adventure didn’t end on Friday night. Saturday morning we got up, wished Keeragh off to work (sorry babe) and headed down to The Stop Farmer’s Market at the Wychwood Barns down by St. Clair West. After a bit of driving around an area that is brand new to us we snagged a parking spot and then made our way down to the old streetcar barn that acts as the centre piece for the market.

The market runs year round with the vendors shifting inside the old barn in the winter. There were probably about 30-40 tents outside with everything from Jamaican patties to fresh produce. There were a lot of yummy looking pies and tarts that I would have liked to take home but after Friday’s indulgences I decided to show a little self control.

After the big grocery shop we did last week it made the most sense to just stock up on some fruits and veg instead of doing another full trip. I love doing so at farmers markets because you get to support your fellow locals while also having the chance of stumbling upon some unique items. It might be a bit pricier than a grocery store for some things but I don’t mind when the products are high quality. Plus, farmer’s markets often make for fun little adventures, especially when you go to one you’ve never been before. The Stop Farmer’s Market is definitely unique given its location and it also had some really great vendors.

So $30 later and we had a small bag of goods to help us make it through the week. Seeing mustard beans is always a moment of excitement for me. They’re probably easy to make but for me it’s just a nice treat that reminds me of home. In the end we grabbed asparagus, carrots and turnips for this weeks dinners, a quiche (which was so scrumptious) for Saturday’s lunch, the mustard beans of course, and some honey garlic pepperoni sticks. We’d been hoping to find some fruit but only two stalls had some and it was all apples and strawberries so we decided to just pick up a few items from the store after all. Despite this it was a good little trip.

Honestly if there’s a farmer’s market in your area and you’ve never been I suggest going, you never know what kind of goodies you might find.

 

The weekend wasn’t over yet and so the adventures continued today (hence the late and long post). We headed back out into the sunshine (in shorts because I learnt my lesson after boiling on Friday in my jeans) and went down to the Annex Family Festival.

I misread the website so we showed up an hour before the street party really got started but that was fine because it allowed for wandering around when things weren’t busy. We walked further down Bloor in either direction just checking out shop windows and everything that was going on.

We enjoyed some fried plantain and Hawaiian skewers while we wandered around and even got a cute little polaroid taken of the two of us. There were lots of little items to buy and stalls to check out but we mostly just went for a stroll. Once we’d passed through the walk a few times we decided to go grab a bite to eat. Knowing that Snakes and Lattes was right down the street we headed there to play some board games and munch on chips and dip.

Three hours later we were back on the street with little to no plan.

But wandering about kind of aimlessly can lead to amazing things and today it happened to lead us right onto the set of Stephen and Robbie Amell’s new film, Code 8. I’m a huge Arrow fan (I feel like this had been alluded to before) and while there was no sight of Mr. Oliver Queen himself it was still exciting to run into the set itself. Maybe I’ll be able to find Stephen before he heads back to Vancouver to film Arrow.

Despite no Amell sitings we did get a little treat as we watched Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift star Sung Kang, who was just recently announced as a cast member, jump out of one of the vehicles. He seemed to be the star of the scene which was filming right in front of Hotel Waverly on Spadina Avenue. You can see the back of his head in the second picture below, of course the other car was in the way of him whenever he seemed to turn around.

Finally, with no ripped super heroes in sight we headed down Spadina and checked out a little fast food joint known as The Chickery. As you may be able to guess their special is chicken and much like KFC, Nandos, Popeyes, or whatever fried chicken place you’re into, their chicken comes in different cuts and sizes with different sides and sauces.

I ordered the chicken feathers with a side of corn bread and garlic aioli while Matt had an order of chicken fingers with street corn and sweet chili sauce. Everything was delicious, definitely not healthy but after hitting 16,000 steps before dinner and only snacking throughout the day it was definitely a cheat I don’t feel guilty about. That seems to be a theme of this weekend I suppose.

It’s back to work tomorrow but I’m fully charged up from our weekend of fun. I’ve found a lot of love and self-care in these new adventures, breaking out of my comfort zone in the city and getting to see places that I should have checked out years ago. Exploration is good for the soul, even if it’s in the place you call home. So get going, adventure is out there.

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The World’s A Stage

I’ve come to notice lately that in most of my posts I’m talking about my health and fitness changes, and while that’s been beneficial for me in order to track progress and really motivate myself it isn’t actually the reason I started this blog. When I first purchased my domain and started to set this place up my hope was to just put some of my thoughts out into the world in a way that was a little more organized and structured than a rampant Facebook post. I wanted to share the things I love in life not only to brighten the days of others but to make myself smile as well. While my fitness posts have been full of positivity and personal enlightenment, I am more than what workout I did or how many calories I consumed. In order to get back to posting more about life in general I’ve decided that today I’m going to talk a little bit about a place that is near and dear to my heart: the theatre.

Growing up, it was always the expectation in my household that every year I would be part of at least one extracurricular activity. I was never the type to be on multiple (or any) sports teams and it’d be a far cry to find me in a number of after school clubs but I stuck by the rule and tried one thing every year. One year was clogging, another involved adventure camps, but theatre was the thing that stuck. My first dramatic arts experience was as Merlin in The Sword in the Stone at our local YMCA. I went back to that club a year later and played Lord Farquad in Shrek, though I had desperately auditioned for the park of Donkey. I spent the show on my knees, got a lot of laughs, and had a ton of fun.

Throughout elementary school I was part of little in class productions and somehow came up with the horrid idea to reenact a scene from the Van Helsing movie as part of a school talent show. As campy and ridiculous as it all was it was something that was absolutely instrumental in creating the young woman I am today. When high school rolled around I nervously auditioned for the school’s student written production and somehow made the cut. Even when stupid braces gave me a lisp my directors and the cast stood by me, letting me know I was still a valuable part of that theatre family.

With each passing year I auditioned for the next production and enrolled in whatever drama class I could. As someone who was incredibly shy when it came to social situations, theatre was an outlet that helped bolster my confidence. In my senior year of high school the final act of that confidence came in the form of a little show called On the Line which I had written. That show, although it was definitely the prime example of unpolished writing of a seventeen year old, remains one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. The kind words I heard from teachers I dearly respected, and the sense of family I got from that drama class are unparalleled in many ways.

But as high school ended and the treacherous days of university began I found that I pulled away from the home I’d made myself in the dramatic arts. I had friends who dove into studying the arts while I went off to what I then considered a more practical route in Psychology and Sociology. But despite all of this, I never lost my love of theatre, I just started to be a part of it from the other side of the curtain.

I’ve had some great opportunities to sit in the audience of some wonderful shows and to watch others on the big screen. I have more ticket stubs stashed away from the past fifteen years of my life than most people would have for their lifetime. I’ve sat in the very back row and the very front. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve cheered, and my heart has come home in those theatre seats time and time again. It was never about being on stage or even behind it, to me it was always that sense of belonging I got from being there.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my love of the theatre recently because this past Friday I have began a return to my performing roots. While my stage will now be the streets of Toronto and my character is simply myself in a cloak, carrying a latern, my adventure as part of the Haunted Walks team is something I’m regarding as kismet. As I begin to memorize the stories I’ll be telling this summer, I’m excited for my return to performing and I believe it will be something that does more than put some money in my bank account.

So I guess this is my love letter to not only the theatre but to all the people who made it part of my life. To my grandmother who sewed that first costume for my role as Merlin, to my parents who picked me up from rehearsals and allowed me to raid our family home for props and costumes. To Mrs. Hinch, my first drama teacher who encouraged me to stick with it and to Mr. Coo, who spent an entire rehearsal with me annunciating vowels over my jaw widener so people would actually understand me when show time came. To Katie and Kimiko, the brilliant creators of that first show I was in who empowered a shy grade nine into a life loving the stage. To Mz. JP who believed in the power of my writing and who never failed to remind me that it was my show. To every cast member I’ve acted alongside or have had the pleasure of directing, to every crew member who trusted me to lead them in set changes and entrance cues. To the friends and family who sat on uncomfortable cafeteria benches to watch me get stuck down a garbage shoot (a set piece, not a real one) or to clap along as I came out for a final bow. Thank you. Thank you so much. I wouldn’t be who I am today without all of you.

Finally, to every artist on the stage or behind it whose audience I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of, thank you for keeping theatre alive and well in my heart. Thank you for bringing me home again.

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One Last Wish

I know I don’t usually post on Thursday but today I’m making an exception because I’m saying goodbye to an old friend.

Tonight marks the final performance of Walt Disney World’s Wishes: A Nighttime Spectacular. The show debuted in October of 2003, a few months before I would take my first trip to the most magical place on earth. Back then, I had no idea that Walt Disney World would become so important to me; it was just a trip I had always wanted to go on but my mom had decided to wait until I was old enough to remember. At this point, I don’t remember every detail of every trip but that’s only because we’ve been fifteen times.

Amongst all the Disney magic you get while visiting Walt Disney World, Wishes has always held a special place in my heart, not only because it was the first Disney fireworks show I ever experienced but because it’s become a symbol of much more than that over the years. Our first Disney trip was taken shortly after my grandmother passed away. The trip was something we were planning to do with her but unfortunately, as is the case with many cancer stories, the timeline we were given was far too generous. I never got to walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom with my grandmother but she was always there in my heart. Still, my biggest wish was always that she could have been right there beside me.

Over the next fourteen years my family made Disney World our second home. Trips were taken almost annually, if not more often. We tried different restaurants, we stayed in different hotels, but we always made sure to catch at least one showing of Wishes. At this point I’ve seen the show from all angles: the front and the back of the castle, the beach at the Polynesian Resort, through the twists and turns of the Tomorrowland PeopleMover, and even while working at a little ice cream cart in Frontierland. I’ve never got bored of it, and to be quite honest I wouldn’t have minded if they had kept this show around for another ten or twenty years.

Wishes to me really captures the spirit of Disney. It’s a show that tied so many classic Disney elements together to inspire the audience to dream, to wish. It empowers you to face adversity with courage, and to always let your conscience be your guide. I think it’s message is relevant to everyone from the smallest kid in their oversized Mickey ears to the eldest guest standing on Main Street.

And for a twenty something year old girl who sometimes loses hope, the message is everything.

In 2012, after a hard battle with mental health, Wishes became something different for me, it became more than just a fireworks show. We had taken off on yet another trip just a week after my first year exams ended. I was so happy to be out of there, to have made it to May; there were many times when I worried I wouldn’t. I can still remember standing in the hub of the Magic Kingdom, the sky lighting up with one of my favourite shows Disney has to offer. The usual smile was plastered on my lips as Tinker Bell flew down across the skyline, prompting shouts of excitement from the young and old alike. The display moved onward, different characters announcing their presence, making their wishes, bolts of light shot behind Cinderella’s castle in the same order they had the year before and the year before that. I’d seen this same show so many times that I had it all committed to memory, and I thought for sure there would be no surprises.

But then, something different happened.

The difference was not with the show but with me. As the familiar triumphing cords of I Can Go the Distance from Disney’s Hercules began to flow through the air around us I found myself crying. My throat closed up and tears ran down my cheeks but that smile on my lips remained. Jiminy Cricket’s words came in over the music with a reminder that felt like it was made just for me: “Any wish is possible, all it takes it a little courage to set it free.” All I could think about was how if hadn’t been for the courage of my friends and my family, and of course the courage I found in myself, I might’ve not been standing there that night. But I had wished for things to be better and while the hard days were far from over, I had still made it.

In the five or six trips we’ve taken since that one in 2012 I have found that it doesn’t matter how many times I watch the show the moment those notes start playing I choke right up. In fact, I don’t even have to be there in person, listening to the music is more than enough. People often wonder what brings us back to Walt Disney World year after year when we could be trying new adventures; it is moments like this that make that big ole theme park in Florida our home. Wishes will always be a part of my Disney experience but more than that it’s been a part of my recovery, and nothing can take that from me.

Thank you Disney for this beautiful show, and for almost fourteen years that it helped make wishes come true.

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Walt Disney World Eats – Five Full Service Restaurants to Tickle Your Tastebuds!

In a couple of my past posts I have sort of alluded to the fact that I am a Disney World fanatic but this Tasty Tuesday I am going to let you know just how crazy I am. Chances are, if you’re someone who already knows me you have a good idea just from the fact that every 8-12 months my Instagram is flooded with Disney vacation pictures. In the past 15 years I have gone on 15 different Disney trips, 3 of which happened within the span of one year. I have even spent a brief half-day at Euro Disney in Paris, and a small 3 days voyage on a Disney cruise. For some people this is ridiculous but for my family it’s a no brainer: it’s the most magical place on earth.

  
Unfortunately, due to some crappy circumstances in our lives and work issues, my family won’t be making out planned trip down to Florida at the end of the month. It’s a bit of a sore spot in our household but I kind of want to use this post to turn things around a little bit and talk about some of the great experiences we have had (and will have again), and since it’s Tasty Tuesday I figured I’d take the chance to talk about some of Disney’s food!

Some of the best food I have had in my life has come from Disney restaurants. I did a quick count up off the Disney website and in terms of Full Service restaurants I’ve tried over 30 different ones (and this wasn’t double counting for different lunch and dinner menus).

So this time around I’m going to showcase some of my favourite table service restaurants at WDW. I honestly don’t know if I could pick a true top five or top ten so instead I just picked some of my favourite places that I happen to have good pictures of. I’m sure there will be more of these posts in the future so if you don’t see anything you like here (how!?) so stay tuned for more!

Teppan Edo

Teppan Edo is the hibachi Japanese restaurant on the second floor of the Japan pavilion in Epcot. My first experience at Teppan Edo was during my brief stint at Disney Cast Member. My roommate Mary and I had a little roomie date in Epcot and made a lunch reservation for just the two of us. It’s group style seating so we were placed with a random family. This is something some Disney restaurants do that I find can go one way or the other depending on who you get but this time it went well.

What I love about Teppan Edo is that it’s dinner and a show. The chefs cook everything right in front of you and they really take the opportunity to entertain you. Whether it’s flipping shrimp in the air, creating an onion ring volcano, or just making a Mickey Mouse head out of the oil, it’s engaging and a lot of fun. It also makes it feel like you’re not actually waiting on your food at all.

There’s also something really peculiar for me that makes me love Teppan Edo and that’s the sticky rice! I’m not a big rice fan generally but the flavour of this rice is to die for. I even ended up getting seconds when I went for round two with my parents a few vacations later. I generally only eat rice out of necessity but this place would make me go back for more.

As for your actual dinner options, how Teppan Edo works is you generally pick a type of meat (steak, chicken, shrimp, swordfish, etc.) to be served up from the grill. The meat is served on a bed of noodles and vegetables after your master chef gets it ready before your eyes. Both times I went I ended up with the steak and shrimp but one of the other guests we were seated with had the swordfish steak and said it was quite delectable. You can also order sushi or other side dishes depending on what you’re in the mood for but like most Disney restaurants the entree is more than enough.

The Boathouse

When I first walked down the new section of what would be the initial instalment of Disney Springs, I was overwhelmed to find this beautiful dockside restaurant called The Boathouse. I am big fan of all things nautical, I’m not sure if it comes from my East Coast Roots or just the fact that I like anchors, but regardless I was instantly drawn to this beauty of a new dining experience. To begin with we just took a stroll around the property, down the docks where they have unique boats on display and around the shop which sells bags make out of sail material for a ridiculous price. I wasn’t actually expecting to get to eat there.

A little later on in the trip, my mom decided she was going to treat us to one last fancy meal so we headed down to Disney Springs and got ourselves a table. My dad ordered steak and truffle fries aka the most amazing fries ever, and mom and I shared the Original Lobster Bake for Two.

I have had dreams about this seafood bake years following that first fateful dining experience. The corn on the cob was so juicy and even the seafood was excellent quality but it is the broth that makes my belly sing. The best part was dipping my dad’s leftover french fries in the broth at the end. My fantasies about this beautiful bake were relived this past fall when Matt and I had our final lunch in Orlando at The Boathouse before flying back to Canada.

The Boathouse is definitely a splurge, and it’s not a place I would dare go to every single trip but it’s one of those special places that I really enjoy. Plus, if you’re not in the mood to pay crazy money for seafood you can always just head down to the Dockside Bar for a drink, a cool breeze, and a bit of relaxation before jumping back into your big Disney adventure.

Be Out Guest

This one is all about the ambiance. Our house consists of some pretty big Beauty and the Beast fans so a Beauty and the Beast restaurant is really a no brainer. Be Our Guest opened as part of the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland expansion. It features a dining experience inside the Beast’s castle where you sit in the main ballroom, the forbidden west wing or the castle gallery. I’ve never actually dined in the castle gallery but I have had tables in both the west wing and the ballroom. More often then not you’ll end up in the ballroom because it’s the largest of the three dining areas.

The restaurant serves up a mix of American and French dishes including delicious sandwiches and wonderfully cheesy french onion soup. Breakfast at Be Our Guest is definitely pricey, even my Disney standards, but my mom and I both really enjoyed the cronut. I only wish we hadn’t made an 8am dining reservation the morning after we stayed in Animal Kingdom until after 11.

While Be Our Guest doesn’t have any of my favourite dishes, I’ve not been disappointed with any of the meals I’ve had there and it’s always worth it to go at least once. For dinner they bring desserts around on little trolleys so you can see what you’re ordering and yes, indeed you can get the grey stuff. It used to be just for special occasions but due to popular demand it is now on the menu. And just in case you’re wondering, it’s a really lovely cookies and cream mousse.

The only thing I hate about this place is the lighting: I find it so hard to get great pictures in here, especially of the food!  Thankfully, my dad has a bit more luck with the lighting so you get to see a little bit of the inside but honestly it’s nothing compared to the real view. You have to be dining within the restaurant to check it out so if you’re a Beauty and the Beast fan this is really a must-do.

Skipper Canteen

This is the latest addition to my favourite table service restaurants at Disney. Unlike the others in this list I have only been to Skipper Canteen once but the experience was so memorable that I had to include it. I love the Jungle Cruise, if I could go back and be a cast member again I’d want to be a skipper (but I’d settle for anything but popcorn). The endless puns on the Disney classic always make me chuckle, even if I can recite much of the script from memory at this point. Besides, it’s a classic and it’s a ride I hate to miss, and Skipper’s Canteen has pleasantly become an extension of this.

The restaurant utilizes the same theming as the ride and carries on the tradition of puns and bad jokes through the wait staff who are considered skippers themselves. I listened in as much as I could and couldn’t help but laugh as the one skipper left a table stunned as he exclaimed “Take your time with the menus, I’ll be back in three weeks.”

Skipper’s features some non-alcoholic speciality beverages that are really tasty. I had the Punch Line Punch which is a refreshing mix of tropical juices and mango puree, while my parents both ordered the Schweitzer Slush which is a slushy based drink made with apple and passion fruit juices that is topped with green apple boba balls. The boba balls were actually my favourite part and since my mom didn’t care for them I got to taste my share.

As you can see from the picture above, I ordered the fish. More specifically the Whole Friend Fish. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts you’ve actually seen this sucker before… or at least, what remained of him in my Learning to Love the Woman I Was. I loved this dish. The fish was some of the best fish I’ve ever tasted, especially the crispy deep fried bits. I couldn’t stop picking at it. It came on rice which was boring but the fish was enough on its own. I would order it again in a heartbeat.

Another thing we did was order an appetizer and aside from the fish it was my favourite part of the meal. The Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas was a tasty little plate of corn pancakes, braised pork, and the best tasting black bean salad I have ever had. If you like salty foods this is the dish for you!

I will say, I wasn’t a huge fan of the desserts we tried at Skipper’s Canteen (Coconut Bar with Pineapple-Basil Compote and Vanilla Cream and the Kungaloosh) but the presentaition of them was really nice. The coconut bar wasn’t the texture I wanted it to be and I’m not a big fan of banana desserts so the Kungaloosh wasn’t a showstopper either. Still, it wasn’t like the taste was horrible… the plates were definitely cleaned off at the end.

Ohana

Finally, we have a restaurant that’s name really suits the fact that it is one of our family signature restaurants. We haven’t gone to Ohana every trip but it is one we talk about all the time. It can be pretty difficult to score a reservation at a decent time but whenever we manage it we always end up going.

Ohana is a family-style all-you-can-eat (or all-you-can-stuff-into-your-body) restaurant that features Polynesian style dishes and endless amounts of freshly grilled meat on long skewers. Your meal starts off with a warm pineapple bread and continues as a variety of side dishes and appetizers are brought to your table. My personal favourites are the honey-coriander wings and the noodles but as you can see by my plate below, I don’t tend to shy away from any of the offerings.

I don’t actually have any images of ‘main course’ part of the meal where they bring around different means (chicken, steak, and shrimp) but I can assure you they are just as delicious as al the starter. My mom and I usually end up having a full skewer of shrimp between us and to be honest that is more than enough to make me happy. The steak isn’t too bad either.

Last but definitely not least is what is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had at WDW. It may come as a surprise considering I just said I don’t care for banana flavoured desserts but there’s just something special about the Bread Pudding served at Ohana. I’m absolutely positive it had everything to do with the hot Bananas-Caramel sauce that they pour over top. This dessert is massive and is easily shared between 3 or 4 people and because it’s a family style buffet it is included in the price of your meal.

When I originally started drafting this post I was actually still going at the end of the month so the tone I’m leaving here has definitely changed. I’m disappointed, of course, but I know we’ll be back. It’s never goodbye with Mickey Mouse, it’s always see ya real soon.

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Mother Daughter Adventures – Volume One

I’m calling this volume one because adventures are sort of a thing my mom and I have been doing my whole life and so it’s bound to continue. It’s not always just the two of us anymore but this past week we had two days where it was just her and I. As much as I love the rest of my crew, this was some regrouping time that the two of us really needed as our lives have been kind of up and down lately.

The first thing we did was head to see the musical version of The Bodyguard at the Ed Mirvish theatre. I hadn’t actually watched the original 1992 movie before going but I had a general idea of the plot. The script was a little campy and some of the acting felt awkward but the music and the performances made up for that in my mind. Was it the best show I’ve ever seen? Of course not. Would I see it again? If someone wanted to go, sure! Well… if I can get over my fear of the stalker. Matthew Stathers has an absolute eerie brilliance that had me shaking in my seat with anxiety. I was legitimately frightened, and at one pivotal point I jumped out of my skin. I’m not really into horror movies in general but each of Stathers’ scenes made me feel like I was watching one unfold live.

We went home from The Bodyguard and our late night adventure with sore feet and no real plan for the next day. We knew of some things going on in the city but it wasn’t until the next morning that we figured out one of the things we were going to do. And that brings us to The One of a Kind Show!

The One of a Kind Show happens twice a year in Toronto and features handmade artisans from around the country. There’s food, fashion, and a whole bunch of really unique items on sale for purchase. The vendors sell everything from pickles to bath bombs, handbags to paintings. Mostly we just looked around, tried the free samples of food, and appreciated the creativity that these vendors had to offer. Before we left we did pick up a couple items but I’ll talk about that a little later in this post.

We spent a couple hours at the show but you can really only window shop so much before it is time to move on. We didn’t like any of the lunch options there (why does everywhere have to have Pizza Pizza, it’s horrible!) so we headed out with a plan to walk a while and find somewhere to have a late lunch. After much debate we decided to head up to Queen street and see what we could find.

It was a nice day out so the long walk wasn’t a problem. Plus, we’ve never done more than driven around that area so it was kind of fun to check out some of the different sights. If only the wind hadn’t been so harsh.

We ended up checking out a couple of thrift shops and furniture stores before we took a venture down Graffiti Alley. Well, first we almost ended up down a random alley that happened to have graffiti before we found the real thing. I’ve only ever heard of it, never actually been there so we decided to take a stroll through. It was a little sketchier than I expected (not as sketchy as the imposter alley we found first) but the wall to wall graffiti is definitely impressive. From there it was time to finally find some food.

As we walked down Queen street I knew were were getting close to Junked Food Co. which has been featured in BlogTO lately because of their cookie dough scoops. Cookie dough desserts in NYC went viral a little while ago and now Junked Food Co. is capitalizing on that success. They have a couple different flavours that come in a cup or a waffle cone. We went with the Butterscotch Macchiato which was butterscotch cookie dough with butterscotch chips, whipped cream, and expresso beans. The flavour of the dessert was good but it became too sweet for my taste (this is a rare thing). I was glad mom and I just shared one because by the end of it I was sick of that sugary taste in my mouth. It’s pretty alright but I think I prefer just snacking on regular old cookie dough while I’m baking.

After our pre-dinner dessert we headed up to Kensington Market to try Seven Lives, a local taco joint that I’ve heard people rave about for months. I’ve actually tried to go to Seven Lives before but I got the original one mixed up with their sister restaurant which serves ceviche instead of tacos and unfortunately I was not a fan. Turns out, the ceviche restaurant is just down the street (literally 20-30 steps) which is why I mixed them up in the first place.

I’m pleased to say that the actual tacos at Seven Lives were everything I hoped they would be. My mom and I shared a Baja Fish taco and the Camarones a la Diabla (spicy shrimp with cheese). Both of these were phenomenal although they were a little hard to eat because they’re so messy (the bar top dining area is also a little too tall for me and my mom so that didn’t help). We both liked the shrimp a little better because of the spicy sauce on it but the fried Baja fish was delicious too. And for $6 a taco you can’t really go wrong! This is somewhere I’ll definitely be going back to.

Finally it was time to head home, rest our feet, and carry on. We made one last stop at the Toronto Popcorn Company before we actually got on the subway to head back to my place where we took stock of the goods we managed to pick up throughout the day.

At the One of a Kind show we picked up mini bath bombs from Carberry Soap Company, Saucy Sangria Jelly from Tracy’s Wine Jellies, and Lemon Squares from The Lemon Square. The jelly and the squares were a success but the bath bombs were a bit of a let down. We had to use all three to really make it worth it for a foot soak in my bathtub and then the blue one left a colour residue that we had to immediately scrub off. It’s unfortunate because they were a lot cheaper than the bath bombs offered at LUSH but I guess it cost us some quality this time around.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our little adventure. I know it wasn’t the healthiest day to follow but after 17,000 steps I think we earned those calories. I always recommend checking out new parts of your area that you’ve never been to before, you don’t know what you might find. Just make sure you’re going down the right alleyways.

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History at your Fingertips – A Book Haul

Hello my lovely readers! So typically I never buy enough of anything at once to consider it a ‘haul’. When I go to LUSH I typically buy a bath bomb or two and run out of there before I can spend more than $20 dollars. I’m the same way with make-up so it’s usually pretty bland to show any sort of shopping for those items either. Sometimes I get carried away in Bath & Body Works but considering it’s all I seem to get gifted from extended family these days I don’t think I have to walk into that store for another two years with the stash I currently have. The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t often have any sort of spectacular item hauls to share and recommend. Today is an exception!

Last weekend after my mom so kindly shared yet another BlogTO post onto my Facebook wall I decided to go check out the clearance book sale that was being put on by Toronto’s Public Library. I almost didn’t go because after hearing about long lineups (over an hour) on Thursday  I figured it wouldn’t be worth my time on Saturday (the last day of the sale). I’m quite happy that I changed my mind and decided to go exploring because even though the sale was very much depleted I came out with four new to me books, all for the price of $1.50. Yep, you read that right one dollar and fifty cents! The three soft covers cost me a dollar combined and the hard cover made up the last fifty cents.

By complete happenstance and my own personal taste, all four of these books have a common thread: there’s mention of the first or second world war in their descriptions. I’m a bit of a history fanatic in general but WWI and WWII are my personal top interests of study. This mostly comes from the exceptional educational trip I took to Europe in my senior year of high school where I got to visit graveyards, battle sites, and other historic monuments from the two wars, while also joining in local celebrations in Holland to celebrate the 65th anniversary of VE Day in Europe. We heard from holocaust survivors, veterans, and many locals who were liberated by ally soldiers (including our Canadian boys). A one point I even spoke to a man whose village had been liberated by the Nova Scotia which is the regiment my great uncle Curtis was a part of. That trip is an experience that has really stuck with me over the years and it only drove my long existing love of history forward further.

Now onto the books!

The book I’m most excited about is A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. It follows the stories of the 230 French women that were taken to Auschwitz in 1943 for their rebellion against Nazi occupation. After spending so much of my education hearing about men’s involvement in history, I’m always thrilled to read the stories of women. I swear I’ve had this book in my hands at Chapters at least three times and I’ve always put it down and went with something else for whatever reason. When I was at the book sale I did a second sweep through of the tables just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and sure enough someone had set this one back down and I quickly snatched it up. The book retails for $19.62 at Chapters so to grab this gently read copy for less than 40 cents was a steal. I flipped through the book a little to find there are pictures included amongst the narrative and they’re really quite lovely.

The second World War II book I picked up was actually a translation. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky is a remarkably unique novel which comes in in two parts. There were supposed to be five parts but Némirovsky was a Jewish woman who had been arrested and deported to Auschwitz in 1942 so the works remained unfinished. The first part, which I have just begun reading, follows the evacuation of Paris and an abundance of families and individuals who all become intertwined during this exit. The second part shifts to an occupied village in which new characters navigate their new and difficult situation amongst the Nazi soldiers. What intrigues me most about this book is that Némirovsky clearly had the lived experience so this is not just a historical fiction crafted from history books, it’s one from the eyes of a woman who was there.

The most beat up of the four books and another World War II feature is The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalia. It’s a bit rough around the edges and there’s a few minor tears but nothing to cry about. This one is a historical fiction that follows Franz Adler, an Austrian Jew, and his family as they escape Nazi occupation and make their way to Shanghai. I have read other books and heard various stories of individuals fleeing Nazi occupation but I’ve never come across one that talks about going East to Asia. In fact, I wasn’t really aware that this had even happened until I picked up and read the synopsis of this novel. I’m excited to see how this story plays out differently than the others I have read.

Finally, the last of the four books is the one hard cover and it is the only book to feature World War I instead of WWII. I picked up Villa America by Liza Klaussmann after reading the line “They packed up their children and moved to the South of France, where they immediately fell in with a group of expats, including Hemingway, Picasso, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald” in the summary.It reminded me of the film Midnight in Paris which I thoroughly enjoyed so why not?

Maybe down the line I’ll get back to you all on what I actually thought of these finds. I’ve only just begun reading Suite Française and I’m sort of overwhelmed by the cast of characters but I’m going to keep pushing through. I’ve hit a rather sporadic moment in my reading this month where I have many books on the go (this is unusual for me) so who knows when I’ll get around to picking up the others. I did just finish reading Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard which I thought was fantastic so if you’re looking for a young adult series to pick up I sincerely recommend it, it’s a step up on Hunger Games in terms of teenage dystopian heroines in my opinion. What about you? What are you reading? Pick up any new books lately? I’m always looking for recommendations (as I am with most things) so throw them my way!

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Seeing Myself in This Is Us’ Randall Pearson

There is a long version of this story that I intend to tell one day but for now I’ll keep it simple: I am someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks since about my senior year of high school. I have been on anti-depressants, attended countless therapy sessions, and have blacked out and lost time from being so worked up and stressed out. There’s been different stressors in my life at various points in time but a lot of it has stemmed from putting too much pressure on myself. Whether it was a friendship, school work, weight loss or something else altogether, I never handled failure or mediocrity in a healthy manner. It has taken me a long time to acknowledge and accept that, and there are still days when I forget. Mental health is still a journey for me, the road isn’t as bumpy as it once was but I still hit a pothole every once in a while.

What prompted this reflection of my mental health was a recent episode of the new show This Is Us entitled Jack Pearson’s Son. The rest of this blog post is going to contain some spoilers so if you’re not caught up and avoiding them, I’d stop reading here.

I connected with Randall Pearson within the pilot episode, even though we present as very different people. Randall is a middle aged Black man, adopted when he was an infant, married with two children, working in a corporate atmosphere. I am a twenty something white girl who was raised by my biological mother and non-biological father, I have no siblings, children, or a husband (just a beanstalk), and I definitely do not work in a corporate atmosphere at the moment. But I saw myself in Randall in his goofy interactions, his slight awkwardness, and just something about the way he held himself.

I watched Randall go meet his biological father in that first episode and my head played an old scenario of what I would say to my father if I ever chose to knock on his door. Randall’s initial anger resonated with me, even though our situations were still remarkably different.

As the show carried on, I became more and more attached to this middle aged man and his story. Flashbacks of Randall’s childhood made me fall deeper in love with this character as I watched him struggle through the changes in his life regarding school and the differences he had from his siblings. But it was in the fifteenth episode where Randall begins to suffer from a major panic attack that I found myself in this character once again, in a way that raw and full. While not all my attacks have been quite so painful, there have been a few that have knocked me on my ass in this way. To see a tv show take the time with their character and show the growing difficulty in even the most minute actions was powerful and so meaningful to me.

I’ve struggled to make a simple phone call just like Randall did.

I’ve missed something because I’m lost in my head just like Randall did.

I’ve sat on the floor and sobbed until I thought I was having a heart attack just like Randall did.

I sat there speechless, watching this episode go between their main characters as it always does, watching Randall’s anxiety grow with each new scene until he could not function. I know it’s not the first time media has portrayed a character having an anxiety attack but it was the continuous build on this one that stuck with me more than any other portrayal I have personally seen.

More and more, with strong initiatives and powerful voices, mental illnesses are being recognized as real illnesses but there is still a far way to go. There is still stigma and discrimination, still people who think you just need to suck it up and be happy, still people who just don’t understand. But to see a popular new show tackle this issue intimately in all it’s gory details is truly important to me. It puts a face to some of my experiences and it was a reminder that I am not alone. You are not alone. You are not the only person in the world who feels this way, it’s raw, it’s real, and it does not make you any less of a person. Try to remember that.

This episode has also made me reevaluate the way I feel about Randall’s brother Kevin. I have had a love/hate relationship with pretty boy Kevin Pearson since the pilot. My distance from Kevin has come mostly from the fact that I’ve never been able to relate to him. Sure, I have just as many differences with Randall as I do with Kevin but I couldn’t seem to find the bridge between us. There were rare moments when he made me smile, but overall he’s just frustrated me throughout the season. But now, I imagine Kevin and I are definitely going to have a different relationship and it’s all because of one scene in 1.15. My mom summed it up best while we were watching, with five simple words:

“You can’t hate him now.”

She was right, even though I denied it at first. As I watched Kevin leave the opening night performance of his play to be with Randall I began to see not myself in Kevin, but instead the many people in my life who have put their lives on pause and helped me. I saw friends and loved ones who sat up with me in the middle of the night talking about everything and nothing just to calm me down, I saw my parents who put their relationship and their own well-being on the back burner to take care of me, and I saw the people who have stuck with me when I was hardly responsive and drifting in and out of my own awareness. The Kevins in my life are equally as important as my identification with Randall for they’re the ones who have helped me through it all.

I am so glad this show got another two seasons. It has showcased in just sixteen episodes some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time. I’m still mad about this whole situation with Chris Sullivan wearing a fat suit but every show has its problems and that problem is minor in my opinion compared to some of the stuff they tackle. If you aren’t watching This Is Us, I cannot possibly recommend it enough or say too many great things about it. This show, the performances given by each and every one of the actors, and the stories of the Pearson family, are just something I wouldn’t want to miss out on.

Photo credit to NBC

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