Body Love Ball

(credit: Nancy Kim [NSB Photography])

Sometimes my days feel planned out to the minute, each week is a messily scripted entry in a day planner I don’t have time to keep updated. I thought once I went down to one job after the madness of October, I would be in the clear. Instead, I continue to be busier than ever. I am not complaining, in fact I don’t remember the last time I was this happy. I’ve found a job I love in a city that has always felt like home. But despite the excitement and the good ole happiness I am recognizing that some things are falling through the cracks because I’m just that busy.

I do have a hard time finding the energy and time to workout. This isn’t meant to be an excuse, it’s honestly just an honest evaluation of how life has been going. Just like I’ve slacked with this blog a bit in the past few months, I’ve slacked on working on my health and fitness. It’s something that’s really frustrated me because I was feeling like I was watching all my progress slip away. But then an event I went to a few weekends ago reminded me that my shrinking waistline and smaller pant sizes were not the only things I had made progress on. There was a much more important lesson that I was forgetting: body love.

I told myself early on in this journey that it would not be worth it if I did not work on the thoughts in my head as much as I was working on the rolls on my midsection. I knew that if I did not change the way I think about my body then no amount of weight loss would matter. I had to change my mindset. The Body Love Ball by the wonderful team at Body Confidence Canada was a reminder that the weight was never what mattered: it was how I felt about myself.

And on that night I felt amazing.


(Credit: John Simone Photography)

This is a big turn around from the emotional upset I had before the Shine Charity Gala early in November. I tried on the dress that I had had tucked away in my closet for months only to find that it really didn’t fit. Not only that but it fit worse than it had when I bought it. This was frustrating because for the longest time that dress was what had kept me motivated. It was a sleeker shape than I was normally used to, something I would have never dreamed of wearing before. And in the end I didn’t get to wear it because I just wasn’t comfortable in it.

But a month later, it was like a whole different young woman had stepped out for the evening. Between my dress for Chief’s Gala (seen here) and my suit for Body Love Ball, I couldn’t have been happier with the way I looked, even with a few extra pounds and a bit of reversed progress. That isn’t to say I had my doubts about the high waisted pants and the white shirt. I spent more time looking in the mirror than I personally care to admit but once the party started I was so empowered by the other individuals around me that I stopped worrying about how I looked from the side or if my belly was rolling over the top of my pants. I just enjoyed myself and for once I celebrated the body I have, not the one I’ve always thought I needed.


(Credit: John Simone Photography)

I still want to be healthier, I still want to try and work harder because of the other benefits I was getting throughout that journey. But I’m learning that my confidence doesn’t need to be tied to the width of my hips or the size of my jeans. I can be confident throughout this journey, whether I’m on the up or the down. It’s because of the Body Love Ball that I’m more aware of this now, and it’s something I’m going to try my best not to forget. In the spirit of this I wanted to share four lessons that I took home from that night, they are ones I think everyone could stand to remember;

A lot of amazing people don’t give a damn about conventional beauty

There were all shapes and sizes, all diversities, and all beauties present at the event. Everyone we bumped into was nothing less than complimentary and kind. People wore what they wanted, they embraced styles that made them feel beautiful and that part was easy; they all were. It didn’t matter the cut of your dress, the width of your hips, the size of your bra, none of this came into play. It was a room full of beautiful people, not in spite of how people looked on the outside but because of it.

Body confidence is an ongoing journey and the path is yours to forge for yourself

There were some wonderful speakers at the event that talked about their different journeys in body confidence. They explored that desire to fit in and to want to look a certain way and really normalized that experience for everyone in attendance. But each speaker so powerfully reminded the crowd that you do not need to fit a mould to be beautiful, that you will shine brighter when you learn to love and accept the body you are in. It is the only body you have.

What is on the outside does matter and everyone’s outside is beautiful

One of the speakers had a really powerful message that tore apart this whole ‘it’s what is on the inside that counts’ argument. Because yes, your personality, your drive, your charisma, your passion, all of these things are important and they matter but so does your outside. Just because you don’t look a certain way or don’t fit a certain size does not mean your outside is lesser. You are not suddenly beautiful despite your size or looks, your size and looks are included in that beauty. Because what is on the outside does matter, it plays a part in first impressions, it plays a part in who approaches you or what jobs you get. Our society is not blind to the outside and therefore we should not pretend it doesn’t exist, we just need to embrace the differences and celebrate each and every body, not just the ones in magazines. So know your outside is just as beautiful as your inside, and it deserves to be loved too.

You define what body confidence and beauty means to you

It may be surprising to hear but I learned this lesson from clothing, specifically the clothes everyone was wearing that night. Body Love Ball’s dress code was simple: fabulously you. While this originally made choosing an outfit for the evening a little more difficult, it did open up a lot of options and really allowed people to wear what they were most comfortable in. We saw crop tops, beach dresses, ball gowns, jeans, pant suits, suspenders, heels, flats, boots, every different and fabulously fun combination you could imagine and we spent most of the night worshipping everyone’s outfits. You see, everyone looked radiant, they looked confident, and they looked absolutely lovely. There was something about that atmosphere from the moment you walked in that just empowered you, that made you stop worrying about all the little things that we get caught up in. As long as you were fabulously you you were doing just fine. It was that lesson that reminded me that body confidence and beauty looks different on everyone. For some people it’s a boudoir shoot or a two piece bathing suit, for others it’s a rockin’ pair of jeans or comfy sneakers. It’s not about conforming to any trend, standard, or anything else, it’s about being yourself in the body you’re in.


(Credit: John Simone Photography)

The Body Love Ball is something we’d like to make a staple in our year going forward. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this event by pure coincidence. At first it just sounded like a fun night out that reflected the journey I have been on this year, but in the end it was so much more than that. This inspiring event is something that will drive me forward and will hopefully help me when I’m having another crisis over a stupid dress. As one of the wonderful speakers said “sometimes it’s the fucking pants.” and in this case it was just the fucking dress.

I hope all of you out there remember to love yourselves today, to celebrate the body you have because it’s the only one you’re going to get. Put on something that empowers you, whether it’s a dress, a pant suit, a crop top, or an old t-shirt. Own your beauty and don’t let anyone convince you that you are anything other than stunning.

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He said yes

Yes, you read that right: he said yes. As many of you know by now, on Thursday December 14th, after over six years of being together I decided to finally pop the question. We had a long day of adventuring around Toronto and I ended it off by asking Matt to marry me. It was a wonderful day that we spent together, one that I’m not bound to forget, but just in case I thought I’d write it all out and share it with you.

The day started with a little set up of chocolate and tea at home which included the first of Matt’s adventure cards. Back in the spring I had custom cards made up by Zazzle that invited Matt to accompany me to different places throughout the city. These were all places we had been to before, and they were mostly places that had a part of Toronto’s history in them. I had each new card stowed away in my bag, ready to lead him to the next place.

To start the day we headed off to Snakes and Lattes Annex to have some snacks and to play some board games. We have been to this board game cafe a handful of times and it is part of the reason we now have hundreds of dollars of games on our tv shelf. We spent quite a bit of time playing games, ending off the first stop with a quick round of Marrying Mr. Darcy (yes, I’m that extra). Still, Matt had no idea what was going on.

The next card brought us to the St. Lawrence Market for lunch. We shared the famous peameal on a bun and brought home a game sausage. The fun part about this stop is that it holds the venue that we want to get married in. I first visited the Market Kitchen with my mom (you can check it out here) and after showing it to Matt we decided it was perfect for us. When we walked in Matt remarked “when should we book the venue?”, I wanted to laugh, knowing he didn’t know what was still coming. Instead, I played dumb.

He guessed the next stop once I told him it was going to be cold and given the time of the year. We were off to the Christmas Market for schnitzel, spiked hot chocolate, and a quick run in with our best friend (thanks Kee for not giving away the surprise). It was even colder than expected so the visit was short and sweet but we got our fill of market eats and Christmas lights. With frozen noses and shivering hands we headed to the next part of the adventure: Benihana’s at the Royal York.

Benihana’s is a Sushi & Japanese steakhouse with hibachi style dining as an option. In a way it’s dinner and a show which made it a unique adventure. There’s a groupon for the restaurant that makes it a little more affordable but with optional add ons it’s still a luxury night out. It’s definitely more than I’m usually willing to pay for dinner but it was a special day and the food was absolutely amazing. Stuffed, and perhaps a bit tipsy from the two person margarita we ordered, I handed Matt the final adventure card.

Our last stop was Union Station, which is my favourite building in the city. Some time ago Matt made a comment about how it would be cool if we could just get married there, and that was what kind of solidified my choice to have the actual proposal there (the original spot was Casa Loma). We walked inside with the pretence that we were just heading home. I declared I wanted to go into the great hall to see the Christmas decorations just so we wouldn’t head right to the subway. We did indeed check out the Christmas decorations (including these holiday windows that Matt insisted on seeing while I was anxiously waiting to deliver the final surprise) and then I pulled him back into the Great Hall. He protested as the signs to the subway pointed in a different direction which is when I finally gave in and told him I had a poem he needed to hear.

Slam poetry has become something that has helped me understand myself. I’ve listened to many artists that somehow capture my experiences in words that I would have never thought it. It’s something I’ve shared with Matt to help him understand too. Despite loving this art form, I’ve never conceived a poem myself. I used to write poetry a lot as a kid, mostly sappy stuff to take home to my mom to tell her I loved her. I decided my first performed slam poem would be a good way to propose. I was going to keep the poem just between the two of us, but I’m actually rather proud of it and it’s something I don’t want to lose. So here it is:

Short months ago,
scaffolding had taken over this space like jungle vines creeping along historic stone.
The building was in need of much restoration and perhaps a little change.
The same could be said about me when we first met.
I was crumbling from the inside out,
a broken foundation and unsteady walls.
What a surprise it was that the boy who had been too afraid to kiss me
became the very scaffold that would hold me up.

Like this building, I took years to fix.
Pain and depression had become cemented in my head
they needed to be taken out with fine tools.
You see, I’d already tried a jackhammer.
I needed something gentler;
an endless phone call in the middle of the night,
a long drive in traffic just to say hello,
you were the chisel that helped carve out the darkness.
Like this building I have been restored.
I have been changed.
And with your help, I did not crumble in on myself.

I am lucky to have fallen in love with a beanstalk who makes me laugh to the point of gasping for air.
Who brings an embarrassed smile to my lips that makes my cheeks ache.
Who sees tomorrow when I cannot.
Every adventure I have set out before us you have come on without question,
taking my hand and letting me drag you from one world into the next.
It is this thought that brought about this day,
a grand adventure through the history of our new home,
but also through our history as well.
It’s hours of board games and a love as sweet as apple cider,
the bustle of the market, and the grandeur of a regal hotel.
But mostly it’s just the girl in Union Station,
no train ticket or place to be,
wide eyes looking to the ceiling as though she was gazing at the stars.
And it’s you, the boy she loves, looking at her like she is starlight herself.

So here I am, the girl in Union station,
with another adventure in mind,
my hand outstretched for you to take once again.
This time, it comes with a question.

At this point I handed Matt his pocket watch, after struggling to pull it out of the plastic bag that sat in my pocket. I was supposed to say the words but instead I let him read the question that was engraved on the front: will you marry me?

He didn’t actually say yes at first, he wrapped me in a hug, and I mumbled the age old is that a yes to which I got a shaky positive response. The next few minutes were spent in laughter as Matt ended up with a nosebleed and we ended up sitting in the station waiting for that to end. It sounds like a disaster but in the end it couldn’t have been more us.

Throughout the day we took little videos of where we were and what we were doing. I lied and told Matt that I wanted to try and make my first vlog to compliment a blog post. I suppose this was kind of true since I’m now using it here but in reality I wanted to put together an announcement video that recapped the whole day. I hope you all like it.

The question I’ve heard the most since announcing that I proposed is “did you just get tired of waiting?” and it makes me laugh. I get where this idea comes from but it’s also another reminder that Matt and I don’t fit those typical expectations. He is most definitely the one who has been waiting. When we started getting serious I put down the rule that I didn’t want to get engaged until after university. Then, when I graduated two years ago I told him not to even think about it. Over the years my opinion on marriage has shifted in and out of favour, there have been many times when I thought we would just go the way of my parents and not bother. I’ve never thought any piece of paper or contract would define our relationship, and I still don’t. But I’ve decided I want the celebration, and that we deserve it after all the ups and downs we’ve been through.

Of course that still doesn’t fully answer the question; why did I end up doing it? It certainly wasn’t because I didn’t think Matt was never going to. In fact, I have had so much anxiety in the last year just worrying that he might beat me to it. I decided I wanted to be the one to propose because it gave me some control over a somewhat stressful situation. It allowed me to decide when exactly I was ready and what I was comfortable with. Along the way I decided I wanted the day to just be the two of us, and who knows what it might’ve been if Matt had proposed. I’m sure he would have come up with something amazing but I also knew my planning talents would be wasted if I didn’t take this chance.

There are lots of studies that suggest most men still aren’t in favour of women taking on this task. The gender roles in proposing and marriage seem to be still very contrasted. This is part of the reason I asked Matt if he’d be comfortable with me proposing almost two years ago. I told him it wasn’t anything immediate (his friends didn’t believe me since we were leaving for Paris a month later) but I just wanted to know his thoughts. He said he wouldn’t mind, and that it would take a lot of pressure off of him. I’m known for my over the top thoughtful gifts (which is why he didn’t suspect anything) so he was worried about living up to that. It was the perfect fit really; he was anxious about doing it, I was anxious about not having control, switching roles worked out better for us. Plus, this is the comment we’ve heard most of all when people find out I did it:

Yeah, that makes sense.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and excitement I’ve received from everyone who has found out, whether it’s been the past few days or over the last few months when I shared my plans with friends, family, and my work in the middle of a staff meeting. So many people have told me they think it’s awesome that I did it, and I honestly cannot be happier that I chose to. We had so much fun on our adventure and it’s been so exciting to share it with everyone. If there’s anything I’ve learned from all this, it’s that it doesn’t matter what anyone else expects, as long as it makes you happy.

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Happy Birthday Blog!

It was Facebook’s On This Day that reminded me of the particular significance of December 22nd. Normally it would be nothing special; no big celebrations, no momentous occasions, just a few days before Christmas to get ready for the mania that is about to ensue once I get back home. But this year December 22nd marks the one year anniversary of this very blog.

A year ago I took the plunge, spent more money than I wanted to, and finally put my writing back on display for the first time since high school. It was a panicked experience for me. I didn’t know if anyone would read it, I didn’t know if the name was any good, and I didn’t know if I could actually come up with content worth sharing. Diving into the unknown has never been my strong suit. I’m the girl with the plan, the backup plan, and the plan for when the backup plan fails. This was new territory and it was scary.

But it was also worth it.

Here I am a year later and I can hardly believe I made it. There were times when I wasn’t so sure, when it felt like inspiration for the next post would never come but I made it. Posting three times a week was ambitious and it worked in the beginning but now I’ve adjusted, realizing I’ll never be a blogger with a set schedule. And that’s okay, I’m doing just fine with what works for me.

Looking at the stats from this year I’m pretty happy with the numbers:

  • 58 followers
  • 109 comments
  • 120 posts
  • 3,218 views

Sure, a lot of blogs have stats that blow these out of the water. Some have more followers in their first month of operation than I have had in a year. But that’s never what it’s been about. I don’t think I’ll ever feel inclined to turn this into something that makes me money. It would be nice to score a free dinner or two for my reviews but that’s also not what I’m going for. This blog has, and always will be, about sharing my experiences and documenting the good that has come out of surviving.

In honour of Her Story Continued’s first birthday I’d like to share the ten posts I’m the most proud of. These are not all posts that had the most views but they’re the posts that have meant the most to me. They’re the posts that needed to be written, the stories that my heart wanted to share. So lets take a look at them, shall we?

10. The World’s a Stage
9. Why I Work for Free — A Story of Volunteering
8. Your Job Does Not Define You
7. One Last Wish
6. International Women’s Day — Why I March…
5. Six Lessons from Sharing Six Hundred Square Feet 
4. Father’s Day and the Gift My Father Gave Me
3. The Superhero I Call Mom
2. Seeing Myself in This is Us’ Randall Pearson
1. Dear Alma Mater

If you haven’t had the chance to check out some of these posts I would be honoured if you took a read through now. They’re not perfect, and this place never will be, but I’m proud to have stuck with it.

And I’m not stopping.

This week I was inspired by one of our Youth Leaders saying they wanted to write more in 2018. I want to do the same. I’m thankful for that reminder to keep pushing, to make time for this blog and my other writing, it’s something that has always been such a big part of me. I’m so grateful to have the chance to share it.

Thank you for reading, for sticking with me through all the changes and shake ups, lets give this place another year.

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Oh what a night

“It takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos.”
— Mel Odom

This winter season I have had the privilege to be part of not one but three awesome events in the city. My volunteering with North York Women’s Shelter allowed me to help organize and also enjoy a wonderful night celebrating women at the Shine Charity Gala, my day job had me running around in the chaos of the 10th Anniversary Chief’s Gala in support of Victim Services Toronto, and my journey to self-acceptance and body confidence brought me to the Body Love Ball by Body Confidence Canada. Each event was a celebration in support of wonderful organizations in the city I now call home and each one was special in their own way. Now that the chaos of these nights is well passed I thought I would share each of them with all of you.

Shine Charity Gala

(Credit: Shay Markowitz with @bluetrailcreative)

The Shine Charity Gala is the event I’ve been looking forward to for the longest time of the three. I started volunteering with North York Women’s Shelter as part of their gala committee back in the Spring and have had the privilege of working alongside some brilliant and hardworking women in the past many months who really made sure the gala turned out lovely.

As it was the earliest in the month it was officially the first gala I’ve ever been too. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of any events that I’ve attended that could be lumped into the same fancy category. The dress code was cocktail and unfortunately the dress I wanted to wear no longer fit but I salvaged the night with a favourite plaid dress and a petticoat.

The best part of the Shine gala for me was the fact that I got to spend it with my mom and my best friend. The evening started with us wandering around the reception to beautiful covers played on the violin. We grabbed our drinks, hit up the photo booth, and took a look at all the great items on the silent auction. I got outbid on everything I tried to go for but my mom brought home two bundles.

After some time we were welcomed downstairs to dinner. The silent auction continued via tablets on our tables while the courses were served and the welcoming addresses were made. The MC for the night was Toronto based Actor- Burlesque Performer-Emcee and Writer Dainty Smith. She was charming and knew how to pull a laugh out of the crowd when the programming didn’t go perfectly. She was accompanied by two lovely women from her burlesque troupe who performed to close off the end of the night. Additionally, there was a video preview of the project the former residents at the shelter have been working on, and Tiffany Hsiung ended the night with a look at the trailer for her acclaimed documentary The Apology which follows the stories of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

10th Anniversary Chief’s Gala

One of the things I talked about in my first volunteering interview with Victim Services Toronto was how I like event planning and that I’d be happy to help out with the annual Chief’s Gala. Fast forward ten months later and I was surprised to find myself working and attending the gala with my co-workers. The weeks leading up to the event were organized chaos at best, with last minute orders of walkie talkies and auction paddles, and initialization and unpacking of 40 point of sales machines. Our office became a war zone of silent auction items and event materials.

The day before the gala a team of us headed down to the venue to set up. We stuffed pins, pens, and keychains into stemless wine glasses, we organized team boxes for the volunteers, made plans for decor, and tied ribbon onto 100 stuffed animals. As it turns out, as a lefty, I’m quite inadequate in ribbon tying so I was left in charge of cutting the 100 yards into 35 inch strands instead. It was a long day with a delicious pizza lunch and a lot of laughs.

The next day was even longer.

Now technically our shifts did not start until 3:30pm but I think my day began around 10am and I was up much earlier than that just due to excitement. I couldn’t wait to see how everything turned out and what the room looked like with 1,000 people.

But first I had to get ready.

Of the three events I attended this winter, the Chief’s gala was by far the fanciest. While the outfits seen throughout the night really ranged, there was definitely wiggle room where wearing a full length gown was not out of the ordinary. And why not take the opportunity? When I was in New York we went looking to see if we could find a new dress for this particular gala, hoping I wouldn’t have to wear just one of my dresses that I wear all the time. By some luck it was the very first dress I tried on in T. J. Maxx that ended up being the one I brought home. It was nothing like I’ve ever worn before; a slim flowing bodice with a slit up the one side, and a high neckline that cut in. It was meant to be a joke when I pulled it off the rack but when I put it on I was pleasantly surprised.

After a mishap with exploding liquid liner and some debate over shoes I headed out to pick up flowers and to meet one of my co-workers. By the time we arrived there were a few things left to do and volunteers to train but else wise we were ready. Soon enough the guests started to arrive and from there the rest of the night sped by quicker than I could have ever imagined.

I spent the first hour helping sell stuffed versions of our trauma dog Dandy. It was kind of hilarious watching everyone walk around with their little stuffies while mixing and mingling. I also ran into a couple that I had given a ghost tour for earlier in the year which was all kinds of funny. The hour went by quickly with lots of people giving wonderfully generous donations to our Trauma Dog Program and with a quick hello to Chief Saunders himself.

After the reception we scuttled into the ballroom for dinner. Our MC for the evening was Ben Mulroney of etalk and Canadian Idol fame. We heard opening remarks from him, some of the sponsors, and Toronto’s Mayor John Tory.

My one regret of the night is not getting to eat more of the main course. The beef was probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted but we had a live auction to prepare for so a few quick bites and we were up on our feet while Kayla Diamond gave a special performance for the evening. If you haven’t heard her hit song Carnival Hearts you should give it a listen, it’s quite beautiful.

The live auction was actually a lot of fun, even though it was chaotic. We were auctioning off some very unique experiences like a Jays game with the Chief or a fishing trip with the former Chief. I cashed out some of the big ticket items and it was kind of overwhelming just knowing some people’s credit card limits are that high. It was also exhilarating knowing that that money was going to support our clients and our programs.

The most powerful part of the evening was when one of my coworkers shared her experience with Victim Services Toronto. She provided the context and meaning of the work I see our Crisis Team do every single day. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the agency I work for.

Unlike the other events I was a guest at, the night ended with much left to do. Our volunteers were the unsung heroes of the evening, helping with each and everything they could, staying even as the party wound down and there were only a few of us left. Boxes were packed, cars were loaded, and at some point my shoes were ditched and left to the side. I left with a smile on my face and hope to play an even bigger part in the evening next year.

Body Love Ball

This little exploration will be short and sweet because I actually have quite a longer post coming about this event and what it meant to me. But just to introduce you to what the Body Love Ball is, I figured I’d give you a little preview.

Back in October I shared this image on the Victim Service’s media account, giving credit to the creators as you always should when reposting art or any sort of creation. And because I tagged Body Confidence Canada in the post they replied back to it, saying they hoped to see us at the ball. Naturally, the entirety of my organization wasn’t about to show up but that didn’t mean I couldn’t go. A few texts later and a look at the outrageously generous pricing for early bird VIP tickets, and we decided this was something we wanted to do.

The ball was originally scheduled for the end of October but it ended up getting reschedule until December, making it our wrap up of the gala season. It was a night of empowerment, beauty, and a whole lot of fun dancing and singing along to the music. To top it all off I got to spend the evening with my best friend feeling good about our bodies and loving life. More on that to come!

(Credit: Nancy Kim @ NSB Photography)

So that was my winter season. It was certainly much more exciting and extravagant than it usually is. Each of these events were truly a unique experience and I hope you enjoyed hearing about them. Stay tuned for more regular Sunday posts. Happy holidays!

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Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego…

A.K.A. where the heck has Casandra been? It’s been over a week since my last post and while I’m anything but consistent anymore, I do feel a little bad for this stretch of time because there’s currently so much I want to share with you all. I’ve been on a lot of adventures and had some great new experiences that have challenged the way I view myself and the world around me. It’s been a time of extreme personal growth and while I may be a little rundown right now, it’s certainly been worth it.

November was a real whirlwind for me and December has shown no signs of slowing down. Rather than let this blog sit quietly while I try to play catch up with my work and social lives, I thought I’d do another coming soon to a blog near you post like I did the last time my schedule got a bit out of hand. And just like last time, I promise I’m not going anywhere.

So what can you expect from me and this place in the upcoming weeks? I won’t make any big promises but here’s what I have in mind:

  • Review of the Body Love Ball by Body Confidence Canada
  • Insights from working at the 10th Anniversary Chief’s Gala
  • A night celebrating women at the Shine Charity Gala
  • The laydown on my first trip to New York City
  • Toronto Eats: Bannock
  • Women in suits
  • Toronto Eats: Starving Artist (how haven’t I got to this yet)
  • One year in review
  • Matt’s Christmas adventure
  • What I’ve learned from our Youth Leaders
  • Toronto Treats: Desserts from around the city
  • Talking to kids about consent, healthy relationships, and cyberviolence
  • And hopefully much, much more

I know this short post is a bit of a cheat and isn’t the kind of quality content some of my more loyal readers are waiting on but I just wanted to check in, let you all know what’s going on, and then say see you real soon. I’m so humbled and thankful that I’ve almost made it the year with this blog. Seeing it grow and being able to connect and even reconnect with people through it has been a real pleasure. As exhausting as it can be trying to think up new posts or get things in on schedule, I really believe this place has helped me on my journey of self-discovery and growth. And I’m still learning, so why stop now?

I’ll see you real soon readers, I hope all is well and that life is good. If it’s not, I hope you’re seeking the help you need and finding ways to bring a little light in.

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Dear Alma Mater

This week’s post is a departure from the stuff I usually post. While I didn’t tell anyone this when I got my friends to vote on blog titles for me what brought about “Her Story Continued” was the fact that there was a day when my story almost didn’t. I’ve talked about my battle with mental health before but today I’d like to go into a little more depth with a bit of a passion piece that I wrote to my university about what happened to me. Unfortunately, like too many university and college students I feel that Brock’s mental health system failed me.

I take this time every year to reflect on what happened six years ago. Even after all this time it’s something I’m not bound to forget.

Trigger warning: for suicide and self-harm.

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Lest we forget

Good morning everyone, I do apologize for the brief absence. My whirlwind trip to New York City took much more out of me than expected. I promise to share those adventures soon but right now I have something much more important to talk about.

Today is Remembrance Day, a day where we take pause to remember and thank those who have fought to keep our nation free. We remember each and every man, woman, and animal who gave their lives.

Every year around this time I take a moment to reflect on how fortunate I was in high school to have gone on a commemorative trip to Europe with my classmates. This trip was history focused and over the course of two weeks we explored France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany by visiting memorials, museums, and the graveyards where our homeland’s heroes now rest. I am the first to say this trip changed my life. It added a great deal of understanding to the respect and reverence I have for those who have served, it promoted my love of history, and it truly changed the way I see the world.

If I could live that trip over again I would do it with a much better camera, a lesser care for souvenirs, and more confidence when talking to people. I would ask more questions and invite more people to share their stories because the stories I did hear were the parts of the trip that really stuck with me. It’s one particular story that I’d like to share today in honour of those who served.

I remember clear as day standing outside a beautiful church in Holland, holding our province’s flags as we welcomed dignitaries and even the Dutch royalty in for a memorial service. It was not the Crown Prince who I recall the best though, it was an elderly Dutch man. I wish I had asked his name. I wish I had shared a lot more with him but I also believe the few moments we shared were more than enough. I will never forget him.

He saw the red jackets we were wearing and the flags we held so resolutely outside the church. I don’t know why he came up to me in particular but perhaps some things just happened for a reason. He asked where in Canada I was from which somehow promoted the answer “Ontario but my family is from the East coast.” I’ve always been proud of that heritage and since I was holding the Prince Edward Island flag it seemed suitable to mention.

He asked me where on the coast and I told him Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. This was enough of an invitation for him to share his story and I’m so thankful for that. He explained that he was just a small boy when the Nazis had occupied his town. He remembered clear as day the Canadian soldiers who came through that town and liberated them all. Amazingly, it was the Nova Scotia Highlanders who came through his home.

My great uncle was one of the Nova Scotia Highlanders and while he served in Belgium, not Holland, that connection was still enough.

 

Today I remember my great uncle Curtis Harrison Miller, whom I never had the fortune of meeting and yet he feels like the some of the closest kin I have. His story is one I have carried closely since wearing his name over my heart through every ceremony on that trip. He did not see France and Belgium the way I did, and sadly he did not get to come home. I am proud to say my great uncle fought when he didn’t have to, and I will always remember the ultimate sacrifice he made. Seeing his name in the Book of Remembrance in Ottawa was still one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I’m not sure how but I know in some way we share a special bond.

Too often have I overheard people misspeak about our history in a number of forms. Whether it’s being misinformed or just not informed to begin with, there are pieces that get lost, pieces that don’t always show up in every generic high school history class. If you’re lucky as I was, you had teachers whose passion for history made a topic which can sometimes feel like endless dates and facts into one that is so much more personal. If you were not as lucky, I challenge you to find your love of history for yourself. I truly believe it is a topic everyone can learn to appreciate, and it’s certainly one that is important.

Today, whether it is by attending a memorial ceremony or by just have a private moment of silence, I invite all of you to honour those who have served in whatever way you can. But don’t let it end on Remembrance Day. When you see a service member, thank them. Take the time to learn their stories and remember what they fought for. We cannot go back.

To every single man, woman, and animal who has served this beautiful nation of ours, oversees or here at home, thank you for your service. We will not forget the sacrifice of those who laid down their lives. Today, we remember and honour you all.

Curtis, if you’re listening, it’s been an honour learning your story. Thank you.

 

 

 

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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?

 

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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.

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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.

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