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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You were born for the stars darling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. I can really rock dark lipstick shades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25. Even after everything, I am still here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m thankful for…

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

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

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

Two jobs I love

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

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

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

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

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

Family who raises me up

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

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

A partner who stands by me

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

Friends olds and new

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

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

For you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job #1 – The Health Company

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

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

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

It wasn’t.

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

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

Job #2 – The Vacationers Hostel

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

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

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

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

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

Honourable Mention – The Granting Organization

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

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

Job #3 – The Non-profit

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Oh where does the time go?

Oh my wonderful readers, how I’ve tried and tried to get back on schedule with this blog. It’s just not happening. The unexpected continues to pop up and expected has filled so much of my time that my day planner is a never ending collage of scribbled tasks and events. But I’m not complaining. I’m busy in the best of ways.

Still, I recognize that me dropping off the face of the earth, or at least the face of this blog, for five to seven days at a time isn’t very reassuring. I promise I’m not going anywhere. I’m not losing steam or running out of ideas. In fact, I have a bunch of half written posts just waiting to be polished, spiced up with pictures, and posted for your consumption. I just need to find the time to actually finish writing them. But looking ahead at that chaotic book I call a day planner, I’m struggling to find an hour or two to really dedicate to a good post and that’s frustrating because I have so much I want to share with you all right now.

Rather than give you half-assed posts that were not edited or even glanced over, I thought I’d give you a sneak peak of what is coming up. Hopefully sharing little bits and pieces will be the kick in the ass I need to find time to regularly post again. Fingers crossed.

For those of you who were fans of the Tasty Tuesdays of old, I have a number of Toronto Eats in the work right now. This includes savoury shares of pizza from Pie Bar, mouth watering waffles from Starving Artist, and a very special anniversary trip to Terroni on Adelaide.

Life wise, I’m hoping to tell you guys a little bit more about my day job now that I’m over a month into it. I’ll probably have a few more posts that involve the working world, especially since I’m amping up for a very busy Halloween season at The Haunted Walk of Toronto. There’ll be shares of new bath bombs, organization tips, and a few lessons in body confidence that I’ve gained over the last little while.

I’m quite excited about all I have to share with you, I just want to take the time to write it well. I’d like to thank you for bearing with me during this erratic and messy period. As organized as I may appear with my date book, clip boards, monthly calendars, and everything else, I can still get quite lost in the chaos. But I’m still here, and my story still continues…

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Buttons on Buttons

After spending the majority of the weekend in my hometown visiting friends and spending time with family, I returned to the city in need of groceries and one giant meal prep to prepare for the busy week ahead. But before a cursed trip to Walmart and a heated cooking session with my stovetop, my mom and I decided to go on one last adventure for the weekend.

Black Creek Pioneer Village is a heritage site in North York. I ventured there for the first time a few months back to be a guest on a haunted tour. It was nice to hang up the cloak and lantern for the evening and let someone else tell the ghost stories. Black Creek is especially eerie since you get to venture inside the supposedly haunted buildings. Even with all the ghost hosting I’m still very much a skeptic but after the guide and I both heard the sound of scratching in one of the more haunted buildings I was not too keen to return to Black Creek any time soon.

Thankfully, today’s venture to the village was much more lighthearted and a lot less eerie. While riding the subway this week I kept seeing advertisements for the Artisan Village Festival that Black Creek was hosting on this fine Sunday afternoon. As we know from my venture to the One of a Kind Show and all my trips to farmers markets I am a big fan of markets.

With the sun glaring down and my focus on the soft serve ice cream I forgot to take the usual pictures I would for this blog but I can tell you the Artisan Village Festival, while small, was still pretty nice. If we had stayed longer we could have taken part in the heritage classes and workshops but instead we just wandered about the historic buildings and checked out the wares at each artists tables.

From handmade leather wallets to organic soaps, the Artisan Village Festival had a small but varied stock of artistry to admire and purchase. While we weren’t teetering out with arms full of handmade goods I did make two small purchases that I thought I’d share.

The table I marvelled at the most unfortunately didn’t have a shop name anywhere I could see and I failed to ask the woman for a card or something so I could look her up. But she had turned various Toronto monuments and street signs into buttons, magnets, and even wooden coasters. I ended up grabbing a College St. magnet to commemorate my new (it’s still only been a month, I can call it new) job.

My other small purchase was from a collective shop called The Evergreen Collective. I was able to get their card when grabbing the little trio of fabric button earrings that they had packed together in a little mesh bag. The three pairs of earrings were $10 all together which was a score seeing as they’re handmade and one of a kind. I’m already planning an outfit for tomorrow so I can wear a pair.

Our adventure was just over an hour and while it wasn’t anything spectacular it was still a nice thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. It also didn’t hurt that my job with Haunted Walks got my mom and I in for free. Afterwards it was off to a full afternoon of meal prep and cleaning, and now it’s time to just relax until another full work week begins. Lets hope it goes as smoothly as the last.

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When your parents are stuck in a hurricane…

Last Saturday my parents took off on their first solo vacation, heading to Disney World. By now I’m sure most of you have heard something or another about Hurricane Irma. It’s devastated areas in the Caribbean and the severity of the storm has led to evacuations of several Floridian counties. People have boarded up their homes and began to move across state lines. You’ll be hard pressed to find a flight to jump on out of Orlando International Airport (I looked) unless you want to have a handful of layovers and excruciating travel times. Plus, getting yourself to the airport is bound to be a hassle.

My parents have flights back home on Tuesday which means they’re stuck in Orlando while the storm hits. Disney has already begun making their preparations and has decided to shut down the parks this evening. They hope to reopen Tuesday morning but that will be decided closer to. It’s kind of a downer for my parents who have been waiting to go on this trip for a year now. It’s also a little scary for their only child who is not Poseidon, ruler of the land and sea, and therefore cannot stop a hurricane.

Here’s the thing: Kristen Bell is stuck on Disney property too, and if a Disney Princess isn’t able to get out, chances are neither are my parents.

So what does that leave me with? A head full of worries and nothing I can really do about it. Except that’s not true. Maybe a good cry would take some stress off of me but ultimately there are more useful things I can be doing for my family and for my mental health. So that’s what I wanted to share just in case you or anyone you know finds yourself in a hopeless situation where loved ones are in danger.

Get in touch with your family

I have heard from my parents every day of their trip so this wasn’t really an issue for me. But if you know a hurricane, or any sort of natural disaster is rolling into the area your friends or family are in try to get a hold of them right away. I found that FaceTime and Skype made me feel a bit better because I actually got to see them and it didn’t feel like they were just telling me things were fine when they weren’t. But texts and messages can be equally as useful for getting a hold of someone, especially if wifi is spotty. Connecting will give you some peace of mind, even if it’s only for a little bit.

Get contact information for their hotel, airline, etc.

Once we knew there was a chance that the power might end up going out and that their flights home might get cancelled we started talking about what our responses to that would be. My mom told me to expect to lose contact for a bit but not to worry. She gave me the hotel number and her room number in case I wanted to try calling the hotel. She also gave me their flight number so I could watch their status. This all will allow me to stay updated even if we do lose touch. Getting all the information you can about where your loved ones are and where they will go is really helpful.

Log off when you’re feeling overwhelmed

You do not need to read every newspaper article about the storm. You do not need to answer or respond to every post. You do not need to be involved in every conversation about it either. You can walk away. You can turn off the computer. You can change the channel. It’s okay to need a break from it, to think about something else for a while. You’re not callous or uncaring, you’re not insensitive. You have to look after yourself. If you’re becoming overwhelmed by what you’re reading or seeing then step away from it. You can’t control it, you can control how much you are being bombarded by it.

I’ve had to walk away from conversations or log off messenger because it was becoming too much. Hearing about how bad the storm is wasn’t helping. I don’t click links about Irma unless it’s talking about what is going on in Orlando in terms of lock down or evacuation. My primary source of information is my parents who are getting everything firsthand from Disney. I have focused my attention in because looking at everything is just too overwhelming.

Do not feel guilty for needing a break. Do not feel guilty about carrying on. I have two big events with work tomorrow and while my parents will be on my mind, I am going to try to not going to feel bad about having a good time. I know they wouldn’t want me to. Your family will not benefit from you putting yourself in a bad place so if you need to walk away for a bit, walk away.

Get support from those around you

You do not have to deal with this alone. Talk to people about what you’re feeling and what’s going on. Ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or someone to take you out for dinner so you can get away from it all, make sure you rely on your support network.

This also includes letting people know when you don’t want to talk about it. You can be upfront or you can just change the conversation. No one will blame you for being scared. No one will blame you for not wanting to talk about it. That’s your choice. Get the support you need from others but you decide what that support looks like. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or should not be feeling and acting. Everyone deals with crisis and trauma in their own way, find those who will help you through your own process.

Practice self-care

This includes the last two points I mentioned as well as a myriad of other things. You may feel a bit powerless in the situation and that really sucks but be mindful of what it is doing to your mental health. I had a little bit of a panic on Friday evening where every emotion I was feeling suddenly came flooding out of nowhere. I had trouble getting to sleep that night and I was plagued by nightmares. Knowing how wrecked I was I had to refocus and find things to make me feel better; we played our new board game, I FaceTimed my parents, I did a fresh face mask from LUSH, and we ordered a bunch of comfort food Friday night. I had to go through the whole process again this evening and it was even harder but I did what I could to pull myself out of it, with help of course.

Do things that make you feel good. Don’t feel like you have to be in crisis mode the entire time. Do what you need to do to keep in touch and help your loved ones along but also take care of yourself. It’s a stressful time and you don’t want to find yourself overwhelmed with dark thoughts and deep worries. These will come of course, it’s absolutely normal to have trouble eating or sleeping, or to even end up overeating and sleeping too much. Your body will react to the trauma, make sure you look after yourself through that. Self-care looks different for everyone. Find your ways of self-care and give yourself the time to practice them.

My heart and mind are with everyone down south during this tragic time. Please, please stay safe. To mom and Bryan, I love you and I promise not to worry too much, I’ll see you when you get home.

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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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Things anxiety about work likes to forget about

Hello my wonderful readers, it’s me, Casandra. I hope you haven’t forgotten me in the past seven days. I know I missed my normal mid-week post this week and for that I am sorry. I do have a pretty solid excuse though: I started my full time job this past Monday, and going from working just over 20 hours to working over 40 between two different jobs has definitely been a major shift.

In fact, I had a bit of a crash this week.

I use the word crash because some time ago my therapist and I had a conversation about the power words can have over your mental health. I used to describe my bad days as breakdowns and she was quick to correct me. While mental breakdown is not actually a medical term, it is used in clinical settings to describe an acute mental disorder. By using this word all the time I was implicitly linking a bad situation or a bad day to something much worse and detrimental. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of full on breakdowns but for the most part a bad day was just a bad day.

And last Wednesday was just that.

A bout of binge eating snacks I wasn’t supposed to have, writing panicked messages to my best friend, and a teary phone call to my mother and I realized I had been carrying far more inside my head than I should have been. Fears and anxieties had built up in just a couple of days, and pretending that everything was just perfectly fine had done more harm than good. I needed to talk about it, to go through the fear rather than avoid it. So that’s where I’ve been these past seven days.

Now that I’m back, I want to share my experience wandering into the working world, especially since I know many of my readers are venturing in themselves or are a few years away from leaving campus to find full time employment. I’ve learned some valuable lessons in the nearly two years since I graduated university and they were hard lessons to learn, especially because they challenged much of what I expected of myself after graduating.

So here’s three not so little lessons I like to remember when struggling with a new job:

It’s perfectly normal to have to find temporary work

In this day and age where stable full time positions seem to be the thing of fairytales (I know how lucky I am) it is important to remember that you haven’t failed just because you jumped into a position outside of your field or if you are working a few hours on the side in the same job you did before college. Finding a job can be really difficult. Actually, even finding temporary part-time work can be extremely challenging. You just do whatever you’ve got to do to keep going. Whether that’s selling clothes, flipping burgers, or in my case telling ghost stories, it’s okay to do whatever you need to do to get by.

I remember how frustrated I was after graduation, feeling like my degree was just a flimsy piece of paper in a $50 frame from Michael’s (I was far too cheap to buy the official ones from my school). It took me months to find a job and even then it wasn’t something I could have ever done for a prolonged period of time. I then went completely outside of the focus of my studies and went back to hospitality because it was what I knew. It was frustrating at the time but I realize now it was what I needed to do to get the ball rolling. Whether you’re in the position for weeks, months, or years, it doesn’t really matter: don’t let the weight of not working in your field weigh you down. In fact, know that you are doing amazing things even if you never end up working where you originally thought you would.

 

You won’t know everything right away, but you’ll figure it out

This is the lesson I needed to remember the most this week. I think you get so used to the flow of school that it’s easy to forget work doesn’t have that same flow. You won’t file into the same classrooms where teachers or professors will be waiting with a lesson plan or a syllabus. There won’t always be an exact due date for each project or an outline of how to do your work. A lot of stuff you’ll have to learn on the go. Sometimes someone will be there to show you how to do it and other times you’ll need to work it out yourself. That can be really intimidating, especially if you’re like me and you’re afraid of failure.

But that just brings me to my last reminder:

Mistakes are going to happen, it’s how you deal with them that matters

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, sometimes things are going to get messed up and sometimes it will be your fault. Other times it will not be your fault but the consequences will still end up falling to you. It’s important not to get wrapped up in mistakes, whether or not you caused them. You cannot let a mistake beat you or scare you out of future work. Own up to any mistakes you make and see if you can fix things. If you can’t, see if you can find someone who will be able to help you rectify the situation. Always move forward. Adapt your methods to try and minimize the chance of the same mistake happening again but be aware that others will come.

Mistakes are part of life and since your job is part of your life as well it is only to be expected that mistakes will happen there too. Things will never be perfect but you can work hard to minimize the damage. More importantly, don’t let a mistake paint your opinion of yourself. Everyone messes up sometimes, big and small, you can come back from just about anything. Be kind to yourself, especially when things keep going wrong. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s what truly matters.

 

Those of you who read my posts but don’t know me personally may be surprised to hear that I would not usually consider myself an optimist. I’m not the most pessimistic person on the planet either but I do have a tendency to be a cynic. Still, it is healthier and more productive for me to look ahead with optimism and hope in this scenario. It will help unravel the knots in my stomach as I face each unknown. I hope you too can find the optimism in whatever journey you’re on, even if it’s scary and new, never forget it can lead to something beautiful.

The truth is, I’m still in the process of learning these lessons myself. Some days I feel the weight of expectations pushing down onto my shoulders, crushing me with each passing moment. I need to remember these truths just as much as anyone, especially now that everything is new again and I’m feeling a bit lost. Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing.

“There is little difference in being lost and exploring.”
— Dan Eldon

Rolling into week two I’m feeling a little more sure of myself so hopefully that won’t mean another absence from my regular posting. Besides, I have some really fun shares coming up for you so stay tuned!

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