An open letter to the girls from my youth

Dear you,

I am writing you this letter almost fifteen years since we were last together hoping that you are well. Crazy how fast those years have flown by when we don’t have semesters and summers to separate our carefree years.

I want you to know that I’ve thought of you, how life is for you, what you have accomplished in the past decade: are you married, a PhD candidate, do you have kids, did you travel, what do you do for work, are you happy? I am genuinely interested, which may seem strange since we never really talked in high school. Why do you think that was? It is a regret of mine, for being afraid to say hi, to sit beside you, to ask how your day was and wanting for that one second to build a connection, but that never happened because I was too scared. But maybe you were too. It’s ironic how what comforts us actually burdens us.

Then just like that, our high school life was over; we forged our own separate paths as we walked out of those doors, carefree and thought-free of the people we were walking away from, some forever. Then Facebook happened, a tipping point for human connection and interaction. We added one another as friends – what a funny misconception, because we weren’t IRL – and yet, at a safe distance and free from judgement, we were able to like and comment on posts shared. Through this mediated form, I have been able to witness you kick-ass building a career; I was able to see how stunning you looked on your wedding day; I was proud of you when you accomplished that project; I also sympathized with you when you shared some sad news. It made me realize that I never complimented you or encouraged you while we were teens, the pivotal time when compliments and encouragement are so very needed.

That in-between stage of childhood innocence to adulthood awakening is such a difficult time as we figure out how to navigate through wonky hormones and crazy attitudes, yet barely understanding any of it. So we build a wall to protect ourselves from this unknown, but our barrier is uninviting and quick to judge others, and for that I apologize. I apologize for judging you instead of taking the time to get to know you; I apologize for not asking you to join me at my lunch table; and most importantly, I apologize for being mean. But we were young, we didn’t know better, right?

Now, we are not so young, and we do know better, so should our paths ever cross again, I promise I will say hello to you and ask how you’ve been. Maybe we will grab a coffee and catch up on each other’s lives, or we will simply chat for a couple of minutes and then walk our separate way, but whatever the outcome, I will be happy that we were able to connect unhindered from fear for that brief moment in time.

Love,
ali

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I vaguely remember the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal; I was too young to be interested in the romantic affairs of politicians, but as I matured, the more I began to learn about America’s most-loved/hated seductress. Now, over twenty years later I read a similar, yet fictitious story in Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin where readers are transported to Southern Florida and meet twenty-year old Aviva Grossman. Aviva is an intern for a “handsome” congressman, and we quickly learn about an affair between the two of them, and so does the rest of the country following a car accident. Aviva is not injured, but the publicity ruins her name, and the fact that she wrote an anonymous blog about their scandalous affair for all to read, while the congressman apologies for his poor judgment and walks away unscathed.

This quirky novel is divided into five episodic parts centered on the woman who are affected by “Avivagate” and the genius part; all sections are engaging, humourous and loveable in their own way. We meet Rachel, Aviva’s mother, as she re-enters the online dating world later in life and how her daughter’s past still makes conversation. We learn about Aviva’s new life post-scandal. We are introduced to the loveable and very curious 13 year-old Ruby. We get a glimpse into the life of the congressman’s long-suffering wife. And lastly, we are taken on a chose your own adventure where we are brought to the beginning on how the love affair began, and because of its first-person narration, we don’t judge Aviva’s actions, but place ourselves in her situation.

Young Jane Young is an easy read that addresses themes of sexism, feminism and relationships: mother-daughter, friendships, mentorships and romantic relationships. Most importantly, this is a story about a woman who was shamed for her actions, yet rebuilt her life instead of being ashamed. I really enjoyed it, and if you read it, I hope you do too. DB462A24-7EF1-4E36-9373-AE6420C6D4C2

Read in 2017

As another year slowly fades into the recesses of our memories and excitement starts to build of what the new year will bring, I find that many use this in-between time for self-reflection of  what hast been accomplished and dreams of new goals to chase. With that in mind, it’s only fitting I humblebrag here and share the fact that I crushed and surpassed my 2017 goal. Nerd alert, it was to read 30 books in 2017 (I ended up reading 35). So, in chronological order from date read, here are the 30+5 books read in 2017:

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
2. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
3. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King*
5. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay*
6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi*
7. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall*
8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
9. After You by Jojo Moyes
10. The Mothers by Britt Bennett*
11. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
12. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas*
13. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
14. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill*
15. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
16. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
17. Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare
18. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King*
20. Beartown by Fredrik Backman*
21. The Windfall by Diksha Basu
22. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
23. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
24. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
25. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*
26. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite
27. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman*
28. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
29. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
30. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
31. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner
32. Runway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada by Margo Goodhand
33. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
34. No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
35. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
*indicates 2017 favourites 

Since I am a high-achiever, my 2018 book goal is going to remain at 30 (#goalcrusher), but with the added twist of reading what is on my bookshelf before I buy a new book. Let’s see how long that resolution will last before I breakdown and visit the nearby bookstore. Also, is anyone else old school and puts pen to paper of what they’ve read, or do you keep your list digitally through Goodreads?
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Merry & Bright

Today is the day, the beginning of Yuletide festive cheer, the start of joy and giving, tradition and nostalgia, and most importantly, the time to slow down and visit with those that are dear. As I sit to write this in the warmth and glow from the twinkle lights on my Christmas tree, outside snowflakes are gently falling: it is a picture perfect scene of Christmases of my dreams: white and merry, and comfy and cozy.

Christmases have changed from my childhood, but the magic, although now self-made, has remained. One of my fondest Christmas morn’ memories is of waking up with my brothers and seeing the presents under the tree – presents that weren’t there the night before. Wonder, excitement and magic, as the belief of Santa became a reality that morning. Now Christmas magic is not in the presents, but in the memories that were made of yesteryears and the new ones still to be made.

Tradition is another element of my Christmases that I am adamant to keep alive, such as the movies that need to be watched, the stockings that have to be hung, the cookies that need to be baked, the Christmas albums that need to be played, and the real Christmas tree that must be decorated. Some of these traditions are fairly new (e.g. the real Christmas tree tradition has been adopted since living with my boyfriend), others are fave oldies and some become modified.

So, over the next few days I am going to savour every moment, relive happy memories and indulge in all things merry, and I hope you, dear reader, will as well. Happy Christmas!

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Wine & Words for the Holidays

The countdown for that joyous gift-giving season is upon us, the time where presents are purchased and prettily packaged under the tree anxiously awaiting their recipients. However, if you are at all like me, you haven’t started your shopping, and just the thought of visiting a nearby mall makes your anxiety skyrocket more than that time your boss was unknowingly behind you while you were texting. Ooops. Now add in the extra pressure to find that amazing present that silently says, a lot of effort went into finding this gift that oh so perfectly complements your personality, whereas your normal go-to cheap bottle of plonk and lame-o murder mystery novel that simply say I didn’t know what to get you so I picked this up on my way over just won’t cut it anymore.

Have no fear, this wine chugging, I mean loving, bookworm is here to help by pointing you in the right gift-giving direction, but before you go running to the nearby wine store and local bookshop, let’s figure out what type of person you are buying gifts for.

The Flirty Friend
We all know that one person who wins people over by their smile, who bats their eyelashes to get their way and cleverly places a hand on an arm if they want something. Heck, we have even used this friend as bar bait to get free drinks.
Wine: Riesling – Traditionally made on the sweeter side to balance its sharp acidity, riesling is the wine that will make you fall in love. Sweet or dry, you’ll find aromas of citrus blossoms, and taste profiles of apple, lemon and mineral deliciousness.
Book: The Regulars, Georgia Clark

The Au Naturel Friend
This person loves incense, sourcing local ingredients, makes their own deodorant, smells like patchouli and always has a bottle of kombucha on the go.
Wine: Orange wine – Orange wine seems to be the new craze these days, but this winemaking technique has been around for thousands of years. This wine is a bit of a misnomer as it is not made from oranges but from white grapes that are fermented with their skins and seeds with little to no additives (no sugar and yeast, etc.). They taste funky, nutty and sour.
Book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

The So Many Feels Friend
This friend loves love, has a dark and provocative side, but is sensitive to their surroundings. They’re sweet, with an added side of just the right amount of sass. This friend may also need a bit of hand-holding throughout life.
Wine: Pinot Noir – Nicknamed the heartbreak grape because it is a challenge to grow; this is a thin-skinned grape making it more susceptible to rot and disease and is very sensitive to fluctuating temperatures, however, when pinot noir is at its best, it is a seductive wine with aromas of red berries and clove.
Book: Milk & Honey, Rupi Kaur

The Badass Friend
This person does not stand for bullsh!t, even though there are times when this friend gets knocked down they always quickly get back up and walk on like a boss.
Wine: Cabernet Franc – Part of the Bordeaux five (cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot), and parent of cabernet sauvignon (hello, love affair between sauvignon blanc), cabernet franc has just the right amount of tannins and red-fruit characteristics to remind you that this wine is King Queen.
Book: What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Vivacious Friend
We all have that one friend who is up for anything and everything; they are the life of the party yet they also have the ability to make everyone feel at ease. People usually gravitate towards this friend because of their effervescent personality and great sense of style.
Wine: Sparkling – This wine is pretty intense, (who are we kidding, so is this friend) in that it is one of the most technical wines to make because it requires two fermentations: one to make the wine and the other to make the bubbles. When buying sparkling wine ask what grape varieties were used to make the wine as typically chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are the three grape varieties that make up the traditional sparkling wine recipe. Side note: Champagne and sparkling are similar in style but not in name (and price), as wine made outside of Champagne in France cannot be called champagne, hence why bubbly wine made here in Ontario is called sparkling.
Book: The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald

Here’s to happy shopping, yummy imbibing, and good books and most importantly, please drink responsibly and always read adventurously!IMG_5809** Thoughts and opinions in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.**

So many feels

As the days began to darken earlier, so too had my mood, which took an unexpected turn earlier this week mirroring the recent change. I don’t know why, but I’m sure the unnecessary time change, the sugar crash from over-indulging on leftover Halloween candy, and the [my] moon cycle had something to do with it, but this week was blah. Everything was too hard, I was so sad, and I felt alone.

After a few days on this roller coaster of emotions, I decided to confide in a friend about this funk and how to turn my mood around. Her words helped but I still needed to find the inner strength to transform them into an action.

“Every day I have the choice on whether or not I want to be happy and I have to actively choose happiness over sadness. Yeah, there are days when that dark cloud follows me like a shadow, but I’ve learned to embrace that dark cloud and accept it. The difference is that I no longer hate myself on those days I can’t get out of bed, the days I just want to cry, and the days that I don’t want to talk to anyone. I know that those days will pass, eventually, and in a way, those dark cloudy days are my body’s way of telling me to slow down and reset.”

I never thought of it that way, as happiness being a decision we have to continuously choose, I naively assumed happiness just happens, and it probably does, but when it doesn’t happen, on those dark and gloomy days, what do I do?

This question also had me asking “what is happiness?” Is it having it all: house, luxury car, money? Maybe. But what if the house, the car, or the six-plus-digits in the bank account is non-existent, does the mean one is not happy / cannot be happy? What does it even mean to have it all? Maybe having it all isn’t tangible expensive possessions, maybe having it all is simply friends, family, and most importantly, breath, the ability to inhale and exhale every day.

I’m a recreational yogi, I attend a community class at a yoga studio in my neighbourhood once a week, and one thing all of those downward dogs and warriors poses have taught me is the importance of my body working in conjunction with my breath. Some of the poses are impossible for my rigid body, while others are doable, but uncomfortable, and some leave a feeling of sweet sensation on both my physical and mental state – hello, shavasana. The difficulty of each pose affects my breathing, and there are many times I catch myself holding my breath, but it is in that moment when breathing is integral to the pose, and I have to consciously choose to breathe to ease that discomfort.

That dark cloud, the discomfort, and blah-ness of all the feelings, too many feels, crashing down on me at once is invited, but I will hit that internal reset button, I will breathe, and I will choose happiness, be it laughing with friends, taking comfort in the warmth of love from family, and by remembering to inhale and exhale when things get difficult.

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Books that Spook

I love a good festive book that sets the tone for an upcoming holiday, and with today being Halloween, I want to share a list of my favourite books that spook without the scare and gore factor– because who am I kidding, I’m the biggest scaredy-cat around.image1 2Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
A graphic novel for young readers, this story follows Cat’s family as they move to Bahía de la Luna a foggy village up the California coast. Cat’s sister has cystic fibrosis and needs the sea air as well as a nearby clinic. The new village Cat’s family moves to is obsessed with ghosts; their neighbor gives ghost tours and there’s an annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. What’s more the ghosts that live here are real. A cute read about the relationship between sisters, and the relationship between life and death.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Where do I begin with this 850 page fictional masterpiece, and its numerous footnotes that assist readers on the contents found within this magical and fastidiously false historical tome? The novel centers around three magicians competing to be England’s best magician. Set in 19th century England where magic is a distant memory of stories and old spell-books, this gothic novel is sure to delight as readers witness three magicians dueling for power. (This novel is one of my all-time favourites!)

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This is a magical, uncanny story that involves ghosts, witches, magical gardens, and black cats. A tale of two sisters, Gillian and Sally Owens, raised by their eccentric aunts in a world of spells, love potions and exotica from which they escape – one by running away and the other by marrying. But everyone knows that you can’t run from magic, or can you?

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
Somewhat of a sequel to the Virgin’ Cure, The Witches of New York follows three witches, Adelaide, Eleanor and Beatrice as they navigate their magical lives through NYC in the late 1800s. Centuries after the Salem, American witches still quietly reside and young Beatrice is about to become a witch that is made, not born.

Other noteworthy books that spook are Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

What are your favourite Halloween reads?

I heart NY

I recently visited New York City (my first time in the City that Never Sleeps!) with my mother- and sisters-in-law for a girls getaway and it was every bit as intoxicating and vibrant as I imagined. Like many, my NYC visions were based from Seinfeld, Sex and the City ,and Friends, but without the Tom’s Restaurant, Mr. Big and phalanges, and as promised by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, the big lights did indeed inspire me.
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With five girls, a mile-long to-do list, and our eyes on the Big Apple prize, we flew out of Toronto and into New York City. The first hurdle to overcome, which may be easy-peasy for city-born dwellers but for a country bumpkin is terrifying, was the subway system, however, my fears quickly vanished with the purchase of a Presto Card and the help of the Google Maps Subway icon (lifesaver!). After mastering the subway system and gathering our bearings in the Big City, we set off to tackle our to-do list.

What follows is a lively litany of some our NYC stops.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Originally, I was going to abandon the girls and do my own thing, but am so happy I tagged along, as this museum ended up being a highlight of the trip. Admission price is up to you, but the suggested cost is $25. Explore over 5,000 years of art and history through the galleries and exhibitions. Favourites were the panoramic painting of Versailles, the Temple of Dendup, a suit of armour King Henry VIII wore during a battle in 1544 and a collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh’s. If I lived in NYC, this place would be a frequently visited spot. IMG_5425Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Admission to the museum is free every Friday night from 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. which made this museum a must-do, and since it was originally on the list (I had to see the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) we opted to save money and visit the museum with the crowds. Highlights were seeing Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Monet’s paintings.
IMG_5426Magnolia Bakery
Three words: It’s worth it! Wait in line, order the banana pudding, thank me later.

Times Square
Our hotel was in Times Square, which made visiting Times Square super accessible, and easy to escape once the crowds got to be too much. Insanity, sensory-overload, Naked Cowboy, just a few things you’ll experience at this must-see (at least once) vibrant attraction.
FullSizeRenderThe Strand Bookstore
A treasure trove for every book lover. This independent books store, established in 1927, is home to 18-miles of books. Here, you will find new books, used books, rare books, out of print books, and more.
IMG_5020Beauty & Essex
A restaurant oozing with 1930s glam. Beauty & Essex is all about exciting your senses, from the entrance (a hidden door in a pawnshop opens to a room with a two-storey chandelier and spiral staircase, where guests are greeted and then seated), to the impressive cocktail list and globetrotting menu. A peacock-themed dining room and a ladies room that serves pink champagne, this place will make you wish you packed a flapper dress and pearls.

New York Public Library
Because you have to! It’s a magnificent building guarded by two marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. Once inside the library, you are transcended into another world as the loud outside noise vanishes, and inside, peace ensues.
IMG_5427Broadway
Seeing a play on Broadway was high on our to-do list, and when we heard that Aladdin was playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre, we quickly bought tickets and were swept away into a whole new world. The play, the actors, the venue, everything was phenomenal.

Central Park
Explore this park on bike – it’s massive! Comprised of 843 acres, Central Park is home to seven man-made lakes, numerous statues, bridges (no two bridges are alike), twenty-one playgrounds, a zoo, a carousel and more. Don’t forget to stop and admire the gardens, as well as shop the local souvenirs that decorate the Mall and Literary Pathway. Pro park tip: Find a park map, it’ll come in handy!
IMG_5188I could go on and on, but alas, this is a city one must experience on their own: It’s eclectic, energetic and everything you think it will be and more, way more!

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“All her life she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never – could never – set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity.” (161)

Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio during the Clinton era of the ‘90s, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng centers on the picture perfect Richardson family who live in a perfectly curated neighbourhood and their new enigmatic tenant, Mia and teen daughter, Pearl.

Mia and Pearl are the exact opposite of the Richardson family – the exact opposite of what Shaker Height’s represents – perfection. Mia is an artist and a single-mother, whereas the Richardsons appear to be the epitome of what upper-middle-class families are to represent in Shaker Heights: Mr. Richardson is a partner at his law firm; Mrs. Richardson is a journalist for the local paper, and their four children, two boys and two girls seem to be the ideal children and students. Although, things are not always as they seem to be, but to Pearl, a girl who has moved every year of her life, finds the Richardsons, and the life they comfortably live, enchanting.

Now mix in another upper-middle-class couple, the McCulloughs, who have been desperately trying to build their own family without any luck of their own, announce that they are adopting a Chinese baby that was abandoned at a fire station. The same baby that Mia’s colleague had given up because, at the time, she was unable to provide for her baby, but now wants her back. A custody battle ensues which drastically divide Mia and Mrs. Richardson. Suspicious of Mia’s motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes obsessed to uncover Mia’s secrets, but at a cost that dispels all three families.

In Little Fires Everywhere themes of family, motherhood and politics are predominant, while silent questions of who is fit to be a mother and have a family resonate throughout the novel: is it wealth, age, or a nuclear family structure? This is a beautifully written book, and a powerful story.IMG_5300.JPG

Glamourous Glamping Getaway

I like to think of my partner and I as hardcore campers – a couple that favours weekends in the woods over five-star hotels and room service, but who am I kidding, I need plumbing, electricity and a comfy mattress to survive. So, to celebrate a special occasion with my wannabe-lumberjack hunk, I booked us a stay at Long Point Eco-Adventures where I knew I could experience the best of both worlds.

Located in Norfolk County and just around the corner from Turkey Point Provincial Park, Long Point Eco-Adventures is not just your average stay the night kind of place, this glamping getaway is for the adventure-seekers that want to do a bit more than just lounge by the fire pit. Activities range from zip-lining and axe throwing, to kayaking, fishing, romanc-[ing] under the stars, hiking and more, but don’t make the mistake we did, book your adventure at least one month in advance, as was instructed by one of the staff. However, we did manage to grab a couple of rental mountain bikes and tested out a few trails on and around Turkey Point. I’m not a pro mountain biker, I’m not even a good mountain biker, but you don’t have to be either – although the number of times I fell off of the bike and the four big purple-blue bruises that decorate my thighs beg to differ – the trails are marked as beginner, intermediate, advance, and expert to help you navigate your ride.

After spending your afternoon adventuring, walk across the street to Burning Kiln Winery for a wine tour and wine tasting. Known for their appassimento wines (fancy term for drying harvested grapes to concentrate the sugars and flavours) this winery is situated on a former tobacco tract that pays homage to its history.

Then, relax and unwind in your Wilderness Suite or Pod – these luxury glamping accommodations are unique to the area, and the Wilderness Suites are the only ones in Ontario. We opted to stay in a Wilderness Pod, fitted with a couch, table and two chairs, a bar fridge, a queen-size bed and private washroom. The Wilderness Pod was perfectly cozy for the two of us, but on our next stay, we are definitely staying in one of the Wilderness Suites.IMG_5246