If 2 women named Ashley tell you something, believe it, no matter how far fetched it may seem

Trust us on this one

I had so much fun with my Ashley on Sunday shooting new promo photos for our upcoming cabaret on October 22 (mark your calendars!)

There were balloons

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And smilesDSCN0547And little black dressesphoto (1)

And lots more goodness that you’ll just have to wait for… Kudos to Rich Burdett and Claire McClelland for being a stellar team to work with. we ended the day with a great meal at Fresh

DSCN0556DSCN0554We got there just as brunch was ending, so I asked them to squeeze in my pancake order at 2:55. Did you know that their new pancakes are gluten free? Not to mention delicious. The perfect high note to end off on following the amazing shoot. I can’t wait to see the photos.

Other fun stuff coming up: more NYC goodness and Vegan Mofo! And of course more details on the next instalment of the Ashleyx2 cabaret series

The S Word

Whenever I’m getting to know someone new, the subject of my mum’s death inevitably comes up. Soon after the conversation begins I know that I’m going to be asked the question “how did your mum die?” There’s always a split second where I hold my breath and wonder how they’re going to respond to my answer. People are curious and caring, but I think they expect me to respond with “cancer” or “car accident” and not “she committed suicide”.

My mum battled with mental illness for much of her life. Whether this was genetic predisposition or solely due to the events in her life, I’ll never know. I’ve mentioned before that she was the type of person to listen to everyone else’s problems for hours on end, yet bottled up her own feelings inside. It’s been one of my biggest takeaways from her death – I’ve always been an open person, but when I’m struggling I know to call on others to listen, to hold me when I cry or just give me a hug.

I learned about my mum’s previous suicide attempts the day before her death. There were events on that day which led her to take me aside and confide in me. Months prior I had been told that she had gone to the hospital due to a kidney infection, but as it turned out the “kidney infection” was an attempt to take her own life.

So begs the question, why would a beautiful woman, with 2 children, a man, family and friends who loved her deeply try to end it all? I chose not to ask her that question, but instead listened and held her while she was upset and gave her a hug. I wasn’t angry, just thankful that it had only been an ‘attempt’ and that my mother was there to tell me the story herself. That wouldn’t be the case the following day.

I’ve never been a religious person, but I remember sitting next to my mum’s body on the morning of February 24th, crying and begging for a force bigger than me to wake her up. The conversation of the previous day played over and over again and I couldn’t help but beat myself up for not telling my mum that I loved her before I went to bed. I know that my mum knew that I loved her, but there was something about the act of telling her that I felt horrible for missing out on that night.

I felt compelled to write this after quietly sobbing at my computer whilst reading Michael Landsberg’s piece on his own battle with depression and former Maple Leaf, Wade Belak’s suicide. Michael’s own experience with depression gave him unique perspective and empathy for Wade’s death and I was incredibly moved by his writing.

“I don't expect you to understand why Wade made the choice he made. It's tough for me to understand. But I do expect you to accept the seriousness of his disease. If you were saddened by Wade's death then here's what you owe him; you owe him the belief in his pain.

We can't see depression. We cant biopsy it. Blood tests don't show it. Neither do x-rays. Believing in depression takes faith, and surveys show that more than half of us are depressive atheists still believing somehow that depression is not a disease, but a sign of weakness. Wade wasn't weak. Neither was Churchill or Lincoln or Hemingway or your cousin or your neighbor or your son.

Depression is a disease. It's not an issue or a demon, although it may act like one. And if you want to honor Wade's memory, do it this way; never ever tell someone to snap out of it. And never ask anyone, what do you have to be depressed about? Start accepting depression as a serious and sometimes fatal illness.”

In the years since my mum’s death I’ve had few conversations with others who I felt really understood anything close to my own experience. Mental illness touches so many people’s lives, yet it can still be a taboo subject in our society. There are members of my own family who do not believe that we had a history of mental illness in our family.

I’ve had arguments with people throughout my life who felt those who committed suicide were “selfish” and thinking of nothing but themselves. It’s tough for me to listen to those who complain about their delay on the subway because there was a “jumper”. Well maybe your day was ruined, but think about how awful that person would have needed to feel to leave behind everything in this life; that for a moment in their life they had to choose between life and death and couldn’t see anything outside of that choice, including all the good in their life, or the fact that things could ultimately get better.That jumper was a person. A person who had family, friends and probably many people who cared for them who they were leaving behind because they couldn’t see outside the depths of their sadness, grief and despair. Let’s leave the negative stigma behind and work towards creating awareness and helping those who need it.

I was never angry at my mum for her actions, nor did I view her actions as selfish. I’ve wondered how my life would have been different if she had been around and I’ve missed her every day for the last 13 years. I’ve often felt sad that she couldn’t see the light in her life and all of the love that surrounded her but I know there are things that she was feeling that night that I’ll never understand. Mental illness and suicide affects so many people, and I’m hopeful that articles like Michael’s and this one can help people gain empathy and understanding for those people suffering and the people around them who care.

For my mum, Wade and all of the others out there, take that extra moment to tell someone you care. Or that you’re proud of them. Give hugs. Find joy in every moment. Listen to the words that people are saying and pay extra attention to the ones they aren’t saying. Live boldly. Cherish your time here. Love.

Veg Food Fair Fun and a Road Trip to Stratford (Biebs, Sweets and Swans Included)

For the first time since I’ve been back from New York I was genuinely excited about being in the city. (More on my trip later in the week…) I knew that I was going to be surrounded by sunshine, delicious food and special people all weekend and that seemed to make up for the fact that Toronto has been feeling strangely foreign these days.

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This was my third year at the fair and I was looking forward to once again hanging out with my sweet nutritionista friend Meghan Telpner and the awesome folks at Sweets from the Earth. (You can read about the 2009 and 2010 fairs too).

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On Friday night and all day Sunday, I donned a pink apron and chatted to peeps about gluten free treats, irish moss, Meghan’s amazing life loving totes and our upcoming trip to St. Lucia while enjoying treats from Bunner’s and APieCalypseNow! and relishing in what felt like vegan Christmas / one big vegan tweetup. Desserts were definitely covered, but once again there wasn’t a ton of awesome “real” food at the fair. I had something from a raw vendor that shall remain nameless on Friday which left me seriously underwhelmed and hungry.  I had a blast in the sunshine with lots of friends, new and old!

Sandwiched between two sweet days at the Fair, I enjoyed a road trip with Jessie (aka my little sister) to Stratford to see Camelot! DSCN0477DSCN0476DSCN0480

Way back in the spring I was invited to be a part of the Stratford Tweeter club, which gave me access to free tickets to various shows playing at the festival. Being the musical theatre geek I am, I jumped at the chance and with everything that went on this summer, Saturday was the first time we could escape the city.

A little research showed me that Stratford had one official vegetarian restaurant called Alpha Beet Soup. DSCN0483After our 2 hour drive to Stratford, we arrived to learn it had closed at 4pm. DSCN0484Being two very hungry veg girls, we scrambled to make alternate plans and found ourselves sharing salad, a tofu/veg curry and wine at Down the Street. DSCN0486DSCN0488My foodie pics didn’t turn out well due to the lighting, but the food was yummy and we were fuelled and ready to check in with King Arthur, Guenevere and the knights of the round table in Camelot.

Not before I took innumerable pictures of swans… DSCN0500I was yearbook editor in high school, and whenever we went to Stratford, our photographers would waste ROLLS of film on the swans. I would always be so irritated going through the photos of swans in every single pose imaginable. Apparently this weekend I turned into one of those people… DSCN0501DSCN0504Jessie finally confiscated my camera… DSCN0512

and off we went to the theatre.

The show was fantastic. I was forced to sing the Simple Joys of Maidenhood in my first year of theatre school, and was familiar with the story, but had never seen the show onstage. It was wonderful. The set, costumes and lighting were beautiful. I loved the relationship of Arthur and Guenevere. The story played out like a Disney movie for adults and the music was fantastic. Guenevere is absolutely a dream role and so is a role at the Stratford festival. We left feeling happy and giddy and silly.

Which meant a trip to Shoppers Drug Mart before we drove back to Toronto was a great ideaDSCN0515DSCN0517

It was a fantastic way to end the evening and definitely fuelled our spirits for the trip back into the city. So lucky to have Jess in my life (I think I’m actually going to write a blog post about her soon…) I’m so thankful for such a fun weekend surrounded by wonderful people and so many great memories.

Did you visit the Vegetarian Food Fair? What was the highlight for you? Have you seen anything at Stratford this season?