Life is Sweet, Even in February

It's been 15 years since my mom committed suicide.

In 15 years I've finished junior high, high school, college and attended nutrition school, started 8 jobs, performed in countless shows, dated, been engaged, been in love, traveled to cities in North America, Europe and the Caribbean and moved out on my own. I've loved and lost and my mother's death has been a part of all of it, every step of the way. Since high school, I've been very open in talking about my mom, her depression and her suicide. When I started writing this blog I never had the intentions of sharing her story through my writing, but on Mother's Day in 2009, I went there

Her life and death is a part of who I am, ingrained deep within my DNA and all of my being. Every February I am faced with a bleak, cold month in Toronto with my mom's death anniversary on February 24th to top it all off. For the last couple of years I've made concerted efforts to do something nice for myself on that day to make it easier to cope and to honour my mother. 

This year I decided to create something that has been rumbling in my soul for a long time. On February 22nd at 9:30pm, I will be performing in a show called "Life is Sweet, Even in February" to honour my mom. The show will feature a range of songs that my mum enjoyed and songs that remind me of her alongside stories of her life, our time together, the impact of her mental illness and my journey through healing after her death. I've been collaborating with musical director Tara Litvack on the show and I'm thrilled that this project is going to culminate in my very first solo show. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door and proceeds from the show's ticket sales will be donated to the CAMH Foundation.  

More details are available on the Facebook event or Pubaret website, or you can just head straight to the ticket site to secure your spot!

Ashley Gibson
MJS Photography
And then that brings us to the blog. 

As I've said, I've been very candid in discussing my mum's death and wanted to give a voice to other people affected by mental illness, depression, loss and all these things we don't talk about. As a society we so often neglect to openly discuss these concerns and in many cases, thy are are shrouded with an incredibly negative stigma. Health Canada's 2002 Report on Mental Illness stated that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague who will. With these presenting concerns affecting all of us directly or indirectly, I truly believe that it is imperative that we learn how to talk about them with one another and work together to get rid of the negative stigma.

Over the month of February I will be hosting blog posts from friends, family and bloggers who will be sharing their personal accounts of experience with mental illness, depression, anxiety and loss. I am so proud of all of these people for sharing their stories, and believe that in the act of sharing we will truly confirm that no one is alone. I've utilized my network to also include posts from practitioners on strategies for dealing with mental illness, as well as posts on working through challenges in life and finding the light and love in all of it. 

I don't believe that there is one answer to dealing with the challenges we face in our lives, and I hope that through this month of guest posts I have covered a wide range of experiences, ideas and opinions. My guest bloggers range in age from early 20's to late 60's. They are men and women from all walks of life. Some will share their identities openly, while others will remain anonymous. All of them believe in the power of sharing their stories and perspectives, and I am so honoured to have them on my blog. I hope that you'll visit the blog for their posts throughout February and share the content via your own networks and by using the hashtag #lifeissweet on the Twitter

I've been sending out press releases about the show and the project and have set up a few interviews. I'm grateful to the people who have already offered to share details of the project through their blogs. If you would like more information about the show, the project or would like to feature any of the information on your blog or site, please send me a note and I will be in touch. 

Why Life is Sweet?

A friend gave me lyrics to Natalie Merchant's song Life is Sweet sometime around the 9th or 10th grade. The chorus goes "Oh they told you life is hard, misery from the start, it's dull, it's slow, it's painful / But I tell you life is sweet, in spite of misery, there's so much more, be grateful" and this has always resonated with me deeply. 

In everything that has happened to me in my life, I have tried to maintain a positive attitude and outlook on the world. This has proved to be hard at times, but I've come to learn that life truly is sweet, even when faced with difficulties, challenges and sadness. We have so much to be thankful for and I hope that through this project I will be able to honour someone who had a profound impact on my life, get people talking, work towards raising awareness and removing the stigma around mental illness and also inspire hope and positivity in those who encounter the project with the message that life truly is sweet

Wanna buy a date with me? You can. At Love a Heart.

I can't believe I just typed that title. 

On Thursday February 14 (aka Valentine's Day) you could have the opportunity to win a date with yours truly at Love a Heart in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation at the Hideout on Queen West.

Last year's event - I need to find a great dress for this year!!

Shenanigans with lovely Christine

Last year I merely attended as a friend, supporter and trouble-maker, but this year I will be on the auction block alongside an impressive list of Toronto's most awesome bachelors and bachelorettes. Shannon does a great job at putting together some pretty super date packages for those being auctioned off and the bidding starts at $25 for each participant. It can get pretty heated (people want those dates!!) and last year they raised over $11,000 with the top bachelor going for over $1,000. Wowzers.

My sweet friends Shannon Kelly and Shawn Hawaii will be hosting once again and it's sure to be a hilariously fun evening for the cause! Tickets are available for $5 either online or at the door and the festivities will start up at 9:30. If you're looking for a fun way to spend your V-Day, you should definitely come out.

And bid.
Maybe on me.
I'm a fun date, I promise.

*Cue terror and hunt for an amazing dress*

January Eats & Fitness

It's been a busy, busy month but I'm happy to report that good things have been happening in my kitchen and with my workouts!!

Food

I was super stoked to pick up Kris Carr's new book, Crazy Sexy Kitchen. Kris and Chef Chad Sarno have put together an amazing selection of vegan recipes, both raw and cooked with lots of gluten free, soy free and kid free options. I've been inspired with some refreshing new green juice combinations and have had a lot of fun making some delicious new recipes including bok choy with lemon tahini sauce, mango & coconut millet 

and a root veggie & chickpea tagine. I've got my eye on some kale salads I really want to try and a scrumptious looking polenta with tomato sauce. The book is beautifully laid out and I find Kris' writing style enchanting. I adore it. 

Also - why have I never roasted chickpeas until Monday night?! If you just read that last line and realize that you too have never roasted chickpeas, then I beg you to change that. And quickly. My sweet friend Laura (of 6th grade BFF fame) posted about this Smitten Kitchen soup on Monday, and considering I had all the ingredients in my house (save for a full giant bag of carrots) I knew I had to make it. 

everything tastes better in an owl bowl
The soup on its own is quite nice, but the tahini and roasted chickpeas take it over the edge into spectacular territory. It's an easy weekday night dinner, perfect for our chilly Toronto temperatures and I suggest you make a double batch of the chickpeas because you'll find yourself having them as a snack while you blog rather than saving them for leftover soup

Fitness

I'm on week two of Insanity and I have to say that I'm enjoying it. I did not barf during the Fit Test (as two people told me they did) and I'm already feeling stronger and leaner. I've buddy-ed up with my friend Amanda (who was in Breadwinner with me) and we've been motivating one another through silly/awesome texts and Facebook messages. I definitely end up a sweaty mess after Shaun T's crazy workouts, but I think it's going to be worth it. And thanks to Amanda, I'm still smiling!! 


I've downloaded the (free!!) My Fitness Pal app on my iphone and I'm kinda loving it. I still haven't weighed myself (it's been almost a year?!) and don't really intend to, but I love having a way to keep track of the food I've eaten, keep an eye on how much protein I'm consuming and track my workouts. It's super motivating to add in my Insanity workouts with their calorie burn!! 


I also love having friends on there to be inspired and motivated by. If you're on it, feel free to add me!

I've been to the gym a few times for my favourite Pump class and also tried a crazy spin class at QuadSpin. You can feel the January energy everywhere and while I sometimes get annoyed with the crowds, it's encouraging to see so many people working so hard. We all just need to dig deeper (as Shaun T would say) and keep up the good work! 

2013 So Far

We're a little more than a week into 2013 and so far I'm liking this new year...




MJS Photography

MJS Photography

It's going to be a pretty awesome and inspiring and emotional time here on the blog and in my life in February. #lifeissweet is on its way and some pretty incredible people are involved. Details are coming!!

My favourite quote of the moment:


“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

~Louise Erdrich


BFF reunion in Ottawa

In August my dear friend Mel (aka Melanie, or Melly as only I can refer to her as) packed up her bags and moved to Ottawa to do her Masters. We've been great at keeping in touch through iMessaging and regular Skype dates, but I was definitely missing her presence in my life. This past weekend I hopped on a Porter flight and headed to Ottawa for a visit! 

I'm so thankful for Porter and it's ridiculously often sales and hospitality. While my flight was a bit late, I was happy and cozy in the Porter lounge complete with tea, snacks and wifi.


When Mel picked me up at the airport, I couldn't help but be reminded of when she found me in an airport in Hannover, Germany during our European adventures. Finding Mel in the Ottawa airport was a heck of a lot easier thanks to its smaller size, affinity for the English language and the popularity of iPhones. I didn't cry when we found one another (like I did in Germany), but it was pretty amazing to give one of my best friends a huge hug after five months apart!

Melly and her boyfriend were amazing hosts and did a wonderful job at feeding me! Some of the highlights included "bachelor slop", incredible steel cut oats with carrot juice, walnuts & raisins and a delicious lentil dahl.


We also visited a couple of sweet Ashley-friendly restaurants in Mel's hood including The Table and Simply Raw. The Table is another pay-by-weight place similar to The Green Door that I visited during the summer. I think the gluten free vegan butter tart was my favourite part of the meal.



I was extra excited to go to Simply Raw, despite the chilly temperatures and neverending snowfall. Laura met Mel and I for lunchy and the three of us caught up over sweet potato ginger soup, yogi tea and raw chocolate cherry cheezecake.


I had a lovely conversation with Simply Raw's owner Natasha Kryssa about my favourite restaurants in Toronto and New York as well as the premise of raw food. She was incredibly kind and I loved the cafe. I can't wait to go back and try more and definitely have another slice of cheezecake. It was pretty divine.


We didn't have any crazy plans for the weekend outside of some exploration, catching up and seeing Les Miserables. I think we succeeded in our objectives with some good food, late night wine, a lot of laughter and reminiscing of the fun we've had together along with quite a few cat pictures thrown in for good measure...





Because Lego is pretty much the cutest thing I've seen in 2013. I couldn't get enough of him!

The snowy view from Mel's balcony
I felt calmer this weekend than I have in awhile, likely because it was the most vacation-esque thing I've experienced of late and aided by the presence of such a good friend. I'm so proud of Mel for kicking ass at school, but it's definitely been tough without her in my city. Thankfully Ottawa is only a short ways away and both of us are making a concerted effort to stay connected.


Love that girl.
And her sweet boyfriend.
And adorable cat.

I had a really lovely weekend with one of my very favourite people. Ottawa was good to me once again and I'm looking forward to returning again soon.