The Purple Fig Tue, 29 Sep 2015 15:26:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What Mama Didn’t Tell Us….about HORMONES Mon, 28 Sep 2015 17:40:35 +0000 maininnerimageWMDTU



Wednesday November 18th, 2015

6:30 – 10:30 pm


Gallery 345, 345 Sorauren Ave


What Mama Didn’t Tell Us is an intimate uncensored cocktail Q&A evening taking place on Wednesday November 18, 2015 from 6:30 pm – 10:30 pm. Think wine, education, and frank interactive Q&A with our audience of over 100 local women. Featuring Cynthia Loyst, Co-Host of CTV’s The Social, this event boasts a lively discussion with a panel of entertaining, brutally honest women who have made a living studying and discussing the nature of the female experience. Panelists include Kathy Buckworth, six-time author and parenting expert; Dr. Stacy Thomas, clinical health psychologist; Social Common, moms from the wildly popular online show Social Common. 


Cynthia Loyst, Co-Host of CTV’s The Social, on Twitter

A passionate advocate for healthy sexual information, Cynthia Loyst (@cynthialoyst) is best known for giving advice and opinions on the joys and complications of love. She’s also known for being an enthusiastic user of the word “labia.”

A multi-faceted writer, public speaker, and host, Cynthia has shared her expertise on THE MARILYN DENIS SHOW, ETALK, CTV News Channel, 99.9 Virgin Radio Toronto, 103.9 Proud FM Toronto, 104.5 CHUM FM Toronto,, and TVO. She’s also a certified relationship coach which is a lot like a sports coach but with less yelling.

Previously, Cynthia was the host and producer of SEX MATTERS and the documentary series SEXTV for which she interviewed a wide range of experts including academics, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, celebrities, and fetish enthusiasts.

Prior to THE SOCIAL, Cynthia co-hosted the daily, national entertainment program INNERSPACE where she was able to combine her passion for love with her passion for geekdom. She also got relationship advice from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), parenting advice from Jonathan Frakes (STAR TREK), and talked about defining sexiness with Idris Elba (LUTHER). 

Cynthia is a graduate of York University’s Film and Video Department where she also studied with York’s Women/Gender Studies Department. She has received awards from SSSS (Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality) and a Sexual Health in the Media Award from Planned Parenthood Toronto. She is SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment) certified, a member of SIECCAN (Sex Information and Education Council of Canada), and continues to take ongoing courses in human sexuality.

Kathy Buckworth, six-time author and parenting expert, on Twitter

Kathy Buckworth is an award winning author of six books, including her latest “I Am So The Boss Of You”, published by Random House. She is a columnist with The Huffington Post, Post City Magazines and writes regularly for other national publications. She is the parenting and travel expert for Tim Horton’s TimsTV and has been a regular on CityLine and CBC’s Steven & Chris, and is a regular contributor on CanadaAM’s Parenting Panel. She is also the Chief Family Advisor for Presidents Choice Financial and Loblaws PCPlus program, and acts as spokesperson for companies such as Nintendo, Microsoft & Hallmark. Kathy has a regular travel segment on Sirius/XM Canada and writes travel features for Metro News, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun. She travels and works a lot because she has four children and they cost a lot of money and also because she needs the break.

Dr. Stacy Thomas, clinical health psychologist 

Dr. Stacy Thomas, is a Clinical Health Psychologist who is skilled at helping people navigate and overcome life’s big challenges, particularly those affecting their physical health. Over the past 15 years, she has worked as a member of several multidisciplinary health care teams, treating patients with a range of conditions, including chronic pain, musculo-skeletal injuries, cancer, and diabetes. Now in private practice, Dr. Thomas has expanded her expertise in health psychology to concentrate on women’s health, including those with mental health challenges associated with pregnancy, postpartum, menopause, and infertility.

In addition to assisting those in need, Dr. Thomas is passionate about teaching people how to apply psychological skills in order to become their best selves.  Her work helping clients make healthy lifestyle changes has had her sought out as an expert for presentations to the general public, medical professionals and in the media. 

Social Common, mom experts and YouTube show hosts, on Twitter

Dr. Dominika Zarzeczny, ND and Hormone Expert

Dr. Dominika Zarzeczny N.D. is a licensed naturopathic doctor based in Toronto. She is registered with the Board of Directors of Drugless Therapy of Ontario, is a member of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, and is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors.  Dr. Dominika received her undergraduate degree from the University of Ottawa in Biopharmaceutical Science and her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. While earning her stripes as an expert in treating women’s health and menopause, Dr. Dominika developed a special interest in mental health – including stress management, depression, anxiety and PTSD. She has been a guest speaker on topics such as chronic stressADHD and depression in menopause.



Get your early bird tickets now for $35, includes a glass of wine :) $45 after November 1st. 

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Popsicles In The Morning? Mon, 21 Sep 2015 14:13:25 +0000 This past summer it was all about free play, hanging in the yard and popsicles in the morning for my kids. Each time we’d arrive at the park with the stroller stocked with Hulks, soccer balls and gobs of wipes, my two sons would gaze across the street at our local coffee shop deli and say, “Can we have popsicles, pleeeeeezzzzzeeeee mommy?!?!” 

My response: 

“What are you, crazy? We’re not having a popsicle at 9 in the morning. That’s junky food and junky food is for later, after we’ve eaten some healthy food.” 

When I was a kid, my mom would surprise us with a cold treat at the end of a long day of roaming on our bikes and digging in sand. They were lopsided, chunky looking frozen lolly pops. “I made them myself!” She’d said. Some of them had broken off halfway through the journey out of the mould and some were just sad little half melted blobs of previously frozen fruit juice. She tried. And to be fair, we always gobbled them up. We were hot, hungry  and thirsty. They did the trick. 

So when I thought of my kid’s obsession with getting popsicles in the morning and how I could recreate my mother’s attempt at homemade popsicles, I came up with a compromise. 

It was one morning after my husband had left some of the smoothie he makes every morning in the blender that it hit me.


I could pour the rest of this very healthy smoothie into moulds and serve them the next morning before school. Popsicles in the morning! A sort of compromise you could say. rocketpops

They were a major hit! I think we may just start serving the smoothie pops instead of glasses of smoothie. 



1 scoop of Vega Vanilla protein powder

1/4 cup frozen fruit (berry mix)

1/4 avocado

1/2 cup vanilla yogurt

1/4 cup cottage cheese

1/2 cup of milk (or water)

Blend it up and pour into popsicle moulds


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Start Playing With Your Food Mon, 14 Sep 2015 14:07:00 +0000 When I was a little girl I would take strands of spaghetti and create a blonde wig on top of a meatball. I would even go so far as attempting to braid Mrs. Meatball to give her a rather mid evil peasant vibe. I’d immerse myself into the character I was creating with the food I should have been eating. Inevitably my mom would flick her napkin my way or push the bowl closer to me and say, “Tricia, you don’t play with your food, you eat it!” 

Now, as I run around the kitchen, wearing my newborn and trying to get dinner for my four and six year old, I have to say that I don’t really care about the whole eating and playing with your food thing. If the kids eventually eat the food, why not play with it for a little bit first? So, one day after the kids had run out of imagination games and free play was starting to create annoying fights, I called them to the table for a little snack time. “I have a fun new game we can play,” I said, not fully knowing how the game was going to go. 

I grabbed some red cups and a few junkie and non-junkie food from the cupboard and set up a matching game. Placing a few bits of each food under red cups, the boys were to take turns trying to match a food and once they did, they’d win the prize of being able to consume that particular snack.


Some snacks were more attractive than others, such as chocolate macaroons and Goldfish but interestedly enough, the boys were just as excited to win a grape as they were to score some chocolate. It was the thrill of the match. Snack time was actually fun.



From that day forward, I decided that maybe my mom didn’t have it totally right. Food does have other roles to play other than just being eaten. And my kids now can attest to that. 



Any snacks you want!

I used Goldfish, chocolate bits, cheese, grapes, pistachios, dried fruit. 


Check out Goldfish on Facebook

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From Flirting to Friendship, With A Married Man- Who Knew? Mon, 14 Sep 2015 13:00:28 +0000 Flirting is a fun, common, usually benign activity. The problems come when one gains unreciprocated expectations or feelings. I used to always gain both, far too quickly, and without my realization or intent. It did not matter. The man on the other end of this easy, light exchange suddenly had an intense, over zealous bitch on his hands. So he ran. Fast. And while I know I am not totally to blame for these interactions, I will take the heat. I choose to own it all because then I get to learn from it, adapt and grow.

I was flirting with an attractive man on social media. He is a tall, muscular, basketball player with tattoos on his arms and a smoldering face as his default pose. He has a gaze that sears right through you and the kind of luscious lips you fantasize will do things to your body that only those kinds of lips combined with his assumed skill could achieve. He is a confident looking, smooth talking tasty treat you could easily bury yourself in the strong, comforting arms of. The back and forth, hide and seek seemed to have been going on for months. His pictures were always of him playing ball, partying with a drink and his boys, alone or with his son. What did not dawn on me, but by now should have, immediately, was that he was married.

In the past, I would have reacted in two ways and two ways only. I would have been livid as if he personally set out to wrong me and would tried to harm him in order to “get him back,” or I would have continued flirting, letting it progress into a messy situation involving mental stimulation, emotional attachment and physical encounters. I would have been the mistress until we both realized I did a horrifically poor job at being a mistress and it would have turned ugly until it finally reached some horrid breaking point.

This time around, I did neither. I pleasantly surprised myself. I had learned from my mistakes and I was all grown up. When I found out he was married, not by his own admission, but rather through my experienced tracking skills, I was disappointed but ready to simply say take care and mean it. I then found myself in completely uncharted territory. We decided to be friends. I did not agree to this with any ulterior motive, any hidden desire or any false hope of some nonsense fairytale. I genuinely wanted to be his friend. Why not? We came from the same city, had similar interests such as sports, music, and politics and got along well. He lived where I was researching to move next, for the same reasons I wanted to move there, we drank the same drink, enjoyed the same type of fun and it seemed like an astoundingly mature decision.

And so, a social media friendship began. Yes there was still a mutual attraction. Yes, when I heard his husky voice I went weak in the knees and yes, his request for sexy pictures came, like with all the others, but I declined and he respected that. We were on our way to the “friend zone.”

After a time, we advanced to exchanging phone numbers and began to touch base and text on a daily basis. I enjoyed him, and looked forward to eventually spending time with him. I was also learning a lot from him, an unexpected but welcome bonus and anticipated that to continue.  We had debates, spoke on an array of topics, joked with one another and it was natural.

One day, feeling stuck and down, wanting to write but overflowing with thoughts and feeling unable to effectively express them in words, I vented to him. He simply listened and replied, “Life is short. You have to pursue your dreams, or that’s all they will be.” I don’t know why, maybe because I was in a personal growth spurt for the first time in a long time, maybe because I wasn’t expecting such a simple yet powerful response, maybe because this was coming from someone who wasn’t all talk, but was in fact living his dreams or maybe I just needed to hear that and he said it at the right time, but it resonated. It hit me, spurred me, and motivated me. I felt inspired, for the first time, in a long time. I reached out to editors finally sending them material, spoke with photographers and set up long awaited shoots, started a real page to connect with readers, and booked new travels. I felt invincible and fearless and alive. That fire, that eagerness, that hope, reemerged within me and I was grateful for this new friend.

When I am irrational or impatient, he is calm and kind. When I express how I feel, he listens without judgment. When I find myself slipping, he puts me back in perspective. I do not know where this friendship will go, and there are parts of me that question my naivety, question if he really cares, will meet me halfway to build a sustaining relationship, but for now, it works. I have a new friend and one that inspires me. What else can one ask for?

Photo: Framepool

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Becoming An Alpha Female- A Is For Acceptance Mon, 31 Aug 2015 13:00:42 +0000 As I write this essay, the term “alpha female” stares back at me from the screen. Instantly, I’m struck by multiple images. I can almost see the words as they powerfully strut their way across the page in Christian Louboutin pumps, ready to hail a cab.

The term itself is such a loaded phrase, an expression which brings a myriad of women to mind. Who exactly deserves the title “alpha female”, after all? Is it the weary single mother juggling two jobs to make ends meet as she supports her family? Many would argue that the alpha female is a glossy-haired, sharply dressed executive, ruling her own corner of the universe with resolve and ambition.

There’s the emerging alpha female, the stereotypical straight A student who leads multiple school teams and clubs, all while others dream of stars in her allegedly bright future. Speaking of stars, Hollywood has long since portrayed its own version of “alpha” on the silver screen and the red carpet. She is impossibly thin, expensively attired and often photographed.

In fact, I’ve had this conversation with female friends multiple times over the past several months. As young twentysomething women and recent graduates who are just launching our careers, we’ve debated the term “alpha female.”

To us, the label once represented an enviable goal, the highest level in a game which we have just learned to play. I once believed that a woman could become an alpha female at age 30, 40 or 50- when the universe decided that she was deserving of the respect and accolades which come with such a lofty title. To be an alpha, she would have to wait until she was handed the keys to a complete life.

But surely, young alpha females did not crave chocolate cupcakes, or trip in their new heels like skittish colts as they caught the subway? They definitely didn’t organize random dance parties on the beach, prank their younger siblings or burst into song at the drop of the hat.  Until recently, there was also no place in my narrow definition of “alpha female” for awkward moments, vulnerability or heartbreaking tears. She was poised. She was aggressive. She worked out five times a week. She wasn’t bursting at the seams with inappropriate jokes, 100,000 story ideas, sugar cravings or restless energy. In my limited view, her hair never frizzed and her imagination did not run wild. And she certainly wasn’t me.

However, my definition also excluded the all-powerful alpha’s booming laughter, sarcastic humour, deep friendships and childlike wonderment. It overlooked her other side, the fleeting insecurities and occasional lapses in judgment which make all of us human. It put her in heels, put her on a pedestal and demanded perfection of her. As a result, I could not be an alpha female- at least not under my own impossible terms.  

One day as I was writing a story, it hit me. There is no clear definition of an alpha female. In fact, the title is a little black dress (yes, really- this is how I see the world as a fashion journalist). It can flatter any woman, as long as she possesses confidence, determination and passion. In fact, we need to edit the definition (journalist, again) to include values like kindness, sensitivity, diversity, acceptance and self-love.

Stereotypically, the alpha female has been prized for her aggression. However, my updated definition involves leading with love and positive energy. It means learning as a society to treat kindness as an asset, not as a weakness, and to view humour as an essential force. All of us can transform ourselves into alpha women, simply by changing our outdated definitions of this term.

In the process, we can only create more alphas. As for myself, I have learned that it begins with cherishing your vulnerability, understanding your flaws and using your strengths. There’s enough room in this world for a wider description of a leading lady- but we have to accept the woman in the mirror first, high heels or not.

Photo Credit:

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Against The Grain- How To Live Life Gloriously Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:00:35 +0000 When we reach a certain age, a certain point in our lives, the people around us seem to reach certain milestones deeply embedded within each of us from a young age. It was sung to us, taught to us, drilled into us. It was the expectation set by our communities, our parents, our friends, and our society. First come love, then comes marriage and then comes a baby carriage.  It is not only expected of you, but it is something you should be expecting of yourself.

When I hit 30, I noticed my social media fill with announcements of engagements, weddings, new homes, new pregnancies, thriving careers and growing families. The new couples I speak with have their nights filled with home cooked meals, popcorn and movies while snuggling, and other nauseating activities. The couples with more time in, perhaps married and already with kids have routine baths and showers, homework and early bed times. Saturdays are bustling with visits to the park, trips to the community pool, family cookouts, date nights and farmers markets. Vacations involve road trips; Sandals resorts for the lovebirds, particularly fond of PDA, or kids running carefree in sprinklers, and having a first time at the beach. I am swarmed with images of couples in loving gazes, and cheesy, staged photos, sparkling diamonds on nicely manicured hands, wedding receptions, baby bumps and toddler pictures.

Worst of all, I am bombarded with the same questions such as “Are you married?” “Are you dating?” “Are you having more kids?” “What do you do for a living?” and my favorite, “How do you afford to travel so much?” It feels as though the goal is to make me feel shamed rather than celebrated. The tone is never one of genuine curiosity, or sincere conversation. The questions feel more like allegations. They seem filled with disdain, disapproval, and pity. However, they are often also soaked in envy and bewilderment. How does this woman make life look so good with no husband, no boyfriend, no job and the responsibility of raising a child on her own? How and why does she continue to do it on her own? What is wrong with her?

I began to contemplate the state of my life over the past few years and even jumped on the bandwagon for a time. There is something wrong with me; I am not living how I should be, doing what I should be, and feeling like I should be. I felt stuck and far behind. I was unable to keep up with these simple societal acts. Why was I unable to stay afloat in the massive pool of triumph? What defect did I have, that no one else had? In other words, why was I alone?

Only recently have I come to terms with my inevitable, but not necessarily negative, truth. I am where I am in life for one reason only. Myself. I am not here because I am less than anyone else, not because I am unworthy, not because I am unappealing, not because I fall short when bringing attributes to the table. No. Due to a series of choices made by me, and only me, I am here. I remind myself that the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with myself. I remind myself that regret is a heavy burden to bear and the pain that comes with it is far from cheap. I remind myself that doing what makes me happy, regardless of what others think, is not the most important part of life, it is the only true and sure part of life.

The truth is, if I wanted to be married, I would be. If I wanted more kids, I would have them. If I wanted a thriving career, it would be exist. And I would be surviving. I would be comfortably content. However, I do not want to survive. I want to live. I do not want to slow down; I want to speed up. I do not want to settle down, I want to soar higher. I do not want the comfortably content version of events. I want the intense, passion filled, adventurous version. I live on my own terms, and it has cost me dearly, but I know no other way to live. I want to continue to grow, wander, and push the limits. I want too much to stop now.

I would like to think that I would meet a companion in the future, and have a career that makes an impact on others, a career I can be proud of. I would like to think I could find love and continue to live life, and achieve my dreams. My race looks different than most. I am racing on my own, in my own lane, with my own clock. It is not how I planned it, but life rarely is.  

I need not be ashamed because I took a road less traveled, less accepted. I need to applaud my ability to do it all on my own. I need to pat myself on the back for refusing to settle, in any aspect of my life, and I need to continue to do things that make me happy.

The most important relationship that I have is with the one person I can never escape from. And I have tried. The one person I wake up with in the morning, and lay my head down with at night. The woman staring back at me in the mirror.

Now when I am asked those questions, I do not dread them, I do not let them effect me, I do not care what anyone else has to say on the matters of my heart, wallet, family or travel habits. To be clear, I am not married because I have not found the love of my life yet. I do not plan on having more kids, but one never knows. I am finishing school after switching professions so that I can have a prosperous career and I travel so much to feed my soul. I travel so much because I have to. It is a need that stirs deep down in my gut, in a place I cannot reach. So I make it work. Those are my newly formed answers to the absurd questions aimed to make me squirm and second guess. I make it work, I make it happen and I love it. I am happy when I am having adventure, and am alive when I am taking risks, living on the edge, stepping out of the box. I am not scared of the way I live, I am scared of not living. I am not scared that there will be no cord to catch me, I am scared of not jumping. I know this may scare you, but I do not apologize for it. I know you may not approve but I do not answer to you. And I know it sounds glorious and yes, you are absolutely missing out.


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Summer Fiction Reading Series: The Great Escape Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:13 +0000 Isabella

Isabella wrote for many reasons.

She wrote to express the many words inside of her, the ones which only made sense on paper. She wrote to fill the monotony of her afternoons at the park. But mainly, Isabella wrote to escape.

Life had been tough since she had lost her job at the local organic supermarket. Not that The Big Apple had been a great final destination for her, a 25-year-old English Literature graduate with dreams of becoming a published author. For Isabella, The Big Apple was a stop along the seemingly endless, wandering journey in the two years since graduation.

But the store had recently closed for renovations, which left the confused, newly unemployed Isabella free during the stretches of lazy July weekdays.

On this particular Tuesday morning, Isabella found herself in a park in the city’s Financial District with a tattered notebook and a quill pen. The notebook was a relic from her undergrad days. The elaborate pen was a gift from her best friend, Cherise.

Cherise was a flame-haired and sharp-tonged art school graduate who owned a gift shop. She wore dangling filigree earrings and purple clip-in highlights. She was the opposite of the refined, restrained Isabella, whose jet black curls and cubic zirconia studs gave her a look of faux sophistication. Cherise prided herself on the wares at her artsy boutique. Her store, The Creative Corner, specialized in antiques and artisan pieces. Cherise herself specialized in being, well, lovably eccentric.

“Maybe you can use those words to speak up for others,” Cherise had said in an offhand way, when she handed Isabella the pen last year.

Since then, it had remained unused in the bottom of her favourite everyday tote bag. Today, Isabella was going to pen her first words with it. Today, everything would be different.


“Today, everything will be different,” Sebastian muttered to himself.

It was 7:30 a.m. and the last thing he felt like doing was playing the corporate game. Not when his buddies still existed in a beer-induced haze, a frat boy universe which hadn’t seen the calendar change in the past two years.

Not when his best friend, Patrick, had quit his engineering job to explore Europe after a sudden quarter century crisis. And especially not today, the day of a huge, daunting meeting with senior management at the bank.

Sebastian looked longingly at the notebook on the dark oak coffee table in his pristine white living room. He’d bought the book at a quaint little gift shop along the city limits. The owner was an artsy redheaded chick- cute enough, but certainly not his type.

Stupid downtown condo. He’d do anything to be travelling with Patrick now, instead of living this prescribed existence. He’d also do anything to be writing now, to bring back those university magazine days and slip away stealthily from his financial analyst position. Analyst, as the free-spirited, fun-loving Patrick described Sebastian’s new banking gig.

He had a last look at himself in the mirror and grabbed the notebook to slip into his laptop bag. Not bad. Sebastian had always been lanky, but his recent sessions at the gym had helped him add muscle to his frame. In his tailored Brooks Brothers suit and freshly ironed blue button down shirt, he looked every bit the young corporate hotshot.

Even if he didn’t feel like it.

Isabella and Sebastian

As the lunch crowd descended on the park, Isabella swept a dishevelled curl out of her face and looked up. She’d written the intro to her new short story, but clearly the plot was going nowhere.

She was beginning to realize why she wasn’t successful. Isabella had always been a perfectionist, striving for gold as others her age partied and danced the night away, grateful for the moment. After graduation, her peers had drifted into careers in journalism, communications or law. But Isabella was so determined to become a novelist that she refused to join them.

Maybe that’s why she was sitting here in the park on a weekday, instead of going through the daily grind at one of the offices above.

“Excuse me,” said a deep voice behind her, interrupting her thoughts. Isabella looked up sharply.

The guy, around her age, standing there was handsome enough. His hair fell across his forehead in dark waves, while his eyes were bright blue against his tanned face. But it was the notebook in his hand which caught her attention.

“Hey,” she said shyly, glancing at his book. It looked like one of the dusty artefacts from Cherise’s shop. Was this another one of her friend’s attempts to orchestrate another terrible blind date- or was this just another lonely fellow writer?

“Can I join you? I’m working on writing a story, too” he said.

Isabella usually preferred writing alone, but today she smiled cautiously and made room for the good-looking stranger on the rickety wooden bench. Why not? “Sure,” she said. “I’m Isabella.”

“Sebastian,” said the mysterious notebook guy, grinning back at her. Sebastian couldn’t help but notice her beauty, and also take in her quill pen. Clearly, this wasn’t an iPad girl. But maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Different was good, different was interesting.

The two of them made eye contact over the inky sentences and thumbed over pages. Today was a new chapter, and a new story.

Today, everything would be different.

Photo Credit: 

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Summer Fiction Reading Series: First Kiss Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:00:57 +0000 We were lying on the floor of Anna’s bedroom in the old house off of Hamilton Avenue. It must  have been sometime in August because I remember the carpet was rough and painful against my sunburnt arms.

“Joey kissed me,” Anna said.

Her room had a lot in common with all our rooms at that age: the walls were painted a dusty  shade of pink, but she had covered as much of them as possible with movie posters and band posters and pictures of good-looking young men who were lead singers or actors or soccer players. On top of her dresser was an old blue stuffed rabbit.

“No he didn’t.” I flipped a page in the thick, glossy Cosmo we had stolen from Anna’s older sister and looked up to meet her smug expression. “Did he?”



“Last Saturday,” she said, rolling over onto her back and looking up at the ceiling. “At the beach. Remember when you and Laura went to go look at the tide pools around the cliffs and Joey and I stayed behind at the wharf?”


“Well, that was when.”
I bit my lip. The magazine was open to an advertisement that could have been for perfume or hair
gel or lip gloss; a young model in a swimsuit top and cut-off jeans walked casually along a beach, her sandals held in one hand and sand caressing the soles of her feet and toes. I liked the way her lips were relaxed and slightly parted, as if she were just about to speak.

Anna gave an exaggerated sigh.
“Well don’t be mad about it,” she said. “I knew you’d be jealous, but please don’t be mad.”

“Jealous? Why would I be jealous of you kissing Joey?” Surprised, I pushed myself up with my burnt arms and sat cross legged. Anna wasn’t looking at me; she was twirling a strand of curly black hair around her finger.

“Because now I’ve been kissed and you haven’t and you’ll be mad and think I’m rubbing it in
your face if I tell you about it. But Audrey, you’re my best friend and I trust you with everything and I couldn’t stand it if you were mad at me.” She said this very quickly, her words running together and tripping over themselves, as if each one wanted to be the first to be heard.

“I’m not mad,” I told her, glancing down at the magazine again. The woman’s bare feet made me think of walking along the beach with Laura, that same Saturday that Anna and Joey had kissed. Our beach was rocky and treacherous with jagged, wet stones. I wondered what it would have been like to go barefoot with Laura along the sand.

When I think about that Saturday now, it comes to me in bits and pieces. Laura is, somehow, clearer than the rest. I remember her red tank top and her black cargo shorts with the small tear near the left pocket. We had wandered away from the wharf and Laura was ahead of me, jumping lightly along the rocks. She was a beacon and she stands out in my memory now, a light in the fog. I can still trace in my mind, in the place deep inside myself where I keep all of the important but ordinary images that are necessary to the preservation of my soul, the places where the sun reflected off of her shoulders.

I slipped and fell on the rocks and the barnacles, with their vicious chalk teeth, cut a deep gash along the top of my foot. I put out a hand to stop my fall and eased myself into a sitting position on the rocks. Threads of red ran across my dirty skin and mixed with the salt of my sweat and the ocean. The blood flowed freely until it gathered in the crevasses of my flesh and stained my sandals.

I called out to Laura and she turned and danced back toward me across the rocks. When she reached me, I had taken off my wet and bloody sandal and was chewing the inside of my cheek in pain as I attempted to wash out the wound with salt water. Laura knelt down in front of me and held my cut foot in her freckled hands.

“Does it look very deep?” I asked.

“Oh Audrey,” she said, pushing her strawberry hair out of her eyes. “I think you’re going to have
a scar.” Offering her hand, she helped me to my feet and I remember that her fingers were stained with
my blood. She didn’t seem to mind, didn’t even bother to wipe her hands clean on her shorts, she just ran them through her hair in spite of the filth.

The tide was out as far as it would go and we walked between the pools, sometimes crouching down to get a better look and imagining we were seeing miniature underwater worlds. For me, the main purpose for venturing out to the tide pools was starfish. You could sometimes find them under the wharf, clinging to the thick wooden pillions, but it wasn’t the same as finding them in the pools. When the starfish were on the beach you could pick them up and hold them in your hands, as long as you kept your fingers away from the strange, alien mouths at their centres, feeling the bumps and ridges of their skin.

She told me she had never held a starfish. For some reason that I could not quite pin down, I wanted find one for her and watch her eyes as she cradled the thing in her fingers. I wanted to see her lips twitch into a smile as the creature twisted against her skin. As she wandered between the pools, her hands thrust deep into the pockets of her shorts and her head bent downward, I turned over rocks and sought out places where the starfish may be hiding. I looked in cool, covered, dark places – places that would offer protection from the violent heat of the afternoon sun. It didn’t take me long; the animal was clinging to the underside of a seaweed coated ridge in the stone and released its grip without much resistance. It was thick and solid, with six royal purple arms. Laura had wandered back toward me and she knelt down close to me as I lifted it from the tide pool. I stood up straight and held the starfish out to her with both hands,expecting her to take it from me.

“I found one,” I said.

Laura placed her hands on my shoulders and leaned toward me. Our faces were close together and I can still remember the scent of salt water and her coconut sunscreen. She took a deep breath and I could hear the sound of the air between us passing into her. Then I felt her blonde hair blow against my cheek as she touched her lips softly against mine and kept them there for a moment, perfectly still.

Neither of us moved. I became conscious of all sorts of strange and insignificant details in that second. As the blush gathered at the back of my neck and rose to my ears I noticed the way my t-shirt stuck to the sweat on my back. I noticed the sting and throb where the salt water had entered the cut on my foot. I noticed Laura’s hands on my shoulders as she increased the pressure of her grip. Between us, I held the starfish in both hands, its solid weight rooting me to the rocks and beach.

Laura pulled away from me. Keeping her hands on my shoulders she said, in a voice that was rougher than I was used to: “Let’s not tell the others.”

We walked back across the stones side by side. I kept hoping, in a hollow sort of way that I was too young to comprehend, that she would reach across the inches between us and wrap her pale fingers around mine.

But I knew she wouldn’t, and she never did.

I can’t recall what Anna told me about the things that had passed between her and Joey that day. To be honest, I am not sure that I was listening. There must have been a time when I would have clung to her words and admired her for being the subject of a boy’s undivided attention, but in that moment, all of it seemed trivial. That day, on Anna’s bedroom floor – on her pink carpet, surrounded by her pink walls – I felt for the first time, that there was a huge canyon between us. The worst part was that she didn’t see it. I was looking at her from across a vast and empty space that neither of us would ever be able to bridge, but she gave no indication that she noticed the distance.

I was still gazing absently at the model in Cosmo when she finished her story. “The first time a boy kisses you,” Anna said seriously. “Promise you’ll tell me all about it?”

I remember assuring her I would as I gazed down at the magazine, unable to look at her eyes. Her dark skin was only a few inches from mine, yet I felt that if I reached out to touch her I would find only air and sunlight beneath my fingers.

“Good,” she said as she took the Cosmo and turned to the next page. I knew it was only my imagination that her voice sounded like an echo, but I couldn’t help but feel that she was only a reflection of something I couldn’t quite see. “I’m so glad we can tell each other everything.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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Being A Vulnerable Survivor In The Face Of Cancer: Meet Kathleen Henderson Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:52:59 +0000 The following is an interview with Belle student Kathleen Henderson. Kathleen joined our weekly BelleFusion classes over one year ago while in the middle of treatment for breast cancer. That first day she walked into the studio – timid yet quietly determined, cap on her head – I saw her incredible bravery.

This mom of four was diagnosed at the age of 38, when her twins were just 16-months old and her older children 5 and 7. I’ve been privileged to watch Kathleen progress in class and honoured to be a small part of her recovery. She’s a true and humbling inspiration to me. This interview is my attempt to share her story and hopefully inspire and encourage other women experiencing the trauma and fear of cancer.

I know it can be emotional to relive the events in your head. Thank you for doing this. Could you please tell us the story of your diagnosis?

I actually brought myself to the doctor because I felt something was wrong. There was a sizeable thickening in my right breast that was very painful. At first I thought it might be related to having just finished nursing the twins, but my gut told me to get it checked out. My doc recommended a mammogram right away. They phoned 24 hours later with the news this was cancer and it “… seems unlikely that it isn’t invasive”.   I had stage 1A cancer in the milk ducts and the initial treatment would be a full right mastectomy and lymph node removal. Due to the confirmation of the invasive nature of the cancer and my Her2 positive status, I also underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation, and a year of Herceptin injections.

It just goes to show that women need to trust their instincts and get checked out, even if they’re told “it’s probably nothing.” I had no idea that I was in the running for breast cancer. Check yourself out – don’t talk yourself out of it. And if you still have a concern and your doctor says it’s nothing, go back. Follow your gut.

So you had surgery right away and then rehab?

Yes. After the surgery in November, nurses gave me specific exercises to help with range of motion. You’re told to do them as soon as you can move after the operation. They set me up to meet one time with the hospital physiotherapist. I did the exercises religiously, as instructed. I understood how important they would be to my recovery. Throughout my life, I have been told, “Kathleen, you’re so strong”, and returning to a physical sense of strength was important for me to maintain as part of my identity.

Surgery was in November 2013 and you first came to class in March 2014, just 14 weeks later. Did you have any fears about joining a regular group exercise class?

I remember being petrified thinking “now I’m going to have to take my hair off and put my cap on.” I was so self-conscious, mortified. It was intimidating. Then I thought well, that’s stupid. As soon as I walked in, I liked the vibe of the class.

I had no idea! You seemed so quietly confident when you walked into class for the first time. How did the classes help?

They helped me a lot. They helped me re-establish a positive connection with my body. Everything about having breast cancer is negative – this terrible invasive thing is happening to your body and you have very little control over it.

It was good to go in and work hard, and be able to work hard. It’s like hey, these bad things have happened but I can do this. I could keep up. I’m a pretty active person so I needed to stay active – it’s something I’ve done my whole life. The classes were both a physical and mental help. Sometimes the class was really hard but the mental part of it was, “I CAN do this,” and the endorphin release was key.

How did you stay so mentally determined and positive?

In the grand scheme of the whole experience, this was “better than nothing”. I kept telling myself “it’s ok, I’m trying”. When I was walking slowly around High Park, barely able to move, at least it was “BTN, better than nothing. I’m doing the best I can with this bad situation”.

Sometimes you feel a bit ripped off. Why did this have to happen? I’m 38 years old, why do I have to my own cheerleader and give myself a pep talk just to go for a walk? But, in the end, I am proud of the way I managed it. I realized how important it is for me to remain positive to be able to make the best of this day. The idea of that strength is part of my identity and in retrospect, I think I stayed true to who I am.

That’s an interesting phrase “I have to be my own cheerleader”

I think everyone does, and that’s ok. The key is that for some people how I’ve done some things, wouldn’t work for them. You have your own worldview, your own identity. I didn’t spend too much time thinking about how to approach it. I had always been strong, and I had to keep that intact. For example, for women who have always defined themselves as “creative”, they might have a different and equally effective way of coping.

What advice would you give to other women reading this who are going through the same thing?

It is very difficult for women of our generation to be vulnerable or to need help. We have grown up in an era where we are doing it all. I would say you should try to allow people to do for you. Not because you can’t do it, but because they want to show their love.

Have the grace to accept their dinner, to accept their love. I’m going to take their dinner and be graceful in accepting it. You don’t have to prove that you can do things. Be open. Be open to the fact that people don’t know what to do. They’re not trying to hurt you. Maybe they’re out of touch for 3 weeks because they don’t know what to say. Allow for people to not be their best. Eventually they come around. This sounds awful, but I felt that I was their worst nightmare – I imagined that all the dads in our neighbourhood couldn’t look me in the eye at first because I represented the worst thing that could happen to their wives. In retrospect, maybe they were trying to keep a respectful distance, so they just nodded as I walked by.

But people do want to help. I had a cooler on my front porch and everyday for months our family had dinner dropped off through a program called Meal Train. Our neighbours and friends signed up online and took turns. It was a huge gift and a great way for a community to rally and help someone.

Wow, that’s a really cool program.

Yes it was. Our friends organized it for us. It allowed us to focus our best efforts on being together with our children instead of worrying about how to feed our family of 6.

Do you have any other advice?

One other thing that someone told me regarding how people react to cancer – often parents and siblings and friends don’t know what to do. Picture a bull’s eye graphic and the centre is the sick patient. The next circle around is your husband, sister or mom. The next circle is your best friend. The next circle contains more extended family, friends, coworkers etc. Supporters need to find someone less connected to talk to. So it needs to move away from me. My sister can’t come to me sharing her fears about my cancer. She needs to talk to her friends or husband about that. The sick person in the middle shouldn’t have to deal with quelling their concerns. I had to explain that to my family and once they understood that, it really helped.


How has this experience of cancer changed your outlook on life and on motherhood?

Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a loss of innocence, of expecting good things to happen to good people. All of a sudden you realize all the things you’ve imagined just may not be. I’ve been given so much love and opportunity. I’ve been walking through life with all these really small problems and now I have a really big problem. It’s a mental exercise to process it. My life may not be the life I imagined. There’s a darker side to it. You also have this sense regarding those old problems, that they really don’t matter as much.

I knew there was going to be emotional fallout. All of a sudden the chemo is done and you start to think about what happened because you have time, you’re not rushing to appointments. I called it the reckoning. When it happened to me, I was beside myself for 3 weeks and it was very hard.

As for motherhood, once my energy returned and I was able to be more present for my kids, I realized that I appreciate things differently. You know more in a really sad way – you know more about life. It takes a lot more to make me upset with them now. Because it really doesn’t matter. I’m much more laid back now. Focusing more on fun. My kids aren’t going to not go to university if we take a trip to Antigua. And that time is important for a couple also – so we did go!


How important was exercise to your for your recovery?

It was crucial. I had to move. I remember running in High Park and bawling. Some people saw me…they must have thought I was crazy. I was crying because 6 months earlier I could barely walk, and now I was running up that damn hill.

I turned to exercise all the time. Even if you feel bad, you’re going to feel better. If you’re feeling really awful mentally, at least you can physically feel better and remind yourself that your body is still strong.


How to feel about being called a hero?

No! For my recent 40th birthday, my good friend got me a necklace that says “survivor, hero, role model”. I can’t handle that. People talk about being a survivor. They are such loaded words. I think those words should be chosen by people for themselves. So no, I’m not a hero. I just tried to stay alive for my own selfish reasons and did what the doctors told me to do. Why do I get a prize for having a really bad thing happen to me? I’m not Mother Theresa. I don’t want people to feel like they have to be “that.” Figure out who you are in this part of your life and be true to that. Sit with what’s happening, and sort out how you want to deal with it. Define how you’re going to do it and stay true to yourself.

This has been pretty emotional, so thank you again for sharing with me today and allowing other women to hear your story. Your honesty is going to inspire a lot of people. Now go enjoy a glass of Chardonnay on your deck!

Oh (laughing)! I’m already there Nikki!



  • cancersurvivormain
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Summer Fiction Reading Series: Life After My Husband Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:00:09 +0000 It was so unbearably hot. The air felt opaque as if you could cut it with a knife. The sun was beating down on the dusty and crowded streets. Salma found it impossible to stay outside for a moment longer as she looked for her husband in the crowd. Then, without warning, the sky turned dark and gray, a violent gust had started, the thunder boomed. People started racing indoors and she finally saw her husband in the distance and her stomach churned inside out as terror gripped her.

 “Run!” She yelled out to him. “Run, or they’ll hurt you, they’ll kill you!”

Before she could finish those words the sky swallowed him up whole, he was dead, he was gone and she was watching on, horrified.

Salma jolted awake from her dream. Somehow she had dozed off. She looked over at the clock and it was still only 3:00 AM. It had been a week since she had slept through a night and when sleep did come to her it was in the form of nightmares.

What to do now? That simple little question had plagued her mind recently.

Salma tiptoed from the room she was staying in to her father-in-law’s study. The house was overcrowded with guests for the funeral and she had to be careful not to wake anyone.  She crept into the study, the only room without a sleeping guest. She ran her fingers along the books on the shelf and pulled out an old photo album.

Pages upon pages were splattered with pictures of her husband, Musa. Pictures of Musa as a child, Musa playing cricket for his school team, Musa on their wedding day. The smiling face looking at her in the pictures forced a smile across Salma’s face. She closed the album and walked to the window in the corner of the study. She opened it and listened to the night. The nights in Lahore, Pakistan were never truly quiet; noisy buses playing loud music and dogs barking. And there was always a little stench in the air. Though she was born and raised in Pakistan, she didn’t feel at home here. The people of this country had violently betrayed her kind time and time again and the death of her beloved husband only confirmed this.  Canada was here home now; she was Canadian and she took pride in that fact.

She paced around in the room, lost in her thoughts, until the Adhan for the morning prayer was called. Not long after, the house began to stir in preparation for prayers. She went to join the rest of her extended family and in-laws for prayer, trying to avoid their gaze.

“You were awake all night again weren’t you my child?” questioned her mother Anisa, with a worried look.

Salma just looked away without answering; she didn’t like people worrying about her.

After prayers, Anisa and Salma’s mother-in-law Fareeha, stayed awake with Salma to prepare breakfast for the whole family, who had come from far and wide to attend Musa’s funeral.  As they cooked, the mothers discussed the arrangements for the funeral and the customary Islamic preparations.

“The funeral will be held after the midday prayers. What time will the body be washed?” questioned Anisa. 

“The men will leave at 11:00 with the body for the washing and then we’ll have the visitation as soon as it arrives,” replied Fareeha as she suddenly burst into tears.

“Oh Fareeha! Your son was a good boy. He gave his life for something he believed in. You must be proud of him!” Anisa repeated this as she attempted to comfort Fareeha. 

As her mother-in-law continued to quietly cry, Salma realized she hadn’t cried yet. Maybe she was still in denial, maybe she just hadn’t had the time yet between worrying about the future of her two now fatherless daughters and preparing for the funeral. Or maybe she simply just couldn’t understand, couldn’t understand how someone could murder her husband in cold blood just because of his beliefs.

Musa wasn’t like any other man she knew, a man utterly devoted to his family and compassionate for humanity. Musa and Salma had lived a good life together raising their family in the suburbs of Toronto. Though Musa was an engineer, his whole life he had dreamed about one day returning to Pakistan and opening a school for the impoverished children of his nation. He wanted those children to have the chance in life that he did. Salma fell in love with him for the dream he had and accepted it as her own. The two had worked tirelessly for years to save the money they could to build a small school. Through the help of friends and family, Musa and Salma had finally saved enough money to make that dream a reality. They had decided to open a school in the northern province of Baluchistan, one of the poorest provinces of Pakistan and home to many Afghani refugees.

Salma and Musa made arrangements to visit Pakistan in August, the hottest month of the year, so the whole family could accompany Musa as he scouted out which areas in Baluchistan needed a school most. They stationed themselves at Salma’s in-laws’ house in Lahore and they would make trips between the province of Punjab and Baluchistan. In late August, just two weeks before their return home, Musa decided to take one last trip to the province to narrow down his list of areas, which typically became longer after a trip.

Salma decided not to go this time so she and the girls could do some shopping and spend time with family. He called Salma every night during his weeklong trip, informing her of the children he had met, the places he had seen and about the potential areas for a school.

“Ah, I wish I could just open a school in every city!” Musa would exclaim.

Perhaps he would have been able to accomplish that dream as well. The day he was leaving to return home he had made one last stop to buy some small gifts for their daughters. While in the market, two men on a motorcycle drove by and shot Musa nine times. He died instantly.

Salma remembered how she and her in-laws grew increasingly impatient as the time for Musa’s arrival had come and gone. Later that night they received the life shattering call informing them of his death.

It became clear over the next few days what the motive of this attack was: Musa’s faith. Musa and Salma belonged to a minority sect of Islam, Ahmadiyyat. Some of their beliefs varied from other mainstream Muslims, thus they had been declared non-Muslims by the government of Pakistan in the 1970s. They couldn’t practice their faith openly and hundreds of people from their community had been murdered like Musa.

Musa’s killers had known who he was and that he was an Ahmadi. They had carefully calculated the perfect time to commit this act of hatred. It pained Salma to think that all Musa wanted to do was help his people, regardless of their faith, and the killers’ could not see that, their judgment was clouded by hatred. Her community preached nonviolence and compassion for humanity and yet how silly to think that people like this kept killing members of the Ahmadiyya Community. They say time heals all wounds but Salma knew no matter how much time passed, this she would never be able to understand.

Her husband’s killers were not found and most likely would never be.  And Salma and her family would not retaliate. This was the tradition of the Ahmadi Community; they would not look for blood, would not spew anger and hatred. They would accept it, grieve and pray with patience.

The sun had risen in the sky and all the guests were now awake and eating breakfast. The day had gone by fast and before she knew it, it was time for the viewing. As she entered the room with her daughters Aleena, 10 years, and Raya, 7 years, a wave of immense grief washed over her. Her two daughters no longer had a father, they would go through life without his love and support. And finally the tears she had bottled up began to pour down her face. 

The days following the burial, there had been an influx of relatives, friends and members of the Ahmadiyya community coming to the house to pay their respects. Salma had thought about extending her visit but all she really wanted to do was run back to Canada. Her family, parents and in-laws, had insisted upon her staying indefinitely. But the girls’ schools were about to start and she wanted them to have stability in life.  Salma and her girls packed their belongings and boarded their plane to return home. Who knew she’d be returning to Canada without her husband?

Upon their arrival Salma waited for the relief and excitement to be back home but the house just felt lonely and empty without Musa. 

“It’s ok, all will be alright when school starts again. We will be busy,” thought Salma, who was firm in her decision to return home to Canada.

Salma and her daughters went through the motions of everyday life preparing for the upcoming school year. In between their preparations, hoards of people from the community in Toronto would come to pay their respects to her.

A few days after school started, Salma decided it was time to go to Musa’s office and clear out his things. With a heavy heart she started boxing everything in the office. As she rummaged through his papers, documents and diaries, she came across a file with pages upon pages written in Musa’s writing. They were plans for the school in Baluchistan. Musa had thought out every last detail, from the curriculum to the amount of staff members to scholarships he wanted to give out for those wanting to seek higher education. And it wasn’t just for one school, it was for several schools Musa wanted to build across Pakistan. Salma was astonished. She knew how much this project meant to him but this was his mission, the true love of his life.

As she drove home, she couldn’t shake this feeling, couldn’t get this one thought out of her mind: she had to return. She couldn’t abandon his dream and she couldn’t let a few ignorant hateful people deprive those children from the necessity of a true education. Salma was not a coward and she wouldn’t raise her daughters that way either.

Salma gathered her daughters after school that day. She took a deep breath held both of her daughter’s hands and said:

“Your father went to Pakistan to do a very important and noble thing. To help little boys and girls who aren’t as lucky as you two. Did you girls know that?”

The two girls nodded.

“Did you also know that we as Ahmadi Muslims believe that a martyr never truly is dead? And your father was a martyr. He gave his life for something he believed in. That is why we must go back to Pakistan to keep his memory alive by carrying out his dream and seeing it through. We are going to be brave like your daddy. How do you feel about that?”

Aleena nodded, kissed Salma’s cheek and smiled; Raya followed suit.  The room started to become blurry from the tears in her eyes but she felt relieved. For the first time since Musa’s death she truly felt like everything would be alright. She finally felt at peace.

Photo: Deposit Photos 

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