2016: A Year in Review

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

2016, the year of some of my highest highs (Coysta) and lowest lows (November 8). I sure am glad this year is over. Let’s put this thing to bed.

Good Vibes Only

Yukon Blonde

Yukon Blonde

Wintersleep

Wintersleep

Drake

Drake

Whitebrow

Whitebrow

Ellie Goulding  Tragically Hip (no pics but they did happen)

WayHome Flags

WayHome!

WayHome 2016

Reading Rainbow

I got through 15 this year. Take that, Goodreads. In order from most to least favourite:

  1. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
  2. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  3. My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem
  4. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder
  5. Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
  6. Belgravia, Julian Fellowes
  7. The Nightengale, Kristin Hannah
  8. The Witches, Stacy Schiff

Honourable Mentions: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Tiny Beautiful Things, A Stolen Life, Bossy Pants, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, All My Puny Sorrows, Is it Evil Not to be Sure?

Heaps of memoirs and non-fiction with a few novels here and there to keep things light. Reading with the kindle makes things so much easier because I can hold it in one hand on the subway and a pole in the other so I don’t fall over. Not as easy to do with a book. The future is now, friends. I also discovered the timer at the bottom so I can see how many hours and minutes are left in each chapter/the whole book and that motivates me to finish things faster.

I Like Sports and I Don’t Care Who Knows

Jays, Raps, Argos, Team North America etc. etc.

Team North America

Is there anything better than October baseball?

Jays 2016

One Tough Mudder,

Tough Mudder

One O-Course,

Fit Factory O Course

One Ping Pong Tournament, Two Half-Marathons, Two Obstacle Courses,

The Young and the Restless

Four MEC races (the greatest deal of all time).

MEC Toronto

The fitfam is alive and well.

Tough Mudder

Costa Rica – The Best Week of my Life!

I graduated from university in 2010 and college in 2012. Then I sat down at a desk and didn’t move for four years. I was long overdue for a vacation and I finally got everything that I wanted and more. My sister Kay and I picked Costa Rica (which we have been affectionately calling Coysta since Kay spent a month there in high school) because it seemed like the perfect blend of the beach front/all-inclusive scene together with the hostel-dwelling/backpacker travelling experience.

Tamarindo Costa Rica

We escaped to Tamarindo for a whole lotta sun, sand, surf, and cervezas.

Maggie de Barra

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we did spend the entire week reenacting Blue Crush at every possible moment. I left my heart in Tamarindo and I will need to go back sometime very soon to collect it. Everybody moves a little slower and everyone is happy and free! Nobody rushes, stray dogs are friendly, life is beautiful.

Tamarindo

Pura ♥ Vida

Philanthropy 

My proudest accomplishment this year is all of the wonderful charity activities we organized through work. We raised money for breast cancer, a Thanksgiving food drive, and we collected presents and gift cards for our adopted Syrian refugee family through the Holiday Angel Program at New Circles. I also managed to gather a table for the Hearts for Syria fundraising gala. And, we already have so many plans for next year – Bell Let’s Talk, Prom Dress Drive, Spring Cleaning Clothing Donations… It was a wonderful year and I was so touched by the incredible generosity of my coworkers.

Hearts for Syria

Election 2016

File under ‘worst experiences of my life’. If you were looking for a wake up call, this was it. I was living happily in a bubble, surrounded by people who act and think like me and it was a very rude awakening. The only thing to do now is move forward and keep fighting for the causes I love and support. We can’t fix everything. We can’t help everyone. We can pick one issue and throw ourselves into it. Scream from the tallest buildings. Write letters and emails. Show up. If you are an ally, make it known. Vote. Participate. Be an active citizen and protect the Canada we know and love. We can’t let this happen again and we cannot let it happen here.

Anything and Everything

December is always exhausting and I’m really looking forward to recalibrating and resting in January for a hot minute. 2016 was the best and the worst for so many reasons! The days are long but the years are short, so they say.

Blue

Did I accomplish any of my new year’s resos from last year? Nope. My only resolutions for this year: read more books and be a good person. Go on one trip – I’m thinking Bali or Bust

Blue Mountain

The Theme for 2017 is Bacchanal

*goes to Central America once*

*loves Soca music*

Let me preface this next bit by saying I have a minor in Greek and Roman studies so I know what I’m talking about.

The MVP for our Costa Rica trip was DJ Private Ryan, the DJ who creates the best gym podcasts. He creates mixes with top 40, Soca, hip hop, reggae and more and they are almost all over an hour long so they really go the distance (etc. etc.) during training. They are also great “getting ready” playlists and we always have one playing when we need something to pick us up a little bit. There are a bunch of songs on these playlists that I had never heard before, some are not popular on the Toronto stations and I had never heard them out and about in the city. I never paid any attention to these songs while we were listening to the podcasts before but I was absorbing them the whole time without realizing.

Cut to a scene on the beach in Coysta where Shakira and Enrique Iglesias are still hitmakers and they only play dance music – everywhere! Kay and I unexpectedly recognized all or most of the songs from DJ Private Ryan’s podcasts and it was such a sweet throwback to Goodlife exercise room sessions and bedroom dance parties.

There is a recurring theme in Soca music that reveres the idea of Bacchanal. I appreciate the way Soca artists use this word which refers to the celebrations of the followers of the ancient Roman god of wine, Bacchus. These festivals were called Bacchanalia and they were supposedly very scandalous and for heathens only – just like Tamarindo!

The modern interpretation of Bacchanal as it is used in Soca music is a little different. The ScotiaBank Toronto Carnival Lexicon describes Bacchanal as: uninhibited fun, laughter, and revelry. That sounds absolutely perfect to me and that is all I want for the next year.

#Bacchanal2017 – be there or be square!

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Yer Favourites: Reflections on The Tragically Hip

Trying to sort through a fraction of what I’m feeling before I start to cry again.

There is a consensus among us all. A communal sorrow of Canadians coast to coast. I have been taking comfort in reading the words of others and reliving our shared memories. Their experiences are so similar to mine, we could have all been there together, and my heart aches, and it’s not fair. Terminal. That means the end. That means there will be no more.

Each profile I read, every time a band covers a song, when I stop and think too long, I get choked up. Last night at WayHome, the Arkells played Music at Work and I lost it. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. I don’t know how to describe this collective grief.

These songs, the soundtrack of my life, each one a different chapter in my history. Some transport you back like a time machine, some you just can’t bear to listen to again. The words are weighty and each line is loaded and they mean something to me. A deep something, something different each time I hear it. It means something to you as well. Some of the most significant moments of my life feature The Tragically Hip. My happiest memories. I just sit and think and reflect and then I feel sad again. I’m mourning something that hasn’t happened yet, something that will never happen again.

– – –

We’re sitting around that glass-top patio table in the backyard, hashing it out for hours and someone keeps grabbing refills. You think you know this song. As you tip your head back, you think you see a shooting star, but it was gone too fast to catch it.

A bonfire on a summer night and you can’t tell which is warmer, your toes as they move closer to the flame or the dying day pressing in around you from all sides. Your whole body smells like fire and will take days to wash out. The smoke burns your eyes but you don’t move away, because you know in a few seconds, the wind will change directions and you’ll be okay. Someone pulls out a guitar, there’s always a guitar nearby, and they play you a little something they’ve been practicing. And everyone sings along, some loud and some soft, but all together at once and it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.

The screen door snaps shut behind you as you head to the water and the music fades away as you get closer. It disappears as you jump in.

The gravel, kicking up and hitting the sides of the car, keeps time as you head out, or home, and there is comfortable silence between you as you all look out your own window. Everyone is too tired and sore to speak, but the radio plays on.

Trying to fall asleep on someone else’s dorm room floor but every time you doze off, those punching chords rouse you. The playlist is looping and after seven times, you know all the words. That night in Toronto, it could be every night.

A warm coffee in your hands as you bob your head along, steeling yourself before another long day of hard work.

Slow dancing in front of a cast iron stove as the music trickles in from the floor above. It’s snowing outside and you can’t see the lake anymore at this time of night. As you whisper the words in your heart, you know Gord was right, that it was worth the wait.

It’s Canada Day, in an open field, surrounded by friends who used to be strangers. Everyone screaming that we also come from downtown and we were born ready for you. For what? For whom? For life? Love? A challenge? A triumph? Armed with will and determination and grace, too, above all to see us though.

The sadness of watching your Jays hat fly off your head when the wind tipped it as you race across the lake. Mourning your own 50 mission cap that had been your most loyal travel companion.

A car passing by with the windows down and you wish they had a red light so you could listen a little longer.

Fireworks. Always fireworks in our hearts. Sparklers too, if you’re lucky.

A laugh so loud you think your brain or chest or both will explode and you wonder if anyone else has ever heard anything nearly as funny as this in the history of the world. You’re lucky to have such funny friends. You want to bottle this moment forever. Someone should write this down before we forget.

Goodlife Toronto Half-Marathon 2016

In pursuit of the sub-2hr half.

Sometimes I spend my weekends sleeping in late, and sometimes I wake up at 5:30am and do crazy things. On Sunday, May 1, 2016 I woke up at 5:30am and did something crazy.

I conquered the Goodlife Toronto Half-Marathon.

Certificate of Completion | Paper

I had spent the last few weeks training pretty hard and I was so excited to tackle this run. The day before was beautiful and sunny and cool. The course was mostly downhill and I knew that with some beautiful weather, I could finish in under two hours. I woke up on Sunday hoping for another gorgeous day and I was very sad to see cold grey skies and pouring rain.

I ran alone this time, which was both comforting and a little unnerving. I really wanted to finish it in under two hours. My last half was finished in 2:04. I didn’t really plan or train for a certain time at the Scotiabank half. This time I had been preparing. I knew I needed to average about a 9-minute mile for the majority of the race to get under two hours.

I had a little bit of a plan. All the articles I read said to run the first mile a little slower than your average pace, so that’s what I did. After the first mile marker, I felt really good. It was nice running through the city and it felt comfortable. I was so surprised at how many people were running together, and all the people who were cheering on the sidelines with cute signs. Bless their little hearts, if I wasn’t running there would be no way to get me out of bed on a cold, wet day.

Goodlife Half | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I had made a plan to take an energy chew at mile 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. I checked my pace on my iPod every mile. And, I had a water belt so I could save some time bypassing the water stations. At mile 4, I checked my pace and was so surprised to hear I was only 35 minutes in! This was a perfect pace for me and I was so pumped. I was a little bit ahead of the 2:00 continuous Running Room Pace Bunny for most of the race, and every time their pack caught up to me I made sure to push through to get ahead.

I felt good all the way down Yonge Street, and down Rosedale Valley Road. I sprinted down the hills and took it easy when I felt like I needed to. My pace was good. I checked a few times and I had 5:30/km, 5:15/km, there was even one time I checked and it said 4:45/km. I couldn’t believe it. I was soaking wet, running through puddles, rain in my face, freezing cold and somehow I was on track.

Race Map | Paper Clips by Maggie de BarraTowards the end of Rosedale Valley Road, coming up to Bayview, I slowed down a little to rest. I knew that once we hit the downtown core I would need to pick up the pace and I was trying to conserve a little bit of energy. As we moved west through downtown I started speeding up a little. According to my iPod, around mile 12, I was at about 1:47, so in my mind, I had one mile left and 13 minutes to finish it. This seemed like it was almost too good to be true so I felt awesome. I was pushing even harder so that I could stay at a comparable time.

And then, the sad realization that my iPod was not calibrated correctly, as it announced that I had finished the race as I was rounding Bathurst. I had about another 1.5-2km to go. And my next mistake, not really studying the race map, because as I was coming up to Fort York, I was sprinting hoping to see a finish line any second. And then the Prince’s Gate, and still no finish line. So I was just going full out, I was in the zone and I just sprinted the whole rest of the way.

Goodlife Finish Line | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I jumped over the finish line with my hands in the air feeling triumphant and strong as a horse. I checked my iPod and it said 2:02. Two minutes faster than last time, two more minutes to go. I was really happy with my time. I know that if it was sunny and beautiful, I would have been a little quicker. I know I can finish in under two hours, I just don’t quite know how to get there.

After the race, I immediately felt freezing. I had checked my bag up by Mel Lastman Square and I was expecting it to be on the same truck or under a tent of some sort. I was super bummed out to see a parking lot full of soggy bags and a few pylons to direct us around. That would be my only complaint, they really needed tents for the bags. My stuff was soaked. My phone was okay, tucked in my coat pocket and wrapped up. My change of clothes was damp. I felt a little stupid because I had packed two plastic bags to put my wet stuff in, and if I knew the bags would be sitting out in the open, I would have put everything in the plastic bags.

The line for food was way too long and I just wanted to find my friends and get some coffee and be somewhere warm and dry. I did grab two bottles of the most delicious honey lemon water on the way out. That almost made up for the wet bags.

My post-race routine consists of brunch, a lot of coffee, an epsom salt bath, a pumice stone, foam rolling, and a long nap. The post-race nap is the most glorious thing in the whole world. I do these crazy things for the recommended naps afterwards.

And so, I have now had more than two weeks to recover and I am back in training for the 15k I have at the end of the month. There is no rest for the wicked.

Sub-2, I’m coming for you.

Is Justin Trudeau a Feminist?

“Because it’s 2015.”

I was pleasasntly surprised to see this clip of PM Justin Trudeau’s response to a reporter’s question about why he was so insistent on having gender parity in his cabinet:


*mic drop*

The Liberal Cabinet will be comprised of 15 women and 16 men, compared to the Conservative Cabinet of 12 women and 27 men. So, what is more spectacular here: adding 3 female Cabinet Ministers, or cutting 11 male Cabinet Ministers? The power is in your perspective.

Is this piece of strategy a reinforcement of affirmative action? Are these women simply filling the 50/50 quota? Or, are these women the best for the job?

But why not put women, or people with disabilities, or visible minorities in the spotlight? Putting them in high-profile positions of power is a huge statement: They can do this job – and so can you. That sounds like a very inspiring and uplifting message to spread to all Canadians. It sets a good example.

I’m looking forwad to the day when gender equality, and equality for all people is simply a non-issue. We will know we’ve achieved true equality when we can stop prefacing everything in terms of gender and race.

Let’s address the issue: identify the problem, implement changes, and move forward. We are all Canadians and we are all equal. Now, let’s stop talking about fluff and move on to the important issues.

And, if you were wondering:

If You Aren’t Outraged, Then You Just Aren’t Paying Attention

Ignorance is Bliss.

Not Afraid

I understand, I think, for the first time why most people prefer those sugar-coated, mind-numbing movies and TV shows packed with celebrities and other pleasant things.

Watching the National last night, I realized that Peter Mansbridge and his guests were not discussing the possibility that this is our “new normal” – they were confirming the obvious. An over-used term, but still applicable. These recent attacks, homegrown and ruthless, in Ottawa, in Sydney, and now in Paris are horrific and terrifying, to me anyway. I feel like we are all at risk now. This is our normal, we of the post 9-11 generation. Which city will be next and when? London, Washington, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo? Toronto has been spared for now, but for how long?

I remember learning in journalism school that therapists and journalists have higher levels of something like secondary PTSD. While they may not be experiencing these events first-hand, their exposure to first-hand accounts on a regular basis can generate a wave of similar symptoms.

Watching all these news programs, reading these articles (some fantastically well-written, answering the questions I didn’t think to ask), following the chaos of Twitter – it can be exhausting. I found relief last night during the commercial breaks of the National, with previews for silly shows about space, animals, and consumer trends. It was like a dose of comfort before getting back in the ring when the program started again. I felt like a character in Brave New World, but it wasn’t taking hits of Soma that made me feel better, it was television. And with it, the promise of a familiar-but-novel distraction, spread to the masses to keep us somewhat entertained, but mostly chained to our couches, away from the news, newspapers, books, and somewhere out there, the truth.

2014: A Year in Review

A month-by-month play-by-play.

This year has seen a lot of ch-ch-changes: big and small, good and bad. I changed roommates, I changed jobs, my family structure has changed, and our country was changed forever.

Heads up: this is long! (Shout out to my friend Jen for taking most of these photos! She has curated a photo essay of my youth.)

January

Coming down from the Christmas season is always a blur. Trying to fit in all family, friends, and events you couldn’t squeeze into December. Somehow I managed to see The Nutcracker (twice in one year is always a plus), Les Miserables, Heartbeat of Home, and I saw Jay-Z again! He was great with Kanye during Watch the Throne, and he is just as good solo. I got some good ice time at Harbourfront, and at the little rink near my house, and even some twizzles on the Canal in Ottawa. There is nothing so soothing as a few solitary, silent laps on the ice.

JayZ

February

At one point in early February, I wrote the following in my agenda: “work panic attack / existential crisis / major anxiety“. Talk about dramatic. February was awfully stressful, at work and at home. I had coworkers coming and going and our team was in a flux. And at home, my roommate was set to move out any day, and I was constantly in limbo trying to plan for my sister to move in. I was a wreck every single day. I felt anxious all the time and I was barely sleeping. I had awful chest pains and heart palpitations. I needed to make a major life change, and in February, I started to do just that.

Olympics

In February, our Social Committee at work set out to raise $1,000 for the Red Door Family Shelter. We managed to loop in Valentine’s Day and the Olympics into our fundraising through dress down Jersey days and selling Candy Grams.

Candy Grams

It was a great success and we beat our goal! I loved taking charge of these events and it really brought the spirit in the office to new heights, and it felt so good to be doing something together as a team. And, we got to watch so many events on the TV in the boardroom! It was great. The men and women both won Gold in Hockey, and we hosted an awesome brunch to celebrate the gold medal game!

March

In March, we also threw a team together for the Escape the Winter Beach Volleyball Tournament. We lost every game, but we had a fun time.

Beach Volleyball

We went to Medieval Times one Saturday night and it was so fun! Our section was cheering so hard and we were so into it. But again, our Knight didn’t win. As a lifetime Leafs’ fan, I’m used to it now. And I caught a Raptors-Golden State game as well. I definitely want to check out some more games in 2015. The crowd at Raptors’ games is so loud and wild. The fans cheer for each basket and every play, unlike the suits at the Leafs’ games who are always on their phones.

April

April was crazy for both work and home. My team was up in the air and I had no idea where I fit in anymore, and I was working insane hours. I also had to juggle one roommate moving out and another moving in. It was tumultuous, and it really did a number on me. My stress was so bad I landed myself in the hospital. I also got three cavities (my first ever).

May

In May, I think I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Having my sister move in with me was the best thing ever. We had such a fun summer. I’ve never watched so many movies in my life. The weather finally let up and we got some weak sunshine. The ice only went under the lake the week before May 2-4, so that weekend up north was really chilly!  It seems like it went right from winter to summer, no spring at all. But it was super relaxing – something I really reaaally needed.

Toronto

I had my best friend Lil come for a visit from Australia and we had some much needed girl time (pedicures and picnics etc.) and I also made it to two Jays’ games.

Jays

June

Watching the World Cup in the boardroom and after work this summer was so fun. I’ve been a Netherlands’ fan since grade ten when I had an exchange student named Nienke. I’ve had a soft spot for the Dutch ever since. My love for the Oranje threw off my office pool, but at least I got to see that magnificent victory over Spain. Payback for 2010!! In June I also got to meet one of my idols, Hillary Clinton. As of today, she has still not announced anything! Summer is for the Blue Jays, and I managed to fit in one more, against the Yankees. And Canada Day is incomplete without a jaunt in the woods, so we went up north again for the weekend. And, I tried a Weber’s burger for the first time!

Cottage

July

My girlfriends and I spent a beautiful summer Sunday on the Island riding bikes around and reenacting scenes from Now & Then.

Bikes

And I got to live the dream and see Beyonce and Jay-Z together at the On the Run Tour at the ACC. They are both amazing live! I’ve seen them both twice now so I’ll lay off for a bit. Wait for another album to come out. I am still holding out for another good Kanye album so he can redeem himself. We also had a girls weekend in Niagara with good food and wine, and great company.

Niagara

August

In August, I made some big moves at work. It was a relaxing month because I had over three weeks off between my old job and my new job. One of those weeks was spent up north at the cottage and it was the perfect way to wind down after a wild few months. I also got to cross my last must-see band off my list – Arcade Fire at the Molson Amphitheatre. I’ve now seen everyone I think! Every band on my list. What a triumph! It was the last weekend of the summer and it went out with a bang.

Arcade Fire

September

I went to my first wedding! It was a hoot. I also started doing yoga, which really did wonders for my stress levels. It’s just a nice way to chill out and relax. I also got to see a Leafs’ exhibition game, and it was my sister’s first Leafs’ game so that was nice to share with her.

October

I saw Joffrey Lupul buying records at Rotate This on Queen. I didn’t realize it was him until he was walking away so I didn’t even get to say hello. Nobody was bothering him, and he just looked like a regular guy. I saw him at a Vampire Weekend concert a few years ago, so I know he has good taste in music. I saw Tennis again at the Mod Club for their new album. And, we spent a day at Forsythe Farms to pick pumpkins and get lost in a corn maze. It was a perfect fall day.

I went to a Toronto Public Library Lecture series about Emma, my favourite Jane Austen novel. I was the youngest person there, but it was still fun. My family and I went to see Book of Mormon and it was so funny!! I just loved it and highly recommend it if you don’t mind extremely rude jokes about everything and everyone under the sun. I also went to see Bastille at the ACC. I thought Bastille was an indie band, I had no idea they had such a huge following, or that the entire following was under the age of sixteen. My sister and I were the oldest people in sight!

October 22 will stay with me forever, as long as I live. There was also the scandalous news about Jian Ghomeshi. I received an email from the Carleton School of Journalism which was much appreciated. They were reaching out to current and former students to make sure we were all okay. They had sent something like 70+ interns to CBC over the past few years, and one student (that they knew of) was placed with Q. I am keeping an eye on this, his trial will certainly be something else.

I did my civic duty and voted in Toronto’s municipal election. John Tory was elected but only by a small margin. I really think that if Rob Ford ran for Mayor, he would have won. This scares me.

My friend Dana brought me to see the former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, present a CBC Massey Lecture on the paradox of citizenship. It was timely and interesting based on our recent election, and the Ottawa Shooting.

For Halloween, I was a Mummy! I am continuing in my quest to be all the things I wanted to be as a child/teen but was too embarrassed/shy to be. Back then I just wanted to be something cute (but inevitably lame). Now I realize that I have to dress for only me! I have been a Mummy, Beyonce, a Cat, and a Robot. I’ll start brainstorming again in the summer.

Oh, and I turned 26!!!!!

Bday

November

November 1 I will always remember for my Grandpa Pat. November was a month filled with lots of family and friends. I definitely felt the love. We have always been close and tight-knit. We are so much stronger now.

I managed to snag some more Leafs tickets, but it was for that dreadful 9-2 loss against Nashville. We put our Christmas tree up on the same day as the Santa Claus parade. All this wait until Thanksgiving thing is an American idea. In our house, the Christmas season starts on the day of the parade. I like to get a full eight weeks of Christmas celebrations each year.

Parade

December

I got some professional head shots taken. I’ll be adding them to my LinkedIn profile in the New Year when our new website goes live. I saw Arcadia with my Uncle John. The play was really long, almost three hours! But it was very good, and I left wanting to know more which is, I think, a good sign. I got to stop by the Santa in the Junction Winter Christmas Market – more of a sidewalk sale than a market!

Christmas

We went to see the Donny & Marie Christmas Show at the Princess of Wales Theatre! It was so good, the perfect mix of Broadway, Christmas songs, Oldies, and Pop. The ladies in the audience were going crazy for Donny, but he was so sweet and hugged them all! And, Kate and I snagged some rush seats to The Nutcracker.

Sweaters

December is always a whirl with lots of family and friend dinners and parties. I do love a good Ugly Christmas Sweater party. Great news: my best friend Lil from university just got engaged (!!!) and she asked me to be a bridesmaid (!!!!!). I am beyond thrilled. Two things on my mind right now: 1) save up for my ticket to Australia! 2) save up for bridal party expenses!!

My sister and I also went to see Jersey Boys in December. It was amazing, as always. It was my fifth show, her tenth show. It gets better and better each time. We met the cast at the stage door and they are so nice! We joined them for a beer at a nearby pub after the show. They’re just like us! I cannot recommend this show enough, it’s always a good time.

Conclusion

And now here we are, the last day of the year and I will shortly be heading out of the city. I’ll be joining my best friends up north to ring in the new year in the wilderness.

How did I do on my goals from last year? Don’t care! What am I planning for next year? Nothing at all. Just be myself. It’s been working for me so far. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year! Cheers to 2015!

Ballet Review: The Nutcracker

The National Ballet of Canada’s annual production of The Nutcracker is a festive and fun way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Going to see The Nutcracker at the Four Seasons Centre has become one of my favourite Christmas traditions, next to watching Little Women on Christmas Eve (sacred in our house). There is something so magical about Tchaikovsky’s suite, and this grand holiday spectacle. I look forward to it every year, and I still get chills each time.

Waltz of the Snowflakes | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

The opening scene, a Christmas party, with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins spilling in for a visit is such a familiar scene. In my head, this is how we all arrive on Christmas Eve, dressed up and synchronized, but we end up looking more like a pack of Griswolds in Christmas Vacation.

This year, the show only runs from December 13th to January 3rd – only three weeks! I wish they would start on December 1st or so, three weeks isn’t long enough. I know that these shows do a short run time to ensure a packed house each night, limiting the supply to a high-demand market like Toronto. But, would it really hurt to extend by two weeks? If there were empty seats, there would be more room for Dance Break and Rush seats, and they would be able to reach a wider audience who may not have had the opportunity to see the show otherwise. I read that 40 per cent of a ballet company’s revenues are generated during the Nutcracker season. Wouldn’t it be better to extend the run to increase the revenues? And, I think it would be beneficial to extend the run for another two weeks so they can increase the number of future patrons who may never have had the chance to see the show during the regular short run.

Nutcracker and Sugar Plum Fairy | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

The National Ballet of Canada does a Russian-style show. The opening scene takes place in a snowy barn and everyone is bundled up. It has been in this style for some time now. My friend, Kate, who bravely faced the box office line in the morning, told me that she has seen a Canadian-style production with dancing Mounties and Canada Geese! How fantastic would that be? While I do love this beautiful, red and gold, Fabergé egg style, I would really love to see something new. Surely, it must be about time for a change. But, it’s not as if they can just re-design and re-choreograph the whole thing. Or, can they?

The Egg | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

There are so many lovely, familiar numbers in the Nutcracker. That feeling of awe when the tree grows in front of your eyes, the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the Arabian Dance, the Shepherdess and the Fox, and the Bumblebee. I especially love the Dancing Bears. The NBC released this cute video with some rehearsal footage. I always loved how they look so graceful despite their large size and clumsy footwork. The company does a great job of including all ages and skill levels in each number.

The little lambs are so cute! They brought them down into the hall during intermission for photos.

Sheep | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I’ll never forget my first show, I was so impressed that they brought a real horse on stage! You can imagine my shock when I saw how well the horse was trained, especially when it started dancing around to the music! I didn’t realize until the very end that it was simply two male dancers in a very realistic horse costume.

Horse | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

Dancing Horse | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I have said before, the Waltz of the Snowflakes is my favourite number of the whole show. I just love the corps de ballet. They are strong but graceful, beautiful, and synchronized. I’ve learned so much about the different levels in a ballet company thanks to the city.ballet. series on AOL. It’s a very entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the New York City Ballet. Definitely check it out!

Snowflakes | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I think the Nutcracker is such a hit, with me anyway, because it shows me exactly what I want to see during the holidays: heartwarming scenes of family, charming Christmas spirit, beautiful costumes and scenery, and a fantastically talented orchestra accompaniment. I’ve had seats in the past overlooking the orchestra and it is so fascinating to see the musicians live. They are tremendously talented.

If you have not yet seen The Nutcracker, it is well worth the trip. If you’re in Toronto, ticket prices range from $60 to $160, but definitely see if you can take advantage of some of their discount programs: Dance Break or Rush tickets (you can usually snag a seat for around $40). Or, you can watch the Mariinsky performance of The Nutcracker on YouTube here.

The Nutcracker | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

The Nutcracker will really take your Christmas spirit to the next level. With just one more day to go (!!!!), and my Christmas shopping still not finished – I’m halfway between bliss and stress! I should be very thankful, however, because at this time last year, our whole city was covered in ice, and our power was out for THREE DAYS.

Cheers to you, wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year!!

Canadian Christmas Cards 2014

Combining my two great loves: Christmas and Canadiana.

Canadian Christmas Cards | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

December is here! Time to crack open the Advent Calendars and tuck into all the Christmas movies. Our tree is up, the Christmas village is sprawling, and the carols are on repeat. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Spoiler alert, friends and family: I picked up these adorable Hockey Christmas Cards when they were on sale back in January. I can’t wait to send these little guys out. I also picked up some traditional holly+ivy style cards as well. Now if I could only find some time to sit still for an hour to write and post them all!

I’ve been wandering around midtown Toronto trying to find some more adorable Canadian-themed Christmas and Holiday cards and, great news, I’ve found quite a few!

My favourites, far and away, are from Wendy Tancock. She designed that cute little hockey card above. Wendy is a Toronto-based designer and man, do her cards speak to me!!

Wendy Tancock Christmas Cards

Witty and keyed into our popular culture, you can’t get much better than these cards!

Wendy Tancock StreetcarWendy Tancock RaccoonWendy Tancock QueenWendy Tancock Muskoka ChairWendy Tancock Hockey

Will and Kate! The Raccoons! The fighting Leafs and Habs! I can’t get enough of these. I’m really hoping to see Wendy and her adorable cards at the One of a Kind Show, or maybe Santa in the Junction Winter Market.

If you’re looking to buy a Christmas card for charity, there are several options as well.

Canadian Cancer Society Holiday CardsCanadian Cancer Society Holiday Cards

The Canadian Cancer Society is selling some really cute Holiday Cards for $1 each. Proceeds raised from the sale of the cards will help to fund cancer research, vital information programs, and compassionate services for people with cancer and their families. Canadian Cancer Society Christmas Cards can be purchased by mail, fax, or online.

Unicef Canada Holiday cardsUnicef Canada Holiday Cards

And, I especially love Unicef Canada‘s Holiday Cards. They really do a great job of capturing just what a Canadian winter looks like. Unicef Holiday Cards come in packs of 116 for $50, and can be purchased at IKEA, Pier 1 Imports, Hallmark stores, Loblaws, and Walmart.

Unicef Canada Holiday Card

So go forth and send some Christmas Cheer to your loved ones! I’m sure it will brighten their day!

Canadian Christmas Cards 201Canadian Christmas Cards 2014 first appeared on Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra.

Aftermath of the Ottawa Shooting

United we stand.

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This has been a hard week, one of the darkest I can remember in some time. I have felt every emotion in the book, soaring love and pride and crashing fear and grief.

Calling them terrorist attacks seems to be the easy way out, a simple news phrase that is thrown around in the media so carelessly. When I think of a terrorist attack, my mind pictures a foreign invader, attacking some other foreign country, but definitely not my own. What do you call it when a Canadian turns his anger on his own country? This doesn’t fit my description at all. What is a terrorist? Someone who terrorizes people, uses acts of violence to create fear in an innocent group of people? This week I was afraid, and very, very sad.

But there were some positive things to come out of this week. Many stories emerged from those who were at the War Memorial, or on Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning. We were further reminded of the stoic heroism and selfless courage of so many Canadians. The images yesterday, at the War Memorial, and along the Highway of Heroes, filled me with so much patriotism and pride. I feel content in the knowledge that I am not the only one feeling grief, but also reaffirming my love for Canada.

My family and friends are safe, and I am so grateful for that. Our country is mourning the loss of two of our soldiers, and when this sorrow has passed, our focus will turn to taking the needed steps to ensure this never happens again.

I have been so touched by the expressions of condolence and solidarity from people around the world. In a perfect world, we would never have to learn of them this way, but it is nice to know that we are not an island, and that our efforts to build and nurture foreign relations have not been in vain.

My words will never be enough. But, I have been comforted this week by listening to the radio and reading the reactions of Canadians all over the country. To those who are also hurting I say, I understand what you are feeling, and know that I share those feelings too.

I will leave you with the words of Jack Layton.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

O Canada…

The True North Strong and Free.

Parliament Hill - May 2013

We are in unchartered territory and I don’t really know where to begin. A situation that is still ‘fluid and unfolding’. My beloved Ottawa, my home for four years, in lockdown and under attack. One of the longest days. Watching, listening, following along feeling helpless and horrified. And now, more than twelve hours later, we are still in the dark.

War Memorial - Nov 11 2009

My former journalism student instincts have never really gone away. I love Twitter, and I continually browse headlines during the day to keep an eye on things. It makes me feel like an adult to have a basic understanding of and ability to form a valid opinion on current events. I have taken to reading news on the CBC website, one, because it’s still free, and two, it seems mostly free from partisan bias. Around ten this morning I gave the CBC home page a quick browse, and felt my stomach plummet. Quickly pulling up Twitter, what followed was one of the darkest hours I’ve ever experienced, filled with misinformation, graphic and disturbing photos, and several first-hand accounts from Canadian politicians and journalists on the ground. This whole day has been surreal.

Parliament Hill - Nov 11 2009

I am lucky to follow some truly fascinating people. Their collective commentary during any major event, be it an awards show, the Olympics, any major breaking news, Ferguson in the last few weeks, and now today, is always on point. My carefully curated group of journalists, politicians, key contributors, and news makers, and those who they follow, are always witty and informative. After spending four years in Ottawa, I am following a lot of folks on Parliament Hill, and too many of them were caught up in this fray today. They provided terrifying and viscerally real accounts of what they saw and heard. For me, Twitter is not filler, it is often the most up-to-date and reliable source of breaking news, much more than cable tv or radio news. These people are on the ground and they take their jobs seriously.

Canada Day - 2012

I checked in with my friends who are still in Ottawa and who spent the day in lockdown (thankfully, they were all okay), and admired the quiet authority of Jim Watson, the Mayor of Ottawa, during the RCMP press conference. My news feed was overflowing, and I couldn’t refresh fast enough.

Canada Day - 2012

My Parliament Hill has a stray cat sanctuary, and free yoga on the front lawn, and concerts on Canada Day with accompanying light shows and fireworks. My Ottawa has a free skating rink running through the middle. My Ottawa is clean, beautiful, vibrant, and safe.

Parliament Hill - Gold Medal Celebration 2010

I had hoped that these foreign threats would never touch our shores, and now twice in one week, members of our armed forces have been singled out and murdered. We must watch in fear and feel helpless as our enemies walk through our front door. I feel flashbacks to the first few days of grade eight, when we came in from first recess with whispers of an attack. Where my teacher, Mr. Mele, sat at the only computer in the classroom trying to access CNN’s website. The computer was big, white, and clunky, and the internet was fledgling and slow. We couldn’t get beyond the homepage. We had no access to information and no updates and we were totally in the dark. When I got home from school, I sat in front of the TV in disbelief for hours, simultaneously mesmerized and horrified by the loop footage of the Twin Towers.

Today, I rushed home from work and have been watching television coverage for the past few hours. I am older, but still feel afraid. Unable to take my eyes away from the footage of my beloved Ottawa under attack.

Canada Day - 2011

I am of the generation called the Millennials. I am the post 9/11 generation. Raised on Harry Potter and MSN Messenger. Early adopters of new technology. Living under the looming threat of terrorism. You don’t have to tell us to ‘stay vigilant’. We get it. We’ve already had it for a long time. We’ve been maintaining constant vigilance since Moody warned us about the Death Eaters back in the day.

Doubting myself, wondering if my unfortunate heavy double dose of patriotism and sensationalism was causing me to overreact, I felt isolated and alone today. Nobody in my immediate vicinity seemed to know nor care about the situation unfolding in Ottawa. I feel like I need to divide the people and influencers in my life by our shared values. Today was an exercise in that. My close friends, and some fellow former journalism students on Twitter, shared my concerns and I felt comforted by their shared reactions.

I want nothing more right now than for Peter Mansbridge to fold the nation in his warm embrace and tell us all that we’re going to be okay, and that everything will soon be well.

Canadian Flag

❤ Ottawa ❤ Canada ❤ you too, Toronto

Tomorrow is another day, and we must remain the True North, Strong and Free.

Canada Day

* My apologies for disconnected and incomplete thoughts. Written after a stress-filled, anxiety-ridden, very emotional day, while flipping between CBC, CTV, Global, and TVO for six hours straight, heart aching, head pounding…