Made me smile: “The Disney Surprise” videos

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Cinderella Castle in Technicolor

As I try to breathe some new life into this blog (First step: redesign! I’m loving my new theme, and I hope you all do, too!), I’ve been trying to open my mind to new things that I might want to write about here and share with the world. One thing I’m always in search of, both online and off, are things that make me smile. I’m the kind of person that can easily let stress and worries get the best of me, so one of the ways I keep that under control is by focusing on finding things that make me smile, no matter how big or how small. To help spread some more happiness out into the world, I thought I’d start a regular blog feature where I can share things that “made me smile”, and I hope that they’ll help add some more smiles to your day, too.

For my inaugural “made me smile” post, I wanted to share my new favourite YouTube video meme, what I’m calling “The Disney Surprise”. Apparently there are tons of videos on YouTube featuring parents surprising their kids with trips to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Most of these videos feature the parents telling the kids about the trip at home on the day they’re leaving, in the car on the way to the airport, or, in one of them, as they’re driving through the Walt Disney World gates. The sheer joy on these kids’ faces and their often priceless reactions make me smile so hard, and I want to share my top 3 favourites with you:

1. Lily’s Disneyland Surprise

Lily’s video was the first of these videos that I watched, and it not only made me smile, but it made me cry a bit, too. Lily’s reaction once she figures out her big birthday surprise is incredibly sweet and heartwarming.

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Interview with Torontoist about Ladies Learning Code

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Ladies Learning Code

Bonus points for anyone who can find me in the above photo! Photo by Jon Lim.

Ladies Learning Code, “a collective of women working to empower everyone to feel comfortable learning basic, beginner-friendly technical skills in a social, collaborative way” has run two workshops so far in Toronto and I’ve happily attended and loved both. So far I’ve learned about HTML/CSS and JavaScript, and I just love the concept and atmosphere of learning about web development amongst other brilliant and fascinating women. I loved it so much, that I eagerly agreed to chat with the fantastic Bronwyn Kienapple last week for an article she was writing for Torontoist. The article came out this week, and here’s a sneak peek of what I had to say:

Two-time attendee Suzanne Gardner, a writer, editor, and social media marketer by trade, has no background in coding. She pins herself as a typical Ladies Learning Code workshopper: grateful to have a friendly space to test out the world of tech.

“Not that I would be against working with men, but I like that [female-only] aspect of Ladies Learning Code,” said Gardner. “I am a somewhat feminist so I like that it inspires women to enter this industry and educate themselves about web development.”

Clearly I write a bit better than I speak, because I would’ve sounded way less awkward if I had said “I consider myself to be somewhat of a feminist”. Honestly, self. Anyway, go read the rest of the article over at Torontoist. And if you’re in Toronto with nothing to do tonight, why not join me at the Ladies Learning Code Launch Party?

Happy Ada Lovelace Day: Celebrating my fictional heroines, Meg Murry and Hermione Granger

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This past Friday, October 7th, was Ada Lovelace Day, a day which “aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire”. The day is named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, who tragically died from cancer at age 36, leaving her potential sadly unfilled. You can learn more about Ada on the fabulous Finding Ada website, dedicated to promoting the achievements of women in STEM.

As part of Ada Lovelace Day, the Finding Ada site calls upon bloggers to share a story about a woman who has inspired them in becoming who they are today. And although I know I’m a few days late, I wanted to join in by talking about two females who have affected my life and development as a person, even though they’re fictional. Obviously there are lots of real-life women who have inspired me, as well, but when you’re as obsessed with books, TV and movies as I am, sometimes your brain instinctively goes the fictional route first. Even while rustling through the character card catalogue in my head, many worthy female candidates popped up (Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow should both be honoured on a day that’s about ladies who kick ass…literally), but in keeping with the Ada Day theme, I decided to focus on two brainy girls that enchanted me as a child and have stuck with me through to today: Meg Murry (from Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet series) and Hermione Granger (from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series).

A Wrinkle in TimeMeg Murry
I’ll start with Meg, as I suspect that less of you may be familiar with her. If I’m correct and you have no idea who Meg is, and you love sci-fi/fantasy YA fiction, get thee to your local library/bookstore, pronto. A Wrinkle in Time, the first book in the Time Quartet, was one of my favourite books as a child, and upon re-reading it a few years ago, I happily discovered that it was just as spellbinding as an adult. (One of my biggest fears as a reader and lover of children’s/young adult literature is that I’ll re-read a book I loved as a kid and find it now falls flat for me.)

Meg is the novel’s lead protagonist, an awkward and self-conscious teenager, whose parents claim she’s brilliant (and she is!), even though she does poorly at school (except in math). A Wrinkle in Time is the story of how Meg, her little brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin travel to other planets in order to rescue Meg’s father, a scientist who was experimenting with time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. When I first encountered this book as a child, I definitely could relate to Meg, except for the time and space travel part, unfortunately. But the nerdy, brainy, self-conscious parts? Yup, I had that covered. Yet despite the fact that Meg initially sees these elements of her personality as drawbacks, during the course of the novel she learns that her individuality is in fact an asset, not a liability. Meg’s bravery, loyalty and love, in addition to her smarts, help her succeed in this book, and I like to think that all of this helped me succeed as a teenager, too. Meg’s unlikely triumph helped me to believe, at a very young age, that I could work through my self-conscious tendencies, too…while also helping me realize that maybe being a nerd wasn’t so bad, after all.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneHermione Granger
In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the scoop: Hermione is one of the three main characters in the Harry Potter series, and is one of the smartest girls to hit the children’s lit market in years. If brainy is now considered cool, I think we all have Miss Granger to thank for that. I first met Hermione in 1999, when my sister Ali returned from a summer in the U.K. with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone tucked into her luggage. Ali had eagerly devoured the book while she was away, and quickly forced it upon her impressionable younger sister who was about to turn 14. Just like my sister, I fell in love with the book instantly, and, as a self-conscious, nerdy kid, I instantly related to Hermione.

Where Meg is definitely uncomfortable with her misfit status, Hermione, on the other hand, isn’t remotely ashamed of her know-it-all attitude and social ineptitude. And, as such, not only did I relate to Hermione, but I also immediately admired her ability to embrace all parts of her personality at such a young age. Hermione sometimes also used her encyclopedic brain as a security blanket of sorts, shielding herself from revealing her insecurities. And while I’d never claim to being as smart as the star pupil of Gryffindor, I can relate to hiding behind one’s brains occasionally. Hermione constantly inspires me not only to be brilliant, but to be as comfortable with my true self as she is.

Meg Murry and Hermione Granger are two fictional heroines who have helped inspire me to become the woman I am today. In honour of Ada Lovelace Day, what women, real or fictional, have inspired you? Tell me about them in the comments!

Goodreads Mini-Review: Domestic Violets

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Domestic VioletsDomestic Violets by Matthew Norman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d really like to give this book a 4.5 rating, to be honest. I use the word “honest” because that’s what this book is: brutally, brutally honest. While I wasn’t thrilled with the ending and thought it was a bit too neat and tidy, this book kept me completely engaged from beginning to end. The characters were fantastically created and I feel like I’ll be seeing them randomly on the street, just like main character Tom Violet does with the characters in the novel he’s writing throughout the book. I was actually somewhat surprised by how engaged I was by this book, thinking that it might be too much of a stereotypical “guy” book for me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Norman’s style is very Nick Hornby-esque, and thus will be easily loved by men and women alike, even if his books continue to open with awkward chapters about erectile dysfunction! Laugh-out-loud funny and extremely relatable, I highly recommend this debut novel and look forward to more from the author.

View my Goodreads profile to read more of my reviews or add me as a friend!
Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Perennial for the review copy!

Proud to be a Toronto-Danforth resident: My memories of Jack Layton

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Since I first heard of Jack Layton’s passing on Monday morning, I’ve been thinking about how I can possibly put all of my thoughts about this amazing leader, this amazing man, into coherent words for others to read. As a writer, I find it somewhat confusing that an abundance of thoughts has left me with writer’s block, but sometimes things don’t work out the way one hopes or expects.

When Jack announced that he would be taking a leave of absence on July 25, 2011 to focus on his upcoming cancer treatment, I hoped that he would be back in tip-top fighting shape come September, and, to be honest, I didn’t actually expect anything less either. Almost conversely, Jack was a man of hope, peace and joy, but he was also a fighter – fighting cancer, fighting injustice, and fighting for our country. I didn’t really have to hope that Jack would win this new battle, I practically took it as a given that he would. Truly, after the NDP gained a record number of seats in the May election and Jack became the leader of the country’s official opposition, I thought that nothing would be able to topple the man sitting on top of the world.

But completely unlike other leaders gaining a surge of power, Jack never let it go to his head. I know everyone’s already heard this said countless times, but it’s worth saying countless times more: Jack was a true man of the people, caring deeply about all of his constituents, from the youth, to the homeless, to the immigrants. I was fortunate enough to experience Jack’s considerate and caring nature a few times in the past few years, but my most unforgettable memory is of the first time we met. It was November 2008, and I was a publishing student at Centennial College working on a magazine writing assignment. As a newly arrived resident of Jack’s Toronto-Danforth riding, I sought to determine why that area was so traditionally left-leaning. And, through some very helpful friends and connections (thank you Chantal and Mike), I managed to get introduced to Jack at an Ontario NDP Youth conference, where he generously spent 10 minutes of his time sitting on a small, two-seater couch with me, talking my ear off about both the history and projected future of the Toronto-Danforth riding. Seriously, I think I got in about two questions in all of those 10 minutes. He was clearly so passionate about the subject and I admired him both for this passion, and for his interest in providing such amazing help to a student for an article that was only for a class assignment and wouldn’t even be published.

If I hadn’t been a Jack fan already (don’t worry, I totally was), I most definitely would have been after meeting him for the first time. While working on Joe Pantalone’s mayoral campaign last year, I was fortunate enough to meet Jack a few more times, as well as both his wife Olivia, and his son Mike. My heart goes out to his family right now, as well as all of Jack’s friends, fellow NDP-ers and fellow residents of the Toronto-Danforth riding. Ever since I moved to this riding three years ago, I’ve been beyond proud to tell everyone I know that I live in Jack’s riding, and you know what? I’m still so damn proud.

Me and Jack

P.S. Need to turn that frown upside down? Be sure to check out the Happy Layton blog for some fantastic photos of Jack’s fantastic, mustachioed smile.

Photo: Me on Election Night 2008, with a orange shirt, orange juice, and my Jack Layton pamphlet