Tag Archives: fun

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Recap: The Big Birthday

Now that it’s May, I can look back at my most recent birthday, which was in early March.

Allow me to explain.

My birthday is on the 3rd, which means my champagne birthday happened when I was 3 and barely knew what “birthday” meant. Womp. Other significant birthdays ranged from very good (Sweet 16) to verrrry stressful (Quarter-Century), and overall the birthday to beat was March 3rd, 2014 (spent living it up in Dubai, shopping and fly boarding and going up the tallest building in the world). For my reverse champagne birthday (someone else can think of a cool name for it) I decided to go all out, celebrating 3 decades of life in 3 different countries over a span of 3 months.

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I already had my ticket for Trinidad Carnival, so I kicked off the celebrations there and you can read all about it in my last post.  I came back home and danced the night away at a fete with a few of my girlfriends, then released the trailer for my new webseries-to-be and released a radio single. I celebrated my actual birthday by leaving work early to go to 2 auditions before taking myself shopping.

Almost showtime!

Almost showtime!

The birthday fell on a Thursday; that weekend I got to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre perform with the added bonus of watching it with my little cousin. This was our first show together! And she’s the same age I was when our Grandma took me to my first concert, which I think is awesome. There was a family dinner after that, and then I went to my curlfriend Nicole Stamp’s place to learn how to work natural hair magic like she does. I’ve been in love with my hair ever since. I got to show off my curls the next day at a delicious and hilarious brunch with a bunch of friends and cousins.

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Harlem Underground

Harlem Underground

The next weekend I was reshooting sections of my Digital Dossier, and then I had new headshots taken by Denise Grant. It did rain that day, which ruined my plans for my hair, but MUA Christine Cho waved her magic wand and the pictures look pretty damn good in my opinion ;-)

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I almost ran out of time to squeeze in my third country, but in April I went to New York City (where I hadn’t been since 2012, and where I definitely need to be more often). Just looking at Manhattan, or walking up and down the streets there, feels like celebrating to me. Even better that I got to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. And I got some good buys in on the way home, tee-hee!

Haven't "seen" her since she was in her mom's belly!

Haven’t “seen” her since she was in her mom’s belly!

So I did it: celebrated in 3 countries, between the beginning of February and the end of April, and the good times keep rolling. Other things have added to my birthday celebrations over the 3-month time period: I left my day job, auditions have picked up, I’ve booked a play in Peterborough and one in Toronto for this summer, and I’m leaving for Haiti in a week!

Happy Birthday to me, and Dirty Thirty is looking exquisite so far . . .

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Looking back at my first Carnival . . . (Trinidad 2016)

First things first: I don’t publish new blog posts here as often as I should. And this one probably should have been finished and shared sooner, but I was of two minds about whether to blog about the whole trip or just certain parts of it . . . and if only certain parts, which ones to leave out . . . and what was a reasonable amount of pictures to share . . . until finally I decided. Here’s one big chunky post about my 20 days in paradise, and (as always) you can read all, skip some, and/or visit my Instagram page for a super-quick photo recap if you’re short on time.

My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Clive (i.e. the best hosts EVER), and fellow first-time Carnival visitor Wyvolyn, from Jamaica

My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Clive (i.e. the best hosts EVER), and fellow first-time Carnival visitor Wyvolyn, from Jamaica

As some of you know, my father is Trinidadian by birth. This was actually only my second trip to the twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago, and although I’m an avid Caribana girl, this was my first Trinidad Carnival. I’ve spent years hearing about how T&T does it much better than we do here in Toronto, and of course I was excited to see for myself what it was like, stuff myself with delicious food, bake myself in the sun, and spend lots of time with family members I don’t see very often. I worked out a plan to budget for this escapade starting around the time of my last birthday (early March). This trip wasn’t cheap! It would’ve been easier if the Canadian dollar weren’t so dismal, or if this year’s Carnival season wasn’t so short (note: for 2017 it’s at the end of February instead of the beginning), and many friends and relatives who were originally planning to come decided not to, but I went for it anyway.

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I basically spent my first few days sleeping in, sunning myself and eating my aunt’s delicious food, and my first nights being taken out by one or another of my local friends. Sidebar: I wish upon every person in the world a host as gracious and generous as my aunt and uncle, who gave me a room of my own, copied a set of keys for me, were always ready with advice and answers to my questions, and basically let me do as I please as long as I came back to the house to eat once in awhile. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

O2 Stadium, where Tuesday on the Rocks was held

O2 Stadium, where Tuesday on the Rocks was held

My first big outing was Tuesday on the Rocks. I adore Kes the Band so I was determined to get to this show, even though it was far away and I had no for-sure way to get there or back and I was going alone. After many frustrating interactions with would-be drivers and would-be companions, I can look back and say it was one of the best nights I had in Trinidad. KTB and their many musical guests put on a great show, I made a friend or two, and I was able to eat some legit Montreal poutine too!

With the homie Raff at Scorch DDI

With the homie Raff at Scorch DDI

Next up was a boat ride. Getting to the Harbour Master by myself from Arouca was a bit of a challenge (the second maxi taxi ride was challenging), but the Scorch DDI boat ride was worth it. Found an old friend, made some new ones, jammed to some sweet music while sailing “down de islands” on a big-ass boat, wearing a bikini in early February . . . it was a good time even though we left and returned to the dock late, which almost messed up my family’s plans for the night. My aunt and uncle and their friend (who was visiting from Jamaica to take in her first Carnival too) and I went to see traditional mas, where masqueraders portray certain historical characters, competing for their titles before a panel of judges, and often incorporating some form of social commentary into their performances.

Moko jumbies =)

Moko jumbies =)

It was important for me to get a taste of the culture behind Carnival, instead of just back-to-back-to-back parties. This may be stating the obvious, but I also went to the beach (ahhhh Maracas, one of my favourite places in the world) and spent hours lounging in the sun and reading.

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Plus I did some other random things, like trying a couple of hot yoga classes and visiting and ashram and the Temple in the Sea, going into the city for one of the Kiddie Carnival parades, and getting up before 4am to go see the street theatre re-enactment of the 1881 Canboulay Riots. (No pictures, because even though we got there around 5:15am, all the seats with views were already gone!)

First yoga class!

First yoga class!

Baby moko jumbies!

Baby moko jumbies!

But don’t worry, I partied plenty! My favourite event was Bess Lime, which I was so glad to have my Toronto friends Kerron and Tiffany come to with me.

Tiff, Kerron and me!

Tiff, Kerron and me!

Before the boat sailed...

Before the boat sailed…

This was a Sunday cooler fete on the water where 3 boats were filled, sailed separately down the islands a bit, then dropped anchor and linked up so you could switch boats with the DJ’s music synched.  The sun went down, the vibe was wicked, there was a fireworks display before we sailed back to the dock separately — and for only $300 TT (about $63 Canadian, and this party included food plus chasers and ice) the value was amazing.

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I did get a few hours of sleep after finally getting home from Bess Lime, and then it was J’ouvert. Tiff and Kerron and I got picked up at something like 2am (budget extra time because of all the roadblocks) and met up with our Yellow Devilz crew at 4am, then partied through the darkened streets of the city dashing paint and water around until 8 or 9am.

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My awesome aunt Giselle brought me to her place to shower and change, then dropped me off so I could meet up with my band and do Monday mas.

My Monday wear

My Monday wear

Full disclosure – I found Monday mas kind of boring and disorganized.

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It felt kind of like a practice run for Tuesday, except most people weren’t in costume, which made it basically a huge mobile street party . . . which is cool, I guess, but I was pretty unimpressed by the time I got home that evening.

Drivahhhh! Doh stop atall . . .

Drivahhhh! Doh stop atall . . .

"Get in yuh section!"

“Get in yuh section!”

But of course the excitement came back when I got up before 4 on Tuesday morning to put on my glorious costume, get picked up at 5:30 (my driver is the bomb, you guys) so I could be on time to meet my band (actually early, since I had such an interesting time finding them the day before when I arrived late). Tuesday mas was everything I’d hoped for.

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Good morning, Machel =)

Good morning, Machel =)

Frontline. Can I get a corporate sponsor next year?

Frontline. Can I get a corporate sponsor next year?

There may be fewer men, but don't count them out!!

There may be fewer men, but don’t count them out!!

This would be a good time to compare a few notes. You can believe the hype: Trinidad Carnival is, in most ways, superior to Toronto’s Caribana. You pay WAY more in Trinidad (even taking into account that you have two parade days instead of one) but far more is included *if* you’re with one of the well-organized bands (not just a gorgeous costume and great DJs and unlimited alcohol, but nuff staff and nuff security and 3 meals over the 2 days and shaded rest areas in the Savannah at lunchtime). You can play with a monstrously large band in Trinidad, if that’s your thing (like, 15,000 masqueraders), whereas in Toronto I think we tap out at about 3,000 masqueraders in a large band. Both have celebrity guests, life-giving music, DJs who tend to talk too damn much over the microphone, a super-high ratio of women to men, locals, tourists, first-timers, veterans, well-meaning stormers, and the feeling that you’re living it up in this very moment so every other moment is inconsequential. (Come on, I know I’m not the only one who feels like that when I’m playing mas; that’s why we’re called “revellers!” A lie?!)

Two of my favourite Fantasy sections this year: Dolce Vita (the ladies on either side of me) and my section, Ashwiyaa

Two of my favourite Fantasy sections this year: Dolce Vita (the ladies on either side of me) and my section, Ashwiyaa

Spotted . . . right after crossing the stage

Spotted . . . right after crossing the stage

#allahwe

#allahwe

There are things I prefer about Caribana though. I prefer to run into tons of people I know in addition to meeting lots of new sexy friends. I like knowing exactly what the parade route is, and knowing exactly what the order of the bands is. I like not having any bands who are so unmanageably huge that they go off somewhere else so as not to interfere with the other bands. I like having only one stage, at the beginning of the parade route (Toronto, can we please go back to that???), and I like being asked by tourists and press people and amateur photographers for photos all day long . . . it seemed like there was a lot less of that for Carnival since they all had exponentially more people to photograph than they would’ve at Caribana. (I like living within walking distance from the parade too, but that’s not Trinidad’s fault!)

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Anyway, my heart was full by the time night fell and a new friend helped me through the mobs of people along the Avenue to meet up with my driver and Kerron and Tiff. The two of them had invited me on a hike excursion the following morning but I’d opted out, since I figured my feet would hurt or I’d be tired. On Ash Wednesday I actually woke up fresh as a daisy, but too late to join them, so after aborted plans to go to the beach and a pool party I napped and then stuffed myself at a dinner party my aunt and uncle and their friend were hosting. While everyone else was flying back home and/or getting back into their work routine, I spent a lot of time with family, including a chartered boat ride to Nelson Island for a great lunch event put on by the African Women’s Association.

Josiah thought he could get away without taking me for a ride on his bike . . . silly cousin!

Josiah thought he could get away without taking me for a ride on his bike . . . silly cousin!

Me and my Aunt Gigi!!

Me and my Aunt Gigi!!

Rock Island, from Nelson Island

Rock Island, from Nelson Island

Nelson Island. Which maybe should be called Rock Island.

Nelson Island. Which maybe should be called Rock Island.

with Uncle Wayne and Aunty Yvette

with Uncle Wayne and Aunty Yvette

Cousin Dominic!

Cousin Dominic!

Tristan and Anya <3

Tristan and Anya <3

Even after almost 3 weeks, I wasn’t ready to come home. Even after a week back at home, I’m picturing myself in Trinidad and planning to bring a bunch of friends with me next time.

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Under 2000 words? Not bad . . . because I could literally fill books with my memories from this trip. But I hope you got a taste of it here on my little blog, and if you want to join me for pretty much any Carnival anywhere in the world (I’m now itching not only to do Trinidad Carnival regularly but to check out Notting Hill Carnival, Brazil Carnival, Bermuda Carnival, Jamaica Carnival, Hollywood Carnival . . . ), drop me a line!

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xoxoxo

TIFF2015redcarpet

10 Goals, 12 Months – My Year-End Blog

So I’m back to the blog – and before I write anything else, let me alert you that this here post will make more sense if you’ve seen that there one first.

July seems like a crazy long time ago! But if you know me, you know I had to check back in on the aforementioned goals before closing out the year.

Remember, 2 out of my 10 goals for 2015 had already been completed by July 2nd: returning to Haïti with Third World Awareness for their 2015 trip, and being a model in the Carnival Nationz band launch.

1 out of the remaining 8 goals was already a Nope, since I did not make it to Las Vegas in May.

Now, what about the remaining 7?

I said I would book and complete at least 6 singing gigs this year; I’d done a handful by July 2nd, but 1 of them was unpaid; by now I’ve done 6 paid engagements.

Me with Jerome, one of my (singing) partners in crime who I met this year!

Me with Jerome, one of my (singing) partners in crime who I met this year!

Out of the 4 acting gigs I decided to book and complete this year, 1 was completed by the midway point . . . and although I’ve had auditions and callbacks since then, I haven’t actually booked any others. (Yet.)

How about those lofty financial goals? Will I celebrate my birthday by having zero remaining debt and playing mas in Trinidad Carnival? HELL YEAH!!! I’m officially debt-free, having eliminated more than $21,000 worth of debt in just under 3 years; I’ve already bought my plane ticket and I’m playing mas too! Stay tuned to my Instagram account for nufffff pictures…

Salamander, one of my early faves

Salamander, one of my early faves

My trip to New York? My friends bailed on me and I didn’t go.

My road trip? I didn’t organize anything in time; but there’s always next year.

My reintroduction into the world of dating? Well yeah, actually, that did happen. Next question =)

#datenight

#datenight

Re-qualifying for the first promotion of my network marketing business? Nope, I didn’t hit that goal. Keep nudging me for 2016, okay?

 

The final tally? 5 out of 10 of my 2015 goals were completed in 2015.

50%.

Half.

I’m not sure if that’s good or bad . . . if I got a 50% grade on any course I took I’d be furious about it . . . but then again, the point of personal goal-setting is to go big or go home. Right?

 

Anyway, time to take a look at the year ahead and figure out what I’ll be getting up to next. ;-)

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… unless I manage to complete another one in the next 5 days … hey, anything’s possible!

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Midway Blog – 2015

July 2nd marks the midway point of a 365-day year.

I always have multiple achievements in progress, both long-term and short-term, in multiple areas of my life. This year I selected 10 specific ones to reach by year’s end and 10 more to achieve within the next 10 years, and since we’re halfway done 2015 I figured it was time for a quick check-in…

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2 of my Goals for 2015 have been successfully completed.

I returned to Haïti with Third World Awareness; and I modelled in the Carnival Nationz band launch for 2015.

Ayiti cherie!

Ayiti cherie!

Finally!

#finally

 

 7 of my Goals for 2015 are Works In Process. Specifically . . .

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3 Goals are In Process – Stage 3 (the work has started, but isn’t complete yet):

I said I was going to book and complete at least 6 singing gigs this year; I’ve done 5.

Many of my performances so far this year have been with the wonderful, beautiful Sunset Service Choir.

Many of those performances have been with the wonderful, beautiful Sunset Service Choir.

I said I was going to book and complete at least 4 acting gigs; I’ve done 1.

The stage. Sonnets for an Old Century was my first acting gig of the year.

The stage. Sonnets for an Old Century was my first acting gig of the year.

I said I’m going to celebrate my next birthday by being debt-free and playing mas in T&T Carnival 2016; in terms of saving up money and securing accommodations, I’m on track and on schedule.

hopefully with my cousin Kari!

hopefully with my cousin Kari!

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3 Goals are In Process – Stage 2 (the planning is underway):

I said I was going to take at least 1 trip to New York . . . it looks like it’ll happen in August.

I said I was going to take at least 1 road trip (probably to New York, if I’m being honest) . . . so if New York in August happens and I don’t fly there, that’ll be two goals crossed off with one stroke of the pen.

I said I was going to start dating again *gasp!* I decided it was time to reboot my non-platonic social life, and since I don’t want to jinx anything, let’s just say it’s looking like it’ll be a fun summer =)

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1 Goal is In Process – Stage 1 (I need to get on it):
I said I was going to promote to the first level of management with my network marketing business . . .I’ll be re-qualifying this month!

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Finally, there is one goal I set for this year that I know I’ve missed: an event in Las Vegas in April which I wanted to attend and ultimately chose not to, in keeping with the achievement of my next-birthday-related goal listed above.

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And as for my next-ten-years list? More than half are already works in progress.  :)

Cheers!

Cheers!

Commuting home from "work" one day.

Ayiti 2015 =)

Some of you know that I’ve recently returned from a trip to Haïti where I do humanitarian work with Toronto-based charity Third World Awareness. I’ve posted some of my favourite pictures from the trip already, but I thought I’d also write up a little something to answer questions some of you may have about the country itself, or this specific trip, or how you can get involved with similar work.
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This year's group of volunteers.

This year’s group of volunteers.

First, the basics: TWA takes a group of volunteers to Haïti every May for a 12-day stay. It’s a pretty awesome story: John Callaghan (the one in orange, hiding his face), a high school teacher, started taking his students on trips to poor areas of Kingston, Jamaica to show them how differently some people live in different parts of the world. (My future children will absolutely receive similar privilege checks before they’re out of school.) When he retired from teaching he didn’t plan on continuing the trips; but by then some of his former students, who were college-aged or older, joined with Callaghan to form a registered charity and keep the tradition going. TWA has now travelled to Haïti 14 times. Check out their site to donate or learn more about them. Or, you know, keep reading.

Where We Go
We stay in Pétion-ville and work mostly in Port-au-Prince. On a weekend we might travel for a bit, like to a beach in Montroui like we did this year.
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What We Do
Volunteers have a choice of working at a malnutrition clinic for children (my usual spot), a healthcare facility for adults, or a school TWA has funded, which is almost complete, in a very poor section of Port-au-Prince called Cité Soleil.
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Cite Soleil from above.

Cite Soleil from above.

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How We’re Funded
Any money donated to TWA goes directly to projects on the ground in Haïti and to the people who will benefit from them. This organization pays no salaries to its board of directors, and volunteers raise our own funds to cover things like airfare, accommodations, food, medical expenses, etc.
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A night out.

A night out.

High Point of 2015 in Haïti
I’m so predictable. I always fall in love with the kids. We aren’t permitted to take pictures at the malnutrition clinic; here’s one from the first day I visited Cité Soleil this year.
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Love.

Love.

Worst Part of the Trip(s)
I’m a pretty good traveller, and I’ve been to Haïti 4 times now, but I’m still prone to a bit of stomach trouble and mosquitoes love me. The other physical discomforts (dust in the air, heat, occasional torrential downpours) are pretty minor.
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Post-Earthquake Progress
Having never been there before the massive earthquake of 2010, I’m a bit hard-pressed to say whether the changes I see are the results of specific post-quake reconstruction or just general progress. I do know that there are hardly any quake ruins left in the areas I saw, and that there continues to be lots of construction and increased/improved amenities, which from what I can tell are benefitting everyone and not just certain groups of people or neighbourhoods.
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One of our volunteers and one of our guides with some future students of a school we're helping to build in Cana'an.

One of our volunteers and one of our guides with some future students of a school we’re helping to build in Cana’an.

What about Language?
Fortunately I speak French, and a bit of Kreyol; but every time I go to Haïti I’m resolved to get better at both these languages. You don’t need to know either to get along in the country, but it doesn’t hurt to learn a few key words.
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Why?
Because I love travelling and it doesn’t always need to be under glamorous circumstances. Because I love reuniting with my friends there, including my “big brother” Serge, and meeting new friends too. Because there are far too many people who “wish they could” or “always wanted to” and I want to be one of those who is glad and grateful that I’m doing it. Because going to a country loaded down with luggage and coming back with little more than the clothes on your back is great for your soul and your closet as well. Because Caribbean sun. Because Haïtian food. Because we can.
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Mesi anpil =)
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29 THINGS TO TELL MY 10-YEARS-AGO SELF

I’m in the last year of my twenties, which means I think I’m a lot wiser than I really am. Recently … thanks mostly to Throwback Thursdays, the Crash Course educational series on YouTube, and the work of playwright Jose Rivera … I started wondering what my current, past and future selves might say to one another if they all met somehow, and I compiled this list of things I would love to go back in time and say to myself at the end of my teens. I wouldn’t answer any of her obvious questions (No, you really shouldn’t get back together with him; Yes, you’ll be able to pay your way through school, so relax) because, hey, there are some lessons she needs to learn the hard way. Also, to keep things interesting, I would purposely not divulge which parent will move overseas, when and where and why I get tattooed, or how much (or is it how little?) I weigh in spring 2015.

Here are 29 pieces of advice for the 2005 edition of myself, delivered with lots of love and a steupse or two.

 

1. Look for “flaws” in your character, not your appearance.

2. What you do when no one is watching matters even more than you already know.

3. The sooner you acknowledge the power of your words, the better things will be.

4. It is possible to create great art from a happy place.

5. You have the best dad ever too.

6. Practice being quicker to get over disappointments and slower to roll your eyes.

7. I love that you take so many pictures, but you don’t need to have double copies of all of them. (Also, since we’re on the subject: in one of the pictures up top, if not both, you are actually 18. You took so many that year there weren’t many to pick from the year after. But it’s all good, because your looks haven’t changed much since you were 2.)

8. Figure out how to control your emotions, and your imagination, or else they will control you.

9. When it comes to money, pay more attention to the direction than the amount.

10. Also, go out of your way to learn more about finances than what you’re being told.

11. Asking for help does get easier.

12. Saying goodbye gets easier too.

13. Letting go after saying goodbye will probably get easier. One day. I hope.

14. Soon you’ll come across this thing called Facebook, and I applaud your decision to hold out for awhile. But get on the Instagram bandwagon quickly.

15. Never stop dancing.

16. Singing will take you further than you think. Feel free to interpret that literally.

17. Don’t worry that you’re too old to get back into acting.

18. Don’t worry that you’re too old for anything.

19. Don’t worry. At all.

20. Take your own eighth-grade advice: Travel, travel, travel! (You remember why you said that, right? Good.)

21. Being single can be sexy. And “sexy” has a greater and better meaning than you realize right now.

22. Go clubbing a lot over the next little while; you’ll get tired of it pretty soon.

23. Experiences > possessions.

24. Classics > hits.

25. American men will always be a thing.

26. Take your time figuring out where you stand on religion and spirituality.It is nobody’s business but your own.

27. The only difference between a valley and a hill is your perspective.

28. I am extremely proud of you.

29. You are going to love what comes next.

Chattrisse-online-E

10 REASONS 2014 ROCKED

Sometimes, quotes that go viral are bang on. Like this one:

highlightreel

So, full disclosure, spoiler alert, be warned! For this, my final Top Ten Tuesday (maybe ever . . . maybe just for the year 2014), I am choosing to focus only on my highlight reel. I encourage you to do the same as you reflect on that year that’s ending and the new one coming up. Here are 10 of my favourite memories from 2014 . . . they started out in chronological order but you’ll see why that didn’t last long. Enjoy!

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1.   DUBAI, AKA THE FIRST 5 MONTHS OF THE YEAR

This is not a copout, you guys. If I tried to count and categorize my favourite individual moments from my stay in Jebel Ali, I would never ever ever finish writing this. I mean, really, which was more memorable: fly boarding, or ascending the Burj Khalifa? Swimming in salt water, or strutting in heels? Organizing photoshoots, or creating videos? Shopping for new clothes or chopping new men?

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10am in Toronto, and 6pm in Dubai

flyboard10 IMG_0110Suffice it to say that my entire trip there, especially from January 1st until early June when I came back home, will ever be forgotten.

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2.   FAM JAMS

And when I did come back? Family reunions galore! A roti picnic on my mom’s birthday, my cousin Derek’s wedding in Ottawa, a Thanksgiving feast in London, ON (with STUFFING!!!  WHY was that so hard to find in Dubai???), reunions with cousins I rarely see even when I am home.

IMG_2319 IMG_2322I gave and received many bone-crushing hugs, and I loved every squeeze.

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3.   MEETING 5 NEW BABY COUSINS

Reunions are one thing; meeting and holding a new baby for the first time is, like, next-level awesome. And I was blessed with 5 (yep, 5) new baby cousins this year. In birth order: Carter, Amaya, Quinton, Iyla, Adalia.

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Baby bliss!!!

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4.   GETTING BACK INTO AUDITIONING

And not just because I booked one or two roles! But the whole process, which used to feel really stressful to me, is getting more and more fun.

Pre-audition selfie ... last chance to check my eyeshadow ;-)

Pre-audition selfie … last chance to check my eyeshadow ;-)

Shoutouts to the people booking the roles I didn’t =)

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5.   FRIEND-LY REUNIONS

Every coffee date or breakfast date or jerk chicken date with a friend I hadn’t seen in months and months was a heartbeat for me. I’m especially grateful for the CAMO Cruise, my reintroduction to Toronto’s fête society, where I cruised across Lake Ontario with good people and good music and good drinks (and okay food, lol) and thought to myself, “Man, do I love this city.” (Thanks, Nish!!!)

Nish, Dija and me!

Nish, Dija and me!

Likewise, the day after the Caribana parade, some friends and I went to a day party that gave me so much life I’ve run out of words for it. Amazing music (shoutouts to hometown hero DJ Starting from Scratch and DJ Dany Neville, from Dubai, who I finally met here in Toronto!), pretty venue, awesome people, new and old friends, randomly running into my cousin Kari . . . vibes. Loved it. (Thanks, Lincoln!)

Clockwise from the gorgeous blond-tipped curly fro, lol: Tiff, Shana, me, Nish. DJ Dany Neville is at work in the corner

Clockwise from the gorgeous blond-tipped curly fro, lol: Tiff, Shana, me, Menisha. DJ Dany Neville is at work in the corner

And let me not forget the wedding of my homegirl Allison, who I’ve known since tenth grade, to the ultra-cool Derwyn . . . I’ll just leave this picture here because with words, I literally can’t.

IMG_2203Love y’al!

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6.   CREATING MY OWN ROUTINE

Overseas, my routine was determined by my work hours and the times that the buffet was open. Here at home, it took me awhile to settle back in, and there are still some days that get crazy, but at least I have control over the first hour or so after I wake up and the last few minutes before I go to bed. Carving out time every day to read and write and express gratitude, and even to YouTube sermons, has made a huge difference. photoIt might be the least exciting thing on this list, but it’s for sure going to be one of the most beneficial, long-term.

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7. RELAUNCHING MY SIDE HUSTLE ;-)

Spending the first chunk of the year overseas, in some ways it was like an extended vacation. But to be honest, there were times when it felt a bit like exile. This was especially true when it came to my beauty/health/wellness business, and it was a relief to jump back in with my colleagues and my appointment lists, and some sweet new products, when I got back.

IMG_1325IMG_2444Onward, to ENVP!

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8.   REALIZING THE POWER OF VISION BOARDS

me and Missy.002You can read all about it here, but from here on out I will be even more mindful of how powerful these things are, as material declarations. I mean, really. Wow.

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9.   SHOOTING THE AALIYAH BIOPIC

What an experience!  Everything about this for me, from the audition process to the backlash, was important and I’m grateful for every second. But what makes it onto this list, for me, is actually being on set for this project.

#90s

#90s. The first scene

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Set life. L to R: James Shipp, Izaak Smith, Alexandra Shipp, AJ Saudin, me

The environment and the goal and the people, especially the people, had me really really wishing that somehow I could have stayed on set longer. As in, I would have gone on set every day just to watch and be a part of it from behind the scenes (I did, actually, on one day). Thanks to everyone involved; much love!

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10.  UNSCENE

Ah, my baby. For those of you who don’t know, I’m developing a new TV show called unSCENE and this year it grew from just a pilot episode to a pilot, the finale, plus several other episodes written, numerous meetings and pitch sessions, and now (shhh, this is insider info) possibly a casting change that will turn everything I’ve already written on its head.

L to R: Sagine Semajuste, Kelsey Willmott, Jazz Testolini, Kerron Schullere, Chattrisse Dolabaille, JaNae Armogan

Queens Quay.  L to R: Sagine Semajuste, Kelsey Willmott, Jazz Testolini, Kerron Schullere, me, JaNae Armogan

Frustrating as it’s been sometimes to take care of this finicky, fussy, slow-growing project, I love it and I’m looking forward to sharing it with more of you.

And that . . . is a wrap. I have this policy where every year should be better than the year that just passed, so if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do in advance of 2015! ;-)

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ABOUT A YEAR AGO

It’s the evening of November 27th, 2014. I am reading a library book, editing a blog entry, messing around with lyrics for a new song, playing soca in my head, wondering why my back hurts on one side, and contemplating going to the kitchen to get a snack . . . all pretty much at the same time.

I was doing a lot of things at this time on last November 27th, too. I was at the Lester B Pearson International Airport and I was wondering what I had forgotten to pack, helping carry bags and musical instruments, joking around to keep myself from feeling nervous, celebrating the fact that the wind and snow outside had lost their power over me, taking pictures, saying goodbye to my parents, and forbidding myself to cry. I was about to leave home for my first overseas gig, to spend six months singing in Dubai.

It’s times like this that I realize, all over again, what a difference a year makes.

Here are some current-me updates, in case me-from-a-year-ago is interested. Since last November 27th, I have:

 

– completed the Dubai gig (153 shows done, and 52 songs written during downtime, but who’s counting?)

– met some great new and hopefully lifelong friends

– gained and lost weight

– gained and lost and gained hair length

– gained and lost a glorious Arabian tan

– developed and recovered (?) from crushes on numerous men from the UK

– tried fly boarding

– landed my first role in a feature film, gaining insight about myself and other people as I learned what it feels like to be the subject of criticism in the big wide world of social media

– been blessed by the arrivals of 5 (!) new baby cousins and joined several of my friends in welcoming their new babies too

– married off one of my dearest friends; this time a year ago she and her husband weren’t even engaged yet

– made lots of progress in the creation and development of a new TV series

– paid off a significant amount of my personal debt

– successfully relaunched my online beauty/health/wellness business, and found some new outlets for my skills as a writer/blogger and editor while continuing to create and go to auditions

 

That list looks pretty good to me! Heading into this American Thanksgiving weekend, I’m reminded again of how much I have to give thanks for in just the last year alone. Now, let’s see what other tricks 2014 has up its sleeve . . . =)

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10 AWESOME THINGS MY PARENTS GAVE ME

One of the nicest arguments I’ve ever been a part of occurred on set this summer, with a hairstylist and a makeup artist. This was a mature, respectful version of “my mom/dad is cooler than your mom/dad, nah nah nah boo boo!” So, for this month’s edition of Top Ten Tuesday, I’m listing the reasons why I will win this contest against anyone, anytime. With the omission of some of obvious gifts, like long fingers and specific words of wisdom and height (#irony), here is a list of things my parents gave me that prove they totally rock.

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1.   GOOD GENES

I definitely use great products, and I do my best to get reasonable amounts of sleep, and both of these habits help keep me youthful and fabulous. But honestly,  I got some really good DNA too! The first thing people notice about my mother and father is how young they look.

Dad and I at TIFF 2014

Dad and I at TIFF 2014

Mom and I at a cousin's wedding, September 2014

Mom and I at a cousin’s wedding, September 2014

I am eternally grateful to them for passing these genes on to their offspring, as evinced in the fact that someone canvassing me for a donation to TVO last weekend had to stop and ask if I’m 18 yet.

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2.  MUSICAL TALENT

Music runs in my veins on both sides. From my parents (a drummer and singer, and a flutist) to their parents and siblings and beyond, it’s in my DNA.

Dad performing at the 2009 Arcadia Showcase

Dad performing at the 2009 Arcadia Showcase

My maternal grandmother even released a cassette of her original Christmas-themed Calypso songs in the 1990s.

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3.  MUSICAL APPRECIATION

Nope, not a repeat of #2. I grew up on oldies. I wasn’t even allowed to decide what music I wanted to hear until I was a tween. Sure, I was last to learn any of the words to “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls, but I still know all the words to “Juicy Fruit” (which “Juicy” sampled).

mtumeMtume was and still is the jam.

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4.   EARLY AND FREQUENT EXPOSURE TO BOOKS

. . . lots of them!! I remember Mom pointing at the words in my storybooks as she read, guiding me to recognize the words instead of just hearing the sounds. I’m told that I started reading on my own at the age of 3, sounding out the word “Batman” on the back of a cereal box. Dad is forever tossing me books to read (y’know, like Roots when I was 12 years old).

My current reading situation

My current reading situation

Leaders are readers . . . I will always be a very proud Nerd Word!

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5.   INDEPENDENCE

My parents made sure I knew how to use the TTC even though most of my suburban neighbours didn’t. I started working at 15. I paid my way through university with awards and scholarships.

Jogging. In a desert. In Dubai. Alone. Why not.

Jogging. In a desert. In Dubai. Alone. Why not.

There have been times I’ve wished some of the above things weren’t the case, but overall I’m so grateful.

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6.   FREEDOM

Man, I never even had a curfew.

My first time taking a solo vacation; Cuba =)

My first time taking a solo vacation; Cuba =)

My parents trusted not only me but their own parenting skills enough to trust that I would make good choices, for the most part. And, for the most part, I think they would agree that I did. Good job, Mom and Dad!

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7.   YOUNG PARENTS

. . . especially in the case of Mama Dukes, who chauffeured my friends and I to and from clubs starting back when I was 14. (Relax; these were all-ages events.) My parents had me during the year they turned 22, and I felt like they were so much more relevant to and understanding of my life as a young person than most of the parents of my friends, who were older.

Honestly. They look like teenagers. YOUNG teenagers.

Honestly. They look like teenagers. YOUNG teenagers.

I did want to start having children when I was in my super-early twenties too . . . ah well, can’t win ‘em all =)

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8.   THE TRAVEL BUG

Not only have my parents always encouraged me to travel, I sometimes get to travel with one of them, and sometimes they even foot the bill!

Here they are almost a year ago, seeing me off as I set out to spend 6 months in the United Arab Emirates

Here they are almost a year ago, seeing me off as I set out to spend 6 months in the United Arab Emirates

Ooooh, I am so glad I didn’t get parents of the “it’s a big bad scary world so stay home” variety.

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9.   THE BEST EXTENDED FAMILIES I COULD ASK FOR

I mean, did I win a birth lottery somehow??? I am SO blessed to be the daughter of my parents and the granddaughter of my grandparents, the niece of my aunts and uncles and the great-niece of my great-aunts and great-uncles, and the cousin of my cousins.

A rare family photo; almost all of my Mom's mom's family in one shot, minus the great-grandbabies =)

A rare family photo; almost all of my Mom’s mom’s family in one shot, minus the great-grandbabies =)

My only gripe about my family is that not a single one of them live even remotely near New York City. (Apparently a college professor who shares my surname is there, but we’ve never met, so . . .)

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10.  THE GET-OVER-IT GENE

Not that my life has been rocked by (m)any catastrophes, but one event which was painful and difficult to get over was the end of my parents’ marriage. People are constantly surprised at how well my mom and dad, who split up more than 20 years ago, get along with each other today. This was just one of the ways they taught me what to do with obstacles, challenges, “hurtful” events: get past, through, over, and/or around them.

IMG_1517 IMG_1386Lesson learned, you two.

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I hope I can be half as amazing when it’s my turn to raise children. <3

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me and Missy.002

DREAMING BY DESIGN

So last weekend I ate lots of food, saw tons of relatives, and reflected on things that have happened for me between Thanksgiving 2013 and Thanksgiving 2014.

Like 2 super-exciting gigs, for example. I got to escape winter by singing in Dubai for 6 months, then I came home for the summer and filmed my first movie role playing the young Missy Elliott in Lifetime’s Aaliyah: Princess of R&B.

Of course there’s a silver lining in every cloud and a cloud for every silver lining. The Dubai experience was awesome, but being away from family and friends for that long can be tough. Playing the part of a pop culture icon in this major project is my biggest booking so far, but it didn’t come without a certain amount of . . . let’s call it . . . character-building.  =)

Now this post isn’t going to count, characterize or rehash any negative comments from the world of social media. (Although I offer a sincere “Thank You” to all those who took the time to send me encouraging messages; more than I expected! Bless up.) Nope, I’m writing this to share something that helped me keep my head up when it would have been easier to get angry or defensive or sad.

Let’s take it back to high school for a minute. As a tenth-grader at Thornhill Secondary, I had my first taste of graphic design in a course which I think was called Computer Sciences, and one project really stuck with me. Our teacher instructed each of us to Photoshop our face onto the cover of a popular magazine.

I loved the idea, and I scanned a hard copy of VIBE that I’d bought on a recent trip to the States (it was hard to find in Canada at the time).

double take

I’d never heard of a vision board or a dream board back then, but I kept a copy of this assignment. And I almost forgot about it until years later when the “controversy” arose about me portraying Missy Elliott. You cannot imagine how encouraging it was to find that 12-year-old piece of paper and hold it in my hand. It taught me 3 really important lessons.

me and Missy.001

 

1. THOUGHTS BECOME THINGS

Me designing this made-up cover, and keeping it, was my way of saying to God and the universe (long before I learned about the law of intention or self-fulfilling prophecies or anything like that) that I wanted fame and fortune and photographers. I still want to be a cover girl; I would love to do so in the world of music, but if it comes about through acting or some other form of expression, I’m fine with that as well. This taught me that making and using vision/dream boards is incredibly powerful as long as you’re putting the work in too. Mind what you wish for, because if you think it enough times, you’ll end up with it somehow.

 

2. NEVER GIVE UP

Notice, the time lapse between my magazine assignment and the headlines for this casting was 12 years. I originally thought I’d have a record deal around the time I finished high school — HA! It would have been so easy for me to trash this printout when I realized I was headed to university instead of being the next teen pop music queen, or any of the times I auditioned/applied/submitted for a role/gig/deal and didn’t get it. Now I understand that years or even decades can go by, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get what you’re going for. It might just mean you haven’t grown enough, or learned enough, or sacrificed enough yet.

Let’s say you set your ultimate goal 20 years ago and you’re not there yet. I don’t know when you’ll make it, but if you give up, I know you won’t ever make it. And it might be right around the corner. So keep going.

 

3. GOD HAS A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOUR

To be honest, my choosing that cover was a matter of convenience; it had nothing to do with Missy herself. Of course I’m a longtime fan; the woman is a legend! But it ended up as my backdrop simply because we were told to choose our favourite magazine (mine was definitely VIBE) and that was the hard copy I had to scan. Of course, the funny plot twist is that I went from replacing Missy’s face with my own to being the face of Missy in the movie. So the timeline looks like this:

June 2002 – I declare “I’m going to be on the cover of VIBE one day” by inserting my face onto VIBE’s cover and changing up the headlines to reflect my own interests and wishes.

Summer 2009 – VIBE goes out of print. I mope about my lost opportunity. Even the magazine’s later resurrection and reincarnations don’t make me feel much better. I sulk, but I keep working (duh).

June 2014 – I audition for and land the role of Missy Elliott in Lifetime’s biopic Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, and I keep an eye on social media as people speculate about the movie and about who will be playing the lead role. The majority of what I read confirms my suspicion that the public will be vocal about any casting choices they don’t like.

August 2014 – BlackFilm.com publishes a piece about the movie’s cast, announcing that I’m playing Missy. Figuring the cat’s out of the bag, I confirm via Facebook (where a bunch of people who know me are full of congratulations) and Twitter (where a bunch of people who don’t know me are full of something else). Remembering my 2002 DIY mag cover, I remind myself that I earned this role and that my job is to get up, dress up, show up, and play the part. I have an incredible time, working with amazing people — love and respect to Izaak, Alex, AJ, James, Brad, Etheline, Rose, Chris, Gisele, Joe, Michelle, Fast Eddie, and every single member of the cast and crew for making this experience as awesome as it was!

November 2014 – the movie comes out, and a new chapter begins.

 

I can’t wait to see what new things I’ll have to be grateful for by next Thanksgiving.

xoxo