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Easy Is In the Eye Of The Beholder Click Here To Comment!

About nine years ago, I had a short but mind-blowing chat with a woman in the choir-of-my-past. She had gotten involved with a woman who was living at quite a distance from Toronto and I had just struck up an intense long-distance connection with a woman in Copenhagen.  As one does, one tries to seek some common ground and I said to her, “It is hard, isn’t it? Trying to manage building a relationship, a connection, at a distance?” And she looked at me with a penetrating, quizzical expression and said, “Why does everyone say that, that distance relationships are so hard? Who ever said that moving in together or getting married was easy? It is just what people are used to, what they view as ‘normal’. But in fact it is very hard. But people are used to that pattern so it gets called ‘easy’.  You and I know that it isn’t easy, either way. So follow your heart.”

She gave me a lot to think about, as she usually did, in our little mid-rehearsal chats.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, and not so much in relation to the fact that I have, indeed, moved in with the lovely Knotty Girl and her (mostly) adorable children. That part is as hard/easy/magnificent/mundane/challenging/fun/exciting/surprising/normal/frustrating/puzzling/funny/beautiful as it is supposed to be. I’m thinking more about the reactions people have had to me appearing to have gone mad by moving a vast distance out of the city.

The established, expected “pattern” would be to live close to work and to stay within spitting distance of the city that I’ve come to love and feel nurtured by. But is that truly the “easy” choice, or just the “expected” choice? How “easy” is it to live in very dense proximity to strangers who behave in unexpected ways, to cope with traffic that is worsening daily, to have very limited access to greenspace, to have to plan carefully one’s route to across town and back to account for time of day, traffic, road closures, protests, events and water main breaks?

The breaking point for me, where the rose-coloured glasses filtering “easy” fell off my eyes, happened one day when Knotty Girl and I pulled up to the arena for a hockey game and were astounded to witness a man stopping on the lawn in front of our car, pulling down his pants and defecating right in front of us. He just did his bidness and pulled his pants up and walked on. That was the beginning of the end for me living downtown. It was no longer “easy” and I could no longer pretend that I found it to be so.

I am, after all, a country girl. I am used to having cows, horses or pigs poo’ing in front of me. Not people.

My gorgeous condo was starting to feel cramped by lack of access to the outdoors and hauling bags of heavy groceries and hockey gear up three flights of stairs no longer seemed as easy as it once did.  In fact, everything about city living started to feel cramped. Space is entirely at a premium, be it space to put a vehicle or space to put a desk to work at. Even space at Starbucks, for those with laptops and that need for the unique focus that public space can provide, can be hard to come by.

I was raised in a huge, rambling, rickety farmhouse with seven bedrooms and two kitchens. We had 750 acres of land, much of which was at my disposal to roam, plow or play cops/robbers/army/spy or whatever, with or without my little buddies. The brickwork in the house was so weak in some spots, like “my” tv watching spot in the living room, that you could feel the wind blow against your ankles for six months of the year. But it sure was big. And there was room for everyone.

Is it “easy” to live far from the city, work, friends and hockey? Not always. Does it feel more “normal” to me? Yes, actually it does. We watch the weather closely, we plan and prepare for things (usually) in a more considered way. We are distracted by birds at the feeders, by the arc of snow blowing in clumps off the trees and glinting in the sunlight, by the size and proximity of the full moon against a black sky, by the wild turkeys and their crazy footprints across the snow on the ice rink. This feels preferable to being distracted by car alarms, traffic tie-ups, unintelligible arguments in grocery stores and sirens. We are responsible for solving a lot of our own problems out here, or at least being somewhat prepared for them.

A few months ago, as Hurricane Sandy approached the North American coast line, Knotty Girl and I spent about two hours getting ready. We gathered up all that might blow around on our property and stashed it safely. We shopped. We parked our cars out of possible treefall zones. We charged up all our flashlights and other devices. The weather models didn’t really suggest we would get hit hard but we’ve come to learn that weather forecasting is a less-than-exact science. It was best to be ready. And we were. I slept so well that night, having done all that we could think of to minimize damage and maximize continuity of lifestyle. We woke up to a few small branches down on the lawn. The hydro didn’t even go out.

My point is that we had some things we could do to make ourselves as prepared as possible. I don’t find this as easy in the city, especially in living spaces like condos. I did make sure that I had a gas fireplace and a gas stove in my place and hoped I could operate them if the hydro were out for an extended period. Hauling items up and down the three flights of stairs was a trade off for not having to rely on an elevator. The hydro did go out a couple of times in the nine years I lived there and I was grateful for having heat, cooking ability, and normal access to my abode.  But I couldn’t make my neighbours take their patio furniture and flower boxes off their balconies so that these items wouldn’t blow through MY windows. I’d be rewarded with a door slammed in my face if I tried such a thing. I couldn’t make all my condo neighbours be mindful of allowing strangers into the property and many of us were rewarded with an expensive overnight car break-in spree a few years ago.  Hell – the city can’t even make dog owners be accountable for dog poo and that problem seemed to get worse and worse in my neighbourhood over the years.

I apologize for the poo theme. One might think that I have a shitty opinion of downtown life. I don’t entirely. Let’s just say it lost its glamour for me and I’m feeling less claustrophobic and more able to make choices about how things happen out here, away from the city lights.  Easy? Not entirely. Preferable? Yes. More deeply familiar to me? Completely.

Space 4 comments

It has been weeks, months, of managing space. Of living in limbo as Knotty Girl and I try to blend our lives in the midst of challenges that are completely unrelated to this blending. KG trying to manage her mother’s complex health and personal affairs. Me trying to get my head around my working life and trying to “vacation” while doing so. Me living partially in my staged, listed condo space, partially at KG’s temporary house-sitting space.  One foot here, one foot there. As I type this now, I’m sitting in a local, newly discovered pub to accommodate a showing of my condo space.

Everyone who “knows” my living space of the last seven years seems to love it. Many of my friends have said, “If my life pointed me to living in downtown Toronto, I’d buy your place in a heartbeat.”  That is sweet and heartfelt. However, the market is indicating something different. When surrounded by new, highly-amenitied high rise glass and steel towers, my little low-rise loft – lacking in the concierge, the marble foyer, the in-house gym - seems to lack the glassy cubicle coldness that the market seems to expect.

If only my walls could talk. I purchased the place from architectural rendering before the shovel hit the ground in May 2002. I waited, impatiently, in a 400 sq. ft. basement apartment until July 2004 to move in. The first six months were hell, with 57 items incomplete on the construction list, including two out of three sinks missing. Much of my valued stuff in storage had been wrecked through dampness and I thought I’d made a huge mistake with the whole thing. However, about six months in, everything seemed to settle a bit. I started to enjoy the magnificent space, the location, my neighbours. A community started to form in the building, paint got up on previously stark white walls, and the space started to really feel like home. Meals prepared and enjoyed. Rehearsals for plays and music performances.  Laughter. Socks and underwear even careening off the ceiling fan from time to time.  (Perhaps I should put that in the listing.)

I have called this space my “oasis in the city” and it has felt like this – a quiet, secure, healing place. There has been much to heal from, as there often is in an examined life.  It has felt safe and protective, yet welcoming and communal. It is, as a space, special to me. The walls, now freshly repaired from nail holes and scuff marks, and beautifully painted, have wrapped around me, fitting whatever needs I have had, from rehearsal space to party space to gallery space to quiet reflective space to new love space.

Time passes and a home can be outgrown, as is the case now. There is no room for KG’s two children, not to mention a workshop and another office. To pass this space on, I want to reminisce, to help them “feel” it … to feel as comfortable, relaxed, open as I have felt – more comfortable than I could ever feel in a glass tower overlooking a cityscape. To help them feel the sense of community that they can help build anew, just by their presence in this space.

But listings don’t work that way, and some decisions are made with the cold reality of interest rates, square footage, and the fitting of furniture and placement of televisions. However, life does not work that way. A peaceful, quiet, light-filled space in a downtown location is surely worth some fiddling around with sofas and entertainment solutions.

In truth, with the staging, it feels much less like my space than it once did. I’m curiously enjoying the neat and tidy minimalist lifestyle. But I can’t cook big complex meals …  or bacon. Everything I take out of cupboards or drawers has to be put back. None of the detritus of day-to-day life – receipts, pocket change, scraps of paper with shopping lists, odds and ends - can be visible.  The place feels sanitized and so much less personal. This, however, is in an effort to help the next person visualize themselves in this space. Their colours, their art, their detritus. Their laughter, their love, their life. I know when this space finds its next occupant, it will respond to their needs as beautifully as it has responded to mine. And this thought makes me smile.

42 Words For Tired 1 comment

The People of the North have at least 42 different words to describe snow, or so I’m told. In communications-speak, we’d describe that as a “low context culture” that uses language rather than contextual clues to transmit detailed and precise meaning. Something that, in this case anyway, the People of the North have in common with the Germanic cultures.

At this moment, I’m mulling over the possibility that I could come up with 42 different words for tired. The good news is that my exhaustion hits me in the evening after a very full day and it is almost entirely physical. My brain continues to zoom along but my body, some days, just can’t keep up. I’m prepared to express this exhaustion momentarily in a high context, non-linguistic manner as I fling myself across my bed and close my eyes.

… pooped … wiped … bagged …

This is one of those damp wintery evenings in Toronto that chills a person right down to the core, even though the actual temperature hovers around freezing. It really isn’t that cold. The precipitation vacillates between wet heavy snow and cold penetrating rain. The walk back to my car after post-hockey pub was short but by the time I got into my car I was not only tired, I was shivering. Every heating device in the vehicle – defroster, heater, seat warmer – was immediately turned up to high and remained so for the short trip home. Even now, as I sip hot water and lemon and have the fireplace, I am still thawing out.

… tuckered out … spent … fatigued …

On the short walk back to my car, I caught a whiff of a fireplace in use, that lovely rich wood-smoke smell that makes you want to curl up like a cat and sleep forever. My mind wandered back to the time I bought this condo, from plans, and the stroke of inspiration that led me to ask them to put my fireplace in. Of course, I don’t have the good-smelling kind – I have the warm but kinda fake kind. No matter – the visual of having an actual “fire” to look at does as much psychological warming as the actual heat the thing throws out.

… drowsy … drained … drooping …

I bought this place in May 2002, when a trailer stood on this vacant lot. It was a confluence of amazing events that culminated in that day. From that moment onward, I drove by the site several times a week, bugged the construction guys to let me see my unit, plying them with coffee, and generally obsessed about moving in.

… dog-tired … done in … fagged …

Here are some photos taken in July 2002 by my Danish visitor, Zara. Clearly, not much had happened, construction-wise, at this point. I’m grateful that these pics don’t show, in great detail, the Worst Haircut Of My Life. I actually wound up with hockey hair … an almost mullet. This happened three days before Zara arrived and I was mortified but unable to describe to the hair-dresser – who seemed very excited about this cut – what I actually wanted her to do.

Hey ... those prices aren't right!
Here is where I am going to live someday!

Lookit! Here is where I am going to live someday!

My BMI was a tad higher in July 2002, methinks. :)

The building was completed, only a few months over schedule, in July 2004. Well,  “completed” is a loose, non-legal term. It was ready for people to move in.  The first four months were hell – 57 things on the list of “incomplete” or “needs attention” elements that the builder had to fix, including the absence of sinks in either bathroom. My beloved couch arrived from almost three years in storage shot through with mildew. Emotionally, I was not handling being alone very well. My fantasy of living alone in my own space didn’t get off on the right foot at all.

… haggard … sleepy … worn out …

Something shifted somewhere around the fifth or sixth month. There was a settling in, a critical mass of things getting fixed or upgraded, routines getting established, things starting to feel like they were going my way for a bit. I’ve been very very happy here ever since. I have one of the only condos in Toronto that has a gigantic tree outside the window. In the summer, my neighbours call my place “The TreeHouse”. :)

… done rambling … signing off … anymore words for tired out there …?

Eggplant Sandwich 3 comments

Earlier today, I ventured out with my friend Veronica to the St. Lawrence Market.  I will say again the same phrase that I’ve said many many times: the St. Lawrence Market is my favourite place in Toronto.

Sure, the Brickworks Organic Market is charming, aloof, unregulated, rough-around-the-edges. Great burritos. Great vibe. Love it. Today is opening day for a new market near Wychwood Park, so must check that out. Kensington Market has its fervent and vocal supporters.

I’m a St. Lawrence Market kinda gal, though. It is in my blood. I’ve been going there for 15 years now and I know it like the back of my hand which is comforting. I know where to find the cheapest yet best olive oil in the city, the best granola in the city and which puveyors of cheese excel at specific cheeses. (Don’t get me started on cheeses, especially since I can’t eat many cheeses right now!)

Oddly, I never seem to enjoy it as much alone as when I can go with a friend, so I was pleased when Veronica said she’d be into making the trip.

The St. Lawrence Market has the Eggplant Sandwich to end all eggplant sandwiches. No, no … not the one in the basement slathered in tomato sauce and fried green peppers, served on foccacia. No. Blech.

The “death row” Eggplant Sandwich is available only here. At Future Bakery, upstairs, smack dab in the middle of the market. It is near and dear to my heart, this sandwich. My friend Amy and I have been eating this sandwich, and waxing rhapsodic over it, since we worked together on Front St. in 1993. 15 years I’ve been eating this sandwich and, remarkably, it hasn’t changed.

... yes, lots of olives please.

... yes, lots of olives please.

Getting the cut just right

Getting the cut just right

Voila!

Voila!

This sandwich is on a fresh Italian roll, buttered, slathered in Dijon mustard, delicately garnished with roasted red peppers, hot banana peppers, lettuce and tomatos. And olives. Lots and lots of olives. Hold the cucumbers. The eggplant itself is heated and has melted swiss cheese on it by the time it makes it into the sandwich.

I have been known to call ahead to Future Bakery to suggest (demand?) that they have eggplant on hand if I know ahead of time that I’m going to be there on a Saturday. Sometimes, you see, they run out. And this is bad. Very very bad.

So, in case I haven’t made myself clear, if I manage to wind up on death row someday and require a last meal, it is this sandwich, exactly as I have just described. Hold the cucumbers. Cucumbers would be bad. Very very bad.

Next weekend, November 28-29-30, my friend Amy, the original eggplant sandwich sharer, is coming into town and we are having our now annual “girls’ cottage weekend in the city”. We put the fireplace on, drink wine, eat good food and read books. We listen to music and gossip. We go to St. Lawrence Market. We attend the annual Women In Blues Revue. We eat some more. (uh oh) We pretend we are cut off from the rest of the world … but we might go shopping. It is a pre-Christmas distraction for both of us.

I see another eggplant sandwich in my near future (bakery). Yum .

Autumn in Toronto 1 comment

I’m only just getting around to off-loading some pics from my camera. These were from mid-October, when I had my dog, Freddie, for a fair chunk of time. These are of her favourite park – well, MY favourite park really. It is in Rosedale, a few blocks north of where I live.

Notice her stealth technique.

Notice her stealth technique.

Gotta admire a tree with flare.

Gotta admire a tree with flare.

This is like the big finish.

This is like the big finish.

This City 1 comment

I had a "what are we going to do next with this post-diploma program" meeting scheduled this evening across town and decided to bike to it. There is a distinct chill in the air these days, although it isn't exactly "cold" … it isn't balmy, either. I bundled up a bit for the bike ride.

My meeting was at a coffee shoppe at Spadina and Queen. I left early enough to bike leisurely. I'm not an experienced enough cyclist in this city to know the "best" route from A to B, but it is fun trying to figure it out. I tend to sort of make up my route as I go along.

I proceeded along Wellesley, past Church, towards Yonge. Church/Wellesley has been, for better or worse, the centre of my world for over 20 years. A focal point, a hub, even when I lived far from Toronto. It is plump with memories and energy. Some good, some not.

I carried on, past Yonge, to Bay. The traffic lightened up here and it seemed as good a time as any to head south. As I pedalled along Bay, past Grosvenor, I realized that I was passing the downtown Y – a place near and dear to my heart – from a perspective that I don't usually see. I approached College St. and noted that I was only one block from the MaRS building, another landmark for me. A tad further along and I was at a building on Bay known as LuCliff Place, famous in my life as being the place where a bunch of us used to gather regularly about 12 years ago to play pub trivia in a pub that no longer exists. Further still on this street, I realized that I was just north of City Hall and had last been here with Dry Ice and her husband as we strolled to the art exhibit this summer.

Veering right on Queen seemed a good idea, given the traffic patterns at that moment. I kept my eyes carefully on the road as I crossed University, but if I had been able to look up a bit, I would have seen the sculpture that one of my friends in undergrad dubbed "Gumby Goes To Heaven" shortly after it was unveiled 24 years ago. About a block and a half along Queen, past University, I passed Trimurti, the best Indian restaurant in the city that I have had the distinct pleasure of introducing several people to. The complex aroma wafting from Trimurti almost caused me to be late for my meeting!  Steeling myself, I forged onward. Traffic was oddly quiet in that moment so I decided to head south again because I mistakenly thought the Lettieri was at King and Spadina, rather than Queen and Spadina.

I hit King just east of John, which took me past the Second Cup at King and John and, moments later, Mountain Equipment Co-op, which all the cool kids refer to as MEC.  This whole stretch of road puts a silly little smile on my face. Just as I reached Spadina, I noticed a stray, lost baguette in front of the streetcar stop on King. It cried out to be photographed and I can see that I'm starting to stretch beyond the limits of my equipment and my skills. But, you get the general idea of what I was going for here. The pedestrians, and the drivers no doubt, wondered what the hell this person was doing crouching down in the gutter with her bike helmet still on, light flashing, to take multiple versions of this with a variety of settings.

Moments later, I had reached my destination. After the very enjoyable and enlightening time with an alumni of our retired post-diploma program (RIP), I headed north on Spadina. I think I've eaten at at least one restaurant per 100 metres along this stretch, both sides of the road. I carried on past College and remembered attending meetings at the U of T's women's centre on Spadina Circle. A right turn on Harbord puts me almost directly under the overhanging "O". Its existance is a bit of a mystery, but there it is. I drive under the "O" about six times a week, heading to/from hockey. The lights at Huron remind me of a long, cold walk and a long, cold and teary conversation with someone I was seeing briefly a few years ago. I love cycling through Queen's Park but at this point I noted with alarm that the batteries were fading in my headlight – it is really dark in that park at night!

I was shortly back on Wellesley, headed directly for home.

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would find myself happily living in downtown Toronto, I would have said "You're insane". I remember saying Toronto was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. I found the energy of the place too frenetic, too fast-paced, too self-indulgent. Visting Toronto from the outside would inevitably put me in a state similar to caffeine-induced jitters. Yet, here I am – no jitters at all. Feels pretty peaceful, really. Roots have taken hold. It seems to fit me at the moment, and I like that feeling, that sense of place and fit.

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Summer Saturday in Toronto 4 comments

Key word of the day: Stimulus … a sensory feast.

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Joinus-2Brickworksmarket-2

Morning – Evergreen BrickWorks Farmer's Market with Jeff: I've gone several Saturdays with my neighbour Cory and now it was Jeff's turn to discover this wonderful treasure buried off the Don Valley Parkway. Organic produce, crafts, art, the scent of fresh-roasted coffee wafting over the proceedings … and "hungry man" breakfast burritos that are more than worth the wait.

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Window-2JeffjoysburritoBike-2

This photo of the bike … that belongs to the young fellas who make and sell their divinely radical chocolate products. It has been modified to carry lots of stuff and, when not in use, doubles as an incense burner. Gotta love that …

I love the "rough around the edges" quality to this market. Stalls are roughly, but not precisely where they were last week. Or not. The use of space is not fully prescribed, charted and regulated. It is inefficient, signage is vague and there is no particular prescribed traffic pattern or flow. Love it. Feels very … organic.

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SpringonionsSeaasparagusBroccoliAlmostart

This is the time of year that vegetables start to look so gorgeous, and of course, green. So, thus, eye-catching. I wasn't brave enough to try the sea asparagus but I think I will grab some and experiment next time I see it. I was trying to do something artsy-fartsy with that last photo in the series above and didn't quite pull it off. Lex would have been able to, but I think she slept in.
 

Speaking of art, I bought a new piece yesterday at the BrickWorks. Visitors to my condo learn two things about me: that I love the colour green, and that I collect images of loons. I'm pretty fussy about my loons. I tend to buy as close to the artist as I can, direct from the artist if I can manage it. If I buy from a shop or gallery, I try to establish that the gallery/shop owner knows the artist personally. I just want some assurance that the artist is actually going to get rewarded for their work. Secondly, the image has to be unique. Anyone can schlep down to the bottom of the Skylon Tower and buy a fake soapstone "carving" (mold) image of a loon. No snow globe loons for me, no sir.  I haven't bought anything new to add to my loon collection for years as my criteria are pretty specific. And there are many common images of the Common Loon. But the right piece presented itself yesterday, and I got to speak directly to the artist, Joanne Victoria … and out came the debit card.

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Loon+Jvm-loon

You can see what kind of photo errors / tricks that can be played with photo software. In the first image above, I darkened the matte around the image to dull down the reflection of the photographer (me). In the second, just for fun, I lightened the whole thing to highlight this accidental reflection. Me 'n' mah loon.
 

Noon / Afternoon – Lunch and More Art With Friends: Dry Ice and her husband Martin ventured downtown for lunch, a visit, and a stroll through the annual art show at Nathan Phillip's Square. Dry Ice has blogged about this adventure from her perspective, with more photos. :-)

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MartinPadthai-papayaCashewchicken-papaya

The food was indeed yummy, especially the green curry, not pictured here. We ate it too fast! It was so nice to see Dry Ice again after the journey she has been on this year through the mine field of breast cancer, the health care system and all the impacts that has had on her life and energy. She is starting to come back into her own and that is so worth celebrating!

Martin took this photo of me with my camera. Somehow, all photos taken of me yesterday made me look either like I was about to fall asleep or had just woken up.  Hm.

We staggered from the restaurant south to Nathan Phillips Square to the pretty darn crowded art show. I'd never been to this art show before … and there is a wee story behind that. Once upon a time, I vowed never ever to go to an art gallery, art opening or other such event again. I'd been to lots, more than a lifetime's worth. All the people there seemed more interesting, more worldly, more thoughtful etc. than I could ever hope to be. I was also convinced that I had no visual language of my own, no way of seeing or feeling the visuals that original fine art so depends upon. Going to art galleries, shows, openings made me feel like a little girl off the farm, standing in the middle of the room with her shit-covered wellingtons and wide-eyed gaze.

It seems evident to me that I've acquired some confidence in my visual sensibilities now. Especially lately … it just takes being more open to it. 

Still, I don't always pay attention to the things I'm supposed to pay attention to. For example, I love the view of Old City Hall from Nathan Phillip's Square, juxtaposing the old Victorian architecture against the ultra-modern glass structure in behind. But I couldn't quite get my little point'n'shoot to do its thing.

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Cityhall-1Cityhall-2

I took the following shots, with the artist's permission, for Cate. Especially the first one.

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KnittingboobsKnittingmetalKnittingball

This was a really lovely way to spend an afternoon. :-) But, I really needed a nap to prepare for the evening's activities.

Evening – Asian Night Market @ Warden / Steeles: Well, actually, there were two events. First, we were invited to gather for refreshments on Jeff's deck prior to the Night Market adventure. Jeff and I added to our collection of photos of each other taking pictures of each other … and I discovered cheese nirvana.

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SaintaubergeupcloseJeff+camOlives

That is Saint Auberge, a not very blue, totally decadent cheese … which is, basically, better than sex. Especially with olives.  And SO not on my diet. I was so very very bad this weekend … bad bad bad … between dinner on Friday to brunch on Sunday … I'm back in diet hell. Uh oh … anyway … It started to rain so we retired indoors for a bit prior to departing. I did my best to sneak in a second nap, what with being the designated driver'n'all … but it didn't work out so well.


Off we headed to pick up Gerry at the subway and head north to the land of yummy street food.

No one told me about the stinky tofu. That is actually what it is called: Stinky or Smelly Tofu. Fermented, deep-fried, tofu that is a feature of most night markets, or so I know NOW. The smell really defies description but let's say it isn't appealing to most Western palates. To get to the market proper, you have to walk past about three Stinky Tofu booths. It was a test of will. I resisted the, um, temptation to try eating the stuff, although I'm assured it is worth the effort. I headed instead for the more familiar scallops and shrimp, lamb skewers and smoothies.

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SquidballsSmellytofuboothOysters

It was a total blast, the Night Market. A riot of smells, some really quite yummy, sounds, throngs of people milling about. Complete sensory overload – one hardly knew where to look next, there was so much to see. At one point, I lost my peeps for quite some time, which was a bit unnerving in that massive undulating crowd, but Gerry found me wandering around looking a little bewildered. I think I'd still be there now otherwise. Actually, I think he found me twice – once after I wandered off towards the pretty scallops and got completely disconnected from the gang, and once when I got distracted by the pretty Subarus. It was an environment in which it was easy to get distracted and I sort of felt our little band should be clinging in single file to a rope and under closer supervision.

 Lex did her photo thing and I felt some responsibility to document the documentor.

DocumentorL+ghavingfun

I'm not sure if these make the prescribed criteria for publication … I have others I could add that I'm even less sure about … :-)

Bellies full and curiosities satisfied, we made it back downtown roughly around 1:00 a.m.

It was a good day. :-)

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Lift & Separate 5 comments

More contributions to the Canadian economy this week.

First, my frustration with two appliances in my house reached breaking point about mid-week. These are two items that you don't really notice until they don't work properly. I've had my rather stylish Sony clock radio for years, maybe as long as 10 years. It was subtle, grey, mimicked the design of the Bose radios but at a fraction of the cost. I mastered the overly complex task of setting time and alarm. I only used the CD function maybe once or twice in its lifetime. Let's face it – waking up in the morning is a routine and CBC One's Metro Morning, as much as Andy Barrie makes me grit my teeth, is mine. I guess it takes an officious, dull, insensitive oaf to get my ass out of bed in the morning.

In any case, my beloved Sony started making a faint electronic buzzing sound, 24/7, several months ago. It sat on my night stand along with a lamp and a phone. I would inspect each of these in turn, regularly, to puzzle out where the buzzing was coming from. It was definitely coming from the radio and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop. Furthermore, the thin wire that comprised the aerial was making me crazy, as was the FM signal drift. CBC is famous for many things, one of which is not always having the most reliable signal even if you are living mere blocks from CBC HQ. I guess the cutbacks have meant that they are using a cheaper brand of tin foil to repair the broadcast antenna. The signal is fine one day and then it gets all fuzzy the next, often depending on where I am standing in the room. Annoying and getting progressively worse. Finally, I realized that as much as I don't want a neon display of the time glowing at me all night, I really need something more than black LED on a beige background. This is especially true at 3:26 a.m.

My second appliance failure was, sadly, the toaster oven given to me by wizzy and her partner as a condo-warming giftie. (No, I did not "earn" it with lezzie points.) The much-storied toaster oven simply stopped toasting several weeks ago. I'm on this low carb eating thing so I can't really pinpoint when the lack of toastability began. It would heat bread to a nice warm temp, but no actual "toasting" occurred. The state of affairs became really apparent when I set the toaster oven to cook a frozen President's Choice Blue Menu Chicken Breast Stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach. Most toaster ovens can knock this out of the park, no problem. Mine barely thawed the thing, even when given twice the allotted time to complete the task. Something had to be done.

Besides the fact that I don't like tossing out a gift, I also don't like tossing out something like a toaster oven. Shouldn't this be repairable? I'm sure that all is wrong is that an element has died. Yes, of course it should be repairable. If I were a skilled small appliance repair person – if such people still even exist – I'd happily order the parts and do it myself. I'm not eating that much toast these days anyway. But I am not such a skilled person. The best I can manage is speaking sternly to the toaster oven and telling it to shape up. That didn't seem to work.

I feel very conscious of throwing these kinds of items out into landfill but, happily, our building has developed its own peculiar internal recycling program:

1. Place used item prominently in garbage room.
2. Check often to see if it is still there.
3. If it is still there in three days, no one wants it. Next, try FreeCycle.

Happily, it would appear that both the toaster oven and the old Sony have found new homes, and new life, with people in the 'hood. Perhaps with people who possess repair skills beyond finger-wagging.

Thus, on Wednesday, I did some research online before shopping, and then arrived home with a new toaster oven (Bravetti, on sale @ Canadian Tire for $39.99) and an RCA Clock Radio. I don't know why you can't buy a clock radio without a CD player anymore. Although I am a creature of repetition, why would I want to wake up to the same song or same artist every day?

This reminds me of Bob Seger. In 1971, he released the album Brand New Morning and the first track is the title track. This is an acoustic album unlike anything he did before then or has done since. My brothers bought this record and rejected it out of hand for not having any fuzz or feedback. I was eight years old when it was released and I loved it. Years later, when I was a teenager performing with a touring children's theatre troupe, the manager/director of the troupe asked me to put together a tape of music we could all listen to each morning as she led us through our warm-up routine – part yoga, part meditation, part breathing, etc. We needed about 20 minutes of music and I led off the tape with Brand New Morning. The troupe loved it – for about the first four mornings. After then, they all started to resent Bob and his cheery, hopeful thoughts about this new morning as he strummed on his guitar. I hated to admit that I also tired of hearing the same music each time we started stretching. So I'm pretty sure that waking up to the same thing every morning would not work for me.

But, as usual, I digress. My new toaster oven totally rocked the PC Chicken lump test and does a nice even toast on Weight Watchers Whole Wheat English Muffins. The new clock radio is smaller, way easier to set, picks up and holds the required CBC signal, and lets you select what colour and how bright you want the display to be. Not surprisingly, I picked green. I am now bathed in faint green LED light when I sleep. Cool.

(I just want to say that I was over at wizzy & co.'s pad a few weeks ago and they still lead the pack in the chic and cosmopolitan toaster oven category. I have no idea what the specs are on that thing but who needs a new car when it looks like you should be able to just get in your toaster oven and drive it around town. That's all I'm sayin' …)

Yesterday was a red letter day for me. I went here and got properly fitted for bras. Clearly, I have been misguided for most of my 44 years (well, about 31 bra-wearing years) regarding this foundation garment. The fitting process took about an hour and 20 minutes and I'm sure I tried on at least 20 bras in the process. Apparently, this is normal. A very sweet young thing was helping me out which certainly helped the time pass smoothly. Let's just say that all my old bras are gone (really gone – you can't re-use a bra – yuck!) and have been replaced by the new girls. I am a new woman … my only concern is that as I continue to drop poundage, these bras will also need replacing, likely in about six months. Expensive, but worth it. Secrets From Your Sister is a funky, politically attuned store with staff trained in the dual arts of bra-fitting and helping people feel at ease about bra-fitting. I highly recommend a visit there to anyone who needs to lift and separate.

Hm, come to think of it, wearing a new bra really makes me want to sing Brand New Morning … maybe I'll go against type and name one of them Bob.

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Pho 911 1 comment

I made a significant contribution to the Canadian economy last Friday. First, B and I headed off for a field trip to Scarborough, complete with a stop at Federick's, Toronto's greatest Haka Chinese restaurant. After a brief debate with the owner about whether Egg Foo Young should have dollops of oyster sauce (me = yes, Simon = no!), we headed off to Kitchen Stuff Plus for a minor consumer orgy as we rummaged through their January sales. I found so many deals that B had to help me load it all into my place when we got home.

Later in the evening, M and I headed out on the "let's get Venus in some decent jeans" mission. For our shopping pleasure, we headed to Yorkdale mall. Neither of us are mall rats, and they keep renovating the place, so we got thoroughly lost a few times. We had a stop at Jean Machine, the kind of store I NEVER set foot in. I didn't buy anything there, but I must have tried on 100 pairs of jeans – all cut for someone who is 14 and doesn't mind showing the top of her butt to the world. I mind, what with me no longer being 14. I need to say that although the clothing in this store was not age, or style, appropriate for me, the staff rocked and were determined to find something that would appeal to the old fart wincing in the change booth. At one point, there were three staff members slinging jeans over the top of the booth.

Finally we wound up at Cotton Ginny, a much more appropriate choice, where M convinced me to try on the size 16. I am grateful.

When M and I go out on a Friday adventure, we often wind up at Xe Lua, a Vietnamese Pho place on Spadina. We had planned to do exactly that, however, Xe Lua seems to have disappeared. For many, this comprises a Pho 911.  We wound up at Hello, Saigon (formerly Miss Saigon). This was a treat and proves that one should venture off the well-worn path once in a while. This restaurant appears to be owned by a husband and wife who are somewhat English-challenged but certainly not enthusiasm challenged. They really want to you like their food. Happily, that isn't difficult. The mango salad rolls were yummy and unusual and the Pho was rich and infused with an extra dash of five spice powder.

M is on the same eating discipline as me and likes to try to order her noodle soup with no noodles. This proves to be an interesting exercise if the person taking the order has limited English. Who goes out for Pho with no pho? How could someone with limited English understand that the customer doesn't want noodles in their noodle soup? Not surprisingly, after a lengthy ordering discussion involving lots of smiling, nodding and hand gestures, M's soup arrived with noodles. M wasn't about to complain or send it back as the fragrance of the soup drew us both in. Very nice broth and a generous serving. I need to say that the server, Husband, was sweet and charming and clearly wanted us to enjoy our restaurant experience. In addition to the food, I think he is one of the restaurant's greatest assets.

Rumour has it that Xe Lua is re-opening on the second floor of the same building … anyone know? Wherever they re-appear, they may have to go way over the top to earn our Friday night Pho business from Hello Saigon.

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West Is No Longer Where You Think It Is Click Here To Comment!

A few months back, I wrote some flippant bit that suggested that I have an excellent sense of direction. While I still believe this to be true, as this has always been true in the past, I have gotten lost (sort of) on my way to work three times in the past month. In a part of the world I know very very well. Let me explain.

I live in Toronto … I work, a few days a week anyway, in Guelph. Note Handy Reference Map below.

Now, Guelph is not visible on this map. It is about 10 minutes drive further … er … left, past Campbellville on the 401.

Toronto to Guelph. Assuming (and perhaps I shouldn't) that north is where you expect it to be, Guelph is pretty much due west of Toronto, right?

I was at a business networking thing about six weeks ago, meeting perfect strangers and making chit chat. I was out in Guelph for this shindig and it isn't unusual at these things for talk to float around to where do you live and where do you work. The fellow that I was speaking with that day said, helpfully, "Oh – I know a shortcut from Toronto to Guelph – I do it all the time." This is where my trouble began.

I was led into short-cut temptation by my revulsion for the Gardiner/427/Airport route which is the route any rational person would assume is the natural way to get from downtown Toronto to Guelph. I find that, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., people driving on the 427 have some kind of auto-lobotomy on the on-ramp and lose all their driving inhibitions. I hate it. So I was all ears when offered an alternative.

"It is easy," the devil man said. "Stay on the Gardiner/QEW to Winston Churchill, then just duck over to the 403 from Upper Middle Rd. Take 403 to 407 and you hit the 401 just before Milton … no more airport, and 20 minutes saved in rush hour by being in free flowing traffic."

Brilliant!!

Although I could visualize this easily (because, remember, I'm good at this spacial relationship stuff …), I did take the trouble to look this up on a real map and, lo and behold, it did seem to make sense. It looks good, right?

I tried this out the first time early in the a.m. on my way to Guelph. I missed the Upper Middle Road Turn off, but other than that I made it to the 403 from Burnhamthorpe Rd. Herein lies the root of this problem. Confronted with the choice of "403 West" or "403 East", remembering that I am heading WEST to Guelph, and that I haven't finished my first coffee just yet, I selected for my viewing pleasure that day "403 West".

Wrong.

You see, the designers of this highway assume that everyone travels from the very easternmost point to Hamilton which, in truth, is more south than west. But now I'm splitting hairs, I suppose. In any case, if you get on the 403 in Oakville and you select "West", you are actually travelling SOUTH EAST towards Hamilton.

I did manage to figure this out in fairly short order, cleverly noting that I was driving into the sunrise, not away from it.

So I exited, crossed over, and headed back in the direction from whence I came. Next, I was offered the choice of selecting "407 West" or 407 East". They don't give you much time to decide and it is pretty confusing, especially since the choice that would really be best ("407 North to 401") doesn't exist. I took a deep breath and selected "407 West" – mostly because "407 East" just sounded stupid since I am going to GUELPH for heaven's sake – and promptly found myself trundling back off (south east) towards Hamilton again.

I am ashamed to say that I repeated some version of this two more times before I started to recite the following to myself.

Morning – QEW to 403 EAST to 407 EAST to 401 WEST …. don't fight it … drive EAST to Guelph.
Afternoon – 401 East to 407 WEST to 403 WEST to QEW … don't fight it … drive WEST to Toronto.

The happy ending … now that I'm getting lost less frequently, the stress of the whole 427/airport lunacy is not missed. It is a very leisurely drive as long as I'm not arguing with myself about which direction I should be driving in.

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