Last week while I was enjoying a lunchtime picnic -for-one on a bench by a wee garden near my office, out of the corner of my eye I caught a tiny movement from the undergrowth to my right.
I had just enough time to think “chipmunk?” before the thing came streaking towards me. I shrieked “Woooooo!” in what I would like to think was a verrry dignified manner as it bumped gently into the side of my foot before scurrying back into the garden on the other side of the bench. I glimpsed its tail in the split second before it disappeared and realized that it was not in fact a chipmunk, but a small rat. Or a large mouse.
Because my life is clearly a thrill-a-minute at the moment, I found this little city wildlife adventure fairly exciting.
Until today that is.
This afternoon as I was sitting on a bench in an entirely different little garden finishing another solo lunch (I actually do have friends, I promise), I felt something come in contact with the back of my neck.
I involuntarily shuddered and reached back to slap it away as it lingered oddly for a moment, then turned my head slowly as I tried to figure out what the hell had just touched me. It felt so strange that I wondered for a second if someone had snuck through the tall grass behind me to cop a nervous feel? Of my neck? I’m usually pretty aware of my surroundings, but I did have excellent ear buds in so I guessed it was distantly possible. There was a guy in Toronto a while back who was slithering up behind women with long hair and fondling it. I glared into the garden behind me for a minute, then shrugged and turned back to pack up my lunch and reapply my lipstick.
I stood up, turned to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything behind and froze.
Five feed to the left of me was a low railing and on that low railing was the biggest damn hawk I’ve ever seen.
I swear to you, it was two feet tall.
We stared at each other for ten seconds while I grappled with my phone (which was still in selfie mode from the lipstick application – damn my vanity!) and he took off before I could snap a picture.
Watching him fly away I realized that’s exactly what that mysterious sensation on my neck had been. Not the nervous, fluttery fingers of a creepy hair molester, but the fluttery wings of a curious hawk doing a low fly-by!
I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here. That my hair looks like a delicious squirrel from above when I wear it in a messy, low bun? That I am weird, (and kind of gross), urban Snow White? That I need to start wearing tall rubber boots and perhaps a helmet if I’m going to continue eating in Toronto gardens?
If we’re going in order of the food chain, I assume if I dine alfresco next week a wolf will just walk out from between some parked cars, shake my hand and eat salad out of my tupperware!
Of all the things to get me writing again, an encounter with a downtown bird of prey isn’t what I would have imagined, but when inspiration literally hits you out of the clear blue sky, I say roll with it.
What’s your weirdest urban animal encounter?
There’s an episode of Friends where Joey, incredulous at someone’s claim that they don’t have a television, asks, “You don’t own a TV? What’s all your furniture pointed at?”
When I was little, my family had a small TV tucked away in a pretty little cabinet in the corner of our living room. To the untrained eye, it looked like we didn’t have one at all, which was exactly how my parents wanted it.
We ate our dinner together at the table, and talked to each other. It was a very rare treat to eat in front of the tv.
At first we had a cable subscription, but the rule was that we weren’t supposed to watch anything in the summer, then my parents cancelled the cable completely and we could only watch VHS rentals, often from the library, which, admittedly did instil in me an early appreciation for BBC productions, such as this crazy yet charming slice of imagination.
Still, sometimes a ten-year-old just wants to rent a non-enriching MK and Ashley Mystery, you know?
I was always fascinated by the constant presence of the televisions at friends’ houses, places with giant screens, multiple screens, on-every-hour-of-the-day screens!
The reactions I got when I told people about the lack of tv in my young life are kind of fascinating in retrospect.
Kids just squinted at me suspiciously and pronounced me “weird” or asked if I was a mennonite or something.
Adults were worse. Most would get defensive, thinking that my parents’ choice was somehow a judgement directed at them. As much as I hated not being allowed to spend as much time as I wanted lounging in front of a screen, I hated people making fun of my family more.
So I learned not to tell people. Instead, I figured out that I could listen to global tv on my radio, tuning in to Friends, Frasier and the Gilmore Girls like they were 1930s radio dramas, so I was up to speed on a few shows, and babysat at houses with extensive cable packages whenever possible.
Meanwhile, the lack of tv at home meant I was forced to find other ways to fill my time and stifle boredom. It helped to make me a voracious reader and to make me crafty, curious and creative. It meant more time spent running around outside, playing games and chatting with the neighbours.
I think it was really good for me. That time to be quiet and bored is something I’ve been missing lately. I’m surrounded by screens now (though I still don’t have a television) and it’s way too easy to shut boredom down or distract myself from any other negative feelings with the click of a mouse. There’s always some new must-watch show to see, and while I do like to support the arts, I maybe don’t have to do so single-handedly.
So while I’m not ready to can my netflix subscription completely, I do think it’s time to take a page from my parents’ book and start scheduling in some daily boredom to see what my brain creates.
Did you grow up watching tv? Do you find your iphone/laptop/other gadgets have taken a toll on your creativity? Let me know in the comments!
Funerals are the worst.
They’re sad and they’re awkward and uncomfortable as hell.
They’re also inevitable.
The first one I attended was my great grandmother’s. I think I was 7 or 8. I remember my cousin and I getting a severe case of the giggles and I remember being reprimanded by my uncle at the reception afterwards for casually mentioning that nana had died.
“We don’t say ‘died,’ he explained. “We say she passed away.”
I remember being baffled by that. Still am, really.
We want so desperately to separate ourselves from death that we can’t even say the word. Not even at a funeral.
Death has always been mysterious, and while science has unravelled some of those mysteries, I think the practical fact of it has become even more mysterious to us in modern North American society.
We no longer wash the bodies of our loved ones ourselves, or dress them for the funeral on our kitchen tables. We certainly are not as likely to sit them up and pose for portraits with them the way our Victorian ancestors did.
If we’re lucky, we don’t regularly come in contact with death unless we attend a memorial service.
I think that’s why so many of us feel not only grief, but a lot of social anxiety when we attend a funeral.
For some, the anxiety starts with making the decision to attend. When the deceased is a close friend or family member, there’s no question of whether or not you’ll go, but it gets a little fuzzy when you’re a bit more removed. Should you go if an old friend or a coworker has lost a loved one? Should you go if you didn’t know the deceased?
Obviously it’s a case-by-case situation, but I tend to err on the side of attending if I am fond of my coworker and if the funeral information has been shared with me or made public. I don’t worry too much about not having known the deceased. I figure I’m there as a visible, physical show of support to those left behind.
Some people seem to think that they don’t need to go unless explicitly invited. The problem with this is no one sends out engraved funeral invitations. Your grieving friend or coworker is busy dealing with funeral arrangements and wills and just plain old grief. They don’t have time to think about making sure you know you are welcome to support them. They just need you to show up and do it.
I’ve known several people who avoid going because they’re “bad at funerals.” They don’t know what to say or do or how to act.
But here’s the thing: NO ONE really knows how to act or what to say at a funeral. Who is good at funerals? Funeral directors, perhaps? Still each gathering is so different, even they must not always be able to be prepared for what they might face or how people might react. I’m sure many a funeral director has said the “wrong” thing many a time.
Again, everyone is different, and you never know what someone will find comforting. It can be really nice to share a favourite anecdote about the deceased if you knew them. If you didn’t, avoid trying to cheer your grieving pal up or offering words that may ring hollow (like, “at least they’re in a better place” – definitely skip that one unless you’re really sure the person you’re speaking to believes in that “better place” you’re referring to).
Just keep it simple with a sincere “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I’m here for you.” and throw in a hug or a hand clasp or shoulder squeeze. And if you do blurt out something weird, (like when all I could think to say to a friend whose dad had passed away was “So. This is the actual worst,” before going on to tackle her mother, whom I had never met, in a bear hug), don’t worry too much. Odds are, the person won’t even remember what you said anyway. They’ll just remember that you showed up to offer support at a really hard time.
What advice would you give to nervous funeral attendees? Have you ever said anything weird/inappropriate at a funeral?
Warning: diet talk ahead (I know, who am I?)
Since my PCOS and insulin resistance diagnosis I’ve been struggling to find a way to get my charmingly quirky hormones under control and keep PCOS’ impact on my overall health to a minimum. Of course the first thing doctors recommended was hormonal birth control, but since that could (and nearly did) kill me, I decided to focus on diet and exercise instead.
For months I restricted my caloric intake to the lowest safe recommended amount for a grown woman, lifted my ban on protein powder and added kettlebell routines to my barre class schedule in an effort to shed some of the weight PCOS had helped me gain bafflingly rapidly over the course of a year. I meticulously logged all of my food and exercise in the My Fitness Pal app on my phone and stepped on the scale at least once a day.
I dropped a frustratingly tiny bit of weight, but my periods were still unpredictable, spontaneous monsters if they bothered to show up at all. Worse than that, I could feel myself spiraling into a dark place of obsessive calorie-counting, and I recognized that while it might have been helpful initially to get a handle on what I was actually eating as opposed to what I intended to eat, continuing to log every morsel that passed my lips was only going to lead to at best, misery, at worst, to disordered eating.
So I pried the tracker out of my own hands and took a little break before diving back into my research. That’s when I came across Whole30.
For the uninitiated, Whole30 is a program designed to help you determine which, if any of the foods you eat are sabotaging your health. So, in a nutshell (not a peanut shell though- they’re legumes and therefore forbidden during your Whole30) for 30 days you only eat a stripped down diet of healthy, whole foods. Nothing processed, no sugar, grains, alcohol, dairy, legumes. At the end of the 30 day period, you can begin reintroducing foods you missed one at a time to see how they affect your beautiful body.
It sounded challenging but do-able, and the best part, for me, was that one of the rules states that you can’t step on the scale or count calories for the entire 30 day period.
After reading this testimonial from a woman who says all of her PCOS symptoms disappeared after she tried Whole30, I was sold.
So I did my first Whole30 in Feb/March. It was challenging but my body responded well. I felt great overall during it and while I didn’t experience the kind of dramatic weight loss many people report, a couple of pounds did fall off along the way, my skin looked and felt great AND best of all, my period finally started making regular appearances, which is a good indicator that my hormones are finally chilling out a little.
I kept following whole30 about 80% of the time after the reintroduction period and was surprised by the number of foods I was ok continuing to leave out, and continued feeling great until I was recovering from wisdom tooth surgery and had a hard time finding foods that weren’t full of sugary carbs but were still soft enough for me to eat in the days following surgery. Before I knew it, my sugar cravings were back full-force and I was feeling sluggish again. And that, my friends, is how I’ve found myself on day 30 of my second whole30 today.
A friend of mine was mentioning that she and her family were considering trying it out, and I realized that as a now two-time Whole30 veteran, I had lots of advice to share, so I thought I’d share it with you too!
How to Survive Your First Whole30
Cancel your Sunday plans (or whatever day of the week happens to be convenient for you). Food prep time is key to a successful Whole30. Having lots of compliant food on-hand and ready to eat throughout the week makes it so much easier to resist the temptation to turn to processed foods for a quick fix.
Consider investing in a veggie noodle-maker. I thought I would miss pasta more than I have. It turns out I mostly just care about sauce and toppings. haha. Zucchini noodles are great vehicles for sauce, especially when sauteed with onions and chicken broth. Yum!
Get Pinning – Pinterest is your friend in your quest to keep your Whole30 meals interesting and varied. I’ve collected a lot of Whole30-approved recipes and meal ideas on my PCOS Recipes board.
Learn to love the humble sweet potato – cutting out grains can leave a large carb-shaped hole in your diet. While fresh veggies can help fill it up, some delicious diced sweet potatoes roasted in coconut oil can really keep you from losing your carb-craving mind! Ditto roasted cauliflower.
Make use of your freezer. I found it really handy to make large enough batches of casseroles or whatever on my food prep days that I’d have enough to freeze some for emergencies. My nutritionist pal Sarah also turned me on to Life Choices chicken burgers, which are also Whole30-compliant and a handy thing to have in the freezer for busy days.
Bookmark a restaurant or two where you can easily order a simple salad and steak (or in my case, ensalada costena with a side of seared tuna from Milagro- yum!) for when friends or family insist on going out. It’ll save you some agonizing and keep you from making your server’s night hell.
That said: ask questions. I almost didn’t bother checking whether some delicious-looking sliced smoked turkey could possibly be sugar/nitrate-free, but am so glad I did! It’s been a protein-packed life-saver in the heatwave Toronto’s been under this week.
If you can, shop your local farmer’s market (where I found the turkey) or butcher shop, do. I can’t tell you how excited I was to find sugar-free bacon at my local butcher’s.
Stock up on emergency snacks you can throw in your purse: lara bars (check ingredients for compliance – I like cashew cookie and coconut cream), tins of tuna, nuts and seeds. While snacking isn’t encouraged during your whole30, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary, and you don’t want to get stuck in a whole30 desert when you’re stuck late at work.
Recipes that got me through:
Apple mushroom turkey meatloaf
2lbs ground turkey
1 large apple
1 large onion (diced and sautéed)
1 stalk celery
Mushrooms (diced and sautéed)
Salt and pepper
Combine well and bake at 350 until cooked through (about 30 mins)
Cauliflower Rice – I actually bake mine on a cookie sheet instead of heating it in the skillet
Have you guys ever tried a Whole30? Got any other advice or questions about it? Let me know in the comments!
One of the frustrating things about being Canadian (and I expect more and more this is true wherever you live – thanks climate change!) is the amount of weather-based clothing you must own to avoid misery.
Obviously a super-toasty down coat with a hood you can cover everything but your eyeballs in is top of the list of basics.
Then you need boots for trudging through deep snow, and if those aren’t waterproof enough, you’ll need another pair that’s waterproof AND still warm enough to slog through slush. Then you’ll need some kind of spring/summer footwear that won’t make you sweat to death but can also carry you through summer storm puddles without disintegrating or dying your feet a different colour.
Last, but not least, you need a raincoat you can wear when it’s warm enough to go without outerwear, but not so warm that you’d be perfectly happy to remain soaked for the rest of the day in your air-conditioned office.
I went without a proper raincoat for years because I was looking for something very specific: a cute raincoat WITH a hood (SO many rainproof trenchcoats don’t have hoods! Useless!), light enough that I could throw it on for a summer storm, and with enough room to throw a sweater underneath in spring or fall.
And I finally found it! I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier to check out Soia and Kyo, the Montreal-based company that made my beloved winter coat, and they did not disappoint. This little beauty is light and comfortable and has snaps to keep the sleeves rolled up. Most importantly it keeps me from looking like I just washed up from a shipwreck. So while it’s not the most glamorous item of clothing I own (see previous post for example ;)), it certainly feels like a little luxury.
Umbrella, your services are no longer needed.
How much of your fashion is weather-determined? Does coveting proper weather-protection clothing mean I am 1000 years old? Let me know in the comments!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had romantic ideas about travelling to another time and I’ve definitely always loved playing dress-up. So I jumped at the chance to attend this year’s Gatsby Garden Party at the Spadina Museum last weekend.
The Spadina Museum has been on my list of places to check out for years now, but I’d just never got around to it, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
While the horrible weather made for more party and less garden, my gorgeous 1920s posse and I had a great time exploring the stunning time capsule of a mansion in all its jazz age glory (can you believe the family still lived there until the 1980s?)!
Oh, and we had almost as much fun coming up with our outfits. People went all out with their 1920s costumes, which really made the whole event feel about as close to time travel as it gets (minus our iphones, of course)
Have you discovered any hidden gems in your city lately? Also, if you could time travel to any period, where (when?) would you go?
My mom had her own podcast on iTunes before I ever really figured out what a podcast was. While most of my peers parents were still eyeing the bandwagon suspiciously, she had hopped into the driver’s seat and taken off.
I was too busy joyously singing along with the Phantom of the Opera (the one with the Canadian cast where Sam from Today’s Special plays the Phantom i.e. the best one, to be precise)at the top of my lungs while driving to work to bother with downloading a podcast.
When I moved to the city, I got rid of the car, and thus the singalong commute came to en end. I mean, I guess I could belt out “Music of the Night” to my fellow pedestrians or passengers on the streetcar, but it’s just not the same.
So I’ve become an avid podcast listener instead and thought I’d share the wealth in case any of you are late adopters like yours truly and are wondering where to start.
In no particular order, here’s what’s filling my iPhone lately:
This American Life – A podcast of the hour-long American radio program, This American Life is not exactly a cult hit, but there’s a reason it’ s so popular. The journalistic radio documentaries, essays and memoirs featured are consistently fascinating.
The Moth – collections of true personal stories. I love these little slices of life, both hilarious, unbelievable and tragic told live in front of an audience by people from all walks of life.
Invisibilia – An exploration of how ideas, assumptions and emotions shape human behaviour. They won me over with an awesome story about visually impaired people who use echolocation to get around.
Canadaland – Jesse Brown discusses Canadian issues and politics and how our media is (or isn’t) covering the news that matters to Canadians. I don’t always agree with his take on things, but I think he’s asking some really important questions that the mainstream media has become to cowardly to tackle. Just don’t start with the episode “my Socalled friend.” That episode was staggeringly dull and obnoxious.
Professor Blastoff – Brilliant comedians, Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger (very loosely) focus and chat with a guest about a different topic every episode. They frequently make me look like a wildly cackling idiot.
The Bugle – Hard to go wrong with Jon Oliver. He and his co-host are delightfully witty and English as they skewer politics the world over.
The Thrilling Adventure Hour – Old-timey-style radio plays! What’s not to like? The “Beyond Belief” series is by far my favourite. Paget Brewster kills me!
Throwing Shade – I was delighted to stumble across Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi, two of the bright spots from the now defunct infomania, on their hilarious podcast. They make fun of misogyny and homophobia in the most weird and wonderful ways imaginable. It’s an extremely cathartic listen.
Do you guys listen to podcasts? Any I should add to my roster this summer?
Photo by Emma Davidson
Spring-fed Trout Crudo topped with Trout skin chicharron.
When I was a small-town reporter, one of my favourite weekend activities was hopping in the car, choosing a road I hadn’t been down yet, and exploring whatever village, lakefront town or conservation area I hit first.
As I was living in farm country and only a 15 minute drive from Lake Huron, more often than not these drives would lead me to some picturesque little gem of a tiny town, and better yet, to some amazing fresh produce. I’ll never forget the day I was aiming for the beach and found myself instead, at a cheese factory. It was like stumbling across Santa’s workshop.
Often the only thing missing from these foodventures was the perfect glass of wine to accompany whatever culinary delight I’d come across (which was good, since I was driving).
That’s why I was so excited to stop by iYellow Wine Club’s Ontario’s Southwest City Fare this weekend. And it did not disappoint.
Vendor after vendor from all over Southwestern Ontario plied my pals and I with everything from lamb sausage to aged cheddar cheese to melt-in-your-mouth butter tarts, with the perfect wine, beer or cider to wash it all down.
Lamb sausage with chimichurri. I am a hero for resisting the rest of this platter. A hero!
We were particularly impressed with a couple of wines from the Bonnieheath Estate Winery (and Lavender farm!). My friend described their Marquette as “wine butter.” It went down damn smooth. And did I mention you can only buy it on their LAVENDER FARM?
I think I feel a road trip coming on.
Are you guys doing any close-to-home food tours this summer? Take me with you?
If you want to salivate more, check out my instagram feed for additional photos of the event!
An old wine box with a couple holes drilled into the bottom makes a terribly cute balcony planter for this fairy thimble bellflower.
Hands down my favourite thing about Toronto in spring is how the neighbourhoods transform from brick and branches into gorgeous greenery and lush, fragrant florals.
It’s amazing I ever make it home what with all the obsessive stopping to smell the lilacs and peonies in every other garden I encounter.
Apartment living makes it difficult to do gardening of my own, but this year I’m determined to transform my little square of the outdoors into a bee-friendly balcony garden.
Bees are in serious trouble, which means we are all in trouble, since one third of human food depends on their pollination. In addition to supporting ecological farming and calling on our governments to ban harmful pesticides that are killing our fuzzy, buzzy little pals, one of the things we can do to help the bee population is plant their favourite flowers (regional, blue and yellow blooms and herbs) and keep them pesticide free.
So, along with my usual pots of kale, basil and mint, that’s what I’ve been doing on my balcony, and it’s been a great success. The bees especially seem to love the lavender, deep purple pansies and cheery yellow snapdragons I’ve planted.
I love watching them hover curiously overhead and zoom around the blooms while I’m out on my little perch overlooking the city.
I thought perhaps this scary pretend snake would keep the squirrels and raccoons away. Now it’s just covered in bite marks, and occasionally I look out my window in the early hours to find a squirrel curled up sleeping in a flower pot. So.
Are you guys gardeners? Any tips for a container gardener like myself to make a beautiful balcony garden?
Oh hello there blog pals, I’ve missed you!
I’ve been taking some much needed time off from keeping up with this wee internet space to focus first on school and then on my health and emotionally and physically de-cluttering my life a bit. It’s all been very worthwhile, but now I’m hoping to sneak in a bit more regular writing here.
Along with using a Whole30 starting back in March to figure out which foods are having a negative effect on my PCOS, I finally took the advice various dental healthcare professionals have given me for the past ten years, and had all my whacky impacted/partially erupted wisdom teeth removed.
As my decade of procrastination may have indicated, I have long been petrified at the idea of having oral surgery. This was partly because I was convinced that any kind of surgery would put me at high risk of developing a deadly blood clot (for those who don’t know me well, this is not as out of left field as it might seem, since I was very nearly taken out by a clot when I was 19, but my surgeon assured me that even with a clotting disorder, my fear was unfounded when it came to this particular procedure. Whew). It was also because the idea of surgery in general gives me a major case of the heebie jeebies (I can’t even get a needle without risk of fainting). Last but not least, I was scared of going under general anesthetic (not that I’d want to be awake, mind you!) and not waking up OR waking up and telling the nurses or my mom or whoever all my weirdest sex stories.
Not that I’ve ever done anything weird.
Or had sex.
Fortunately, after chatting with me about my concerns and shaking my preposterously clammy hand during our consultation, the lovely oral surgeon I went to suggested I might feel more comfortable if she prescribed me some Ativan to take the night before and morning of the procedure along with some numbing patches for the backs of my hands to make even the IV placement easier.
On top of that, knowing my needle-phobia, they gave me a bit of laughing gas before they placed the IV. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be that comfortable getting a needle again.
The surgeon came in, told me they were going to let me sleep for a couple of minutes, explained to me that my arm might start to feel a little hot as the sedative worked its way in, which it did, and the next thing I remember, I was being helped into a wheelchair and rolled out to meet my mom.
As for weird sex stories, apparently all I did in my post-op drug-haze was sit uncharacteristically quietly, occasionally mumbling through my gauze-filled mouth and staring up at everyone like a big-eyed newborn. Although when we got home, I took it upon myself to shrug off the pal who had come along specifically to help me get up my stairs, adamantly insisting I would prefer to crawl up them myself. Then when he helped me onto my couch and told me to “just put your feet up and relax” I squeaked out “I’ll do what I want!” before immediately passing out.
So basically the surgery itself was far less terrifying than I had built it up to be BUT I will say waiting until I was nearly 30 to have it done might not have been my best move because it is taking AGES to recover. It’s been two and a half weeks and I still haven’t gone a day without taking at least a couple of advil, despite everything apparently healing up beautifully.
It may shock you to learn that I am not a dentist, so certainly take this with a tall glass of salt water syringed into the handy food pockets created by your recently extracted chompers, but I definitely wish I’d got mine out sooner as I’m convinced recovery would be much easier had I not let these suckers wreak havoc on my gums and jaw for so many years.
Have you guys had your wisdom teeth out? Anyone else find recovery surprisingly slow? More importantly, did you accidentally tell weird sex stories while under anesthesia?