Mid-week Treats

August 31, 2012

We stay in Downtown Toronto, and it's summer. It seems almost sacrilegous to take a metro pass when everything is within walking distance (walking distance being 6km given the lovely weather... and the fact that I feel guilty about not hitting the gym as often as I could. Read: ever).

But. When you travel the metro pass way, you suddenly see all these ads about fun events you may otherwise never have heard of. Like the Old Town Toronto re-enactment of the 1812 Battle of York. History fascinates me, and I've been trying to read/watch more about Canada's, so I was really looking forward to this.

Unfortunately, when I got to Berzy park at noon yesterday, all I saw was this:

Not a soldier in sight! I was extremely disappointed, especially having double-checked their Twitter account for updates on the 1812 show before I left the house.

Serious decadence
The husband kindly improved my mood though, by whisking me off for a surprise lunch. Everyone keeps saying summer's over, (though it's still 25 degrees out) so to make the most of the remaining sunshine, we ate a giant fudge brownie sundae on the park-benches lining Yonge Street as part of the Celebrate Yonge summer event (and, because my mum's reading this, I should clarify that's not all we ate for lunch =))

Social Media & The Global Poverty Project

August 28, 2012

Despite all my best intentions, I never seem to write about the panel discussions and informational meetups I go to. Maybe it's because it's hard to condense one hours' worth of debate on digital media into one blog post... especially when there are no hard and fast conclusions that come out of it. Still, meetups with the Social Media Ref were thought provoking, and I really enjoyed the Non-Profit Technology Network's latest workshop on using social media for social justice (details over here)

d'Arcy Lunn, the Canadian Campaign manager for The Global Poverty Project's Polio campaign, led the group, with a quick overview of global poverty and the things that the Global Poverty Group had been doing in the digital space to get the word out etc. 

One of the biggest problems with digital campaigns is that they're short-lived and superficial - peoples' interest shifts to the next thing that comes along etc. So I was hooked by the fact that for an upcoming concert in New York, tickets are free, but people earn their way in by reading articles, sharing them, signing online petitions etc - and these people are kept  on a database which ensures they get follow-ups about other projects which need similar action. It'll be interesting to see how that works.

Another aspect that had me hooked was d'Arcy's emphasis on Google+ being a great medium for projects like this - the GPG's making better use of G+ than most for-profit organizations I've seen, and it's definitely working fantastically for them. I've worked with Google.org to build out search & display campaigns for non-profits, and also used Google Pages to build simple sites for some projects, but I think adding social to the mix definitely broadens any project's scope.

... There are so many ideas that came up while I was talking to the group, but like I said at the beginning, it's hard to figure out which ones to put down, and they rarely make sense out of context. That said, I thought this particular meetup was worth writing about, just to get the word out about GPG (their website's here). 

The Expendables: Completely Expendable Experience

August 27, 2012

Remember last week, when my Meetup group had free tickets to The Expendables 2 premiere (like that movie needed a sequel!)? The theater had solidly overbooked and so we were asked to come back later. We should have listened to all the reviews we heard over the week, and just skipped the movie altogether. But it's hard to say no to free tickets, and so we found ourselves at the Scotiabank Theater, even vaguely excited about finally getting to watch the movie.

You can Photoshop movie posters, but you can't ease away the wrinkles from the cast in every single frame - Bruce Willis' face was the only one still capable of movement. Personally, I found it painful watching yester-year greats try to rehash their signature moves for a forced script that tried to massage everyone's egos... give me their individual classic movies any day. 

Storyline: When Nepal, China, Albania, and Russia are all part of a single story, you stop looking for lines weaving them together. Quick summary: everyone tried to kill everyone else just because they could, and I would have liked it if more people had succeeded. 

Constant gunfire with the occasional explosion made for a pretty consistent soundtrack, occasionally interrupted by man-grunts, which made up the majority of the dialogue. The rest of the dialogue consisted of cliches so trite that Bollywood would turn its back on them. 

As you can see, the movie annoyed me on several levels. If it were a rom-com, I may have been able to dismiss it as mindless entertainment. Yesterday though, when I was watching all the pointless violence and the throw-away references to justified wars, all I could think of was this:

Busker Fest 2012

25 August 2012

When I landed in Toronto, I was all touristy-eyed about attending the city's most talked-about festivals... in most cases (as with Luminato which I wrote about here) I had no clue what the festival was actually about, but I thought the name sounded promising. Similarly so with the Busker Fest (I started wildly thinking about snow sleds and dogs, which, actually, isn't too far fetched, if all that people tell me about Canadian winters is true).

Turns out what actually happens at busker fests is almost as awesome - buskers are essentially street performers - everyone from jesters, to jugglers, to magicians, tightrope walkers, fire-eaters, what have you. Entertainment medieval style. Nothing I say is going to do it justice anyway, so I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking.


I pretty much wandered through with my mouth agape and eyes wide open for the most part, so all the pictures above aren't mine, they're from Busker Fest Toronto's Facebook page. The full collection's here.

Now here's what I found truly amazing: all of this stuff was available for free. The audience didn't have to pay to watch, the performers weren't paid to perform. Some of them came from other countries, just for the joy of performing. Any money they made was from tips. And not one person who watched any show walked away without leaving a tip. I think that's what made the whole thing completely phenomenal for me. 

All proceeds from the theater in the area, as well as donations made from those attending the event, went towards supporting Epilepsy Toronto. I'm definitely going to volunteer as well as attend next year, it's a great event that ensures people who attend willingly donate what they can.

The Week that Was

August 19, 2012

Expendables premiere, which got overbooked, and we were told to come back next week. So really, this was a Jack Astors social instead. I learned that JA makes the most amazingly cheesy bruschetta, so I can't say it was a wasted evening in any way.

TEDx salon on where our food's coming from. A ton of very passionate views, including my husband's, which is that he really doesn't care. (The scandal that caused in his small group discussion must have been great fun.)

First time I made pizza from scratch.... for 20 people. With vegan flour, at that. Worked out amazingly well, although I must confess I got annoyed with the dough not rolling out evenly, and just tore it up and pieced it together like Play-dough on the plate. Who can tell the difference once the toppings hide the Frakensteinness? Exactly.

Very brief visit to Scarborough - it definitely felt like a little piece of India. And where else can you get your face done for $5? While listening to some random Bollywood music so outdated you can barely even place it? Epic win.

Bling swap at Uniiverse. I'm great at sharing, but that generosity flags a bit when it comes to giving away my precious earrings (it had to be earrings, there's no way I'm giving away my shoes). Though I have six pairs of hoop earrings that are essentially identical, and I wear exactly two of those, I still had the hardest time picking which one I'd give away. It was all worth it in the end though because I picked up two very cute cloth belts.

Chinatown kitchen accessories hunt (finally, finally found a rolling pin  - and proceeded to make rotis. My forearms feel more toned already).

Putting together the last piece of Ikea furniture ourselves. Splinters galore flew about in every direction, but the couch is finally in the color I want it to be.

Several library visits. Several rounds of phone calls and suchlike.

And those are just the highlights. It was a bizarrely full week. Here's hoping this one gives me slightly more time to chill at home.

Of this, that, and the nothing

August 11, 2012
Scary immortal flowers

These are undoubtedly mutant flowers. It's been three weeks since I put them in a no-sunlight no-water air-conditioned environment, and they're still surviving. If only plants that were still attached to their roots behaved like that, I'd totally grow my own herbs.

I'm torn between awe at the flowers' resilience and worry about any produce I buy being similarly mutated. Either way, it's a good thing to bear in mind as I go into this week's TEDx salon on where our food comes from (I wrote about my last TEDx experience here).

In the meanwhile, the weather's like something out of a Bollywood movie. It's glorious sunshine one minute, and then it rains long enough for you to have a song-and-dance sequence (if you're so inclined) before being sunny again. The husband has tickets to the Roger's Cup semifinals, and it strikes me as being less tennis, more gambling - if Djokovic and Tipsarevic play for 40 minutes before it rains, there are no refunds. Time will tell.

To tide me over the weekend
As you can see, this post has no real point - it's more of a guilty update because I realize I've been ignoring this space of late. What can I say? I discovered the Toronto Public Library, and I'm completely devoted to it.

They do have wifi though, so I should make it a point to take my laptop along more often and just blog from there.

Hot Yam!

August 8, 2012

You'd think that staying in an area fairly close to schools would mean access to somewhat cheap food in the vicinity, right? But despite being in the shadow of U of T, we're still very much in Downtown Toronto, the area of the overpriced restaurants. I wondered how students afforded it, and did a little digging around. Voila, there emerged Hot Yam!

Hot Yam! (I love the exclamation at the end, very Yahoo!) is a student volunteer-run group which prepares a 4-course vegan meal every Wednesday with mostly local, mostly organic food. Priced at a whopping $4, no tax. 

The lunch, served at the Center of International Experience, typically draws in a crowd of 80-100, some nice enough to get along their own Tupperware boxes so that the group of 10-12 volunteers have a slightly easier time cleaning up.
I personally loved volunteering at Hot Yam!, it felt a lot like having your own little restaurant with a staff of really passionate foodies. Cooking for 100 people is surprisingly easy when you divide the work up into prep time on Tuesday and cooking time on Wednesday, and have an uncomplicated menu (spicy red lentil soup, bulgur pulao, kale salad, baklava)... but the clean-up afterwards is as much of a pain as it is in my own home. 

The repeated dishwasher runs and surface sanitizing was made slightly more exciting by the fact that a food & health safety inspector actually checked your work afterwards and told you if you'd passed. I'd heard many horror stories and was looking forward to the inquest, but on the day, the inspector was distracted by the baklava and only asked us for the recipe before beaming all around and exiting. I've to admit, I was a tad disappointed. But the baklava really was all kinds of yummy.

Many people said it'd been the best Hot Yam! meal of the summer, and I was glad I got to work on it.  Hot Yam!'s out for the rest of the month while the student-volunteers write their exams & then go on vacation (thank God I'm past that phase of my life!) but it'll be back mid-September. Again: $4.  4 courses. Best deal in the neighbourhood!

Weekend Getaway: Kingston (1000 Islands)

August 7, 2012

All my weekends are long weekends at the moment, but my husband, with a full-time job, was really looking forward to his chance to get away from Toronto. We just got back from an extremely relaxed three days at Kingston, a charming little college town about three hours away from Toronto (well, three hours away when you go there anyway - on your way back, you get stuck in traffic and it's more like four and a half).

My husband decided to put me in charge of the itinerary - always a mistake if you want to just relax, because I am, of course, research expert extraordinaire. I got particularly carried away with the ghost stories I came across, the most grisly of which involved the town's building a park about a foot above a mass public graveyard, because they realized, after digging up 10,000 bodies that they didn't have the resources to transport the bodies to another burial site (they'd apparently expected only a tenth of those bodies). My overactive imagination and I had great fun with that one.

In the manner of Goldilocks, our first day at Kingston was too sunny, the second too rainy, and the third just perfect. But no matter what the weather was like, we went out undaunted, and got a feel of the place's history and patriotism by wandering everywhere on foot, and reading every plaque we could find.

Being near water puts me in a great mood in general, and the Wolfe Islander III, a Government run free cruise to Wolfe Island, the largest of the 1000 Islands, was an especial highlight. The ship splashed water at us from every direction, it was fantastic! The island itself seemed like an idyllic place - we nearly ended up buying a house there, but I talked him out of it when I realized there were only three restaurants on the island (though they did serve really good food).

Fort Henry was another highlight of our trip - we've been reading/watching a lot about US politics from the time of WWII, and this was another piece to put the period in context. We also saw a particularly impressive display outlining the evolution of guns over the ages, which made my day.

Best of all, I think the weekend gave us a chance to catch up on our reading (we took our books to the pubs and unabashedly read through the music playing!) and exchange long conversations about life. I definitely feel re-energized for the week ahead.

Art Attack: Exploring Queen West

August 2, 2012

On the first Thursday of every month, the W. Queen West Business Improvement Area organizes an art + design + food walk through the area. I repeat: Art. Design. Food. My own idea of heaven, really; particularly given a string quartet was playing at St James on the same day as the August walk, and so music could be thrown into the mix too.

The walk took a group of about 30 people into three warehouse style galleries along Tecumseth Street - Birch Libralto, Georgia Scherman, and Susan Hobbs. The art work ranged in style from beaded ideograms to wood sculptures, from abstract paintings to digitally generated colour-field paintings (where the colours are determined by algorithms rather than the artist - imagine the science fiction possibilities!).

Like I said, I'd been super excited about the walk, and think it's a great idea in theory -  but I actually didn't enjoy it very much. I tend to think of art as a personal experience absorbed by different people at different speeds and in different ways. The guide's style of asking leading questions to elicit responses from the crowd didn't sit well with me, and, in fact, took away from the artwork for me personally. 

At one point, three people in the group decided to just break away and explore the galleries on our own. We even managed to fit in a walk down the graffiti-filled alleys, all the way up to Bathurst. Street art always puts me in a great mood, it reminds me of San Francisco and the Mission area in the best possible way. So the purpose of the evening was definitely achieved!

We rounded off the evening with organic handmade fair-trade ice-cream from Delight (805 QSW if you're interested in checking it out), sponsored for those on the walk by Royal LePage realtor Suzanne Manvell. Classic case of all's well that ends deliciously :)