On building your road

A wise person once told me: “You have to start by laying the first brick.”

Coming to Toronto has been a nice change. But it took a while to feel that way. When we first arrived a year ago, there was a period of tentative excitement. We knew we would love living here, but didn’t know how long it would take. New jobs, new city, new home. It can be fun and challenging.

With fewer outlets, social and otherwise, I started to feel like I was spinning my wheels a bit. Stuck in the mud. My routine became so predictable, the weeks just floated by without really noticing. My job was not interesting me, had few friends, and there was nothing to throw me off balance to make me take notice. I was bored.

I’m not very impulsive and loath the thought of launching myself into something new without having sussed it out fully and dissected every angle. But I knew I had to try something new. And so, when seeking advice about my predicament, I was told to “lay the first brick” … and it made sense. The idea is that we all have to start somewhere. You have to start by taking that first step in building your road that will lead to new place. For every road built, the first brick had to be placed. However small it was, it was the beginning.

That first step, or brick, is whatever new thing that starts the path. It won’t take you right to the end, but rather start the process. It’s pointless to try and see into the future, you can’t predict what the end of the road looks like when you haven’t laid your first brick yet. You just have to start building, and the road will slowly take shape.

My first brick? This great class I decided to take at UofT. Full of smart, interesting people all of whom have influenced me in some way and have helped shape my road. It may not be the centre point of a new life in Toronto, but it has pulled me out of the mud. I have traction again. I realise that as long as you keep building that road, even if you don’t know where it’s going at first, you are still moving forward, and you just might find something you’re passionate about along the way.

Whether you do nothing in the next 5 years, or if you do a lot in 5 years, 5 years are going to go by regardless. Might as well make good use of the time.

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The minimalist conspiracy

I came to Toronto for the same reason many come here. For the opportunities that a big city has to offer. That’s normal right? Start a life somewhere, and as you gain experience and get older, work your way up. Better job, better pay, bigger house, better car, etc. That’s how the flow of life usually works. Upstream. A nice linear package we were all brought up to aspire to. Not unlike salmon who, every year, swim upstream working tirelessly against the current until they reach their goal. So it goes for most of us. Work hard, and you eventually “make it”. And most of us do, while others…

Salmon

So I’m forced to conclude that this must be the natural order of things. Salmon never decide to take some time to explore first. They don’t look at the white waters of the river bed and decide: “Nah, I’m gonna do something else this year.” It would destroy the natural order of their existence. And so it is with a rebellious couple who have decided to ignore nature and swim in a different direction.

Matt Dubé and Danielle Chabassol represent a real threat to our society’s well established cycle of endless work and consumerism.  I know what you’re thinking, they have no regard for the “normal” way of things and have cast away all tradition. How dare they?

These days they are busy spreading their dangerous propaganda and growing their ranks with promises of a simpler, stress-free life. Sound awful? There’s more. They have even resorted to getting out of owning a home all-together in favour of a van and the open road. Who wants the freedom of hopping from town to town, visiting friends, seeing attractions, having adventures, and exploring ones self all whilst appreciating the beauty of the outdoors? What about deadlines? What about overtime? What about having an inbox full of unread emails waiting for you on a Monday morning? What about those things?! No way they can actually enjoy their new lifestyle. Just look at them…

Miserable.

So when these two decided to hit the road with nothing more than a tank of gas, to seek out a less hectic existence, I tried warning them: “Dude, you’re going to miss the rat race!” But to no avail.

If you wish to learn more about how these two are threatening our way of life, our very existence, visit their blog “Exploring Alternatives” where they impart all kinds of incendiary ideas on how to go about  “living large with less“. They even have a YouTube channel dedicated to spreading their gospel. They are well armed, my friends. But with your help, perhaps together we can spread the word and put an end to this dangerous, seemingly happy and stress-free, lifestyle. Because, you know, it’s just not normal.

EFF Brooklyn!

Sometimes this city can make me smile.

With four major professional sports teams, Toronto can claim it is one of North America’s premier sports’ cities. Major League baseball, MLS Soccer, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey. Few cities boast as many major franchises. This is not what makes me smile however.

Living next to the Air Canada centre, I am a witness to all of the post-game hubbub in the streets below after Maple Leaf home games. I can watch the crowds from my living room window slowly making their way to the subways and bars, and from their boisterous cheers or quiet rumblings, I’m able to discern the result of the game. This season, as most of you will know, has not gone so well for the Leafs. And that is putting it mildly. But don’t think the Toronto faithful will miss a single opportunity to shout from the hilltops whenever their team is victorious. Last week, the lowly Leafs were playing the even lowlier Sabres in a battle of the basement. So far out of the playoff picture, and dealing with almost daily on and off ice controversies, you would think that there would be nothing to cheer about any more. Oh no, my friends. Shouts and chants of “Go Leafs Go!”, car horns blaring, and all around reverie could be heard following their win in this all but pointless contest of the leagues two worst squads. As I watched, I couldn’t help but smile. Let it out, Leaf fans. Let it out. I suppose you need something to help forget.

But the Leafs are not the only ones capable of inducing a such a reaction. Last year, as the Raptors were gearing up for their first round playoff match up with the Brooklyn Nets, the team held a series of rallies to help create some buzz. On one occasion, the team’s well-liked General Manager, Masai Ujiri, got caught up in a moment in front of a screaming crowd of Raptors fans at Jurassic Park where he… er…. let’s just say “goes off script”. If you need help remembering this, you’re in luck. I just happen to have it for you here:

Maybe the funniest moment in Toronto sports history. I just re-watched it and it made me laugh again.  What the heck was he thinking? The man is the team’s Executive! A man who needs to stay on good working terms with all other teams of the league. GMs routinely meet and make deals for trades, and maintaining good relations is somewhat key to these interactions. I’m not sure how eager the Brooklyn brass will be to answer his calls following this. Was it worth it? For me it was. For even on a dark, sad day, I can watch Mr. Ujiri do his thing on YouTube and feel better.

You’re funny, Toronto.

Hairs of the dogs

Have you ever fallen in love with someone you just met? How about a large group? Well, you would if you met all these lovelies.

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Last weekend I was gifted a half-day of dog sledding at Winterdance in Haliburton. What a beautiful experience! Five strong and eager huskies are harnessed to each sled and pull you through the scenic forest of the winter wonderland that is Haliburton County. These four legged boys and girls are so strong I had to keep my foot on the brake for most of the day.

First rule of dog sledding: Never let go of the sled! Second rule of dog sledding: Always hold on to your sled. Because if you fall off and let go, they are not stopping. This, despite being told about, we witnessed first hand when my lovely partner took a sharp turn a little too quickly, and tossed us both into the snow next to the path. Off they went, no doubt enjoying the decreased weight of their charge. They love running, and any stop you make – like for hot chocolate and a snack at the halfway point – make sure your sled is properly anchored to the ground.

Third rule of dog sledding: Don’t make your team wait too long to get going again. Did I mention they love running? If you spend too much time (over 2 minutes) taking a break to enjoy the view, you will hear about it. They hate to sit around for too long and their utter joy in pulling you through the snow is so great to witness.

Fourth rule of dog sledding: Cuddle your dogs. They’ll work harder for you if you do. Plus it warms your heart.

Last rule: Have fun.

Culture in the city

Since moving to Toronto, we haven’t taken full advantage of all the fun cultural activities this city has to offer. If I were to list everything you can see and do in Toronto, this post would never end. Here are a few that I’ve checked out and recommend you do too:

Nuit Blanche – Each fall, Toronto’s free all-night contemporary art event is spread throughout the city. Walk the streets and discover some beautiful art installations, light shows, sculptures, and other art forms.

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This is the human aquarium. Performance art? Installation? You choose. (summer 2014):

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Graffiti alley If you’re strolling down Queen West one afternoon, look for the alley way between Richmond and Queen at Spadina. You’ll love the creativity of Toronto’s street artist community.

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graffiti alley

Toronto International Film Festival “TIFF” – World class film festival boasts the best of big budget and small budget film. And it’s the one time a year we can experience being star struck. (That’s Denzel Washington on the left.)

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Check ’em out. You won’t regret it.

Relocation shmee-location

The winter is long. As you may have discerned from my previous entry, I’m looking forward to its end. How many days can one spend indoors before losing one’s mind? Ok so that’s a bit dramatic, and I should be used to cabin fever by now. But it makes me wonder just how long I could keep this up, and makes me shudder to think that some people have chosen to live this way indefinitely.

You may be following this story already, but have you really imagined what it would be like to chose isolation of this magnitude? Last week, the Mars One project announced that 100 people have made the short list for the first of many one way trips to Mars in an effort to form the first extraterrestrial human colony. 4 will be on the first launch and eventually a total of 24 will make the 7 month trip to a lifeless planet where these pioneers will hunker down to spend the rest of their lives in a compound of connected pods probably no bigger than your living room. For the rest of their lives. Did I say that part already? Maybe, but it deserves extra attention. They are leaving everything behind, family, friends, homes, comforts, the outdoors, and a multitude of other things they no doubt love and take for granted here on mother earth.

It’s amazing what some are willing to do, (and willing to give up!) all for the advancement of the human race… or just plain lunacy. Either way, I’m humbled by their sacrifice and drive to do what many would not dare. Myself having relocated to another city has been challenging at times, but can I really complain when I can still do the simple things like go outside, or visit a friend, or, well, anything really? Kind of puts things into perspective. I suppose there might be a few advantages other than the obvious ones like flying in a rocket, or feeling weightless, or simply being in space. I suppose I would get really good at minesweeper. That’s a thing, right? Or I would get to know myself really well. I could read a lot. Fine, I can’t think of too many other advantages. And maybe that’s what makes this whole project so interesting. What are they going to do after the initial excitement wears off? “So, we’re on Mars. Let’s not go crazy, ok?”

If you haven’t been following this incredible story, I encourage you to have a read. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/mars-one-6-canadians-make-short-list-for-1-way-trip-to-mars-1.2958782 Whether you find them inspiring or crazy, it’s about as wild an adventure as anyone has ever dared.

Read more about the challenges they will face here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-man-behind-the-mars-one-expedition-on-organising-one-of-the-biggest-challenges-humans-have-ever-experienced-10060676.html

Is it summer yet?

This winter has been tough. Can’t remember the last time I went outside for some fresh air, or for a walk to stretch my legs. Are you kidding me? Unless you’re happy with being wrapped up like a mummy with scarves and a down coat, you’ve been doing the very same as me these last few weeks. Which is, of course, hiding. Hiding from the unrelenting cold. A cold that makes you question your sanity for choosing to live here in the first place. I mean it’s crazy enough these days with all the technology we have, but think about it… who the heck colonized this place all those years ago? Were they super human? Were they covered in fur? A two-inch layer a blubber, perhaps? Nope. Just a group of europeans. EUROPEANS! The same people that today tremble at the thought of spending a second outdoors when the temperature dips below zero.

As I look out my window to observe yet another weekend of this winter-pocalypse, I find myself reminiscing of better days and the glory that are the summer months.

I can’t wait for:

Blue jays games. How fun are the Blue Jays? Very. Very fun. Cheap tickets, and cold beer with Family and friends on a hot day. Just the best.

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view of the CN Tower from inside the Rogers Centre
view of the CN Tower from inside the Rogers Centre

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The waterfront. Great place for a stroll, and to sit for a snack with views of Lake Ontario.

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The Island. Toronto Island is such a great place. Huge green spaces and a lovely beach to boot! Kudos to the city of Toronto for keeping this a heaven free of cars and other city related noise and junk. Also boasts perhaps the best views of the city on the ferry home.

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Pretty much any bar or club… cause in the summer months waiting in line does not turn you into a human popsicle. Look at these people standing outside… no problem.

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Can you remember? I can see you now: your eyes glazing over from the memory of those sweet summer days, sitting on a patio with a cold beverage. Let us remember together, my friends. It might help our mood… because, admit it, it’s not as good as it was in July.

So, what about your favourite summer activities? What do you love to do when it’s less blizzardy outside? Let me know, and we shall all be healed, at least for a moment, from the sharing.

Day trips

Trying to “fit in” in a new city is a challenge. And exploring your immediate surroundings is part of learning about your new home. But I would argue that exploration shouldn’t stop at the city boundaries. What about those fun spots that are little farther away? Everyone has a secret get-away they like to escape to on a lazy Sunday, right? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!

ok, I’ll go first.

Forks of the Credit

This Provincial park is only an hour drive away. Great walking trails and some beautiful B&Bs to chose from should you decide to stay the night and take in the fresh air. Check out the Millcroft Inn & Spa.

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Cobourg

The community of Cobourg is but a short drive away. It’s small and quaint with it’s cute cafes and restaurants. If you’re a fan of italian food, I highly recommend Marca on the Wharf.

But the best part of Cobourg… the beach! Thank’s for the recommendation, mom!

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Toronto Island

The poor man’s choice – but every bit as effective. The Island is my happy place. I don’t need to get in the car to fight traffic to leave the city. Instead I just jump on the ferry ($7 round trip) and revel in the open green spaces, and open waters. It’s the easiest, and quickest way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Your turn!

Take a right at Albuquerque

The Path. Wikipedia calls it a 29-kilometre network of pedestrian tunnels beneath the office towers of downtown Toronto. I call it the endless halls of madness and sorcery.

For most Torontonians it is a useful network of underground passages that can take you anywhere in the downtown core in the comfort of the indoors, surrounded by shops and restaurants and with easy access to the TTC. One can navigate a huge amount of the downtown area without ever having to step outdoors and be subject to the elements of our cruel Canadian winters.

Or… it’s a trap cleverly designed to capture unsuspecting newcomers into its web of confusion and mystery. When first you hear of the Path, it’s an exciting prospect. “You mean I can get to work everyday by walking this path of yours? So when its raining or cold out, I can just walk indoors?” Reply: ” Yyyyah… you can.” (eyes suspiciously dart side to side). My first attempt at finding my way to my destination using the Path, I felt like I was confronted with this:

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After spending an hour going in circles, tracing and retracing my steps down the same stretch of the Path, I came to learn the undeniable truth. The Path was designed by famed Dutch artist M.C. Escher. Ladies and gentlemen, early design drafts of the beloved Toronto Path system looked like this:

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I could have done as well – maybe better – with my eyes closed. Should I ask for directions? Maybe. But after a few wrong turns, and the knowledge that I’m already late, this has turned into a struggle I feel I must conquer. “You will not best me, path system! I shall overcome!” (Insert Braveheart-esque pre-battle motivational speech). But I underestimate the evil with which the path was forged. As if Sauron himself layed its foundations in hopes of trapping Frodo and Sam. Because when you look for signs, of which there are plenty, what do you see? Well the name of the next building, of course! This way for the Standard Life building, that way for the RBC Tower. Great! Thanks! So useful! The building is called so and so, and now I know where I am. Not the intersection like King and York… no no no… you’re about to enter the domain of this bank rather than that bank. You’re welcome. There is only one solution. Breach the surface and regain geographical perspective.

I’m better now. I can get to and from work without any hassle. But any time I venture off into unchartered territory, I inevitably need to pop my head out from the underground and get my bearings.

These days I will see unsuspecting townies or tourists looking lost and confused while venturing the inner workings of this beast we call the Path. I try to help. “Ok so, you’ll need to go straight for a while, until you see countless other halls, take a right, then walk diagonally upside down, until you reach the bottom of the top.” “Thank you” they say, but minutes later I see the same people again, looking tired and defeated having realized they are back at the beginning. “How do I get out of here?” they ask. “No one knows”, I reply. No one knows.