Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bathurst, Spadina, St. George & Bay.

I've spent a busy few days playing Toronto tour guide.  It was totally fun.  When I have a week in Toronto on my own, I'm guilty of sticking around my own neighbourhood too much and not taking advantage of what this awesome city has to offer.  I'm so glad that I had a friend from Vancouver spend these past few days with me, so I could show him around my city, and remind myself of why I really like calling this place home.

On Friday, we took a ferry out to Centre Island, found a good spot on the beach, and then walked to the other end of the Island.  We headed back to the "mainland" and took a streetcar out to Roncevalles for dinner and to meet up with friends for drinks.  This was the third person that I got to introduce to the terrifying aspect of having to walk into traffic to board a streetcar this summer.

Saturday was spent wandering around to see a lot of my favourite Toronto neighbourhoods: Queen St. W., Kensington Market, College St., the Annex (and Honest Ed's!), parts of U of T, and a bit of Yorkville.  That evening, we saw Best Coast play at the Phoenix, which was a nice show.

On Sunday, we went shopping at the Eaton Centre and wandered out to the Distillery District.  A thunderstorm sent us home from the Distillery a bit early, but that was OK 'cuz it gave me time to make dinner before forcing my pal to watch the finale of the Bachelorette with me, my pal Mathew (innocently dropping by to borrow a travel voltage converter), and a couple bottles of wine.  Yes Jabba, that explains why my last post was title-less.  ;)

Monday was a road trip to Niagara Falls.  It was a beautifully sunny day, and we had a great time.  We went on the Maid of the Mist, and I laughed when my friend invoked Rainier Wolfcastle and said "the plastic bags do nothing!" as we were pelted with mist.  I assure you this was completely refreshing on a day with a humidex of 41 degrees Celsius.  We also had a lot of fun people watching and getting a sugar rush from the frosty chocolate milkshakes at the Hershey Store.

My friend's last full day was spent wandering around Toronto and seeing more landmarks, spending more time by the water, and watching the poor Jays fall apart in the seventh inning to the Oakland A's.  At least we weren't there tonight for the 16-0 blowout.  The poor Jays... they are really suffering from a lot of injuries.  I love them still.

Anyway, so I feel I did a great job as a Toronto tour guide.  Today my friend flew out, however, Becca T arrived from visiting her parents's cottage in Muskoka.  We had a great time catching up and doing classic Becca T/Christy activities: sushi, and Starbucks in a little parkette we used to frequent.  It started raining, so we headed back here, talked a lot, and ended up putting together the Lego landmarks I bought in the US.  It was rather fun.

Unfortunately, I won't get to spend any more time with Becca this summer.  Tomorrow I'm taking the train to Stratford.  It's finally time of Go9 GLAMPING!  It's gonna be great!  I'm going to spend about a week in the Stratford area too.  It'll be nice to spend good time with my parents and Miss Rilo.  The whole family's together, ha-ha!

Also, I've been really enjoying the Polaris Prize-shortlisted album "I Predict A Graceful Expulsion" by the lovely Cold Specks.  She lists subway stations in her song "Elephant Head".  It's good stuff!

Monday, July 23, 2012

When I remember this summer, I'll remember drinking a bottle of wine, watching the Bachelorette finale with a couple of friends, and listening to the new Stars single on repeat, and thinking about social justice, education, and the joy of math/chemistry problems.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not a light beach read, or how I learned a lot about social justice from an actress.

Before I left on my trip, I downloaded a couple of library books on my Kobo.  One of them was Ashley Judd's memior All That Is Bitter and Sweet.  I scanned the description of the book thinking that it would probably be a light summer read, but since she'd discuss her social justice work in developing nations with the UN and other organizations, it wouldn't be completely a guilty pleasure, as celebrity memoirs tend to be.

Boy, was I wrong.

In this book, Ashley Judd takes us through a spiritual journey through many aspects of her life: her difficult childhood, her recovery from depression and codependency, and her social justice work in developing nations.

She is educated (she describes her studies at Harvard at the end of the book), passionate, and a great role model.  Her work with prostitutes, child slaves, and women living in poverty in the developing world is eye-opening and justifiably uncomfortable to read.  However, through it all she shares how she feels that love in the answer, and that if you help one person, you help the world.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in social justice, gender issues, and/or spirituality. 

As a result of reading this book, I wanted to sponsor a woman in a developing nation through the organization Women for Women International, whose work is described in the book.  For about $1 a day, you can sponsor a women in a country such as the Democratic Republic of Congo to overcome obstacles and provide for her family.  However, since this is a US/UK based charity, for income-tax reasons, I decided to donate to a similar Canadian-based charity: Plan Canada's Because I Am a Girl.  It's a similar idea: that $1 a day would help educate, feed, and provide medical assistance for a girl in a developing nation.  I wanted the site to just randomly pick a sponsor child for me, but then they made me choose, so I selected a little girl in the Philippines, because I teach many newcomers from this country, so it holds a place in my heart.

Anyway, the point of that was that when Ashley wrote "if you help one person, you help the world", it really resonated with me, and donating through a charity like that is the quickest way that I could help a person in a developing nation right now, so I did.

This book also validated some of my teaching practice too.  I teach a unit about the environment and human health in one of my courses, and one of the topics that really hits home to students is the distribution of transmissible diseases like malaria, AIDS, and TB in the developing world.  Facts about how many people are affected by these diseases, and how cheap yet often inaccessible drugs and preventions such as mosquito nets always really resonate with and infuriate my students.  I feel good knowing that I've passed on this information to at least 100 kids (I've taught the course four times), and I really hope that they will take this information with them when they are old enough to vote.

This book also was a good read a year in advance to my (hopeful) trip to Kenya.  (Still not 100% confirmed but very likely.)  Even though I know I'll see some tough things (not as tough as in this book), I hope visiting and working in Africa will be life-changing for me, just like it was for Ashley Judd.

Lastly, I love the message of empowering women in the developing world.  Reading about rape, forced prostitution, and poverty is difficult and it highlights the disparity between men and women in these parts of the world.  It's not to say that the men in these countries don't have it hard too, but so often, the women in these countries don't even know that they have basic rights.  Since women are backbones of family life, to empower a women means to empower a family, and this will make life better for everyone.  This was the same message in another one of my favourite books, I Shall Not Hate by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.

I guess the moral of this post is don't judge a book by its cover... ever.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Three songs

1) Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It - Stars

You know that thing when you listen to ten seconds of a song and you love it?  Happened when I listened to this.  I am so excited for September 4th when The North is released.

2) Angels - The xx


3) Gotye Call Me Maybe Mashup - Pomplamoose


(p.s. I should be cleaning my apartment now.  That's why I'm posting music instead.  Earlier, I was reading up on particle physics and elementary particles becuase I KNOW HOW TO PROCRASTINATE.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Just own the night like the fourth of July.

Wow, trips go by oh-so-quickly.  It's my last night in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I've had a relaxing and fun-filled time here.  It's a totally fun and pretty city.  I wish that I had more time here to explore more of the outdoors and go for long bike rides and maybe a hike, but AlieMalie's gotta get back to work (we can't all be teachers!), and I gotta get back to Toronto to get ready for my friend from Vancouver who is visiting me in a few days.

Friday was our first full day in MSP.  We started the day by heading the Como Park Conservatory and Zoo in St. Paul.  The conservatory was filled with many extreme plants and even two species of extreme mammal (humans, and Chloe, the two-toed sloth).

Here are some pretty sunflowers:

Water lilies:

 Chloe, the two-toed sloth:

The zoo was rather sad though.  Many of the animals didn't seem to have enough space and seemed rather depressed.  It made me really think about my opinion of zoos.  I think they are great to teach people about biodiversity and for conservation purposes, but they need to give the animals as much space as they'd need in their natural habitat.  I don't want to criticize this zoo without being informed: perhaps a lot of research did go into the animals' enclosures.  It was a really hot day, so that could have contributed to the animals being so lethargic.  However, my gut feeling was that the animals did not seem happy, and I left the zoo feeling sad (hence I didn't take any pictures).

Anyway, on to happier things: i.e. the Mall of America!  It's a pretty big mall, so of course I wanted to go.  I was quite excited to go the Lego store.  I have friends who are in to Lego, and I have to admit I'm getting into it by proxy.  This store was insane! Check out the view from above:

I got some Lego gifts for friends, and I also got the Lego Architecture set of Big Ben.  It'll be fun to build when I eventually get time to do so... (maybe in September?)

After that we did a bit more typical shopping for handbags and jewelry.

Friday evening we booked ourselves a ghost tour.  AlieMalie knows that I'm into them: I've done them in Stratford, London, Charlottetown, Nova Scotia, and Salem MA.  Normally these involve walking around town and being told ghost stories about various buildings.  I always enjoy them because I love spooky ghost stories.  Also, it was Friday the 13th, so it seemed a perfect thing to do.

This one was a bit different.  Instead of being a ghost story walk, it was a ghost hunt.

It took place in one of Minneapolis' oldest building and we were given a set of ghost-hunting tools: an EMF reader, dowsing rods (don't ask), and a flashlight.  We were let lose in this building with our guides, and were supposed to use our tools (or even apps on our phones) to find the spirits that haunted the building.  It was a pretty funny experience that has spawned some good jokes between us, especially this great shot of an ORB!!! that AlieMalie got on her phone.  BOO!

On Saturday, we headed to the Guthrie Theatre to see Roman Holiday - it's a musical featuring Cole Porter songs based on the Audrey Hepburn movie, which neither of us had seen.  However, it seemed like a good thing to do since it took place in a rather awesome modern theatre overlooking the Mississippi.

We both really enjoyed the musical.  It was very cleverly done.  I wonder if this new musical will make it to New York, or even Stratford, one day.

Today was our last day, and we decided to go to a Twins game.  We got cheap skyline seats, which were great because they were cheap and offered a nice view of the skyline from Target Field.  The Twins lost bigtime to the Oakland A's, but I really enjoyed getting to a new ballpark.  And it was free hat day!  Bonus souvenir for my dad!

Here's the view of the skyline:

I LOVED this sign... It might be hard to see in the picture, but Minneapolis and St. Paul are shaking hands over the river.  Working together is the best!  I really wanted some sort of souvenir with this sign on it. I fall in love with the oddest things sometimes.  But all the gift shop had was overpriced shotglasses, a hideous nail-clipper/keychain, and... earrings(!).  My picture will be the souvenir.

Me in my free Twins hat!  I'll give it to my dad.  He won't mind that it's slightly used.

I loved the cup-holders in the seats in front.  Why doesn't the Skydome have this?  I'm always afraid of spilling my beer there.


Here I am with the statue of Kirby Puckett at the entrance to the park.  He was a famous Twins player in the 80s/90s and was a household name... at least in my household.  We were always into baseball, and I remember my dad making lots of jokes about Kirby Puckett.  I am seriously getting this picture of me almost getting attacked by his statue framed for my dad as a joke.

We had to make one last trip to the Mall of America after the game.  During the game, the hotel phoned AlieMalie to apologize because our housekeeper broke my bottle of foundation in our hotel room.  They told her that they'd deduct the cost of it from our hotel bill; all we'd have to do is a bring a receipt for it.  Anyway, there was a MAC store at the mall so I went to get a new bottle.  When we got back to the hotel, we were going to show them the receipt, but we didn't need to because they had researched the cost of the makeup on the internet, and had deducted $35 from our bill.  Minnesotans are really really nice!

Sidenote: as a result of a second trip to the mall, I bought additional makeup at MAC, found the awesome BAD ROMANCE nail polish that was painted on my toes in Winnipeg, and got a new pair of shoes.  I think in the end, Minnesota won this deal.

ANYWAY, so I sit at the end of my first summer trip feeling really great.  I've had some really great times over the past week and a half.  I had such a great time especially hanging out with AlieMalie in Chicago and Minnesota.  It's been over four years since we last saw each other (that's what living in different parts of the continent will do), and it's been great reconnecting.  She is an absolutely awesome friend, and a joy to travel with.  I do hope we make it to Europe together some day, or at the very least, she makes it to Toronto so I can take her to a Jays game, and to a great shoe store.

I'll leave this long post (MSP is fun, y'all!) with a couple more photos.  Here's an awesome giant cherry on a spoon sculpture:

Crazy moving pub on wheels - you gotta pedal for your beer!

Old flour mill:

Skyline at dusk:

See ya in Toronto!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine.

New post, new city.  Right now I'm in Bloomington, MN which is actually part of Minneapolis.  After a fun-filled three days in Chicago, I'm spending the weekend in the Twin Cities, and then on Monday, I fly home to Toronto for the next part of my summer vacation.

On Monday, my good pal AlieMalie picked me up at O'Hare, and then we headed into Chicago to meet up with a friend of mine from work who was also in Chicago.  We went for deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, which was amazing.  Last year, I did the deep dish pizza thing at Pizzaria Uno, and it wasn't nearly as good.  Deep dish pizza has been redeemed for me.

We packed a lot in on Tuesday.  We went to the Field Museum, which I loved.  Not only did I get to see Sue, the most complete T Rex fossil out there, I got to enjoy their Extreme Mammal exhibit.  I really like mammals - I took an entire course on mammalian diversity in university, so I was in heaven.  Unfortunately, there was no photography permitted of the Extreme Mammals (it would be too much to handle for anyone), but here's Sue!

After that, we headed downtown for lunch at then went up the Sears Tower (okay, it's now called the Willis Tower, but whatever).  That was fun.  They have these glass boxes that protrude over 100 stories over Wacker Ave.  Both of us were brave enough to stand on them.

We then headed over to the Chicago Theatre to catch Fiona Apple.  The theatre is amazing.  The inside is ornate and decadent.  Fiona herself was amazing.  I wasn't sure what to expect from seeing her live, as I wasn't a superfan before this show, but now I can say that I am.  She is an amazing live performer; she is intensely physical and has a great voice.  I'm so glad that we decided to go to this show.

After the show we wandered around Millenium Park.  Late at night is a great time to get shots of the park without tonnes of tourists in your shots.

Yesterday, we headed downtown to do a river cruise by the Chicago Architectural Society. I actually did the same cruise when I was in Chicago last year, but I was totally game to do it again because of the booze cruisers.  Last year, there were about five couples who got on the boat, and spent the entire cruise drinking and yelling across the boat at each other.  It made it hard to hear the docent's explanations (and made me very grumpy), so that's why I was game to do the same cruise again.  I had a mimosa to celebrate that there were no booze cruisers this time!  :) 

After that, we went for lunch at an awesome restaurant called The Purple Pig.  The highlight of the meal was salted caramel soft serve ice cream for dessert.  So good.

After that, we walked down to Navy Pier, then relaxed on Ohio beach with a beer for a while.  As we were sitting on the beach-side patio, this fetching fellow sauntered by a few times.  Does he remind you of anyone?

We took the El to meet up with my colleague again for our last meal in Chicago.  It was a fun few days in that city.  I really love Chicago, and although I've been there twice in two years, I feel that there is a lot more for me to do there: see a Cubs game and explore more of the neighbourhoods.  I have a feeling it won't be long 'til I do another few days in that amazing city.

Today we drove about 8 hours from Chicago to Minneapolis.  We stopped in Madison Wisconsin for a break and ate at a great pizza place that has mac 'n cheese pizza.  It was carbalicious!

Now we're enjoying generous glasses of complimentary wine as we plan our three days in the Twin Cities.  We're gonna go on a ghost tour (hopefully tomorrow night - Friday the 13th!), see the play Roman Holiday, and go to a Twins' game.  Oh, and of course, the Mall of the Americas is around the corner from our hotel, and I've been a good girl and only bought one thing in Winnipeg (a book) and one thing in Chicago (a Lego model of the Sears tower), so I think I'll be doing some shopping there!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Heart of the Continent

I'm sitting here at WPG's airport, enjoying the existence of free wifi.  In less than an hour, I'll be on my way to Chicago to meet up with my pal AlieMalie, who I haven't seen in over four years.  I'm super excited.

I've had a great time here in Winnipeg!  I leave feeling relaxed, and my brain is clearer than it has been in awhile.  I'm relaxed (so much so I had to say that twice).  I had a great long weekend in Winnipeg... I was here five days, that's like a long weekend, right?

Seeing Feist at the Winnipeg Folk Festival was amazing.  I love festivals, and it's always great to try a new one.  It's at a very large park outside of the city, and it was a great space to enjoy music.  I enjoyed all of the musicians that we saw (Snowblink, James Vincent McMorrow, Justin Rutledge, and someone else whose name escapes me) but Feist took the cake.  She is one of my favourite live performers.  I've had friends call Feist "French cafe background music".  But, as my pal Matt said, "if so, that's one cafe I'd like to go to."  She has such great performance chops; her guitar solo during Sea Lion Woman was amazing, and I was proud that I did not bawl during "Let it Die".

The rest of the time I was here I did lots of fun I stuff.  I drove 1.5 hours north to Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg, and had a great time relaxing on the beach and going for a small hike... however I returned with the worst sunburn ever, and covered in mosquito bites.  We went to see Spiderman, and had some good laughs at the security levels at Oscorp.  It was an OK movie, but turn your brain off.  I went to the Royal Canadian Mint (if you ever go, ask for Phil as your tour guide), walked around downtown a lot, and got pretty damned drunk in Osborne Village.

I treated myself to a great spa escape at Ten Spa at the Hotel Fort Garry.  Massage (on ouchy sunburns), facial, and insane mani-pedi.  A woman told me that she was jealous of the mani-pedi I got (complete with paraffin wax and everything).  My toes are now a colour called "Bad Romance" (black with purple sparkles).  It was a great way to spend five hours and I'd love for the massage therapist that I had to move to Toronto.

On Sunday, Matt and I did the legendary hotel brunch at the Fort Garry.  IT WAS INSANE.  Yes, it cost me $50, but I ate that much food, I am sure of it.  I got so full, that I couldn't even try all the pastries and desserts and I wanted to so badly!  I didn't even have room for an omelette!  I was crushed.  We ate for seriously 2.5 hours.  I'm pretty sure that I worked it all off by walking around all afternoon, and then going for a run.

Oh yes, and maybe my favourite thing from Winnipeg was the abundance of dragonflies.  They were flying around Folk Fest, Grand Beach, and by the Forks.  They are a rarity in my Toronto existence and I loved watching them.

To sum up, I will leave you with what I believe were the two funniest things I said during my trip to Winnipeg.

"Friendly Manitobans are friendly even when you hit their car!"  (I kind of hit a van, but no damage to either vehicle THANK GOD.  I left a note for the van owner 'cuz there was a dent, that was not from me, and he called and was so nice and wished me a happy vacation.)

"The Hotel Fort Garry brunch - where freshly squeezed orange juice flows like water."

Good times.  Now off to make good times in Chicago!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

But the airport's always almost empty at this time of the year, so let's go play on a baggage carousel.

I feel that my summer truly starts tomorrow.

Tomorrow I'll fly to Winnipeg, rent a car, and then head out to the Folk Festival to catch Feist.

I'll spend a few more days ambling about the Prairies, a couple days spoiling myself at the spa, and then I'm off to Chicago.

I feel that Winnipeg is the perfect destination for my first flight this summer.  Don't laugh.  Ever since I was a 21-year-old kid listening obsessively to the Weakerthans on my *DISCMAN*, I would picture this city that they sang about in my head.  I knew things about the airport, street names, etc., and thought "hmm, I'll go there some day."

And ironically I did.  Winnipeg was the first place I ever flew to, but not for pleasure, but for work.  When I was 23 (so young) I took a job on a remote reserve in Northwestern Ontario.  I had to fly through Winnipeg to get there, and spent hours in the airport, and a few overnights in the city, including a week for a conference that coincided with my twenty-fourth birthday.  Yep, you know your living conditions are harsh when spending your birthday in Winnipeg in February seems like heaven.

Anyway, so the point of this is that Winnipeg has always had a special place in my heart and seems like a good place to start a summer of self-care and rediscovery.  Through the magic of blogging, I have a good friend there, and my girl Feist is there, so it's a good place to go.  After that, I'm excited to spend a good week with my pal AlieMalie, who I haven't seen in over four years, as we roadtrip from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul's.

The best thing about this summer is that I have pretty much every day filled with awesome people.  People who really care about me and have my back.  People who don't find me too introverted, who don't focus on my flaws, and who don't think life is too short for me.

Anyway, I am just SO FREAKING READY to leave this city for awhile and to remember what's important.  And to spend some time reconnecting with my old self, the optimistic girl who would watch the following video over and over again and didn't worry about bullshit because she knew herself.  I feel like I lost myself this year and I have so much faith this summer will help me find myself.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

As I always do, I will post my favourite Canada Day song on my blog.  It's awesome because it:
a) is a  Joel Plaskett song
b) works our national anthem into a song about heartbreak

However, this year, I'll post another couple faves.  Sloan is a quintessential Canadian band, no, INSTITUTION, and"Rest of My Life" has the classic line:

"One thing I know about the rest of my life, I know I'll be living it in Canada."

HOWEVER, this year's top Canada Day song for me will be "One Great City!" by the Weakerthans, because I am flying to that city in three more sleeps!  I can't wait.  The Winnipeg Folk Festival (with FEIST!), my pal Matt, a roadtrip for beaches and fish in chips, downtown fun, and two nights in a historic hotel await me.

This Canada Day weekend has been about getting ready for that trip more or less, and catching up with friends.  My summer is so jam-packed that instead of seeing more of some of my friends during my two months off, I'll probably see less of them.  The past three days have been full of food, drinks, and movies with people.

Tomorrow I pack up Miss Rilo Kitty and will face the unpleasant drive to Stratford with her.  (She hates the car.)  She'll be staying at my parents' until the end of August, because there is no sense in up-rooting her for the couple of weeks I'll actually be in Toronto this summer.  I'll visit her, and my parents, at the end of July.

Hope you are all having nice long weekends!  And, I should say that I'm very thankful to live in Canada, a country that embraces multiculturalism, universal healthcare, and the unhealthiest of foods (poutine, donuts, maple syrup, beer).