What to Do in Toronto Before Going Into Labour (Day)


by Roxanne Tellier

It’s June of 1968, and Marymount High School has only recently gone co-ed. Before that, the girls wore kilts and giggled in the west end of the building, overseen by nuns, while in the east end of the building, the boys wore ties and had chalk thrown at them by priests or lay teachers whenever they acted up.

It’s sweltering, and there’s no air conditioning. Most of us are trying to catch a whiff of summer through the huge windows that have been cracked around the room. A friend covertly palms me a lyric sheet .. it’s from the new Crosby Stills and Nash album. “Wooden ships, on the water, very free and easy!” And another “ Guinevere  had green eyes.. like yours, lady like yours.”  

My eyes are brown. My lip curls.

There’s this long haired guy in some of my classes who has a vibe midway between Jim Morrison and Charles Manson, and he’s got a ‘following’ because he’s the coolest guy in Montreal and he’s always got access to the best pot. His name is Gerry. One of the hangers on to his crue is a guy who eventually becomes a drummer for a rather famous Montreal band.

(The three of us get busted on the next April Fool’s Day for performing a half-assed attempt at a Black Mass, complete with virgin and stolen communion wafers. But that’s a story for another day.)

And Gerry hands me a poem he wrote, that is terrible even by 1968 standards, and then intones, from his perch in the back of the class … “Summer’s almost gone… “

Flash forward ….. it’s 2019, and it’s been 50 years since Woodstock and my school days. I look at the calendar and realize that summer IS indeed almost gone, and for people of my age, that means the dread of six to a hundred months of snow and ice.

But for most Torontonians, the start of the Canadian National Exhibition – aka The Ex – is the shock that tells them that another year is drawing to a close. Soon the kids will be back at school, and before you know it, we’ll be choosing costumes for Halloween, and making our Christmas lists. The funny thing about a year is how quickly the back end runs away from us.

My grandson is involved with something that has to do with watching other people play video games in one of the buildings at the Ex. I’m not sure I will go this year. I don’t like walking the miles necessary to get from one side of the site to the other, trying to find my friends who scored a nice paying gig at one of the little band shells. I don’t gamble, so the Casino is out. And I’m pretty much over the need to score a .99 cent bowl of spaghetti, if that even still is a ‘thing.’

But – you should go! If you have kids, and if going to the Ex is the way you mark the parameters of your life, you should go! Because the Ex is whatever it means to you, whatever ritual you need to do to put a comma in the summer of this year before trotting on to the Fall. Go. Shoot an air rifle at a booth manned by fast talking carnies! Play your birthday at the Birthday Game tent, or toss a ring over a glass and win a doll. Eat a corn dog or something that should never have been covered in chocolate before being fried. You’d never eat it if it wasn’t ‘just this once!’ Do it! Do it NOW.

I’ll soon be making my own little tour of places that won’t be as much fun in a month or two. I want to join some friends who regularly loll at Sugar Beach, which is down at the foot of Lower Jarvis Street adjacent to the Redpath Sugar Factory, for an afternoon of music and margaritas. I want to enjoy the park’s brightly coloured pink beach umbrellas and candy-striped rocks. It’s part of Toronto’s waterfront, and .. it’s free!

One of my fave things to do in summer is to jet down to the easternmost end of the Beach, past the Balmy Beach club, where a lot of the locals gather to exercise their dogs. I miss my dogs, and this is a nice way for me to get a little sun, and to try to steal a little affection from some of the dogs who race across the sand, and throw themselves madly into the water to fetch the sticks or balls their owners toss in for their entertainment.

I’m a water baby.. I need to be near water. But sometimes I need a little more excitement than that caused by the  passive eyeing of the hind ends of dogs and the Lake Ontario horizon. That’s how I found myself one afternoon drifting through the harbour on a one hour tour of the Islands.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a tourist in your own city, there’s a ton of ways to explore. I recently took to Groupon to find the cheapest tickets to a few attractions.

The boat tour I mentioned was only one of a half a dozen different ways to sail off, at any time of the day. The boat I chose was a bit low end, but at $12, was what I needed at the time. There’s also a ‘pirate’ ship you can book, a Great Lakes schooner, and lots of ‘party’ boats with music and booze. Maybe you and your main squeeze could take an evening cruise, and sail off into the sunset together!

Feeling a little more adventurous? Why not try a two hour tandem kayak down the Humber River! You can give that a try during the week for as little as $23 dollars.

Or how about indulging your inner child, with a game of mini putt golf! There’s a new  entertainment complex that just sprang up downtown that combines food, booze and nine holes out of a choice of three different courses of 27 unique themed holes. Fulfill your dream of golfing drunk!

For $43, you can sign up for 10 salsa & bachata classes at Steps Dance Studio in Rosedale. Spice it up with a little hot sauce! 

“At her studio, Jennifer aims to make Latin dance accessible to all people, even those who have no previous dance experience. Beginning with basic step patterns and technique, lessons progress through more advanced skills such as partner turns, syncopations, styling, and more complex turn pattern combinations. To add a little variation to the mix, Steps Dance Studio also runs monthly workshops and studio parties.”

Who knows? there may be a  Latin lover in your future!

When it comes to music, we Torontonians are really spoiled. Through the week there are jams at the Black Swan, Grossmans, The Tranzac, and so many other locations.

But Saturday afternoon is when you can hear some of the finest jazz, by some of the finest musicians, that I’ve ever heard  – at The Pilot, on Cumberland, just west of Bloor. From 2:30 to 5:30, you’ll be blown away by the chops of the likes of Chris Wallace, Dave Hutchinson, Steve Koven, Aaron Davis, Bernie Senensky, Nick Morgan, and Jeff King. The last time I was there, I was completely knocked out by drummer Mark  Micklethwaite. Watching him play is like auditing  a master class. Awesome sauce!

Outriggers Saturday matinee, 3:30-6pm

Or maybe you’re in the mood for a trendy Beach brunch while being serenaded by Toronto R&B and soul vocal icon, Johnnie Wright at Outriggers, on Queen at Beech, across from the venerable Garden Gate Restaurant, aka The Goof. Johnny has had a regular Saturday afternoon matinee gig there forever, accompanied by master keyboardist Michael Fonfara, and the ever-entertaining, versatile Robbie Rox on congas. Can you think of a better way to while away a summer’s day from 3:30 to 6pm?

In my east end hood, August is when the Danforth Village BIA takes over Stephenson Park (between Westlake and Main St, one street south of the Danforth) every Wednesday night, from 6 pm to 9 pm. There’s bands, food, a beer tent, and lots of run around room for the kids.

I missed the first two Wednesdays, but hope to catch at least one of the next two scheduled. On August 21,  Little Magic Sam aka Sam Taylor will hold court, and on August 28, The Stephen Stanley Band will rock the joint..

There’s only two more Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays left as well. On the last Sunday of the summer months, the streets are given over to the people. Enjoy music, local vendors and art on streets that are closed to traffic from noon to 7 pm. Always a great place to people watch!

So now you have several ways to have fun with the last two weeks of August, beyond the venerable CNE, and at prices ranging from zero dollars to ‘the sky’s the limit!’

YOLO, babes. Enjoy!

Weather or Not We’re Together


I don’t want to startle anyone … but there’s been quite a lot of blue in the sky lately, and there’s this big yellowy orange ‘ball’ up there as well ….  and it’s been getting kind of warmer, too. Should I worry?

Oh lawdy .. could Spring be nearing? It’s felt like years since looking out the window promised anything but snow and a hulking grey sky crouched like a monstrous beast over the rooftops. I have seen the hazy shade of winter, and I’m well  and truly over it.

Hey … it’s true … we had a mere 48.8 hours of sunlight in January. Even the seasonal average of 85 hours for the month of January sucks, but we got almost half of that! Now that we’re sneaking up to March, these warmer and sunnier days are feeling like a trailer for what’s to come.

The weather has always had an enormous affect on our psyches. It’s why we want to run away to somewhere tropical during the winter, or why some of us develop Seasonal Affective Disorder that is helped only by artificial sunlight. It’s a real thing.  The lizard brain craves sun and warmth.

Don’t take my word for it; Terry Jacks told us years ago that to have joy and fun, we needed seasons in the sun. Were you not paying attention? Did you not believe Terry Jacks?!?!?

human_fingerprints_450Now, I’m not gonna go off on a rant here, about global warming, and whether or not it’s caused by human activity. For one thing, it’s too nice a day to argue. It was 11 degrees yesterday, and it’s nearly 10 degrees today already; seriously, not wasting my time on deniers. Mama wants to gambol where flowers will soon be.

And anyone who’s still hanging on to their denial ..well, they’re probably too far gone to reach anyway.

But you do have to wonder if part of the refutation of climate change stems from our unconscious knowledge of weather’s effect on our psyches. The uncertainty, the rapid changes that have occurred to the planet as we heat it up – all this troubles our equilibrium, that has learned, by observation and over time, what to expect at given periods of the year. If it’s January in Toronto, there should be snow and cold. If, in February, some dude shows up to a bar looking comfortable in shorts and a wife-beater tee, you’re going to do a double take.

Remember the good old days, when 2014 was the hottest year on record? Then 2015 took first spot? Well, now 2016 has that distinction. And as we get closer to the summer of 2017, it might be prudent to be worried about what heights we’ll hit this year.

Australia‘s already in summer – and it is scary down there. The temps are way out of control, reaching highs in the mid 40s (mid 110s in Fahrenheit) in some places. Australia’s DailyTelegraph.com recently did an in-depth special news feature proving how much hotter the continent has gotten, and speculating on what further heights were in the future.  Will Canada have that to look forward to as well?

I can’t think about that now; life is short, and so am I. All I know is that spring is coming, which means I can finally ditch the thermal socks and long johns. I don’t care how cute and colourful they make flannel pyjamas, those pjs are never gonna inspire anything but sneezles and wheezles. A girl .. shoot, even an old lady! … wants to feel wild and free, not bound by heavy down-stuffed coats and sensible slippers.

Bring on the sun, and crank up the tunes, baby!

No matter our age, we need that good, good sunshine to make us feel alive. I could go into all the benefits of sensible sun-seeking, with multiple annotated reminders to wear sunscreen, but .. hell no. I want me some sun, and I want it now!

I am more than ready to pack away the sweaters and boots and let t-shirts and strappy sandals back into my life. I know, I have to wait a few months more before warm becomes norm … but I’m good with that, as long as dreamy summer nights and patios are in my future. I want to sip a smart cocktail in 75 degree weather, face gently kissed by the sun, as I sit and watch the world go by. Is that so much to ask? Would you deny me that?

Spring is around the corner, and those lazy, hazy days of summer will be upon us in good time. Here’s hoping that the promise of blue skies, and hot fun in the summertime, keeps us relatively unscathed through the next few turbulent months. I’m jonesing to morph my obsession with politics into a passion for maintaining good tan lines and the taking of long walks on the beach when the moon is in the seventh house …

But for now … let the sun shine in!

 

DBAWIS – Fly Me High, Ken Tobias


Ken Tobias 2016 pic.jpg“I remember being asked when I was very young what did I want to be when I grow up. I remember saying ” I want to be an artist, a singer, and a scientist.” ….well it turned out that I am a professional singer, an avid science fan, and yes an artist…painting in acrylics for 30 years.”   Ken Tobias.

 

Many years ago I was in a roots rock/new country quintet called Delta Tango.  A bunch of us, music lifers, recorded, tinkered with sounds, and recorded some more. When we had something that we thought might be marketable, we debuted and toured the CD around Ontario.

I can’t remember exactly when we met Tony Tobias – it may have been at a CMW gig, or perhaps at a showcase , but he was a lovely man, and, as we (the band) and he (Tony) showed each other our credentials, he revealed that he was the President/Executive Producer at Pangaea Media & Music Inc. – and manager and brother of the venerable Ken Tobias.

I make no attempt to conceal my folkie roots. Ken Tobias was an icon for me in the 70s. You may remember the song he wrote that put him .. and The Bells .. on the map … “Stay Awhile.”

Born and raised in New Brunswick seventy-one years ago this July 25th , Ken showed early promise as a draftsman AND a musician. In 1965, he left NB for  Halifax, Nova Scotia,  was part of CBC’s local Music Hop,Frank’s Bandstand,’ and then went on to become a regular on  Singalong Jubilee, often dueting with Anne Murray, and playing alongside of  Gene MacLellan and John Allan Cameron.

In 1968 Tobias met Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers who invited him to Los Angeles to record and write as a salaried songwriter. Under the management of Medley’s company, Tobias recorded his first single “You’re Not Even Going to the Fair” on Bell Records; like many of his early releases it was credited just to “Tobias”. The song won him his first Canadian BMI award for airplay. This was the first of many BMI, Procan and SOCAN awards.” (Wikipedia)

Ken was just getting started. In 1972 he established Glooscap Music with his brother, Tony, settling in Toronto for the next few decades, and releasing a string of hits including “Fly Me High“, and “Lady Luck“, and eventually receiving FIVE Socan Classics Awards for 100,000 airplays of the songs,  “Stay Awhile”, “I Just Want To Make Music,” “Every Bit Of Love”, “Give A Little Love” and “Dreamken tobias beauty fly #2”.

His beautifully written songs speak of love, and the joy of making and listening to music. They dare  the listener to believe in what might be. They also draw upon his artistic background, painting a mental picture that the listener can translate to their own imaginings. “I drew a picture of a pair of wings .. because I want to fly.“

 

Looking back at all that Ken Tobias has accomplished is like peering through a kaleidoscope … so many wonders to be seen! So many aspects to a lengthy and accomplished life!

His writing and producing credits are impressive, and include forays into television and film. From having his song “Good To Be Alive in the Country” in the hit TV series The Bionic Woman, to collaborating in the writing of the soundtrack for the Italian movie A Silver Saddle; writing, “Here You Are Today“, for Saint John, New Brunswick’s bicentennial as well as nabbing a CLIO Award for his Tourism New Brunswick commercial; to having his song “Friends” featured in the 2004 feature movie Chicks with Sticks; to being commissioned by Ballet Jorgen to create “Dreams of A Subtle World” for a feature segment in their ballet…

… to having several pages in Dave Bidini’s 1998 book, On A Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock  dedicated to his music … and  then add to that his self-taught creative artistry that has seen over two hundred of his paintings sold throughout North America…

I don’t know how he’s done it. I’m exhausted just researching and writing about all of his accomplishments!

Casino Nova Scotia Music Hall of FameBut there’s one more honour on its way, and a very worthy one indeed. Ken Tobias is about to be inducted into the 2016 Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame, representing the province of New Brunswick.

From Tony’s recent press release:  “KEN TOBIAS joins three other celebrated Atlantic Canadian music artists being inducted: Natalie MacMaster (Nova Scotia); Harry Hibbs (Newfoundland); Gene MacLellan (Prince Edward Island). Last year’s inaugural music inductees were: Rita MacNeil, John Allen Cameron, Portia White and Anne Murray. Ken comments about the news of his induction: “I am honoured and humbled to be inducted into the Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame and representing my province of New Brunswick. I am especially moved to be in the company of my old friend Gene MacLellan. Gene and I were fellow cast members on the CBC show Singalong Jubilee and we both wrote songs for Anne Murray. And it is a great honour to be sharing the spotlight with the wonderful Natalie MacMaster and Harry Hibbs. Many thanks to Casino Nova Scotia, Music Nova Scotia, Music New Brunswick and all those who cKen Tobias painting far off worlds.jpgontinue to support my music and art.””

Ken Tobias’ story continues to unfold in front of us, as unending as the galaxies he captures in his paintings.

Cheers, Ken Tobias! And thanks for inspiring so many Canadian writers, players, and artists to pursue their dreams.

Here’s a catchy summer tune from his latest CD, “From a Distance.”

 

 

 

Back To The Garden


My gardens have been calling me lately. For years I gave up on them – the hostas, the shrubs, the berry bushes and the salsa garden – allowing frustration and depression to stomp all over my joy in the feel of good earth under my nails, and the delights of helping things grow. Plants ask very little of their tenders – some water when it’s hot and dry, a little pruning away of dead growth so that new, young sprouts have room – but even that was too much to ask of me for almost a decade. I withdrew from the earth, and from most people.

While the plants may not hold a grudge, some did give in to the neglect. The rhubarb that flourished in spring simply gave up a few years ago, even as the cuttings I had given to friends continued to thrive. The strawberries were buried under creeping groundcover, although I’ll occasionally still find the odd outcrop where it’s least expected, and sadly, quite likely to be accidentally mowed. The century rose, a beauty that now only exists as a cultivar, simply stopped making an effort, and quietly perished.

But most of the shrubs and bushes, bless ‘em, made it through, albeit begrudgingly, and muddled on, doing their survival thing. It’s been a long week of snipping and hard pruning, and will take at least another week to complete, but little by little, the gardens are returning to their natural beauty. I, however, am currently covered in ugly scratches and welts, nursing a few bug bites, and not much liking the discomfort of taking a poke in the eye from an ungrateful stem trimming.

cdn farmerGardening is not for everyone. We may have once been a nation of “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” but nowadays, many people consider physical and menial labour demeaning, something to pawn off on the unskilled and unambitious, or to contract out to uniformed and franchised professionals.  Actual farmers in Canada rely a great deal on machinery to keep their acres going.

Of course, every job requires some sort of skill, and good gardeners command a hefty price for their services. For a short while, many years ago, I worked as a professional ‘Plant Doctor,’ charged with tending to those forests of greenery downtown office buildings put in to seem eco-friendly. It was a good job, and I should have appreciated the opportunity, rather than thinking it just a way to make a few bucks until something better came along. After all, my father’s family were farmers in Alberta, so I suppose I’m genetically predisposed to understanding why and how to do gardeny things.

tree pruningGardening requires focus. I have always found a kind of primal joy in concentrating completely on one stalk, one stem, one leaf, studying the foliage for signs of disease, rejoicing in new buds, snipping carefully in the direction of the node to encourage growth. There’s also dismay in discovering that, despite appearances, there’s no trace of green left in a branch, no matter how far down you snip.

Some plants are vicious, armed with spurs and thorns that rip the skin, while others defend themselves with noxious scents. Many more are gentle, seeming to exist only to protect their future progeny. Some may surprise you; while trimming a rather ordinary looking gangly  shrub, I was nearly overcome with an aroma so intoxicating I could only describe it as what I imagine the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz must have smelled  like … dreamy, languorous, and utterly seductive.

There’s even joy in the inevitable aches and pains that hard work brings. Oh, you think, when did I stop using that particular muscle? Good to know it’s still there, even if cranky from being woken up! Bones and joints, lulled by the comforts of a winter indoors, creak a little, and sun-starved skin blushes if left uncovered too long.

dv885008And does anything taste more perfectly right than an ice cold drink at the end of an exhaustingly physical day? For me, it would preferably be a beer, guzzled straight from the can or bottle, holding the sweating tin or glass against your forehead between sips … that’s a little bit of heaven right there.

There’s so much righteousness in rinsing off the sweat of hard work done well in a cool shower on a hot day. Or of indulging in a lengthy soak in an Epsom salted bath that leeches the tired right out of your marrow; these are simple pleasures, gifts we give ourselves, payment for a job well done.

Gardening also takes you away from the banalities of social media, the bleating of commercial television, the door rapping of salesmen, religious proselytizers and those who want into your basement to read meters. I’ll only rarely even bring a radio out while I commune with nature, preferring to concentrate on the task at hand, while bits of summer songs play in my head. No people allowed, no spectators, no one to disturb a free flowing train of thought …

Even the drudgery of lawn mowing can be relieved – I used to drive my landscaping neighbour crazy with my erratic mower movements – though I called it ‘dancing.’   “NO, Roxanne,” he’d say, “THIS is the proper  way to mow a lawn!”  And then he’d demonstrate how to mow lovely straight lines on his impeccable, professionally grown lawn, completely unaware of his own little hip flips at the end of each track.  It cannot be denied – the aroma of freshly mown grass lifts the spirits and frees even the most tightly wound.

Philosophically, good horticulture practice is less about mucking around in the mud, and more about re-establishing our connection with the planet, its bounties and its boundaries. We’re reminded forcibly that there is only so much of anything to go around, be it space, food, or water, and that sometimes a ruthless triage must be carried out, sacrificing a few to ensure survival of the many. Neglect may seem harmless for a time, but eventually, lack of care will take its toll, harming even the strongest, and slaying the weakest.

In nature, variation in colour is a cause for wonder – there’s a whole segment of the agricultural community that does nothing but dream up, crossbreed, and name new variants. Crossbreeding, whether done through serendipity or intentionally, most often creates a new hardiness in the plant, or fulfills a need we hadn’t yet known we’d had.

tomatoesSome have a practical take on maintaining a garden, be they the stalwarts who continue to coax vines and stalks into existence as their parents did before them, or the grocery store gardener who just wants to get a break on the cost of tomatoes and herbs. For the price of a few seeds or a seedling, we become like minor gods, with the power of life and death over these potential lives.  As pragmatic as patio or backyard farming may seem, we should never underestimate the simple joy of biting into a fat, ripe, sun heated, home grown tomato, or the satisfaction and pride of a successful fall harvest.

For you, for me, for plants, and for the planet – time always moves forward. There’s no going back and undoing what wasn’t done, no way to undo harm done by neglect or accident. Gardens remind us that, for everything, there is a season. And the season is always ‘now.’

 

(first published May 2016: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/roxanne-tellier-back-to-the-garden/)

Party For One


Toronto’s been sweltering in +90 degrees heat for the last several days. I’m not complaining… heat I can handle, it’s cold I can’t take.

But this is, of course, a time when the city’s electrical system is drastically over-loaded, with every home’s air conditioning units roaring. Our area is particularly hard hit; I’ve been having little brown outs and power cuts for months. I’ve been increasingly worried over the toll that this is taking on my computer and other sensitive devices.

broken-fridgeBut I hadn’t thought about the fridge.

With no warning, our fridge’s compressor decided to die. The inner fridge light still works, so we hadn’t noticed that everything in the side-by-side freezer was slowly thawing. Until last night.

cocktail foodAnd so today, I’m cooking up a storm in that same 90 degree heat. I’ve cooked dim sum and chicken wings and mini meat pies and sausage rolls and pizza and anything I think I can feasibly cook and keep chilled for a day or two.

I’m so glad that I’m able to save some of food. The shrimps and scallops won’t make it, which is a terrible waste of both money and resources. And I sure wish I hadn’t wanted to start a diet today, as the cooked goodies are really too hard to resist.

But it’s the saddest cocktail party I’ve ever attended.