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!

Whatever Happened to the Artsy Fartsy BBS?


by Roxanne Tellier

In the nineties, I ran the Artsy Fartsy Bulletin Board System out of my home for several years. Those were the days of 2400 baud modems and the scree scraw weeeeeeeeeekkkk!!! sound of the connection soon became a part of my every waking and sleeping moment.

In those days, tens of thousands of hobbyists around the globe ran primarily text-based boards, where users could exchange messages, upload and download files, (often pirated) play games, and generally hang out with other computer geeks.

leisure suit larryThese boards were in someone’s home, and that system operator (sysop) could see what the incoming caller was doing, since their actions scrolled by on the sysop’s own monitor. Sometimes a sysop would break into your session for a one-on-one chat, which was always a little bit of a fanboy experience. The sysop controlled entry – they could disallow your admission, or give you access to the ‘secret’ files you craved, like the latest version of FileMaker Pro or the naughty Leisure Suit Larry video games. And all you knew about this person was that they were probably as cuckoo for computers as you were.

Roxanne Online We ComputeThe boards were personal, they were usually rather unprofessional, messy, and run by teenage boys, and the boards were often geared to special interests. For about three years I wrote a bbs column, Roxanne Online!, for We Compute!, a monthly paper I helped launch, describing local boards, how to access them, and how to find boards that catered to your personal needs.

(I still have all of the clippings of those columns, and someday I intend to scan them, and upload the texts to a website. Patience, padawan.)

Only the cognoscenti, the nerds like myself who used local bbs boards, could foresee that this ability to communicate, pretty much for free, with likeminded people around the world, was the future. I loved being a bbs user, and when my old friend, Iain Grant, offered to set me up a board on my own PC, I jumped at the opportunity.

I became friends with many of Toronto’s FidoNet Region 12 Net 250 sysops along the way, getting to know people like Craig Hastings, Paul Chvostek, Don O’Shaughnessy, Luke Kolin, James Korolas, and Loralie Freeman, many of whom I remain in contact with today.

Over time, and as I trawled the Net Echos for fun, I came to know and eventually spend a lot of quality online time with, some of the denizens of the FidoNet Writing Echo. Each of the writers, whether their writing was yet in print or not, had interesting details to share about their work, and publishing. Pakki Chipps, Laurie Campbell, Rocky Frisco, Dennis Havens, George Willard, Jack Lynch, Billie Sue Mosiman, Shalanna Collins, Lisa Peppan, Carl Thames, Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennet, Diane Lamoureaux, Kevin R. Tipple, Karen Rhodes, Jack Ruttan, Douglas Rhodes, Rich/Rachel Veraa, Michael Nellis, Patrick Goodman, Rebecca Bohner were just a few of the people I would never have encountered, had I not discovered this wonderful online world.

And it was a very egalitarian world. When you chatted with people, you only knew as much as they’d decide to tell you. Anyone could present as any gender, race, or sexual preference. No one was ‘The Boss.’ the horseman

While most of us used our real names, there were a few who preferred to be known by a pseudonym. George Willard, aka Mark Matthews, was an ‘animal lover’ in the carnal sense, and his book, “The Horseman,” got him and his ‘bride,’ Pixel the Pony, as guests on a Jerry Springer TV episode that was the one episode Springer never aired. It was a very long time until the episode became available at all, and then, only on some rather shady video tapes.

I met Pakki Chipps ‘in real life’ soon after my mother died. I had mentioned in an online post that I needed to go somewhere and heal, and she immediately messaged me to say she was preparing a room in which I could stay, and that her daughter Weyla was already out picking flowers for the room.

sooke bcAnd that’s how I came to stay on a reserve in Sooke, BC, where I spent a week doing nothing but relaxing on verdant hills and exploring rain forests with someone whom I had previously only known online.

Many of us were musicians as well as writers. Rocky Frisco was a true Oklahoman character, adept at many fields. He’d been a race car drive, a disc jockey, a writer, an actor, and JJ Cale’s goto keyboardist from 1957 until Cale’s death in 2013. Rocky’s Wikipedia entry is a study in just how much one man can pack into a life. I was honoured to finally meet him when he played The Phoenix with Cale in 2002.

I would often feel that this entree into the online world was slightly unreal. I’ll never forget the time we were on vacation in Florida. We drove up to a Miami medical treatment centre, where we had arranged to have coffee with Rich Veraa, a writer who was a resident there. As we pulled up to the centre, I saw two men in wheelchairs – one white and one black – and realized that I had no idea what this long time friend actually looked like. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for me; in the future, I realized, people could be whomever they wanted to be online, unconstrained by any reality. For good OR ill.

rachel veraaSomewhere along the line, Rich Veraa became Rachel Veraa, but not many of us gave it a lot of thought. People lived their lives as they pleased, and most of us didn’t care what you got up to, as long as you had something interesting to share in your writing.

Not having met most of these writers in person was no impediment to very long, very strong friendships. Although the Writing Echo is long gone, I still stay in touch with many of it’s denizens, on Facebook, and thru the Writing Tavern Google group. I get to read the exploits of Laurie Campbell, as she and her husband prepare to return to New Zealand in retirement, and Dennis Havens can be counted on to keep me in the loop of what he’s been up to in his writing, and in the music world, where his past as a life long Vegas musician and composer of many a Sousa flavoured march makes him a delightful raconteur.

billie sueThe first time I encountered one of Billie Sue Mosiman‘s horror tales (she wrote over a hundred novels, and was also a well-respected editor of horror anthologies) I was a little bit in awe of actually having this talented woman as a ‘pen pal.’ I often think about how she would describe accompanying her beloved husband Lyle, a long distance trucker, while she sat in the cab and wrote to the rhythm of the road. Billie Sue loved her man, her little dogs, and her life, all with equal passion.

wiremanTo look at her, Billie Sue looks like a typical Southern belle (born someplace like Mobile, Alabama, I think) with no more concerns than the cotillion and whether there’s enough Spanish Moss on the oak trees adorning the plantation house… okay, I’m being silly again—I know those sorts of Southern belles went out about the time the carpetbaggers invaded the Deep South after the War of Northern Aggression, as some call it. Although she lives in Texas (or Alabama, I’m never quite sure) with her husband Lyle, I don’t think they can afford a plantation or would want one if they could. And probably the cotillion would be the last thing on her mind—unless as a setting for a massacre; she’s been a full-time writer for years, and her favourite genres are (surprise!) thrillers and horror/fantasy, at least judging by what she’s been publishing lately. The first book of hers I read was called Wireman, about a singular serial killer who used piano wire to garrote his victims. And she looks so normal!” (from AmazingStories.Com/2015)

pamela dean tam linEvery time I pick up one of Pamela Dean‘s wonderful science fiction or fantasy novels, I marvel again at how lucky I’ve been to have had access to her generous sharing of writing and publishing knowledge over the last three decades.

Times were very different, pre the sort of Internet connectivity we now take for granted. You probably didn’t know what a BBS was unless someone you knew was a hobbyist. Most people were actually a little afraid of computers in general; when I applied to be the executive secretary of the CN Tower‘s food and beverage director, the job involved working on one of the only five computers in total that were in use in the executive offices at that time.

first IBM PCTimes changed pretty quickly, though. We went from, “computers! too scary!” to “How does this thing work, and why do I have a steamer trunk full of AOL starter discs?” almost overnight. Prodigy and CompuServe also got into the game, and soon the internet was so intertwined with the corporate world that any sense of the intimacy or personality of the bbs days was gone. When the internet went viral in the late nineties, it was the computer equivalent of the dinosaurs being wiped out by comets – one day BBSes were there, and the next … poof! Gone.

Though – in the beginning, none of the majors really sounded much different than they had back in the 2400 baud modem days.

 

It was right around that time that we were moving from our home in the east end of Toronto to a bungalow in Scarborough, and that seemed like a good time to shut down the Artsy Fartsy, and put the home pc to better use, making a living, working from home (which was ALSO considered an impossible ‘ask’ for the average office worker in the mid nineties. Old school bosses just didn’t believe they’d get an honest day’s work out of anyone whom they couldn’t see by a quick glance around the workplace.)

BBSes were the gateway drug that allowed many computer geeks to get involved with the Internet, well before the hordes arrived. There’d have been no eBay, PayPal, or Youtube without the hobbyists who were the first to see the potential of a worldwide connectivity.

These days, what with our dependence on smart phones, and the ubiquitous
hyper-connectedness of the internet, most of the social media sites tend to feel more like corporate-sponsored trips to the mall.

Our interactions with friends and family (and Russian trolls) are interspersed with cute animal videos and products tailored to the information big data firms glean from our conversations, enabling big corporations to better target what they’ve decided we need in our lives, all for a pretty price.

It’s slick, and professional, and very corporate, impersonal to a fault. And it’s not anywhere near as fun as the bulletin board systems of the nineties.

You just had to be there.

No Integrity – No Confidence in Ford’s Ontario


by Roxanne Tellier

montreal driving detoursDang it. After three fun and family filled days in Montreal, with very little social or TV media contact, I’ve come home to some crazy tales of quasi legal business ‘negotiations’ that skirt ethical decency in favour of political arm-twisting and bullying, and that will have a long and lasting depressing effect on our province’s financial future.

But before I get into that – wow, Montreal! Construction season is locked and loaded, and attempting to get anywhere by car is a crazy adventure guaranteed to take at least three times the estimated travel time and distance you expected for your jaunt. We’re talking mile long detours through much of the downtown core.

tailgating car

Which really plays havoc with the favourite pastime of Montreal drivers … tailgating. It appears that every vehicle, from motorbike to taxi to city bus feels it necessary to sniff the exhaust fumes of the vehicle directly in front of them. I spent my first ten minutes on Montreal soil clutching the armrest of the taxi I was in, as my driver came perilously close to forcibly entering the trunk of the Jaguar sedan ahead of us. (tailgatin

Returning to my old hometown as a visitor is always a jolt – time almost stands still in large chunks of the city, which means I can find not only my own past residences, but those of so many others, dating back into the early 1800s. And yet, there are swaths of downtown streets – like those that greet newcomers by bus and train – that make you feel that you could be in any large metropolis in North America. It’s a sea of franchises parked in cookie cutter glass and mirror towers, and hardly representative of the romantic, historic streets and avenues that radiate outwards from the city centre.

entertainment-districtGlobalization and commerce have a huge effect on our cities, as we seek to attain certain visual standards, and to compete for the valuable rental, retail, and corporate investments that bring in and circulate the wealth necessary to pay for yet more municipal growth.

By highlighting our best commercial policies against a glittering, metropolitan backdrop, every city, province, and nation in the civilized world hopes to attract the largest corporations and investors in order to keep moving in a forward, progressive, direction.

Which is why I was gobsmacked to read that the Ford administration is determined to summarily break a ten-year contract with Ontario’s The Beer Store, in order to fulfill a promise that has always, from the beginning, sounded like the slurred, pipe dream mumblings of a hard core, gutter inhabiting, drunk. And all meant to put a buck-a-watery-beer in every corner variety store throughout the province.

ford cuts sex-ed-protest(I understand that CAMH has some amazing programs to deal with that level of addiction – unless that funding was also part of the death by a thousand cuts Ford’s been inflicting on Toronto for the last year.)

But no matter how badly Doug, or any Ontarian, needs a beer, one thing is very clear to most of us;  a deal is a deal. You learn that on the playground dirt, and, if you are a reputable, honest person – a straight shooter – you don’t renege on your word. Then or now.

I don’t think any Ontarian taxpayer really wants to pay The Beer Store a billion dollars in order to break their “sweetheart deal” that finally loosened the stranglehold the big brewers had had on the province for the last 90 years. When the provincial crown negotiated the changes, it allowed the addition of 450 new retail locations in large supermarkets, over a transitional ten year period that expires in 2025.

the beer store

That contract added value and convenience to the locations chosen to host these new outlets, which were additions to the current availability of beer products in the already existing 450 Beer Stores, 660 LCBO locations, and 210 agency outlets.

 

As this piece in The Toronto Star explains, ” Ford’s Tories will pass a law this month cancelling a signed contract between the crown and the Beer Store’s owners — condemned as a “sweetheart deal” with foreign-owned multinationals. His Progressive Conservative government shall pass legislation for cancellation without compensation, using its supreme powers to absolve Ontario of any liability in a court of law.

 Confiscatory legislation invites litigation, so we may yet pay the price — estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. But the revolution demands sacrifices.”

The article goes on to say that Ford’s willingness to use legislative powers, rather than to honour the carefully negotiated business deal, must be seen in the light that they will appear to the eyes of current and potential new investors – as the actions of a province drunk with power, that can no longer be trusted to keep it’s word.

ford not one job lostThat means you can kiss the possibility of luring multinational corporations, like Amazon for instance, into planning a long term investment in Ontario, when there is no certainty or surety in the integrity of the elected government. That kind of deal, only good as long as it pleases the “Emperor,” gives the big players no confidence, and no reason to invest in Ontario’s future.

Ford has no problem with playing the bully, and with cherry picking the ‘promises’ made during the campaign that he’ll choose to keep. So it should come as no surprise that his ‘promises’ all seen to only contribute to the detriment of the health, welfare, and comfort of the actual tax payers of the province. Any sort of pushback is met with a steely disregard for diplomacy, and a willingness to play as dirty as the dirtiest con men, druggies, and swindlers Ford rubbed shoulders with growing up.

hwy 407But if he’s going to remove the gloves, and expose himself to the world as someone who cannot be trusted, perhaps he can do Ontario a solid, and work on  ‘fixing’ previous bad governmental sell offs, ripping them from their official owners, and returning them to the people in a display of eminent domain. He can start with overturning the 99-year lease on Highway 407, which was sold to foreign owners by the Tories in 1999  for a mere $3.1 billion. It’s now worth $28 billion, so let’s have that back, please and thank you.

Or what about the old Ontario Hydro privatization that Harris pushed through? How’s that been working for you in the last twenty years? Or the $350 billion of foreign debt previous governments, both PC and Liberal, have left us … can’t you just wave your magic wand and make those disappear as well?

Because … here’s the thing, Dougie Boy;  when the first official thing you do after taking office involves unleashing a notwithstanding clause to meddle with the members of a city’s Council whom you wish to punish, and you follow that by creating laws that allow you to break official, crown-negotiated, provincial, ten year contracts without penalty, both the tax paying citizens and all future corporate investors can only come to one conclusion – that there is absolutely no reason or manner in which they can have confidence in the integrity of your spoken or written word.

Friday January 25, 2019The Ford Government has now shown that it cannot be trusted to deal fairly with either the citizens of Ontario, or the businesses and corporations that enrich the province. I don’t know who Ford thinks will ultimately be helped by his bumbling, bullying, and braggadocio, but I do know that Ford’s actions have been repeatedly shown to most definitely not be ‘for the people’ and certainly his ballyhooed, ham-handed attempt to rebrand Ontario as ‘open for business’ has only led to a lack of confidence in the province’s fiscal future.

Now if only his Cabinet would see that, and remove him from office with a legal motion of no confidence.

That’s the only way we’re gonna get him out of power before he bankrupts the place.

 

 

Cabin Fever Smells Like Cold Turkey


A few weeks ago we had some snow that didn’t really stick. A few days later I saw a young father pushing his kid in a baby carriage. “Are the sidewalks clear?” I asked and he said … “yes .. FINALLY!”

In January.

He was a very young man.

toronto winter streetcarAnd then of course, along came February and THERE you are, you stinky Canadian winter, with your cold and your snow, and your ice hiding under the snow, and that wind chill. There you are, with the dark days and the early nights, and the winds that howl down alleys. I see you, there, with your mittens glossy from rubbing the snot from your runny nose. There you are, with the old peoples’ fear that one false step might be the one that breaks their hip. There you are with the isolation, and the inconvenience and the broken promises to get together.

The cats and I have Cabin Fever. We’ve had too much winter and not enough sun. We are all cranky, we are sniping at each other, and we are all a little depressed and taking it out on everyone else.

Every year I swear that I’ll go south, oh yes I will, and when I get there, there will be sand between my toes, and sea shells stinking up the balcony, and I’ll be warm and I will float in turquoise waters. Instead, I once again add ‘get a new passport’ to the endless ‘to do’ list, and pretend I’m not jealous when my friends post pictures of their adventures in sunnier climes.

And yet, this is also the time of year when Canadians can indulge in cuddles, all curled up under the covers or on top of the mound of blankets, as we watch crappy television for hours. Too much to do in summer. Winter is for snuggles.

These are the days when it is easy to embrace your inner caveperson, and feel that our lives and our world are stuck in a dark spiral, and that the warmth and light of summer will never return, thereby necessitating the sacrifice of some poor creature whose steaming entrails might appease the sungods.

But we are not cavepeople; we have Netflix.

toronto winter view from IslandI like to pretend that I will use those indoor winter months to organize my life, sort out the detritus of my life, do my taxes, and write something so incredibly precise and on the money that its wisdom and sense will reverberate through the ages ….

.. but that never happens. I’m more inclined to stare fixedly at a wall lined with items that need to be sorted, filed, categorized, discarded or at least moved to another room, and say .. ‘blue.. that wall would look so much nicer in blue …

This year I’ve made a special effort to take breaks from media of any kind. Our civilization seems to be rapidly unwinding, and as the end draws near, it’s best to take frequent respites from reports from the Front. So I’ll often hide away for a day or more, just to give my overtaxed brain and heart a rest. That, and a steady supply of edibles seems to help.

There is an unending stream of political, psychological, and philosophical nonsense constantly coming down the pike. We can debate endlessly, but sometimes in winter, you’ve just got to slow it all down and let the Muppets decide the subject of your column.

Cabin Fever is a real thing. I can’t even imagine how difficult life must have been for people back in the days before electricity, ski resorts, and hot chocolate. I’m gonna guess a lot of winters didn’t turn out so great for some of those little houses on the prairies.

Cabin fever themes have featured in Charlie Chaplin‘s 1925 film, The Gold Rush, Stefan Zweig‘s 1948 novella, The Royal Game, Stephen King‘s horror novel and film, The Shining,’ and a Simpsons‘ episode called “Mountain of Madness.”

In 1984, The Journal of Social Psychology published a study called “The Meaning of Cabin Fever,” based on interviews carried out with a sample of 35 Minnesota men and women, ages 17 to 84.
cabin fever yay snowThe researchers wanted to know how Minnesotans, prone to being forcibly confined to their homes by bad weather for days at a time, survived with at least some salvation of sanity. While four of the respondents thought that ‘cabin fever’ might actually be a mania having to do with wanting to buy a forest getaway, most of the people surveyed were very clear that cabin fever was a condition they had experienced, created by confinement, bad weather, and a lack of stimulation.

Being physically unable to get away from the house and the people inside it made most people prone to depression, boredom, dissatisfaction, irritability, and moodiness.

Having to deal with a bunch of bored children also made the wintertime even more difficult for many respondents. On a ‘snow day,’ parents juggling the needs of the children often found it even more difficult to deal with their own feelings of isolation.

There are coping mechanisms that can help with the winter blues, including activities that can be done inside or close to the home. Some suggestions included resetting your expectations of yourself and others, by tossing out the alarm clock, playing quieter music, or making slow-cooked food. Dig out those board games or playing cards. This too shall pass.

Now, if you happen to live in Toronto, we’ve actually got some stimulation in the form of a bar that is – for reals! – called Cabin Fever. It’s at 1669 Bloor West, near Keele.

cabin fever bloor westSounds like a good hang. One of the reviewers who opined on yelp said, ” what’s not to love about quality vinyl, pinball machines, and tall boy beers for seven bucks, all packed into a little hole-in-the-wall spot??”

I’ve never been to the place, but it’s open today from four p.m. until two a.m. Locals swear by the ‘pinball, beer and music’ mantra. Might be worth a look see.

I’m just glad that February is almost gone, because my stash of chocolate, fudge, and almonds is at a very low ebb. Thankfully my coffee supply is holding up; I’m always grateful for small mercies.

There’s a pothole in front of my house large enough to swallow a large dog or a small car, and the bird feeder is tilting at a jaunty angle. I’ve had enough of winter, thanks. You can bring on the spring any day now … any day now ….

 

 

Surviving A Blue Christmas


by Roxanne Tellier

Man, I cannot stand Elvis‘ song, “Blue Christmas.” And I’ll bet you have a couple of holiday tunes you could gladly live without for the rest of your life … enough’s enough on the “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” amirite?

And no … we’re not discussing the ‘controversy’ over “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” No, we are not.

But.

But seriously … it’s that time of year, when people can get a little – or a lot – down about what seems to be an incessant and annoying full frontal campaign insisting that we all be ‘merry and bright’ and ‘ho ho ho’ ourselves into stupors.

A surfeit of merriment. Bah humbug. What to do, what to do, when you just feel blue?

csarn salons
That was the question being asked at a recent seminar I attended, that was hosted by the good people of C-SARN (Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network – find more info at csarn.ca.)

Facilitated by Matt Eldridge, from the Artists’ Health Centre, the session included curated info on dealing with holiday stress, and included much lively input from the attendees.

We touched briefly on the very real problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD.) SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the change of seasons. Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, lethargy, anxiety, weight gain and sleep disorders. About 2-3% of the general population of Ontario have SAD and another 15% have a less severe experience. It is believed that SAD is caused by changes in the level of exposure to sunlight. At this point, the main treatment for SAD is light therapy.

Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-SAD

There are special light therapy lamps, designed to mimic spring and summer light levels, that can really help relieve some of the depression of SAD, but the lamps are quite expensive.

However, help is on the way if you live in Toronto! Several branches of the Toronto Public Library now have light therapy lamps available in-library on a first-come, first served basis, as a way to treat the “winter blues.

All you need to do is sit, read or work about 2 feet away from a lamp for 20-30 minutes, without looking directly into the lamp, but allowing the light to shine on your face. It may be hard to believe, but that’s all it can take to really help.

You can give it a try at the Agincourt, Brentwood, Don Mills, Fairview, Humber Bay, Malvern, Maria A Shchuka, Parkdale or Parliament branches, or on the 5th floor and basement Toronto Star Newspaper Room of the Toronto Reference Library.

So that’s SAD dealt with – but what if you are just generally bummed out by the holiday season?

Me, I hate the ‘heaviness’ of winter … the weighty coats, the accumulation of hats, earmuffs, scarves and mitts, and the big, sturdy, non-slip boots that contrive to make me feel like a Clydesdale negotiating a steep slope. I can literally feel myself getting shorter as I assume the mantle of wintry clothing. Literally. I will probably have lost another inch in height by January.

Some determinedly, doggedly, cheery people love to tell you that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” My mission is to hunt those people down, and skin them for their magic coats.

But until I find them, I’m going to have to deal with not enjoying anything about surviving the coldest months of the year in Canada.

Perhaps it is time to embrace the Scandinavian concept of hygge (pronounced hooga.) This is a word that Danes use to express a mental strategy for coping with the winter months, describing an emotional coziness and togetherness. It is a time they spend indoors with friends and family, embracing the colder season as wholeheartedly as they do the summer months, and seeing both extremes as opportunities to cultivate the different sides of themselves.

danish hyggeHey … as long as it doesn’t include sports … I’ve never liked sports, either to play or to watch, so that leaves me out of a lot of the typical Canadian leisure time diversions and debates. About the most I can handle in terms of physical exertion in the winter is a lope to the nearest Tim Hortons for a toasty cup of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and a cinnamon dusting. I simply lack a sports gene, and find it unlikely I’ll develop one during my ‘golden years.’

winter wildlifeWhat I can always find time to do, though, is to spend a few hours with friends, to share a meal and indulge in lively discussions. Or to walk in a park, where some of our wild critters, who don’t migrate or hibernate, can benefit from a gift of the appropriate seed, treat, or suet.

I’m not a religious person, but I sometimes like to enter a house of worship, to partake, for a moment, of the peace that comes from the gathering of those who enjoy a committed faith.

Some people take great joy in volunteering, and of helping others by giving a little bit of their time or largesse to benefit those who have less than ourselves. Others look forward to participating in regular or seasonal religious ceremonies.

christmas eyebrowsI’m more of an indoor person, and can find tons of ways to amuse myself, whether it’s on the internet, or in communing with my pets. I love to search out old holiday songs, programs, and stories from other times and other countries, and to admire or laugh at how our sense of fashion has morphed over time.

Couple of things to avoid – if you are not feeling particularly cheery, go easy on the physical stressors: sugar, caffeine, alcohol and empty carbohydrates will just make you feel more jangled, and pack on the pounds. Be vigilant about eating properly, and taking the meds and supplements that keep you ticking along smoothly. Also, try not to spend a lot of time on social media; many friends and acquaintances like to take the season as an opportunity to put up their annual “highlight” reels … no, neither they nor their kids look that good all year round, and the dog is rented. Nuff said.

try something new SeussYou might be able to turn around some of your blues by making a small attitude adjustment; nobody’s perfect, but we all get a chance every new day to tweak what we’ve got. Why not try looking at your holiday challenges with an eye to a more realistic expectation of how your sister in law will behave after her third glass of wine? Is it possible that even Drunk Uncle will be a little easier to take if you practice a bit of radical acceptance of his all too human foibles? Some people just can’t help people-ing.

And the next time someone invites you to an event, or a meal, why not try saying an enthusiastic YES! to a new experience? The worse that can happen is that you spend a few hours discovering that you like or dislike this new person or food or thing.

Conversely, if you’ve spent most of your adult life hating one of your holiday traditions – this may be the year you finally say a resounding NO! to doing it any more. Walk away from petty squabbles, refuse to eat foods that you dislike, and don’t invite trolls to be part of your celebrations. While the holidays are a time of giving, they shouldn’t also be a time of unending and painful sacrifice in the pursuit of someone else’s happiness.

Everyone experiences the holidays and winter differently, but there are some tried and true ways to increase your own enjoyment of the season. Indulge your senses with the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations that fill you with pleasure.

10-tips-for-enjoying-a-long-winter-indoorsIf you are keen on Christmas carols, fill your home with the sound! Put on your favourite play list while you tidy up your environment and enjoy the scent of seasonal candles, fruits and foliage. Open up your curtains and throw a little light on the situation. indulge yourself with a special treat, because you deserve it.

Be gentle with yourself, and let your inner dialogue express the same tenderness to yourself that you’d show towards someone you love or care about, who’s dealing with a tough time. You are just as deserving.

Above all … pace yourself! This demanding round of lunches, dinners and soirees will soon fade and become last year’s memories, but we Canadians will still have a further three or four months of cold, snow, and ice to deal with. It’s gonna take a toll on you. So try to have enough fun with your loved ones during the holidays to make yourself, if not more tolerant, than at least a little more accepting of our country’s wintry gifts.

And however you spend this holiday season, I wish you the best and most joyous one ever!

happy holidays to all

 

Everything is Everywhere


Since I have a fear of flying, and a flight to B.C. tomorrow morning, I’ve been in a constant state of panic for the last week or so. When I finally fall into a restless sleep, I have non-stop nightmares of arriving at the wrong terminal, without a ticket or some vital bit of identification, and wearing all the wrong clothes, if I’m wearing clothes at all. Even when there’s no reason to panic – and I can always find a reason to panic – I’m in a simmering pre-panic mode. My house looks like an exploded suitcase. Everything is everywhere. mickey suitcase

I’m reeling like an enraged Tasmanian Devil, with piles of lists that disappear under yet more piles of lists, of things that I need to buy or do, or do bee doo bee doo, before I hit Pearson International in the a.m., legs trembling, and a nervous smile flitting spasmodically over my lips.

So I’m going to keep it short, and just tell you about a few musical events happening today that will make this hot and sunny September Sunday a day to remember.

The timing of this trip meant that I wasn’t able to volunteer at the Kensington Market Jazz Festival this year (September 15-16-17) as I had last year. With over 200 Canadian musicians playing over 150 shows at very cool venues up and down the Market streets, it’s a weekend that’s chock full of great music.

Tory on phone jazzfest Sept 2017Trip and jitters aside, I still found the time on Friday afternoon to drop in on Greg Godovitz at El Mocambo‘s pop up shop, Prohibition (66 Kensington Avenue,) where I bought a couple of rocking t-shirts for my western family. Then it was off to the media launch at Tom’s Place, (190 Baldwin) where local luminaries, including a texting Mayor John Tory, the dashing Richard Flohill, and chanteuses Molly Johnson and Genevieve Marentette, along with Celine Peterson (daughter of Oscar) and a host of others, gathered to celebrate the beginning of the fest.

The ever effervescent Joanne Smale greeted me as I entered. She’s handling the media around handsome young santur player, Sina Bathaie, and his latest production.

From the artist: “This album, Rays of Hope, is dedicated to all those who have pursued; who have suffered while the world waits for us to remember this perennial first wisdom that love ignores all boundaries. What we hope for in the end is that remembrance with which we can hurdle every fence, tear down every wall and arrive at that place where hope greets us in warm welcome. Each text in the cover is a verse of a poem which celebrates our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope, and the most important of all these, love. “

santurTo my hippie ears, his new CD has a sort of new age-y updated feel of Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells, played on this fascinating Persian instrument.

The album release concert will be on Friday, October 13, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Lyric Theatre. Or you can catch him this afternoon, from 3:00-4:00 pm at Handlebar, 159 Augusta. ($12. at the door,)

If you can find your way down to the Market today, there’s still a lot of great music to be heard, starting at noon with the Sidewalk Crusaders Street March, and including a slew of free concerts at the Yamaha Grand Piano Room in Tom’s Place, by some of Toronto’s most respected players, including Brian Dickinson, Carl Bray, Don Thompson, Joe Sealy, Mark Eisenman and Robi Botos.

Danny-MarksToronto’s favourite son and perennial Energizer bunny, Danny Marks, will be playing at the Hotbox Cafe (204 Augusta) from 1:00-2:00 pm, ($12. at the door) and then at Prohibition from 4:00-6:00 pm (Pay what you can.)

Bertie & The Gents, with the wonderful Manfred Koch on trombone, will be holding court from 6:00-7:00 pm at El Gordo’s Backyard (214 Augusta) ($17. at the door.)

Hit Amadeus’ Restaurant, (184 Augusta Ave) at 6:00 pm to get your jazz on for free, courtesy of Rick Donaldson & The Jazz Cats with Jim Heineman. amadeus resto

And at the kitschy, eclectic Lola, (40 Kensington Ave.) there’s Donne Roberts from 4:00-5:00 pm (($12. at the door,) Anh Phung & Alan Mackie playing from 6:00-7:00 pm ($12. at the door,) the Selcuk Suna Trio featuring DIA from 8:00-9:00 pm ($12. at the door,), ending with Eric St-Laurent ($12. at the door,) from 10:00-11:00 pm.

For more info, maps and schedules, head on over to the fest’s web site.

http://www.kensingtonjazz.com/mobile-phone-schedule-a-z

As for me, hopefully I’ll get to hear some fine jazz this afternoon , and still be at the right airport terminal tomorrow morning, with the right paperwork in hand, and without having forgotten something deathly important. Like clothing. I’ve got this! Head’s up, British Columbia! I’m on my way!

Sorta kinda.

 

Boom Times in the Big Smoke


It’s Boom Town for realtors in Toronto these days. 243,400 houses were sold last year, and as of April of this year, the average residence in the city had a starting price tag of a cool $921,000.

378 East Sept 2016My old house in Scarborough, which we sold last July, was re-sold twice more by speculators before the year ended, each time jumping another $100K or so in price. It’s now been demolished and rebuilt as a monster home. I wouldn’t recognize the place, they tell me.

Fine by me. We sold, we moved, and I can barely remember the person I was when I lived in my big, old bungalow. Turns out it’s great not to have the onus of house maintenance, and the constant waiting for the next expense to drop. Renting, after 30 years of owning, may not lend the same sense of autonomy, but it also comes with a lot less responsibility and chores.

Taxes can be a burden on the home owner as well, since your residential tax is based on current value, not what you paid for the place at the time of purchase. If you lucked out in the eighties and bought your dream home for around $100,000, you might be considering a second job just to keep the taxes paid and the utilities flowing.

hawkstone-manorGood ol’ Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins has his big estate, Hawkstone Manor, up for sale. Again. He tried to sell it for $14.9 million back in 2013, and failed. But it’s up again, this time listed at $4.3 million. If it goes to a bidding war, which is not out of the question, he could still get closer to the $10 million mark.

From the Toronto Star, April 2013:
“It’s a $100 house on a million-dollar property.”

The nine-bedroom, five-bathroom home is really only notable for the lifetime of memories that line its orange living room walls. A buyer would likely bring in a bulldozer.

But the house sits atop a rare piece of prime Kawarthas real estate — 165 acres gently sloping down to almost 4,000 feet of waterfront that, on these sought-after shores of the Trent-Severn Waterway, can go for $5,000 a foot.”

The Order of Canada recipient is 82, and not in the best of health. Whatever the final price, he and his wife will be able to cash out big and find somewhere a lot cosier to shelter them in their golden years.

sold over asking. jpgAnd that’s the ideal situation to be in, in the market right now. If you’re selling and have to purchase another place in the city – good luck to you. They want ridiculous money for so much as a garage, without a house attached. It’s madness. Tiny bungalows, like the one I’m renting, list for $800K and sell for over a million.

And when the interest rates rise in a bit, it’s gonna be even crazier. How can the average person buy so much as an entry home in the city, without a family income somewhere in the $300K a year range? It’s nuts. Rock, meet hard place. Rock musicians … move to Hamilton.

Funny thing, though, about this real estate madness – with hundreds of thousands of properties changing hands in the last two years, there have never been more paper millionaires minted in the city than it’s likely seen in it’s history. scrooge_mcduck

Not just millionaires – multi-millionaires. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have pretty much retired the mortgage, and are ready for retirement yourself, you could be walking away with more money than you ever dreamed you’d have. (Not me, I hasten to add – we did alright but didn’t hit Scrooge McDuck status. We’re barely McDucklings. We’re Ova McDuck, if anything.)

Barring a lotto win, which is unlikely, since I keep forgetting to buy a ticket, I’ll probably spend the rest of my days in rental properties, of decreasing proportions. Part of me would love to be a home owner again, but the rational, sensible part of my brain is quite comfortable with letting someone else worry about the roof, the septic tank, and the tyranny of ‘keeping up with the Jones.

I’m liking this downsizing, says the unrepentant hoarder. I’m liking trying to fit everything that once overflowed a 4000 square foot sprawler into this teensy tiny, less than 1000 square foot bungalow. It’s given me the chance to actually sift through all of these souvenirs and memories, and sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. I’m culling the hoard. It’s great to tear willy nilly through the detritus, and toss out the junk. It’s fun to put boxes of odds and ends on the lawn, under a big sign that says ‘Free!’ and watch cars screech to a halt, their drivers eager to find some little treasure to haul home.

1 800 got junkIt’s really heartening to go through all of the boxes of clothing, shoes, books, craft items, and linens, choose what can be redistributed within our family and friends, and then pass on the overflow to people who will appreciate what we’ve donated. There are so many who have so little, while others have three of everything. Distributing some of my bounty to those who can use it liberates my home AND my heart.

I didn’t need three apple corers. In fact, I have never even used one of them, not even once. Ditto the cherry pitter.

For the first time in my life, I’m no longer buying stuff ‘just in case,’ or with a view to some future purpose, because my future is now, and I want to be present.

I’m happy for those who are selling their properties for a tidy profit. I’m happy for those who are finding their dream homes. I worry about Torontonians who missed the real estate roundabout, and are now trying to find something affordable to rent. But this is all going on around me, and like you, I have very little say in what the Toronto of tomorrow will resemble.

Owning a home is not for everyone. It’s a very nice thing, and can certainly be wise and profitable in midlife. But when it comes time for retirement, home ownership is more like an anchor around your neck, keeping your proverbial boat stuck in one place. To enter new waters, you’ve got to haul up that anchor, and unfurl the sails, letting the fresh breeze take you somewhere new and exciting.

Avast, me hearties … I’m bound for uncharted shores!