Refuse to be Passive

Archive for the ‘Life in General’ Category

Mr. Adorable

In Life in General on February 4, 2013 at 10:37 pm

“Well, hello Mr. Adorable!” Those are the words that run through my head every time I see him. In pretty much every season of my life I have a Mr. Adorable—a guy who is just so delightful that I can’t help but wanting to hug him every time I see him. He’s usually fairly attractive, but not gorgeous. He has an unassuming demeanour, is intelligent, has a great smile, and is a little on the shy side. That last bit is what makes him adorable.

This seasons Mr. Adorable is a 6’3 wiry BMX boy who you’d expect would be a skater. He’s got blond curly hair, the fair complexion of the Irish, and a smile that makes your heart melt. When he smiles at you it’s like everything is right with the world, even if you’re having a horrible day. And that smile has a shy side to it, like he’s not sure if he should be smiling at you or not, and you get the feeling that not many people get to see that smile. That makes you feel special. When he talks, his voice is soft, calming, and is paired with a bit of a bashful gaze, even in the midst of stress and rush.

Obviously I can’t call this individual Mr. Adorable to his face. That could create some awkward situations. Granted, with my workplace, awkward situations and sexual innuendo are par for the course. I never would have survived in a kitchen when I was younger. Between the innuendo, cussing, and drug use, I would have been in and out in less than a week. But as I’ve come to culinary with a bit more life experience under my belt it’s much easier for me to take the environment with grace and a grain of salt.

Due to this bashful smile, when I first met Mr. Adorable I got rather attached to him as a sister to a younger brother. He was working in the dish pit, and I make a point to treat these people with special respect as it’s a bit of a thankless job and when push comes to shove you want them on your side. They make sure your dishes get cleaned first and that when you ask for inserts for flips at night, that they’re ready and waiting for you.

My first impression of Mr. Adorable was that he was a young kid of maybe 17, and that could explain the bashful smile and air of uncertainty he initially exuded. After working with him for a couple of weeks, I found out he was being trained to cook on line, which made me really happy for him. The next day we were chatting about it before we both started our shifts, and I finally asked a question I’d been wondering for a while.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” He said.

“How old are you?”

He hesitated. “I’m not sure I want to answer that.”

I was puzzled. “Why not?”

A co-worker, Nathan, pipes up and says, “It’s okay to tell her.”

Now I was truly puzzled. “Yeah, it’s okay to tell me. I mean, heck, you could probably call me mom.”

Nathan gave me an appraising glance, “I don’t think you’re quite that old.”

“Okay, I’m not, but seriously.” I look at Mr. Adorable. “You’re what, 16, 17?”

Mr. Adorable looks at me in disbelief. “Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

“I’m 24.”

Shock covers my face. “No you’re not.”

“Yes I am. Born in ’88. Wanna see my I.D?”

Nathan pipes up, “That’s right, you show her your fake I.D.”

“No, I’m really 24.” Mr. Adorable insists. He’s completely serious.

I was speechless. Four years younger than me. That’s it. Nathan takes one look at my face and sees the shock written all over it. He says to Mr. Adorable. “Don’t worry. It’s just that you went from someone she could babysit to someone she could have sex with.”

Awkward! I immediately began to protest, but I must have turned bright red. “No, that’s not what I…”

“That’s exactly what you were thinking.” Nathan says.

I tried to come up with a decent comeback but know it will only dig me deeper.”

“Whatever.”

Wow. Now there is an awkward situation. Now when Mr. Adorable looks at me it’s less of a bashful smile and more of a “I can’t believe you thought I was 16” smile.

Regardless, he’s still a total sweetheart, and so I still call him Mr. Adorable. I’m trying to come up with a nickname for him, but know that Mr. Adorable probably wouldn’t go over well on the line. Stoner, Pot Head, or Baked would also work, but I don’t really like to remember that he is that as well. Hmm..maybe that’s where that calm demeanour and bashful smile is from. He’s only ever half there because he’s half baked.

Whatever. He’s still Mr. Adorable to me.

The List of Beneficial

In Food, Life in General, Movies with a bit of TV, Uncategorized on October 28, 2012 at 10:24 am

“Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” It’s a riff on 1 Corinthians 10:23, and it’s been running through my head for nearly two weeks now. Every few months I like to take a quiet morning on the weekend and sit down to consider this, to apply it to my own life. Where am I going on a tangent, sapping my energies with wasteful endeavours, when my true purpose lies elsewhere?

It’s been chilly this past week, and when I say chilly, I mean that a blanket of white has covered the town of Jasper and the mountains that surround it. Just looking outside makes me want to stay home. It’s kept me from the gym, the library, and even from the stitching club that started up last week. I’ve been coming up with creative excuses for not going out, and my fridge is starting to like pretty pathetic. I’ve done an excellent job of using up what I’ve got in the house.

Beyond that, the past couple of weeks my personal spiritual practices have fallen into a bit of a slump. I finished my book by Shane Claiborne on The New Monasticism—I highly recommend it, even if you’re not leaning towards the lifestyle. I’ve started sleeping in later instead of taking time to get up and read my Bible in the morning. I’m not sure what it is about the morning, but it’s just so much more darned productive for me than if I come home and try to do stuff after work. I much prefer mornings for almost everything.

Due to the fact that I tend to want to relax after work, I’ve gotten into this horrible habit of turning on the TV or booting up my laptop and finding a television show to watch. It can suck hours from my life, and it also means that I’ve fallen into the trap of eating in front of the TV or computer. This is highly detrimental considering my endeavours to lose weight.

Not everything is bad though. It’s easy to focus on the bad and forget about the good. After reading the book Forks Over Knives, I’ve decided to adopt a plant-based diet for a year. Basically I’m going vegan, reducing my sugar intake, and reducing my intake of processed foods. Many people hear this and give me a pitying look, but I look at it and see it as a step in the right direction. If it reduces my risk of heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, and diabetes, I’m in. If it means that less carbon dioxide, monoxide, and methane are being pumped into our atmosphere, I’m in. If it means that factory farming and the abuse of animals can be clear in my conscience, so much the better. After all, God gave us the earth to care for it, not abuse it to fit our whims and Westernized lifestyle.

For many Christians, it seems much easier to take a concept like that and justify it, essentially burying our heads in the sands. But look at how well that works out for the ostrich.

Back to the task at hand! Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Well, I’ve taken a look at areas in my life where what I’m doing isn’t beneficial. Now, it’s time to look for the change. Now, it’s time to make a list of beneficial. This is a list of things that are permissible, that will enhance life rather than make me lazy and suck the hours away. So here it is!

 

1)      Get involved in the community—volunteer with a cause you connect with

2)      Take part in local clubs and initiatives, ones that will allow you to network and build skills i.e. a stitching club, Toastmasters, or a swimming club

3)      Increase your vocabulary—start doing crossword puzzles. Not only will you learn new words, but you never know when useless facts will come in handy. Slumdog Millionaire anyone?

4)      Knowledge is power—If you’re like me and at the beginning of your career with some thirty years of work stretching in front of you, then now is a good time to recognize that our culture and economy is built on knowledge. While the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” may hold true in many cases, if you change that adage to, “It’s what you know and who you know,” then you’re a shoe-in. Start reading, and not just in your area of expertise. YouTube also has some great instructional videos for things like the internet and social networking. And if you can’t get it for free, you might have to pay for it. Learn while you work—Google continuing education.

5)      Recognize the value of the spiritual—humans are more than just physical forms, they are also composed of the mental and the spiritual. Take time to develop your relationship with God. Learn to meditate, read, and write. Learn to converse with the master of the universe who loves his creation beyond what we can imagine. After all, who doesn’t want God on their side?

6)      Get fit!—This one doesn’t need much explanation in a culture that is obsessed with physical appearance. Just make sure that getting fit also means getting healthy. Remember, it doesn’t matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping the people on the couch.

 

That’s the list of beneficial for now. If you’ve got anything to add, feel free to comment!

A Creative Global Thinker’s Crazy Resume

In Life in General on October 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I adored my grade two teacher. Not only was she kind, she had an exotic life. In fact, just before becoming my homeroom teacher, she took a sabbatical and spent a year in Australia. In grade two, I was certain I wanted to grow up to be a teacher.

By the time I went to university, my desire to become a teacher was long gone. I enrolled in a business program at a liberal arts university halfway across the country. I was going to take my degree and then open my own wig shop. Yes, you heard that right, a wig shop.

Somewhere during that first semester of business classes I changed my major. My professor made the classes tiresome and tedious. I got decent grades, but my heart wasn’t in what I was studying.

So I did what any business major with good job prospects upon graduation would do, I switched to a degree in English Literature. And remember, I didn’t want to be a teacher. At this time, I decided that maybe editing and publication was the route for me.

Once I got out of university, I started working at a desk job. While it was a good job and I worked with nice people, I didn’t love my job. In fact, my days dragged by. It was around this time that I discovered that I am a global thinker and an ideas person. That didn’t combine well with a job that was primarily administrative.

Also at that time I fell in love with cooking. It was my main hobby when I was away from work. To that extent, I decided that maybe my true love was cooking. I wanted to be my own boss and start a business as a personal chef. Before that though, I thought formal training might be in order. So, once again I trekked halfway across the country to take a Culinary Arts Management Diploma. I love school and was certain that I was on the right track. But once I got out of school and into the workforce, I found the details of day-to-day work to be tedious and frustrating.

Now, I’m 27, and the future that seemed so assured when I was seven, had become as a dream. Just today I was at work—I’m back at an office job right now—I was hit with an “ahah!” moment. It was one of those moments when you wonder, “Why has it taken me so long to figure this out?” I had taken a test online over my lunch break to see how I compared to other entrepreneurs—to see if I really had what it took to be my own boss. You know what I discovered? I scored below average in the majority of areas, with a few making the median, and one aspect in particular skyrocketing above the rest. You know what that one aspect was? It was creativity.

Now, I’m not one to want to do graphic design. As I said, I’m a global thinker, the nitpicky doesn’t do it for me. I can do the details, but would prefer to be looking at the big picture, the meta-narrative as it is. I do not want to be my own boss. I don’t want to have to deal with the paperwork and red tape of the government, or the details that go into making a business a success. I am an ideas person. You need a grand concept? I can do that. You want me to order toner? Well, I can do that too, but you certainly won’t see the same level of enthusiasm. So that leaves me asking the same questions that I’ve asked for years: What do I do with my life? Is there actually a career out there where my strengths would allow me to thrive? And if so, what is it and how do I get there?

And no, none of my past training has been in vain. Of that I am certain. With everything I learn, I grow more as a person. There is a purpose to all this, and someday I will look back on this crazy journey and see the interlocking of seemingly unrelated pieces to create a whole—my meta-narrative.

Ngi Ne Themba

In Life in General on March 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm

The past couple of months I’ve been struggling with stress and exhaustion which has led to some depression. For the past few weeks I’ve been an emotional mess. I’ve stopped caring about what I eat, and my weight has quickly ballooned. I’ve been in a bad place emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Today I was reading a friend’s post on Facebook about choosing your attitude, to which I responded that in general that may be true, but some days just suck. She said that as long as that only happens occasionally and not consistently  that’s fine, but we still have a choice. If it’s happening consistently we have bigger problems.

Then, this evening I was at dinner and I was chatting with a woman who is still on Weight Watchers– something I’ve basically given up on while I’ve been depressed. There’s no point in standing on the scale and making it worse. Anyway, she gave me hope for the future. Evening is usually the worst time of day for me, and yet this evening ngi ne themba. That’s Zulu for “I have hope.” I’ve forgotten the truth of life, and that’s that for every problem you face, the solution is found in you. So tonight I’ll enjoy a bath, read a book, and go to bed on time. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and seize the day with hope. I’ll start making the changes that will bring about the change that I want to see. At the end of the day, only you have the power to change your life and anything is possible. To quote one of my favorite songs, “What if old Ben Franklin would have been frightened by lightning? If he would have stayed inside then we’d still be in the dark.” Well I for one refuse to let darkness rule.

Re-resolved?

In Life in General on March 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

The crappy thing about resolutions are how easy they are to forget.

“I’m not going to watch TV for a year.” Remember that one? Gigantic fail.

“I’m going to eat healthier.” Another gigantic fail.

“I’m going to read all the books on my reading list.” Okay, so I didn’t actually ever say that, but I’m sure I’d be horrible at the as well.

Or how about, “No more eating in my room.” Fail!

“I’m going to do my devotions every morning and give this year over to God.” Once again, you guessed it, fail!

I’m really good at failing and forgetting. Actually, I’d wager that we as a human race are really good at making resolutions and forgetting. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to create. It’s much easier to make resolutions and then let them slide. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s not. But regardless of whether it’s intentional or not, the question becomes, do we give up or start again? Sometimes I feel like I’m starting over so often that giving up does seem to be the better option. But true failure is falling down and refusing to get back up again. If you’re going to stumble, stumble forward. Even if you can’t see the progress you’ve made, even if you feel like you’re backsliding, looking back, you’ve moved forward, maybe not as far as you wanted or in the ways in which you’ve wanted, but you have progressed. Hind sight is 20/20. Hopefully in the future, when you look back on periods of treading water, you’ll see you were actually doggie paddling forward. And in periods when you feel you’re trying not to drown doing the front crawl, remember that you’re still moving toward the end of the pool and not the bottom of it.

On a totally different note, when I walked to the coffee shop this morning, the air was crisp and clear and the sun was shining. Now, snow is falling in big flakes, big luscious flakes that make me think that they’re like the supermodels of the snowflake world. It’s like the minority that all snowflakes wish to be. It reminds me of mascara adds promising luminous, volumous lashes. That’s right, with the right product, you, regular snowflake, can be like the big fluffly flakes currently falling from the sky. Okay, so maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but that really is what popped into my head.

Anyway, back to the topic. To give up or re-resolve? Well, I’m about to head into school, and we’re doing a beet root salad with goat cheese, thyme chicken, and a honey chocolate cookie with vanilla ice cream and suspended sangrias. All of this is being done via molecular gastronomy. It’s great fun, but resolving on the food when you have food like this in front of you is hard. But the truth is, it’s not school that makes me eat like crap or gain weight, it’s my evenings and my weekends when I get sad, bored, or lonely. Then I really down the sugary crap. Then I really gain weight. And sometimes it seems like no end is in sight. I don’t know how to deal with these feelings, and so rather than taking them on, I hide them under another layer of food. Do I re-resolve? Honestly, when I started writing this post, I was ready to re-resolve, but now, once again, it seems pointless. Why try? Even the thought of my evenings fills me with guilt and stress. I just don’t know anymore.

This Is Life — Part 1

In Life in General on March 9, 2012 at 8:29 am

Note: In an effort to get back into writing again I’ll be making a series of posts cumulating in a short story. It will be partial fiction, partial reality. Names will be changed as no character will be completely accurate to any originals they may be based on.

 

She steps through the old wooden front door of the brownstone and breathes in deeply. She pulls the brass doorknob and the door’s glass rattles in its pane as the latch clicks shut. Immediately she feels better. The sun is shining, the air is crisp, and a chorus of birds are chirping from the tree tops. It never ceases to amaze her how simply leaving the house can improve her mood. She crosses the road and starts heading down the alley that separates her from her local coffee shop, an alley that is a mosaic of patched potholes and speed bumps. Although its march she scuffs her shoes through the remainder of yellowed leaves left by autumn that winter has failed to demolish. As she walks she reflects on the number of dogs that seem to live in her neighbourhood. For every person walking on their own, there seems to be two or three walking a wide variety of breeds, from Labradoodles to Bulldogs. She smiles at a gentleman with a poodle who passes her. “Good morning,” she greets him.

“Morning.” He reciprocates her smile.  It’s nothing big but in this city, it’s something. Although she’s only lived in Toronto for nine months, she’s noticed it to be a cold and hard city, where people avert their eyes when you pass rather than meeting and greeting. After taking specific notice of that, she’d begun to make a concerted effort to greet passing strangers with a smile. Sometimes her smiles are returned, other times, she’s greeted with looks of confusion or distrust.  She mulls it over as she continues to pace toward her morning caffeine fix and the muffin that will compliment it.

She approaches The Abbott, the local hole-in-the-wall neighbourhood coffee shop. The Franciscan has good espresso and lovely moist muffins and scones, but it’s really the ambience and staff that keep her coming back.  Just a few blocks away there is another coffee shop with truly excellent espresso and muffins that are things of neighbourhood legend, but she still prefers The Abbott, for its atmosphere, bright décor, and lack of pretention.

As soon as she enters she’s greeted with a cheerful “good morning” from Rita, the local owner, who treats you like an old friend, even if you’re coming in for the first time. The atmosphere manages to be a good mix of rustic and hipster, but unlike so many coffee shops popping up in Toronto, it rejects the dark wood, dark walls, and dark paints. Instead, the vintage brick walls are covered in a calm cream, the original red brick making its appearance underneath in a way that enhances the shops vintage feel. The cream tin roof, tile honeycomb black and cream flooring, and rustic tables, combined with classy, simplistic light fixtures make it feel like the type of place she could just sit and stay all day, typing on her laptop, reading her book, and sipping on Americanos.

She grabs a seat at the communal table and brings out her laptop, allowing it to boot up while she waits for Rita to clear the order of four drinks she’s currently working on. The door opens and two more customers walk in. Rita glances at the newcomers and then to her and says, “Do you know what you want? If you’re waiting for a lull it might be a while, so I can get your order started for you.”

“Sure. I’ll have an Americano and one of those lovely looking muffins.”

“Single or double on the Americano?” Rita asks.

“Single is fine. And what kind of muffins do you have this morning?”

“We’ve got pumpkin, blueberry, cranberry, banana chocolate chip, and a blueberry bran.”

“Well, how about I go for the blueberry bran? At least I can pretend it’s healthy that way.”

Rita smiles. “If it makes a difference, they’re made with honey rather than regular sugar.”

“Sure. We’ll give it bonus marks for that.”

Rita makes up the Americano and the muffin. “There you are Aurora.”

“Thank you.” She picks up her Americano and muffin and heads back over to the corner of the communal table containing her laptop. She sips the Americano and it burns her tongue. “Fool me once.” She thinks to herself. “But it sure tastes good.” She rips off part of the muffin top and tastes it. Moist, but not too sweet. Lovely.

She sits and stares at her laptop screen for only moments before her fingers begin to move across the keyboard. She starts writing a new short story. It’s about the hundredth short story she’s started writing, but she hasn’t finished more than a handful. Maybe this time will be different. No, not maybe, this time it will be different. This time, she’s doing what L.M. Montgomery has Gill suggest to Anne in Anne of Green Gables, “Write about what you know.” This is what she knows. This is life.

 

Schedules or lack there of

In Life in General on March 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm
I stood up to get out of the bath. Water dripped from my hair. I glanced in the mirror at my body and noticed the changes that three months of poor eating had brought about. My first thought was, “I’m starting to look like a fertility idol.” Unfortunately, the fertility idol I was thinking of was this one:
I seem to have been born in the wrong era. I live in the era of thin– not to mention that fertility isn’t high on my priority list right now. Thankfully I was able to follow that thought up with a smile.My thighs have become thick and are rubbing together again, my waist is beginning to disappear into one single mass of a torso. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is where I am at. I’ve been spending less time exercising, more time at school, and more time indulging in foods that I can’t even pretend to be proud of consuming. But, as I was commenting to one of the female chefs at school, tomorrow is another day. 
And tomorrow really is another day.
This evening I was reading about living a life of contemplation, and one thing I noticed was that my days have very little structure aside from the fact that I have to be at school for four hours per day during the week. Usually that’s from 11:30-3:30, but tomorrow it will be 10 until we’re finished, and the next day is likely to be 7:30 until 3pm. There is really little rhyme or reason to my days, and I think that makes it harder to live an intentional life. So, I’m aiming to add more structure. How that is going to work, I’m not yet sure, particularly because I’m working on recipe development for a number of competitions, which gives me extra hours at school, but with little concept of how many extra hours. But here is what I am currently thinking.
I will aim to give myself one hour to get ready for school each morning. I will also get up an additional 30 minutes early to allow for time of reflection and contemplation. I will walk to school if the weather is suitable (which will take roughly another hour). That means that on the average day with no extras, I need to be up by 9am, but the kids will have me awake by 6:30 or 7. But if I have nothing else on the go in the morning, I’ll aim to hit the pool and swim for 45 minutes.
After school, I’ll head to the gym for an hour of strength training on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Monday evenings I cook and Fridays tend to be days I have baking to bring home with me.
Evenings when I am at home (so not Wednesday), I will aim to spend until 8pm in community time. After that, it’s homework, and bed by 9:30, with time for devotions. Asleep by 10:30. I have to stay rested to avoid overeating. The community aspect can be a real struggle for me at the end of the day as I wind up getting a  bit surly with those who appear inconsiderate, or children who are just too darn loud. I love the kids in my community, but the little boy in my house is loud from the time he gets up to the time he goes to bed.
On Weekends, I’ll spend my Saturday mornings at the coffee shop with my laptop, writing. I think that’s something I’ll really enjoy, and it will get my day started off on the right foot. From there I may head to the library and do a bit of reading. I don’t enjoy reading at home terribly much, and it’s not yet nice enough to go and read out on the lakeshore. Sundays will consist of church in the morning, followed up by reading or exercise, and then time spent with community, finishing with time in contemplation.
That’s the thought for now, although I am great at making plans, but my follow-through tends to need a bit of work. Ah well. C’est la vie. For now, I implement my plan by going to sleep.

Hope and Intentionality

In Life in General on March 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in one aspect of life that you completely lose track of all others. That’s been my life the past few months. I’ve been so wrapped up in school that food has become a near obsession, both in class and at home, and not in a healthy way either. It’s lead to exhaustion and stress which has manifested itself as mild depression these past few weeks. My weekends have been a write-off, and I’ve been living on refined sugars, and all sorts of crap that is no good for my health or my waistline. But today, for the first time, I feel like I’m back. Yesterday was okay. I had more social interaction within the community than I’d had in weeks. I painted with the kids, and just spent time chilling with the household. It felt odd, and exhausting. By 2pm I wanted a nap. I didn’t take one, although I probably should have. I need to learn to sleep more. It keeps me in a better head space.

Today is the first time I feel like I’m back at full steam in months—since before Christmas actually. I’m getting my head back on straight. I’m starting to recognize that there is more to life than food and school. Things I used to be passionate about are coming back to me, things like urban renaissance and redevelopment (see previous post), as well as writing, and board games. I had truly forgotten how much I love to write. It’s a form of therapy for me, a way to get out my feelings and thoughts. It’s strangely soothing, particularly when I can do a bit of learning along the way. I’ve never been much for academic research, but when it can be take and put to practical use, I’m all for it.

The other thing I’ve really learned about myself is that I need to get out of the house more. I don’t know what it is, but it seems to be a toxic environment for me. I get down if I can’t get out. That leads to a form of masochism known as gluttony. That might be why all my jeans are currently on the tight side.  Also, it leads me to focus inward instead of outward and onward. It seems that when I focus on the now, I lose track of the future, and the future is what gives me joy. I love to plan, I love to think of possibilities. It’s a family trait to some extent. I know that at least one of my sisters joins me in that love, which sometimes drives the realists around us a bit nuts. I believe I’m defined as a “possibilities thinker,” always looking forward. I’m often a few steps ahead of the rest of the pack, who are still focused on the here and now. That’s not me. When I get into that space, it is to my detriment.

Now that I feel like I’m back at full-steam, my inspiration has come back as well. I’ve picked up my knitting needles again, although I’ve forgotten how to cast on. I picked up a paintbrush yesterday and rediscovered the joy of covering a canvas with colour. I have yet to pick up a novel again, but I’m looking forward to that as well. This afternoon I get together with friends to play some board games. Tomorrow I get back into the pool.  And this afternoon I have every intention of writing my grandparent’s a letter, something I haven’t done in weeks due to the fact that I didn’t want my depression to manifest itself in my letter. I don’t want to worry them and make them think I’m miserable. But today is a day filled with hope and promise.

I’ve plopped myself down in my local coffee shop. I’ve often wondered how it stays open, as I’ve never seen a line of more than two or three people and often the shop seems empty when I wander past. However, today I’ve discovered that a steady stream of clients are what keeps this place in business. Although it’s never as busy as a Starbucks or Second Cup, it also doesn’t have the lulls that those places have. Their primary business is coffee to-go. The staff is lovely, helpful, and friendly. Today’s staff member also happens to be a rather attractive late 20-something, who has the great mix of scruff, wavy brown hair, and excellent fashion sense that is neither metrosexual nor hipster, but is just excellent in a mixed between a classic look and hipster.  Because he fits no stereotype, his look is rather hard to define, but it is rather lovely. He also pulls a decent shot and makes a lovely almond milk Chai latte.

I kind of wish I could I had a camera today so I could show you shots of the shop, and if it happened to include a snap or two of the barista, that wouldn’t be so bad.  Also, he whistles to Beach Boys while he works. It’s rather endearing.  The only downside to the coffee shop this morning is that they don’t carry Licorice tea. So sad. I’ve actually only come across one shop in this city that does carry it, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it.  It’s up by Honest Ed’s and Snakes and Lattes, both places I will write of at a future date. But enough for now! Time to go live life with hutzpah, gumption, and a good dose of intentionality.

Recapturing the Dream: What Kind of City Do You Want? — Transit

In Life in General on March 4, 2012 at 9:58 am

Every city has its pros and its cons, its ups and its downs—some literal, some metaphorical. Many cities in North America are currently going through a cultural renaissance, trying to figure out how to survive in a world that looks little like the world for which the city was originally built.

For example, many North American cities were built out, not up, as land was abundant and the prices relatively cheap. That gave rise to the concept of the American dream complete with suburbs of independent dwellings and white picket fences. As populations grew, so did the suburbs and the infrastructure required to maintain these neighbourhoods. Commutes into work became longer, but that wasn’t much of a problem, as gas prices were, for decades, so low, that it was the least of people’s worries. Population density was low enough that things such as environmental pollution and smog were a non-issue. But what about now?

The challenges facing cities in North America today have swung in a different directions. Smog, and all forms of pollution have become a very real problem. Don’t believe me? Try driving up to the basin that LA is settled in and look for the layer of haze skimming the skyline. But it’s not just LA. It’s almost every large city in North America, and around the world.

Gas prices are also rising. The biggest concern about commute used to be the amount of traffic on the freeway. With the rise in gas prices though, more people are finding it prohibitively expensive to keep their house in the suburbs , and still drive in to work everyday. More people are opting for public transit, as the cost is considerably cheaper than driving. But due to public transit systems failing to develop at the speed they’re needed, commutes can become tediously long. Some people spend 4 hours a day on the train just to get to and from work. My friend Alicia spends an hour and a half to get into school, which is in downtown Toronto. The sad things is, she lives in Toronto proper. What if she lived a little further out?

The truth is that most cities in Canada, and North America as a whole, were built for the car. They weren’t based around a system of public transit as the city developed—although there are a few exceptions, such as New York. Now, to go back and try to build a proper transit system is a daunting task—it’s costly, time consuming, and disruptive to the citizen of a city. People want the change, but don’t want the taxes to rise. The city, inevitably, goes over budget and the government is known for it’s poor track record in spending funds in a fiscally responsible way, but that’s a rant for another time.

As a result, in Toronto, high rises are going up all over the place. People want to live closer to the core so that their commutes are shorter and they have easier access to the amenities of the city. People are opting out of the American dream and are creating a new dream for themselves closer to the heart of the city. This has led to increased housing prices and condos in the downtown core go for a premium. For the average working individual, it is nearly impossible to live near the city center without at least one flatmate.  But housing prices may need to be discussed another time. Back to transit.

People in Toronto are lucky in that there are bike lanes on some of the major roads, and more and more people are taking advantage of the relatively mild weather, and will aim to bike as much of the year as possible. There seem to be few thoroughfares without the famous ring-and-post style bike stands that allow for bikes to be safely locked up without the traditional cramming together in a bike rack. These stands were introduced in 1985 as a way for cyclists to safely lock up their bikes on parking meters, which kept the bikes from sliding down the posts and blocking the ability of cars to park (Tammy Thorne, First Past the Post, Spacing, Fall 2006).

While there is always room for improvement, and the cyclists in Toronto are certain to points out the areas in which development is needed, compared to some cities, they’ve got a smooth ride (although some of Toronto’s roads certainly provide a bumpy ride). In cities such as Edmonton, the concept of a cyclist is almost novel. While they do exist, sightings of cyclists in Edmonton rank up there with that of Big Foot.  During my time in Edmonton, I certainly knew of the cyclists. I counted many of them as my friends. However, their devotion to cycling was something I simply couldn’t fathom. Not only is the city of Edmonton divided by a rather massive river valley which creates some brutal hills for bikers, they also spend significant portions of the year covered with snow. This is to the extent that many cyclists in Edmonton opt to get studs for their bike tires for the winter season. Those who try to bike without them in the winter months will find it a slippery ride and may wipe out many times during a ride.

Unlike Toronto, Edmonton boasts no bike lanes, and motorists are uncertain of how to treat cyclists. In Edmonton pick-up trucks are fully understood, but the small segment of those opting to walk or bike in favour of driving gas guzzlers is still fairly limited. This group is growing however, and a very real environmental movement is alive in Edmonton. But as far as public transit goes, Edmonton is lacking. There is only one line on their light-rail transit system, and as previously mentioned, bike lanes do not exist. Although I must acknowledge the boons of the bike racks on the front of the bus that will ferry both you and your bike across the river valley, as well as to other parts of the city.

Edmonton, like many other North American cities, was built out, and not up. Urban sprawl is a very real issue in Edmonton. Due to the Alberta economy, people are still flush with money compared to many other parts of the continent, and as such the single detached dwelling and white picket fence dream is still very much alive. People are still driving their cars, as it’s widely acknowledged that unless you live along the LRT line, public transit in Edmonton is a bit of a joke. I remember it taking me two hours to get to my optometrist last July. And here’s the kicker, it wasn’t even across the city. My commute could have been much longer.

So now the question for cities examining transit requirements becomes, “Now what?” Some cities are opting for the ostrich approach, and are plunging their heads in the sand, hoping the issues will go away. Other cities, are grabbing the bull by the horns and are embracing the future realities of the world we now live in with an eye on the future. Others, are trying to fix their systems for now, and forget to look forward, meaning they’re always about a decade behind.

All of this comes back, however, to the citizens of a city. It is the people, people like you and I, who have the real say in what happens in the development of the cities we live in. We have the say in the officials we elect, and in our constitutional right to make our voices heard. The sad truth is, many of us feel like a drop in the bucket and never exercise our rights to make our voices heard. “What is one voice?”, we ask. Well, one voice may not be much, but never underestimate the ability of a group of like-minded individuals to influence change. Indeed, a group of individuals with a cause is the only thing that has ever successfully brought about change. Be the change you want to see in your city.

What is your dream for your city? Grab hold of that dream, and make it happen. Get involved, do research, be a savy citizen. Be the change you want to see in your city.

The Inspiration for this post came from the Fall 2006 issue of Spacing:What kind of a city do you want? Understanding Toronto’s Urban Landscape.

 

Pushing Through

In Life in General on February 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Some days it’s just about pushing forward, pushing through. I moved through today, one task flowing into another. I was in the kitchen in some form or another from 9:30 to 6:30. It’s hard to believe that it is only 9 hours and that soon I will call that a standard workday. The day is a bit of a haze. School is rather clearn—duck confit, recipe development for pork and apple pie bites—but the streetcar ride home is a haze, and I barely remember eating at dinner. Motions become mechanical.  I’m ready for bed, even though it’s only 8:30. I know that there’s still homework to be done though. Typing up recipes and methods before the things I learned today fly out my head. I overcooked the duck breast. I’m really horrible at gauging the doneness of meat. I always seem to overcook the most beautiful cuts of meat. That being said, the recipe we followed had a marinade that made the meat overly salty, so at least I’m not wholly to blame. That being said, it was rather delicious. After all, confit really means poached in fat.

Tomorrow I once again go in to school early, as I’ll be doing for the rest of the week. Recipe development is a time sapping endeavour. Which reminds me, I need to pick up frozen currents to come up with a sauce, gastrique, or chutney to put with the pork and pear bites, as they’re a little on the dry side. Then, once school is done I’ve got my first of two free training sessions with a personal trainer.

My fitness assessment was done yesterday, and I rated  a 2/5 across the board for fitness level. The hour and a half I had in my fitness assessment taught me many things, including the fact that I was never taught how to do a proper push-up, squat, or plank. And here I thought those were things I had down pat. Thankfully, Sven, the built black man doing my assessment, never made me feel uncomfortable or like a failure. He was constantly encouraging and an all-around lovely guy. He’s the type of trainer who makes you think that maybe the gym doesn’t have to be a daunting place. Sadly, he was only assigned to my fitness assessment and tomorrow I will be getting a different trainer. Hopefully she’s lovely as well. She was described to me as “a ball of sunshine.” As long as she’s not so perky that she’s annoying.  After my session I’ll undoubtedly spend a good bit of time in the steam room. It’s a lovely room, and both times I’ve used it thus far, I’ve had it all to myself.

Once I leave the gym, I’ll be heading to home church—my small group. I missed church both this week and last week due to an inability to make myself leave the house. But, things are getting a bit better, and while I may have missed the sermon, I don’t want to miss the Bible study. Goodness knows that I’m in a back slide as far as my spiritual life goes. Just the thought of reading my Bible makes me want to sleep. I also don’t have any good commentaries or reflections to read on faith. The last book I read on faith I didn’t finish, but it was….darn, I can’t even remember the name of it. It was by John Piper and I only got through chapter three before having to return it. I wish I could rediscover Kathleen Norris for the first time. I really did love reading her reflections on faith.

And then I’ll head home on the streetcar, hit the hay,  and then the next day, push through again.