This is our New Reality

new reality

I wanted to write about the new royal baby today. When I heard the news on Monday morning that Kate gave birth to her third child, I was excited to write about the British royal family. While I’m not obsessed, yes, I’m a fan. But on Monday afternoon I turned on the radio shortly after 2:00 pm. I was in my car, about to leave a parking lot. I couldn’t move. Horror washed over my body. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. This is our new reality.

In the age of technology, with instant news and lives shared on social media, the details of the horror on Yonge street in Toronto spread rapidly. The world saw videos and photos, heard and read witness accounts, after a man drove a van block after block, on the sidewalk, intentionally murdering people.

I couldn’t focus yesterday, and my heart ached for the people killed and injured and their families and friends. So many questions immediately went through my head, like why did this happen? What was going through this man’s mind when he committed this heinous act? What has happened to our society?

While it did not make me feel any better, I quickly realized that this is our new reality. We often speak of how we live in a modern age, with equality, freedom and justice. In Canada children are raised to be anything and everything they want to be. We are free to speak our minds in public and protest against injustice. People walk down the street and hold their heads high, without fear.

Or not.

When I was a child, at age 5, I walked home from kindergarten most days with my brother. School was s short distance from our house, and we walked home together with a group of kids. We went to the nearby park on our own and played sports on the street. Our parents knew we were safe. When we ran off down the street to play with our friends, our parents knew we would come home. When parents kissed their children good bye in the morning, they knew they would see them that evening, after work.

But that is no longer the reality and hasn’t been for years. I’m scared to let my children out of my sight in public, and I will admit that when I say good bye to my husband in the morning, when he jumps on the subway, I often have a quick, horrifying thought in my head, what if I never see him again? What if the subway is attacked or someone drives up on the sidewalk and hits a crowd of pedestrians?

And then it happened to someone’s husband, or wife, sister, brother, mother, father or friend yesterday. Someone said good bye for the last time.  And I wasn’t surprised. I felt sick, horrified and angry, but I was not shocked. This is our new reality.

Or maybe it’s not new, it’s just evolving. Mentally ill individuals, who for any number of reasons were angry with an individual or society, have used violence on a massive scale to voice their grievances. In some cases, there is a religious motivation, but often not. There was the massacre in 1989 which targeted a group of female engineering students at the University of Montreal. An individual murdered police officers in Alberta in 2005.

And yet, yesterday’s attack was somehow different. Or at least it was different for Canadians. Driving a vehicle, intentionally, into a group of people, is not new. It is a tactic that has been employed for many years to murder innocents around the world. But it was new in Canada and in an instant changed our reality forever.

I wish I could offer some unique insights or an inspirational thought to make us all feel better. But I can’t. What I feel today is sadness, as do thousands of Torontonians. We love our city, and I believe that most of us think the best of all people. Right now, we are coming together to grieve and to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost, to those who were injured and to the first responders who did a tremendous job to help those in need.

Moving forward we need to face our new reality with our heads held high. We must show kindness to our fellow human beings and reach out and support people who suffer from mental illness or who feel they don’t have a voice. I wish that would mean our world would be a better place, but at least we can try.

I am not a Bandwagon Toronto FC Fan

Toronto FC

Matthew and I are fans of the Mighty Toronto FC, our local Major League Soccer (MLS) club that won the big championship this past weekend. Unlike the bandwagon we joined when the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup a couple of weeks ago, we are the real thing. Well, kind of.

Soccer, or as the rest of the world (except Canada and the United States) calls it, football (no, not the NFL or CFL), is a sport I have always enjoyed. Okay, when I say enjoyed, I mean to say that I enjoy watching. I’m not much of a soccer player. It’s not in my top group of sports that I follow, like baseball, hockey and basketball, but I like it.

I remember when Toronto FC joined the MLS back in 2007, and wow, they were bad. But aren’t expansion teams supposed to be terrible? I watched the odd game and kind of followed them during that first season, and I monitored the team’s progress over the following years as their record steadily improved.

I think my story is quite similar to many others across North America who follow MLS. You won’t find millions of diehard soccer fans across the US and Canada like you may see in Europe or South America. But the MLS fans are loyal. They love soccer and they love their local team.

Toronto FC fans are great, and I want to send a shout-out to all of you who have been watching the games on TV and going to the matches over the past 10 years. Soccer is an exciting sport to watch, and there is always tremendous athleticism on display. Fans are always treated to a great show.

And this year’s Toronto FC team was something special.

This incredible group of athletes broke so many MLS records. The team finished the season with 69 points, which was of course a new league record. It also won a special soccer triple crown: the 2017 Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield and of course the MLS Cup this past weekend. This team is the perfect example of a true champion.

And Matthew and I have been following Toronto FC’s rise to become league champions for a couple of years. We watched the disappointing loss in the league championship game last year, when it all came down to a shoot-out. Wow do I hate shoot-outs (that’s for another day). How can a 90-minute, hard-fought match come down to a few free kicks on a goalie? Really? But I digress.

We knew early on that this season was THE ONE. This team was almost unbeatable, and it was like magic on grass every time they played. I knew who my favourite player was – of course, Jozy Altidore, who dons the jersey with the big number 17 on the back. Matthew agreed with me, of course!

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Matthew was thrilled to meet Jozy Altidore in Chicago

We even had the opportunity, in amazing seats, to see our team play – and win – in Chicago this summer. While we did not receive a warm welcome at Toyota Park from the local Chicago Fire fans, we didn’t care. Our team won! On that day in August we knew we were hooked. And we knew that Toronto FC could go all the way.

Toronto FC
Of course we had to take a selfie from our seats at Toyota Park this summer.

And oh they did. With grace and style. This is a team to remember and to celebrate. We watched every minute of the championship game on Saturday and sat on the edge of our seats as Toronto FC dominated early on. And then MY player, Mr. Jozy Altidore, scored the big goal. And we knew they could do it.

Congratulations to Toronto FC. And congratulations to the loyal fans. Let the celebrations continue.

I love when the Carolina Hurricanes Visit Toronto

Hurricanes

Last night was a great night, and I mean a really great night. Why? It’s because not only did the Carolina Hurricanes play the Maple Leafs in Toronto, but they beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto. And my Hurricanes didn’t just win, they won handily, 6-3. This brings me great joy.

It’s been a busy week and I did not have a chance to write a post on Sports Wednesday. I had intended to write about my annual World Series fever, but that will have to wait until next Wednesday. So instead there is a special Sports Friday post as I revel in the Hurricanes win over the Leafs.

As I wrote about back in June, I have been a Hurricanes fan since 2001. During the 2001-2002 season the team made it as far as the Stanley Cup Final only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games. It just wasn’t their time yet. But I learned what a first-class organization the Hurricanes were and became a fan for life.

The following season I was laughed at. People made fun of me. They heckled me as I kept my promise to be a big fan, even when the Hurricanes finished in the basement. They fought their way back, and my excitement culminated in June 2006 when they won the Stanley Cup.

But I have to say that one of the highs for me goes back to the Hurricanes’ amazing 2002 playoff run during the series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. I proudly cheered on my Canes, when I watched the game at home with friends or in very public spaces. One of my friends who was – and still is – a Maple Leafs super fan – made fun of me and dared me to keep cheering on the “enemy” in the middle of Toronto. Who won that series? The Hurricanes.

My teams has had its ups and downs since the famous 2005-2006 season, but I have always been loyal. I tried so hard to convince my son Matthew to follow in my footsteps and be a Hurricanes fan, but he refuses. This Toronto boy has joined Leaf Nation, with all the disappointment that goes with it.

So, when the Hurricanes come to town it’s always a ruckus and wild night in our house. I loudly cheer on my team and Matthew tries his best to make me be quiet. That was impossible last night, as my team went up by a score of 2-0 less than three minutes into the first period. It just got better from there, ending in the big win, 6-3 over the Leafs. Great game.

Even the Leafs coach, Mike Babcock agreed, when he stated about the Canes at his post-game press conference, “They deserved to win. We didn’t deserve to win.” You got it, Mike. I love when the Hurricanes win, especially in Toronto.

The Invictus Games Honour those who are Unconquered

Invictus Games

I like to follow the comings and goings of the British Royal family and have fond memories of that summer day in 1981 when Charles and Diana got married. I grew up reading articles and seeing photos of the couple’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. International media are always interested in covering negative news about the famous princes and any trouble they got themselves into as they came of age. But I’m proud of the media this week, in particular, Canadian media, as they celebrated the Invictus Games and the role of its founder, Prince Harry.

I applaud all men and women, from countries around the world, who serve in the military. It takes tremendous commitment and dedication to be a soldier, and it’s not for everyone. Prince Harry served in the British military from 2005-2015, and he was deployed to Afghanistan during some of that time. He saw with his own eyes what war can do to a soldier and the physical and emotional scars that go with serving.

I had the opportunity to meet and speak with many Canadian soldiers and veterans when I was Director of the Sears Canada Charitable Foundation when we sponsored a program called Operation Wish. This was our salute to the Canadian Armed Forces and our wish to help soldiers, veterans and their families during the Holiday season.

While some of these Canadian soldiers had obvious physical disabilities that they suffered while they served their country, many of them shared with me the long-term personal challenges and demons they faced as well.

When I heard about the Invictus Games I immediately applauded Prince Harry and the people around him who created this wonderful international competition. I learned today that Invictus is the Latin word for unconquerable. The hundreds of athletes who have competed in these games since 2014 are truly unconquerable. Not only have they overcome some tremendous physical and mental disabilities, they have conquered them, through sport.

I will admit that while I live in Toronto, close to many of the venues, I have not attended any of the Invictus Games’ events yet this week. It runs from September 23-30 throughout the city, with hundreds of athletes competing in various sports such as cycling, golf, athletics, swimming, and wheelchair basketball, to name a few.

There are soldiers and veterans from 17 different countries competing at 9 different venues throughout the city of Toronto. There is Wheelchair Tennis at Nathan Phillips Square, at the foot of Toronto’s City Hall. The Archery competition is happening at the Fort York National Historic Site, in downtown Toronto. Fort York was a military battlefield during the War of 1812. Cyclists have the opportunity to ride around a custom designed course in High Park, our city’s beautiful 400-acre park on Toronto’s west side.

Our city has come alive this week, thanks to the Invictus Games and its Royal Patron, Prince Harry. This international competition celebrates a group of people who deserve to be celebrated and honoured. Prince Harry put it best:

“These Games shine a spotlight on the unconquerable character of servicemen and women and their families. They highlight the competitors’ “INVICTUS GAMES spirit.” These Games have been about seeing competitors sprinting for the finish line with everything they have and then turning around to clap the last person in. They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together. These Games have been a display of the very best of the human spirit.”

Extreme Weather is Headed Your Way

extreme weather

 I am a weather watcher, as I discussed in a previous post. For the most part I follow local weather and like to know the general current and future weather patterns crossing over my city. Will it be warm today? Is it going to rain tomorrow? Should I worry about a smog alert? For the most part, the weather in Toronto is quite tame. We experience four distinct seasons and can expect everything from heat and cold alerts to big rainfalls and massive snowstorms. But is it just me, or are there more extreme weather systems lately? And I’m not talking about just Toronto, but all over the world.

This past week all eyes have been on Hurricane Harvey. This massive, slow-moving storm has wreaked havoc on southeastern Texas in the United States and destroyed everything in its path. Hurricanes are not new, and there have been dozens of them that have been catastrophic. Hurricane Hazel in 1954 changed the city of Toronto forever. Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma caused death and destruction in 2005 in the United States. David crashed through the Caribbean and United States in 1979 and killed over two thousand people.

While hurricanes are big weather events that rightly attract tremendous attention, I believe that in general we are experiencing more extreme weather.

My own city of Toronto saw so much rainfall this spring that there was flooding. The average rainfall for May, for example, is 73 mm. However, over 142 mm fell in May 2017. Heavy rain fell day after day, the water levels rose in Lake Ontario and flooded lakeside communities and the Toronto Islands.  While most of the heavy rain has subsided, it’s rare this summer to have a few days straight with sunshine and no forecast of rain.

On the other side of extreme weather, wildfires are causing tremendous damage in communities in Western Canada. Last year it took over two months to bring massive fires under control in and around Fort McMurray, Alberta. Right now, with extreme temperatures and not enough rain, fires are ravaging British Columbia.

As I read in an article from Global News, “B.C. remains under a state of emergency as more than 100 wildfires continue to burn across the province. This season is now B.C.’s worst fire season in history and it is far from over.”

It’s not hard to find other extreme weather and its consequences all over the world. Tornadoes, mud slides, monsoons, flooding, record heat. I am not a meteorologist or a climatologist, but common sense tells me our world is changing. And I believe that we, as human beings, are accelerating those changes. From the worst wildfires to record temperatures to highest rainfall in one day, this is our reality today. Extreme weather is our present and our future. Let’s try to be a kinder to our planet, please?

I Planned to Salsa on St. Clair but Ate Italian Instead

salsa

Today I am writing another installment of “Being a Tourist in my own City.” Summer in the city, especially on the weekend, can often be warm, muggy and oppressive. It’s easy to laze around the house or pull up a chair in the backyard and do a lot of nothing. Instead of that, this weekend we decided to take advantage of an annual event in our neighbourhood, and on Saturday night, with only one child at home (the baby), we stepped outside and walked over to Salsa on St. Clair.

I remember stopping by this event a few years ago, as it wound down on a Sunday night. We had only checked out the perimeter and I recall that it was busy. This year, at 7:00 pm on a beautiful Saturday evening, we decided to try it again. I had checked out the event’s website and expected to find loud lively music, some dancing on the closed off street and a mix of Latin American and South American food.

We found all of that, and I also found dense crowds and long lines. I should have known better. After weeks (or was it months?) of rain in Toronto and so many washed out weekends, people were desperate to get outside and party on such a gorgeous evening. As we approached the Eastern edge of the event, I could hear the music, I could see the crowd and I could smell the sumptuous food.

No doubt the event delivered on its promises – there were blocks of music and dancing and a huge variety of food for sale. But it was impossible to move, never mind dance, and I did not have the patience to wait in snaking lines just for a taste of a tomatillo, plantain or churros. I don’t doubt the food was delicious, and the music was so vibrant that I could feel myself wanting to dance, but I (or my husband or my parents who joined us) did not have the patience nor the stamina to stay, so we kept walking.

It was slow moving, but we crossed the Salsa, from one end to the other and passed people of all ages enjoying the event. There were families with babies and young children, teenagers and 20-somethings out for a night on the town and even an older crowd enjoying the scene. We just kept on walking.

salsa
I just had to include a photo of this place on our walk as it’s an interesting establishment, with interesting signs.
salsa
Have they made themselves clear?

If you keep walking along St. Clair West in Toronto you arrive in one of the many “Little Italy” neighbourhoods of our great city. With our stomachs rumbling we checked out a few places and eventually decided upon a modest but sweet looking place that had a quiet patio and space to accommodate us and the stroller.  Big Slice Restaurant came through with a tasty meal and friendly service. On our walk home, as a bonus, we stopped a for a treat at Punto Gelato, where everyone (including the baby, of course), enjoyed a couple of scoops of this Italian treat. I highly recommend the Caramelo flavour by the way!

salsa
Nessa gave the food at Big Slice a thumbs up (or rather her whole hand)
salsa
Outside Punto Gelato. Yum.

To get home we chose to dive back into the Salsa again to see how it looked at night.  The music was lively and there was some great dancing. The crowd had thinned somewhat, though I didn’t see too many young families or the older crowd from a couple hours before. We definitely brought the average age up while we walked through!

I am fortunate that I live in a city that has such a vibrant mix of cultures that are celebrated throughout the year. Whether it is a street festival or a parade, and whether the event is small and quiet or crowded and lively, I love them all. My family and I participate in our own special way, and I look forward to the next time I can be a tourist in my own city.

I Discovered a New Spot Downtown as a Tourist in My Own City

new spot downtown

 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Doors Open Toronto and the excitement I felt at being a tourist in my own city. Toronto is a big place and has definitely come into its own as a world class city. With its many ravines, vast greenery and its setting on the north shore of Lake Ontario I really think that Toronto is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I have explored many parts of Toronto, but with such a rich mix of cultures, neighbourhoods and urban spaces there is always a new spot downtown for me to explore. With the first big heat wave of the season upon us, we decided, with my parents, to escape the oppressive temperatures on Sunday afternoon and head down to the waterfront. With the beaches closed because of excessive amounts of rain and too many crowds around places like Harbourfront, my parents suggested we try a new spot downtown (new for us) and have dinner at Against the Grain.

This restaurant sits inside Corus Quay, on the east side of Queen’s Quay. As you approach the area it looks quite industrial and there seems to be an infinite number of cranes dotting the skyline. I saw signs for many developers, building both condos and tall office towers. With a dense downtown core, it makes sense that the skyscrapers are spreading out in this direction.

new spot downtown
The cranes and the Toronto skyline

The waterfront in this part of the city is simple and beautiful. It is anchored by Sugar Beach, which on the surface is the most bizarre beach I have ever seen. It is sandy, it has adorable pink umbrellas and it sits on the water’s edge. But there is a boardwalk between the beach and the water with no water access (except for a cute maple leaf shaped splash pad). A massive industrial boat is moored in the water beside this beach, and with the amount of industry in that area I don’t think anyone would actually want to take a dip in Lake Ontario right there. So, I guess it’s okay that it’s actually a lakeless beach.

new spot downtown
The greenery as you approach Sugar Beach
new spot downtown
The beach beside the lake

The boardwalk is relatively small in that area, but it is wide, clean and provides pedestrians a great view of Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands and the city’s skyline. We got a table at the edge of the patio, so we were lucky to enjoy these sweeping views as we dug into our dinner.

new spot downtown
A table by the water, how nice.

Any restaurant that has a mix of sophisticated flavours, traditional classics and a kids’ menu is a winner for me. My son was thrilled with his pizza and French fries and my daughter couldn’t believe her luck when a plate of cheesy nachos with guacamole was placed in front of her. I was thrilled to see a Moroccan dish on the menu and enjoyed my roasted carrot tagine. The happiest person at the table was the baby who couldn’t get enough of my tagine!

new spot downtown
My roasted carrot tagging
new spot downtown
Nessa is sampling the food options
new spot downtown
Now we are getting serious. The bib is on
new spot downtown
Now we are having fun with our food
new spot downtown
No more food to eat, so why not spread it around our hands?

Sitting on the patio, overlooking the lake, was so delightful, especially with the 21-degree temperature at the water’s edge (as opposed to 30 degrees in the centre of the city). A light breeze even picked up as we finished dinner and did another walk around the boardwalk. The kids loved running on the giant rocks around Sugar Beach, playing hide and seek around the giant planters and just being kids. It was wonderful to take advantage of the beautiful weather and to discover a new spot downtown as a tourist in my own city.

new spot downtown
The kids being kids at Sugar Beach