A few weeks ago the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone happened to me: the local grocery store abruptly shut down.

There was no warning. One day it was open, the next there was a sign on the door that some kind of serious structural issue needed to be fixed right away and the store was closed until further notice. Rumours went through the neighbourhood. The roof had caved in. The floor had collapsed. It was a nefarious plot on the part of the parent company to tear it down and sell the very valuable land for condos. The man in the hardware store on the corner told me the parent company wanted to buy up the whole block, tear everything down, and build a huge Shoppers Drugmart.

I will be the first to say that it was a bad No Frills. It frequently made lists of “The worst No Frills in Toronto”, of which there have been a few. The quality of the produce was decent, if you knew what you were looking for, but it frequently ran out of staples, like garlic or sweet potatoes or soy milk. What kind of grocery store runs out of garlic? This one did more than once. But as bad as it was, not having it is much worse.

Here are some things I have started rationing since No Frills shut down:

  • Fresh fruit other than apples
  • Tofu
  • Broccoli
  • Greens

Here are somethings I buy more of than before:

  • Frozen fruit and veg, they keep a long time and are space-efficient 
  • Samosas. They have really good ones at one of the small groceries I go to in the neighbourhood. Not complaining.

Here are some things I have given up in buying period:

  • Whole wheat pasta (they sell name-brand white pasta at the dollar store, that’ll do)
  • Whole wheat flour (too heavy and bulky)
  • Juice (too heavy to carry from anywhere else)
  • Bulk toilet paper (too bulky to carry on transit)
  • White vinegar (too heavy, not worth it)

Here are some things I haven’t figured out how to reliably buy yet:

  • Disposable diapers and wipes
  • Baby cereal 
  • Canned beans unless it’s an emergency (too expensive to buy in local stores)
  • Olive oil (I found some reasonably-priced stuff at a fruit stand on the Dabforth but it’s hardly in my orbit or a reliable source)

It could be much worse. There are multiple small South Asian groceries in the neighbourhood, whose prices are on the high side, but carry a decent selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods, dried beans, and spices. There’s an organic grocery store for your $3 avocado and vegan marshmallow needs, and two dollar stores which carry an inconsistent but reasonable selection of dry goods. One even had baby cereal last week! (Personally I will buy name-brand food from a dollar store but not store-brand or unrecognizable brand. Call me a snob, I don’t care.) The possibly-nefarious parent company of the shuttered No Frills even runs a free shuttle bus to the closest No Frills, about 5 km away. It’s an infinitely nicer store – a friend who lives nearby refers to it as “Some Frills” – but there is no getting around the fact that what used to take 20-30 minutes out of my week now takes 2-3 hours, or that I have to think carefully about my ability to carry whatever I buy, or that I have switched to less healthy foods or rationed staples in an effort to save my sanity.

I know that even without No Frills you couldn’t call this a food desert – maybe a food semi-arid area? – and that eventually we’ll figure out a routine of food acquisition that ensures a reliable and reasonably cost-effective food supply without tearing our collective hair out. My kids will not die because I fed the more simple carbs or more frozen veg than before. But it still stinks and I would like to strongly register my disapproval of the entire situation.

In closing if you would like to buy me a giant thing of toilet paper and about 35 packets of vegan baby cereal I will not say no.

Hi! Did you miss me for the last…really long time? I’m not going to go through all of what I’ve been up to for the last year and a half other than a) I had another baby! Her name is Alice and she’s almost 8 months and b) I had to spend the last three weeks of my pregnancy and the first two weeks after the birth on bed rest and while you’d think that would get me blogging again, it did not.

Anyway. I am still not 100% back to my normal level of mobility and my studio is a bit slow right now, BUT I have a metropass and a curious almost-four-year-old who loves public transit and , incidentally, a really sweet-natured and easygoing baby. So I thought I’d start doing something I used to do on my own, only with my kids.

Back in 2006 I quit my sort-of day job of ballet accompanying and started my studio. While I was trying to build up by client base, I got into the habit of going on an “adventure” every Wednesday. I had a weekly budget of $20, including TTC fare, and would basically just go somewhere I hadn’t been and do something, usually involving a café.

You may have noticed by now, but I am not by nature a particularly adventurous person. I often feel awkward in new situations and don’t have a desire to plunge into other people’s spaces and take part. However, I do enjoy just going places and looking around, maybe having a coffee or lunch or something.

The past few years of small child-having have kept me either at home or only going out to familiar places/on planned excursions. And of course the city keeps changing – my own neighbourhood certainly has. So, since I have a bit of not-exactly-spare-since-I’m-looking-after-at-least-one-kid-but-not-exactly-scheduled-either time and, as I said, a metropass, I’ve decided to start having adventures again.

Normally I plan on going on Tuesdays, because weekend transit is a shitshow, but today I had to do a distant errand and Cecil wanted to come with me, so we can call this one an adventure.

Victoria Park/Lawrence

This was our route:

viclaw map

Due to the general incompetence of the TTC the entire Coxwell station bus bay is closed down while they do…something which will apparently take a year? Anyway, more detail than you probably want, but the Coxwell bus route is combined with another bus that goes north into Scarborough, which is unexpectedly convenient. To get to Victoria Park and Lawrence from our house was only two buses.

We had to go there to go to a dingy Babies R Us so I could buy a new breast pump because I very stupidly left the old one on the bus and couldn’t wait to get it back from the TTC lost-and-found/order one online. Downtown Toronto being surprisingly poorly served for things like inexpensive breast pumps, at least of the brand which I prefer, I found a Babies R Us at Victoria Park and Lawrence which carried them and figured out how to get there.

I asked Cecil, who enjoys riding the bus, if he wanted to come, and sure enough he did.

Some points about weekend TTC in general:

  • It stinks, both literally and figuratively.
  • Sometimes it is empty, sometimes it is super-crowded.
  • No one in power appears to think that it matters.

These points all stand doubly for the more outlying areas which are already poorly served…like the intersection of Scarborough and North York or wherever the hell Victoria Park and Lawrence is. Getting there looked easy on paper: take one bus, then change to another bus arriving a minute or two later and go about 8 more stops north. Except, of course, on the way there the bus we were supposed to change to blew right past the stop and we had to wait something like 20 minutes for the next one, which was super crowded with people who didn’t think a woman travelling alone with a three-year-old deserved a seat.

Scarborough/North York is mostly small detached houses, somewhat larger semi-detached houses, the kind of apartment buildings that seemed like a good idea 40 years ago, and strip malls. It looks like everywhere in Ontario, which makes it kind of look like nowhere. I cannot call the bus ride up Coxwell, along O’Connor, and up Victoria Park particularly exciting BUT I spied a ginormous Value Village, which I intend to go back to another time, and got some knitting done to boot.

Even though housing prices have probably doubled over the last 10 years, like they have everywhere else, there are not many indicators of gentrification along O’Connor. There is the occasional newly-built McMansion – well, at least newly-built house that’s 25% bigger than any of its neighbours and doesn’t look like it came out of a mold 50 years ago – a bowling alley that’s being converted to condos, and the odd store with a black sign with tiny white writing on it, but that’s about it. The rest of the shops are the kinds of places that flourish in a low-rent environment – “Doll Hair Emporium!” “Cat antiques!”  “Make your own kilt!”– or cater to Scarborough’s many ethnic communities, or are so junky I would never consider shopping there, and I have few inhibitions in that regard. Stores too gross for me to shop in surrounded by houses I can’t afford, that is Toronto in a nutshell.

Anyway.  We got there eventually. You’re going to have to take my word for it, but the view from the intersection of Victoria Park and Lawrence – literally from the middle of the intersection, looking west as you cross the street – is gorgeous. The elevation is relatively high, so you can see all the way to downtown. Today was warm for January, a few degrees above zero; in the distance the city buildings were all shrouded in mist. Cecil was thrilled to see a distant crane, because he’s three and construction is pure excitement. If there were an island halfway across the street I’d expect to see watercolourists camped out on it on foggy days. As it is I couldn’t exactly stop and take a picture and it doesn’t seem like anyone else ever has. Toronto Public Works, call me and we’ll discuss closing the intersection so I can get a snap, OK?

The Babies R Us was in a – you guessed it – strip mall. I would hesitate to call it a high-class strip mall, but it’s a cut above the usual strip of 2-3 restaurants/dollar store/vet or dentist office/something improbable like a bathroom fixture showroom/ “holistic spa” combination. I’m guessing that’s because it’s not technically in Scarborough but in North York, which is generally less deprived. There was a No Frills – with a hotdog stand out front! – a Baskin Robbins, a few small businesses, and (of course) a Toys/Babies R Us.

They were having some kind of sale, so the store was full of people who apparently had never handled money before and were convinced the store was trying to cheat them out of their discount high chair, but we got what we needed without incident, then failed to get a snack at the hotdog stand. They were out of veggie dogs, causing the main drama of the afternoon. I dragged a weeping toddler back to the bus stop and we began the long trip home.

This is not a particularly exciting adventure – oh, I forgot, we had another 20-minute wait in the middle and went to Tim Hortons for snacks – but you know what, we enjoyed it.

If you plan to go because you also lost your breast pump/want a veggie dog but have to justify it with extreme effort, or just want to see the view:

  • Bring snacks
  • Don’t expect too much from the TTC, and if you’re 3:
  • Plan your bathroom breaks.

I am experiencing Deep Feels.

When I moved to Toronto 15 years ago, it was like a weight lifted off me. I’m from London, Ontario, and I went to one of those high schools they set teen movies in, all football and sexual coercion and mean girls. I felt like the weirdest person in the world, largely because I liked reading and classical new music and didn’t want to drive absolutely everywhere I went or give myself skin cancer in a tanning bed.

So I came to Toronto, and I didn’t feel weird anymore. I felt positively normal. Everywhere you went there was someone at least 3 times weirder than me. You think nose rings are weird, London? Why, that guy on the streetcar has a hole in his ear you could fit a towel rod through. You think my unfortunate tramp stamp tattoo is an abomination unto the Lord? Well, I know someone who has two full sleeves and is trying to find someone who’ll fork her tongue for her.

Anyway. It’s been 15 years and I’m starting to feel weird again. Continue Reading »

Hello. No, I don’t really have a blog post, just a recipe. Someday I will have time to write for myself again. This is not that day.

Anyway, more experiments with okara: waffles! These are amazingly good and my two-year-old likes them, so you will too.

Carrot apple okara waffles


–          ¾ C cooked wet okara*

–          1 medium carrot, shredded or chopped very fine in a food processor

–          ½ a medium apple, shredded or chopped very fine in a food processor

–          3 T brown sugar (if you substitute a liquid sweetener like brown rice syrup or agave, reduce the liquid by 2 or 3 tablespoons)

–          3 T vegetable oil or melted, cooled vegan margarine

–          1 ½ C non-dairy milk (soy is good for extra protein, but whatever you’ve got is good)

–          1 ¾ C flour – feel  free to use up to 1 C whole wheat if you’re trying to sneak whole grains as well as vegetables and protein into your family’s waffles

–          1 T baking powder

–          1 T cornstarch

–          ¼ t cinnamon, or to taste

Preheat your waffle iron. Mix the okara, carrot, apple, and non-dairy milk in a large bowl. Add the sugar and oil and beat until dissolved and slightly frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until no large lumps remain. Don’t over-mix – you don’t want your waffles to be tough. Oil the waffle iron and cook according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve hot with vegan margarine and maple syrup, spread with pumpkin seed butter, or just eat them standing up in the kitchen directly off the waffle maker.  Your call.

Note: As the moisture content in okara varies a lot, both from machine to machine and from batch to batch, it’s a good idea to make one test waffle on its own. If it’s a bit pale and floppy, add 2-3 T flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the batter thickens a bit. If it’s thick and undercooked, add 1-2 T non-dairy milk.

*You must use cooked okara in this recipe. If you’re using a soymilk machine, that’s what you’re getting anyway; if you’re making soymilk by hand you have to either simmer the milk before squeezing it out or cook the okara on its own. I believe if you steam it for 10-15 minutes that’ll do the trick, but don’t quote me on it. Toasted okara won’t work in this recipe, but feel free to invent your own toasted okara waffle recipe if that’s what you’ve got. Please be careful with this as uncooked soy is toxic to humans.

* Cross-posted from On Memory And Desire*

One of my favourite advice websites, Captain Awkward, has a commenting rule: no remote diagnoses. No matter how much the letter writer’s annoying aunt reminds you of your mother, you can’t diagnose someone with Borderline Personality Disorder based on the description of a biased third party.

This is good advice, but rarely followed (even on Captain Awkward). Unless you’re living under a rock – and if you are, I might come join you for a weekend just to get away – you will have by now heard of Toronto’s mayor trouble. For the journalists of Toronto, Rob Ford and his antics have been the gift that keeps giving, as the man continues to reach new highs or new lows or just new levels of weirdness. It’s easy to treat the story as entertainment, and it’s difficult for those of us who are not fans of the mayor to react with anything other than schadenfreude. Or, to repeat a phrase coined all the way back in 2008, Schadenford (Noun: Perverse pleasure derived from observing the foibles of Toronto mayor Rob Ford).

But I am going to attempt to follow the good Captain’s advice and keep my itchy fingers off the DSM. I mean, it is pretty obvious that Rob Ford has psychological problems ranging from addictions to rage issues to some reeeaaally dysfunctional family dynamics – I hope if I am ever caught smoking crack my mother doesn’t take the opportunity to appear on national TV and call me fat! – but let’s leave the specifics up to the trained professionals when he finally makes contact with them. Plus that article’s been done already.

More interesting is the psychological profile not of the man himself but of the city which elected him. A brief history for the outsiders: Continue Reading »

Getting to oatmeal

Hello! Did you miss me? It’s not that I haven’t been blogging, it’s just that I’ve been blogging here, and you should all be reading that. (Check out my 3-part series on Peggy McIntosh’s “Feeling Like a Fraud”. It’s actually really good.)

I feel like I have even less time than usual to do, well, anything…and mostly that is true, because you remember me how I made one of my goals for 2013 to get another non-music job? I got another non-music job, and it met my criteria pretty much exactly (10-15 hrs/week, partly from home, more than minimum wage, not evil). I know so much about Excel spreadsheets now guys, you have no idea. Actually it’s fun, even the spreadsheets. Am I a weirdo for liking Excel? Is that like liking Calculus? I liked Calculus in school, though I can’t remember the first thing about it now.

This job started out as a 10-week contract, the main task of which was to go through 15 years worth of virtual and paper records and organize/get rid of them. Mostly get rid of them, because does anyone need agendas from meetings which happened in 2003? Not unless they’re the UN. Anyway, I got this 10-week contract and it turns out I’m rather good at triaging paper and so on, so it turned into a permanent thing. But I find, as I’m now working that extra 15 hours a week, I have less and less time to do the kind of stuff for myself that I need to do to keep stuff going.

It’s ironic. What I do at work is set up systems to make work go more smoothly (along with a rather eclectic basket of web, research, and design tasks); the time I spend doing this means I have little time to do this for myself.

It’s like, you know those mornings when you don’t have breakfast and you’re kicking yourself for not having breakfast and are like “How hard would it have been for me to get a goddamn bowl of oatmeal?” Except you need to do like 10 steps to get to the goddamn oatmeal and you don’t have time/energy to do more than 3 and getting to a point where oatmeal would be only 3 steps away would take at least 20 steps of organizing as well as weekly maintenance and you’re like “Fuck it, I’ll just eat a handful of almonds” (which is not a bad breakfast, BTW). And you haven’t washed your hair in 4 days because it takes hours to dry but looks really bad if you go to bed with it wet and you don’t have a chance to wash it during the day so if you want to wash it you have to do it right afer the baby goes to bed and who wants to take a bath at 7 PM? And you really need a haircut anyway but you don’t even have a hairdresser anymore and all your friends are yuppie Leslieville moms and keep recommending really expensive ones? And you’re not wearing pants because none of your real pants fit anymore and all of your yoga pants are in clean but at the bottom of the not-put-away-yet clean hamper so you’re wearing bright red tights and a purple skirt and a grey shirt with one squirrel mugging another squirrel on it because the colour wheel, what’s that?

I bought a bunch of air freshener-type stuff last week, because I feel like the house smells musty and while this is probably solvable by cleaning behind the piano and dusting the plate rails (I do not want to think about the dust situation on the plate rails…stupid dust-collecting plate rails), it’s also solvable with $15 worth of Glade products. I’m sure Glade is evil and I’m poisoning all of us by using a plug-in scent diffuser, but right now I just want the house to smell OK. And so far it’s working. Maybe a little too well, because this house is really small and I think these things are designed to work in larger areas. The one I have in the bedroom is frankly overpowering, if in a good way. It smells like pineapple Jolly Ranchers. It is making me dream of being a child again.

Anyway. Most of the time I am fed and clothed and leave the house looking better than Aileen Wuornos, so I figure I’m coming out on top. I feel like I need to take a week off to set up my life to run smoothly, but if I did I’d probably just sit around and watch CSI, so why bother. I’ll just buy some instant oatmeal instead.

New poem

Toronto poem

When in the dusk the postern lamps are lit
And over fallen leaves the padded feet begin to tread
Of leashed dogs circling blocks in friendly packs –
the evening air assumes a quiet gentleness;

as lighted streetcar windows pass, all headed east
towards dark red velvet pubs, all brass and firelit
And every syllable’s weight begins to hang
so heavy, as I and nature return to soft
and dark and sweet and smooth and bed.


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