October: A Month of Change

In the Northern Hemisphere, October is one of those months of dramatic change. Summer is quickly fading to memory and the weather has become unpredictable – sunny and gloriously warm one day, followed by days of chilling rain.  In fact we may see snow flurries over the next day or two.

October is the month when Nature throws one last party of celebration by dressing up in brilliant colours of gold, orange, and red before she retires for the winter to rest.

Is everyone tired of yet more photos of autumnal colour?  I hope not … this is simply the best party Nature throws all year.

The evidence of an unnaturally dry summer can be found in the roadside fire hazard signs while driving down country roads.  In spite of the amble rain we’ve had over the past month, the hazard was still notched at “Moderate” on all the signs I found north of Toronto.

For much of the summer, fire bans were in place throughout many parts of the province, but on this rainy October day, everything was soggy.


While Nature has been busy tossing change around getting ready for her long nap, I have change on the horizon too.  After 5 years of retirement, I just accepted a part-time consulting job for the next 6 months.  Time will tell whether I made a monumental mistake or not.

If I wasn’t busy before, I’m going to be.

Changing Seasons is a monthly photo feature hosted by Cardinal Guzman.





Posted in Around Toronto, Nature, Outdoor Stuff, Photo Challenges, Random Stuff, Things I Like, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 78 Comments

It’s the Best of Times

Just in case you should start to think that this year has been all doom and gloom for me, I need to balance the scales … for there has also been great joy.

On Thanksgiving Weekend, our oldest son Jordan and his partner, Dempsey, announced their engagement.

We can’t be more thrilled and excited.


Image from Pinterest


Many of you know, and more of you have already gleaned from my blog, that my beautiful, dark-eyed son is gay.


Jordan “came out” to Gilles and I a few months after his 16th birthday.  I’m sure it was as traumatic for him as it was for us … but while he quickly moved on, happily secure in his newly established identity, we were gob-smacked.

Our biggest overwhelming emotion was fear.  Yes, we live in one of the most gay-friendly cities, in one of the most gay-friendly countries, in the world … but there is still a frightening amount of senseless homophobia out there.

We feared for our son’s long term safety and happiness. The world suddenly became a lot scarier for us.  We didn’t sleep much in that first week.

I told Jordan one evening that he would have to be patient with us. Every parent overlays a vision of the future on top of their child – some of it vague, some of it well-defined.   One of mine was someday dancing at Jordan’s wedding.  I was already mourning that loss.

I told him we would need time to let go of some of these dreams and “rewrite” new ones.

He handled us with a maturity beyond his years.  Ironic, isn’t it?  I’ll be forever grateful.



We were lucky to also have the support of thoughtful friends who helped us re-frame our paralyzing fear and sense of loss.  One of the pieces of advice I received was to not assume we lost anything.  The world was changing.

A little more than 4 years later, in 2005, Canada legalized same-sex marriage.  It became a game-changer. Here I am – 11 years later – bursting with joy, because my son is going to be married.  My dream of dancing at his wedding is alive again.

We dearly love Jordan’s partner, Dempsey.  We already think of him as one of our own.  In that respect, this wedding will be a formality … but at the same time, I guarantee that both Gilles and I will cry shamelessly.

They will be tears of happiness and boundless love for these 2 fine men.


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Musings On A Rainy Day

So far, this year has been full of various trips, falls, misses, and failures – some of them figurative, many of them literal.  A few of them I’ve talked about here, but most of them I haven’t.

There has been one drama in my life that’s been playing out for months now and involves my husband’s health.  He’s been fighting a recurring problem that simply won’t go away and finally it escalated into a full-blown crisis.

Three trips to the ER in 3 days has been very stressful.  It’s weighed heavily on both of us that this might be that of which we mustn’t ever speak … for fear of making it real.

I’m mentioning this only because I don’t often write about deeply personal stuff – with the notable exception of the pity party I was throwing myself all summer.


Random storm clouds

I compartmentalize my life into the stuff I talk about and that which I prefer to keep private – often even from family and friends.  “Opening up” is not something I do casually.  Thought and care is usually involved.

I think most of us have this private side in varying degrees, especially if we’re a self-proclaimed introvert.  There are those of us who are more comfortable listening and observing rather than talking … those of us who like the written word because it provides us with time to reflect on what we want to say, and how we want to say it.

In the written word, I can be far more clever and insightful than I ever am on any given day “in the real world”.

It’s a bit of a paradox that the blogging world attracts people like us who are usually quiet and comfortable blending into the background, but with a deep need to express ourselves and whatever our chosen form of creativity might be.

On one hand, we may have difficulty with self-expression within our limited circle of family and friends, but we’re prepared to toss it out to the world-at-large. There is usually that small moment of terror as we hit the ‘Publish’ button.  We obsess about whether this time we shared a little too much.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not really going anywhere with this post.  It truly is a random musing, most likely the product of too much worry and too little sleep.

It’s likely I’m going to continue filtering my world of self-doubts, insecurities, and various neuroses … but I do know that this blogging community is a good place for people who need to share – even if that sharing is not the full story.

And yes – Gilles is ok.

This post was inspired by Photos by Emilio.  Read his story here.

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No, It’s Not Important

It’s Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada.  Like our American cousins, this is a time when we should be reflecting on all the things in our life for which we are grateful.  The markets are exploding with the abundance of nature’s harvest and the focus is on the celebration of food, family, and friends.

While I was contemplating what was special about Thanksgiving, I kept coming up with a big blank. It was just another weekend – except with an extra day to do it all in.  Nothing particularly special.

Well, except for that one time 30+ years ago when Gilles and I got married on Thanksgiving Weekend – my dad’s birthday to be exact.  He would be 104 years old today.  That day was pretty cool … but when I think about it, it still boiled down to family, friends, and food.


And there was the time 2 years later when we were anxiously waiting for son #1 to arrive. But he was late and missed all the Thanksgiving stuff by a few days.


Maybe I should also toss in the times Gilles and I were away for Thanksgiving Weekend. There was Rome, and Hawaii … and of course, Chicago.  I did my first marathon in Chicago on a Thanksgiving Weekend.  Friends were involved that weekend too – we traveled with our good friends, Cathie and Bob.

Bob amused me throughout the 42 km course reciting all the words he knew in French – baguette, fromage, bouillabaise.  Yes, food was definitely involved in that trip.


But Cathie and Bob are in Thailand right now – which is where I’m supposed to be …. but I’m trying not to dwell on it – much.

So yeah.  Basically, Canadian Thanksgiving is nothing special.  The family will gather, a few friends, food and drink will be involved, but I won’t make much of an effort.


Because it’s not important – too much.



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Hitting The Streets Of Cabbagetown

There is a neighbourhood in Old Toronto called Cabbagetown.  Once one of the poorest areas of the city, it is now a highly popular and desired location.

It is reported to have the largest number of preserved Victorian homes anywhere in North America.  This is quite remarkable considering how many of them were destroyed in the 1950s – primarily in the southern part of neighbourhood – to make way for a new housing development.


It is believed that the label *Cabbagetown* originated in the mid-1800s when there was a large influx of impoverished Irish immigrants into the area.  Several families often lived in one house and the front yards were used to grow vegetables – primarily cabbages.

Click on any image to enlarge.

It’s not surprising therefore, that this neighbourhood would be a rich source of heritage buildings.

For today’s Thursday Doors, I’m featuring 3 of these heritage buildings. Each is a semi-detached of similar style, circa 1880.  In each one I love the 3 storey construction, side-by-side front doors, decorative glass panels, and window transom.

I especially like this 3rd one with the detailing on the 2nd storey windows.

When I first arrived in Toronto in the late 1970s, Cabbagetown was not a desirable address. Although gentrification had started, it was still a very gritty and rundown neighbourhood. Fast forward 3 decades later and this section of northern Cabbagetown was anything but rundown.


Each one of these lovingly restored homes would be worth well north of $1,000,000.

There was one door however that I found during my travels in Cabbagetown that clearly did not fit the mold of the others … but it was still a door belonging to one of the heritage buildings in my search.

Chamberlain Terrace is a series of row homes built in 1876 with apartments on the upper floors and retail underneath.  One of those retail outlets was a hardware store that caught my attention with its hanging metal tubs and a row of ladders in increasing size.


I loved everything about this scene from the small overhang over the doorway to the little second floor balcony shaded by a tree.

I was completely charmed by this excursion into Cabbagetown and I have to give Jude a special nod since it was her request that I venture into this area.  Jude is a serial blogger and can be found at Travel Words, The Earth Laughs In Flowers, and Under a Cornish Sky. It seemed appropriate to me that I would make this excursion on her birthday and I’m certain I will be back to visit more of this lovely neighbourhood.

Thursday Doors is a weekly photo feature hosted by Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0.  If you like doors, I encourage you to visit his site and follow the little blue frog to experience all kinds of doors from the elegantly simple to the simply amazing.



Posted in Around Toronto, history, photography, Random Stuff, Things I Like, Thursday Doors, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 100 Comments

To Everything There Is A Season

I have a theory.

This is a favourite expression of mine whenever there is something I’m trying to solve – sooner or later I get a working theory.

Lately I’ve been brooding over the idea that history seems to hold a growing attraction for us as we get older.  When we are children, history tends to make our eyes glaze over, but over time it becomes increasingly compelling.

My theory is that as children, history is just full of “old people” doing “old stuff”.

Youth is more interested in the immediacy of what’s modern and “trending”.  As we age, we have a greater empathy for the struggles and reality of life for those who came before us.

We are drawn into comparisons and our imaginations begin to wonder what was it like dealing with the differences. Some of us develop this fascination earlier than others.  Let’s just say I’ve been a bit of a late bloomer.

This is really just a long way of saying I’ve fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole because of the Toronto Heritage Building list I found.  Toronto’s history has become a bit of an obsession with me.

This week I went to St Andrew’s Church not far from where I live.  Back when son #1 was still a baby, and long before we moved into this area, we attended Christmas parties in the basement of this church.  I had only the vaguest recollection of the building and my strongest memory was of the very narrow tree-lined road.  I was curious to see it again.


St Andrew’s – 1849

However, once I got there, it wasn’t the church that captured my attention, but the small graveyard beside it.  I deliberately used the old word ‘graveyard’ rather than ‘cemetery’, because that’s exactly how it felt.


Maybe it was the autumn chill in the air, or the tinge of changing colour on the trees, but I was reminded of the biblical saying “to everything there is a season”.

Even the burial stones that mark the passing of a life start to fade over time and eventually are worn smooth – the life once remembered, now lost by time.

Then I began to notice something unusual. On so many of the stones there were hands, or a weeping willow – something I’ve never noticed before.


The next thing I knew, I was diving deeper into that rabbit hole.  I discovered that cemeteries, much like fashion and architecture, go through phases of what’s considered new and modern.  Who knew?!

In the 19th century, clasped hands and willow trees were ‘in vogue’ on burial stones.

The clasped hands were said to be a symbol of farewell to the earthly existence.  Where a husband and wife were buried together, it also symbolized the eternal unity of their relationship.

Personally, I think it just looks odd.


On some markers, there was only a single hand pointing upward ( I wish I had thought to remove the leaves on the pointing finger).  This is said to be a pious person pointing upward to heaven.


The willow tree is considerably more complicated and I found a couple of suggestions as to its meaning.   My favourite is that it was a symbol of renewal, growth, and immortality.

The willow tree apparently grows quickly and easily, even in difficult soil.  It was common to place willow branches in coffins and plant young trees on the grave.  It was believed that the spirit of the dead would rise as the tree grew.


In a hundred-plus years from now, I wonder what people will be saying about our more current burial practices.


My parents and grandparents – Cochrane, Ontario

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Changing Seasons: September Slides Away

What happened to this month?  One day it was sunny and warm as summer lingered here in the north. For a while, I was somewhat confused by all the school buses on the road twice a day … surely it was still mid-August.

Then I merely blinked and now we are in the final days of September.  It’s chilly, overcast, and definitely feeling like autumn is here.  As I try to warm up by the fireplace, I wonder where the month went and why was it in such a hurry to leave.

These are some of the sights from my September.  Click on a photo to enlarge.

Changing Seasons is a monthly photo feature hosted by Cardinal Guzman.



Posted in Around Toronto, Nature, photography, Random Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 103 Comments

Open The Gates

It’s time for Thursday Doors and the hounds are at the gate!

Ok, maybe there was just a blogger at the gate, but it doesn’t have quite the same punch, even if I did have a camera.

Once I got past the stripper club with its lap dances, my journey into the Garden District earlier this week resulted in the discovery of some lovely homes, great doors, and interesting gates.


I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate– Arthur Wing Pinero

heritage-gate5One of the purposes of my visit downtown was to see the “Bernard Hughes” house built in 1873.  It too had a lovely gate to keep the riffraff like me from venturing onto the property… although since the gate was left ajar, it was practically an invitation to go inside.

I resisted the temptation – barely.


Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information on the property – like, who exactly was Bernard Hughes? – but I did find an earlier photo of the property before its major facelift.


Photo from tobuilt.ca

The house I found had lost its Morticia Addams vibe and even the original iron fence had been replaced.


… but thankfully its lovely front door was saved.  I had to check to make sure there was no one peering at me from behind the curtains, and I love the hint of another interior archway that can be seen through the transom window.


This has been Thursday Doors, a weekly photo challenge hosted by the Door Master, Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0.



Posted in Around Toronto, history, photography, Random Stuff, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 85 Comments

Not Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood

My newest obsession is the list of Toronto heritage buildings I found online earlier this summer.  I’ve been poking away at it for a while, trying to make it user friendly so I can plan outings.

One of the interesting things I discovered on the list was an area of the city called the Garden District.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was the very same area I lived in when I first moved to Toronto back in the “olden days” when I was fresh out of university.


Trust me, there was nothing garden-y about this area when I lived there.

My curiosity prevailed and a quick trip downtown was in order.  I wasn’t surprised to discover that in spite of the new signs, it’s still pretty gritty in the old stomping grounds.

I had a tiny one bedroom, basement apartment in an old building on a tree-lined street. The street is still beautifully lined with trees, but I did a double-take on the sign outside my former 2-storey apartment building.

There was nothing *luxury* about the building when I lived there, and it’s even less luxurious today.


The small building now looks underwhelming with its scruffy cedars, metal mesh on the basement windows, and tall no-nonsense fence wrapped around the property.

Whatever charm it once had is now gone.


It was a pretty rough neighbourhood when I lived there.   A short distance away from my apartment was a low-brow hotel and stripper club.  Quelle surprise!  It was still there, although it’s received a bit of a face-lift since the early 80s.


The sign that once simply proclaimed GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! now seems to have found a new *enticing* angle. I haven’t decided whether they intended it to be ironic or not.

Back then, I was young and blessedly naive.  I didn’t worry about being robbed on my way home from the subway, or having my basement apartment being broken into.  I didn’t feel threatened by the people who obviously lived on the streets, or the occasional guy, liquored up from the Filmore, who would follow me home.

It’s different now.  I think aging makes us feel more vulnerable.  We’ve seen, heard, and been exposed to so much more – and a lot of it unpleasant.  That’s just a long way of saying I was acutely uncomfortable walking alone on the streets.

The groups of men clustered near the Seaton House, a shelter for men, didn’t help.  Was that shelter always there?!!  How could I not have noticed before?

But like many other areas of the city, the Garden District is slowly going through gentrification.  Beautifully restored homes are more common than not.

heritage-pembroke2So why is it called the Garden District?

The name was officially designated by City Council in 2001 in recognition of Allan Gardens, a indoor Conservatory sitting on the northeast border of the District.

Heritage - Allan Gardens.jpg

Photo taken this summer on the first day of Bike Rally in support of People With Aids Foundation

There is a lot of history in this area.  I think I will be back for many more visits … which makes me think how funny it is that we sometimes end up exactly where we started.



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The Island Life

My city has a wonderful little neighbourhood that’s precious to the people who live there, but carries a bohemian mystique for those who don’t.  I finally ventured into the heart of this treasure for the first time.

Sitting in Toronto Harbour, with a gorgeous view of the city skyline, is a cluster of islands known simply as the Toronto Islands.

Tucked away on the far east end of this archipelago is Ward’s and Algonquin Islands (which I will call The Island) – certainly the most unique neighbourhood I’ve seen in Toronto.


The history of this residential area is long and rather convoluted.  My description of it here is superficial at best.

From the late 1800s to the mid 1950s, the Toronto Islands was a thriving summer resort area. Hotels, hundreds of cottages, and numerous amenities lined the islands from east to west on lots created and leased by the city.


View of the Toronto skyline from Ward’s Island

By the end of the 1940s, people were taking up full time residency on the islands because of a housing shortage in the city after the war.

In the late 1950s, when the city decided to convert the islands to parkland, they began recovery of the leased lots and the buildings on them were demolished.


By the 1970s, around 250 cottages remained … all of them clustered on The Island.  These were residents who were refusing to leave and they began a long legal battle against the city to fight their eviction.

In 1993, the Ontario government finally ended the dispute when it passed the Toronto Island Residential  Community Stewardship Act (TIRS Act).  It placed the remaining island properties in a land trust and 99 year leases were sold to the residents.


The TIRS Act is complex and is administered by the trust.  When properties on The Island become available, they cannot go on the usual real estate market.

A special process was developed for the sale* of these properties to prevent land speculation and escalation in property values.  Properties can be offered only to those individuals on a waiting list … individuals who have paid to be on that list.

* the land is leased by the Island Land Trust, but the building on the property is owned by the tenant.  The TIRS Act uses a formula to calculate the value of both the lease and the building on it.

If you are lucky enough to get on the waiting list – which is capped at only 500 – it is estimated that it will take approximately 35 years for your name to bubble up close enough to the top to *maybe* be offered one of the leases that infrequently becomes available.


Owners of an Island lease are required to use the property as their principal residence although there is a provision for limited rental.

There are no motor vehicles in this neighbourhood.  The *roads* are only slightly wider than a typical suburban sidewalk and accommodates only pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

I nearly had a collision with another cyclist at one of these intersections … a terrifying event given my still-healing collarbone.


At the intersection of Bayview and Fifth St on Ward’s Island

During the years of dispute between the city and the residents, the cottages had fallen into disrepair because the city wouldn’t issue building permits.  That has now changed.

Large modern homes are starting to dot the neighbourhood, but small cottages still dominate the area.


The Island has a fire station and a water treatment plant exists on the west end of the islands, but all purchases have to be made on the mainland and brought back to The Island via the ferry service that runs all year round.


This post is part of the weekly photo challenge, Thursday Doors, hosted by Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0.


Posted in Photo Challenges, Random Stuff, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , | 103 Comments