Appreciating My Own Backyard #3: A Busy Weekend

What a packed weekend this has been. I can’t believe I crammed *so* much in to such a short time.

Friday night Sage and I went to the market in the middle of our neighbourhood, Thorncliffe Park. It was a beautiful day so the place was bustling. The splash pad was going, kids were running all about. The community tandoor was fired up and churning out naan as fast as people could eat it. Sellers were offering everything from dresses to scarves to bulk dried goods and snacks. We had hoped to see the woman who sold the excellent chicken biryani. She had also sold a chicken korma I wanted to try but sadly she wasn’t around. A woman called me over, finished up her previous transaction in Urdu and offered me samosas. My promise to myself in this neighbourhood has been that if people before me spoke Urdu, I would give it a shot myself (now the folks at the restaurant in the nearby food court barely use English with me) – it’s good practice and I like to surprise people. This woman didn’t seem surprised at all (who knows, after two days in the massive city of Varanasi would come up to me – I guess my glasses make me easy to identify.  Once my samosa chaat was made she offered some pakoras as well and I brought them over to where Sage was.

Sage, meanwhile was getting set up – this would be her second (of probably three) appearances in the market telling folk tales to children.  After a few minutes it was time to start.


This time some of the volunteers went around and let kids know it was happening and what a difference it made. At one point, over 25 kids were listening and shouting out contributions to everything from Anansi to Baba Yaga.

At the end of her set, Sage and I headed home. The cold she was fighting off seemed to finally catch up with her and we relaxed around the house, watching ridiculous episodes of British panel shows on the couch.

The next day I had a couple of major things planned. The first required that I get up early – 5:00 AM.  A 9 year old boy, James, was planning to leave on his bike for Ottawa – almost 400 kilometres away.  James is on the autism spectrum and was originally hoping to raise $10 for every year since Canada’s confederation (150 years ago). That money will go to the Grandview Children’s Centre – a centre supporting special needs kids and youth in the region. James’ Gofundme page says: “For the past 2 years, James has been on waitlist to get services from Grandview Children’s Centre in Durham Region. Unfortunately, Grandview is struggling with a funding crisis and currently has about 2700 other kids waiting for service. They cannot hope to meet the needs of every kid on their list. Fortunately for us, James’ file is progressing soon. Many other kids are still waiting though. ”

Anyway, he was to leave from a nearby suburb at 7:00 AM and I’d reserved a car – conveniently located in our building’s parking lot. (Who needs to own a car when you can borrow one only when you need it?).  I got out the door a little late but it was still do-able. But then something unexpected came up: Google Maps was broken. Instead of giving me directions it would just tell me the first thing to do and never tell me anything else. Looking at the app it also seemed that my position wasn’t always clear – off by a long ways sometimes.  But I decided to give it a go and drove out there. It was a nice ride, watching the sunrise and the streetlights and storefront signs go out.

I made several wrong turns, but finally found the park. Nobody was there though. I ran around looking but came up with nothing.  I drove away then decided to pull over, download twitter, and ask someone I knew was going to be there. He gave me some directions and I finally got there. About five minutes after he left.

Of course I know that he doesn’t know who I am and I wasn’t missed but at the same time I really wanted to see him off. I know how much it means to have folks cheering you on and I wanted to be a part of it – so I was pretty disappointed. Doubtless more so thanks to having a tired brain. Still, it’s exciting that he got on the road – and the updates on his twitter feed are exciting

And so, after chatting with one of the people still left at the site and looking at the photos she took, I got back in the car and drove home.

I had about 45 minutes to get ready for my next planned activity. I quickly whipped up a breakfast for Sage (homemade waffles) and one for me (not enough flour to make more than a small one for myself so I had some eggs, carrots, and hummus) and then got my bike ready to go out.

Off I went down in to the ravine to ride a few km east of here to the start of the Reading Line. According to the organizers, this ride, now in its fourth year, was conceived as a combination of two of their passions: books and bikes. Participants in this free event would ride to three different venues and would hear authors reading and talking about their books at each stop. Not only does this promote reading and literacy as well as cycling, it raises awareness of the need for better infrastructure while also sharing some of the city’s best existing infrastructure with the participants.

We started at the Children’s Peace Theatre – a beautiful venue I’d never visited before, hidden away in the trees next to the Massey Creek.  The event opened with Adwoa Badoe who shared a fantastic Anansi story I hadn’t heard before. (for those keeping score that’s now one Anansi story per day for the weekend so far). After that, Catherine Hernandez read from her new (and now finalist for the Toronto Book Award) book, Scarborough. It caught my eye at the bookstore a few nights ago when Daegan and I stopped by but her reading sold me on it. It was so good! I have it on hold at the library now.  Here’s how Goodreads described it:

Scarborough is a low-income, culturally diverse neighborhood east of Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America; like many inner city communities, it suffers under the weight of poverty, drugs, crime, and urban blight. Scarborough the novel employs a multitude of voices to tell the story of a tight-knit neighborhood under fire: among them, Victor, a black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education.

And then there are the three kids who work to rise above a system that consistently fails them: Bing, a gay Filipino boy who lives under the shadow of his father’s mental illness; Sylvie, Bing’s best friend, a Native girl whose family struggles to find a permanent home to live in; and Laura, whose history of neglect by her mother is destined to repeat itself with her father.

Scarborough offers a raw yet empathetic glimpse into a troubled community that locates its dignity in unexpected places: a neighborhood that refuses to be undone.

After that, we headed out en masse – about 30 of us now, and made our way to the Toronto Brickworks. A former industrial site now turned in to a lovely park and venue for art installations and a fantastic farmer’s market. A nice thing I discovered along the way was that it is now really easy and stress free to get there by bike thanks to a newly installed fully protected bike lane on busy Bayview Avenue. I’ll definitely be going back.



There we got to see several authors – the standout there was Robert Burley, a photographer who published a book of photographs about Toronto’s ravines, An Enduring Wilderness, Toronto’s Natural Parklands. One of my favourite things about this city is the sheer number of “untamed” parks – wooded areas along streams with maybe a path or two through them but tons of space that has not been manicured.  Nadha Hassen talked about her work studying the importance of parks – and their quantity/quality/accessibility on mental health (I’m really excited to learn more of what she’s finding out). Alissa York read from her newest book but what caught my interest was another book she wrote that took place in the very ravine we were sitting in.

Oddly enough, I was still feeling a bit down and disappointed, though. I couldn’t shake the mood that I’d picked up in the morning. Maybe I needed a nap.

Off we went again, this time on Bayview itself. But as the bike lane didn’t go all the way to where we needed to go. The answer was brought to us in flashing lights: police lights, that is. Two police cruisers from 53 Division were waiting outside for our group.  We had one leading the way, and a second bringing up the rear. In between there were now about 50 of us as we’d picked up a few folks along the way. On the way I chatted with someone about city politics and the progress we’d made on cycling infrastructure. I noticed soon after that my mood had begun to improve.



Eventually we got to our last stop, Corktown Common. There we heard Ayelet Tsabari read from The Best Place on Earth. Her selection, a snapshot from a newly immigrated teenager’s life in Tel Aviv was really interesting. In the Q&A she was asked a question about how she managed to do so well at addressing “The situation” as she called it and she talked about Tel Aviv feeling like a bubble where things outside didn’t affect you too much and so folks often ignored it to keep themselves sane. I have to admit, I feel much the same way in my delightful Toronto bubble as I look south across the lake at the US.

Jane Farrow talked about the Queer History of Toronto and read some from a book she co-edited, Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. I knew some of the events she talked about but not all of them. Things may be relatively good here now for LGBTQ people (still loads of progress needed, mind you), but it was not always this way and it took the work of a lot of dedicated people to get to where we are – and to keep things from regressing when folks would try every now and again.

Tobin Garrett talked about his book about “Park Cruising” – the piece he read – a lot of quotes from folks he interviewed about it, was really interesting. I know very little about it and it’s funny that as prevalent as it is, it’s rarely talked about – at least, I suppose, outside of the circles of folks who do it.

By the end there was quite a crowd of us – and we were lucky enough to be able to partake in free pizza – even vegan pizza (which was awesome for me as I’m lactose intolerant).

(Trivia: Up until January we lived in the tower closest to us in that photo)

After it was all over, I got on my bike and headed home.20170826_162349.jpg

The ride home was a bit faster and more strenuous but still quite lovely. It was good to get a bit of exercise (my watch is telling me now that I’m “undertrained” (Yeah, I know, I have to get back on that bike again…) It was about a 30 minute ride – about 15 minutes faster than it would have been had I taken transit.

When I got home I visited a friend and then went out to do a bit of shopping. The day was so packed that I didn’t want to make dinner and so I picked up takeout kebabs from the shop across the street.

Today was equally busy though I got way more sleep than before. In the morning Sage and I played a few different games for chores. I won most of them but even the loser does chores by our rules – they just get to choose a less arduous one and so things were looking pretty good by the time I was done.  While we did it, I rediscovered the fact that we have a 3 disc CD changer. We tossed some library CDs in and were on our way. Yay!

Inspired by yesterday’s ride, I packed up my bike again and went out to do some errands. I put a pannier on the bike and headed out the door.  All told I rode only about 10 km but got a lot done and was out for almost an hour.  Now the cats have food, Sage has office supplies (and I have a mouse for my laptop), and Daegan has a bottle brush to clean the 80 year old bottles he’s been digging out of the ravine.  And most importantly, the cats have food. Something for everyone.  When I got home there was someone moving in so one elevator was in use, a second elevator was broken and so we had only a single elevator to manage about 200 apartments. I got on and not paying attention, got off when I thought it was my stop (I was meant to be the last). I walked all the way up to the door and as I walked up I heard a cat crying. “Yes, I know, I’m on my way with food.”  I put my key in and it didn’t move. I looked up and I was horrified to find that I was trying to open someone’s apartment 6 stories below us.  Knowing it would take a long time for me to get the one elevator (if it wasn’t packed anyway) and not wanting the owner of that apartment to come out and ask what I was doing, I went in to the stairwell and carried my bike and its full bag (24 cans of cat food among other things) up to our apartment. *whew*

I had two things planned for today – but after the errands in the morning and maybe a bit too much relaxing at home, I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I could feel myself on my way to feeling bad again – clearly I need to be a bit less worried about getting everything done perfectly. I put it out of my mind, though, and got on the road.

Tamilfest was in the far northeast section of the city and it took me well over an hour to get there and so I read most of the way. (OK, for some reason I was pretty sleepy and so for a good part of the trip I struggled to stay awake)

The festival was packed with people with great (and deafening) music.  Aside from SO many bouncy castles and booths for services (car dealers, politicians, etc) there wasn’t a huge draw for me. Which would be a problem if the food were not amazing. That alone was worth the trip:

I started off at a booth with only Tamil script and the English word “BBQ” on it (I saw no BBQ there). What I did see was this out front, though:

20170827_163025.jpgI couldn’t tell what it was but it looked delicious.  So I ordered that and some of the chickpeas that the woman in front of me had ordered:

The chickpeas were just OK. A little bland. But there was something about the soup. The person in front of me who ordered it saw me order it and laughed when he saw me order it and said “Spicy seafood chowder”.  As I ate it, three more strangers came up to me, looked at it then asked me if I liked it and if it was too spicy for me.  It was amazing and delicious. There was lots of fish, bits of shrimp and was filled with chilies. So good.

Then I walked a bit further and came across a man shouting rapidly in to a megaphone: “coffeeteavada” (Coffee, Tea, Vada) (lentil donuts).  I couldn’t pass it up.


More yumminess. I still wanted something sweet, though. Luckily some students were selling fresh fruit and so I ordered fresh pineapple. Here they offered chili powder to put on your pineapple which was absolute genius.


Then, after all these snacks I was thirsty. After seeing it around for years, I finally decided to try sugar cane juice – the students were also selling that.


I’ve seen it so many times but had avoided it in part because I thought it would be super sweet. It was sweet but soft drinks and some fruit juices are sweeter. It was really refreshing.

And now, I’ve managed time poorly again. I’m running late for making dinner. Time to whip something up quickly. Refried Bean Burritos from scratch (I did pre-cook the beans so it shouldn’t take long). Ciao!



3 thoughts on “Appreciating My Own Backyard #3: A Busy Weekend

  1. I’m lactose intolerant, too! How nice that they had vegan pizza for you! And how sweet of you to let Sage have the Waffles for breakfast. That spicy seafood chowder looks and sounds amazing!! You should try pineapple with a li’l salt and some chili flakes, so yummy! Loved all the pictures and you got to do SO many fun things this weekend, don’t feel bad because you didn’t get to do absolutely everything!

    Hope you got burritos cooked on time, haha 😄

    1. Thanks – yeah, I think for me it’s very much about failing to do something I set out to do. The reality is probably that I need to work on some combination of better (more realistic) planning, less procrastinating getting out the door, and probably most important, being in the moment. Yesterday I let a mistake I made early on ruin much of my experiences for hours later. That’s a ridiculous thing to do. As I was riding home on the bus I realized that of course this one event today was all I should have tried to do anyway. It was about 2-2.5 hours of travel plus whatever I did while there. To add another thing – another hour away in a different direction was just too much.

      Mmm – salt sounds good on it as well. Thanks for the idea! Someone else turned me on to fresh peaches with chili powder and lime juice which is amazing. For a few weeks I got on a kick of whipping up a quick mango salad with fresh chili, lime, sugar and fish sauce as a TV snack. That was amazing. Lately I’ve been lazy – frozen grapes are often my quick fruit snack. They *are* pretty tasty!

      1. You should be proud of yourself, a lot of people just sit at home and read all day… (aka me😂)

        Thanks for all the fruit suggestions….I’ll have to try ’em all, yummy! I like frozen grapes too. Mmm. 😊

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