Category Archives: Personal Life

A Photo Essay of Toronto in October

A tree bursting with bright yellow leaves in October. Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the ninth instalment of this series.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, August, and September  to read the earlier posts. October’s photos were taken on multiple visits to the park this time for two reasons:

Reason #1: Climate change has brought about season creep in temperate climates like this one. Among many other changes, this means that plants here tend to bud earlier and hang onto their leaves longer than they used to. Not every species changes colour at the same time, either!

Reason #2: October can be quite rainy in southern Ontario. This isn’t a good time for making firm outdoors plans weeks or even days in advance. Instead, we take advantage of nice, sunny weather whenever it happens.

The temperature was generally between 10 and 15 Celsius (50 to 60 Fahrenheit) on my visits this month. I wore pants (or trousers if you’re from the U.K.), a t-shirt, sneakers, and a light to medium jacket depending on how cold and sharp the wind was. It’s almost always windy now, and my curls would like you all to know they formally disapprove of that hairstyle-mussing nonsense.

There will come a time when it will be too cold, wet, and icy to enjoy a leisurely visit to park. Luckily, that is still a few months away yet. For now such things are still possible on most days. Landscape photo of a World War I monument behind a crosswalk and in front of several trees that are changing from green to yellow as autumn deepens.

Some trees are still mostly green. Others are well into the process of changing into their autumn colours.

close-up shot of a World War I monument in a park whose trees have begun turning colours in October.

The  bushes by the monument are still green. If memory serves, they may remain this way until December. Let’s see if I’m right!

A somewhat damp running trail at a park. It is flanked by trees whose leaves are just beginning to turn from green to yellow

But I don’t want to give you a false impression of what the park is like. There are still many (mostly) green trees in it, although if you look carefully at their leaves you’ll see  hints of the colours they’ll fully reveal in the near future.

The other difference between the running trail between now and last month is that it’s softening up again. There’s little dust to be found there now. All of that autumn rain has to soak into somewhere, and it will eventually make this trail too muddy and slippery to use as winter approaches and we begin getting snow and ice, too.

Fewer people are using it now than at the peak, but I still see joggers and walkers doing their laps every time I visit.

A tree whose leaves are red on the topmost branches and still green on the bottom ones.

This is a striking season of change. We’re inching closer and closer to the time when our trees will be at their peak of autumn beauty, but we’re not quite there yet.

The average person wouldn’t notice many differences in the landscape from the end of May to the beginning of September, but now you can find differences from one day to the next!

A maple tree filled with bright red leaves on a cloudless October day.

You can often see trees that are nearly at their peak of colour next to ones that have only barely begun to change. The juxtaposition between the two is striking. (Yes, that is my shadow in the photo).

A canopy of leaves. Some are still green, while others have begun turning yellow or orange in the autumn season.

The famous canopy remains. It rustles even more now than ever before, and there are bright splashes of colour almost everywhere you look.

Dozens of leaves lying on a grassy patch of land.

The ground is changing, too. Not only is it beginning to be covered by fallen leaves, you can also feel and see acorns, twigs, and sticks on it. I walk a bit more slowly on it now than I did in the spring and summer.

Since the land can be bumpy and uneven in places, spraining an ankle or tripping is easier now than it was in the summer (although still much less likely than on an icy or snowy day).

My hope for November is to show you all photos of what the forest floor looks like when most of the leaves have fallen. It can be several inches or more of debris to wade through. I often can’t see my shoes at all when I walk through it the deepest parts!

A branch filled with red berries. Here are some plump red berries in the park. I hope the squirrels and other wildlife are enjoying them as we settle into what will soon be the depths of autumn.

Speaking of the squirrels, this is the time of year when they are very busy gathering up food for the winter. A park where several black squirrels are collecting nuts off of the forest floor.

You’ll see them everywhere you look. Sometimes they even chase each other up and down the trunks of their favourite trees.

A tree that lost half of its branches and some of its trunk in a 2020 storm has begun to change from green to yellow autumn leaves.

How are our tree friends doing?

The one that lost about half of its branches is well on the way to reaching peak autumn colour. I look forward to seeing how it does over the winter. It’s really seemed to have grown well this year.

A tree that lost a third of its branches in a 2020 winter storm has begun to turn orange for the autumn 2020 season.

And I continue to worry about our friend who lost about a third of its branches. The remaining branches continue to droop, and the gash in its trunk is filled with wood that looks oddly wet. Is this part of the healing process, or is the wood rotting? Only time will tell.

A tree-lined path in a park. Most of the leaves are still green, but a few are turning yellow.

But there are still green portions of the park. If you don’t peer at individual leaves too closely and ignore the chill in the air, one can almost pretend its still summer on a sunny day.

I look forward to sharing more striking autumn photos next month. Perhaps I’ll mix them in with later photos of the trees as they lose most of their leaves. (Some brown, dead leaves hang on well into winter). As you’ve all noticed, we still have a ways to go before we reach peak colour.

This series will conclude in January, but I’m thinking about providing a spring update once we know the winter fates of these two unlucky trees if you’re all interested in that.

A Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe for Halloween and Thanksgiving

A slice of pumpkin chocolate chip cake on a black and white side plate

I’m veering a little off-topic today and sharing one of my favourite autumn recipes.This is something I found on a vegan blog many years ago. If that site still existed, I’d link to it and give credit.

Not only is this cake dairy-free, it can be soy, egg, and nut-free as well as long as you select allergen-safe chocolate chips for it.

This means that it can be shared with many different types of people who are often otherwise left out of the dessert festivities during Thanksgiving, Halloween, and other holidays.

And who doesn’t love inclusive desserts?

 

Ingredients

Cupcakes (double these measurements for a cake)

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour (all purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Cinnamon Icing (Optional)

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp melted vegan margarine (or similar oil/fat substitute)
1 Tbsp non dairy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

A pumpkin chocolate chip cupcake on a decorative side plate

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, stir the first 5 ingredients. Then sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in a second bowl. Stir with a fork as using a hand mixer will make the batter gummy. Once combined, fold in chocolate chips.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full (if making cupcakes) and bake for 22-24 minutes or until a toothpick pushed into the middle of one of them comes out clean.

If you’re making a cake, lightly grease an 11×7 baking pan, pour it in, and bake it while using the same toothpick trick to see when it’s done. This takes about 30-35 minutes in my oven.

Cool completely before icing them.

To make the icing, stir all of those ingredients together gently. The icing will naturally be a bit runny, so you really don’t want to be using it on a warm cake that will only make it runnier.

Like I said before, double this recipe for a cake.

Yes, you can use any sort of oil you have on hand. I recommend using white flour for it, but do let me know how it is with whole wheat pastry flour if you decide to go that route.

The pumpkin puree makes this cake quite moist and dense. The sugar and chocolate chips create a pretty sweet treat, so I generally skip the icing altogether.

This cake freezes well. Let it thaw gently at room temperature for a few hours or until it’s soft all the way through.

My local grocery store sells chocolate chips that are free of the top eight allergens, including milk, soy, eggs, and nuts. If you can’t find something similar at your local grocery store, check any health food stores that might be nearby. You could also order them online in many areas if you plan ahead a little.

Enjoy!

6 Toronto Urban Legends for Halloween

Since most of the people who read this site don’t live in Toronto and Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year by far, this seemed like the perfect time to share some of our spooky local urban legends.

Blurry photo taken of a moving subway trainThe Lady in Red

Lower Bay subway station was built in 1966 and shut down six months later because the Toronto Transit Commission realized that any delays at that stop would shut down our entire subway system.

A new subway station was built on top of it, and the original one is only rarely available for public viewing.

Legend has it that a woman wearing a red dress wanders around Lower Bay station, but no one knows who she is

. There are no records of accidents that might explain why this spirit spooks TTC employees and the occasional film crew that wander around down there.

We do know that this patch of land was once a Potter’s Field whose coffins were partially cleared out when the city wanted space for public transit, so she might be the ghost of someone who either had no next of kin when she died or who was abandoned by them.

The Underwater UFO Base in Lake Ontario

Multiple people have reported seeing lights shimmering over, plunging into, or leaping out of Lake Ontario. These sightings have given rise to the legend that there is an underwater UFO base located in the bottom of this lake.

Perhaps the aliens come from an aquatic planet and wouldn’t do well out here on dry land?

Nessie Lives in Lake Ontario

You’ve heard of the Loch Ness monster, right?

The Seneca First Nations tribe were the first people to record sightings of our own sea monster. As early as the 1850s, white settlers claimed to see something much bigger than the average fish swimming around in Lake Ontario as well. They described it as a blue-grey serpent that was about 50 feet long.

A Haunting at Old Finch Road

There are many different versions of this tale. They all tend agree that a girl was murdered on Old Finch Road, possibly near a bridge.

Many versions say she died on her birthday and will appear to you if you sing Happy Birthday to her because the person who murdered her wrote “Happy Birthday, Susie” on a nearby rock after killing her. (Although the victim’s name changes quite a bit depending on which version of the story you hear).

Some people have also claimed to hear screams and moans when travelling along this road.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Island

gibraltar point lighthouse on Toronto Island in Toronto, Ontario
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Mr. John Paul Rademuller was the first lighthouse keeper on this little island back when it was still a peninsula. In order to make some extra money, he was a brewer and bootlegger as well.

Legend has it that two drunken sailors came to visit him one day to buy some of his beer. When Rademuller refused to sell it to them, they killed him, dismembered his body, and buried pieces of it around the island.

In some versions of this tale, it is said that parts of him were eventually found but that his head was never recovered at all. Other versions say his ghost still continues to wander the island because his killers were never punished for their crime and not because parts of his skeleton might still be waiting to be found.

Allegedly, there were some bones found near the lighthouse in 1893, but investigators didn’t yet have the scientific tools to tell if they belonged to Mr. Rademuller or not.

Mrs. Jemima Howard’s Last Days

The unique thing about Mrs. Howard is that we have many historical records that document her life. She was the wife of John G. Howard, and they both gave the land that would later become High Park to the city of Toronto after their deaths.

Mr. and Mrs. Howard lived happily in Colborne Lodge for many years. They never had children, but they doted on their nieces and nephews who temporarily came to live with them while  finishing their educations.

Sadly, Jemima Howard was diagnosed with breast cancer long before we had any treatments for it other than morphine and laudanum for her pain. She died at home in her own bed surrounded by loved ones. If she looked out her window, she could see the spot where she (and later her husband) would be buried.

Their headstone is the only one allowed in High Park, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful spot a short distance from their home.

Some visitors to Colborne Lodge have reported seeing a woman peering out of the second story bedroom where Jemima spent her last days. Others have reported cold spots and poltergeist activity.

Maybe Jemima never left home after all.

What is your favourite urban legend from your city, town, or community?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in September

A red leaf lying on the ground. Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the eighth instalment of this series.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, and August to read the earlier posts. It was  13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit) and slightly cloudy during this month’s visit.

September is a wildcard month like March. This was one of the cooler days in it so far, but we’ve also had days that were about 30 C (86 F). Last year, our September was just as hot and humid as August was.

If you ever visit southern Ontario in this time of year, remember to pack for both extremes of temperature. You might shiver one day and perspire the next. Even locals can’t assume anything about next week’s weather based on what we’re wearing today which is why my wardrobe currently includes everything I own other than my thickest winter sweaters in it. Ha!

Two things make September look and feel different from August other than the unpredictable temperatures swings that happen as the seasons change. One, the humidity generally goes down. Two, a few trees begin to change colour before the dramatic shift that will come in October.

But before we talk about that, I sadly must show you our Covid-19 protests. This shot was taken at a distance so you can also see the greenery at the park.

Landscape portrait of a park in September. There is a road in the foreground and green trees in the background.

Are they protesting for better wages for the doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers saving lives? More personal protective equipment for frontline workers? A stronger social safety net for everyone who has suffered financially during this pandemic? Free counselling for anyone who needs it?

Shot of World War I memorial at a park. Sign on the memorial says "Covid-19 survival rate 99.8%"
The sign said: “Covid-19 survival rate: 99.8%.”

No, they’re protesting because they don’t want to wear masks, prevent the spread of disease, or listen to the experts on public health, epidemiology, and medicine. I respect everyone’s right to protest, but please note that most of us are taking this pandemic seriously and are embarrassed and annoyed by the small percentage of Canadians represented here.

This shot was taken from a distance in order to protect the identities of the protestors. May they and their loved ones stay healthy and never learn the hard way just how dangerous this virus is.

In more cheerful news, look how green the trees remain!

A tree-lined running path in a park.

You could almost think it’s still August here. The running path remains as busy and dusty as always for this time of year.

A park filled with green, lush trees.

Many portions of the park look as green and lush as ever.

A thick, green canopy of leaves under a blue sky

The canopy of leaves is nearly as thick as it was last month. Have you noticed any of the subtle changes yet?

A humongous tree whose leaves have just begun to turn yellow.

Maybe this will help. Most trees are still 100% green, but some of them are showing the first signs of their autumn colours. It can be fairly subtle like this tree…

A sapling whose leaves are 70% green, 30% red.

Or a bit more advanced like this sapling whose leaves seem to be about 30% red…

A tree that is more than 50% turned into its autumn colours

Or well ahead of the curve with about half of its leaves changing….

 

A tree with one-third bare branches, one-third red branches, and one-third green leaves still on it.

Or even like this oddity that is simultaneously bare, covered in red leaves, and still hanging on to the green ones. My spouse and I wonder if this is normal for large, towering trees in a forest. Maybe they get the lion’s share of strong winds that rip off their leaves as soon as they’re the tiniest bit loose?

A tree that had half of its leaves shorn off in last winters storm now growing strong in september

Our tree friend that lost half its branches last winter seems to be thriving. All of its leaves are still green, and its trunk looks as solid as can be expected given the damage it sustained last winter.

A tree that lost a third of its branches. It's remaining branches are drooping, and the trunk looks like it will split in half

But the tree friend that lost about a third of its branches doesn’t seem to be doing well. Many of its branches are bent over now, and the crack in its trunk seems to be widening and creating new, smaller cracks in its wake.

I’ve avoided walking underneath its branches for some time now. Many of them are large and quite heavy looking.

Close-up shot of a badly damaged trunk of tree with deep cracks in it.

This was as close as I dared get. As I’ve said before, I’m not an arborist, but this tree really doesn’t look healthy to me. I hope I’m wrong about that and it wakes up stronger than ever next spring.

A bare tree against a green one

On a lighter note, this is the time of year when you can see a tree that has lost all of its leaves right next to one that’s still green. That juxtaposition always makes me smile.

A bush whose leaves have begun to turn red.

Do you remember how I told you all to look at the ground six months ago when seeking out the first signs of spring? That rule doesn’t really apply in the autumn.

Bushes and trees alike are showing the first hints of their autumn colours. Whether you look up, down, or all around, you’ll find them with a little bit of patience.

A shaded stone path through a park.

The famous stone walkway remains more or less the same shady, green spot its been since May for the time being.

Ontario seems to have entered our second wave of Covid-19 infections, but I don’t expect that to interrupt this series.  Our parks always remained opened for socially-distanced walkers and joggers even when the first wave of cases was as its highest and all other park amenities were closed (including benches for a brief time last spring!) If I get sick or if Toronto’s bylaws unexpectedly change in ways that require this series to be paused, I will let you all know about it as soon as possible.

Next month will bring dramatic and, in my opinion, breathtaking changes for our foliage. I can’t wait to share it with you all! Stay safe, friends. I cherish these virtual walks with all of you.

Why I’m Starting My Light Therapy Sessions Earlier This Year

A hand reaching up to touch a bright lightbulbI am not a doctor, and this post is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see if light therapy lamps are right for you.

Last winter I talked about how much light therapy helps me with my winter blues.

When I stopped using it during our sunniest months here in Ontario, I wondered when I should start up again but decided to defer that decision until autumn.

This spring and summer were filled with the glorious light that lifts my mood every year. Like life for almost everyone else on Earth, they were also filled with the cancellation of many long-anticipated events thanks to Covid-19.

I smiled and made the best of the outdoor, physically-distanced activities that were still safe to do, but with autumn coming up I wondered how my mental health would fare once it was cold and dark here once again.

This isn’t meant to sound like a complaint, by the way. Cancelling all of those festivals, parades, and events was absolutely the right thing to do from a public health perspective. I’m also grateful for my good physical health, safe home, and all of the other advantages I have that so many others do not.

And yet there is also something sad about missing out on almost everything you love about spring and summer only to begin the plunge into another long, dark cold season. This became even more true as I read about the cancellation of Halloween on Church and our mayor discussing the possibility of cancelling trick-or-treating as well. My favourite holiday will either be cancelled altogether or is going to be nothing at all like it was in the past.

At this point, I suspect every upcoming holiday will be celebrated virtually, within the same household (or small social bubble), or not at all until enough people have been vaccinated against this disease to stop it in its tracks.

There’s nothing I can do to change things like these. What I could do was start using my light therapy lamp earlier this month as soon as the first faint whispers of autumn appeared in the form of dark, cloudy days.

A blue lamp that is turned on and releasing light against a plain white wall. I’d forgotten how bright it was. That one little lamp fills the whole room with light and still has some left over to spare.It doesn’t emit heat the way the sun does when you’re outside on a bright summer day, but it otherwise feels something similar to that experience.

(Yes, I purposefully picked photos of dimmer lights for this post. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes).

It’s still a little too early for me to feel the effects of it, but that also means it should start working long before November arrives and we start seeing sunsets before 5 pm.

What creative ways are you planning to celebrate upcoming holidays?  If you also have a light therapy lamp, when did or will you begin using it this year?

Happy Labour Day

Happy Labour Day! Wikipedia tells me that this holiday is celebrated at many different points of the year depending on which country you live in. I wasn’t previously aware of this as the only two countries I’ve lived in, Canada and the United States, both celebrate it on the same day each year. Labour Day… Read More

5 Homeschooling Tips From a Homeschooler

I recently read that there has been a surge of families interested in homeschooling thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. As someone who was homeschooled for several years, I have some tips to share for anyone who is planning to or thinking about homeschooling their kids this year. Before we dive into the meat of this… Read More

Do Your Reading Habits Fluctuate By Season?

My reading habits have followed a pretty predictable pattern for years now. Summer In early summer, I spend too much time outside enjoying the comfortable weather to read much. This period of time doesn’t last long, so I’d generally rather go hiking or do other outdoor activities that will soon become uncomfortable when the first… Read More