Category Archives: Personal Life

A Canada Day Like No Other

A canadian flag flying with mountains and pine forests in the background. I remember a Canada Day spent on a rooftop party hosted by a friend of a friend. The view was spectacular.

I remember a Canada Day when I felt asleep early only to be awoken by fireworks being set off nearby.

I remember a Canada Day where I took a long nap and relished that precious day off from work after several big changes there.

I remember a Canada Day that commemorated my country’s 150th birthday. It was my favourite one so far. There were massive celebrations everywhere. I spent hours listening to the live music, soaking up the happy energy of the crowds, and eating delicious treats like beaver tails (that is, the pastry and not the rodent) and seasoned french fries. That particular celebration lasted for several days instead of only one.

This Canada Day can’t be like the others for reasons all of us already know far too well.

Our government is setting up virtual celebrations for everyone so we can share joy, not germs. I hope there will be some good music to listen to and a fireworks display if possible. And I reserve the right to get a Beaver Tail later on this summer once the Canada Day lines for it are long gone.

It’s tricky enough to predict next week or next month, so who knows what will or won’t be possible next year depending on if there’s a vaccine for Covid-19 by that point. What I do know is that this year is going to be a unique one regardless of what happens in the future.

My plan is to pay attention and remember as much as I possibly can about the similarities and differences between 2020 and the years that came before it. Just like I always have a million questions about what it was like to live through any number of historical events that still remain in living memory, I suspect that future generations will have the same questions for us.

May all of their questions be answered one day. In the meantime, Happy Canada Day to all of my fellow Canadians! I hope we all find new, creative ways to enjoy this holiday this year.

A Photo Essay of Toronto in June

A park filled with large oak and other trees. 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 fifth instalment of this series.

Click on February, MarchApril, and May to read the earlier posts. It was 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and sunny this time which I think is the perfect weather for a park visit.

June is a transitional month that includes large temperature swings. The early part of it can see high temperature of 10 to 15 Celsius (55 to 60 Fahrenheit), while a few days to weeks later the hottest point of the day could leap to 35 to 40 Celsius (95 to 104 Fahrenheit).

That is to say, keep your shorts and sandals handy in June….but don’t put warmer clothing into storage quite yet! The nights can still be chilly, and this can be a stormy time of year as well.

Landscape snapshot of a healthy, green forest at the edge of a park.

Let’s take a look at the park from a distance. Isn’t it green and vibrant? Every tree that survived the winter has sprouted its full complement of leaves now. The effects of all of that greenery is stunning.

World War I statue surrounded by luscious green trees.

All of the bushes, trees, and other plants around the statue at the front of the park are green and vibrant.

Top half of world war I statue surrounded by the peaks of tall trees.

There was a time when you could see through to other parts of the park from this vantage point. That time has passed for now.

A dirt running trail in a park.

The running trail is dustier now then it was in May. See also: my new shoes that got covered in dust while I was exercising there the other day. Luckily, they wiped clean again easily.

This trail is otherwise about the same as last month. Barring thunderstorms, I expect it to remain firm and dry until the rainy autumn begins. This is even more true this year due to the fact that the longterm prediction for Ontario’s summer weather is calling for less rain than usual.

Shot of various canopies of leaves from trees against a bright blue sky.

I think you all knew this shot was coming. There’s nothing like standing underneath a canopy of thick, healthy leaves and hearing them rustle in the wind.

 

A sun dappled sidewalk in a park. There is an empty bench in the background.

And another sun-dappled sidewalk. I’m so grateful for the massive trees that provide all of this shade. The rest of my summer visits will probably happen early or late in the day to avoid the full brunt of the midday heat and humidity, but even then standing in the shade makes things much more comfortable outdoors.

Stump of a tree that's been cut down.

Sadly, not every tree survived the winter. One huge change I noticed between May and June is that city workers have finally cut down the dead trees and carted away all of the broken branches I shared in previous posts in this series. That was a welcome surprise!

A tree that lost half of it's trunk in a winter storm. The left half that remains has sprouted green, vibrant leaves.

But our two tree friends who were badly damaged last winter are doing incredibly well.

A large tree that lost about a third of its branches in a winter storm. It is now green and vibrant at the end of spring.

Seeing all of the healthy leaves they’ve sprouted this season gives me a lot of hope for their longterm survival.

The park has been quite busy this month in general. While restrictions on what people can do continue to be lifted, folks seem to be spending more time outdoors this year due to all of the news reports we’ve heard about it being safer to spend time outdoors than in stores or other places where everyone is constantly breathing the same air.

I do expect park activity to slow down as it gets hotter and more humid outside, but it’s quite possible that won’t happen. So much depends on if the rate of new Covid-19 cases continues to drop in Ontario and which entertainment venues, if any, will be deemed safe to reopen before autumn arrives.

Stay safe, friends! I look forward to showing you Toronto in July next month.

Why Writers Should Eavesdrop Regularly

Incidentally, I’ve also pick up some fabulous ideas for poems and stories as well by watching people! You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about writing dialogue as well as human nature in by quietly observing how they interact with each other in public. Perhaps this should be the topic of a future post? What do you think?

From What Is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation? 

A few years ago, I mentioned wanting to blog about eavesdropping as a tool for improving your writing. Today I’m finally digging into this topic in the form of telling a few true stories!

Man in red polo shirt sitting in front of chalkboard and holding his hand up to his ear as if to eavesdrop. One of my college professors sent us out to eavesdrop as part of a creative writing assignment. We were instructed to write down the conversation and then analyze the flow of it in order to make the dialogue in our stories more realistic in the future.

I shared no hints about the identities of the people I eavesdropped on in my assignment in order to protect their privacy. It was only about listening to the way people really speak in casual conversations.

For some reason, there weren’t a lot of talkative students at my college when I ventured out to work on this assignment. It took a few tries to overhear anything useful, and the conversation I eventually found myself listening to involved a date a fellow student had recently been on and how it had unfolded.

If only I could have heard his date’s version of their time together! He seemed to take the entire experience very lightly, almost like a joke. I still wonder if she reacted to it the same way.

What I remember the most about that experience was how fascinating it was to only have pieces of the story. I could certainly extrapolate all sorts of things about how he spent his free time and where they might have met, but the nature of human conversations means that all sorts of questions will go unanswered if you drop into the middle of a story.

Shot of people's legs and feet as they sit on a busListening to the way people really speak was also incredibly informative. The conversation I overheard was filled with friendly interruptions and all sorts of detours into other, mostly-related topics.

After turning in my paper, I quietly decided to continue eavesdropping over the years.

A few years after that I was taking a bus trip and happened to sit next to two young girls who seemed to be pretty unfamiliar with rural life.

One of them spotted a house in the distance. She hadn’t realized that people lived “out in the middle of nowhere” (read: not in a city or town) and wondered how they managed to keep food in the house without any stores around!

Her friend was just as puzzled as she was. There was no resolution to be had for them that day in how “those poor folks” managed to stay fed.

I gently bit my lip to avoid publicly reacting in a way that might cause her any embarrassment at all. Like I said, they were quite young and may never have thought about these things before.

Several years ago, my spouse and I decided to grab lunch at a local outdoor burger joint that serves amazing french fries. Our fry order was ready before our burgers were finished, so I carefully carried them over to a nearby table and sat down to wait for my spouse the rest of the food.

A preschooler suddenly zoomed over and sat in the chair next to me, a perfect stranger. His mortified mother called him back over again.

He refused to budge. There were enough french fries there for more than one person, so of course the nice lady would share with him! (Actually, I would have been happy to share a bite or two if I’d known his parents and had their permission).

She called him over again, telling him it was rude to interrupt someone else’s date. I chuckled as he admitted defeat and slunk back over to her without a single fry for his efforts.

Had she already ordered fries for him? Did he grow up in a family where all of the grown ups shared their food with him? I have so many unanswered questions there, but it made for a pretty funny moment.

Black and white photo of a black pug tilting her head in confusion None of these anecdotes have made it into one of my stories (yet?), but they have taught me about the ways people think and how many different ways the same tale can be told depending on whose perspective you look at.

Humans are delightfully unpredictable creatures.

Your interpretations won’t always match mine and vice versa. I’m sure that all of these folks would remember details of those days that I’ve forgotten or that I interpreted in different ways.

The beautiful thing about listening is just how much it can reveal.

How to Encourage Quiet People to Speak Up

A grey and white rabbit covering its eyes with its paws. Google analytics keeps showing me visitors who found this blog by searching for phrases like “how to get quiet people to speak up.” It seems like a good discussion topic, so let’s jump into it!

As a quiet person, I’ve been on the receiving end of many helpful and not-so-helpful attempts to get me to be more talkative.

I choose to believe this happens because some people are fascinated by us quiet folks and wish they knew more about how our minds work and what we’re thinking about.

Occasionally, I meet someone who is even quieter than I am, and that is exactly how I respond to them. So it only makes sense that others would have that same reaction.

While I obviously can’t guarantee that every quiet person on Earth will respond positively to all of these techniques, I can say they work on me and that I’ve had success when trying them with quiet friends and acquaintances as well.

Give Them Time to Warm Up

White man peering at bald statue that looks a lot like him.
Only time will tell if this works for statues, too. 😉

Disclaimer: not every quiet person is shy, and not every shy person is quiet.

As someone who is both, however, I find that I become much more talkative once I’ve gotten to know someone better.

One, it means that I’ll already have some idea of what we have in common. Two, it also means that I’ll have a good indication of which topics, if any, others prefer not to discuss.

No, I’m not talking about anything controversial or widely known to be a sensitive topic here. It’s more an issue of knowing that friend X loves to talk about photography but has zero interest in anything related to team sports (or vice versa).

Leave Space in the Conversation

A snapshot of the legs and feet of someone wearing jeans and red sneakers. They're standing next to a "welcome on board" mat on what appears to be a wooden pier. Some people excel at filling every potential moment of silence in a conversation with words.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having this temperament, but it can make it  harder for quiet people get a word in edgewise.

If you give me ten seconds to process my thoughts, I’m much more likely to speak up. Anyone who is comfortable leaving small amounts of space in multiples portions of a conversation will be rewarded by all sorts of interesting replies from me as I come up with them.

This is by far one of the biggest things that make me feel welcome to chime in.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

two birds sitting on the rim of a water bowl. One is chirping at the other. There’s something wonderful about open-ended questions that do their best to avoid assumptions.

By that I mean, folks who assume that me being a woman means I must love fashion and makeup aren’t going to get very far with me on those particular topics because I know almost nothing about them!

If they ask what I enjoy doing in my free time instead, we could have a long, fruitful conversation about the best books to read when you’re in any number of unusual circumstances, interesting things I’ve seen on nature walks, and why astronomy is such a fascinating branch of science.

Keep the Group Small

If possible, choose a smaller group of people to talk to instead of a larger one. I find it much easier to chime in when a few other folks are taking turns talking than when a dozen or more people have joined the conversation.

Relevant story time! Both of my parents grew up in large families. Mom’s side of the family was especially big if you stepped back a generation or two and invited the hundreds of relatives to the massive annual reunions the oldest family members used to organize.

I cared about all of them, but, wow, was it overwhelming to step into a banquet hall and hear dozens of animated conversations happening simultaneously no matter where you walked.

There were a few talkative relatives who would invite me to chat with them and a handful of other people. They were the folks who got to hear about parts of my life that I probably wouldn’t have shared in the larger conversation circles.

If you’re a fellow quiet person, what else would you recommend?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in May

A tree filled with beautiful pink blossoms. This is the fourth instalment of this series.

Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. Click on February, March, and April to read the earlier posts.

May is by far the most beautiful time of the year in Toronto in my opinion. It was a balmy 17 degrees Celsius (63 Fahrenheit) according to my weather app when I visited this month. The sky was bright blue and there was a warm, gentle breeze in the air.

The restrictions on park usage are slowly beginning to be lifted here. We are now allowed to use picnic tables, basketball courts, tennis courts, and soccer fields so long as everyone you use them with belongs to the same household and you maintain at least six feet of distance from other folks. Going to the park to walk, jog, or sit on a bench is still permitted as well.

It was quite busy there during my visit this month, so you’ll see some strangers in the distance in a few photos. Keeping all of them out of my shots simply wasn’t possible.

Landscape shot of an urban park. There is a monument surrounded by green trees.

This is the time of year when you don’t have to look closely for signs of spring. They’re everywhere. While not every tree is obviously green yet, I’ll get into that later on in this post.

Close-up shot of a moment. There are green trees in the background and green bushes in the foreground next to the steps on the monument.

Look! The bushes in front of the monument are turning green now. There are also plenty of wild plants like dandelions growing between them.

Photo of a dirt jogging trail at a park. It is flanked by vibrant, green trees that have recently awoken from their winter dormancy.

The jogging trail is firm and dry once again. (It tends to become muddy after spring and summer thunderstorms, although generally not at much as it is in late winter and early spring). This summer it will be a dusty place to exercise if we go through long dry spells, but the trees lining it will provide some relief from the hot sun for determined joggers.

This trail was once again in heavy use due to the gorgeous weather and the fact that the majority of our stores and other destinations are still closed to help contain the spread of Covid-19. I’m glad I was able to get a clear shot of this area of the park for all of you.

 

A tree whose leaves are still in the budding stage. There are partially and fully green trees in the foreground of this park shot.

As I hinted at earlier, about ten percent of the trees don’t have leaves yet. This isn’t due to sickness or injury. If you look closely at them you’ll see the buds of their future flowers and leaves.

I’ve often wondered if these are the same trees that hold onto their leaves in November when most other trees are bare. Let’s see if that’s true in six months!

A canopy shot of white, red, and green tree leaves against a bright blue sky.

Every winter I yearn for moments like this. There’s nothing like standing underneath a thick canopy of leaves from multiple tree species and hearing them rustle in the breeze.

A skyward shot of large, healthy tree branches filled with leaves against a bright blue sky.

I’ll indulge all of us with a similar shot. If there’s anything more peaceful than moments like these, I couldn’t tell you what they are.

One thing I haven’t covered yet in this series is the size of the trees we’re talking about. Some of them are saplings that have roughly the same circumference I do as a slim, petite adult woman.

Woman leaning up against a massive elm tree, smiling, and pointing at it.
Yours truly for scale.

But we also have trees that are much larger than that. It’s amazing to feel the difference in the air temperature immediately below the biggest trees in the park when compared to standing in direct sunlight on a warm day. I’d bet it makes the temperature feel ten degrees cooler on warm days…and more than that on the hottest ones!

There were two marvellous surprises at the park this month. Do you remember those two trees I blogged earlier about that were severely damaged in a winter storm? They’re somehow still alive. A tree that has lost half of it's trunk but somehow managed to grow green leaves again this spring.

This is the tree I photographed over the last few months. About half of its branches were ripped off in that storm, and its trunk was badly damaged as well.

The half of a tree that was ripped off in a storm. It's sitting on the park ground next to the remnant of the tree that has begun to grow leaves again.

Here’s another shot of it so you can see just how serious that damage was. I have no idea what its longterm chances of survival might be, but I was thrilled to see it growing leaves again. May it live to see many more springs.

There was another, much larger tree that suffered a similar injury in that storm as well. I’d estimate that it lost about a third of its branches.

A massive tree with four huge branches, one of which has been shorn off in a storm.

It’s looking quite healthy…

A branch larger than half a dozen full-grown humans that has been shorn off a massive tree in a storm.

…especially when you consider just how badly it was damaged. This photo captures most, but not all, of the dead branches from it. If any arborists read this, I’d love to get your opinions on the chances of these trees healing from their injuries.

And, yes, it’s odd for gigantic branches like these to remain in the park months after a violent storm. As I mentioned back in February, branches this large and potentially dangerous for folks who may climb on them would typically be cleared away within days in non-pandemic conditions.

 

A sun dappled sidewalk in a park

I’ll end this post with a lovely shot of a sun-dappled sidewalk. A month or so from now we’ll all be quite grateful for the shade these trees provide on hot, humid summer days!

Let’s Talk About Vivid Quarantine Dreams

  As COVID-19 continues to dominate news coverage and social media feeds, it’s no surprise that the pandemic has also started affecting people’s sleep routines. Many people are reporting vivid, sometimes stressful dreams… From Why You’re Having So Many Weird Dreams During Quarantine, According to Sleep Experts When I first read that article last month, I… Read More

A Photo Essay of Toronto in March

Note: I wrote this post in early March before Toronto began shutting down businesses and public places in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were no restrictions on travel, spending time near other people, or park usage at the time of my visit. What April’s post in this series will be like still remains to be seen.… Read More

Stay Home and Read

A few days ago, Toronto learned that someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 had taken several trips on the TTC, our  public transportation system, after they began coughing and showing other symptoms of that disease. Our local media has been publishing many stories on the Coronavirus outbreak these winter alongside their regular winter features on… Read More