Category Archives: Personal Life

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

A Labour Day Parade in Toronto in the early 1900s 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 was created in Toronto on April 15, 1872 when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized Canada’s first significant march for worker’s rights. The protestors at that march were trying to persuade the authorities to release twenty four of the leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union. All of them had been incarcerated for going on strike in an attempt to limit their working hours to nine per day.

School often starts the day after Labour Day, so many families try to pack in as much summer fun before then as they can. My family often hosted and/or attended barbecues on this weekend when I was growing up. I actually didn’t know the origins of this holiday until I was in college.

Post offices, government buildings, and some private businesses are closed on Labour Day. Restaurants and retail stores generally remain open here in Ontario, but I prefer not to patronize them on this holiday. Many more workers should have this day off than currently do in my opinion, so I try to avoid creating any more incentives for non-essential businesses to remain open today.

Holidays can have multiple meanings. For me, Labour Day is simultaneously about enjoying a three-day weekend and standing in solidarity with all workers who are fighting for better working conditions and fair wages.

I will be resting today but will return tomorrow with my usual Top Ten Tuesday post.

 

 

5 Homeschooling Tips From a Homeschooler

A toy apple sitting on three textbooks in front of a blackboard. The toy apple has a door, window, and lantern painted onto it so that it looks ilke a litle house. 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 post, please note that homeschooling during a pandemic or other crisis is much more difficult than it is in ordinary times.

My parents had the luxury of time to research homeschooling thoroughly before choosing it. Their main concern was which curriculum to use and how closely to follow it, not whether any of us would catch a dangerous illness during our weekly trip to the library or grocery store.

Please go easy on yourselves. There are many different ways to learn, and most children are adept at soaking up knowledge no matter what’s going on around them. I know that my siblings and I did quite well once we transitioned to public school. In fact, we were ahead of our peers in certain areas like math and reading.

Tip #1: Discover and Pursue Their Interests

Child reading a book while sitting on brown grass and wearing a wreath of flowers in her hair outside
This isn’t me. I simply enjoy the peaceful imagery in it.

Whether they love computer games, sports, poetry or something else entirely, there are ways to tie many different interests back into academic subjects.

To give one concrete example, a kid who is obsessed with Minecraft might also enjoy learning about coding, computer science, history, problem solving in math, or environmentalism if it can be tied into his or her favourite game in some way.

Tip #2: Look for Non-Worksheet Learning Experiences

I must confess that I actually enjoyed our homeschooling worksheets, but that was because they were limited. We did a few of them a day and then moved onto other types of learning. Daily routines can be filled with learning opportunities for students of all ages.

Children learning how to cook
Also not me, but great hands on learning!

Doubling (or halving) a recipe is a fantastic way to practice fractions and mental math in elementary school. Older students could figure out the cost per ingredient, serving, or entire batch of food, and that’s before we get into the cost of substitutions or how many batches of chocolate chip cookie dough they’d have to make to fill their entire room with cookies.

This same pattern could be followed for home repairs, automobile repairs, gardening, doing laundry, cleaning, and so much more. One of the things I didn’t enjoy about public school once I eventually switched to it was how much harder it was to translate all of the knowledge they expected us to learn into anything that was relevant to my daily life.

Homeschooling makes it much easier to show why it’s important to understand chemistry when deciding if you should mix bleach and ammonia* or how quickly compounding interest adds up when you’re deciding how much to charge to your 30% interest credit card or thinking about saving for retirement.

*Never do this!

Tip #3: Go on Field Trips

A cemetery filled with gravestones on a warm, sunny day. No, this doesn’t have to involve being around other people or visiting museums.

There were times when our “field trips” were a walk to a local park and a conversation about the plants and animals that we spotted there. This doesn’t have to be complicated or cost much (if any) money at all.

Some of my favourite field trips growing up were the ones we took to cemeteries and bigger parks in rural areas. My siblings and I had so many questions during these excursions:

  • What do butterflies eat?
  • Why did so many people die young in the 1800s?
  • Why does this stone look nothing like that one?
  • Who was the first person who ever decided to drink cow’s milk?
  • How do trees know when it’s time to drop their leaves or grow new ones?
  • Why would someone build a house out in the middle of nowhere?

Mom and dad answered our questions when we were very young. They also encouraged us to look up the answers on our own, especially as we grew older and could do things like read an encyclopedia or search the Internet.

Some of our questions didn’t have straightforward answers, but many of them did. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know. My lifelong interest in history came in part from the many historical sites my parents took us to when we were on vacation or even simply bored and wanting to explore local history.

Reading about historical events became more appealing to me in middle and high school, but I really liked being able to tie that chapter or book back to my memories of visiting places that were somehow connected to that era.

Tip #4: Offer Many Different Types of Books and Audiobooks

Young boy wearing black, Harry Potter style glasses reading a comic book
Still not me. You all know the drill by now.

Think fiction, non-fiction, bestsellers, classics, graphic novels, and more. I was the sort of bookish kid who happened to enjoy a lot of classic novels, but it always bothered me when adults used me as an example for kids who maybe struggled with reading, didn’t enjoy it in general, or who simply found the classics uninteresting.

Not everyone will enjoy the same stories or subjects, and that’s totally okay. If someone wants to listen to an audiobook of their favourite Spiderman graphic novel, good for them! Their minds are still processing that information, maybe learning some new vocabulary words, and (hopefully) following the storyline closely to see what happens to their favourite superhero next.

Tip #5: Let Them Get Bored 

Bored dog lying on a carpeted floor in front of a couch
I’ll leave it up to all of you to decide whether this is me. 😉

As you might have already guessed, my parents slid closer to the unschooling side of the homeschooling continuum than they did the traditional one. That is to say, we had a lot of say in what we learned and how far we followed each rabbit trail as we discovered new interests.

Yes, of course we learned how to read, write, and do math. But our brand of homeschooling was a pretty casual one beyond that point. We went to the library about once a week to stock up on whatever books looked interesting, and then we were given a lot of freedom to decide what we learned and when.

Given that we lived in Wyoming for most of our homeschooling years, this did lead to times of boredom when snow was falling heavily outside. We either had to read books, write our own stories, study topics that interested us, or try to get one of the few channels on the TV to work.

These hours of freedom created kids who knew how to entertain themselves, teach themselves, and carve out their time wisely.

And, honestly, that’s been a real advantage for all of us in our adult lives.

If you were also homeschooled, what other tips would you give homeschooling families as the school year starts up again?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in August

Pink flowers growing right next to a brick building.

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, and July to read the earlier posts. It was a balmy 22 Celcius (72 Fahrenheit) on the morning I took this month’s photos.

August has been peculiar this year like that. Our hottest days so far this month haven’t been much more than 35 C (95 F), and we’ve even had a few days that were only about 28C (84F) at their peak. That’s about 10-15 degrees cooler than it was for much of July which is a welcome relief if also pretty unexpected.

This makes me wonder what autumn will be like. Will it be hot like it was last year, or are we in for a quick descent into winter? Only time will tell.

Here’s one big difference between last month and this one – it took me a few tries to get a clear shot of the front of the park due to the increase in vehicular and foot traffic. I ended up needing to go back at a different time to try again. That hasn’t happened since this photo project began. People must be working from home less and travelling more now.

Lanscape photo of a forest, World War I monument, and a crosswalk.

Once again, everything is green and growing so quickly you can practically see it sprout up taller. Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but the vegetation in Ontario does grow very quickly at this time of the year.

A World War I statue in a park. The statute is surrounded by stone steps.

Winter is coming soon despite the heat of August. All of those seeds need to be dispersed and those roots grown deep and true before then.

A dirt running trail shaded by trees in a park.

The running trail was well used this month. Thanks to all of the thunderstorms we’ve been getting, it’s not very dusty at all either which is also out of the ordinary for August.

This next photo might alarm you all just a tad, but let us all clasp hands virtually and get through this fluffy menace together.

Green trees and a grass clearing in a park. There are white clouds peeking up over the trees in the background.
Actual footage of autumn sneaking up on us.

Yes, the sky was only 90% blue on this month’s visit! There were white clouds peeking out in just about every direction I looked.

A park lamp, several green trees against a blue sky filled with some puffy, white clouds.

Contrary to what this series might have lead you to believe, Toronto doesn’t always have blue skies. In fact, we spend half or more of the year with a permanently overcast sky. It generally happens in the autumn and winter regardless of whether there are storms in the forecast for that particular day, and it is a big reason why I love my light therapy lamp so much. Ha!

Keep an eye out for a dark, cloudy sky that seems to last forever soon. I’m guessing it will return in October this year, but it could be a little sooner or later than that.

Skyward shot of thick tree branches filled with green leaves.

But summer remains for now. I wish you all could hear the rustle of the leaves here. Like I’ve said before, it’s one of the most soothing sounds I know. You can hear it everywhere if there isn’t too much background noise.

A tree that lost half of it's leaves and branches in a winter storm last winter. The remaining half are green and lush.

Our tree friend who lost half of its branches continues to do well. There was a tent* and people nearby that I needed to avoid photographing, but the shorn-off section looks like it healed nicely.

*Some people who are homeless have set up tents to live in this park this year. From what I understand, shelters in Toronto don’t have enough space for everyone, there are many Covid-19 cases in them, and there are long waitlists for housing for folks from this demographic group. I’m not ethically comfortable photographing people in such precarious circumstances. If only I had the funds to get apartments for all of them. A tree that lost a third of its branches last winter. There is lots of damage in the trunk.

The much larger tree that lost a third of it’s branches and leaves is still around. I noticed what appeared to be some cracks in its trunk. I’m not an arborist, but I do wonder how it will fare with our next ice storm.

Hopefully, it has repaired itself enough to make it through this upcoming winter (or even the next bad thunderstorm), but I think I’ll avoid standing underneath all of those large, heavy branches in the meantime.

A sapling with dead leaves on it.

Some of the saplings that were planted earlier this year have developed brown leaves on them. It’s a couple of months too early for trees to start changing colour, so this isn’t a good sign. I hope these little trees do better in the future.

 

A green, leafy, shaded, area in a park.

In happier news, the vast majority of the trees in the park seem to be doing well. This is the time of year when it feels wonderful to stand in the shady areas this urban forest provides. It’s amazing to see how much of a difference it makes to experience August under a thick canopy of leaves versus standing in direct sunlight.

Young black squirrels sitting on a patch of grass in a park looking for food.

Even the baby squirrels agree! They’re hard to photograph because of how small and easily spooked they are, but these little guys were about half the size of a regular squirrel.

One of my goals for this autumn is to get some better squirrel photos for you. Sometimes they’re friendlier in the autumn when they’re gathering up last-minute food before winter. (No, I will not be feeding them, only hopefully photographing them).

A cobblestone-like sidewalk in a park. The sidewalk is heavily shaded by large oak trees.

This is the time of year when the park is best enjoyed from a quiet, seated position. Luckily, there are plenty of places to sit there.

And this is where I’ll leave our monthly visits of the park until September. Stay safe out there, everyone!

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

A Summer Without Tourists

There are a few things about Canadian and, more specifically, Torontonian culture that I should explain here for anyone who isn’t already familiar with them before diving into the meat of this post. I am speaking in broad generalities here and this is a large, diverse country, so please make friendly allowances for that if… Read More

A Photo Essay of Toronto in June

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, March, April, and May to read the earlier posts. It was 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and sunny this time which I think… Read More