Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills

AU_no9_EcoArtFest_8036Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

IMG_4848While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.


It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.


Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.


Explore: Evergreen Brick Works

IMG_4844Years ago my weekends were peppered with city-dweller activities: markets, neighbour explorations, festivals and art appreciation but then a string of pregnancies and little babies kept me nestled (chained) in my neighbourhood bubble venturing only outside to visit the zoo.  My youngest is now almost 4 (I still can’t believe it!) and for the past year, we’ve really been able to enjoy the city and all that it has to offer without the stress of strollers, naps and diapers.

It’s a whole new world!

Recently we explored an urban oasis: Evergreen Brick Works.

The Brick Works, as locals affectionately call it, was the Don Valley Brick Works from 1889 to 1984 and many of Canada’s preeminent buildings are constructed of bricks made from this site.  From 1984 until the early 2000s, the Brick Works deteriorated.  Piles of rubble and crumbling buildings are what most people saw when they drove past along Bayview Avenue, with the exception of a group of creative innovators who saw the potential to transform the site into a not-for-profit destination celebrating nature, culture and community.


The old buildings mesmerized the boys.  They imagined themselves heating clay in the giant kilns to make bricks.  They saw the old tracks used to transport the tons of coal from the various buildings.  We talked about the working conditions: how loud it must have been and oppressively hot from the steam, the kilns (and the humid Toronto summers) and how it probably wasn’t that safe in the early years.

Exploring the kiln building was a favourite but not only because of its historical significance.  The walls are lined with an evocative gallery displaying artistic photography and, perhaps the highlight for me; it is where The Sustainable City installation is currently on display. City school teams have imagined and created a future Toronto that encompasses the core values of Evergreen: nature, community and culture.  Not only are the projects incredible but also they are inspiring!  To think that our city is home to such innovators . . . lucky for us!


There is a lot to see and do at the Brick Works.  Every day people explore the extensive trails where local wildlife abounds!

The weekdays are quieter but the weekends are chock-full of activities including an impressive farmer’s market, pottery demonstrations, bike rentals, a flea market and the children’s garden.  The Brick Works hosts seminars on the weekends that appeal to bikers, gardeners, wild life enthusiasts and artists.

Wednesday evenings (from July 2- August 6) enjoy pizza from Pizzeria Libretto from the outdoor wood-fired oven (to.die.for.) and a small seasonal salad for $3.

It’s summer and there is no shortage of activities in Toronto.  There is a reason it’s called The Living City, so get out there and live!

Thank you, September Skies


Dear September Skies,

Thank you for extending yourself through the first few weeks of October.  Your flawless complexion of Columbia blue never ceases to amaze me.  Morning walks to school are welcome in your presence, and so are afternoons lazily reading on the back deck.  Like unrequited love, I find myself using any excuse to be in your audience: raking leaves becomes a joyous chore and pulling weeds from the recesses of the interlocked bricks is time spent basking in your glory.

I know that you are going to leave me and you will do so abruptly.

A grey shadow will encroach your brightness and there it will stay for months on end, only allowing your magnificence to peak through for short bursts, just when I think I have forgotten your beauty.

Thank you, September Skies.  Even though our love is one-sided, I want you to know that merely a glimpse of you fills me with happiness.



Date Night Gone Awry

I was really hoping to write about a new-ish restaurant in the city that my husband and I went to in celebration of our ninth wedding anniversary.  What I can tell you is that tucked-away, much buzzed about Patria is artfully designed.  The menu, at a glance looks delicious, as did the few plates that passed by our intimate table for two.

However I cannot write about what we ordered nor if the food critics are right in dubbing this tapas bar one of Toronto’s Best Restaurants of 2013.  I cannot tell you, because our ninth anniversary came and went and nary a morsel of food was consumed at Patria.

Let me start off my story by stressing that while summer vacation may be the days of folly and freedom for youngsters, it is for this stay-at-home mom, two months of intense togetherness that has me praying for bouts of dysentery* just so I can seek a few moments of privacy from my three boys.

Who am I kidding?  They’d follow me in there too.

The day of our anniversary, the babysitter arrived early with ample time for me to shower, shave my legs and tame my tresses.  Basically, I went from looking like this:

Portrait of very surprised bizarre screaming housewife

(With some creative liscence) To this:


A cab picked me up from my front door and like Cinderella, I was shuttled off to the ball.  The whining, complaining, and incessant bickering faded in the review mirror.  Even the grueling stop and go traffic along Avenue Road couldn’t dampen my spirits.

I wanted to lean out of the rolled-down window, hair blowing in the breeze and call to the babysitter with a sinister sneer, “You’ve been duped!  They are not the loveable boys of school days.  These beasts are feral!  These boys are urchins!  These boys will wear you down, defeat you, make your ears beg for quiet!”

As the cab slowly navigated the downtown streets, I excitedly texted my husband that soon we’d be eating – in a restaurant!  With cutlery!  Where chicken fingers are a thing of lore!

I was giddy.  Like a parolee, I was relishing in the sights of the city.  When was this skyscraper finally completed?  What kind of art is that new installation?  When did men in suits start wearing full beards?

Upon entering Patria, our hostess lead us to our table and we followed behind like obedient school children relieved to finally have some time alone.  Just as my husband’s knees bent to sink into his chair, his iPhone buzzed to life.

A glance at the screen revealed a call from the babysitter.

She never calls his phone.

He answered it, and I can immediately tell from the way he casually walked away from the table, from me, that this wasn’t good news.

Back in the cab, it no longer feels like a shiny chariot but rather a jalopy with cracked vinyl seats, rank with fetid air.  The inching traffic nothing but a taunt.

He’s doing great mom!  We hope to have his thumb dislodged as soon as the fire department get here.”  The kind paramedic, used to placating frantic mothers on the verge of tears, said calmly into the phone.

My youngest son was stuck.  His tiny thumb had somehow managed to wedge itself tightly into the hinge of the glass shower door, thereby entrapping him on one side and his freshly scrubbed brother on the other side of the glass.

One frantic babysitter, one flummoxed neighbour and a host of EMS workers descended into our en suite washroom in attempt to free the compressed thumb.  Forty minutes later he was liberated with nothing more than a tiny gash and a throbbing digit.

After hours of soothing (the little guy, his empathic oldest brother and a devastated babysitter) my husband and I collapsed onto the couch with a bottle of wine.

Just over his shoulder I could see our wedding picture – the young, fresh faces smiling naively into the camera.

We couldn’t help but laugh.  Those people had no clue, no clue at all what kind of maelstrom was lying in wait.

Once the last drop of wine was consumed, we tip-toed up the stairs to check on our feral little urchins and to get some much needed rest, because in this house the only certainty of tomorrow is that it will leave me exhausted.

*Okay, maybe not.  But you get the idea.

pictures courtesy of: The Inklings of Life and Emphasis Added

Follow The Yellow Brick Road


This weekend I saw the all-Canadian new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz presented by Mirvish Productions.

Based on the 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum, this production is heavily influenced by the 1939 MGM motion picture starring Judy Garland but with a few surprises and a modern take on some of the classic songs that are instantly recognizable from the first note.

Danielle Wade, the winner of the CBC’s reality show Over the Rainbow holds her own in the spotlight with veteran Canadian performers and delivers a rendition of Over the Rainbow that will leave you with goosebumps.  Wade, voted Canada’s Dorothy, after several weeks of competition proves that she has what it takes to take top billing.

Lisa Horner who plays Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West is nothing short of captivating and when she takes the stage, your eyes will look at nothing but her.

Aside from knock-out performances given by the entire cast, The Wizard of Oz is a visual spectacle from the moment Glinda’s glittering dress graces the stage to the whirl of green shimmer and sparkle that create The Emerald City.

For more information about the show, visit Mirvish and be sure to follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road all the way to the Ed Mirvish Theatre at 244 Victoria St. in Toronto, Ontario.

What was your favourite part of the Wizard of Oz?  Was it Dorothy’s ruby red slippers?  Of the evil flying monkeys?  Have you see this production and if so, what was so memorable about if for you?

image courtesy of Spec.com

Danforth East Pops Up!

I live in the east end of the city, close to the Danforth, but not the part of the Danforth known as Greektown. No, we’re further east, beyond the reach of Starbucks, in a (so the lingo goes) gentrifying part of town: Danforth East.

It’s a great place to raise a family, as it has all the community amenities that one could want: a great library, good schools, local sports facilities, and a vibrant community-run farmers’ market in East Lynn Park.  However, if you were to walk along our stretch of the Danforth, you’d probably be less than inclined to stay and find out what the neighbourhood is about, given the number of papered-over storefronts that line the street between Coxwell and Woodbine.  There are fantastic independently-run businesses in the area deserving of foot traffic, (I’m looking at you, Better Bulk, Royal Beef, and Silly Goose Kids ) but with so many For Lease signs in windows, the whole area has the appearance of being down and out:  those empty storefronts make you want to go elsewhere.

Enter the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) and their Renew East Danforth Pop-Up Stores Project. Modeled after a successful similar project in Newcastle, Australia, the Pop-Up Stores project links building owners with potential short-term tenants. DECA volunteers paint and ready the stores for the tenants, and landlords donate their empty premises for a short period to entrepreneurs looking to get their feet wet in the world of retailing. After a successful pilot this fall, DECA has organized a full-month of Pop-up stores  — nine shops in six storefronts — in anticipation of the holiday season.

The Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter, who is also one of the project’s organizers, wrote a great article recently about the project’s genesis and aims:  take a look!

It’s a great project with a smart bottom line: if you want to revitalize an area, you need to make it vital for people to come.   By creating foot traffic on the street, DECA is creating buzz  and turning the Danforth East into a destination.  Newcastle, Australia saw a complete turn-around of its downtown business district in three short years. Here’s hoping the Renew East Danforth Pop-Up Stores Project can do the same here.

For more information about the Pop-Up  Stores Project and the artists, entrepreneurs and creative minds who will be setting up shop, click here.

Buy local this holiday season, and pay us a visit out east. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Curing the Nature Deficit

July 1, 2012: Milkman’s Lane, Yellow Creek Ravine, Mud Creek Ravine, Don Valley Brickworks.

In his book Accidental City, Robert Fulford wrote about Toronto’s ravines:

The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.

If you’re not familiar with Toronto’s ravine system, I recommend the blog, Toronto Ravines and Trails with Abbey. It’s the personal blog of a Toronto father who has chronicled his adventures exploring Toronto’s ravines with his five-year old daughter.  Of course, if you have a literary bent, there’s always Margaret Atwood‘s Cat’s Eye to read,  in which Toronto’s ravines figure prominently.

Walking in Toronto’s ravines has become a Canada Day ritual for us, those years when we can’t get out of the city (read: most years). There is nothing like an amble along a sun-dappled trail to get the imagination flowing. Not five steps on to Milkman’s Lane, and the boys had launched into a new game of their own devising, which continued, unabated, until they finally stopped to smell (or water) the roses at the Evergreen Brickworks, our destination of the day:

P.S.: We’re wishing our American readers, family and friends a very happy, relaxing and restorative Fourth of July.  Whether you spend the day in a ravine, at a beach, at a barbeque or just in the company of people you love, we hope today is a good one.


Something I am loving this spring is my son’s Raskullz bike helmet.  The boys wear their helmets pretty much all spring and summer, and Raskullz offers a fun alternative to the traditional style.

Styles range from princesses and ladybugs to sharks and gorillas.

If you see a red mohawk with a skull and crossbones emblazoned on the side, barreling down the street on a bike, chances are that he belongs to me.  Every crazy bone of him.

Ps – I received no compensation for recommending Raskullz but should they wish to, they know where to find me.

photo courtesy of: http://www.raskullz.com

Tying the Apron Strings Tightly

My kids are over-protected. I’m over-protective. And only slightly apologetic about it.

There. I’ve said it. And I won’t lie: there’s a part of me that winces when I tell you that we often allow our kids to play outside of our house with other kids, more or less unsupervised. What if someone reads this blog post, figures out where we live, and then lies in wait for my children to walk out the door, and then goes and snatches one of them? I’ve spent my whole life practicing the memorization of licence plate numbers just in case someone I love is ever abducted in a car, and I count my complete inability – to this day – to remember a licence plate as a portend of doom.

What could I have to do that could be more important than watching over them? Some days, I wonder how I let them out the door in the morning. What if they fall down those impossibly wide old stairs at school? They’re nine and seven, and still I worry about them eating a snack at recess: what if one of them chokes? Will their friends have the presence of mind to call a teacher? Do any of their buddies know the Heimlich manoever?

It’s crazy. And I know it’s crazy. And I keep my crazy mostly under wraps, hidden from view, because I know my crazy does my children no good. In every other part of their lives, I believe in allowing them to explore, test, and ultimately, to fail.  I do try to push them out of their (my?) comfort zones, but they’re not going anywhere; my nine year old won’t even walk half a block to mail a letter without me.

I’m not entirely sad about that.

I’ve tried to figure out where this irrational over-protectiveness comes from, but the only comforting thought I have is that there’s strength in numbers. I’m not the only one locking the doors constantly. Being overprotective has become a sign of “good” parenting, like feeding your children only organic veggies and demanding copies of their grade’s curriculum so that you can monitor your child’s daily progress toward their Expected Learning Outcomes.

We monitor our children’s every move during the day, but that doesn’t stop each and every one of us from lamenting the loss of freedom that we had when we were children. We live in cities that are considerably safer than when we were little. So what in the hell are we afraid of?

Nuclear proliferation. Watergate. Distrust of institutions. Energy Crisis. Hostage takings. Hijackings. Three Mile Island. Bhopal.

Ah yes. I was a child of the 1970s and 1980s. Half of our parents were divorced (a statistic, by the way, that hasn’t held true since the early 1980s, but I digress). We were educated by ABC After-school Specials, with episodes entitled things like “My Dad Lives in a Hotel” and “Which Mother is Mine?” In public school, I had a friend who was expected to be out of the house until dinner. Not that she had anywhere to go; it was just that her mom worked all day, and she wanted some quiet time when she got home. So when I went to their house, we played outside until six or seven at night. In January.

Can you imagine that now?

I read somewhere that Generation X went through its formative years as the least-parented generation in history (which may be news to the generations of children who were sent out to work before they were ten, but you get my point).  And while I feel obliged to include here that I was not under-parented myself (just because my parents were divorced doesn’t mean I didn’t spend a lot of time with my grandparents, thank you), I knew a whole lot of kids who were. And I bet every last one of them is trying to keep their kids safe from whatever boogeyman of uncertainty and insecurity haunted them in their childhoods.

So as a card-carrying member of Generation X, you’d think I’d just get myself into therapy – like everyone else – and get on with it. Why not try and push my kids to be more independent? But then I think of Sharin Morningstar Keenan, abducted from a playground when she was nine, in 1983. She was younger than me, but familiar; I remember, when she went missing, seeing her father on television, pleading for her return, and realizing that I recognized him: Sharin had her music lesson right after me on Saturday mornings. I still think of her, remember myself lying in my orange-wallpapered bedroom, listening to the news on the radio, and being so afraid: not for my own safety — I was streetproofed beyond measure — but because such evil existed in the world and I was helpless to do anything about it. I know, now, that most abductions of children are by people they know — most abuse is perpetrated by people that children know and trust — but that’s not the evil that frightened me most.

And I think that I’ve been given no greater gift than my children. If the kids of my generation turned out to be okay, so often cut loose, then I have to hope that our children will turn out all right for having been held onto a bit tighter than may be strictly necessary.

How I Know That I Am Getting Older

A few weeks ago we went out for a fancy schmancy dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  It became clear to me that regardless of how young we feel that we have all stopped checking the 25-29 box.

Tequila shooters, Broken Down Golf Carts and Cement Mixers gave way to a full-bodied chianti and the conversation centered on work, kids, and biological clocks instead of hook-ups, student loans and wedding plans.

Everyone silently cheered that dinner was over before 11 pm so that we could all be home and in bed before the stroke of midnight.  We know there is no magic in being out past the stroke of midnight just brutally long mornings with whiney kids and/or clients.

While walking out of the restaurant we had to pass through the lobby bar.  It was brimming with so many scantily clad 20- somethings that when I looked down at what I was wearing, I felt like I was channeling my inner-Amish.

It wasn’t just the sartorial differences or the gaping abyss between sobriety and inebriation that reminded me that I am older more mature, it was the commentary from my friends:

“Wow, you can smell the desperation in here”.


I think that girl forgot to put on her pants.  Oh look, apparently no one wears pants anymore.”

“What’s with the weird facial hair?  That guy needs to trim his side burns.”

Just a few days later, as I was listening to 90’s on 9, XM radio, each song a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it hit me.

I have officially become my parents: I listen to music that is 20 years old, and question the fashion choices of “youth”.

When did it strike you that you are not necessarily as “young as you feel”?


photo credit: bookrenter.com