Sunday, August 14, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #29: Maple everything.

I was never a huge maple flavor fan before. Suddenly though, I can't get enough of it. I made a special trip to the store just to get these for this photo shoot and to pack with our kitchen stuff and smuggle some syrup up back to the states.

Something about Canadian maple syrup just tastes better than the lady-shaped caramel-colored corn syrup I grew up pouring on my waffles. I also got this:

Which I've never had before but I'm sure is delicious.

Also, I'm bringing back some of these little maple leaf shaped candies.

Other current flavors I'm obsessed with are anything: 

maple infused
maple glazed
maple marinated
maple smoked
maple coated
and maple encrusted.

I will gladly wash them down with a maple porter...

Or a maple milkshake or maple latte or just a full glass of pure maple syrup. Okay, maybe not that last one. Too rich.

I also love this giant maple tree in our backyard and the squirrels who live in it. 

In the fall, I loved the multi-colored maple leaves it dropped onto our deck.

I even love seeing Maple Leafs like this all over town...

And this maple leaf too will always have a special place in my heart. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #28: Olympic pride

Watching the Olympics on Canadian television I get to see national pride from another side, and it's just as inspiring. So when Simone Manuel and Penny Oleksiak tied for the gold in the 100 meter freestyle, I was thrilled for both of them. Simone Manuel is the first African-American to win an individual swimming gold medal in the Olympics and Penny Oleksiak is a 16 year old athlete from Toronto. Way to go ladies!

Getty Images

30 Things I Love About Canada #27: The map.

I bet a lot of Americans wouldn't be able to identify this country out of context.

By sheer land mass it's the 2nd largest country in the world (after Russia). Give up? It's Canada!

Growing up, this is the map I studied:

Canada and Mexico were invisible and Alaska was out in the ocean with Hawaii, not bigger than Texas or attached to the country above us. In social studies class we had to learn 50! states and capitals. This year my kids studied Canadian history and only had to learn 10 provinces and 3 territories. I bet most Americans couldn't name them all. Here's a quick lesson:

The provinces (from left to right) are British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The territories are Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. What's the difference, you ask? Wikipedia says:

In modern Canadian constitutional theory, the provinces are considered to be co-sovereign divisions and each province has its own "Crown" represented by the lieutenant governor. The territories are not sovereign, but simply part of the federal realm, and have a commissioner who represents the federal government.

I don't pretend to fully understand that but hopefully I've helped some people know a little more about Canadian geography.

Finally, an interesting cultural note: When someone in Canada says "Down South" they mean the vacation spots below America like Mexico and the Bahamas. When Americans say "Down South" They mean the southern U.S. states like Georgia, Mississippi, etc.  When Canadians say "South of the Border" they mean America. When Americans say "South of the Border" they mean Mexico, or if you're from the east coast they mean this weird rest stop along I-95 in South Carolina.  

from pinterest

Nevertheless, we share this big continent of North America and despite the border between us, we're really very similar. Some people think of our relationship like this:

And others see it like this.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #26: Milk Bags

I had heard about Canada's bagged milk before, so when we first got here and I saw it in stores I was excited to buy it. Not because I like milk though (I don't) but because my kids do and milk is required for cereal and certain recipes.

When I got home though I was like, now what?

I failed to realize this floppy bag required a container. It felt like those weird watersnake toys they sold at Spencers in the 80s.

I thought it might fit in our skinny lemonade pitcher but it got stuck halfway down. Plus there was the added question, How do you open it?  

Suffice it to say we had several messy mishaps with milkbags until we found this container in the grocery store nowhere near the milk aisle.

I was surprised to see it wasn't more interesting looking. There is a definitely a decorative milk pitcher niche that hasn't been filled yet in Canada. Or maybe it has, I just haven't found it.

Anyway, Milk Bags: Yay! I'm going to miss them when we move. I still think milk is gross though.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #25: My kids made friends.

Sometimes I worry about how frequently moving from city to city is affecting our kids. Next month my son will turn 14 and will have lived in 7 houses in his lifetime. My daughter often nonchalantly says things like, "Next time we move, I want a pink bedroom." as if moving is something that's inevitable. The question, "Where are you from?" is a difficult one for us and often involves a lengthy explanation where the person who asked the question ends up looking at us like we're crazy, or lying, or on the lam from the law.

I'm jealous of families who are able to raise their kids in one place, who have friends with kids that grow up with their kids and family nearby. I long to have history in a place and connections within a community when I look for a job. I would love to stay in one house long enough to see several seasons of fruit come from the trees we plant. I'm tired of starting over from scratch.

The tradeoff is that our kids have seen more of America and Canada than most kids. They've camped in National Parks along the west coast and travelled through half of the Canadian provinces. They've visited landmarks that most people only see in photos and explored numerous art galleries and museums. They've experienced different climates and cultures and landscapes and points of view. And along the way they made friends.

My son is not the kind of kid who seeks out social situations (maybe because he's worn out from his parents dragging him all over the continent). He prefers to hide out in his room and draw or read or play video games and talk to people (about video games) on the internet. This year though, after a rough start, he started to spread his wings and made a few good friends. He asked to go on the grade 8 trip and spent 4 days with his friends touring Quebec City. Among other end-of-the-year activities for his senior public (aka middle school) festivities he went to a Blue Jays game at Rogers Stadium and attended a formal dance aboard a party boat that sailed on Lake Ontario around Toronto. He's ended up experiencing parts of Canada the rest of us haven't even seen.

My daughter is the extroverted one. She made friends the very first day and has attended several birthday parties and playdates and sleepovers throughout the year. She made a BFF and they choreographed a dance to Taylor Swift's song Blank Space which they bravely performed for the talent show. Despite the difficult year the rest of us have had here she maintained a positive outlook and in doing so, she helped me to see the bright side too.

Monday, July 4, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #24: Lake Ontario

The first time I experienced a lake that looked like an ocean was Lake Eerie. I was just a kid and Eerie seemed like a fitting name. It was eerie to look out on the horizon and see no sign of land or life on the other side and it was all freshwater, not an ocean. That same uncomfortable feeling gripped me when I first looked out onto Lake Ontario.

It was late August and the beach was deserted. There were no mountains or trees in the distance like we were used to seeing across Lake Washington.

It didn't look any more inviting in the fall, just brown and lonely.

The winter was even more barren and foreboding and uncomfortably cold. I took to calling it the blue-gray abyss.

Still, we kept visiting it. It wasn't until Spring that I started to see it in a different light.

It wasn't always ominous. Sometimes it sparkled.

And sometimes the color was hard to describe. What would you call this? Teal? 

The water became daily therapy for our old arthritic dog and searching for beach glass became a daily meditation for me.

Somewhere along the way I realized this place is not the depressing abyss I once thought it was.

    It all depends on the way you look at it.

30 Things I Love About Canada #23: The Beaches

    When I say I love The Beaches I don't mean "the beaches," although we've visited several in Canada and must say we loved camping on MacKenzie Beach in Tofino, British Columbia a few years ago. After coming upon several full campgrounds on the peninsula, we asked the campground host at MacKenzie Beach if there were any spots left and she answered,

"Yah, fer shure, no doubt, absolutely, eh."

 ...which is pretty much the quintessential Canadian greeting.

    The beaches I'm referring to in this post is the neighborhood known as The Beaches, or, The Beach, or simply BEACH, depending on who you ask. (I can't get a straight answer.) I recently bought this tea towel because it features some of our favorite spots. 

    We didn't know Etobicoke (pronounced E-toe-bi-COH) from Scarborough when we first arrived in the city and started looking for a place to live. (I do not recommend this random throw-of-the-dice method of relocation.)  By chance and circumstance we ended up here and despite the difficult time we've had in Toronto, I love this neighborhood. Our immediate neighbors have been the best we've ever had, we've had no shortage of restaurants within walking distance on Kingston Rd. and Queen St,. we're close to Glen Stewart ravine, and we're blocks away from Lake Ontario. If the cost of living here weren't so damn expensive or if we had friends or family or connections to keep us here we might even stay. For now, we're simply appreciating the time we have left in this beautiful place.

30 Things I Love About Canada #22: Canadians respect our president

Canadians have a lot of respect for the president of the U.S., even more than Americans do I'm sad to say. It's embarrassing really. I've been asked why it seems so many people in the states vehemently and proudly express hatred toward the leader of their own country and it's hard for me to answer. 

How can I concisely explain how 200+ years of ingrained racism still affects people? How can I explain why some people are are afraid of their government taking away their guns and giving them free health care and letting two people who love one another get married? How can I explain why the Republican party thinks a blatantly racist and sexist blowhard with multiple bankruptcies like Donald Trump would be a better person to lead our country? I can't. The rest of the world has seen America's racist flag-draped signs and memes and violent rallies on t.v. I don't want to talk about these things because it's embarrassing to admit that my country can be so hateful.

Canadians see a president who is doing a relatively decent job compared to the last guy. As an American living in Canada it makes me simultaneously sad and proud that president Obama has to visit his neighbor to the north to receive a warm welcome. I'm sad that my home country can't do this, but proud of Canada for giving him the respect he deserves.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #21: An Epic Water Battle

Yesterday was the last day of school for both of my kids. As I was leaving to pick up my daughter my neighbor mentioned the great Balsam water battle, which I'd never heard of before. She told me it was a big water battle that happens every year on Balsam Ave. on the last day of school. People who live on the street put out buckets and hoses and the kids show up from all over the neighborhood to celebrate the last day of school.

When I picked my daughter up she said all her friends were talking about some water battle they were going to and I told her I heard about it too. We had to check it out. She got on her bathing suit and we waited for her brother to come home to see he wanted to go too. He did, and he dug our giant water gun out of storage and we started walking two streets over, along with several other towel-draped,  plastic-gun-toting familes. It was epic.

There were at least 200 kids there, along with parents trying to stay dry on the sidelines.

Several houses had food out for the kids - Popsicles, hot dogs, watermelon, etc. It was great to see such generosity and even better to see the kids so happy an excited.

At one point, a mob of kids marched down the street chanting, "BALMY! BALMY! BALMY! BALMY!" (Balmy Beach is the name of the junior public (elementary) school in our neighborhood.)

When we got home my kids were talking about how neither of them knew who Bobby was, or why everyone was cheering for him, but it was fun.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #20: Taste of Toronto

We're trying to experience as much of the city as we can before we leave. You could live here a lifetime and never see it all.

On Sunday we drove to Fort York...

Wikipedia tells me: "Fort York is a historic site of military fortifications and related buildings on the west side of downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The fort was built by the British Army and Canadian militia troops in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to defend the settlement and the new capital of the Upper Canada region from the threat of a military attack, principally from the newly independent United States." (... those pesky American rebels.)

They often have events on the lawn and this weekend was the Taste of Toronto.

Their website describes it as a showcase of the true flavours (with a U) of the local Toronto food scene, where people can enjoy signature dishes from the city’s finest restaurants, learn tricks of the trade from world-class chefs, and sample gourmet food and drinks, all in one place.

And that's exactly what we did.

30 Things I Love About Canada #19: Luminato Festival

Saturday evening we attended the Luminato Festival inside the old Hearn Generating Station, home of the giant smokestack that stands in the background of so many of our beach pics.

Their website says: "Luminato is one of the preeminent arts festivals in North America, having commissioned close to 100 new works of art, with more than 3,000 performances featuring 11,000 artists from over 40 countries."

Inside, it looks like this:

The art installations were trippy.

On the second floor were plastered these iconic works of art photoshopped with the Hearn in as a backdrop. I had also seen some of these plastered on buildings around the city.

It was a multi-media sensory overload of WEIRD.

We were simultaneously enlightened and confused.

It was the kind of experience that makes you look at  the world a little differently when you leave.

I could say the same thing about our year in Toronto.