Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Path to Peace

 

Path to Peace.jpg

Image courtesy of Steven Branco

It has been two months since I came back from Israel and people still ask me what my favourite part of the trip was.  It is a question that I find impossible to answer.  The trip has become a series of moments and a blur of places.  Each place has their own story, but none more than Netiv Ha’asara – a small Moshav (cooperative agricultural community) that is the closest Israeli community to the Gaza Strip. The distance is 400 metres away or a little less than a 5 minute walk.  Just to give you some perspective, the distance from Niagara Falls, Canada to Niagara Falls, US is around 5.6 kilometres.  When we first were told that we would be visiting Netiv Ha’asara, I was filled with a sense of excitement.  How many people get to visit this place?  Other people may be a little fearful, but I knew that by going, that I would be able to see things differently.  It would not just be my own love of the country of Israel – it would be seeing, first hand, the day to day struggles of people living under the threat of rocket fire and now, the thousands of burning kites.

NATIV Haasara

To get to the Moshav, we drove through an imposing gate with barbed wire – it gave off a prison-like feel.  This quickly dissipated when we stepped out of the van into the hot, desert sunshine.  A short distance away, we could hear children laughing and playing in a pool.  It felt like we could be anywhere in the world.  We were met by a resident and we walked a short distance to a building that was the community bomb shelter.  It was larger than I expected and looked more like a place where you would have a town hall meeting versus a safe haven from missiles.  He explained the founding of the Moshav (they moved from the Sinai Peninsula after the Egytian/Israeli Peace Accords when they were displaced) which is why they feel that they cannot move.  He showed us some of the Qassam Rockets that rained regularly on the community.  We had the chance to hold them and they are quite heavy and capable of a lot of damage.  He also showed us an Iron Dome which Israel uses to intercept and destroy the rockets.  He patiently took our questions, but one question that he was not sure of is how much longer he could live with the rocket threat.

We were then taken a short distance to an outlook where you could Jabalia (Gaza) a very short distance away.  It really brought home, to me and my traveling companions, how precarious the situation was for these residents.  As we drove another short distance, we could see these little buildings decorated with artwork.  They were bomb shelters, decorated for and by children to make them less scary.  When an air siren goes off, the people (including the children) of the community have 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter.  Imagine living your life that way.  We were dropped off at the Path to Peace (Netiv Hashalom) Visitor Centre where we had the pleasure of meeting its owner,  Tzameret Zamir,  Zamir lives in a house that is closest to the imposing gray walls that protect the people in Netiv Ha’asara from gunfire from the Gaza Strip.  We were shown in and told to select a colourful tile with a saying on it; I selected happiness.  We then sat and watched a movie about Zamir, her daughter and the Moshav that they call home.

We learned more about Zamir and what the Path to Peace is.  We took a moment to write a wish on the back on the small tile we were given.  We walked beyond the Visitor Centre (which is attached to her home) to the walls that protect the Moshav.   The walls, huge and imposing, are covered with a sign made up of thousands of tiny mosaic pieces, like the ones we just wrote our wishes on.  On one wall, there are doves and peace signs with Path to Peace written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.  On other, smaller walls, there are butterflies and flowers and an Israeli Flag mosaic lives on yet another wall.  It was overwhelming.  There, the scale of what Zamir has created finally made sense. She told us that she wanted to create these beautiful works of art so that the first thing that the Gazans see is something beautiful and welcoming when they look across at Israel.

Ceremic Messages

Image courtesy of Steven Branco

We each placed our tiles down and took a photo.  We had just a brief time to walk around before our visit came to an end.  I hugged Zamir and told her what an incredible person that she is and how moved I was by the experience.  I was also a little embarrassed that I did not know about the place or the Path to Peace artwork.  It is, of course, not controversial enough to make conventional news.  It is also too positive of a story to get any traction.  It is a reminder of possibility in these very dark times.  The residents of Nativ Ha’asara do not hate the people on the other side of the wall.  They want peace and this wall is there as a reminder to all that anything is possible if you set aside fear and embrace hope.

 

 

 

 

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Israel Then and Now

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EL AL Airlines postcard circa 1961.

After my mother died, I found a bin where she had some of her cards and letters saved.  I came across a stack of letters and postcards from my grandparents first and only trip to Israel in 1961.  My grandmother wrote my mother almost daily while she was away; her musings and love for travel put a smile on my face.  There was a wonder about travel in the 1960s.  People were still amazed that you could fly overseas and they dressed up in their finest clothing, not in their yoga pants like I do.  Sometimes, I wish that we had the same innocence, but my latest trip to Israel did remind me of how incredible the country is.  It was the right place at the right time in my life with the right people.  I thought it would be fun to look back at how much the country has changed using the postcards from my grandparents, putting them side by side with current pictures of the places that we visited.

 

It is not exactly Tel Aviv, it’s Ashkelon on the coast of the Mediterranean on the left, with a photo of the beach in Tel Aviv on the right.  The biggest differences?  The swimsuit fashion and now Israel is so dog crazy that they have part of the beach reserved so that the pups can bond, play and go for a run with their owners.  Here was a passage from my grandmother’s note: “We arrived here tonight (Ashkelon) and this is the loveliest place.  Our rooms are like bungalows facing the Mediterranean.  We are staying here overnight, then leaving for Beersheba and Jerusalem.”

Tel Aviv has changed so much in the 57 years since my grandparents visited.  On the left you see what part of the city used to look like.  On the right, the modern skyline of the White City.  My grandparents loved Tel Aviv with my grandmother telling my mother that “I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful city.”  She also wrote: “If my cards sound mixed up, Daddy was rushing me, so forgive the mistakes.  Daddy is so excited.”   Yes, my grandparents called each other Mummy and Daddy and no, it was not creepy in the least.  It was adorable.  They had quite a love story.  If you are all good, maybe one day, I will tell you about it.  It really is swoon-worthy.

Haifa Hotel

We did not go to Haifa this time, and I only got to spend one day there when I was in Israel in 2006.  It is a city on a hill with the beautiful  Bahá’í Gardens being the centerpiece. She wrote: “Arrived here yesterday, I doubt whether any place could be more beautiful than Haifa.”  The hotel featured on the postcard was Hotel Ben Jehuda – I do not believe it is still open, but there are plenty of places to stay.  I cannot wait to go back and spend a little more time there.

My trip ended in Jerusalem and even though it was the second time that I was there, it is still awe-inspiring to see the first view of the city as you wind around the Judean Mountains.  My grandmother wrote: “We just arrived in Jerusalem and never will I forget this drive!  When we came into the city, Daddy was asked to say the prayer and everyone was crying.”  Remember, that when my grandparents visited, the country was only 13 years old, and the Holocaust was not even a distant memory.  My grandparents and their contemporaries, likely never thought that there would be a Jewish State or that they would have the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall – a single spot that has not changed in thousands of years.  It meant everything to them, and that is just one of the reasons why I find visiting Jerusalem such an incredible experience.  It is a blend of ancient and modern; quiet contemplative moments and hustle and bustle; religious and secular.  It’s everything.  By the way, the President Hotel has long been abandoned, but had a very interesting history – check out this article to learn more https://guyshachar.com/en/2016/abandoned-president-hotel-jerusalem/

There were other postcards, from other places, like Eilat, where my grandmother was so excited to sail on a glass bottom boat.  One of the nicest surprises for them was the last night of their trip, at a farewell banquet, “…and for dessert, oranges from the Zelikovitz Orchard.  Was Daddy proud!”  My grandfather and two of his brothers, were in the fruit business for a long time, and until a few years ago, our family had the orange orchard.  The land was donated back to the State of Israel but for a long time, it produced oranges that were sold around the world.

The best part of Israel?  It is a country that is continuously changing.  The Tel Aviv skyline has changed, even in the 12 years since I was last there.  The Old City in Jerusalem has changed as archaeologists continue to excavate and discover groundbreaking knowledge that is corroborated by both the Old and New Testaments.  It is at the forefront of new technology and advances in medicine that can change lives.  It is a country that was a desert and where trees and flowers now grow.  It is a place where I can go, even though it is thousands of kilometres away, and feel the presence of my family.

 


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All Roads (Flights) Lead Here

I leave for a media trip to Israel and I was asked to write a tweet about what I was looking forward to the most.  In so few characters and with a more general audience, it’s hard to put what I’m feeling into words.  I kept it simple and said the White City in Tel Aviv and the Old City in Jerusalem. Of course, experiencing the blend of modern and ancient that Israel possesses is incredible. I am happy to be doing everything from a tour of the Soda Stream factory to being moved by once again visiting Yad Vashem to seeing the beautiful Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.  There is one thing that I am looking forward to more than that though.  It’s not a place – it’s a feeling.

When I visited Israel for the first time in 2006, I was overwhelmed by many things.  What stood out to me the most though, was not the history of the country itself, although that was impressive, it was the knowledge that I stepped off of a plane and into a place that held so many memories for the people who were the most important to me.  My grandparents, Nathan and Sara Zelikovitz, visited in the late 1960’s and fell in love with this new nation.  My parents visited the country in the 1980’s and could not stop raving about it.  It was, and is, still a very important part of our family history.

When my mother passed away 4 months ago, I made a promise to myself to find ways to honour her memory whenever and wherever I could.  I never thought that I would be travelling so soon after her death, but when my friend Shai asked me about coming, one thought really struck me. I could say Mourner’s Kaddish (a prayer that you say for 11 months after the death of a parent or for 30 days after the passing of a child, spouse or sibling) for my mother at The Western Wall – the holiest site where I can pray as a Jew.  I am not religious in the least, but my mother was spiritual, and this is something that I can do for her and it will be especially meaningful in the land that she loved so much.  Once I finish, I will put a paper in the wall with what is believed to be, a written prayer to G-d.  Spoiler alert – it will be prayers of good health for my family, particularly, my oldest sister Michele who is also battling breast cancer.

On my first trip to Israel, I wanted a picture at the Wall simply because my grandparents and parents had photos from there and it was a chance for me to recreate a moment in time, even if my relatives could not be with me.  This time, my wish is that somehow, my mother will feel that I am doing this for her and that my grandparents will know too.

Not too long ago, when I was cleaning out my mother’s papers, I came across some letters that my grandmother wrote about her own trip to the country.  She wrote about how much she and my grandfather loved it and were so excited to be there.  She said that at dinner one night, they were served oranges from a grove that my grandfather owned, and he was bursting with pride.  I can picture the look on my quiet, unassuming Zaydie’s face.  To know that I’m going to be back in this country, a place that was so important to my family and to be able to honour my wonderful mother is what I am most looking forward to.

 


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Shark Beach

 

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The brave diver!

Every once in awhile, someone that I know does something so incredible, inspiring and interesting (all of the i’s) that I am compelled to write about it.  Such is my friend, Laura.  Laura is an avid diver, having been on 350 dives since her certification in 1999.  The underwater adventure that you are about to read about is for very experienced  divers only – please note the number of dives that Laura has been on and the years of that she has been doing this.  Most reputable operations require you to have a certain amount of experience anyway.  In other words, don’t be a dummy – if you have never even put a pair of flippers on before, this isn’t for you.  This post has been double checked by Laura for accuracy.

I’ve known Laura for a number of years, starting off as colleagues, then graduating into friends.   Laura is one of the smartest, most positive people that you will come across.  If you are lucky enough to know her, you already understand the extent of her kindness, good will and zest for life.  She is also a very talented seamstress. Everyday, during the time that I worked with her, I’d have to ask if she made the outfit that she was wearing, that’s how good her frocks are! Seriously, she missed her calling – she could have been the Dolce to Gabbana, the Y to YSL, the Coco to Chanel, the Alice to Alice + Olivia –  I think you get the picture.  She gives her all to everything, including her passion for diving.  Being an avid snorkeler, who one day would like to take the plunge (pun intended) and get my SCUBA diving certificate, I always sit in silent rapture whenever Laura tells stories about one of her around this world diving trips.  I’m also fascinated by, and feel protective towards sharks.  Many species, including the giant hammerhead, are slowly going extinct thanks to people over-hunting them for their fins, for sport or to show what a manly man you are.  When people are attacked by a shark, while it’s very sad, it’s a risk that you accept if you want to swim in the ocean.  We are unwelcome visitors in their home.  If you had someone in your home who was unwelcome and that you perceived as a threat, if you attacked them, you can claim self-defense.  A shark doesn’t have that luxury and are often hunted when someone is attacked.  These aren’t malevolent creatures actively hunting humans, they are important predators in the food chain.

Heading into the water

Heading in!

Back to Laura’s fascinating journey.  This particular trip was in the Bahamas, but was a little more of a once (or twice) in a lifetime experience.  I asked Laura all about it, but was so enraptured that I didn’t take notes.  My first question was the rather juvenile – so could you see the sharks when you were diving into the water????  Her response was an of course.  And she still went in!  She also mentioned that during one ascent, a diver had a curious tiger shark nibbling on his flipper.  The likely, calm, but slightly fearful diver pointed this out to the dive master who shrugged his shoulders, not because he didn’t care, but because there is little that he could do, the shark wasn’t hunting humans and he had likely been through it himself a number of times.  Laura was patient and answered all of my questions starting with:

How did you get into diving?  I met my husband in March 1999.  He told me the most amazing stories about his diving experiences, all over the world.  He offered to take me to Palau in February 2000, on the condition that I get certified here, first.  So, I was certified in September 1999.  I still remember my “check-out dive” – where you basically show the instructor that you understand how to put your gear together, can stay underwater without panicking, and remove your mask underwater, and put it back on while underwater (I had the hardest time with this, but in the end, it all went well).  This was in Parry Sound in late September – it was FREEZING.  I thought if this was diving – I’m not so sure…. Not to mention, the wet suit technology was not like today.  I was wearing a 7mm farmer john (2 pieces – thick neoprene painter pants and a second equally thick top with hood – honestly, out of the water, you could barely move – I was convinced this is what an Italian sausage felt like). Wet suits today are SO much more comfortable – thank goodness.

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Under the sea

What can you tell me about this particular dive?  Can you share the location and tell us a bit about the trip and what you saw?                                                                     Here is a map  http://www.aggressor.com/bahamasTB-divesites.php – you can see the dive sites (diver flag – red with a diagonal white stripe).  The trip is called Tiger Beach – but honestly, we were told there aren’t always a lot of tigers around tiger beach… We were very lucky to have landed in an area where there were MANY tiger sharks, and lemon sharks, so we stayed there for a bit.  Although the dive site info refers to tiger sharks that were 7 feet long – the ones we encountered were well over 10 ft…we think they were around 15 ft long.  Of particular note, there was a pregnant female – which was so interesting, because there was a distinct thickness around her middle.   We (the divers) simply stayed on the sandy bottom of the dive site, not moving around much, and sharks came closer and closer and started to swim all around us.  Even the most seasoned divers were is awe.  They really are beautiful animals.

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Were you, or any of the other divers at all scared or was there a freak out moment?  No – these were all seasoned divers who had been around sharks before.  Everyone was very calm and just in awe and respectful of the sharks.  Jill note: Interestingly, although tiger sharks are more feared, and are thought to be more aggressive, it was actually the lemon sharks that Laura was more wary of.  She and her husband did a short swim away from the group and returned when they were pursued by two lemon sharks.  Nothing happened, but remember, sharks are wild animals and their behavior cannot be predicted.

Shark!

Unreal

How many days did you dive and did you get used to being in the water with these particular sharks? 5 – after awhile, you were so used to seeing them, it almost became routine.  Oh, another tiger shark!

Sharks

Did they give you anything to protect yourself with?  No – the bubbles coming from your tank are actually a small deterrent – the sharks don’t seem to like them.  A pole, used incorrectly, could just anger the shark.  Really, it comes down to staying calm, and that comes with experience as a diver and other encounters with sharks.  If the shark is angry, and wants to attack, there isn’t a lot you can do, but again, it’s very rare and staying calm comes with experience.

Close

So close!

If someone ever wants to consider diving with tiger sharks, what should they know?  They are amazing, graceful creatures and just enjoy every minute of the dive.
If you have any questions for Laura about this experience, or any of her other dives, just let me know and I can do a follow up piece.


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No Judgments – The Bucket List

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I’ve used this pic before, but it fit the theme!

Everyone talks about it, but no one actually ever provides a complete list of what’s on theirs.  They’ll give you a few choice morsels, but they back off when it comes to giving you the full meal deal.  If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about a bucket list.  If you don’t know what a bucket list is (insert eye roll here) – it’s all of the incredible things that people want to do before they depart the earth and move on to their next life or go to heaven, or hang out in the warm place that we shall call Satan’s tea parlour.  I’m breaking free and revealing what’s on my list, what’s off and what never will be on it.

Now for your reading pleasure….

What’s On

  • See the Little Mermaid Statue in Denmark – Hello!  It’s one of the best fairy tales out there (Cinderella is the best) and Copenhagen was the home of one of my favourite kiddy authors – Hans Christian Anderson.
  • See a Puffin – I’m not a bird lover, but hello, Puffins are adorable!
  • See an Orca in the wild – as nature intended them to be.  Sea World and Marine Land – I’m talking to you
  • Go in a Shark Cage and see a Great White (and come out of the cage with all of my fingers and toes and not covered in bloody fish guck)
  • Go to South America  – maybe not the sucky countries
  • Go back to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where I grew up, one last time
  • Walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge in British Columbia
  • Go to all ten provinces (I’ve been to 8 – Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, here I come) and 3 Territories (none so far)
  • See all 50 States in the USA (even the questionable ones).  So far, in no particular order, I’ve been to: 1) Hawaii, 2)Alaska, 3)California, 4) Nevada, 5) Arizona, 6) Texas, 7) Arkansas, 8) Tennessee, 9) Georgia, 10) Florida, 11) North Carolina, 12) Minnesota, 12) Ohio, 14) Louisiana, 15) Virginia, 16) Illinois, 17) Pennsylvania, 18) New Jersey, 19) New York and 20) Massachusetts.  Just 30 more to go!
  • See almost every country in Europe – some at least thrice – except some of the sucky ones!  For some fun, I’m only going to tell you the countries that I have yet to see: 1) Sweden (I’ve seen Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I know that there is weirdness there, but I’m going), 2) Finland (best name ever), 3) Denmark (see bullet point 1), 4) Poland, 5) Bulgaria, 6) Romania, 7) Estonia, 8) Belgium, 9) Croatia (dying to go here), 10) Cyprus (but I’ve been to Greece – does that cover it off?), 11) Monaco, 12) Luxembourg, 13) Serbia, 14) Slovenia (home to Melania Trump – maybe I’ll skip it?) 15) Lithuania (home to my lovely grandfather and favourite great uncles), 16) Belarus, 17) Ukraine (maybe I’ll skip this country or just not dress up as a Ukranian if I visit Russia – I wouldn’t want them to invade me), 18) Russia (most of my other relatives are from here, and who doesn’t want to see St. Petersberg?)
  • Go to Bora Bora in Tahiti Tahiti  – it looks amazing, plus, I like a place that’s so nice that they named it twice
  • See the Northern Lights
  • See all of the Disney Theme Parks around the world – Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, I’m coming for you!  And don’t judge me – it’s the happiest place on earth
  • Speaking of Tokyo – I also want to go to Japan
  • …and New Zealand
  • ..and Singapore – who doesn’t love a clean destination
  • …and Thailand
  • See Bill Clinton speak live – I saw Hillary and she was pretty fab, plus I have to have a few non-travel related items on the list
  • Have the best day ever and know that it’s the best day ever

Completed Items:

  • Go to an NFL game in the USA.  I went to a Steelers game.  I discovered that football is just as boring in person as it is on TV AND they took away my purse because it was too big to pass security regulations
  • Own a YSL Muse bag – thanks to Woodbury Common, I have this in my purse wardrobe for less than half the price AND it’s the original Muse with the Y (if you are a guy reading this, it’s like you finding one of your collectible dolls, sorry action figures or a really great Laz-E-Boy chair on sale)
  • Teach an important life lesson to someone that they’ll value
  • Make 10 people cry tears of happiness
  • Have dinner once with my whole immediate family
  • Write a blog for one year (ahem, my blog celebrated it’s third anniversary)

Off the List:

  • See George Michael in concert  – sad to say, I’ve never seen this musical genius

Never on the List and Never Will Be and Don’t Tell Me Never Say Never ‘Cause it’s NEVER:

  • Skydiving
  • Bungee Jumping
  • Hand Gliding or any aerial trick
  • Space Travel

I don’t have a death wish and I get motion sick so they are all out for me.  So, now that you know what’s on my, tell me what’s on yours?  I need some inspiration and some non-travel related bucket list items so I want to plagiarize yours!


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I (Will) Love T.O.

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Somehow, I always seem to end up with the world’s chattiest taxi drivers, Uber drivers, seat mates on the subway, seat mates on an airplane, seat mates on the train…you get the picture.  Often a bit of a weirdo magnet or just a sympathetic ear, I’ve heard a little bit of everyone’s story over the years…usually not by choice.  One lesson that I have learned though, is that everyone has a story, and you may be surprised, so take the time to listen whether you feel like it or not.

Today, as always, I ended up having a deep, meaningful conversation with a cabbie.  I knew the second that I opened the door, that this man was going to talk my ear off.  I got in, shut the door, sighed once in my inside voice, once in my outside voice and settled in to hear all about his likes and dislikes.  Proving that you can be inspired by just about anything, this blog all started with a simple statement/question from my fair driver…”I LOVE Toronto…Miss, do you love Toronto?”  Being nauseatingly politically correct, I automatically answered yes, very much.  I knew that I gave the right answer from the huge smile on his face, after which I got to hear about every one of the other things that he loves.  He did, get me thinking, do I really love Toronto, or am I just waiting for something better to come along?  Everyone takes the city that they live in for granted, but I started to think about all of the things that I’ve experienced in this very city, this very year and all of the little accidental things that I’ve stumbled across.  For instance:

  • Theatre – Toronto has a great theatre scene.  It rivals any major city in the world.  We have fancy, schmancy theatres like the Ed Mirvish Theatre, and some that need a little love, but have a ton of character like the Lower Ossington.  This year, I’ve seen some really great musicals including Mary Poppins (for the first time – I’ve never even seen the movie), Matilda (loved), and best of all, Thank You for Being A Friend – a must see for Golden Girl Fans.  If you don’t love The Golden Girls, please find another blog to read because that’s sacrilege in my book
  • Events – I went to the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo.  Pretty fun, but the same thing always happens when I taste wine – I try something that’s not from New Zealand, make a face, says it’s too sweet or too oak-y, toss it into the garbage, pout a little, and try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and proclaim it the best wine ever.  I also sit through a boring cooking demo, try what they make, lie to them and say it’s the best thing ever, and then complain to whoever I’m with that so and so can make it better. Aw tradition!  I also got to enjoy the King Street Festival for TIFF – my friend and I strolled along, and it was nice to see people just enjoying the city.  Oh, and I got to meet Michael Fassbender earlier in the day – bonus!
  • Live (and inspiring events) – Seeing Deepak Chopra, yes, my guru was a highlight, but meeting him?  Priceless.  My friend got us tickets to see him live at Roy Thomson Hall and we were number 2 and 3 in the line up to meet him.  An even bigger, if it’s possible moment, was lining up at Indigo at Bay and Bloor to meet ANDERSON COOPER THE SILVER FOX!!!!!!  Yes, I had to be there at 7:30 in the morning and wait for 4 hours, but it was fun, and worth it.  If you don’t want to buy books (shudders) or pay for ticketed events, you can always go to Indigo and hear your favourite authors speak.  If you don’t read, maybe you should make 2017 the year that you crack open a book?
  • Museums – I always seem to forget that we have museums in TO.  This year, I noticed that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was doing a Mystical Landscapes exhibit and it looked like it had real art!  Like stuff that I’d recognize.  Seriously!  I always poke fun of the AGO because although it has Monets, Manets, Van Goghs, etc., they are always the sad, sloppy seconds that no other gallery would touch – you know, the ones nobody has ever heard of.  This exhibit was great though.  I dragged my trusty friend and off we went to get ourselves cultured up.  They had a symphony first, so after walking an exhausting block, we plunked ourselves down for a half hour rest and listened.  I’ll be honest, about 50 seconds in, I got bored and tried not to fall asleep.  I love classical music, but spoken word…PLEASE…and opera?  EWWWWW.  I understand torture when I listen to opera, mostly because my ears feel tortured.  The art though was perfect.  They had the best of the best of the best and I discovered Wenzel Hablik – a really different kind of artist who I really loved.  I’m not going to go out and buy one of his paintings, mostly because I can’t afford to, but they were different from anything that I’ve ever seen before
  • World Class Shopping – I could write a book on how much I love the Eaton Centre.  It has a Nordstrom, need I say more?  Plus they went back to having a HUGE (using my Donald Trump voice) Christmas Tree that’s beautiful
  • The CN Tower – Yes, it’s tacky to admit, but I love the CN Tower.  You couldn’t pay me to go there, unless I had visitors in town, but just to see it’s alien looking frame or see it lit up, makes me know that I’m home
  • Unexpected beauty – the Manulife Building on Bloor Street somehow always looks perfect, no matter what time of year.  They also celebrate holidays better than any other place in the city.  Don’t believe me, check out the photo from Remembrance Day in the collage below – it’s small, but it’s in the right hand corner.  The little things that look like confetti were row after row of Canadian flags

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I guess I have my answer, maybe, just maybe I’m falling back in love with Toronto.  My challenge to myself for 2017?  Keep looking for things to admire about my fair city and see what all of those people on our Hop On, Hop Off tours are oohing and ahhhing about.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


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Well, I Declare! Do You?

Getting back to travel, I’m just wondering how many of you shop ’til you drop when you vacay?  I bet many of you are taken in by useless tchotchkes, shoes that you just have to walk away with, jewelry that matches the sparkle in your eye and clothes that will reside on your elliptical for years to come.  I eschew touristy souvenirs, I have absolutely no use for them.  I do have a weakness for clothing and accessories though.  Plus, I’m a generous hearted Leo who likes to buy useless, yet thoughtful gifts, for family and friends that make the cut.  This translates into sometimes going over our paltry $800 limit (remember I’m Canadian).

It used to be even worse, and cross border shopping meant pulling tags off, donning about 6 layers of clothes, throwing out old shoes so I could wear new ones and looking like the Michelin Man as I got questioned by Canadian Customs.  Not being a natural liar, I usually stuttered through the answers or mumbled into one of the 5 sweaters that I was wearing (in the heat of the summer) that I spent about $50.  LIAR LIAR pants (3 pairs to be exact) on fire, I knew that Officer Bob was thinking to himself as he sighed and let us pass through.

There were times that I couldn’t lie or layer my clothes in such an overt way because I made the mistake of going to the US with someone that had been black listed.  Declaring pained me, so I’d sneak a sweater or blouse into my over-sized purse and hope that my friend didn’t discover my little peccadillo.  Then, I started going with one of my dearest friends who could lose her job if she was caught lying at the border and a condition of cross border travel meant…shudders…being completely honest.  At first, I resented it, but as more time went by, and I was waved through without paying duty, even when I overspent, I started appreciating the weird freedom that honesty brought.  I no longer was tongue tied  when I spoke to Customs.  I also looked better – 3 pairs of pants and 5 sweaters is just FUGLY.

The last two trips that I took, I was declared positively everything to the dime, and guess what?  I got brownie points.  One nice Agents of the Shield gave me a discount because I was honest so I paid a measly $30 – think of it – you lie to save $30?  Not worth it in my humble opinion.  Last night, when I got back from New Orleans, I was over by $50 – but declared it anyway – I have to be honest because I have Nexxus Card.  Once again, I was rewarded for being a do-gooder and paid absolutely zip.

So what does this all add up to?  Do you really want to stammer haltingly through a border crossing or sweat through your new clothes to avoid a few dollars at the border?  I no longer do, and I do declare, it’s freeing.  Enjoy your travels.