Friends

You know those people who know everything about you (the good, the bad, and the drunken/crying ugly), love you despite your faults, sing out loud in cars with you during road trips or just a quick jaunt up to the grocery store for an ice cream and Doritos run, tell you when you’re being petty, stupid or wicked smart, have your back and are there for you when you need to talk to them, even when it’s 1am?

Your friends. The ones you’ve known for years and it’s just assumed they’ll be there for every major milestone. But life happens, boyfriends come along, families take priority, and babies are born. The once a day check in is in reality a hopefully once a week coffee catch up and texts to fill the void. Maybe, just maybe, if baby sitters can be arranged and husbands pacified, a weeknight dinner can be arranged.

Now try to imagine all of the above but with 14 hours’ time difference and the distance of the entire Pacific Ocean thrown into the mix. Getting schedules to coordinate for Skype calls can be a little tricky. “Oh, you’ve got skating lessons at that time? Sure, we can catch up another time”. “Oh, family obligations that day too? No problem, I’m good with any time”. “You’ve just put in 12 hours at work. Yup, totally understand. We’ll catch up next weekend”.

Life happens.

But no matter how long it’s been since you last caught up, when you do finally get together no one misses a beat. I returned to Canada for a few days last year and made the point to catch up with all my friends. It’s as though I never moved to the other side of the world. It took a few sessions to get fully caught up, but having that time with your friends to be the goofy, caring, sarcastic bitch – the multi-dimensional you! – the only place where that aspect of yourself is accepted, is such a cathartic and nurturing place to be and I missed it dearly.

I’ll be heading home soon and one of the very first things I’ll do is set up a time for my friends. The ones who have seen me in my highest and lowest moments, the ones who have been there for me through the thick and thin, the ones who know all the inside jokes, the ones who have shared some of the best experiences and memories in my life. My best friends.

Getting pumped about Toronto

It’s begun. I’ve started a countdown to our glorious return to Toronto. Lists are being made, clothes and household items are being sorted into keep/donate/sell/burn piles, and the frantic thoughts of whether we have all our things sorted to move back have settled in nicely and act like a nice warm hug full of crazy. Australia has been lovely and beautiful and we’ll miss it dearly, especially all the friends we met here, but I feel it’s time to head back home to Toronto.

I’m going to ignore the insanity and frustration that goes with moving house, let alone moving house to another country. My mind is focused on the most important thing about moving back to Toronto.

Food.

Tim Horton’s

Tim Horton's tea and my favourite doughnut Image: CampusDish.com

Tim Horton’s tea and my favourite doughnut
Image: CampusDish.com

A true Canadian classic. I’m not a coffee drinker but I can totally get behind Tim Horton’s steeped tea. I like tea that I can sip right away and don’t have to wait for. I’m a busy person with busy person things to do and don’t have time to wait for my tea to steep. And why am I paying for hot water and tea that I have to steep myself? If I wanted to steep my own tea, I’d do that in my kitchen for free. Pffffff. That’s just how I roll. I like Timmy’s because they steep it for me and put way more sugar in it than I normally would at home but hey, when in Rome! Did I mention I love doughnuts! I love doughnuts! I was extremely sad to hear that Timmy’s would be retiring some classics. One of them was my Dad’s favourite and I sent him a condolence card and a listing of all the local stores that still carried the remaining few. For his sake, I hope doughnuts freeze well.

California Sandwiches

A delicious California Sandwich Image: CaliforniaSandwiches.com

A delicious California Sandwich
Image: CaliforniaSandwiches.com

There was a California Sandwiches location near the place I use to work in Toronto and every now and then I would treat myself to a veal with cheese on a Friday. The only thing stopping me from eating there five days a week was my neurotic, evil brain making me think that I was going to become their Norm from Cheers and as soon as I walked into the restaurant, people would think “geez, she’s here again? Gross.” Luckily for my pants (which never split) and my self-esteem, that didn’t happen. I tried to wean myself off of these delicious foil-wrapped, fried sandwiches (sorry, “sangwiches”) and suffered through salad after salad and tuna with cucumbers or tuna with olives until I broke the habit. Salad and tuna sucks compared to California Sandwiches. To explain what a CS is to someone who has never tried the delicious breaded and fried veal (chicken, steak, eggplant, meatball, sausage or veggie) cutlet, smothered in a delicious tomato sauce and topped with provolone cheese, sweet or hot peppers, sautéed onions or mushrooms, it might sound a little basic and maybe even boring. But when you get every component right, from the crispy coating of the tender veal cutlet, the right acidity and sweetness of the tomato sauce, the right amount of hot peppers that won’t put you out of commission for a day and team it with gooey cheese (and a Brio)… its heaven. I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ve got a few more months before I can reward myself with one of these and this is torture.

Fuzzy Peaches and Swedish Berries

Maynards' Fuzzy Peaches Image: FanPop.com

Maynards’ Fuzzy Peaches
Image: FanPop.com

I’m more of a savoury foods person but every once in a while I’ll crave something ridiculously sweet. Something like Maynards’ Fuzzy Peaches or Swedish Berries. I have and will eat an entire bag of Swedish Berries. If you put money on it, well then challenge accepted. I’m hoping to finish an entire bag of Fuzzy Peaches but will have to work my way up to it. That’s my Olympic dream.

Poutine

Gourmet poutine Image: ChowTrek.com

Gourmet poutine
Image: ChowTrek.com

It’s not an everyday meal option for the GTA like it is in Montreal, but it’s a damn good one if you can get your hands on it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with poutine, it’s French fries with gravy and cheese curds. Again, it doesn’t sound that appetizing but done right and it’s amazing. When we left for Australia it had already cemented its place on trendy menus with luscious, high-end ingredients like butter-poached lobster and foie gras. We hacked out our very own version using frozen McCain Super Fries, instant St. Hubert Gravy and real cheese curds we found at Loblaws. Ghetto? Oh, you know it! I’m not going to say it was one of our proudest moments, and we ate it without making eye contact with each other but it satiated that salty, squeaky cheesy, gravy on carbs craving. Yummers!

Loblaws

President's Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie

A classic: President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, Image: Shalomlife.com

I dig food. I dig good food. I dig making good food from scratch. I dig not paying a lot of money to make good food that I dig. I could go to the trendy gourmet supermarkets and pay 30-50% more for the same item but I’d rather go to a place where I know I can find affordably-priced items, right next to some bargain gems. Enter Loblaws. Oh how I’ve missed your flyers, Insider’s Report and commercials! You had me when I first tasted a Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie and saw Dave Nichols and his “Memories of …” commercials. I’m looking forward to meandering up and down your wide, neatly arranged aisles, taking my time to check out your frozen hors d’oeuvres, classic President’s Choice products and your new PC Black Label lineup. I might rent a space on the second level and camp out but don’t worry, it’s cool … I’m not weird.

Oh, right. So I forgot my family and friends might read this so for sure you guys are number one and up there on my list of priorities. Family and friends outrank food and I am absolutely not saying that to get a My Super Sweet 16 kind of welcome home party. That would be lame (but secretly I’m really hoping for one).

What foods do you adore from Toronto or the GTA?

In praise of singing in cars

Brisbane is a commuter’s paradise.

Its smaller population and small town vibe allow for an easy and short commute. Driving into the city in the mad rush of the mornings is an easy 20 minute drive. Yup. 20 minutes.

Let me put that in Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton terms. That would be like driving from the corner of Bathurst and Bloor to Yonge-Dundas Square. In Mississauga, it’s the equivalent of starting at Burnhamthorpe and Hwy 10 and making your way to the QEW. And from Brampton’s corner of Steels and Hwy 10 to Bovaird. Congratulations! You made it to the QEW in 20 minutes but you now have to battle the traffic with the rest of the cogs heading downtown which could put another 30-40 minutes on your drive time depending on your final destination. I might be giving the benefit of the doubt to some of these, but you get the idea. Time is precious and you can’t travel very far during morning rush hour.

Don’t get me wrong. A short commute is ideal and there’s plenty of research showing a correlation between commute times and physical health and your relationships with loved ones. The negative impact commuting has on environmental issues like pollution, CO2 emissions, etc., all point to the solution that we should be using more public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking to get to work. But there’s something to be said about the alone time you have when it’s just you – and only you – in the car and faced with a 20 minute or more drive ahead of you. Taking public transit, carpooling, walking or biking just doesn’t cut it. You need the feeling that no one is watching, no distractions from other people, no eavesdropping, nothing. Just you, your car, a cup of tea/coffee from Tim’s, a cup holder, and the stereo.

Here’s why commuting to work is awesome by yourself if you have a long enough drive (and a car).

Pondering life’s mysteries.

Should you try Nepalese food? What is Nepalese food? Do you really like pad thai or do you think it’s weird to have peanuts with noodles? Why does everyone like garlic? Why are the other drivers idiots? Why is Two and a Half Men so popular when it’s not funny? Why aren’t I a millionaire? All these questions can be answered during your drive to work.

Career coaching.

The time commuting to and from work was usually when I thought about my career journey, where I pictured myself working in two, five and ten years, how I could have handled a work situation better, female leaders I admired, how/when/where to network, etc.. This sometimes turned into a negative tangent about colleagues, their skills and abilities, and I’ll admit some colourful language was used to describe these things. However it was a valuable learning lesson for me to stop all those negative feelings and it’s still a work in progress. It’s very easy to blame everyone else for why things went wrong but the challenge is to find your part in it and how to approach it next time so that the end result is successful. Did you effectively get your message across? Though they’re colleagues, did you make sure you knew your audience and how best to communicate to them? Did you make sure they understood what you were saying? Instead of getting uptight about others, I looked at it as an area where I could improve.

Checking out other people and what they’re doing.

Everyone’s curious and does it. What are people eating for breakfast? By looking at their wardrobe (and car) you could guess where they worked and the title they held. But this has the potential to be harmful to your health because we’ve all seen it: the nose picker. As I mentioned before, you need the sense of being alone for self-discovery and alone time, but that does not mean discovering that the huge cranial booger needs to be immediately removed in the middle of the Gardiner. Cars have windows, people. Others can see you and all your grossness. Leave personal grooming and disgusting habits for the privacy of your bathroom. I really can’t stress that enough. Even seeing women putting on eyeliner and mascara irritates me. Don’t get me started on plucking eyebrows in public. Don’t.

Singing.

Now this is the reward for driving by yourself. You could probably do it with others in the car but they’d have to be your partner/best friend/parent/child under the age of whatever it is before they learn to talk back. And there’s really no going back once you’ve open this can of talent on a work colleague. Belting out your version of Adele, Beyoncé, or any of the top 40 hits, is cathartic, empowering and boosts your mood. Awkward Moments has a story about what happens when someone sees you singing like no one’s watching.

Remember this? Don’t lie … you know you rocked out to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Image courtesy of Collection of Awesome.

Is there a perfect amount of commuting time that facilitates and aids self-discovery, mental health, and the self-indulgence of singing at the top of your lungs to your favourite songs? For the last two years, I’ve walked to work which took no more than 10 minutes. That’s just enough time in the hot sun when it’s 8am and the temperature has already reached 28 C degrees. Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check.

Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check.

I’ve decided for me the ideal car ride to work is around the 20-35 minute mark. That’s just enough time to solve all of life’s mysteries for one day, sing about five to ten really good songs but not be in the car for an excessive amount of time. There’s evidence that anything longer will make you miserable and it’s even worse if you take public transit.

What’s your ideal commute time and what do you do to pass the time while idling in traffic?

Melbourne: The Toronto of the Southern Hemisphere

A few weeks ago, my guy and I headed south to the lovely state of Victoria to take in all the sights and sounds of its capital city, Melbourne. We’d been to other states like Cairns (Queensland), Sydney (New South Wales), and Perth (Western Australia) but we always heard from others, locals and expats alike, to visit Melbourne. So last Australia Day, we set out to spend the long weekend and explore the city, which turned out to be one of my favourite places in Australia.

Here’s a photo of the Crown Casino’s hourly fire show. Yes, this happens hourly outside the complex.

Hourly fire show at Melbourne's Crown Casino

Hourly fire show at Melbourne’s Crown Casino

Here’s why: it reminded me so much of Toronto. Am I pinning for Toronto? Completely, without a doubt. I had been back to Toronto eight months ago, and that visit only made me miss it more. The sights, sounds, smells, and even the traffic made me realize how much I had missed it over the year and a half of living abroad. It felt as though my two weeks were compressed into only a few short days and I desperately wanted to drink it all in. I would live in Melbourne without hesitation if it weren’t for the fact that we moved from Toronto to find something different. It would have been a a disappointment to make the long haul journey to Australia and end up pretty much in a city that’s eerily similar to the one we left.

Locals describe Melbourne as the European city of Australia. It’s not like Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, and definitely not like Cairns. Melbourne has a unique history and is generally known as the melting pot of Australia as many immigrants from Greece, Italy, China, and Vietnam made Melbourne their home. It’s a beautiful and welcoming city, and equally fantastic as Toronto.

Here’s my theory on why Melbourne is the Toronto of the Southern Hemisphere:

Streetcars.

Public transportation geeks unite! Melbourne offers a free City Circle Tram that travels around the city centre and provides a recorded message of some of the interesting points of buildings, local attractions and neighbourhoods. Yup, free. Could you see Toronto offering a service like this? In addition to the free city centre service, it was very comforting to hear the sounds of cars driving over the streetcar tracks.

City Circle Tram

Melbourne’s free City Circle Tram [image courtesy of onlymelbourne.com.au]

It was cold.

Like 17C cold when we arrived. In my opinion, that’s not normal for Australia during the summertime. People who live in Melbourne say they can go through all four seasons in a day and I completely believe them. It was like Toronto on a cool autumn day.

Amazing food. 

Here’s where things get “European” in my opinion. Like many European cities, Melbourne has dozens of laneways and alleyways where amazing food is served day and night. That’s the only difference in terms of where you actually find food. Toronto doesn’t have the alleyway restaurant culture simply because of the weather. If Toronto had the same climate as the South of France where the only threat comes from a chilly day and potentially rain, then Toronto would all over it. Unfortunately, Toronto is faced with -32C, snow, sleet, hail and everything else that drives outdoor eating inside.

Diversity.

Not just for food but cultures and people. It was incredible to walk down the street and see different nationalities and cultures living in one area. Melbourne, in my opinion is the most diverse city in Australia.

Gardens, boulevards, and parks.

Parliament Garden

Parliament Gardens

Like Toronto, Melbourne is full of green space. We’d walk past numerous parks and will the streetcars going by, the large open areas, it felt as though we were walking into High Park.

If you’re ever on this side of the world and are pinning for a bit of Toronto, then head over to Melbourne for a few days. With its mixtures of cultures, from Europe, Asia and of course Australia, it’ll satisfy any craving. Bonus: no Rob Ford.