My summer without a metropass

This summer, in an effort to save some money, I decided that I wouldn’t buy a metropass. In Toronto, it costs $3 to take the subway, or TTC, one way. The metropass costs $135. To make it worth your while, you would have to use it 1.5 times per day. And that’s to break even. (I note here that metropasses in Montreal are only $80.)

Let’s face it, if you’re from Toronto, you know that the TTC is terrible. It’s overcrowded, it’s almost always delayed because of “signal problems,” and if you’re going south at all during rush hour, forget about getting a seat.

As I’m sure you can imagine, it wasn’t a tough sell to force myself to find alternative methods of transport come months with nicer weather. I don’t think anyone really expected the rainy, chilly summer that we had, but hey – it wasn’t “feels like 45 C” like it was last summer.

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The Beltline – trail that runs through urban Toronto, as part of my walk to work.

I didn’t buy a metropass for June, July or August. In that time, I would allocate myself $40/month for TTC fare, in case of evening work or social events, rain, etc., but I wouldn’t necessarily use all of it. The distance between my place and work is exactly 7KM. I walked most often, but also biked (until my bike broke in August) and occasionally ran. During this time, I was also training for some trail races and my half marathon in October.

Here is my end of summer total:

Walk: 281 KM
Bike: 180 KM
Run: 319 KM

I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it! Sure, there were times when I needed to get somewhere quickly and walking wasn’t an option (the walk takes approximately 1 hour 15 minutes), but most often I really liked it. The morning I found to be the best. I started listening to a few new podcasts (if you like This American Life, check out Love and Radio), and even found a new coffee shop that I’d never had a chance to visit before as it was approximately half way through the walk. (Boxcar Social – they also have microbrews in the afternoon/evening and a killer patio out back.)

Boxcar Social’s patio

I loved the commuting so much, in fact, that I haven’t bought a pass for September, either, and I don’t know whether I will for October. The mornings are chillier than the afternoons, and if it’s a bright, blue sky with a slowly rising sun, there’s not much better than a walk to stretch your legs in the morning and get your mind working.

Review: Sweetland by Michael Crummey

I loved Michael Crummey’s Sweetland. It was one of those books where you turn the final page, and want to talk about it with someone else who’s read it. I didn’t have to wait for a friend to finish it, however. I was lucky enough to sit down with the author himself when he came through Toronto in August.

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photo courtesy of CBC

This is only the second book of Crummey’s I’ve read. When I first read Michael Crummey’s Galore, I wasn’t sure what to think of it.

Growing up, fantasy novels were my guilty pleasure (Wheel of Time. Sue me.) and so I’ve always thought of fantasy and literary fiction being mutually exclusive. Luckily, I read Galore with my book club, so through our conversation I saw that the myth, mystery and uncertainty in the novel wasn’t just because it fell under “magical realism,” but because those qualities are tied up in the history of Newfoundland. Crummey uses the magic and lore of the land to define and shape Galore and he does it again in Sweetland.

Moses Sweetland and his family have called a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland home for over 12 generations. When the government decides to reclaim the island and resettle it’s population, all the inhabitants are offered a settlement package. The catch is, it’s either all or nothing – and Moses refuses to leave. What unfolds is an intimate look at a community steeped in its own history and how these troubled characters each face the challenge of moving on.

cod fishing, 1921, Grand Banks fishery

Having a mother from a small, tight-knit community on the east coast, I’m familiar with the knowing yet wary nod of “you come from away, do yas?” When reading Sweetland, however, I felt immersed in and part of the community. Crummey leaves a lot to the reader (i.e. complex fishing terms), yet I never felt like I didn’t belong.

The characters came to life fully formed. About 50 pages in, I realized that when I read their names, there they were in my head. I could picture the way they laughed, whispered, held a cigarette; Crummey’s descriptions weren’t lengthy, yet somehow impeccable. In Galore, however, the characters seemed to be hard to hold on to. When I finally felt like I knew a character, their role in the story was over.

“In Galore, the characters are supporting characters to the main character, Newfoundland. The subject, the reason, the beginning, and the end is Newfoundland and everyone in the book is there for what they bring to that characterization. What drew me to it, Sweetland, to a certain extent, is that it’s about one person. I really tried to recreate a sense of community that is very intertwined.”

When I sat down to write out some questions to ask the author, I was surprised to realize that almost all the characters in Sweetland are damaged. Damaged, yet somehow not broken. You aren’t caught up with feelings of pity for them, either. They exist in the book to play their role in Sweeland’s community. Pilgrim is blind, Jesse is undiagnosed, but seemingly autistic, Queenie hasn’t left her house since she was a little girl and even Moses, himself, has been through a terrible accident.

“It was deliberate. But… everybody’s a little bit nuts. In a small community, that’s amplified. There’s no way to escape other people’s craziness. There’s space in the modern world to ignore it: institutions, etc. In Newfoundland back then, they accommodated people in the community, including people with serious mental illnesses. The fact that these people were accommodated, given a home, accepted, served them way better than some of the solutions that we’ve come up with in other places. Of course the lack of access to medical care is bad. People wouldn’t go back to that, but the fact that everyone had to know how to do everything, created a people who were very self-reliant.”

“I wanted to create a community where someone like Moses would look around and say: There’s nowhere else I could go where I could be given a home, be accommodated like these people are being accommodated.

When I asked Crummey about his research for Sweetland, he told me about a thrilling cruise called Adventure Canada; a circumnavigation of Newfoundland. On this cruise, is an impressive cast of characters that changes for each trip. Some of the intelligentsia a passenger might brush shoulders with includes geologists, historians, anthropologists, biologists… There are also people from Newfoundland there from the cultural sector like musicians and writers.

One year – Michael Crummey was asked to be one of the cultural specialists. Crummey had never even seen the south coast before as it’s not accessible by car. The cruise is 10 days, and he’s just finished his fifth.

“Admittedly I’m not great on ships. It terrified me. But I thought – this is my shot, this is my chance. It’s just spectacular, getting to go into those communities over a period of years. My sense of what those places are like and how people live there is how I wrote this book.”

Inspiration for the island itself came from a real abandoned island; Baccalieu Island. Crummey’s wife is a wildlife biologist and frequently works on Baccalieu Island which lies just off the tip of Conception Bay. It even has an abandoned lighthouse and keeper’s house.

Baccalieu Island

In the second half of the novel, Moses is alone on the island. Crummey was nervous about “pulling it off,” as he puts it, but I found it flowed beautifully. The latter half had a pacing similar to that of Cormac McCarthy where the story is driven by the action. Occasionally, there will be a flashback, but it’s handled unapologetically. Crummey trusts his reader will come along for the ride.

As time goes by, however, the reader isn’t sure whether they can trust their narrator anymore. Moses has been alone for quite sometime, and things start happening that… aren’t right. This reminded me of Galore.

“It’s a… kind of, sort of companion to Galore – Galore started in a time before time, when the line between myth, lore legend and reality was blurred. The line between life and death was porous and you don’t know where it is. As Galore progresses, the community is pulled more and more into the real world and that line recedes. Sweetland starts in the present day community in crisis, but as you move into the second half, it drifts off into that mist where the world of Galore came from, where what’s real and not real and life and death is harder to place.”

I totally understood what Crummey meant, and if you’ve read both, or even just Galore, then you will, too. I liked being unsure at the end of Sweetland. I liked that the book was toying with my sense of adventure. It was asking me to use my imagination and trust that it had a plan, and I should come along for the ride.

There’s always that story around the campfire where someone has a friend who witnessed something unexplainable and it seems that in those moments of late night, flickering firelight, we can suspend our own beliefs and allow ourselves to wonder, “what if?” Crummey delicately recreates that atmosphere and leaves it to us to define what we believe. Without spoiling anything: the ending is ambiguous. I asked Crummey what he thought happened.

“I have my opinion of course, but just because I wrote the book doesn’t mean that’s the opinion that matters.”

When Crummey started writing Moses, he dropped in bits and pieces of his father’s life as he had grown up in a small community in Newfoundland. There are charming anecdotes in the book (the rooster, the pig) that come from true stories his father used to tell him. When he finished writing Sweetland, he realized that what Moses goes through in the second half of the novel is like someone facing a terminal illness. It’s about what he knows is coming, and how much he fights what he knows is coming. 12 years ago, Crummey watched his father die of cancer which he sees now influenced the book.

“The relocation is the set-up, but it’s about mortality – how we face it.”

All told, I urge you to read this book. Don’t read it on your daily commute, but really treat yourself to an early evening in bed or, better yet, a crisp morning at the cottage. Sweetland is a gritty story but not without heart. Crummey’s prose is delicate, yet sea-worthy. Do yourself a favour and get lost in the myth and legend of Newfoundland.

I’ve always wanted to go to St. John’s, so I made sure to ask Crummey where he takes friends when they come to visit:

- The Rooms. “It’s the art gallery, the archives and the museum with the best view of the harbour.”
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The Ship Pub. “It’s a tiny bar down a lane-way. The vast majority of grants that have been given to writers in Newfoundland have been spent at the Ship…  lots of book launches, readings and fantastic bands there!”
Raymond’s. “It was called the best new restaurant in Canada when it opened 3 or 4 years ago. All local game and produce – delicious.”

10 books you need to read this summer

I’ve been getting a lot of requests from friends for a list of books to take on vacation over the summer. As I’m starting my vacation this weekend with two of my best friends getting married, I thought this would be a great time to share some.

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I define a “summer read” as a book that can stand an interruption or two. Maybe breakfast is ready; maybe there’s a car going into town; maybe someone needs a hand shucking the corn. Whatever it is, vacations are never truly vacations at the cottage and reading time is often sacred.

A “summer read” should have enough plot to lure you back after that quick swim. It should be funny, or gripping. It should be the kind of book that gets passed around from book club to book club and comes back well-worn. The kind of story that you chat about over the campfire.

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Without further ado, here are the 10 books you need to read this summer.

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker

One sentence summary: “Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.” – Goodreads.

Why I liked it: I love reading apocalyptic fiction, but have been finding recently that these stories tend to recycle each other’s plot lines. The idea of the gravitational pull affecting the length of day and night is, to a non-scientist, totally believable and quite frightening. This isn’t a horror story nor a thriller, however, as it’s told from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl. It’s haunting, touching and beautifully written. (Note: I recently recommended this book for a male friend’s book club and he texted me this morning saying, “Hosting book club tonight and just powered through the rest of The Age of Miracles last night/this morning – can’t stop crying. Such a good book!”)

Why it’s a great summer read: The plot is so different from anything I’ve ever read that I truly couldn’t put it down. I read this novel in a single day while at the cottage.

The Light Between Oceans
M. L. Stedman

One sentence summary: A couple who tend a lighthouse on a deserted Australian island find a boat with a dead man and a living baby and must decide whether to tell the truth, or keep the child as their own.

Why I liked it: This novel takes a hypothetical situation and plays it out to a heartbreaking degree. Once I finished this book (crying, be warned), I begged my mum to read it too so we could talk about it. This would be a fabulous book club read as there is truly no right answer to what one should or could do in such a situation.

Why it’s a great summer read: The whole time you’re reading this book you can feel the calamity rising and the dread building bit by bit. Like an accident where you can’t look away, you will find it a real challenge to put down this book.

The Bear
Claire Cameron

One sentence summary: Two children are left alone in Algonquin Park when their parents are mauled to death by a bear. [... Need I say more?]

Why I liked it: This book is part Room (Emma Donohue) and part Lord of the Flies. It’s narrated by five-year-old Anna, so the reader is in the unlucky position of understanding the danger of insects, sunburns, drowning, etc. while Anna clearly doesn’t. If you’ve ever been camping, especially in Algonquin Park, this book will speak to you in a terrifying, very real way. Cameron spent years as a tripper and guide throughout Algonquin Park, so she knows the local bear stories well. Read about the real-life events that inspired this story here.

Why it’s a great summer read: You actually can’t put this book down. While I was reading, I was convinced that if I left Anna and her brother “unsupervised” in the Park then they would certainly never survive. This is a book you want to read at night in the low light and, hopefully, not in a tent.

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 Brain on Fire
Susannah Cahalan

One sentence summary: A journalist undergoes a horrifying change in personality and as she’s on the brink of being committed to a mental institution, her family and friends work with a doctor to try and find a diagnosis of a bizarre and frightening illness.

Why I liked it: Though this book is terrifying (I was convinced I was going to catch the same thing somehow), it was a fascinating non-fiction read. To hear Susannah tell her story after being on the edge of no return is pretty darn inspiring. It also teaches a lesson that can be applied many places in life; never assume. Never take “no” for an answer. Never give up. To think that she was mere days away from being committed is a horrifying thought.

Why it’s a great summer read: You won’t be able to put this book down. It’s fascinating, haunting, and extremely well-written.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
Jenny Lawson

One sentence summary: With humour and self-deprecation, Jenny shares the dark, bizarre and downright unbelievable stories about her childhood growing up in rural Texas, her brutal high-school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor.

Why I liked it: It is literally laugh-out-loud hilarious. I’m not one to laugh out loud when reading, but this book had me in stitches. It was exactly my sense of humour and all I wanted to do was read sections of it to friends and family. I’ve given this book as a gift to lots of people and they’ve all loved it.

Why it’s a great summer read: It’s so nice to read a comedy in the summer. This book is the perfect pick-up-when-you-have-a-moment book as the chapters are all stand-alone stories.

Caught
Lisa Moore

One sentence summary: Caught follows the story of a recently escaped convict, Slaney, as he tracks down his old partner and attempts to back into the drug business to try and complete a deal that sends them, tracked by a cop, to Mexico on a seemingly doomed voyage.

Why I liked it: Lisa Moore is potentially my favourite Canadian author. February is one of my most favourite books of all time, and it’s interesting to see her poetic, fresh language telling the story of a drug-smuggling convict. She not only pulls it off, but tells the story brilliantly. Just reading the back of the book, I wouldn’t think to pick it up, but I’m so glad I did. (David) Slaney is a wonderfully written character that you can both feel for, and yet not understand at the same time.

Why it’s a great summer read: Nothing says summer like a thriller! It was such a wonderful change to have a “trashy beach read” not be trashy at all, and be written by an award-winning Canadian author.

Bird Box
Josh Malerman

One sentence summary: This post-apocalyptic novel follows a mother and two children have been trapped in a house ever since an epidemic swept the world where simply seeing “something” would make people commit maddening acts of violence to themselves and others.

Why I liked it: I love post-apocalyptic novels and this was a true nail biter. When water is needed, people must go outside to a well, blindfolded, which sounds like pretty much the most frightening thing ever to me on a regular day, let alone in a world where seeing something could kill you. Sure, it’s not the most literary writing, but the plot is fast-paced and creative. Coming from someone who works with audio everyday, the descriptions of sound in the world of the blindfolded and how to function in that world were really well-written and quite fascinating.

Why it’s a great summer read: It’s scary, it’s a page turner, and you’ll likely be out at a cottage, a farm, in a tent, etc. when reading it so… good luck to you. At 262 pages, this is a quick read, and I can assure you that you don’t want it sitting on your nightstand too many nights in a row because, nightmares.

One Bird’s Choice
Iain Reid

One sentence summary: Iain Reid’s memoir is filled with charming, rural anecdotes of working on his parents’ farm after he’s moved back home in his mid-twenties.

Why I liked it: Iain Reid is hilarious and his parents are delightful characters. By the end of the book I felt like I knew them so well that I could finish their sentences. It’s a lovely story that we can all relate to; that “wtf do I do now that I’m finished school?” thought that occurs to all of us and whether you go to live on your parents’ farm for a year or work full time at a Starbucks (me), we all find our path eventually.

Why it’s a great summer read: Organized into seasons, this book is easy to pick up and put down in between a swim in the lake, or going for a paddle. Also, it’s really funny in a very understated way. Just a treat to read.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
Heather O’Neill

One sentence summary: “Nineteen years old, free of prospects, and inescapably famous, the twins Nicholas and Nouschka Tremblay are trying to outrun the notoriety of their father, a French-Canadian Serge Gainsbourg with a genius for the absurd and for winding up in prison.” – via Goodreads.

Why I liked it: What’s not to like? It’s Heather O’Neill. Her writing is beyond spectacular. Her metaphors and similes are so creative and beautiful they often bring me to a full stop. I turned down so many pages in this book just so I could go through it again after and re-read my favourite parts. When I did, it was like that feeling of getting into bed with fresh clean sheets; you just can’t help but burrow into her language. Read more about my obsession with Heather’s writing here and here.

Why it’s a great summer read: This book came out in 2014, and it’s a must-read for this year. The summer is a great time to catch up on recent releases and this is one that’s not to miss. Expect to see it on the long list for the Giller Prize this fall, if not the short list.

Born to Run
Christopher McDougall

One sentence summary: In search of an answer to “why does my foot hurt?”, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners, learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

Why I liked it: Whether you’re a runner or not, this is an eye-opening read. This non-fiction reads like a mystery/thriller. If you do run, in any way, shape or form, it’s all the more interesting. From learning about a tribe that can run over 50KM/day in handmade rubber sandals to why running shoe companies have it all wrong, this book has a lot to teach us. Though I won’t be registering for an ultra marathon soon, or giving up running shoes and going barefoot, I can assure you that I was tempted to do both.

Why it’s a great summer read: Summer is the perfect time to start running, if you don’t already, or to increase your training. Once you hit the fall, there are many awesome races and fun runs for every ability and it’s great to be able to challenge yourself and try something new. This book will inspire you to get off the dock and lace up those runners for a jaunt through the trails at the cottage. Highly recommended.

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Now, how about what’s on my reading list this summer?

Currently Reading: Sweetland, Michael Crummey

Read:
The God of Spring, Arabella Edge
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld
All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews

To be read:
Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston
The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe
The Massey Murder, Charlotte Gray
The Heavy, Dara-Lynn Weiss

Happy summer, and happy reading!

 

STWM: Fundraising for the SickKids Foundation

Last year, I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon and it was truly an amazing experience. My only goal was to finish, and I surprised myself by doing so in under 2 hours.

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This year I will be running the half marathon again on October 20th, 2014, but with a different goal – to raise $500 for the SickKids Foundation.

Leading up to the run, I will be hosting various events to help in this fundraising goal like a Trivial Pursuit night, a knit night, yoga in the park and more. I want to offer a social atmosphere for people to be able to engage in philanthropy and learn more about the SickKids Foundation. But first, run club!

As many of you know, I’m a member of a few different run clubs. As I train for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, I will be doing my long runs on Sundays from now until the race. Each week, I will post a training schedule in a google calendar. As a fundraiser towards my goal of $500, you can participate in these long runs for just $5. Each week for all who participate, there will be a giveaway and for each run, I’ll aim to have a guest come along and talk about training. It should be A LOT of fun. I am so looking forward to this journey and doing something meaningful with my running.

To view my donations page, click here.

Stay tuned for more updates! Happy training.

 

New favourite cookbook: Oh She Glows

Did you know that this DESSERT PIZZA is vegan?

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I, however, am not vegan.

My ex was vegan, so for a period of 3 months I challenged myself to eat vegan. He cooked a lot, and I was living in Montreal at the time near Aux Vivres and ChuChai so it wasn’t too difficult. One of the things I noticed, however, was that there is a real abundance of products out there like “vegan pepperoni” that are just… weird. Not only are they weird, they’re full of really crappy ingredients. When I decided to try eating vegan it was to eat clean, whole food, not over-processed faux meat. There are so many amazing dishes out there that happen to be vegan, so why bother eating something ungodly like “vegan bacon?”

So, right. This dessert pizza.

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This fabulous recipe comes from my new favourite cook book: Oh She Glows, an amazing vegan food blog by Angela Liddon who, as it turns out, is from Oakville, Ontario!

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Though I only ate vegan for those three months, this cookbook is a fabulous way to cook up some extremely fresh, light meals that you can file under “detox” after that long weekend away at a friend’s cottage. The blog is great, but the cookbook has some fabulous recipes that aren’t available on the blog. Plus I can’t tell you how nice it was to not have to dry off my fingers each time I wanted to check the recipe on my phone. What happened to the days of recipe books? SO much more convenient.

This recipe I made last weekend at a friend’s farm and it was devoured in minutes after I took this photo. This is one of those recipes that doesn’t need to be hailed as vegan because it’s just damn good. The base is made of Rice Krispies, cocoa powder, brown rice syrup and coconut oil. The “sauce” base is a genius idea of Angela’s: banana soft-serve. It’s essentially a bunch of frozen bananas thrown in the food processor. She suggested throwing in some peanut butter or nut butter of your choice which I obviously did. On the banana soft serve (frozen for 5-10 minutes after application) you add some melted dark chocolate, nut butter sauce and toppings of your choice. I added chopped roasted almonds and coconut. It was delicious.

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Currently, you can buy the cookbook from Indigo/Chapters for $20. I wholeheartedly recommend it. I promise you won’t be disappointed, even as a meat eater. For a similar recipe to the one I mention here, check out Angela’s Double Chocolate Crispy Frozen Dessert Bars.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend. Here’s to the summer! (And to these amazing Cucumber Ginger Gin Popsicles from Shutterbean that I will certainly be making soon.)

Bocce & Pimms

Bocce & Pimms

Note: This was not a sponsored post. I bought this cookbook myself, and it’s just that damn good.

Run tourism: Vienna

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Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to travel to a conference in Vienna with work  and got a chance to do my favourite thing while traveling: run tourism.

It was the second time I’ve been (same conference last year). I travel with work quite frequently, and since it’s hard to find time on a work trip for sight-seeing, I like to go for runs.

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National Library (I know)

Run tourism is one of my favourite ways to see a city. Often you see things that you wouldn’t have thought to visit. My first day in Vienna I went to see an open air market I had read a lot about on Trip Advisor. It was a total snooze. I saw more on my run the next day without the research and had a way better experience.

Last year in Vienna, I found myself running around the gardens of a palace with other Austrian runners. When I got back to the hotel and looked up where I’d been, I found out that it was actually a popular spot for competitive runners to do long runs – great way to feel like a local.

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I also thought that my Garmin would work, but apparently you need to prepare in advance and download a special Euro-GPS map so I was out of luck. In the end, it’s was nice to run without a watch for a bit and get a chance to re-connect with the body’s natural pace. Also, it was super freeing to stop and start as I saw things I liked without worrying about making sure my watch was paused.

ImageAnother thing I love about run tourism is that as long as you take a look at a map before you go out and have a general idea of where you want to go, you can choose your own adventure as you run. In the cobblestone streets of Vienna it was so freeing to turn a corner and see a huge cathedral in the distance and think: “Sure, I’ll go that way.” I would see a dark, winding alley and take that for 100m and then come out into a town square with a mini farmer’s market. Or turn a corner and find a perfect little café with old men smoking, eating schnitzel and reading the newspaper on large wooden assists. It was damn charming.

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I went by London on the way home (for the first time!) and went to visit a friend for a few days before heading back to Canada. It was lovely. Though I didn’t have time to do any run tourism there, I did do a ton of walking around the city and did a simple 5K around Clapham Commons where my friend lives that was really beautiful.

If you’re curious to hear the sounds of Vienna and London, I’ve got some soundscapes up on my Soundcloud page.

Happy travels!

Contest: Toronto’s Craft Beer Passport

Beer, summer, patio… what could be better?

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Paying only $2 for that beer?

Yes. Yes that is better.

ImageEnter, Mike Stulberg. Mike is the guy behind everyone’s new favourite card to fish out of their wallet; the Toronto Craft Beer Passport.

Here’s how it works.

1. Purchase the passport for $20 online or at select bars. (Or WIN your very own right here in this blog post! Read on…)

2. Visit any of the participating bars between June 1st – November 30th.

3. Choose one 12oz. craft beer from a list of three beers offered to you at each bar.

4. Drop em’ a Toonie (the legal minimum price!).

5. Enjoy your beer and get your Passport marked off!

Still confused? Check out this dandy little video.

The Craft Beer Passport’s creator, Mike, is a social entrepreneur and urban explorer pursuing a Master of Design degree at OCADU. So why did this craft beer lover decide to better our summer drinking experience?

Mike: “I have a budding interest in craft beer and wanted a way to learn more about it in a leisurely and approachable fashion! I also noticed that the bars which have picked up on the craft beer movement are usually small and independently owned. These establishments typically have a strong local following. I thought it would be fun if people from across the city had the chance to explore different neighbourhood favourites, while learning more about craft beer along the way!”

Speaking as someone from north of Bloor, I often want to travel farther afield to try some new local breweries (Junction Craft Brewing has been at the top of my list for a while) but it can be hard to find the time. The Craft Beer Passport is perfect for people like me who like a challenge, and especially a chance to explore different parts of my hometown.

Mike: “The craft beer industry in Ontario is really special. There are a large number of people who work tirelessly to produce the beer we love, they are passionate about what they do and are open to anyone who shows interest in what its all about. Everyone from the brewers to the bar owners have been very supportive of the project. I hope that the Craft Beer Passport will help grow and in some sense encourage interactions within this community.”

So which bars are we going to be visiting? Head on over here to have a look. I asked Mike how he went about choosing (or even just approaching) which bars would participate.

Mike: “Their beer selection, their ambience and their location. Some have less selection but a really great vibe. Others have tons of beer and are a little tough to find. And still others were chosen strategically in an attempt to cover the entire city (as much as possible with 20 bars!).”

Victory Cafe's amazing patio

Victory Cafe’s amazing patio

In closing, Mike shared one of the best names of a micro brew that he’s come across: “‘Apocalypse Cow’ is a Three Floyds Brewing IPA which apparently is augmented with milk-sugar is a beer of ‘udder destruction’… I’m a sucker for puns so this cracks me up.”

I’m really looking forward to touring the city with my friend Matt, of Sounds Like Beer, and reporting back with our travels. Mike mentioned that he put a lot of mileage on his bike and I think that sounds like a great idea. (Well, assuming we keep the toonie-beers to a minimum…)

The Craft Beer Passport’s launch party is Sunday, June 1 at the Piston at 8:30pm and it’s FREE. Steam Whistle, Wellington Brewery, Junction Craft Brewing, Hogtown Brewers and Left Field Brewery will all be in attendance and sampling. There will also be door prizes and a chance to buy your pass in person.

Looking forward to seeing you there!


The Contest

Mike has very kindly donated one Craft Beer Passport for one of you to enjoy this summer! Here’s how to enter.

1. Follow me on twitter: @ayoungvoice

2. Follow Craft Beer Passport on twitter: @craftbeerpass

3. Comment on this blog post and tell me which bar you would visit first with your new passport.

Contest opens Friday, May 23 at 3pm and closes at midnight. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced on this post tomorrow, May 24th, so be sure to check back! Note: for obvious reasons, contest is only open to residents of Ontario.

Happy tasting!

And the winner is…. Danielle O’Hanley! Thanks all for entering and go buy your very own Craft Beer Passport! They’re available online or you can buy them in person at the launch on June 1.

Recipe: Overnight oats

After reading a fabulous post by RD Robyn Coale on the dairy dilemma, I thought I would try going dairy-free for as long as I could manage and see how I felt. 

My family is the type to have an after dinner cheese plate instead of dessert, so there’s no way this will be permanent, but I like the way Robyn encouraged to eat less dairy. Putting cheese on your salad or adding that slice of mild cheddar to your sandwich is one thing. Having a slice of St. Agur on a piece of pear is quite another. (Mmm… blue cheese.) So though it’s been a challenge to avoid old cheddar, manchego and aged gouda, I’ve found it’s actually been much easier than I thought to avoid dairy of any other type. 

The first step was to revamp my breakfast that I eat every morning when I get into work. Since November 2012, almost every day at work I’ll have a scoop of greek yogurt, 1/4 cup of All Bran Buds and either a banana or 1/2 cup of another fruit. (On the weekends this is my favourite breakfast and still dairy free!)

Enter, overnight oats or, bircher muesli. 

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The texture can be a challenge for some (chia seeds puff out overnight) but I love the taste. It’s hearty like oatmeal, but it’s much easier to bring to the office. Plus, it’s a cinch to make! Throw the ingredients in a mason jar overnight and presto! You’ve got breakfast for the morning. 

RECPIE: Overnight Oats
(Adapted from Chatelaine’s healthy muesli recipe)

1 cup of oats 
1/2 banana, thinly chopped 
1 1/2 cups of almond milk 
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp flax seeds 
1 tbsp hemp hearts
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp vanilla extract
A dash of lemon juice

1/4 cup of all bran buds to sprinkle on top right before eating (nice crunch)
1/2 cup of a fruit of your choice on top before eating

The combinations are endless. For an extra protein punch, I suggest adding 1 tbsp of almond butter (I have Justin’s right now and it tastes unreal), peanut butter or sunflower seed butter.

You can also switch up the vanilla extract for some coconut extract, or add a scoop of my new favourite thing, Cultured Coconut Milk from So Delicious. That’s a fancy name for dairy-free yogurt. The taste is like a sugar-free, fat free regular yogurt in comparison to a heavier, creamy greek yogurt. I like it! It’s got the heft of yogurt without the dairy and for those coconut haters, it tastes nothing like coconut at all (much to my disappointment, actually). I got the blueberry flavour and it was delicious. 

If you’re at your grocery store looking for any of the above (like hemp hearts) you’ll find that the cost is pretty significant. I’d suggest heading over to your local Bulk Barn! Plus, they offer a student and senior discount Wednesdays. 

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These are a few of my favourite things

 

Race Recap: Goodlife Half Marathon

On May 4th, I ran my second half marathon! The Goodlife Half Marathon may have been somewhat poorly organized, but it did give me a PB!

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Pre-race photo is obviously a must. (Though check out those budget sunglasses… this girl’s in serious need of some Sunskis!)

Geared up in Lululemon, I decided that I would power through and go shorts and tank. I am always too scared of being cold before the race and I always end up regretting wearing too many layers. It was a gorgeous day and I knew it would get warmer, so in the end it was a good decision.

ImageI was also super excited to buy my very first pair of compression socks from 2XU! I had tried to buy some at the Running Room, but they only had pink or blue and I wanted something a little more festive. I was thrilled to find these at the Runner’s Expo! I practiced with them on an easy 4K the day before the run and they felt great.

As shown above, I also exclusively used Vega Sport to prepare, sustain, and recover. The prepare and recover are a powder that you mix with water and the flavours are awesome. I used lemon lime and berry, respectively. I always find them a bit sweet, so I mix them with double the water recommended. The endurance gel is awesome! It features whole food ingredients and is the only gel to feature coconut oil; a non-carbohydrate source of energy.

Now, to the race!

ImageThe start line was the lowest point of the race for me. It was overly crowded, the corrals were pretty much rendered non-existent. Not only could I not get passed the fence to access my corral, there were no staggered starts, so it was pretty much just mayhem. I was looking to run with the 1:50 pacer, but the pacers were all up at the front and it was impossible to get to them. Also, the port-a-potties were all lined up just after the start line. The organizers were pretty much begging the runners waiting to use the bathroom to clear off so they could start the race.

Once I got going, things were good. It was my first half running with my Garmin and it was awesome to pace myself without having the pacer nearby (who I couldn’t find anyway). Last year when I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront (half) Marathon, I did it in 1:54. I was aiming for under 2 hours so I was super pleased with my time. My goal for 2014’s STWM is under 1:45, so I was hoping to split the difference at the Goodlife half and aim for 1:50.

The whole race felt a tad sluggish (that hill at York Mills… ugh) but there were so many people I knew on the route! It was so nice to have people out and cheering.

 I ended up catching up to the 1:50 pacer at around 15K and ran with them for 5 minutes or so before I started to feel myself pulling away. I went with it, and as long as the group didn’t pass me, I knew I’d finish with my goal. When they caught up to me at 17K, I looked down at my Garmin and realized I’d been going too slowly so I kicked it into high gear, which hurt. A lot.

The wind for the last 3K was an absolute nightmare. It was a headwind like I’ve rarely run in before ever, let alone in a race. I also mistakenly thought that the race ended at Fort York so when I was almost there, I felt dead, but knew I was close so gave my speed an extra bump. When I rounded the corner and didn’t see the finish line, I remembered that it ended at Ontario Place and almost stopped. I didn’t, though, and managed to pull out a smile when I caught sight of my boyfriend and good friend with less that 1K to go.

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In the end, I’m thrilled that I finished in 1:48! Can’t wait to tackle the STWM this fall. Only 3-4 minutes to knock off my time… here’s hoping.

Recent reads

So far this year, I’ve read 17 books and according to Harper Collins Canada’s handy #50bookpledge website, I’m on track for 45. Looks like I’m going to have to pick up some of my slack to get back to being on track for 50!

I’ve read some long books recently which has slowed me down (ahem, The Goldfinch). Also distracting me has been my recent discovery of the show New Girl. I normally can’t stand Zooey Deschanel, but this show is this century’s Friends. I’ve been decompressing after work or a run by watching an episode or two and knitting some beautiful things from The Purl Bee. But – time to focus on some reading again. So, so many good books on my TBR pile!

Currently reading: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

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I can’t even. This book is so gritty, unapologetic, wild and wonderful.

Heather O’Neill uses images and ideas that give any writer’s imagination a run for its money. Looking so forward to writing about this book soon once I’ve finished (won’t be long…!) but for now, here’s a teaser of some recent lines that just floored me. The main character has just met someone she’d been admiring from a distance for weeks. In their first real conversation, they share their first kiss:

“It was all too late after that kiss. I already knew what his breath smelled like. I already knew what he looked like in his pyjamas. I already knew what he sounded like when he spoke in his sleep. I was already his girlfriend by the end of the kiss.”

Seriously? More to come in my review. Go out and buy that book like, now. For more examples of O’Neill’s vivid writing, scroll to the bottom of my review of Lullaby for Little Criminals.

Recent Reads: The Goldfinch

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As my friend Steph of Bella’s Bookshelves described in her recent review, this book has been quite polarizing. After it won the Pulitzer Prize, it became even more so. I often find that if something is a best-seller, a “Heather’s Pick” or an award-winner, I have higher expectations when I start the book and I am often let down.

This didn’t happen to me at all with The Goldfinch. It was dark, meandering yet well-plotted and developed one of my favourite things really beautifully; a platonic relationship. In this book, between Theo and Boris. So many books’ endings hinge on two characters getting together (or not) and it’s so refreshing when an ending can be riding on a friendship. When a friendship can bring you to tears. Another excellent example of this is The Year of the Flood.

I can see how the extremely detailed description of the work that our protagonist, Theo, does as an antique dealer could get tiresome, but it didn’t bother me. This novel is certainly a commitment. With so much out there to read this year (Toews! O’Neill! Soon-to-be-released MacDonald!) it’s hard to make the time for a 700+ page book, but I give it my full recommendation.

Also, I came across this amazing article by Adam Dalva whose real life so parallel’s Theo Decker’s, he’s almost convinced that Tartt followed him around with her notebook. If you’ve read The Goldfinch (spoiler alert), check out that article here.

Also recently read:

Up next:

For our Beer & Book Club this past May we read A Tale for the Time Being and for our July meeting, we’re on to The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. It’s a novel I wouldn’t have picked up, but am looking forward to reading it. It’s also Denfeld’s first – I always enjoy first novels.

While on a business trip in Vienna this week, I’m reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson on my Kobo. Took me forever to get around to this one for whatever reason! Really enjoying it so far.

What are you reading this upcoming long weekend?