2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Our House – Selling Canadian style

 

If you are Canadian or North American then you will know the score when it comes to the housing market. If you are English then the way houses are bought and sold here may come as a surprise. Here, the Realtor (Estate Agent to us Brits) earn every penny of the commission they earn from house sales and purchases. The Realtor here is a qualified professional and as such an integral part of the process; they dovetail all the buying and selling arrangements; find properties; buyers; buyers agents and host the Open Houses. Of course we think we have the best Realtors (they are now close friends also) but before we arrived and during our first few weeks here they spent days and days tirelessly driving us around a then unknown Toronto, pointing out the vets, dojos for our child; summer camps; restaurants etc, etc. They even found us rental accommodation and picked us and all our luggage up from the airport upon our arrival to Canada, stocked the fridge and checked up on me and my son in the following weeks when my husband was out of the country. Would that have happened in the UK, I think not. Realtors do this as a “lifestyle” choice, and not a 9 – 6 daytime job .

Some major differences in the actual selling job (first time we’ve sold a house in Canada) is that you, your kids, dogs, cats, reptiles or animals of any persuasion are expected to be Out when prospective buyers and agents come calling. Not only that but your very presence as the occupier of the property needs to be invisible – no family photos, personal mementos, not a whisker, a hair, a splash on the mirror a stray toothebrush or anything attributed to particular personality should be present. The house is either staged by a professional – I used to do this for a living – or by yourself if you are strong enough to be brutal about all your own clutter – my husband has to do our de-cluttering; I am too attached to my bits and bobs from foreign travel to really notice that they are “clutter” A whole industry of so called specialist “Moving In/Moving out” Cleaning companies and Home Staging experts have ” as a result of the way property selling is conducted here. I did use one of these Cleaning companies who had an impressive website with “tick- lists” stating all the things they were going to do to prepare your house for “showing” as opposed to simply giving it a good clean. Despite the princely sum charged they didn’t deliver and I ended up doing most of it myself even though my realtor demanded they come back to finish the job. My advice as a novice seller – get references from previous clients before you hire these people or hang around and supervise the cleaning process (uncomfortable), OR just do it yourself!!!

The key to selling is to make the house as “bland as possible and Ideally the whole house should get a fresh coat of paint especially if like ours they have a colour palette that is not bland.

You NEVER meet the people coming in to look around the house; as they come in the front we are often to be seen scuttling out the back door with the dog having spent an hour or so once again sweeping up all traces of dog hair, and human habitation. Because we have no family here we spend hours walking the dog up and down Yonge, the Ravines and the Parks, the dog has never had it so good…. You cannot come back till everyone has gone AND you can expect that when you have other agents showing their clients round, that your TV will be used to amuse bored kids; your piano played and your doll’s house tampered with – it’s a riot…….

I would stress that this wouldn’t happen during your “Open House” as your own agents are “On Guard” in your house; they will turn off all the lights, shut the blinds and put the alarm on – in short you will come back to the house you left.

Anyway as a result of our experiences in the British housing market and because we feel out-of-control as regards the “selling” of the features and benefits of our house ourselves, when our Realtor suggested we write down the 10 things we love about the house, my husband went to town and the following is his ode to our current house Essentially because my blog is a collection of my experiences on this side of the pond, this is also being parked here for posterity’s sake and as a reminder years down the line of the 10 great things about living here.

  • Location, location, location – this is simply the perfect locale from which to enjoy everything Toronto has to offer; just far enough out to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown, yet close enough to enjoy it when you want it.
  • Well-being – there’s a strong sense of ‘home’ here, the brick walls and high quality finishes are a constant reminder of the care that the local builder put into constructing this custom-build home. Although only seven years old it has a traditional feel which sets it apart from other recent-build properties. The layout is an optimal combination of living spaces, it’s peaceful and light floods in on all sides.
  • Staying connected – practically you couldn’t be better ‘wired-in’ to the city’s transport network. Commuting and exploration by road is a breeze. Importantly, being located at the ‘quiet-end’ of our road we are at the head of the fastest route downtown with easy access to the 400-series roads. The airport is just 20 minutes door-to-door in the early morning.
  • The TTC (Underground) is 6 minutes walk and the bus stop seconds away with its direct route to the TTC interchange and the Yonge & Eglinton centre and with its amenities , night-life and connections.
  • Safety and security – this is a ‘good’ area, kids can play in the streets (and do). Your biggest risk is getting an ice-hockey puck lobbed in your direction. People leave their doors on the latch and the area has an easy going feel.
  • Neighborhood – here we have a nicely balanced mix of ethnicity, families and professional couples which makes for a great vibe. The area is family-oriented with a major Park (tennis and play-ground) just around the corner for the kids or dog, and ravine access just a 15 minute walk away.
  • Summer days – the house and locale provide the perfect base for quiet family time or socializing with friends year-round. The garden makes for a peaceful BBQ setting (we do a lot of entertaining in-doors and out). The balcony – off the master bedroom – is a constant source of enjoyment – sun-drenched breakfasts are a ‘must-do’ during our scorching summers
  • Winter nights and chilly mornings– the house is a cozy and warm retreat. we count our blessings for the garage (opening out directly onto the main road) which affords snow-free access onto a ‘priority-ploughed’ street in the winter. The City clears the side-walk too!
  • Parking – a parking permit + garage + on-street parking both sides of the street = no problems when visitors come. How many places can say that?

This is the place to be, a great house in a great setting in the right post-code. People know the area to be affluent but not ostentatious, understated yet stylish. Note to self – how did we end up here then?? It has so much to offer, on so many fronts, for a wide cross-section of personal and family circumstances. For all these reasons and more, we’ve enjoyed this house immensely, initially as newcomers toToronto and Canada seven years ago, then latterly as an established family.

Someone tell me why we are leaving?????????????????

Time to move on again – we are not good at staying anywhere for too long

Over and Out

Here and There – subjective snapshots of an Ex-pat

Proposed Canadian flag in 1946; red ensign wit...

Image via Wikipedia

Same Language – different way of life.
With a background of living and growing up in the UK, moving to Canada would as you’d expect present immediate and obvious differences. Climate; driving on the other side of the road on other side of the car; currency and banking system; education system; healthcare; pension rationale; being unable to buy alcohol any time of the day or night and anywhere but government regulated outlets (LCBO) and even food choices. These were the obvious challenges. Furthermore we chose Canada ( or did it choose us ) because we figured that having the same language in common (lol) would make the transition easier; furthermore I was Canadian born and my son piggy-backing on that birthright – also had Canadian citizenship. So with only one sponsorship to figure out – how difficult could it be?
Hold that thought.
We obtained the relevant forms ( a truckload actually) and thought we’d fill them out in a leisurly manner over drinks one evening in a local hostelry. Four months later; having reviewed; zillions of family photographs desperately trying to find at least one photo of my husband and I together in one picture, looking like Canada-worthy citizens and and not at a” tops and socks” party, drunk or up a mountain somewhere. In our quest to satisfy the Canadian authorities that we were who we said we were, we bugged my Mother endlessly for details of the 15 or so different addresses I had had since birth, and for information on my long departed Father – birth and death dates; family tree and inside-leg measurements; Someone told me once that Canada was one of the m ost difficult countries in the world to emigragte too, and 2 of us were already Canadian – it took months. Almost ready to roll. One more thing left – that was for my husband to make an entrance into Canada through an official entry port such as Montreal before we all joined up in Toronto!
So now we were getting a preview of the crippling bureaucracy (as we saw it) and the Canadian love of form-filling and paper. Best ever was one of the requirements that my other half fill in a form detailing every trip in and out of the UK in the last 10 years. Who records that sort of stuff? Me actually…… Hours spent in Second Cup reviewing my diaries for last 10 years – kept getting sentimentally sidetracked by the wonder of my own life!! it’ like looking at piccies without the horror of seeing the ageing process/bad sartorial choices. My husband and son went sightseeing for the afternoon. One week later my husband phones me with the bad news. “You know that form you spent hours completing; you know, the one where you had to list all our travel dates in and out of the UK – My bad……………. that form only needs to be submitted if you are applying from somewhere in Eastern Europe” – Another day of my life wasted………..
So backtracking – apart from the obvious stated at the outset of this blog, after 6 years I think I am now qualified to do a comparative analysis – lightheartedly because I LOVE living here – on many other aspects of “Alien” living in Toronto vis-a-vis Oxfordshire UK. Immediately you can see the flaw in this statement. Living in a Canadian city versus living in Rural UK – will try to factor this in……………
BUREAUCRACY
Loosely encompasses the following for me:
Banking system– no central clearing system here as there is in the UK- you are told that cheque paid in can take up to 10 days to clear, You cannot pay cheques or credit slips into other Banks – they can’t transfer between banks.
No Building Society institutions
Unlike the UK; very little ability to make tax-free savings here exception being the relatively new $5000 tax free savings scheme) Could be out of date now but as at the date of leaving the UK, we had all sorts of ways of legitimately avoiding tax on hard earned savings.
You cannot guarantee cheque payments by using them in conjunction with cheque cards; but then again who still uses cheques – I use up a book of 30 cheques – I’m sorry – checks, in about 3 years here.
Biggest difference re banking/love of paper issue is innocent enough. Every time you pay for something here, you get 2 receipts not one as in the UK – and they are always carefully stapled together. Can you imagine how much future shredding that entails!!
Health
If you are lucky enough to have this provided through your employment,and even luckier in that both of you are covered by health insurance plans, the amount of form filling and coordination of these is enough to bring on a coronary, especially if you have a family; I have folders and folders of claim forms and assessments. Worst of all you have to pay cash and then claim it back – better check your cashflow if you are going to be sick here. The Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) program is pretty good but doesn’t include myriad things like prescription drugs; physio or dentistry. God, I really miss BUPA and UK health insurance schemes where you didn’t have to lay out a penny upon treatment. Sounds like I’m moaning – many people don’t have the luxury of Health insurance plans, but it’s simply a comparison.
GP’s don’t appear to have computerized records – at least mine doesn’t – everything is still written by hand. One great thing here is that you are expected to have an annual check up with your GP which is pretty comprehensive including blood work and a health overhaul so I guess that probably catches a lot of health issues that might have gone unnoticed.
Waiting lists – people moan about these, but we are lucky as Toronto is one of the world’s foremost medical capitals in the wolrdwith more hospitals than you can shake a stick at. I’ve never had to wait more than a couple of days for an MRI. Not the same picture in other parts of the country where outlying and isolated places are not able to attract GP’s and Dentists at all.
WEATHER
Not rocket science and of course every where else in the world has a view of living in the cold white north. Unless you live in out in places like Calgary or YellowKnife or the North West Territories, living somewhere like Toronto, whilst a shock initially with occasional -30% temperatures is nowhere near as scary as it sounds. Our winter runs from about mid December (sometimes even we don’t have a white Christmas) through March with April’s that can go either way. Life carries on as normal; buses and trains still run; occasional airport closure but nowhere as near as bad as Chicago in this respect. We all cosy up in our”mostly” timber-framed houses which seem to retain the heat somehow; venture out kitted out inaccordingly and in the very worst of weathers walk our dogs with Yaktraks strapped to our boots to avoid slipping over in the ice. Those who are not fortunate enough to have garages, wake up an hour early every morning to dig our cars out of the mountain of sidewalk dredges snow from the snow ploughs. If you’ve been away during as snowstorm; you might actually have trouble loacting your c ar at all. Makes my wingeing about having to spend 15 minutes in the UK every morning simply de-icing the vehicle seem fatuous!!
In Toronto we have an underground “PATH” system and many of us simply stumble out of the underground sytem, into one of these and can make our way to downtown offices without setting foot in the snow or ice. Montreal also has these but many are not actually joined together so you have to freeze your eyebrows stepping outside between underground thoroughfares!!
Summer – starts around end of May and through to end September if we’re lucky. Heralded in by the chirping of the cicadas by day and the crickets by night, their sudden silence a few days ago signals that our summer is at an end.
Here unlike most of the UK, air conditioning in domestic homes and all public transport is a necessity not a luxury and makes the heat bearable.
Fall/Autumn is the absolute best over here. Households start fall decorating with burnt orange and red chrysanthemum pots flamking the doorways and an autumnal door wreath or two and then even before Canadian thanksgiving, the halloween garden scenes and lights appear. These stay up long after Halloween and are replaced by Christmas/Holiday (don’t even started onthis definition of the festive season) lights, and then as if to keep us cheery and optimistic through the darkest brass monkey days of January to March, these remain in situ till the snow stops.
BUYING/SELLING PROPERTY
Not even going there except to comment on the fact that “Realtors” here unlike Estate Agents in the UK, are licensed; workshopped and qualified to the hilt and treated like respected professionals and rightly so, in our limited experience and listening to those of our friends, they work miracles especially for those of us transitioning from another country (that would be most of the population). One disadvantage here though as opposed to UK is that you have to be out of the house – dog and all – each time a prospective buyer visits – you are persona non grata when it comes to “selling” your own property – weird or what?
Oh yeah and here in Toronto there is the Condo thing going on – would you rather live in a freehold house with the gardening; snow clearing; repairs and maintenance or would you rather live in a leased condo with all the grind of house maintenance and bills removed and rolled into one monthly fee and often including a swimming pool/ gym/party room/ movie theatre / concierge services and maybe a twinkly view of the city etc, etc – Choices, choices. Didn’t have to make that one in the UK . Almost all major cities here offer this as a mostly affordable lifestyle option, exceptions St Johns; Winnipeg; and probably some of the most northerly cities.
I haven’t even covered the subject of sports; street parties; dogs; critters; obsession with power launches and cottages; language – meaning and understanding – shopping and culinary matters; Driving around/distance/ scenery and travel. Blimey the list is endless. Reading this back and cognisant of what I haven’t yet tackled I almost feel like we landed on the moon. Sometimes it doesn’t do to analyze things too much!!
So folks – what was going to be a series of soundbites on my observations of the differences of living here rather than there, has become a discombobulated missive to be continued……..
Over & Out……………..

Five go into the Countryside

Well not quite 5, but I couldn’t resist the “Enid Blyton” analogy

 

We’re really talking “A weekend at The Cottage – A Great Canadian Tradition”
 
If you are British or European, this whole Friday night (leave work early) exodus to “the Cottage” up country or by *“The Lake” will be a mystery.
 
Perhaps I can compare it to the halcyon days when Brits bought property in Northern France and flitted across the channel  (Strikes allowing) on weekends – and actually a journey across the British Channel to a property in Northern France would probably be faster than some of the journeys to cottages in the wilds of  Ontario. It’s not just the distance, there are limited choices of route for travelling north and the traffic is crazy.
 
Being new to this neck of the woods, the cottage idyll is something we could never entertain as there is too much for us still to see and do in and around Toronto. Also with “the cottage” comes with all the usual home and garden maintenance baggage plus a regular weekend commute often in heavy traffic.
 
This view of course hasn’t stopped us yearning to “experience” a little slice of the lifestyle and this summer two sets of friends finally took pity on us, with invitations to stay at cottage retreats in Penetanguishene (western Ontario and only about 2 ½ hours from our door), and the other in Ellicottville in New York state US (a mere 3 hours away in the opposite direction)
 
Oh and before I continue, a Brit’s definition of a cottage (likely as not shaped by our own domestic situation where a shortage of land has historically led to smaller houses), is not that of our North American counterparts. 
 
The cottage “thing” in N. America started in the 1950’s when the “men” of a household would disappear into the wilds to fish and hunt. Because many Canadians have had a cottage on the family for years, they consider weekends at the cottage to be the norm. It has become completely disassociated with income in one respect as families share the use of and the financial burdens of ownership. Cottages are not normally bought as a second income source because the winters here don’t lend themselves to hospitable country living (unless you are near a ski resort), so you have to factor in that whilst the property will be empty for a good 6 months of the year, it will not be earning income AND it will still need maintenance visits.  Essentially these first cottages were indeed “cottage” sized as we Europeans would see it; cute little clapboard shacks at the water’s edge or buried deep in the woods and requiring a yomp to get to them. Then of course came the roads, “new” money and the new-builds (knocking down the original property and rebuilding). These have reshaped the whole cottage experience. Some of these properties are literally huge mansions, many are built on the thousands of private Islands that dot the Lakes, and most will have a waterfront location (Ontario particularly,  is known for its cottage culture with parts of it referred to as “cottage country”. This term typically refers to the north and south shores of Georgian Bay, Ontario, Muskoka, Ontario, Haliburton, Ontario, and the Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.
 
So first the Penetanguishene experience. The cottage was PERFECT, not pretentious, not too big; not too small and built on the footprint of an older property. Right on the water’s edge, this new-build had a galleried upper floor housing a large attic room looking over the first floor. Courtesy of a huge floor to ceiling bank of floor to ceiling windows and the cool teal/duck egg blue paintwork, the Lake seemed to reach right into the cottage.
Stunning from every aspect – from the painstaking owner-built landscaped slope above the property to the picture perfect sight of 4 Muskoka chairs arranged at the end of the private wooden pier that stretched way into the lake. The water was clear and invitingly tepid (thanks to the recent heat-wave). Even though there were a lot of cottages lining this smallish landlocked lake, it was incredibly quiet, in a way that living in the City never is. The complete absence of all the usual culprits in the shape of the 103 bus that passes the house twice every 15 minutes, the nerve searing screeching of the underground trains, the endless sirens; planes going in and out of Pearson and City Island airports, and just the general city hubbub (love that word), made me realise suddenly just how noisy the soundtrack to my life normally is.
 
A trip around the lake on  the new “party” boat – another new experience as we don’t have this sort of vessel in the UK –  which is a pontoon boat with a shallow draft, and awning down one end and aeons of leather couchettes oh and of course the vital cup-holders. Irony, you cannot drink alcohol and sail/drive a vessel (hear, hear) and the boat has to be moored if anybody else on the boat is to drink AND if you are moored on public property you cannot step off the boat with an alcoholic beverage in your mitt.
 
The weather was absolutely gorgeous- – one of the things you can count on in the summers over here (except last year) – a constant breeze blowing off the lake kept the humidity at bay. A BBQ (of course) and roasting marshmallows on the fire completed the experience. I felt like one of the Famous Five in the “Enid Blyton”  children’s books that myself and my contempories grew up with – without the mishaps and adventure perhaps, just the outdoor living experience,. With the sun setting over the Lake throwing everything into silhouette, the gorgeous deepening pinks and oranges of the Lake; the haunting cries of the loons, a glass of wine in one hand, a marshmallow in the other and good company ……………..
                                                                                                                                                                                    
Ellitcottville New York State – a whole other experience. With the season on the turn from summer to fall, the miles and miles of undulating deciduous forests were starting to change their summer outfits – still a little to early in the season for the full colourful performance that accompanies late September/October, the dress rehearsal was most definitely underway with early contenders showing appearing in their best burning reds, rust/terracotta’s, yellows and burnt oranges.
The “cottage” this time a purpose built ingeniously designed “new-build with its deck and windows reaching into the woodland behind. With no light or noise pollution and only the frogs and cicadas as background, life was a simple as it could get; conversation, wine and the heat and glow from the chimera – sigh!.
Another perfectly located weekend retreat within spitting distance of charming Ellicottville –  with its many coffee shops and darling boutiques –  the ski-slopes of Holiday Valley and Allegany state Park on the doorstep. The drive back from the south side of Lake Ontario, through Buffalo and the border, and with a quick stop at the Lakehouse restaurant, Vineland, on the shores of the Lake just west of Niagara, (http://www.lakehouserestaurant.com/splash.html) took only around 3 hours.
My, we are becoming Canadian – I prefaced 3 hours with the word ONLY!!.

Halo in Ellicottville New York

Image by rita vita via Flickr

 
So now I get it. I get why my work colleagues leave in their droves early Friday afternoon; work all hours during the week to take flex-time a Monday to extend the weekend idyll.
I would!
COMING UP
 
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
More fast forward flicks

Coffee in the Sky

Coffee in the sky
One of the joys of Toronto for me is the opportunity to swank around visiting friends’ condominium apartments and the wonderful facilities they have at their disposal. There is nothing quite like having coffee in the sky – sitting in a roof garden overlooking the CN Tower, Lake and city, or downing a glass of wine on a balcony overlooking the harbour or one of the Ravines. The air is quite different up on high and with very little of the hubbub below filtering skywards it’s surprisingly peaceful.
Condos are the new Toronto. The huge numbers of downtown car-parks -signs of demolished older buildings – are rapidly disappearing to make way for an oh-so profitable condominium development. It’s a bit like arable farming, whilst we lose one car-park to actual building work, another becomes available to use for a couple of years during the pre-building stage – which represents the planning period for the condo developer: gauging demand through its presentation suite sales getting its finances in order and so forth.
Viewed by many as a curse, their relentless march across the skyline is changing the face of Toronto; with condos going up all along the Lakeshore and layering north along Yonge Street to join the existing enclave of skyscrapers of North York.
Toronto is not alone in its rapid development into the clouds. Aside from the cities such as New York, Chicago and Seattle, and the newly fabulous contenders in the Middle East and Far East the UK is experiencing a recent surge in condo development hailed as “the beginning of a high-rise renaissance”. This is in complete contrast to the traditional view of “high-rise living” in the UK, as a hangover from Britain’s post-war austerity and poor 1960’s planning, and the social problems that ensued as a result of these developments. We’re talking a resurgence in the form of “modern developments in glass and steel which are being snapped up by discriminating city dwellers”. Partly driven by rocketing property costs, partly by fashion, high-rise/Condominiums are being planned all over the UK Condo living is largely accessible to people in most large cities around the globe. For instance, in the US, the “Growth Management Act” seeks to curb incessant urban sprawl, and many traditional suburban developers are recognizing both practical and economic reasons for shifting to urban infill projects with this trend expected to gain velocity in the coming years.
In Toronto there was a very real decision last century to turn industrial sites into residential space; and condominiums have transformed our inner city and brought vitality to it in a way that other cities around the world have failed. Furthermore, the benefits of high-rise living are appreciated both by environmentalists for reducing environment impact through urban centre densification, and by city residents as a liberating alternative lifestyle choice.
Condominiums are no longer a utilitarian solution to urban accommodation needs – they have become this’ life-style’ choice. Evocative branding, promotional and marketing materials are used to create the desire then satisfy that need. Ultimately, the Condo promise is a combination of location, facilities, convenience and outlook which implies a better way of life and self-affirmation for the owner. Nowhere is this more evident than in Toronto which has become the largest and most vibrant ‘Condo’ market in North America with more than 250 developments in progress with some fascinating new trends emerging as the market reaches new heights of sophistication and continues to reinvent it. Toronto leads the way in terms of numbers and the state of the art.
And, by the way the term condo means shared facilities and responsibilities; they are not always high-rise. One friend of mine lives in a town house attached to a magnificent twin high-rise complex on the Lakeshore complete with marina, swimming pool, party room, hobby room and gym and the most amazing view of the city skyline. In contrast to the high-rise subsidised 1950’s/60’s housing estates of the UK touched upon earlier there is no lack of community in these complexes. There always seems to be something going on in the units – either arranged by the condo management board (an elected group of residents) or by individual resident themselves. This is a lifestyle choice.
For instance, the residents of 44 Charles Street inhabit the award winning Manulife Centre which built in 1972 was Canada’s first major mixed-use development and at the time, this 51-storey residential tower was the tallest building in the British Empire. The inhabitants of these high-end condos step out of their lifts into the marble and shimmering glass concourses of the mulit-faceted Manulife complex, which then segues into the Holt Renfrew Centre (Brits think Harvey Nicks) and the Hudson Bay Centre. It is an enormous complex with its own underground unofficial “PATH” system, and a huge variety of both high-end stores (it is under Bloor Street West after all) and boutiques, the Varsity and VIP cinemas, the Panorama Lounge; a variety of restaurants and coffee shops, and of course minutes away from some of the world’s most celebrated museums and galleries. Lest you think of all this “realtor/estate agent” speak as a sales pitch; make no mistake just to purchase a small studio apartment will set you back nearly $1500, 000. all the way up to $5000, 000 for a 3 bedroom unit.
So what could you expect for this price-tag? Well you’d have all the usual, 24 hour concierge/security; a party room; guest suites; an indoor pool, sauna and gym. All topped off with a rooftop garden and spectacular views over the city, the Lake and the islands.
So why do so many of the people I know choose to live in condos; let’s deconstruct that Lifestyle definition by looking at the advantages: These are cost, location, convenience (no snow clearing or gardening) amenities, design features, security, community spirit, and green living with many of the newer projects incorporating environmentally-friendly and innovative ideas as the differentiator.
Would I live in a condo and forgo the endless lawn-mowing; weed pulling and snow clearing. Have a gym, pool and amenities laid on (yeah you have to pay a service charge including these amenities but heck they are on-hand and you can cancel your expensive external gym membership and trips to a pool.
Would I?
In a heartbeat. To me this sort of living embodies a clutter-free, and streamlined approach to city living.
So Miranda. my exotique amie (yes you know who you are), go nip downstairs and make me another of your special
espressos, and bring yourself and your delicious line of chat back up to the rooftop. I have a date with the city!
Over and Out

 

  • An afternoon in Yorkville
  • A trip to Caledon
  • Baysfield – who knew?
  • Wine pairing in Niagara
  • Jazz on The Lake
  • What is a Refugee?

     

     What is a Refugee?

     This is the first question I was asked upon entering the simulated “Doctor’s without borders” (MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES) Refugee Camp set up at Christie Pitts Park.

    The question was actually, “What is a Refugee as opposed to an internally displaced person?” (never thought about it before)

    Imagine if armed men forced their way into your home declaring the house now belonged to them and that you had 3 minutes to leave by foot – what would you take?

    Imagine the fleeing process, carrying your few possessions, not knowing where you were going or what was to become of you.

    Imagine also that your party of however many had been attacked whilst fleeing; in fact some members of your party had been shot or raped!

    Now you have to try to cross the border, but without any “official” papers because (and just imagine this too) you live in a country that is not evolved enough to be able to provide that sort of social identity infrastructure.

    You need to get across; the guard asks for money, and when you pay him, he only lets in 6 out of the 7 of you, demanding extra payment for the seventh member. You don’t want to antagonize him, so you comply as you’ve heard that just beyond the border there is a refugee camp with a western aid organization running it.

    You get to the camp, you are disorientated, in shock, exhausted and probably mal nourished. Members of your family have been killed during the journey. You have to wait in line to get into the camp and once in you are told you need to build your own shelter out of whatever you can find or have to hand.

    Life has been reduced to you, the family members that made it, the few possessions you managed to bring with you and whatever shelter you can fashion within the confines of this muddy chaotic noisy camp.

    On the plus side, you are probably  relatively safe,  given 2100 calories of food each day represented by rice/grain; beans; salt; sugar and oil and occasionally a square supplement tablet. You are also allocated 5 litres of water per day that you need to collect from the standpipes connected to the huge water tank bladders. In your previous life you probably used over 300 litres of water each day. There is medical aid to hand, psychological counseling and therapy, and your children are provided with inoculations and if malnourished are put on a strict feeding regime.

    This is the reality of any refugee happening upon a “Doctors without Borders” camp in any one of the 61 or so countries that this organization has set up in. Staffed almost entirely by volunteers, these camps operate independently of government and without prejudice of any kind, the premise being that ALL human beings displaced by conflict or natural disaster are entitled to the sort of assistance that will lessen their trauma and discomfort.

    It took about an hour in the sweltering heat to be shown around the various camp stations by a volunteer who had “served’ at many camps around the globe and more recently in Haiti after the 2009 earthquake. I felt thoroughly in awe of what this organization and its people were doing every day of every year for people dehumanized by conflict, some of whom will spend most of their lives in refugee camps.

    What a fantastic awareness campaign “Refugee camp in the heart of the city” They are run all over Canada for just a few days. For more information go to www.refugeecamp.ca or   www.msf.ca

    PS- According to metronews. ca this morning in their article about the camp, there are 42 Million people worldwide who are refugees or through conflict in their own countries, internally displaced persons.

    Makes you think

    Over and Out