I had a truly wonderful birthday celebration this year and I want to remember every minute! Justin and I continued our regular tradition of taking our birthday’s off together and making a whole day of it. In fact, we start our celebrations the night before by going out for dinner.
This year we went to Woodlot, which is down in our old College Street neighbourhood. It’s a cozy place – dark, warm, welcoming – and has wonderful food. It’s just perfect for celebrating a winter’s birthday. I even tipped my hat to the season by ordering a cocktail called an Ice Dragon.
In the morning we headed down to the Beaches. It’s been our birthday tradition almost since we first moved out to the east end of the city and discovered that with a short bus ride or a long walk we can make it to this wonderful area of the city.
The cold has rarely held us back from our waterfront visit. In fact blustery snowy days have created some of our best memories! This year it was the dazzling sunlight on the lake. Spectacular!
Then we headed to Shannon’s for one of my favourite birthday celebrations ever. We booked a Pet Party with Pawsitively Pets. Though this event is generally for children, they were happy to celebrate with us. They bring a wide range of rescued exotic animals who enjoy being social for an interactive and educational hour of utter joy.
First we met Caesar, the Sengal Parrot you see on Shannon’s hand. He was a charmer, sitting on each of our shoulders! Parrots can live to be 75 years old and so are a very long-term commitment as a pet. They are smart, social and also particular. Just like people, they don’t take to everyone, though clearly we didn’t have that issue with this beauty!
Next we met Pearl, a miniature angora rabbit, who was gentle, sweet and so very soft.
Then we met Rosie the albino hedgehog, who seemed a bit nervous to see us. We were amazed by her and her protective spines. She can curl up into a ball to keep herself safe.
Have you ever heard of a sugar glider? We hadn’t until we met Peppermint. These marsupials are tiny and happy to be carried around in a cozy little pouch. They have a membrane that runs between their wrists and their ankles that allows them to stretch out and glide through the air! Amazing!
Then there was Kevin, the bearded dragon. Do you know that many lizards find they need new homes when they are about 8 years old? Parents often buy them as pets for their 10-year-old sons. Then those boys generally keep their lizard until it’s time to move out or head off to university – when they are about 18. That’s what happened to Kevin. We were so glad to meet him. He had such a lovely presence and his stillness created such a sense of calm in the room, giving me a new appreciation of lizards. Thanks, Kevin!
Many people have ferrets like Libby for pets. Apparently they behave a lot like cats – they can even use the litter! Though they will also crawl into any little nook or cranny in your home! They can get into just about anything. They also have a very distinctive smell. In fact, we each got to take a moment to smell the musky, earthy, slightly sweet scent of a ferret. How many people can say they did that for their birthday?!
Then there was Romeo. Honestly, what can I say about Romeo, the 40-pound python?! I almost didn’t put him down as an option for the party but I thought, when are you going to have an opportunity like this? I was sure to ask everyone if they felt comfortable with encountering a snake and I’m so glad we all said yes. Romeo opened my mind to the beauty of snakes. He was all grace and muscle. I honestly feel transformed by being able to hold this magnificent creature.
We ended our visit with the gregarious George, a double yellow headed Amazon parrot. What a beauty!! She was quite a talker throughout our entire visit but held back her big number until right at the end. Just as she was heading out the door she sang out the last line of This Little Piggie, “Wee wee wee wee all the way home.”
What a glorious celebration! I am so thankful for this experience. I will remember and treasure each moment forever.
Even though it was just a couple of days away, it did us the world of good to have a little break. Gentle new adventures and time together was just perfect.
We woke up early on our last day not only to catch the train but also to…
Get to the Honey Tree right when it opened to indulge in one more irresistible treat. The day before the baker had told us she made these sugar buns out of croissant dough and we simply had to try them. This was my very, very favourite.
Coming home, we felt so contented, so happy we’d given ourselves the gift of some time away, and already imagining the next time!
As I looked out the window I kept thinking, this is so Ontario. I grew up looking out windows and seeing sights like this.
The sight had I never seen before, however, was one I didn’t catch with my camera. Out in the fields, standing still and staring at our train as we passed – a coyote. I sat back and smiled at the gift.
No matter the adventure, it’s always wonderful to come home, this time to a cup of tea in the mug that I did indulge in at my much-loved store, a fox to keep me company this fall.
It’s such a good feeling to sleep in your own bed – though clearly Escher was not very happy about relinquishing it!
One of the gifts of Stratford as a getaway is that it is quiet and lovely but there is still quite a bit to do – all within walking distance! Our beautiful Air BnB was on a lovely tree-lined and quiet street. We slept easily and well and then were off for our next adventures!
And what’s an adventure without meeting a #catsinthehood! We met this lovely girl while she was drinking from a restaurant’s water feature and we were on the way to a bakery we had seen on our street. Like cordial neighbours we stopped along the way to say hey and hello.
After our friendly visit, we found our way to a treasure trove of delicious goodness – The Honey Tree. Everything looked so good that it was difficult to choose but we settled on the cinnamon buns.
We were so glad we did! We both agreed these were truly the best we had ever had!
All that sugar inspired us to take another walk. The weather was crisp and sunny and the river walk called once again!
Though there are always plenty of ducks and swans to see along the Avon, there was some magic in the air this morning. They poured onto the banks as though sure we were there to deliver their breakfast. We were sorry to disappoint but so glad to get this close to these beauties.
Alongside the river there is also the great beauty of trees. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen willows this big. As a girl I grew up with one in our yard and spent hours upon hours up in her limbs, a treasured hideaway.
Seeing how small I am next to this majestic willow made me feel like a little girl again!
After another long walk, we took a break for lunch. A local barista had recommended the York Street Kitchen for fresh and delicious sandwiches so that’s what we did. We felt like a wonderful old married couple when we ordered our two sandwiches, asking to give each of us one half of the others so we could both try more flavours!
We don’t do a lot of shopping when we travel, our remembrances are usually our photographs, but I can’t resist Watson’s in Stratford. I could occupy myself in there for hours looking for the just right thing!
I do feel a slight ounce of regret for not picking up this crazy plate. It just makes me laugh!
Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. An early meal is inevitably a part of the schedule when you’re going to the theatre. We’d heard great things about The Red Rabbit and so gave it a try.
Delicious. Memorable. Special but not pretentious. Well, except when the waiter scolded me for Googling something on the menu!
After our meal, we walked through the gentle rain to the Festival Theatre to watch The Tempest.
The whole day had been so wonderful that a night filled with stories of magic felt just right.
A short while ago, Justin and I rather spontaneously decided we would take a little break together and go to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It’s just a 2-hour train ride from Toronto and gives us the opportunity to visit a lovely city, see some theatre and have some time together.
I love taking the train. It’s such a gentle way to travel. On the way, our train had only 2 cars and we boarded right at the front, giving me a view into Union Station that I’ve never seen before! The conductor was patient as I quickly took a picture but I also realized how difficult it is for me to slow down, breathe and take a moment for me when someone else is waiting. I vowed to practice this, to learn what it is to hold my space, take my time and have my moment.
It was grey and cool when we arrived in Stratford and very few of us got off the train. We were definitely coming to the festival at the end of the season and that’s just perfect for us. We love traveling in the shoulder seasons, knowing that things will be quieter, more spacious, even if also a little grey and chilly!
After finding our lovely Air BnB and grabbing a bite of lunch, we did what you do when you go to Stratford, we walked along the Avon River. We were amazed by the lack of people on the path – but there was certainly no lack of ducks, swans and Canada geese!
The swans are so big that when they stood up fully, I suddenly realized they are almost as big as me!
We walked all the way to the Festival Theatre and made our first acquaintance with Mr. Shakespeare.
The beautiful gardens include a little pond for water lilies that just makes me swoon: the darkness of the water, the shapes of the pads and oh, those lilies.
The shapes and the colours inspired me to take my camera out again and again and again.
After our long walk, we grabbed a quick dinner and headed out for a night of theatre.
We saw Coriolanus at the Avon Theatre – stunning, riveting and relevant! This was truly one of the best pieces (if not the best piece) of theatre that we have ever seen. Thank you to the director, Robert Lepage, whose vision brought this play to life in such a dramatic and impactful way.
Watch the following video(s) to get a glimpse into the magnificent staging that brought this story to life!
Every place has its own character, its own gifts to share. Often those gifts can be seen more readily when a place is fresh and new, when it offers some respite from our daily lives, a contrast to our familiar routine. We dream of walks along the beach or strolls on the Champs-Élysées. We want mountains, quiet, solitude or restaurants, culture, excitement. We want a bit of adventure, an experience that will nourish us and add some spice to our everyday life. Travel is one way to do that but what if we go the other direction?
What if we shake up our routine and discover adventure and nourishment right where we live?
We become so accustomed to our city, our town, our neighbourhood that we stop seeing its gifts. And we’re so busy and drained from life’s demands that we often stop going out to play, savour and explore. If we’re not careful, we stop having new experiences at all. We stop filling our wells and expanding our horizons. We remain on our everyday treadmill while waiting for a vacation or a trip we will take ‘someday’ instead of engaging with beautiful, nourishing experiences that are available in our own backyard.
This can happen even in a city as big and dynamic as Toronto. This city has so much going on that every day there are literally oodles of wonderful things to chose from – a cultural festival, a class, a charitable event, a conference, hundreds of restaurants, concerts, art exhibits, theatre performances, dance, even ax-throwing! I mean, Justin and I went on a date night where we learned archery in a castle!! That’s the kind of city this is. In fact, there’s so much to do that choosing becomes a barrier. Can’t decide? Another night of Netflix it is!
Now, I love a night of Netflix! But not every night. Not all the time. I want it to stay special too! So sometimes, I want to make a different choice, have a new experience – and I don’t want to wait for a trip!
What new experience is available right now in your own backyard?
I asked myself that question this week and Justin and I ended up at Porch View Dances, a dance event that is known for having “real people dancing in real places.” This is how they describe the event: “Audience members travel from house to house to see new dance works created by professional choreographers and performed by local families on their porches, front yards and driveways of their own homes.”
So on a beautiful summers night Justin and I went to one of our favourite neighbourhoods to watch creative hearts dance. The streets were blocked off by volunteers on bicycles and the audience felt like a community. We sat together in the middle of the road and were immersed in a culture of dance, celebration and inclusion. We moved between locations on foot, on bike and in wheelchairs. We watched community dancers and professional dancers and we had the opportunity to dance ourselves. It was beautiful and memorable.
Walk with me through the Porch View Dances…
Porch 1: ec * o * sys * tem
Vignette 1: Path
Porch 2: Around the Moon
Vignette 2: Weyó Na Miyó
Vignette 3: 2 Go
Porch 3: Mino Bimaadiziwin – The Good Life
Ultimately the event did exactly what it was intended to do: “PVD was designed to celebrate the stories of neighbourhood residents and to bridge the gap between professional art and everyday people.. PVD sends the strong and powerful message that art is for everyone.”
No wonder I loved it.
For years one of my Focus Areas has been what I call “Experience Life”. There are a million ways to do this and one beautiful way is to get out there in your community, in your town and engage. Find what there is to love, wherever you are. Each place has something unique and precious to share – just like we do.
This week, I hope you’ll get out and “experience life” in your hometown.
1 audition while sick. 3 months of rehearsal in 3 different locations. 4 performances – including 1 in the rain. All of these facts are true and none of them sum up the experience of performing in Le Grand Continental with 219 other dancers in Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto’s City Hall for the Luminato Arts Festival.
When the call to audition arrived in my inbox this winter, it stirred something in me. Dance is my first love and though I haven’t pursued it in years, I trusted my instincts, hit reply on the email and said, “Count me in.” And though I was sick on the day of auditions, I went and did the best I could. (Read my audition story here.) I couldn’t quite believe it when I received an email that said, “You’re in!”
First rehearsals were in an empty warehouse down on Lakeshore Blvd. It wasn’t hard to get to but the way was dark, isolated and our first night had severe storm warnings. I know we talk about the ease that’s so often present when the Universe is saying “Yes” to us but sometimes I think she also says, “How badly do you want this?” Implicit in that question is another: “How uncomfortable are you willing to get?”
Stepping into amazing experiences often involves getting uncomfortable.
When we encounter challenges, maybe the Universe is also encouraging us to ask for help. In this instance, my sister-in-law worked on getting us better lighting, cast members walked together to public transit and Justin picked me up after several rehearsals.
Dreams are a team effort.
Over several months, rehearsals became my favourite place to be, which isn’t to say that they weren’t challenging. They were physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Learning the moves, especially when brand new to choreographer Sylvain Emard’s style, was challenging. Remembering 30 minutes of choreography was intimidating. Even if I remembered, I wondered how my energy would be. By the summer, would I be able to sustain a 30-minute performance? There was rarely an opportunity for feedback in such a big group so I regularly wondered, “Am I doing all right?” Often my inner critic answered. All of this plus the emotional intensity of coming back to a love that had been dormant for too long.
One of the ways I deepened my learning, caught my memories and processed my feelings was by treating myself to post-rehearsal coffee dates. I ended up with three new lovely coffee shops on my radar: Arvo in the Distillery District and Jimmy’s Coffee and Balzac’s (pictured) near Ryerson. Whenever possible I took advantage of some quiet time with my journal, pouring out the choreography, my day’s experiences, my hopes and my fears.
A journal is there for you no matter what – able to hold the full spectrum of your life experience.
We had optional Saturday dance clinics where we could work out the finer details and get greater clarity on the choreography with the help of a team of professional dancers. Many people chose to forego these rehearsals but I didn’t miss one. How often in your lifetime are you going to get the chance to spend the morning with a team of dancers who are focused on helping you learn, grow and perform?
Take advantage of the opportunities at hand.
We went through three phases of rehearsals, starting with a small group and combining with another in each new phase. It was fascinating to watch the people dynamics created by those changes. With each addition of new people, I found dancers became friendlier with the group they had been with before. Eventually our group was so big we needed to rehearse in an arena!
Throughout the rehearsal process I was reminded of so many things I love about performance – the intense focus of the process, the sense of community, the creation of something out of nothing and the way “honouring the work” is built into every step of the process.
Week after week I was inspired by Sylvain Emard, the choreographer, Bonnie Kim, the rehearsal director and each of the professional dancers. I found myself quoting them again and again in the ‘words of the day’ section of my Studio Yearbook.
“Dance with your heart and you will be seen.” Sylvain
“Take care of one another out there.” Bonnie
“Don’t hesitate! Throw yourself in with confidence.” Jane-Alison
Every wisdom reinforced what I have known for a long time, what I base all of my professional work on, what we learn in the arts also applies to our lives.
After months of rehearsals, we were asked to chose our ‘spot’ in the line. I chose the second row, a bit to the right. It felt good and comfortable. A few weeks later, our positions were officially assigned, taking into consideration our preferences, the needs of the show and remaining subject to change. I walked up to the board to see where I had been placed. I was shocked to see myself in the last row. Not shocked because this position is bad but because for almost half of the show, the back is the front! This is a visible spot, a spot where you can’t hide, a spot where you can’t rely on anyone else to know what comes next. In this position, you’ve got to know every bit of the choreography – in your bones.
My heart was a jumble. I was honoured. I was distraught. I had picked the second row so that I could feel a bit more relaxed and focus on the fun of the experience, not the pressure of the performance.
Now, there I was, on the edge, exposed.
With barely a moment to process or prepare, we dove into dancing a number we hadn’t touched for a while. My heart was racing. Would I remember what came next? Would my feet obey? Would my body find its way?
What surprised me was that either way, I felt okay. I remembered something our rehearsal director had told us, that we all have a responsibility to learn our parts and that each of us will do so in our own way, at our own pace. Though I knew the choreography, this experience was new and intimidating. It was perfectly reasonable that it would take a while to orient myself, to settle in, to find my way.
I would not have chosen this position myself. In fact, I didn’t! I chose my comfort zone and felt good about it. If I wanted to, I could still request that I be moved to a ‘safer’ spot. I’m not going to. Not because I’m afraid to rock the boat or because I feel obliged to do as I’m told (there was a day when that might have been the reason) but because yesterday’s rehearsal showed me something:
I was more comfortable on the edge than I thought I would be.
Yes, this was a greater challenge than I anticipated but I felt like I just might be up to it. I had been working hard. I had been preparing. I could see the work that remained, the bridge that needed to be built between my comfort zone and my creative edge, the one that had to be built between that rehearsal and the first night of performance.
It was work I could do. It was work I would do.
It was work I did do.
Getting our position signaled that it was time to start shifting into performance mode. We had been doing all this rehearsing for a reason! The show was getting closer. I started looking for my costume, shopping everywhere for the cool (in both temperature and hipness) pants and vibrant top that I knew would be just right for the show. In the meantime, the music for the show was always, always, always playing – on my phone, on my computer, on my mind. It was the score to my life! I went over the moves on the subway, at the grocery store and walking through my neighbourhood. My commitment to the show was all encompassing.
It was during this stage that I had the biggest shift, a growth spurt in my creative life.
One day during rehearsal both Sylvain and Bonnie walked around the outer perimeter (you’ll remember that my spot was on the outer perimeter) to distract us as we were dancing. Three times Sylvain walked in front of me. Three times I made mistakes. Ugh!!
I love performing but I am also an HSC – a highly sensitive creative. I’m one of those performers whose nerves are so bad on the day of the show that she always thinks, “Why am I doing this? I want to be anywhere but here!”
But during rehearsals Sylvain shared some wisdom that changed things for me. He talked to us about the audience. He told us that we could either receive and give back the mass of energy we would feel from them or we could get knocked over by it. Plus, as an invocation to learn the choreography, he had also told us that we would all make mistakes, that we are human – but that making a mistake is different than not knowing the choreography, than not having done the work.
I had done the work. I knew these moves. If I showed up on stage obsessed with “getting it right” instead of sharing the joy of the dance, I knew that I would shut down, get it wrong and be knocked over by the audience’s energy. Instead, I would choose to dance. I would trust the work that I had done. I would lean into my body’s learning. Yes, I would continue to honour the work. I would bring focus and care to my performance but I would also choose not to bring tension, obsession or ego. I would simply dance.
I was lucky enough to get 2 ticket to the hottest show in town – Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It wasn’t easy. I tried to get a second set with no luck at all. Every time they’d release a new block of tickets, I’d be right there at the computer, poised and waiting. The gates would open and I’d immediately be 18,725th in line!
Something in this artist’s work creates that kind of a response. Toronto is clearly embracing Kusama’s world of repetition, dots and infinity rooms.
This exhibit features 8 infinity rooms, most of which are white boxes with a single door, giving you no sign of what lies within. You wait in line, sometimes for 20 minutes, for a 20-second experience in the room. Here’s Justin and I experiencing Phalli’s Field (1965/2016). All of those polka dots can’t help but make you smile. This field of soft sculptures is reminiscent of some friendly muppet-like world, which becomes rather odd when you learn that Kusama called this “a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses.”
I first learned of Yayoi Kusama’s work through the In the In Studio Series from the Museum of Modern Art (which, by the way, I can’t recommend highly enough). In How to Paint like Yayoi Kusama, instructor Corey D’Augustine teaches how to create an infinity net. The process piqued my curiousity and I immediately followed along. It was immersive and engaging. I loved it.
It made it all the more exciting to see several of Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings at the exhibit. This is a closeup of one. It gives you a sense of the effect of the work.
Everything that Yayoi Kusama does seems to be just about to break out of the frame, overgrow the room, defy limitation. It feels like if you close your eyes, even for an instant, everything will have multiplied by the time you open them again!
During the exhibit, this short film was showing but there were also notes that you could access it online through your phone while waiting – smart strategy! This, combined with the freedom to take pictures, even within the rooms, gave a great sense of freedom and expansion, like the show itself was able to reach far beyond the bounds of the gallery.
When they told us we’d only get 20 seconds in each Infinity Room, it was a bit of a shock. How could we wait all that time for just a few seconds of experience? Would it be worth it? As we stepped into the glow of Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, I knew immediately the answer was yes. Though the beauty of this room made me want to stay forever, the truth is it takes only an instant for the work to give you all it has. With a gasp, you are immersed. The experience is immediate and visceral. This brief moment may well be my favourite art experience of all time. I will carry it with me always.
Oh, the whimsy of a room filled with pink, balls, and polka dots! Once again, you just can’t help but smile.
There was virtually no lineup as we walked into Dots Obsession: Love Transformed into Dots, and that gave a wonderful sense of peace and ease, a welcome breath as we moved forward in the exhibit.
What totally different energy exuded from Love Forever (1966/1994). Justin and I stood on opposite sides of a white box and peered in to discover this amazing view! What fun! (Though I was afraid I was going to drop my phone in!)
Justin and I had rather different views of The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013). He felt it was so similar to Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity that he couldn’t help but compare and preferred the former. For me, it was the difference between sparkle and glow, the energy of a quick intake of breath and standing up straighter versus a deep exhale and letting go.
There was only one Infinity Room in which photos were not allowed: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016). Doesn’t the title itself take you someplace? I asked why no photography and was told it was at the request of the artist. You can sneak a peek into the room at the AGO’s website.
The sculpture Life (Repetitive Vision) (1998) can at least give you a taste of the golden pumpkin colour that Yayoi Kusama clearly delights in.
In addition to the Infinity Rooms, there were paintings, collage pieces and sculptures by the artist as well as some wonderful photographs of her and her work throughout her career. I was particularly fond of Self-Obliteration by Dots.
And speaking of obliteration, the show concludes with The Obliteration Room (2002-present, installed 2018), which was fascinating. As you enter, your group is given a sheet of round stickers and the instructions to place each of the dots wherever you like. We were to use them entirely, not a dot was to leave the room. It was hard not to save one for my journal!! But if I had taken it it, then there would be a way that the work would not be complete and I couldn’t do that.
When the exhibit began, this room was entirely white but you can see how much colour has already been added. Only as you witness pieces that have been strongly covered do you start to understand the title of The Obliteration Room. As each item is covered with dots, it literally begins to disappear from view. It was fascinating to see – or not see.
The Infinity Room exhibit delighted and inspired me. I only wish that I had been able to get more tickets so I could share the experience with more of my loved ones. I couldn’t be happier that I am able to share the journey with you.