Thankfully, he did manage to capture quite a few details of the trip enroute, for example, his write up about La Habana, below...
There was also his recount of the snorkeling adventure at Playa Coral...
Although Alex was less resistant than Simon about working on his journal daily while in Cuba, the gig was up when we got home. The working copy of the journal was all I ever got out of him!
Thankfully, he did manage to capture quite a few details of the trip enroute, for example, his write up about La Habana, below...
There was also his commentary (albeit brief, i.e. "fine") about being unplugged:
(For the record, I do NOT "yell" at him "all the time" -- or ever, really -- to get off his device, lol!)
There was also his recount of the snorkeling adventure at Playa Coral...
His review of the resort was Trip Advisor worthy!
On the plane ride home, Alex summarized the trip nicely, but skipped the parts he decided he wouldn't be doing. Oh well, at least he's an honest writer!
During our recent stint in Cuba, I asked my two kids to complete a reflective journal each day. Simon, who had been the less delighted of the two about this prospect, wowed us all with his write up on return. In addition to typing several pages worth, he requested feedback and willingly returned to the project to to make changes based on that feedback.
His final results are below...
When we first got to Cuba, I saw a lot of green (plants and shrubbery). Because of these plants, I smelled extremely fresh air. However, during the trip I got used to it so I didn't notice it as much, but when we got back to Toronto, I could smell the difference. In Toronto, the air smells more industrial. Saying this though, I have to remember that the taste of the food in Cuba was a bit bland but the food at the resort was terrible. All the food was hard, bland, soft, etc etc... . They even ruined chicken!
One thing I noticed was that there were many different races. There wasn’t really one noticeable majority because there were many colours of people, black, latino, white; you name it! I was surprised by this because I thought all the Cubans would be Latino.
So those were my first impressions on Cuba but let me tell you more about the Resort. Our room was pretty cold (colder than the air outside). Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that we could just change the temperature of the room until over halfway through our trip . Uggh!
The room had two double beds and a cot that the cleaning staff brought in for one of us to sleep on. The walls of the room were dark blue.
The pool was cold so we didn’t really swim in it other than the first day. However, never mind the pool, because the beach was almost perfect(the only problem was the salt water). I quote Alex when I say “the beach was very salty and it was disgusting to accidentally swallow water. There were also lots of straw umbrellas and plastic chairs to have relaxation at its best.”
I already talked about how bad the food was so never mind that, however, let me talk about the lobby. The lobby was very big. To plant a good picture in your mind, let me describe how it looked. It had three levels, the main level which has the front desk, washrooms, cafe, gift shop, entrance, seating area, and other smaller details. The second level has a stage for the band (which was one of the best ones I’ve ever heard) and seating area. The third level has two restaurants, a bar, and seating area. The place didn’t have a roof but rather a huge, green covering un attached made of stone and wood with beams supporting it. The lobby also had a green ramp coming down from the third level all the way down to the main level (the ramp also opened up at the second level) and a lot of potted plants.
Before we got there I thought the city would be really old because Mom kept saying “Havana is an old historical city.” However, when we got on the tour bus going to Havana, I learned some real facts. I already knew that it’s the capital city but I didn’t know that the city is home to three million people which is about one fourth of the country's eleven million residents.
When we got there, i realised that the city was crowded and LOUD! Forget New York, this is the real city that never sleeps. People were up partying all night.
Soon enough we met our host. They had a really nice house (they were probably pretty rich for Cuban standards). Everything was neat, tidy, and they even had a balcony with a nice view of the street below. I thought “Yes, Score” until they showed us the rickety spiral staircase behind us. At the top of those stairs was our place (the place ended up being nicer than, or as nice as, theirs with three beds spread across two bedrooms, two balconies, other living necessities, and a microwave that might explode at any moment so no need to worry). Dam!
The Town of Varadero
Other than Havana we also visited the town of Varadero although, we did not stay there overnight.
While most of our rides to places cost money, we ended up getting a free ride there after haggling with our bus driver (we did give him toys, hygiene items, and clothes though so it wasn’t exactly free). When we got to the town of Varadero, the first thing we did was buy my friend Muneeb a mini Baseball Bat tourist item because he loves bat sports. Then, we walked around an industrial part of town that my Mom said was allegedly a residential area. Heh, heh, No! Next, we went to a local art market (really it was just kind of a tourist market, in fact, the whole town was infested with tourists). After that, we rode in a taxi shaped like a helmet to one of the local beaches and swam in the clean and clear water there. The taxi was one of my favourite parts of the entire trip partially because of all the fresh air in my face as we zoomed through the streets. Finally, we took an old fashioned taxi car home, which we payed for (something different about Cuba compared to most places is that most of the cars there are old fashioned and most of the people who own cars there are cabbies because very few people have a car there).
Other Fun Activities
Some other things we did were snorkelling and seeing a dolphin show. First, I’m going to talk about snorkelling. This was the first time I've been snorkelling. I really enjoyed it. We saw lots of fish and various different colours and types of coral. Our guide even showed us a starfish! He also gave us a sea urchin but in return we gave him clothing. One thing I didn't enjoy about snorkelling was that I had to keep my legs super stiff in order for the coral and sea life to not rub against my legs.
While Alex and I were Snorkelling, our Mom had her own adventure. Allegedly she bought herself and our driver a pin encalada then watched us snorkel.
Later, we went to a dolphinarium to see a dolphin show. The dolphins did cool stuff like dancing and balancing things on there nose. They also jumped through hoops, shot basket balls, and gave high fives to the trainers. All of that aside though because the star of the show was a little baby dolphin that kept smiling, laughing, and overall just being bad.
Life without Internet
It was very difficult for me not to have internet for two reasons.
First of all, I couldn’t watch youtube or do a lot of things I like to do. However, my second reason was that I felt like I couldn't show my Mom my full potential for documenting our trip. As it is I type as slow as Molasses but writing, OMG! I was being sloppy with my work because I felt that it would be bad anyway. I’m hoping that after reading this my Mom will see my full potential (I know she does, but it will still feel good to complete this).
All of that aside though, what I did like about not having internet was that I was more observant because I wasn’t just thinking about getting back to my screen. I felt like I enjoyed this trip more than any I’ve ever gone on before.
To conclude this part, I would like to say that I think people should take a break from internet for a straight twenty-four hours every two months.
Before I end off this article I would like to give anyone planning on going to Cuba a huge tip. GO SOON because times are changing. The leader of Cuba Fidel Castro has just passed away meaning anything can happen (including the price of things in Cuba) so go now!
When my mother and grandmother used to travel with me a hundred years ago before the omnipresence of smartphones and social media (heck, the Internet was not even a “thing” yet!), we’d pack our bags and head out of the country for two weeks or longer.
The only contact we’d have with the folks back home was a postcard here and there, and sometimes maybe one long distance phone call just to let everyone know we’d arrived safely or something. There were no Facebook updates, Instagram photos or Twitter hashtags - people back home simply had to wait for the in-person update when we got back home at the end of the trip.
The payoff for this was that while traveling, we were fully immersed in the moment, conscious of the experiences we were having and the people we were having them with.
Unless you want to spend silly amounts of time and money surfing ridiculously slow internet the lobby of your dilapidated hotel, Cuba offers an opportunity to go “old school” for your vacation, as ubiquitous and accessible wifi is still an emerging concept here.
And that’s just what we did, my boys and I.
Alex and Simon and I left our devices at home when we headed out the door to the airport at 3:30 a.m. last Friday morning, and I’m grateful that we did so.
I should preface my praises for disconnecting with an admission that I had some pretty significant anxiety the first 48 hours without my smartphone.
For starters, feeling for that little key to the world in my pocket at all times has become almost a subconscious habit. I literally would reach for my iPhone multiple times a day: While standing in line at the airport, while waiting for the hotel shuttle bus to arrive at the airport, and at many other times once at the resort, just to check email, texts or update my Instagram feed. It was a surprise to me every time at first that the phone wasn't there!
Another thing I missed was the ability to look things up in a flash:
With the exception of the latter fact, which we were able to find out fairly quickly by looking at one of the maps in our Lonely Planet Cuba Guide and by simply walking around after checking in with our Casa owner, all my “need to know” questions had to wait until I could find someone to engage with who spoke enough English and knew more about Cuba than where the nearest bar was at the all-inclusive resort. Or wait until our return to Canada and the relatively fast, free wifi we enjoy here.
Finally, being out of text, phone or email range from my partner for a full week was a bit unnerving at first, since we’d never been apart for any length of time without some sort of digital access before. But “absence makes the heart grow fonder” as they say, and in the end, it was probably a good and healthy thing to have such a clearly demarked break from one another.
Being without my phone also meant having relatively little idea of what time it was, most of the time. Our resort lobby had a clock, as did the living room in the Havana Casa Particular where we spent a night, but other than that, we basically had to gauge what time it was by estimating the passage of time since our last confirmation, or checking -- in the morning and early evening -- by how bright it was outside.
That was a bit of a strange feeling at first, since I am so used to living by the clock (10-o-clock meeting, 2 p.m. deadline, 6 p.m. dinner, “family time” 7:30 - 8:15, kids’ tuck-in at 9, and so on).
But it didn’t take long to let go of the stringent schedule, and just respond to our mental and physical sense of what we “should” be doing at different points throughout the day.
Being free from daily reminders of all the lunacy going on in the world due to limited access to news of the latest racism, homophobia and misogyny in governments nearby was a welcome break.
After the initial awkwardness of feeling like we had to constantly know what time it was and whether anyone had texted us or updated their Youtube or Instagram feeds in the past three minutes, things started to get a whole lot better.
I began to read the book I had brought with me, and got so into it that I felt compelled to read aloud sections to the boys. They in turn became fascinated by Trevor Noah’s coming-of-age tales from Apartheid South Africa and demanded I keep reading more. This became a daily ritual, at the beach, by the pool, in the hotel lobby…
Cards were big, too: On the bus to Havana, in the brief moments we spent in our hotel room during transitions, and under the shade of our beach umbrella, the boys played everything from 21 to Crazy 8s to President, and I was obliged to join them.
We played more cards this week than in the past 12 months!
The best thing about being disconnected was that the daily digital distraction of the device was replaced by an ever-increasing, in-the-moment appreciation of the sights, sounds and other sensual flavours all around: The azures and aqua-marines of the Atlantic mesmerized me, and not just for a moment while I grabbed my phone to snap a photo to post on social media.
Nopes, not having the temptation of my digital device at my fingertips for a week meant I had the freedom to just stare out at the ocean and enjoy the view for a full ten minutes, or an hour, or all day, as I basically did at least once during our time in Varadero. It also meant that I would often glance up from my book, rather than being sucked in by the endless labyrinth that a screen and internet access provides, and enjoy magical moments that my 12-year-old twins were sharing with one another in the ocean, on the beach, doing card tricks, or engrossed in a good book together.
One facet of leaving my phone at home that had made me particularly nervous was the absence of a camera. But once on vacation, the boys and I quickly adopted the habit of capturing moments in our memories by pausing and holding our hands up to our face and making a “click” sound whenever something especially wondrous caught our eye.
We also spent some time each day completing the travel journals I had prepared for them ahead of time, though truth be told, Alex and I were considerably more enthusiastic about and committed to this little project than Simon was.
I am hoping to blog my own travel journal notes when I have some time over the coming week, so that the wonderful memories don’t fade too far into the mental abyss -- while more comprehensive than photos, memories do tend to have a far shorter lifespan than digital images!
I recognize that the Internet provides access to a global network of knowledge and perspective, and that these things often translate into power, and in general I am in strong favour of access as a fundamental human right in the 21 Century. Nevertheless, given our privileged position as westerners not living below the poverty line in a country where we have the luxury of consistent access, I feel that our brief hiatus from the world wide web was a beneficial one for us. The peace and reduced sense of urgency facilitated by the absence of constant connection to the outside was a feeling I'd not had in a long time.
All in all, I am in favour of such regular unpluggings, and am thinking of practical ways to make purposeful internet and social media breaks a part of our family’s regular routine.
So we're going to Cuba, and we're not taking any electronics.
The last time I was in Cuba was a hundred years ago, before the Special Period, and certainly well before smart phones and ubiquitous wifi (which is not so ubiquitous in Cuba anyway). I was about 12 years old, and I survived. Imagine!
So now I have two 12-year-olds who are virtually connected most if not all of the time. Given Cuba's limited (emerging?) connectivity and our short time (one week) there, we've decided it's best if we just go digitally naked for the week. In an age where one's personal digital devices is not only one's phone and wifi connection, but also one's map, alarm clock and camera, among other things, it's a pretty significant decision.
That being said, I'm not about to give up the opportunity to document our experiences, despite not having a camera or the ability to blog or post to Instagram in real time. I've made a lovely little workbook for the kids and for me to journal our adventures...
Truth be told, when I shared this little gem with Alex and Simon, it went over like a lead balloon.
"But we're supposed to be on VACATION!", Simon lamented.
He was particularly unimpressed with the suggested learning goal and success criteria I had noted on the inside cover. Their 7-year-old selves would have loved it, but their adolescent selves were not so easily bamboozled by fancy fonts and bold borders on clean, white printer paper.
Alex, at least, succumbed to the colourful cardstock and little sticky note tickets I introduced to sweeten the deal, and even got into the spirit of crafting his little workbook, posing obediently for a photo.
Simon was not so easily swayed, and the activist in him continued to protest in any way he could; three guesses which of the three booklets below is his!
For all his groaning and complaining, though, I know he's excited about the trip, and I'm willing to bet my bottom CUC that he'll jump on board within 24 hours of our 4 a.m. airport arrival on Friday and get on with the journal-ling. (In between swimming in the pool and the ocean, that is!)
P.S. Want to make your own travel journal for your kids or a student in your class who will be away? Download the word doc below, and customize the text to suit your needs. If you want to take it to the next level, arrange the pages so that you can print back to back and have a self contained booklet!
Our friend is in Washington.
Almost lost this friendship, we did, after the Trump election...
An ex-pat American, this friend is politically liberal, but the Trump election tried the best of them, it did. Many a liberal, especially (though not exclusively) of the white, straight, able-bodied male persuasion was challenged to understand the mindset of the very people they professed to support, stretched to come to terms with what it really means to be an ally.
I know our friendship was not the only one tried at this time. The media was full of stories of lost or shaky friendships as a result of this particular election.
Eventually we had dinner. And a conversation. And as our straight, white, able-bodied friend noted that while he supported LGBTQ rights, he would probably not wear the "Teaching with Pride" rainbow t-shirt I had given him last summer out and about (because he just "didn't want to bother answering people's questions"), he began to see that those of us who can't leave our proverbial t-shirts at home (because it's who we are in our sex, gender, skin colour, sexuality, physical ability, etc.) are sick to our stomachs with fear and disgust over the apparent mainstreaming of racism, homophobia and generalized bigotry that this election has shone a spotlight on.
Our friend started to see how those of us who were suddenly and forcefully being re-oppressed might feel a little impatient with those alleged allies who still didn't "get it".
What to do?
Our friend wondered what he should do to demonstrate his sincere support, and offered to make a donation to the Women's March, to help support those who needed to pay for travel expenses and lodging while there.
His thinking reminded me of a song by 1980's Christian pop icon Keith Green, who himself was fed up with people always sending money instead of acting themselves, and who insisted that Jesus Commands us to Go!
The Women's March is for Everyone
At first, our friend didn't understand that he could and should go to the march in Washington. Surely a straight white guy like him didn't belong there, he insisted. But in time, we convinced him that his presence would be very much welcomed and needed.
Yes, he was only one person, but so was every other individual person who was going to ultimately make up the more than half a million people that formed the Washington crowd (plus millions at sister marches and rallies all over the world)!
Yes he was a man, but women and children needed to see men who were not misogynistic pigs supporting them, and their mothers, and their sisters. Ditto for the "but I'm not black/gay/disabled" arguments.
Besides, we told him, it would be a great chance to him to reconnect with a long lost cousin and meet an internet friend from the Chess server who lived in the area.
And so, with a little more convincing (and considerable paper chasing -- it turned out his American passport had long expired, and his current Canadian passport was of little value in crossing the border), the old man finally bought an overpriced, last minute airline ticket and got going to his Motherland.
Those of us who stayed behind rallied together and got the man a pink pussy hat to take with him on his adventures. It's the least we could do.
First, a Little Sightseeing
Eager to get first-hand accounts of the happenings, we sent along strict instructions for our friend to update us with regular texts and photos.
He did not disappoint.
Arriving the day before the inauguration, he wandered about Washington, taking photos and sending his observations like a good little tourist...
First came an excited text and photo of the recently completed National Museum of African American History and Culture, behind which there was apparently "some tall pointy thing" to be seen.
Then this photo and caption:
Tall, pointy thing with flags.
Our friend was also excited to discover that he was not the only man wearing a pink hat, as the next text proclaimed that he had just "spotted a guy walking north along 17th St wearing a pussy hat"!
Following this came a series of three photos...
This is the first of a series of three, which should be looked at one at a time. I was not able to get close to the Lincoln Memorial, which was the one sightseeing thing I'd most wanted to see – they have it fenced off for some reason. But something good came of it anyway – trying to get to it brought me close to this thing. This is the way it looks when you enter through an entrance formed of two similar blocks of stone.
Then I walked a little bit further on and saw what you will see in the next picture.
Walk a little further around and you see this – an image of Martin Luther King Jr. carved out of the rock. He is a supposed to be holding a copy of the Declaration of Independence in his left hand. Apparently there is a bylaw in Washington that no statue can be taller than the 16 foot tall statue of Abraham Lincoln, but this is technically not a statue since it was carved out of a big piece of rock and only partially. This monument has only been there since 2011.
Arranged in a semicircle behind it are roughly 20 quotations of this hero, made in various places over a period of years. Next photo shows two of them.
Saturday morning came photos and commentary about the journey to the march.
We are at a subway station several miles outside of Washington DC, on our way in, and already there are many pussy hats on people. :-)
We the People
Soon after this, the text texts stopped, save for a quick observation that "thousands of people are wearing pussy hats". Indeed, both the photos that followed, and an Internet search on the Women's March revealed an encouraging sea of pink.
In attendance at the march were many celebrities, including Angela Davis, Michael Moore, and of course, Gloria Steinem. As the latter urged towards the end of her 10-minute call to action, "Make sure you introduce yourselves to each other and decide what we're gonna do tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow."
These marches were only the beginning of the revolution.
I'm glad you were there, Rick!
So, I went to plastic surgeon for the first time today… No, I'm not having a nose job or breast augmentation done. I wanted an educated opinion on the progress of my burn, which is three months and two days old today, and my GP thought this would be a better referral than the burn clinic at Sunnybrook.
I'm not particularly concerned about the cosmetics of my slow healing burn; it's more the incessant itching and ongoing redness in a few remaining patches that I've been feeling worried about these past months.
I have to confess, I held some bias against plastic surgeons; I just assumed that all they dealt with was cosmetic surgery, or that at least mostly that was what their work encompassed. As it turns out, they actually know quite a lot about skin, and about burns in particular, go figure!
For the first time since the day I poured hot water all over myself like an idiot at the office, I actually felt like I was talking to someone who knew what they were talking about. Instead of desperately searching the Internet for answers, I was able to have an informed conversation with someone in the know.
Granted, the surgeon himself was rather a handsome man (all natural? I didn't ask!), but he really knew his stuff, as did his student doctor. I was able to ask my million questions with confidence, and have my fears alleviated in under an hour, all courtesy of OHIP!
The itchiness, it turns out, is unfortunately quite common with deeper burns, and can last six months or more. It's one of the biggest challenges for burn victims, after the emotional stuff. An antihistamine was recommended.
The good news is that all my self-care and witch-doctoring in the early months seems to have paid off, and my wound was continuing to "heal well", according to both student and resident. The reason for the dryness, apparently, is that oil secretion glands were damaged. These take some time to heal. Use creme, they said. Any kinds, they said. Bio-oil is good, they said. Massage helps too, they said. press hard.
The best news? I can go swimming in Cuba next week. Ocean and pool! Just keep it out of the sun, they told me.
I already knew that.
A constant battle this year is my indecisiveness about the most effective and efficient way to commute to and from work. Although I’m living and working within the same public transit system now (TTC) whereas last year I had to take two systems (TTC and MiWay) to work, I am finding my commute more frustrating than ever.
I know many people blog about the horrors of public transit, so my tale of woe is not a new one, but I do feel compelled to add my voice to the milieu.
Car-free by choice since 2013, I get around largely by public transit or bicycle, supplemented by the occasional rental car or Uber (pool, where possible).
Benefits of Public Transit
In theory, I love to ride the bus or subway: Not having to fight (or pay) for parking downtown affords me the freedom to read the paper in the morning on my way to work, often while enjoying a leisurely breakfast on the go.
My current commute consists of a 16-minute bus ride from Lakeshore to the subway, a 20-minute subway ride downtown, and a 10-minute walk down Bay St to Wellesley.
Not all Roses
I blogged earlier this fall about the horrors of the Toronto Transit System, which I had not ridden with any regularity for some years until this this past fall.
The new normal in Toronto now seems to feature crammed busses and streetcars, delayed trains, rude operators and fellow passengers… the latter in particular drive me bonkers, especially on days when I can’t get a seat, and have to spend the better part of my commute pressed up against strangers I am not particular interested in snuggling with preceding or following a long day of work.
(Not) the King of Bedside Manner
One driver in particular stands out recently… notoriously underserved by public transit, our busses in the west end are often jam-packed during the morning ride to the subway.
On one such bus the week before last, the driver had apparently decided he’d had enough with people not moving back of their own volition: After a few rude barks at us to indicate that he was not moving the bus until everyone was behind the white line, he simply stopped communicating altogether.
Several passengers who tried to get on at stops after mine were glared down when the driver stopped the bus and opened the door, or were told flat out that there wasn’t any room on the bus, when they attempted to climb the steps anyway.
One poor gal had to guess why the bus wasn’t moving after she got on (I and a few of my fellow passengers explained that the driver was -- albeit not the king of bedside manner -- well within his safety rights to wait until everyone was behind the white line and out of his line of sight before moving the bus forward). She then squished as far back as she could and made herself skinny so the guy could drive on.
He thanked her for her efforts by yelling at her for having not yet paid her fare, which in the stress and uncertainty of being able to board at all, she had not yet gotten around to.
I considered myself lucky on that trip for living so close to the end (start) of the line; at subsequent stops, Mr. Crankypants just kept driving through, leaving large swaths of morning commuters shivering, stranded and confused on the cold sidewalk as a full but not unsurmountable bus drove right on by.
This sort of nonsense sometimes prompts me to pursue alternate routes, such as the Queen Streetcar for example.
An Unlikely Apology
Riding the 501 Streetcar is a fascinating study in humanity. If you were a writer looking for inspiration to compose a memoir about the human condition, an hour spent on this route, pretty much any time of day, any day of the year, would not disappoint. And you wouldn’t even need to look out the window to find fodder for your work!
From randomly raving lunatics to obnoxious, beer-swillers dispensing uninvited advice, to inconsiderate idiots who crank their music way too high (or don’t use headphones at all), it’s never a dull moment on the Queen Streetcar if you’re looking for irritation, that’s for sure.
But the scene I became enmeshed in last month while desperately seeking an alternative route to the crowded subway ride home was of a genre I’d not experienced before.
It started with some bulky-looking fellow complaining generally about people’s cell phone use, and their unwillingness to engage with one another, preferring instead to succumb to the tiny screen in their hands.
Now, while in theory I may share this dude’s opinion, in fact, it is none of his (or my) business what people do while riding public transit, so long as they are not imposing on someone else's rights. Certainly they are entitled to their relative privacy, and have no obligation to engage with strangers if they don’t want to.
So, when the guy’s general commentary became personal, I chose to get involved.
The perpetrator attempted to engage a woman nearby who was minding her own business, just texting on her personal device. When she ignored his unwanted advances, our uncouth friend continued to beleaguer her, shouting, “hey, you!” rather obnoxiously.
By now, several people had begun to shift uncomfortably in their seats; the poor "offender" with the cell phone was doing her best to ignore the guy and continue her texting.
At this point the guy said loudly, “Hey, bitch!"
When no one came to her rescue, I leaned sideways over my fellow passenger and seatmate, turned to the guy, and firmly told him, “Okay, you know what? That’s enough, you need to stop!”, to which he replied, “What’s your problem? I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to this bitch”, and gestured towards the bitch with the phone.
With adrenaline coursing through my veins (perhaps more out of anger that no one else was standing up to this jerk, than that he was a jerk in the first place), I stood up and retorted that the word he was choosing to use was offensive, and that -- as a woman -- I was not interested in hearing any more of this sort of nonsense from him, and that he needed to stop immediately, thank you, and sat back down.
When Stupidhead retorted that no one else seemed to be bothered by his language, since no one else had said anything, another woman commented loudly that she didn’t like it either, and had wanted to say something earlier, but hadn't been sure what to say.
The neanderthal then quieted down, but a few stops later approached me as though he were going to attack, and I felt my heart pounding in my throat in a way that only the prey approached by the predator can understand. As it turned out, though, he was getting off the streetcar, and wanted to apologize!
“Eh, thanks, eh?” He mumbled to me, “Figures not a single man said anything. Had to be a woman! Thanks for speaking up.” He further muttered, and wished me happy holidays before disembarking!!!
After the intitial incredulity passed, I rolled my eyes and turned to see how the gal with the cell phone was faring, but -- determined to survive the ordeal with her personal dignity intact -- she had done a great job throughout the whole affair of just isolating herself from everything and everyone around her. But I did make eye contact with another woman across the aisle, who just shook her head in disbelief.
Like I said, never a dull moment on the 501 Queencar.
Old, Tired and Run Down
Although that heading could describe me, in fact I selected it to summarize our city’s once-great public transit system, which is another con of commuting by public transit in Toronto.
Views like the one captured in the photo below are not uncommon on the TTC; leaking ceilings, ripped out floor tiles and/or giant sections of walls -- not to make things bigger, better or newer by design, but to manage critical conditions and various stages of disrepair, apparently in the moment, as they happen…
I often compare our first world system to the “antique” and also over-crowded but very affordable public transit system we experienced some years ago in South America and laugh ironically to myself when I realise theirs was better!
I cannot begin to count the number of times I've had to text my partner and/or kids to advise that Mommy would be home late -- yet again -- due to some sort of subway delay.
The aging, mechanically questionable, run-down system, combined with the equally questionable folks who seem to make up an inordinate percentage of the ridership (we didn't even get into any great detail on my favorite topic: Jerks who insist on blasting their pop music too loudly!), and the daily delays make me constantly on the quest for an alternative method of getting to work.
One such way has been my bicycle.
Benefits to Biking
Environmentally and economically comparable to public transit (cheaper, actually, if you don't insist on fancy and overpriced bags and other unnecessary but nice-to-have gadgets like I tend to), biking to work takes me roughly the same amount of time as riding public transit, minus the loud music of idiots who surround me, and with the only risk of delay being an unexpected flat (a significantly reduced risk, I might add, since I got some fancy-ass bike tires last year that are more resistant to flats)!
Some people wonder how I can ride in winter, but with the right gear (waterproof pants, warm boots, a balaclava and ski goggles are must-have items for winter riding), the cold weather is a non-deterrent. Actually, in some ways I prefer winter riding, as there are fewer other cyclists on the road that require circumnavigation, and drivers are more alert to me, since winter cyclists are such a rare sight in the GTA.
A number of additional benefits bring biking into the role of serious contender when it comes to commuting to work; the top two for me are fitness and inspiration.
An obvious benefit of cycling to work is that I get in a workout without having to commit additional time or financial resources to a gym or special class of some sort. At approximately 12 km, my destination lies a perfect distance from my starting point for a morning physical freshen-up before work or an after-work ride to decompress from the day.
In order to protect my co-workers from my post-workout stench, I bring a change of clothes on mornings when I ride in, and supplement my sink wash up in the office washroom with baby wipes and deodorant power from Lush.
Inspiration Along the Way...
Another reason I enjoy riding in to work is that I get to see a lot of things the average car or subway-dweller misses due to speed or being underground.
One of the things I love most about my morning ride in, when I do it, is the sunrises. My Instagram acct will attest to the fact that I am frequently mesmerized by the pastel rainbow enroute downtown, especially along the waterfront during the first half of my commute.
Sunrises aside, however, there are art installations (both human-created and naturally occurring) and lots of wildlife. I also like to feel the breeze on my face as I cycle, so long as it isn't too strong!
Speaking of strong breezes, sometimes the headwind can be so powerful, it doubles my commute time (yes, I am old, and fat and slow to begin with; strong wind from the north east is not helpful in the morning!)
The main downfalls to biking for me are never having a chance to just sit around and read the paper, and being "stuck" when I am sick (case in point; I got a virus of some sort just as the holidays started, and have not felt well enough to bike since then!) I'm also not crazy about the bike locker in my building, which is in a dark corner of the parking garage, and adds 10 minutes to my morning commute.
Ultimately, there is no one way for me; I'll enjoy reading and relaxing on public transit while raging inside about the guy two seats over who insists on watching a video without headphones and becomes aggressive with I politely by firmly ask him to turn off the volume (even though I am well within my rights to do so, according to section 3.23 of the TTC bylaws), and eventually become so fed up that I will ride to work the next morning on my bike, but then be desperate for a chance to sit and read the paper and eat a bag of cheezies in peace, so will leave my bike locked up at work and ride the subway home and get frustrated with the constant delays over the next few days, so will end up back on my bike for a bit... and so it goes.
Until the arrival of eco-friendly, affordable, driver-less cars, it seems I am doomed to make do with an imperfect collage of commuting options.
At least I don't have to walk two hours uphill in the snow. Both ways.
So, it’s Christmas holidays, and I finally, finally have three minutes to myself to catch up on some blogging.
As I have moved from a job (classroom teaching) that was about 80% “doing” and 20% thinking and writing to a job (education officer with the Ministry of Education) that is about 15% "doing” and 85% thinking and writing, I find myself with little steam left at the end of the day to keep up my personal blog.
Whereas I used to crank out about 4 blog posts a week, I’d be hard pressed to write 4 a month now. And even then, I’m finding they’re not particularly well written.
Never Enough Time for (Good) Writing
The trouble is in part time, it’s true… somehow, I managed to find a job that is at least as consuming as classroom teaching -- and that leaves me little time to blog. While I’m taking far less work home as a public servant than I did as a classroom teacher (or university instructor, instructional coach, workshop facilitator, etc.), I don’t typically arrive home until 6:30 or 7p.m. at which point it’s all I can do to get supper on the table, chase down kids’ school forms and homework and get everyone to bed before collapsing into a semi-comatose state in front of Instagram for an hour or so before bed myself.
Inspiration and Permission
The other issue is inspiration. As a classroom teacher, I was constantly excited to share what I was learning alongside my students and colleagues. But as an education officer with the ministry of ed., I seem to have far less to write about. Or, perhaps, less that I can write about, due to the political nature of my current job: Much of my work is “in-progress” and as such, not open for sharing outside of the office.
As a teacher, I was constantly reflecting on practice, and sharing stories of my successes and failures with my spouse, my children and my blog readers. But as a public servant, I had to take an oath of office that precluded me from sharing publicly pretty much anything I do before it formally becomes public. (And even then, my ability to comment on it is limited, as it should be.)
So what’s a novice writer to do, then? In what ways can I continue to hone my craft?
New Genres, New Skills
I’m finding it interesting to develop new skills as I spend so much of my time now crafting emails, memos and issue notes and a wide variety of genres I did not know even existed until this year!! From parent guides to teacher guides to internal and external FAQs, everything I write goes through multiple layers of approvals and is edited (sometimes heavily) by a variety of co-authors and editors before it is ever seen by an "end user". I consider purpose and audience like never before… and I realise daily new examples of how my understanding of said purposes and audiences may differ from others’ interpretations.
Evolution of Content… and Audience?
The amount of wordsmithing I am learning to do in my new job makes me considerably less prolific than I am used to being, but perhaps more nuanced in my writing. That’s a gift I hadn’t considered when I first accepted the job, and I am considering how best to apply my evolving written skills to my blog as that, too, evolves.
If I no longer write about classroom happenings, and can’t write about emerging themes in public education for an audience that was primarily comprised of teachers, then how can I instead develop new, possibly non-education-related content in a way that interests them (you), or begin perhaps to foster a new audience for my blog?
Maybe the bigger question now is, why am I even keeping a blog?
Some years ago, I read and wrote about an article from the The Atlantic, “Why I Blog”. I reflected on how the sometimes error-riddled writing in a blog post was -- as the article implied -- part of the genre of blogging, which is in some sense a less “published” style of writing than, say, a paper magazine article or a book, which has gone through many, many rounds of editing before it is ready for public consumption.
But do we blog for public consumption?
I know some teacher colleagues blog very intentionally to build their “brand” and develop a following. I’ve never done that, and don’t even know if I have a brand to speak of. (And now that I’m an OPS employee, I can’t really go seeking specific fame and fortune anyway!) No, for me, blogging has always been more of a public scrapbook, a place to store and reflect on photos or written memories of various facets of my family/personal and professional life, open for others to peek in on and laugh alongside me at my shortcomings and marvel at or cheer me on in my sporadic successes.
While I’ve occasionally kept more topic-specific blogs (such as my Learn to Fly with Vera or Smart Bansho sites) over the years, in general, everything’s kind of begun to merge together in one place for me over the past 24 months, and I’m okay with that. Afterall, why limit one’s eclectic life to a single theme or passion online?
So now I have to figure out -- if it’s important to me to maintain this online scrapbook -- how I can continue to make time for and find joy in writing my blog posts more regularly, despite or perhaps somehow enhanced by the inordinate amount of writing I already do as part of my new day job!
Well, it's that time of year where I wish to heck I had all kinds of wealthy friends and relatives to buy me all the delightful and unnecessary (by global standards) items on my Christmas list...
And since neither an end to mysogyny, racism, homophobia and other injustices in the world, nor a new couch -- ideally one that's not covered in stains and dog hair like our current model -- seem likely, I thought I'd share a few other crazy wishlist items.
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.