Spring is coming!

We’ve had a long and hard winter this year in Canada. I don’t think any part of the country can actually say it survived unscathed from the cold arm of Mother Nature. Even as I write this Newfoundland is up to its ears in the white stuff. Poor things.

Here in Toronto things are getting a little warmer, if not greener yet. I’ve begun jogging again outside as the temps climb above zero. As per usual, I’ve found interesting things along my routes. Take for instance this uprooted tree in my neighborhood. It’s probably well over a hundred years old and it’s just gone now. Kind of sad, isn’t it?


Speaking of weird things, I came across this sign tossed in a pile of trash and couldn’t resist taking a picture of it.


There’s something poignant about the message scrawled on an item about to get thrown into a dump, isn’t it?

And, as many Torontonians know, the venerable institution Honest Ed’s, a discount warehouse emporium with labyrinthine stairways and unusual decor is going to shut down permanently to make way for a new batch of condos in the Annex, my neighborhood. I noticed this hand-painted sign gracing one of the corners this week.


The end is nigh, folks. Honest Ed’s will close on December 31, 2016.

Finally, because it’s spring, or maybe because I’m feeling particularly verdant this year, I’ve been into horticulture a lot more. My orchid has been blooming since December and just recently I successfully transplanted a spider plant baby from my mom’s place into a little pot of soil in my home. It’s thriving like a bean. Alas, my green thumb isn’t perfect, though. My mom also bought me a bonsai tree recently and sadly I left it in a car trunk overnight, forgetting that it’s a delicate, tropical plant and it was still way too cold for it to be outside. Now it looks like this:


Actually it looks worse than that now because it’s been relegated to the balcony where it’s exposed to the elements. Poor thing. I tried to resurrect it with water and tender words of hope, but it just didn’t want to spring back. I even joined a gardening forum to ask for advice and was not given much hope from them either. Oh well. I think I’m not ready for a bonsai just yet, although I do think they’re absolutely beautiful.

On the other hand, my tulips are looking very nice still. :) This is what they looked like when I just bought them:


They’re almost ready to go, but I’m keeping them for just a few more days. I’m loving the fresh colours and healthy greens. They inspire me and I hope they give you hope for the new season that approaches!

Is it too late?

I get emails from Quora, a website database of crowd-sourced information. The email included a question that I have often asked myself.

Is it too late?

The user is in his late twenties (*check*), hasn’t done “much” with his life (I put much in quotations because everything is relative) and he’s wondering if he’s too late in the game to try anything new or to accomplish any real goal in life because he’s *sniff* approaching thirty.

I picked out the best responses to his question, of which there are plenty, including some from well-known motivational writers like James Altucher, who reminded the user (and me) that the inventor of Ramen noodles didn’t get around to patenting his amazing food staple for the chronically poor and hungry until he was 48.

Here’s what I gleaned from the multitude of answers:

“A sunk cost from yesterday should not be part of today’s equation.” — Marcus Geduld

“Most intentional success is accomplished in a relatively short period of time, and rarely in your twenties.” — Keinosuke Johan Miyanaga

“With time and age, our distance from where we began widens, and the consequences of how we spend our time begins to outweigh our initial advantages and disadvantages.” — same as above

“By choosing a goal or destination we can decide for ourselves to put in the work that will get us there.” — ditto

“Life life intentionally.” — yep, same dude. He’s smart!

So. Now you can see that there are plenty of reasons why it’s not too late. I put myself through a lot of anxiety worrying about that question around my mid-twenties. That was when I began training as a singer and I was worried that I had missed my opportunity to become really good at it. Funny thing is, all the while I was worrying about that I was still training and so, consequently, a few years later, I’ve become a pretty damn good singer! And I’m no longer worried about whether it’s too late for me to sing well because I can! And I do! And I love doing it!

brain that changes itselfThis Quora question came at the right time for me. Shortly after I read this, I started reading The Brain that Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned. It’s truly a wonderful book that has absolutely changed my mind about our capacity to learn. You know how that old saying goes, you only use about 10% of your brain? That’s bullshit. Don’t let anyone tell you that. You use a heck of a lot more brain power than you think. The brain is a beautiful organism and we’re all blessed to have one.

Between the Quora link and the book I read, I came to realize something: there are so many things that I want to do with my life! Recently I had the opportunity to hold a violin from the 18th century in my own hands. As I held it, marveling at the beauty, memories of violins past filled my head. My grandfather built them. His last one belongs to my cousin and I’ve coveted it since I was a little girl. The only reason he was able to take it before I could lay claim to it was because he lives in Poland, where my grandfather passed away, and I do not. Last year, Dr. Draw, a Toronto-based violin player, threw his spent bow into the audience watching him play and it landed directly in my hand. I kept that bow. My boyfriend, also a musician, plays with fiddlers often. Learning how to play would give us more opportunities to play and sing together. Learning to play the violin would also improve my ear training.

So, is it too late to learn how to play the violin? A year ago I would have thought so. In fact, I did. I looked up the words “how to play the violin” on Youtube last year and I was overwhelmed by the difficulty of learning the instrument. But this year I think differently. I’m not afraid to try something new. I know it’s not too late and I know my brain has the capacity to learn a new skill. I just need to make the first step.

What is a Plague Doctor?


Doktor Schnabel von Rom (“Doctor Beak of Rome” in German) with a satirical Latin/German macaronic poem (‘Vos Creditis, als eine Fabel, / quod scribitur vom Doctor Schnabel’) in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. Engraving by Paul Fürst, 1656

A plague doctor in medieval Europe was a person who specialized in treating the plague[1]. They were hired by towns to treat plague victims, often when the town’s actual doctors had fled to safer territories. This means that the plague doctor didn’t always have the training required to be an actual doctor, but because he was willing to put himself in danger for the sake of treating a patient he was very well compensated[2].

What’s most intriguing perhaps about the plague doctor–other than his lack of qualifications–was his outfit. It varies from country to country but what is most vividly depicted is the beak-like mask that was often worn to protect the plague doctor with various aromatics from the miasma (bad air) that causes plague. Of course we now know that the plague was transmitted through flea bites carrying Yersinia pestis[3].

Along with the beaked mask, the doctors would wear rose-coloured glasses, a wide-brimmed hat that signified their status as doctor, and a long overcoat, often made of leather. They carried long canes used to examine patients[4].

Even more interesting is that the literary genre of steampunk seems to have picked up on the figure of the Plague Doctor to create rather creepy looking characters.

Source: malignanttoast on DeviantArt

Source: malignanttoast on DeviantArt

Source: Topher Adam Photography via Kelsey Grace Chavarria

Source: Topher Adam Photography via Kelsey Grace Chavarria

Source: Cthulhu-Great via DeviantArt

Source: Cthulhu-Great on DeviantArt

Source: Estruda on DeviantArt

Source: Estruda on DeviantArt

Source: Tom Banwell on DeviantArt

Source: Tom Banwell on DeviantArt

What’s with the rise of plague doctors? One blogger believes it was because, although they were not part of the time period steampunk is typically associated with, plague doctors were the “champions of science” during their own time. Plus, “few historically-accurate costumes are as awesome” as that of the plague doctor’s. So, you know, it looks cool.

Have you read any steampunk novels that feature a plague doctor? I haven’t yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I come across one.

[1] Plague Doctor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor

[2] Plague Doctor: History. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor#History

[3] The Black Death: Causes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death#Causes

[4] Plague Doctor: Costume. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor#Costume

Literary Selfies


I’ve been reading a lot of literary selfies, er, autobiographies lately. Why? I dunno. I keep heading back into that stack in the library. Maybe because it’s on the way to the holds section (where I find more autobiographies that I’ve put on hold).

I’m sure I’ll get back to the fiction eventually, but I’m enjoying my forays into other peoples lives for now. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs by Sean Aiken

one week job project sean aikenLeave it to a Canadian millenial to turn his indecision about the future into a full year blogging extravaganza. I knew nothing about Sean Aiken and oneweekjob.com until I found the book at the library. Sean’s journey was pretty inspiring. Not only did he fly by the seat of his pants for the better part of the year, but he learned a lot about himself through this project. What he conveys through his book (and I presume from his speaking engagements as well) is that it doesn’t really matter what you do as a job as long as you enjoy doing it. And considering that I’m kind of at a crossroads right now in my career, it was well-timed advice for me.

I devoured The One-Week Job Project in a week’s time. I guess you could say I made it my job to read the book. (Okay, okay, I know that was a terrible pun.) I’m doing the same with my current book which leads me to believe that I read nonfiction faster than fiction. Hmm, what does that say about me?

My Life in France by Julia Child

First off, I read this in Julia Child’s voice. How can you not when she sounds like this?

life in france julia childEven despite that amusing voice, I loved the book entirely. Julia Child’s enthusiasm for life and food, good friendships, her husband, FRANCE and wine is infectious. It’ just a beautiful and pleasurable read. But be careful–it’ll leave you feeling hungry, frequently.

The memoir is chock full of stories about the making of Child’s oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It took ten years of hard work to put together the first volume of this masterpiece cookbook and when it debuted it became an instant classic, with good reason. It was just that perfect. Child’s rise to fame is chronicled in her memoir with no once of boasting. Her words detailing her meteoric rise into celebrity are simple and forthright, much like I assume she was in real life.

The photographs that accompany the memoir are amazing. Peter Child was a world-renowned photographer. His work hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He was great at capturing the quiet moments that make up a life.

28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Injustice and Tragedy by Michael Bryant

28 seconds michael bryantWhen I began this book, I was a bit dubious about Michael Bryant’s innocence. I had heard about the accident between his car and cyclist Darcy Sheppard but, like probably a lot of people, I didn’t follow the case very closely and I only gleaned the bare minimum from the story. In fact, what truly happened according to the book was far sadder than what I thought was the case. It was an accident that was waiting to happen. Darcy Sheppard was a man battling with demons that would not leave him alone. Bryant, despite his upbringing, status and power, knew very much what it was like being in Sheppard’s shoes because he also battled with alcohol problems.

At first the book read like a true-telling of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The arrogance of Bryant was palpable. But as I soon found out that arrogance would all evaporate in the span of 28 seconds.

It’s an interesting read about two very different men who shared the same kind of demon that plagues many people. Knowing what I know now about the unconscious through my own forays into therapy has been beneficial in understanding how people can change and some just can’t help themselves.

Are you reading any good autobiographies right now? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Rob Ford Doesn’t Like Homosexuals

Well, if he didn’t make it clear when he said he doesn’t want to attend the Gay Pride Parade–the World Gay Pride Parade, which is being held in Toronto this year, he certainly did when he decided he didn’t want the gay flay to fly in Toronto’s city hall.

Perhaps he is that insensitive and he doesn’t really think a gay flag–the international symbol for inclusivity–belongs in Toronto. Perhaps he thinks it’s not Toronto’s business. Obviously a lot of people disagree with him, but that’s neither the point.

These hilarious images resulted out of the outrage that came from some Torontonians.


Source: Patrick Weir

Source: Patrick Weir

These two gems were derived from this particular piece of pastiche:


Source: Queerty.com

Which, in turn, was created from Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe:


I love how one begets the next, especially the final images, which are just perfect examples of how one can mock an authority figure with style and panache. They may be crude, but they are spot on.

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

charles dickensThis is the first Dickens novel I’ve read in its entirety. I’ve read parts of Hard Times in third year university.

I understand why Dickens is still considered one of the greatest and most popular fiction writers ever. Although his work was published in the 19th century, the language he used was plain enough that he’s still readable today.

I’ve experienced other novels written around the same time period and they’ve been harder to slog through. Most recently I abandoned ship on Moby Dick. Pardon the pun. Once Ishmael started expounding on the history of whaling, I went cross-eyed and I reached for something more riveting.

Two Cities is not like that, though. Dickens never wavers from the story. Even though its based on an historical event, the French Revolution, there are no moments where Dickens begins to lecture. He assumes everyone knows what’s happening in France. And even if you don’t, you soon learn through his story.

It was first published in 1859 and set in England and France. The book was published first in installments in Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round [1]. It quickly became a bestselling novel. With over 200 million copies sold worldwide, it’s one of the most popular books of fiction of all time[2].

A Tale of Two Cities illustration by Hablot Brown. Source: http://charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-cities.html

A Tale of Two Cities illustration by Hablot Brown.
Source: http://charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-cities.html

If you ever wanted to learn more about the French Revolution, this would be the book I recommend you read. Dickens captured the brutality, anger and horror of the citizens uprising with beautiful prose, excellent characters (The Vengeance! What a name!) and graceful story-telling.

Recently I won a copy of The Other Woman and passes to see the movie, both based on the real-life relationship Dickens had with 18 year-old actress Ellen Ternan. I haven’t gone to see the film yet, but I’ll definitely share how it goes. Some believe that the character Lucie Manette in Two Cities was drawn from Ellen Ternan[3].

There have been seven film adaptations of A Tale of Two Cities, four of which were silent films released between 1911 and 1927[4].

I think I need to go back to Hard Times and give it another go. Along with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, Dickens is fast becoming one of my favourite English writers.


1. David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page. A Tale of Two Cities Illustrations. http://charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-cities.html

2. Wikipedia.org. A Tale of Two Cities. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tale_of_Two_Cities

3. Wikipedia.org. A Tale of Two Cities: Relation to Dickens’ personal life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tale_of_Two_Cities

3. Wikipedia.org. A Tale of Two Cities: Adaptations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tale_of_Two_Cities

Julian Tuwim

Julian Tuwim.

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz - Portrait of Julian Tuwim, Polish poet, 1929

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz – Portrait of Julian Tuwim, Polish poet, 1929

Pardon me while I dig into my roots a little bit for today’s poem. I was born in Poland and I emigrated to Canada when I was four years old. I still speak Polish, although my vocabulary and grammar are somewhat stunted. Still, I like to keep my heritage alive by occasionally delving into the rich history of Polish literature. I’m proud to say that we have such a history. There are many Polish writers and poets who have written oodles of wonderful things. One of my favourites is Julian Tuwim.

He is the third poet that I am featuring that writes with Romantic characteristics, leading me to believe that I like Romantic poets most of all.

I first heard this poem shortly before my father passed away. I was staying with them in the early spring of last year and we got onto the subject of Polish writers. My father had his laptop open and he Youtubed this video. It blew my mind. I will always remember this moment–a calm, wonderfully poignant moment–in the midst of a really bad time in our lives. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my dad and so this poem is a salve on the grief that I’m still coming to terms with. I miss my dad everyday. I’m glad that he was a man of letters who loved words as much as I do.

While I don’t read a lot of Polish anymore, my childhood memories are filled with Polish verses. I have several books of children’s poems that entertained me immensely growing up. I’ll share more over the course of this project!


Lokomotywa by Julian Tuwim

You don’t need to be Polish to understand this poem. All you have to have is ears. Julian utilized the language he wrote in to illustrate, not just write, this poem about a locomotive. In fact, “Lokomotywa” directly translates into The Locomotive. Just listen as the three speakers show you how a locomotive sounds when it pulls into a station. See how you don’t need to understand the words to get the picture? Awesome, isn’t it?


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