Big Question Marks

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Feeling like Nacho Libre...

Woohoo! It's one of the most exciting days of the year today — the day before Halloween. All week, we've been busily getting our costumes ready for the big day, and all month, it's been a time of mad brainstorming to figure out what we'll be.

After rejecting a whole bunch of potentially great ideas for various reasons — too hard to pull together, can't find the right accessories, etc. — we've settled on our costumes. But maybe in future years, one of us will be a Victorian-era safari explorer, the Statue of Liberty, Tron, Burt (from Burt's Bees), Domokun, or a garden gnome.

Adrian has decided to be a robot. For those who know Adrian, it's not hard to imagine him choosing to be a robot... he's surrounded by robot kitsch on a daily basis, he's constantly sketching robots, and occasionally his eyes light up red when he's processing information (well, OK, not really). But Adrian's not just being any robot: after finding some schematics online, he's been creating a giant robot suit from cardboard, masking tape, and pieces of duct foam, with movable, jointed fingers and all. It's going to be pretty awesome! Now he just has to figure out how to fit through doorways (and our narrow apartment hallway), hope the spray paint dries in time, and practice a dance to "Mr. Roboto". Here's a pic of the robot hands in progress:

As for me, since going to NYC this year, I was getting pretty excited to have an excuse to wear my foam Statue of Liberty crown and drape myself in green bedsheets. I was even practicing my regal poses, and dreaming up fun and politically incorrect variations. But then, the shiny red Lucha Libre mask (souvenir from Cancun) sitting on our stereo, next to the Statue crown caught my eye — what a great excuse to be a Mexican wrestler! So today I'll be at my sewing machine, stitching a shiny red cape, just like Nacho Libre did in his hilariously awesome movie. And tonight (for a house party) and tomorrow (for the annual Church St street party) I'll don a pair of shiny leggings, red wrestling boot covers and a mask, and flex my very non-wrestler-like muscles (haha). Big thanks to Forever 21 for deeming gold leggings 'in fashion' this season! I must also mention my excitement at finding red vinyl boot coverings that will be awesome wrestling boots: they were meant to be skanky thigh-high "devil" boots (according to the package photo), but changing the shoelaces to white and folding them down low transform them amazingly to wrestling boots! Hopefully I don't get invited into an actual wrestling match. -D.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Squirrel Chasing

Where did September go? It was another speedy month, that's for sure. What we do know is that we love mild fall days like today... and couldn't resist taking a little time out to go squirrel watching in Trinity Bellwoods park. (The squirrels are so crazy in the fall!) Oh yeah, did I mention I'm madly in love with my new camera?

Squirrel fight!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Not long after we returned from Philadelphia, I spent an evening at the CNE with a couple of friends and my brand-new camera. With all the flashing, coloured lights, it's a photographer's dream. Here's a few pics from my evening adventure... - D.

Time to try some very-much-hyped deep fried butter. The lineup was an hour long! (But at least it wasn't nearly as gross as it sounded-- in fact, it was pretty yummy. Kind of like eating a warm, hollow Timbit with a tiny bit of butter melted in the centre.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yes, We Really Did Go To The Jersey Shore (day 3)

For our last day in Philly, we thought we'd likely have covered the sights by now and decided to book a rental car and head to the beach. After all, we rarely get to see the ocean anymore, and the New Jersey coast was just an hour away from the city! So we said a teary goodbye to our giant hotel room and our giant free buffet breakfast, and hit the road in a Zipcar (yes, it's true — our Zipcar membership works for U.S. and U.K. cities too! Amazing to not have to deal with all the usual rental-car hassles.)

We took our time meandering through New Jersey on the way to the beach, stopping in towns we liked the names of — like Egg Harbor and Pleasantville — and later got sidetracked with some pirate-themed minigolf just blocks from the beach when we finally made it to Ocean City. By the time we set foot on the boardwalk, the sky was clouding over and the wind had whipped up. Ah, well! We got our beach gear on anyway, strolled past the "frozen custard" stands and saltwater taffy shops, and staked our place in the sand at the surfing beach (the ocean was ice-cold so there was no chance of swimming anyhow). Not five minutes later the sky turned a shade of black and we found ourselves sunbathing in the rain...

But even in the rain, Ocean City was as adorable as our Lonely Planet had suggested. It was definitely a family resort town, but perhaps that made it all that more full of kitsch: carnie rides, minigolf courses, t-shirt shops and the like. The seaside promenade definitely had that old-timey, living-the-good-life-on-summer-holidays, blast-from-the-past kind of feel with its old buildings and wholesome fun (reminiscent of Brighton Beach in England, I thought). I half expected to see sunbathers in those full-length striped swimsuits frolicking around in the surf. It was definitely not the Jersey Shore everyone now thinks of, thanks to Snooki and "The Situation" and their gang of supertanned reality TV stars; from what I hear, THAT Jersey Shore was several towns north of us, in Seaside Heights. There were, however, many Jersey Shore references on t-shirts and souvenirs in Ocean City, which I totally had to get my TV-savvy sister to translate for me from my photos later on.

Our doomed travel time-management skills caught up with us again, and after some moseying around the century-old Shriver's taffy shop, unfortunately we didn't end up with much time left to explore Atlantic City. Someday I'd very much like to go back to Atlantic City though, fully taking in the flashy town that Monopoly (the game) was based on, a little fact we learned just days earlier. Apparently the streets in the board game are all named after Atlantic City streets, and from what we heard, over the years the real-life property values have remained pretty proportionate to the properties in the game. I managed to get some photos of places like Kentucky Ave. and Ventnor Ave., we cruised by the massive casinos, did a wee bit of outlet shopping, and had to dash back to Philadelphia to make our overnight bus. I never would have thought that three days in/around Philly wouldn't be enough, but I guess I was wrong... and now I'm sure we'll be taking a trip back there one day soon. (-D.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

At the old ball game (Philly, Part 2)

On Sunday, the plan was to get up early, hit the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, then head down to the Citizen's Bank Park for a Phillies game. Well, so much for planning. We made it to the museum withjust enough time to take a lot of silly pics of each other mimicking Rocky's famous run up the steps (c'mon, EVERYONE does it!), and sadly had to skip the art.

We made it to the south end of the city just in time for the start of the ball game. Was it ever a great scene! Unlike at a Blue Jays game, the day's attendance was over 40,000 and there was a real fan spirit in the endless sea of red shirts. We got into it as well, Adrian buying a Phillies cap and me a (ex-Jay) Roy Halliday Phillies t-shirt. The ballpark itself was very cool and had many levels, so we really only stayed in our nosebleed seats for three innings before we decided to go exploring, and didn't return for hours. What's great about the Phillies' ballpark is, if you don't mind standing at a railing, there's a great view from every angle and level. We snacked and drank our way around the park, trying soft pretzels, Budweisers in plastic pint-size bottles, nachos, Bud Light Lime in crazy-looking aluminum bottles, etc. And aside from the food and the views, it was actually a really good game, with several Phillies home runs and a great bunch of team-specific cheers — plus, what has to be the oddest mascot ever, The Phanatic (what kind of creature is it, exactly?). It was also a little jarring to have to listen to "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch (rather than "OK, Blue Jays").

The sky was ominous and it eventually started raining hard enough to cause a rain delay... by this time we were hanging out at field level behind right field, and it was the 8th inning. While a lot of fans left sometime during the hour-long delay, we were loving it, as rain delays are non-existent during Jays games at the Rogers Centre! We met some quirky locals as we all huddled in the sheltered areas, and marveled at the amount of water on the field (as ballpark staff squished and plodded through it). After the rain ceased, it took nearly half an hour for the groundskeepers to squeegee the water off the field, and the Phillies managed to score a few more runs before the end of the game, when the giant neon-lit Liberty Bell above the outfield came alive and started ringing (love these ballpark quirks!).

And though the rain dried up for the rest of the game, we somehow got caught in another downpour between the field and the subway station, and found ourselves drenched all over again! We spent the evening wandering the area around South Street (a place one of our friends from the ballpark told us "is full of freaks and weirdos"), which wasn't all that full of weirdos on a Sunday night, but pleasantly full of kitschy shop signs, tattoo shops, and restaurants. By the end of the first two days we'd done so much walking we felt like we could draw a map of downtown Philly with eyes closed!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Weekend in Philly! (Part 1)

We weren't sure what to expect when we booked a weekend in Philadelphia. But the lure of free bus tickets proved to be too much and so, off we were to a new city! Back to our old ways of 'book first, plan later' (remember Hong Kong?).

It all began back in June, shortly after we'd returned from visiting New York City, and the travel bug had returned in full force. I was casually surfing travel sites when I learned Megabus — a budget bus company with routes around North America — was launching a Toronto-Philly route this summer, and was giving away 10,000 free rides between the cities. Amazing! Without a clue about what we might possibly do with a weekend in Philadelphia, I booked us a couple of tickets.

So armed with our backpacks and my brand-new Canon DSLR camera (my new amazing birthday present!), we made our way down to the bus terminal on Friday morning for our 10am departure. Unlike the bus to NYC, we were surprised to find barely anyone waiting to board — for the NYC routes, it's necessary to line up with elbows out to fight for a seat. We scored the the very front seats on the upper level of the double-decker Megabus, and off we went. The ride was long — it was supposed to be 10 hours, but a back-up at the border meant we didn't get into Philadelphia until almost 11pm. Were we ever ready to stretch our legs after that!

At first glance, downtown Philly was a combination of grand old buildings, glassy new skyscrapers, and sadly, a lot of homeless people. We found our hotel, the Embassy Suites, located along a grand Parisian-style boulevard lined with neoclassical buildings and a majestic fountain. Amazing! The hotel was a killer deal found online on Hotwire, where we booked a "mystery" 3-star hotel for $59 a night (the catch is, you find out where you're staying after paying for it). We are happy to say for that price, we got a room larger than our apartment, with two TVs, the biggest bed we've ever slept in, and free buffet breakfast at TGIFriday's as well! Not too shabby for a couple of budget travellers who aren't at all strangers to shared bathrooms with cold showers.

The next day we kicked off the day by gorging ourselves on the free buffet breakfast and set off to see Philly's many historical sights. Borrowing a walking tour from a Lonely Planet borrowed from the library, we set off toward the Old City. Turned out nothing in Philly's core was very far, and ambled along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (aka. grand old Parisian-style boulevard) to Robert Indiana's famous LOVE sculpture (we'd seen a replica in NYC just two months earlier), majestic City Hall (apparently the largest municipal building in the US), and then to the area around Independence Hall to get our fill of early American history. And while we can really only take so much flag-waving patriotism, it was pretty fun to meet the many enthusiastic historians decked out in costumes, just dying for the chance to explain the musket or the fife to the web generation. Interesting, and GREAT photo ops for sure!

I gather since September 11, the admission process for some of the historical sights have changed. While most sights remain free (which is rad), they now limit the number of people [potential terrorists] in the building where the Constitution was signed, and at the Liberty Bell, by giving out timed tickets. We had a couple of hours to wander before our turn, and wandered the historical area, finding Ben Franklin (or at least some trace of him) at every corner: we checked out Ben's post office, his printing house, found his likeness painted on signs everywhere and his name on a bridge and a major road. If we were really gung-ho about Ben Franklin, we could have even had breakfast with him! But the free buffet won this time. (Plus, all this Ben fandom made us giggle, as our most recent encounter with Ben prior to Philly was on "Drunk History" — Google it if you must. :) But despite all the Ben-loving, Philly's Old City was beautiful, well-preserved, and extremely friendly to the camera — and we totally fell in love with Elfreth's Alley, a quaint little cobblestoned street that's been inhabited since the 1700's. By the time it was our turn to head back to Independence Hall, we were exhausted from the heat and kind of whizzed through the Liberty Bell building too. :S

Feeling full of history, it felt well-deserved to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. My friend Angie lived in Philly for a few years and recommended a few places — we decided to hunt down La Viola, an Italian restaurant where she said everything on the menu was great. Angie warned us ahead of time of one common Philly restaurant quirk — it was BYOB. Strange, especially for an Italian place. But apparently Philadelphia's liquor laws are still totally archaic and many excellent (and higher-end) restaurants don't have liquor licenses. It's a great way to save some cash from our end, and we had a delicious white-tablecloth, al fresco, fresh-pasta/seafood multi-course meal for under $50! Definitely a good spot to hit if you're heading to Philly. However, we were so full after that it took hours of walking to even entertain the thought of going out for a drink, so we kinda failed at finding Philadelphia's nightlife. We did, on the other hand, check out the scenery on nearly every street in the west part of the downtown...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goodbye, pad thai?

Last night we caught an amazing show on TV that really started us thinking. "The 100 Mile Challenge" follows six families living in B.C. who agree to eat only foods grown within a 100-mile radius of their homes for 100 days. Sound simple? Not exactly. The idea comes from a book written by James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith called The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, in which the authors began thinking about what was actually on their plates, and decided to see if they could survive (happily) solely on locally-cultivated food. The authors were successful in their mission, and many others who've followed in their footsteps have been as well, and so we began wondering if we could do so ourselves. Surely we must already eat many foods grown in Ontario, right?


After a look in the fridge, we found asparagus from Mexico, strawberries from California, and even our eggs were American. We started to think about our daily staples — rice would be out, our regular cereals, and more than likely our bread. (One of the biggest issues the families on the show had was sourcing wheat grown in their area — imagine craving BREAD!) A few of the other foods the families in the challenge would have to give up grudgingly included coffee, tea, sweets, and beer — in fact, one woman decided to drive around her locale searching for chicory root, which she'd heard was something of a substitute for coffee when roasted and steeped. What could we actually eat if we were to take on the challenge? We started doing a little research of our own.

A 100-mile radius around Toronto luckily takes in the bountiful Niagara region (hooray fruits and wine!) and from driving around Ontario, we do know there's plenty of farmland. Still, we definitely have a lot to learn when it comes to our local produce. In Toronto there are a number of weekly farmers' markets held in parks around the city, including nearby Trinity Bellwoods, Dufferin Grove, and Riverdale — so we might not starve entirely. But if we were to do it, would we run into the same troubles as the families on the TV show with sourcing wheat? Sadly, it would also be goodbye to pad thai, dumplings, mangoes, and all of the Asian staples we've so grown to love since travelling. And sourcing local food also seems to necessitate having a backyard garden, a car, and a lot of time (a few things we don't have).

Still, we applaud the people who are taking the 100 Mile Challenge, and will continue to mull over the idea with the hopes that one day we'll do it ourselves. We all should be supporting our local producers and reducing our carbon footprint by NOT importing our food thousands of kilometres if we can help it. At the very least, we'll try to buy more local food — and we can tell you from experience that the Niagara cherries we bought at the Cambridge farmers' market were far better than the ones purchased at the grocery store, just as one example. Take a look in your fridge and tell us what you find! Just a little... err... food for thought.

A few other resources: : A Canadian site that eases the search for local food.
The 100 Mile Challenge : The 100 Mile Challenge TV show site.
The 100-Mile Diet: Authors Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon's site. : An online community helping Canadians eat locally.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Living car-free -- almost

Summertime's the time of year when really we wish we owned a vehicle. Unfortunately, without a car, there are no breezy summer road trips, no camping weekends, and no beach days to be had — at least not without quite a bit of effort and cost.

Still, we both agree that as long as we live downtown, there's no real need for our own wheels. IKEA delivers if we ever need a new piece of furniture. The TTC can help us transport a large floor fan from Canadian Tire to the apartment. And all we really need to grocery shop is a bicycle and a backpack.

But since last week, we are car-less no more! Nope, we didn't give up our savings to buy ourselves a snazzy new hybrid (though that would be kind of cool). We joined Zipcar!

For those of you new to car-sharing, it's a great concept perfect for the many downtown-dwellers like us, who only want a car occasionally to run errands. Basically, you pay a membership fee to join the organization, then rent cars by the hour. The vehicles are based at various parking lots around the city, and it's a fully-automated system — so you make a reservation, show up with your Zipcard (a keycard which unlocks your car), and you're off. There's no paying for gas or insurance, and the scheduling system's incredibly flexible. There are two car-sharing companies in Toronto at the moment — Zipcar and Autoshare — and while there are pros and cons to both, when Zipcar posted a deal last week offering a year's membership for $35 (including $50 of bonus driving credit), it sold us!

Soon after we got the membership package in the mail, Dayle had to cart a large item from work to home. Normally, this would have been a job for a taxi, but it was also an excellent chance to try our first Zipcar. We booked it from 6:30-7:30pm, and figured we could run at least a few errands during our hour. Here's what happened:

6:30pm: Adrian goes to the designated parking lot to get the car. The car isn't there. He waits. He paces around the block. After waiting 10 minutes, Adrian calls Zipcar to complain. No answer from the helpline.

6:45pm: The car appears in the lot while Adrian is around the block. No sign of the inconsiderate driver, but at least we've got the car. Adrian zooms over to Dayle's workplace to pick her up.

6:55pm: Though we could have been dropping things off at our apartment by now, a little Craigslist hunting had found that there may be free furniture waiting curbside in a nearby neighbourhood... perhaps a desk chair! We take a small detour up Spadina. BIG mistake.

7:05pm: By this time, we've made it only a few blocks north on Spadina in the gridlocked traffic. Our first lesson: don't rent a Zipcar during rush hour... it's not zippy at all. Worse yet, we get stuck behind a French fry truck and get really hungry.

7:10pm: We abandon furniture plans and turn around at U of T. While looping down a skinny side street, we are suddenly blocked by someone pulling a ridiculous 16-point turn and bumping parked cars. Lesson #2: Lots of people in Toronto don't know how to drive. Yarrr!

7:15pm: We make it back to our apartment and unload the car in a frenzy. We debate whether there will be time to return the two boxes of empty beer bottles that are too annoying to walk over to the Beer Store with. Fearful of more traffic, we decline.

7:25pm: Adrian drops Dayle off and returns to the parking lot, greeted by a frantic woman who tells him he's late returning the vehicle (the clock says 7:29!) and she contacted Zipcar.

7:35pm: Adrian calls Zipcar again to defend himself against the woman's complaint (late fees are pricey). This time he reaches someone, and tells them we didn't get our car until 15 minutes after our scheduled time. The agent says, "No problem!" and credits Adrian an extra half hour ($4) for his troubles. We are happy drivers again!

The moral of the story: next time, reserve the car for more than an hour — our errand-running was just a bit too manic for our liking. We also won't drive right after office hours — though the cars are cheaper on weekdays (our Matrix was $8 for the hour, or $4 with our "discount" — hooray for customer service!). It was definitely fun to go cruising, though with hourly rates we still won't be road-trippers. At least we still have none of the responsibility or debts that come with being steady drivers. Can't wait 'til our next cruising date.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Emails From Beyond

Yes, this was an actual email we received at work this week. Are the days of Nigerian money scams and bogus million-dollar lottery wins over? This one was pretty amazing... and I just had to share. Enjoy! D.


July 16, 2010 8:56:23 AM
From: "A German octopus">

Attn sir,ma

I am well pleased when I got the attention the world during the last world cup in South Africa because I predicted the all the games correctly and also the final between Netherlands and Spain.
I want to use this medium to make open to every body around the world to come forward with his or her case a genuine prediction, concerning your contract, your inheritance, and your business including your part. Love partner and kinds of things which you want my prediction
then you come to me for prediction and direction.

FIFA president including the CAF president contacted me to stop further prediction on football matches because it will bring down the players moral and also the fans any time I predict on any competitive events.
contact me concerning your investiments,business I will help you to tell you what and where to go to conclude your business.

You can as well call me on my direct number + 447024056861

Best regards
A German octopus
I Paul is the world's first and only cephalopod psychic

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Goodness

Oh, how I love World Cup time in Toronto. I admit, it's not like I spend a great deal of time watching the games or anything; it's really the fan passion I love most. Any excuse for a street party — that's just how Toronto rolls (at least in the summer).

One thing we didn't think about when choosing an apartment nestled somewhere between Little Portugal and Little Italy, was how awesome our location would be during events like the World Cup. For the past month, there's been an excitement in the air: the constant din of honking and vuvuzelas, big cheers erupting from people's homes, and flags waving from nearly every car. That day Portugal beat North Korea 7-0, the honking started around 9am. I left for work a little after it began, and by the time I returned home that evening around 7, the parade of honking cars hadn't slowed down a bit. And that was just during the first round!

Sure, it's a little sad that Canada doesn't (will it ever?) have a World Cup-worthy team, but it's a great chance for Canadians to get in touch with our long-lost roots, or even just to claim some roots we have no real ties to — hey, we cheer for Mexico because it's a gorgeous country, OK?

And then there were all those quirky news stories. There was the couple that swam across a crocodile and hippo-infested river in a dare to get WC final game tickets. And how hilarious was Paul, the psychic German octopus, who kept predicting the winning teams? Amazing! The only thing I am sad about is that I actually didn't watch many games... next time I'll get into it, promise!

Here are some photos I snapped on College Street, just following Spain's win. It was great to see so much joy on the street (and on top of the streetcars)! -D.

Right after Spain's win.

Pure joy!

Taking back College Street.

Partying on top of the streetcars at College & Bathurst.

So many flags.

Almost an hour and a half after the final goal, and the crowds just kept growing.

Farewell to our dear friend, the vuvuzela.