Thursday, May 5, 2011

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Good idea

Bixi bikes have finally arrived in Toronto!

A brilliant alternative for those of us who would rather trudge all over town on tired feet than have to try to store a bike in our closet-sized third story walk-ups and a little added incentive for drivers to leave their cars at home.

I have yet to brave one on any actual roadways (I'm still terrified of city traffic and don't have a helmet). But I'm pretty sure I was the first person in the city to sit on one thanks to the Bixi delivery man/taker of this photo!

Bad Idea

An ad for Claritin written across the sky.

By jets.

Thanks Claritin, for adding more pollutants/irritants to the atmosphere, helping to ensure that we all remain nice and congested and itchy-eyed until the end of time.

Good stuff.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Monkey Love

When I was born, one of my first outings was a trip to the Toronto Zoo. One of the orangutans had just had a baby and when she saw my mom holding me on the other side of the glass she carried her baby over to show him off to my mom. Sparta and I made our first trip there since moving to the city last April this weekend and the Orangs were no less charming. I could have visited them all. day. long.

They are so bright and engaging that it actually feels quite strange to photograph them, at least without getting their permission. It's like coming across a really uninhibited colony of furry nudists.

Lucky for you, I got past it and took some fun shots to brighten up your work week. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Overheard on the TTC

"I've always wanted to get a tattoo of something coming out of my vagina. Like bats! Out of the batcave! But then I figure I'd eventually get sick of it, or my vagina would get sick of it."

Vaginal bats.

Just one more thing you might want to consider discussing in private.

Monday, April 4, 2011


This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Slutwalk, a march inspired by a Toronto police officer's recommendation that in order to avoid being raped, women shouldn't dress "like sluts."

While the comment may not be reflective of the views of the entire police force, it was a stark reminder of a victim-blaming attitude that is still all too prevalent in our society and of the importance of training law enforcement to deal with sexual assault cases in a sensitive and educated manner.

It was so inspiring to be surrounded by a group of men and women who not only understand that a woman's choice of dress or sexual history is never, ever an excuse for rape, but who will stand up and shout it out until that message is heard.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Apology Accepted

A couple of weeks ago, (yes, I'm a million years behind on my blogging) I was waiting to cross the street at a large intersection on my way home from work.

A car had pulled into the intersection and was sitting there with its left turn signal on, the driver apparently oblivious to the large, no left turn sign hanging from the traffic light ahead.

Not so oblivious however, was the woman seated on the passenger side of the car directly behind. Down came her window.

"There's no left turn, ASSHOLE!"

Up went her window, leaving those of us a couple of feet from her a little shell-shocked having absorbed the full blast of her words while the driver of the offending car continued to enjoy their airbag-equipped cone of silence, turn signal resolutely blinking on.

That's a little harsh, I thought. Everyone misses a sign now and then, it doesn't necessarily mean you're an asshole...

As though she'd read my mind (or my face, more likely), down again came the automatic window.

"He's been driving recklessly this whole time!" she yelled, by way of explanation to her stunned audience, who smiled and nodded and haven't-we-all-been-there-ed their understanding from the kerb.

Window up.

Window down.

"Sorry for using profanity!"

Window up.

And scene, I thought.

If she'd checked the rear view as they finally drove away, she would have seen me laughing my head off.

I don't know why exactly it struck me as so funny. Maybe you had to be there or maybe you'd have to hear me tell it complete with my impressions and car window noises to get the full effect. But I just love that this woman not only felt the need to explain but to apologize for her choice of words to a group of complete strangers.

It was a good reminder of what a little communication can do to change your perspective.

Or maybe just a reminder of how hilariously polite Canadians can be, even when attempting to be rude.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dear men

Dear men/that guy behind me on the way home,

I'm sure many of you already do this, but in case you don't, just a thought.

If you are walking close behind a woman at night on an otherwise deserted street, it would be a kindness to either slow down or cross to the other side so that she knows she's not being followed.

I know that women are perfectly capable of crossing the street ourselves, as I did tonight, but it's so much nicer for everyone if you do this out of courtesy so she doesn't have to cross the street or speed up out of fear.



Sunday, January 16, 2011

What would I do with a gift horse anyway?

When you work in a front-line administrative/customer-service oriented position, it's easy to feel under-appreciated now and again.

In my current position, I am often the first live person callers have been able to get through to after trying to navigate the labrynth of the school phone system or website. This means that as a rule, they're annoyed before I even have a chance to try to help them.

Heaven help me if they don't like what I have to say.

On the other hand, I've been told I should "go home every night to a husband who rubs my feet," (yes,please) that I'm "such an angel, you'll surely be present at the next birth of Jesus," (?) and other various and sundry sweet things from people grateful to have dealt with a friendly face or voice. These people make my day.

There is even the odd person who insists on buying me a coffee.

Then there's the guy who brought me a coat.

Apparently he owns a business purchasing overstocked items from companies and selling them in Africa or something, but I still felt pretty uncomfortable accepting such a substantial gift, especially as I barely did more than my job. He insisted, however, and as I couldn't think of a way to decline gracefully quickly enough, well, I added a ski jacket to my icy weather wardrobe.

I had hoped that would be the end of it, but recently this person popped by for some more information, and despite my protestations, promised to bring me a purse in return.

Sure enough, last week alongside the pens and sticky notes on my desk, was a new handbag.

Once again I was unable to dissuade this generosity, but I really don't feel like I can or should be accepting these gifts.

So what do you think? Is it ever all right to accept gifts at work, and if not, how do you decline without appearing ungrateful or offending the prospective giver?

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Barter Babes Project

With the exception of a lucky few, there is one thing that is a perpetual source of anxiety for young women (and men): money.

Unfortunately for 20-somethings, when it comes to getting the financial advice many of us desperately need, we are stymied by another 20-something: a Catch 22.

While we might be the demographic most in need of personalized budget counseling, we certainly can't afford it without the benefit of (oh, hey) budget counseling.

Enter Toronto's Certified Financial Planner with a heart of gold, Shannon Simmons.

I chatted with Simmons recently after a coworker raved about her. After hearing what she was up to, I had to meet her for myself.

While working at a high profile wealth management firm, Simmons noted the gap between the access to financial information available to her peers and the people she was helping on a day-to-day basis. "Hanging out with my friends I started noticing that money was coming up again and again. There was a lot of worry and people would say, 'Oh you're so lucky that you just know that stuff,' and I started realizing that I really am lucky to know this stuff because there is such a huge information gap. You can't really access that," she explains.

"There are investment and finance blogs, but they are intimidating and overwhelming even for me and I know my way around them, but I find it's just too much information."

And here is where things take a turn for the fantastic.

Rather than simply accepting this information gap, and this Catch 22 as inevitable, Simmons has decided to do something about it. To that end, she has thrown caution to gale force winds and set herself the daunting challenge of helping 300 young women get their finances on track through a little something she likes to call The Barter Babes Project.

The best part? In return for access to her wealth of financial knowledge and personalized advice, Simmons is accepting payment in the form of anything from lasagna to belly dancing lessons.

"I'm providing financial advice to young women starting out one barter at a time," she explains. "If I were to charge a fee, a lot of the people I want to help wouldn't be able to afford me and I would either be out of clients or they would be right back where they started."

Clients contact Simmons via her website, agree on the terms of the barter (which Simmons is extremely flexible on), and then provide Simmons with their financial information and goals to help them formulate a personalized plan using something called a money map which Simmons describes as "a customizable financial planning tool that's actually fairly basic but it's very telling and there's really important information that's there."

Along with this document, clients include their short and long-term goals and what they are hoping to get out of their session with Simmons, who than completes a full analysis based on the numbers and the goals she is given before meeting in person to go over the analysis together.

In dealing with the 20-something demographic, Simmons says a big challenge is helping people prioritize. "A lot of time people our age go 'I want to do this, this, this, this and this,' but our constraints are small because at this point in our lives our incomes are not as high as they will be in ten years and we're also struggling with debt," she notes.

"Sometimes you have people who don't want to pay the debt. they just want to travel. So what's the compromise there? And that's what you get meeting with someone face to face with an adviser versus going onto a blog."

According to Simmons, part of this challenge comes from the fact that this particular generation was given access to debt without being properly educated about the consequences of it.

"We're OK with our debt because -and I've actually done research on this- it seems to be age 24 where you go, 'Oh shit' and realize you're not going to get that $84000 job when you graduate, and if you want to move out of your parents' place you're going to have to sacrifice but what we do is we don't say 'OK, well I'm going to have to just live in this shitbox for a couple of years,' we go , 'you know what? I really want 800 sq. ft and my own balcony, so I'm going to do that.' because that's the lifestyle we're comfortable with," she explains.

"So that's where I like to come in and help, and provide some comfort that it's not all lost."

Providing that comfort is one more job for her money map. "I think a big thing is that people think 'Oh I'd only be able to save $50 a month, that's never going to do anything.' So on my money map I can say, look what that does...and then it provides motivation and that's the biggest thing that I want to provide," Simmons stresses.

Her golden rule? "Give yourself enough financial flexibility on a weekly basis for fun, and that's it."

While that might sound counter-intuitive to those trying to save money, Simmons likens having a fixed cost of living (ie, the things you can't live without: rent, car, etc.) that is too high to allow for any flexibility in your budget to someone on a lettuce only diet.

"When you see a pizza, you're going to binge," she sums up.

While Simmons' family and friends were immediately understanding of her ambitious plan to live off $35 a week and help 300 women rather than sticking with her rather comfortable former gig, Simmons laughs  when recalling the initial reaction of some coworkers.

"When I went to my office everyone was like 'what are you going to do for money?' First question. But then once I explained why and that I was only doing it for a year and that I was doing this because I feel like I can't stay here without doing it, then they were really supportive. So I have had support from everyone but there was definitely that initial jaw drop," she says. "People are like, why would you do this? The job market's tight, why are you leaving? And sometimes at 3:00 a.m. I'm like, "I don't know why!!!"

Still, Simmons is very obviously enjoying what she's doing. "I love working with this demographic. I do," she says. "There's something about coming in at the beginning and building that foundation and building a plan together that is way more exciting...There's just something about getting in the trenches and getting your hands dirty."

You might even say she wouldn't trade it for anything.

For more information about the Barter Babes Project, visit

Simmons barters on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the GTA and skypes with out-of-town Barter Babes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I survived my first Bikram class to ring in the new year with a lovely group of old and new friends. I hope you all had a chance to celebrate whichever way you like best. I have a feeling 2011 will be a good one!