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A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I finally got around to going to Tea at the Windsor Arms (a posh hotel in Toronto).

It was... okay. Fun. Sort of silly. Like playing dress up.

The hotel has been serving "Tea" since 1927 and there's definitely a retro vibe about the whole affair. You show up, sit in the French-style tea room, choose your tea (from a wide selection which includes fair trade and organic varieties) and then you eat tiny sandwiches. Each person is served a full pot of tea, and the food arrives on a tiered cake stand.

Our tea was a "full tea" featuring a menu of four large scones, a selection of the aforementioned teeny sandwiches - smoked salmon, cucumber, etc. - and an array of sweet desserts (petit fours - mini cakes, tarts and the like). Plus (of course), clotted cream and fancy jams.

Though there didn't seem to be a lot of food at the table, both of us were too full to finish.

Here's a peek at a bit of the room we were in, complete with a display of silly hates. The room we were in is actually adjacent to the main tea room. I feel like they sat us away from the fancier guests. Maybe we didn't look right. Or maybe it's because we paid as part of a Groupon on Living Social deal. I don't know. My sis set it up. Snobs. ;)

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All in all, the experience was nice. I would recommend it as a holiday treat for a mother-daughter duo or a pair of friends. But beware, it's not cheap. Full Tea is $30 per person (not incl. tax/tip) on weekdays and $38 per person on weekends. And around the holidays, the price goes up again to about $43. That's a lot for a couple of scones and a few baby sanwiches. But I guess you're paying for the experience as much as for the food. 
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Oh... one more thing. I really liked the upholstery the Windsor Arms had on the banquette seating - brown and cream. Any idea where it's from or what it's called? Here's a close up:
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So, I've written about the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM) before. No big. No need to go into it in detail again. What I haven't written about is how to visit it for less.

The thing is, the ROM is really expensive. Really, really expensive. And it sort of makes me mad. I've been to Europe, okay? I know how this museum thing is supposed to work.

But I like the ROM and when Craig and Leah wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors, I thought... "why not?" Until, that is, I realized that it was going to cost Nathan and I $62 to do so. That's $31 each. The $24 for general admission and the extra $7 for admission to the Warriors exhibit.

I know that $62 isn't a big deal for a lot of people, but it irked me. It's just too much. Luckily, my sister told me about a deal to save the say: the Sun Life Financial Museum and Arts Pass from the Toronto Public Library .

Basically, if you stand in line first thing on Saturday morning at a participating branch of the TPL, you may be able to get your hands on a free pass for you and your family (2 adults & up to 4 children) to visit places like the ROM or the Zoo for free.

That's right, free.

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All you need is a valid adult Toronto Public Library card, a list of partipating branches, and the strength to get your butt out of bed early on a Saturday morning. Quantities are limited, of course.

So. Nathan got up at the crack of dawn last Saturday and went over the Dufferin & Eglinton branch to hook us up. There was a line, but he managed to get a pass, and we managed to visit the ROM for a grand total of $14 (because special exhibits like the Terracotta Warriors aren't covered by the pass).

The Warriors kind of sucked, frankly. I was pretty disappointed by the exhibit. And had I had to pay $62 to see it, I would have been enraged. Luckily, thanks to the Library pass, I was merely irritated.

I was also depressed. Because passes like this shouldn't even be necessary. The freakin' museum should be free!

Whatever.

The rest of the museum was great, as always.

Here are some highlights:

Retrospective on the contemporary art of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui. Exhibit: When I last wrote to you about Africa. This massive "cloth" panel is made of metal. Like bottle caps and stuff. It's really beautiful.

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Some Julius Caesar style crowns that I thought were sort of pretty.
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And of course, the thing that the ROM is most famous for: the dinos.
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Also worth seeing: the extensive living world and biodiversity displays. Really educational, really good. And the refurbished Bat Cave. Kids will love it.

Just don't pay full price.
 
 
When I was a little girl, my dad used to take us walking in Moore Park Ravine. We called it "going to the forest." For an urban kid, it was pretty exciting.

I had that excitement in mind when Nate and I decided to head out on a walk this past Saturday morning. We headed to Moore Park Ravine and ended up rambling down to Brickworks in the Don Valley, where we bought some hot drinks and pickled beets at the organic market before heading home.

It was such a pretty walk; I absolutely recommend trying it.
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Here's my advice: start at the east end of Heath St., where there is an entrance to the ravine. (You can't get in from just anywhere. You can either drive and park (for free) at the east end of Heath street, or, if you are using the TTC, make your way to Mount Pleasant and St. Clair Ave. and walk about one block north and two blocks east to find the entrance.

Remember to wear decent footwear. The path can be mucky, especially in the spring and fall.

Upon entering off Heath, you'll find yourself on a footbridge that spans the ravine. At the east end of the footbridge, veer left and follow the path that leads you down, below the footbridge, and onto the main path. On the main path, you'll see directional signs.

Walking south along the path will take you to Brick Works and the Evergreen organic market - if it's open. Either way, Brick Works is a nice place to turn around and head back, especially if you're not looking to ramble all day.

The southbound stroll will take you only about 25 or 30 minutes (going very slowly). And it's really beautiful. You won't be sorry.

* Creative Commons image of a stream in Moore Park ravine by Smaku from Flickr.
 
 
People often ask me if I miss Vancouver's "natural beauty." You know. The mountains. The ocean. The blah blah blah.

You know what I say to that? No.

No, I say!

I say no because despite the sprawl, the reputation, and the West Coast Haters, Toronto has plenty of natural beauty of its own.

Case in point: Scarborough Bluffs. I spent Saturday morning hiking (okay, walking) the bluffs with some girlfriends and even though I'd been there before, I'd forgotten how beautiful it is. It's like being on the ocean. Really.
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* Giant red oak leaf found by Emily McNamee, who snapped this image on the ride home.

From below, the bluffs are pretty impressive. Their sheer faces look like hard rock, but they're super soft, and eroding fast. Walking beneath them, we felt a bit worried, actually. Like a chunk could fall off and brain/bury us at any time.
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* Creative Commons image by Alex_Mc from Flickr
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* Creative Commons image by jennyrotten from Flickr
Thanks to the erosion, there are lots of interesting shapes to be seen. I noticed a bit of rock that looked suspiciously like the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus... but maybe that's just my Catholic upbringing talking. :D

From above (you'll have to drive to a different point to get up there) there are pretty paths that overlook Lake Ontario, some beautiful fall foliage, and plenty of nice spots to picnic. Looking out over the lake reminded me of trips to Mexico. That's how huge the Lake can seem.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning. But before you head out, some directional advice.
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Alas, walks at the bluffs aren't exactly well marked or easy to find. If you want to explore the beach, my advice is to head to the bottom of Brimley Rd. (see the left-most X on my map). Park in one of the main lots there. There are public washrooms, and at this time of year, parking is free. In the summer, you'll have to pay.

If you'd like to see the lake from above, try parking on Underhill Dr. It's a little tricky to get find. (It's marked by the right-most X on the map.)

What else can I say? Ontario. It's beautiful. Keep it beautiful. Like the license plates. Remember those?
 
 
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I've written an extensive post about my recent trip to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York already (for work), but I thought I'd throw up a short review here too, just because. Because I felt like it. Because I was in the mood.

And because the exhibit -- Why Design Now? --  was so darn inspiring.

First of all, we got into the show for free! The usual entry cost is something like $16 USD, but it so happened that they were letting folks in for free during the exact week of our trip. Thanks to New York Magazine for letting us know about the deal. (If you go to NYC for fun, pick up a copy of the mag while you're there. It's a great resource and will tell you about stuff that real New Yorkers do - as opposed to the usual tourist things.)

Audio tours were also free (as long as you have a decent photo I.D. to surrender in exchange for an iTouch). The audio tours really made all the difference. There was a lot to see and take in and being able to hear the artists speak and watch videos about how the products worked really helped me process it all.

Without the iTouch, I would have felt burnt out much sooner and would have missed a lot of great stuff about the exhibit, like this amazing, solar-powered sun shade that is both a lamp and an umbrella and opens and closes itself like a flower:
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SunShade, prototype. Lianne van Genugten (Dutch, b. 1984), Lianne van Genugten Product Design. The Netherlands, 2009–10. Aluminum, polypropylene, flexible solar cells, nylon, LED light, acrylate. Courtesy of designer. Image from Cooper-Hewitt website.
 
But inspiration aside, here's the thing that struck me most about Why Design Now?:

The glaring question of WHY  these products AREN'T being made. Why are they mere prototypes? Why are so few of them actually available. WHY!? Imagine "invisible" solar street lights, environmentally friendly resins that mimic plastic, paper made of sheep's poo, biodegradeable food containers that can be microwaved and reused, silk that is harvested without killing the silk worm. Imagine it. See it. Read and hear about how possible and tangible it could be. And then ask yourself, as I did, WHY we aren't taking advantage of it, right now.

The glum, jaded skeptic in me thinks that the sad truth is that ethics don't sell. Many of these products mean consuming fewer resources, and frankly, spending less money. And the corporate machine doesn't want us to do that. Innovations like these mean change, and big companies and bullshit superstores don't like change. They live to preserve and growing the business they've already got. Who cares if we're all destroying the world, exploiting other cultures and making a market for sweat-shop labour, right? Sigh.

Why Design Now? is not really now, unfortunately. And that is a depressing thought.

Still, on the bright side, it's a great exhibit if you're interested in sustainability, design and innovation and a nice change from what you'll see at many big museums and galleries in New York. And maybe it will remind you of what is possible. If more of us got on board, we might actually be able to move forward and make real products instead of mere prototypes. It could all be very exciting. :)
 
 
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This past Saturday, in addition to creating my butterfly wall and some new bedding, Nate and I hit up Toronto's High Park Zoo to see the animals.

Did you know the park has animals? Has had for as long as I can remember. It's not a petting zoo, it's a sort of grazing herders zoo. My pops used to take me when I was a little girl and it hasn't changed much.

If you're grown, but without serious responsibilities (like us) the High Park Zoo it's a nice little detour to take during a more expansive day or park exploration. If you have kids, it's a great outing in and of itself.

In fact, the High Park Zoo is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. It's free. It's small. It's impressive without being scary. It's open all year long from 7 a.m. until it dusk. It features bison, deer, llamas, peacocks, highland cattle, emu, etc. It's just enough to excite a little one without leaving him or her exhausted, like the regular zoo would. And did I mention it's free? (Parking in the park is free too, fyi.)

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If you're baby crazy (again, like us) you'll also enjoy watching the many wee ones that frequent the High Park Zoo. For us, people watching is half the fun. For the wee ones, it's all about the animals. My favourite part was a little girl, no more than three, who refused to get within five feet of the fence separating her from the highland cattle. Of the closest animal, I overheard her Grandmother say, "Don't worry, honey. He's a nice one." To which the little girl replied,

"He not going to eat us?"

She was so matter-of-fact. There was no panic in her voice, just curiosity. It was like she expected to be eaten. By a cow. That's what she'd been told about the zoo. The animals would be eating her before the day was out.

It was adorable. I laughed all the way to the car.

The High Park Zoo. Check it out.

* Images from the High Park Organization (www.highpark.org) website.
 
 
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Bowling is underrated, it's true. But I don't suggest you take it too seriously. (Erin H. might disagree.)

I personally think the best thing about bowling is that everyone is allowed to suck. I actually think it's preferable to suck. Good bowlers make me nervous. Bowling skills seem to me to be a sign of bad character. I mean, clearly, if you're good at bowling, you've misspent a good portion of your life. Right?

Am I wrong? Am I a snob?

I don't care. I like bowling!

Toronto is not a great place to partake of this activity, alas. There are few places. Bathurst Bowlerama is my favorite, only because it's the one closest to me and has a little of everything. The have both 5 and 10 pin lanes (on different floors) and they're open late on the weekends for "cosmic" bowling. (You know, black lights, awkward pop dance music, etc.)

There's a bar with beer and stuff like Smirnoff ice, as well as snacks like grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. The last time I was there, the bartender refused to serve me at first. I gave him my ID, which clearly showed me to be 28, but he wasn't buying it. It was a bit weird, frankly. (I guess I look young. CURSE that adult acne!) But a little convincing from my friends mellowed him out and he ultimately gave in. Thank goodness. All my gutter balls made me crave a Grolsch (or 5).

I personally don't recommend a weekend visit. Cosmic bowling is much more expensive than regularly-lit bowling and frankly, not worth the bump. If you go with a good group, it's just as much fun to bowl in the bright lights. Be aware, the place closes at 11 during the week, so don't be too late. And if you DO go on the weekend, there might not be lanes available. Call in advance. Then bowl. Bowl your little hearts out.

Bathurst Bowlerama
2788 Bathurst St
North York, ON M6B 3A3
(416) 782-1841 

*Photo by Bill Silvermintz from Stock Xchng.

 
 
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Okay, so I might generate some hate-heat here, but I think BMB sucks. It sucks the proverbial bag. I'm a lover of private-room karaoke, and ostensibly, that's exactly what BMB offers, but my last experience there was literally the worst karaoke night of my life.

Fact: The rooms are far from sound proof. This means everybody and their granny can hear you belting your off-key Celine.

Fact: They don't even have Celine. (Well, no, not really. But they don't have a LOT.) The song list at this place is seriously limited.

Fact: The Korean song book is way bigger than the English one, which is great if you like that sort of thing and are familiar with Korean pop, but kind of lame if you're in Canada just looking to be one with Bryan Adams originals.

Fact: Scary stinky spray air fresheners are the norm in bathrooms and hallways (with snake, deeply, frighteningly into the basement). Hold your breath lest you inhale the poison.

People who like this place have said that a good thing about BMB is the fact that they stop the music when you're time is up, meaning you can't "over sing" but I don't think this is an upside. You literally CAN'T over sing, even if you wanted to. Because you pay in advance, even if you're having the time of your life, they kick you out when your time is up if anyone is waiting, and trust me when I say that people are generally always waiting.

What can I say? I didn't have fun.

BMB Karaoke
593 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M6G 1K5
(416) 533-8786
 
 
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Bar Plus (Bar +, actually) offers the best private-room karaoke in the city, in my not-so-humble opinion.

This place has big, clean rooms, decked out in black and red leather, great song books and selection, decent drinks, posh (and well-maintained) johns, and a nice long bar in the entry area, which means you likely won't have to wait long for your song-bird booze fuel.

It's not a well known establishment, being not-particularly well located on the second floor of a nondescript strip of Yonge Street (above a Swiss Chalet, in fact), but more and more people are finding out about it and it's not unlikely to find the place booked up on a Friday or Saturday night, so you might want to reserve space in advance.

One of Bar+'s best features is their website. You can search the song book online to better ready yourself for the experience. This means you can practice your "Papa Don't Preach" and "Son of a Preacher Man" at home.

Seriously. Do it. Practice, I mean. My Carly Simon "You're So Vain" - perfected in the shower - brought the house down. Sure, the house was six of my nearest and dearest friends, but so what?

Bottom line? Bar+ Karaoke is rad. It puts the XO and BMB to shame. Go immediately.

Bar+
2nd Floor - 360 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON M5B 1S5
(416) 340-7154

*Sunglasses worn to protect the innocent, and because they're rad.

 
 
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I would never, NEVER call XO Karaoke the best in the city. It's good, but not great. The best thing about it is that it's relatively inexpensive and the song books/lists are decent and pretty extensive.

The worst things about it are that it's small, the rooms are pretty ghetto, and drinks aren't cheap.

The last time I was at the XO, I busted out some Jon Bon (always a crowd pleaser) I enjoyed myself, and I spent a literal fortune on drinks. Because let's face it: for most of us, social lubrication is absolutely necessary if you're going to sing in public. There was puke in the ladies room, and we had to wait a long time for a free space to sing.

That said, I always enjoy myself at the XO. It's a little ghetto, which means you can crowd friends into a room that is technically supposed to be reserved for smaller parties. You can order drinks that are brought right into your private space by waitstaff, and you can belt your heart out with abandon, knowing that you're not spending an excessive amount on the actual room. (Pre-drink. That's the way to go if you want to save money.)

But is it the best karaoke in the city? No way. It's merely good.

XO Karaoke
693 Bloor Street W
Toronto, ON M6G 1L5
(416) 535-3734

*Image by Moi Cody from Stock Xchng.