Toronto Islands: City Escape

The view from the Toronto Islands ferry

One of the many things I love about this gigantic sprawl called Toronto is that on any given day you can end up very far from where you thought you’d be.

And I don’t mean that literally. In an always evolving metropolis full of endless options – a side street, friendly suggestion or long wander can lead you to a handful of hours that are delightfully unexpected and instrumental in furthering your love for the Big Smoke. I feel like this happens to me most weekends.

Yesterday afternoon was no different. After a week of wonderful birthday celebrations for both Meghan and Kaylee – which included champagne at Tuesday night softball, lovely gifts, a heartwarming surprise visit from the Ottawa nuts and many, many laughing fits – I decided Kaylee and I needed to top off the festivities with a new Sunday activity that took us away from downtown crowds. And so, after some brainstorming, Kaylee, myself and our two friends ventured over to Hanlan’s Point – a portion of the beautiful Toronto Islands – to have an extravagant champagne and cake-filled lunch and afternoon of beach lounging. This adorable outing was the definition of proof that you don’t have to venture far to feel like you’ve accomplished a total city getaway.

If you’ve yet to explore either Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island or Ward’s Island, the waterfront picnic parks that make up the Toronto Islands, you have to do so immediately. When one thinks about trekking to an island, you might think it calls for planning, hassle and hours of your time. Wrong. I was amazed at the ease and convenience of this beautiful jaunt across the pond, considering the bliss we were treated to upon arriving. We effortlessly strolled onto a harbourfront ferry (at Queen’s Quay between Yonge and Bay) after a five-minute wait, instantly found a picnic table in the acres of green grass and weeping willows, had a stretch of soft beach all to ourselves and readily hopped right back on a ferry at the end of our relaxing day. The entire endeavour was almost all too simple considering our only fare paid was for baguette, spreads, cake and champagne – and our only moments of waiting were between turning on to our backs and fronts as we sprawled on beach towels.

Whether as part of a group outing, date or a leisurely solo excursion (one of my personal favourite things) – anything that includes a refreshing boat ride and sandy beach perch is one of the most beautiful ways to spend an afternoon, in my mind.

PS Our dear friend Cass, who joined us yesterday, was able to (cutely) tick a Toronto Island visit off her city “bucket list.” Do you have a bucket list for your city? I think it’s a great idea and we’d love to hear yours – comment below!

Full bellies, happy girls

Beautiful birthday girl and cake!

My first non-vegan cake in 10 months! (Insert major stomach ache here)

Heaven.

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YOLO at OVO 2012: Drake Comes Home

Riding up the CN tower, ferrying to Toronto island, strolling through the Distillery District, lounging in the Beaches, dinner and drinks on King West. These are all highly necessary tourist activities that I would consider “must-dos” on any Torontonian’s lists.

Seeing Drake with 16,000 of your closest Toronto friends and fellow rap lovers in the very city that raised our own hip-hop megastar? Well, that tops just about any of them.

OVO Fest, standing for “October’s Very Own” (a shout-out to the rapper’s birthday month), is now always something of a spectacle in the city, long before the date even nears. As the one concert that brings Drizzy back to his stomping grounds to wow his Canadian peers each year, OVO manages to cast a buzzing hype over the 416; an excitement that comes not only from Toronto’s obsession with the hometown legend, but also the precedent-setting surprise guest line-up of the world’s most spectacular urban acts who are apparently just chomping at the bit to accompany the young gun back to the Big Smoke. Every year it’s different – Jay-Z, Eminem and Stevie Wonder are a few of the golden guests who’ve touched down at Pearson with him – and every year it gets a little more shocking.

As the third installment of OVO approached – following an astonishing year for the nine-time Grammy nominated rapper after the release of his sophomore album Take Care – I was ready to slap the next person who asked me if I was attending. No, I was not. I had the pleasure of seeing Florence and the Machine, The Walkmen, M83, Austra and Justice this week – all right here in Toronto – and just didn’t feel it was likely that I would be tacking on another concert to my hyper-musical week. With rumours swirling about which big names would be joining Drizzy at Molson Ampitheatre, as well as knowledge that A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd were concrete members of the Sunday night line-up, I was secretly crying inside for days. Sure, I had an incredible concert week – but I am a gigantic rap fan, and seeing the hip-hop face of Toronto (and Canada) bring the show home once a year is the stuff of history books.

On Sunday afternoon, as my fear-of-missing-out symptoms were at a sickening level and I was pathetically reading the OVO rumour mill via Twitter – I happened to eyeball a reasonably priced lawn ticket (where my friend was going to be) before immediately contacting the person for the stub. In the wise words of the Young Money crew as well as those spattered in glitter on the many homemade t-shirts I cringed at on the concert grounds…YOLO, right? YOLO.

Drake at OVO 2012 – image c/o Sarjoun Faour

After securing a prime spot on the lawn, watching the masses flood in and grooving to The Weeknd’s impressive slow jams, a nervous hush fell over the crowd as we waited for the underground king to step out in front of the shadowing skyline. Anyone who didn’t have a fresh beer or empty bladder immediately regretted their life choices, because we all knew the drill – there wouldn’t be a dull moment in the next two hours, nor one that you would  be comfortable missing. And with that, aboard an elevated platform beneath the flashing lights – the head-to-toe white clad knight appeared.

Looking beefy and proud, the rap ambassador hammered his fist towards the ground to the huge opening beat of “Lord Knows,” amidst a deafening roar from his hometown fans. With every rhyme spit, as well as any interjecting commentary, he ignited a match beneath the thousands of people, sending them leaping into the air and screaming for their lives. “Every year, I feel like this is my mother-f**king birthday,” he hollered with conviction. That one really did the trick.

With a wide smile, Drizzy shouted out to his birthplace (St.Michael’s Hospital) and the musical success of so many of “Toronto’s finest,” bringing camera-shy The Weeknd back on stage for “Crew Love” before pulling up his sleeveless top to reveal a fine-looking ribcage and the new home to huge “416” ink. Needless to say, you could cut the Toronto pride with a knife – especially when he made Canuck-boosting statements like, “If you go to Dubai and you hear my sh**, that’s Toronto. If you go to Africa and you hear my sh**, that’s Toronto.” International crew love.

As if the women in the audience needed more cause to faint, at one point the rapper paused to address the haters before playing a few lady-praising tracks. “People say I make too much music for women. You’re f**king right I make too much music for women. I don’t make music for b**ches, I don’t make music for little girls – I make music for women,” he shouted over top a shrill eruption. From there, he went on to play every single one of his pumped-up tracks – ranging from “The Motto” and “Forever” to a gorgeous pyro-caked “Take Care” and “HYFR” (dedicated to his label head Lil’ Wayne, who couldn’t make it).

Of course, there came a point when the surprise guest anticipation was unbearable. How on earth was he going to top himself? Naturally, you bring out Rick Ross and then the Doggfather. As the extra lanky Snoop Dogg Lion sauntered out (he played for a Toronto crowd of 700 a few short days before), drugs and drink in hand and jams like “Beautiful” and “Drop it Like It’s Hot” in tow, the crowd hopped left and right – touching a mediocre volume that would be topped within minutes when a blonde-wigged, busty Nicki Minaj strolled onto stage to see her “hubby, Drizzy.” With the duet “Make Me Proud” as well as her own “Beez in the Trap” effortlessly delivered, Minaj wrapped herself around Drake at center stage while he admitted she was “the most beautiful thing in the world” and took the stage back for himself.  At the end of the night, although Snoopy Dogg-Lion-whatever and Nicki are impressive MCs, it was obvious that this year Drake wouldn’t be exhibiting any hip-hop royalty bigger than the 25 year-old superstar himself – and refreshingly, he certainly doesn’t need to anymore. He’s more than enough.

Dedicating the show to the victims of Scarborough’s recent shooting and dropping news that next year’s OVO will take place at the 50,000 capacity Roger’s Centre – Drake showed as much humanly possible love to his city, visibly demonstrating that the colossal rap event is as momentous to him as it is to all of us. “Toronto, we need to take a moment as a city,” he uttered with a bowed head. And what a moment that was.

 Warning: Explicit Language

*inanutshell doesn’t own any rights to the above video

Toronto Shootings: Questioning City-Wide Safety?

Toronto is one of the safest cities in North America. Although our homicide and robbery rates are well below those of US cities of comparable size, Toronto is still touched from time to time by violent acts.”

If you Google “Toronto Safety,” the first thing to appear in the search engine is this realistic, but ineffectively reassuring, statement about our enormous metropolis. Directly below this, you’ll find hundreds of timely headlines all asking the same question about the latter declaration: Why, then, has Ontario’s capital been cursed with a string of tragic shootings that have made us feel exactly the opposite?

In the wake of a sickening shooting rampage that killed two young people at a children’s Scarborough barbecue last night, the city is shaken again. Shaken far too soon after a man opened fire on a Little Italy patio killing a gang leader while families dined in front of the Euro Cup. Far too soon after the Toronto Eaton Centre’s bustling food court was peppered with bullets during a Saturday dinner hour, killing two young men and injuring innocent bystanders including a pregnant woman and a toddler. In all three isolated scenarios, angry men with guns turned on other angry men they knew – senselessly attempting to settle their beef in public.

And so, in light of these disturbing occurrences, legislative questions are re-raised, proper allocation of social funding is suspect and, ultimately, fingers are pointed at the booming city for finding itself in a tragic and seemingly unprecedented predicament of futile gang violence. A visibly (and rightfully) distressed Police Chief Bill Blair called Scarborough’s shooting “the worst incident of gun violence anywhere in North America.” While I think Blair was overcome and realizes this is hardly the case (Columbine, Virginia Tech – even multiple casualties in last night’s Alabama bar outbreak), the gravity of the tragedies is heartbreaking and shouldn’t be trivialized. The Scarborough shooting is certainly one of, if not the, worst in recent Toronto history. That being said, gang violence is anything but new to this city – and for a home to over 3 million people, Toronto is still in a much better situation than some of its American counterparts.

Toronto is, of course, not the safest city in the world. But it is certainly not the most dangerous; certainly not one suffering from an epidemic or outbreak of incomparable random violence and chaos that will lead to locked doors, a culture of fear and the end of civility. Gang members have and will continue to seek each other out in heats of rage. Yet, we’re all wondering why 2012 has been cursed with such apparent mass calamity? This issue is multi-faceted and no one person will have the correct answer – especially not myself.  But a part of what this issue boils down to is that – alongside unparalleled sadness for anyone involved – the idiotic misuse of firearms by people with no apparent regard for other human life has plagued us as of late.

‘What can we possibly do about it’? is the exhausted question on everyone’s minds. Although targeted investment has been made in Toronto’s troubled neighbourhoods, a fact of life is that some youth and gang members will rebel against using such services. The effort to turn children away from crime needs to still be made – programs need to be offered, youth outreach has to be focused in Toronto’s “priority centres” – however, there is no accounting (in any city) for those that simply will not respond. Similarly, we should, of course, continue to rehabilitate those who have already committed crimes. Although we can strengthen already existing gun laws in new ways – the laws are in place – no one who has opened fire in Toronto’s public places in recent months has legally possessed their weapon. Banning bullets will not ban bullets. We know this. We know that this comes down to certain people, all over the world, who suffer basic human inadequacies when deciding what is right and what is wrong. As Joe Fiorito quotes in today’s Star, “We’re not talking to these young men, the ones who have the world view that makes it ‘sensible’ to shoot other people.” This issue comes down to some people, and how we can try to reach them against all of the odds. And that, I don’t immediately know how we do. But I do know that it isn’t just the neighbourhoods, the genetic makeup of this great city or the disposition of anyone who has suffered hardships in their lives. It isn’t just Toronto or the people in it.

The incidents have added up, creating a weightiness that’s almost suffocating when trying to mine over the details and logically suggest an answer. But, the bottom line is, you can’t control some people – seeing as some careless people can’t control themselves. We can try to strengthen what’s already in place, we can admire our city’s law enforcement for immediately detaining the suspects in several of this year’s unfortunate shooting incidents and we can feel compassion for their tireless involvement and own longing for solutions. But we shouldn’t be angry with Toronto or those who are realistically doing their best to protect it. We certainly shouldn’t shut ourselves out of it after decades of boasting its unity and safety. Several inexcusable and shattering incidents have occurred – the depth of each misfortune is shocking to all of us – but the plight of ridiculous human-versus-human aggression that results in random bloodshed cannot be blamed on a city that’s doing its best.

*image via

“This Train Is Bound for Glory”

Most of us grew up with so much love for pieces of our parent’s discography; a collection bursting with riffs, harmonies and lyrical meaning from a time long before ours that we couldn’t get enough of – causing them to double-take when we knew more than the chorus to a CCR tune. Even more of us grew up loving Almost Famous, a 2000 film that details a young journalist’s messy tour with a budding rock band and their trusty bus. Something about us, and something major within me, craves that yesteryear music, the revival of the greats, the life-changing poetic lyrics and the idea of a long-ago life on the road – when music had the power to change absolutely everything.

That still exists. But in the fast-paced digital age, the groupies (and consequently, the insight into life on the road back then) have dwindled, iPhone owners can post a rare celebrity jam to Youtube within the minute and some bands opt for the modern quick and dirty tour – one stop shop, hotel, hit the road again.

Thanks to Hot Docs, the gigantic Canadian International documentary festival that rolls through Toronto with a hoard of docs on every topic imaginable from the end of April until May 6th– I was able to catch a real glimpse into the modern day equivalent of a legendary tour experience.

Emmett Malloy

Big Easy Express, filmed by renowned music documentarian Emmett Malloy, is a chronicle of three colossal bands – Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show – who set out on a six-city “tour of dreams” from Oakland to New Orleans. Riding in a vintage train all to themselves, the chummy musicians only carry with them bundles of instruments to appease their constant musical cravings and every ounce of positive energy to thrill their adoring fans and entertain themselves with post-show musical revelry.

Breathtaking landscape, cinematography and heartwarming one-on-ones with the thoughtful band members would have been enough to sell tickets to the flick – but the 66 minutes of collaborative, tri-band jamming, hair-raising concert footage and heartwarming all-aboard jousting between the three whacky folk-rock, country and Americana collectives feels like a whole other golden ticket to one of the most coveted modern-day musical adventures. In this documentary, the music never stops – and I had full body chills from start to finish.

Malloy divided the film in the most moving of ways; highlighting equal amounts of live concert footage from each of the three bands – including a wave of emotion during Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man” across thousands of fans, a field of romantics stomping to Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and the dreamer’s anthem “Home” from Edward Sharpe (among many others) – but also walking the bands, and us, right back to the big ol’ train after the sold-out shows. Shots of Alex Ebert (lead singer of Edward Sharpe) walking with his arm around Marcus Mumford, while Old Crow’s Critter Fuqua throws his head back in laughter with bandmate Ketch Secor right behind them, couldn’t be a more tender transition into a glimpse of what happens on board. Even Jake Gyllenhaal was dragged along for the whole tour by Mr. Mumford himeself, and had the time of his life.

When the three bands retire to the train – that’s where the real magic and camaraderie happens; scenes showing floods of band and crew bodies and their sloshing drinks, mingling night after night with the train staff, cramming into a single car with their every imaginable instrument and endless amounts of improvisation and merriment. The scenes depict a constant celebration of sounds; laughter, hugging and the underlying score of the entire film – never, ever-ending music.

My documentary buddy mentioned to me that one of the best parts of the Hot Docs festival is that regardless of the subject matter, it’s such a wonderful artistic exhibition that you’ll get all ages and types attending any and every film. With Big Easy Express, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, and perhaps the older woman next to me (who arrived solo) might not have known the contemporary bands and their hits – but she, like the rest of the theatre, was bobbing her head to the banjo-driven anthems, laughing at the banter between the three jamming bands and tearing at the overwhelming concert clips.

So, whether or not you are avid fans of any of the three bands, whether or not you can see it in theatre or whether or not you care about the journey – if you appreciate music, and I mean real, love and hope-filled music that can change absolutely anything, then you need to board this train with Emmett Malloy. I guarantee you’ll be in for the ride of a lifetime.

 

To Montreal, From Toronto, With Love.

Just like the disparity between the Irish and the Scottish or the absolute antagonism between Eastern Europeans and Western Europeans, Montrealers are generally raised – not in any way purposefully or forcefully, but often inherently – to dislike the city of Toronto. In Montreal, words that are used to describe the CN tower’s home, are “overbearing”, “uncultured”, “lackluster” and “corporate”. People often say that the city lacks history, a sense of community and is just too big for anyone to call home. They say it’s viciously competitive, a place where people dedicate their lives to the work they do in their enclosed offices, and where summer’s smog makes everything absolutely unenjoyable and utterly disgusting. Evidently, us Montrealers have a lot to say…and most of us feel this way for a good part of our lives…rejecting invites to the bustling city and using any chance we get to insult it.
The truth is, years ago, I was one of these Montrealers. “Nothing would make me move to Toronto” was a sentence I regularly uttered. Truly ironic, since I am, years later, happily living my life as a Torontonian, boarding streetcars with ease and slowly coming to terms with the navigational structure of such a large city (applause? anyone?)

I am, without a doubt, a huge fan of the 514, a city that I know like the back of my hand (aside from the clubs that seem to appear out of nowhere every time I visit), and it’s true, the beauty of Old Montreal is unsurpassed, it is – as they say – like strolling through a little piece of Europe. But. If you take the time to learn Toronto, you’ll find that there are places just like that in this Canadian concrete jungle, and you may be surprised just how much the two have in common despite size differences and major province/language contrasts.

Well, in a world where hate runs wild, I’m attempting to do my part in ending this little battle once and for all (although the hockey thing is not my jurisdiction). If you are ready and willing, dear Montrealers, here are five things you must experience before judging Toronto:

1. The Distillery District
Cobblestones, restored Victorian establishments, old world charm, antique stores galore, quaint, exceptional restaurants…sound familiar Habs fans? Thought so. Toronto’s distillery district located southeast of downtown, in a location one wouldn’t expect to find such a treasure, is by far the most reminiscent of our very own Old Port. It’s got it’s own unique characteristics, with a no car policy and hip Soho-esque allure, and certainly offers the greatest escape to the hustle and bustle of the city. Brunch at The Boiler House is absolutely worth the visit – live jazz plays in an outstanding setting, with a sprawling buffet for $24/person. So. worth. it.
2. Restaurant Lee
As Montrealers, we are extremely fortunate to have hundreds of critically-acclaimed, well priced, delicious restaurants at our doorsteps – with new venues sprouting up every week – and I must say that I was always under the impression that moving to Ontario would erase that part of my life completely. Pub food, chain restaurants and takeout were to be my new stomping grounds. Well, in the case of Toronto at least, I was, very fortunately, incorrect. My meal at Restaurant Lee is now comfortably sitting on my list of best meals ever (and I just spent 3 months in Europe people). Master Chef winner, Susur Lee, owns several restaurants in Toronto and New York and has become somewhat of a celebrity. After much gushing to our waiter, we were lucky enough to have Lee himself visit our table and speak a few words. He is humble and kind, even offering his coleslaw recipe to my mom. Speaking of coleslaw – this NINETEEN ingredient “Slaw” has become Lee’s signature and the minute I tasted it, I knew why. It is a mouth-watering masterpiece. Truth be told, there is exquisite food in Toronto.

3. Saturday morning at St. Lawrence Market
Picture a larger Atwater Market mixed with a St. Laurent street sale vibe. Amazing, right? St. Lawrence market is an absolute utopia for foodies – offering samples to visitors including dozens of mustards, fresh pasta with homemade sauce, rows upon rows of berries, an area filled with what could plausibly be all the cheeses in the world…and so much more. An inviting environment filled with all the things you crave, fresher than ever before. There’s certainly no buyer’s remorse when you’re able to taste what you bring home! The pasta machine that effortlessly churns out fresh pieces (pictured below) is worth a visit of its own.

4. Breakfast at School
Aside from being a huge fan of Toronto and Montreal (obviously.), I’m also big on breakfast. Yes, it’s easy to serve up eggs and toast, or offer some out-of-this-world homefries, but  truly reinventing the way we eat breakfast is what really draws my attention. Enter school. An adorable building in Liberty Village, School is exactly as its name implies…waitresses dressed in sassy uniforms, clocks and chalk boards adorning the walls, apples on each table, and – for all you chemistry junkies out there – all liquid is served in beakers. All context aside, the food is incredible. Upon my first visit, each person in the group ordered a different dish, consequently taste testing each of our choices, and deciding the meal pictured below was 100% the best (although all options were outstanding). Crispy. French. Toast. Need I say more? Try it.

5. King West on a Saturday Night
We all want different things from our Saturday nights. Some of us look for manic dancing, others want to grab a beer (preferably by a TV playing sports?), live music, cocktails, mouth-watering tapas, a documentary festival? King West has it all. Exhibit A: A few months ago, a large group of us set out for a night on the town. The place we had intended on going to (F-Stop) had an issue with a pipe and was therefore closed. Just like St-Laurent in dear old MTL, never fear! There are places near. Rather than finding ourselves at a regular joe bar that plays Top 40 hits, where short skirts overpopulate strong drinks… we ended up at Spin – a Ping Pong bar owned by none other than Susan Sarandon. Random? Yes. Hilarious, Ridiculous, Fun, Memorable? YES and YES. King West is a treasure trove for fun and exciting bars that won’t have you begging you were at Le Confessional or perusing the usual suspects on St.Lau.

Toronto and Montreal both have exceptional character… and just like boyfriends past and present, it’s not fair to compare the two when they offer such unique qualities. The best way to form an opinion is to get out there and gain some perspective.
So, visiting me anytime soon?

Photos by inanutshell.ca and 1 2

Home Is Where The Heart Is

True love.

As we get older, it inevitably becomes easier to pinpoint the times in your life when you grew out of something, behaved differently than you would now, made things a priority that you now wouldn’t or were convinced some aspect of your life would never change. Life’s a funny little rollercoaster of undertakings and phases, and if you survey the years past, you – like me – are very obviously able to identify something that once was “you,” but certainly isn’t anymore.

I distinctly remember my parents remarking at how much energy I had as a kid. I remember not understanding anyone who had no interest in constant sprinting and playtime; whereas now, when I walk through my door after a ten hour work day, shove off my jacket and consider lacing up for a run – I see the point they made 20 years ago. Four years ago, in the chaotic peak of our university revelry – we took absolute pride in our ability to wake up for 8:30am class after three long nights spent crawling the downtown strip and staking out in the campus pub. Now, we moan like elders if we have a meeting the morning after casual sit-down drinks. Needless to say, things change.

But only some things. Some things are weirdly ingrained in you to last forever – because of no obvious rhyme, reason, song, movie or influence. One that I’ve discovered in the last month, is how I have never – despite presumptions and warnings from many people who I’ve known – outgrown my bizarre obsession with the city. No amount of noise, subway grime, terrible sense of direction or homebody gene within me has ever made me question my infatuation with the idea of a roaring metropolis and every bit of wonder it has to offer.

I’ve only gotten bigger in the size of the city I’ve inhabited – starting quite small, transitioning to Ottawa and ending up in Toronto. A big part of me (the Billy Joel, Sex and the City, acid jazz loving weirdo within) was afraid that I would get here, after all of the obstacles and other opportunities which arose and kept me back – and would hate it. Years of poring over photos of Times Square, dreaming of vine entangled fire escapes and cradling the ambition to write overlooking a skyline that sparkles like a treasure chest could have been crushed from the first missed streetcar stop or realization that maybe I’m not cut out for the competitive industries, sense of anonymity or…well, any of it. Maybe the obsession would end up having been some idealistic phase of mine.

But despite relatives and Ottawa co-workers scoffing at the idea of the honking traffic jams and 2.5 million strangers roaming next to you – I think way back to how this hasn’t, and probably won’t ever, change for me. All signs point to this finally being the real deal. I enjoy the country as much as the next nut – days spent on a dock, treks through rocky wooded hills and cozying up next to a crackling cottage bonfire – but evidence of grade school creative writing centered around downtowns, stacks of skyscraper and big city photography books and playlists marked for those happy moments when a trip might involve passing a skyline, tell me I shouldn’t sell this longstanding romance with the big city short. Of course, I won’t be as naive as speed demon toddler and carousing 19 year-old Jess and say this will always be the case – but not a moment of regret, coupled with beautifully loud, dirty and crowded daily affirmations give me the feeling that this love affair has only just begun.

Where do you feel most at home? Everyone’s heart lies somewhere different, that’s for sure.

Good morning, Toronto.

And with my verified love of the big city, comes my verified love of big city playlists:

 

*All photos by inanutshell.ca

JT, we miss thee!

Today is bittersweet day here on in a nutshell. We are paying tribute to our dear friend and one of in a nutshell’s biggest supporters, Jenn Tod, on her 24th Birthday. Why is it bittersweet? Well, as excited we are to celebrate Jenn in all her glory, we all can’t help but be a little bit sad because we can’t be together. If you remember, last summer, our fearless friend jetted off on an amazing adventure to work for Cambodia’s Human Rights Commission. As her work there came to a close, Jenn continued to explore the globe and while she will be arriving on Canadian soil soon, she will be returning to her home in Calgary, rather than Toronto or Ottawa. For a girl who always makes time for her friends, sending us love from whatever corner of the globe she occupies, we are sending that love straight back today! We are SO proud of our adventurous friend, and are counting down the days until we can be reunited! Happy Birthday Jenn, we love you!

KAYLEE:

In one word, Jenn is: Animated.

You’ll never find Jenn: Not having explored at leeeast one fabulous place in a year..if not about 3. All on different continents.

My favourite day with Jenn was: When she lived in her flannel snowman pajamas for an entire weekend at my cottage… Munching on cookies, sipping tall cans and passing out at the dinner table.

My favourite night with Jenn was: There are way too many favourites that make the hall of fame but the one that most impacted me was the night we met. When she sat on my lap at a kegger and we did what we do best.. Judge. The rest is history.

I would build Jenn: A teleportation device so that no bodies of water could separate us, and she could instantly appear at each of our reunions, having just flown from Asia, England, Calgary …wherever she happens to be living that year.

One of Jenn’s best lines ever was: There are so many. But my favourite thing Jenn says doesn’t involve words at all. It’s all of those facial expressions that I’ve come to fully understand and adore. They each mean something different, and usually have to do with how ridiculous someone in her proximity is being.

In 5 years, you’ll find Jenn: Pursuing her dreams as always… Never second guessing any of her worldly, spontaneous decisions. Always keeping in touch with her immense group of friends, constantly making each of us fall over laughing… And surely still telling tall tales of her daily tribulations, travel adventures and pet peeves.

MEGHAN:

In one word, Jenn is: Inspiring.

You’ll never find Jenn: Without an ear to lend, a shoulder to lean on, and passionate advice or opinions about any problem that her friends are having.

My favourite day with Jenn was: The full day (and night…rather, WHOLE weekend) that Jenn spent living in her snowman pyjamas. While the rest of us switched from PJs to sweatpants for our adventures outdoors, Jenn’s loyalty to her snowmen was unbroken, even when forced to complete an ice “on your knees, in the snow!”

My favourite night with Jenn was: Either meeting up in London the one night we were both across the pond by chance OR Halloween a  few years back when Jenn had no costume as of 6 p.m. but by 9 p.m. was the best Munchkin anyone had ever seen. Her hilarious Munchkin dance kept me in stitches all night. What’s even better is that she carried an oversized lollipop all night and as the evening progressed, we devoured it in between shots of tequila. There is no better chaser, than a ridiculous lollipop.

I would build Jenn: some sort of teleportation device, that way, wherever her travels and adventures take her, at the flip of the switch she could come home to me!

One of Jenn’s best lines ever was: “It’ll FIT!” In reference to the overstuffed trunk on the way up to Kaylee’s cottage. (Which obviously set me up for a perfect ‘that’s what she said’… #dreamteam)

In 5 years, you’ll find Jenn: Doing something important. I know that sounds corny, but this girl is so passionate that I know that she’ll be doing something that will matter to the world. Whether it’s working for an NGO, or something else, she’ll be blazing her own trail and going after her dreams. I have no doubt that a strapping young man will be on her arm, who is so lucky to have met a girl who’s fiercly loyal and caring. If this said 10 years, I wouldn’t doubt that Pax Tod would also be in the equation, but I’m not rushing you girl. Finally, no matter where in the world she is living at that time, I know she’ll be planning our next reunion, with stories in her head and tequila in her hand.

BEST. MUNCHKIN.

 JESS:

In one word, Jenn is: Brave.

You’ll never find Jenn: Out of touch with what’s going on in the world, holding a siamese cat, coddling a stranger’s baby, not sticking up for or having time for her friends, or not ready for an adventure of any scale or size.

My favourite day with Jenn was: Either the day we all spent at the cottage when she didn’t change from her snowman pajamas, sat on my lap for our entire criminal drive down the road to Ada’s, looking back at me periodically to check if I was still breathing. Or, the amazing days we spent walking around, stopping in shops and then sitting outside my house for hours on end because we didn’t want to part ways.

My favourite night with Jenn was: Frolicking and pouncing around to Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros at Bluesfest, so obsessed with the summer sunset and each other. Or any marathon red wine night in my apartment – I so, so miss those.

I would build Jenn: Her own private jet, of which I would obviously be the pilot, where she could adventure off to change the world at the drop of a hat. This girl has big things coming to her – so I clearly need to be in the cockpit and serving her martinis/snacks (Ryan Reynolds, the shirtless co-pilot, will then take over) while she’s on her way to do them.

One of Jenn’s best lines ever was: “I randomly stop and examine most Cambodian children to evaluate whether or not they have Pax Tod potential.”

In 5 years, you’ll find Jenn: Hard to say. One of the best parts about this little travel bug is I don’t know where you’ll find her. Although I selfishly want her around all the time, she has wonderfully embraced the world as her backyard and doesn’t have a single inhibition about it! I think she’ll be happily living in a foreign country with a kind and intelligent man who shares her passion for making a difference, and they’ll be doing just that. And accepting plenty of visitors who come bearing tequila. :)

Annimated wine nights.

KATE:

In one word, Jenn is: Adventurous.

You’ll never find Jenn: Unwilling to lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on and words of encouragement for her best friends.

My favourite day with Jenn was: The day at Kaylee’s cottage when Jenn refused to wear anything but her snowman pajamas. She got iced in her snowman pjs and drank it in her snowman pjs. . . and kneeled. . . in the snow. . . in her snowman pjs.

My favourite night with Jenn was: The night we scampered through the shoe garden, ended up in a water fountain and proceeded to take over the stage of pier 21.

I would build Jenn: a personal jet for her jet setting ways, equipped with a staff all dressed as munchkins from munchkin land and a never ending supply of ceasar cocktails made with clamato, tobasco and, of course, pickle juice.

One of Jenn’s best lines ever was: “I think it will fit” – RE: stuffing her trunk full before leaving for Kaylee’s cottage.

In 5 years, you’ll find Jenn: Working hard for an NGO, following her dreams and traveling  around the world, inspiring those around her with her intelligence and intuition.

Performing for their dedicated fans.

ALLISON:

In one word, Jenn is: Kind-hearted.

You’ll never find Jenn: Not going up to bat for her friends. She’s selfless and loyal, and you can count on her for anything.

My favourite day with Jenn was: at Kaylee’s cottage when we actively schemed on Catherine’s vulnerable, drunken state to place random objects on her head. And boardgames. And icing (On your knees. In the snow). And drinking and driving. :| Shambles.

My favourite night with Jenn was: In MTL at Meg/Kays bday extravaganza when we were quite possibly the drunken English humans in french territory and were dancing on tables and being hilarious.

I would build Jenn: a Map the size of an entire wall in her house to the mark all the fabulous places she’s travelled. And specifically with markers of her 6 BFFs faces residing in CAN so she’ll never forget where she can find Tequila!

One of Jenn’s best lines ever was: On the way to MTL… “She wrote Hahaha and BBM auto corrected it to: Haitians”. We were never the same.

In 5 years, you’ll find Jenn: At the head of the UN saving the world. Taking care of little Haitian babies and being the cutest little humanitarian. All the while still making time for her GFs and inviting us to do worldly things with her.

So much table dancing.

CATHERINE:

In one word, Jenn is: Adventurous.

You’ll never find Jenn: Doing something that isn’t insanely exciting.

My favourite day with Jenn was: “The bicycle day”. Just me, Jenn and our bikes. Touring the city, getting soaked, showing up late, eating pizza, trekking single file and without knowing it seriously preparing her for the deadly streets of Cambodia.

My favourite night with Jenn was: Our blackout night in Calgary. Started off harmless and escalated quickly. Next thing you know we’re waking up – me in all my clothes, her in all her makeup at 5 am and panicking I won’t make my 6 am flight. On the way to the airport we find my bag of goodies that I bought without knowing it. $80 worth of shot glasses, two cowboy hats and one really ugly shirt later, it is still one of my most hilarious wake ups of all time (and I’ve had a few).

I would build Jenn: A private jet so she could continue to travel the world but make it home to her best girls for a reunion or two, important weekend, birthday, special event or anytime she needed a glass of wine or heart to heart with the girrrrls.

One of Jenn’s best lines ever was: “I’m allergic to potato chips. Her too. We’re sisters.” Blink. Blink.

In 5 years, you’ll find Jenn: In London or someplace even more exotic. She’ll be leading the charge on an intense human rights campaign, with a man who challenges her on one arm and baby Pax Tod in the other. She’ll be giving someone who deserves it a “Jenn look” and taking a mental note to tell her girls back home, who cheer her on everyday, exactly why they did.

Allergic to Chips.

And so, JT, we wish you the Happiest Birthday and the safest travels! Come home to us soon because we can’t wait to celebrate with you in person! xo

Toronto, Be Good To Her!

One of our nuts is embarking on (yet another!) exciting journey today, but this one doesn’t involve backpacks, temporary camps or hostels – it involves a new city and new home! Congratulations and best of luck to Kaylee and her boyfriend – who are setting sail to the Big Smoke today, a city that they will call their new place of residence within a few hours. Our in-house fashionista will inevitably fit in like a glove in the style capital of Canada and we can’t wait to see what fabulous articles come out of her new surroundings. Way to go, Kay – there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that you will be the newest and brightest light in that shiny city!

xoxo, Your Fellow Nuts.

You go, girl!

CONTEST: Win Some Birdie Blues (Contest CLOSED)

 

“I’m one of those hands-on people – I have to be moving constantly. On top of that, I look at something and I want to figure out how it was put together. Or I want to take it apart. “

Combine these busy bee symptoms with an undeniable sense of fashion and an adoration for accessories, toss in a toolkit and a little ambition – and you’ve got yourself an entrepreneur.

Emily McMenemy, a longtime Ottawa resident and now Toronto gal is the crafty hand of style behind Birdie Blues handmade jewelry – a versatile collection that combines first and second hand pieces such as  vintage beads, charms, metals, pearls and wire to create trendy necklaces, earrings and bracelets that cater perfectly to the modern vintage craze.

“That’s the thing (about making jewelry) – you see something you love in a magazine and you can save the money, do it yourself and put your own spin on it,” says McMenemy. “You can personalize a piece and add your own touches for whoever will be wearing it.”

McMenemy, who’s been in business for a little over two months, is without a doubt an appropriate candidate to take a whack at designing. Having newly moved back to Toronto and soon making the trek to London, ON, she has a wealth of experience in retail – the most influential being a long stint at Aritzia, the fashionable Canadian boutique that’s matured into one of the more unique and cultured accessible retailers in the country.

After being immersed in experimental fashion and watching her own style evolve along the way, Birdie Blues – which is a named to be a variation of McMenemy’s favourite colour, robin’s egg blue – and an industrious bedroom workshop sprouted from the ground up. Now selling headbands, feather pieces and putting together a professional online catalogue outside of her tumlbr blog (you can browse here and purchase by emailing Emily), she says the affordable line has something for everyone. Prices range from $15 to $40 for some of her more extravagant pieces; therefore, steal is an understatement, considering the jewelry is anything but.

“I would love to give styling tips too, on how to wear my things. You can stretch your jewelry so far beyond what it comes as.”

As part of the 2011 End Slavery Day vendor’s bill last weekend at the Bronson Centre – this is just the first we’ll see of this budding creator. Check back for more updates on what she has to offer – a pop-up shop, precious stones, rings and a piece that is most likely exactly what you’re looking for are what we can expect out of this flyaway hit.

Goodies from Birdie Blues vintage and handmade jewelry

Want to know more about the artist? I put her in the hot seat about her own style:

Emily

Describe your personal style: Changing.
Favourite trend? It’s bad…but right now, it’s fur. I’m really into the vintage stuff though; I like the traditional cuts. I love old, used and hunting for vintage finds. I’m into recycling and reusing fashion.
Trends that might blow up: I think feathers will still be in for a little while, but I’m thinking wooden accents are coming.
A trend you wouldn’t be caught dead in: I really don’t like when people tuck their suit pants into Uggs. In the street…it’s a bit much. Jeans and running sneakers too – not for me.
Gold or Silver?: Both! I don’t like to mix and match too much – so I’ll usually have a silver day or a gold day.
Favourite store? In Ottawa, I’d have to say Aritzia – I’m a sucker for anything Wilfred. But I also love the St. Vincent De Paul on Wellington, it has great second-hand finds. I love the shops along Dalhousie too. It’s nice to support the local businesses. In Toronto? I’m into a shop called Penny Arcade on Dundas West.
Does Ottawa have a fashion scene? It definitely does! Shopping in Ottawa is great. You need to know where to look and have an open mind. There isn’t much of a difference between people in Ottawa and in Toronto – I’ve seen great taste in both. Don’t be afraid to try different things; as long as you wear something with confidence you can look good in a trash bag.

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*CONTEST*: Here’s where you can WIN! If you want the chance to snatch the fun and beautiful Birdie Blues necklace below – LEAVE A COMMENT telling us how you would style your outfit around it, as well as your name/email, and you’re automatically entered into a draw to win!  Featuring a long chain, vintage charms and pearls – we think it would look lovely on just about anybody. We’ll be drawing a commenter’s name out of a hat on Monday, December 12th – so check back!

Win this necklace for yourself! Comment below with how you would style it – and your name is entered into a hat to win!

This contest is now closed! Thank you to all who commented below, we loved your styling ideas! Find out who won & stay tuned for more give-aways in the future, in a nutshell.

Souvenirs

So, I spent the better portion of the week in Toronto, T-dot, the big smoke. It was a fairly frugal trip to a pricey city, seeing as I was mainly there to work; but, I did have the chance to have some precious playtime, see old friends, and traipse what felt like all of creation on my free time. I love that city. As much as I have serious National Capital Region loyalty, I always appreciate the fast-paced spontaneity and cutting-edge lifestyle that come with such a wildly energetic metropolis. I thought I would share with you some not-so-specific accounts or anecdotes, and focus on some of the (city)life’s little treasures that I came home with in my suitcase. Here are some of the glorious little items and spots I picked up on this week – making my departure from the big city a happy one that included great new sounds, a full tummy, enlightened eyes and a barrel of memories…in a nutshell.

A breathtaking night in an up-and-coming neighbourhood, Liberty Village:

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