Obnoxiously happy

 

happy

Dear World,

My apologies if my happiness has gotten a tad obnoxious of late, but my life is blessed in so many ways that I simply cannot keep the joy inside, nor truthfully do I wish to.

Alongside the wonderful gifts I am given every day, I am routinely presented with insane opportunities to express and explore the passions that light up my soul, whether it is writing or photography or sharing knowledge.

But beyond even that, I sit in complete awe at the wondrous passions of the people around me; people with amazing visions of who they are and how the world can be.

I know painters and actors and writers and musicians; parents and partners and children and pets; athletes and industrialists and service workers and technicians. And every single one of those people bring me insane joy simply by following their own passions, whether within their titles or not, and allowing me to be witness and in some cases, participant.

Even watching perfect strangers experience their worlds, or Nature express itself from day to day, brings a beauty and elegance that I simply did not choose to see in my former life but do now.

So how can my heart not burst forth, my spirit soar and the laughter ring forth?

I am both a newborn child seeing things for the first time and an ageless ancient finally understanding the patterns that have always splayed out before my once dulled eyes.

That is my joy. That is my happiness. That is my love.

And unasked, that is what I share with the world.

Artists I adore (and you should follow)

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Barnaby Dixon – puppetry

As many of you know, I am nutso for puppetry and have somehow managed to know some amazingly talented puppeteers. But as much as I adore my friends, one fellow blows me away not just for his skill as a puppeteer, but also as a puppet designer.

For a guy that looks like he’s 12—I’m over 50, so you all look 12 to me—Barnaby Dixon seems ancient in his craft and wisdom. From the very first YouTube video I watched, he has dazzled me with his love of the art form, his ability to bring the inanimate to life, and his presentation style that draws you in and makes you feel like this is a private conversation. Stellar!

Visit Barnaby’s web site, Facebook page and Twitter account

 

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Baram & Snieckus – comedy

I know, I know. I have to get past my addiction to these beautiful sketch and improv wunderkinds. But I can’t help myself.

Apart, Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus are wonderfully funny and vulnerable and endearing, but together, they rocket off the charts.

As I have reviewed previously (see below), Baram & Snieckus are to the modern era what Stiller & Meara and Nichols & May were to theirs, people who express the challenges and wonders of social awkwardness, allowing us to laugh at the things that frighten us in our daily lives.

No one is more neurotic than Matt…until Naomi erupts in her own mental mushroom cloud.

And that this husband-and-wife team are beautiful, friendly, giving, caring people is an absolute bonus.

You can follow Matt & Naomi on their web site, Facebook page or Twitter.

 

See also:

You and Me Both – A revue review

Still Figuring It Out: Baram & Snieckus

 

filippa

Filippa Levemark – visual arts

As a photographer, I adore nature. As a writer, I adore bizarre or interesting juxtapositions. Thus, I had no choice but to fall in love with Filippa Levemark’s work.

With the seemingly simplest of compositions, Filippa combines nature and human infrastructure to powerfully demonstrate that the two worlds are one and the same. Try as it might, humanity cannot hold itself as distinct from the wildlife that surrounds us, nor should it.

Her work is beautifully approachable and yet is rife with meaning, offering depths that may be missed at first glance.

Based in Sweden, my greatest hope is to find a way for her to bring her works to Canada.

You can follow Filippa on her web site, Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

sankoff-and-hein_toronto-star

Irene Carl Sankoff & David Hein – musical theatre

As a student at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre several years ago, I had the great fortune to meet and do improv with a gorgeous and talented actress named Irene Sankoff, a truly giving performer.

Years later, I heard that Irene and her husband David Hein had created the somewhat autobiographical stage musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, which played to wonderful reviews in Toronto. What I didn’t realize was that the musical would explode in the theatre world both in Canada and abroad, setting these two up as a creative force of nature.

And just this past year, they have repeated (and likely surpassed) that success with a new musical Come From Away, based on events in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 when hundreds of air passengers found themselves suddenly grounded.

The musical just completed a spectacularly successful run in Toronto and begins Broadway previews on Feb 18 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, where it is sure to sell out quickly.

But like my Baram & Snieckus comment above, what makes these two particularly special is that they are genuinely wonderful people and have such love for their craft and for the people who come see the show.

Recently, on a frigid Toronto morning, the pair brought coffee and donuts to fans waiting for rush tickets to their final Toronto performance (Toronto Star article). The pair and performers from the show entertained the small crowd, singing songs and chatting with the chilled throng. That is simply beautiful.

Follow Irene & David’s adventures on their web site, Facebook and Twitter.

 

Bliss

mourning-cloak-butterfly

I had an amazing moment earlier today that I wanted to share, a moment of complete peace and sheer bliss.

As I may have mentioned before, I am an amateur photographer and a lover of nature. In wandering along Toronto’s waterfront this morning, I passed some butterfly gardens.

Not my first time visiting these small gardens. I’ve even taken photos there.

But for whatever reason, today was magical because there were dozens of butterflies having the time of their lives flitting from flower to flower.

The movement attracted my eye and I wandered over to the gardens to enjoy the sight and grab a couple of shots with my cell phone. But as I stood there, the world fell completely away, and it was just me, the garden and the butterflies.

And rather than flit away to keep their distance, the butterflies accepted me into the moment, a few even briefly landing on my arms and shoulders.

I had somewhere to be, so the moment couldn’t last too long. I have every confidence, however, that if I had had the time available to me, it would have lasted as long as I chose.

Complete bliss, joy and comfort.

I’ll visit the gardens again. Maybe the moment will happen again; maybe not. But I have available to me this one time that it did, and that will sustain me.

monarchs

Sweltering on the boardwalk

This summer has been unbearably hot and humid in Toronto, but I was going stir-crazy without my weekly walk. So, throwing caution to the (complete lack of) wind, I grabbed my camera and hit the boardwalk and some nearby wooded areas.

Central lodgings for intrepid explorers – review of Hotel Le Roberval

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Hotel le Roberval centres an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods

Conveniently located within a short walk to Montreal’s Vieux Port, the Village and the restaurants of St. Denis, Hotel Le Roberval offers affordable, clean lodgings for people who like to explore the city on foot or with a quick jump on the Metro (Berri-UQAM).

The rooms are quite spacious and well-maintained, offering a kitchenette space that included a bar fridge, microwave, coffee maker and two sets of dishes. The Queen-sized bed was firm and comfortable, and the television was hi-def. And for those needing to work or wishing to keep in touch via social media, the free WiFi was very reliable and allowed rapid upload of photos to Facebook.

Parking is a bit of a chore, however, as you need to store your car in a shared lot less than a block from the hotel. Unfortunately, you need a room key to access the lot, so you have to check in before you can park. That said, you can leave your car on Rue Berri for up to 15 minutes while checking in.

The free continental breakfast leaves something to be desired. There is no hot food, the entire spread limited to croissants, cellophane-wrapped half-bagels, yoghurt, pastries and a couple of dry cereals, as well as milk, juices and coffee. Like the small dining room itself, however, the buffet is well-maintained and the staff who work the room are attentive to everyone’s needs.

Although the hotel is located on the corner of two busy streets (Boul. Rene-Levesque & Rue Berri), bound by government offices and the Universite du Quebec á Montréal (UQAM), there are several restaurants within a short walking distance (mostly in the Village) and a couple of depanneurs (convenience stores that also sell alcohol) if you just want to relax in your room.

As comfortable and accommodating as Hotel Le Roberval is, the lodgings are really just a place to store your stuff and rest your head as you explore what Montreal has to offer.

Exploring Aquarium du Québec – review

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One of the residents was checking me out, too

Looking for something to do on a dreary rainy afternoon, my friend and I took a short car ride from near downtown Quebec to the Aquarium du Québec. Within seconds of parking, we were met with a polar bear and two Vikings sailing across the lot…this was going to be interesting.

Reasonably priced at $20 for adults, the park is a combination of indoor pavilions and outdoor displays, the latter of which include several tanks of marine mammals, as well as an expansive playground and wetland park for the more energetic kids (of any age).

The main pavilion is set up to reflect the local aquatic scene, with freshwater displays of fish found in the St. Lawrence basin on one floor and marine fishes more representative of the open ocean on the other level. Although the lighting is quite bright on the aquatic level, which makes sense given the shallower waters, the lighting is much darker on the marine level, which can make photography of the constantly moving fish somewhat challenging.

For me though, the second pavilion was where all the excitement was, starting with a large almost pitch black display of jellyfish in different tanks lit from below in ever-shifting colours. As I quickly noted in checking my camera, the light effects can make for significant artistic flare.

One disappointment, however, was a display called Awesome Ocean, which was essentially a walk-through coral reef that curves overhead. Although the display itself was quite nice, offering glimpses of beautifully colourful fish, the entire display couldn’t have been more than 12 feet long, so the immersive effect was almost impossible.

Another challenge to the indoor pavilions is that many of the paths the wind around the displays are relatively narrow, meaning that you are constantly at risk of stumbling over the flotilla of strollers that seemed to be everywhere that day. This was particularly problematic in the jellyfish display, where many cylindrical tanks required you to criss-cross the room.

Despite having visited many better designed and larger aquariums—including Toronto’s new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada—I had a good time at the Aquarium du Québec, and definitely recommend it as a destination particularly for traveling families. Whether in the playground, watching the seals or scrambling from tank to tank in the dark, young kids will find plenty to do, particularly on a cloudy day.

Conveniently, off the beaten track – Quebec hotel review

 

Chateau Frontenac

(Not the Auberge Michel Doyon…rather the Chateau Frontenac)

Just a few minute’s bus ride (or a 45-minute walk) from Vieux Quebec (the fortress) and downtown Quebec City is the small hotel Auberge Michel Doyon, located in the quiet neighbourhoods along Chemin Saint-Foy. To give you a sense of how homey this place is, the room keys are actual metal keys.
Rooms range from suites with private baths and kitchenette to smaller rooms with shared bathrooms. My friend and I each stayed in a suite that was large only in the comparative sense. The rooms are not exactly spacious—the only sitting space aside from the bed was a folding chair—but they are clean and well-maintained.
The bathrooms are small, with only room for a shower stall, and in the case of my friend’s room, the bathroom sink was in the bedroom, her bathroom limited to shower and toilet. I was lucky enough to get a full kitchenette that included a microwave, bar fridge and kettle, while my friend only managed the fridge and microwave without cupboards. Unfortunately, the only available dishes were a couple of plastic glasses, so I’m not sure how you were supposed to eat anything you might have cooked.
WiFi is available for $5/day and was reliable and fast. One challenge, however, was the paucity of convenient outlets that weren’t already filled with plugs from lamps, television or air conditioner. For example, I had to unplug the TV to plug in my laptop.
The staff are friendly and helpful, assisting with directions or in getting a taxi to the airport. The hotel offers a 99-cent continental breakfast, which we did not try. And there was no problem getting a late check-out, which was given at no charge.
Although the hotel may at first seem off the beaten path, the location is perfect for those looking to explore more than Vieux Quebec. There are several nearby convenience stores and small diners for breakfast or supplies, and if you have a car (ample parking behind the hotel), you have quick access to nearby highways, putting you within minutes of destinations like the Quebec Aquarium or Montmorency Falls. A weekend pass for the local bus system, meanwhile, is only $15.
While it may seem an odd place to stay while visiting town, Auberge Michel Doyon is a decently priced alternative to the fancier and often cramped B&Bs within the fortress walls.