Net Picks Part I

Short giggle gems:

Two absorbing resources:

  • For children – Scouts’ 100 games and activities for “The great indoors.”
  • Learn to tie knots and what each is good for. Why not? Two good sites here and here.

Two audio treats:

  • Famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma is posting Songs of Comfort – here’s the first (short)
  • YouTube birdsong with forest view (long; excellent improvement for indoor living)

And two collective actions:

  • Choir choir choir – Canada’s duo famous for big-group sing-alongs – did a virtual sing-along; thousands joined in. (They plan to do more.)
  • At 7:30 pm every night, take 5min to make a loud happy noise outside in thanks to our healthcare workers. Clap, sing, whatever. On my street a couple of nights ago we had a bagpipe, singers, garbage-bin drummers … all 6’ apart and that works just fine : )

Keeping It Together

Fun tidbits:

If you’re reading this online, you are connected to a glorious resource, the internet. You can –

  • Challenge yourself with puzzles and logic games – more absorbing than candy crush
  • Learn things, from sewing to toaster repair, and about things, from gardening to geology
  • See amazing visuals (and engage your other senses)
  • Hear classical music (de-stressing), watch/read classic literature (thought-provoking)

Well-being is about mind, body, and spirit – or some would say mind, body, and emotions. This post is about mind.

Everything listed is free, and ad-free as far as I know. I do have AdBlockerPlus installed. (A few sites want me to disable it; you can, but I just go somewhere else: I like an ad-free life.)

There’s a whole lot more, and lots I don’t know about. I hope to invite your suggestions in future – so we can pool our keep-it-together resources!

Add to yourself

Own your time – choose a small, light-hearted project – accomplishment feels fantastic.

  • An internet search for “how to…” will find step-by-step instructions and explanations and videos for just about anything.
    • My best project was to start learning to play a recorder. I have zero music training, but Value Village had a recorder for $3…. Music tunes up the brain (pun!), so that’s a 3-in-1 – learning, brain agility, and (some day…) music.
  • A site for starting a language: DuoLingo. You have to sign up, but it’s free and gentle.
  • Do a MOOC – free online courses of good quality.

Enrich yourself

Stretch yourself

  • Scroll down here and try Tiles and Set – matching games with a twist. (Both include colour matching, so, not for people who have colour-blindness.)
  • If you like the Set game, here’s another site.
  • Good word games, especially Popword and Eight Letters. Timed; you need a fair bit of English to get very far, but even trying to find words is super exercise.

Amuse yourself

According to research, laughter boosts the immune system. Here’s some help with that – 

Relax yourself

  • Put yourself in the scene with wildlife photo galleries. Explore more than the visual – notice the textures, imagine the sounds, the temperature, what the air is like.
  • With kids – or without them!  – a wildlife gallery can launch a week’s worth of projects. Pick a photo and (1) learn about the animal, (2) draw it in different poses, (3) write a story or poem or song about it, (4) make a collage of photos of it, (5) tell someone about it in 5 minutes, (6) find out what else the photographer has done.

Defying winter – Part II: Go out to be out

Now the sun is getting its strength back, grab every bit of sunshine you can. Sunshine lifts spirits. That makes you feel more capable. There’s no logic to that, it just is.

Even just stand in a doorway with your face to the sun: delicious!  But Toronto has more to offer: it’s exceptionally good for late-winter explorations. This post has two parts: On Your Own Time – short adventures that work for me, with some great places to see and be; and With Others – walking tours with a leader who talks a bit about what you’re seeing.

All free, because if there’s a charge I make an excuse to stay home : )

Second tip for defying winter: good socks and dry boots that are big enough for the socks. (Pre-owned boots are an inexpensive aid to well-being!) With head, neck, and feet cosy, on a sunny late-winter day you can be comfortable enough to feel great.

On Your Own Time

Usually I plan to be out for an hour – a little break, not a big project – but I’ve learned to bring a sandwich and thermos in case I want to explore a while longer.


  1. Take your phone and walk a few blocks in your neighbourhood photographing the first signs of spring – or whatever catches your eye.
  2. Check out local small parks. Parks map. City staff workto make these nice for us. Simply be there: tea and a sandwich on a bench in spring sunshine = twenty minutes of peace.
  3. Explore the area around each TTC station just to see what it’s like. There’s plenty of variety:
    • The Bloor-Danforth line has 31 stations; it’s 26km (16mi) long.
    • The Yonge-University line has 38 stations; it’s 39km (24mi) long.
  4. Visit the big parks. See migratory birds return from the south, experience oak savannah, watch salmon leaping upstream, take a ferry and walk the largest urban car-free community in North America – all in Toronto, on public transit!

After you’ve gone out a few times, you may find friends will want to join you. It can be that easy to start a companionable habit that magics an hour or so in each week into a mini-vacation.

A few exceptional places

2h/week in nature is good for health & happiness. Just do it; you’ll thank yourself.

Etienne Brule Park – Old Mill Station – salmon run in spring and fall; I have seen this myself. “Perfect for getting away from the city noise for an afternoon to relax in nature.” 6min spring slideshow and fall photos – this too is the city you live in!

High Park – High Park Station – 399 acres, cherries in bloom in spring, oak savannah, nature centre, paths along the Humber River, lakeshore, much more. “A walk along Grenadier Pond … will make you forget you are in the largest city in Canada.”

Leslie Street Spit and Tommy Thompson Park – Queen streetcar to Leslie St, short walk south – lakeshore, migratory birds, unique urban wilderness (CBC Nature of Things episode). Monday-Friday, 4pm-9pm; weekends, 5:30am-9pm. Photos.

Don River Valley trails – see the link for many ways to get into Don River Valley Park, a long stretch of 200 hectares from Pottery Road to Corktown Common. Salmon run on the Don as well as on the Humber. The city is a bit more evident here but if you want to stretch your legs in a long (or short) meditative walk with trees, this is a great place for it.

Ashbridge’s Bay Park – Queen streetcar east to Coxwell, short walk south – stretches into the lake; migratory birds; on the 56km Martin Goodman Trail.

Toronto Island Park – a 10min walk from Union Station to a ferry (there’s a charge for the ferry) that runs May-September. 15 islands, footpaths and bridges. 200yo lighthouse, Lake Ontario, and one of the largest urban car-free communities in North America.

Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat and Garden – Queen streetcar 501 west to the Humber Loop, walk south 12min – wildflowers, shrubs, trees, grasses make it beautiful anytime. It’s a long ride – bring a book, headphones, or a pal to chat with. Best times for butterflies, early morning and early evening, April to mid-October. More info and photos.

Kay Gardener section of the long Beltline Trail – Eglinton West Station, short walk north (map – scroll down) – wanders along old ravines and through hidden green spaces.

Self-directed walks

It’s nice to have a map when you go someplace for the first time.

City of Toronto – route map and details for 11 Discovery Walks – Don Valley, Uptown, Downtown, Ravines, and more.

Daily Hive – resources for a dozen interesting walks. Includes High Park and Toronto Islands, the Beaches, Kensington Market, open space in the downtown core, and more.

City of Toronto – route map and details for four urban walks.

City of Toronto – Trails maps for the east and west sides of the city – PDF, hard to read until you zoom in, but useful.

With Others

Free short walking tours

Riverside Walks – free local walk monthly, May-October.  On May 3 – Wild Plants, 11am; register here.

Toronto Free Walking Tours – daily walks at 10am (!check the schedule), starting from the Berczy Park Dog Fountain, 35 Wellington St E.

Tour Guys – daily fun free walks. Downtown Toronto – 10am; from May 1, 10am, noon, and 2pm.

ROM – free guided walks, every week May-October – Toronto neighbourhoods and history. Sunday at 2pm, Wednesday at 6pm.

Heritage Toronto – free guided walks every week May-October. (In February their schedule isn’t up yet.)

Jane’s Walks. Jane Jacobs was an extraordinary city organizer and advocate of people-centred design. (In February their full schedule isn’t up yet.) Annual Jane’s Walk Festival May 1-3.

High Park Nature Centre – free walking tours, first and third Sunday of the month, 10:30am. Schedule. Led by volunteer scientists, historians, and naturalists.

Toronto Botanical Garden – free weekly guided garden and ravine tours, summer Thursdays 6pm. Connects directly to the wonderful Edwards Gardens and Wilket Creek Ravine.

Club walks

These groups welcome newcomers, and share remarkable information that makes your world richer. Just recognize that some walks are more about discovery than walking – e.g., with birdwatchers, being quiet and staying still for a while are part of the adventure.

Toronto Field Naturalists (TFN) – Frequent public (free) walks with an informative leader. Schedule. Colonel Smith Park, Scarborough Bluffs, Warden Woods will take you out of the downtown core to see things you might never get to on your own.

Toronto Ornithological Club (TOC) – Frequent public (free) walks, beginners welcome. Schedule. Most are local – April 23 and 25 at Leslie Street Spit, April 26 at Humber Bay Park, May 9 at High Park, May 13 at Ashbridges Bay… Woodcocks, spring migrants, orioles – see them, hear them, be delighted.

One more tip

Don’t be paralyzed by all these choices! – just do something. Next week you can do another.

Do It Together

Ta-da! Introducing the 2020 Do It Together workshop series

Last year Building Roots trialed a series of participatory workshops on the theme of simple, practical crafting techniques that can help you save money, avoid a lot of plastic and chemicals, and raise standard of living on a budget. We made hand creams, waxed-cloth food wraps, sleep sachets, masala-chai syrup, herb-infused vinegars, and more. Best of all, we did it together.

The response was terrific! People came from all parts of the city, kept returning, and kept asking for more. So, this winter we’re expanding the series, having the workshops occur weekly, and adding new features.

First, we partnered up with Works-in-Progress, an artist collective based in Toronto that focuses on up-cycling fabric and making art out of recycled materials. They will present four workshops on this theme, where you will learn how to make a small sewing kit, identify fabrics, sew heart-shaped hand-warmers, transform old jeans, and make your own portable cutlery wraps.

Second, we’re introducing production workshops. These are a chance to give back to the Moss Park community while having fun and developing your skills. Make an item for yourself to take home, as always – and ‘step it up’ by making extras to be sold for pay-what-you-can at the Moss Park Market. The first two production workshops are March 15 (Sleep Sachets), and March 29 (Hand Creams).

You can find us every Sunday at 3pm in the Moss Park Market (Queen & Seaton). RSVP and learn more on Eventbrite!

‘Do It Together’ Workshop Series:

Feb 9 – Make Your Own Sewing Kit
Feb 16 – 
Make Your Own Deodorants
Feb 23 – 
Cold Hands, Warm Hearts + Understanding Textiles
March 1 – 
Headstart On Spring: Growing Sprouts
March 8 – 
Green Jeans: Transforming Old Jeans
March 15 – 
‘Step It Up’ Sleep Sachets
March 22 – 
Make Your Own Cutlery Wraps
March 29 – 
‘Step It Up’ Hand Cream
April 5 – 
Make Your Own Air Freshener

Defying winter

About now we get the coldest, snowiest weeks of the year. I want to hide. I want to stay indoors until April. I want to be a bear or a chipmunk so I can hibernate until winter goes away.

For a human in Toronto, though, there are better strategies!

#1 – Acknowledge the cold

Wear a wool hat and scarf. Your blood circulates up your neck, close to the skin, and around your head: keep those areas insulated.

Move with energy. Using muscles generates heat. (Shivering is just little muscle twitches – your body’s own way of getting some movement heat going.) Walking faster is walking warmer.

#2 – Find reasons to be moving

 “Go for a walk” doesn’t motivate me; I need a destination to pull me out. It has to be free, or I’ll use the cost as an excuse not to go. So here are worthy, free things to do, almost all in the city core. “Just do it.” “You can do it.” “It’ll be fun.” My sister says things like that – and she’s right.

Part I, in this post, is not about walking miles in the snow! (That’s Part II, next post.) This is just trips tosomething indoors. Move the body, feed the mind = win over winter.

Part I – Small steps – go out to go in

Exceptional one-off events

  • Toronto New Music Festival, Jan 12-21 – 10 days of free music, 7:30pm
  • Vogue dance workshop with Twysted (age 14-25) 4-7pm Weds, Jan 15 to March 4
  • Meridian Hall contemporary-dance classes, Thursday 6pm Jan 23, 30
  • January movement classes, Kaeja d’Dance, MNJCC, 1pm Weds, Jan 22, 29, Feb 5
  • DesignTO, Jan 17-26 – On the schedule, at the left, you can choose neighbourhood and interests – e.g., urban design, furniture design, graphic design…. Most exhibits are free.
  • Photography exhibit – Root cellars of Newfoundland. Jan 20-24. This basic structure often lasts longer than the house. Other work by the artist, also relating to harsh conditions.
  • Toronto Light Festival, Jan 17 – March 1, sundown to 9/10pm, Distillery District. I didn’t know “light artist” was a profession, but in 2019 specialists from Turkey, Austria, Sweden, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, and Israel joined Canadian artists to light up the night.
  • Mackenzie House/DesignTO workshop, 10am-2pm Jan 18. Plant a garden pocket for your household in a vertical garden, then explore Mackenzie House free. (Toronto’s first Mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, was a fiery figure.)
  • African drumming workshop, 2pm Feb 1
  • Harbourfront’s 25th Kuumba, celebrating Black History Month, Feb 1-29. About half the items are free – mostly the exhibits. Just go, see something.

Museums: Major museums have free evenings. Go with a curious mind, there are marvels here. Most are on the Bloor subway, easy to get to. The Aga Khan Museum is farther, but so amazing it’s worth the long trip. The Allan Gardens Conservatory is my favourite destination in February: just hop on the Carlton car and walk into a warm climate to lift your spirits.

Free times (or PWYC where noted)
*PWYC means pay-what-you-can – it’s OK if that’s $1 or $0, you are truly welcome

If those times don’t work for you, or if you want to visit the Ontario Science Centre, Toronto Zoo, or the Toronto History Museums, get a free-entry MAP pass from the library.

Two to travel west for:

  • Etobicoke Civic Centre Art Gallery. Bus from Kipling or Islington Station to remarkable free exhibitions. March: Eagle’s journey, March: artists of the Albanian diaspora.
  • Assembly Hall, Sam Smith Park, Etobicoke. 501 Long Branch streetcar, or 44 Kipling South bus from Kipling Station to a community-driven venue. Art exhibits are free & interesting.

Music – listen free

Dance – move free

Some others

  • AGO art-interested seniors social — 1-4pm, second Friday of the month
  • Meridian Hall yoga — noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) gives free workshops on topics like basic knot tying, winter camping, introduction to snowshoeing, and winter bike commuting. Go learn something – you don’t have to do it.

Looking forward, looking back

Kate Hamilton is the lead coordinator of our Urban Farm at Ashbridge Estate, and facilitates our biweekly ‘Do It Together’ workshops at the Moss Park Market.

The past year had me continually adapting to new circumstances, both bad and good. Jolting change is wearing, but it may be what 2020 has in store for most of us. If that’s right, we will need to keep each other’s energy up, and our own.

One success in 2019 was the launch of Do It Together (DIT) workshops for Building Roots, a non-profit that develops social connections in Toronto’s Moss Park. There was no fresh food for blocks; Building Roots created a produce market. There was little animation; Building Roots coordinates activities from organizations like Story Planet and Youth Gravity – and hosted the DIT series.

The highlight was a workshop on reducing plastic usage. We talked, learned, made our own waxed-cloth food wrappers, and considered joining an OCAD student project about what motivates behaviour change. Like all the DIT workshops, it was a warm, sociable event with interesting people who brought a variety of experience to the table.

The best part for me, though, was the research before delivering that workshop. I found innumerable initiatives about to break surface – biodegradable 6-pack rings; plastic substitutes from fish waste; improved sorting technology for recyclables; plastic-free 3D-print manufacturing; and innovations by food packagers, supermarkets, hotels, and clothing brands to reduce consumer plastic use. One example: ice cream in refillable stainless-steel containers.

I’ll mention four close to home – Ice River Springs, in Shelbourne, Ontario, uses 100% recycled plastic; a network of Roncy Reduces organizations, in Toronto, encourages restaurants and supermarkets to use customers’ containers; Etee, in Toronto, is an online source for plastic-free products such as toothbrushes; and TerraCycle, founded by Hungarian-Canadian Tom Szaky, is the world leader in recycling generally non-recyclable waste such as energy-bar wrappers. (Szaky remarked: “By moving from disposable to reusable, you unlock epic design [and manufacturing] opportunities.”)

Why was research the best part? It showed we didn’t have to be where we are. We could have been using waxed-cloth food wraps all along, and seen dispensers rather than miniature toiletries in hotels. We could have required durability in clothing, repairability in appliances, bulk bins in supermarkets, micro-fibre filters on washing machines, and local processing that makes plastic’s lightness unimportant. We could have demanded that what goes into recycling bins be recycled. We could have reserved plastic to essential uses like intravenous bags.

What we want in our culture – and what we allow – does shape our systems. But an opinion you keep to yourself has no effect. We have to speak up. And to do that, we have to register the effects of the systems we have. Alberta farmer Don Campbell reminded us: “If you want to make large changes, change the way you see things.”

Change is coming, not only to your toothbrush. Here’s to seeing a 2020 when our choices are better because we require it – and when we help each other embrace them.

Easy reading: Canadian Geographic’s “Canada’s Dirty Secret” (2017) and Ontario’s “Strategy for a waste-free Ontario: Building a circular economy” (2016).