radio I hear people feeling distraught that distancing has taken their summer
away – no cottage, no music or food festivals, no bar patios; how will they
even know it’s summer?
I’m not lost in time at all. Snowdrops, daffodils, bright forsythia,
flamboyant magnolia, and brilliant tulips are my countdown to getting seed in
the ground & doing my part to help sun & soil make food.
Now that the polar vortex is behind us and the City has
decided the rules for teamwork gardening, I’ve been preparing beds at the
Building Roots volunteer-powered urban farm.
grow vegetables for the Building Roots market at Moss Park – a food desert
(which means you can’t find fresh food for many blocks). Last year we delivered
radish and lettuce and spinach, peas and beans, tomatoes and zucchini and
garlic, and – the market serves a diverse culinary base – callaloo and
Ethiopian kale. This year we’re adding other nutritious greens including
fenugreek (mehti) and tatsoi.
urban farm is in a lovely spot at Ashbridge Estate, an Ontario Heritage Trust
site in east Toronto. Last year we doubled the growing space, but it’s not a
huge area so I was able to start the beds working alone.
(There are new rules
this year – signing in and out, sanitizing tools – but the distancing feels
normal: we’re always only a couple of people at a time, much more than 6’
apart, comfortably companionable.)
Dig, dig, dig … the best way to get a summer body back! If
you’re missing your gym, come lend a hand – farm work uses every muscle – in
the beautiful outdoors with sunshine, trees, and birdsong : )
My first session didn’t involve any digging, though. I just
walked around seeing how the beds had come through the winter, and noticing –
Garlic – planted in October – poking up
Self-seeded Ethiopian kale, well along in our
Overwintered Noir de Pardailhan turnips going to
seed for us
These are a tether anchored in last fall, reaching through
the dead of winter to this moment in spring. They tell me where we are in the
sun’s circle, in the year’s cycle, and I know what to do next.
This sense of the season is not something I grew up with; it
came from the doing. All kinds of production have their own lore built in; what
is yours instilling in you?
There are actual immunological reasons to cultivate happiness, joy, awe, wonder
(short and sensible article). Try a “happiness library” or a shared Spotify
account of music that celebrates joy, courage, achievement. (I’d include the
blues song “Strawberry Jam”; see if you can find it.)
A few people who are quite comfortable living alone have
written about this being different: they’re feeling frighteningly invisible.
Touch (see below) helps with that; just as important is to manifest your existence to others. We need to be seen, at least
metaphorically. Helping is a way to have an effect in the world, and thanks to
the ‘net there are ways to do that even now. It also puts some beacons in the
murky future to steer by, and gives you accomplishments as milestones. An hour
a week on a help line? It does matter.
Some ways to contain waves of worry here.
And don’t be too stubborn to reach out when you want to.
Own your time
Often one wished for more free time, but what we have now is
uncomfortable – “A sustained, long-run lockdown means that a vast stretch of
undifferentiated time is unfurling ahead of us, stripped bare of the usual
divisions and markers.”
We need milestones: “We want to feel time is precious; we
don’t want to write it off. We don’t want to lose a summer that we’ll never get
back. We don’t want to do time; we don’t want to be inside. We want to live.” [source,
a thoughtful article]
So live! Own your life, even now: create your own milestones
Make the effort to make memories – create a rich subjective time. “[D]istinct events
and experiences … stretch out the temporal landscape.” [source]
fixed point in your day – a sit-down lunch, blues at 8pm, 5 minutes
screaming into a pillow, whatever: something you want and decide on and will
look forward to.
of the things you’ve never had time for. Time is the one renewable resource
we all have; don’t let it slip through your fingers. This too is life: what
will you do with it? Whether it’s building a puppet theatre or playing recorder
or saying hello in a dozen languages or making papier mache animals, you can do
it – and when you have, you’ll feel good and want to do another.
The importance of touch
Touch is really important
to well-being. For those of us living alone, and for all of us who now aren’t
touching many things out in the world, this is a significant loss even if we’re
not directly aware of its effects.
overview of the importance of touch. Neuroscientist David Lindon writes that
our skin is a social organ that cultivates cooperation, improves health and
From another article: “Touch makes your brain
grow…. Touch is how we become part of this human community.” Touch “let me
know that I existed, that I was here.” [source]
What to do with that knowledge? Well, it’s a wonderful fact
that our brains don’t distinguish clearly between experience and memory.
few minutes to remember – the
feeling of being hand-in-hand with another person, the hugs you’ve had, running
your fingers along rough bark or soft pine needles, the wind on your arms and
the sun on your face, petting a dog’s head or wrestling a snowsuit onto a
squirming child, cuddling and dancing, turning a key in a lock or leaning
against a heavy door, the weight of a teacup or the warmth of a sweater.
your touch memories every day – you have them, and they will help in the
You can add new touch
experiences, even now.
Massage your feet, noticing how it feels in your
foot and in your hands. Rest your
cheek against a windowpane and experience its texture. Close your eyes and feel
a sheet of paper and a piece of wood: can you tell the difference? What is the difference? What are the fabric
textures in your closet?
If you can get outdoors, try short barefoot
walks. (In the city, choose your place and watch for glass!) You too may discover
“the small joy of finding a dandelion stalk caught between the toes … touching
rocks and roots, just feels good.”
Mental imagery works
with photographs too.
In this gallery
of outstanding wildlife shots, imagine stroking the fur of the arctic fox,
touching the wrinkled orangutan cheek, feeling the hard scales of the pangolin,
shaking hands with the mountain gorilla, being explored by the elephant’s
And for off-the-wall inspiration,
here’s an inventive wood-worker’s creation, Proud Parent. The
video is 16min and it’s a giggle – I think you won’t count it as lost time!
A quote I’m finding very helpful –
“Inspiration and small pleasures can hide in plain
sight, patiently waiting for a keen co-conspirator to spring them loose.”
– Jez Burrows, Dictionary Stories
Now that so much performance art is online, it’s almost
What’s working for me is to listen to radio or music while
I’m doing dishes or other chores; a walk after dinner and then relax into culture
/ entertainment. I choose the performance or venue in the morning – all day I
have a fine evening to look forward to!
Or – just click on something, check it out – the world is
out there, and bursting with variety.
Children’s bedtime stories read by Dolly Parton;
her Imagination Library has delivered more than 130m free books to children.
little engine that could on YouTube, which to my surprise has tremendous
present relevance (essential work, role of the powerful, small-scale kindness,
persistence, …); there are lots more stories.
Jukebox – requests read by actor Samuel West and friends. Completely
accessible; try #2, The Lion and Albert (3min), or #6, On the Ning Nang Nong
(1min), both very silly. There are also wry, loving, angry, and courageous selections. Try #21, Wendell Berry’s The Peace
of Wild Things (1½ min).
Lloyd Webber is releasing musicals
on YouTube each week, Fridays at 7pm BST, for 48 hours. (Also on that
channel, excerpts from other Weber operas.)
Link list of more
theatre and ballet – too many to detail! Shakespeare’s Globe, Alvin Ailey Dance
Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre (BSL and spoken English), the Broken Wings ballet,
puppet performances of I have seen my
hat, This is not my hat and We found a hat.
Another link list of
theatre, with selections for all ages. Anansi the Spider, I wish I was a
mountain, A Tiger’s Tale (! until May 24)
– also Mother Courage (15-22 May), A Doll’s House, and much much more.
talks – short talks on new ideas and achievements. Most are high quality.
has a very gentle introduction to
coding as a technique for breaking big tasks down into smaller ones (a useful
skill : ) and making a computer do what you tell it to (highly absorbing). The
“classes” are set up as puzzles – try Dance Party.
There’s also a 1pm ET “Code Break” session
Unusual – DigVentures is waiving the fee for the
June 1 course How
to do archaeology. A 6-week certificate course approved by the UK’s Chartered
Institute for Archaeologists. Discover the parts of a dig, the clues, the roles.
by the DigVentures course, one woman has dug a trench a metre-deep in her back
garden, in which she has found nothing more precious than a fork and a marble.
‘But a couple of days ago when sitting in my trench with my brush and my
palette knife, I suddenly realised that I actually felt happy and unstressed –
both feelings somewhat alien to me currently.’” [article]
decide which way to turn, what to look at. On Wednesday when I watched, we were
in the oldest village in the Faroe Islands. There was a nasty North Atlantic
storm blowing in, so the guide turned back from the hills into the village
where there was more shelter. Had to avoid the geese. Who knows where next!
and other delights – article linking to the Cornell Lab birdcams, Edinburgh
Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more. “They offer connection and continuity –
the transporting sensation of watching a creature indifferent to human
endeavour going about its life.”
at home through CBC TV. Toronto’s film festivals are known worldwide –
here’s a front-row seat to documentaries about current issues – with no
standing in line.
from astronaut Scott Kelly and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Lavoie, acrobat with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, says high-level performers
have a particular “strength in our
wheelhouse – to look at the situation and head straight to something that’s
productive, rather than dwelling on our misfortune.” Nice to be like that!
OK. Well-being is about mind, body, and spirit – or some say mind, body,
and emotions. This post is about body.
Bodies have amazing layers of defences
against getting sick. This is a time to treat those systems well – give eating for health a little more
attention than usual.
The Globe and Mail’s nutrition writer,
Leslie Beck, posted an article
about immune-supportive nutrients, with good explanations. The article
organizes these foods by nutrient, but if you’re on a tiny budget (as I am),
just lean more often towards the foods she mentions –
almonds, dried apricots,
beef, black beans, Brazil nuts,
fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, brown rice, Brussels sprouts, butternut
little mild-to-moderate exercisemakes
you feel better & more competent, boosts your immune system, and lifts your
mood a bit for hours after. Do not overdo
it – just take 10-15 minutes – 2-3 times a day is great, especially for
cooped-up children and under-25s who have energy
they need to burn.
Note – If you have any physical constraints, check with your doctor for what’s right for you to do. These are
only useful links; this is not medical advice!
Canada’s famous 5BX (men) and XBX (women) – basic exercises to
achieve a reasonably high level of fitness. For any age and level. No
equipment. 11-12min/day, starting easy(ish). Designed for the RCAF in the 1950s,
after 1/3 of pilots were rated unfit. Used today by the British royal family
including William and Kate.
DareBEE – remarkable resource site
by a small group of volunteers and fitness professionals – fitness should be “accessible for everyone, not
just people who can pay for it.” There’s something for everyone here.
I usually prefer exercise that accomplishes something (growing vegetables,
walking) but this site is becoming a constant companion.
If you want company, there’s a new
daily class with the bouncy PE with Joe Wicks
(YouTube videos, or live at 9am UK = 5am here). It’s about happiness, he says,
and “the sense of achievement comes at the end of the workout, not the start.” About
Search out spring
current rules, “You can go for a walk if you have not been diagnosed with
COVID-19, if you don’t have a recent history of travel outside the country, and
if you don’t have symptoms that could be COVID-19.” Toronto park infrastructure
is closed, but you can still walk. Go alone
or with a housemate, do not meet
up with others, and stay 6’ away from other walkers.)
Starting in March there is a joyous and totally
easy thing to do – just walk around for a few blocks searching out spring.
It doesn’t feel like spring yet – but the plants know more than we do!
Snowdrops are in bloom, yellow and blue crocuses are open, tulip leaves are poking
up. The first buds are swelling on rose bushes, and willows are turning yellow.
If you have a camera, take photos and share.
People who can’t go out need to see this too.
Especially when your mind is fast-cycling
and getting you worked up, a simple walk can put you back in control.
“Time spent in
nature is linked to lower stress, restored attention, a balanced nervous
system, increased levels of cancer-fighting “natural killer cells”, the
activation of neural pathways associated with calm, and decreased levels of
anxiety and depression. Phytoncides (compounds emitted from trees and plants),
relaxation, stress reduction and awe are known to enhance immune function.”
Spring symbolizes endurance and renewal – good
thoughts at this vexing time. Let Toronto’s marvellous natural infrastructure
help you through. It’s there, waiting for you to see it.
Take a virtual walk
Even if you can’t go out, you can still get
A study in
“horticultural therapy” showed that hospital patients who can see trees and
gardens out the window recover faster, and report less anxiety and pain, than
patients whose window looks onto a parking lot.
Experiencing nature reduces fear and pain –
what can you do with that? Well –
Imagination is a human super-power, and you
Think of a setting you like – mountain, lake, forest, beach? – or an animal,
butterfly, flower, tree. Go looking for it on the net, or in your mind`s eye.
Focus on a scene – Look closely, get immersed, imagine it with all your senses.
Water lapping on the shore, pine scent on the warm breeze… Go “away” for 5
minutes, or 20.
You can enhance the experience with birdsong(I’ve been playing these every day. They make things .. just a bit
one small corner of a room into a mini-environment.
Hang a flowered curtain or forest poster in the corner, put a comfortable chair
or cushions facing it; add a little stack of resources – hobby or craft
materials, books or magazines – and a water bottle so you don’t have to get up;
maybe an incense burner, a bunch of flowers. Set birdsong or gentle music playing
and settle in … Aaaah, that’s better!
If you have children at home, it will help
YouTube birdsong with forest
view (long; excellent improvement for
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 : )
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Take your phone and walk a few blocks in your neighbourhood photographing the first signs of spring – or whatever catches your eye.
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.
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.
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
nature is good for health & happiness. Just do it; you’ll thank
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.”
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.
It’s nice to have a map when you go
someplace for the first time.
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
of Toronto – Trails maps for the east and west sides of the city – PDF,
hard to read until you zoom in, but useful.
Free short walking tours
– free local walk monthly, May-October.
On May 3 – Wild Plants, 11am;
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
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
Park Nature Centre – free walking tours, first and third Sunday of the
month, 10:30am. Schedule.
Led by volunteer scientists, historians, and naturalists.
Botanical Garden – free weekly guided garden and ravine tours, summer Thursdays
6pm. Connects directly to the wonderful Edwards Gardens and Wilket Creek Ravine.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
#1 – Acknowledge the cold
a wool hat and scarf. Your blood circulates up your
neck, close to the skin, and around your head: keep those areas insulated.
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
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.
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.
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.)
Harbourfront’s 25thKuumba, 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
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.