Monthly Archives: August 2009

Knit The Hell Up

Knitting 004Let’s be honest: when you hear the words sewing, felting, and crocheting, what images are conjured in your head?  Exactly. 
 
Well, think again.
 
Walking down Queen Street West, I peek inside the workroom, Toronto’s hip “by the hour” mecca for sewing gods and goddesses, and the Knit Cafe, a Starbucks-like noshery where you’ll find not only rows upon rows of very expensive Alpaca-and-wool-blended yarns, but a top-of-the-line espresso machine for those late night mistake-fixing classes.  What *is * this coolness I’ve stumbled upon, I think?  Was it some kind of tasteful way to protest pending women’s rights legislation?  No, it wasn’t that.  Was it some kind of modern day Jonestown whose goal was to trick passers-by into joining? Nope, not that either.
Baking, gardening, sewing, and especially knitting, are all the rage among educated, liberal young women (and men, surprisingly) who are doffing the very ideals our feminist forebears of the 60’s and 70’s worked so hard to achieve.  These knit grrls, or “crafty girls”, as they refer to themselves, aren’t your typical postmodern Republican, conservative women of yore.  On the contrary. These are Kathleen Hanna worshipping, Green Day listening, The Clash t-shirt sporting domestics who darn socks, design their own patterns, hem skirts and mulch gardens with all the plenitude of Hillary Clinton in her Wellesley College heyday. The formerly archaic and hoary notions of female domesticity existing to “tend the hearth and home” all of a sudden have hipster cachet; street cred, if you will.  Take a jaunt through the trendiest of neighbourhoods and you’ll find a plethora of craft stores going up quicker than Michael Jackson’s hair on fire.  In fact, a simple Google search returns scores of Distillery District 003these emporiums where their punk rock members with punk rock ethos sport profile names such as “knittybitch”, “obsidian kitten” and “metal and knit”, and share tips on knitting the latest iPod cozy and skull-and-crossbones scarf.  Needlepoint patterns that say “Beeyotch” in Edwardian Script and pink rhinestone-studded knitting needles abound.  Forget Star Wars. Today there’s Stitch Wars. “An alliance of crafty rebel artists” wielding their mighty crochet hooks, knitting clips and row counters, exhibiting their crafty prowess, and who created seriously amazing handmade goods inspired by the greatest trilogy there ever was.  No, this new esthetic was no prank, no ruse at all.  That’s not to say, of course, that all of today’s knitters don faux hawks or rock out to the Dead Kennedys, but crafts are definitely not just for grannies anymore.
  
Never one to let hipness pass me by, and because I like  manhandling hot wool yarn in 30C temps, I decided I needed to get in on this crafty action.  Enter Lettuce Knit, a tiny Toronto shop selling gloriously coloured yarns made only of 100% natural fibres and whose owner, nicknamed the “Yarn Harlot”, has a cult following that rivals Madonna (I’m not kidding).  Craft classes abound at Lettuce Knit, covering everything from “Math for Knitters” and “Owls Sweater — Make It A Cardigan” to “Design Your Own Knee Socks” and “Magic Loop Legwarmers”.  The “Learn to Knit” class, their most popular, promises its students that they’ll have made a super cool scarf by the end of two classes.  They hadn’t yet  met me yet, though, so a kink of the armour, or kink in the yarn I should say, was still a possibility.  Nevertheless, I packed up my loaned needles the size of chopsticks, two itchy skeins of acrylic (gasp!) yarn and off I went.
 Kensington Market 022
In the span of my two week knitting career, I’ve learned the long-tail cast on, the garter stitch, the cast off, and how to avoid poking myself in the eye with my needles from sheer frustration.  Let me just say…knitting ain’t easy!  Thwarted by twisted wool, I refused to be, and I had to man up and persevere.  While I may or may not have spent more time unknitting than knitting in the last two weeks, I now have six whole rows — six! — of an (almost) perfectly knitted scarf.  It’s actually more of a bug’s blanket at this point, but who cares.  There’s something calming, cathartic and almost zen-like about knitting.  It feels so good to be making something with my hands — a completely new concept for this city girl — rather than spending my days (and nights) typing away on a laptop 24/7.  And, even though I’m knitting about as fast as you can say “US healthcare debate passed”, it doesn’t really matter because winter won’t be here for three more months weeks anyway.   
 
Feminist or not, the crafty girls sure know how to have fun and create a revolution at the same time (sound familiar, moms of the 60’s?).  In short turn, I have officially become a knitting evangelist.  I now carry around my fuzzy balls of yarn and needles with me wherever I go, and smile and nod when the Ukranian ladies from Roncesvalles try to correct my technique on the streetcar.  When I tell people I’m learning to knit, they either laugh or stare at me quizically.  I don’t care, though —  I absolutely love it! Clearly, stitchin’ has become totally bitchin’.  Socks, anyone?
[Ed. note: I was kindly informed post publication that Stephanie, the Yarn Harlot, is someone entirely different than Megan, the Lettuce Knit owner. Oops.  Note to self: next time, check facts!]

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You Know You’re Jealous

What do you get when you cross a very social Texas girl with apparently mad writing skillz and a user-review based, social networking site?   Why, you get the Toronto Yelp Review of the Day!  Eleventy-thousand kinds of awesome. 

 Norman Mailer, eat your heart out.

Yelp ROTD full

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I Am, Of Course, Speaking To You, Mr. Garbageman

Thirty-nine days.  Thirty-nine excruciatingly long, miserable days ago, Canadian Union of darling spa 005Public Employees (CUPE) Local 416, along with more than 24,000 other city of Toronto workers, decided they needed a little time off.   

It would seem that Local 416 members — the good men and women responsible for collecting Toronto’s garbage — were upset that the city was trying to dismantle a decades-old, and exhaustively archaic, system of banking sick days.  There were a few other issues thrown in for good measure, of course, but Local 416 members would be damned if anyone was taking away their bread-and-butter benefit.  So off they went.

Established in 1963, CUPE Local 416’s non-management employees had long received very generous sick pay appropriations.  Each employee had historically received 18 sick days per annum — PER ANNUM – and any days accrued, but not used, in any given year would transfer to years following.  What does that mean in the real world? Let’s do some quick math: say you worked for CUPE collecting garbage for 25 years and never took a single, solitary sick day.  When you retired, you’d get a big fat cheque from the city of Toronto — really from the taxpayers of Toronto — equal to six months of pay.  An *additional* six months of pay.  If you’re the employee, of course, it wasn’t too shabby — not too shabby at all — but pretty damn shabby when you’re a taxpayer in the city of Toronto footing the annual $250 million IOU.  Needless to say, people were nothing if not irate, and there was much name calling and near- fist-fighting during the 39 day dispute.

How apropos

How apropos

Luckily for us, we didn’t once hit 30C during the gong show strike.  Actually, it was giant-patch-of-four-leaf-clovers lucky for the inhabitants of this fair city. Sweltering heat would have done nothing to make Toronto any fun for anyone during those 39 days. It was bad enough that, in addition to four hour waits to toss garbage into makeshift dumps in our formerly glorious city parks – garbage that you were already paying good tax dollars to have picked up — the strike also shuttered swimming pools, libraries, summer camps and city-run daycares, among other city-run services. Because nothing says “summer” like a stinking city full of kids on vacation with nothing to do.  Ahem.

Luckily for me, I live in a big tall downtown building and as such, the strike didn’t directly affect me.  Buildings like mine typically have private waste removal companies, as do many small and large businesses.  Case in point: the swanky private Toronto club called the Granite Club allowed its members, some who incidentally paid a hefty $53,000 initiation fee to join, to bring their garbage and dump it at the club, who has said private waste removal company. The well-heeled club members, who were apparently too afraid to take their trash to the city-approved transfer stations for fear of said name calling, made hay for at least a few weeks before the Ontario Ministry of Environment eventually shut the service down.  It wasn’t too stupid on the club’s part, actually — word has it that dinner attendance, and therefore revenues, skyrocketed during the strike.  I’d imagine the Granite Club’s website read suchlike: Featured tonight on the Granite Club’s menu: drop off a bag of garbage and pick up a Mexican taco and some guac to go!  Come to think of it, I never heard anything from my club about taking garbage drop offs.  And I just know that the very prestigious Rogers Video Club would have taken bags of trash off its loyal members’ dirty hands.  😉

Naturally, as the strike dragged on, the hyper-local howling monkey brigade that populates Toronto’s news media lurched into full force.Garbage Strike 018  Granted, it was a long 39 days.  I’ll give ’em that.  And the stench did start to waft through the streets, even though it really was the cleanest garbage strike I’d even seen (also, the only one).  Even Neko case said so.  Judging by the media coverage, though, you’d have thought the strike was the Nanking Massacre redux. Combine the coverage of the apparent dog-sized flesh-eating death rats that were supposedly running rampant from the strike with the “Toronto has to call in the Army to deal with the snow” incident, and it seemed Toronto’s national reputation as a city of wimps was sealed.  Maybe it was the reality of facing their own  sh*t that got people so up in arms, where it’s normally whisked away never to be seen again.  I don’t really know.  But, after a few Groundhog Day-style do-overs between the city and the union, the strike mercifully ended.  Finally.  

It was the longest labour dispute in Toronto’s storied labour dispute history and, in the end, the city conceded on nearly every point.  Not only did the union get to keep their sick time (although new hires are not eligible for the program), but they received wage increases *and* are accruing overtime to clean up the mess that was largely their creation in the first place.  Not too shabby.  Not too shabby at all. 

It could be argued that these types of costly disputes may very well be the reason domestic companies are shifting operations to countries like India and China, where they don’t have to worry about striking unions, making things cheaper for all of us.  Because we all know we need our $1 stores to keep our lives ticking.  Obviously, garbage collection and public transportation will never be off-shored, but many, many other things can, and will continue to be.  It could be argued that disputes like these that end up costing cities and taxpayers way more than just tax dollars.  Seeing your beloved city mocked on CNN and being questioned about it from a Newark-based flight crew flying you from San Francisco to Toronto is all, to put it very lightly, most unfortunate.  Basically, it sucks.

Queen Street West: Day 30

Queen Street West: Day 30

There does seem to be one point of agreement between the aforementioned howling monkey brigade and the citizens of Toronto in this whole fiasco, though — this strike, in particular, has likely set labour relations in Toronto back several decades.  Don’t believe that?  Remember the 1994 MLB strike?  The effects of that strike are still being felt today.  And, for my Canadian readers, the 1994 strike was really the beginning of the end for the Montréal Expos, who were purchased by the MLB after the strike effectively destroyed their fan base.  Or, more recently and more locally, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) lockout in 2005 that saw the CBC shut down much of its regular English language radio, television and online services, and blocked their employees from working, after they tried negotiating with their union for over 15 months.  While I haven’t lived in any other Canadian cities, I’ve certainly seen my share of strikes, real and threatened, in my two short years in Toronto.  Some of those have included the Toronto Transit Commission, the LCBO, Via Rail, GO transit, teachers, the city workers and a myriad others I’ve simply forgotten.  So either I don’t hear about strikes happening elsewhere in Canada or the CBC just doesn’t cover them, which is highly unlikely.  

Disputes like these, in my opinion, make you question the world-classness of this supposedly world-class city and it makes you wonder about the impact, real or perceived, when you see other cities being recognized with honours like the Winter Olympics (that would be Vancouver) or being named in the “Top 25 Places in the World to Call Home” by the reputable mook Monocle (that would be Vancouver and Montréal). I’m just sayin’.  🙂

All political commentary and opinion aside, I’m totally thrilled that I can once again walk through the city without having to see, smell, and in some case trip over, the 39 day-old trash spilling into the streets.  It was becoming enough to make your eyes, and nose, absolutely bleed.   

All I know for sure is this: I’ve waited 39 days and my street better be spotless by the time I get home, Mr. Garbageman. I’m leaving now, so you have 30 minutes. Consider yourself warned. 😉

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Warning! Things Are Sizzling!

Photo credit: Shootedown on Flickr

Photo credit: Shootedown on Flickr

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that this is as good as it’s going to get. 

I’ve been anxiously anticipating the burn quotient kicking in, but it’s just not gonna happen.  On the plus side, city services have *finally* resumed in Toronto (post detailing that gong show forthcoming) and eastern Canada is *finally* a) sunny and b) warm.  Thank you Jesus!  While I’m sure the current inhabitants of my former metropolis (that would be Houston, Texas) are lamenting the cool, non-humid days of winters past, the fact is that Toronto is practically freezing.  Oh, I jest.  All kidding aside, though, Toronto hasn’t seen a summer this cool since the Blue Jays won the World Series, and, for those of you not up on your MLB history, that was in 1992.  Ahem. 

Toronto’s average temperature over the last two months has been 18C (around 66F).  A tropical summer that does not make!  We’ve had one day — ONE! — of +30C degrees this summer and that was more than a month ago.  Contrast that to last year where we’d already had nine days over 30C and, well, it’s a grim, grim picture. 🙂   To add insult to injury, Toronto has had 17% less sunshine than last summer.   Add to that nonsense the record setting rain we’ve been having and it feels like I’m living in Vancouver instead of Toronto. And I’m not really into 364.5 days-a-year rain, which is why I moved to Toronto in the first place!  Oh, the humanity.

I’d likely be complaining — actually, I KNOW — I’d be complaining if I was still dying of heat stroke and experiencing brain melting from the intense heat that is the hallmark of a Texas summer.  Clearly it takes a lot to please me.  😉  But when it’s February and I accidentally get plowed up along with the 6′ high mounds of snow from being an invisible “Snow White” due to the lack of sunshine, you’ll think back and appreciate my rare weather rant.   Actually, I’m in Montréal as I write this and it’s hitting a wonderfully balmy 28C here today. W00t!  Vive Québec!  

Bottom line: whatever you do — wherever you are — don’t stay inside today.  Go outside and catch some awesometasticly warm rays.  For the love of God, I know I will be.  Poutine, smoked meat, French-speaking Canadians, and Mr. Sunshine, here I come!

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