On Safety.

Sunday night, while putting my kid to sleep, I sang her the song I have sung to her at night since she was a baby – Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin. It was all good, until I got to the 3rd verse:

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?

And then I broke down. I couldn’t even get through the whole line.

Others have written amazing pieces about islamophobia, about gun control, about attacks on people of colour, about the fraught relationship between queer POC and the police. These are important conversations, and I will do my best to amplify these important voices in the wake of all of this.

Like others, when I heard the news on Sunday, it felt intensely personal.

I don’t live in fear. I am 35 years old, so I came out for the first time nearly 20 years ago (wait, what?). I’m white, cis, femme, and I’m privileged enough to live in a city that currently has the trans and pride flags up at city hall. I’m privileged enough that I can say things like, “If someone doesn’t want to give me a job because I’m married to a woman, then I don’t want to work there anyway”. I have wonderfully supportive friends and family, both queer and straight, and 99.9% of the time, I’m brave enough to hold my wife’s hand and eff anyone who has a problem with it. These days, I feel totally comfortable almost everywhere I go. It hasn’t always been this way for me; if I think about it too long, I can remember feeling ashamed and scared more often than not. It’s an awful feeling. Shame and fear taste sour, smell like bile, and feel like sandpaper on my heart.

Gay bars, and other queer spaces, are vital. They are vital especially for those who don’t have support. But even for me, although I feel safe most of the time, queer spaces feel especially safe. They feel like home. When travelling, I’ve sought out queer spaces, and I have danced the night away in gay bars in Beirut, Mexico City, Toronto, and even small town Ontario. Not to pick up, but just to be there, to be in a queer space. To feel free. To feel safe.

Why does Pride matter? Why do queer spaces matter? I’ve been asked that question by well-meaning, generally supportive allies. You have equal rights now, don’t you?

Pride matters because it’s a hell of a lot better than being ashamed. Queer spaces matter because rights on paper aren’t the end of it.

Maybe it’s problematic for me to think of the victims as my people, but I do. I recognize that I am not Orlando – I am not a person of colour, I haven’t been to Florida since I was a kid, and I’m not a regular at big dancey nightclubs.

That said, I am hurting. My people are hurting. We will be okay, because we are resilient, because we have decades of fighting back in our histories, because our existence is an act of resistance, because we have to be.

My facebook and twitter feeds have been full of messages of grief and anger, of healing and resistance, from queers and allies alike. I am also aware of those who have been silent. And as I tuck my kid into bed, I think about the victims and the people who loved them, about the fragility of life, about being strong, about feeling safe.

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Good riddance Stephen Harper.

I’m sure this is very shocking news, but I am not a fan of Stephen Harper. For many, many, many reasons, too many to even begin to count. But today, as we finally get rid of him, I’m thinking back to when he was first elected in 2006.

I never saw same-sex marriage as a priority for queer rights. There are absolutely far more important fights to fight. I never really wanted to get married to anyone, for all the usual reasons (waste of money, just a piece of paper, it’s a paternalistic/capitalist tradition, I’m not at all religious, etc). When I met my wife in 2002, I was 21 years old and hadn’t really had any serious relationships, and told her on our 4th or 5th date that I’m “bad at relationships”. She assured me – truthfully, at the time – that she wasn’t looking for anything serious either. Cool.

But, things have a way of sneaking up on you, and we moved in together in 2004 so I guess it had started to get pretty serious. In 2005, same-sex marriage was legalized across the country, and we talked (extensively) about what that meant for us – politically, socially, and, perhaps most significantly, legally. Truth be told, we were scared of those worst case scenarios that you hear about, like partners not being allowed in the hospital because they’re not immediate family.

So, I planted an engagement tree in the woods at Cherry Beach, led her there by flashlight (“are you going to kill me?” she asked) and popped the question. We decided to eschew the city hall route and go for it: we booked a venue for 75 people, bought fancy dresses (black for her, red for me), flowers, photographer, the whole nine yards. Perhaps we wanted to make it seem more “real” to our more traditional family members. Perhaps we just wanted to throw a big party. Either way, the two of us, previously not particularly giving a fig either way about marriage, were going to have an honest to goodness legal wedding.

And in late 2005, Stephen Harper and his team of turds let it be known that they would rescind the whole marriage thing if they were elected. In January 2006, they were leading in the polls, and the two of us were scared. The talk in the media at the time was that any marriages done before the election would be safe. So I called our officiant and scrambled to get a marriage license. On January 21st, 2006, we rounded up 2 friends and drove over to her house to get legally married. We signed the paperwork, she said congratulations, and that was that.

We didn’t tell anyone. The conservatives were elected, but they didn’t end up following through on their election promise, and our wedding planning continued until the big day in August. Despite all my cynicism, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Our friends read poems about social justice and community, our officiant prepared documents certifying the marriage that our siblings (none the wiser) signed, and no one except us and our 2 friends knew that we had in fact been legally married for 8 months. It didn’t feel like we had been anyway. Our wedding day, standing in front of our friends and family, celebrating and dancing – it felt important, like it meant something.

We did eventually start telling people about our rouse. These days, we celebrate our anniversary in August, but do remember to wish each other a happy “fake-iversary” every January.

So in some ways, we got to have the best of both worlds. We eloped and we had a semi-traditional wedding. And we owe it all to Stephen ‘dead eyes’ Harper.

Good riddance.

How long does the honeymoon phase last?

Tomorrow marks one month since we made the move from Toronto to Hamilton. After feeling so conflicted and panicked about it for months, it’s been strangely awesome. I keep waiting for the regret to start, wondering if it will take the form of a horrible disaster or a slow creeping feeling of doom – when will I feel like this was all a big mistake?

What if I never do?

The past month has been awesome. We’ve been spending as much time as possible exploring our new city. I’ve never really moved to a new city before. When I moved to Toronto from Mississauga, I already knew Toronto pretty well from spending as much time as possible there. There were (and still are) parts of the city I hadn’t seen, but for the most part, I knew where everything was and how to get around. Learning how to navigate a new city has been a lot more fun than I expected. Because it’s a smaller city (yes, it is absolutely a city, stop calling it a suburb Mom), it feels like we are closer to everything, and as car-free people, being able to get places faster has meant more time to explore. Slight digression: everyone should read this post about life without a car in North America. We’re slowly getting used to the transit situation here, but mostly spending a lot of time walking. One of the interesting things about Hamilton is the escarpment. It divides the city between the downtown urban core and the more suburban mountain. The escarpment also means that there are a bunch of stairs going up. I found the James St ones last week:

The view from the top

The view from the top. A wee city.

And I also found the stairs on twitter, where I was shamelessly flirted with by the Wentworth stairs:

Sassy!

Sassy!

We’ve also found a lot of free shit to do, including a performance by art/rock/noise/punk/riot grrrl/jamboree/feminist band Malvinas and a labour songs singalong at my new favourite place, the Workers Arts & Heritage Centre.

I can't help but say "Not!" in that tone of voice from the early 90s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/..._Not!)

I can’t help but read this as “Not!” in that tone of voice from the early 90s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…_Not!)

The weekend after this one, my wife and I will be skipping the veggie food fair in Toronto for the first time since I don’t know when, in favour of checking out our first Supercrawl.

It being summer and all, we haven’t done much with our new house yet. We have unpacked the kitchen, bathroom and kid’s room – nearly everything else is still pretty much in boxes. We haven’t painted anything or put up any art/decorative type stuff yet. Our place was thankfully move-in ready, with no renovations needed before we got settled, so we’re feeling good about taking our time to unpack and figure out our paint colours and all that fun stuff. There’s stuff we want to do at some point (move the laundry upstairs, open up the attic, fix the ugly floor in the basement, refinish the deck…boring grown-up stuff) but for the most part, we managed to get a fairly well-maintained home with much of the original 1920s “character”, as they say.

And this is the part where I start to feel weird talking about home ownership, because it’s still feels very strange to me.

Coming soon: a post about life as a commuter, which will more than likely devolve into a glowing review of bike sharing. You’ve been warned.

Life from here, so far

We moved just over a week ago, from a lovely below-market 2 bedroom apartment in a 100 year old low-rise in a rather expensive neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, to a 2ish bedroom 100 year old house in a residential neighbourhood in downtown Hamilton.

In the final weeks before the move, panic set in. My wife and I were both freaking out about leaving Toronto. We were both pretty convinced that we’d end up going with our back-up plan. We decided early on in this process to sublet our place and for my wife to take a leave of absence rather than quit her job. We’ll give it a year, we said. If we hate it, or if my wife can’t find a job in a year, we’ll move back and rent out the house. We’re totally going to hate it, we said. What were we thinking? Why are we, a family of 3 with no car, leaving a city with a (admittedly mediocre) streetcar and subway system going to a city that has only the ‘promise’ of a single LRT line?

One week in and we’re definitely in the honeymoon phase. We love it. It’s been hectic, 80% of our stuff is still in boxes, I have been wearing the same 5 dresses for the past week because everything else is still in clear garbage bags, and our half-finished basement has become a repository for everything we can’t figure out what to do with, but it’s actually been completely awesome somehow.

It’s the summer, so not having a car has been fine. Everything seems to be within a 5-20 minute walk though. I’m commuting to Toronto, and it’s been fine too! I sleep or I read. Or, y’know, catch up on social media. We’ve made some new friends already, and spent time with friends who moved here 5 years ago (when housing was even cheaper!). We got our library cards and our membership to the local food co-op. We tested out the local pizza delivery place. And we found the lake – it’s to the north now. So weird.

So that’s my report so far. Ask me again in 6 months, when we’re in the dead of winter. But then again, I hate EVERYTHING in winter.

Cheapskate in a different city

After 16 lovely years, I will be leaving Toronto.

It’s bittersweet, of course. I grew up in Mississauga, and spent much of my teen years at all ages punk/indie shows held in church basements in Streetsville, with an eye always looking east for the music scene in Toronto. I missed out on so many shows because I was under 19, but my friends and I still spent as much time as we could taking the subway downtown, going to Queen St and Kensington Market. I moved to the city when I turned 18, but that’s a bit of a stretch of the truth – I lived in residence at York for 3 years, which is technically Toronto, but getting downtown wasn’t much easier from when I lived in the ‘sauga. Nonetheless, I immersed myself in the activist and music scenes as much as a very shy person can (which is to say, just barely), started up Riot Grrrl Toronto and Squad 416 Radical Cheerleaders, and I was as much a cheerleader for the city as I was against capitalism.

Since then, some of my best friends moved out of the city, mostly to the west coast or montreal. To make a long story shorter, the city has changed for me. I love so many things about living here, but I feel like it’s time for a change. I cannot imagine living anywhere but a city, but I’m not convinced now that it has to be this particular city.

To be honest, it was originally about the money. Shocking, I know. I love our co-op, but there have been some issues lately. I love my neighbourhood, but I barely know anyone here. Most people I know live in the west end. For a bunch of boring, grown-up type reasons, we want to buy something. My kid will start school this September, so it seemed like a good time to figure it out.

We looked at condos, but found that the places we could afford are smaller than our current apartment, and when you add in maintenance fees, we’d be paying twice as much for half the space. Sure, it would be ours, but factoring in interest vs potential for appreciation, and the numbers weren’t in our favour.

We briefly looked at houses, but found that anything in our (apparently pitiful) budget would be a ‘fixer-upper’, located in the few places of Toronto that aren’t very walkable or with decent transit. One place we saw in our budget looked exactly like what I would create if someone told me to design a crack-den set for a TV show – graffiti on the ceiling, staircase falling off, holes in every wall, questionable stains on everything. And it was listed at just under half a million dollars. And it sold. Over asking.

For a split-second, we bemoaned the fact that we didn’t do this 5 years ago, when many of our friends bought houses, back ‘in the day’ when you could still get a house in the junction for under $400k. Then we remembered that we didn’t do it 5 years ago because we decided to throw all our savings at making a baby instead. Not to get all maudlin, but seriously, I love my kid and have no regrets.

That’s fine, we certainly don’t need a house. Density is essential for cities! We looked at condos and townhouse-condos. Perfect for us, in theory! Except that even those are out of our price range now. Our agent would set up appointments, and the place would be gone before we could even see it – with an unconditional cash offer $50k over asking. We couldn’t compete. Who are these people?

“If you could just up your budget by $100k, you would find something!” said our agent. Thanks for the helpful advice there! Because we totally didn’t think of that!

Not to mention the exorbitant cost of maintenance fees at many of the buildings we were considering would have put the whole thing far out of our apparently meager budget. It seemed like our options were a small condo in a tall tower in a field of other tall towers, or a townhouse condo complex in far-flung areas of the city that would be extremely difficult to navigate without a car.

We thought about moving out of our co-op to another rental, something in a neighbourhood with a better school. But we quickly found that we’d be looking at nearly twice our current rent. A friend who moved a few months ago saw her apartment listed after her move at  double the price of what she had paid.

So, upon the urging of a friend, we looked west. “I don’t want to live in the suburbs” I said, several times, probably to the point of being annoying. “Hamilton isn’t a suburb, it’s a real city!” assured our friends who moved out there 5 years ago.

Lo and behold, we liked it. The more we visited, the more we liked it. An actual city, totally walkable, transit is improving. Arts scene, music scene, coffee shop. Parks, playgrounds, good schools. All the things we were looking for.

And, yes, we could even afford an actual house. Although neither of us went into this wanting that particular American Dream – we just wanted something that we owned for capital gains, an investment, something we could live in that wasn’t smaller than our current apartment. And yet, we did end up being able to afford a detached brick 100+ year old house, with a backyard, walking distance to everything we need, in a neighbourhood with a good school, a strong community, access to transit and bike lanes and all of those other awesome things we were looking for, for half the price of the condos/townhouses we were looking at in Toronto.

I didn’t succeed at making that long story shorter, did I?

Get away.

Traveling on a budget can have many different interpretations. My personal definition has changed as my circumstances have changed. It used to mean staying at squats and trying to get by on one meal a day. Now that I’ve got a kid and somewhat more disposable income, my definition has changed. Here’s what traveling on a budget looks like for me now:

Accommodations

I am a big fan of airbnb. I hope I’m not jinxing myself when I say that I haven’t had a bad experience as of yet. The concept of airbnb is that individuals, rather than companies, can rent out spaces for travelers. It could be a room in a shared space, or a whole apartment. It’s perfect for my current circumstances of traveling with a small child, because we can get a whole apartment with a separate bedroom and a full kitchen. It’s not without its detractors, and I highly recommend you avoid wading into any discussions about airbnb with New Yorkers, but I’ve found it to be really useful. It’s great for finding accommodations that are in neighbourhoods that are less geared towards tourists, which may help you save money on food by avoiding overpriced tourist traps! This post on lifehacker suggests doing a reverse google image search as a way to check on potential airbnb scams.

Food

Our vacation food strategy is to research a lot beforehand. My wife makes these beautiful restaurant spreadsheets, organized by neighbourhood, with notes on the cost and atmosphere. That isn’t to say we are never spontaneous, but having a chart ready at hand helps us avoid getting stuck spending too much on food because we’re hungry and can’t find any other options.

What to do

My ideal vacation involves exploring interesting cities, taking a day trip or two out of the city to see some nature, spending time at galleries and museums, going to see some bands play, doing a smattering of touristy things that appeal to me and a bit of shopping, preferably for vintage dresses. A lot of folks I know are more into spending a week at an all-inclusive resort. I think I’d get bored, but I do somewhat understand the appeal, considering I often come back from vacation feeling more tired than before. My ideas for saving money on entertainment while traveling are all about finding free or cheap things to do and figuring out where there’s some (free) nature nearby.

Free thing to do in LA? Be on The Price Is Right!

Free thing to do in LA? Be on The Price Is Right!

Museums and galleries often have free or donation-only days. They also tend to be crowded. Although it pains me to spend money on something I know I could get for free, if the regular admission isn’t too costly, I’ll splurge to make the visit worth my time. I discovered recently that if you have a membership to certain Toronto museums, such as the ROM and Science Centre, you can get free admission to a number of other museums all over the globe.

A quick google search for coupons has saved us money on everything from rental cars, whale-watching excursions and walking tours.

Flights

It seems like the tricks for saving money on flights change all the time. My method is pretty basic. I try a slew of different websites and flight schedules until I find the cheapest and most convenient option. If you’re planning a Europe trip, look into the stopovers in Reykjavik with Icelandair. It’s such an interesting and beautiful place. When I took my first ever non-work trip to Europe a few years ago, Icelandair ended up having the cheapest fares. A stopover in Reykjavik wasn’t part of our original plan, but ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. It feels like you’re on another planet.

Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik

Travel for work

This is pretty ridiculous in so many ways, but if you’re looking to travel a lot and not spend a lot of money, find a job where you travel. I worked for an international women’s rights development organization for 5 years, and I traveled a few times a year to places I wouldn’t have been able to afford on my own. Traveling for work has some downsides, but I feel so lucky to have had such incredible opportunities and only having to pay a few extra nights accommodations and food. I also had the opportunity to experience things I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own, such going to the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.

My first trip outside of Canada and the US - Cape Town, 2008.

My first trip outside of Canada and the US – Cape Town, 2008.