“I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22”

Indulge me. There’s nothing more important to me than my family, particularly my two daughters. And today, my youngest daughter Emmalyse celebrates a special milestone – she turns 22.

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After a long drought of no musings from your SpinMeister, you may be wondering what has prompted me to finally put fingers back to keyboard or proverbial pen to paper. This blog post is a shout out to a remarkable young woman who has enriched our family with her sass, her cheek and her sweetness.

Fondly known to me as Emmalyse Bumble Bees – a singsong nickname I gave her years ago, the endearing moniker has morphed into Emmalyse Bumble Beast, with Emme’s edgy cynical wit and sarcastic way of thinking.

A second child to busy well-intentioned parents, she often laments that I didn’t maintain a journal of her early life like I did for her older sister when she was first born. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember her hurried entrance into the world and the special way she has enhanced our family.

Tuesday’s Child is full of Grace

Similar to another summer long weekend 22 years ago, the Tuesday following Simcoe Day in 1995 was August 8. We had spent the annual August civic holiday at my brother’s for a BBQ and got home just before midnight. By 2 am, I was awake with contractions. By 3:30 am we were at the hospital. And by 4:18 am, fewer than 40 minutes after entering the delivery room, Emmalyse Helena was born.

She was beautiful. I remember being astounded at how round and perfectly symmetrical her head was. She had dark eyes and perfectly shaped rosebud lips.

When the girls were younger, we used to watch a reality  TV program called True Beauty. In the show, host Vanessa Minnillo and two other judges assessed the contestants on their outer beauty as well as their inner beauty. For their outer appearance, professionals were brought in to measure the symmetry of the contestants’ faces. This score would be added to others and a winner would be named.  Emmalyse would have exceeded all measures for her facial symmetry and outer beauty. Her inner beauty ranks at the top of the chart as well.

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Now when it comes to her hair, she didn’t quite win the lottery. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful like her, it’s just that it’s very fine like mine.

When she was born, she had a mop of superfine dark hair that stood straight up from her scalp. As she got older, the hair got longer but no thicker. As a pre-schooler we watched a Canadian children’s television series called The Big Comfy Couch. In addition to Loonette and Molly the Dolly, there was a character called Major Bedhead and another loving label was showered on Emmalyse.

Always with a sparkle in her deep brown eyes, a mischievous smile on her cheeky face, and a flare for the dramatic, Emmalyse has brought an energy and vitality to our family that has entertained and charmed us.

Now you may be wondering why I think the age of 22 is so magical. Well as someone who is known to be a lover of words and letters, my prowess with numbers is often under appreciated. But as someone who was born on the 22nd day of the 11th month, I have a thing for same double digits.

I remember my own 22nd birthday like it was yesterday. Newly graduated from university, I wasn’t quite ready to enter the working world. Instead, I set out to travel the world – or at the very least a good part of the southern hemisphere. With a backpack and a one-year work visa, I took off for a year to Australia and New Zealand. One of my first ports of call was Fiji where I celebrated my champagne birthday with a tropical fruit drink, a group of other young twenty-somethings, and a few Fijian geckos and lizards. A pretty memorable birthday and the start of a remarkable year.

22 is the year one defines one’s self and marks the beginning of the path one wants to follow in her life journey. Officially an adult since turning 21, a 22 year old is no longer constrained by the routine and boundaries of the education system, nor restrained by parental influence, nor confined by the exertions of unwelcome peer pressure.

At 22 one becomes accountable and fully prepared to embrace the responsibilities of individual choice and self-sufficiency. At 22, one continues to define the woman or man one is meant to be.

I’m very proud of Emmalyse and excited to see what her grand 22nd birthday year has in store for her. Like me, she graduated university at age 21. But unlike me, she started her first career job just one business day after handing in her last university assignment.

At the same age a generation later, she is already years ahead of where I was in putting in motion her master plan for achieving her life goals and  designing her life’s big adventures.

 

If there is anything I can take away from my own journey and share with Emmalyse as she considers her own path at 22, it is to surround yourself with good people, to not be afraid to lean in to take risks that will stretch and develop you as a person, and to be confident in following your own road. Say “Yes” to opportunities.

In the immortal words of contemporary recording artist Taylor Swift, “Everything will be alright, if we just keep dancing like we’re 22.”

What I learned in 12 weeks of blogging

The Challenge

The way we communicate has changed. When I first began my career in corporate communications more than 20 years ago, personal computers were still relatively new and the World Wide Web was in its infancy. It was suddenly much simpler and faster to get our messages in front of stakeholders. As technology continued to advance, communications professionals kept pace and embraced the convenience and reach of the new tools.

Fast forward a number of years and the rapidly accelerating pace of change made it difficult to keep up. Ironically, there wasn’t enough time in the day to use the abundance of all the tools available. Suddenly digital communications was becoming a niche subset of corporate communications. Where we once had specialists in media relations, internal communications and issues management, we now had experts in social media and digital strategy. Recognizing that I was woefully inexperienced in many of the new digital tools, I set out on a journey to contemporize my resume and buff up my skills.

The Project

To familiarize myself with the various social media platforms out there and to develop hands on skills using new digital tools and technology, I enrolled in the Foundations of Digital Strategy and Social Media course at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies. This blog assignment provided an opportunity to explore a new form of storytelling and to build an audience base by promoting the blog through social media.

The Goal

After years of shaping corporate narrative and telling others stories, I now had the opportunity to tell any story I wanted. Uncertain that anyone would be interested in anything I had to say, I struggled to think of an idea. In the end, my daughters suggested I write about our family and my life. These were the stories I had been sharing with them verbally for years.

The goal of SpinMeisterBlog, therefore, is to document anecdotes, stories and insights from my own experiences that others could relate to. My intended community is my family and friends and perhaps others who might see a bit of something from their own lives in my stories and be inspired to follow my blog.

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Strategic considerations

Strategically, I saw a number of opportunities in pursuing this blog concept. I would be able to create a family diary that would provide a documented record of family stories that might otherwise be forgotten or lost over time; I would pursue two of my passions – writing and family; and I would have the opportunity to showcase another side of my writing talent for would-be employers and perhaps build new friendships or relationships. The downside is that people are busy enough with their own lives and would unlikely be interested in the ramblings of some unknown, middle-aged woman. Another potential risk is that people may not like what I have to say and make comments in social media that damages my reputation with people whose good opinion I seek.

 

SMART formula Tom Van Saghi.com
Source: Tom Vansaghi

 

Objective

Adopting the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) formula, my primary objective is to develop and publish a minimum of 10 blog posts by the end of the course on April 12, 2017. A secondary objective before the completion of the course in April is to establish an audience base that exceeds 10 and extends beyond my immediate family members and classmates. Another objective within the same timeline is to see some evidence of engagement by my blog readers with at least one-third of my blog posts (three) receiving at least one like, share or comment.

Strategy

My strategy to achieve this objective is to build and leverage a presence on social media to promote my blog and drive followers to my posts on SpinMeisterBlog@wordpress.com. Specifically, the tactics of my promotional plan would comprise no Paid or Earned media but instead would focus on Shared and Owned tactics.

 

 

PESO Model IterativeMarketing.net
Source: IterativeMarketing.Net

 

 

Owned tactics

  • Develop and publish minimum of 10 blog posts, with images/videos/links on SpinMeisterBlog by April 12, 2017
  • Develop, edit and publish minimum of two videos on YouTube channel and to be embedded on SpinMeisterBlog by April 12, 2017

Shared tactics

  • Promote blogs on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
  • Publish videos on YouTube

Budget

I do not intend to put a lot of money into my blog. I have set aside $500 to cover any incidental costs that may arise related to the maintenance or enhancement of my blog (e.g. purchase of images, software or upgrades).

Timeline

SpinMeisterBlog will run at least for the duration of this course and will likely continue for the duration of my sabbatical and perhaps longer.

Results

I met all of my objectives by the April 12th deadline and exceeded some:

  • I delivered the 10 post minimum required
  • 26 people have subscribed to my blog either through WordPress or by email and these comprise some immediate family members (4) and classmates (10) but also include extended family, friends, and colleagues
  • 6 of 10 posts were Liked and 5 of 10 received Comments, exceeding the one-third goal I set for myself
  • According to my WordPress Insights stats my first 10 posts on SpinMeisterBlog received 820 views, 351 visitors and 15 Likes and 21 overall comment/interactions.
  • The most viewed post was on March 1 What a leapling does in a non-leap year and my most popular post was my March 14 post on How my birth order got it right – sort of with 5 Likes.
  • I also know that there are many more people who follow my blog regularly via social channels but have not yet subscribed.

To subscribe and have my next blog post land directly into your email in-box please go to the sidebar and Follow Me.

Learnings/Recommendations

I learned a lot by just doing. Before starting this course I had no Twitter or Instagram presence and the only social media I used was Facebook but not regularly. I had a basic LinkedIn profile but rarely looked at it. Today, I have 75 Twitter followers, 115 Instagram followers, 200+ Facebook friends, and 500+ LinkedIn followers. I found out that the more I post on any of these channels, the more followers I get.

For my blog, I decided only to focus on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as I wasn’t sure I wanted to showcase my blog yet in a channel dedicated to professional networking. Perhaps later but not while I was still getting my feet wet.  However, as part of this exercise, I cleaned up my LinkedIn profile, started Liking and Sharing stories and found that more people started to connect with me and two even reached out to see if I was interested in working on some projects with them.

By far, I generated the most engagement through Facebook with multiple Likes and Comments from family and friends in the UK, Netherlands, and North Carolina, some of whom I hadn’t connected for years. My grade 3 teacher even commented on my Born and Bred in Victoria Village post and going to a visitation for a family friend, the first thing two of my husband’s cousins said to me was “I love your blog” and I hadn’t known they had been reading it.

The main thing I’ve taken away from all of this has been noted by others – “If you build it they will come.” By putting myself out there I have found new connections interested in the same things.

I struggled initially with the theme of my blog and I have to admit I still struggle with the relevancy of some of my story ideas for all my followers. What I’ve rediscovered is my love of history, my passion for storytelling and my commitment to Toronto. I’m now starting to follow blogs and organizations related to these concepts and have generated new followers with some of my social media shares and interactions.

The biggest challenge for me is not only the Creation but the Curation. I’ve learned it is not only the story we tell but how we package and redistribute content that shapes our theme and builds our brand.  I haven’t figured it all out yet – I’m still defining my theme and refining my brand – but I’m glad that this course has helped to provide me with some of the tools and the insights to set me on my journey.

Next steps

Not sure what the future holds for SpinMeisterBlog but I do know that I will continue it for at least part of the duration of my sabbatical. I recognize that it takes a lot of time, imagination and commitment to establish a presence and generate a following. I have taken a first step, founded a profile of sorts, and re-energized my interest in storytelling about things that matter to me. If I can turn this into a viable career I might. All I know is that there is still lots for me to learn and the journey is only beginning.

Thanks to instructor Alison Garwood-Jones and my classmates for a great 12 weeks.

I encourage anyone reaching this paragraph in this post to check out some of the blogs I follow in my blogroll on the sidebar of SpinMeister. These courageous and creative fellow bloggers have inspired and enlightened me over the past 12 weeks. I will miss you all and look forward to continuing to follow your blogs.

You won’t believe what happened when 15 strangers spent the night at a 150 year-old mansion

20170331_213722Anyone who knows me knows that I love nostalgia. It’s the small trivial bits of history that build the bigger essential story of how we came to be and why we are as we are.

I’m also someone who loves games. Puzzles, word games, mind games. When you can combine the two into a single evening it’s my ideal of entertainment heaven.

So on the last dark day of March I grabbed my two besties (my husband Donald and my favorite gal pal Jill) and headed out to one of Toronto’s oldest mansions – Spadina House.

In the heart of Toronto’s Annex, this historic heritage home and museum pre-dates Confederation. Built in 1866 by Toronto financier James Austin, the home is now a treasured time capsule of Toronto during the interwar years, a transformative time in our city’s growth from its colonial roots to the cosmopolitan centre we are today.

Frozen in time, the house is modelled in the decorative Art Deco style that was popular in the affluent Roaring 1920s and Turbulent 1930s. Our very own Downton Abbey in the 6ix, if you will – surrounded by 6ix acres of maintained gardens.

As part of its mandate to engage visitors and connect them with the past, the Spadina Museum was hosting its annual 1920s Party Games Night:

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Our tour and games hosts Cathy, Emily and Liza explained to us that people began to have more leisure time in the 1920s as the result of industrialization and the invention of many new conveniences that simplified day-to-day living. Popular parlour games and newly developed board games served to provide hours of home entertainment for families and friends.

Donald, Jill and I weren’t the only ones to venture to the mansion to play some parlour games. We met a young couple named Sara and Ibrahim and a pair of college professors named Kaylene and Jennifer. But it was the young group of 20-somethings who drove all the way from St. Catharines and Oakville dressed in their flapper finery who arrived en masse and really embraced the spirit of the event.

Together we played a number of fun, silly games taught to us by Cathy and Emily.

Simple games like Celebrities where you write down the name of real or fictional people and see how many you can guess in a minute, to Consequences where random words are dropped onto folded paper to create a crazy story were just some of the games that simply required a pencil, a bit of paper and a lot of imagination.

One of the sillier games we played was Pictures, an early forerunner to Pictionary and the Telephone Game. Here, the first person writes a sentence, the next person draws a picture that represents the sentence folds the paper and passes to the next person who only sees the picture and has to write a new sentence. The game continues until the paper gets back to the first person. Have a look below at some of the stories and pictures our team drew:

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Another game we played was First Line Last Line where one person read us the synopsis from a book, then the first line of the first chapter and we had to guess the last line. We had to craft a credible last line that would earn us points for everyone who selected it.

With a standard deck of cards and a handful of spoons, we played Spoons, a card game that is reminiscent of musical chairs:

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From card games to games of logic and creative word play, we spent an amusing few hours that resulted in hilarity, some hearty laughs and overall just plain silliness. Luckily for us, we were provided with instructions for the games we played and other games we could play with our own families.

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As part of the evening we were able to tour all three floors of the mansion, including the upper floor with its views of the garden and city vistas that are usually not part of the museum tour.

A family home for three generations of Austins, the Spadina House was renovated and enlarged by James’ son Albert Austin and his wife Mary in the late 19th and early 20th century when they lived in the home with their five children. It was Anna Kathleen, Austin and Mary’s last surviving daughter who arranged for the home to become a Toronto Historic site in 1978.

A major restoration in 2010 illustrates the evolution of styles in this historic home reflecting the mid-Victorian to 1930s Colonial Revival styles and includes items from the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic Movements, as well as items from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.

So what happens when you take 15 strangers and put them in a 150-year old mansion for the night?

You get one great evening of fun!

Before we left the museum, I purchased a small bar of lavender soap and a post card of the Spadina mansion to remember my visit.

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The gift store also sold vintage toys and board games just in case we got tired of the parlour games we learned.

For more information email spadina@toronto.ca or call 416-392-6910.

In the spirit of the public art project #MyCityMySix where Torontonians tell their story in just six words, here’s mine:

Spadina Museum: Roaring 20s time capsule

 

Interesting side note – the word Spadina is an old Ojibwa word for high place or sudden rise in the land. It should be pronounced Spadina with the i as /i/ in ski but it is more commonly pronounced with the i as /ai/ in mine. 

St. Patrick’s story begins at Slemish

 

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Slemish Mountain, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

 

I have sat in St. Patrick’s chair. I have walked where the legendary patron saint of Ireland roamed for six years. And it is my happy place.

Today, as Irish descendants and not-so Irish progeny wear green, drink beer and sing Irish folk songs to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I mark the festive occasion with a video tribute to Slemish Mountain.

Legend has it that Slemish was St. Patrick’s first Irish home. It is where he is reputed to have roamed for six years as a shepherd boy before he found God and brought Christianity to Ireland.Slemish St Patricks chair_IMG_2286

I first heard tales of Slemish as a child from my paternal grandfather. Pop Pop lived with us from the time I was 12 until I was 24. I used to sit with him in his room at the front of the house and he would regale me with stories about growing up in Northern Ireland. Son of a stone mason, he lived near Buckna in County Antrim just outside Ballymena and near to the base of Slemish. As a boy he would climb the basalt plug that was the central core of an extinct volcano.

I made my first pilgrimage to Northern Ireland in 1981 with my sister Heather. Pop Pop’s youngest sister Aggie and her daughter Mae took us to Slemish for our first climb. My second trip to Slemish was in 1990 when I visited Aggie and Mae for Easter. Mae and I climbed Slemish with my young second cousin Stephen. Stephen was only 12 at the time and is the son of Mae’s brother Ivan.

It would be another 20 years before I was able to return to Slemish. In 2012, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking our girls to the U.K. While Hannah and Emmalyse had met Stephen on one of his visits to North America, they had never met Mae or Ivan. We stayed with Stephen and his family in Scotland where he lives now and then made the trek to Antrim to reunite with Mae and her husband John and Ivan and his wife Maureen.

Mae knows that Slemish is a rite of passage for me every time I visit the Emerald Isle. She and John toured us through the Glens of Antrim and brought me back to Slemish so I could make my tertiary climb.

My daughter Hannah was the first to reach the summit and to capture the panoramic views that have remained unaltered over time.

My husband and I weren’t too far behind.

Last year in 2016 I had the privilege to once again return to Slemish. Emmalyse was studying at university in Edinburgh. She and her friend Helena had spring break so Donald and I decided to visit. We met up at Mae’s in Antrim.

Once again, Mae and John chauffeured us around and gave us the royal tour and returned us to my happy place. Reaching the peak of Slemish we were able to amble on some of the same trails where St. Patrick had once tended sheep.

I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to acknowledge my Irish roots and pay tribute to a family heritage. Pop Pop was the only grandfather I knew. He brought to life stories of Slemish and an unknown Irish family.

When I hike the rugged terrain of Slemish Mountain, I think not only  of that young shepherd boy from the 5th century who became a patron saint, I reflect on a man who immigrated to Canada when he was only 20 and who meant the world to me. I think about my Irish family  who I love and treasure, and I ponder a young girl’s childhood memories of her own personal happy place that she can share with her daughters and pass on to future generations.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2017.

If you want to see more of Slemish Mountain, here are a couple more videos from our 2016 visit.

And in the words of a traditional Irish poem:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

“To everything there is a season”

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Many folks will be familiar with the 1960s folk song, “Turn Turn Turn” by The Byrds that sang about a time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to plant, a time to reap. The lyrics for this song came straight from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3) and are meant to show that there’s a time and place for everything in life.

So what time is it now?

Here we are mid-March. Time to change seasons. Time to move onward.

Last week we turned the clocks forward for daylight saving and next week we welcome spring and say good-bye to winter.

It’s also time to take my storytelling to a new medium – Video.

Long has the spoken word ruled the art of passing family lore, legends and historical chronicles from one generation to the next. Ever since Gutenberg introduced the printing press and movable type, the printing revolution has dominated the act of conveying stories. And more recently the digital world has given the craft a new platform. Visual storytelling is increasingly dominating communications. For someone who has worked with words and perfected the knack of narration, it’s time for me to learn a new skill – Video!

Together with my group from my Digital Communications class we were challenged to tell a visual story in under two minutes. Inspired by the change in seasons we put together this light-hearted take on living in Canada: To everything there is a season.

Who we are in the darkness of winter differs with who we become in the warmth of summer.

Or does it?

Action Required:

If you enjoy this video or want to see more, please be sure to Like or Share to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

How my birth order got it right – sort of

I’m one of five. Youngest of the four girls but not the youngest of all the McCrory kids – my brother Jamie takes that honour.

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There’s a lot been written about birth order and how our personalities are shaped by the order in which we came into the world. They say that first borns will be the most responsible, ambitious and serious, the middle child feels overlooked but innovates and adapts to compensate developing strong social skills, and the youngest will be the happy-go-lucky baby of the family, a little bit risk-taking and definitely attention seeking .

It’s true that my sister Susan is responsible. In my mind, she’s always been a grown up. When I was small she was like a little mother, a little bit bossy, telling us what to do.

I remember coming home from school one cold December day boldly stating with dramatic effect that there was no Santa Claus. Earlier that day Andrew Walker and Linda Christiansen in my grade 3 class had delivered this startling revelation to me. I was devastated and testing the new theory. Rather than comfort me and assure me that my classmates were mistaken, she commanded, “Shhh – Don’t tell Jamie.” (I had just turned 8).

Susan is also very accomplished. She not only has an undergraduate degree in theology, she completed a post-grad in teaching while her daughters were young and is the only one in our family to have completed a Masters. And while she can be serious, she can also be extremely goofy. When I’m looking to dance or do something silly she’s the first I turn to. She will sing nonsense like me, stand on her head if you ask her, and laugh with you until you pee your pants.

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Janet is a typical second child who also happens to be a middle child. A little overshadowed by a clever older sister she had to carve her own path. She has highly developed social skills. In a crowd or in new situations she will be the first one to initiate conversations and ask questions. She will glean information from complete strangers and can uncover their life stories in a matter of minutes.

She’s also a gamer. When it comes to cards or board games she knows how to play the game. She can navigate a game of Risk or a hand of Euchre better than anyone. And when it comes to jigsaw puzzles she will tenaciously figure out where that elusive piece goes. If you want to win, you always want Janet on your team.

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Heather is the beauty of the family. She’s the only blond-haired, blue-eyed one among us. She’s also extremely capable, organized and generous. Even though we would have played together as children, I tell people I didn’t truly become aware of her until I was a teenager. The sister closest to me in age, she’s a full 3-and-a-bit years older than me. Those bit years really make a difference.

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When I was starting high school Heather was completing grade 13. To my 14, she was 17. She had a boyfriend, she was smart and hung out with the Math Club Geeks – you know, all the kids who had accelerated twice and who were most likely to be class valedictorian. She epitomized everything I knew to be #myteenagedream:

 

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GIF Source: Giphy

 

It’s fair to say that of all my siblings I’m probably closest to Heather. That doesn’t mean I love her more, it just means that I talk to her the most.

We have a lot of the same interests and we’ve spent the most time together. When she was at university in Waterloo, I would travel by bus once a semester to visit her. After she graduated, we traveled through Europe together. When we were starting families we both had two daughters who would become close cousins and friends.

Heather and ML

Heather is my inspiration and my muse. She’s my fitness guru who introduced me to running and yoga. She will always run faster than me and challenge me in a race. A talented cook and gifted gastronome, she makes a mean meal and will act as my consultant whenever I’m planning a party. She will also help me declutter my house and my mind whenever I’m overwhelmed.

Jamie is the baby of the family. He’s also the only boy. Mum loved him best. He was a preemie born two months before his due date. But that didn’t stop him from growing to more than 6 feet.

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There’s no denying he was pampered. One of the stories I’m best known for in my family is my personal lament that I never got a bike. Sure I rode one as a kid. It was a hand-me-down of Susan and Janet. My first and only bike is the one that I bought myself when I was 24. It still sits in my garage and comes out once or twice a year.

But Jamie? Oh no! He had a 10 speed bike when they were first becoming popular. AND he was given a banana seat when they were first introduced in the 1960s.  I got him back though. I conveniently forgot I had laid his bike in the driveway one day when he had deigned to let me ride it. My dad drove over it.

Jamie and I are also very close. Only 18 months apart we definitely played together as kids. I once told my neighbour we were nearly twins because I heard my mother say something along the lines that we were tied at the hip. He and I share a love of music together – and believe it or not, of cycling.

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Growing up, we were always sent as a pair to our grandparents or our cousins while our sisters and our parents were doing something else. His kids too are the same age as mine. Our families get together every Canada Day just to hang.

Heather always said that Jamie and I were our parents’ second family. Susan, Janet and Heather were the first family and then we came along and were the second family. As the younger two, we were given more leeway than the older three. We never had curfew, we were given more liberties, offered more experiences and we had the benefit of travel opportunities our sisters never got.

I once told my mother she loved me the least. She loved Susan because she was the eldest and had moved to another province in her early 20s, she loved Janet because she was a congenital amputee and needed her support, she loved Heather because she was beautiful and smart and she loved Jamie because he was her only boy and her baby.

My mother had the audacity to laugh at me. She told me that when you have  5 kids the one you love the most is the one who needs you most at any given moment. According to her, I never needed her.

Now of course that’s not true. What she was telling me is that I was always independent. I was always quietly confident. From the start, I was never afraid to try new things to meet new people. I was the risk-taker, the attention seeker. I would assuredly take the #roadlesstraveled and see things through my own imaginative lens.

These are the traits of a youngest born. While Jamie was the baby, because he was the only boy, studies will tell you that he also assumed the characteristics of a first born or an only child. He is responsible (most of the time), serious (except when he’s relentlessly teasing my youngest daughter) and quietly gentle. A man’s man and a woman’s man – the type of guy who was raised among women and understands how to see things from both POVs.

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My sisters will tell you that when I was a baby I was so ugly I was cute. I knew I was an accident of birth. Heather was right in that I was the start of family number  two. Jamie was planned because they didn’t want me to be raised alone. People would always assume that because I was the last of four girls and quickly followed in birth by my brother that my parents were holding out for a boy. “Not true,” said my parents.

My mother would always share with me the delight she and my father took in having a fourth daughter. While they had both hoped for Susan and Heather to be boys, for Janet and me, she said they wanted girls. They wanted same gender siblings. Pairs of daughters or pairs of sons. Two peas-in-a-pod, so to speak.

As you can no doubt tell, family means a lot to me. The legacy our parents left us is to be a close and loving family. We’ve had our fair share of family dramas. There have been rip-roaring fights and disagreements but we always settle them. That’s what family does.

I may go for weeks or months at a time from seeing one sibling or another but I know that each of them would be there for me at a drop of a hat. In fact each of them has.

I can relate umpteen instances where one or all of my siblings has rushed to help me when mini or major crisis has struck. Like the time they banned together to get me to the airport in time to make a family wedding. Or the time they rushed to be with my kids when my husband was taken to hospital and I was stranded in a snowstorm in Calgary. Or the time they were simply a sounding board when I was trying to figure life out.

My siblings are my rock. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re oldest, youngest or middlest. Whether they’re bossy, competitive, beautiful or smart. They are all kind, generous and compassionate. And reliable. And fun.

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Being among the youngest I could argue that my parents saved the best for last. Rather, I see it that I’m among the last of the best.

Last summer was the first time in a long while that we hadn’t all gotten together as a family. I’m looking forward to 2017 when we can reunite as our original Party of Five.

Hugs, kisses, tickles and an I love you. XOXOX

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born and bred in Victoria Village

I consider myself one of a rare breed. I am one of only a few people who can say they live in the same Toronto neighbourhood they were born. With a population where more than half its residents are immigrants, Toronto is a rich and vibrant city that is a mosaic of many different cultures. In a year that Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, Toronto celebrates its 183rd.

As a birthday gift to this fine city in which I have #LivedAndLovedAllMyLife, I want to tell my urban story and describe what this privilege means to me.

I grew up in the 60s. My first home was this ranch style bungalow my parents bought in Victoria Park Village in 1956.

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They were the first owners. They had been living on a street named Presley in Clairlea of Scarborough. Victoria Village as it’s more commonly known was a new neighbourhood north of Eglinton Ave and west of Victoria Park. It is in the south-eastern most quadrant of North York bordering with Scarborough and East York.

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Source: TorontoNeighbourhoods.net

For many years, our house was the last on the street. Sloane Avenue ended at Wigmore Drive and behind our house were farmers’ fields that spanned all the way to Lawrence Avenue until newer homes were built. At the time, the neighbourhood was touted as the new Leaside, or at least that’s what my father told me.

My father was a first generation Canadian. He was born in 1922 to Irish parents. They had immigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland in 1919 and eventually settled in the community of Riverdale whose development began to accelerate in 1918 after the Prince Edward Viaduct (Bloor Street Viaduct) was built to provide access from the main city to the other side of the Don River.

Construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct 1916:
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Dept. of Public Works City of Toronto Archives, listed under the archival citation Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 10, Item 768.

My father would cross that bridge every day as a boy to attend one of Canada’s oldest high schools, Jarvis Collegiate, which was built in 1807. The house on Hogarth where my father grew up was eventually sold to developers in the 1970s for the construction of some new apartment buildings.

Like me, my dad was someone who was born and bred in Toronto. He died at the hospital where my three sisters were born and where my mother trained to be a nurse – Toronto East General. I was born at Scarborough General and my brother was born at Toronto Western.

Together my parents raised their five children in the bungalow on Wigmore Drive. My siblings all moved away from the neighbourhood, and so did I for a brief time.

When we were newly married, my husband and I lived in a small town house up near Fairview Mall. It was supposed to be a three-year home but we ended up living there for nearly 10 years. When our first daughter was born in 1992 we started looking in earnest for a larger home. We considered moving out to Ajax where my brother lived or into one of the new housing developments that were growing north of Steeles. But our roots were further south.

While I had grown up in Victoria Village, my husband had grown up  in Parkwoods just north of Lawrence Avenue East. We had met in high school back in the 70s and eventually married in the late 80s. We both had worked downtown and knew we wanted to be closer to the city centre.

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We set new boundaries for our home search. We wanted to live east of Yonge and south of the 401. And because I consider myself a North Yorker, we had to be west of Victoria Park. Eventually we found the house we’ve called home for the last 22 years. It’s just around the corner from where I grew up and is the place our own girls grew up.

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Victoria Village is an established community and in 2017 is part of Urban Toronto’s Growth to Watch For Series 2017.

There’s something special about living in the same neighbourhood all your life. You’re familiar with all the parks and amenities, you recognize people you knew growing up and you’re familiar with the stories of days gone by.

Many of the original owners of these homes are still here or the house has passed down through the generations. My children played with children of friends I went to school with.

Across the street from where we live now is a family where the three daughters I knew as a kid come to visit their father every week and bring their own children. On the cul de sac behind my house live the parents of one of my best friends from elementary school. I sometimes see her when she comes to visit. I often run into classmates from school who have also returned to the ‘hood to live.

It’s often been said that Toronto is a city of many smaller communities. For me, I feel like a small-town girl who just happened to grow up in a big city. I think nothing of a jaunt to the beach or a trip across town. These are just extensions of my neighbourhood.

To mark Canada’s sesqui-centennial, Toronto is hosting a participatory public art project called My City My Six (#mycitymysix) where Torontonians are asked to tell their Toronto story in just six words.

For me, it’s #LivedAndLovedAllMyLife or #BornAndBredInVictoriaVillage. What are your six?

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Happy Birthday Toronto! #TOturns183.