The Toad in the Hole Pub is moving up the street

**I wrote this back on November 19, 2019 and thought "what the heck! Let's publish it."**

Okay, it's only moving up the street to a different location which doesn't seem like such a big deal

until you walk into the current Toad in the Hole Pub location and realize that there's no way to re-create the 

unique ambience

of drinking here.

It looks like an old English pub and it's split between two levels. There are big, worn-out booths and beaten wooden chairs and what I've always suspected is a church pew along the front window that faces the street.

It's dingy and yellow, with green walls covered in wood panelling that looks dusty and sweaty at the same time; the result of hundreds (maybe thousands) of handprints and sweat and cigarette smoke from back when they allowed smoking indoors.

I love this dumpy old pub.

I've been coming here since I was 18, and had decided well before my eighteenth birthday that one of the first things I would do "when I was old enough" was start hanging out at The Toad.

I'd walk by when I was underage and stare at the people with tattoos, drinking hard alcohol out of small glass cups, smoking, hanging around a pub situated on top of a venue called The Cavern, and a bunch of tattoo parlours.

It was exactly the opposite of the boring, cookie-cutter neighbourhood I'd grown up in and I became obsessed with it.

When I finally moved downtown and was living in The Roslyn up the street I'd walk home from work, have a shower, and park myself at The Toad on one of the long wooden benches that overlook Osborne Street with a beer in my hand.

I hated sitting alone. It made me feel anxious, and I worried that the people around me would judge me for sitting by myself. But, inevitably, someone I knew would walk or skateboard by and stop to have a drink on the patio with me.

Because that's what happens when you sit outside at The Toad.

And if nobody showed up and you wound up having a beer alone? 

That was okay too, because nobody gave a shit.

(In reality, nobody anywhere cares.
I know this now, but didn't then.)

Back then they only had one bathroom for women, and during the summer or late on a Friday or Saturday night you might as well have given up and peed outside instead of waiting in the line to use the single-stall women's bathroom

(or do what I did and go for a slice at Lil Pizza Heaven next door and use their bathroom while you wait.)

I've spent hours here in various states of inebriation. Last spring John and I hung out here after we went for a fancy anniversary dinner at Sous Sol up the street and met a man who ran a dog grooming business

(or was selling it, I forget)

and a magician who did tricks for us for free. 

I haven't lived in The Village for the better part of a decade and I don't go to The Toad as often as I used to. It's just not as close as The Good Will or Handsome Daughter or even The Grove.

So I don't go here much anymore. But I'm trying to lately.

I want to soak up as much of this dingy, familiar, comforting

familiar

atmosphere before it's gone. 

Which, honestly, is never something I'd thought I'd have to say about somewhere like The Toad.

It's the kind of place your parents know, and because they know it and you know it you kinda expected that it would always be there. It's the kind of place you take for granted until it's gone.

But I'm here now, drinking a shitty beer that cost $3.25 for old time's sake. Basking under the greasy light of the Victorian-style lamplight fixtures hanging over me and hammering away at my laptop while sitting on that big church pew seat I talked about above.

The only other patron is an old dude with a huge white beard who hasn't taken his jacket off and is drumming along to the El Michels Affair blasting on the speakers at an alarming pace.

It's 3:37 PM on a Tuesday and the bartenders are doing shots with their friends.

I'm going to miss this place when it's moved and the space gets subdivided into a bunch of smaller units and and leased to franchises like Jugo Juices and gyms.

Sigh.

Nothing stays the same, kids.

So cheers to The Toad in The Hole Pub, a Winnipeg staple for so many

and to the memories made

(and sometimes not remembered) 

here.

Tags: Winnipeg

 

Sometimes Winnipeg gets me down

But then I hear songs like this one

about the importance of free, welcoming public spaces

how our downtown library should be a beacon for everyone

celebrating everyone who comes there

to learn or relax or just

read a book

and I feel so lucky to be from a city that

inspires such beauty in the face of ugliness.

Tags: Winnipeg

 

Started writing a short story yesterday


I'm sharing it here because mentioning it in public means it's real and makes me a lot more likely to actually stick with writing it.

I haven't written any fiction in a looooooooong time and writing those few words and watching them appear on the screen was terrifying. 

Here's my opening sentence:

"Mark's headache was getting worse."

I don't even think I like it but it's what's there and it's better than nothing.

There's more, but not much, and I re-wrote the intro sentence seven or eight times because I wasn't sure if I wanted the main character's name to be Mark

even though I over-prepared for this exercise by putting together a persona for Mark, whose full name is Marshall "Mark" Campbell, that included his weight (240lbs) age (31) height (6'1) education (dropped out of high school) and some other details that are relevant to the story

and to be honest just the act of talking about a character I've created is making me second-guess all the details I made up about him.

(Creative writing make me squirrelly if I haven't done it in a while.)

I used to write stories a lot more often. I got into trouble for writing in class at school. I stayed up late writing very, very bad fanfiction when I was a teenager. I wrote and wrote and wrote for university because that's what you do when you're getting a degree in Rhetoric, Writing & Communications. 

And I was thinking about all the writing I used to do and all the writing I do now and I realized that the area I've been neglecting is the part that's the hardest:

creating stories out of nothing.

It's easy to write about my opinions or write about what I know or put together documentation or social media content. Psssssssh.

I can basically do that in my sleep at this point.

But creating interesting characters and a plot that keeps the reader entertained and dialogue that isn't horrible and ohgodohgodohgod all the other details and elements I know need to go into writing a decent short story?

It's intimidating. But yr girl needs to start somewhere.

Tags: Writing

 

We got married


It still feels weird to say. Especially out loud.

Though I do find the idea of being John's "wife" pretty satisfying, mostly because I'm obsessed with that John Mulaney bit where he yells

THAT'S MY WIFE

and secretly I kinda wish I was the one with a wife instead of a husband, because

THAT'S MY HUSBAND

just doesn't have the same oomph to it.

But that's okay, because being John's wife comes with a lot of other good stuff. Like getting to hang out all the time and know all his weird idiosyncrasies and massage his back when it gets sore and have unusual amounts of fun doing mundane things like grocery shopping or waiting for a flight.

I always hoped I'd marry my best friend, and here we are all these years later.

Married. Still best friends. 

Would ya look at that.

We got married on a dock in front of the setting sun and it was beautiful and magical and silly and weird.

Beautiful and magical because of the sunset and how good John looked in his bowtie 

(blue with flamingos)

and silly and weird because we're silly, weird people with a made-up language and a pretend history as Bears in Space 

oh and also because Adam (aka "Reverend Grey") married us wearing a MONK COSTUME and also wrote and performed a freestyle rap about us called

"The Fresh Prince and Princess of Belize"

which is exactly what we felt like that day. 33 people took a chance on our weird stories and descended upon the tiny island of Caye Caulker, BZ and spent several days drinking in the ocean and eating way too much seafood with us.

I even killed a lobster and then ate it! It was weird to kill my own food, but when the guy killing the lobster at the very sketchy wooden table next to the restaurant we were eating at asked "who wants to try?" and John jumped up and pointed at me and said

SHE DOES

obviously I had to step up and take a life.

I've never travelled with friends or family before and it was a nice treat to walk down Front St and see Eddie and Kim sitting on their balcony, surveying the landscape and offering shots of Patrón to passers-by

or finding Alex and Rob hanging out in the hammocks along the beach (again)

or walking outside to see Jasmin and Matt hanging out in our shared yard at Wish Willy's

or waving at the Gilvesy's lined up along the bar at Paradise Restaurant having breakfast

or hearing Adrian and Carlene laughing from inside their AirBnb from the street

or a million other memories that I hope I can hold onto with as much detail as possible. 

Because I know that the next time we visit Caye Caulker it won't be the same. Our little village of people won't be there, walking with a beer from the corner store or hanging out at the Sip 'n Dip or eating at Fran's for the umpteenth time. This trip, and our wedding, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But at least I can look forward to knowing that the next time the lobster dude asks "who wants to try killing a lobster?" John will jump up and say

MY WIFE DOES.

* Photo via Les Klassen. You'd better belize that coconut had rum in it.


 

I'm getting married in two weeks


Plus a day, but who's counting.

By this time next week John and I will be in Belize, on our way to the island of Caye Caulker.

We've been there before 

(you can read about that here, here, here, here, and here)

but this time we'll be joined by 34 of our nearest and dearest because omg we're finally getting married. I just finished writing my vows and

spoiler alert

I think I nailed it.

Getting married has been a weird experience, because even though we're doing an unconventional destination wedding those "traditions" find a way of sneaking in and making me realize

oh, right, my father isn't walking me down the aisle

and

oh, right, I won't be needing photos with my relatives because none of them are coming

which makes me either really sad or really relieved, depending on how I'm feeling when it comes up.

On Sunday I'm writing letters to all my relatives who won't be there. My therapist suggested it as a way of "putting down" my feelings, so I'm gonna write a bunch of letters that I won't send, probably cry a lot, then run a bath and make chicken parm and watch a movie and take time to just

sit with these disappointed feelings for a while before letting them go

because there's so many positive things I want to focus on instead.

Like how seriously Adam is taking officiating our ceremony

how Katrina has put some much time and energy into sewing my wedding dress from scratch

the number of times Kim has checked in to see how I'm doing

all our friends and family who've messaged us to say how excited they are

how excited I am to share such an amazing, beautiful place with them

and how much lobster I'm gonna eat.

In a way if feels like I've been preparing for this moment for years. Readying myself for the day when I allow myself to be accepted into a family who want me, and love me, and who choose me just like I choose them.

A few weeks ago my little brother stopped by. We were talking about the wedding, and he said "as far as I'm concened, once you get married you're not one of us anymore"

which came across harsher than I think he meant, but it didn't hurt my feelings

because maybe he's right

and maybe that's not so bad, after all.


 

2019 reads

I read a lot this year.

I read more because I made time to read more, but also because I got a head-start while we were in Thailand for a month. I read three books during that trip.

I read a lot of books that I liked. A lot made me cry. Some I didn't like, but finished anyway because

(as I learned while reading Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms")

sometimes the point of reading a book isn't about enjoying it.

In any case, here's what I managed to read this part year in (somewhat?) chronological order:

Crossing the Chasm

Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

I started 2019 with a business read that made a profound impact on how I approach marketing and selling. 

Crossing the Chasm is about marketing for tech startups, and I read it to learn more about how to launch HeyAlfa. But I also found gems of wisdom that I could apply to the work we do at Starling Social.

The book has a sense of humour and uses timely examples to draw interesting conclusions about product/market fit, marketing to the right customers, and how to build a business that doesn't crash and burn.

It's a good read, and something I'd recommend to anyone in my industry.

Things Fall Apart

This might be one of the best books I've read to date.

"Things Fall Apart" is a Nigerian novel written by Chinua Achebe and published in 1958. It follows the life of Okonkwo, an Ibo man who is a wrestling champion in his tribe, and chronicles life in pre-colonial Nigeria, and how the arrival of the Europeans impacts and changes their way of life

Sometimes, reading this book felt like watching a car crash in slow motion. It's horrible, but you can't look away.

I read it in one sitting on our red-eye flight from Vancouver to Shanghai, and I cried at the end.

The Broken Ladder

How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die

In this book, psychologist Keith Payne examines how the subjective experience of feeling poor impacts how people think, behave, and make decisions.

Citing the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioural science, he shows how people who see themselves as poor make different (and generally worse) decisions than people who see themselves as wealthy.

I spend a lot of time thinking about policy and politics, so this was the perfect read to dive into while on the Night Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

I learned a ton, and have a deeper and more empathetic view of poverty (and what we can do to solve it) than before.

This, and Things Fall Apart, are from Barack Obama's 2018 book list.

A Tale of Two Cities

It took me a long time to get into Dickens. 

He's too wordy for my taste; Hemingway has ruined me forever. But once you can get past the flowery wordplay and run-on sentences and

honestly just too much dialogue in general

it's a powerful story that crashes into you like a tsunami and leaves you wrecked up on the beach. It makes you gasp for air. It scared the living daylights out of me.

I wasn't expecting to see so many parallels between the French Revolution and what's happening in the world today, but I saw a lot and I'm shook.

I think a lot about things like
the coming wave of automation
the impact of climate change

and 

the disparity between the ultra-rich and the poor

and reading A Tale of Two Cities was a horrifying example of how people who have nothing retaliate with

everything

and how quickly even the best intentions can be twisted into eating itself alive.

If you haven't read this book, read this book.

But know it's not the best thing to read on a crammed nighttime flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg because you will ugly-cry while reading it.

Lost Connections

Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions

My friend Brent recommended this book, which argues that the real causes behind rising rates of depression and anxiety can be found in how we live our lives in the modern world.

I think a lot about how aspects of our culture and what living in a capitalist society does to us, and how that impacts our happiness. This is a book about how those things are making us depressed, and some things we can do

individually, and as a community

to stop trying to medicate away a problem that is potentially the result of more environmental causes.

I didn't always agree with everything the author had to say, but it was an interesting approach to a problem that I struggle with, and that seems to be increasing.

Wind/Pinball

Another year, another Murakami novel.

This book is actually two books: Pinball, 1973 and Hear the Wind Sing, which are the first and second books in his "Trilogy of the Rat" series.

(I haven't read the third book yet, but intend to.)

These novels, like most of his others, feature apathetic narrators who float through a series of events without reacting that much to them.

There something about this style

the weird way it allows Murakami to write about odd things, like living with twins whose names the narrator doesn't know

that I love. These books are interesting explorations of companionship, loss, and obsession, and I loved every minute of this read.

High Rise

This was one of the best books I read this year.

I read this book because I saw the move and didn't like it very much. I decided to look it up on Wikipedia, and as it turns out the book is (predictably) way better than the book.

This book is like a blend of Lord of the Flies with American Psycho with a retro twist. The novel focuses on a state of the art high rise with a pool, supermarket, hair salon, even a school, located within the buildingNaturally, the richest people live in penthouses, with middle-class people occupying the middle section, and poor people on the lower levels.

The building starts to fail, and the tensions between floors escalate in crazy and unnerving ways.

This was a great read if you like a book that will mess with your head and leave you feeling off before bed.

Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu

I debated leaving this book off the list because it's a manga and not a novel, but screw it — I loved this book, and if you're a cat owner like me then you should check it out.

In case you're not a huge nerd like me, Junji Ito is a famous Japanese horror manga artist behind scary stories like The Enigma of Amigara Fault, and a lot of the weird manga art you may have seen online.

I liked this little read because it was charming

(and a bit creepy)

to see illustrations of normal "cat stuff" like poohing outside the litter box, or jumping on you while you're asleep in creepy af manga style.

You Get so Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense

This is a collection of poems about abuse and cats and it made me laugh and cry and feel understood and

not so alone.

I love Bukowski's poetry, and highly recommend this collection.

Here is my favourite:

“the courage it took to get out of bed each
morning
to face the same things
over and over
was
enormous.”

Love in the Time of Cholera

I just finished this book today, actually, and it didn't live up to the hype. Let me tell you why:

1. It's too long winded.

Like Dickens, but more prone to tangents that I'm sure were intended to paint a vivid tapestry of characters... but felt over-complicated. The book could have at least a third shorter.

2. I struggle with stories that treat obsession like love, and that glamorize men stalking and harassing women as "romance" 

not to mention several unsettling instances where people fell in love with their rapists?

I appreciated the themes of the book, like love being akin to a disease (cholera), but this one felt like a slog, and not in a good wa

There were moments that were touching, and where the complicated writing made way for some truly beautiful turns of phrase

but honestly, I didn't care for it all that much.

And that's okay, because we don't need to enjoy everything we read.

What did you read in 2019? Tweet at me and let me know which books you loved.

Tags: Books

 

Just took a long, deep breath


It's odd to be in a calm, happy place.

I don't feel this way very often, so I try and enjoy it when I can.

Usually I feel all wound-up inside, at least to some degree, with a worry or a nagging feeling or an anxiety I'm figuring out how to put down. But every so often I find myself in a place where I can

breathe

feeling the air filling my lungs and really being present.

I struggle with that sometimes.

Tomorrow's the last day of work before the holidays. Our offices are both closed until January 2nd and I'm really looking forward to spending a few days relaxing and recharging with friends and family and writing and painting and playing Final Fantasy VII.

I've been burning the candle at both ends since September and yr girl needs a break, which is why I'm staying in tonight.

John's at the Complex Games holiday party and I'm sitting in a the kitchen with a glass of wine surrounded by the smell of the oranges I'm drying in the oven to make Christmas ornaments.

Once I'm finished writing this I'll make some mushroom soup 

(Campbell's brand, my guilty pleasure)

and a grilled cheese with the dark brown rye bread our upstairs neighbour gave us and watch the Dem Debate.

Maybe I'll get more work done after that, but I'm in the home stretch of fine-tuning and reviewing and making sure everything is in order as we move into the new year, and I need to draw up a contract for a new client Starling just landed, but that's it really.

My fellow business owners know the relief of having all your ducks in a row before you go on vacation, and that's the vibe I'm feeling right now.

Tomorrow I need to go to The Bay downtown and shop in that big, old department store that I love. I need to find a bodysuit and skirt for my wedding dress

(yes, both)

before heading down to work from Forth until John and I meet up after work. We're going to the local legion to cheers under the glow of the rainbow Christmas lights that looked so charming as we walked by along McDermot last night. 

It gets dark so early these days and I can't wait to look at the man I love under the glow of all those cheesy festive lights and honestly

it's nice to have a second to breathe and get excited about that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go interrupt my calm, serene silence by watching a bunch of grown adults yell at each in front of a million plus viewers

(you bet I'm watching the Dem Debate)

Happy holidays, my loves.

Tags: Personal

 

I'm ready for 2020

It doesn't seem like 2019 was the best year for a lot of people and even though by and large I'd say it was pretty okay, especially between the spring and summer, around the start of early fall a bunch of things happened that just started to

grind me down.

John's grandpa passed away

I dealt with losing a friend to suicide for the first time and had to navigate a very public crisis both personally and professionally

I had a falling out with my aunt that dragged on for weeks

John lost a friend to suicide

I lost another friend to suicide

we learned some scary news about someone else we love

all while running both of our companies
starting another business together
planning our wedding
and generally trying to just

keep everything from falling apart around us.

Sometimes I worry that getting older is just learning to move from one emotional crisis to the next without letting shit get to you as much. 

We just get more weathered, like Clint Eastwood's face.


I've never gone through this much heartache and disappointment at once and in such quick succession but even though it's been a crash course in

setting boundaries
communicating my needs
managing grief and loss
struggling with a lack of control

it's over and it happened, and while I'm not happy it happened

at least I can understand that it's making me 

harder
better
faster
stronger

which maybe is all we can hope for, sometimes.

I hope 2020 is better for all of us.

Tags: Life

 

The City of Winnipeg is closing my childhood library and I'm angry about it

The Seven Oaks Library, located on Jefferson Avenue in the heart of Garden City, might be closing as part of a sweeping round of cuts proposed by the Winnipeg city council.

Before I tell you why this matters, and why I'm angry, I want to tell you a story about the Seven Oaks Public Library:

I don't remember feeling happy very often growing up, but I was always happy when we went to the library.

When I was little my parents enrolled me in Story Time, and every Monday they'd take my two brothers and I to the library to borrow a big stack of books and VHS tapes. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, but the library gave us something to do, and look forward to.

As I got older and things got worse at home, my local library became somewhere I could go when I was upset, and where I could pass the time in a warm, quiet place.

I loved having a place where I could go and escape my life by diving into a good book.

I felt safe in the library, and accepted there.

I fell in love with reading, and became a writer, because of the Seven Oaks Public Library.

Without that library I wouldn't have this blog. Or my business. Or my sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn, both of which are the result of becoming an avid reader.

I wouldn't have any of that without my local library, and it might be closing.

But that's not why I'm angry.

I'm angry because our mayor and city council are lying to us about why they want to close it.

A few weeks ago the city released a budget proposal that says our city is so tight on cash that they need to make the following cuts:

  • 5 pools closing
  • 3 libraries closing
  • 5 arenas closing
  • funding cuts to all community centres
  • all improvements to athletic fields cancelled

This is upsetting news on its own, but yesterday I read that even though all these cuts are coming, the city is quietly pushing through a $71 million dollar community centre called The South Winnipeg Recreation Campus in Waverley West.

What's included in this fancy new recreation campus being built on the very edge of our city?

  • a lap tank and leisure pool
  • a fitness space, walking/running track and gymnasium
  • a community library
  • community recreation program space with *multiple gyms* and multi-purpose spaces
  • athletic fields and park space
  • a twin arena

Our civic government is cutting and under-funding programs and community centres for inner-city residents, and literally building the same things in a brand-new, high-income neighbourhoods.

This is literally robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

Through this move, the Mayor Bowman and City Hall are saying that kids like me don't matter.

Kids like me, whose parents were strapped for cash and needed a way to keep their young kids busy by borrowing books and videos and signing us up for programs

whose home lives were negative and chaotic and stressful, and who needed a safe, calm space to be alone when things got tough

who found a sense of identity through reading and felt motivated to achieve more than we felt we were worth because of what we read

according to city hall, kids like me literally don't deserve these opportunities, because we need to make sure kids in wealthy suburbs get them instead.

It's no wonder we have a meth and violence crisis in this city. It's pretty easy to see which voters City Hall and the Mayor think are most important.

Oh, and if you're wondering why you didn't hear about this when the budget was made public?

It's because the city deliberately left the dollar amount out of the capital budget:

Image via Dear Winnipeg via The City of Winnipeg

So not only is our city lying about not having money in the budget to fund these spaces and programs and pushing through a project to build literally the same thing in a rich suburb

they've also been hiding it from us and hoping we don't find out.

See why I'm angry?


I'd like to give a big shout-out to Dear Winnipeg for doing the deep-dive on the topic that inspired the post. You should read it.

Tags: Winnipeg

 

Here are some things I want you to know


It's okay if you feel sad. Feeling sad is normal, and even if it feels like you're sad more often than you're happy that's also pretty normal.

But that's okay! Because that means your feelings aren't that

wrong
bad
stupid
overwhelming
unwarranted
over-reactionary
dramatic
undeserving

as maybe you think they are.

I want you to know that pretty much every single person you see on the street, including me, gets scared and feels lonely and feels like a burden on those around us sometimes.

That's also pretty normal. 

But that's okay, too. The world we live in tricks us into thinking technology connects us when most of the time it doesn't, and we're all trying to navigate this weird world that we've suddenly found ourselves in

that feels so connected, but can be so isolating at the same time.

We're all just figuring it out together.

I want you to know that if you've ever thought about disappearing, that the hole you'd leave in the hearts of the people who love you will never heal.

Every single person who loves you know would rather stay up night talking to you, or help you when you're in crisis, than live in a world without you in it.

But it's okay if you sometimes feel the opposite as long as you don't let those feelings, and the guilt you may have about them, to stop you from reaching out.

Please reach out.

I want you to know these things for a few reasons:

1. they're all true

2. sometimes we forget them

3. sometimes I need a reminder

4. maybe right now you do, too.

I want you to know that you're not alone if you feel sad, or stuck, or depressed, or feel like what you've been trying isn't working and there's no alternative.

Anxiety and depression are nothing to be ashamed of.

What matters is that we don't let those feelings define us, and that we remember that

it's okay to feel sad

you are not a burden

you are loved

everyone wants you around

and getting help is always the better option.

I promise.

----

If you're struggling with suicidal thoughts, or you think you know someone who might be, please call one of the numbers below: 

Manitoba Suicide Prevention & Support Line (24/7)

Toll free: 1-877-435-7170

Klinic Crisis Line (24/7)

Phone: (204) 786-8686
Toll free: 1-888-322-3019

 

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