Dying To Go To a Party

It seems that Peter and I have been thinking about funerals a lot lately. (But don’t worry – this story is not about grief).

When we were in Italy in October, we visited the cemetery to deal with Peter’s deceased father. His body had been buried in the same plot for over 75 years and now, we were told, his time was up. They were running out of space and he had to move. Who knew that one could get kicked out of a cemetery plot, posthumously? We debated about having his body cremated and bringing the ashes back to Canada. But Pietro senior had never Lived in Canada. It seemed cruel to move him to a foreign land without his consent. A kind nephew solved the problem by offering us space – in his family’s crypt in the same cemetery – for Pietro senior. A gentle and respectful transition.

Back in Canada on a dreary winter morning, the phone rang. I rushed to pick it up until I saw Angela’s name on the screen. Oh oh! Angela is Peter’s Italian family’s news conduit. She calls us with details of births, marriages, and more recently, deaths. The conversation, in Italian, is always the same, beginning with a description of the deceased relative: a cousin of a brother’s niece, or a sister of an aunt on the grandfather’s side, followed by details of the visitation and funeral. No matter who it is, a relative is a relative, and must be honoured.

We prepared for the visitation; finding our black clothes and then driving to the funeral home. Inside we signed the guest book and made our way to the front of the hall where the body lay in an open casket. We waited our turn to kneel beside the deceased and say good bye to a person I had never met and Peter barely remembered. Then we rose and walked to the receiving line where we shook hands with the immediate family. We then moved along to seats in one of the rows behind the family, where we sat silently for several minutes. Finally we headed for the door, nodding to others as we left. The ritual was peaceful and reverend, but quite impersonal.

Then last week Angela called again. Oh dear, this was getting to be too much! We saw our social lives descending into everlasting days of funeral planning and line-ups at visitations. This time the deceased was George, a second cousin. But when Peter hung up, he looked a little puzzled. He said he didn’t recognize the name of the funeral home: Zitto Zitto. He translated the Italian: “Quiet quiet.” What kind of a funeral home was this?

The next day we put on our black clothes and checked Google Maps. We found Zitto Zitto in an Italian neighbourhood, on College St. There’s not much room for parking there so we left home a little early and found a parking spot a few blocks away. As we walked towards the address we passed restaurants, banks, pastry shops, shoe stores, but nothing resembling a funeral home.

Then we found the address. It was a …. Pub? Our faces brightened as we swung open the door and entered. In front of us stood an antipasto table laden with asiago and blue cheeses, prosciutto and salami, and slices of fresh baguette. Not far away the bar was set up with opened bottles of wine, and a coffee station nearby. As we carried our bounty around the room, we noticed photos everywhere showing George with his family: celebrating birthdays, hugging his beloved dog, opening Christmas gifts with grandchildren, and many more.

After a survey of the pub turned photo gallery, we found some empty seats and sat down with a couple who appeared to be about our age. We spent a happy hour sharing stories about life in Italy and our collective memories of George. On our way out, we signed the guest book and thanked George’s son, who told us it was just the kind of event his father wanted: not a sad gathering for someone’s death, but a joyful celebration of someone’s life.

The next time Angela calls, we are hoping for Zitto Zitto.


Adventure For a Snowy Day

On a recent snowy Friday I had two ideas for a great adventure. But neither of them worked out.

First I was going to suggest that we stay inside – at Canada Blooms. This annual event, a convention hall filled with flowers – in arrangements, on sale, in gardens, along walkways – is a real pick-me-up on a cold dreary day. There are unusual garden tools and landscaping ideas to consider for spring, and little cafes for food and drinks when you need a rest. But this year, the show was cancelled at the last minute. I’m not sure why…

My second idea was to visit Winter Stations. This annual event runs every winter at The Beaches. Each of the lifeguard stations along the shoreline of Lake Ontario is adorned or embellished and becomes a piece of art. Two internet examples from this year’s presentation: Life Line is an interactive display where visitors can send a ball rolling along a tunnel filled with wind chimes. Ripple Hut is a composition of canoes standing upright, in a configuration which represents the ripples in the lake, while also providing a refuge from the wind. This is a great March outing, as long as the weather is mild and the wind is low. Neither was the case on that Friday.

So Peter and I took the road less travelled: a pedestrian pathway under downtown Toronto, coincidentally named THE PATH.

Before Covid, THE PATH was more travelled. In fact it was Teeming with travellers! But since that nasty pandemic forced workers to work from home, this route has been quiet. We found many businesses closed or on reduced hours. The unfortunate shops selling men’s shorts and women’s bikinis looked a little forlorn without customers to try things on as they dreamed of sunny days. Even the stuffies in one window looked sad.

Without much shopping to distract us, we kept on walking, working on getting 10,000 steps. Our plan was to find our way to the Eaton Centre and stop there for lunch. The signs were plentiful and there were welcoming security guards as back-up. We even came across a compass embedded in the floor at one 5-way intersection. Trying not to get lost was like doing brain games on foot.

We passed several eateries along our route but they were either closed or empty, not enticing at all. We carried on to the Eaton Centre where we ordered food from our favourite Thai vendor. But here we had to look hard to find an empty table – there were Lots of kids around. We ended up sharing a a large round table with kids eating next to their mother. We found out why – PA Day at school! No wonder the kids looked so happy and the caregiver so despondent!

Then it was time to make our way back to Union Station and the GO train home. Following Peter’s edict never to take the same route twice, we had to find a different path. We were delayed mid-way by a pop-up Calypso Band – a delicious distraction from the quiet walkways and the snow outside! Then we moved on.

Now dear readers, admit it – you are thinking that we got lost. Being well into our 70’s, what else would we expect to happen? And I confess that we did make a few U-turns, But we eventually arrived at Union with just over 10,000 steps. Granted there wasn’t a lot of greenery, but it was a pretty good way to spend a snowy day in Toronto.


PS If plastic indoor plants aren’t your thing, hop on the Queen Streetcar to the Beaches Winter Stations – open until April 3rd.

Anxiety For Seniors

My step-daughter, Andrea, is a Geriatric Psychiatrist, widely respected in her field and much loved by her step-mother. But can you imagine how stressful this is for her older family members? Every time she visits us, we imagine she is doing some sort of dementia test as we play games or cook dinner. Forget which suit is trump? Oops. Leave the salad in the fridge until after dessert? Help! Knock over a chair while standing up? That’s it for sure. We’re demented.

So when she asked me recently to be part of a new project she is co-leading, I was a little anxious. She and her team had been awarded 2.5 million dollars by the federal government to study anxiety in seniors and come up with guidelines for support. And this sounds to me like money well-spent.

I know a lot of us have anxious feelings as we get older. Our bodies are falling apart before our eyes, the ones without cataracts, that is. Every morning when we wake up, our first task is to test things. Legs? Working. Shoulders? Not too stiff. Hands? A little joint pain. Then we move on to our minds: can we figure out the jumble and sudoku puzzles? Can we remember our phone number? Then we read the newspaper, (the one delivered to our door because the online one is hard to navigate), and there we discover that the world is falling apart too: Putin is destroying world peace, the climate is burning up, Covid germs are still around. No wonder anxiety is flourishing among us.

So when Andrea told me they needed an Older Adult to be part of the launch presentation, thanking the Federal Minister For Seniors, Kamal Khera, for the grant, I really wanted to be part of it. I said yes without thinking through the implications. Later that day the anxiety began to set in. What would I say? How would I get to the venue? What would I WEAR?

First I began to write my speech – with a time limit of 3 minutes. After I finished writing the first section and read it out loud to myself, it was over 6 minutes and I hadn’t even started on the main point! After a lot of chopping, and then editing by Andrea, we were down to a reasonable length and I moved on to my outfit. Definitely not my new leggings – too sporty. Not my interview suit – too old. I finally settled on pants that weren’t too tight, and a red jacket that helped subdue the grey in my complexion.

Next, how to get to the venue: car or subway? After hearing the weather report – a massive snow storm arriving the evening before – I chose a subway route that I was familiar with: 50 minutes according to the TTC trip planner. Add in an additional half hour for delays, and I was so confident I slept quite well that night.

Well I shouldn’t have. After dressing and reviewing my notes, I boarded the subway. A few minutes later – dead stop! And the driver’s voice: “We have a switching problem. Shuttle buses will be running.” There were collective gasps and moans from the riders as everyone rushed towards the exits. I hastily considered my options and started running towards the station beyond the trouble. But a lot of other commuters were doing the same, navigating the piles of slush and snow, and it was very slow going.

I imagined myself arriving late to the presentation, my hair snowy, my notes soggy, my pants mud-spattered – a total old-person look that I did not want to have in front of an audience. Quite anxious by this time, I called Andrea who sent UBER to the rescue.

Are you waiting anxiously for the ending to this story? I made it on time, Minister Khera noticed my red jacket, and my little speech was well-received. My subway ride home was peaceful, and my anxiety was gone. But I am looking forward to the results of the Anxiety Project and how it can help all of us oldies who suffer from anxiety, in small ways and big, nearly every day.


Nailed It!

This is not meant to be a medical blog. Who would want to get up early on a Tuesday morning and read about that? But I do seem to be spending a lot of time these days on medical issues.

My hours are often filled with tasks like taking pills, doing exercises, having blood tests, chopping vegetables to make a healthy salad, visiting the dentist to fit a new mouth guard. Even meeting friends for coffee often turns into a discussion about the latest remedy for insomnia, or scientific research about the perils of drinking too much wine, (although one friend recently made me promise that if anything to do with bowels came up in our conversation, we should immediately go out and shoot ourselves).

With all this medical stuff going on, there is hardly any time left for living! Which is why I was devastated the other day when the big toe on my left foot began to throb. Oh no – what new tragedy was looming on the horizon? Would I soon be unable to walk? How would I manage life in a wheelchair? “Slow down,” I told myself. I have had similar warning signs come up before, only to have them turn into nothing much.

A few weeks ago, when I was curling, I heard a funny knocking sound in my hip and my left leg almost gave out. I hobbled to a nearby bench and sat out the rest of the game. That night, as I lay awake in pain, I wondered if my curling life was over? But an x-ray showed only some mild arthritis. All I had to do was several excruciating exercises 3 times a day. Almost Easy. Another time my vision became blurry and I thought I was going blind. In a panic I went to the optometrist who exclaimed, “My goodness, the surface coating on these glasses is really scratched and worn off. It’s a wonder you can see at all!”

But let’s face it, we aren’t getting any younger and one of these days that tiny issue will become the Big One This is what I worried about as I gingerly put a sock on my sore foot and tried to stand up. Ouch! So I turned to the internet or, as many call it, “Doctor Google.” There I found a myriad of possible causes: gout, osteoarthritis, bad circulation. The last one was what killed my dad 30 years ago. This scary list was definitely Not helpful!

Not knowing what to do next, I went for a pedicure. At least, I thought, if my feet were going to be examined by a medical expert, they’d better be good to look at. As the pedicurist was cleaning my sore toe, I felt a sharp pain and flinched. She said, “Wow this ingrown toenail is pretty deep.” Did I hear that correctly? Although I have never had this condition before, I have head jokes people make about it. I believe they are referring to the term “hyperbole.” YES!! I almost jumped up and hugged her.

Then I walked a couple of blocks down the street and found a podiatrist, (the proximity of services being one of the perks of living in a city). Her name was a sweet-sounding Mary Anne, but her “operating” chair looked menacing. I sat down and watched in fear as she gathered her tools – a digging drill and a huge pair of claw-like pliers. She started excavating. I tried not to scream. She held tightly onto my toe, so I wasn’t able to kick her in the face – by accident of course. It hurt a lot… but finally she called out “I got it!” I was pain-free.

So, dear readers, during these last cold, dark days of February, I wish that your medical issues will be small ones too.


PS No pictures of my foot – you wouldn’t want to look at that early in the morning either.

Love Those Parks

In Toronto we are lucky to have some beautiful green spaces. I have written about many of them before. But I have not yet told you about the park that is Almost finished in time for Valentine’s Day…

Many readers will have visited some of the 1473 parks in the city. This number includes big parks, river trails that lead to open spaces, and tiny parkettes on street corners. All of them lend an element of nature to a city that is densely populated and dominated by towers of concrete and glass.

One of the most popular green spaces is High Park, home to family attractions: a swimming pool, a zoo, walking trails through woods, an off-leash dog park, and swan-viewing in the pond. Each season brings a new delight: snowshoeing in the winter, cherry blossoms in the spring, Shakespeare in the summer, and brilliant colours in the fall. There is even a restaurant, (although don’t expect linen tablecloths or bar service).

High Park in the spring – coming soon!

Peter and I have visited many other parks, but our all-time favourite is right at the end of our street: Humber Bay Park. We have gone there so many times we can almost walk around blind-folded. I have often written about our adventures there. A couple of times I told you about how I tried to convince myself that swimming in the lake was a good idea, only to be thwarted by chilly temperatures even in August. Not too long ago I described a stand-off with an eccentric visitor trying to take over My Park Bench! And I have recounted strolling along the lakefront in the winter and admiring the natural ice sculptures created by the wind.

Two very special city parks are whimsical in nature: Sugar Beach wearing plastic pink umbrellas, and Berczy Park with its eye-catching dog fountain. Both of these people-friendly spaces were designed by landscape architect Claude Cormier. Cormier grew up on a farm in Quebec, and most of his designs are located in Montreal. But he has other projects on the go in Toronto too. One of them is a new park at the end of the Leslie Street Spit. And the most recent is a Valentine-themed oasis: LOVE PARK.

Located in the cosmopolitan desert that was for many years an off-ramp from the Gardiner Expressway, and recently an empty space at the corner of Queen’s Quay and York Street, this densely-inhabited area desperately needs something green. Cormier’s design is intended to transition the space into a “calm urban refuge.”

The beginning of Love Park – outline of a pond in the background.

According to Cormier’s description, there will be rolling grassy mounds, walking paths, and lots of trees. Love Park goes in for lots of romance too. In the centre will be a heart-shaped pond, edged with a red mosaic tile bench. The idea for the mosaics came from Anton Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona, where mosaics rule! Love Pond will also have its own tiny island with an ornamental catalpa tree and plentiful bleeding heart flowers around it.

The description also says that “a myriad of open-ended activities could be accommodated here.” On Valentine’s Day, one might be forgiven for imagining marriage proposals. Or, what about comfy lounges hidden around the periphery, and maybe a booth selling cozy blankets? A perfect place for… afternoon naps!

Or were you thinking of something else??

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Love Park – artist rendition

Plants On Parade

As many readers know, Peter has been an avid gardener for several years. From late March until mid-November he just loves digging in the soil. His preference is for vegetables, but he works with flowers sometimes too. So you can imagine that the months of December through February are, for him, like going cold turkey off a powerful drug.

During the winter months, Peter tries his best to bring his hobby inside. He carries in as many herbs: rosemary, basil and parsley, as he can fit onto the side table beside the sun room door. Then he coaxes, no, begs me to use them. “How about a little basil in our cereal? ” or “Do you think you could put some parsley on those cheesecake slices?”

Then he moves on to the oleander; the one that was once a small bush and is now a large tree. But he still babies it: “Sue, I think the oleander is starting to feel cold outside.” How he knows this I have no idea. He conserves his strength for a couple of days and then lugs this tree up the 6 steps to our sun room door, sits down to rest a bit, and then humps it over the doorstep on to a mat. After another rest, he slides it on the mat through the dining room into the bright windowed corner of the living room.

The oleander stays there until the holiday season when I mention that it is time to put up our Christmas tree – in the living room window. Back goes the oleander, sliding through the dining room and into the sun room, where it sits in a tiny corner. Peter is convinced that this corner is drafty and the tree will certainly not flower out there, but it will have to do for a few weeks. On January 1st and not a minute later, back it goes on its journey to the living room where it waits patiently for the sun to shine.

When I casually suggest that the sun room corner now looks a little empty, Peter finds a plant stand and relocates the parsley, which is now quite leggy from underuse. Pretty ugly, I think, and rush off to the store for a new plant, a peace lily. The parsley travels back to the side table where it will sit until late March.

This year I decided that Peter was having far too much fun so, in early December, I bought an amaryllis bulb encased in wax. I have done this in previous years and the amaryllis is usually in full bloom by Christmas. This year, however, was different – because we had No Sun! The bulb sat in the kitchen window, dormant for weeks. Finally in January, while Peter was moving the oleander for the third time, I moved the amaryllis into the living room too. Slowly, slowly, it began to open up a tiny bit.

Then last week a miracle – sun! I put on my running shoes, grabbed the amaryllis and searched the house for the sunniest spot. Which turned out to be the bathroom. Over the course of the morning, I kept sliding the plant down the counter, inch by inch, as we followed the sun. When the sun left the bathroom, the amaryllis and I followed it to the kitchen and slid along the counter there. At the end of the day, I took it back to the living room – in full bloom. It stared up at the bare oleander. l could almost hear it whispering, “Nah nah nah!”


PS A sneak preview of summer:

The oleander in its happy place – outside

Temple Tour

After visiting Italy in the fall, Peter and I thought we had seen enough places of worship. But recently a reader wrote to suggest new sites to visit in and around Toronto – in the form of temples!

Being adventurous, and a little bored with January, we drove north on highway 427 last Friday to see the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. You may have seen this building too, on the east side of the highway, and wondered what it was. It’s an imposing marble structure unlike any other I know of in the city. Bigger than Ripley’s Aquarium, more embellished than Casa Loma, more historic than Old City Hall, it is full of mystery and intrigue.

This Hindu temple is a replica of temples in India. It was crafted from pieces of marble and teak, all carved by hand in India. The pieces came on cargo ships in 2005 and were assembled here, on a recently-acquired piece of land, by over 400 volunteers. The result is stunning from a distance. We head inside to take a closer look. At the entrance we remove our shoes as directed by signs. We are also instructed to cover our knees and shoulders, but this is not an issue on a cold January day.

Inside and up close we can access the Haveli, or indoor courtyard, where a short film provides more detail about the temple. But our eyes are distracted by the intricate depiction of poets, musicians elephants, peacocks, and flowers, all hand-carved in beautiful Burmese teak. This is the area where guests gather for activities and festivals. Then we are invited by the very polite staff to follow the hallway to the Mandir – the place of worship. We go by ourselves, unaccompanied by anybody.

Carved doors of the entrance

The Mandir on the upper level of this temple is beyond description. It is crafted entirely in white marble, in very intricate and delicate designs and figures, almost like those paper snowflakes we used to make in kindergarten. As a snowflake, this one would get an A plus. The space is further enhanced by lighting, drifting around the colour wheel in shades of pinks, oranges, greens and blues. Statues of Swamis, dressed in gold and sitting yoga-style in alcoves, surround the centre. Visitors must remain quiet at all times, engaging in meditation or silent prayer. As for Peter and me, we’re just staring in awe at this jaw-dropping wonder of architectural design.

The last place to visit in the building is the Heritage Museum, with access for a $5 fee. (This is the first and only time we’re asked for money during our tour). This well-organized and informative exhibit tells us all we can possibly absorb about the history and culture of India. After all we have heard about people washing clothes and bathing in sewage-infested creeks of Delhi, our perception is vastly changed by this display. There are panels and panels of information about India’s focus on architecture, environmental awareness, science and technology, mathematics, medicine and philosophy. We walk away, feeling that maybe India should be on our travel list after all.

On our way out, we pass the gift shop selling souvenirs, books and Indian food. We are almost tempted but it is, surprisingly, closed! We do notice a staff person sitting in front of a bank of monitors showing him every corner of the building. We realize that more than the Hindu gods have been watching us on our tour.


PS Photos of the inside were not allowed. You will have to go and see for yourself. The building was designed to last over 1,000 years, so you have plenty of time.

Curling Up Again

Back in 2020, in the “before times,” I wrote about curling and how it helped to make winter in Toronto enjoyable. Now, 3 years later, I am still curling, with a few adjustments – for age.

Peter still curls 3 times a week and loves it. I join him on the weekend and we have a wonderful social time. We have met lots of interesting people at High Park Club. The members are busy, engaged, and athletic. After the game, when we sit around with our celebratory drinks, we share stories of travel. These people do not just sit on a boat and cruise the Mediterranean. Oh no, they Bike Around the Mediterranean. They don’t just take a bus ride to Machu Pichu – they Walk up the hill the Machu Pichu. And that’s After they have finished hiking the Camino Trail in Spain.

Last Friday, after we had talked about the game and all the terrific shots we had made, or should have made, the conversation turned again to travel. One couple are heading to Antarctica in a couple of weeks. I shuddered at the thought of leaving a cold and windy Toronto for a place even colder and windier. But I listened with interest as they described their first challenge – sailing through the Straits of Magellan without getting sea-sick. Then they told us about the other adventures awaiting them: helicopter rides, kayaking, and even swimming. Yes, well a kind of swimming, where they are tied to a rope and dunked up and down, up and down, in the Antarctic Ocean, with no wet suit, as many times as they can stand.

See what I mean? These people are active! They also have history. One member plays an accordion in a band and, when he was younger, he organized and ran Saturday night dances at the Palais Royale. Another one gave up a potential hockey career for curling and photography. When asked why, he said that his father was rather famous – Frank Mahovlich to be exact – and he, the son, found the competition rather stressful. Instead, he runs his own photography studio where he takes pictures of food and fancy cocktails.

Peter and I have loved this weekend activity, with one exception: the late hours. On Saturday nights the game times switch, which means that one week we would begin our game at 7:00 pm. But the next week we would play at 9:00 followed by drinks, and bedtime not until after midnight! So this year we signed up for Friday mixed social – at 5:00 pm. This is followed by dinner at 7:00 and home easily by 9:00 pm. Perfect.

In order to continue enjoying and playing, I had to deal with one other little issue – my aging body. This sport requires some agility: getting down in the hack, trying to see the broom at the other end of the ice, hurling a big rock towards it, and then getting back up without slipping! Somebody suggested I try using a stick. This is known to the athletes as the “easy way out.” The curler stands upright and shoves the rock down the ice with a broom handle. Believe me, it has its challenges too; like getting the right weight as you shove off. But I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, Peter continues to do all of the above, without using a stick. And with great success. Show-off!


GO…ing To Unionville

Last Friday was forecast to be another snow event. Doesn’t that weatherperson know that I have research to do on Fridays?

Peter and I had been thinking about a trip to Unionville, north of Toronto, well-known for its quaint shops and cozy restaurants. There is also a pond ringed with walking trails. Too Good! That’s the actual name of the pond. And friends who live nearby were celebrating a family birthday. Maybe we could make this a trio – walking, eating and celebrating.

But how could we do this in a snowstorm? GO Transit came to the rescue. With a simple transfer at Union Station, we could make this trip in just over an hour, at a cost for seniors of $1.97. We would save ourselves a lot of stress on slippery roads and expensive gas fill-ups too. We got bundled up in our winter gear. Peter wore his special winter hat – bought several years ago when we went to Chicago in late October with these same Unionville friends, and encountered a winter blizzard. We just knew our friends would love to see that hat again!

We had lunch at the Unionville Arms, a mainstay of the Unionville restaurant scene. While many other places have opened and closed, the Unionville Arms goes on and on. Since 1989, two brothers have owned the eatery, where residents and tourist alike feel welcome. Both brothers were there while we ate. The food is delicious pub-style fare with lots of choices, and there are TV’s everywhere if you happen to be on your own. It was a great spot to toast a birthday.

The walk around Too Good Pond did not seem to be an option, with the wind blowing snow in our faces and ice patches on the sidewalks. Instead we wandered along Main St. to see what we could find. What we found was a lot of shops and restaurants now closed, gone out of business during the pandemic. It was sad to see this once-vibrant community almost asleep. And in winter there are few other attractions to bring people to the area. We wondered if perhaps the pond could be frozen and turned into a giant skating rink. That would be Very Good!

On the way back to the GO station, our friends pointed out signs of hope: a brand new York University satellite campus, a large Amica seniors’ development, lots of high-rise condo towers under construction. Maybe this lovely little town will wake up again.

Our ride home on the GO was uneventful. And that’s a good thing on public transit. The trains are very clean, with plexi-glass partitions between the seats and leather headrests that can be wiped down with sanitizer. The service is constantly improving. In fact, the route we were on has recently added weekend service. And, if you get lost at Union Station, which is still evolving, there are lots of smiling customer service representatives to assist.

While waiting for our second train at Union on Friday, Peter went wandering off to find a washroom. As I stood waiting for him to return, a smiling rep approached me and asked if she could help. I told her I was looking for my husband. Without missing a beat, she turned and called out: “Any lost husbands around?” No eligible men came running, but I noticed a lot of wives giggling to themselves.

And then I spotted Peter – easy to recognize in his Chicago blizzard hat.