The Secret Garden

This friday I found a secret garden. There is an old abandoned apartment building in my neighbourhood. With tall pillars and old stained glass windows it gives of a beautiful/creepy vibe that I have always found fascinating. The doors on the street are covered in graffiti. Some rude, "tits and boobies @@" some pretty, like silhouettes of a cat chasing a bird and a birdcage suspended above them, a couple kissing, etc. I am obviously not the only one who loves this building.

Anyway, on Friday I was walking by, on my way to the grocery store... I had been snapping pictures during my walk already, so I was in shoot mode - Keeping my eyes peeled for beautiful scenes that I just had to snap. As I had almost walked completely past the building, I swung my head to the left and caught just the smallest glimpse of a branch of magnolias. I did a double take. Tripped over my feet a little as I tried to decide whether I would go and inspect, or keep walking...forget about it...

I approached the wall of the building. It ran beside someone's drive way. I walked a little up the driveway just to see the branch. It was pretty. There were magnolia leaves scattered all over the pavement.

Well, I guess I'll take a picture from where I am since I can't get into the back yard.

I inched closer and closer. Whoever's driveway this was didn't seem to be home. They wouldn't mind...Once I saw the whole tree, I was in awe. It was probably the biggest magnolia tree I have ever seen. It was HUGE! There were just clusters and clusters and clusters of huge lavish pink magnolias. Toppeling over eachother. It was breath taking. To see so many flowers in one concentration is just amazing. I couldn't believe it was back here! If I hadn't come closer I wouldn't have realized how big the tree was.

I looked down, to get to this backyard I would have to go down and around, and get through a rickety rotting fence door crowded with garbage. It didn't look safe. I decided to go to the complete opposite end of the property, and see if there was a way in.

Success! The other end of the property had a narrow path leading right into the backyard.

As soon as I walked in I felt like I had stepped back in time. The ground felt different. The grass was soft and lush, and the soil beneath it came up in pockets that crumbled softly under my feet. Almost like ant hills. Like it's hardly been walked on.

There were old rose bushes all knarled and tangled. There was a row of garages nailed shut with huge sheets of metal. These may have been stables at one point. The back of the apartments had decks. With light bulbs still hanging, it was so magical to imagine this estate coming alive. What was this yard like in it's day? Who lived here? Who tended the roses. Where did the horses go? Who sat on these porches in the Toronto of yesterday. Long before malls and starbucks.. before cars and noise and garbage. There was a peacefulness about this place that I found comforting. But there was also an eerie quality that kept me so intrigued.

The dark side of me liked to imagine why this place is abandoned. Was someone murdered? Did a crazy woman with white eyes and a hairless cat still live upstairs? Was she watching me while rocking back and forth in her dusty rocking chair? Luckily the sun and the beautiful nature surrounding me brought me out of my dark thoughts, and back to beauty. The life in this small corner was just so tangible. This space just felt so...different. In a city that has every inch of itself trod on every day, it was really special to find a hidden corner that is mostly untouched. I would like to live here. I wish my bedroom opened on to this. Id pad out in my socks and sip tea on the balcony. Nobody but me. And the flowers.

The yard itself was quite large. The magnolia tree being the centerpoint. But it was obvious that it had once been tended. There were, as I've already mentioned - Rose bushes. There were planted in a row in the center of the lot. At it's south edge there was a hill rolling down towards me. A black cat with orange patches peeked out at me through the grass. A family of birds burried their beaks into the soil searching for bugs and worms. I didn't seem to bother them.
After snapping this shot:

A huge rolly polly groundhog came wandering out of the shadows. We were both shocked to see eachother. Each of us jumped and startled, then went our seperate ways. Me a few steps backwards and he back into the shadows of his comfy home. That's the first groundhog I've seen in Toronto. It added to my confidence that this property was just a haven of untouched nature. If the groundhogs like it here?? It's gotta be quiet and off the beaten trail.

I've always loved the concept of quiet secret spaces. As a child I had a favourite climbing tree. It was on my aunt's property next door to mine, and it faced the Ottawa river. It was right at the shoreline. If I jumped out of it I wouldve landed in the sand. It was the perfect height for me to climb. It had a low branch that I could pull myself onto, and up I went from there. My mom used to yell at me for going up there without shoes on.
"You'll slip Amy! If you want to climb the tree you have to put your shoes on!" I can still hear her. And I vividly remember getting up there and then dropping my shoes out of the tree with rebellious satisfaction. She was right. The shoes were key for climbing, but once I was up there, I just wanted to go neked!

I used to sit up there for what felt like hours. Just watching the water, and listening to the wind.

One day my uncle pulled me aside to tell me they were cutting the tree down. It was 'in the way of the view from their living room' and he promised to make me a bench out of the tree so i could "still sit in my favourite spot at watch the water"

He did build the bench, but it wasn't the same. There was something about being out of reach that made my tree such a special, secret spot. I never forgave him. I guess it was part of growing up. Realizing that things aren't always going to be there for you. That some things that you love are going to disappear, and that you can't stop it. So dramatic! I know, but it really was devastating. It was my first sense of utter rage and frustration. And deep loss.

I did find another favourite spot though, and this time it was a garden. Just a few feet from where my favourite tree used to be, there was a cluster of trees and bushes just big enough for me to hide in. ( I was 7 or 8 years old. Maybe 4 feet tall)

My solace space was found again. My secret garden was a place I'd go to to read, to plant little plants ( that never really grew because it was so shady) To sing, and recite random scenes from movies I liked. It was my oasis. Sometimes I'd just go in there and sit quietly. Alone. Watching the sun move and listen to the sounds of the birds. I guess I liked that.

Back to real time.

This building and its yard evoked all these special memories. It awoke a part of me I'd long forgotten, and gave me hope that even in a city so busy, dirty and public... that there are still secret spaces where groundhogs forrage, cats lay in the grass, and magnolia trees bloom.

To touch specifically on the property, all I know is that it is called The Sylvan Apartments. It was built around 1907. Apparently a development company wanted to bulldoze it to make way for a condo. But in 2005 it was declared a heritage site and nothing has happened since.

I'd really like to know what it looked like inside. In my mind's eye I can hear pianos playing and people laughing. There are still heavy cloth curtains on the windows, with those classic tassle pulls.

I dont know what will happen to this space. But I know I will return. I want to see the roses bloom and to see Mr Groundhog out for his morning walk.

I like knowing this space is there. I'm old enough now to know that someone might take it away one day. But until then, I'll keep visiting. I like to think I fit in with the other quiet animals. We all just want a little place to be on our own.


Earth Day = Garbage Day

This past Thursday was Earth Day

Woooo! A day dedicated to mother earth. The planet that created us, houses us, feeds us and keeps us ALIVE!

As we all know, the world is coming to an end, the planet is beyond salvageable etc etc.

Rather than give up and continue on the road to destruction, I like to try to think positive. One one hand, I do understand that it is most likely too late to reverse the damage we have caused to the planet. So ... to hell with it. We may as well do whatever we want and enjoy the fish and glaciers while they're here right?


Giving up is too easy. I believe that with enough education and awareness and pressure we might be able to make our existence on this planet last just a little bit longer.

I am in no way an advocate of complete green living. It is near impossible not to create garbage, to use energy, to burn fuel. But I like to think of it as 'every kilowatt counts' and that small change is good change.

So, on earth day, I decided I would carry around a bag with me all day and put every piece of garbage i created into it.

This was hard for me to stick to at first. I did throw away my apple at 9am, not yet fully awake. But I figure this counted as organic waste and wasn't too big of a loss in my experiment.

I went to starbucks, in went my cup.

I went to chinatown and bought some porkbuns, in went a paper bag and three tinfoil wrappers

I went to a coffeeshop ( second one in 2 hours zooing), had my coffee there but put in my paper muffin wrapper

Went to work and put in ALOT of trash.

By the end of the day I had collected:

4 milk bags (not recyclable)
1 coffee beans bag (not recyclable)
1 plastic rotisserie chicken container (says recyclable but unless you clean all the chicken grease off it isnt)
1 plastic grocery bag
1 plastic cellophane bag (not recyclable)
2 napkins (used, therefore not recyclable)
1 wetnap + foil package (not recyclable)
1 starbucks cup + lid + sleeve
2 brown paper bags
8 plastic food service gloves (not recyclable)
3 post-it notes
3 plastic spoons (not recyclable)
5 pieces of raffia (not recyclable)
2 sticker sheets (not recyclable)
1 sheet parchment paper (not recyclable)
17 receipts (not recyclable)
32 truffle cups ( not recyclable)

I was a little disappointed - I was hoping for MORE!
( which seems kinda counter intuitive) *editor boo is this the right use of that expression?

But... It was interesting to see how much trash I created. Just me! In ONE DAY!
This list also doesn't include all the take-out coffees and gelatos I served, toilet paper, paper towel, and all other 'behind the scenes' garbage that was created by my actions or purchases that day.

In the end I sortof want to keep doing it... It's fascinating.

I will also try harder to create less garbage.

So, mission successful. For me atleast.


Kombucha's origin is loosely traced to 220 b.c. China. This does make sense as the word 'cha' is mandarin for Tea. Although, in Vietnamese Chả means sausage so go figure. The exact origin is unknown and unclaimed. Like somewhere in the far east is all we know. Doesn't mostly everything really cool come from that area of the world? Ah-yuh!

Like most delicious yeast fueled delicacies ( beer, bread ) Kombucha was more than likely an accident. I envision an old bearded man living in a cave in the himilayan mountains. Out for his morning stretch... after drinking his cup of tea ( forraged by hand a stones throw from his cave dwelling.. brewed over a campfire ) he left it precariously shelved in a dark corner of his cave yard. A gust of wind brought a tiny little cluster of yeast. Days later upon returning, his tea had fermented. A delicious slightly sparkling beverage was born!
Kombucha is a type of fermented tea popular for it's supposed "ProBiotic" ( insert yogurt commercial of choice here) bacteria that aid digestion, clear skin, shine hair etc. It may also have detoxifying properites aswell due to glucaric acid, which helps the liver to break down toxins. No scientific evidence has proven these facts however, they are hypothesis only.
A batch of sweetened tea is made and into this tea, a scoby ( simbiotic culture of bacteria in yeast - how nerdy) is inserted and left to work its magic for several days.
Over these few days the yeast eats the sugar and produces gas. Thus, the light and pleasant carbonation. The tea develops a tart and refreshing flavour.
Now that i've given a brief introduction, I'd like to start telling my personal kombucha story.

The first taste of Kombucha i ever had was a bottle of 'Kombucha Wonder Drink' I bought at fresh and wild. Self described as a 'sparkling fermented tea' , it sounded delicious and I thought I'd give it a try. It was dark rose in colour and came in a tiny stubby bottle. I asked the girl working the counter if she could open it for me. It wasn't a twist off.
"Would you like it over ice?' she asked
She poured it over ice and popped in a straw for me. It was foamy, fizzy, smelled like fruit and looked alot like a beer! I was ready to try it. I walked outside into the sun and took my first sip.

It was.... interesting.

The first sip of anything is never quite right. Memories of tasting my parent's wine at dinner as a child remind me that anything that is an 'acquired taste' takes some getting used to. Something that at first tastes awful can really grow on you. And that's what kombucha is. An acquired taste. And once you've acquired that taste for it, there's no turning back.

I was hooked. But at $3.50 a bottle ( and a stubby bottle at that) my addiction was going to start becoming expensive. That and it was SO hard to find. Fresh and Wild carried it but only sometimes, and only at one location. The organic shop in my neighbourhood carried it.. but only sometimes. Seemed I was one of very few who was buying it enough for it to be a well stocked product. Hmph.

I stumbled on another brand! Yipee! Fairy Tonic was the name... Sure i'd give it a try!

Awful. It was so awful. It tasted like apple cider vinegar. Was this what kombucha really was? Was the brand I liked so much just a softened up version? I was so confused. This dilemma called for serious research. To my laptop I went.

On a hot july night i spent 3 hours google surfing anything and everything I could learn about Kombucha. I learned that it needs a started or scoby. I also learned that you could create this scoby if you had a bottle of ready made kombucha, some heat mats, and alot of time and patience. I tried this, sans heat mats. But it failed. A speck of mold blew my chances. I felt frustrated. Catching yeast is hard! Anyone who has tried to create their own sourdough bread starter will know that, as romantic as catching yeast from the air sounds, unless youre in a really fertile area, with lots of wind and ocean humidity surrounding you, the chances of catching a good yeast, or any yeast at all, is very slim. Toronto didnt seem like the place to be doing it. A california vineyard? Ok. Defeated, deflated, I forgot about this project for awhile.

Then an ad on craigslist renewed my drive. Scoby's for sale! In Toronto!? No. Well, yes. That night, feeling a bit like a greasy kid waiting on the corner for my drug connection, I met up with a lady who sold me my very first real live scoby. It was an exciting day.
"You just bought it from a stranger ? How do you know its not poisonous?" - my mom

Hopes renewed I hunkered down for my first experiment. I looked up a few reciped online and got going. Make your sweetened tea, sink your scoby, and let it rest for 2-3 weeks. Alright then. Off I went. I set it up, and put it right next to my radiator ( it was still winter at this point and was hot!) I had made the mistake of confusing making a starter with brewing. It didnt really need the heat. But I didnt know this at this point... let's carry on...
3 weeks later I unveiled my little kombucha jar and took a sip.

Awful. It was like Fairy Tonic batch I'd tried in the summer. So sour. So vinegary! A disaster.

So.. i decided to write to my new kombucha friend who had sold me the scoby.

"Three weeks!? That's way too long!! I usually leave mine for 3 days... 5 days max!"

Ooops. Back to the drawing board. Made a new batch with black tea and brewed it for 5 days. I really didnt believe it could be ready... so I wrote my friend again for tech support

"Just taste it. If it no longer tastes sugary it's ready to bottle!"

Well, it was no longer sugary.. but it wasnt very bubbly. I ended up jarring it and it did taste quite nice. But not as bubbly as I wanted it to be....

My second batch I tried green tea. Again, tasty, but not bubbly.

This brings me to my third batch which I will begin this afternoon. Green tea again. A wu-long 'blue' tea (semi-oxidzed) from the Jianxi province in China. Grown in the mountains, 5000 feet above sea level.

I'd like to post some pictures of my kombucha adventures so far.. I'm in the process of figuring out how to do that. So... stay tuned!

i have arrived

well, here i am.

ive already erased 6 sentences and started over. this is going to take some practice.

hopefully this little bubble of musings will help me become a better writer, and thinker. and maybe even entertain a few people who happen to stumble across it.

here goes nuthin!