Category: toronto

Thanksgiving 2015

I hope everyone in Canada had a lovely long Thanksgiving weekend. To me, it’s still a little weird to have Thanksgiving in early October, but Andy and I try to make the best of it.

We had a great weekend. On Friday, we spent the day at the ballpark, watching as our Texas Rangers won in extra innings against the Toronto Bluejays (sorry Bluejays fans, I know you guys want it really badly, but you guys are just going to have to lose today so the Rangers can advance). It was so much fun, even if Andy and I were the only happy ones to leave the stadium that afternoon. The rest of the weekend was filled with beautiful blue skies, puppy walks, and even a little Thanksgiving dinner for two. It was a really nice break from work – the last one until Christmas.

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On the line

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Just a heads up, things are about to get a bit political.

For most graduate programs in the US and Canada, students are required to teach as part of their funding package. One of the biggest difference I’ve experienced between grad school in the US and Canada is that graduate student teaching assistants and course instructors are unionized in Canada. This year, the collective agreement between the union and the University of Toronto expired. The union had been bargaining with the university for a new agreement, but last Friday the agreement proposed by the university was soundly rejected by hundreds of the union members. So, we are now on strike. And it is an experience.

I have chosen not cross the picket line and show solidarity with my fellow union members, so the courses I am a teaching assistant for this semester are having to adjust to my absence. And yesterday was my first day on the picket line. All of this a new and interesting experience for me, as I have never been a union member before, let alone a striking union member.

One of the biggest issues we are facing is an increase to our stipend. The university only guarantees us a take home of $15,000/year in one of the most expensive cities in Canada to live in. This stipend is mostly composed of teaching hours, with some research assistant funding included. But importantly, it is far below the poverty line of Toronto which is $23,000. And while we may only teach part time during the year, being a grad student is a full time job and, even if we had the time, we are often discouraged or prohibited from getting jobs to supplement our stipend. For me, I cannot get another job due to the restrictions of my student visa. Most grad students work far more hours than we are contractually obligated to, ensuring the undergraduate students receive the best education experience they possibly can. And we represent an important line of communication and support for undergraduates. I, personally, love teaching and interacting with students and take my responsibilities to heart.

Furthermore, grad school isn’t so much being a “student” as it is being trained to be the researchers and professionals the university relies on. In the sciences, almost all the research done at the university level is done by graduate students, who receive guidance and support from their advisors to build strong and relevant research projects. At the end of the day, the work we do increases the standing and prestige of the university, whose name is attached to all of our published work and is often used to recruit the best and brightest to join the program. But as things stand, the money we get paid to do work for the university has not increased in years, as both interest and cost of living expenses have increased greatly. The funding package provided by the university is starting to drastically lag behind other schools U of T hopes to compete with.

I can personally speak to having more monetary issues here at U of T than during my master’s degree in North Carolina. And it is a big source of stress. On top of that, as an international student, my tuition fees have increased greatly since I’ve been here, so that now over 50% of my take home stipend (which, due to a government scholarship is fortunately more than the $15000 promised by the university) goes to pay the outrageous international student tuition costs. As it works out, each year I have actually taken a $1000 pay cut from when I first began this program. And graduate students are required to pay full tuition costs even in their later years when they have finished their course load and are not using the same amount of university resources.

So it’s back out on the picket line for me every day this week. I would much rather be teaching my students than wandering around in circles out in the cold. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. But it’s important that things change and the university acknowledges that we at least need increases to offset rising living costs in this rapidly growing city if it hopes to stay competitive in its graduate and research programs.

Lazy updates

I was too lazy to get my act together to post this week’s Knitting Confessions. Whoops. So instead I leave you all with some photos from the beautiful weekend we had here in Toronto as the city transitions into fall.

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P.S. Knitting Confessions will be back next week (hopefully!).

TIFF 2014

TIFF 2014 – Instagram Edition

Another year, another TIFF. The Toronto International Film Festival is one of my favorite things in the world. As a self-proclaimed movie lover, I look forward to it greatly each year. When I first learned we were moving to Toronto, I bought a TIFF movie package… before we had even left North Carolina. And I’ve gone every year since then, making this year my third TIFF.

Every year I read up on the films coming to TIFF – which ones are getting some buzz before they come to the festival and which include my favorite actors or directors. I usually end up with a long list of films I’d like to see and have to weed that down to just a few movies depending on what Andy is interested in, what movies fit into our schedule, and which movies still have tickets available during my selection window. TIFF offers lots of ticket options: packages where you choose the movies, packages where TIFF programmers choose movies for you, gala tickets to big world premieres, and, of course, single tickets. I have always gone for a ticket package where I choose the movies. This year I did the daytime package where all our movies had to be before 5pm. Other years I’ve done the anytime package, which is a bit more in price.

The only complaint I have about the ticket package I choose this year is my ticket selection window was very late… so many of the films at the top of my list were sold out before I even had a chance to pick my movies. That was a major bummer. But, it was a much more affordable package and allowed us to see twice the number of movies as we have in previous years. And because the bigger, showier movies were already sold out when I selected films, I had to really delve into the more independent and foreign films, so Andy and I saw movies we probably would otherwise never have even paid attention to. Here are some of my TIFF movie highlights:

  • The Theory of Everything – see this for some great, great acting. It is basically a love story between Steven Hawking and his first wife and the two leads are great. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Steven Hawking will stick with you.
  • The Good Lie – a heart wrencher and a tear jerker. This is a very nice movie about Sudanese refugees finding their way in America. It’s been compared to The Blind Side a lot, but in Andy’s words, “It was way better than The Blind Side.”
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya – some of the most stunning animation I have ever seen. This is the latest from Studio Ghibli and is a take on a Japanese folktale. It was stunning.
  • Far From Men – an Algerian movie set during their struggle for freedom from France, this movie stars Viggo Mortensen, who speaks three different languages in this movie (making him even more amazing than he was before). I enjoyed the good acting and an interesting story about a part of the world and a part of history I knew very little about.
TIFF is also great because so many filmmakers and casts attend. Even if you don’t go to the big premieres (which I would love to do sometime, but they are quite expensive), you are still likely to have interaction with the filmmakers (and see some movie stars – gasp!), especially if you attend movies during the first week of the festival. The opportunity to hear from the cast and director about the making of the film is an awesome experience that took my be surprise my first festival. Now, it’s probably my favorite component of TIFF.

Now that it’s all over, time for the long wait till next TIFF. Fortunately, I have all the films I wasn’t able to see this year to tide me over in the mean time.

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That time I visited the Purple Purl…

Saturdays are made for going to the yarn shop. Since moving to Toronto, I find myself following an odd sort of ritual when going to the yarn shop. Here’s how the process usually goes for me:
On Friday night, after a long week of work (which this summer usually ends with me feeling like I didn’t get much done because things just aren’t going as planned), I decide a trip to the yarn store will cheer me up. But I’m too lazy to actually go Friday evening because I just got home, and took my shoes off, and Rufus is cute, and I just poured a glass of wine. So… Saturday morning. I wake up Saturday morning ready to go. I give myself a budget, kiss the boys (who are still in bed and grumbling about me being up) goodbye, and grab an iced coffee on my way to the subway. It’s a process that puts me into exactly the stupidly excited state of mind that I love about going to the yarn shop.

I usually prefer going to yarn stores by myself because nobody else I know here in Toronto is really into this whole crazy knitting/yarn-a-holic/fiber madness thing I have going on. So when I do go with other people, I always feel like they are waiting on me. And yarn requires time. It requires squishing. And face-rubbing. And oohing. And putting back a skein 5 times before finally committing on it – but wait, that blue is so pretty, too, or the red, or maybe orange?! You just can’t rush a good yarn shop experience. These are delicate decisions I am making. You don’t rush an artist.

This week was a great yarn shop experience. I visited The Purple Purl which is located in the west side of town. It’s a bit of a journey from my humble abode, so I hadn’t gotten around to visiting the shop before now. But I will definitely be back! This shop has one of the best selection of local and Canadian yarns that I’ve come across. Canada produces some great yarns, but they can sometimes be difficult to find (even in Canada) because they simply aren’t those “big name” yarn brands you usually come across, even in higher end yarn shops. Plus, you earn points with every purchase towards a $25 discount on pretty much anything in the shop. Why, yes, that is like earning a free skein of yarn just for knitting (which you were going to do anyway, but now that there’s a reward…).

So, of course, I bought some. (In the spirit of supporting local businesses and local yarn dyers, of course!)

These lovely skeins of Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label are destined to become a long, splendidly soft, texturally delighting Guernsey wrap. I haven’t used guernsey often in my knitting, but I find myself admiring it greatly because of it’s amazing simplicity and timelessness. Plus, this wrap will be perfect for keeping me warm through a long Toronto winter.

Do you have any yarn shopping rituals of your own? What do you love most about your favorite yarn shop?

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My love for summer farmer’s markets

One of my favorite places in the city is St. Lawrence Market. It is a giant, two-story market in Old Town that has anything you could ever need – butchers, seafood, bakeries, cheesemongers, bulk spices, fresh pasta, coffee, rice, various ethnic ingredients. It’s fabulous. And on top of that, there’s food stalls covering almost every type of food you’ve ever heard of (and probably some you haven’t). It is a grand adventure every time I visit. It’s almost impossible to capture in words or images – you just have to visit it and experience it for yourself. And if you went to their website (or visit the market) you’ll notice they are very proud of the fact that they were recently voted the number 1 food market in the world by National Geographic.

One of my favorite reasons to visit St. Lawrence is the year ’round farmer’s market they hold every Saturday. And the summer offerings are always the best: mountains of kale, amazingly fresh herbs, and the most gorgeous mushrooms are just a peek at the offerings. Right now is one of my favorite times to visit the market because fresh, local peaches are in season. And they are yummy! I’m talking, eat four-a-day yummy. And I try to take full advantage of peach season at the market, because in a blink of an eye, it’s gone. (I am definitely not the only person who is a fan of the local peaches. All the booths selling them were so jammed packed, I could barely squeeze in to buy some let alone snap a shot of their beautiful fuzziness.)

Just looking at the pictures makes me hungry – time for another peach?

Out and about

I know that this is a knitting blog and all, but it seems like all I do is sit around and knit (and drink sangria). I swear, I do go outside every now and again. Lately, my outside excursions were only when necessary (long cold winters make a hermit of the best of us), but the spring fever bug bit me good this weekend – I could not be cooped up inside. So I got out and enjoyed some of my favorite parts of the city.