stolen cities: spring cleaning

The already scavenged garbage bags and partial chest of drawers – the abandoned detrius of someone’s existence – lying in the snow in front of the apartments served as stark reminder that today was, indeed, eviction day.

After being picked through and scavenged by the human vultures, the pile of someone’s forgotten effects left at the curb in front of the buildings, now being cleaned and painted, mysteriously disappeared over night. It’s incredible how efficiently someone’s history and personal footprint can be erased by a well-organized landlord.

The locksmith’s truck waited outside this morning with a pile of removed deadbolts lying on its bed, each one being replaced by a new set, preventing the previous residents from returning. This is a stark reminder that spring is, indeed, a time of renewal.

Advertisements

fear and loathing in the orifice or why myke uses music and art as a catharsis

I promised myself on starting this blog that I wouldn’t use it to bitch about my day job.  So I will endeavour to keep the actual bitching part limited to this particular posting.  However…

I was just informed that I am getting a new neighbour at work.  This neighbour has been off work for the past few years due to various health reasons, mainly of the mental variety.  Now, I am usually a tolerant person for the most part, various members of my family have their issues and, until last Christmas, I was able to overlook them with most of my family members.

In fact a good portion of my day job involves helping people with disabilities of all varieties get the treatment, help and support they require in order to carry on with their lives and return to work if possible.  I try to be a patient man and find assisting people who want to get better or cope with their issues to be rewarding both as a career, as wel as emotionally and spiritually beneficial to me.

However people who refuse to deal with their problems or accept treatment really annoy me.  Lord knows I’ve had my issues, been in denial about them or kept them buried in the past, however I realized that keeping them around did me no fucking good.  Yes it is painful to take them on head first, but in the long run, it works, is good for personal growth and helps you to move on in your life.

And I also understand that part of mental illness can often be that when its sufferers are feeling better, they feel they no longer need treatment and then the downward spiral begins.  I get that, really I do!

However I have a co-worker who is bipolar and very aggressive and confrontational when they are in either side of their spectrum.  Sadly, I often refer to them as “batshit crazy” co-worker on public forums as they can often cause quite a disturbance at work, rendering it near impossible to get any productivity out of my day.

I found out yesterday that I’m getting this new neighbour at work, who is coming off long-term disability for stress leave.  This co-worker is extremely passive-aggressive at the best of times and I have also had run ins in the past with this person, including one where they were loudly discussing my weight issues with a co-worker while they thought I was not paying attention (we all were in the lunch room and I was sleeping poorly at night at that time).

As this person has had their struggles with weight themselves, I was quite offended and confronted them regarding this conversation about me.  Combined with their usual passive-aggressive nature and other assorted issues I’ve had with this person on a professional level, I am now apparently their neighbour and being asked to “mentor” them as they return to work.

I expressed my concerns to my manager and HR about this, noting my past run-ins with this co-worker and the official response was that I was to try to remain “professional” and “adult” about the situation.  The key is that when this person feels a slight (actual or implied), this person becomes quite aggressive and will try to sabotage the person who they felt slighted them.  I know this as a fact as I have been in this person’s sights since the episode in the lunch room.

I noted that I can guarantee I will remain professional about this however expect the return in kind from this co-worker.  However I know I won’t get it and will expect to be told to “suck it up” despite the stress this will cause me daily.

It’s the daily shit like this which explains why my music, writing and visual art are so important to me.  If this goes down as planned, expect a lot of “catharsis” from me here and in my other outlets of creative expression.

You’ve been warned!

you can’t go home again

In his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again,” Thomas Wolfe’s character reflects:  “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

A week ago, I tweeted the following to a friend who still lives in the town where I grew up:

@hentor:  sadly Ajax hasn’t felt like “home” in years

This past week has been a reminder of that for me.  Recently a friend from high school was diagnosed with liver cancer (ugh, how well DH and I know the brutality of that particular disease) and was given months to live.  Despite the best efforts of the medical profession, he succumbed after a hard fought battle.  The funeral was this weekend.

As he was a friend of both my brother’s and mine and his father – who was my high school music teacher – was quite instrumental in getting my music career started, it was a no-brainer for me to travel from Hamilton to Oshawa to attend the visitation and funeral.

Recent events in my personal life have made me realize that my former home town of Ajax feels different to me and that I now feel like a visitor in the house in which I grew up, despite the best efforts of the Parental Units.

This weekend provided the final punctuation to my realization that you truly can’t go home again, because home is more than a place, it is a sense of being and a sense of comfort.  Ajax and its surrounding environs no longer feels like home to me – because it isn’t my home anymore.

I had no idea what to expect at the visitation, beyond the possibility of seeing my childhood friends again (honestly guys we REALLY need to stop getting together at funerals and find happier occasions to share) as well as a chance to connect with a treasured high school teacher – who through his support and guidance – pretty much shaped my adult life for the positive and gave a confused teenaged Myke a positive outlet for all the negativity he was experiencing.

My friends are great.  One of them, I have known since kindergarten and he has grown to become an actor, comedian and just last week a father (he will be the most AWESOME dad out of all of my friends to have kids).  Another (DJ) was my partner in crime throughout gifted school and high school and one of the few people whom I think I could travel with without wanting to kill.  The final was a friend through high school and university and was perhaps my most consistent friend and drinking buddy through the tough years.

The part that finally (G*d forbid me for using this analogy) put the nail in the coffin for me was the reaction of the man who I had contact with at least 4 days a week for four years.  The very person who guided me into a career and made me believe that I had what it took to become a professional musician and bassist.  That person happens to be my high school music teacher.

Let me preface this next statement by saying that I continue to respect the man fully, understanding that after twenty years of being out of high school, ten years of not living in Ajax and the fact that the funeral is for his son, I can comprehend this particular reaction.  The added fact that I am nearly unrecognizable to a lot of people who haven’t seen me in years due to my weight loss almost certainly adds to this; however…

It was truly humbling (and honestly somewhat disheartening) for me to have been reduced to a mere footnote and a vague memory by someone who was so influential in my life.

This was a person who, for four years, I saw on an almost daily basis (starting at 8am for concert band practice, in a class every other day and in a lunchtime jazz band rehearsal three times weekly) and helped me learn and grow on my chosen instrument, developing my voice and abilities.  Who believed in my abilities enough that I skipped my second year in the junior band, missed the intermediate band altogether and went straight to the senior band and even more importantly got me in the senior jazz and stage band.  The person who took me on my first international tour as a musician, playing pubs, outdoor concerts and the Harrogate Royal Hall with. The person who put me in contact with professionals and got me started as a musician.  I pretty much owe (or blame <grin>) this man for putting me on the track I’m on and he barely recognized me by name.

The day prior to this, I received the following tweet and retweeted it.

@gaypridequotes:   Nothing hurts more than being disappointed by the single person we thought would never hurt us.

This man was one such person, and I was disappointed.  I wasn’t expecting accolades and praise, but hoped for something a little more than faint name recognition (I guess).  I know egotistical of me to hope for more than that, but sometimes one would think that the impact would be at least somewhat reciprocal…there were other teachers from my high school days present as well and, although they had less connection and far less of an impact on me, their response was pretty much the same.

It was this precise moment that I fully understood the gravity of Wolfe’s words.  I finally realized that the “home” of my childhood was no longer my home.  I was also reminded of the need to remember the past, but not to revel and wallow in it.

It was on the train ride back to Hamilton that I finally comprehended this and tweeted the following:

@hentor:  Thought of the day, after visiting with old friends & family, home no longer feels like “home”. My home is truly #HamOnt now!

I guess it all boils down to the fact that home isn’t truly a place, but a state of mind and being when you get to that place that represents “home” to you.  The past is the past, nostalgia, memories and history are things that build you and that you need to learn from.  What is important is when you need to realize it’s time to move on and it’s high time for me to move on.

Welcome home!

myke’s Hamilton and beyond café crawl

A while back I wrote on the incredible renaissance of independent coffee culture that my hometown Hamilton is experiencing.  More recently, I reviewed chain coffee alternatives with surprising results.  I’m heading back to my indie roots and focusing on two new cafés that have recently opened in Hamilton, Ontario and branching out to places I frequent while out of my home city who are definitely deserving of a mention!

Baltimore House recently opened on King William at Hughson, providing the downtown core a coffeehouse with plenty of atmosphere, good drinks and a variety of delicious sandwiches and house-baked goodies.  Their coffee is sourced from various local roasters including Homegrown Hamilton and Red Hill Coffee Trade (I believe they use their decaf).

The room looks gothic and dark, however the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  The recent addition of the beautifully decorated “parlour” space, christened with a theatrical production, makes this a good location to sit while you savour and enjoy a quality coffee.  The European-style service (beverages are served on silver platters with a glass of water to cleanse your palate and a chocolate) adds a touch of class and makes you want to linger and soak in the atmosphere.

Baltimore house has become a favourite place of mine and DH’s to relax, write and enjoy a drink.

Cannon Coffee Company is the latest addition to the Hamilton coffee scene, bringing a bright and open space to the corner of Ottawa St. and Cannon St. East.  The room is bright and spacious and they serve up a smooth, delicious espresso shot (Detour’s Punch Buggy Roast) and are beginning to explore their food options with a variety of house-baked goodies and goods from Cake and Loaf Bakery.  Recently they had a lovely weekend brunch with your choice of house-baked quiche or waffles with local maple syrup. 

I am lucky to have this wonderful coffee house within walking distance of my home and anticipate many a weekend afternoon spent enjoying their hospitality and high quality beverage options.  The fact the owners Anne and Cindy make you feel welcome and an honoured guest in their establishment goes a long way and they always seem to go the extra step to make you feel like a valued customer.

Homegrown Hamilton  Formerly the Bread and Roses café and located in the Sky Dragon Center.  Homegrown Hamilton roasts their coffee on site, using only fair-trade green beans.  They also have a menu with a variety of vegetarian and vegan light meal and snack options.  Their coffee is very good, however quality of the espresso shots depends on who is working the machine.  Mike is an excellent barista and offers coffee cupping sessions on occasion.

The atmosphere is loose and artistic and they have a grass-roots and community-minded connection to the inner city.  The Sky Dragon Co-operative supports various community organizations and often offers classes and seminars aimed at effecting positive change in the world and community.

Cake and Loaf Bakery is a wonderful local bakery who specializes in quality baked goods made from ingredients that are organic, fair trade and sourced from local farmers and purveyors.  They offer a delivery lunch service (their soups, salads and vegan quinoa pies are incredible), in cooperation with THAAT Delivery (www.thaat.ca) and they also serve up a wonderful latte made from Detour Coffee that is always enjoyable, so when you pick up a treat or your bakery order, ensure you partake while you are there!

Coffee Tree Roastery, Toronto, ON was a recent find of mine in Toronto.  Despite being one of the oldest roasteries in Toronto, it wasn’t until a foray into Bloor West Village, did I find this gem!  I fully respect a place that smells of roasting coffee and has a wall of single source varietals and blends to choose from and yes, you can order the coffee that you drink from one of the MANY varieties available in French press or pour-over (Chemex to be exact!) style as well as what brewed or espresso blends they are serving that day.

The café itself has a small but delicious looking menu of products from local ACE Bakery, Jumbo Empanada and Wanda’s Pies and they specialize in a variety of breakfast burritos in the morning.  They also sell a nice selection of implements to brew their coffee at home including some beautiful Bodum and Chemex (perhaps the Rolls-Royce of pour-over coffee makers) products.  John, their roastmaster is usually on hand to assist you in selecting a blend, varietal and roast for your needs!

Their focus is on freshly roasted, coffee that is ethically sourced and is socially, environmentally and economically responsible.  They also have a wide variety of teas that fall under the Ethical Tea Partnership and are certified organic.  They also regularly support local and international charities through fundraising, auctions and donations.  Their coffee grounds are collected for garden and coffee sacks are recycled for use by their customers and various organizations.

Lit Espresso Bar, Toronto, ON Lit is one of the first independent specialty coffee bars in Toronto, specializing in Stumptown Roasters’ coffee.  Their trained baristas focus on every shot and their two locations are stylish and provide great places to relax and meet folks.  They also bake their own pastries in house and have regularly scheduled cuppings to help people understand their coffee better.  Their dedication to coffee perfection and education is admirable their locations are comfortable and, for the most part, free from pretension.

Moonbeam Café, Toronto, ON On the outskirts of Toronto’s Kensington Market lies Moonbeam Coffee Company.  I was shocked when I was first dragged into this coffee house (the name and exterior had me fearing the smell of patchouli incense and love beads), as I wasn’t expecting the smell of freshly roasted coffee (they roast their own blends from green beans) mingling with the smell of fresh baked goodies.

This narrow storefront provides a surprisingly large selection of fresh roasted fair-trade coffees, homemade baked goods and one of the larger tea selections in the city of Toronto.  Don’t let the small unassuming storefront fool you, there is adequate space to sit back and relax and enjoy a cup and a fresh made baked good.  The hippie-ish name belies their sensible nature and commitment to organic and fair trade coffees and teas.  Plus they pull a wicked good shot of espresso.

Balzac’s Coffee, Toronto, ON. Located in the Distillery District (with other locations in Liberty Village, Stratford, Niagara on the Lake and Kitchener), Balzac’s inhabits the former case goods warehouse and has an open, airy, almost European atmosphere.  Their snacks and goodies come from a who’s who of Toronto-area bakeries (including Dufflet, Stratford and the local Brick Street Bakery).  Their coffee is roasted in the Hamilton area (Stoney Creek if I recall) and they are able to pull a decent shot of espresso.  This location is absolutely HUGE and you should be able to find a table, except perhaps on busy weekends.

The upper level is a great space, displaying art by local artists and also serving as a cozy and intimate event space.  I have been to no less than two weddings at Balzac and have greatly enjoyed both occasions!  One warning though, don’t go to Balzac’s expecting wifi.  They do not provide it, so just sit back and enjoy the great atmosphere (all of their locations are in historic buildings chosen for their unique character), decent coffee and conversation.

Scratch Seasonal Bakery, Durham, NC Scratch is a small artisanal bakery located in Downtown Durham, NC whose aim is to support and nurture relationships with their local farmers and producers.  Their bakery has a variety of goods that changes daily based on what ingredients are available and they take their coffee seriously.  Like Cake and Loaf, they ensure that their baked goods and foods are accompanied by quality beverages.  Their location is light, airy and informal and a joy to visit!

I’ve heard from a very reliable source that their baked goods are truly delicious!

Uncommon Grounds, Saratoga Springs, NY  I was in Saratoga Springs, NY lecturing at a clown convention when the need for coffee beyond the dreck the hotel was serving was identified (really! this lasted after the first morning’s coffee infusion went down the bathroom sink).  In between classes, I walked down Broadway in the downtown area and was lured by the smell of freshly roasting beans.

I walked into Uncommon Grounds and found a beautiful shop filled with wood, warm lighting and the smell of roasting coffee and freshly baked bagels.  Needless to say, a coffee infusion and a bagel were absolutely necessary (as I was still fat, I still ate baked goods then).  Their coffee was wonderful and warranted repeat daily visits during my stay that week.  I was invited to attend my first cupping and enjoyed my first REAL espresso that week.

Uncommon Grounds was my first serious initiation into coffee culture and I quite enjoyed this unassuming place that focused on EVERY SINGLE aspect of their coffee from sourcing the beans, to roasting to brewing them perfectly.  This attention to detail both shocked and impressed me greatly and changed my life as a coffee drinker.

no sugar cookie dough dip

Don’t knock this one until you’ve tried it!  Filled with protein and healthy carbs, it satisfies a sweet tooth without refined sugars or sugar substitutes.

  • 1 1/4 cup pitted dates
  • 1 can drained chickpeas or 1 1/2 cups of cooked
  • heaping 1/8 tsp salt
  • tiny bit over 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup nut butter (I use all natural “just peanuts” peanut butter)
  • 2 tbsp rolled oats
  • nondairy milk to thin as needed  

In a bowl, cover the dates with 1/2 cup water. Let this sit for at least 8 hours. Then add all ingredients (including the dates’ soaking liquid) to a food processor and blend until very smooth.

This can be served as a dessert dip, as a spread (maybe in between apple slices or crackers?), eaten with a spoon, mixed into oatmeal, stuffed into cupcakes, or even used to top pancakes!

I’m considering adding chopped nuts and sugar-free chocolate chips to mine…