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September 2016

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Where are the green parks in Toronto?

Amidst many struggles in Toronto, maintaining parks often falls by the wayside. Unfortunately, the neglect of public parks leaves grassy open areas scorched and littered in garbage.

Despite budget cuts, a struggling transit portfolio, and an affordable housing crisis, the city parks are drying up. Canoe Landing in downtown Toronto is a prime example of neglected public park space. The park consists of weeds that have taken over the fields, broken benches, and fountains without water. Though taking care of parks in a large city is a hefty task, there are solutions to creating beautiful parks and it begins with an adequate budget. If Mayor John Tory sincerely wants to build the new Downtown Rail Park that was revealed last month, then a concrete budget is needed for all of Toronto’s parks first.

Parks and recreation have a budget that includes an annual grant into the Toronto Parks and Tree Foundation (TPTF). The grant subsists from public donations and the city will match the donation. For every $2 donated, the city will contribute $1 and raise funds for parks, but this relies on public interest. Along with this budget, Section 37 contributes limited income to the parks. This provincial regulation allows developers who want to exceed zoning laws in their building to donate a certain amount of funding to public projects in exchange for permission. If a councillor so desires, the funds can be allocated to parks, but it isn’t mandatory and a lot of public projects are in need of funding. With limited budget from the foundation and Section 37, the parks don’t have enough funding to be properly maintained, instead becoming an eye sore in the hot summer months.

Instead of fixing Toronto’s current parks, city council announced an expensive and vast 21-acre downtown Rail Park that will cover the tracks in downtown Toronto. This is an amazing concept, but until the money suddenly appears, it seems it may merely be a pipe dream. The downtown park has been met with a lot of criticism because of the lack of money available, and appears to be yet another way of trying to distract people in Toronto from the lack of current care to parks in the city.

Christie Pitts Park. By Danielle Scott.
Christie Pitts Park. By Danielle Scott.

There are a few solutions. One is to use water runoff from condo buildings in the city to hydrate the parks. Reallocating spare water resources would keep the parks healthy and provide free carbon sinks around Toronto. Another resolution is to appoint park managers to help care for individual parks across the city. This would simultaneously maintain the parks and provide ‘green’ employment in the city. In Central Park in New York, a private conservancy runs the park and it is well maintained as a result. Providing an incentive for private companies to invest in parks within their ward or region would help invigorate communities to help protect those green spaces. To an extent, Dundas Square is supported by private investors. It has a board of management with business entrepreneurs and city officials that work together to make sure the area is clean and sustained.

Parks are integral to a healthy city landscape. They provide a place to frolic for children and adults alike, and give clean air to residents. Parks also promote a sense of community and they are beautiful. Imagine a world without trees — it seems like a pretty empty and disgusting place. It is our duty to care for our parks and pressure the city to care as well.

Have you seen any parks that aren’t properly maintained? If so, please let us know at Women’s Post in the comments below.

How choosing the right contractor makes a world of difference

Whether you are contemplating an addition or embarking on a large-scale renovation, deciding on the right contractor to handle your home renovation can be an extremely daunting task. There are so many aspects to consider, from reasonable pricing to the speed of construction. How do you even begin to make such a fundamentally important decision?

Well, let me introduce you to the new generation of home renovators — contractors whose main objective is to guide you through the entire process from inception to completion. This new breed of contractors is taking customer service to a whole new level, ensuring the client is happy and receives a phenomenally positive home renovation experience.

The secret to picking the perfect redesign firm lies in just how well they plan on taking care of you and your needs. Customer service must be a top priority, and you need someone who will not only understand your vision, but will also make it their mission to see that your dreams become reality!

Fraser Homes Inc. is a custom design rebuild firm that specializes in residential home renovations. Located in Toronto, the business is run by two brothers — Rod and Mark Fraser — who form a dream team with backgrounds in design, construction, marketing, and business. They balance each other out completely. Mark is the designer and “lofty dreamer” while Rod has the construction and marketing experience.

The brothers opened their doors in 2009 and then officially incorporated in 2012. Their first official job was a single bathroom, which quickly escalated into an incredibly successful enterprise. The clients were so enthralled with their stylish new bathroom that they hired Fraser Homes to redesign their entire home from top to bottom.

What makes Fraser Homes unique is their emphasis on customer service, something the Fraser brothers say is lacking in the construction industry.

Their website has a special client login that allows customers to follow the progress of their renovations. Using this login, which can also be accessed using the company’s app, clients can request changes, communicate directly with their project manager, and choose products, among other things. According to the Fraser brothers, the purpose of this customer-centric focus is to ensure there are no surprises at the end of the construction period and that the client is, ultimately, happy with their work.

“We go a long way to keep client informed and updated on our production schedule and what’s happening,” Mark said. “Communication is the heart and soul of construction – letting clients know where you are and planning the job well and making sure clients are involved.”

“We don’t believe in a $70,000 charge for upgrades they don’t remember. At the end of whatever project, they were able to say we were kept informed and there were no surprises,” he said.

Photo provided by Fraser Homes.
Photo provided by Fraser Homes.

Client reviews, both on the Fraser Homes’ website and independent review outlets, showered the company with praise, saying the brothers were professional, communicative, and friendly. Nearly everyone described their experience as a success, and after speaking with them myself, I understand why. The brothers are deeply passionate about their work and when discussing design and renovation trends — a “mixture between the minimalist-modern … as well as semi-industrial” — their enthusiasm is contagious.

The brothers also like to push the limits of design and help their clients to think, not just outside the box, but way beyond it.

“You have to be the one taking your clients to the next level,” said Mark. “I tell people you have two types of rooms: you can have the one pictured in a magazine or you can have the one people take pictures of FOR the magazine.”

Fraser Homes has also been experimenting with green and sustainable building. They try to use eco-friendly products in their current construction process, but they are also putting together a few proposals for property developments that will be completely sustainable.

If you are planning a home renovation and are looking for personalized and professional experience, look no further than Fraser Homes. Please click here to visit the Fraser Homes website or contact them directly at 416-477-1186 or info@fhinc.ca

5 fun and creative back-to-school lunch ideas

Making back-to-school lunches can be tedious business. Who wants to eat the same sandwich every day? Instead of falling into those bad (yet speedy) habits, why not start the year with a kick and make fun lunches for your kids can brag about at school. On the first day of school today, my daughter was expecting a sandwich and when I told her on the way to school that she as going to be eating soy chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs, she was so excited. Seeing her smile — that’s what makes the effort worth it.

Pizza Quesadillas
Pizza Quesadillas
  1. Lunchbox Quesadilla Pizza

The homemade quesadilla pizza is an easy meal that kids will love. It is also a simple way to conceal vegetables in your child’s food. Simply fry a tortilla with cheese (or vegan cheese), spread on some pizza sauce, and then place cheese and the desired toppings. Cover with another tortilla. Make sure to flip it and brown on both sides. Pitas or tortillas work well enough for these pizzas (or pizza sandwiches), but homemade dough is also a tasty option enjoyable.

By Evan Amos.
By Evan Amos.
  1. Kid’s trail mix

If you are having a tough time cramming all of the snacks into one single lunchbox (and wasting Ziploc bags), why not mix them all into one container? A kid’s trail mix can be made up of several different options including yogurt raisins, goldfish crackers, grapes, nuts and crackers. This is a fun snack option because you can change it daily, which always makes it a surprise for your child.

GlassOfJuice_and_carrots

  1. Lunch “fun due”

If your child is getting bored of sandwiches (and it is still too hot for warm lunches), a “fun due” is another way to make a creative meal. By tearing up bread into pieces and then providing a variety of dips, it makes a kid-friendly version of a fondue. It is important to make healthy and filling dips, including blending fruits and veggies with almond milk to make a thick sauce that can be dipped into. Include cheese cubes and other finger foods to complete the meal.

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  1. Lady Fruit Face

When I was a child, I loved playing with my food. I even went so far as to melt marshmallows into little statues. For this creative snack idea, take different fruits and make fun fruit faces with them. Using an orange slice as the face, take an carrot stick for the mouth, grapes for the hair and raisins for eyes. Kids love seeing the various creations and it will make them excited to eat fruit and vegetables every day.

Silver_dollar_pancakes

  1. Mini Pancakes with vegetables and fruit

Instead of using lunch foods to make a meal, try a breakfast option instead. Make small pancakes and freeze them. They pair well with fruit. Include a little bit of syrup and several different types of fruits for a well-rounded and yummy meal. Pancakes are also another food that is easy to hide healthy ingredients such as flax seed, zucchini, or chocolate hemp protein powder.

Getting kids to enjoy food can be a difficult task sometimes and making creative lunches helps keep them interested in eating well. Using fun foods as a way to conceal healthy items in lunch is another way to ensure your child keeps their energy up and is excited to eat something fresh every day.

What are you packing in your child’s lunches? Let us know in the comments below!

The Growth Plan in the GTA is being ignored by municipalities

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is the fastest growing region in Canada, and urban sprawl is a glaring issue. Unfortunately, attempts to mitigate urban sprawl are being ignored by municipalities.

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe came into effect on June 16, 2006 with a goal to create density targets in the GTA region. Many of the density planning targets in the Growth Plan are not being properly adhered to by the Ontario Municipality Board (OMB). Friends of a Greenbelt, an environmental non-profit, recently released a report detailing exactly what needs to be changed to ensure that the OMB, developers, and other power players in building the GTA adhere to the Growth Plan.

When planning for future development, it is necessary to create Land Needs Assessments (LNA). A LNA is a planning tool used to determine the amount of new land needed to house the future population, as well as employment growth in the area. This land use tool assesses land vs. supply and plans future growth capacity in a given area.

Previously, urban planners used a methodology created in 1995 known as the Projection Methodology Guideline (PMG). This standard assesses what kind of housing people need dependant on the population (families, seniors, students etc.) rather than how much densification is needed in the given area to preserve land. Many detached homes are built using these standards.

With the Growth Plan in place, it requires a LNA to implement intensification and density target. On May 10, 2016, the Ontario government proposed new intensification targets, which required that a minimum of 60 per cent of all new residential development be built-up in areas that already have housing. The government also mandated that new development property should target a density a minimum of 80 residents and jobs per hectare.

In theory, the LNA proposed under the Growth Plan is a great tool to slow down urban sprawl, but it is not being followed properly. Instead, the OMB, land economists and developers are using the PMG criteria still, with minor adjustments in a small attempt to meet the Growth Plan density and intensification targets. A part of the reason that the PMG continues to be in use is because the language and specifications surrounding the LNA are confusing for municipalities to understand.

Alongside implementing intensification and density targets for the Growth Plan, Ontario needs to create a simplified LNA methodology that the OMB and developers can use without issue. Certain terms in the Growth Plan need to be clarified as well.  For example, the LNA policy indicates that “40 per cent of all residential development” needs to be intensified to adhere to the density targets in the Growth Plan. This indicates that municipalities must assess not only the number of new housing units required, but also the average person-per-unit (PPU) of these units. It is very unreliable and difficult data, which makes the LNA under the Growth Plan difficult to understand.

Instead, if the act indicated that the LNA needs to measure “40 per cent of the population forecast to occupy new residential dwelling units”, this would simplify the process of determining future density targets without needing to specify how many people would live per house. This small change would waste less resources and time for planners, and would help streamline the process for the LNA under the Growth Plan.

The report also recommended freezing urban boundary expansion until the 2016 census data is released for most up-to-date population information, and to also not allow developers to appeal LNA calculations the OMB. Oftentimes, developers and land economists have been allowed to appeal to the OMB and ignore intensification and density targets.

Putting pressure on land developers to adhere to the Growth Plan conserves valuable land and increases density in areas rampant with urban sprawl. Simplification and understanding are tools of power, and hopefully Ontario implements these recommendations, making the LNA under the Growth Plan a powerful tool for change.

5 fall ciders to try from Toronto Cider Festival

If you are looking for a sweeter alternative to beer — and aren’t feeling a glass of wine —  a tasty cider could be the perfect fall solution

Ciders are normally made with fermented apples, but other fruits can be used as well.  With harvest season just around the corner, delicious and fresh ciders are available throughout Ontario. To find the best cider in the province, I attended Cider Fest on Saturday at Dundas Square and sampled some of the amazing featured beverages offered.

Here are my five favourite ciders:

  1. Spirit Tree Cider

Spirit Tree Cider was my favourite out of the ciders I tried. There were two different samples — a lavender cider and a hoppy cider. The cider with a hint of lavender was made with local apples. The floral taste the lavender added was surprisingly pleasant, making it one of the most creative ciders at the festival. The hoppy cider was also a rarity, with only a few hoppy ciders available. The hops was subtle yet apparent, and added a kick to the cider. The hoppy cider from Spirit Tree is the perfect beverage for someone who loves beer, but is in the mood for a cider that isn’t as sweet. At the cidery located in Caledon, Spirit Tree has 12 different ciders available, a bakery, and offers tours.

  1. Shiny Apple Cider

My second favourite was the Shiny Apple Cider, made in Niagara on the Lake. This cider is gluten-free and vegan, using potato rinds instead of pork rinds during processing. Shiny Apple Cider is seven per cent alcohol, higher than many other ciders. It had a crisp taste, and it tasted like it had very little preservatives. It was sweet, but there was distinct quality in the taste. Shiny Apple Cider has two cider options — Shiny Apple Cider and Shiny Red Apple Cider — and is made by Small Talk Vineyard Wines.

  1. Angry Orchard

This sweet and light cider is from Walden, New York in the Hudson Valley, was not as sweet as Shiny Apple Cider and had a light bubbly taste. It still retained an apple taste though, but the bubbly quality made it seem more like a sweet wine than a beer.  Angry Orchard has over 10 ciders and provides a variety of seasonal tastes, ranging from adding cinnamon to ginger while retaining the true apple taste of the region. Definitely try Angry Orchard a cider.

  1. Thornbury Village Cider

The Thornbury Village Cider is sour and has a closer taste to a champagne. It is a perfect option for someone who loves wine, but is looking to branch out into other taste palettes. The cider is also highly carbonated, which varies in different ciders. The beverage is from Thornbury, and also boasts being gluten-free and vegan. The cidery is located along the shores of Georgian Bay and is a beautiful site for a tour.

  1. Forbidden Dry Cider

The final contender for best five ciders is the Forbidden Dry Cider, a beverage made by the Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery. This cider is very similar to wine, and is typical for dry ciders. If you like tart drinks then Forbidden is for you. The winery is located near Meaford, Ont., which is close to Georgian Bay.

The weather may be getting cooler, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy patio season with a good cold brew. Throw on a jacket and a light scarf and enjoy the changing of the leaves. For those who don’t enjoy hoppy beers or tart wines, a cider is the perfect option. These are just five recommendations, but there are dozens to try, each with different flavours and fruit notes. Be a bit adventurous and try these local ciders this fall.

 

What is your favourite cider? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

How to make your dorm your own

Moving away from home for the first time is an exciting and scary adventure. On one hand, you finally have independence from your parents, but then you have to make sure you can actually take care of yourself. Creating a fun and organized dorm room is the way to make that happen.

The first step when moving into a dorm room is to assess the size of the room and figure out what fits in the small space. I had my own room in residence and it came with a twin bed, dresser, and desk. It was literally the size of a closet (honestly, I was just glad I had my own room). Here are a few tips from a university veteran.

Photo by Marco Derksen
Photo by Marco Derksen
  1. Good vibes

By creating a room with colourful and dynamic art, it makes an open and enjoyable space that classmates and friends can also enjoy. When I moved into residence, I was a poor student and had to be creative with my decorating skills. I purchased an art magazine called Juxtapose and hung all of the art on my door and walls, creating a collage. I still use some of these art pieces today. Most campuses in Ontario have poster sales if you are looking for something specific. If you do have to share a room, try using a nice fabric or sheet to separate the space and make it more private. You can also buy a funky bedspread and pillows to make the space even more dynamic.

  1. Ways to leave a note

Another decorating trick is to create a message board. I used a roll of blank white paper on a wall to create a writing area for people to sign and leave messages after they stop by. I also used it to write poems and do drawings when I had a sudden burst of inspiration. These papers are now a memento of my first few years at university.  You can also hang a whiteboard or chalkboard if you prefer. Having a message area is also a fun way for your friends to leave notes at your dorm if you aren’t there, and also so floor mates can inform you of parties and get-togethers.

2011-Master-Closet-Organizer-014

  1. Closet organizers

A closet organizer is a must in a tiny room. These hanging units take up virtually no space and help to keep clothes and personal items organized and off the ground. Be sure to keep the area organized though as the compartments can get quite messy if you pile on extra items or random knick knacks. I personally used my closet organizer for undergarments because these items are small and get easily lost if not in a contained area. These organizers come in a variety of styles and sizes, and can be quite stylish.

 

  1. A wall calendar

University can be chaotic and busy, and having a place in front of your desk with your tests and activities written down is a good way to remember your schedule. I had a large calendar and could record everything from a friend’s kegger to the midterm the next day (hopefully not). Having deadlines visible on a daily basis helped me remember what needed to be done and alleviated stress.

  1. Under the bed storage

Dorm rooms have limited space, so make sure to utilize the space under your bed. Get some short and wide boxes for seasonal clothing or use it to store smaller things like extra toothpaste, Tylenol, and socks. This is also a great spot to store secret snacks when you get the munchies.

Decorating gives character to a room, making it friendly and inviting. It will also make it feel more personal if you feel homesick. Being organized will help you succeed at the “school” part of living in residence (smaller priority sometimes), while the more personal touches will make the tiny room seem like home.

How would you decorate and organize your dorm room? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

How to make moving schools an adventure

Moving schools as a kid can be daunting and scary. It can also be daunting as a parent, watching your child walk away into a new place.

My daughter and I are moving across town and she will be starting a new school in a week. It is going to be a tough transition from school to school, but I have a few ideas on how to make the change smoother. The number one priority for me is making sure my daughter feels that moving is an adventure rather than a terrifying reality. I’ve been really positive about the move every time we talk about it (though as we all know, moving can be VERY stressful), and I tell her the fun and new recreational activities and school events she will be a part of in our new neighbourhood.

In a sense I feel like a real estate agent who is selling the neighbourhood to a five-year old. She’s had the official tour of the street, seen the school, and I’m taking her along with us through all the steps so that she feels involved. Oftentimes, I think what scares children is feeling out of control of their own lives. As parents, we take our children from place to place without considering their choices. Though I can’t let my kindergartener make our life decisions, I can make her feel like she is a part of the change. When it comes to my daughter’s new recreation activities, it is her choice.  She gets to feel like she is in control.

Another way to help children move is to listen to how they feel about it. I like to get down on my daughter’s level (my little three-footer) and ask her how she is doing. Sharing feelings is empowering and often helps more than faking it. I’ve always asked my daughter how she feels, and it helps her feel better. She has admitted she is sad about leaving her friends at school, for example, and I responded by saying that is okay. I let her know it is perfectly acceptable to express tough emotions and responding to them is the best way to show empathy for her feelings. After discovering she is sad about leaving, I asked her if visiting her friends at her old school would make her feel better. She decided that was a good idea, and felt better after we talked and made a plan.

If kids can’t visit their old school, another method is to give your child a picture of their old school, or to make sure that your child can stay in touch with friends after you part ways. This helps the transition and makes kids feel they aren’t losing their whole lives. I have a pretty social child, but if you have a shy kid then sometimes drawing a picture also helps to communicate the feelings surrounding the move.

Even if all of these steps are taken, the reality is that the first few weeks of school will still be difficult. Change is hard, and being surrounded with new children is a transition. I plan on being very patient with my daughter in the first couple weeks of school, and if she is more testy than usual, it will be easy to see why. With social children, I hope she will make friends. If she is struggling though, planning a playdate with another child or joining activities with other kids from the school might help her along in her adjustment.

At the end of the day, change is a part of life, and all of us big and small have to figure out how to adjust to it. Even though I can still take every step possible to make sure my daughter is protected from feeling the negative side effects of moving, she has to experience it for herself. The best I can do as a mom is to love her and support her however she needs. I know I’ll tell her on the way to school that she is a great little girl and doesn’t need to worry. If she struggles to make friends at first, I’ll sit down and play dolls with her more often than usual to make her feel better. No matter what, she has me and everything else will fall into place naturally if she has support and love by her side.

What do you think is the most important step to take when moving kids from school to school? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.