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Meteorologist Claire Martin

3 Mar

IMG_3376

Date of lunch:
Saturday, March 2, 2013

The company:
Claire Martin is the senior meteorologist for the CBC. Her background is incredible. She is trained as a meteorologist, not as a television personality and has insisted in her time at CBC that the News Weather Centre be staffed with qualified meteorologists who understand the science behind weather. But her lack of formal training in television presenting has by no means impacted her abilities as an on-air personality. She has been named the “Best Weather Presenter in the World” three times by the International Weather Festival.

The food:
We ate at one of my very favourite restaurants in Toronto, Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington. I honestly dream about this place. I want another pizza right now. Claire had the mushroom pizza and I had the prosciutto pizza and we each had a piece of the other’s. My pizza was awesome as usual, thin crust, tons of prosciutto and a perfect tomato sauce. This is my go-to order. Claire’s mushroom pizza had rosemary and gorgonzola and it was also delicious, especially the bites with the cheese. I had a coffee and we both drank water. Total bill was $40 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Claire does amazing work outside of the CBC by traveling and educating people about weather all over the world. Working with the UN’s WMO (World Meteorological Organization), she has travelled throughout Africa, to Afghanistan and other locations and met with locals to teach them about the science of weather and prediction and how it can impact farming, how to sort out insurance for crops and more. In her travels, she often comes across many other people like herself. People with valuable skills, taking their vacation time to travel and educate locals (in weather, law, broadcasting, etc.) and help them to succeed on their own. You often hear about the international aid organizations working in developing countries and their work is extremely valuable (Doctors without Borders being one of my personal favourites) but you very rarely hear about these individuals who are making huge impact all over the world.

The lunch:
When I originally outreached to Claire to arrange this lunch, it was a day or two before Toronto’s big snowstorm at the beginning of February. I always notice when a storm like this approaches, everyone becomes obsessed with the weather. Is it a Frakenstorm? What’s a Nor’easter? Will there be thundersnow? (Okay, maybe it’s only me who asks about that as thundersnow is my fave.) Twitter explodes with nicknames for the storm, Instagram images of snow covered roads, buildings and trees and thoughts on whether Toronto will call in the army. Social media has definitely brought increased interest in weather or maybe it has just illustrated an interest that’s been there all along.

And while observing, talking and complaining about weather often seems like a national past time in Canada, the science behind it is incredibly comprehensive. CBC staffs a team of meteorologists, led by Claire, that work every day to analyze and predict weather. Claire told me the amount of data processed daily by the CBC News Weather Centre is more than the data processed daily by a bank. While Environment Canada provides the images of the current weather systems, the CBC team will work together to analyze its path, timing, impact and what it will mean to regular folks just trying to go about their day. This scientific analysis is why Claire wanted to ensure that her team members were trained meteorologists. She also mentioned that there is an art to the flow of weather patterns and the most successful meteorologists have both the scientific credentials and an artistic side.

I have already shown my love for thundersnow but I wanted to know what type of weather is of most interest to Claire. She didn’t even take a second to think about it: hurricanes. She talked about how this is a weather system that all animals feel, there is a smell in the air, its power is all around you and there’s nothing else like it. Although she wasn’t on-site for Sandy, she has traveled to hurricane sites in the past including Katrina and Wilma. She has seen the destruction first hand and saw it coming in what is likely a clearer lens than most people.

And all of this work and travel has led her to understand climate change like few others. Climate is changing and while human behaviour has sped up the change, climate is going to change no matter what. Although there is continued debate about whether the climate is changing or whether its human behaviour that has caused it, Claire thinks the most important question is not necessarily being addressed – how are we adapting to the new climate reality. Claire discussed how condos are creeping closer and closer to the water’s edge in Florida and destroying some of the natural vegetation that is there to help lessen hurricane damage. She even mentioned Brad Pitt building new homes in New Orleans on stilts. Why is a movie actor doing this and not the government? Building higher levies can’t be the only answer because what happens when those levies are breached? Homes need to adapt to the climate realities.

I left this lunch with the continued bit of regret in my belly that I didn’t study meteorology in university. I think about it sometimes because I do geek out about weather and I was no slouch at physics and math. Ah well, at least I’m able to use my lunch blog to step into the shoes of a meteorologist for a brief moment. The work Claire does is even more interesting that I could have imagined.

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Arts & Crafts Record Label President Jeffrey Remedios

29 Sep

Lunch with Mary 062b

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The company:
Jeffrey Remedios is the co-founder and president of Arts & Crafts, a record label and production company. Its first album that really helped to launch the label was 2003’s Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot it in People, still one of my favourite albums of all time. And beyond the record label, Jeffrey is involved with music in all sorts of ways. He sits on the board of CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) and others. And one of his most exciting upcoming projects is co-chairing Operanation, a fundraising GALA on October 18th for the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio that combines live performances by COC’s Ensemble Studio singers and contemporary music artists, such as past performers Broken Social Scene and Rufus Wainwright and this year’s just announced The Arkells and Nelly Furtado.

The food:
We ate at Jules Bistro on Spadina just south of Queen. It’s a pretty bustling lunch spot but we met for lunch at 1 p.m. so it calmed down quickly. Both Jeffrey and I had the nicoise salad. It was a pretty tasty, light lunch. Jeffrey also ordered frites but they never arrived, strange. We both drank water and both had an Americano after our meal. Total bill was $44 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Music has really defined Jeffrey’s life and he has been able to parlay that into an awesome career, starting working the public relations side at a major label and now with his own label. But the most interesting aspect of his love of music is how it’s constantly evolving. A great example of this is Jeffrey’s involvement with Operanation. He admitted that he didn’t know much about opera a few years ago but was invited to attend a previous Operanation. And then Alexander Neef attended a Broken Social Scene concert on the Island a few years back and they became friends. His interest and appreciation for opera grew from there, adding Broken Social Scene to Operanation the next year. I really appreciated how Jeffrey has so many great indie rock acts on his label but is still open and excited to learn about other aspects of music. Made me realize that as we get older, we can get a little stuck in what we like and maybe stop looking around to experience new things, it’s great to see Jeffrey continuing to want to learn and experience more.

The lunch:
For anyone who is reading this and is totally jealous of Jeffrey’s job, he did offer some advice to anyone looking to start their own label. “Have Broken Social Scene be the first band you sign.” For the first three years of the label, they were able to work with Broken Social Scene, their friends and side projects of band members like Feist, Stars and Apostle of Hustle, who have all achieved great success including Feist winning the Polaris Music Prize just this week.

Overall it was just a really great conversation that flowed from start to finish. Maybe it was the discovery at the end of our mutual love for Ira Glass’ This American Life where Jeffrey pointed out the most amazing app I have ever seen… every This American Life podcast ever recorded. No more saving up the new ones for road trips!

We talked a lot about music, obviously. Jeffrey explained how music has really defined his whole life and even as he became interested in other things like politics, he still finds that music defines these other interests.

I recently attended Jian Ghomeshi’s new book launch as the +1 of RAA’s lovely Amy Cole and I think this event was the perfect combination of so many aspects of Canada, music and culture and sort of played out in real time what Jeffrey was talking about. It was a literary event, The Arkells were the “house band,” Jian Ghomeshi joined them on-stage and sang lead, he talked about growing up in 1982 as an Iranian-Canadian and politicians were even in attendance like Olivia Chow and Justin Trudeau. A real combination of so much that is Canada. I asked Jeffrey if he attended as Broken Social Scene members also took the stage. Well he wasn’t there BUT he did help organize it. Of course he did. He really has his hands in a lot of stuff in this city.

I was a little embarrassed when Jeffrey asked me what bands I listen to because I am 1. not the hippest and most up to date on my music and 2. I never remember bands’ names. But I was able to talk to those special songs that as soon as you hear them, you can totally be transported back to a moment in time. Like that first Broken Social Scene album that I listened to the whole way across Canada back on a crazy road trip in 2003 or Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication that transports me right back to the tenth grade.

Hanging out with Jeffrey not only makes you excited about music but also about Toronto, there is so much going on all the time, so much music and so many interesting collaborations. I really need to take better advantage of everything this city has to offer and so should all of you!

TTC CEO Andy Byford

5 Jun

Lunch with Mary 061

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 4, 2012

The company:
Andy Byford is the new (as of March 2012) CEO of the TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission. There was definitely a lot of news around Andy’s appointment as his predecessor, Gary Webster, was fired by a vote of the City of Toronto’s executive committee. Andy was already working as COO with Gary and positioned as his likely successor upon his retirement, so it was quite fitting to have Andy immediately take over once Gary was forced out. Now there are many opinions that can be written about how this all went down but that isn’t what this lunch was about. I am an avid transit user, a daily commuter and a big TTC fan (some would say transit nerd) most of the time. I wanted to hear from the CEO himself about what the future holds for the TTC. Prior to joining the TTC, Andy was the COO of Railcorp in Australia and before that he held many positions with the London Underground including line foreman, customer service manager of a station and general manager of customer services of several tube lines. He does not own a car and is very passionate about public transportation.

The food:
We ate at Grano on Yonge, a few blocks north of Davisville and the TTC head office. It’s a very cute Italian restaurant. Andy arrived earlier than me and spoke with the owner Roberto. On our way out, Andy was introduced to Roberto’s nephew who was on a break from his job as a subway driver. They all seemed to be very happy to meet each other and it was pretty cool to see the interaction. I had the fusilli chicken pasta with mushrooms and Andy had the risotto special. We shared a large bottle of sparkling water. My pasta was absolutely delicious and I ate every last bite. Andy said his risotto was very good but his eyes were bigger than his stomach as he was unable to finish. Total bill was $46 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Andy told me that he has always wanted to work for the TTC. He said he knew that if he ever got the call from Toronto, he would move. He said there are many amazing things about the TTC that Torontonians don’t realize. He was able to point one out to me that I had no idea was unique. Multi-module hubs. Allow me to explain. At stations like Dundas West, Bathurst, Spadina and St. Clair, you can get off the subway and get onto a bus or a streetcar or in Spadina’s case, a different subway line, all within a paid area. Andy let me know that in other cities, including London, you most often have to leave the subway station and walk a block or so to make the transfer. As someone who switches from subway to bus in a pay zone every single day, I had no idea that this was unique but I do love the convenience of it all. So all of you TTC complainers – here’s something to be happy about!

The lunch:
Andy is really excited about his new role and very excited about transforming the TTC. He has a five year plan and he hopes at the end of it, people really look at the TTC and really see the difference and understand and appreciate the improvements. It is a lofty goal.

Andy’s goal is both internal and external. He wants to improve the customers’ experience but he also wants to improve internal processes and employee morale. One of the first things he put together was a document for employees that includes “10 things to think about.” Number 5 on that list is “Delight customers with quick wins.” And you can see one of those quick wins already with the renovated washrooms across the subway line, including the once disgusting facilities at Bloor Station. Although I am still a bit scared to ever go back into those washrooms, I am happy they’ve been improved.

He’s also instituted a daily customer service report that includes objectives across all areas of the TTC that everyone within the TTC must strive to meet and he has identified key performance indicators, things like delivering a punctual subway service and providing easy access to customers with functional elevators and escalators. Every day the service is measured against the objectives. Seems like a good start.

And one day when service did not meet its objectives was Friday, June 1 when Union Station was flooded. Andy was actually travelling on the subway when it happened and his train bypassed Union and took him right to St. Andrews Station. He got off the train and ran over to Union to see what was happening. Incase anyone was wondering, he said the smell was absolutely awful. But he was pretty impressed that it was cleaned up so quickly. Now his focus is on determining why it happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

As mentioned above, Andy does not own a car so he rides everywhere on the TTC and he thinks it’s important that he uses the service. He does say it can be a bit uncomfortable when the subway stops underground between stops and all of the other passengers look at him. But otherwise, he said it has been a pretty positive experience.

Andy is very new to Toronto. His wife is a Canadian (from Ottawa like me) so he’s actually been to Toronto quite a few times but he’s just getting into all that the city has to offer, including sports. He’s a die-hard Plymouth Argyle football fan. It’s his hometown and he’s still a season ticket holder, he showed me his card. As such an avid Plymouth fan, he hasn’t yet quite embraced the Toronto FC but he’s very excited to check out a Jays game and is actually really looking forward to watching the Argos (you don’t hear that every day). His enthusiasm for Plymouth and English football has renewed my wish to get to the UK and watch a game, Andy was actually quite insistent that I do. And although he does play for Manchester United, Andy actually doesn’t mind my favourite player Paul Scholes.

There is a lot of exciting stuff happening with transit in this city, not only with the new LRT lines but also Presto passes that will be similar to the Oyster Card in the UK and the Metrolinx rail line to the airport that will connect with the TTC. I am pretty excited about all of it. And I was pretty happy to have a fellow transit nerd to chat with. Now if only we can get people to stop blocking the subway doors at St. George Station every morning.

Leading International Climate Scientist Dr. Ian Burton

8 Nov

Lunch with Mary 057

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The company:
Dr. Ian Burton’s resume is incredible and beyond impressive! He is a professor emeritus with the University of Toronto’s Adaptation and Research Section at the Centre for the Environment and was formerly a senior policy advisor with Environment Canada. Currently, he is a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank, European development assistance agencies, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the list goes on. He also received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. So I lunched with a Nobel Prize winner, no big deal. The report was honoured that year along with Al Gore’s work on climate change. Incase you are curious as to why it was a Peace Prize, it is because according to the IPCC there is a real danger that “climate changes may also increase the danger of war and conflict, because they will place already scarce natural resources, not least drinking water, under greater pressure and put large population groups to flight from drought, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions”.

The food:
We ate at Kalendar on College St. at Euclid. I was trying to find a quiet spot for lunch but it’s not always easy. Kalendar was quite nice for a lunch conversation with no loud music. However, as the lunch crowd grew it did get a bit noisy. Dr. Burton had the orange and ginger carrot soup and a Kalendar salad. I had a single scroll 5 – a Kalendar specialty. We both seemed to enjoy our meals as we completely cleaned our plates. We both drank water and each had a coffee after our meal. Total bill was $37 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Basically every moment of this lunch was so incredibly interesting. But Dr. Burton was able to really show the immense impact of climate change when he spoke of his work with the government of Bangladesh. The water levels are rising in the Bay of Bengal due to melting ice caps and Bangladesh is slowly going underwater. Unlike the Netherlands where levies and containment walls are doing the trick, Bangladesh is at a far greater risk. The sea around the country is much more susceptible to extreme typhoons. The rivers that run through Bangladesh swell at a much greater rate during monsoons. Basically the water will rise and there’s no stopping it. Already, salt water is seeping into the ground. Dr. Burton told me there are rice fields that have now been converted to shrimp farms. Dr. Burton is working with the government as they develop industries and training that will help citizens move north to cities that are on higher ground. Climate change is happening and people are being affected today.

The lunch:
Dr. Burton and I had to meet this week as he is about to leave for a three week trip to several environmental conferences. He first has meetings in Kampala, Uganda where the IPCC is to adopt a report on climate change and disasters for which Dr. Burton is a Lead Author. He then heads to Cape Town, South Africa where he is helping scientists there have their research published. He then will head to 17th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban, South Africa. The COP meets annually to assess the progress in dealing with climate change. It was at this conference in Japan in 1997 that the Kyoto Protocol was created. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

In 1997, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. With 2012 fast approaching, Canada’s greenhouse gas output is now, according to Dr. Burton, somewhere around 30 per cent higher than in 1990. Now many climate scientists will say that these targets were not well understood at the time of ratification and were perhaps never realistic.

Dr. Burton believes that although there are climate skeptics now, they will come around and the necessary change to reduce greenhouse emissions will happen – likely in something like 50 years. The problem with this scenario, according to Dr. Burton, is that many irreversible impacts of climate change will have already occurred. He told me about scientists in the UK who track different types of plants, insects and animals. Already they are seeing butterflies in northern areas where they were previously unable to survive. Although butterflies floating around doesn’t seem that bad, foreign species can have devastating effects on an ecosystem. In places like the Arctic, roads and buildings are built on permafrost. As that permafrost melts, all of this infrastructure is being destroyed. This impacts industry, jobs, the economy and more. Although it might seem expensive to reduce carbon emissions now, it will be more expensive in the long run.

In the past 100 years or so, the average global temperature has gone up by one degree. Dr. Burton was able to simply explain this to me. One degree might not seem like a lot. But do you know what the average temperature was during the ice age? Only five degrees cooler than today and four degrees cooler than 100 years ago. So each degree has an enormous impact.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a die-hard environmentalist, but listening to the impact of climate change in places like Bangladesh and the Arctic is quite frightening. I hear politicians doubting the validity of human’s impact on climate change. It is depressing when the evidence is quite clear. Hopefully with people like Dr. Burton on the case, we can work to find implementable solutions for both developing and developed nations.

As the COP approaches, you will notice more discussion of Kyoto and emission targets in the news. I will be trying my best to pay close attention as this is something that is really going to affect everyone – all over the world.

Penguin Canada Publishing Director Lynne Missen

27 Sep

Lunch with Mary 056

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The company:
Lynne Missen is publishing director of Penguin Canada Young Readers, its children and young adult program. Lynne has been an editor for over 20 years. Prior to joining Penguin Canada, she was executive editor of children’s books at HarperCollins Canada. Young Adult (YA as Lynne calls it) is at a really interesting spot right now as the books that fall in this category are being read by adults too and some of the best-selling books out today fall in this category – think Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games. Next spring, she will be launching Razorbill books here in Canada, an imprint of books for teens that are authentic, compelling and entertaining. I, like many others, have always dreamed about one day being a published author so it was great to hear from Lynne about what goes into publishing a book.

The food:
We ate at Barque Smokehouse on Roncesvalles. I have been meaning to check out this place for a while so was happy when Lynne suggested it. If you haven’t had the chance to check out Roncy since the construction was completed, you should definitely get down there and go for a stroll. It’s lovely. The lunch menu at Barque is a bit too small. They offer five or so sandwiches, a few salads and sides. That’s it. Lynne had the special – pulled pork sandwich with a spinach salad on the side. I had the pulled chicken sandwich with bacon and a smoked tomato soup on the side. My sandwich was delicious but the soup was too acidic – it didn’t have anything in it to cut the acid. We both drank sparkling water. Overall I will be back to try the dinner menu as I’ve seen pictures of the ribs and they look amazing. Total bill was $27 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I asked Lynne how one might hypothetically get a book published, say if that was, you know, something someone might want to do. She let me know that Penguin, as well as most of the other big publishing houses, doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and they receive manuscripts from unknown authors through agents. She mentioned that there are publishers that do accept unsolicited manuscripts. She said that finding an agent can be just as or more difficult than finding a publisher. She said the most important thing is to find a publisher or agent that is putting out the type of books that you’re writing. Lynne doesn’t publish a lot of picture books so if that’s what you’re shopping around, she isn’t the best target. Finally, she said when you do pitch your book, don’t say “it’s the next Harry Potter” but do indicate what type of book it is similar to and then explain why it’s similar and most importantly, what makes it different and more interesting than what else is already out there. It helps them to understand how it will fit into today’s market.

The lunch:
I was really excited to meet Lynne for lunch because I have long thought about taking a publisher for lunch to learn more about the book world and once I did outreach to Penguin, Lynne was incredibly kind in her emails and seemed to be looking forward to the lunch as well.

Lynne spends a lot of her time editing manuscripts. She reads through them and provides a list of questions and comments and sends it back to the author – questions about character development, plot lines, areas of confusions, etc. The author revises the book, sends it back to her, she reviews, then it goes to a copy editor, then proofreader, back and forth a few times and then printing. To be safe, Lynne says it can take about a year from when a manuscript is received to publishing. However, Penguin’s sales reps are now meeting with book sellers about Spring 2012 releases, so orders come in for books while they’re still going through the editing phases. She showed me a brochure of Penguin Canada’s 2012 titles that include a novel that Lynne was going home after lunch to continue editing. Now that’s a lot of pressure. But even with the pressure, reading books all day, revising them and making them better does sound like a pretty fun job.

I have always loved reading and usually my reading falls into three categories – beach reads (chick lit, detective novels, etc.), more serious fiction (mostly chosen by the smart people in my now defunct book club) and non-fiction (like Thomas Friedman and my previous lunch guest Doug Saunders). To be honest, I haven’t read a lot of YA books as an adult but I think they would fall nicely into my beach reads category – great stories, great characters and the inability to put the book down. I think Lynne really won me over on our lunch today.

But whenever I do think of YA, I think of an overabundance of books about vampires. And I don’t really want to read a bunch of books about vampires. Well Lynne said that the vampire market is pretty saturated right now. She said a popular genre right now is dystopian, which Hunger Games falls into. These are stories that take place in a society in a repressive or controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. I wonder if somehow vampires could exist in this state. Two birds, one stone. Boom. Best seller.

I remember reading YA books back in the day. We had Babysitter’s Club, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High and one of my faves – Christopher Pike. His books scared the crap out of me. I used to throw it on the ground when it got too scary and would wait days to pick it back up. But when I was growing up, we never had a Harry Potter type series that EVERYONE read. Seeing kids in line to buy a book is pretty awesome. And that’s what Lynne thinks too. Not every book has to have a lesson – getting kids into stories and reading can create a lifelong passion for books and is just as important.

**Lynne was kind enough to give me some books. I was SO excited about it that she said she is going to send me a few more so I can do a giveaway! I will post it soon. Stay tuned.

Physiotherapist, Professor and Global Rescue Worker Mike Landry

9 Jul

Lunch with Mary 054 Date of lunch:
Friday, July 8, 2011

The company:
Mike Landry is a physiotherapist, professor at University of Toronto (soon to be chair at Duke University) and a 15 year veteran of global rescue missions. I was listening to my fave, CBC Dispatches, and heard a story by Mike Landry about his original mission to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. He spoke about the work he did to help those with spinal cord injuries as a result of the earthquake and subsequent recovery effort. He then went back several months later to check on the progress of his patients and what he discovered led him to ask some very difficult questions about the responsibility of aid. When does it start? When does it end? I found the story very thought provoking and wanted to hear from Mike himself. In one of my fastest arranged lunches in history – I listened to the podcast on Sunday, Googled Mike Landry and emailed him on Monday and we had lunch on Friday. It was a fascinating conversation.

The food:
Mike and I ate at Café La Gaffe on Baldwin Street. I have never been on Baldwin Street on a beautiful afternoon and the patios were bustling. It’s one of those great hidden spots in Toronto. I had the Mediterranean vegetable pizza with salad and Mike had the risotto special with salad. We both drank water. The portions were huge, which I always appreciate. I did find the pizza a bit difficult to cut through but it was still great, tons of feta cheese! Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Mike talked to me about the type of person that is able to go on these global aid missions and was very clear that it is not for everyone. The images he sees are not something that he can forget and he said that every aid worker must have some amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he can’t even fully discuss what he sees and does with all people because it is too difficult for them to hear. What really got to me was that Mike and his colleagues choose to put themselves in these positions. But what about those that live there and have no choice but to see the devastation day in and day out? It’s hard to imagine what that must be like and that thought has really stuck with me since our lunch.

The lunch:
Ever since I was young, I had an understanding that there were people in other parts of the world that had far less than I did and, like many other in my shoes, had this drive to do something to help. But the problem is, what do you do and how can you help? Mike Landry first felt this feeling when he watched Live Aid as a child and the drive did not go away. For over 15 years, he has been going to areas all over the world and helping out.

I asked him if he was ever scared and he told me he never was until recently, when he had children. When he first saw the images coming back from Haiti after the earthquake, he decided he couldn’t go this time. His daughter was very young and he didn’t want to put himself at risk. Mike told me he was able to hold himself from going for a week and then he just had to go. Once he knew he was going, he was in Haiti within a couple of days.

In Haiti, Mike helped those that were suffering from spinal cord injuries. He said many of these people had pulled themselves, with very serious injuries, out of the rubble on their own. Others had fallen while working to help rescue others and clear rubble. Not that many years ago, these people never would have survived – these injuries would have meant certain death. But Mike and the rest of the team in Haiti were able to help them. Many of those they saved are now able to have some level of mobility.

A few months after the earthquake, Mike returned to Haiti to check back in on his patients and help them return home. To this day, rubble still covers the streets of Haiti and it is shocking to see. For someone with mobility issues, it is very difficult to get around.

He brought one woman, who is paralyzed, to her home that was so difficult to access that they could not even bring her to her home on her wheelchair and instead had to carry her to her home on a stretcher. Once home, Mike wondered whether she’d ever be able to leave. And these are the questions that now haunt Mike and many other aid workers. They saved these lives but now what? How can the massive global aid dollars respond appropriately to help these survivors and communities? I, of course, do not have the answers but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. The funding is there but it’s far more complicated than simply spending money.

Mike is about to embark on a new adventure at Duke University and will teach physiotherapy students who will continue the work that Mike does now. With advances in medicine, there is the opportunity to save so many more lives than before. It is my hope that long term aid will be part of the solution and will address quality of life. With someone as committed as Mike championing this cause, I believe we’re on the right track.

*NOTE: Mike is working on a documentary about his work and the people he has helped in Haiti and I will link to it once the site is live. Stay tuned for an update.

Paleontologist and ROM Curator David Evans… and DINOSAURS!

5 Mar

Lunch with Mary 050

Date of lunch:
Friday, March 4, 2011

The company:
David Evans is the associate curator in vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). So basically he has the job that every single eight year old would die for. He oversees dinosaur research at the ROM, travels the globe looking for dinosaur bones – from the Arctic to Africa to Alberta – and meets with researchers at the world’s best museums. He is about to leave for a five week trip to Northern Sudan to search for dinosaur remains. So I was really glad we could find time for this lunch before he left. Oh and he took me on a behind-the-scenes tour of the dinosaur collection at the ROM and it was THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!

The food:
We ate at Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner – a café on the 3rd floor of the Gardiner Museum. It’s a great space. While we were there, a couple was getting a tour for their upcoming wedding. I can see how this venue would be awesome for special events. I had the layered vegetarian sandwich, David had the meatloaf sandwich and we split fries. The food was light and tasty and very fresh. We both drank water. Total bill was $27 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
So it turns out that Dr. Alan Grant was right. Birds are dinosaurs. David explained to me that birds share much of the same genetic make-up as dinosaurs and in fact (I am likely not explaining this in the correct scientific terms) have the ability to have tails, hands and teeth but those features have been turned off within their genomes. Then he gave me a great lesson. Picture a chicken. Now take away its feathers, put a tail on it, put teeth in its mouth and add little hands to the ends of its arms. It would totally look like a little dinosaur. Amazing. Dinochicken.

The lunch:
I usually don’t publicly talk about my upcoming lunches or tell others who I am taking out just incase it falls through. But with this lunch, I could not shut up about it. I had a countdown on Twitter. I pretty much told everyone that would listen – to the point that I think people were getting sick of me. And the lunch did not disappoint. We’ll get to the actual behind-the-scenes tour in a bit.

David talked to me about how he actually finds dinosaur bones. He said it’s not all about digging like you see on TV, it’s really about walking. For his upcoming trip, he is traveling with a German group of dino-trackers and they will be walking in the desert in Northern Sudan and just looking at the ground, at mountain sides and everywhere around them for fragments of dinosaur bones sticking out. Isn’t that insane? After 75 million years, there could still be a dinosaur bone sticking out of the ground. Anyway, they will see a tiny fragment and examine it and what may be around it. Then, if further exploration is needed, the team will arrange to do the exploration with the heavy equipment on another trip.

I did talk to David about how every kid goes through their dinosaur phase where they are just fascinated by everything to do with dinosaurs. I think it’s so awesome that he continued that interest and now works with dinosaur bones every day. He says he knew he wanted to do this for as long as he can remember. He also said that dinosaurs are a great introduction for kids to science. Even if they don’t end up pursuing a career in paleontology, it’s great that they’re interested in and loving science.

I also had to ask David what killed the dinosaurs. He said it is a matter of fierce debate within the scientific community. He did say that it seems that an asteroid did hit the Earth and this took out many of the dinosaurs. However, he doesn’t believe this was the only factor and says it was a combination of things and didn’t just happen in one big bang.

Never in a million years did I think when I started this blog that I would get to do something as cool as taking David out to lunch and holding 75 million year old dinosaur remains. I haven’t been to see the dinosaur exhibit since I was a kid and I really did feel like a kid again. It was such an amazing day and a big thanks to David for giving me so much of his time.

My exclusive tour behind-the-scenes of the ROM’s dinosaur collection:
The tour started with David taking me into the room that people don’t get to see. It houses over a million dinosaur bones and fragments.

IMG_2778 This room is the coolest room that has ever existed… EVER! Here are a few pics of what I saw:

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Me holding a 75 million year old dinosaur horn – Look how excited I am!

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David holding part of the neck bone of a dinosaur

 

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A part of a dinosaur skull. This particular dinosaur used his head as a battering ram – look how thick it is!

 

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Some duck-billed dinosaur skulls – David’s area of expertise

 

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Wouldn’t want to bump into this guy in a dark alley – Roaarrrrr!

 

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Coolest pic of all – a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth! Look at that thing! And its edge is serrated like a steak knife.

 

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Another dino tooth!

 

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Dinosaur toe!

 

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Part of a raptor’s skull. David let me know that they were A LOT smaller than they were portrayed in Jurassic Park. Raptors were only 2-3 feet high, who knew?

United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada Genealogist Doug Grant

11 Feb

Lunch with Mary 049

Date of lunch:
Friday, February 11, 2011

The company:
Doug Grant is a member of the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada, the editor of Loyalist Trails and the genealogist for the Governor Simcoe branch of the UELAC. He is also my 5th cousin once removed (or 4th or 6th or 7th – I need to do a bit more research into my family tree). Doug is a descendent of loyalists and both him and I descend from the same loyalist, Michael Warner, who came to New York Province in the mid-1700s. Being loyal to the British Empire cost him his home in the American Revolution, but for that loyalty, Michael was given land in Canada for free by the king.

The food:
We ate at Mangia e Bevi, which I just found on Google when looking for a restaurant in the King and Sherbourne area. And what a discovery! It’s actually pretty hard to locate because it’s back from the street across a parking lot but it is awesome. The restaurant smells delicious and has a main dining area, as well as a smaller room for larger groups. The décor is very cool. Once we saw how huge the pizzas were, we decided to split a pizza and a salad. We had the Four Stagioni pizza which has mushrooms, prosciutto, artichoke hearts and olives, as well as a Caprese salad with tomatoes and boccaccini cheese. I had a ginger ale and Doug had a small Steam Whistle. Total bill was $35 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
The lesson from this lunch actually is not something I learned at the lunch but more the spirit behind the lunch itself. I am just glad that I have taken this step to learn more about my family’s history. At times in high school I will admit that I found my Canadian history class a bit boring. I also didn’t know about the whole loyalist family connection thing yet either. But knowing now that I am part of this history, as we are all part of history, really does make it that much more interesting, and I think everyone should take the time, if they can, and learn a little more about where they came from.

The lunch:
My grandfather, Roger Warner, passed away in November. I went back to Ottawa for the funeral and we drove to the area where my family comes from along the St. Lawrence River. The Warners have a lot of history in the area – from Cornwall to Russell and beyond. My great-grandmother’s farm actually no longer exists because it is now underwater in the expanded St. Lawrence seaway – it was flooded in the fifties. When I was in the area and at the cemetery, I saw how rich my family history was and how little I knew about it and I decided I wanted to learn more. I knew that we did descend from loyalists so I emailed the association and Doug wrote back and indicated that his mother was a Warner and we are, in fact, related. Crazy.

The story of how the loyalists ended up coming to be is quite interesting. And Doug was very patient in explaining it to me and I hope I can at least summarize a bit of it accurately. The British soldiers –  both professionals and loyalist regiments raised from the local population – were fighting against the rebels (Patriots). It was basically a civil war. My loyalist ancestor, Michael Warner, was a member of the loyalist King’s Royal Regiment of New York. As the countryside fell out of Britain’s control, the loyalists’ lands were confiscated. Loyalties were divided, towns were divided, families were divided. The loyalist soldiers and families had to leave and go to British-held areas where many of them lived in refugee camps, several of which were located in what is now Canada.

At war’s end, in order to provide for the loyalist soldiers and their families who could not return to their former homes, the king granted them land. Members of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York were  settled along along the St. Lawrence River.  In the following years, to keep these families loyal, the king also granted land to their sons and daughters right until the mid-1800s.

So we know that Michael Warner stayed loyal and received land from the king. Documents haven’t been completely clear as to where exactly it was although we know it was in Osnabruk Township in Stormont County and many believe it is now underwater along with my family’s land.

My mother was born in Italy and because her family history was so far away, we did go to Italy a few times in my youth to see where my mom grew up, meet our cousins and learn about her history. So it’s funny that there was such rich Warner history just an hour or so away from where I grew up and I never took the time to learn it all. I guess Italy always seemed more glamorous (it is pretty awesome) but I am glad that I now know a bit more about my dad’s side and I am very grateful to Doug for giving me a little glimpse of the rich history that I hope to learn.

Oh and the neat part is that Doug signs his name with UE (United of the Empire) at the end and I have since learned that I can do the same.

Sincerely,

Mary Warner, UE

Personal Finance Expert and TD Waterhouse Senior VP Patricia Lovett-Reid

2 Feb

Lunch with Mary 029

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The company:
Patricia Lovett-Reid is a well known expert on personal finance. She is a regular speaker on the topic of retirement savings, investing and other personal finance issues, hosts Money Talk on BNN as well as several radio shows, is often quoted and interviewed by media across the country, has been named to the list of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and, on top of all of this, she’s also a senior vice-president at TD Waterhouse. It’s a pretty amazing list and I can’t believe she found time in her calendar to lunch with me. But I am glad she did.

The food:
We ate at Four at Bay and Wellington. You may have heard of this place, all of the dishes are under 650 calories. And seriously, if I could cook meals like this, I would never eat more than 650 calories. I had a chicken burger with salad and Patricia had a salmon salad. Four then graciously offered us a free dessert in these double shot glasses. I had tiramisu. It was 200 calories and amazing. I don’t understand how they do it. Patricia kindly picked up the tab and said that this can be my first lesson in personal finance – accept when someone offers to pick up the tab, enjoy it and say thank you. Then she told me to take the money I have now saved and put it into my savings. A very generous lesson from Patricia!

The lunch lesson:
By the end of the lunch, Patricia had equipped me with a plan of action. This plan is definitely my lunch lesson. First of all she said I need to determine my financial goals – short term (2 years), medium term (5 years) and long term. She told me to take my time to do this. I haven’t nailed it down yet, but I do know short term I would like to purchase a place to live and stop renting. Now I need to sit down over the next week or so and figure out the rest of my goals. Once I finish that, the next step is to outline my budget – what are my monthly expenses (rent, car payment, phone bill, food, etc) and also be sure to add everything including entertainment, taxis, clothing and so on. Once that is done, I will need to take a good, hard look at it and see where I can shave some spending. And then the final step is to determine my net worth. This will factor in my income, my possessions and subtract my expenses. Once that is determined, I will be ready to look into what size of mortgage I will be able to afford and be approved for. Patricia also said she is going to check in on me so I better get cracking.

The lunch:
Patricia started the lunch by asking me what I wanted to know. I told her how I wasn’t sure if I was putting enough away in savings, whether I was saving in the right places and I also let her know I was looking to purchase property. As everyone is well aware, because I won’t shut up about it, I am about to turn 30 so it’s about time I get my stuff together! Patricia then asked me a series of questions – what is my salary, how much do I have invested in RRSPs, TFSAs, etc. It’s weird to say this stuff out loud to someone you just met. But I figure it’s the same as talking to a doctor, she’s a professional and needs the info to help me.

My extreme risk aversion became obvious pretty quickly – my love affair with GICs and total fear of pretty much every other kind of investment. I even explained to her that when I wanted to cut my hair short, I had to do it in two separate haircuts. The first was shorter, but not as short as I wanted. That cut gave me the nerve to go all the way the next time. We talked through how there are options for a conservative investor such as myself, but what I am doing now is not going to help in the long run.

For the time being, since I plan to take money out of my RRSPs for my mortgage, having a GIC is fine. But for long term investments, I should take a bit more risk. And as the market fluctuates, it may go down but it will (likely) come back and in the long term will be much more profitable. I can picture the sandy beaches of my retirement now. Ahhh, bliss.

As I already mentioned, Patricia emphasized the importance of creating a personal budget. I have long avoided doing this because I know I will cringe at how much I spend on going out – dinners, drinks, taxis, movies, concerts. You might think as my 30th birthday is approaching that the party is over – but I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. However, I can be smart about it and monitor how much I spend on going out, as well as shopping, TTC, food, shoes. Patricia even gave a great tip that she used to do when she was starting out. She would cancel out all spending during the day, stuff like coffees and take-out lunches. Then at the end of the week, she would calculate what she saved, take that money and invest it.

Much like after my lunch with April Williams, I feel like I am much better equipped to take that big step forward. Patricia said I am in a very common place. I am doing something but I have no clear plan or strategy. I am stuck in one place and need to take a leap. This is where Patricia’s plan of action comes into play, which I now will implement starting with getting my goals down on paper over the next week.

I am nervous but ready and so grateful to Patricia for meeting with me, being a huge help and giving me that push I needed.

Seismologist Dr. Qinya Liu

21 Jan

Lunch with Mary 028

Date of lunch:
Thursday, January 21, 2010

The company:
Dr. Qinya Liu is a professor of seismology and earthquake sciences at the University of Toronto. She is originally from China but did her PhD at Cal Tech and her post-doc in San Diego. After the devastation in Haiti, I was hoping to learn a little more about how and why earthquakes happen, what we can do to prepare and whether we will ever be able to predict them. Qinya is incredibly friendly and very good at explaining pretty complicated science in easy language for me to understand. It was a fascinating lunch.

The food:
We ate at Midi Bistro on McCaul Street in the Baldwin Village area of restaurants. I have never been there before but I will definitely be back. I had the Farmer Salad, which was kind of cheating in the “salad” area because it had bacon in it and was covered in cheese. Qinya had the salmon quiche with a side salad and fries. We both drank water. My salad was so so tasty. I want to eat one again right now. Total bill was $23 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Qinya explained a lot to me about tectonic plates and how it is the fault lines between these plates that are the most dangerous. She explained two pretty interesting things about areas where these plates meet. One that we all know well is the San Andreas fault, which runs through California and it is where the North American Plate meets the Pacific Plate. With these two plates constantly pushing against each other, the Earth is shifting at an average of 4cm a year. This means that in 10 million years, San Francisco will be at the same longitude as Los Angeles. The second area is the Himalayas. This is where the Indian Plate meets the Eurasia Plate. These mountains are caused by these two plates hitting each other and the mountains continue to get higher. Who knew?

The lunch:
The devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti was caused by one of these major faults. The Caribbean region is actually quite dangerous for earthquakes as the Caribbean Plate meets the North American Plate. The most simple way to explain these quakes, as Qinya patiently and graciously explained to me, is that these plates are constantly pushing against each other and it is not two smooth surfaces rubbing together. Eventually there is a shift.

For smaller, in the area of 5.0 earthquakes, that I remember feeling in Ottawa growing up, Qinya says those are from smaller fault lines likely caused by old tectonic activities that cover the entire surface of the Earth. Although these quakes happen, they are less likely to cause the destruction that we are seeing on our TVs a lot these days.

In terms of predicting future quakes, Qinya told me that it depends on how you define “predict”. It is still impossible to predict exactly when an earthquake will hit. But there is science and research that can determine areas that are likely to get hit and an approximate timeframe when it is bound to happen. These predictions would be something like “an earthquake of X magnitude is likely to hit Y in the next Z years”. Although knowing this does not help people to be outdoors in the exact moment that a quake hits, it does help to know these possibilities.

Qinya explained that in places such as Vancouver that sit between three plates: the North American Plate, the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Pacific Plate, because people know an earthquake can happen, certain building codes are in place to make the area safer.

Qinya said that the best way to be prepared in the long term for an earthquake is to build safe buildings, bridges and infrastructure and, in the short term, is to know what to do when an earthquake hits, such as hiding under a table or in a doorway. But there is still so much that is unpredictable, such as where the epicenter of the quake falls and how far below the surface of the earth it occurs. The closer to the epicenter and the closer to the surface – the stronger it is.

I might not be able to explain this part exactly as Qinya explained to me, but the Earth is all connected and these movements and shifts travel throughout the Earth. So last week when Haiti shook, with the proper and sensitive equipment, that quake was felt here, and across the globe. This is a big part of what Qinya researches and the applications that come from this.

It was really interesting to speak with Qinya and learn so much about something I really knew little about. She has a really great way of explaining things and I want to learn even more.

Although our conversation was very much based in science and fact, it’s hard to even find the words for what this “science” is capable of doing. I just want to end off with a quick link to two very worthy organizations – Doctors without Borders and the Canadian Red Cross – both accepting donations to help Haiti, no matter how small, and both doing very important work on the ground.