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Newly published author Jennifer Hayward

8 Sep

Lunch with Mary 067

Date of lunch:
Thursday, September 5, 2013

The company:
Jennifer Hayward is Harlequin’s newest author. Her new novel, The Divorce Party, was just released as an eBook and will hit stores in paperback later this month. Jen and I used to work together until she decided to take more time to focus on her writing and fulfill her lifelong dream of being a published romance author. And she did it!!! Every time Jen posts a new update on Facebook about her book, I just want to ask her “how does it feel to have your dream come true?” It seems like such a cheesy question but it’s totally sincere. Jen’s lifelong dream has come true! What is that like? I decided to ask Jen out for lunch and find out the answer.

The food:
We ate at Lola’s Kitchen on Church St. It’s really near my work but I have never tried it. Lola’s is delicious and I will totally go back and there are tons of options for people who are gluten-free. I had the California bowl with brown rice. It had tempeh, kale, nuts, avocado and veggies. It was really good, filling but not heavy. Jen had the special frittata with salad and she enjoyed it very much. We each drank water. Total bill was $30 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
While I like to try to keep quiet about anything I start in case I don’t finish, perhaps writing about it here will keep me accountable and ensure I go through it (or not, see podcast). Well might as well spill the beans. I am writing a book. I have said for years I was going to and now I am actually doing it. It’s a young adult novel, takes place in the future and involves aliens. And I hope it will be funny too. The reason I am telling you all this is because I talked to Jen quite a bit about it and she gave me amazing and helpful tips. First we talked about character development. She said you need to make sure that every main character has an external and internal conflict and you need to be overly obvious in presenting them to the readers. Second, I need to have a part in the book where all hope seems lost, where the main character appears to have no chance of overcoming their conflicts. Finally, we talked about outlines. I am currently working on mine and it is extremely detailed as I want to make sure that I know what happens to each character and plot line throughout the book. I am actually using a script outline technique I learned in university to lay everything out. Jen told me that while it’s important to outline the story, you don’t have to include every detail in the outline because a lot of the story comes through as you write and a lot of the outline will change. Jen recently finished a book that she completely re-wrote the ending three times before she knew she had it right. Basically be organized before you start writing but let the natural writing flow come through. Leaving lunch I was even more excited to write.

Jen's book

The lunch:
Jen first submitted a novel to Harlequin when she was 20. Although they didn’t publish it, she did get feedback. They let her know that this wasn’t the right story but they liked her writing and encouraged her to submit a different manuscript. Any feedback at all is pretty amazing considering many hopeful authors only receive a form letter.

Years later, Jen decided she needed to write that new novel. At this point, she was working full time and had a family. She decided to cut back on her hours at work and fully commit to her lifelong dream. She wrote several different stories but it was her entry into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest that got her the publishing deal. The contest has writers submit the first chapter of their novel online and the public votes. Jen made it to the final three, submitted her full manuscript and then won the whole thing. With winning the contest, she received a publishing deal for the book she entered, The Divorce Party. But it didn’t stop there. Harlequin so enjoyed her story, they gave her a second book deal right away. But it didn’t stop there either. As Jen’s dream continues to come true and she continued to submit manuscripts, she now has a six book deal with Harlequin.

As mentioned in the beginning, I wanted to ask Jen what it feels like when your dreams come true. I think that often about Olympians. Like Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir winning Olympic gold at 20. So you’ve worked and dreamed for your entire life to achieve this one goal and you’ve achieved it. So now what?

First, Jen told me the whole thing is still surreal, which is not surprising to hear. I mean how could it not be? Jen says that when the book comes out in paperback is when it will really hit her, when she sees her book on the shelves at Walmart, Indigo, Shoppers and more. I can’t wait to see it myself so I can only imagine what it feels like for Jen.

And then she told me something that was the true answer to my question. When your dream comes true, you make a new dream! Jen has always wanted to see her name on the New York Times bestseller list. Well I hope she gets there. If this six book deal is any indication, I think it’s only a matter of time. Go Jen!

Jen and her books

Jen sitting on a pile of her book!

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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.

Farm Radio International Board Member, Journalist and Former Station Manager of Uganda’s Mega FM David Okidi

7 Nov

Lunch with Mary 063

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The company:
David Okidi is a journalist in Northern Uganda and was the station manager at Mega FM, a radio station in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu. He recently joined the board of directors of Farm Radio International. Farm Radio International (FRI) helps African radio broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities. My colleague’s grandfather, George Atkins, former host of the noon farm radio broadcast on CBC for 25 years, founded Farm Radio International in 1979. My colleague and FRI board member, Sarah Andrewes, has spoken to me many times about the organization and when she let me know David Okidi was in town, I asked if she might be able to arrange a lunch for me with David and she helped to set up this meeting.

The food:
In order to be able to work with David’s very tight schedule while he was in Canada, we met for breakfast instead of lunch. We met at La Prep at Bloor and Church. We each had a small coffee and I had a regular croissant and David had a chocolate croissant. I love all croissants and this one was no different. Very delicious mostly due to butter, but also very flaky and messy. Total bill was $7.63 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
David spoke to me about how radio is used as a peace building tool in Uganda. I studied Radio & Television Arts in university and while I saw the value of radio from a Canadian perspective, I never imagined the power and impact it can have in a place like Uganda. The radio station that David managed was in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu, an area at the centre of the civil war and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The government of Uganda passed an amnesty law in 2002 for rebel soldiers, allowing them to return to the community and not face prosecution. This was especially important given that many of the rebels were children who were abducted and forcefully conscripted against their will, while some were born in the rebel camps themselves and knew no other life.

While the amnesty was extremely important, getting the word into the rebel camps was extremely difficult. David’s radio station became the peace building tool, broadcasting information about the amnesty, often at night between 10 and 11 p.m. when rebels were no longer on the move and more likely to be listening to the radio. And rebels began returning to communities, giving up the fight and taking advantage of the amnesty. As more and more rebels left, the rebel commanders banned radios and threatened to burn down Mega FM, David’s radio station. Soldiers were stationed outside the station and the rebels were never able to stop the broadcasts. And because the rebel commanders still had their own radios, the message continued to get out simply through someone overhearing and spreading the word. Radio can be incredibly powerful and it was truly incredibly to hear this story from David who played such a major role.

David let me know that the amnesty law had been renewed annually since 2002 but was unfortunately not renewed in May of this year, now leaving no attractive option for rebels soldiers wishing to leave the fight and return to the community.

The lunch:
Beyond the incredibly powerful role radio played in peace building in Uganda, David’s work with Farm Radio International is also truly amazing. FRI was originally founded to share best practices for small-scale farming. Farming is completely different in these rural communities than what we see here in Canada and many of the techniques that are used for farming here are not at all practical, feasible or affordable in Uganda.

Prior to FRI, farming radio programming in Africa often touted the techniques used by commercial farmers such as pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. But small-scale rural farmers were unable to afford these materials and the advice was pretty much useless. FRI was able to provide and share tips and techniques across communities, networking the best practices of other farmers so everyone was able to succeed. David was able to explain many of the techniques that are used in his community and by his own mother, a farmer.

While most farmers do not have access to tractors, rather than ploughing a field with a hoe by hand, a ploughing tool pulled by two bulls will reduce the time it takes to finish a field to two days from ten. For livestock farming, neighbours will get together on a community grazing field. They will then rotate days of bringing the animals to the grazing field and supervising the animals while there to ensure they don’t damage nearby crops, which could be very costly. By sharing the supervision, these farmers are able to focus on other aspects of their farms on their off days. Many farm owners also owned plots of land that were quite scattered and they often spent far too much time travelling between the fields rather than working on the land. Neighbours have since gotten together to split the land in a more practical way, caring for the land nearest to their homes and making the work more efficient.

Much of the farming where David lives is for consumption and not exporting. However, he did let me know that there are now huge food markets in South Sudan that local farmers are beginning to supply – a new opportunity for growth. Speaking to David, you hear a story of hope. As communities rebuild from the civil war and former rebel soldiers re-integrate themselves into the community, farming has become an important way of life and Farm Radio International is helping locals teach each other and grow the community as a whole.

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!

A tour of TTC Transit Control with CEO Andy Byford and Transit Control Centre manager Sean Fuller

17 Jul

TTC Transit Control2

Date of tour:
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tour background:
As a follow-up to my lunch with TTC CEO Andy Byford and my extreme transit nerdiness that was on full display in my post, Andy invited me for a tour of TTC Transit Control. And I obviously took him up on it. TTC Transit Control is located in the D.L Gunn building at the TTC Hillcrest Complex at Bathurst and Davenport. I used to live just south of Dupont on Bathurst and would hear the rumble of streetcars pass my house every night although we weren’t part of the streetcar route. I always assumed they were going to sleep for the night at Hillcrest.

The tour:
I met Andy at the gates where I was signed in and then we walked into the enormous Hillcrest Complex. The facility is much larger than it appears from the street. Andy pointed out the buildings that hold a variety of TTC departments. He then showed the garage that repairs the streetcars. Given that many of these streetcars are quite old, he said the stuff that is done in this facility in order to keep the streetcars on the road is quite amazing. It even has its own blacksmith who makes new parts.

And then we began our walk to the D.L. Gunn building, the home of TTC Transit Control. I was pretty excited. Andy told me about David L. Gunn. David used to hold the same position as Andy does today and is apparently quite a legend around the TTC. Andy says he never goes a day without hearing his name.

When we first entered the facility, you can see a remnant of the old Transit Control.

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This machine did nothing to prepare me for the craziness of the room I was about to walk into.

Have you ever seen Apollo 13? Houston, we have a problem? That room in Houston is a bit like TTC Transit Control Centre, except that TTC Transit Control Centre is 100 times more awesome. You may have seen the room before with CP24’s live transit updates as they broadcast from the room. Unfortunately, pictures are not permitted in the centre for security reasons but they did let me take the one I posted above from the spot where CP24 broadcasts.

Once we walked into the room, we were met by Sean Fuller, the manager of the Transit Control Centre. He is also a former bus, streetcar and subway driver.

At the front of the room, there is a series of large screens that wrap across an entire giant wall. It begins on the left with the Yonge-University-Spadina line, then the Bloor-Danforth line, then the Sheppard line and the Scarborough RT. Facing the wall are tiered rows of desks. Each row has a different responsibility and Sean was able to walk me through each role.

As a big-time commuter, I sometimes do get frustrated with the TTC but once you stand in Transit Control and see the team at work, you get a first-hand look at how massive the system is and become quite impressed with the efficiency.

Sean walked me through the teams that watch each of the subway lines, making sure trains are on time. You can watch each individual train on the subway line and this team knows at what time each of these trains and each of these drivers need to arrive at each station.

I then met the team that sits at the communications desk. This desk handles the @TTCNotices account, as well as all of the announcements on the system regarding delays, shuttle buses, etc. It was interesting to hear how social media has really changed this role. With riders tweeting about service issues and posting photos of accidents and other problems, the communications desk is able to better respond. Although I did not get into it, I can only imagine some of the tweets this team has to sift through.

Another interesting level of Transit Control is the emergency response team. Sean told me how the TTC is the largest referrer to 911, which makes total sense when you think about it. People run into subway stations when something is wrong and report issues to the booth operator, people flag down buses to report a crime or accident and beyond this, buses and streetcars are out on the road all day and often are the first to see accidents as they drive up to them. The operators call Transit Control and this emergency response team connects with 911 and communicates with the rest of the Transit Control team.

Sean also just told me some fun facts. Because it was so hot today, trains had to slow to 40 km/h when outdoors. Subways will go around 80 km/h on a normal day along the Allen Road route. Also on very cold winter days, the subways are all stored end to end underground in the subway system in order to stay warm and away from the elements. On streetcar routes like the one along Roncy where some streetcars turn and others go straight, drivers are able to control which way they head with a lever in front of them that connects with the wires above. Also if you ever notice that trains hold slightly longer at Eglinton Station, it’s because that is the break station. The drivers get out there for a break and there is a driver who all day simply drives from Eglinton to Finch and back and then switches back with the driver when their break is over.

As I was about to leave, there was a Passenger Assistance Alarm used on a southbound train at Wellesley Station. It was incredible to watch this team in action. The reaction was so fast. First the woman watching the YUS line saw the problem, then the communication desk put out the system announcement regarding the delay, then the emergency response team connected with the train and 911 to determine is an emergency response was necessary. I think all of those things happened in under one minute.

This room was built to expand and handle additional lines and staff and will likely grow as the new LRT lines are built. It was a very cool room and seemed like a really neat place to work. I will now totally over-analyze every TTC moment of my commuting life, wondering what is going on at Transit Control.

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.

Former Mayor of Toronto David Miller

10 May

Lunch with Mary 059

Date of lunch:
Thursday, May 10, 2012

The company:
David Miller is one of the more well-known people I have taken out for lunch. It is a bit strange when everyone in the restaurant recognizes the person you are lunching with. So if you don’t know who David Miller is, he is Toronto’s former mayor. He was our mayor from 2003 to 2010. He was a Toronto city councilor for many years prior to that. In his life post-mayor, David is Counsel, International Business and Sustainability at Aird & Berlis, as well as Future of Cities Global Fellow at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, where he both teaches and assists in developing programs that connect technology and society to solve urban issues.

The food:
We ate at Mercatto on Bay Street. It is a very bustling place at lunchtime. We both had the soup to start, white bean and ham, and then I had a Caesar-like salad and David had the scallop appetizer. The soup was absolutely delicious, David had high praise for his scallops and my salad was pretty average, although very pretty on the plate. We both drank sparkling water. Total bill was $46 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I asked David what he misses most about being the mayor. His answer was not what I expected. He said for seven years, eight years when you count the campaign, he was forced to be his very best. And he explained there are very few times in your life when you are forced to always be at your best and you start to simply exist at such a productive level. As an avid follower of Toronto city politics, I do see how long the hours can be and, as my lunch experience today taught me, it’s not like the mayor of Toronto can ever really be off the clock. So you’re always on and you’re always working and always working towards something. David said that was the thing he missed the most in the first few months when he was no longer mayor. However, he said he does now enjoy being able to coach his daughter’s soccer team and plan family vacations less than six months in advance and know that he will be able to actually take the vacation.

The lunch:
I was so nervous for this lunch. But as I was waiting for the Yonge subway to head down to Mercatto, I was just hoping for one of the new trains. Ever since the new subway trains started running, I feel like they are my good luck charm. I know I will have a good day if I catch a ride on a new subway. I may have once (transit nerd confession) completely gone out of my way and changed my entire commute just to stay on a new train for a few more stops. But today was not my day, a new train came heading north but alas, my southbound train was an old one.

But as soon as David and I sat down, I let him know how I was really wishing for a new train but didn’t get it. This got us started on Toronto transit. One of my favourite topics and, David let me know, one of the topics everyone wants to speak with him about. I ride transit to work every day and I am relatively positive about the TTC. Being from Ottawa originally, the subway is still impressive to me in how far a distance you can travel in such a short time. But our first transit topic was St. Clair. I live very near St. Clair and I am a HUGE fan of the streetcar right-of-way. It really bothers me when the route is called a disaster when I have seen first hand how great it is – both in terms of travel time and the noticeable improvements in the community.

This point is something that David feels strongly about. When you invest in a community, such as the $100 million investment in St. Clair, the community will benefit. You see it on St. Clair, you see it on Roncesvalles.

And this brought us to the idea of the “Future of Cities”, David’s fellowship at New York University. I asked him if there were other cities that he sees as great models. He did say that revenue-wise, there are models in Europe that simply are not feasible for Toronto, but he does love Berlin. He says it’s just an incredible city with great transit infrastructure, three operas and in general a lot of stuff going on. He says they want to do something and they just do it. I know a couple of fantastic Toronto artists who have moved to Berlin and have fallen in love with the art scene there. Seems like a place that I definitely need to visit.

We also talked about how I was able to set-up my lunch with David. I did it through a simple tweet. I just asked him, in a tweet, if he’d like to have lunch with me for my blog and he replied that he would. And here we are. He spoke about how Twitter has been such a great way for him to have conversations with Torontonians, both when he was mayor and since. I agree that it is a great tool for having access to people that we never used to have access to in the past. I am glad to see people like David Miller using Twitter so enthusiastically.

I left the lunch feeling that the culture of a city cannot be created by the government, such as, for example, a city’s music scene is often something that exists organically within a city on its own. But, and this is me speaking, investment in communities helps to build this organic growth. And, again this is me talking, a city is not a business – it is a mass of people with incredibly diverse needs be they business, cultural, health, employment, social, housing, transit, etc. – and, it should be noted, Toronto is a pretty amazing mass of people. I do love this place and I hope it keeps getting better.

‘Drunk Jays Fan’ Andrew Stoeten

23 Jan

Lunch with Mary 058

Date of lunch:
Monday, January 23, 2012

The company:
Andrew Stoeten is one half of the Drunk Jays Fans blog and podcast. Dustin Parkes, the other half, was planning to join us but was unfortunately not feeling well. Drunk Jays Fans started as a personal blog in 2006 after Andrew and Dustin had sufficiently annoyed their friends with rants against baseball writers on unrelated email trails. After two years and the development of a huge and devoted fan base, Dustin and Andrew were approached by The Score to blog on its website and produce a weekly podcast. Both Andrew and Dustin now work full-time at The Score and have basically accomplished what many bloggers only dream of – they found a way to make a living off blogging, without compromising the original premise of Drunk Jays Fans.

The food:
We ate at Canyon Creek on Front Street West. I am on a horrible diet as ordered by my naturopath so I ordered the only thing on the menu that I was able to eat – grilled chicken. Although I would have preferred one of the burgers on the menu, the chicken was very good. Andrew had the prime rib with garlic mashed potatoes that made me extremely jealous. We both drank water – so I guess Andrew isn’t such a drunk Jays fan after all. Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Sabermetrics! Andrew and I had an interesting conversation about the concept in Moneyball, which is called sabermetrics. Since I had never heard of this strategy prior to watching Moneyball, I did not know the backstory. There is quite a bit of debate in the baseball community about this strategy. One area of contention is the bunt. As someone who has watched a fair number of baseball games, I have always felt like the bunt does not work. Andrew explained that the theory behind getting rid of the bunt is that the entire focus should be on not getting any “outs” so any play that would get someone “out” is not worth it. But on the opposing side of the argument, the bunt can work and put a player in scoring position and it’s exciting for the crowd. Although I enjoy watching sports, it’s obvious from the success of Drunk Jays Fans and fantasy pools, that half the fun for super fans is the debates and analysis that occur outside of the actual games. I am pretty sure I could never keep up with Andrew in a debate but maybe I should read up some more and start some arguments this spring.

The lunch:
Obviously my first question had to be Andrew’s thoughts on Alex Anthopoulos and the coming Toronto Blue Jays season. In short, Andrew likes him and feels good about the direction of the team. I am one of those people who loves cheering for underdogs (exhibit A: I’m a Sens fan) so I like the idea of building a team with good, young players who will just get better and better. This seems to be the path we’re on with the Jays. And it seems to fit the Blue Jays budget a little better.

I also wanted to learn about how Drunk Jays Fans became what it is today. As a blogger who really enjoys what I do with my site, I always want to hear how other people have found success with what they love to do. Andrew spoke about his relationship with the Score and how him and Dustin are able to do what they’ve always done. And then he spoke to the real trick is having success as a blogger – producing good content. Drunk Jays Fan have a weekly podcast, as well as lots of posts throughout the week. For a blog such as theirs, I think it’s key to post often, consistently and never compromise on quality – because there are plenty of other blogs on the Internet where your readers can go.

My other favourite baseball question has to do with at-bat songs. I am fascinated by the songs players choose. It gives a little insight into the player’s personality plus I always picture at-bat songs in real life, like if I had a song every time I entered a boardroom for a meeting. I asked Andrew what his at-bat song would be. He said he has thought about it and it would most likely be Search & Destroy. He then said one of the best entrance songs was in the 1970’s when Yankee’s closer Sparky Lyle would walk out to Pomp & Circumstance. That is pretty amazing. My at-bat song would, of course, be It’s a Long Way to the Top.

Andrew is getting excited for the upcoming season. He said he plans to watch some games from the media box this year for the first time. He doesn’t consider himself a “sports journalist” – especially given the blog started by criticizing sports writers. But these days, Drunk Jays Fans is competing with those sports writers for the very same audience. And it seems like they’re doing just fine.

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.