Friday, December 5, 2014

Have an Un-Busy Christmas

I'm reading an article in today's Globe and Mail by Zosia Bielski, which I'm reading in hard-copy but which I'm sure the industrious person could find online, about Ann Burnett, a professor at North Dakota State University, who has been collecting annual Christmas letters from all over the place. She doesn't know all of the people, and their correspondence spans the globe, but she's finding trends. The biggest trend, it seems, is that people started, over the years, replacing good news with expostulations of busyness.

Reading it reminded me of an exchange I had a couple of weeks ago with two salespeople. I was in the mall with my sister-in-law, and we were in Williams-Sonoma. I was approached by one salesperson, who started in on the classic and largely insincere exchange which greases the bearings of social intercourse: "Hi," he started, "how are you?" "Fine thanks," I replied, "How are you?" "ugh, I'm really tired," he said, nodding his head, like I should understand this or wait to listen to more of what he wanted to tell me. I did neither, and said "Oh," and moved away. In the next store we went into, the salesperson asked me how I was and after replying with the standard 'fine, thanks,' again he told me how tired he was, adding this time that he's really busy. I was rattled. What was going on? My sister-in-law, in a different store on the same day, actually got stuck in a conversation (monologue, really) with a salesperson who was telling her at length about how busy and exhausted he was from doing things in his life. I mistakenly thought that he was assisting my s-i-l, and so failed to jump in and rescue her from this barrage as I should have.

In wondering about why these people decided to skip the usual politeness and go straight to telling us about how crazy life is, a number of possible explanations occurred to me. Perhaps they were rebelling against the retail world, and forcing intimacy upon unsuspecting customers by denying them the easy introductory exchanges before telling them about daily promotions. They would have to be pretty organized for us to have experienced this in multiple stores. Or, perhaps they were in their early 20s and still totally wrapped up in their own egos, not realizing that no one else cares how busy they are. (No one cares about your band! Everyone is in a band!) This wouldn't explain why some 30-something acquaintances have fallen into this kind of exchange pattern, and not all of the people we encountered in their 20s displayed this lack of manners.

The article in the Globe and Mail gives another theory. Burnett and others who work in similar research are starting to think that though people complain (or seem to) about the crazy pace of their lives, they also accept it as if there is no other option. They also suggest that people are starting to be very proud of the hectic lives they live, where friends have to book a lunch date months in advance: "When you move fast and are productive, you are relevant." Taking time to do nothing, or even dropping commitments entirely, is unthinkable. What would you do? What would they do without you?

I think social media is tied in with this as well. Do people decline invitations anymore? It would be harder, I think, to turn down some invitations when there's a good chance that event photos will turn up on Instagram. You could say you were invited and turned it down, but no one will be listening as they flip through the pretty pictures.

I want to encourage my friends and family, who make up the majority of people who read this blog (thanks guys!), to have a very un-busy Christmas this year. I don't usually write Christmas letters, figuring that people who want to be caught up on my life have multiple platforms (including this blog) for achieving that throughout the year. However, I do want to put some qualities of Burnett's gold-star letters, as determined by her letter-coding system, into my real-life exchanges; an 'A' for 'authentic' letter-writing showed appreciation for the present, an understanding that time is finite, and the relaying of real-life hilarity rather than one-upsmanship or busier-than-thou list-making.

Let's take some time to do what matters this month, slow down and relish the moments we have with each other, and put aside the things that we do because we think we should do them, or because they might look good to someone else. I promise I won't assume that your schedule is flexible.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Adopting Animals: A Test of Zen

Two weeks ago, Drew and I adopted two kitties. They are six-year old brother and sister, Sir Barnabas Meow-Meow and Lady Marmalade. Here they are:

Aren't they cute? Barnabas is black and white, Marmalade is tortoiseshell, and both have pretty green eyes. We adopted them not long after Colbert died. Somehow, giving them a home felt right even though we were still sad about Colbie - and still are. There are moments when Barnaby and Marms help and make us feel better, and there are moments where they make us feel worse and miss Colbie more. In my post about Colbert's life I alluded to this, but adopting animals is hard. 

There are a few reasons why it's hard, but the most obvious is that animals find any change very difficult, even when it's a change from a poor situation to a good one. Even though we're giving B&M a great new home, the transition from cage to apartment is really stressful for them. They were in the Toronto Humane Society for six months, having been transferred from the Durham Region Humane Society, where they lived for about the same amount of time, so we estimate that they were in shelters for at least a year. To move to a house after such a long time is quite disruptive. 

Little Lady Marmalade
Another reason that adopting is difficult is that one never knows what kind of personality you're going to get. Lady Marmalade is an easy-going cat, like Colbert was (it turns out - I had no idea while he was alive). She has gotten used to living with us quickly, and already knows the breakfast and dinner routines. She started using her litter box right away with no trouble and has started using the scratch pad (having a carpeted apartment means they love scratching everywhere). She purred quickly and purrs easily now, and she loves playing with fuzzy toys and watching the birds at our bird feeders. She slept with Drew the first night she was home, and last night took turns sleeping on top of Drew and on top of me. I slept surprisingly well, despite the little paw-pokes. 

Silly Sir Barnabas Meow-Meow
Sir Barnabas Meow-Meow, on the other hand, is not easy-going. He's kind of timid and a little slow on the uptake. Our first challenge with him was caused by our own mistake, in thinking that these two would use the same litter box. Many cats that live together do use the same box, and we thought that because they were siblings they probably would, but that was incorrect. Having nowhere else to go (apparently), Barnaby decided to poop and pee on our bed the first night they were here (not while we were in it). The bedroom was quickly made off-limits for the rest of the first week. With a second makeshift litter box installed in the bathroom, things seemed to improve. Barnaby used it and Drew and I high-fived triumphantly. However, when I purchased a proper litter box and put it in the same spot, Barnaby regressed, and pooped on the bathroom floor. He continued to poop on the floor for the remainder of the week, though still peeing in the litter box, while Drew and I progressively tin-foiled the entire bathroom floor to try to dissuade him. This, while very annoying, was not that big a deal, since the linoleum is so easy to clean. As I said to Drew in various moments of exasperation, at least he was in the right room! Finally, after purchasing another, different style of litter box, Barnaby seems to be back on the poop-in-the-box train. I can't say that for sure, but we've had two days of positive pooping behaviours. If it continues until the weekend, I may consider taking up the tin foil. 

Barnaby playing with his toys
Both cats are very playful and active, but Barnabas has a tendency to hide. All cats hide, especially when they're in a new place, but that doesn't make it any easier on the heart, as an emotional and needy human being. Marmalade hid a little at first, but quickly came out to explore and get to know us. She doesn't hide anymore; though she likes to sleep under the bed beside the heat vent for warmth, calling her is enough to coax her out to play. Barnabas hides every morning after breakfast. He hides under the bed and under the chairs in the living room, and some days I won't see him for hours. He can sometimes be coaxed out to play, but usually he will only come out if treats are promised. He purred for the first time yesterday, which I thought wasn't too bad, since it can take four weeks or more for a cat to purr after big changes happen. Yet, purring and actually coming around to hang out are big rewards for me, and cat-owners in general I think, so it's hard to have a cat that seems to want to avoid one as much as possible.

Marmalade watching the birds
Unfortunately, I had to take them to the vet this morning for a check-up and weighing, so I think that the big trust-steps Barnabas took yesterday have been at least partially undone. He may not purr again for a few days. They, unlike Colbert, were sweet little angels at the vet. Colbert would transform into a toothsome sharp-clawed gremlin, and I'm sure his vets inwardly cringed when they saw his appointments pop up. Marmalade and Barnaby endured all the prodding and poking quietly and with outward calm (though their little hearts were hammering). Besides both being chubby, they're healthy and happy. Diets and exercise for both! 

Let it be known that though rescuing animals is extremely rewarding and wonderful, it's also really difficult and frustrating, and because humans are social animals, it's hard for us to handle it when something we love and care for hides from us or does other things that seem to spurn our attention (e.g., the cranky baby). Patience is the main resource that a person needs to have to adopt animals (probably just for life in general). Even dogs need time to adjust to their new homes and owners, and they're far less independent than cats are. Drew and I have to be calm and wait for these two, particularly Barnaby, to really relax.

It's too early for me to say that I love them, but I like them a lot, and I'm sure glad they're here. I think that over the next few weeks they'll settle in and get comfortable. They are silly and fun, and there's a lot of love to be had over the many years ahead. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Goodbye to a Good Friend

The handsome Colbert, at our Esplanade apartment in Montreal
My dearest Colbert has died. He had a heart attack last night, after coming to the bedroom door to get me. This is his story, as much of it as I know. 

Colbert's kittenhood is a mystery. I think he was born and raised in Montreal. His first owner (who named him) was a lady who had him and another cat, and who died and left the two cats without a back-up care plan. They ended up at the Animal Rescue Network in Montreal, where I found him. I don't know who the other cat was, or what happened to it. 

Colbie in 2008 in my studio on Pine Ave in Montreal
I decided at Thanksgiving in 2008 that I wanted to adopt a cat. I started looking online, and came across the ARN's website. Colbie was on there with a handsome photo, and I decided to go and see him. The staff were overjoyed that someone had come to see him, and after locating him in a room full of cats (all out of cages, roaming around) in a corner, facing the wall, they thrust him into my arms. He was drooling, had a big mat of fur along his back, and seemed overall pretty grumpy. The other cats around were cute and friendly, rubbing against my legs. I had a moment of doubt about Colbert, but then I felt like I had made a commitment to him by asking for an appointment to see him, and he was in such need of a home. The staff weren't sure how old he was - between 7 and 10 they thought - but told me that he'd been in the shelter for three years. I had to take him.

A blurry Colbie tests out a shoe-box in the kitchen at our Esplanade apartment
The vet at the shelter cut off the matted fur and trimmed his nails. I ended up with an optimistic, curious, and somewhat ugly kitty. His eyes smiled, but he drooled, he smelled, he had a bald patch, and he had other mats and tufts in his fur that he really didn't like me trying to brush out. I would have to sneak up behind him with scissors while he was eating to snip out mats, and even then I could usually only get two or three before he got really mad. When I took him to my vet, it turned out that he needed to have dental surgery to have teeth removed - and that he was older than the shelter told me. My vet estimated between 9 and 12. His painful mouth was why he was drooling and smelly. He had five teeth taken out that Christmas, and after that he was much happier.

Blurry Colbie on the motel bed in Sackville, NB
From the very first night, Colbert slept beside me on the bed. He didn't sleep at my feet; he preferred to be at the top of the bed, just below the pillow, always on the left side of the bed (when you're lying in it). If I slept on my left side, he would tuck into the space beside my tummy, and curl up with his enormous earthquake purr. I called it his smoker's purr. 

Camping cat! Checking out our gear in a campground near Moncton, NB
From the first night of cuddling each other to sleep, we were besties. Colbie was invaluable company to me when I was writing my MA thesis from the fall of 2008 to the summer of 2009. He made me feel comfortable being home alone so much, because it was like there was another person around. I didn't get as stir-crazy, and could focus on my work more, knowing that there was a purring, playing creature somewhere in my apartment. He always woke me up to feed him breakfast, and he never let me work through dinner time. 

Camping cat strikes again, in a tent this time at Fundy National Park
In the summer of 2009, I went to Easton, Pennsylvania to teach summer classes at a CTY summer camp, and Colbert went to Ottawa to stay with my friend, Amy. She had offered to take him, because I didn't have anyone in Montreal to look after him. When I unexpectedly got an offer to go to Switzerland for a six-month internship, Colbie's 2-month vacation became an 8-month stay. This was too much to ask anyone but my Mum to do (thanks Mum!), so off to Fenelon Falls he went, to live with my Mum's two cats. When I returned in March 2010, Drew and I (we had started dating in the spring of '09 and did long-distance this whole time) found a place to sub-let, and Colbie came back to live with us. He loved the apartment we had, except for during the crazy heat wave that summer when he had to seek cool refuge by sprawling on the bathroom linoleum (oh, and that other time that I had to take him to Cafe Olimpico for four hours in his kennel while they sprayed our place for bedbugs because the neighbour brought them in).

Colbie is very helpful. Here, he helps me paint a picnic table for my sister's birthday
That August, Colbert came to the East Coast with us for the first time. We drove out in a rented car, and we stayed at the Tantramar Motel in Sackville on our way to Charlottetown. We had to sneak the kennel in because we didn't think pets were allowed. He was wonderful, though. He didn't mind being in the car, and he got comfortable at Drew's folks' condo in Charlottetown right away. When we got back to Montreal, it was time for all three of us to pack the moving van and head down the highway again; Drew was starting an MA in Kingston, and I was moving to Toronto for a new job. Our days in Montreal were over.

A little play time with the spinny-ball-thingy
If Colbert ever missed Montreal, he never showed it. He quickly became the ruler of our apartment in Toronto. It was carpeted and sunny, meaning there was no limit to how comfy he could get in all the different areas of floor. The next four years went by quickly. Far too quickly. Colbert was always there. He woke me up in the morning, he slept with us at night. He played with his toys and napped in sunbeams, and chased squirrels outside the sliding glass door. He danced with drew, and played piano solos, and endured all of the silly songs that we made up about him (Drew was especially good at this: Play time - Kitty! Living in the city!) He came to the East Coast with us a second time, for a friend's wedding, and camped with us in Fundy National Park. He wore a bow-tie for the wedding - what a dapper guy.

Helping to open presents - mostly so that he could lie down on the tissue paper
 And now, as I face a number of new life changes, including starting a PhD program, an unexpected and heartbreaking change is sent my way with the death of sweet Colbert. His life was an adventure, and he bore it calmly. It always seemed that as long as I was with him, he could handle whatever move we were making or trip we were taking. Or maybe that's the other way around. 

Colbert and I just had our six-year adoption anniversary - just two weeks ago. It has been such a great and rewarding six years, I wouldn't have missed it. I'm so glad I didn't let myself be tempted by those other cats that day in the shelter. Colbie was the kitty for me.

I will miss you, Colbert. I love you. Goodbye.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life Changes

I love the ambiguity in the phrase that makes the title of this post. 'Life changes' can mean big events, like weddings and babies, that irreversibly alter the course, feel, and decisions of a person's life, or it can be a somewhat obvious existential statement. Gloomy reflection on life is one of my hobbies, however more on that later. In terms of big event life changes, there have been so many of those this summer that my head is spinning.

Emma and Matt, having signed the register. Happy people.
My sister, Emma, got married two weeks ago, at the end of August, in a gorgeous ceremony and reception that suited her indescribably well, and it was the best weekend of my entire summer. It was a lot of work, and Emma did even more than anyone else, but it was incredibly fun, and I'm really happy for her and her partner. They make each other happy, and it's wonderful to see.

My bestie in Ottawa, Amy, had a baby a week ago. His name is Theo and he's adorable. He was a week late - he was due on the same weekend as Emma's wedding - but he's happy and healthy, and he and Amy are both doing very well. The full effect of the life-changing properties of an infant has not yet been felt by Amy, but they're starting to ripple outward. For example, when pregnant, Amy had imagined herself heading out to Folk Fest with baby in tow to check out some live music this past weekend, but when the time came she was more content to hang out at home, get some sleep if possible, and take it easy. Some pre-offspring parts of life do come to an end, and that's just part of the deal one makes when deciding to have children.

I'm having my own life change today. This change has been coming at me slowly for the past year, but nevertheless, this is my last day of employment with an organization that I've worked for since 2010. Four years have flown by so fast, I really have trouble believing that it's been that long already. I'm leaving this work behind to start on a PhD in public health ethics at the University of Birmingham. There are no courses to take, so I'll start writing my dissertation tomorrow, from Toronto. In January, I'll go to England for a few months, and then I'll come back to Canada in the spring, and I'll just move back and forth over the next three years.

Drew and me at Emma's wedding - looking pretty spiff!
I'm nervous and excited. I have a great supervisor who has already been immensely helpful in suggesting how I can get started on this massive project. My partner, Drew, is a safe harbour in stormy seas, and if it wasn't for his support, I'm not sure that I'd be taking this step. Despite the long and gradual approach of this transition from the office-work 9-5 schedule, getting out of bed every day and going somewhere to open emails and have coffee with coworker-friends, to a life of solitary effort without office or schedule, it's still a bit hard and more than a little surreal. It's like watching a fingernail grow until it's finally too long; you know the time is coming to cut it, and when you do your fingertip suddenly feels weird and exposed. Until a recent, reassuring conversation with my supervisor, my plan for tomorrow was to wake up, open my computer, and panic - panic about the work I had to do, the expectations that I face, and my decision to leave a regular pay-cheque behind. I'm fortunate to have funding from the Wellcome Trust Foundation, so I will not be broke. I will be living with budgetary restrictions, but maybe that's a good thing after being pretty financially careless for four years. (I always hope that I'll see the light, repent, and reform my spending ways. It hasn't happened yet.)

And now, the other facet. The statement, 'life changes,' is also an observation about the nature of existence. Life doesn't stay the same, it changes in constant and gradual entropy. It's almost autumn, and this country is taking the approaching change in season seriously, as evidenced by Calgary getting inches of snow (poor, poor Calgary) and Toronto's cold, rainy nights. I have a tendency to get nostalgic at this time of year. There's something about the slant of the sunlight that makes my eyes misty as the Earth careens through space and tilts its head back from the heat of the sun to warm its toes for a change. The events of the summer have reconfigured my life and the lives of my family and friends, and it's time to grow calm after the celebration to reflect on what has happened and how things will be different in the future. I can feel myself turning my face away from the busyness and excitement, toward quiet and solitude. We grow older, we love deeper, we talk slower, and we keep a watchful eye the horizon for the next changes that life will send our way. May they always be happily met.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Pannier Problem

Do you ride your bike for purposes that sometimes require you to take stuff with you or bring stuff home? If you do, you may have encountered The Pannier Problem, which is essentially that there does not exist, so far, the truly ideal pannier.

Perhaps you are not a cyclist, and so you don't know what I'm referring to. These are panniers:

I drew this!
As you can see from this devastatingly good drawing that I did in Microsoft Paint, there are different kinds of pannier. The one on the left is just a simple wire basket that hangs on the side of the back rack. This one is removable (I know you could already see that), while some wire panniers are permanently installed and can fold up to be out of the way. These are quick to use but are prone to rust, and offer no protection against the rain or snow for your stuff. The one on the right is a waterproof job, with any combination of clips or straps to hold it onto your bike rack. It's far more weather-resistant and heavy-duty than the wire pannier, but also requires more work to get it on and off your bike than a rack you simply hang on the back, and looks really utilitarian.

Wire panniers that install in a permanent fashion might cost you up to $80 for a pair, whereas the waterproof kind could cost you up to $300 for a pair. You can imagine that you'd be less inclined to leave your waterproof fancy pannier outside while you get groceries or have a beer with your friends, so the likelihood that you will frequently be taking these off and putting them back on is an important consideration.

I've had a $30 wire pannier on my bike for about two years now, and because it wasn't the kind that installs, I had a tiny padlock on the back to prevent theft. While I like the wire pannier, I've been looking for something that gives weather protection, but many of the options are very industrial-looking, made of technical material, and difficult to get on and off my bike. Some of them don't even fit my bike rack because the bars are too thick. With all the different things to consider, it's taken me two years to decide what to go for. 

I eventually narrowed the field to two panniers that are a sort of mid-way point between the ease of a wire pannier and the protection of a waterproof bag. These are: 

The Linus Market bag

and the Brooks Brick Lane bag

I've been dithering between these two bags for TWO ENTIRE YEARS. The reasons are thus: they are very similar aesthetically, and I was having a tough time deciding between the various features each of them possesses. Let me break it down for you: 

The Linus Market bag: This bag is made of treated heavy-duty cotton, so provides some weather resistance but is not weather-proof. The bag drapes over your bike rack, and if you're not using one side of it you can roll it up so that it's out of the way. The bag has snap ties that hold it in place on the bike rack. It comes with a little brass ring and a small padlock so that you can lock it onto your bike rack if you're going inside and want to leave it, and it comes with a carrying strap so that you can lug it over your shoulder if you're taking it with you. Snap closures make sure the flaps don't fly around as you ride.

The Brooks Brick Lane bag: This bag is made of waxed canvas, and thus provides better weather resistance than the Linus bag, but still less than a waterproof bag would. It also drapes over the bike rack and the bags can be rolled up if you're not using them. The bag has adjustable leather ties that hold it onto the bike rack, and similar ties that hold the bag closed at the top, and hold the flap down (the version in the picture above has magnets). This bag also has an elastic rat-trap at the top for extra stowing, and the leather handle makes it comfortable to carry. 

Pros and cons: The Linus bag is attractive because it can be locked in place and carried with a shoulder strap, while the Brooks bag has neither of these advantages. However, the Linus bag is a bit of a step down in terms of the quality of the material, and ultimately, biking in rainy weather is what I want the bags for. The Linus bag prevents you from using the rat-trap on the bike rack, and while the Brooks bag also does this, they provide you with a new one that actually has better carrying capacity. The Linus bag is also tough to fit onto all bike racks. This review from Biking in Heels was really helpful in its description of how the Linus bag fit onto an older-style bike, because mine is also like this. The Brooks bag has adjustable straps, which means it can fit on any size of rack.

In addition to these considerations, it turns out that the bike stores in Toronto are engaged in some kind of unofficial Linus boycott, and all the stores that used to sell Linus bikes and gear are no longer stocking either. I still have the option of buying the bag online, but not from Linus itself; they don't ship to Canada. Buying online increases the cost of the Linus bag, so that from my position, instead of the Brooks bag being more expensive by $115, there is now only a $50 difference between the two.

On Friday I finally decided in favour of the Brooks bag. It turns out that the bag is easy to carry, and the shoulder strap may have been fairly low in utility after all. Though there is no way to lock the Brooks bag onto my bike, I have found that the four straps which secure it take enough effort to do up and take off (a 90-second job once you've done it once or twice) that I would feel comfortable leaving it on the bike if I was having a beer with friends and my bike was within eye-shot. A potential thief couldn't simply walk past and snatch it; the bag would require sufficient fiddling with straps that I feel confident that I could hurdle the neighbouring tables in time to thwart them. Ultimately, it was the quality of the Brooks bag that won out; the waxed canvas will hold up better in the rain, and the leather straps are thick and built for years of tough use. It also looks really good on my bike, and this has been a consideration for me all along.

My landlord's cat, Tortie, approves. Let's face it, once something has cat-approval, it's basically gold standard.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What if...

Imagine if the whole world was your bed? 

You'd just be able to curl up anywhere and comfortably fall asleep, with confidence that 
what you were doing was OK. You were meant to sleep there. 
There would be no obstructions, like your size, or the lack of a pillow.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Get to Know Your Cupcakes, Toronto

If you check this blog regularly, you will likely know that I've been very busy this spring planning all kinds of parties and showers for my sister and friends who are getting married and having babies. Yesterday was another such event - my sister's wedding shower - and I have officially executed all of my duties. Now I'm free to sit back and relax and enjoy the weddings and other events.

Celebratory parties are fun, but planning them always comes with stress. There are invitations to send, food to order, drinks to plan, flowers to arrange, photos to take, and ultimately, as planner and host, you are responsible for the success of the event. You must facilitate the fun. I have been feeling the stress of the various events I've planned lately, and on Saturday night I even had dreams about cupcakes. Telling Drew about the dreams while arranging real-life cupcakes in attractive formations on cake stands the next day, I realized that I've tasted enough cupcakes and placed enough orders to have become a bit of an aficionado about Toronto's cupcake scene. I'm here today to share what I've learned.

Prairie Girl's cupcakes (pink and white) with Bobbette and Belle's cupcakes
(topped with blue hydrangea) and colourful meringues.
 When taste is your primary concern (as it should be), then Prairie Girl bakery is the only way to go. Their strawberry icing is the best cake-topping-substance I've ever tasted. It's like an old-school strawberry frozen yoghurt, where they put the little square of yoghurt into the machine and pull a lever down, then add scoops of frozen strawberries and pull the lever down again, then take a waffle cone and twirl the mixture into a heaping tower with a surprise flavour at the bottom (the previous person's order), except that Prairie Girl's icing is sweeter than the yoghurt, and not frozen. Can you imagine the fresh strawberry flavour? And the tart sweetness? That's what I'm talking about. The other flavours of cupcakes are also delicious - their chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing, and banana cupcake with peanut butter icing are tied for second place in my books; the chocolate cupcake with strawberry icing is a blue ribbon winner.

Bobbette and Belle's
hydrangea-topped and
Prairie Girl's lemon cupcakes
When looks are your primary concern (as is sometimes appropriate), then Bobbette and Belle are for you. These magicians turn icing into the most beautiful edible creations, but you won't want to eat them. They're too pretty. The cupcakes themselves are good, but not mind-blowing; the cake isn't as moist as Prairie Girl, and I can't fault them for not having icing as delicious. But that's OK! When you order these, and I think you should for special times, know that you're getting an acceptably tasty cupcake that looks completely gorgeous.

If you want to get good cupcakes that are also good for your soul, then check out Eat My Words. This organization bakes fresh cupcakes (and other things) and sells them with the proceeds going to the Stephen Lewis Foundation for HIV/AIDS-related work. They're no slouches in the decorating department, either.

A Bobbette and Belle meringue, with Prairie Girl cupcakes,
surrounded by Paulette's mini-doughnuts cut into halves
If you're tired of cupcakes altogether (and I am with you there), then you may want to check out Paulette's Original doughnuts. Paulette had her own store front on Queen St. East for a little while, but has given that up to sell her amazing cake doughnuts online and through Delica Kitchen. There are doughnut flavours that you've never even dreamed of, and all of them are simply delightful. The vanilla doughnut covered in blueberry-balsamic icing is one of my favourites, followed by pecan-crunch cinnamon bun. Doesn't that sound amazing? It truly is.

Also in the doughnut-is-the-new-cupcake category, I wholeheartedly recommend Von Doughnuts. Whereas Paulette specializes in cake doughnuts, Von's are the fried kind, so come out fluffier and larger in appearance. It's hard to choose a favourite here, but chica cherry cola and mangiacake both stand out.

I have to say, as a final thought, that even after tasting all of the yummy cupcakes in Toronto, the lemon tart cupcake at Petits Gâteaux in Montreal with it's meringue icing is still my very favourite.

If you have other places that you like in Toronto, or want more recommendations (I know a good vegan bakery with great cupcakes, too), leave a note in the comments!