Immerse yourself in art

Van Gogh immersive exhibit

Last weekend, my girlfriend Leslie and I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Toronto.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, but was quite interesting. I expected to walk through a gallery of rooms of Van Gogh’s art projected on walls, but you actually enter one room and stay there the whole time as the theatrical experience engulfs you.

It was a massive space—the exhibit is showing at The Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge Street and I suspected the space on the first floor was the former printing plant.  

The first time we watched the 35-minute production, we simply admired Van Gogh’s masterpieces paired with classical music as they surrounded us in 360-degree views projected on the walls and floor.

Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, lilies and almond blossoms surrounded us, followed by a starry night, scenes of fields and cafes, and portraits of courtesans, farmers and compatriots of his day.

The second time we watched it, the images transformed in a new way, dancing across the walls, rising and falling, coming to life. The smoke from a cigar billowed upward, a steam train rolled across the countryside, and a windmill slowly turned amongst threatening clouds as the animated images immersed us in their beauty and brushstrokes.  

Art aficionados and purists may balk at commercializing works of art and masterpieces, but for me it created a new and wondrous appreciation of the work of Van Gogh.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit. The Van Gogh 360 exhibit is on until May 30 in Toronto and this summer at Lansdowne Place in Ottawa. Be sure to put it on your summer vacation happy act list.

Van Gogh a starry night
A starry night
Van Gogh painting
Van Gogh art
Van Gogh lillies
Van Gogh masterpiece
Van Gogh's lillies

Never Lego of your childhood

Lego Haunted House

Special guest blog by Ray Dorey

Before I begin, full disclosure. Although my passionate interest in what I am about to describe is readily apparent, I am not an employee of Lego, nor do I own any Lego stock – oh how I wish I did! I am only a happy consumer.

Without question, Lego building blocks were my favourite distraction – I hesitate to say “toy” – growing up. There was nothing I enjoyed more than to dump a box of Lego blocks on the floor and eagerly begin assembling my next masterpiece. Whether it was a sleek racing car, a futuristic spaceship, or some other strange contraption, Lego helped stoke and mould my imagination and creativity.

Some of my creations I would proudly display for weeks, while others I would immediately tear down and start anew. As much as I hated destroying some of them, I of course needed the blocks for my next project. And this remember was in a time before smartphones and social media when I couldn’t take a few photos and post them instantly for peer review.

Flash-forward to present day, and Lego has grown exponentially in popularity. It’s been enjoyable watching my nephew share the same excitement for Lego that I had when I was his age. I’m sure when he purchases his first home, he’ll need an addition just to store all of his Lego kits he’s accumulated through the years.

My only criticism – and it’s a relatively mild one – is that Lego has evolved to offer mostly custom-designed builds. When I was growing up – here comes my walking through the snow uphill old guy story – I don’t recall there being as many customized kits. I remember large miscellaneous boxes of Lego pieces, and it was left to my imagination what I was building. Today, most kits come with custom pieces and detailed step-by-step instructions, perhaps dulling the creative experience.

Today, there are many “adult” Lego sets, targeting older, nostalgic generations, who like me grew up with Lego. The adult sets have more pieces and detail, and are perhaps a little more complicated to put together.

Last fall, I tackled the Lego Haunted House kit, complete with a working elevator, and I’m about to start a new especially exciting build – one that was just released – a larger and more detailed model of the DeLorean time machine from the 80s classic movie, Back to the Future.

While you may not see me list Lego among my hobbies on my Tinder profile, it does bring me much enjoyment in the form of youthful exuberance, which is always a welcome and valued commodity.

Ed. note: Ray is one of two friends who are AFOLs, LegoSpeak for Adult Fans of Lego. A few times on our family vacations, we’ve been in Lego stores or malls where they have simply amazing Lego creations. Why not pop into a Lego store and check it out. Last year Lego opened a new flagship store in New York City on Fifth Avenue. Read more about the store and Lego’s success in targeting the adult fan market in this article in The Guardian.

Lego display in their new flagship store in New York City
Lego display in their new flagship store in New York City

The OGs of our day

Clare looking cool at the lake

Warning: today’s blog post contains coarse language because it’s hella cool.

I ate shit the other day. Not the actual shit like in the Cheech and Chong skit or the type you’d find in your hamster cage. I fell down hard in our skating rink of a driveway. Grace and Clare both fell too, and burst in the door saying, “I just ate shit”.

You see, eating shit is the latest vernacular for taking a header, falling down, wiping out. I thought it was a strange choice of words, but hey, kids these days. Amirite?

Luckily, my friend Jess recently gave me “A Very Modern Dictionary”, a handy book of 400 words, phrases, acronyms and slang to keep your culture game on fleek (perfectly executed).

I thought I would try it out with my bae, which is different from your bff by the way. Your bae is your significant other; your bff your best friend. Whatever you do, don’t get your bf (boyfriend), bff, gf or bae mixed up. I’m planning a trip down east with my girlfriends this summer (gfs), but my bae is my baller, a rockstar, especially with his dadbod. Together we are the power couple of Spring Lake.

Let me part the kimono a bit more on this new landscape of communication.

I was chillaxing last week with my homies down at the lake, catching fish and taking Instaworthy photos, when we realized we were fungry (f*in hungry) and I said let’s grab some grub.

We were sitting at the table when the dog let out a big question fart, a fart where the sound ends in an upward inflection, similar to when you ask a question and we all laughed and said, that’s craycray, Bentley’s so dope!

Grace was phubbing us, ignoring the conversation and looking at her phone, but stopped surfing for a moment to ask for a loan from the Bank of Mum and Dad. I said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

This generation thinks they’re the bomb, the OGs of words and Wordle, when our generation was actually the Original Gangsta’s of slang. Old school is now a term of “respect and deference” instead of an insult and I laughed out loud (LOL) when I saw TGIF listed as a “modern” slang term.

I blogged eight years ago about being normcore, which the dictionary describes as “a fashion style characterized by the elevation of bland, ‘normal’ clothing” that has become so popular with hipsters it has “turned the style into a trend, making its claim of being unpretentious decidedly pretentious.” Hey dude, don’t call me pretentious.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get savage with your vocabulary, and not be jelly of the younger generation and their slang and feel #blessed. Nailed it!

A very modern dictionary book cover
Cheech and Chong skit–still a classic!

It’s written in the cards

Tarot cards

It’s always fun this time of year to scour your horoscope to see what’s in store for the year ahead.

We took it a step further and did tarot readings for everybody in the house this week. Here’s what the cards told us:

  • Grace has a secret admirer, but there is also distrust of acquaintances who are seeking to betray her.
  • There is a mystery that will affect Clare for the better. Her confiding disposition may generate a friendship that will warm into love.
  • I drew cards that foretold of successful ventures in business and riches, the ship and anchor. I guess my ship will come in this year.
  • Dave? Well, he doesn’t believe in this mumbo jumbo stuff. We’re still trying to convince him to let us do a reading. For now, let’s say there will be water and fish in his future.

This week’s #HappyAct is to buy a cheap card of tarot cards (only $9.99 on most sites) and see what’s written in the cards for you this year. Happy reading!

Tarot card reading

Listen to a master storyteller

If you’re looking for something new to watch on Netflix, I’d highly recommend Springsteen on Broadway.

Whether you’re a Springsteen fan or not, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this two and a half hour auto-biographical journey through Springsteen’s life and music. I’d heard of Springsteen on Broadway, but I thought it was some big musical based on his music. I didn’t realize it was the boss himself, intimate, raw, revealed and outspoken on political issues of the day.

The show opened up on Broadway in 2017. In promoting it, the rock legend said “My vision of these shows is to make them as personal and intimate as possible. I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind. My show is just me, the guitar, the piano and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung, all of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal—to communicate something of value.”  

Springsteen undersells himself. He doesn’t just communicate something of value, he weaves golden threads of stories from his childhood, his marriage, the friendships he developed over the years with his bandmates and tales of life on the road. It is master storytelling at its finest.

There were so many things that struck me in the performance, his humour, his openness and honesty about the relationships in his life, but the thing that struck me the most was a new appreciation for his songs and lyrics. The words from classic songs like Thunder Road, Born in the USA, Land of Hopes and Dreams were transformed with new layers of richness and meaning as Springsteen wove his stories through his musical repertoire. At times, he was simply mesmerizing.

Storytelling, in the traditional sense of telling stories through the spoken word has almost become a lost art. But thanks to the boss and Netflix, you can still hear one of the master storytellers of all time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to watch Springsteen on Broadway. I hope some day soon to go to New York and catch it live. What are your picks for Netflix this fall? Leave a comment.

Lyrics from Thunder Road

There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away

They haunt this dusty beach road

In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets

They scream your name at night in the street

Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet

And in the lonely cool before dawn

You hear their engines roaring on

But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind

So Mary, climb in

It’s a town full of losers

And I’m pulling out of here to win

See it on the big screen

Daniel Craig as James Bond

We went and saw the new James Bond movie this weekend, No Time to Die. It was the first time we’d seen a movie on the big screen in over two years.

There’s something about seeing a flick on the big screen that can’t be replicated in the comfort of your living room. Everything is larger than life. You feel part of the action, your body’s reflexes twitch at every fight scene, and your torso pushes up against the back of your seat during the car chases as if you were holding on for dear life in the passenger seat of Bond’s Aston Martin. Dolby surround sound rumbles through the theatre and you are transported to the French Riviera, the fjords of Norway or the secret service headquarters of Mi6 in London.

This latest Bond film didn’t disappoint. It was my favourite and a stellar farewell performance for actor Daniel Craig. There was everything you expect and crave in a Bond film, the debonair Bond, a bevy of beautiful female agents, kickass fight and chase scenes, classic lines only Bond can deliver, plot twists, villains and many references and nods to previous films including a volcanic island set for destruction. I jumped in my seat at least four or five times.

This week’s #HappyAct is to throw off the shackles of Netflix, Prime and Showcase and get out and see a picture on the big screen. I highly recommend No Time to Die. Happy viewing!

What’s your field of dreams?

Last week, Major League Baseball paid tribute to the 1989 movie Field of Dreams by holding a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox in the same Iowa corn field where the movie was filmed 30 years ago.

Just like they did in the movie, the players emerged one by one from the corn field, led by actor Kevin Costner who addressed the crowd. It was an emotional moment. You could see the wonder and joy in the players’ faces as they took the field, and you knew Costner and the players would never forget this moment.

The themes of Field of Dreams have endured: themes of family, forgiveness, redemption, and the importance of following your dreams no matter how crazy people think you are.  

If you build it, they will come.

What’s your field of dreams?

I #ChooseToChallenge but respectfully

Author and her daughter holding their hands high in solidarity for International Women's Day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. This year the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. The rallying cry is not just to celebrate women’s achievements, but to call out gender bias and inequality so “collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”

As someone who has witnessed gender bias and inequality and tried to advocate all my life for gender equity, I will hold my hand high to show my support with women across the globe but with one important caveat: I #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.

We are living in very strange times indeed, times when even when you are trying to do the right thing and speak up, you can be vilified for your words.

Last month, actress Olivia Wilde praised her boyfriend, Harry Styles publicly on her Instagram feed for taking a supporting role in a film she directed featuring a strong female cast. She said “Little known fact, most male actors don’t want to play supporting roles in female-led films. The industry has raised them to believe it lessens their power (i.e financial value) to accept these roles, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get financing for movies focusing on female stories.”

The backlash was fast, furious and full of vitriol, accusing Wilde of praising Styles for doing his job or as one person said on Twitter, “the bare minimum level shit”.

What’s the lesson here? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

C’mon everybody. Speak up. Choose to challenge, but be damned sure you say the right thing.

I’m honestly getting really tired. Tired of people trying to do the right thing and being raked over the coals, tired of the haters, tired of the nastiness overshadowing the real, important conversations and hampering real change.

So yes, we must #ChooseToChallenge, but please, help make this world a happier and more productive place and #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.

Beautiful music for a crazy world

For the past three weeks, I’ve been listening to classical music in the car. I find when I’m in Toronto, I naturally gravitate to classical. It’s almost as if my brain seeks a soothing balm to the incessant noise and traffic, even though the roads and city neighbourhoods were quite blissfully quiet during this recent trip during lockdown.

I was listening to Classical 96.3 whose tagline right now is “Beautiful music for a crazy world” (I thought this was hilarious). I think we all need more beautiful music for a crazy world and there is no music more beautiful than classical.

My love for classical music started in my childhood. My Dad loved jazz, my brother classic rock, but it was Mom who introduced me to classical. Then in high school, I played the flute in my high school and local community concert band, where I developed a new appreciation for some of the great classical compositions as a musician. I also have to thank the parents of one of my friends, Jim and Audrey McMurray for continuing this love affair. I have many fond memories of having a glass of wine before dinner at their cottage, with the sounds of classical music floating in the air alongside the lake breezes and sparkling water.

While I was driving into Toronto, Classical 96.3 played this beautiful composition called “And the Waltz Goes On” by none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins. Even though he is known as an Oscar-winning actor, he has been composing music for the past 50 years and in 2011, released his first classical album called “Composer”.

I loved watching this video clip of Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra perform it. Anthony Hopkins is in the audience, and you see the emotion on his face as these brilliant musicians bring his masterpiece to life. He tears up at one point. The musicians are so expressive, but it is the audience who steal the show. You can see at first their anticipation for what is to come, then the joy and delight on their faces as the music sweeps them away, literally as they begin swaying in the aisles and dancing in their seats. It is so much fun to watch and even more moving to listen to.

I wish I could instil an appreciation for classical music in my children. Believe me, I’ve tried. Perhaps some day, but for now, I’m happy in finding at least my own solace in beautiful music for a crazy world.

Living in a world of 24/7 news

CP24 news page

Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.

These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.

Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.

Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.

When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.

I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.

Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.

This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:

  • Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
  • Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
  • Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.

I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.

I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.

Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.