I bet the haters of the Pan Am Games don’t throw good parties themselves

The 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto are now over, and for all intents and purposes, it’s been a success. The completion events and venues ran smoothly. The Canadian athletes performed tremendously. My fellow volunteers (for the most part) have been enthusiastic and cheerful, regardless of their tasks. In all my interactions with our visitors I’ve driven, they have been effusive with praise about their entire experience in the city.

And yet there are those who still continue to moan and complain about the Pan Am Games.

Yes, it costs money to organize, build and run a world class event. Yes, we do have many issues in our city and region that are lacking funds to address, including social programs, affordable housing, and infrastructure. Yes, improvements and infrastructure (e.g. wireless class pool, train link from the airport to Union) would have ideally been done as part of regular responsible governance and administration without the will of the Pan Am Games to force it. But it’s often hard to get the political will behind stuff like that without the external attention.

I liken it to throwing a party at your house. A house that you still owe a significant mortgage on, where the roof is aging, the backyard deck needs replacing, the bathroom is outdated but serviceable, and maybe the landscaping is overgrown. You have three generations of family members in your home, all with different needs and wants, which cost money. You don’t know how much post-secondary education will be for your teenaged kids. You don’t know what medical costs will be to care for your aging mother. You know you need to save for retirement. There are lots and lots of things fighting for your attention and money.

Sometimes when you’re feeling all this stress and drudgery… You just want to throw a party. To bring together some people to have fun, celebrate life, and instill some joy and good memories. Disrupt the tedium that living responsibly often requires, and have some fun.

And so you prepare for the party. You borrow some money to fix up the deck and renovate the bathroom and do the landscaping. You choose to forgo the roof for now, even though that is more prudent in the overall maintenance of the house. You go and buy lots of food and drink to entertain. To even buy some more decorations, and flowers, and music, even if it can’t be all reused afterwards. You inconvenience your family by the renovations and moving furniture around and making your teenager park down the street to free up some parking spots for guests.

All this time, you get to hear from your mother nag at you for spending money when you still have a mortgage and some credit card debt. You hear from your kids complaining that the guest list isn’t cool enough, the work needed to prepare is annoying and inconvenient, and the entertainment chosen is boring. They are just down right sulking at the fact this event is taking place, without offering help to improve the event. They would rather not have this party at all. You acknowledge these statements from the negative Nellies, because they are family and you love them, but proceed on anyway, knowing that this is going to be one kick-a$$ party.

Sure, it doesn’t make financial sense to have a party, as you will not “break even” on your spending for it. But with the right attitude your guests will have a great time and think fondly of you and your event for years to come. Likely your negative Nelly family members will come on board once the event is in full swing and they find themselves having a good time. You will have the satisfaction of a good party, connect with lots of people, and also enjoy yourself immensely since you planned the party so well. You now have a nicely renovated bathroom, fixed deck and lovely landscaping to enjoy for years to come.

You will also feed your soul with the joyful good memories of a great party that will help sustain you in the upcoming days and months where you face the drudgery of being financially responsible.

So thank you Pan Am Games, for throwing a great party and for all the wonderful cohosts (staff and volunteers), guests (athletes, officials, coaches, delegates, media) and entertainment ( the artists performing at Panamania and the opening and closing ceremonies). The sports were thrilling to watch, and no doubt inspiring many of our youth to take up new sports and compete. It was so nice to have the news filled with positive stories about people persevering and achieving their goals, compared to the usual things that get covered in the news.



Camping Activities – 2015!

Our group camping trip is less than two weeks away! I’d like for all of us to make the pledge – no electronic activities! We’ll all unplug for the weekend – kids and adults included. (of course we can have the phones for safety/emergencies, coordination if needed and for taking pictures) Here are various activities we can look forward to.

Sibbald Point park offerings, beach and playground

The park itself has a bunch of things to explore and do. Here’s a PDF map of the park:  http://www.ontarioparks.com/pdf/maps/sibbaldpoint/park_map.pdf

The beach at Sibbald Point is really nice and shallow for quite a distance from shore, which is really nice with the kids. The shoreline can be a bit rocky underfoot, but once you get past the two feet it’s fine. Also depending on the weather and temperature of the lake, it can be weedy at the shore, but again once you’re past the shore it’s fine. There are “comfort” stations nearby too so there are flush toilet facilities and sinks not far away. We plan on bringing a beach umbrella to provide some shade on the beach.

There a few playgrounds in the park, but the largest one is next to the beach. The kids have always had a lot of fun there, but note that there is little shade so it gets hot in the afternoons.

The park also puts on different programs in the amphitheatre, in the museum, and fishing program on the docks. I’ve been trying to see whether they post the program schedule online, but haven’t been able to find it yet.

Rocket launch – Science!

Who wants to launch some air-propelled rockets at camp and learn the basics of aerodynamics? Of course you do. Please bring an empty 2L PET pop bottle for each kid (and maybe adult?), and if you have duct tape and cardboard too, that would be excellent. These would be used to fashion fins and decorative elements. Tai recently got this aquapod rocket launcher and is pumped (pun intended 🙂 ) to try it out with the kids. Thinking we might do this on the Friday afternoon when many of you are arriving so we keep the kids occupied while you set up your camps. Of course, we can keep using it through the weekend.

Bubble staffs

What can you do with a little glycerin, dish soap and water?

Giant Bubbles.

Help the kids construct their own bubble makers out of rope, washers, and sticks. (Pipe cleaners for  the young ones)

Bike rides

We will be bringing our bikes to bike around. The girls have gotten their training wheels off so we want to make sure they keep practicing! It also makes it handy to get to the washroom.

Scavenger Hunt

I learned from last year to have pictures included so the little ones who can’t read yet can participate without the need for an adult. We can pull this activity out whenever the adults want the kids out of our hair for a bit and relax. I’ll have the paper bags for collection and printouts of the hunt items.

Camping classics

  • making smores
  • staring into the campfire
  • throwing pinecones into the fire
  • story telling
  • sparklers and glow in the dark sticks
  • tasty beverages

Cooking with a cast iron dutch oven workshop

So you can learn how to do this too for future camping trips. Scalloped potatoes, pineapple upside down cake (a cheated version) and other delicious items can be done by you too over a charcoal fire!

Rainy day backup activities

While I’m crossing my fingers that we will have amazing weather for the 3rd year running, we’ll have some rainy day backup ideas just in case. We’ll have one canopy tent to provide some shelter and we’ll try to mount a tarp as well. But do make sure you bring rain gear.

  • rock and/or birch bark painting (the kids can use these for hide and seek later as well) – bring up acrylic paints and brushes
  • drawing and colouring
  • fairy/troll house building – made from scavenged items and glue and string
  • card games
  • knot tying / braid practice – Never too early to learn how to tie different knots and braids, right? I have a cheap rope from dollar store we can cut up.
  • rock, paper, scissors tournament
  • Where’s Waldo and other books


The bittersweet reunion with my former colleagues

In the world of IT consulting, the group of people that you work with generally change every 6 to 12 months, as a project and/or your role on that project has a finite start and end date. Often when a person’s role on the project ends, there is a roll-off party held for her as she “rolls-off” the project. It’s one small way to recognize and thank that person for their contributions to the project. Several weeks ago, I was invited to a roll-off party for a friend who was also leaving the company. I was excited to see some of my friends and colleagues who, uncharacteristically for IT consulting, I had worked with through many years. It ended up being a somewhat bittersweet reunion with my former colleagues.

The Bitter

There was laughter at the table as they shared another story about another crisis that occurred and how they managed to right the ship. It was the same type of stories we’ve been swapping for years, populated with a cast of the same colleague and client personalities. The issues, while different, are bound in their similarity by occurring in the same or similar complex landscape. Multiple business units coexisting with different business rules. The many different client team members in different functions working in these business units, often with competing interests. Vast amounts of operational data required to enable their business to function. A complex spaghetti of back end technical infrastructure as a result of mergers, history, and business growth. And the multi-year IT program we were part of to implement and integrate their IT systems. It was not unlike being on a Tolkien quest to deliver “the one ring to bind them all”.

In short: it’s hard work. You are placed in teams for a relatively short amount of time, and disbanded after the project is done. Continue reading The bittersweet reunion with my former colleagues

My 3-month anniversary at my new job at GrantBook

Last week was my three-month anniversary with my new company, GrantBook. This is significant since 6 months ago I wasn’t even sure if I’d be returning to the workforce. I was in a limbo land, trying to decide between life as a stay-at-home mom (aka SAHM) and that as a working mom.

For a while in the fall of 2014 I entertained the plan of going into the field of mediation. An information session I attended quickly gave me a dose of reality that it would likely take me 5 years and more schooling for it to become a viable career. Without a background in law, counselling or social services, I would be facing a credibility gap once I finished the mandated mediation training and internship hours. Unless you are able to secure a position with a mediation firm, mediators are essentially self-employed entrepreneurs. I recognize that having a credibility gap would make it difficult to recruit business.

And so that plan faded away.

Continue reading My 3-month anniversary at my new job at GrantBook

Food planning – 2015

I think the big lesson learned from last year was I had overestimated the amount of everything I planned for food. Considering how close the Sibbald Point Provincial Park is to a town with a grocery store, there is really no need to bring more food in case we are hungry and need more food.

Here are the menu items that we found really worked with our families last year:


Camping 2015!

Yes folks, it’s t-minus 4 weeks to our big camping trip for 2015! We are getting excited here in the Toh household. I hope you are too.

Last couple of years I heard some feedback that the planning emails were too long/too many to wade through, so I’m giving this communication format a try. There’ll be a post each about:

  • food planning
  • logistics
  • activities
  • FAQs, and
  • who knows what else.

I’ll update the post as we get more information or in response to questions. You can also leave comments/questions to the relevant post so we don’t have a crazy email thread to weed through.

One big change for this year from last year is that I’m not volunteering to organize food for everyone again. There were a lot of downsides:

  • the amount of work involved to plan and estimate and compile the shopping list is too much for me to handle this year now that I’m working again
  • because our campsite was the main hub, our families were always stuck with doing the final cleanup and packing of leftovers in our cars at night, every night
  • We also felt constantly tethered to our site and needing to have meals ready for certain times because we felt a kind of pressure to ensure food was ready for hungry kids. Also every family ends up having a slightly different schedule so it’s hard to make one food schedule work for everyone.
  • the novelty of having the dutch oven and cooking over the campfire wore off when we realized Tai was the only one comfortable with cooking this way and I had planned too many menu items with this cooking method. He was constantly having to be at the campfire to tend to the charcoal.

In response to that, this year we will host one big group dinner, and then the remaining meals we can have two options: 1) leave each family camp site(s) to arrange their own meals; or 2)have the meal host location and preparation rotate around to others’ campsites- sign up for hosting one meal with one or two other families. Since many of you are arriving on Friday, our twin sites 221 and 224 will host Friday dinner so you won’t have to worry about it this first night. (this is a change from my initial claim of hosting Sat dinner) I’ve assumed breakfasts are all DIY.

Nervous about food planning? Don’t be, I’ll share our camping menu and if you don’t have the camp cooking equipment you can either rent it, or come cook at our site.

So first step: go fill in your meal logistics preference here. (note: you will have to log into the Google Sheet with your email so you can edit the sheet).


edited July 7 – clarified group meal rotation


Happy 148th Birthday, Canada!

Happy Canada Day, everyone. I do really love this holiday to be unabashedly patriotic, to reflect on the great country it is, and to envision the greater one it could be in the future.

It is by no means a perfect country: the issues facing many of our aboriginal brothers and sisters are chronic, neglected and ignored; the wealth disparity is growing, putting more of our population in dire circumstances; our inaction on environmental issues is frustrating; many public attitudes and government policies are increasingly fear-based; the list can go on for quite a bit further. But let’s leave that to another day to discuss.

I celebrate that our institutions and most of the population recognize that love is love. Even those that don’t personally agree or condone at least refrain from making it a divisive political issue.

I celebrate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and acknowledge important role the courts play in establishing what the Charter means in a practical sense. It is a long, evolving, strenuous process . I’m also thankful for our strong civil service institutions that is the backbone that enables the government to run. It’s boring, and I take it for granted, until I see what happens in other countries where this is not the case.

I celebrate that we’ve decided as a nation that healthcare should be universally available regardless of ability to pay. The model does mean certain individuals need to sacrifice some convenience or exhaustiveness in care, but I’m glad that the majority of us agree that triaging care based on need, and not pay, is the right thing to do.

I love watching a good hockey game. The speed of action and flow of play is so exciting.

I admit feeling a burst of pride every time I find out about a contribution of note that was done by a Canadian.

I love many of the stereotypically Canadian foods: poutine, Caesar drinks, Tim Hortons coffee for long drives, Coffee Crisps, Swiss Chalet, butter tarts, Montreal bagels. I also love that here in multicultural Greater Toronto Area, I have access to authentic foods from all over the world.

Most of all, today I want to celebrate that it doesn’t matter if you’re born a boy or a girl, you have the same opportunities to pursue an education, any career in any field, to have the sole agency to make decisions about your body, to vote and hold property…in general, to have the freedom to make choices. I look at the bright eyes of my two daughters and I’m just so thankful that in this country, they have the privilege, opportunity and resources to pursue whatever ambitions they have.

Happy Canada Day.