April 2014


If my call is so important, can I get some service here?

“Press 1 for English. Press 4 if you’d like to book a flight. Press 2 if this is an international flight.”

54 minutes.

That’s what my cell phone timer read when I was finally taken off of hold to speak to someone on the phone about booking a flight. This is only after being on hold for 35 minutes before the machine hung up on me and I was forced to call back and hold for another 54 minutes. Travelling with an infant means I could not book my ticket online, so hold I did. I put on my headset, gathered the family, and we played Monopoly. I wish I was joking.

This would be okay if it was an isolated incident, but then another company, another day, another customer service nightmare. This time only 28 minutes of holding with my long distance provider before I was able to get a human on the phone to help me change my plan, all the while being taunted with the usual prompt: “Your call is important to us.  Please stay on the line while we transfer your call to the next available representative.  For faster service, please visit us online at …”

I’m definitely not naïve to the financial aspect of the decisions behind these companies’ emphasis on automated phone systems and online services. The one-time cost of set up and minimal maintenance costs pale in comparison to the annual salaries of staffing an actual call centre, but does that mean that the human aspect of customer service is virtually extinct?

But then I got to thinking, maybe it’s my fault. I do my banking online. I pay my bills online, and I would’ve handled both of these calls online this week if the option had been made available to me. I really do tend to shy away from actual human interaction these days and much prefer the cold, efficient, and impersonal speed of managing my life online, minus the chit chat. And that scares me.

So, from here on in, I think I’ll make more of an effort to walk into my bank branch and actually get to know the people behind the counter and choose my service providers based on the customer service provided by their people, not their machines. I feel like it would at the least be a more accurate representation of their business culture and integrity, and at the most a reflection of my own. I’m sad to say that I doubt my little personal mandate will change the technological takeover, but at least I’ll be doing my small part.


Women of the week: Hina Rizvi

Hina Rizvi figured out her role in this world very early on. “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, since I was very young,” she tells me.

To be fair, Rizvi is still what many would define as young. But this makes her success in her field all the more remarkable.

She received her law degree from the University of East London in London, UK. After graduating at the top of her class in 2008, Rizvi set out to conquer the legal world. While working in the field, she would gain an important mentor, a sole practitioner, who, she says, “gave me the confidence to not only be a lawyer but an entrepreneur.”

Yes, not willing to be simply a cog in an established legal firm, in November of 2012 Rizvi set out on her own. The reasons for going solo, she says, are threefold:

“One, I have more freedom to choose cases; two, it’s a better investment [in terms of salary and economy control]; and I can expand into New York. Not all firms have New York clients.”

She chose a good time to explore an independent firm, as clients are starting to look beyond established Bay Street firms. One reason is the cost: solo practitioners’ fees are lower than those of Bay Street, yet they still have the resources to provide clients with quality services.

Rizvi has an extra edge, as she has UK experience and has qualified for the bar in both Ontario and New York. In this new “localized” corporate world, she provides her clients the option of having one lawyer serve their needs across borders.

She also understands the need to adjust and work within the client’s specific needs, as her international education, she says, “opens your mind to different morals and principles.”

“It is very important where the client is coming from […] what their values are.”

One of Rizvi’s areas of specialty is collaborative law, a legal option for divorcing parties. It is an area Rizvi would like to be more well known. “Quite a few people are not aware of it, and would pursue this option if they were aware of it,” she says.

Collaborative law allows her to help people minimize the negative effects of a divorce, as it “promotes out of court settlements between families” and “healthy relationships between families,” which is important when children are involved and the parties need to work together.

As well, Rizvi, through social media, is doing her part to help the general public become more aware of the legal process. Using her blog (“blawg”), she defines areas of the law to her readers. This initiative of hers allows people the chance to learn more about areas of the law on their own time.

With an impressive resume so early in her career, Rizvi is sure to go far. Yet she is quick to stress that she is not done the learning process.

“I am still adapting and developing myself as a person and lawyer,” she says.

It is safe to say these future permutations will be an asset to the legal field.

RECIPE: Hamburgers – kitchen style

It is summer time, which brings barbecue season. I always look forward to cooking hamburgers on the Barbie, but now that I live in an apartment the chances of doing any backyard barbecuing is gone, except when I am invited to a friend’s backyard barbecue. I do miss the smell of hamburgers cooking and the aroma lingering right to the front door. Often, the smell of the delicious food would be just after a run. I could hardly wait to finish stretching so I could enjoy a hamburger, garnished with ketchup, onions and cheese. That would hit the spot after a hard workout.

Living in an apartment there is no barbecuing allowed. The next best option is to take my culinary skills to the kitchen and make my hamburgers perhaps not barbecue style, but certainly decadent. I call it the kitchen style barbecuing.

After a run last week, I decided to make hamburgers kitchen style. Like with all meats, I am careful in how I handle the meat.

Here is some information from Be Food Safe:

Use a food thermometer – you can’t tell if food is cooked safely by how it looks.

Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.

Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces.  If you use cloth towels, WASH them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under cool running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

Here is how I make my hamburgers (patties are ready made):

160°F (71°C) Make sure the hamburgers are cooked at this temperature.
I use extra lean Canadian ground beef.
I put a bit of water in a skillet and a pinch of extra virgin olive oil.
I add the burgers, and I cook on low temperature. I let the meat slowly cook until ready to turn over.
I add mushrooms and onions.
When I see the hamburgers cooking fairly well, I turn the patties over again.
I cook the hamburgers until there is no pink in the meat and the mushrooms and onions are well done.
I put cheese on top of the burger until it melts.
I keep the burgers cooking on minimum.
I butter the buns with mayonnaise and cook in the toaster oven.
I place the burger on the bun and add whatever condiments.

The taste is delicious, and the burgers are basically cooked in water with a bit of oil. A healthy choice for me. My partner loves my burgers and I am ready to have my friends taste it.

As an avid runner, I watch my diet and I also make sure to include red meat because of my iron levels. Here is some information I received from Canadian Beef.

Happy grilling.

A name that counts

There are a few things that let me know that spring is officially here: sun shining, birds chirping, kids playing in the park, and an incessant barrage of telemarketing calls from companies offering to help me with my landscaping and duct cleaning.  Ahhhhh, spring!

One of the many companies that have contacted me over the past week or so has stood out from the rest, and it had nothing to do with the communication skills of their telemarketer, their price points, or their service quality.  It had everything to do with one principle that made me take notice: “If we’re not there when we say we’ll be there, we’ll do the job for free. We would never waste your time while expecting you to pay for ours.”

Now, I’ve dealt with my fair share of landscape and construction companies, and in an industry where time and energy is everything, their willingness to risk that spoke volumes for their credibility, and made me listen to everything else they had to say.

So, I started researching other companies who have risked something significant in order to build a credible name, and I learned something quite significant.  Of course, I know that credibility, especially in a service business, is paramount to success in whatever industry you’re in, but my focus has always been on providing quality service, marketing that quality service, and expecting clients and customers to do their part as well by spreading the word and building my brand. On the other hand, some of the biggest names in business have built their own credibility not only by providing a quality service or product, but by putting themselves at risk to make sure that their superior quality was immediately understood. was one of the first online retailers to allow their visitors to write negative reviews on their own site, essentially giving up power and control, and simultaneously lending immediate credibility to any positive reviews written on the site.

And the most dramatic example I found?  The president of an identity-theft protection program who ran ads with his full name and social security number, to prove his own personal confidence in the service his company was offering.  Wild!  But, also so effective in building consumer confidence in what you’re doing before they’ve even tried it.

Apparently, the more you put at risk, the more credibility you build for your brand.  I’m not sure how to translate this message into something that works for me just yet, but I certainly intend to.  There’s nothing more powerful in business than a brand that people believe in.


The ULTIMATE Parkdale patio guide!

The best part about summer is, arguably, dining al fresco. Whether you’re out for a full meal or a quick pint, nothing beats sitting in the sun on one of Toronto’s many patios. You don’t need to look far to find them – some of the best to be had are in your own backyard.

From Dufferin to Roncesvalles, here is a list of the licensed restaurants within the Parkdale Village BIA that have an outdoor patio:


Rustic Cosmo Café

Famous for its cow-in-martini-glass logo, Rustic Cosmo has been a Parkdale staple since 1995. Known for its delicious sandwiches, breakfasts and friendly, familiar faces, this little gem of a café has a charming little backyard patio too.





The Parkdale Drink

Asian-inspired cuisine and live DJs create a fun, party-like atmosphere in this resto-martini bar. With an intimate back patio complete with natural stone waterfall, The Parkdale Drink is a contemporary night-time neighbourhood destination.





Cadillac Lounge

This large backyard patio resembles a funky cottage-country deck and half of it is covered, which is perfect for inclement weather. The Caddy’s menu has undergone a delicious upgrade; try the microgreen house salad or any of their smoked meats. Addictive.





The Rhino

Though technically it’s a side patio, The Rhino’s outdoor seating area is one of two in Parkdale that faces the street. A perfect place for people watching, there’s ample room and more than 20 beers on tap to satisfy anyone’s taste. Plus, their menu is affordable, satisfyingly diverse and includes a section of “something on a stick.”




Grand Electric

Hip tacos and bourbon joint, Grand Electric, is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week (closed between 4-5:30pm). Their backyard patio, cozy with communal picnic tables, is currently pending approval by the City. Check back for more updates over the next few weeks on

Om Restaurant

If you’re going to hit up a patio in Parkdale, you might as well take advantage of the resident Tibetan diaspora while you’re at it. Om serves up authentic Tibetan and Indian dishes – including delicious momos – and its large south-facing back patio is tucked away under the canopy of neighbouring trees.




Not My Dog

Open from 7pm to close, Not My Dog offers a secluded back patio that’s only accessible through its basement. The Dog’s menu is incredibly affordable and surprisingly Asian-inspired (try the perfectly spicy chicken curry). There’s also live music.





Tibet Kitchen

One of the two Tibetan restaurants in Parkdale with a patio, Tibet Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner. In addition to Tibetan delicacies, Tibet Kitchen’s menu includes other Asian favourites like spring rolls and great deals on (spicy!) lunch specials too. Vegetarian friendly.





This casual backyard patio is a haven for local hipsters and hippies alike, with live music, a feel-good vibe, affordable pub grub and an infamous fish tank. Go here for a low-key pint with your Parkdale posse.






The Sister

Casual pub The Sister (previously known as Mitzi’s Sister) has been a Parkdale favourite for years. Open at 4pm, their patio seats 40 and is the perfect place for a comforting daily special like roast beef dinner on Sundays, $5 Martini Mondays, half-price nachos on Tuesdays, and $12 pitchers of Great Lakes Golden Horseshoe on Thursdays. Plus, kids eat free Wednesdays until 7pm.




Coming soon is local owner/chef Peter Ramsay’s seafood joint Geraldine. This hot-spot will boast the second of only two front street patios along the Parkdale BIA strip and will surely please seafood aficionados looking for a twist!





Food and Liquor

The newest kid on the black, late night snack bar Food and Liquor has taken over the premises of patio favourite Poor John’s Café. Expect quality times from 5pm to close, Thursday to Monday, with a menu developed by chefs from Campagnolo and Victor at Hotel Le Germain.




Amico’s Ristorante

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this August, Amico’s offers reliable classic Italian pizzas (half-price on Wednesdays), pasta and sandwiches in a cozy restaurant with a backyard patio. The atmosphere is casual and family-friendly – plus, from Thursday to Saturday, it’s open until 4am.




Local Kitchen & Wine Bar

Located at the west end of Parkdale’s Queen West strip, Local is an Italian kitchen and wine bar, specializing in house-made pasta and simple, locally-grown foods. Add to that a backyard patio and what’s not to love?








Check out the Parkdale BIA’s website for more information on great local business in the west end and stay tuned for the next installment of great unlicensed patios in Parkdale! Special thanks to Carolyn Grisold and the Parkdale BIA.

Adventures in blogging – Does this make sense?

With the blog site in place, the fun part of blogging had begun. What a wondrous opportunity for a writer to compose, present and collect feedback, in real time. Not yet convinced blogging was the right method of exploring my writing voice, I dove in anyway. Producing content was tougher than anticipated. Finessing the words was pure joy. When rules began interrupting the creative flow, the experience became something else entirely.

I expected the odd creative block and therefore mitigated the risk by collecting an abundance of material for one to two posts weekly. My challenge was sticking to the rules for ‘successful bloggers’ gathered through internet research and referencing social media stars. After navigating the plethora of advice, I narrowed it down to 10 key points.

10 Content Rules for Successful Bloggers

1. Specialize in one topic per blog. A clear vision of content attracts a more targeted and loyal audience.

2. Catchy titles. Have yours be the enthralling headline that drives someone to click and read.

3. Consistent post frequency. Some amount of consistency is best to keep new followers, whether posts are daily, weekly or biweekly.

4. Avoid venting. Use your power for good. Very few people can garner a faithful following of their complaints.

5. Subtitles, bullets and pictures. Organization and succinct thought presentation make for easy reading, especially for those who scan first before reading.

6. Promote comments and feedback. Creating a conversation with your followers generates three benefits: valuable feedback on content, follower retention, and new followers wanting to weigh in.

7. Make it easy to share. Provide easy ability to ‘share’ and ‘promote’ within social media sites.

8. Subscribe capability. Keep RSS feeds and email notifications ‘opt in’ prominent on the page.

9. Under 1000 words. The ‘sweet spot’ for most blog readers is between 600 – 1000 words.

10. Credibility. Display relevant credentials, awards and accreditations so readers have confidence in your content.


Broken Rules:

The internet offers an overwhelming amount of information about social media. I have handled the abundance of advice the same way I manage parenting tips. I read through material that interested me, and decided what made sense before drawing my own conclusions.

Without creating a number of separate blogs, I could not follow rule number one and stick with one topic. Since my blog goal was to find my writing voice, I needed the ability to explore a number of avenues that were incompatible and would attract different audiences. While the blog name “JustMomSensations” suggests impressions from a Mom, it could not be a well-targeted Mom-blog alone. It also needed to include short stories, snippets of manuscripts in development, business ideas, and favourite works of other writers. I broke blog rule number one and I moved on with a chaotic collection of topics.

Rules Followed:

With the exception of rule number one, the rules were easier to follow. My posts have not been as consistent as planned but it is balancing out over time. Since my first entry in September of 2012, I have averaged 1.5 posts weekly. I’ve managed to save my venting for journals and my husband, along with the occasional leak of steam on my personal Facebook page. The remaining rules guided me to structure the site and enable gadgets, all with the purpose of maximizing promotional opportunities to gain followers.


The inconsistency of post numbers reflects my chaotic approach to topics. The most popular post is a short story called “Picture in a Wallet” – a cautionary tale about unsuccessful child abduction. Short stories top the leader board in posts and shares, providing the feedback I was looking for.

I had fewer than 100 viewers when the blog first launched. I shared posts on my personal Facebook, and emailed family and friends. To increase my audience I needed to engage my existing marketing skills, and learn new ones with social media. Social media became my late night companion for weeks. Within a month my viewers topped 500, then 800, with consistent growth from there.

At first glance, social media appears to be free. One can use most tools without spending a dollar. The real and significant cost is human resource time to create an authentic presence in each of the tools. Each site had its own nuances, tricks and etiquette rules.

My education in going social continued as I learned how to use tools to push and pull viewers to my blog. ‘Build it and they will come’ is nice dream. Commitment and persistence is the reality of gaining blog viewers.


Next column: The Push and Pull of Blog Promotion

RECIPE: Sesame miso soba noodle salad

I came up with this recipe when I went home from work to get changed and needed something in my belly before running out the door to an event. It came together quickly as I madly applied mascara and slipped into pantyhose in between chopping veggies. It’s both vegan and gluten-free, so it should accommodate most food sensitivities. With lots of veggies to keep you glowing, healthy fats to keep you full, and a hefty dose of protein, this salad has got you covered on all fronts. Topped off with a delicious sesame miso dressing, this healthy dish is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. Try it out next time you’re in a rush to get a healthy dinner on the table and be sure to make extras as the leftovers are perfect for a brown bag lunch.


  • 1 package soba noodles (I like ginger/pumpkin/rice for this recipe)
  • 1 head of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 2 cups spinach, chopped
  • 3 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/3 lb. tofu, diced

Sesame Miso Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup miso
  • 1.5 tablespoons tamari


  1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside.
  2. Steam broccoli until bright green and fork tender but still firm.
  3. Whisk dressing ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.
  4. Mix noodles together with veggies, sunflower seeds, and tofu.
  5. Pour dressing over the salad and mix well.
  6. Serve warm or cold.


Sarah Thomson unveils first portion of Transit plan for Toronto, dubbed Yonge Street Relief Line

Women’s Post publisher and mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson unveiled the first portion of her transit plan for Toronto Thursday on CP24 with Rena Heer calling for road tolls to pay for the Yonge Street Relief Line, her intrepretation of the Downtown Relief line, also known as DRL, that transit experts have deemed necessary for years.

“My Yonge Street Relief Line plan will bring more jobs to the city today and help unlock the gridlock that is slowing our productivity. We need real ideas, real solutions, real change,” said Thomson in a press release where she also calls for a comprehensive transit plan to combat the estimated $6 billion dollars lost in gridlock.

The Relief Line is intended to take the stress off of the downtown portion of the Line 1, formerly known as theYonge-University-Spadina Line, in particular the congestion at Bloor-Yonge station.

Thomson’s plan estimates that, at $5 tolls revenue for transit projects can be raised at an estimate of $370 million annually.

“Since 2010, I have advocated for the Yonge Street Relief Line, which is now on the current Metrolinx and TTC plans. My commitment is to get down to work, to accelerate the plan in Toronto by taking the first and most vital step forward, and to provide a fully-funded plan to make the Relief Line a reality.”

Thomson ran on a transit based platform in 2010 and helped to raise awareness about Toronto’s need for a relief subway line to ease congestion on the TTC in the core of the city.

Newsflash: April 10, 2014

Jim Flaherty has passed away, Patrick Brazeau back in the slammer, Pauline Marois turns down payday, Quebec Liberals will bring back secular charter, massive layoffs hit CBC, Sarah Thomson unveils first leg of transit plan, and a New Brunswick abortion clinic is shutting its doors.

Former Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty died today in his Ottawa home at the age of 64 only one short month after resigning his position. His final tweet: “It has been an honour to serve Canada. Thank you for the opportunity.”

Suspended Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau spent the night at the police station after cops were called to a Gatieau home where Brazeau was apparently wasted and found to be in possession of cocaine on top of assaulting someone. Looks like Patrick keeps getting so high he thinks his charity boxing match against Trudeau is still raging on.

Pauline Marois became the first premier to ever turn down their severance pay after the loss of an election/seat, saving the taxpayers over $180,000. It’s a shame it took her this long to do something worthwhile. But, of course, she can always court some extra shady cash from some other engineering firms if need be.

The new Liberal government in Quebec will continue on with their own version of the divisive secular charter that the PQ crafted. It won’t end in firings for public servants like the PQ charter would, Coulliard assures. Uhh… Well at least he isn’t a separatist.

The CBC has announced they will cut 657 jobs and won’t compete for pro sports rights any more to make up for funding lost from the government and revenue shortfalls. The hashtag #CBCcuts was trending on Twitter with many journalists expressing greif for their peers who might soon be unemployed. The layoffs will be spread over two years and will most likely hurt the sports division of the Corps. Say, don’t the feds always promise they’ll be creating jobs for Canadians?

Sarah Thomson announced the first leg of her transit plan today on CP24 that includes full funding for a Yonge Street relief line through tolls on the DVP and Gardiner expressway. The rest of the plan is under wraps for now, literally, with the other portions of her graphics covered up. The rest is expected to be unveiled some time over the next few weeks.

A New Brunswick private abortion clinic is closing its doors at the end of July after being unable to receive government funding to provide abortions. Abortions are available at two hospitals in NB, however provincial restrictions state that patrons must first get two doctors to sign off on the procedure being ‘medically necessary’ — a definition that can mean almost anything.