Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The way we eat: why our food choices matter

The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, was the Book Babe selection this month.

If you are looking to become vegan and just waiting to be converted, then this book is for you!

If you want to feel guilty buying bacon, chicken, eggs, or beef, then don't hesitate to pick it up as you will get all the sordid details about factory farming and the deplorable conditions in which animals are raised and slaughtered. If you are thinking eating fish would be an ethical source of protein, think again.

It seems the only ethical choice is to become a vegan locovore. Or a dumpster diver.

Not sure whether I can fully commit to either lifestyle but the book makes me feel as though it is the right thing to do, however unpalatable it may be (pardon the pun).

I'd like to say the book offers a self-righteous diatribe but it is actually a cogent and rational argument for avoiding factory-farmed meat. Even if you choose to turn a blind eye to the horrible conditions the animals face, consider the threat to your own health that the use of hormones and antibiotics pose. The threat and possibility of disease that is endemic/systemic to the current market economy approach to raising and selling livestock (why is it that only after people die do problems get noticed, with regard to mad cow disease or listeria?). Or the idea of eating sick, stressed out, mutilated livestock.

I may not be ready to turn vegan but I don't know if I can stomach the idea of eating anything other than organically raised, humanely treated animals after reading this book.

Must pull out those vegetarian recipes again.

Monday, September 28, 2009


One of the perks of having a son in university are the ideas he brings home for discussion. I found myself reading over his shoulder as he was writing a paper on erotics from one of his texts, Why Study Media? by Roger Silverstone.

The premise being that pleasure is a problem in the sense that:
Pleasure, excitement, sensation, these are constantly offered but seldom delivered; unconsummation is the norm....We spend a lot of time in front of the television set watching our favourite programs, but yet we often feel less than satisfied with the result... For our thinking is still constrained... by the separation of mind and body, and by the priority given to the definition of the human as a rational creature. As a result we can think about thinking well enough, but feeling is altogether another story... The erotic escapes. Shame and reason conspire to repress it.
I guess it would be oversimplifying to say that something truly erotic is something that sparks a deep connection; not just sexually charged.

The passage reminded me about the title of a podcast I listened to called, The Erotic Embrace of Life and Meditation. It was a Buddhist Geeks' podcast/interview with Shinzen Young about his attempts to balance intense practise and daily meditation as a Buddhist novitiate, alongside his day job in construction. It is not often the two paths intersect and it made for a lively discussion about how one way of life can inform the other, bringing insights that might not otherwise come when life is spent in solitude.

I was doing a Google image search of erotics to see if I could find something for this post, and there are certainly no shortage of pornographic images. Interspersed there are some great images of erotic sculptures at Hindu temples. But for deeply stirring erotics, I think Georgia O'Keefe is at the top of my list! (above is Red Canna).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another world

Wandering through the paths that meander along the foot of the Bluffs, Rob and I found ourselves in a thicket of grasses that towered 8 feet high, with the tall cliffs seeming to bend and twist above. I felt like I was in a different country, if not another world.

Purple splashes everywhere, courtesy of blooming thistle, chicory & astor.

We got to the beach and admired a tree that had washed to the shore. Bark was stripped bare along one side to expose an entirely smooth surface, but on the other side it held the pattern of the waves, and one of its' twisty branches was just sprouting new growth.

No one else was around, and as we looked up the cliff wall it seemed it could crumble at any moment.

These Bluffs have evidence of plants from 70,000 years ago and hold traces of a last glacier from 12,000 years ago.

Sometimes it feels good to be put in your place.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Year of the Flood

I was listening to CBC Radio 2 with half an ear as Tom Allan was talking about the launch of Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood. Something about readings accompanied by choral singers. It sounded innovative and off-beat, and also hard to pull off.

By fate's slight of hand, my friend Ross called and asked whether I'd like 2 tickets to the launch that was being held within 2 hours of curtain call. How could I say no? The only challenge was how to fill the second seat - luckily one of my neighbours was willing and available.

Just before heading out I learned the international launch was in Scotland, in a church. The Canadian launch was in Ottawa, in a church. And here we were travelling to St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto. Obviously not a coincidence, this preference for religious venues.

Irreverent yes, but holy serious... the novel takes on nothing less than a pandemic that challenges the existence of the human race. Strong female characters quest for meaning and survival (somehow strangely familiar.....).

Haven't read the book yet, but it was great to get a glimpse of the characters through live performances as selections from the novel were read. We are introduced to two characters: one a trapeze dancer from a sex club, the other a woman keeping herself alive by eating natural beauty treatments in a salon. I want to know what happens next!

A chorus of singers performed hymns that preface the chapters. Songs about Gardeners, God and the dilemma of predators and prey. At the end of the evening's performance, a procession was led down the centre aisle, calling everyone to participate and rejoice.

Check out the website for the book and if you dare - arrange and perform your own version of the hymns and post on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kiss the joy as it flies

Went and heard Sheree Fitch speak about writing her first adult fiction book, Kiss the joy as it flies. An award-winning children's author and poet, her first venture into the world of adult fiction earned her a place on the shortlist of the Stephen Leacock medal for humour.

She was always intimidated about writing for adults, knowing that she wouldn't write something like Margaret Laurence, Atwood or Alice Munro. Setting such high standards paralyzed her until she realized that although she couldn't write like those icons, she would write like Sheree Fitch, and found her own voice.

Funny, wry and at times profound, it is a wonderful story. Reading this I kept thinking of the friends I would lend it to, and the list grew long pretty quickly. After hearing the author speak, the list is even longer!

I certainly hope this isn't this her last adult fiction. I like the traces of children's lit: 'Mercy rose, washed, ate, brushed, flossed, flushed, dressed, scrunched, lip-glossed, smacked, smiled, dabbed, patted, changed, fluffed, fed the cat, and left.' I enjoyed the references to Blake & the biblical parallels of a story that could be interpreted on many different levels.

I especially like my autographed copy that reads, 'For Diane~ Joy! to the Word World!'

I'll let you borrow it, but only if you promise to give it back.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Last day of summer

It's official.

Today was the last day of summer. There are signs at the sailing club in big letters "Attention! Haul out weekend is October 24!" There are other signs the season is coming to an end as well, like the shrinking depth at the mouth of the basin. More than one keel got caught on their way out this past weekend.

That means only another month or so.... before we take the mast down, pack away the sails and haul the boat out of the lake.

Rob and I are trying to make the most of the time left and went sailing last Saturday and Sunday. Strong wind, sunny skies, dazzle on the water. Lots of other sailboats out there, especially on Sunday, the first day of the Frostbite Series for the racers.

From our position on the lake we could see autumn colours starting to bloom in some of the trees on the bluffs. Gold and auburn leaves. By mid-October there will likely be a vivid wall of blazing colour.

There seem to be more fish jumping now than at the height of summer. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have my eye cast in the right direction, and I can see them flying straight up out of the water and then landing sideways, smacking down with a noisy splash. Often enough I just hear the slap.

The sounds of autumn - wind in the trees, trumpeting swans, quacking ducks and fish splashing.

Getting ready for a long winter.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Waiting for Columbus

I went to buy this book because it was the first in the Toronto Heliconian Literary Lecture series and I wanted to do my homework.

I looked at the hardcover price. $35?! Then I read random paragraphs to see if I'd enjoy the writer's style because the jacket blurbs didn't make it seem too appealing.

The publisher's website is absolutely ecstatic about the novel, and Macleans is pretty complementary.

Mystery. Romance. International intrigue. Historical facts. Modern politics. It's almost as if the author is trying to be all things at once to broaden his appeal to the widest sector of readers. Or possibly a Hollywood literary agent. Good luck! And I mean that sincerely, because maybe I'm just cranky because summer is coming to an end and that means the boat will be coming out of the water.

I read the novel and definitely enjoyed parts.... The character's obsession with being Columbus, and how it seemed perfectly plausible in his madness that cell phones could exist at the same time people were searching for the New World and there was controversy about whether the earth was flat. Dwelling on how difficult it would have been for the explorer to persuade the reigning monarchs to fund his expedition and the political intrigue it required. Beautifully drawn scenes of swimming in an underground pool in the abandoned basement of the asylum. Vivid reminiscences about the scent of lovers.

But I think what I appreciated most about this book was the introduction to the Persian poet Hafiz.

from Ghazal 41:
Though the wine is joyous, and the wind, flowers sorts
Harp music and scent of wine, the officer reports.
If you face an adversary and a jug of wine
Choose the wine because, fate cheats and extorts.
- more Ghazals from Hafiz (Sufi poet born sometime between 1310-1325)

His major themes are love, wine and the spirit of intoxication.

From The Wisdom of Intoxication:

One aspect of the art of the ghazal is the ambiguity of the poet’s intention. Is the poet writing about a flesh and blood beloved, or is the poem to be taken as a mystical treatise describing love for and union with the divine? In addition, Hafiz himself often functioned as a court poet, employing the symbol of the Beloved on multiple levels: the personal, erotic beloved; the patron to whom he directed his poem in hopes of obtaining financial compensation for his art; and the mystical, divine Beloved, or God. Although critics debated this ambiguity in the poetry of Hafiz during his lifetime, and continue to debate it today (Schimmel, 1979), for Sufis (Islamic mystics) there has never been any question but that the author’s intention was a mystical one. It is typical of the poetry of Hafiz that worldly and mystical themes are woven together into a patchwork that is both grounded in an embodied sensuality and at the same time transported into the mystical realm of the "Other World."

For the Sufi, the madness of unbridled love for the beloved is not a regression into chaos, but a discipline which leads one to a conscious union with the source of all things. The cup of wine in classical Persian imagery can be understood as the heart of the lover which holds the elixir of life: Divine Love, the consumption of which ultimately leads to union with the Divine Beloved. Intoxication is that state of madness which results from surrender to this overpowering love for the Beloved, which seeks only fana (annihilation) in the baqa (subsistence) of the Beloved/God.

When madness is understood in this way, as a spiritual experience, the idea parallels the Jungian idea of individuation, which process necessarily involves a breakdown and transformation of conscious structures of the personality in order to make room for the inclusion of other, previously unconscious, contents of the personality.

Ironically I can't recollect much about the author's lecture that evening because a friend took me out for a few glasses of wine to help celebrate my birthday.

Monday, September 14, 2009


How fortunate we are for the teachers in our lives.

I have been lucky to have had the same yoga teacher for almost ten years now.  I've had many other occasional yoga teachers throughout the years, some with international billing, like Rodney Yee. But my regular teacher - Tina - is amazing! Never the same class twice. Modifying poses to body type. Trained in the Iyengar method. Always making you try just that little bit harder.

Early on, practising with her, I had a dream that she made an adjustment and I started to float mid-air when she made the tweak. Such a nice dream.

Well, my teacher is going back to school and becoming a student, so she can broaden her horizons and teach English as a Second Language. One of my fellow students came up with the idea of giving her a book of all of us doing various yoga poses, and tonight we got together for dinner in honour of our teacher, and presented. All the students, all over the city, doing poses in improbable places.

Tina is my travelling guru, because she has co-opted spaces in everything from hair salons to karate studios. I will miss her and I hope she hurries back. But even if she decides she isn't teaching yoga (how could that be??), there will still be the gift of what I've learned over these many years, which I will carry with me in the years to come.

So thank you Tina for your many wonderful classes....

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Heard an interview with Winifred Gallagher about her book, Rapt Attention and the Focused Life and what she was saying was really resonating with me. Paying attention to what makes you happy, being in the moment, avoiding multi-tasking and unnecessary stimulus.

Because what you focus on actually helps to shape your reality. Not just in a glass half-full way, either. One example she was speaking about involved being sick. You can focus on being sick or you can focus on a task at hand and put your energy toward that task. At the end of the day, if you have focused on being sick you may in fact become sicker; if you focus on the task not only will you have accomplished something but you may actually have been taking steps to heal yourself. Fascinating.

Even the phrase, 'paying attention'. When you pay attention you are giving up a part of yourself to focus elsewhere. Because there is a limit to how many things we can focus on at once (multi-tasking is a myth!), you are 'spending' your most limited and precious resource.... you. So choose carefully.

From an interview with Gallagher on Amazon Books:

Science's new understanding of attention can help shape your answers to this question, which pops up all day long in various forms. When you sit at your computer, will you focus on writing that report or aimless web browsing? At the meeting, will you attend to the speaker or to your BlackBerry? Research suggests that your choices are more consequential than you may suspect. When you zero in on a sight or sound, thought or feeling, your brain spotlights and depicts that "target," which then becomes part of the subjective mental construct that you nonetheless confidently call "reality" or "the world." In contrast, things that you ignore don't, at least with anything like the same clarity. As William James succinctly puts it, "My experience is what I agree to attend to."

When you finally get home at the end of the day, do you really want to dwell on petty events when you could immerse yourself in some amazing music or mindfully prepare the evening meal? Yes, sometimes easier said than done but it doesn't hurt to practise.

Many people don't know what brings them into moments of flow, so it is useful throughout the day to take note of when you are feeling focused or lost in the moment. You might think you would prefer to be at home rather than work, but the results may surprise you. Understanding what brings you joy and pleasure makes it all that much easier to pursue!

Lately I've been feeling burnt out at the end of the day or too sleepy to get out of bed in the morning to do yoga; yet I know it really makes me feel focused. I've lost my cooking mojo, yet I know a diet of whole foods prepared at home is better than take-out pizza. So I need to be more aware, to consciously choose. To practise choosing mindfully.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Toronto Music Garden

Toronto Music Garden, originally uploaded by bks4jhb.

The Toronto Music Garden project wouldn't have come to Toronto if it hadn't fallen through in Boston first - but luckily, it took root and came to fruition here on our beautiful waterfront.

The gardens were collaboratively designed by Yo Yo Ma and landscape architect Julie Moir Meservy, along with landscape architects and horticulturists from Toronto City Parks.

Each section of the garden represents a different movement from Bach's Suite Number One for Unaccompanied Cello: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Menuett, and Gigue. The music comes to life: long grasses sway, paths undulate and birds and butterflies add their own flourish to the mix. Too bad this wasn't included in the BBC series 'Around the World in Eighty Gardens'... it certainly deserves international attention.

Every summer, musicians come to play. I've seen tabla and taiko drummers, harpists and cellists, tubas and sax. There's usually a diverse selection of classical, contemporary and international. The outdoor venue is great, even with the occasional plane flying overhead.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I like when numbers seem to click into place, days like today - the 9th day of the 9th month of the year '09. Maybe at 9 p.m. I should toast the moment with some cognac.

But then, why wait?

Yesterday I bit the inside of my mouth when I was eating prime rib with horse radish and boy did it sting. Tonight I bit the exact same spot. A bit of cognac might help with the swelling. So for medicinal reasons I think I will pour a wee glass of Courvoisier. This cognac is one of my indulgences but I save it for special occasions, like when the moon is full or calendar dates form interesting numeric sequences. This particular bottle has been in my cabinet for almost three years, so I think it needs some attention.

Not sure why I enjoy cognac when I can't stand Scotch. Maybe it is because cognac is made from distilled wine, one of my favourite beverages.

Courvoisier dates centuries back to Napoleonic times. The website boasts: We are the only house to receive the Prestige de la France - France's highest award for excellence as we are the only cognac house to fully control the entire process from the grape to the bottle.
.......I think I'll toast to that! And then pour myself a second, to help fortify me as I transfer funds to pay my son's university tuition...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Birthday!

All year long I thought I was one year older than I actually was - so this is like a bonus year, because now I actually feel one year younger!

Celebrated by hanging out at Toronto Island with Rob, which happily coincided with the Labour Day weekend and the full moon.

Great weather. Sunny & not too hot, perfect for biking along the break wall. The nights were cool enough to snuggle in close to a fire on the beach. Winds were brisk enough for a great sail home.

Alex joined us Sunday/Monday and we hung out together; he's a great kid. I enjoy talking with him and hearing his points of view on life and love.

This time of year always feels like a fresh start to me.... coinciding with my birthday and back to school, it makes me feel like sharpening pencils and contemplating blank pages in notebooks. Anything is possible!

Interesting advice for the coming year:

Your horoscope for September 07

Eugenia Last:
Happy Birthday: Be a little more creative about the way you handle your financial matters. Use your common sense and insight to invest in something with potential. Taking action will be what leads to your success so don't procrastinate. Your numbers are 6, 14, 17, 23, 29, 32, 40
Birthday Baby: You are engaging and know how to get things done. You are a leader with creative flair. You are dedicated and intent on making a difference.
CELEBRITIES BORN ON THIS DAY: Devon Sawa, 31; Corbin Bernsen, 55; Julie Kavner, 59; Gloria Gaynor, 60

Phil Booth:
Thought for the Day:
Mercury's forward motion has come to a full stop. No, the sky is not falling, although a lot in your life might feel like it's falling apart. This is good. No worries. Adjust yourself quickly to the new astrological climate and you'll come up a winner.
If today is your birthday: If you're looking for clarity while in the midst of confusion, reassurance will come this year, along with many other wondrous surprises. The next 12 months will bring many encouraging developments with far-reaching benefits.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Toronto Airshow

Toronto_Airshow.10, originally uploaded by Vivid Pixel.

The Blue Angels were amazing but the Snowbirds captivated everyone's hearts!

Yesterday we had a view from the Western Gap, today we watched from Hanlan's Point. At points the planes were just 100 feet above our heads. Very impressive display and amazing choreography. I just wonder how anyone would 'practise' to get ready. The precision required is absolutely mind blowing!

I Love Toronto!

Toronto Music Garden, originally uploaded by Vaedri1.

I had one of those ecstatic moments when you realize how lucky you are to be in this place at this time.

Sitting in the shade of the Music Garden, at the foot of Marina Key West, taking in the acrobatics of the Air Show and people-watching.

What an amazing city to live, work and play!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Corn Moon - September

Full moon, Toronto pano, originally uploaded by polarcubby.

A full moon that falls in the first week of September is often called the 'Corn' or 'Fruit' Moon, so as to keep the Harvest Moon from coming too early in the calendar.

Had the pleasure of seeing this Corn Full Moon rise out of the water as we sailed over to Toronto Island, just as the sun was setting behind buildings on the skyline.

The moon in this photo is taken of a November sky by polarcubby @ Flickr.