Monday, November 30, 2009


Exactly one year ago I started this blog, with the intention of recording 'things I love,' the intent being to bring focus and attention to what is positive in my life. I know I am blessed with a lot to be thankful for, but it doesn't hurt to remind myself on a regular basis. After all, the things we spend our time thinking about shape our brains and our lives. And also, just as importantly, "like attracts like" (pun intended).

So I am thankful that I 'stuck' with this practice for a year, recording the day-to-day events that make me smile.

Blessed with so many happy mundane moments with Alex and Rob: great conversations with Alex, or just sitting and floating on the boat with Rob. Warming up hot chocolate and sharing it with them for dessert. So many other moments unrecorded: sitting on the backyard bench taking in my garden; sunny days, rainy days, cold days and cozy blankets; waking up in the middle of the night because a bright moonbeam shone down through the skylight; great music and interviews on the radio; days where I made the bus and subway connections; drinking water with cucumber or lemon zest and clinking ice cubes.

Sometimes it seems, all is right with the world.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not so random events

Listening to the radio on the way home from yoga, hearing an interview snippet with someone sharing the realization that you can never truly get inside someone else's being and know what it's like to be them, and to live their life... but it is the work of authors and readers and human beings to keep trying.

Toasting the life of Allan Hoyne at his memorial service, one of the members of BPYC, and learning about how this remarkable man spent his multi-faceted 81 years. I knew him to see him, wave and say hello, and of course I knew he was passionate about sailing and helped to build the club. But I didn't realize he fenced, enjoyed fly-fishing, lovingly
cared for his sick wife, or served in WWII.

I've been to a few funerals recently and people have talked about 'the dash' in between the years we're born and the years we die, and about how that seemingly insignificant mark is the real measure of someone's life. The poem that inspired the sentiment was posted alongside Alan's photos:

The Dash Poem

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak

At the funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

From the beginning to the end

He noted that first came the date of her birth

And spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved her

Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not how much we own;

The cars, the house, the cash,

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left,

That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough

To consider what’s true and real

And always try to understand

The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,

And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives

Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,

And more often wear a smile

Remembering that this special dash

Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read

With your life’s actions to rehash

Would you be proud of the things they say

About how you spent your dash?

©1996 Linda Ellis

Friday, November 27, 2009


The LCBO has a boxed set of six Bordeaux nicely packaged for the holiday, so I thought I would splurge myself to a bit of Christmas in the present, get in the holiday spirit, and learn a bit about Bordeaux.

If I can't actually get to France in the near future I can at least explore the fruit of vineyards so near to Paris.

Yvon Mau has presented the collection in a nice wooden chest that will get a second life on the boat next season. All the wine inside is AOC Bordeaux. Unfortunately, no 2005 vintages. Although it is commonly said there are no more bad vintages in this region anymore, 2009 is supposed to be one of the best in 60 years. I know it was a good year for me, too.

The first bottle I opened was Chateau Haut Biraud, 2007. Or as Rob called it, 'Hot Broad.' Not one of the better chateaus in France but now for me at least, one of the best names. The wine itself was surprisingly opaque in the glass, a nice deep garnet, and great legs when swirled (just what you'd expect of a hot broad). Wonderful aroma and nicely balanced. No finish to speak of, though. Blend 55% merlot, 30% cab sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc.

Next was Chateau Boutillot, 2007. I'm guessing when Rob sees this label he'll dub it 'Boot a lot'. The tasting notes say, "a gracious Bordeaux blessed by nature and terroir... produced by a certified sustainable agriculture estate." 51% merlot, 41% cab sauvignon and 8% cabernet franc. I prefer this to the first, although it isn't as nicely balanced and is a bit sharp on the first taste, it has a very lasting, satisfying finish.

Three of the six bottles are 2007 - a year the Wine Doctor calls 'the Hollywood vintage': prolonged desperation through a chilly summer with no apparent hope of reprieve until almost the last minute, a miraculous change of fortunes when all looked lost, and it all - well, almost all - turns out alright at the end:
  • Early but irregular budbreak
    Followed by irregular flowering and ripening, requiring a lot of work in the vineyard.
  • Cool and drizzly summer weather
    Delaying ripening, encouraging disease, requiring even more work in the vineyard.
  • Miraculous recovery
    When all hope seemed dashed, warm September weather meant that there would at least be wines to be made.
At the Food and Wine show I went to the Lifford booth and tasted a luscious 2005 Bordeaux, Chateau Marjosse ($40). Right after I visited the Wines of France & tasted something they were promoting as 'good value' ($12)- so light I thought they'd mixed it with water. So far the wines from this case are solidly in between, as far as taste and price go. I can't help but wonder what a really fine bordeaux would taste like, a fine recent vintage (1990, 2000 or 2005) from a chateau like Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux or Haut-Brion? Must buy a lottery ticket!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toronto Symphony - After Work Series

Dmitri Shostakovitch may have saved himself from Stalin's wrath with his Symphony No. 5.

According to Tom Allen, who introduced the After Work concert, the morning first after Symphony No. 3 debuted, an anonymous review was published in the national paper. It was rumoured Stalin himself had written it, openly speculating the third symphony's dark spirit was a subversive challenge to the spirit of the revolution. Shostakovitch actually feared he might mysteriously disappear as so many of his contemporaries. He was called in for questioning. Life became difficult.

His Symphony Number 5 may very well have saved his life: "people wept during the Largo and stood during the finale; the ovation lasted forty minutes." It was deemed politically acceptable, with a fierce march repeated throughout and a jubilant finish. It was the most popular of his symphonies in his lifetime.

I wonder what it would have been like to be in the audience for the very first performance in November 1937. I imagined the percussion was a grounding element keeping my feet solidly touching earth as my heart pounded in determination... the wind section providing the inspiration that kept me on the march.

Those Russians sure know how to keep the percussion section busy! Gongs, kettle drums, xylophone, snares, base drums - all got a serious workout. The wind section was a soaring contrast, with the score being written for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, e flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, contra bassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombone and tuba. I could almost feel the breeze, even way up high in the cheap seats.

Stephane Deneve was guest conductor, James Ehnes featured as first violinist.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crow Lake

The BPYC book club kick-started its inaugural meeting by singing Happy Birthday to Rebecca. Then we all enjoyed a champagne toast for the auspicious beginning. Gathered around the table were Annika, Maureen, Joan, Rebecca, Caroline, Robin & I, ready to begin our discussion of Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson.

I'd read it before and my intention was to refresh my memory with a few reviews before the meeting. What's the expression? Oh yes, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

Turns out this wasn't the plot line I had in mind. It doesn't start with a 60 page account of a walk from Canada's west to east coasts. Oops. I went to grab Maureen's copy of the book to skim through the pages but had forgotten my glasses at home.

As people started to talk about the book and characters, scenes started coming back to me in quick bursts. After the two hour meeting was coming to an end, I'd finally pieced most of it together. I can honestly say it was one of the oddest intellectual experiences ever. I wonder if this reconstruction is like what an amnesiac experiences?

Anyway, great book and great discussion. Kate is narrating the story as both an adult and child. As a child she is full of wonder; as an adult she looks to books for life answers. She's grown into a bitter academic, full of critical judgements about people. Her lack of empathy has destroyed one of the most important relationships of her life and is likely to end a promising love affair. She is the only one with the power to unlock her own heart - will she be able to meet the challenge?

From Wikipedia:
Crow Lake is a 2002 first novel written by Canadian author Mary Lawson. It won the Books in Canada First Novel Award in the same year and won the McKitterick Prize in 2003. It is set in a small farming community in Northern Ontario, the Crow Lake of the title, and centres on the Morrison family (Kate the narrator, her younger sister Bo and older brothers Matt and Luke) and the events following the death of their parents. Kate's childhood story of the first year after their parents' death is intertwined with the story of Kate as an adult, now a successful young academic and planning a future with her partner, Daniel, but haunted by the events of the past. In among the narratives are set cameos of rural life in Northern Ontario, and of the farming families of the region.

Monday, November 23, 2009

InterVin Value Award Winners

The Connoisseur's Corner at the Food and Wine show offered a tasting of the InterVin Value Award Winners, led by Christopher Waters, Head Judge and editor of Vines magazine.

'Value Awards' went to bottles priced less than $15. Featured wines at the tasting included:
  • Vina Santa Rita 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Estate Bottled $12.95 (Chile)
  • Gerardo Cesari 2008 Chardonnay $7.95 (Veneto, Italy)
  • Innaskillin Wines 2007 Varietal Series Chardonnay $10.95 (Niagara Peninsula)
  • Farnese 2008 Sangiovese $7.45 (Italy)
  • Argento Wine Co 2007 Malbec $9.95 (Argentina)
We also had a preview tasting of a great Australian blend that will soon be stocked on the LCBO shelves. This one was disqualified from the Value Award distinction because at $15, it couldn't be listed as 'under' the value price:
  • Hardys 2007 Butcher's Gold Shiraz Sangiovese $15.00 (South Australia)
Established in 1850, the Hardys Winery won medals in several categories.

InterVin judges tasted 753 wines from 16 different countries over three days to recognize excellence in wine-making. Every effort was made to get unbiased and objective rankings: blind tasting, switching up the order in which wines were served, independent tasting and group debate. The panel included wine educators and writers, chefs, sommeliers, and wine makers.

Browse through your favourite category winners here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death

This month's Book Babes selection is an historical romance and mystery is set in England, 1171, the time of Henry II: Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin.

The novel is set in a time of superstition, when people are thrown into ponds to see if they are guilty or innocent of the crimes they stand accused. It is also the same period that Henry II introduces Common Law and the concept of trial by jury.

Our heroine Adelia is the "mistress of the art of death", trained in Italy to uncover the secrets corpses reveal.

She has been summoned to Cambridge because the Jews in the town have been wrongfully accused of the ritual murders of four children. Imprisoned, denied access to their money and cut off from society, the Jews are being persecuted and will likely be lynched if the real killer is not soon revealed. Henry knows the Jews are innocent, but is equally concerned about the loss of tax revenue. He calls on his ally, the King of Sicily, to send his finest master of death, unaware that the physician on the way is female.

Women are not allowed to practise medicine in England, so Adelia must act as an assistant, while her chaperon takes on the role of doctor. The subterfuge is necessary to prevent her from being charged a witch.

Ulf, a young boy and the killer's next target, is lovable and smart; he is also described as 'dwarfish' and having 'an ugly little face.' It is somewhat refreshing to have slightly offbeat characters. It was amusing that the object of Adelia's affection is not particularly physically attractive. Her lover is a bit fat. In the end they seem destined to enjoy a very long-term, passionate affair, if not marriage.

Not one of my favourite book club selections, this is still a fun read. A tad predictable in the mystery department. A bit unconventional as a romance.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ancient Tree Advisor

Brian Muelaner is likely the world's only 'official' Ancient Tree Advisor.

It's his job to head the survey to catalogue the where-abouts of ancient trees in Britain and work to preserve them for future generations.

Oaks can live for 1,200 years and yews for 3,000, but unfortunately, many of these ancient survivors are endangered because of pollution and neglect.

The oldest tree on the British National Trust property is the Ankerwycke yew - almost 2,500 years old. The Magna Carta was signed under this tree in 1215.

Brian Muelaner is employed by the British National Trust, and was profiled in today's Globe and Mail. This photo, taken in Chiltern woods, caught my eye, but it was also used to illustrate this article in The Guardian.

As a tree-planting student in BC, this Canadian was disillusioned by the government's lack of stewardship, "Even now there are constant battles in BC where they want to cut virgin forest - ancient Sitka spruce... The government has allowed companies to behave rapaciously."

When I visited BC and spent time in the ancient coastal forests still left standing, I felt I was surrounded by towering, benign creatures too busy to notice I was intruding. The air and light seemed holy, and the smells were intoxicating. Truly, a magic forest. I am deeply grateful to the people who fight to keep ancient trees and forests alive.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Royal Ontario Museum

Visits to galleries and museums are usually time well spent, especially on rainy, dull Sunday afternoons.

The Vanity Fair Portraits (1913-2008) currently on exhibit at the ROM were definitely thought provoking. The exhibit is beautiful, but alarmingly shallow - somewhat like the celebrity culture it documents.

The photos themselves are works of art and exquisite records of iconic personalities captured over several decades. One particularly fascinating installation displays a final cover photo that Annie Leibovitz took of George Clooney, alongside some video footage that shows what took place behind the scenes to make it happen. There was also some silent footage of Steichen at work in the studio, circa 1920.

I would have appreciated a lot more info about the photographers and their process. Additional context for the photos would have provided a whole other layer (historical time lines, other events taking place, the subject of the original article). As it is, the photos are displayed with a mention of the photographer and a blurb about the celebrity. The 'focus' is generally on the celebrity, not the photographer - unless the photographer is a celebrity themselves (like Leibovitz, Mapplethorpe or Steichen).

The exhibits taking place throughout the museum elegantly put things into perspective: provocative displays about biodiversity, geology, Egyptian tombs, the 10 Commandments, lost civilizations, and primitive cultures. What we think of as essential somehow becomes ephemeral. Urgent headlines become forgotten. What's it all about, anyway?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Rembrandt was a genius in the way he was able to paint darkness and light. But his talent went beyond technique, it was his ability to illuminate the darkness of human nature that made his paintings such masterpieces.

This is the theme Peter Greenaway explores in his film, Nightwatching.

Before gaining prominence as a director with the film The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, Greenaway trained as a painter.

Watching this film was like seeing Rembrandt's paintings themselves brought to life, each frame carefully lit in darkness.

The film revolves around a particular commission, The Night Watch. Musketeers hired Rembrandt to paint their portraits, but the artist couldn't resist editorializing. He added visual embellishments that alluded to facts these heroes would prefer to have hidden from posterity, and brought them from darkness into light.

Look closely. Hinting at hypocrisy you will see:
- the two girls (illegitimate children)
- the red sash (reference to homosexuality)
- a muscat (murder weapon)
- a posthumous portrait of one of the musketeers (he was reported to be on holiday at the time he was rumoured to have been accidentally shot during muscat practice)

Consider the predicament of the muskateers. They've been painted by a true genius. They look handsome. They have been preserved for posterity....and yet... will their true nature be seen by others? Although the subjects were enraged that their various secrets were exposed, they remained vain enough to assume that the general populace wouldn't 'get' the references. Lucky for us, the canvas didn't burn... it was the famous Rembrandt, after all, and the portraits themselves were flattering enough.

The scandals are largely lost on modern audiences. In this sense, the musketeers are right. The painting stands on the artist's flattering technique. But consider how truly audacious Rembrandt was, to do this, and to 'get away with it' for so many centuries.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Warm spinach and squash salad

Warm salads for cool weather are comforting and delicious. This one is adapted from this month's Yoga Journal & really hit the spot.

Warm spinach and squash salad
  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
  • maple syrup
  • salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice or red wine vinegar
  • 5 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds

  1. Prepare squash. Halve and brush with butter & maple syrup, top with ground nutmeg and brown sugar, and then bake in 400 degree oven about 45 minutes or until done. (Or cube, toss with olive oil & salt & pepper, and then bake about 20 minutes).
  2. Mix juice or vinegar with salt. Add squash, spinach.
  3. Toast almonds & add to greens.
  4. Heat olive oil over medium heat. If you used maple syrup and butter in the baked squash, some of the juices may have collected in the halves...mix in with the oil. Pour over salad, tossing to coat and wilt spinach evenly. Serve at once.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Extraordinary Canadians

Eighteen biographies are part of the Penguin series about Extraordinary Canadians, with documentary films exploring the same subjects.

This is an ambitious project and sheds necessary light on historic personalities such as Trudeau, Bethune, Gould, and Carr. Several are written by fiction writers, some by artists, others by poets. I'm looking forward to exploring the series.

Senior editor John Ralston Saul says
Together they produce a grand sweep of the creation of modern Canada... They changed the way the world hears music, thinks of war, communicates. They changed how each of us sees what surrounds us, how minorities are treated, how we think of immigrants, how we look after each other, how we imagine ourselves through what are now our stories.

I had my first taste of the series in Nellie McClung, by Charlotte Gray, and tonight went to the Heliconian lecture to hear the author speak about her subject.

This biography was probably chosen by the club because of McClung's pivotal role in winning the vote for women in Canada. But Gray has written a fairly conventional biography, and the short 40K word bio doesn't really do her justice. Quite factual, it mentions details, such as Nellie's husband Wes having a mysterious mental illness, or the suffragette countering whisper campaigns by opening her speeches mentioning she had phoned home to make sure her kids were okay. Nellie is presented as the hero she is, but without much depth. A bit of a pet peeve for me was, why no photos, when the author repeatedly refers to her as an 'attractive woman'? So here's a photo tracked down from another source. The book did succeed in making me curious about McClung's life and times.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Looking forward to spring

Inspired by the autumn colours, I dug an 'orange corner' in my garden that included orange snow crocus, orangerie daffodil, and orange breeze tulip. Each of them are timed to bloom at different points in the spring, starting from very early to late spring.

There is also a splash of purple (anemone and crocus) and some tulips that look just like candy kisses.

Here's hoping winter isn't too long or too brutal.

Masterworks Concert

Sir Andrew Davis was guest conductor and Andre Laplante was guest pianist for an evening at the symphony that presented Richard Strauss' Also Spracht Zarathustra, Beethoven's The Emperor (Piano Concerto #5) and Berlioz' Les francs-juges.

Laplante has a reputation as one of Canada's greatest pianists. As I heard him play the notes of the cadenzas in the second movement of The Emperor, I had the sudden insight that the real 'instruments' on stage were the musicians.

Hearing the opening bars of Also Spracht Zarathustra was a real rush. The orchestra was in perfect sync. I could almost see the sun rise. It was entertaining to watch the percussion section at work; the deep pounding of the kettle drums and the playful tickle of the triangle.

Our seats were in the right orchestra, with a great view of the conductor and an almost behind-the scenes view of the string section. We were so close Rob could hear Laplante humming along to the score. Unfortunately the nuance was lost on me because I have very poor hearing - but I did watch Laplante's face contort in time with the music.

It still fills me with wonder that Beethoven could have composed so many masterpieces when he was nearly deaf. He never played The Emperor publicly. In this period, musical improvisation by piano virtuosos meant that composers would make a notation to 'play a cadenza here'. In this piece, Beethoven wrote the notes for each, painstakingly. His instructions in the written score are quite the opposite of the time, because at one point he notes 'do NOT play a cadenza here.' How frustrating it must have been for him to not be able to play this masterpiece for an audience, and to not hear whether the visiting virtuosos followed his instructions.

Here is Glen Gould playing the second movement:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Alex and I went to see 'Where the Wild Things Are' together tonight. I couldn't think of anyone else I would rather have seen the movie with. He's in second year university now so it's been quite awhile since I read it to him as a bedtime story.

To tell the truth, it was never the story - it was always those illustrations. How Sendak managed to make the monsters both terrifying and endearing at the same time.

The film captures the same visual sensibilities. The fort they all build together, "the place where only the things you want to have happen, happen" looks like it was designed by Andy Goldsworthy, cairns and all.

The landscapes in the film are the archetypes of childhood fantasies: beaches, forests, oceans, deserts. Uncluttered, simple lines, light blue daytime skies and deep indigo starry night skies.

Best of all of course are the monsters. In the film their personalities are unpredictable and dangerous, yet vulnerable. Evidence that some things are simply beyond anyone's control.

The film has no shortage of 'cred' in the credits: directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovitch), with David Eggers co-writing (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius); starring James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker and Catherine O'Hara as some of the voices of the monsters.

The book is a childhood favourite of many, including President Obama. Here he is sharing it with some of his younger constituents:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mad Moon - November

The November moon is often known as the Full Beaver Moon, but I prefer the more poetic and lunatic 'Mad Moon.' Who better to soliliquize than Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself?

Read this one aloud for maximum fun (though it is best to avoid the opium stupour that likely inspired the composition):

A Soliloquy Of The Full Moon, She Being In A Mad Passion

Now as Heaven is my Lot, they're the Pests of the Nation!
Wherever they can come
With clankum and blankum
'Tis all Botheration, & Hell & Damnation,
with fun, jeering
And still to the tune of Transmogrification--
Those muttering
With no Hats
Or Hats that are rusty.
They're my Torment and Curse
And harass me worse
And bait me and bay me, far sorer I vow
Than the Screech of the Owl
Or the witch-wolf's long howl,
Or sheep-killing Butcher-dog's inward Bow wow
For me they all spite--an unfortunate Wight.
And the very first moment that I came to Light
A Rascal call'd Voss the more to his scandal,
Turn'd me into a sickle with never a handle.
A Night or two after a worse
Rogue there came,
The head of the Gang, one Wordsworth by name--
`Ho! What's in the wind?' 'Tis the voice of a Wizzard!
I saw him look at me most terribly blue!
He was hunting for witch-rhymes from great A to Izzard,
And soon as he'd found them made no more ado
But chang'd me at once to a little Canoe.
From this strange Enchantment uncharm'd by degrees
I began to take courage & hop'd for some Ease,
When one Coleridge, a Raff of the self-same Banditti
Past by--& intending no doubt to be witty,
Because I'd th' ill-fortune his taste to displease,
He turn'd up his nose,
And in pitiful Prose
Made me into the half of a small Cheshire Cheese.
Well, a night or two past--it was wind, rain & hail--
And I ventur'd abroad in a thick Cloak & veil--
But the very first Evening he saw me again
The last mentioned Ruffian popp'd out of his Den--
I was resting a moment on the bare edge of Naddle
I fancy the sight of me turn'd his Brains addle--
For what was I now?
A complete Barley-mow
And when I climb'd higher he made a long leg
And chang'd me at once to an Ostrich's Egg--
But now Heaven be praised in contempt of the Loon,
I am I myself I, the jolly full Moon.
Yet my heart is still fluttering--
For I heard the Rogue muttering--
He was hulking and skulking at the skirt of a Wood
When lightly & brightly on tip-toe I stood
On the long level Line of a motionless Cloud
And ho! what a Skittle-ground! quoth he aloud
And wish'd from his heart nine Nine-pins to see
In brightness & size just proportion'd to me.
So I fear'd from my soul,
That he'd make me a Bowl,
But in spite of his spite
This was more than his might
And still Heaven be prais'd! in contempt of the Loon
I am I myself I, the jolly full Moon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Orange Breeze..

Orange Breeze.., originally uploaded by mostly.

Ordered some spring bulbs for the back garden: orange breeze & belicia tulips, poppy anemones and vanguard crocus.