Saturday, January 30, 2010

Little by little....

When I showed up for the yoga workshop today, I couldn't believe how crowded it was - and how quickly people jumped on the mats - leaving me to look around the room grumpily for a spot.  I was very skeptical I would get anything out of a situation where everyone was cheek by jowl.  "Pretend you're in India," a few people joked.

"India" is said with a certain reverence here, because many of these yogis have practised there for months at a time.  Some with BKS Inyengar, others with Gita.

The invocation at the start of class is sung in Sanscrit.  I am resisting committing this to memory, thinking an English chant might be more suitable.  But when in an Iyengar studio you quickly learn not to argue with the teacher and to follow instructions.  To the best of your ability, mindful you don't injure yourself.

Many of the people taking the workshop were teachers, or teachers-in-training, and had obviously done the poses many times.  A lot of this, like bhandas,  was brand-new to me, and it was hard to catch the subtleties.  There were points in the class I really just wanted to give up, curl up like a little bug, and face the fact I'll never be able to do this or that pose. At the end of the four hours I was exhausted and ready for a long soak in the tub.

But there were definitely moments when it was actually fun, like when we were supporting each other doing dog pose/half handstand.

And other times when I surprised myself because I could actually take a pose like utthita-padmasana (pictured on the right) that I wouldn't have otherwise attempted, thinking it was just beyond my ability.

I also learned I do a fabulous crooked-head-headstand. No wonder the pose has been giving me a pain in the neck.  Now it is off my home practise rotation, with strict orders not to do it unless at teacher is present.  I just can't tell when my head is crooked.

I have this page marked in my copy of 'Light on Life', I just have to keep it in mind: "If you learn a lot of little things, one day you may end up knowing a big thing."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Full Wolf Moon - January

This came to be known as the Full Wolf Moon because hungry wolves howled just outside the villages on cold winter nights.

Imagine what it would have been like a few centuries ago to hear a chorus of wolves howling in the distance. It's the perfect backdrop for a horror film!  Maybe you are safely indoors, in front of a blazing fire and in the company of friends, with a full belly and a glass of port, the howls very soft and low in the distance.  Or you are alone, isolated in the country, snowed in and the cupboards are bare... the sound of wolves approaching.  Here is a great site with audio clips of lone howling wolves, a chorus of wolves and some growling:

Here is a different sort of Howlin' Wolf, singing 'Spoonful.'  I like the posts, "y'all know he's talking about heroine, right?"; "sex"; "life, all of it, man":

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Every Last Cuckoo

Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy is the Book Babes selection this month.  I read the beginning and the end, and bits in the middle so I could take part in the discussion, but I confess I didn't read the rest and most likely won't.

I appreciate the premise.  Sarah is 75 when her husband dies, leaving her in a state of deep grief and financial need.  Her solution is to open her home and heart to some 'lost souls,' tending them as she would her very own.

Cuckoos are what's called brood parasites, because they lay their eggs in others' nests to avoid tending to their own chicks.  So the title is a handy metaphor, with Sarah trying her best to save the cuckoos.  She turns out to be quite the heroine, literally saving many lives at the end of the story.  There is even a love interest waiting for her in the shadows, when she has time to catch her breath and recognize he patiently awaits.

The author's voice in this book comes through as a tad too judgmental for my taste. And things wrap up a bit too tickity-boo.  I really didn't like it, which is too bad, because we need more good books about Crones. 

This is the author's first novel.  She has also written a memoir about her Quaker upbringing, which I'm putting on my reading list - from the little I know about Quakers I think they are amazing, daring to go where few have the faith and courage.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Kim, Catherine and I were enjoying some after work drinks and celebrating their new positions - onward and upward, and well-deserved if you ask me.

First we asked for the rioja from Spain, and then the chianti from Tuscany from the wine list.  No matter, neither was in the cellar.  So we ended up with the Malbec from Argentina  and it was muy bueno!  I wish I had written the name down, or snapped a pic with my phone because it was a label I didn't know and I wouldn't mind picking up another bottle.  A nice leisurely meal of appetizers and a taste of gnocchi was a great accompaniment.  The restaurant was Local on the Danforth...   I have to admit, I don't go out much (maybe it's because I'm a generally horrified at the price mark-up), but anyway, it was a great treat and lovely conversation.

I still wanted the Rioja, though, so the next day I picked some up and popped by the St. Lawrence Market for a nice match.  There was a semi-hard, drunken goat cheese from Spain.  Soaking it in red wine for two to three days gives it a thin purple (and delicious!) rind.  The flavour went wonderfully with the wine.  Another treat.  

Despite these occasional indulgences I'm still following my 'Less is More' diet. Well, more or less, doing most of the things at least some of the time.  I'm hopping on the scale every now and then and so far the counter is traveling in the right direction.  Having less treats but enjoying them more.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hardy plants

The East York Garden club enjoyed a tour of some beautiful gardens at Mike and Susan Dolbey's cottage in Lakefield.

It was a cold, moonless winter night but we took in the view of their many gardens in a slide show.  200 shots of garden porn!  Not quite the same thing as being there, but given the season, the next best thing.

The emphasis was on hardy plants, ones that don't need coddling to survive.  I collected specimen names to try to find come spring.  I don't pretend to know the Latin names, but the speakers kindly provided the plant list by slide #.

Here were some of my favourites:

  • primula kisoana (pictured above)
  • pulsatillas
  • geranium sanguineum 'Alpenglow' for fall colour
  • lathyrus vernus 'Alboroseus' (deep blue flowers & small)
  • aruncus aethusifolius (miniature aruncus dioicus?)
  • monarda puctata (small)
  • campanula incurva (BIG flower, small plant pictured at right)
  • linum flavum (lots of flowers)
  • dictamnus albus

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barnacle Love

Loved,  loved, Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa and loved the lecture, too.

Promoted as a series of 'linked stories' the book really reads more like a novel, with the first half focusing on the tale of Manuel's journey to Canada from the Azores and the second half told from the point of view of the Canadian-born son.

I wondered how the young idealistic man of dreams in the first half of the novel degenerated into the bitter, drunken father of the second half.  There is not much explanation in the book itself, which is why the lecture was so interesting.

Tonight the author read from his paper, The Need to Look Back, and provided some personal insights into the immigrant experience that helped explain Manuel's transition.   Consider the pressures of being among the first wave of immigrants from the Azores to Canada in the mid 1950s:  not having the luxury of a 'little Portugal' retreat to speak with bankers and grocers in your mother tongue; the sheer politics of needing to choose the order of the relatives you are sponsoring to come to Canada; and the deep fissures that could erupt when you picked your mother-in-law over siblings.

Sponsorship was a deep, long-term commitment, you needed to provide food, shelter and help the newcomers establish themselves over several months, and then the cycle would begin again.  Until all the family members are brought over.  You're working 2 or 3 jobs to meet financial obligations, going without so others can prosper.  It would be natural to feel that all the sacrifice would be recorded with the expectation of a debt to be repaid.  Yet this feeling of entitlement often alienated the people that were sponsored. The feeling of indebtedness and guilt could separate generations.  In the end the people that made these sacrifices for their families were often left isolated, unappreciated and the object of scorn.

De Sa has had other second generation Canadians tell him the story rings true from their family experience, too.  So in that sense, the story is not just limited to the Portuguese experience of the 1950s/1970s, but the immigrant experience in general.  I'd say the theme of indebtedness from one generation to the next is pretty universal.

There was also the mention of married people that would leave families back home, come to Canada with the intention of working here and then sponsoring their wives and children, but along the way they fall in love and start second families in their new country.  What could happen when those worlds collide?

Even without the backstory,  the book itself is well worth the time spent.  I'm looking forward to the next one, Carnival of Desire  and reading the author blog about his progress as the due date approaches.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The art of the possible

I laughed out loud at the instructions:  "Exhale, bend forward.  Rest the forehead, then the nose, then the lips, and lastly the chin on your right knee."

Then I looked over to my right and the woman on the right was actually doing it.

Holy crap!

Now that I have moved up  a level or two in my yoga practise I am attempting more challenging poses, and struggling a bit with how much to push myself.  How much is actually doable for me in my present body, what I should aspire to?  It is a very interesting process.

I know when I rediscovered yoga a few years ago I couldn't even touch my toes.  Now I have to be careful I don't hyper-extend.  At the same time, I love my body - it is the only one I have!  So although the person to the right of me is inspiring me, I know my limitations.  Or do I?

Here is Iyengar doing yoga in 1938.  He celebrated his 95th birthday in December and still practises 5 hours a day (not counting the time he spends teaching his students).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Art Mirrors Life

Lucky me - I am now working close enough to head to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a quick look at lunchtime.  Little by little and room by room I am going to work my way through the building.  It's great - no need to rush.

Although I didn't realize the parallels at the time, both of the artists that caught my eye today are young Canadians (Boyle is from Toronto and Altmejd from Montreal), and both were skillfully incorporating mirrors into their work...

I just wish I could take photos, though, because the ones available for download online don't really provide the details I want to talk about.  Damn security guards! 

Anyway, this photo of 'The Index' by artist David Altmejd on the right gives you an idea of the scale of the work.  The bird costumed as man lets you know you are entering into a dream-zone. The sheer size of the installation beckons you to wander through passages, secret rooms and corridors.  What the photo doesn't provide is the experience of the wonderful, creepy minutia that gives it such a phantasmagorical feel:  the shattered mirrors, the owls, the song birds, the mushrooms, the gold chains the birds have woven through the wood... The mirrors in this piece are a great touch; I get to experience the art through wandering and I literally become part of the art through my reflection - but only for as long as I'm standing there, reflecting.  I get a sense that maybe I'm pretty small, pretty fleeting. 

Around the corner from 'The Index' are two small porcelain pieces by artist Shary Boyle.  Again, you can't really see the mirrors here, the photos don't focus on them.  If you visit the artist's site you'll get a better view.

The piece above is called 'The rejection of Pluto', and the one to the below is called 'To colonize the moon'. Both were brilliantly displayed with bronzes by Foggini, renowned Florentine sculptor from the late baroque period, depicting the same mythological scenes. (The bronze below is 'Time ravishing beauty', I couldn't find images of the ones in the AGO collection but they are of the same style).

The contrasts between the two approacches are powerful:  metallic and rigid vs. bright and reflective; unyielding bronze next to fragile porcelain; vibrant, bright colour vs. monochromatic, earthy tones; male figures unquestioningly conquering the female, positioned next to the conquered females, but this time with questioning and challenging looks on their faces. In Boyle's pieces the mirrors function to pull the viewer into the scene as witnesses... or is it accessories... to the crime.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tonight I'm thinking about tea

The beautiful tea cup was a Christmas gift from Rob this year and I've already enjoyed many wonderful pots of white, green and Darjeeling tea.

Tonight I'm thinking about tea, but drinking wine... and it is the middle of the week... let me read the fine print of my resolution... o yes, it was 'drink less wine during the week and drink more tea'...

Here are Kinks on You Tube (circa 1972) urging me "for Christ's sake have a cuppa tea!" Okay, okay I'll put the kettle on.
(sorry I would embed the vid but the link is disabled... but definitely click to visit).

Googling poems and tea brings me wonderful phrases.

Like this one from myloveisaverb:

I want to write a million little poems
put them in a tea cup
drink them


and this haiku from Chula:

wrapping my hands
round the warm teacup
the waning moon


and this posted in an online tea room but written by Jonker in 1670 Amsterdam:

A Cup of Tea
When the world is all at odds
And the mind is all at sea
Then cease the useless tedium
And brew a cup of tea.

There is magic in its fragrance,
There is solace in its taste;
And the laden moments vanish
Somehow into space.

And the world becomes a lovely thing!
There's beauty as you'll see;
All because you briefly stopped
To brew a cup of tea.

Tea helps our head and heart.
Tea medicates most every part.
Tea rejuvenates the very old.
Tea warms the hands of those who're cold.


Look, some instructions from a 1920 publication on how to read tea leaves, or 'tasseography' if you're a purist.

Hey, some great recipes for Chai! a tea shop in India...

excuse me now, I must be going, I think my kettle's boiled dry!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Origin of the Species - Part 2

The BPYC Book Club met tonight to discuss my pick, 'Origin of the Species' by Nino Ricci.  Literary critics love this book and Google results bring eloquent praise for Ricci's craft. At the same time, the buyers of books that post comments at online forums aren't as consistently generous.

It wasn't particularly well-liked at the discussion tonight.  Those of us that finished the book admitted we found it a tough slog.  But that didn't stop us from having a great conversation about the novel, its settings, characters and themes.

We shared a general dislike for the main character and found there were many details that seemed extraneous. Most of the readers reacted the same way to the timeline as I did, finding it disjointed and hard to follow. 

Funny thing, though, by the end of the meeting the discussion had given me a better appreciation of the book overall.  I am certain if I were to read it again I would discover more and deeper connections between plot details and characters... but there are other books calling to me on my shelf.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Going nuts

Did you know...

-  Nuts reduced the risk of heart disease and heart attack by 30% - 45% (see for details on 5 major studies)
- The Nurses Health study showed that women who ate more than five ounces of nuts a day also tended to weigh less than those who didn't, according to Web MD.

So I'm adding this to my Less is More diet:

less cheese, more nuts. 

The trick is sticking to an ounce a day. According to The Nut Case on Yahoo food, that's about a 1/4 cup a day, or 30 almonds or 20 walnut halves.

Prevention magazine cites a study from Pennsylvania State University where volunteers ate 1 1/2 ounces (about a handful) of pistachios every day. At the end of 4 weeks, those who munched the nuts reduced their total cholesterol by an average of 6.7% and their LDL ("bad") cholesterol by 11.6%. They also give you an energy boost.

... Happily this practice also complements the other guideline to 'eat more plant food and less meat' being promoted by food advocates like Mark Bitten and Michael Pollan.

Try different kinds.

Make pesto, peanut sauce, peanut soup, eat them raw, toast them, or add them to stir fries or salads.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


The scree garden we planted in the spring included this daphne and rockcress, and while the descriptions said they were evergreen, I really didn't expect them to be so verdant in the winter.  Especially with the sub-zero temperatures we've been having. An oasis in the snow.....

Thanks to Clever Pup for this quote from Vita Sackville-West, and a timely reminder that spring is coming, slowly but surely:
"The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer. Minute by minute they lengthen out. It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change. It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour." 

Friday, January 8, 2010

George Clooney x 2

A George Clooney double feature today!

Ryan Bingham's character in 'Up In the Air' is "very tricky," as director Jason Reitman admits.  "He is someone who fires people for a living but he still needs to be likable and charming."  Who better to cast than George Clooney?  Ryan says : "I work for a company that rents me out to cowards that don't have the courage to sack their own employees"... Clooney is the perfect choice to deliver these kind of lines.  He brings great depth and vulnerability to the deceptively shallow character. He really deserves an Oscar for this performance.

Later in the day I saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, based on a Roald Dahl novel, and also featuring George Clooney.  The animation is a beautiful rendering of another deceptively simple story, this one about trying to tame animal instincts.

Clooney does seem to play different facets of the same 'type'.  Think of Michael Clayton or the lead in 'O Brother Where Art Thou'.  Shallow and vain, yet somehow on the cusp on awakening.  Even less serious roles like Batman or Danny Ocean have an unexpected depth.

Here are a few You Tube clips that are pretty hilarious.  The first is a vlog he did of himself in Chad talking about rooming with Pulitzer Prize winner Nicolas Kristof; the second is of him being interviewed by his Dad for the premiere of Leatherheads in his home town.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Origin of the Species

Quite possibly my favourite sentence in the book:

" made him feel like some bumbling, cunt-addled oaf from an Atwood novel."

Aside from coining such an exquisite word, it's also the perfect distillation for the character of the story's main protagonist, Alex.  He really isn't very likable, but I guess that is beside the point.  The real question is, given the title of the book... does his character evolve?  Certainly not in an obvious way.  There is no third eye sprouting or sudden epiphany. A quick poll of 3 readers waiting to get the book signed was a unanimous 'no', but when I asked Ricci if Alex evolved in the story, he said yes. Who am I to argue with the author and Governor General award winner?

The story is told a bit out of sequence, with the Galapogos section spliced into the middle of the linear tale, which is an interesting placement that doesn't entirely work for me as a reader.  This was my pick for next week's BPYC Book Club, so it will be interesting to hear other reactions to how the story unfolds when we meet to discuss the book.

I enjoyed certain sections of the book, expecially:  ONE May 1986 and GALAPOGOS January 1980.  The last section, THREE April 1987 left me reading one or two pages at a time and very unsatisfied by the end of the story.

Alex' relationships to both men and women are fascinating.  He never seems at ease with anyone and is perpetually angry, competive and dismissive of his male friends and allies; alienating the women in his life.  I almost hope he doesn't follow through with his plane ticket to Sweden... stepping into his biological son's life after such a long absence.  Maybe his son will make him a better person.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Red Lentil Dal

Here's a video clip of Mark Bittman giving a cooking lesson for Red Lentil Dal - a quick and easy comfort dish that's ready in 15 minutes - "simply delicious".  Funnily enough the video opens with him in a contemplative pose, in syncronicity with my musings yesterday about mindful eating.

This particular recipe was featured as part of the Minimalist feature today called Elevating Simple Legumes, Just Enough. How timely!
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter (optional)
  • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish.
1. Put oil in a skillet over medium high heat; when it is hot, add onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes; set aside.
2. Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients except the salt, butter and cilantro in a saucepan. Add water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Adjust heat so mixture bubbles gently, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper and keep cooking to desired tenderness. Lentils should be saucy but not soupy.
3. Remove cloves from pan and add reserved sautéed onion. Stir in butter if you are using it. Taste and adjust seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.

There's another with Apples and Cocunut Tarka I'll have to try...  and then there's French lentils with cashews.... the potential combinations are truly endless.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Less is more diet

Continuing on the "less is more" approach to losing weight...

Be in less of a hurry, and be more mindful when you eat.

I've recently read that there are two eating habits that can triple your chances of being overweight. The first is eating too fast. The second is eating until you're completely full:  it's best to stop when you're about 80 percent full.

These two habits complement each other because if you're shoveling food into your mouth too quickly your brain doesn't have enough time to receive the signals that you've had enough.  I've tried slowing down at my meals today and it is very hard for me to put this one into practise.  What does 80% full feel like, anyway?  These tips from Mindful Eating should help:
  • 'arriving' at the food (simply notice the food and consider it); 
  • awakening to the food (notice every aspect of the food before, during and after eating it); 
  • tuning in to the body (tune in to your level of hunger)
  • 'servicing' the food (extending the mindfulness to the preparation and service of the food). 

Absorb less fat by drinking more white and green tea. 

Another fact I've stumbled across is that human fat cells became significantly less fat when treated with a white-tea extract.  So as I'm swapping tea for wine during the week, a good pick would be white tea.  It's less processed than green or black.  Although I've also heard that green tea fights belly fat: in a study, overweight adults who engaged in an exercise program for 12 weeks lost more belly fat if they also drank green tea daily. There is a great article on the health benefits of white tea on Ya Ya's Tea-Board:
Studies at Pace University found white tea to have strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties as well as beneficial effects on dental caries prevention. White tea has been also found to boost the immune system, to repair cell damage after over-exposure to sunlight, slow down the aging process (anti-ageing) with its high levels of antioxidants neutralizing age-accelerating free radicals in our bodies, lower blood pressure and the risk of heart attack, as well as lower cholesterol. Last but not least, its high contents of EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) and caffeine - which have both been proven to help with increasing the level of energy expediture - will assist with weight loss.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Resolutions, discoveries and tangents

I don't think I am declaring a resolution this year so much as recognizing a basic principle:  less is more.

Throughout the coming year I'm going to apply this strategy in a few areas.

In January I'm going to focus on my weight, because if I keep indulging myself the way I have I'm likely explode!  But there is a problem.  I hate strict diets. I don't like counting calories or keeping track of 'units', and when I feel deprived I get cranky.  So I am going to follow these few simple guidelines for one month and see how many pounds I lose by Jan 31:
  1. Drink less wine and more water or tea during the week.
  2. Take the elevator or escalator less and use the stairs more.
  3. Work through lunch less, instead get out and walk more.
  4. Eat less meat and more plant food. 
  5. Eat less food that is calorie dense and more food with a lower caloric density.
 I was reminded about #5 when I pulled my copy of 'Food Matters' by Mark Bittman off the shelf:
Simply put a pound of cake contains more calories than a pound of broccoli... calorie-wise you are better off eating 2 pounds of plants than 2 pounds of junk food, animal food or refined carbohydrates... to do the math yourself, divide the calories in a food by its weight.  The lower the number, the lower the caloric density.  (For a comprehensive source of all nutritional data go to "Nutrient Data Laboratory"... look up the values for 100 grams of any food; find the number in the kcal column, move the decimal point over two clicks to the left, and you have the caloric density.
So by default I guess I'm adding "less cheese and more soy."

Now for the discovery and tangents:

I found the above illustration of one of Arcimboldo’s fabulous creations when I did a google image search on vegetables. Wow! He was born in Milan in 1527, the son of an artist.  His fantastic works were rediscovered by the surrealists in the 20th century.  

Vertumnus, a portrait of Rudolf II
(Vertumnus is the Roman god of seasons, change and plant growth, as well as gardens and fruit trees. He could change his form at will; using this power, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses (xiv), he tricked Pomona into talking to him by disguising himself as an old woman and gaining entry to her orchard, then using a narrative warning of the dangers of rejecting a suitor (the embedded tale of Iphis and Anaxarete) to seduce her.

Wikipedia notes that "Arcimboldo's conventional work, on traditional religious subjects, has fallen into oblivion, but his portraits of human heads made up of vegetables, fruit, sea creatures and tree roots, were greatly admired by his contemporaries and remain a source of fascination today."

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Winter, 1573

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Commodore's Levee

There was a great turnout for the Commodore's Levee  - even a handful of Buffleheads showed up. Unfortunately I didn't have binoculars with me so I couldn't get close enough to enjoy the splash of green on their faces.

We sailors stayed warm inside and took in the view of the frozen lake, enjoying each other's company while a live band played a great mix of of music.

Wonderful way to spend New Year's Day!