Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pileated Woodpecker

I felt honoured to see a pileated woodpecker swoop through the trees in the ravine today.  I sat in the kitchen and looked out the window for at least a half hour as it banged away at a tree.  Pieces of wood went flying through the air as it loudly smacked its head up against the trunk, leaving a huge gauge behind when it flew away. 

Alex and I tried to catch our visitor on camera but it was just a bit too far away, so we enjoyed the view with binoculars.

The You Tube clips are from other admirers....

National Film Board online

Alex came across the animation Square Roots and we watched it together on his laptop.  This short film beautifully expresses the power attention has to shape our reality, our actions and reactions.

In less than three minutes, the artists manage to convey how interactions can become the building blocks of moments, lives and entire cultures.

Alex' excitement took me back to my film school days and the several hundred hours I spent watching National Film Board documentaries at their theatre.  Now you don't need to make a special appointment or book a projector to watch select films from the collection... you just need to click through to the NFB online.

WoW... they have Donald Brittain documentaries (including one with a young Pierre Trudeau and another featuring Leonard Cohen),  Norman McLaren... and The Cat Came Back animation!  Looks like I'll be spending a lot of time discovering some old and new friends there.... 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Full Snow Moon - February

The most snow of the winter seems to have fallen this month, so the name, Full Snow Moon, seems particularly suitable.

I'm sick of winter!

So... Fly Me to the Moon...

This song is a cure for the winter blues.  Fortunately, it has become a standard artists love to cover.  A visit to YouTube will have you chasing some great versions.  Julie London, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole....

Sing along with Frank:

 Diana Krall's rendition of Fly Me to the Moon (with bassist John Clayton):

Unvarnished duet between the Canadian singer Michael Buble' and the Italian crooner Matteo Brancaleoni:   

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


So far, with my own 'Less is More' diet I've lost about 5 pounds since Christmas. Mindful eating was one of the precepts.  This is one of those simple concepts that takes a lifetime to master, and I could use some inspiration right about now.

When I was coming up with the guidelines for myself, I learned that eating too fast and eating until you are full both triple your chance of gaining weight. Together they are a deadly combination. Mindfulness seems to be one way to control those poor habits.

Savor is now on my list of books to buy, even though it isn't released until next week.

Funny how life works, whether it is by coincidence or serendipity, but these past few days I've been preoccupied by the topic of mindfulness as it relates to food.  Yesterday I stumbled on the 'How to Cook Your Life' documentary, and now 'Savor.'

I'm excited because Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the authors, and his teachings are so accessible.  His co-author, Dr. Lilian Chung, is the Director of Nutrition and Fitness at Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication.

I guess when it comes down to it, losing weight isn't really a lofty goal for developing mindfulness.  But the side effects to this approach to weight loss can be pretty fantastic.

Hey, if this doesn't work there is always liposuction.
Common sense tells us that to lose weight, we must eat less and exercise more. But somehow we get stalled. We start on a weight-loss program with good intentions but cannot stay on track. Neither the countless fad diets, nor the annual spending of $50 billion on weight loss helps us feel better or lose weight.
Too many of us are in a cycle of shame and guilt. We spend countless hours worrying about what we ate or if we exercised enough, blaming ourselves for actions that we can't undo. We are stuck in the past and unable to live in the present—that moment in which we do have the power to make changes in our lives.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How To Cook Your Life

Watch this film for cooking lessons from San Franciscan zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown.  There is also bonus footage of the great Suzuki-roshi, author of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind". 
"The food will taste better when the cook is joyful."

or Watch this You Tube clip to get a taste:

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Instead of reading the book, I downloaded the audio and listened to the Massey Hall Lecture series Payback:  Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, by Margaret Atwood. The content was originally delivered in a series of lectures, and besides, it was easier to download it from the iTunes store than go to the library.

This was Virginia's pick for the Book Babes.  I've been reading a lot lately and wanted to give my eyes a rest. The original idea was to make my daily commute more interesting and listen in on the subway on the ride home, but I gobbled up the whole series end-to-end on Sunday afternoon while I dusted & puttered around the house.

Atwood's voice is uniquely her own, whether printed on the page or spoken aloud. In Payback she examines literature, philosophy, history and environmental issues through the lens of debt.

I think my favourite was Lecture 5, when Scrooge Nouveau is visited by by Earth Day ghosts and repents his evil ways.  She manages to twist a view of history with a morality tale and presents some highly complex issues with accessible satire.
The Spirit of Earth Day Past takes him on a tour through history, where they discover how the Black Death, Irish Potato Famine and the Industrial Revolution created the economies of their time.  Earth Day Present takes him to the bottom of the sea where overfishing is destroying the ocean floor, to the Arctic where the thawing tundra is releasing immense clouds of methane gas.  "Can't you stop all this," moans Scrooge.  "International laws... are hard to achieve in this area because no one can agree on what's fair.... "  The worst offending countries often owe money to the richer countries, and much of the destruction is fueled by debt.   The combined income of the 25 million richest individuals on the planet is equal to that of the poorest 2 billion.  Earth Day Future first takes the form of a Cockroach before morphing into a Futures Trader, sharing an optimistic Green utopia driven by citizens who lent money to their governments and where the debts of poor nations have been forgiven.  Scrooge asks how probable this view of the future will be and we are not surprised when we hear the ghost's answer. But it is a more pleasing view than the world where everything has been turned into money, and there is nothing left to eat.
Here she is speaking with Alan Gregg about Payback:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Practise makes perfect

Spent the day at the Toronto Iyengar Centre yoga workshop learning about home practise and yoga sequencing.

Andy started by talking about some of the obstacles to practise.

Patanjali (depicted at right) had chronicled these 150 BCE:  physical (disease, inertia, indolence, lack of interest); mental (doubt, heedlessness, carelessness, indiscipline of the senses); intellectual (erroneous thoughts like, "I don't need it," or "I worked hard yesterday"); spiritual (lack of perseverence, backsliding); sorrow and despair; unsteadiness of body; irregular breathing.  That just about covers all my excuses!

We didn't spend much time talking about how to surmount the obstacles, but we did look at one recommended approach to sequencing:
  • standing poses 
  • strong inversions
  • backbends
  • sitting poses
  • shoulderstand (and family)
  • forward bends
  • savasana
    Poses from each group don't need to be performed at each session. There is no notion of counter-poses. Just about the only 'rule' would be that if you are doing sirsasana (headstand) you should also do something from the shoulderstand group.

    There are lots of different systems out there, and each seems to recommend something different.  Just check out the patented Bikram sequence, Tibetan Sivinanda or the Ashtanga Primary Series.  Even different Iyengar schools promote different sequencing, from what I can tell from my Google search.  I will leave the debates and analysis about which approach is 'right' to others.

    However, the approach I learned today makes sense to me because choosing a few poses from each group or focusing on a theme is a systematic way to create an endless variety of sequences.  There is no need to limit yourself to the same set of poses day after day.  You can keep things fresh and interesting; tailoring to your current needs and energy levels.

    The list of poses was shared by their Sanscrit names, which  made things a bit challenging.  I was busily leafing through the Light on Yoga book to figure out just which pose was which.  I know the English names, and know the poses, just not the Sanscrit.  Luckily it wasn't printed in Sanscrit alphabet or I would've been truly lost.

    The rationale for using Sanscrit names is that by going back to the original references you avoid confusion of local labels and slang (my 'fish' might not be yours... and just what the heck is an 'umbrella' pose?).  In that way it is a bit like learning Latin plant names. 

    Maybe I could get images of the poses and then label it in Sanscrit using big letters, with the English in small letters?

    The pose at right is Ustrasana (camel).

    Zachary Art has a series of beautiful images, along with their Sanscrit names and great Iyengar quotes.  Maybe I could start here for inspiration.

    If I preoccupy myself this way I am likely to spend more time crafting the list than actually doing the poses.  Hmmm, wonder how Patanjali would categorize that particular obstacle?

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Mighty Hecula - and a question about the nature of eternity

    This Monastrell has scored 90+ every year between 1999 and 2006 on Robert Parker's website.

    And it's less than $15 ($13.95 to be exact).  A wonderful Spanish red.


    The last time I enjoyed this vintage was Canada Day but I didn't have the courtesy to name the label.... just the fact that the grapes were hand-picked from vines that were at least 22-25 years old.

    This is one of those times the tasting notes on the label aren't just hyperbole:
    "We believe we have succeeded in achieving a wine with an extraoardinary concentration of aromas and flavours.  Hecula is a complex wine with an excellent balance between fruit and soft vanillas...."
    There is also a hint of oak from the 6 months of aging in American and French barrels.

    According to Wikipedia,  Monastrell is also known as Mourvedre or Motaro. Now grown internationally, the grape was likely first introduced by the Phoenicians around 500 BC.

    Wow... talk about connecting with ancient history.  Now I'm also contemplating the fact I am breathing the same recycled air as a Phoenician.  I wonder if those Phoenicians ever contemplated this particular grape variety would be around in 2.5 thousand years?  Probably, because time was eternity, not something measured in milliseconds.  Maybe the more we break time down into fragments the more we lose sight of the fact that the way we measure time is just a human construct... the moment is now.   When does 'now' begin and when does it end?  Maybe it has no beginning, no end.  Wow again.  Last time I checked, the concept of no  beginning and no end, that goes right back to deity. 

    Big thoughts for a Friday night.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Soundtrack for a Revolution

    Racism, lynching, and murder vs passive resistance, faith, love, and music.

    Mugshots of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and beautifully restored historical footage are eloquent images used to tell the story of the Civil Rights movement.  Facts become living history with first-person accounts from the people who marched in demonstrations and some who witnessed the assassination of Dr. King first-hand.  But hearing the freedom songs while seeing these images made the film an intense emotional experience.

    As part of the Doc Soup series playing at the Bloor Cinema, one of the directors, Bill Guttentag, was there to answer questions after the screening.  This interview in the Torontoist explores the choice of using modern artists to introduce a younger generation to those times - lest we forget.  Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean and The Roots were amazing.... but Richie Havens, the Blind boys of Alabama and Harry Belafonte also made appearances.

    The film was shortlisted for an Academy Award: 

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Magic Landscapes

    Rob and I went to spend a few hours enjoying the Group of Seven at the McMichael gallery.

    While there I had a chance to admire the work of 'The Indian Group of Seven,' otherwise known as the Woodland School of Artists, that painted in the 1970s.

    The most famous member of that group is Norval Morrisseau, who Marc Chagall compared to Picasso.  Prolific, gifted, and hard drinking, Norval earnestly believed he spent most of his time on the astral plane. 

    Also showing (until March) are works from the magic realist painter Tom Forrestall from Nova Scotia.

    A few of his pieces were diptyches or triptyches, done in somewhat unconventional forms (oval, parabolic, different sizes).  I thought it was interesting to take the subjects out of a rectangular view.  Why does so much that we see need to be contained in box form?  One of the most memorable was eye-shaped, and called 'Eye of the Needle.'  The painting contained a miniature self-portrait of the artist as a reflection in his own eye, with a needle and thread in the foreground.

    Of course, no visit to the McMichael would be complete without taking in another favourite, Emily Carr.   I can almost see her landscapes breathe, they are so full of energy and light.

    Although it is not quite the same as being there in person, here is a link to a virtual Group of Seven gallery, and more Emily Carr.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010


    T. T. T.
    Put up in a place
    where it's easy to see
    the cryptic admonishment
         T. T. T.
    When you feel how depressingly
    slowly you climb,
    it's well to remember that
         Things Take Time.
    Stumbling around on the internet tonight, hoping for some 
    serendipity to open up my point of view.  I came across a site
    of 'Grooks' by Piet Hein  These are wonderful, compact little 
    treasures like the one above. 
    Here's another few:
    The soul may be a mere pretence,
    the mind makes very little sense.
    So let us value the appeal
    of that which we can taste and feel.
    in sour rationalists.
    As things so
        very often are
        won't get you far.
    So be glad
        you've got more sense
    than you've got
    Men, said the Devil,
    are good to their brothers:
    they don’t want to mend
    their own ways, but each other's.

    P. Hein wrote over 10,000 of grooks, most in Danish or English, published in more than 60 books. Some say that the name is short for 'GRin & sUK' ("laugh & sigh", in Danish), but Piet said he felt that the word had come out of thin air.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Life of Pi

    I read Life of Pi more than 5 years ago, so I needed to refresh my memory before the BPYC Book Club discussed the book this evening.

    Several others around the table were re-reading it as well, and it was interesting to see not just how people were responding to the book but the parts we had remembered (or forgotten) from the first round of reading.

    Sometimes I think I should just take my top 50 books and re-read them for the rest of my life.  There is always something new to discover!

    I had forgotten Pi's simultaneous conversion to Islam and Christianity, at the same time he was remaining a devout Hindu, and the hilarious scene when the pandit, imam and priest are all trying to convince Pi he must choose one path.  Pi refuses and continues his spiritually promiscuous ways.  His father is perplexed,  "..he said, 'Bapu Ghandhi said, "All religions are true?... the boy is getting to be on affectionate terms with Gandhi, what next?  Uncle Jesus?  And what's this.... Muslim?  It's totally foreign...."

    Being able to hold contradictory views of the same reality is one of the main themes of the book, of course:

    "So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer?  Which is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without the animals?"

    There is most certainly a liberal use of question marks in this book????

    I am still pondering the author's introduction, and the claim that he has a story that will make you believe in God.

    Here are some thoughts from the author, Yann Martel, about the role of the writer in today's society:

    Robin also brought a really great bottle of red:  Santa Alicia Reserva Carmenere, Chilie $11.95.  General list at the LCBO, I think I will go pick up a few to have on hand.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    It's Complicated

    It was great to see The Fox so crowded tonight, more and more people are taking advantage of the big comfy seats.  Rob and I keep bumping into people we know when we go, which makes it feel even more like our 'own' theatre.  There has been a rookie projectionist lately, mixing up reels from different movies, or running the film backwards and upside down.  Usually getting laughs from the audience.  Tonight's screening went well, so either the new guy is up to speed or the experienced one is back from holiday.

    'It's Complicated' was truly hilarious, with an excellent script and brilliant acting.  There is a fine line between comedy and tragedy,  and I think the best comic actors are the ones that don't just go for the easy laughs.  The vulnerability each of the leads is able to bring into the story keeps it from being just another bedroom farce.  I appreciated the good humour Baldwin and Streep brought into the scenes about their aging bodies.  And the sweet connection between Streep and Steve Martin is wonderfully played.  It's great to see older people portrayed as sexual beings and romantic partners, you don't often get that in a Hollywood film these days.  Demographics being the force they are, here's hoping for more.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    Zuccardi Q

    Waiting until the weekend to enjoy my wine has certain benefits.... one of the best being that first sip is all the more delicious.

    So I am not sure whether this malbec is really as amazing as I think it is.... or is it just the wait making it seem extraordinary?  The word exquisite comes to mind... and when I google the brand, it seems other tasters agree, like the blogger over at malbeconly.blogspot, who scores it a '90.'

    Zuccardi Q Malbec from Mendoza Argentina, 2007 has a deep, purple-black colour and very spicy aroma.  Peppery taste.  Long finish.  A bit sweet, but not in a cloying way.  ($18.95 at the LCBO in case you're wondering).

    I'm noticing I seem to be really enjoying the tempranillo grape these wintry days.

    Hard to verify from the photos alone but these grapes seem very compact and look a lot like blueberries.  They look wonderfully juicy. A visit to Wikipedia tells me that tempranillo was originally thought to be related to pinot noir but recent tests have discounted the relationship.  The grape has been cultivated in Spain for many centuries, even celebrated by a 13th century poet!  The name is diminutive of the Spanisih 'temprano,' which means 'early' (this variety ripens 2 weeks sooner than most Spanish varieties).  The varietal isn't often featured on its own but blended with others, typically granache, but  my favourite January wine was a cabernet sav. blended with the tempranillo.

    Wonder what it would feel like to pop a single grape in your mouth, or squish a big handful?  Would a barefoot stomp be gross?  For now I will gladly settle for the splash in the glass and the swirl past my lips.  Delicious.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Gran Coronas

    My favourite wine in January, hands down (or would that be bottoms up)?  Gran Coronas, Cabernet Sauvignon, Torres Reserva, Spain, 2005. Enjoyed sipping it on its own, even though it would have gone very nicely with a charcuterie platter as the label suggests.  The wine made me feel like summer wasn't that far away.... 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Tempranillo, and nicely priced at $18.95. 

    I did find this a bit sharp on the palate on first taste, but then the big berries come in to smooth things over.  LCBO tasting notes are loquacious:  "Structured with intense fruit flavours and silky tannins, this full-bodied Reserva displays alluring aromas and flavours of redcurrants, new leather, coffee, vanilla and a classic touch of roasted bell pepper. Exquisite with grilled pork chops, stuffed veal tenderloin or beef fajitas."

    Not only tasty, but it made the 'Green List' of wineries minimizing their environmental impact, a distinction given to the top 50 influential companies promoting environmentally friendly viticulture practices.  Couldn't find many further details about what this meant.  Hopefully it's not just a marketing ploy.

    A close runner-up was a Guigal, Chateau dAmpuis, Cotes du Rhone, AC, France, 2005, which would have been more enjoyable without the aroma of wet dog fur.  Given a chance to decant the smell mellowed, but I didn't have the patience for the first glass.  By the second glass it was less of an issue.