Monday, March 29, 2010

Full Sap Moon - March

This month's moon is known as Full Sap Moon, when maple sap begins to flow.

The cold and frozen earth is warming and the tapping of maple syrup can begin. 

Wise Food Ways puts it well:  
The running of the sap in the maple trees of the north is something that only happens at this time of year -- a time when the earth is still covered with snow and ice and there is as yet no visible sign of spring. But the thaw has begun. The first drops of sweet nectar from tree taps was living proof that nature is in a constant state of change and flux, and that there is a lot going on underneath the surface. There are forces moving that we cannot even begin to perceive.
I wonder who first 'discovered' maple syrup?  And how disappointed everyone must have been when the sap stopped running.  Then the answered prayer when the miracle was repeated the following year, in sync with spring days that grew longer and nights that grew warmer.  Only for a short period of time, with precious drops bottled for use in later seasons.

What a luxurious ingredient!  These days we can get maple syrup at the grocery store, any time we please, so maybe we take it for granted a bit more than we should.

So I will make it a point to savour this special treat in the coming month.  Some pancakes or French Toast...   or maybe garnet yams with maple syrup, maple-glazed salmon or warm spinach and squash salad with maple dressing. There's no shortage of mouth-watering recipes.

Here's a video that features a Sugar Shack and small maple syrup production in Ontario.  You can hear the fire crackling and see the syrup bubbling away, along with some great fiddle and folk music to match the mood:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Toronto Yoga Conference 2010 - Part 2

During the yoga workshop today, Aadil Palkhivala recited a few lines from Wordsworth that keep rattling around in my head:
"The world is always with us; late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
little we see in nature that is ours".

Wordsworth composed this sonnet in 1802, upset about the "decadent materialism cynicism of the time". 

The poem, and the painting by Tiepolo (1762) are presented in the Harper's archive .

Wonder what the poet would have to say about the state of affairs today?

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
    Little we see in nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The Winds that will be howling at all hours
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not—Great God! I'd rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
    Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Toronto Yoga Conference 2010 - Part 1

Here is my line-up for the long-awaited Yoga Show and Conference:

Thursday, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm:
Sound Immersion
Instructor: Devinder Kaur
Join Devinder Kaur for a sound immersion. Tune into the sacred sounds of the universe. For all who are interested in bringing the beauty of sound and mantra into their daily lives or to deepen an existing practice. You will explore several powerful Kundalini Yoga Mantras and the deep meditative vibration of the Gong. Come experience the joy of sound and learn to integrate these tools into your yoga, meditation and pranayama practice and teachings.

Friday, 9:00 pm - 4:00 pm
The Sacrum : Understanding the sacrum in Standing Poses, Front Bends and Backbands in Purna Yoga
Instructor: Aadil Palkhivala
The sacrum supports the spine and bears its weight, both physically and emotionally; it is its root and contains its essence. When the sacrum is worked correctly, the rest of the spine almost magically falls into alignment. In this all day intensive, Aadil will explore both the anatomical function of the sacrum in asana as well as its emotional rapport with the pelvis, and also its importance in the inner yoga of transformation. We will explore how to access and work the sacrum in standing poses, front bends and backbends to bring freedom into our nervous systems and our lives. Advanced Beginning/Intermediate Bring: one sticky mat, one block, a blanket and one belt. Discussion and asana.

Journey Dance
Friday 8:00 - 10 p.m.

Saturday,  10:30 - 12:30
Detox and Recharge: Twists and Backbends in Purna Yoga
Instructor: Aadil Palkhivala
Twists increase the gastric fire, and detoxify the digestive system, thereby improving digestion. Additionally, twists release the tiny inter-vertebral muscles along the spine, freeing it for backbends. When done correctly, backbends bring joy and strength, focus and power. Learn how to do beginning backbends safely, with alignment and strength, so that as you move deeper into the practice of backbends and recharge your spine, you can enjoy the benefits without injury. All Levels Bring: one sticky mat, one block, and one belt. Discussion and asana.

Saturday, 1:00 - 3:00
Master Headstand and Shoulderstand
Instructor:  Martin Kirk
Cultivate safe, solid and elegant poses applying the Universal Principles of Alignment of Anusara Yoga. Bring 2 blankets for more comfort and possibility. All levels and teacher training.

Saturday, 3:15 - 5:15
Healing the Hips and Knees in Purna Yoga
Instructor: Aadil Palkhivala
Most knee problems are hip problems, and many hip problems come from doing postures without placing the hips in joint. This strains the tendons and ligaments that surround the hips and also causes excessive wear to the cartilage inside the hip joint. Learn how to decompress and open the hips in all directions and how to keep the hips and knees safe and in-joint throughout your practice. Time will also be spent on how to re-align and strengthen the knees. This is a must for all serious yoga practitioners. All Levels. Bring: one sticky mat, a blanket, one block, one belt, and if possible, a wooden dowel 1.5 inches in diameter and at least two feet long. Discussion and asana.

8 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Sunday, 9-11
Anahata Flow: Exploring the fourth Chakra, Learning to love from the source
Instructor: Seane Corn
This beautiful and softer vinyasa flow sequence focuses on backbends, forward folds and hip openers and will address the issues of the fourth chakra particularly the realm of loving. Through this work, discover the source of your affinity for the whole of humanity.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Travel Plans

“We’re closing”, she says, “Do you have a quick question?” 

The travel agent takes us into her gaze, a moment away from finishing the paperwork for a Spring Break get-away to a giddy twenty-something couple. Translation:  I have better things to do on a Saturday night.  And we too, had plans.  To waste her time, asking question after question about good travel deals. 

Her lack of attention pushes us toward the surrounding walls.  Rob and I browse through the towering brochures, displayed floor to ceiling, as the covers beckon us to other worlds.

We can’t believe these thick glossies are there for the taking.  Plucking one from the shelf, fanning pages, a whisper of a breeze against my cheek as the scenery blurs. Reaching for another title with the first clenched under my arm.   Neither of us even has the pretense of browsing now, as one copy after the other joins the heavy bundles cradled on our hips.

Exiting quickly.  Laughing ourselves silly on the street. Driving home and splaying the publications across the floor. 

Confronted with so many choices:  villas in Tuscany, estates in Normandy, spices in Tunisia, music in the streets of  Barcelona, hiking in the hills of Ulster. Making the pilgrimage to mosques and temples and churches in the Holy Land.

The travel photos are selling dreams come true.  What’s your pleasure? Yoga? Gardens? History? Art? Food? Wine? Music?  Romance? Enlightenment?  The world awaits.

I'm paralyzed by choice.

Travel by land: on foot, bicycle, car or coach.  Floating: on a rented barge, a chartered sailboat, a luxury cruise, an intimate riverboat. 

Catching a glimpse of the Great Wall of China, Ramses’ Tomb, Stonehenge, the Leaning Tower of Pisa... zooming in with Google Earth, these visits are easier than ever to tick off the list.

I want more than just the bragging rights, I want more than to stick a pin in a map and say I’ve been there, done that.

I want to dance under the Northern Lights in Ryshevik.  Stand by all those crumbling castle walls and feel the light fall on my skin.  Wonder at each and every flower in Monet’s Giverny garden as it opens in the sun.

I know.  I want the impossible:  to go to all these places, to be everywhere, all at once. Embodying each eternal moment.

‘Now’ is somewhere else, waiting just around the corner, in some distant promised land.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Canada Blooms 2

Dream Come True grandiflora rose was featured at Canada Blooms this year as a 'new' plant, but was a 2008 winner of the All-American Rose Selection (AARS).  Gorgeous looking, with the scent of mild tea, it produces larger flowers in cooler temperatures.  When I check the stock at Pickering roses, it's available, but doesn't have quite the same colouration, and is only slightly edged in red.  

The roses I choose for my own garden have to be perfumed, and hardy enough not to need much fussing.  But I still love visiting formal rose gardens, like the Rose Walk and Tea House at the Royal Botanical in Hamilton or the small cultivated corner tucked in behind the Royal Canadian Yacht Club on Toronto Island.

Betty from the garden club, has some exquisite heritage roses that are similar in colour to the ones pictured, but smaller.  They make up for their dainty size with a strong perfume.  So many of the 'modern' varieties have the scent bred out of them, which seems a shame.  Brings a different twist to the phrase "taking time to stop and smell the roses".  Maybe that's why you don't hear it so often, anymore.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Canada Blooms

I was out in front of the house waiting for Nicki to swing by so we could head over to Canada Blooms together, and couldn't resist taking the mistletoe and golden branches out of the front pots.  The winter theme seemed at odds with such balmy temperatures.

Through the garden club, we ended up working a shift and answering questions at the Ontario Horticulture Association booth.   We were there to encourage people to join their local garden clubs.  The perk of volunteering was free admittance to the show.

Passion is the theme this year but the 'new' venue at the Direct Energy Centre didn't seem to lend itself well to the vibe.  It was harder to get to by TTC and seemed less friendly, somehow.  The floral displays were amazing, as always.  I really loved the colours bursting out of the hot-pepper vase, at right.

The Magical World of Tinkerbell was one of my favourite gardens, with life-size animal sculptures covered in growing grass.  Moose, rabbits and deer posed playfully and a few adult-sized fairies showed off silver gossamer wings.  The Cellar re-created the feeling of alfresco dining under a grape arbour, and if there was wine in the bottles I might have poured myself a glass it looked so inviting.   TBG's Edible Summer had some herbal topiaries that made great use of limited space... and the mixed perfume of lavender, thyme, basil, and oregano almost made me dizzy with pleasure.

Ahh, summer!  I can't wait to see and smell the peonies in my garden again! Or find out if the tulips I planted in the "orange corner" will come up, or whether the squirrels replanted the bulbs somewhere else in the neighbourhood.  I'll have to start looking for the Blood Root in mid-April. And then the Cobra Lily, the Jack in the Pulpit.  Another whole season to look forward to!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Party

Colcannon, corned beef, stew and potatoes were on the menu at BPYC as we celebrated St. Patrick's Day.  The snake-chaser himself even popped by to wish us well and answer questions about what life in heaven is like.  Dressed in Pope's regalia he bore a strong resemblance to Bob C...

A troupe of Irish dancers entertained us with ceili, jigs, reels, hard taps and soft shoe.  They were adorable girls, and medal winners at international competitions.  They seemed to spring right out of the ground effortlessly, their tight curls bouncing in time with the rhythm.  Keeping their hands stiff to their sides, the upper body motionless as the lower bodies blurred.  How different from the South Asian dancing just a few hours earlier. 

Then the Celtic Five played and sang some great traditional Irish tunes, as well as a few old favourites, like Neil Young's Harvest Moon.  The band brought together some of our favourite member-musicians, including our Commodore, 'Amazing Grace', playing fiddle while Ross E. strummed double bass and Harold the guitar.

I wish I had some video of the band to show off their talents, but I don't.  So here's a brilliant fiddler, James Cullinane, playing two traditional reels:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dance without music

The Hershey Theatre was crammed with noise and excitement as the different university dance troupes waited their turn for the dance competition.  The MC said, "There are two types of people in the world.  People who are Desi - and people who want to be Desi!" Here I was, at the South Asian Alliance Culture show, realizing that at this moment, I fit snugly into the last category.

Seven universities were presenting their entries. Each school featuring dancers who had worked for months to produce their 15 minute segments, featuring jumbled soundtracks of Western music inter-mixed with Bollywood and classical Indian tunes.  Original choreography blending modern dance with Bollywood exhuberence.

I was enjoying the presentations.  But the real reason I was here was to see Alex' friend Parshvi dance.  I had been waiting for weeks and was honoured to be sitting close to the stage, alongside her parents.

She and the others made their entrance, swirling in traditional costumes and quickly changing into traditional Hogwartz school uniforms.  The set was great, the music was there, pounding a beat.  Then suddenly, it stopped.  The music just stopped in the middle of the performance.

I was sitting close enough to see the dismay on the dancer's faces quickly turn into panic.  Yet they weren't missing a beat.  Then, looking at each other, they stopped on their marks.  They looked at each other.  And then, they went on dancing - without music.

The audience tried to clap a beat but it turned into thunderous applause and a standng ovation.

What a moment.  How amazing.  I hope Parshvi and her co-dancers get a special award for their truly inspiring performance.

My sincere hope for those brave dancers is a sense of backstage triumph - not  failure - for being able to master that moment.  The dancers became the music.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Winter Vault

This book is filled with engrossing facts about geography, history, engineering and music. The author said it was a privilege to be able to feed her interests as she researched her novels.  Facts were quick to uncover, but "the meaning that lies within the facts takes much longer to reveal".
Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, long before we painted on stone.  In any case, forty thousand years ago, we left painted handprints on the cave walls of Lascaux, Ardennes, Chauvet.
     The black pigment used to paint the animals at Lascaux was made of manganese dioxide and ground quartz; and almost half the mixture was calcium phosphate.  Calcium phosphate is produced by heating bone four hundred degrees Celsius, then grinding it.
     We made our paints from the bones of the animals we painted.
     No image forgets this origin.
from The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels 
Rushing through this book would be like speed-reading haiku.  You can do it, but it defeats the purpose.  Better to read this one slowly.  The author was published as a poet before she was a novelist, so there is deep love of language, metaphor, and pattern.

In this last lecture of the Wednesday night series at the Heliconian Club, the author was interviewed on stage by Suanne Kelman, an Associate Chair at Ryerson. Kelman told Michaels she felt the book was "dark" and filled with "despair".  Although the writer admitted darkness was a strong element in the story, she said, "Regret, shame, grief... these things are not the end of the story".  In fact, she hoped the reader would come away from the book with the realization that "everything made with love is alive", and feel empowerment and hope.

I found it interesting to hear her speak about trying to balance her life as a mother and as a writer without compromise.  She did this by writing each day between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.  Maybe this is why there is such a dream-like quality to her work.

Lisa Ray interviews Anne Michaels about the Winter Vault after it was nominated for the Giller Prize:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

We spent several hours talking about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tonight at the BPYC Book Club.  There was certainly a lot to fuel the conversation:  detective genres, serial killers, vigilante justice, open marriages, sex crimes and Asperger's Syndrome. And practical things, like where to buy aquavit in Toronto.

We speculated about who will star in the Hollywood version of the Swedish blockbuster.  If The Guardian is to be believed, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Johnny Depp are vying for the part of Blomkvist, while Tarantino, Scott and Scorsese are all up for Director.   Who cares?  I just want to a say in casting for the part of Lisbeth Salander.   

Annika had read the book before, but she re-read it.  One chapter in English, the next in Swedish.  Apparently the translation was pretty good except the English was quite formal....  something to do with the UK audience and their need for titles like Mr.

The second and third volumes in the Millenium series are likely to be on a lot of BPYC sailboats this summer!

Friday, March 5, 2010


The sky, lit up like a question or
an applause meter, is beautiful
like everything else today:  the leaves
in the gutters, salt stains on shoes,
the girl at the IGA who looks just like
Julie Delpy, but you don't tell her -
she's too young to get the reference and
coming from you it'll just seem creepy.
So much beauty today you  can't find
room for it, closets already filled
with beautiful trees and smells and
glances and clever turns of phrase.
Behind the sky there's a storm
on the way, which, with your luck,
will be a beautiful storm - dark
clouds beautiful as they arguably are,
the rain beautiful as it always is -
even lightning can be beautiful in a
scary kind of way (there's a word
for that, but lets forget it for the moment).
And maybe the sun will hang in long
enough to light up a few raindrops -
like jewels or glass or those bright beads
girls put between the letters on the
bracelets that spell out their beautiful names -
Sky or Miranda or Verandah - which isn't
even a name, although it is a word
we use to call things what they are,
and would be a pleasant place to sit
and watch the beautiful sky, beautiful
storm, the people walking toward the lake
in lovely clothing saying unpleasant
things over the phone about the people
they work with, all of it just adding to the
mother lode, the surfeit of beauty,
which on this day is just a fancy way
of saying lots, too much, skidloads, plenty
- Kevin Connolly, from the Griffin nominated poetry collection, REVOLVER

I heard the poet read this at the Griffin ceremony this year (you can too if you click above). 

This poem captures that sense of giddy happiness that visits us with a tickle.  It matches my mood perfectly this late Friday afternoon.  And yet I had a hard time getting myself out of bed and into work this morning.  It turned out to be one of the most productive days in weeks.... and coming home the first spring green coming up in my garden. Plenty.

(illustration credit:

First green of spring

Signs of spring pushing up through dry leaves and melting snow.
It feels like a miracle!!  

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tough day at work?

Howard Cutler interviewed the Dalai Lama over a period of three years about the art of happiness at work - this book is the distillation of those conversations.   

I half-expected very theoretical, intangible discussions that would be difficult to apply in a work setting, but there is an abundance of practical philosophy that can be quickly applied to improve the quality of a sucky work day. Apparently, even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has days like that every once in awhile (okay, maybe he doesn't use quite those words to describe the situation).
The audio book, The Art of Happiness at Work, brings the conversations to life.  In the version I'm listening to, Howard Cutler reads the text, with words spoken by the the Dalai Lama re-enacted by B.D. Wong.  Over the six hours of audio, you get a real flavour of the compassion and insight the Dalai Lama has to offer; balanced by the questions and Western perspective brought by the psychiatrist.  In a way I feel I am eavesdropping on the real thing.

According to the Dalai Lama, (and supported in recent findings by 'modern' psychiatric/scientific research) our motivation for working determines our level of satisfaction. The book explores these three levels of focus:
Survival: focus on salary, stability, food and clothing
Career: focus on advancement
Calling: focus on work as a higher purpose 
Guess which one brings the most sustained happiness?

Cutler reminisces about one of his first jobs, loading boxes of orange juice from a conveyor belt into the back of a truck.  Repetitive, not very interesting work. One of his co-workers is quick to vocalize "this job sucks."  The other loads boxes, imagining one case is headed for the Queen at Buckingham Palace and the other to a thirsty patient in a hospital.  Point taken.

You can actually "check it out" online for free at this library site (but you'll need an Ontario library card).