Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cruisin' USA (Day 1 and 2)

Started our sailing holiday today - cruisin' USA. Easy crossing to the South shore, and nice breeze to push us across the lake. Well, mostly across the lake.  When it disappeared, we turned on the motor.  Nice to know we can rely on it running smoothly after paying to get it fixed - and just in time for our holiday.

Speaking of motors, I think I may have fallen for a car today.  Ever heard of the Deusenberg?  Totally sexy car, 1930's German.  Greta Garbo with wheels.

Rob and I ended up in Olcott, New York State today. Each Saturday they have antique cars come from miles around.  Old MGs, minis, jags, corvettes.  Hoods popped open so you can see their gleaming engines.  Canary yellow, fire-engine red, powder blue.  The colours were popping and big speakers were playing 50's tunes loud in the street.  I felt like dancing.

We wandered over to the old carousel and hopped on for a spin.  For the grand price of 25 cents apiece.

Wonderful spot,  but we wouldn't have ended up here if we'd managed to get into Wilson, as originally planned.  When we arrived at 2:30 there were no slips at any of the clubs - not Wilson, Island, or Tuscarora.  Rafting looked pretty tight, indeed.  So we waved goodbye and sailed over to Olcott.

C'est la vie.

Actually at the time I felt a lump in my throat because they are going to have a fabulous party there this weekend.  But all's well that ends well.

I've seen Olcott in the Ports book and been intrigued... it says it's,  "a very friendly and welcoming club.  But until the town takes control of its harbour, Olcott - once a top destination - remains a port with potential."  Actually, I think this is a great little place.

So do the fishermen.  There are a lot more of them here than there are sailors.  We're sitting here now and Rob just saw a fish jump out of the water, so I guess they're onto something.  The fishermen, I mean.

Looks like we might get some weather tonight, storm clouds gathering.

WoW - just saw a massive bat!  Biggest one ever.  Definitely a bat, but huge.  Twilight's coming, time to "batten" down the hatches.

The cabin is pretty hot, so I think until the bugs or rain chases me inside, I'll enjoy the view from deck.  Sipping on a nice Spanish Gran Reserva called Vina Angela, lots of granache.  I need a big red because on shore my allergies are kicking in, and something subtle just won't cut it.  This is perfect.

Listening to "oldies" on the radio.  (CHFI Toronto, which is kind of neat, to be able to hear it over here when we can't get CBC.)

We got lots of sun today. Feeling tired and happy and wondering where we'll end up tomorrow.

Day 2

Stayed in town, the water looked a bit rough.

Hung out in the very green park - lots of lawn and cool breezes from the lake made it a very pleasant afternoon.

Listened to a 5  piece band play in the gazebo, including a saxophone.  They ended with their rendition of the Louis Armstrong tune, "It's a Wonderful World".  Indeed!
Horizon credit
Duesenbeg photo credit
Carousel photo credit

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Get your motor running

Better to discover your engine trouble before heading out to the middle of the lake.

Our diesel engine was leaking anti-freeze.  Rob & I were just going to pack a couple extra quarts and head out, but then thought a mechanic's expert advice might be in order.  Don't want to be stuck in the middle of a shipping lane, in a storm, with no motor.  (Hope for the best, plan for the worst).

Funny how this engine looks like a heart.

Anyway, things were a bit unsure earlier in the week.  It looked like we might not get the water pump we  needed before the mechanic set sail for his holiday.  Not that he is the only diesel mechanic in town.  But.   I was plotting Plans B, C and D, however now (fingers crossed), it looks like we might have everything ship-shape for Saturday morning.

If things go as planned, we'll be heading to Wilson, New York with some other boats from BPYC. 

I'm not taking much in the way of clothes, but I do have quite the pile of books and a case of wine queued up for the trip.  Along with lots of spices & some flour for chapatis.... this year I am going to try sprouting some mung beans so we have something fresh and green to nibble.

Beautiful Evidence

I borrowed Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte from the library and just kept on renewing.   There was something new to marvel at on every page, whether it was Durer's woodcuts of string instruments from 1532 or Johann Bayer's sky maps from 1603 or  the illustrated, hideous packing grid of a slave ship.

Tufte has an impressive CV.  A professor at Yale, he has made it his life work to examine how visual evidence brings clarity to critical analysis.  This particular book is full of images that have impressed him as aids to critical thinking.  You can't help but learn things as you turn each page, like David Hockney's mapping of the angles in old world masters' paintings to show how they may have used mirrors to help them reproduce elements.

Tufte also pokes tremendous fun at Powerpoint presentations and argues convincingly that it may actually be responsible for the dumbing down of corporate America.

President Obama recently appointed him to the Recovery Independent Advisory Council.  I wonder if anyone was silly enough to do a Powerpoint presentation when they first convened?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Weedy Wednesday

Have you ever marvelled at a weed that's pummeled its way through concrete?

These are poking out of the bottom of a pole down the street - but on close inspection they look more like the work of a guerrilla gardener who has abandoned their crop.

In my garden, I usually keep a few weeds in place to admire and forage. Purslane, with its succulent plump leaf usually gets to stay. This plant has more omega 3 than any other and is high in Vitamin C. Very juicy.

And there is a lovely purple-furly thingy that tastes like pepper on the tongue (see below).

And of course, mint galore, that seemed like a good idea to plant at the time.  Perfect for those mojitos I never seem to get around making quite often enough.  It's actually fun tearing these 'weeds' out of the garden because of the explosion of scent.  Tossed in salads or made into tisane, there is still lots that ends up as compost.

By the time I get around to weeding my garden there is generally a lot to do.  So it can be quite  satisfying, pulling unwanted weeds out from between the front cobblestones.

 I don't use pesticides but sometimes I'll dump boiling water down into the cracks.  With some of these it seems to nourish new growth.  It seems you've made a difference and then again before you know it they're back in force. I've come to admire how tenacious and adaptable weeds can be.

Michael Pollan in Second Nature makes the point that most weeds flourish where man has disturbed the ground in the first place.  I love his description of them as opportunists:

 ...weeds are not superplants:  they don't grow everywhere... weeds, as the field guides indicate, are plants particularly well adapted to man-made places.  They don't grow in forests or prairies - in "the wild."  Weeds thrive in gardens, meadows, lawns, vacant lots, railroad sidings, hard by dumpsters and in the cracks of sidewalks.  They grow where we live, in other words, and hardly anywhere else....
Weeds are nature's ambulance chasers, carpetbaggers, and confidence men...Virtually evey crop in cultivation has its weed imposter, a kind of botanical doppelganger...

And yet as resourceful and aggressive as weeds may be, they cannot survive without us any more than any garden plant can... Without man to create crop land and lawns and vacant lots, most weeds would soon vanish.
(pp. 109-110)

And a parting thought from Dogen:

A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Book of Human Skin

10 Reasons I love The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric:

  1. It is set in Venice.
  2. ... during the time of Napoleon, so during the period of the demise of the most Serene Republic ~sigh~
  3. It had me googling The White City of Arequipa in Peru.  What a beautiful place - a palazzo to rival St. Mark's, high up in the mountains (7500 feet above sea level and 80 miles from the ocean).  The colonial city was founded in the 1500's.  Turns out this magical spot is also the birthplace of Mario Vargas Llosa.  
  4. Every character gets a chance to tell their point of view - in their own special font!  
  5. The bad guy is really, really bad.  Totally despicable.
  6. The heroine is really, really good.  She suffers through for a happily-ever-after marriage that is satisfying (although since her brother, the really, really bad guy doesn't die at the end there may be a sequel).
  7. The nuns in Arequipa actually have a lot of fun.  Well, some of them.
  8. I expected some of the fictional characters to be real, especially the artist, Cecilia Cornaro, lover of Cassanova and Lord Byron.
  9. Historical details about creepy things, like books of human skin and oddly venerated Saints (why, why, venerate self-starvation and mutilation?)
  10. Like the Globe & Mail says, the book is a gorgeously diabolical tale of love, murder and obsession.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thunder Moon - July

Beautiful, full, thunder moon..  No storms today but gorgeous weather.

Spent the afternoon on the water - sailing at up to 7 knots - and then swinging on a hook by the beach, looking up at the Bluffs.

Then we watched the full moon rise over the lake, a pale pinky-gold colour turning a shiummering silver.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon....Counting down to this year's sailing trip.  We're still not sure whether it is east, west or south.  We'll see which way the wind blows....

Moon photo credit

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Reading

Some are readings' Summer Reading.....

I invited members of both my book clubs down to BPYC to share what they're reading this summer.  It was race night, so we also had the pleasure of watching the boats on the lake and enjoying the breeze.  A wonderful evening, and now even more books are on my 'must read' list:

Liz:  The Ghost Brush, by Katherine Govier
Kaarina:  Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Diane:  The Book of Human Skin, by Michele Lovric
Wendy:  Twenties Girl, Sophie Kinsella
Virginia:  Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
Laura:  Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
Maureen:  The Luncheon of the Boating Party, by SusanVreeland
Rebecca:  The Girl that Kicked the Hornets' Nest, by Stieg Larsson
Nicolette:  The Marion Zimmer Bradley's science fiction series and Laurie R. King's series on Mary Russsell, Sherlock Holmes' lover
Miriam:  The Sum of our Days, Isabel Allende's memoir
Nicki:  Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley  and You Could Live a Long Time, Are you Ready? by Lyndsay Green
Pat:  Juliet Naked, by Nick Hornby +  Consumption by Kevin Patterson

photo credit

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rock on

My garden has rocks from some of the places we've traveled - Cabot Trail, Tofino, Victoria, Wicklow Beach, Long Point, Grand Bend... and now Corfu.  No stones from Venice, although I hear tourists sometimes dig up the cobblestones in the streets as souvenirs.

I've placed the Mediterranean stones at the edge of the pond with the other finds.  Smooth pebbles, fragments the shapes of hearts, and some that look impossibly soft.  Creases, nicks, folds, wrinkles, pocks, to mark each with a unique expression.

When we go gathering these treasures the e.e. cummings poem  'maggie and millie and molly and may' often hums in my mind.  The last four lines, especially:

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yoga in the Heart of the City - II

It's been an inspiring week.  I went into this yoga intensive not knowing quite what to expect, and a bit worried I might not be able to "keep up," but it turned out it wasn't only about physical prowess.

What a privilege to have had these teachings from Marlene.   She still travels to India every 18 months or so to take classes with B.K.S., Gita and Prashant.  At 72, she has an amazing amount of energy and strength. She was hoisting around a 55 lb weight without a grimace and when I had to lift a 35 lb weight it sure appeared to be heavier than what she was moving.

Right now, I am content to be a student, but the room was filled with teachers, including some who had traveled from distant communities to learn from this 'teacher of teachers'.

She shared that part of the secret of her energy is understanding how much she has to work with in the first place.  Understanding that when energy is fully depleted, it takes a lot longer to replenish.  Respecting that, and making conscious decisions on how you are going to spend that limited energy.  Not just in your asana practise, but making a conscious decision on interactions throughout the day.  Something Marlene used early on was to check in daily during meditation and imagine her body as a vessel, with a blue essence that would register as high or low energy.  Low energy meant the focus would be on meeting minimum requirements, like keeping her kids safe and getting university assignments in on time. Higher energy meant she had excess to share.

It is not realistic to expect yourself to give 100% - 150% every day, and with expectations like that the well can run dry.

This is something that's been a personal preoccupation as work has been pretty intense for the past few years.  Long days, and often the first thing on my mind when I wake up, the last when I go to sleep.  And then dreaming about work (as if the 12 hour day wasn't enough!)  I do like my job, in fact there are days when I love my job, but I don't want it to be my life.   So hearing strategies from other people about how they deal with this conundrum was especially timely.

A rewarding week, a lots to 'put into practise'.

Earned insights

  •  "lift your heart, lift your spirit".  Standing poses, backbends, are all great heart openers.  And it's true, I feel lighter afterward
  • when you get to a point in a pose where it feels you are at your limit, before surrendering, try forcing an exhale... fatigue is often because we are holding the breath
  • pranayama is not something you do ; it is not about forcing the breath but receiving the breath
  • props are not just there for support, they can also be good teachers by providing feedback (for example, using blocks in headstand or bolsters in shoulderstand)

Discoveries in specific poses
  • Ustrasana (camel):  using belt as harness to lift the chest when going backward; lifting the buttocks with hands when going backward; engaging mula bandha when in positon to lighten the pose.
  • Chaturangha Dondasana (four limbed staff):  lift from belly, not from arms.
  • Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog):  lift from legs, not arms.
  • Virabhadrasana (Warrior): using block to help find the symbology of the pose... imagine the block as a boulder that is being thrust in battle, and the thrust and posture of the body before it is thrown.
  • Utkatasana (seated chair):  keeping arms "straight as Arjuna's Arrow".
  • Sirsana (headstand): using poles to 'teach' elbows to press inward; using blocks to 'teach' chest to lift.
  • Sarvangasana (shoulderstand): using three bolsters with a blanket over top to help stand directly on the top of the shoulder.
Photo credit: om
Photo credit:  Ustrasana (camel pose)
Photo credit: Virabhadrasana (Warrior I)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Music in the Garden

Hot hot hot.

Best to escape to the waterfront and a cool lake breeze.

Rob and I brought a picnic to the Music Garden and listened to a guitar and violin duo perform some wonderful music from the 17th to 20th centuries.  It was called Four Hands, 29 Strings, because the two musicians (Terry McKenna and Linda Melsted) brought along different period instruments to play, depending on the piece.

I love the guitar-violin string combo.

Tonight we heard two different selections from the Suite Buenos Aires by Pujol.  It sounded very familiar, so I checked out imdb to see if it was in a movie I might recognize, but nothing was listed. Each movement in the suite is dedicated to a different section of Buenos Aires - San Telmo is the artsy district. The piece is wonderfully light-hearted....

I will have to check to see whether Django Rheinhardt and Stephan Grappelli played this tune, maybe it's already in my collection.

photo Waterfront

Monday, July 12, 2010

Yoga in the heart of the city

One of the pranayama exercises Marlene Mawhinney led us through this morning had us humming like bhramari (bees) on the exhale.  Basically, you touch the tip of your tongue to the space between your teeth and palate to make the humming sound. You can feel a nice vibration if you find the right pressure - too hard or too soft and the sensation disappears.  It was fun to hear a room full of "grown-ups" humming this way.  I felt like I was in my garden, humming along with the bees flying from one coneflower to the next.

It's called Bhramari pranayama and was part of the yoga intensive I'm taking at YCT this week:  one hour of pranayama (breathing exercises) followed by two hours of asana (poses).

I tried to approach the poses we did in the same spirit, not forcing too hard but at the same time bringing consciousness to what I was doing.  Constantly readjusting, using the breath to go more deeply into the pose.  Taking it seriously but trying not to take myself too seriously.

Effortless effort is a phrase the teachers at YCT use frequently, something the sage Patanjali mentions in the Yoga Sutras.  Marlene shared the Iyengar translation of sutra II:47:  
 "Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached."
Something to think about.  Or should I say, something to not think about?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lambs Ears and Red Admirals

Catching up on my weeding today, I was making my way over to a patch of lambs ear, wondering if I should pull off the flowers.  they looked almost spent.

When I got closer, the answer unfolded itself as a pair of Admiral butterfly wings opened and closed.

I sat and watched for at least ten minutes as the creature dipped its long probiscus into the petals.  Its antennae  twitching and little balls bobbing  at the top of long, thin threads.

When the wings were open, they were brown and soft and downy. Closed, the bottoms looked like bark and the tops a colourful feather.

There were also a few bees, and one was actually bumping into the Admiral every now and then, trying to get it to push off, I guess.  A lazy bee?  There were so many other flower heads to choose from it was almost comical.  The butterfly batted its wings but stayed focused on the task.

I went on with the garden chores and popped back over the next hour, amazed the Admiral was still at work.  Not flitting quickly about but working very methodically. 

Then it was gone. 

Unfortunately I wasn't able to snap a decent photo but here is one diligently focused on a coneflower.

photo: red admiral

Green alchemy

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin is a beautiful ruby red, with a smell and flavour that reminds me of black current jam on toast. It's a big red, alright. These grapes are grown on older vines, so they produce less fruit, with highly concentrated flavour that "explode on impact in the mouth".

A miracle, don't you think, this alchemy that turns grapes into wine.

The shoots that grow the grapes grow directly out of the trunk, with no support from a trellis system.  The gnarly head vines remind me a bit of corkscrew hazel.

I've been reading Second Nature, by Michael Pollan, subtitled 'A Gardener's Education'.  He muses about the suburban landscape, the gentleman farmer, and his own backyard: "What I'm making here is a middle ground between nature and culture, a place that is at once of nature and unapologetically set against it; what I'm making is a garden".

Not sure if it fully qualifies as memoir, but it has many recollections about his growing up, and of gardens in his past and present.  I couldn't believe this sentence, because it seemed stolen from my personal memory:

Whenever I needed to be out of range of adult radar, I'd crawl beneath the forsythia's arches... and find myself in my own green room.

I had a forsythia in my own backyard growing up, and spent a lot of time in this hidden room one summer.  I think I first discovered the green chamber during a game of hide and seek.  No one found me, and I couldn't believe the riddle of finding a place where I could be so hidden in plain view. Growing up I didn't have a space to call my own - six kids and four adults in a four bedroom house make things "cozy".  When I discovered this hiding place it was a secret I didn't share for weeks.  Then someone saw me creeping inside the branches, and soon all the kids wanted to cram inside.  I would go there expecting solitude only to find two or three other small bodies huddled within.

But before it was a shared destination, it was my personal magical spot.  Cooling on a hot summer day, the smell of dirt and growing things. My own territory, small as it was.  Light shining through the leaves and turning them into stained glass.  Escape. A place made just for me, awaiting my discovery. 

Maybe that is part of the reason I love my garden so much now, and just being there surrounded in the green.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Island Time

Despite best efforts to get away early, we set sail Wednesday around 7:30 p.m..  Strong wind brought us to 6 knots, sailing by the jib.  When we got to Hanlon's at dusk, the wall was full, so we moored at the Island Marina.  Our heater blasting away, fleece on. Is this really June 30?  Still, the view of the Toronto skyline at night... such a pretty city.

Woke up the next morning and went for a garden stroll, surprised to see the dragon boat tents and teams set up for a day of competition.  Along the way I was thinking how much I love this Island, hoping to find a slip to stay a few more days on this long weekend.  Doubting our chances and wondering how safe it would be to anchor by the beach.

I called over to Queen City Yacht Club to see if they had space and when they said yes, we untied and motored over as quickly as quickly as we could. I forgot how great QCYC is - we didn't dock here once last year, so infatuated with Hanlon's we were.  But this is a beautiful spot.  Great view of the city, parkland behind.  Two more nights!

We spent Canada Day biking around, enjoying the lack of cars.  Thinking about how much more quiet it was last year, when the city was on strike and the ferries had stopped running.  So many more people were wandering around this year.  Looking about I was happy to share and celebrate the holiday.  There is lots of ethnic diversity on Centre Island, so many different languages and skin colours and wardrobe choices. A very fitting place to celebrate Canada Day.

That night we motored over to watch the fireworks. There must have been more than 100 boats lined up to take in the sight.  Dark was falling and the spreader lights switched on, glowing at the top of 100 masts, drawing a new constellation as the boats bobbed in the water.  We watched the shoreline as people gathered around bonfires and set off personal fireworks. In front, the dazzle of the Toronto skyline and the lights of the CN Tower.  Underneath the indigo lake reflecting the lights.  Suddenly, overhead, the sky erupting with lights and colour.  Surrounded by sparks of beauty.

Friday we ferried over to see the Tall Ships The Race To Save the Great Lakes is bringing together some majestic ships to raise awareness of the Great Lakes and water conservation.  How ironic that this morning I was listening to news that the Canadian government is decommissioning 1000 lighthouses across Canada.

These tall ships are glamourous beauties.  Burnished wood, copper fixtures warmed in the sun, ropes frayed to the texture of silk.  There was  HMS Bounty (the same ship used in the Marlon Brando film and Pirates of the Carribbean), and Europa from the Netherlands with that sexy figurehead. Pride of Baltimore, HMS Roseway, STV Unicorn and more.  All these ships offering berths and a chance to travel with the crew.  What a vacation that would be!  Maybe I would dare to climb the thirty feet up the rope ladder to drop the sails, but I wonder if I could find my footing to climb back down again?  Especially in a rolling sea.  I was surprised that so many of these vessels don't have keels.  The Bounty has a draft of 11 feet - and our little Yondering has about 5.5.  (Draft is the distance between the bottom of your boat and the bottom of the lake).  Also, it takes about 4 hours to raise the anchor on the Bounty when it is fully extended.  Everything about these ships is conscious effort and planning.

If the weather cooperates we hope to see the parade of all the Tall Ships departing on Sunday.

Meanwhile, we have Saturday to sail and hang out in the sun.  Looking forward to warmer temperatures.