Thursday, April 28, 2011

Double Feature

It was a literary evening!

The Heliconian had Katherine Govier talking about The Ghost Brush, which I'd just finished and absolutely loved! I was all set to go when I realized the Book Babes were meeting that same night.

I needed my BB fix, so went to Liz C's, where we discussed Too Much Happiness and Loving Frank.

I read Loving Frank and blogged about it back in March. I enjoyed the book, and was surprised when the discussion became somewhat heated.  Many couldn't get past Frank's self-centred, somewhat sociopathic reputation.  Christina kept saying, "But the book isn't about him.  It's about her."  There was also a faction that strongly felt Mamah had no business leaving her young children to pursue a life as 'the other woman'.  Others maintained she was brave, courageous and true to her ideals.  It's great to hear such divergent opinions and I'm glad we don't need to politely agree on everything! 

Next up was Too Much Happiness, which I'd read cover-to-cover a few years ago.  I re-read a few of the stories to refresh my memory.  No one argued about Alice Munro's genius for the short story form, although someone observed she forgot the stories about one minute after closing the bookcover.  Personally, I've always admired the author's ability to play with nonlinear timelines, reveal characters in a simple gesture, capture those moments in life that have the power to change destiny.  If you haven't read the story Dimensions, do, it is brilliant!  I also quite liked the title story, a dip into historical fiction.  It contains this great line:  "She was learning, quite late, what many people around her appeared to have known since childhood - that life can be perfectly satisfying without major achievements." (p. 283)  

We also talked about the upcoming AGM - end of May.  There will be a full house at Nicki's in Haliburton this year.  Each year we bring forward 2 or 3 titles and then vote on which one of those will be the selection.  I'm mulling!  I think I might go for a broad category, like autobiography, and have everyone read a different title & share their insights. Or maybe suggest the short story collection by David Foster Wallace, Girl with the Curious Hair.  That would certainly generate some heated discussion!  Then again, there is always more Munro, a classic like Lives of Girls and Women.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Casale Rosanna - Sleeps 4 in 2 Bedrooms | San Gimignano | Tuscany | Italy

Booked it!

Casale Rosanna - Sleeps 4 in 2 Bedrooms | San Gimignano | Tuscany | Italy

September seems a long, long time away.....

Late spring

Crocus - April 3
In the mornings I open my eyes and one of the first things I see through the skylight are the buds on the maple tree in the backyard, swelling.  A little bigger every day, but still not close to bursting.
The squirrels are nibbling on the fresh buds  - greedy rodents. I've never seen them do that before.  I just hope those marauding tree rats left me some of the bulbs I  planted last Thanksgiving.

Rob called me to the front window one morning to see a little girl crouching down to admire the crocus in the front garden.  She was wearing a pink dress and had a bow in her hair; such a pretty, frothy child.  It made me happy to see her admiring the colours. I'm not sure she'd even started school yet, she was so tiny.  Her mother stood behind her, smiling.

We had such favourable weather at the beginning of April, and then chill set in.  More snow!

Thursday April 21 was the first plant show at the garden club and there wasn't much gracing the tables other than daffodils and house plants.  At this time last year, the cherry blossoms were already blooming in High Park.

More than a year ago, on April 16, my garden was in bloom with blood root and hellebore; this year they haven't yet unfurled their petals.

Speaking of hellebore, I was totally down and out because I thought I'd killed my plants with ambitious pruning.  I was comparing their progress to photos taken in 2009, fretting because it didn't look like any buds were coming.  This past week I was relieved to see the lenten rose showing signs of blossom:

Hellebore - April 23

... the tulips seemed to be drinking in the sunlight...
Ice Tulip - April 23
Giant Crocus - April 23

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stop the Busywork, and start the work that matters

I like my work and feel lucky to have a job where I can make a difference.  There is a good 'fit', I'm fairly compensated, and I work alongside smart and committed colleagues.  It's just sometimes, there just seems so much of it...... work I mean.

Typically I put in an extra 5-10 hours a week & often more.  So when I saw this course offered it caught my eye:  Stop the Busywork, and start the work that matters.  The facilitator was also the author of the book  Do More Great Work.

Some of the best take-aways were the simplest:
  • Set aside blocks of time to work without interruptions (uninterrupted time is more productive; forget about the idea that multi-tasking is more efficient... In fact, measuring IQ before and after trying to complete a task with and without interruptions shows there is a 10 point performance drop in those who are constantly interrupted).
  • Think about managing energy vs. time:
    • Figure out what tasks can be done adequately... not everything needs to be done perfectly.  "Good enough" can free up time for great work (I've been applying this rule to housework for years).
    • Years ago I read a time management book that advocated getting by on one to two less hours of sleep a night, with the rationale being you'd net more time.  Thankfully, research by Schwartz and others shows this approach is counter-productive.  Over time, people who catch more zzzz's aren't just healthier and happier, they're actually more accomplished.
One of the handiest tools of the day mapped work into four different quadrants:
  • Q4:  you don't care; organization doesn't really care
  • Q3:  organization cares; you don't care quite so much
  • Q2:  you care; organization doesn't care
  • Q1:  you care; organization cares
Of course, your great work falls into Q1 and Q2 and this is where you want to spend most time; 'good' work often falls into Q3; and 'bad' into Q4.  Try to eliminate work in Q4; employ 'good enough' to Q3; and look at strategies for moving the great work from Q2 into Q1.

I mentally layered this over Steven Covey's matrix from  7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey is definitely one of my favourite work gurus of all time.   This demonstration really brings it all home.  It definitely "rocks"!!

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Toronto Yoga Conference 2011- Day Two

    Photo credit
    In the Garden space, I joined the crowd in time to see Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman hypnotize everyone with their half-hour demo.  Rodney always takes time to wander the floor and make adjustments, offering his personal touch. Colleen usually offers insights from the stage. This time she read from Herman Hesse' Siddartha:
    Siddhartha listened. He was now nothing but a listener, completely concentrated on listening, completely empty, he felt, that he had now finished learning to listen. Often before, he had heard all this, these many voices in the river, today it sounded new. Already, he could no longer tell the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the ones of children from those of men, they all belonged together, the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones, everything was one, everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times. And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.
    On Day Two I took in more sessions: 
    Lee, Rizopoulos and Martin all touched on how to work safely in poses to avoid injury.  Lee mentioned she is seeing the same types of injuries all over the world: overworked shoulders, torn hamstrings, damaged wrists and twisted knees. Compared to the gentle postures of the early 70's, the yoga we're doing is pretty intense and extreme.  Done without full attention or poor instruction, yoga can result in injury. Rizopoulos made similar observations.  This was all reinforced when people in the 'Ow' class took colourful band-aids and put them on the spots they'd suffered sprains or strains in the past 2 years.

    It is widely acknowledged teachers themselves have different levels of skill, and many are adamant about their approach to posture until time or experience prove otherwise. Bottom line, if you notice something isn't right, don't persist. 

    Some specific tips for avoiding injuries in downdog

    - don't spread the fingers too widely, keep the baby finger in line with palm (Lee)
    - don't work to bring the shoulder blades down the back (a common instruction), look instead to be long in the torso (Rizopoulos)

    Photo credi
    Rizopoulos also recommended a safe way to work the mid-back in a back bend.  I tried it, and could feel it doing its job:  take baby cobra position, with hands as close to side as possible (near lower ribs); and as you lift your torso off the floor, also lift your hands, keeping them in position but floating them an inch or two above the floor.  In this way you strengthen your back muscles instead of relying on your arms to do the work.

    This was part of a two-hour session that presented a sequence that culminated with the pose Cosmic Dancer:

    Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
    Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
    Baby Cobra (Bhujangasana)
    Up Dog (urdhva mukha svanasana)
    Bow (Dhanura-asana)
    Headstand (salamba sirsasana)
    Cosmic Dancer (Natrajasana)

     Lucky for me, the following day at my regular studio YCT was a restorative class!

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Toronto Yoga Conference 2011- Day One

    The book...
    Cyndi Lee runs and owns OM Yoga Centre in NYC, writes a monthly column for Yoga Journal and teaches internationally.  When I saw her listed on the visiting faculty for this year's conference, I signed up for the full day class on "Yoga Body, Buddha Mind" that linked vinyasa with meditation.

    Cyndi is a long-time yoga practioner and student of Tibetan Buddhism. I've really 'connected' with her writing and insights whenever I've come across them, and I connected with her just as much in person.

    In the morning we practised a Mindfulness Meditation, and in the afternoon did a contemplative session to cultivate Loving Kindness.  The awareness brought heightened sensation to the vinyasa sessions, which we traveled through very, very slowly.  So we could observe each moment arising, abiding, dissolving.

    We spent some time talking, but more time doing and experiencing.  The best teachers I've ever had recognize that experience is the best teacher.  They help to create an environment that will bring you directly to the moment of insight.  It is then up to the student to receive.  As a result of this great workshop approach,  there were many AHA moments for me.

    Cyndi does a pose of the month at her studio, and sometimes it is "freeze", where you stop in the pose and observe without immediately correcting.  Just observing:  what is your impulse to fix; what do you habitually fix, should you try correcting something different this time around?  AHA!

    "Balance" comes from the Greek word 'bilanc', to dance.  It is not a static state.  You do not 'arrive'.  You can observe it arising, abiding, dissolving.  You can find the state of arising, abiding, dissolving in each transitory moment. AHA!

    I usually meditate with eyes closed, so was surprised when I was first introduced by Pema Chodrin to keep my eyes open.  We did the mindfulness meditation eyes open with Cyndi as well.  I like the rationale:  it helps to keep you awake; it connects you to those moments in the day when your eyes are open and you need to bring minudfulness into a difficult or challenging moment. AHA!

    Don't wait until you "feel like it" to practise or to meditate.  Come as you are.  Start each day where you are.  Don't expect progress.  Expect boredom:  hot boredom, when you are agitated and 5 minutes feels like 20 and your monkey mind is racing; cold boredom when you are so detached you fall asleep.  I have enough knowledge now that I can design a practise that will suit my ability and energy level for the day, so there really shouldn't be any excuse to skip a day.

    I've had Cyndi's 'Guide to Daily Practice', on my shelf for a few years & brought it along so she could sign.  Inside the cover she drew a sitting yogi, labeled it Diane, and wrote a personal message.  Very nice!

    Full Egg Moon - April

    Songkhla Hash House Harriers

    Ah, the mysterious full moon has arrived again, right on schedule.

    Known as the pink moon by some North American Indian tribes because of the pink ground phlox that grows with the waxing moon.

    Also known this year as the Paschal Full Moon because it's the first full moon of the spring season.

    Egg Moon - March 2010
    But, as this is the full moon before Easter,  I think I'll celebrate the occasion of the Full Egg Moon.

    In fact, the Moon Society sounds like it is having fun with its Carnival of the Egg Moon - no invitation required!

    Serendipity and searches on the Full Egg Moon are bringing me some wonderful illustrations and musings on fellow lunatics' blogs and websites.

    The Egg Moon and Deer Woman
    And of course I mean lunatic in the most affectionate way!

    Singing songs, telling stories, painting beautiful images.  Honouring the moon in all its unique faces and places.

    It makes me contemplate the many weird and wonderful people alive this moment on the planet, the many who have come before, and those whose time is yet to come.
    The Daily Bite

    Billions. All of us arising, abiding, dissolving.

    As impermanent as a full moon, as magical as a moonbeam...


    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Bugs Bunny at the Symphony

    Bugs Bunny at the Symphony brought a full house to the Sony Centre in Toronto.

    Lots of kids in the audience - including one that made the entire theatre laugh when they heard her infectious squeal.  The musicians were from my home town, Kitchener-Waterloo, and the Hollywood musical director praised their world-class calibre. 

    Back in the day, Carl Stalling adapted the classical masterpieces of composers like Wagner, Strauss, Grieg, and Lizt to the frantic antics of Merry Melodies.  He popularized tunes that entertained kids and adults alike for decades.  The music may have been chosen for the cartoons because it was royalty free, but using it in that way has ended up making "classical" music accessible to millions.

    In the 1920's through to the 1950's, Warner Brothers had an orchestra they employed to score major motion pictures, like the Jazz Singer.  Sometimes, there was a half-hour  left at the end of a day, and instead of sending the orchestra home, Stalling would rush over to take advantage of the time fragments left.  Conductor George Daugherty joked it probably added to the already frenzied pace of the music.  So many notes!

    click here to watch clip
    In "What's Opera Doc?",  animation director Chuck Jones and musical director Milt Franklyn manage to fit 9+ hours of Wagner into less than 9 minutes of screen time (The Flying Dutchman, Die Walkure, Siegfried, Gotterdammerung, Rienzi and Tannhausser).

    Now picture two middle-aged men, pot bellies touching in studio, singing the love song, "Brunhilde".  That would be Mel Blanc as Bugs and Arthur Q. Bryan as Elmer Fudd.  The way Daugherty described this, it sounded more hilarious than the final animation.

    There is real genius behind the appearances of Bugs, Porky, Daffy and others (remember the singing frog?  Sam Horn Leghorne? Pepis Lepui?).  I wonder if the animators, musicians and voices had as much fun creating these works as we do watching them? 

    If you want more, here is some early Bugs and Elmer Fudd

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Brunello di Montalcino

    Brunello.  Tasting note:  lovely, lovely, lovely!

    Sipping a 2005 vintage from Mastro Janni and trying to figure out where to stay when we visit Tuscany in September (fingers crossed).  What a long week it has been, a long day. So to come home and explore the Tuscan countryside is such respite!

    I love the colour.  The photo at left doesn't really do it justice.  In the glass, the colour is vibrant.

    The aroma is reminding me of digging into the earth in late spring, triggering my limbic system with  memories of future possibilities.

    The taste is all of that and more.

    As for after-taste, this stirring finish might last until Sunday morning.

    If I was in an MRI right now there would be fireworks on the imaging screen.

    Hey, maybe that is why wine is served at Communion at Catholic mass.  Although it has been a long, long time since I drank from that cup.  But that's another story.

    Happy Friday.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Love etc.

    The Doc Soup series ended tonight with a sold out screening of  Love etc, a tender documentary that follows 5 different love stories over about 1 1/2  years.

    A high school couple's first love, an engaged couple through to marriage and tough times, a divorced dad, a new single dad, and an older couple that has been together 48 years and counting.  Over 700 hours of footage, whittled down to 90 minutes.  5 other stories on the editing room floor.

    The Director uses animation to trace the streets and houses of NYC, evoking millions of untold love stories in hundreds of twinkling lights.

    The film is full of private moments that make you feel as though you're peering into someone's heart.

    Ethan, the divorced dad, staring straight into the camera and saying "if you are sitting there in a theatre with a partner beside you, well, you're lucky."

    One of the wisest things is said by young Gabi, after his girlfriend has left for college and they're staying in touch as friends.  With a wounded heart, he observes that love is not something that happens in an instant, but something that you build brick by brick over years; piece by piece.  Watching him, you know a great love lies ahead.

    The long-married couple still share great chemistry and laughter.  Failing bodies and minds but with a love that endures.

    Light fare?  What could be more important, more basic, more human than a tender-hearted love story?


    Sunday, April 3, 2011


    Photo Credit
    Tuscany!  Home of Chianti, Brunello, Multipulciano...

    We are going!!!!!  In September!!!!

    And we are planning our itinerary now.  Likely we will book a farmhouse or villa for a week and then 'play it by ear' the second.  Maybe venture to Venice, maybe Provence.

    Liz and Darcy are up to coming, so we had them over to dinner to make tentative plans.  Before and after the meal, we had the laptops and iPads out, googling away our different questions:  what is Venice like in September?  Should we wing it, or book ahead?

    Months of anticipation lie ahead....and of course, months of tasting different Tuscan wines.

    The meal tonight we had these wines to accompany dinner, very tasty indeed:
    Chianti Classico, Castellani
    Centine, Toscana

    To go with the evening's intention, I made and served a dish from The New Basic Cookbook, which was molto buon!

    Photo credit
    Tuscan Chicken
    • 1 chicken (cut into 8 pieces)
    • 3/4 cup chianti or dry red wine
    • 3 ribs celery (cut into slices)
    • 6 shallots (quartered)
    • 15 oil cured olives, pitted
    • 1/3 cup golden raisins
    • 1/4 cup capers
    • 2 teaspoons dried sage
    • 2 teaspoon dried rosemary
    • 1 tsp. salt
    • freshly ground pepper
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 3/4 cup beef stock
    • 1/4 cup tomato paste
    1.  Combine chicken pieces, wine, celery, shallots, olives, raisins, and capers.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp sage, rosemary, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper.  Mix well, cover, refrigerate and marinade overnight.
    2. Preheat oven to 350
    3. Heat oil in heavy oven proof skillet.  Lift the chicken from the marinade, saute over heat until golden.  Reserve the marinade.
    4. While chicken is sauteing, stir together the marinade, stock, tomato paste & remaining sage & rosemary, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste.  When the chicken is browned, pour the mixture over and bring to a boil.
    5. Transfer the skillet to the oven and basting and degreasing twice, bake 45 minutes.  (use large spoon to carefully skim off any fat.)
    6. Bring the skillet to  the table and serve immediately.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Quiz Night

    Rob and I hosted a Quiz Night at BPYC, pulling mostly from Trivial Pursuit.  We ended with an audio portion and included clips from "Guess the TV Theme'.

    There were 50 questions in total, with about 25 people playing. 

    A fun way to spend a Friday night!

    I remember when Trivial Pursuit first came out, and how it was only available at Birk's Jewellers and kept selling out.  We ended up getting one of the very early editions and quickly became addicts.  It was interesting to learn the inventors had tried to get a game company interested and when no one bought their idea they put up their own money to get the game to market.  A few years later they were all millionaires. 

    The 'Guess the TV Theme' portion had a lot of people scratching their heads, but one of the tables got all of them correct.  We included the first ten below: