Thursday, August 25, 2011

Floods, Earthquakes, Tornadoes...

Sunday night started with a flood in the basement.  Alex and Penny mopped up, but still, 2 of the 3 rugs in the basement were destroyed.  Possibly the third, we're trying to restore it.

Tuesday there was an earthquake. 5.5.  I was in a training course, on the 8th floor, and we could feel - and see - everything swaying.  The facilitator just carried on as though nothing was happening.  My table-mates and I looked at each other.  Did you feel that?  Did the earth just move for you?  Nervous laughter.

Then the powerful lightning storm and official Tornado Watch on Wednesday night.  The light show was incredible, with strikes so frequent they looked like strobe lights.  Rob and I watched the light show through the skylights.  According to the news this morning, the CN Tower was struck multiple times, and the lightning was striking a thousand times in a single hour. 

That's three.  We're done, right?  I'm pouring myself a cuppa and hoping for calmer days ahead.

pretty blue cornflowers

David's Tea:  "Mother's Little Helper"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I've lost about 7 pounds in the last month!

That is, if my scale is to be trusted.  This morning I noticed that depending where exactly on the bathroom floor I place the scale, it can make a difference of a pound or two.  Of course, I'm going with the lighter verdict.

I've joined WeightWatchers; the online version.  I'm not going to meetings (they just don't appeal to me).  But using the online tools to track my progress and intake is useful, it's made me more aware of the amount and quality of foods I put in my mouth.  I stay within the guidelines overall, but that is also because I don't deprive myself of what I'm craving.  Like sampling from some of my most favourite foodgroups - cheese and wine.

Probably the most variety in type of foods in my "favourites" list is cheese:  blue, cheddar, spanish, monteray, feta, parmesan, cottage...  At one point I tried the low-cal stuff but it was so disappointing I figured, why bother?  Better intense flavours in small bites than a fistful of something that tastes like plastic.

I thought I'd lose a pound or two for my heart health, but a recent study released from York U challenges the assumption.  Obese people who are otherwise healthy live just as long as their counterparts; and in fact, have a lower level of cardiovascular disease.  Maybe the study would be better to measure the percentages for the overall health of obese people vs. the overall health of people with a "healthy" BMI? 

Regardless, I'm staying on track with the lifestyle changes for awhile.

And no, I am NOT dieting in Tuscany! 

Monday, August 22, 2011


Uccelli = Bird in Italian......Hope I get to see some of these beauties that have been spotted in Tuscany. 

Blue Tit
Tawny Owl
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Red Kite

Paul's Birding Diary
Tuscany Birding
Birds and Art in Tuscany
First Flight of a Young Tawny Owl
Hacking of Young Tawny Owls
Red Kites Released in Tuscany 2007


"Florence is so full of art that travellers risk falling prey to the condition known as Stendhalismo, a term attributed to the writer Stendhal, who was so mesmerized by the beauty of Florence that he almost fainted.  A type of travellers nervosa, Stendhalismo mostly strikes visitors who have difficulties prioritizing a visit."  Michelin guide to Tuscany

Piazza del Duomo

Galleria degli Uffizi Primaver
just think of the 27 Botticelli including The Birth of Venus and the Springtime or the Doni Tondo by Michelangelo, the Annunciation by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Palazzo Veccho
Galleria dell'Academia

hmmm.... according to this frank Trip Advisor comment:
  Galleria dell'Accademia does not worth a visit unless you are desperate to see the original of David and have the eye to distinguish it from its copy....There are more interesting museums in Florence (Pitti, Bargello, Galileo,...) I don't understand why L'Accademia is this much popular  
San Lorenzo and the Tombs; from the tomb of Lorenzo Medici

 Museo di San Marco showcases Fra Angelico's works
  Peter Preaching with Mark, 1433
... and  Fra Angelico's The Last Judgement...

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Cypress and stone pines
Albero is Italian for "tree" and the word should come in handy in Tuscany, which is the most densely wooded region in all of Italy. 

When we were driving through the Tuscan countryside last spring on our way to Cinque Terre, the guide was pointing out the straight, raised Roman roads and the "open and shut umbrellas" that dotted the landscape.

The open umbrellas were of course, umbrella pines;  the shut ones were cypress.   Umbrella pines are also known as stone pines and have been cultivated since ancient times for their edible oil-bearing pine kernels.

Also abundant are sweet chestnuts. The Mugello region has whole groves, and the European Union recognizes Marrone del Mugello as the territory which is specially adapted to the cultivation of this fruit.  First news about this chestnut dates back to the Roman age.

October is the month they ripen, so we may be able to  taste some of the early harvest.
It is here that the fruit, as well as being a precious source of income, has been long used by the local population as the basis for much of its local cuisine, so much so that the chestnut is often referred to as the albero del pane (the bread tree). The harvest of this fruit is still carried out by hand due to the steep, hilly location of the many centuries old chestnut groves, making it impossible to harvest using machinery. - The marroni of the Mugello

This region is definitely a spot to stop for lunch or dinner.  In addition to the famous chestnuts, the area also produces oil, wine, high quality meats, cheese, honey, saffron and potatoes, various types of mushroom, and the white truffle, which grows in the woods and chestnut groves of the surrounding valleys.

Mugello is supposed to be great for nature walks, but I have a feeling we'll be better able to get the guys interested in visiting because the roads are the site of the Autodromo (Formula 2 and Motorcycle Grand Prix racing circuits).

Olive Grove
And the trees I remember being everywhere in the Mediterranean- the olive.  First cultivated by the Etruscans in 4th century BC, these evergreens can live for hundreds of years.  They look the same as they do elswhere,  but there are many different, prized cultivars that can only be identified by olive experts, who study the pit and leaves to determine the varietal.  Although there are countless varieties, the olives themselves are either green or black (the black ones start out green and change colour as they ripen).

Olive oil is one of the first things I want to pick up at the market. With fresh bread.  And pecorino cheese, some parmesan & balsalmic.... mmmmmm

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Negata Shachu

Negata Shachu played at the Toronto Botanical Gardens this week.  The last concert in the summer series went out with a bang!

The taiko drummers were amazing to hear and to watch.  Such physical exertion.  Their whole bodies went into their music.

Drum beats are so primal, with the power to quicken or slow your heart beat.  The performance was mesmerizing.

Alex, Penny, her mom, and I sat on top of the garden spiral with the best seats in the house and munched on samosas and oranges to enjoy this last show of the season.

For each song, the drummers changed the position of the instruments on stage.  A big drum paired with a small drum, the next song the drum on a stand.  As the relation of the drums to one another changed, so did the shape of the sound.  And so did the position of the drummer.  Sometimes crouching, sometimes lunging, sometimes drumming with their arms above their heads.

After the concert, a walk in the garden forest.  The cicadas are incredibly loud tonight and it seemed so very suitable...

Here's a clip of the same troupe giving an indoor performance. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What are you reading?

For a few years now, I have been inviting my book club(s) to come down to BPYC so we can ask each other, "What are you reading?"

Memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction and true-life tales outweigh fiction in these summer choices:  21 books and only three of them works of fiction set in modern times.  Interesting choices!

Diane:  Under the Covers
  • A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway:  what he chooses to reveal tells more about him than his subjects
  • Freedom, by Jonathon Franzen:  dysfunctional families are this author's specialty 

Joan:  Trilogy of Memoirs by by Dave Pelzer
  • A Child Called It: His brother, Richard Pelzer, is the author of the book "A Brother's Journey", confirming much of what David has said and describing his own abuse when David was finally removed from the home, although the two disagree about Dave's depictions
  • The Lost Boy
  • A Man Named Dave
Anne:  Next month's BPYC Book Club pick
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett:  Anne will be serving chocolate cake next month.  Will anyone bite?
Grace:  Is war a rich man's game?
Anita:  Comic relief
  • Flashman, by George Macdonald Frazer:  recommended by PG Wodehouse; how can you go wrong?
  • The Fine Art of Insincerity, by Angela Hunt: easy summer reading about the dynamics between sisters
Kaarina:  Beautiful book covers
Wendy:  Compelling titles
  • Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls:  Another "true-life" novel from the author of the Glass Castle
  • Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas:  Historical fiction set in the Great Depression
  • A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard:  memoir from a kidnap victim about 18 stolen years
Liz P.: This book is so insane and hard to believe, it must be true
Liz C: A big cat with a taste for revenge 
  • The Tiger, by John Vaillant:  A true story of vengeance and survival as expert trackers hunting a man-killing tiger along the Russia/China border become prey themselves
Rebecca:  insurance tales
  • Visit Elliot Special Risk  to learn details such as Shirley Maclean's $2.5M policy to insure against being captured by aliens; or Keith Richard's insurance for his middle finger
Annika:  Authentic voices
  • Three Seconds, by Rosenberg Hallberg:  A Swedish bestseller penned by an unusual team; a former criminal and journalist.  Inside knowledge of the drug trade behind prison walls
  • The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain:  The Moveable Feast told through the eyes of Hadley Hemingway

Monday, August 15, 2011

Under the covers

One of my favourite reads this summer included the latest Franzen novel, 'Freedom'.  Some deliciously bizarre and ironic moments, such as the detailed account of the cheating husband who swallows his wedding ring and has to lock himself in the bathroom when trying to seduce the "other woman"  so he can retrieve the ring barehanded from the toilet (talk about spoiling the mood!).  Or the two lovers that commit their infidelity while the woman feigns sleepwalking.  Yes... there is a fair bit of infidelity in the novel; thus the title.  I was a bit dubious about this one because all the book jacket does is blurb about 'The Corrections', but I did enjoy the storytelling.  It carries the theme of dysfunctional family to a new set of characters.

'Incendiary' was another novel I quite enjoyed.  In an afternoon, I read the book from cover-to-cover, racing through the pages.  The narrator rang true.  It wasn't until a day or so later that I realized that particular narrator didn't have a name, yet the voice and story were so strong in the telling her identity didn't need a label.  I read this right after 'The Room', which seemed to be the polar opposite in so many ways.

I pulled out Hemingway's memoir,  'A Moveable Feast' after watching the latest Woody Allen film.

Hem relays a deep remorse for pursuing an affair with his wife's friend that led to the end of their marriage.  The remorse doesn't seem to stem from causing Hadley pain so much as of the stupidity of the whole escapade, that resulted in the loss of the woman he loved truly.

When it comes to his accounts of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can't help but wonder if Hem is competing here by offering up some unsavoury details:  portraying a drunken hypochondriac taking to his bedcovers with worry he'd contracted consumption, needing Hem to escort him to the Louvre to view classical male nudes to reassure him he was of 'normal' size in manly respects, and of course the troubles with Zelda.  After revealing all this, Hem quickly sums up in a sentence or two the great and reliable friend the sober Scott was, and continued to be, for so many years. Interesting, the details he chose to elaborate.  In many ways I think they say far more about Hem than F. Scott.

Hemingway had a profoundly deep respect for Ezra Pound and held back any criticism here, instead talking about what a great friend Ezra was to many poets, and recounting Ezra's efforts to rescue T.S. Eliot from a career in banking by taking up a monetary collection on his behalf called Bel Esprit.

Papa also took some love-making tips on how to please women from Gertrude Stein, but there is also the disturbing scene that causes him to sever his deep ties.  It puzzles me... what exactly is going on here, and why can he not continue their friendship?  Is it her weakness he cannot bear?
... the colorless alcohol felt good on my tongue and it was still in my mouth when I heard someone speaking to Miss Stein as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever.

Then Miss Stein's voice came pleading and begging, saying, "Don't, pussy. Don't. Don't. Please don't.  Please don't pussy."

I swallowed the drink and put the glass down on the table and started for the door.  The maidservant shook her finger at me and whispered, "Don't go.  She'll be right down."

"I have to go," I said and tried not to hear any more as I left but it was still going on and the only way I could not hear it was to be gone.  It was bad to hear and the answers were even worse.  pp 118-119

Lastly, I want to mention the easy entertainment offered by 'The Third Pig Detective Agency.'  If I were in the business of optioning properties I'd nab this series.  It is from the UK and centers around fairytale characters.  The third pig, you'll remember, is the one smart enough to build the strong brick house.  He's also the detective hired to solve mysteries that involve Aladdin's lamp, orcs, elves, and the Wicked Witch of the East Side.  An animated HBO series would be perfect!

Went to a garden party....

Grace invited people to enjoy a summer evening in her backyard.  Great food, great company, and a wonderful surprise - live music!  As soon as the musicians started to play, the skies opened up and the rain poured down, and everyone huddled together under backyard umbrellas and awnings to listen. 

The musicians were all fellow-Bluffers, with Grace on violin.The trio of violin, keyboard and bass played a few songs, including a beautiful rendition of 'Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.   'Summertime', was a duo of violin and harmonica that was perfectly executed - accompanied by thunderclaps in all the right places.  Raindrops pelting on the shelter added an extra layer of percussion.   It was as if the storm was sitting in to jam.

When the rain stopped, night fell, and we went for an evening splash in the pool.  Altogether lovely.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Full Green Corn Moon - August

Time to celebrate the Full Red Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Green Corn Moon....

I'd love to give proper credit to these images, but they were sent to me via email. Wonderful photos! People positioning themselves with the moon in different ways... inspired play!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jane Bunnett at TBG

The temperature and light were perfect when the musicians started to play, and by the end of the concert the almost-full moon was bright in the sky.

Jane Bunnett, Hilario Duran, Roberto Riveron and an amazing percussionist played tunes from Cuban Rhapsody while the bees and butterflies danced in and out of nearby blooms.

At the end of the show, Alex and I enjoyed a summer evening stroll through the gardens while Rob went to buy the CD and scored an autographed copy of the evening's playlist.

...Ahhhh, summer nights....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Glass Ceiling

Greenberg series - Glass Ceiling
Jill Greenberg produced this series of underwater photos entitled 'Glass Ceiling' - to document the 'Female Object'... these photos are absolutely beautiful and vaguely disturbing all at the same time.

A portion from her artist statement
In 2008, I was commissioned to do a fashion shoot with the US Olympic Synchronized Swim Team, 2 set ups included high heels. What follows are caught moments, inspired by a few images from the 2008 shoot’s outtakes: captured between the posed formations, coming up for air.
Elana Kalis @ Bricolage
Funnily enough, I saw another female underwater image just earlier today, featured on Bricolage. That image, too, is headless, but doesn't feel as starkly depersonalized.  Fabric and muted colours wrap the figure in softness.

In 'Glass Ceiling',  Greenberg's colours are vivid, the bodies stripped of clothing are vulnerable and somewhat interchangeable.  No faces, but definitely not feature-less.
Greenberg series - Glass Ceiling

In this last photo, especially, the dreamlike feel of a floating world reminds me of Chagall.

Greenberg series - Glass Ceiling

Marc Chagall

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Notes from the Galley

Simple.  Easy.  Delicious.  That's my criteria for the galley.

When we first started cruising, I wasn't sure about menu planning. Long term cruising is a definite challenge, stocking the pantry is an art.  But with weekend get-aways, you can afford the space a head of Boston lettuce and quart of fresh strawberries consume in the ice box.
Ah, the ice-box! Frozen water becomes a limited, magic commodity.  Constantly melting.  Feeding the cooler with blocks of ice, like stoking a box of coals. Chipping off ice for a tall glass of water with lime. Luscious luxury. 

I crave fresh fruit and vegetables.  The colour and crispness they bring to the plate.

Waking up on the boat in the mornings, I seem to have time to put together scrumptious breakfasts.  This morning was a fruitarian's feast.  Fresh squeezed orange & mango juice served with a bowl of strawberry, mango, banana & blueberry topped with  a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. 
I like to keep the pantry stocked so we don't need to do much in the way of grocery shopping before setting out for a weekend sail.  These days Knorr Swiss soups and Kitchens of India packets fill the shelf.  Both are tasty and you just need to heat and eat.  You don't need shore power to put together a meal, the propane stove works nicely.

Saturday night dinner at anchor was tandoori chicken, basmati rice, dal and papadams with cool cucumbers on the side…  Served with G & T’s & clinking ice cubes!

Leftovers made a tasty lunch for Sunday.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What is it about Paris, Midnight, and Moonlight?

Midnight in Paris is both entertaining and beautiful to look at, especially in the rain.

Owen Wilson is perfectly cast in this romantic comedy with Rachel McAdams.  As soon as I saw Kathy Bates listed on the cast, I knew she would play Gertrude Stein.  Adrian Brodie does a hilarious Dali. 

The Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Picasso and Cole Porter can all be found together in a smoky scene or two.

The movie made me want to pull out my copy of the Movable Feast again:
But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight. (p. 89)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Back to work

What a great vacation - 26 vacation days strung together - spent in Victoria BC, in the Toronto Islands, and in my own backyard. 

Jumped off the boat and into Lake Ontario more times than the whole of last summer. 

Dipped into some new mindfulness exercises, enjoyed leisurely mornings filled with yoga, meditation & gardening.

Read a ton of books (Freedom, The Help, Incendiary, Lapham Quarterly to name a few).  Went to my Book Club.
Checked out some wonderful gardens:  Butchart, Music Garden, & Toronto Botanical Gardens. 

Just hung out and did whatever.  Carpe diem.

This was more time than I've had off for vacation since I was a grade school kid!I loved the expanse of it. The first week crept by, but by the middle of the second week it was slipping by quickly.  Very elastic.

Now it feels like Back to School time. 

This was my first day back at work, and I started a new position within a different division (same company).  I'm excited by the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.  I guess I couldn't have timed things better if I'd planned it, what with leaving for a long period of time and then coming back to something new.

I feel entirely refreshed and ready to go; and gratitude to have the opportunity to learn new things and stretch a bit.

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better | Video on

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better | Video on

Thought provoking lecture on how to better listen.  I especially like the acronym RASA (coincidentally, Sanskrit for 'juice'), as applied to conversation:
  • Receive
  • Appreciate
  • Summarize
  • Ask

Monday, August 1, 2011

First time mooring on the Island

View from RCYC mooring ball
Late Friday afternoon we set sail for the Islands and hit a strong wind that whipped the halyard from its rigging on the main.  Rob and I had to motor the rest of the way knowing our sailing would be limited to flying a jib until we manage to hoist a chair and reattach the two.

Spent the first night of our Island Cruise anchored near Gibraltar Lighthouse.  Along the way we looked for a place along the Hanlan's Wall, but there was no space.  Lots of power boats, rafted three deep in some points, with their tents and bonfires and boomboxes and bonhomie.  Our quiet spot wasn't even all that quiet, four other sailboats swinging on a hook and a big yacht with revellers dancing and hanging off the sides.  Still, the commotion didn't deter our cronies, the night herons, from seeking their evening feast.

It is Caribana this weekend, and appropriately Hot! Hot! Hot! The island is packed, with party-ers galore celebrating North America's largest street festival, residents attending the Ward Island Gala, and boaters taking advantage of a long weekend.

Which brought us to a mooring spot right in front of RCYC, since there were no available slips. I dipped a hook into the water and pulled out a slimy green rope that was attached to a floating tire and tied it to the bow of the boat.  Rob reinforced the mooring with a line of our own, but I was still a bit speculative about how secure we were with a meagre two lines tied to a floating tire in the middle of this busy harbour:  the constant traffic of passing boats and tenders casting their wake and tugging on the lines.

I fixed lunch and we sat in the cockpit enjoying the incredible, unobstructed view of the city skyline.  After an hour or two we felt secure enough to venture off in the dinghy and explore.

We toured QCYC and Centre Island, running into some fellow Bluffers along the way, and then took a detour into lilypad-land where and switched off the motor so as not to scare away the birds (blue jays, kingfishers and hiding herons).  A monarch butterfly landed on the brim of my hat and stayed long enough for Rob to snap a photo.

Back to our mooring - I was happy to see Yondering still there, tugging playfully at her lines. We changed into our bathing suits and went for a refreshing plunge into the lake.  Now, some people might grimace at the thought of swimming here, but there are blue flag beaches on just the other side of the island.  And, after all, it was hot! hot! hot!

Then G&Ts on the deck, watching the sun set and the city put on its sparkling evening jewels.  The green island jutting out beside us, the city glowing in front, and the RCYC clubhouse lit just behind.  Above the stars and planes.  Party boats, ferries, pleasure yachts all sharing the same view.  Hard to know where to spend your gaze.

We've been to the Island so many times, and there is always something new to discover, another corner to explore.