Monday, October 31, 2011

Dia de los muertos

We've had a few trick-or-treaters at the door tonight.  So cute!  A little Harry Potter, 2 pint-sized Astronauts (twins),  a Zombie Princess, a stuffed dog, and of course a few skeletons.   We bought enough candy for 200+ kids, because we're used to heavier traffic.  Looks like lots of leftovers!

As much as I like our Halloween traditions, Day of the dead, celebrated November 1 and November 2 all over Mexico, looks like more fun.  Making offerings and celebrating the lives of those who have died and we miss, sharing a drink or two and reminiscing.....

illustration source

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last Sail of the Season

dusk at anchor
The second weekend in October was our Indian summer, and Rob and I made the best of it as we sailed over to Toronto Island.  We weren't the only boaters taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather, and motored past the last available space on the wall to drop anchor at one of our favourite Island spots.

Later the next day, we went beach-combing along the rocky shore, bumping into only two or three other people...  We had the view to ourselves, but there was evidence we weren't the only ones to appreciate this unique island park.

An aspiring Andy Goldsworthy had built a cairn along the shore with found materials. 

And there was an panicked love letter, wrapped in plastic and taped to a picnic table, "Hi!  Brazilian Girl!"  The writer had fallen in love on the ferry, arranged a meeting, missed the connection, and was desperate to find his lost love.  I wonder if he ever found her, or if he will be forever unrequited? I wonder if the cairn builder and letter writer were the same person, even though the stones and the picnic table were several hundred meters apart?

Winds were light, but we kept the sails up, wing on wing, for the trip back to BPYC.  It took hours longer than it normally would, but I didn't mind a bit.

Early this morning Yondering had her Haul Out. She's in the cradle for the winter.

click to enlarge any photos below
Lost love

Andy Goldsworthy?

Yondering wih CN Tower in distance

Wing on wing is a beautiful thing......

Friday, October 28, 2011

Putting the garden to bed...

Admiring the toad lily, winter cabbage, snake root and late blooming roses.

Still, it's time to put the garden to bed.

Emptying the flower pots, putting the annuals back into the ground to over-winter.

Digging up the cala lilies, begonias, and peacock orchids to store the bulbs over winter.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breaking Bad

After watching a few episodes I feel totally stressed because the suspense is so incredible.  Yet I can't stop.  I'm totally addicted!  How appropriate for a series that looks into 'cooking' crystal meth.

Rob and I hadn't watched the AMC series 'Breaking Bad', but Liz was raving about it when we were on vacation.  So,  early October, we started into the Season One DVDs. Now, 26 episodes later, we're launching into the Season 3 DVDs.

Long form drama like this is so immersive, I find myself entirely caught up in Walter White's predicament.  As much fun as it is to lose an entire weekend to back-to-back viewings, it's going to be tough to withdraw to weekly episodes when we get up to speed with Season 4.

The two main characters, Jessie and Walt, make an interesting study in ethics, the power of intention and the philosophical quandary of whether the end justifies the means.   As they go about expanding their business and face hurdle after hurdle, you almost find yourself rooting for their success... or at the very least, their survival. 

Friday, October 21, 2011


For my birthday this year some wonderful ladies at the BPYC Book Club chipped in to buy a Kobo for me.

I figured it would take me a few books to get comfortable, so I started with a classic -  Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.  I brought it along to Italy, loaded with The Prince (Machiavelli); The Inferno (Dante); and the Decameron (Boccacio).

There's a lot to like about my eReader.  The convenience.  How compact it is.  The adjustable font size.  Being able to highlight sections for later reference (perfect for the book club!).  Sharing eBooks with other readers in the club.  But mostly I like it because it was a birthday gift from some wonderful women.

It did take a bit of getting used to, but by the time I read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay for our book club meeting this week, I'd gotten perfectly used to reading this way. 

Although the book this month was enjoyed by everyone, there were some common criticisms.  Why, o why was that romantic ending conjured up?  It seemed so superfluous.  The ending was so incredibly sacharine compared with the rest of the novel it didn't seem to fit.  Pressure from the agent to appeal to Hollywood?

I'll have to get around to seeing the movie while the book is still fresh in my mind.  This may be one instance where the film ends up being better than the book:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Low GI Diet

It seems every time you turn around there is contradictory advice.  Low fat, no fat, local, macrobiotic, high protein, low GI.  Yikes!

Sunday on CBC Radio I listened to a convincing anti-carbs argument from the author of 'Why We Get Fat and What We Can Do About It"
Today, Mr. Taubes is the world's best known spokesman for the "low carbohydrate" approach to nutrition.He claims that our decades-long obsession with counting calories and banning fat from our diet is actually the PROBLEM, rather than the solution to the obesity epidemic. All this has left the professionals at war with one another. And us left in the middle with no idea whether skim milk is a health food or a deadly poison.  The Sunday Edition

By coincidence, at my annual physical earlier this week, my doctor advised me to go on a low GI Diet, and cut way back on my starches.  I actually got a bit pissed off -  I just figured out this Weightwatchers thing!  The doctor must have mistook the look on my face for confusion, because she expanded a bit to say, a "no carbs diet".  When I asked her a few questions, like 'what about oatmeal in the morning?' she said only in moderation.  

Truthfully I've felt a bit sorry for myself the last few days because so many of my favourite foods seem to be yet again on some forbidden list; and because it seems I'm going to have to learn a new system and I don't know whether I really feel like it after just being three months in to WW.

Well, doctors aren't nutritionists, that's for sure.  Turns out the low GI Diet actually encourages oatmeal.  Pasta, not so much.  Foods on the GI Index with ratings that don't surprise me are: 'High GI', such as white sugar, flour, bread, pasta (which I don't much indulge other than pasta).  On the 'high' list that do surprise me are pumpkin, dates and watermelon.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Point and view

One of the best things we packed for our recent trip to Italy were the binoculars.  I thought I'd be using them to do a bit of bird-watching, but they turned out to be invaluable for sight-seeing overall.

Light and easy to carry, the 8 x 25 magnification was more powerful than the telephoto lens we had for the camera.

So the binocs were great for checking out the Tuscan hills in the distance and scoping out fishing boats in the water on the Amalfi coast.  But they were also an amazing tool for the interior of churches, the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel and for viewing the tops of beautiful buildings like the Duomo.  Not bad for stargazing, either!

These will be added to my packing list template - I won't leave home without them - at least on a vacation.

Fall of Man (Sistene Chapel)

facade of Duomo in Florence

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy

source (for me)
Over the years I've tried to build habits into my daily and weekly routine to help raise my happiness quotient. Things like starting this blog, in part, as an online gratitude journal.  Also keeping a garden, doing yoga, beginning a meditation practice, and most importantly being mindful of the simple joys life has to offer.

It's good to get reinforcement that these conscious choices have deeper benefits and such a positive impact on wellness.  Stress is a killer and there's no shortage of it in our modern lives. The pursuit of happiness is no trivial matter.

As say the YOU DOCS (Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD),  "Happy feelings influence your brain and body chemistry in ways that make you better able to cope with pain and stress and to fend off colds, flu, heart disease, and even cancer. ...being happy isn't just luck. You can make yourself happier, day in, day out."

Here are some of their tips.  
  1. Listen to music. Whether you love Bach or the Beastie Boys, music that makes you feel good increases your heart and breathing rates and makes your brain release dopamine, a lovely feel-good neurotransmitter. (Music can lower your blood pressure, too!) 
  2. Hang out with upbeat friends. Your chances of happiness increase by 15% if someone in your immediate social circle is happy. (Find out more about how your friendships can help you live longer.) 
  3. Take a joy break. Don't worry if you're among the 80% who say their jobs don't thrill them. Even a few minutes of doing something you love (singing, hiking, watching a sunset) can reduce anxiety and improve your mood.
  4. Talk nice to yourself. Is your inner voice quick to snap out things like, "How could you forget that, you idiot?" Trade put-downs for encouraging words; they set you up for success. 
  5. Connect. Talk -- really talk -- to people you care about; you'll both benefit by connecting. Get physical, too; hugs stimulate oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone," spreading a feel-good boost. Lovemaking does, too, in steady relationships (those couples report the highest happiness levels). 
  6. Keep a gratitude journal. Simply writing down what you're thankful for makes you healthier and more optimistic. (Don't miss these other tips for showing gratitude and feeling better for it!) 
  7. Don't sit around. Physical activity is a significant happiness booster. Get moving for 30 minutes a day -- you'll also make your RealAge more than 7 years younger. (Check out these four secrets for walking off weight.)
  8. Meditate. It eases stress, improves sleep, strengthens immunity, and measurably increases happiness (in one study, by 20 points on a scale of 100). (Here's how to train your brain to meditate.) 
  9. Help others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital, or shelter. Giving back adds more meaning which is essential to happiness in your life. 
  10. Go outside. Spending time with awesome Mom Nature makes you feel alert, enthusiastic, energetic, and, simply happy.
be happy

    Saturday, October 15, 2011


    Going through the Uffizi was dizzying. There were so many old masters to see and I was greedy to see them all, so tried to get through each and every one of the 45+ rooms.

    It is not overstating things to say this is one of the most important collections of art in the world:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Durer, Boticelli, Michaelangelo and so many others.  (Funnily enough, we missed Caravaggio's because they were on loan to Canada).

    Rosso Fiorentino - Musician Angel

    Sculptures from the time of the Roman Empire.   Works of religious art through the centuries, which after awhile seem to blur.  Portraits of the Renaissance - famous patrons and beauties.  Later periods showing Henry the Eighth and his wives.

    Familiar faces everywhere!  The portrait of the Musician Angel was hung high in a corner, jostling for attention.

    One image that has stuck with me is the naked image of a dwarf and the expression on his face.  I listened in on an English tour where the guide was elaborating on the unique two-sided painting.  The mannerist work was produced to prove that painting could rival sculpture in depicting the true nature of its subject.  On one side, the dwarf is young, on the other, he is an old man.  The artist Bronzini made a strong case for his argument that painting could present the passage of time, where sculpture could not.

    [The dwarf may have been a favourite of the Grand Duke but he was also a source of entertainment:
    The second half of the sixteenth century seems to have been a particularly populated time for dwarves at the Medici court. Morgante’s case was no exception. Records testify that he was often mortified, and even had to fight, naked, with a monkey. Rosella Lorenzi]

    I circled back when I'd realized I missed the room with the Rembrandts, and stood to admire the works of the Dutch master.  But this was after more than an hour and a half, and my brain and eyes were having a hard time digesting all the riches.

    Rob and I thought we couldn't possibly take in any more, but on the way out we were captivated by a multimedia exhibition that brought to life how the Uffizi itself was built, block by block, starting in 1540, through the ingenious use of pulleys.  Projectors enlarged the images, and we were transported to a construction site in Renaissance Florence, listening to the banter of workmen and the creaking sounds of ropes straining under their heavy load.

    If I can't go back in person soon, at least I can return for a virtual tour of the Uffizi

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Falling Leaves Full Moon - October

    My calendar calls this "Falling Leaves Full Moon".  Well, why not?  Leaves are, indeed, falling.  Yesterday my eye caught the sight of a hundred golden leaves being blown off a tree in a gust of wind, dancing in sunlight.  How lucky!

    Farmer's Almanac calls this The Hunter's Moon

    I read these beautiful lines of poetry on my way into work one day via the subway train.   Poetry on the (Better) Way is a great diversion.  Transporting from the daily drudge. 

    Escondido Nights
    by Jim Christy

    The moon is the shape
    Of this hidden cove
    fishing boats are constellations
    We floated through a heaven
    that glittered phosphorescent
    like plankton in tinfoil
    And paused between a pair:
    Aurorita and Viridiana, to thrash about like comets just
    Let out of school.
    And continued on a light year
    later Moondust in my mouth
    And all over your body

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Happy Thanksgiving

    I feel deep gratitude for a happy home life, a wonderful husband and son, family and extended family and supportive friends.  Meaningful work.  Health and happiness.

    Thanks for a decade where both Rob and I worked and Alex thrived.  For the leisure to enjoy yoga, my garden, sailing, and book clubs.

    To have been able to set aside time and money for travel this year, with amazing trips to Victoria and Italy.

    I am feeling incredibly blessed and thanks-full; with deep gratitude to be able to experience its meaning.

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Villas and B & Bs

    Booking the accommodations for our trip to Italy via the Internet in advance, I was hoping the photos and descriptions lived up to their promises. Luckily, everything we booked was even better than I imagined.


    Calanteluna looked straight out onto the Mediterranean, with Praiano just below us and Positano winking not too far away.  

    The view was always changing, depending on the time of day and the weather.   The sea and skies showed us many faces in the short time we we there:  evening sunsets and twinkling lights; midnight blue skies.  On two nights in a row I got up to watch very active electric storms with multiple & simultaneous lightning strikes... white bursts of waves and bolts of lightening opening against the black night.  By dawn, calm returned with mist on the water and fishing boats bobbing on the sea.  Calante luna means 'waning moon' in Italian, and we happened to be there just as the moon was shrinking. Perfetto!


    We booked the B & B through the Bed & Breakfast Association of Rome.  Our original accommodations fell through, so they offered us another alternative, closer to the Vatican.  Better value, same price.

    We ended up at La Ciumachella, in the Prati district and just a walk away from the Piazza del Popolo.  Breakfasts were delicious (yoghurt, fresh fruit, pecorino cheese, cafe Americano)!  The room was comfortable and a place to lay our heads; but one of my favourite things about this place was the bathroom.  Well-appointed, spacious, and en-suite.  We didn't want to spend too much time indoors, there was too much to see, so this suited us just fine. A choice of restaurants and cafes in the area offered everything from Michelin dining to pizza sold by the weight.


    I loved everything about Casale Rosanna, but most especially the vista. 

    Morning sunrises and the mist lifting off the hills. Late afternoon light.  Afternoons fading into the magic hour.

    The hills were so rich in colour and texture.  Such a soft, embracing horizon. When we go sailing the horizon is often so simple, uncluttered.  Here there was such depth and infinite variety.  Looking through the binoculars was like framing works of art.

    One morning I watched an air balloon floating over the hills, approaching slowly and soundlessly from the distance.

    Nights on the patio here were starry, with very little light pollution.  By this time in our trip the moon was disappearing into the sky, becoming new, and then waxing to a sliver.  There must have been meteor showers because we saw several shooting stars.

    The kitchen was great for cooking, the dining table was a generous size, and French doors opened to let in fresh air from the patio, the kitchen, and the bedroom.  

    We even got good use of the pool on a couple of hot afternoons, overlooking the towers of San Gimignano and sipping on limoncello. I remember drifting off to sleep and hearing the clanging mechanical sound of grapes being gathered and tossed into the back of a small truck, realizing I was in the heart of Chianti.  The 2011 vintages will always hold special meaning for me!

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Giardino - Villa Cimbrone

    Returning to Ravello, we were raving about the beautiful gardens we'd explored the day before.  The driver thought we were talking about Villa Cimbrone. What?  There is another Garden of Paradise in this same medieval town?

    Turns out Villa Cimbrone was originally built around the same time as Rufalo (11th century).  Two splendid castles like this must have lent themselves to countless intrigues.

    While Rufalo was returned to it's former splendour by a wealthy Scottish industrialist, Cimbrone was revitalized by an aristocratic Brit.  He must have plundered the countryside for Roman relics, they are all over the grounds.

    Vita Sackville-West was a one-time visitor, although long before she designed her famous White Garden.
    Many famous visitors came to the villa during the Beckett family's ownership. It was a favourite haunt of the Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey. Other visitors included D. H. Lawrence, Vita Sackville-West, Edward James, Diana Mosley, Henry Moore, T. S. Eliot, Jean Piaget, Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The actress Greta Garbo and her then-lover, the conductor Leopold Stokowski, stayed at the villa several times in the late 1930s; (Wikipedia)

    We only had an hour or so here, I could have spent the entire day.  Beckett, the wealthy Brit,  died in London in 1917, asked his remains be placed at the Temple of Bachus, overlooking the sea, with this inscription:

    Oh what is more blest than when the mind,
    Cares dispelled, puts down its burden
    And we return, tired from our travelling, to our home
    To rest on the bed we have longed for?

    Home is where the heart is.

    Giardino - Villa Rufalo

    Ravello was such a beautiful place. 

    I hadn't heard of this gem on the Amalfi Coast until I was leafing through a brochure at our villa in Praiano.  There was a photo of an orchestra with the audience facing a stage that overhung the sea.  What an incredible sight!  I decided I wanted to see a concert in that spectacular setting, but it wasn't to be, the season was over.  But the city had cast its spell.

    The trip to Ravello from Amalfi was like climbing into a green heaven.  Liz and I had hopped on to one of those open air tour buses, and it drove almost vertically up the side of the cliffs, with the Mediterranean in full view off one side, and garden-terraced cliffs on the other. I couldn't help but think how difficult it would have been to build this city, founded so long before a bus ride would have made it an easy climb.  The year 840, in fact.

    Not having heard of Ravello, I hadn't heard of Villa Rufalo either.  What a wonderful surprise...  Because this wasn't a planned destination and it wasn't on the original itinerary,  it felt like I'd discovered new territory.

    The Villa itself was exceptional, with its graceful arches and curves and columns.  Towering palms and umbrella pines and cypress. Green, green, green. 

    Liz and I wandered together and Rob joined us a bit later.  We loved Ravello so much we went back the next day...

    click to enlarge photos

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Grazie Mille

    view from the villa patio
    What a busy two weeks we had. It was fantastic to be able to share it all with Rob and our good friends Liz & Darcy. It feels more like a month, really.  Four nights on the Amalfi Coast, three in Rome, and then seven nights in Tuscany. 

    It is all such a blur right now! Just back today, suitcases still to be put away.

    enjoying a chilled limoncello on a hot sunny afternoon

    Such sights.  Information and sensory overload. 

    The natural vistas are so BIG.  Huge skies, majestic hills, vast Mediterranean sea.

    The time on the Divina Costa seems so long ago.
    Exploring Rome on our own and at our own pace was great fun.  Walking through piazzas and town squares, so many fountains.   Rediscovering the Pantheon. One civilization eclipsing another (Etruscan, Roman, Christian).  Indulging in tours through the Vatican Museum, Sistene Chapel, the Colliseum, Public Forum. Peeking into green courtyards tucked behind the concrete street fronts, exploring the Villa Borghese park.  And over 300 impossible to see everything we wanted to see in Rome in just three days. 

    I absolutely loved the week in Tuscany.  The weather was perfect, with daytime temperatures in the low eighties and evenings just cool enough to toss on a pashmina.  After touring the Chianti hills and exploring towns and villages we drank in the views from the villa patio.  It was off the beaten path, but close enough to head into San Gimignano in the evenings after the tour buses had left for the day. Casale Rosanna was located in one of the most picturesque spots in all of Tuscany, and we enjoyed misty sunrises and starry nights there.

    detail on the Duomo
    A full day in Florence, obviously not enough!  I could have stared at the Baptistery doors or gazed at the Ponte Vecchio for hours.  Although I'd seen photos, I wasn't prepared for the sheer scale of the Duomo, the Bell tower, or the tomb of the Medici.  Big places with such endless detail that could take a lifetime to properly contemplate.  I brought some binoculars and put them to good use to see the detailed carvings and frescoes.  It must have been amazing to see these monuments built and sculpted.  What must it have been like to see Bruneschelli's dome or Michaelangelo's sculpture of Dawn unveiled?

    The Ufizzi Gallery!  The Botticelli room, the Rembrandts, the hundreds of sculptures and religious paintings.....

    We spent a few days just driving through the Chianti hillside.  Plenty of medieval castles and ruins dotting the landscape, and time enough to explore towns like Volterra, Grieve in Chianti, and Casole d'Elsa.

    The wine was fantastic!  Especially memorable was a tasting Rob and I enjoyed together at a Chianti farmhouse cellar (Tentute Giachi), where they served white Vernaccia San Gimignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, two Brunellos, a couple of Super Tuscans, some Vin Santo and balsamic aged for thirty years. All the while the grower giving the back story, "gold medal winner and 93 points from Wine Spectator..." 

    Nice moments, like the one afternoon we went for a drive and packed a picnic of pecorino cheeses, Tuscan salamis, grapes and pickles.

    And simple pleasures enjoyed on the patio.  Watching the olives ripen from green to black over the course of the week; sampling a glass of chilled home-made limoncello on a hot afternoon;  catching shooting stars in a starry night sky.

    Bella, bella.  Grazie mille!