Sunday, September 30, 2012

September garden

Henry makes an appearance
Lots of colour in the yard now, red leaves starting to dot the grass.  Most of the maple is still green, but it's beginning its autumn blush. 

Henry met with disaster this year.  Not just once, but three times, until he was torn right to his roots.  I was truly happy to see the white clematis bloom this week.

Also blooming now:
  • Phlox (going strong since August)
  • Nasturtium and begonias in pots
  • Roses
  • Toad lilies
  • Marigolds
  • Standard Hydrangia
  • Sedum

It was a busy month that started with a garden make-over in the front yard. I planted low-lying evergreens to contrast with the red dragon Japanese maple and planted a standard hydrangea and boxwood under the front window.  In the back garden, I moved the witch hazel from where it was hiding to a more prominent spot to enjoy its coming fall display.  Bulbs on order.


Toad lily

garden make-over

Amaluna - Full September Moon

Cirque du Soleil's latest show, Amaluna,  plays with your perception of the 'art of the possible', as you watch humans defy gravity and take inconceivable shapes.   Creatures with wings, lizard tails, horsetails.  A moon goddess falling from the sky, lovers' descent into the sea, dreamers climbing to the heavens.  It brings back the wonder of childhood.

Ama refers to mother in many languages, and "luna" means moon, so it is fitting I went to see the show with Alex on the cusp of a full moon.

After this amazing show we wandered the streets of Toronto for Nuit Blanche, through familiar spaces transformed.

The Museum at the End of the World was a disturbing exhibit that clashed with the uplifting vision cast by Cirque.  At New City Hall, Alex and I heard a choir sing soothingly about end times, saw the shell-shocked aftermath of explosions, stumbled across a pile of raw red meat.

Penny joined us and as the evening wore on the streets swelled with crowds.  We made our way to different installations where the line-ups required hours of patience, so we skipped the Ryerson opening of the new Image Centre.  Although we were tempted by the glowing boxes in All Night Convenience, that line-up was a two hour wait.  The crowds got so  thick we were barely able to navigate.

Some  enjoyable highlights were lying on a pillow and gazing up at the ceiling in Old City Hall while a soundscape bounced around in the acoustics; and listening to kirtan in the financial district while one monitor displayed heart and respiration rates and another captured the thermal images of the crowd.

The last installation we went to was the kirtan, a gift of calm to end the night.

An enchanted evening.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Shaw Festival

When Rob and I were in Niagara On the Lake at the beginning of the month, we took advantage of the trip to see a couple of plays.  It was late in the season, so we didn't need reservations and were able to get outstanding seats.

We sat in the front row for Hedda Gabler, an Ibsen masterpiece.  The action was so close I could literally have reached over and touched the actors.  There were times I wanted to do just that, in order to shake some sense into the characters... especially the times when Hedda was exploiting their innocence or goodness.  She was a true Machiavellian princess, a schemer and manipulator. Brilliant, bitter, an unrequited spirit.  Sex, love, money, respect... it seemed like she could quickly identify everyone's deep need and then quickly harness it to gain power over them.  A dangerous talent.  The tragedy was an outstanding production and the intimate venue at the  Courthouse made it feel extremely personal.
A few days later we went to see Misalliance, a comedy written by Shaw.  This was a lighthearted  farce.  Lots of romantic/sexual undertones, with subtle and not-so-subtle innuendos.

Despite the different genres and playwrights, there were some similarities between the two productions.  Idle rich, bored people, dysfunctional families, sexual infidelities, powerful women.

Sadly, neither of the productions seemed to be very convinced the quality of goodness had much hope of long-term survival in the human race.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kusmi Tea

Kusmi Tea was founded in Paris more than 140 years ago, but it's new to me.  I picked up a sampler box at the St. Lawrence Market awhile back and now I'm a fan.

Great quality. 

For starters, the beautiful little muslin pouches are a nice touch and handy to reuse. 

There's a great selection in the sampler box of green tea, black tea, and darjeeling.

It feels quite indulgent to steal a few minutes to sit back and enjoy the colour and aromas.  An exotic escape right at my desk.

There's no way to pick a favourite, they're all so unique, and its fun to pick something out to match my mood or the weather:

Anastasia:  Bergamot, lemon and orange blossom
Bouquet of Flowers No. 108:  Bergamot, citris fruits, and flowers
Darjeeling No. 37:  subtle tea from India
Green Darjeeling :  from the Arya garden
Sweet Love:  Black tea, guarana, spices and pink pepper
Prince Vladimir:  Citrus fruits, vanilla and spices
Detox:  Mate, green tea and lemon grass
Kashmir Tchai:  Black tea and spices
St. Petersburg:  Citrus fruits, red fruits and caramel
Be Cool:  Liquorice and peppermint (caffeine free)
Russian Morning No. 24:  Breakfast black tea
Spearmint green tea:  with nanah mint leaves

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Miriam hosted and treated us to a delicious Mexican meal, along with her amazing margaritas (made extra lim-o-licious by including the skin of the lime when tossed into the blender).

Her pick.  So this month, the Book Babes read and discussed Complications, A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, by Atul Gawande.  A suitable choice for a physician.

It did make me question the fallibility of the current system, and I guess that's a good thing.

The chapter, When Good Doctors Go Bad reminded me about some of the doctors I've had and made me wonder why I didn't report them to medical authorities.  Like the time  Alex' eardrum was punctured in the doctor's office when he was just 3 or 4 years old by his pediatrician (the doctor was 82 and should have stopped practicing, but we learned the hard way).

Complications was a fascinating read.  Somehow, I thought doctors knew more about what they were doing, that it was more of a perfect than imperfect science, that there were predictable outcomes and a low margin of error.  Actually, it's more of a predictable margin of error:
According to a Harvard Medical Practice Study - a review of more than thirty thousand hospital admissions in New York State, found that nearly 4% of hospital patients suffered complications from treatment which either prolonged their hospital stay or resulted in disability or death.
The author is bringing important facts to light to help change attitudes and improve approaches to address medical complications few like to talk about. I wasn't the only one who found the book discomfiting. However,  the two doctors in our group countered with their point of view that the book was hopeful and the situations described fairly commonplace.

Not at all clinical.  Easy to read.  Eye-opening.
No one writes about medicine as a human subject as well as Atul Gawande.  His stories are scary, funny, absorbing, and always touched with both a tender conscientiousness and an alert, hyper-intelligent skepticism.  He captures, as no one else has, the doubleness of doctoring:  what it feels like to see other people as fascinating, intricate, easily breakable machines and, at the same time, as mirror images of one's own self.  Complications is a uniquely soulful book about the science of mending bodies.
- Adam Gopni, author of Paris to the Moon

Fifty Shades

The BPYC Book Club choice this month was the cultural phenomenon/best seller Fifty Shades of Grey.  I read all three volumes over the summer.

There were mixed reactions in the book club.  One person didn't even show up she was so disgusted with the choice.  Some found the novel sexy, others found it quite boring.

It is puzzling me that such a poorly executed premise could become a runaway bestseller.  The author must be a millionaire, with the number of copies  outselling Harry Potter.

There are some great spoofs of audiobooks out there, by Gilbert Gottfried  and Ellen Degeneres to name a few.

There is no shortage of great erotica, but this doesn't qualify.  It is a formulaic romance with a materialistic bent for big mansions, urban condos, cars, boats, helicopters, jets and designer clothes.  Sadly unsatisfying, not particularly well written, repetitive sex scenes and a bizarre happily-ever-after ending that brings two children into this dysfunctional relationship.

Still, I finished not just one, but three.  It was the mental equivalent of bingeing on a box of Twinkies. At least now I know what all the fuss is about.   It doesn't reflect well on modern times.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Another year older, and I'm shocked about how quickly time is passing.

This year, I celebrated my birth day with Rob, crossing the lake and then enjoying a quiet supper at the club with Alex and Penny. Really, the whole week has been a gift,  renovating the front garden, spending a week's vacation on the boat, visiting wineries, going to plays.

I feel a bit like I need to make a resolution or two, with the turning of a New Year.  A good start would be to revisit the great advice I was given last year at this time.

My horoscope promises this year will be the opportunity for some kind of turning point.  We'll see what lies ahead.

illustration credit

Aging well

September is one of my favourite months.  It is my birthday!  And harvest.  Such a great time of year.  A perfect time to tour vineyards and contemplate the art of aging well.

During our stay at Niagara on the Lake, we happily toured  five different wineries:  Peller, Inniskillen, Strewn, Riversview, and Rief.

Peller was where Rob and I enjoyed the Estate Tasting, right in the vineyard, sampling the grapes and tasting the wine as it was poured into the glass:  merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and meritage.

Only the two of us had signed up, so we had the undivided attention of our guide as he escorted us through the fruit ripening and terraced in the field.

The gardener in me appreciated how the roses stood sentry to indicate the presence of aphids on the vine, how inconspicuous the grape blossoms were, how rocks had been tumbled under vines to prolong the heat of a summer's day, how the number of pips in a fruit or the shape of a leaf could be used to identify one grape against another; how bunches were culled to intensify flavours.

Merlot was surprisingly thick-skinned and the cab franc even more so.

blossom on cab sauv grapes
An earnest young man gave the tour, a second generation vintner going to sommelier school; obviously knowledgeable about green details, like the pheromone strips dangling on the wires.  In his early twenties, he was learning the serious business and exact science of wine.  Thankfully, he was also generous with his pours and divulged that one of the wineries in Niagara has recently attempted an amarone, with some small success.

It would be fun to go on a poetry of wine tour, though, and have a passionate soul quote great literature, verse and mystical qualities of wine.  Maybe I could start assembling passages?

I loved the cool cellars, and seeing the hundreds of casks laid to age so respectably in their French or American oak.  Imagining the barrels being coopered, turned, and toasted to release their flavours.

I tasted one of the nicest glasses of the tour in Rief's sensory garden.  The space was been planted in collaboration with Richter's herbs to showcase the distinct colours and aromas of different wines.  Talk about the perfect setting to savour a glass of first growth pinot noir before hopping back on our bikes to continue our tour...

Rob and I picked up several bottles of ice wine along the way.  I admit I am a bit dubious about Ontario reds, but ended up buying a few bottles of award winning Cab Sauv from Peller.  It tasted of sun, of standing in a field on a late summer's day, and of course, of aging well.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Niagara On the Lake

I was dreading being stuck 'on the Wall',
but it was a great view.   
Just back from a four day foray to Niagara on the Lake. I was wondering why I've never been, given its vineyards, gardens, restaurants and theaters. We usually sail East, and this is definitely the furthest West I've been via the boat. To be frank, I was expecting rough water, lots of crowds competing for slips and boats rafted four deep on the dock at Niagara on the Lake Sailing Club.   Instead, it was pretty calm - nothing like two weeks ago when Rob went with friends and returned to the boat to find one of the fenders exploded into tiny bits, with dishes strewn along the floor of the inside cabin.  We laced our lines with some snubbers, so maybe that helped to cut back on the bouncing. Finding a slip on a finger dock was no problem, but then again, it was after Labour Day.

We drove our bikes every day, rain or shine, to admire the scenery.  There was lots to see, with historical forts, gorgeous front yard gardens, and the charming Old Towne all within a relatively short pedal.  No shortage of shops and galleries if you are looking for places to spend money.

And of course, what is a trip to Niagara on the Lake without visits to wineries and taking in a few plays?  I have plans to blog in more detail on these subjects so I won't say much more, except that I can't believe I put off visiting Niagara on the Lake for so many years!

warm enough to grow Monkey Trees at Niagara on the Lake!
Eating Out?

We ate at four different restaurants over our four day stay.  

The absolute worst meal was breakfast at Stage Coach Family Restaurant: mushy sausage, over-cooked egg, underdone hash browns and to add insult to injury, the service was poor and the meal was over-priced. My experience is the exact opposite of most of the entries on Trip Advisor, so maybe it was the cook's day off and they hiked the menu prices as a prank.  

Yummiest lunch out was the ice wine pulled pork at Peller Estates, credited to chef Jason Parsons of City Line fame.  Here, they serve a seven course meal paired with the winery's vintages. I was tempted by the Chef's Table, but you need to book ahead, so maybe another time.  

Best breakfast and dinner that we tried, hands down, were served at North America's oldest Golf Course:  a stunning view, great food, and friendly service. At dinner I had the tasty Prix Fixe, 3 course meal for $35.  I thought it was a nice touch that the plates with a bunch of locally grown, in season Coronation grapes.