Friday, November 30, 2012

Sadhana - V

After a weekend yoga intensive, I signed up for Sadhana with the intent to take my practice to a deeper level, to get a better understanding of pranayama, and to hopefully get a few insights into how I could be a better person.

30 days later I can say I met the first two goals. Now I question the notion of 'a better person'.... that's a 'B' person, an 'A' person.  I think I have modified this notion to 'best self'.  I'll leave the judging to someone else.

Although I still have a long way to go with shoulder stand and revolved triangle, there is no question my poses have improved.  I feel closer to inhabiting them. Marlene is an amazing teacher, very observant and deeply talented.  Her adjustments to what I was doing were incredible.  It meant a lot to me when she remarked that the difference in one of my poses was like night and day.  That's as close to a compliment that you'll get, because she sees complimenting students to be a bit self-congratulatory (not really saying the student is good but rather that your teaching is good).  But Marlene is totally remarkable. We are lucky to have a teacher at her level here in Toronto.

Every morning we started the classes with an Invocation to Patanjali, which ended with the phrase "lift your hearts, bow your head, salute the Lord within."  I confess, I spend a lot of time in my 'head', my ego in charge. I took this as a daily reminder not to worry so much about the ego, not to think so much. Just 'be'.  Not attach to the outcome, which you can't control but can only influence.  To stop seeking outward, and instead, look inward.

The Invocation is humbling, but still, I think it would be fun to start or end a yoga class with this song by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee someday.

God and man played hide-and-go-seek. 
God told man, "Now man, don't you peek." 
man counted to ten, and then looked around, 
But God was nowhere, nowhere to be found. 

Man looked on the mountain. He looked across the sea. 
He looked in the stars, in the skies, in the trees. 
He looked in the wind, in the sun, on the ground, 
But God was nowhere, nowhere to be found. 

So man made an image and he gave it a name, 
But this man-made god brought nothing but pain. 
Man started shouting "God! Where can you be?" 
"I'm right here man, inside of thee." 

Oh, man was so shocked, he was really surprised. 
'Cuz he looked everywhere, but right there inside. 
Now when man found God, man found love, 
And man found out what we all are made of. 

God is in you and God is in me. 
To love all of God is to love humanity. 
God is in you and God is in me. 
To love all of God is to love humanity. "

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reflecting - Full November Moon

Sunday I was wondering about yin and yang and a google image search offered up the sun, the moon, and the stars.  How powerful and magical is that?  The sun and the moon are always there, it is just we usually only see one at a time.  They shift shapes, eclipse one another, bring light into darkness and darkness into light.

The moon is officially full November 28 at 9:46 a.m.
November moon is also known as:  Beaver Moon, Frosty Moon, Snow Moon.

Yin Yang Sun Moon

Yin Yang Sun Moon

Yin Yang


As I lay awake in the white moon light,
I heard a faint singing in the wood,
'Out of bed,
Put your white foot now,
Here are we,
Neath the tree
Singing round the root now!'

 I looked out of window, in the white moon light,
The trees were like snow in the wood--
'Come away,
Child, and play
Light with the gnomies;
In a mound,
Green and round,
That's where their home is.
Honey sweet,
Curds to eat,
Cream and frumenty,
Shells and beads,
Poppy seeds,
You shall have plenty.'

 But soon as I stooped in the dim moon light
To put on my stocking and my shoes,
The sweet sweet singing died sadly away,
And the light of the morning peeped through:
Then instead of the gnomies there came a red robin
To sing of the buttercups and dew.

- Walter de la Mare 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life Is About Losing Everything

The selection this month was Nicolette's:  Life Is About Losing Everything, by Lynn Crosbie.

This was the second month in a row where Liz and Nicolette were in agreement about a book.  A rare occurrence, even after 6+ years.  They had little positive to say.  Most of the readers around the table found it to be self indulgent, wandering, in dire need of editing, totally forgettable.

Two of us, myself included, found the book to be lyrical and poetic.

Reviews from across the country are equally diverse.  Canadian Lit is a small enough community that many were guessing at who's who in the parade of thinly disguised characters.

The stories are true, but lovesick and slanted.  
(from Scenes D'un Reve Casanier, Life is About Losing Everything).

I wondered if some of this was true or just metaphor for bad relationships (S & M, heavy drugs, sex with a robot and with a tiny boy toy).  Some of it was funny, some morbid.  The psyche here is in recovery.

If you come to this expecting a linear story or conventional form, then it will be sure to disappoint.  It's meandering, frustrating, takes unexpected turns.  Like a surreal dream.  It is a bit like a Jackson Pollock in that it is visceral, experiential, dark.

This is something I can see returning to, to read in small bursts, like a book of poetry.  Out of sequence, wherever it falls open.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sadhana IV

Thursday was a backbend class, and usually I feel lighthearted afterward.  I did this time as well, but it was very short-lived.  By 10 a.m. I felt very heavy-hearted and it lasted the rest of the day.  My arms and legs felt like they weighed a tonne.

Friday was a restorative class and much needed.  The rest of the day and evening I felt great equanimity.  Even after getting yelled at, at work, and then suffering a particularly bad commute on the way home.

Saturday, the practice was very intense.  Strong inversions (headstand 2, handstand, arm balance).  By the time we got to shoulderstand I was exhausted. So tired, in fact, that on the drive home I was almost falling asleep at red lights.  At 8 a.m., I crawled back into bed for a 'nap' that lasted 2 hours.

Today was pranayama.  I feel rejuvenated, centred, aware.  Why can't I feel like this always?  Why is this sense of well-being not at my beck and call?  Is there a way to make it so?

For now, I will savour it as it comes.

Morning Snow

Yesterday, Caro said it was a winter wonderland north of 7, and my mom left a message for me saying her backyard in Kitchener was under a blanket of snow.  This morning, a light dusting in the garden brings the colours and textures to new dimensions.  After all these years, I notice the geraniums are actually blushing an autumn pink.

A haiku in photo captions:

Light frosting of snow

Dusted sedums, wooly thyme

Pink geraniums 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kitchen Reno - Day 5

Monday morning when I left at 5:30 a.m. for my yoga class, I thought I better take a snapshot of the kitchen all cleaned up for demolition.
Day 2
It served us well for many years.  It was kind of funny, walking out and knowing things would be drastically different when I got back.  Probably similar to watching a favourite old car putter off to the scrap heap.  Twenty years together, well-used, and looking forward to saying goodbye.  On some level I think I actually felt guilty.

Okay, so this is elemental:  things must be destroyed for something entirely new to take its place, for building and renewal to begin.

The first night, when we got home, the cupboards were stripped bare.  Surprising how much progress was made in a day.

Day 3
By Day 2, the old floor was uprooted and new entrance roughed in.  Day 3, some of the new electrical had been done and the old plumbing taken out.  Day 4 - new cabinets!

Day 4
It was a shock to see the new cupboards in place, had not been expecting to see them mounted so quickly.  I really liked the look of them except for the fact there seemed to be gaps and problems with alignment.  How hard would it be to fix?  Was this the way it was going to look?

Momentary panic set in.  Turns out the spacing needed to be adjusted.  There was one error that would involve replacing three panels due to misalignment.  I was happy not to have to fight over it, the contractor was in complete agreement.  By end of Day 5, the offending panels were replaced.

Bob J. is the contractor and doing amazing work. We started planning back in March, it just took awhile to lay the groundwork (remove radiators, replace sliding doors etc.).

Watching as these long laid plans take shape is exciting, but also a bit unnerving.  Seeing something in your mind's eye vs. reality..... I can't help but hope for a reasonable match. Definitely looking forward to having a little pantry and extra drawers!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November garden

Most of the leaves in the ravine have fallen, but there are still darts of gold spiraling to the ground in gusts of wind.

The toad lilies lasted until the second week of November, and a solitary white clematis reaching for the fence November 18.

Autumn colours burst - deep reds on the Dragon and Barberry - gold in the hostas.  

Henry  -  November 2

Red Dragon - November 17

Barberry - November 17

hostas with golden chimes - November 18

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Toronto Botanical Gardens

The Toronto Botanical Gardens are so beautiful this time of year.  

Yesterday morning I stopped by and early morning frost was working its magic... too bad I didn't have my camera.  The cottoneasters looked like stained glass, each tiny red leaf outlined with white ice, the red berries inflamed.  

This morning I brought my camera, but the light and frost weren't quite the same.  It was more muted this morning and a bit warmer, so the frost wasn't as pronounced, which brought different beautiful colours, textures and shapes to the eye. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Matching food to wine

There are different schools of thought to matching food to wine.  A common approach is to rely on regions (serve Italian wine with Italian food); or mirroring (white wine with fish or red wine with red meat).  The idea behind progressive wine pairing is to match based on taste profiles.  

There are only 5 tastes:  sour, sweet, bitter, salty, umami.

Match the wine to the TASTE, not to the flavour, of the food.Take a sip of wine.  Take a bite out of an apple.  The wine does not change the taste of the fruit.  Now... take a sip of wine after tasting the apple.  The apple totally changes the taste of the wine (and not for the better).

Rob and I went to a tasting led by chef Jerry Comfort at the Food and Wine Show tonight and experienced how food changes how wine tastes.

Take a sip of wine.  Lick a lemon.  The wine does not change the taste of the fruit.  Now... take a sip of wine after licking the lemon.  Totally different taste (and likely for the better).

- Sweet food is not wine friendly.
- Sour food softens wine.

Have a slice of red meat, take a bite.... but don't salt the meat.  Sip a 'big' red.  Meh. Then salt the red meat.  Then squeeze a bit of lemon on it. Then taste the big red.  Wow. Huge difference.  It is not that red meat goes with a big red so much as it goes with salt and sour.

Lemon juice takes the edge off pepper.
A slice of apple with a taste of salt and squeeze of lemon is delicious

We really do all have different tastes.   Up to 20% of the population actually has little or no ability to taste bitterness.  The taste buds are different on people's tongues, it is not just subjective but a physiological response that contributes to preference.   

The biochemistry of food is like a magic trick to me.  It's incredible to observe these things, the cause and effect.  I am grasping the what but the why and the how are quite mystifying.

This approach places off-dry or light whites in the same category as low tannin reds... equally suitable to pair with sweet, spicy, and umami tastes.  Often recommended is Gewurtraminer as a match for something spicy like Szechuan or Indian, but using this to guide selection you could just as well enjoy White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc,  Beaujolais Nouveau or Pinot Noir. 

Salt lowers our perception of bitterness and acidity, which is why balanced foods with salt seasoning pair well with most wines.

All wine categories pair well with balanced food.

There's that salt and sour combo.  If the seasoning of the food is balanced, it won't alter the taste of the wine.  

However, if the food is acid/bitter/umami (protein based), pair it with a crisp and fruity wine.  Asparagus, sushi, smoked fish, and astringent salad greens all go well with crisp light wines (pinot grigio, unoaked chardonnay, pinot noir, chianti, merlot).

For desserts, make sure to serve a wine that is sweeter than the offering, that way the wine's acidity won't be pronounced.

Tasting is believing!  Experiencing the affects on the palate speaks loudly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sadhana III - Happy Diwali!

I'm happy this festival coincides with the fact that I'm half-way through the 30-day sadhana.  At YCT they are putting out little ginger snaps and serving them with delicious tea.

Diwali celebrates light conquering darkness; enlightenment over ignorance; the triumph of good over evil.

While the story behind Diwali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman). While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning is "the awareness of the inner light". Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali as the "victory of good over evil", refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Couldn't resist the label.  This was a 'staff pick' at the LCBO checkout.

Wine Spectator gave this DOC Portugal wine a score of 90 points.   From the Duoro Valley, "the world's oldest demareated region".  Sounds impressive until you realize the year was just 1756, only about 260 years ago.  There are much older wineries and regions, they just weren't classified as such.

I managed to whack my way through a long list of 'to dos' today.  Started with a 6 a.m. yoga class, got my 'Smart Serve' online (4 hours), printed and prepped for the BPYC AGM tomorrow, made the final choice for the kitchen reno countertop, picked the sink and faucets, picked up the book for next week's book club.

Veedha means life.

And life is good.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sadhana II

11 days into the 30 day sadhana.  I like the notation for 11.  Two straight, strong parallel lines.  The same upside down, the same backwards and forwards.

We did arm balances yesterday and again this morning, my arms becoming an 11.

Strong inversions are something I don't work into my regular home practice because it seems too demanding first thing in the morning.  Fun, though, and mood elevating.  Very rejuvenating.

Eleven days in, I am feeling stiffness in new areas, and hopeful this is because parts of me are waking up and not because I'm doing things incorrectly.  Definitely gaining new awareness, and starting to access my 'difficult' areas, especially upper back and right shoulder.

When you come into the studio, there is a sheet for you to place a mark beside your name to indicate attendance.  That simple action is taking on significance for me as evidence of time passing.  A simple scratch on a page representing 90 minutes of instruction.  A wavy 4 inch horizontal line.  Today I put a little happy face in there instead of a check or an X.  I think tomorrow I'll draw a little flower or a stick man or a circle.

On the first day I thought about completing the full sadhana as an accomplishment, as the end goal.  Now I am feeling ambivalent about the passing of the thirty days.  As much as I am looking forward to sleeping in, I don't want to rush through to the finish line.  It really is about making the most of each day as it comes.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

... Unplugged

Came home to make dinner tonight and the stove was gone.... the new appliances have been delivered but the oven/cooktop won't be functional for about a month. The stove is in the dining room, unplugged.

The fridge was delivered, too, but the door opens to the wrong side, despite our specific request.  An irritant, for sure, as we've been asked to deal with the manufacturer to correct the problem.  Also inconvenient was the request to pay by certified check or money order, instead of by credit card.  Odd in this day and age I think (plus I could use the air miles!). Tasco said it was the deal we'd negotiated, a 'cash price' with a slim margin.  Hmmm, hope they're not going out of business or something.

While I wait for the kitchen's future state I'll put the owner's manuals for the new appliances on my bedside table.

I estimate it will be about a month of dinnertime improv.  Hopefully the reno will be complete for the holidays.  In the meantime I'm secretly looking forward to the disruption in routine for a couple of weeks.

The hot plate from the boat has been installed in the transition-kitchen. I will reframe the ensuing chaos by thinking of it as an opportunity to bring the same sort of sailing-ease into the upside-down-ness of this current state.  Mealtime menus of stir fries, omelettes,  the occasional barbecue, pancakes, soups and subs, cheese plates, going down to the club to use the oven.  Who knows, maybe friends that take pity on us and invite us for a civilized meal.  It's also an opportunity to check out some local restaurants.  

I will think of this as a culinary challenge. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

November garden chores

Most of the maple's leaves in the back have blown away, but there is still some foliage waiting to turn colour, including the smoke bush and hostas by the pond.

This afternoon it was cool enough for gloves, but warm enough to go without a heavy coat.  Nice sunshine.  Lovely day to garden.

I dug up my orchid lilies, emptied some pots with annuals, and planted bulbs:  
  • Blueberry cream tulips to welcome Henry in the back garden,
  • Giant daffodils under the study window (20 or so)
  • 'Forever spring tulip collection' under the living room window, with blooms from early to late spring (someone had fun naming these, "Life's a Caberet, 'All that Jazz', 'Hot Honey', 'Light and Dreamy') 
  • Evergreen garden got a nice variety, with crocus, bluebells, windflowers, and angelique tulips)
I was working in the front yard planting bulbs when 'my' Jehovah's drove up to the house.  I'm not sure they see anyone else so regularly on the street. It's been 2 or 3 years that they've made a point of stopping by for a personal visit.  I admire their persistence. I keep meaning to ask the one if she has thought about a career in sales, she would be absolutely fantastic.  Today we talked about gardening, the US election, and life everlasting. Last Sunday I met some very persistent Hare Krishnas.  I couldn't help but wonder if these two groups would get along, if they could agree to disagree, or if they would find some common ground.

orange monarch snow crocus
very early spring flower
Grecian windflower
early to mid spring flower
mid to late spring

English bluebells
late spring

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sadhana I

30 days at the yoga centre, sharing a practice that begins at 6 a.m. and finishes at 7:30.   Usually I aim for 20 minutes of meditation, 20 minutes of asana each morning.  This is a 45 hour class, spread over 30 days. It began October 31st, so I am now four days in.
There is great difference between just practising and sadhana.  Sadhana is a way of accomplishing something... a journey that leads somewhere, not the mere treadmill of thoughtless practice...   Light on Life (p. 167)
My goal is to improve my daily practise and take it to a new level.  To bring greater awareness to the poses, and to deepen my breath meditation. Also to boost resiliency, both physical and mental.  Who knows?  Along the way I may get some insights on how to be a better person.

It is a great follow-up to the weekend intensive with Zubin.  During that workshop Marlene strongly suggested I should take some classes with her, that I needed stronger guidance at my level and would benefit from an advanced level of teaching.

This sadhana is the perfect opportunity to learn from one of the best.  Marlene has studied with BKS for decades, traveling to India multiple times to refine insights.

I actually studied with her back in the 80's, but she scared me away. Lots of yelling!  Still, she left an indelible impression.  In the 90s, I again sought teaching in the Iyengar method.  This new teacher yelled a lot, too.  At this point I nicknamed Iyengar Yoga "Angry Yoga," but kept going to classes.

I've come to understand the teachers were emulating BKS, who took a severe approach, in part due to cultural reasons (apparently they yell a lot in India).   I've also heard it was part of a defense mechanism, to discourage female students from seeking more intimate forms of comfort from the exotic and physically dynamic guru.

Anyway tomorrow morning is Day 5.  Clocks turn back tonight, so a whole extra hour of sleep.

I have noticed that the rest of the day after these sessions, I am generally more aware.  Senses heightened.  Less attached to outcome, more focused on the present moment. Less self-centered.

What is happening here that isn't happening in my home practice?  For starters, Marlene often notices and corrects postures  I would be quite content with at home.  She pushes me much harder than I push myself.  But it is also the corrections... just when I think I've achieved a modicum of alignment, an adjustment comes.  Sometimes subtle, sometimes quite significant.  It humbles the ego to a great extent.

Pranayama illustration

Friday, November 2, 2012

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Enjoying a spectacular glass of chianti classico reserva from Barone Ricasoli.  Nice label, don't you think?

Since last weekend was the yoga conference, I abstained from drinking alcohol.  In fact, it's been nine days since I've tasted wine, so this glass is especially delicious.  Sometimes doing without enhances your appreciation for things.  It's almost worth the abstinance.

Great colour in the glass, the swirl is producing great legs.  Smoky note to the bouquet.  Nicely balanced on the tongue.  Long finish.

I want to go back to Tuscany!!!!

This Passionate Foodie visited the winery in July.  Turns out it is the second oldest in the world, founded in 1141.  Some things just improve with age.
The most famous member of this family was Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809 – 1880), also known as the "Iron Baron." In 1861, Bettino became the Prime Minister of the newly formed Italy. Though known as an adept politician, it was his intense research and study of wine that gave him renown. He created the basic formula for the Chianti blend, 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo (to smooth the tannins) and 15% Malvasia bianca (to make it more drinkable when fresh). This basic formula, with some slight revision, was eventually codified into law in 1966. Thus the name Ricasoli is rich with history and reputation, setting a high precedent for future generations. That is a precedent that the current Baron of Brolio intends to live up to and make proud.