Sunday, March 31, 2013

Grand Canyon

It is Easter morning and I'm thinking nothing matters, and everything matters.  Two nights inside Grand Canyon National Park had me questioning the nature of time, permanence and impermanence. The big canyon and big sky, brought a feeling of timelessness.

The scale of the canyon was beyond my imagining. The sheer size is even hard to put into perspective when you are standing at the edge of the abyss, looking across or down. It is so easy to lose track of scale until you notice some tiny dots moving along and realize it is an entire group of hikers making their way along a trail. We are so small in this vast space.

The earth itself is thought to be 18-20 Billion years old. Grand Canyon is 'only' about 6 million years old, but reveals more than1860 million years of geological history. Numbers like these are beyond my comprehension.

Our lifetimes and the moments we have are so very fleeting. 

photos to come....

Our time in the canyon was brief but totally incredible. Two sunsets, two sunrises, one amazing helicopter ride.

When we arrived at the Thunderbird Lodge we were able to trade up to a room with a canyon view.

We also lucked out with spotting the first condors of the season. The park ranger was giving a talk about how the species was being re-introduced, and the kids in the circle began pointing up into the sky. Sure enough, our binoculars revealed the telltale white triangle. The soaring birds were majestic.

Sunset and sunrise were incredible, the changing light working magic on the canyon walls, sculpting new points of view.

We splurged on a helicopter ride. The take-off released about a thousand butterflies in the pit of my stomach. We hovered over the ground and then flew toward the South Rim. The earth suddenly drops away and you are enveloped by canyon walls. Miles and miles and miles, as far as the eye could see, of incredible vistas. Big sky.   

Although my knees were still aching from over extending myself in Las Vegas, we still took a short hike down Bright Angel Trail when we arrived. The next day we also hiked the Rim Trail, hopping on and off the shuttle buses and taking in the different views, ending with sunset at Mohave Point. This time out we used the hiking sticks we'd packed for the trip. They took a bit of getting used to but really helped absorb some of the shock at the knees, and as a result we were both able to travel further and with greater ease.

I was introduced to the architecture of Mary Colter and was impressed with her sensibilities. A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, she sought to blend buildings with landscape and to honour and respect the native tribes.

The night sky is so impressive, so many stars!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Full Vegas Moon - March

The moon has some competition here on the Vegas Strip. Rob and I stayed at New York, New York, heard people shriek as the hotel roller coaster sped past. Our room overlooked the Excalibur, MGM Grand, the New York New York sign and the Luxor pyramid. Very sparkly indeed!

One of my favourite moments today was when we happened by an unscheduled  'maintenance run' of the Bellagio fountains dancing  to "Fly Me to the Moon." Serendipity.

Las Vegas is where we are beginning our holday. We landed late Wednesday and spent Thursday walking the strip. Traveled to Venice, Paris, Ancient Rome and Medieval Times to name just a few.  Must have walked close to eight miles!

We ate an amazing dinner at the Eiffel Tower. We both indulged in souffle - I had a blue cheese souffle with toasted walnuts as an appetizer and Rob had one with Grand Marnier for dessert. My Muscovy duck was perfectly prepared. A very rich meal. We were seated with a perfect view of the Bellagio Fountains, and after dinner walked over to watch the water show choreographed to a few more tunes.

Full Worm Moon – March As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. To the settlers, it was also known as the Lenten Moon, and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter. Farmers Almanac

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Trying out my new camera - it is just a point and shoot, but has a feature I didn't have last time of rapid shutter for quick motion. Griskit got curious.... When I was downloading these the animated effect was hilarious!

Bandha Yoga

Ray Long studied with BKS Iyengar before he became an orthopedic surgeon, and I learned a lot from him in the workshop today: Fundamentals, Standing Poses, Forward Bends and Hip Openers and Vinyasa Flow.

While he talked, 3D illustrated models were projected on the screen that showed the skeleton, ligaments, and muscles in various poses.

The combination of hatha yoga and Western science revealed some new techniques. By using  Facilitated Stretching and
Reciprocal Inhibition  I was able to fully grasp my fingers in Gomukhasana on the right-hand side (something I've been able to do on the left, but not the right,  for the last 5 years). 

The concept of 'interval learning' was useful, for mastering asana but also as a general approach to life. Try something new, then rest between, and while you are resting the subconscious goes to work to help improve the next attempt.

It's not necessary, and not even desirable, to push yourself to the max when you are starting something. Gentle, persistent effort goes a long way.

Ease in and out of poses. 

  1. Define the position of joints in the pose.
  2. Identify the prime mover muscles that act on the joints to create the pose. Contract the muscles to align and stabilize the skeleton.
  3. Identify the antagonist musecles of the prime movers. Stretch those muscles to create flexibility.
  4. Expand the chest.
  5. Create a bandha.

Seeing the skeleton/muscles/ligaments in the 3D illustrations as we were in some of the postures was mind-bending. It's a new way of looking at settling into poses, with some useful cues to help go deeper. To identify the prime mover/antagonist muscles, you need to know some anatomy.

Some other useful instructions for poses I noted:
  • sit in simple cross legged pose with hands on knees and gently pull to expand chest
  • to help expand chest, imagine pressing each side of your trunk against a door frame
  • down dog: start knees bending, shoulders externally rotating; engage triceps and quadraceps; then straighten knees and elbows
  • in Gomukhasana, use knuckles to press between shoulders and into back; try using belt to pull up but also pull down; hold the pose where you can and then go a bit more deeply
  • getting up out of trikonasana, bend knee to be kind to both knees and back
  • for ardha chandrasana, going in do a half-triangle, step back leg; with bent knee rise up into position; then straighten leg 

Friday, March 22, 2013

May I Be Happy

Took the day off to spend it with Cyndi Lee at the Yoga Conference. I've gotten much out of previous sessions, like Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, Secrets of the Vinyasa Revealed, and shared insights like It All Begins with An Exhale.

May I Be Happy was the title of the 5 hour session, and I was there to explore a type of mindfulness meditation called maitri self-practice.
The practice of maitri is simple. You repeat these four lines:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you live with ease.
Each time you recite the sequemce of lines, you visualize a different category of sentient being.
Those you love.
Those you don't love.
Those you have never met.
These three categories cover the entire spectrum of how we relate to other beings:  attachment, aversion, and ignorance. Practicing maitri helps to soften the boundaries of these categories. It opens our hearts and reminds us of our commonality with everyone. When we really see, in our mind's eye, a person we think we don't like, and instead of solidifying our reasons for hatred we honestly wish them happiness, good health, safety, and an easeful life, we start to forget what we thought we hated and why we felt that way in the first place.
~ Cyndi Lee
I thought we'd be working through through the maitri meditation and its categories of sentient beings, but instead it was maitri for our own selves. To wish and welcome these blessings on your own soul and to turn lovingkindness inward.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be safe.
May I live with ease.
I continue my daily morning meditation and yoga practice, and I admit my monkey mind seems more monkey than ever. So I was looking for insight into how to still the constant chatter. I think the most profound and simple technique of the day was to "recognize the gap."

We spent a little time talking about the Yoga Sutras. The first word is atha, which means now.  Now is yoga, yoga is now.

The second sutra, Yogash chitta vritta nirodaha has been translated many different ways and interpreted differently by thousands. Cyndi translated it this way: chitta (mind/heart) vritta (twist/turn) nirodaha (gap)... to rest in the present moment. When she was explaining this she talked about how between the mind-babble, there is a gap, and you need to train yourself to focus on that pause. It made so much sense to me, and it seemed so simple I wondered how I hadn't thought of this before.

I crossed paths with my friend Ana there, and we talked afterward about the one thing that really stood out for us. Mine was "to recognize the gap" when meditating. Ana mentioned for her, it was the idea to apply the mantras interspersed throughout the day. And I thought, yes, this is something I will definitely try to "take off the mat" as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Half Blood Blues

Just came home from a Book Babes evening discussing Half-Blood Blues (Nicki's pick).

I've read the novel twice before, and each time pull something new.

I would have predicted this Giller prize winner would have been an all round favourite tonight, and was surprised when several people charged that the dialog was so appalling that it detracted from the story. Or that, although the plot was driven by music there weren't many descriptions about the music itself.  But then, there were mixed reviews at the BPYC book club when I chose this as my selection.

Very interesting perspectives, given the praise and critical acclaim granted for the opposite points of view. If anything, on nights like these with such divergent opinions I realize that writing and storytelling are so subjective, any author chasing unanimous acclaim would need to be delusional at best.  I guess that is why so many authors stop reading reviews.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

100 Year Old Man

Allan Karlsson is the 100 year old man who escapes from an old age home the day they are about to celebrate his birthday. He embarks on a new adventure that involves an elephant, gansters, a suitcase full of money and a bible misprinted with a new subversive ending, "and they all lived happily ever after."  Which Allan and his new group of friends most certainly do.

The modern day adventure is interspersed with highlights of Allan's well-lived and influential life. He's changed the course of history by giving Oppenheimer the secret to nuclear fusion while serving coffee. Indiscriminate, he's also helped Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Chian Kai-shek. Gotten drunk with Truman. Given tips to Nixon. Apolitical, he truly couldn't care less about ideology, for him it is more about chasing after a good glass (or two) of strong vodka.

Jonas has dedicated the book to his grandfather:
No one was better at captivating an audience than Grandpa, when he sat on his favorite bench telling stories, leanin on his walking stick and chewing tobacco.

"But Grandpa... Is that really true? we granchildren would ask, wide-eyed.

"Those who only says what is the truth, they're not worth listening to," Grandpa replied.

This book is dedicated to him.

You don't have to be a history buff to appreciate this quirky take on the improbable events in The 100 Year Old Mam Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. But it is fun to think that one person could wreak such havoc in just one hundred years.

The English rights were among the last sold, so North America has been lagging behind with this international hit. First published in Jonasson's native Sweden, the novel has gone on to win acclaim across Europe.

Shortly after I started reading it, I walked onto the bus, and there was someone else with their nose buried behind the bright orange cover. She was only ten pages in but already loving it, based on a recommendation of her friend.

Thanks to Annika for picking such a fun choice for the BPYC Book Club.  In honour of the book she shared some Swedish snacks and libations, including Absolut Vodka Recorderlig (Swedish elderflower and pear cider),  Xante (Swedish pear liqueur), Mackmyra (Swedish whisky),  and Flaggpunsch (Swedish liqueur traditionally enjoyed with pea soup).

We also had a mini-birthday cake.  In honour of Allan Karlsson's birthday, of course!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monument Valley

My research for our upcoming road trip in the Southwest continues. There's so much to see, and I know we won't be able to take it all in, but I definitely want to get up to Utah for a first-hand look at Monument Valley.

It already looks familiar to me because it's been featured in so many films, including Stagecoach, Easy Rider, and Forest Gump. There's even a look out point named after Director John Ford, famed for his many Westerns.

We've booked  The View, right in the Park, and I'm hoping for a clear night's vista like the one captured here.

Mars and Orion over Monument Valley

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Canada Blooms 2013

The feature gardens were outstanding this year, and I made the modest investment to beat the crowds with a guided, early morning tour. Unfortuately I had no camera, so I jotted down points of inspiration instead.

Tangerine geum
Elements of play... In the Canadian Wildlife Federation Natural Playground built by Bienenstock, they brought all 5 senses into play. Building sculptures, banging drums, sliding, colourful mosaics embedded in patio stones, a blackboard for writing, playing in sand and water. If I got a backyard drum it would drive my neighbours insane. Maybe a slide down the slope of the ravine? When I win the lottery.

Elsewhere, in other gardens, the orange geums and ranunculus really caught my eye and might add a playful touch of colour.

Magic... Tourism Ireland and Parklane Nurseries created the greenest corner in the show, incorporating beautiful mosses and grassy knolls that made me want to visit the Emerald Isle. Dragons, standing stones, portal tombs and stone carvings almost had me seeing sprites and faeires. A Spring Gathering was helping to raise awareness about Ireland's 2013 call to welcome friends and family from all over the world. Other gardens, like Magicool, created a display of rainbows through mist and droplets and The Magic of Teamwork showed how different teams interpreted space, given different recycled materials and individual dynamics.

Movement... There were two different gardens that created space for physical activity. Body and Soul had a tai chi station and laid a reflexology path made of different-sized stones to wander across to massage your bare feet. Otium engineered step-stairs of different heights into the design and laid exercise balls artfully into the patio design. Of course, movement was also built into the landscape designs, with flowing paths or splashing waterfalls.

Tranquility... Evident in so many different gardens, like the NTDTV Chinese Culture Garden, that imported a pagoda and installed a Suzhou-style wall. This feature garden was a gorgeous construction, and included a few exotic blooms... however it was missing the water elements and plant life I fell in love with when I visited Dr. Sun-Yat Sen classical garden in Vancouver.

Pinwheel Aeonium, planted as a carpet
under Boxwood, great combo
& low-maintenance display
Reif Estates was there, providing a different interpretation of their Wine Sensory Garden than they do at their winery. Later in the day there would be a scheduled tasting with cheese pairings, but their tasting bar was already enjoying long line-ups. The sensory garden itself didn't really get the focus it deserved in this setting, but participating in Canada Blooms was a very smart way to cross-promote their winery and build more awareness about their Estate. I made a mental note to visit again this summer.

Hellebores were the 'official' plant this year and included in almost every garden.

The blooms of the Lenten Rose will be making an appearance in my garden, soon...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Birding in Arizona

This tiny owl is only 5" full grown, and isn't uncommon in the Arizona desert, according to this Fact Sheet. I'll be looking for their nests in trees or cacti about 15-30 feet off the ground. They are mainly insectivores, feeding on moths, crickets, beetles and scorpions.

elf owlet in saguaro cactus

I've only ever seen an Indigo bunting once - and that was in Sian Ka'an Biosphere along the Mayan Riviera. Such a pretty blue bird! Varied and Lazuli buntings are more likely to be seen in the Grand Canyon than their brilliant Indigo cousins.

Lazuli Bunting

The most famous bird in the Sonoran desert is a member of the cuckoo family. This voracious predator feasts on lizards, small snakes and small birds. Cartoon-like behaviour includes ruffling the feathers on the crown of its head and running up to 15 mph on the ground. It rarely flies.

.... Here's another bird with strange headgear. Young quail are called cheepers, squealers and chics. and often make a light lunch for roadrunners.

California Quail

In some parts of their range (e.g., California), acorn woodpeckers create granaries or "acorn trees" by drilling holes in dead trees, dead branches, telephone poles, and wooden buildings. The woodpeckers then collect acorns and find a hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes and granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird's time.(Wikipedia)
acorn woodpecker

acorn woodpecker granary

Other birds I may see in the Grand Canyon and around Sedona:
white-throated swift
spotted towhee
Gila woodpecker
canyon wren

Thanks to the Birdwatching Lady  for helping me compile my list:


Stand at the edge of the canyon and watch the rare and beautiful California Condors fly overhead. 
Birds you will also see: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, California Quail, Rock Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Ground-dove, Greater Roadrunner, Blue Jays,Chickdees, finches, warblers, Nuthatches, hummingbirds, acorn woodpeckers, flycatchers, songbirds, sparrows, tanagers, blackbirds, buntings,swifts, swallows.
Birds you will see: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, California Quail, Rock Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Ground-dove, Greater Roadrunner, Blue Jays,Chickdees, finches, warblers, Nuthatches, hummingbirds, acorn woodpeckers, flycatchers, songbirds, sparrows, tanagers, blackbirds, buntings,swifts, swallows.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

Painted Desert
Painted Desert.

Petrified Forest.

These names sound like places of enchantment in fairy tales.

Located in Northern Arizona, and part of the Colorado Plateau, the Painted Desert runs the length of the Petrified Forest. There is a 28 mile scenic road with nine overlooks and it's also close to Wupatki. We might be able to take it all in the day we're near Flagstaff.

According to Park Vision, the fragments of petrified wood are remnants of giant trees from ancient forests of the Triassic Period. Over 200 million years old, these logs turned from wood to rock after the trees were buried under layers of sand and silt.

With a landscape like this it is easy to imagine dinosaurs roaming forested hills.

The nearest town, Holbrook, Arizona, boasts a population of ~5K, but the park area sees roughly 600K visitors each year  because this is the best area in the States to find petrified wood.

Petrified Forest
 Military measures are taken to prevent the theft of rock samples, but even so, stocks have dwindled over the years. It must have been incredible a couple of hundred years ago before the area was settled and tourists began their raids. The problem continues...
Many visitors cannot resist taking rocks, despite strict regulations and stiff fines against removing any material. To see if the petrified wood was actually disappearing at an alarming rate, resource managers established survey plots with a specific number of pieces of wood; some were nearly barren in less than a week. National Geographic

I'll take a few digital photos, they'll be lighter to carry.

more great shots at Flickriver.com

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Home of the vortexes, there are lots of New Age spiritual seekers in the neighbourhood of the Red Rocks.

I admit, I'm curious, even though many have dismissed the reported phenomena as a hoax. The debate continues. I'll have a chance to make up my mind for myself when we visit the area on our tour of the Southwest.
Give me windows!!!!
 This will be our view during our 3 night stay in Sedona.

Brenda and Bill (Rob's sister and her husband) recently went and had some very practical tips:
  • To enjoy Sunset at Sedona Airport, go about one hour ahead of time because parking spaces go fast (the airport has a fantastic view and is adjacent to one of 7 major vortexes).
  • There is a great drumming circle at a brewery; most people bring their own drums but they offered a tambourine to Brenda (that she totally rocked!)
  • Pack hiking poles because they cost a fortune to buy near the Southwest trails ($30 at Canadian Tire vs. $100).
  • 10 Best Hikes Around Sedona is available to buy everywhere and is a good guide about relative difficulty: Boynton Canyon is fairly flat with a steep incline only at the end; Devils Bridge is also good.
  • Bring a backpack with you wherever you go.
  • Stock lots of water... you get thirty fast.
  • Pack sunscreen, lip balm and saline nose solution to protect against the elements.
  • Bring a camera!
Internet research has turned up a great Stargazing Tour and a potential winetasting trail.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


With an elevation of almost 7,000 feet, I'm looking forward to some great stargazing here in Flagstaff.

Locals have a Dark Sky Coalition and make a great case to reduce light pollution, not just for astronomers, but for everyone to enjoy a starry night. The Lowell Observatory was originally on my list, but it won't be open the evening of our stay and I don't see much point of visiting it during the day.

Hopefully our Inn will have its own telescope, and if not, binoculars will help make us feel a bit more closer to the heavens.

Nearby, Sunset Crater is the site of lava flow, cinders, and some rugged geology.

Also close is the Wupatki National Monument, where trade items from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico have been discovered. Believed to be inhabited since 500 AD, it was first built by the Ancient Pueblo People. On an 1851 expedition, pottery was still thickly strewn over the ground.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


In and near Phoenix, I want to explore the Sonoran Desert and hopefully catch a few cactus in bloom.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum was one of the reasons I wanted to travel to the south of Arizona. It has a trail with the different desert plant species clearly labelled, and a large diversity of species within just a few square miles, lovingly tended.

Also on the agenda is touring Taliesan West, the residence and school of Frank Lloyd Wright, which is renowned for its architecture.

We'll be staying two nights in Cave Creek, just outside of town, so might not even get into the hustle and bustle of downtown Phoenix.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Grand Canyon - South Rim

I was able to snag two nights accommodation right in Grand Canyon National Park, on the South Rim.

The lodgings at the Thunderbird are described as 'rustic' by some on Trip Advisor, with mild complaints about tv reception, but as someone said, if you stay here and plan to watch TV, you're missing the whole point! Sometimes elk wander up to snack on vegetation... I'm hoping we're lucky to catch them in action.

I'm also hoping to see a California Condor. They were almost extinct back in 1987, when the US government captured 22 for breeding purposes. By 1991 these regal creatures were being reintroduced to the wild. Now it is not uncommon to spot them in the canyon.  They have the largest wing spread (9.8 feet) of any North American bird and are almost as heavy as Trumpeter Swans, whose population is also being coaxed back into existence (Trumpeters happily co-exist with us at BPYC, but I digress).

When we are at the Canyon, sunrise will be around 6:10 a.m. and sunset will be around 6:50 p.m. Between those times I'd like to take a helicopter ride, shuttle around the park, and take a modest hike to enjoy the scenery.

Early to bed so as to start the day with sunrise the next morning.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ready... Set...

This year I have an absolute craving to see the desert in bloom and humble myself under a vast, starry sky. Maybe the vortexes are pulling me!

It took some doing for Rob and I to negotiate ... but I think the route is set. Twelve nights, most spent in Arizona, one of the least densely populated terrains in the US, with only 45.2 people every square mile. There will be a lot of driving:

Las Vegas
Grand Canyon
Monument Valley
Las Vegas

Sunrise and sunset each day... an essential part of the itinerary!

sunrise on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon