Monday, July 29, 2013

Garden sculpture

As much as I love the flowers of the rose and clematis, I also love to watch  sea holly and hens and chicks take their shape as they come into bloom.

Sea holly has this beautiful exquisite blue, berry-shaped thorn.

The hens and chicks erupt skyward, pink stalks towering above the green rosettes.

Prickly, sturdy, colourful sculptures while they last.

Sea holly

Hens and chicks in flower

Sunday, July 28, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

This novel is a series of interconnected personal stories that are linked by common threads of history and family, but spread across generations and continents.

Afghanistan is the place of origin but borders expand to San Francisco and Paris. The hardship of a war-torn country is portrayed, along with the impact of poverty, ignorance, and cultural bias. Yet despite the heavy subject matter, I feel more enlightened than burdened by reading And the Mountains Echoed. Without question, this deserves a Pulitzer Prize and I hope to see it nominated in 2014.

Hosseini has great compassion and empathy for these characters, and the depth of feeling opened better understanding of new worlds for me.

When I followed up my reading of the book with a little research about his creative process, it came as no surprise that his literary ambition aligns with a spiritual mission, a quest to connect readers with lives lived.
What has happened in Afghanistan has an impact on the lives of my characters, and so, in part at least, the writing of my novels has necessitated the writing of recent Afghan history as well, or at least enough of it to provide a credible world for my characters to inhabit. I lay no claim, it should be clear, to being a historian. So in my books, the intimate and personal have been intertwined inextricably with the broad and historical... You do not need to be Afghan, or even know anything about Afghanistan, to connect with the stories. They are basically about the choices we make in life and the consequences of those choices. These are experiences that all of us have had at some point, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, culture. My hope, as a writer, is that readers will connect with my characters and perhaps see something of themselves in them, something about how they understand life reflected on the pages. Of course, I will be extremely honored if readers step away from And the Mountains Echoed not only with a satisfying story, but also with a little more insight and a more personal sense of what has happened in Afghanistan in the last thirty years.
My books are love stories at core, really. But I am interested in manifestations of love beyond the traditional romantic notion. In fact, I seem not particularly inclined to write romantic love as a narrative motive or as an easy source of happiness for my characters. I am more interested in love that blooms in the most unexpected places, between people who don't really see it coming -the co-wives in A Thousand Splendid Suns, for instance, or between Nabi, the chauffeur in And the Mountains Echoed, and his employer. My characters search love and human connection, and in that process face the limitations of their own hearts and see their own vulnerabilities exposed. It is the overcoming of these obstacles, in the name of love, that leads to those acts of self-sacrifice and altruism that speak so deeply to me and represent what is best in man. 
.... Read the full interview with the Huffington Post,

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Splash pad

Rob noticed this little green guy by the pond this morning, waiting for the sun to come out from behind the clouds.

We were happy to see this visitor, because we've tried introducing tadpoles and frogs in years past, but they'd soon disappear. We figured the pond was just too small. Who knows, maybe this is one of them returning to check out its old splash pad.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Let the Great World Spin

I loved it when I first picked it up and continued to savour every page of  Let the Great World Spin.

McCann embodied his characters so well I genuinely felt I was viewing life through their eyes, feeling  the pain of mothers who had lost their sons, daughters estranged from mothers, brothers trying to connect, a Jesuit questioning vows of chastity or Pierre Petit preparing for his high wire walk between the two World Trade Towers.

Most of the novel is set in 1974 and many of the characters are affected in some way by Petit's display. McCann gained some of his insight into Petit from the memoir, "To Reach the Clouds" published a few months after 9/11 in 2002. Both this novel and the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire were released in 2009.

Reviews were over the top for this novel, "One of the most electric, profound novels I have read in years," (New York Times Book Review); "An act of bravado, dizzying proof that to keep your balance you need to know how to fall," (; "Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking, heartbreaking symphony of a novel?" (Frank McCourt)

Some passages I dog-eared:

What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth - the filth, the war, the poverty - was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn't interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notion of a honey-soaked heaven. To him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism against all evidence. (p. 20)

The over-examined life... is not worth living. (p.  79)

Let this be a lesson to us all, said the preacher. You will be walking someday in the dark and the truth will come shining through, and behind you will be a life you will never want to see again. (p. 145)

There was an arrogance in it, he knew, but on the wire arrogance became survival. It was the only time he could lose himself completely. He thought of himself as a man who wanted to hate himself. Get rid of this foot. This toe. This calf. Find the place of immobility. So much of it was about the old cure of forgetting. To become anonymous to himself, have his own body absorb him. And yet there were overlapping realities:  he also wanted his mind to be in that place where his body was at ease. / It was so much like having sex with the wind. It complicated things and blew away and softly separated and slid back around him.  (p. 240)

He was happy, give or take.  He was lucky, give or take.  He didn't have everything he wanted, but he had enough. Yes, that's what he wanted: just a quiet afternoon of nothingness. (p. 264)

Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you're lucky enough to find it, you stay there. Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off, but most people who've been around for awhile know it's just a thing that changes day by day, and depending on how much you fight for it, you get it, or you hold on to it, or you lose it, but sometimes it's never even there in the first place. (p. 304)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Glass cork

Came across my first glass cork when I opened a bottle of Cusumano Nero D'Avola, a Sicilian red.

Wasn't expecting to see this and had in fact not even heard of the practice.

It was easy to recork the bottle and when I reopened it, it gave a nice 'pop' sound, proof it was doing a fine job. I've set it aside to reseal others.

The glass cork seemed a better alternative than the composite or synthetic corks that are showing up more frequently in my bottles these days.

According to the Reluctant Gourmet, there are a few other advantages of glass corks.

Since cork is an agricultural product--the thick, spongy bark taken from a living tree--there are some down sides to its use.  For one, sometimes the phenols present in cork can react with the wine, causing cork taint.  Wines that are "corked."  In short, mold forms and contaminates the wine. Sometimes the wine can smell or taste like mildew, but other times, the wine just might taste a little. "off."  Regardless, anywhere from 5-10% of wines sealed with natural cork can end up with cork taint.

Since the Vino Seal is made of smooth glass, there is no chance of its interacting with the wine in any way.  The seal part of the Vino Seal is achieved with a small O-ring under the lip of the stopper.  This creates a hermetic, or air-tight, seal.
Another plus of the Vino Seal is that it is reusable.  If for some reason you don't finish your bottle of wine, just reinsert the stopper into the bottle.  The O-ring again creates the seal, and you can finish your bottle the next day.  You can't do that with natural or synthetic corks, because to pull a cork, you have to basically drill a hole all the way through it with your cork screw.

Wines that are sealed with almost any closure other than natural cork do not have to be stored on their sides.  Natural cork needs to be kept moist to maintain the tight seal.  Store your wine upright for too long, and the cork dries out, shrinks and then there goes your seal.  While this is a plus for the Vino Seal, it can also be a minus.  The foil that covers the seal and the neck of the bottle helps to maintain the air-tight seal. So, when unopened, you can store the wine either lying down or upright, but once you open the bottle, it is best to keep it upright to prevent any minor leaking.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Full Thunder Moon - July

The moon is "officially" full July 22 at 2:16 pm but we enjoyed a preview Saturday night.

Anchored around the corner from our club, watching moonlight on the water and eating a simple meal of pasta. Dinner is always a bit more delicious after a few hours sailing.

We were planning on heading over to the islands again but the wind would have been straight 'on the nose' so we decided to go where the wind would blow on a long tack. South-east-ish. The water was nice and flat but the winds brought us to an invigorating 20 degree heel every once in awhile.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

After the Rain

Finally! A much needed thunderstorm brings the temperature back down to habitable levels.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Catching up on my weeding....

There is something satisfying about clearing out weeds, and today I spent a couple of hours tearing them out of the front and back garden. They seem to be thriving in this heat.

I should have taken some 'before' and 'after' photos!

Today the astilbe are more brown than pink and the purple clematis is beginning to drop its petals. There are a few more nasturtiums and the purple coneflowers have plumped up. The hellebores continue to add visual interest, with their delicate seed heads and dried blooms.

Griskit hangs out by the pond watching the fish, tapping her paws into the water every now and then trying to catch a goldfish. Either they are deliberately taunting her or blissfully unaware of the threat. They keep swimming back and forth until she startles them and then they swim to shelter themselves under the leaves of the hosta, emerging a few seconds later. I'm not sure what she'd do if she actually caught one... maybe she is a catch and release fishercat.

(Photos in this post were snapped between July 4 - 11)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Shakespeare in the Park

Reading a play and watching it are two altogether different things. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but when I studied Taming of the Shrew in high school, my reading brought an entirely different interpretation. I recalled a play where the woman was chastened by love; her speech at the end wasn't an ode to obedience so much as it was the softening of ego.

Seeing it tonight I couldn't help but think it was an interesting selection for a 21st century audience. There were a few 'modern' twists, with a same-sex couple Bianca and 'Lucencia,' but the taming of the shrew was more than a bit disturbing, with physical torments of hunger, sleep deprivation and mental cruelty. When Katherine speaks on command to deliver her closing soliliquuy she is indeed a changed soul.

I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
Whey they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms,
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease. 

I had been hoping for some irony, for how could such a sexist message go unchallenged? In the end, the way they dealt with it was to have Petruchio's face reveal his regret for the change, as Kate place her open palm under his boot. She then stands, stiffens and then runs into the dark night, off the stage. By 'taming' her, Petruchio loses her, in the end.

Interesting interpretation.

We enjoyed a picnic before the play with Mike and Kaarina. Very tasty watermelon soup, with cilantro and a nice spicy tang and cucumber garnish. Pizza. Goat cheese, raspberries and pinot noir.

I had the most comfy seat ever - first row, legs stretched out. The heat was so oppressive (30 degrees), I felt sorry for the actors when they had to wear the heavier costumes, like wedding dresses and three piece suits. Sitting close you could see the sweat dripping.

Recipe for Watermelon Soup

4 cups watermelon liquified in food processor
1 cup each cucumber, red pepper, sweet onion coarsely chopped in processor
2 tbsp each sherry vinegar, lemon or lime juice
1-2 tsp Thai hot sauce, adjust to taste

To serve, plain yogurt sparked up withlime zest or tzatziki. Chopped mint or basil.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

Liz commented at the end of the evening that it was hard to believe that 7 out of the 10 women gathered around the table had identified themselves as introverts... noise levels were pretty high and several conversations were being held simultaneously.

One extravert felt the book painted them as boors and made them feel guilty. Some felt the psychology was a bit simplistic or the anecdotes detracted from the integrity of the other research. Not everyone had finished (myself included).

You could tell the book had struck a nerve.

Cain observes that North America is built and designed for extroverts, yet at least 1 in 3 is an introvert. Workplaces, classrooms, and organizations encourage extroverts in open design, group work, brainstorming. The point of the book really is to recognize the power of introverts and introspection, and build systems and structures that respect that dimension of society.

Some quotes that stood out for me:

"Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform."


“...if you can think of meetings you've attended, you can probably recall a time - plenty of times - when the opinion of the most dynamic or talkative person prevailed to the detriment of all.” 

I had the pleasure of watching Cain present at a conference. Poised and thoughtful, she did a great job. Since then I've seen the Ted Talk and the Googleplex videos and they are so similar, you can tell Cain had to do painstaking work to get stage-ready. She confesses the seven years to write the book was bliss, but the year spent promoting it was her "Year of Speaking Dangerously." The skills needed to write and market are very different but each essential.

Monday, July 15, 2013

City Views

You can travel from one end of the Toronto Island to the other by bike at an easy pace in 15 minutes, but I usually find myself stopping here and there to take in the views.

There is nothing quite like it anywhere on earth, and it still amazes me that there are native Torontonians who have never been. 

Spent the last two weekends there on the boat. What a pleasure!

QCYC one weekend, followed by Hanlan's Point the next.

I feel such ease there. No deadlines, just time to hang out and enjoy the views of the skyline, the beaches, and the gardens on Ward's Island.

I felt an uncomplicated happiness I haven't felt in a long, long time last Saturday morning when we nabbed a place on the Wall after floating at anchor. Alex and Penny were coming and we wanted a place where they could join us and set up a tent.  We lucked out with a site that was perfect for a game of bocci and a short pedal to the beach. Later that night went for a bike ride to watch the quarter moon float in the waves and sit in the cool breeze on the pier.

QCYC - city skyline in the mist
Birdhouse on Algonquin

beach on Hanlan's

wooden boardwalk on Ward's

Friday, July 12, 2013

This is my brain on yoga

Marlene referred to BKS talking about "breaking the frame of your mind," those patterns and expectations that keep you rooted in place. It's good to shake things up to bring about a new frame of mind.

I am sure my brain has been making new pathways with improved neuroplasticity. Kicking up in headstand with the less familiar side. Finding myself in a posture I didn't think possible.

Instructions are repeated over and over again, and yet there is something new to hear because when something clicks, it suddenly makes sense. Connections are then made elsewhere.

The end of the five day intensive, Yoga in the Heart of the City, came very quickly.

The change in my routine was a blessing. Mornings doing yoga, afternoons at work. I enjoyed my coffee in the back garden at the start of the day and generally felt unhurried and calm, if a bit tired. Food tasted better and sleep was deep and renewing.

At the beginning of the week I came with the personal intention to "improve" sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and found it in many other poses instead... It was in the length of the torso in utkatasana (chair), in the bend of the arm during a twist, in the strength of the hips and legs during an arm balance, in salamba sarvangasana and in setubandha sarvangasana (bridge).

Marlene kept every day fresh with a new choreography of sequences that helped me with my ambition. I found it inspiring how she was able to "teach the room" and yet reach each individual student.  "There is some of us in all of us and all of us in some of us"... so when she made corrections and adjustments to others in the room I paid attention.

Five mornings of hour-long  pranayama. Forget the phrase "breath work" .... the two do not belong in the same sentence here because with pranayama nothing should be forced, merely observed. The simple mantra, "I am breathing in. I am breathing out," becomes an echo in savasana. Beginning with an exhale and ending on an inhale.  When thoughts come, don't push them away so much as move toward the breath. We took different shapes, sitting in a chair, over bolsters, against the wall. Lying back over 5 bricks was so effective for me I picked up a few more blocks for home.

illustration credit

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Three Day-itis"

At the end of the session today, Marlene spoke about a phenomenon that has in the past years of Yoga In the City been referred to a "three-day-itis." You're right in the middle of a five day intensive, and participants are often tired by the third consecutive day of the 1 hour pranayama followed by 2 hours of asana. A bit worn out, losing focus.

Today's class was tiring but also exhilarating. It was partly the sequencing, which included several variations of headstand followed by several different takes on arm balancing followed by shoulder stand. I left feeling totally energized and stopped off for a delicious vegan lunch at Kale, careful not to check my Blackberry messages - at least not quite yet.

When I arrived at work, all hell had broken loose. It was definitely a challenging afternoon, but I was able to take it all in stride. I felt extremely centred, almost like I was in the eye of a hurricane and able to influence whether it picked up speed.  Must have been the endorphin rush. Too bad I can't spend 3 hours practising this way every morning.

Here is the asana sequence for future reference, from what I can remember: utanasana (forward bend) with ropes and then unsupported; adho mukha svanasana (down dog) with ropes and then unsupported; sirsasana (headstand) supported version of choice and then followed by unsupported; three different versions of arm balancing against the wall and then in the centre of the room with partner support; setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose); sarvangasana (shoulderstand) one with partner support, one supported, a new version of supported (using two 3-fold blankets as a 'v' shape to support the neck; followed by supported savasana.

illustration credit

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Yoga in the City - 2013

Taking mornings off next week to immerse myself in Yoga in the City.

This will be my third time, having gone in 2010 and 2012. I'm looking forward to it, but at the same time I'm pretty sure it will be a humbling experience. Even after all these years I sometimes wonder at my lack of 'progress' with many of the poses.

Last week, I tried to bring revolved triangle into a few of my morning practises, realizing that I hadn't really done enough of it in the past year, all things considered. Then at my yoga class, Andy worked it into the evening's sequence. I couldn't help but observe that I absolutely suck at this pose. I had this same insight last year, and here it is, a year later, with only a modest improvement.

Earlier in the week I had a dream that doing bhramari (bee) breath would somehow directly help bees. Of course I rationally know it is not really feasible, but it was a very comforting dream, and I indulged myself and skipped my regular routine to just hum like a bee. A few days later I heard of the Florida beekeeper who lost 32 million of his bees, and it made me incredibly sad.

So, drown in a half-empty glass, or float in one that is half-full?  Float in a half-empty glass or drown in one half-full?

And what does that have to do with yoga, anyway?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Let the Great World Spin

A friend recommended this quite some time ago and I am only a few pages in and already loving it.

The opening quotation:
'All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.'
~ Alexander Hemon (The Lazarus Project)

The opening crowd scene watching a man stories above on his high wire act. Characters sketched vividly, "sad-jeaned whores," "a red-faced rummy looking for an early-morning pour."

Phrases like, "another day, another dolar." Where dolar means grief, or sorrow.

Young brothers playing in their mother's closets, trying on the shoes and shirts of the father who has abandoned them.

Why am I so late coming around to this one? Well, better late than never.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

It was easy to see why the novel, Silver Linings Playbook (by Matthew Quick) was turned into a film. The short chapters made for quick scenes. The characters were lovably quirky. The language was cinematic. There was even a chapter written with a cinematic montage of the dance-training.
The film was true to the novel in the way it followed the development of the romantic relationship between Pat and Tiffany, but the book was better able to explore Pat's other relationships. His father, brother, therapist, best friend and mother all help support Pat, but we are also able to read his insights into their personalities as well. No one is perfect. Pat's mental illness doesn't stop him from making great observations.

As part of his self-improvement plan Pat strives to be kind, rather than right. This point was driven home on more than one occasion. The dance routine he practises with Tiffany becomes a metaphor for Pat's other relationships. Most of which could be labeled dysfunctional, well-intentioned, imperfect, but still loving.

I got a kick out of Pat's literary criticism, as he makes his way through some American classics. His obsession for Nikki drives him to read everything on her class syllabus so he can impress her with his knowledge when their 'apart time' ends. In Pat's opinion, The Bell Jar, Farewell to Arms, Catcher and the Rye, The Great Gatsby are all too depressing and should be banned from the classroom in favour of stories with silver linings.