Monday, March 31, 2014


I see it! Wow! It is actually happening!! The snow is melting fast, quickened by rain, and those tougher-than-nails sprouts are forcing their way up through almost frozen ground. Every year a miracle.

Daphne, who stayed green most of the winter is turning brown. She did this last year around this time and the year before, and I can't help but worry a bit that the winter may have been a bit too tough for her. I've also curled green ribbons into the red maple, identifying branches to prune in later spring. Birds are checking out the cedar for their nests. Squirrels are busy digging up my bulbs.

The cat is beside herself to get outside in the mornings. We're all yearning.

Tomorrow is my first day of a 30 day yoga sadhana, and I am looking forward to the next month. Spring, more light, longer days, a new job, the boat going in the water in a month. Amazing!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Living Room Makeover - Complete

Well, almost complete.

We still need a lamp by the orange chair to make it easier to curl up in and read, and maybe another occasional chair. And I'm sure we will play around a bit more with where we hang the paintings, but it's mostly done.

The room hasn't changed dimensions, but it feels wider and brighter than it did last December. The furniture is definitely more comfortable! I've been enjoying just sitting and listening to music, reading, and hanging out.

Adding a few lighthearted elements brings another 'lift' to the room. Rob gave me the elephant ottoman for Christmas, knowing I'd had my eye on it since a visit to the Distillery District.

When we went to the Artist's Project a few weeks ago, I really connected with the art of JoEllen Brydon. A touch of humour, narrative, and luscious colour in every canvas made it extremely hard to choose. JoEllen herself brought a few different ones over to the house to help me make up my mind, but it didn't make it any easier to pick just one. She actually left a few paintings with me for the afternoon while she took her mom out for lunch. In the end I decided on 'Ladies Crossing', with the little old ladies crossing the road in the foreground.

And today, for the finishing touch... Rob and I went touring the One of a Kind Show and turned a corner to see an entire wall of wonderful creatures at the Mosaique Panache booth. We spoke with Marylene Menard, the artist, and she explained how the forms were made by her husband and she then adorns each with buttons and timepieces and porcelain. We took some measurements and went home to sleep on it before making a purchase, but in the morning the first thing I wanted to do was head back to pick one up. Which one, though? A whole enchanted herd to choose from. The 'Expected Antelope' mosaic now hangs on the wall, looking perfectly at home.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Weekend getaway

Off to Ottawa for our 4th Annual winter getaway, enjoying friends and eating way too much good food. The first night at Jan's and Joe's and the next at Mary's and Tony's.  Art and Chris and Rob and I made eight.

I know I do go on about food sometimes, but I can't help myself! Joe made a delicious lobster bisque, the best I ever had, from The Professional Chef Cookbook. The next night was fondu, the kind of meal you can enjoy for hours with good friends and conversation.

The guys have all known each other since high school, so there's an easy camaraderie, with most of us being acquainted for decades.

Here we are in the youth of old age, old friends getting older.

Two days past spring and fluffy snowflakes coming down, it felt a bit like a Christmas holiday, lights twinkling in the snow.

Mary and Tony have 2 great big dogs, a brother & sister, Burmese-Poodle cross. Huge, lovable floppy things. I wonder if you need a big house for a big dog, or if a smallish place would do?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pinot Grigio

I definitely prefer red to white wine.

Of the whites, Pinot Grigio has to be my least favourite. When I heard rumours that there were bottles of water with a bit of yellow food colouring in them, passing themselves off as Pinot Grigio at the LCBO, I didn't take it as an urban myth as much as a statement of fact.

I am also suspect of the BPYC survey that said Pinot Grigio was most peoples' favourite white wine. Maybe it was first on the checklist, I reasoned. Or Riesling mustn't have been on the list, let alone Anselmi, that wonderful white Bepi once called "Easter in a Glass."

Yet. I still found myself at Kaarina's for a blind tasting of six different bottles.

I can report that the 4 of us (Kaarina, Peter, Laura and I) were fairly aligned in our choices of the best tasting. We might not have agreed on sequencing, but the placement of the top three and bottom three were unanimous. Again, the most expensive wines weren't necessarily our top choices, however, Peter did point out the sweetest wines all made our list of favourites.
prettiest bottle!

So I won't feel too bad having a few of these cheaper labels on hand for guests who'd prefer a light, crisp white at the table.

Top 3 (not necessarily in order)
  • Blu Giovello Pinot Grigio, Friulli Italy ($14, on sale for $12.50) sugar content 7 g/L
  • Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio, San Juan Argentina ($12.95) sugar content 7 g/L
  • Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, Trentino Italy ($12.95) sugar content 7 g/L
Least favourite 3
  • Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio V,  Trentino Italy ($17.95) 2 g/L
  • 20 Bees Pinot Grigio, Ontario Canada ($11.95) 6 g/L
  • Creekside Pinot Grigio, Ontario Canada ($14.95) 5 g/L

Book clubbing in March

Neither of the March titles selected by my book clubs captivated me much this month. I found myself skimming rapidly and forcing myself to finish both titles, thinking maybe I could come up with good excuses, like being busy at work. In the end I slogged through, trying to give these books a chance, looking for good things to say.

Earlier this month, it was the Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway. Nicki's pick, and by coincidence, the title the Toronto Public Library recently announced as their One Book for Community Reads. I remember voting for this one at last year's AGM, but when it came time to read it I was resisting from the very first page, predicting the author was going to kill off everyone in the book before the end. As it turns out, not quite everyone.

Technically good, a very substantive story. But. As much as I appreciated the novel's merits, I didn't quite connect with it and found myself skimming through and absolutely hating the end. Yes, we are lucky not to have to dodge sniper bullets in the middle of our city, and to live in relative peace. So I'm not arguing with the book's message, I'm just saying I felt a bit 'techniqued' and manipulated. I was the only one at book club voicing the opinion and I admit that maybe I could have been a bit more diplomatic when I said the end was verging on cliche.

Next up: The Secret Keeper at the BPYC book club. This is a book I would not normally pick up, and it was another page turner, in the sense of turning the pages really really fast. Tap tap tap on the e-reader. The bestseller could have benefited from stronger editing as it did go on and on in places.

A bit of a frolic, not to be taken too seriously. The plot itself was pretty entertaining, with a great twist (that only Kaarina saw coming). There are some wonderfully vivid scenes and great moments, but I didn't feel too bad about speed reading. I have to admit though, some of the scenes are really sticking with me, like the one of the 60-ish woman up in her childhood treehouse with her brother.  Just overlook the logic of how it withstood 4 decades of neglect, had no rickety boards or gaping holes or spiders.

I haven't really, really enjoyed a book in awhile, so I picked up the Orenda on the way home tonight, winner of Canada Reads.  Here's hoping.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I have enjoyed winter this year. Lots of clean, white snow. The sound of it crunching underfoot. Bundling up for the cold temperatures. Enjoying the snowy views through the windows and feeling cozy inside my warm house. This morning the temperature outside my door is -10C, and 15+ cm of new snow fell on Toronto this past week.

Canada Blooms was a welcome contrast.

Saturday morning, Rob and I took the early morning tour of the gardens to avoid the crowds. The theme this year: Wild! One of my favourite garden displays was a huge stone table placed next to a waterfall, with a trickle of a stream cascading onto the table and splashing into a pool beneath. The table set with moss and candles, and everything green, so-green. Another garden had an elephant splashing in a pool. Another was an Irish cottage with stone sheep grazing in the yard. A paper mache elephant cavorting under a flower carousel, colourful birdhouses, blossom bikinis, and the wonder of spring just around the corner.

Got some great garden advice at the Learning Stage, from Dugold Cameron of Garden Imports. Every year I dig up my bulbs and overwinter them in paper bags, but come spring I'm often late replanting. His approach is just to put bulbs in pots, haul them inside in the fall and bring them out in the sunny weather. I picked up some begonias and oxalis for the purpose and am especially looking forward to see how this Sunrise Fragrant Scentiment Begonia cascades from its pot. Not many begonia can boast a fragrance, so I didn't mind splurging a bit for the privilege. Here's hoping to years of low maintenance enjoyment.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Foodie Feast

The Foodies got together for a final fling before spring, enjoying the view from High in the Sky, martinis by the fire and the moon almost-full.

Canadian was the theme and it was over-the-top delicious. The wines were amazing, and testament that we've come a long way as a nation of vintners.

First course, scrumptious mussels. Served with VQA Beamsville Bench or Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnays.

Next, Caroline's poutine. A masterwork. She broke out the mandolin for perfectly shaped frites that were baked to perfection and topped with a gravy that took two days to prepare, before it was generously ladled over your choice of squeaky cheese curds, Italian pecorino with truffles, or Tazmanian blue.  I couldn't pick just one, all three were distinct tastes and absolutely decadent. Wines of choice: Sandbanks Baco Noir or Strewn's Two Vines Riesling-Gawurtztraminer.

The main attraction was beef tenderloin from Calgary, which Dick and Maureen prepared with roasted figs and dates that I first mistook for caramelized onion until they melted in my mouth.The wine was a perfect pairing, with tasting notes that promised a match for big flavours like beef, carmelized onions and blue cheese. Lakeview Cellars, Niagara Peninsula, Cabernet Merlot Reserve.

I brought the cheese course, of course. Any excuse to try something new. I chose a trio from Quebec: Raw Milk Cheddar aged 5 years, tasting more like 8; Grey Owl creamy goat covered with vegetable ash; and a mild ermite blue. Served with a simple, freshly baked baguette.

Dessert followed with Dufflet tarts: a blueberry custard, apple crumble, maple meringue and a nanaimo bar that I  served paired with Cabernet Franc ice wine from Peller Estates. Sweet dreams indeed.

Full Crow Moon - March

Call this the full crow moon or the full worm moon, but whatever you call it, in four days we will enjoy our first day of spring!

Eggshells with bright yellow yolks inside suddenly remind me of moons followed by the morning sun, and winters followed by spring. Something is one thing, becoming another.

The moon is officially full March 16 at 6 pm, but I've been enjoying its fullness in the sky for the past few days.

Friday night at BPYC it was casting it's glow on sheets of ice bumping against the shore and giving a ghostly glow to the Trumpeters bobbing the water. I didn't mind standing in the cold to admire the view. Saturday night we had an unobstructed view from High in the Sky, enjoying a Foodie feast. And Sunday morning at 3 a.m. it was beaming on my sleeping eyes through the skylight, waking me up to admire the fact that it looked perched on the bare branches of the maple.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New job!

Spring is a time for growth and renewal, so it is timely indeed to start a new job!

After months of looking for the right opportunity to broaden my experience, a secondment has come my way.

Start date: March 24.

So exciting! It almost feels surreal.

This is a temporary posting for a 6 month period, with a chance for extension. There is no 'permanent' job, but that's okay, because my home position will be held for me until my return. I am fortunate to be with a large employer that allows opportunities for lateral moves and promotions between different ministries.

I'm looking forward to learning new things and expanding my horizons. A little pay raise doesn't hurt, either.

Since it is a brand new position, I'll have a chance to influence and shape what needs to be done. Time to start planning for the first 90 Days! Good Advice to set an approach, match strategy to situation, secure early wins, negotiate success, achieve alignment, build a team and create coalitions.

Plus just figure out what it is I have to do. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Billy Joel

Best seats ever!

It was a totally unexpected pleasure to be invited along to the Billy Joel concert by Liz and Darcy. When the ushers were escorting us to our seats I couldn't believe how close we were getting... Even more unexpected when we ended up 5 rows from the stage, front and centre.

Great music, and the songs cued memories right through the 70s-90s. Although I don't think I'll ever hear his music again without remembering this particular concert, and this particular night. Liz knew all the lyrics.

The audience held a fairly young crowd, considering the time frame, but on the other hand, the tunes really do stand the test of time. I never really appreciated how much of a storyteller Joel was until this concert, hearing all the songs back-to-back. My favourites all seem to have a touch of melancholy. Or maybe it is just the brass section, wailing away.
It comes down to reality, and it's fine with me cause I've let it slide.
I don't care if it's Chinatown or on Riverside.
I don't have any reasons.
I left them all behind.
I'm in a New York state of mind.
Oh yeah.
His New York accent and tough tone are part of his stage persona, but a self-deprecating sense of humour also shone through the night. At the opening, gazing up at himself on the giant video screen, he said he was Billy Joel's dad, standing in because Billy wasn't able to make it himself. He joked about coming on to 65 and still working.

Later he stopped singing We Didn't Start the Fire mid-song when he muffed up the lyrics and then confessed he never liked the melody much, and thought it was one of his worst songs. He wanted to skip it entirely until shouts from the audience convinced him otherwise.

Joel was spritzing his throat frequently to help keep his voice in top performance mode. Occasionally he would take a break and seemed genuinely moved when the gathered fans sang the choruses of their most beloved tunes, like Piano Man.
Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright
Did he even know when he wrote that song in 1973 that he'd still be singing it at 65? Lucky for us.

Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
The Entertainer
And So It Goes
The Downeaster Alexa
New York State of Mind
Sometimes a Fantasy
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
She’s Always a Woman
Don’t Ask Me Why
River Of Dreams/Hard Days Night
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Piano Man
We Didn’t Start The Fire
Uptown Girl
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
You May Be Right
Only the Good Die Young
set list courtesy of review by Jane Stevenson

Fleur du Maquis

Very soft and creamy sheep cheese, like a brie almost, this French cheese is made with milk from Corsican ewes.
During the making process, the cheese is covered with aromatic coating of rosemary, fennel seeds, juniper berries and the occasional bird's eye chili. It has a sour, citrusy taste and feels a bit mild in the mouth. With age, the cheese is dotted with blue-grey molds as the pate absorbs the herbal flavors of the rind. The strong characteristic flavors of the cheese are balanced by the delicate herbs. Because of its musty and nutty aroma, the cheese smells great too. Fleur Du Maquis matches nicely with Albarino, Riesling and Tempranillo.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Blini and Caviar

What a memorable brunch!

We went off to St. Lawrence Market intending to buy bagels and cream cheese for a Sunday brunch with Liz and Darcy, and then somehow found ourselves in front of the Caviar Direct stall walking away with 30 g Canadian Sturgeon and a recipe for blini.

"Everyone should taste real caviar at least once in their lifetime." I think that was the line that had me nodding my head in agreement at the stall, and then again at home at the table. Absolutely delicious, and the texture so amazing.

One blin, a dollop of creme fraiche, some shallots, crumbled egg yolk, chives, caviar and a few grains of lemon salt. Mmmm. Served with smoked salmon. Paired with Prosecco. Mmmmemorable indeed!

Traditional Russian blini (BLEE-nee), singular is blin, are made with a yeast-raised buckwheat flour batter and have a nutty flavor. They symbolize the sun and take center stage at maslenitsa (also known as Butter Week, Pancake Week or Cheesefare Week), a spring festival marking the end of winter.

• 4 Eggs 
• 3 Cups of Buttermilk
• 3 Cups of Pastry Flour (or Buckwheat Flour)   
• 1 Teaspoon of Salt    
• 2 Teaspoons of Fast Acting Baking Powder    
• 1 Tablespoon Sugar
• 8 Tablespoons melted unsalted Butter (1 Stick as Ingredient)
• 8 Tablespoons of unsalted Butter (1 Stick used to cook)  

1.    Mix all ingredients well.
2.    Cook batter in a Medium High Heated Skillet. Sear each Blini (four inches / 10 cm diameter or smaller) for 60 seconds first side and 30 seconds (reverse). Use the second butter stick to lubricate skillet often. Do not allow pan to get too hot or Blinis will burn. Cook to brown, not black!
3.    Freeze leftover Blinis in tightly wrapped plastic. To use, place in foil wrap, steam over boiling water for about 10 minutes, until hot.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Canada Reads 2014

When CBC sent me an invite to be part of the studio audience for recording Canada Reads, I promptly forwarded it to my book buddies in the hopes that someone could make use of the invite, thinking I was too busy to spend a morning on Wellington Street. All it took was one little "are you sure?" from Nicki and I decided to rejig my schedule.

The concept  is interesting, with one book being eliminated at the end of each round, the contest is based as much on literary merit as it is affected by the strategic moves of the defenders. As Jian said, Canada is probably the only country with books in a reality show. The publicity is great for all the novels, and the winner usually ends up on the nation's best seller lists.

I've read two of the contenders on the list, and saw one already eliminated from the competition. Stephen Lewis was supporting Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood, and although he spoke eloquently in it's defense, the novel was struck from the list at the end of the first round. 53 minutes. Lewis pointed out that Jian's questions were partly to blame, as the theme of this year's choices, "what is the one novel that could change Canada?" wasn't even touched on in today's discussion. I don't feel too bad for Atwood's elimination as she already has a huge following for her speculative trilogy, and this should get people talking about the book and the issues again.

Donovan Bailey has chosen one of the best novels, Half Blood Blues, but it was obvious he felt totally out of his element today. He'll have to up his game a bit if he hopes to persuade others to drop their choices. Nicki went up after to speak with him - she actually defended the very same novel on Haliburton Reads (and won).

If I were a betting person, I would say Cockroach by Rawi Hage will be the next book to get voted off the shelf. Samantha Bee is defending this title and was moved to tears when she spoke about the plight of refugees in Canada. Maybe that's what saved it being voted off today, because it was the social media top choice as most likely to be eliminated.  Wab Kinew remarked that he recognized the book was an homage to Kafka that was a great character study, but didn't even touch on the issue he hears about most in his work with newcomers, which is having their international credentials recognized. 

Wab also brought Norval Morisseau coffee mugs to charm and disarm his competition. Well-spoken and passionate about his choice of Orenda by Joseph Boyden, he is a strong contender. The only thing is he may end up alienating fellow-panelists if he comes on too strong. Something tells me he is going to need a lot more of those mugs.

At this point my bets are on Annabelle by Kathleen Winter. The story revolves around gender issues, and after hearing more about the novel it is already on my reading list. If it does take the title, it will be the second year running someone from Newfoundland has taken first place (Lisa Moore won last year for February).

Luckily the podcasts will be online and I can catch up through the week.


The Orenda won, and Wab Kinew impressed everyone that tuned in with his passion and intellect. Cockroach came second, to many people's surprise, because this was the book the online poll identified as the least likely favourite. Third went to Annabelle, followed by Half Blood Blues. Such an interesting week of discussion and interesting points of view.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Creating, Developing and Sustaining an Iyengar Yoga Pracrice

Great workshop with Marlene at YCT! Spent all day thinking & exploring this topic.

What are the obstacles to practice? For me right now it is learning how to give myself feedback when the teacher isn't there to provide guidance. Are my legs really straight? Are my shoulders level? But I am well- acquainted with the other obstacles: disease or sickness, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance, backsliding...  

Three questions: 
How am I feeling right now? 
How much time do I have? 
How do I want to feel at the end of the practice?

I am pretty disciplined when it comes to my home practice, in the sense that I manage to start my work days with a routine that incorporates 20 minutes yoga and 20 minutes meditation. Depending on how I feel and how much time I have, I rotate between 4 or 5 different routines to get a good start to my day. So it was reassuring to hear that 20 minutes every day yields better results than 2 hours twice a week, and that it is perfectly fine to tailor a practice to how you feel and what your energy levels are. I don't usually think much about how I want to feel at the end of the practice, and that's something I will pay more attention to in the future.

In both the morning and afternoon, we developed a few sequences in groups of four, and then followed up with an hour of practice. I found myself improvising along the way with a few additions, it felt great to find myself in a certain pose, and when another came to mind, to just add it. Like cooking dinner vs. baking a cake.

For the Iyengar system, there are a few ground rules to keep in mind
- Headstand never stands alone... if you do this pose, make sure you follow it with something from the shoulder stand family (the reverse isn't true, it's fine to do shoulder stand without headstand). Headstand is incredibly powerful and energizing for the brain but it needs a cool down after, and the jalandhara bandha activated by the shoulder stand family seems to do the trick.
- It's fine to do backbends followed by forward bends, but put a twist in between
- If doing lots of backbends, don't end with a full shoulderstand
  • Want to feel grounded... standing poses
  • Want more energy..... do inversions and backbends
  • Want to 'cool' your brain..... do forward bends
  • Are you tired or just lethargic.... try 3 standing poses, and if you are still tired, then do a restorative practice. 
  • When in doubt... do inversions and supported backbends
Added lots of new sequences to my repertoire and was reminded of a few more sources: the compendium, the sadhana manual, paying attention to sequencing during class & then writing down for future what really worked or resonated.

Here's a new prescription for winter doldrums, holding each pose for a few minutes:
- lie over two blocks, one at shoulder blades and the other as a pillow (arms over head)
- adhumuka savasana (dog pose)
- uttanasana (standing forward bend)
- pinca mayurasana (arm balance)
- handstand
 - chaturanga dondasana
- vipirita kirani
- savasana
 To sustain practice, 
- confidence in what you know!
- going to class, workshops
- use tools (books, DVDs, You Tube
- use teacher as a source of information by asking questions before and after class
- challenge yourself
- pamper yourself 

Saturday, March 1, 2014


The first scene opens during a family argument. Two older parents and three adult children. One of the younger men sits silent at the far end of the table, not engaged, head bent forward. The father eventually finds his way over to him and tries to pull him into the discussion but the son remains distant, a bit withdrawn.

He is profoundly deaf, and he's missed a lot of what's been said, partly by choice (his head is down and so he can't read lips) but also because people's backs have been towards him. Music has been played. Aside from the father's approach at the end, no one has really tried to draw Billy into the family dynamic. He sits on the perimeter at a safe distance.

The parents made a choice they wouldn't 'sign' to their child and would teach him lip reading instead. He wears aids and it is a real effort for him to speak, especially consonants.

The play takes a turn when Billy falls in love. He is standing in line, waiting to use the washroom at a night club where a lot of deaf youth hang out. A young woman stands beside him. She starts signing, he speaks to tell her he has no idea what she's trying to say. In a few short minutes he learns she's a hearing person who signs because her parents are deaf, and she herself is starting to lose her hearing. She envies him because he's never heard, so he doesn't know what he's missing. He envies her, because she has.

One of the themes Tribes explored was the notion of communities and how they are formed, through families or communities of interest or pairs of lovers. Personally I was more interested in the ideas around communicating, what it really means to listen, and the ways we connect.

When signing happened, text was often projected onto the walls of the set so you could 'see' the dialogue. I almost wished they had done so throughout the play, because from where we were sitting, I was missing a lot of the dialogue myself, even though I was wearing my own hearing aids. But so were the not-so-hard of hearing struggling. The acoustics weren't the greatest and this added another element to the play, intentional or not.

Many of the actors were deaf or hearing impaired, and the signing was so graceful at times it seemed like dance.

Turns out the playwright, Raine, is the grand-niece of Dr. Zhivago author Boris Pasternak

Canadian Stage summarizes it this way:  Billy is deaf but his unconventional family has tried to raise him as part of the hearing world. It's not until he meets Sylvia, a young woman who is becoming deaf herself, that he finally discovers what it means to be heard. Winner of the 2012 Drama Desk and New York Theatre Critics Circle awards, Tribes is an intelligent, provocative, and jarringly emotional play that gets its Canadian premiere at Canadian Stage.

I try to avoid theatre reviews until after I've formed my own opinion. Just reading the Globe and Mail now: ... for the most part this is a witty, gutsy and involving drama, which has already picked up its share of accolades in Britain – where it premiered in 2010 at London’s Royal Court Theatre – and off-Broadway. Theatrefront’s production, part of the Canadian Stage season, is ably directed by Daryl Cloran and powered by some terrific acting... This is one show that leaves you with your eyes and ears wide open, having acquired a fresh appreciation of both senses.