Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring Sadhana 2014

10,000 hours to earn 'master' status, according to Gladwell in Outliers. The last 42 hours of this Spring sadhana are less than .5%.

Although the claim has since been widely disputed, I thought it might be fun to do a rough calculation to see whether I come close to that magic number with my Iyengar yoga practise. Not by a long shot.

A conservative estimate would put me in the range of around 2500-3000 hours, counting the time I've spent in my home practise. Obviously still a long way to go! Coming up this weekend & next week is the 'intensive', and if I manage to hang in it will be an additional 20 or so hours. Little by little it does add up, so at this rate, in another 50 or so years I might pass the 10K hour mark for total hours of practice.

BKS Iyengar, at 90 years of age, had reduced his daily asana practise to 3 hours, with an additional 1 hour for pranayama. Raya, visiting YCT from India says BKS, pictured on the right at 96, still does headstand about 30 minutes a day, along with a host of other poses. Likely the guru has literally spent years in headstand.

  • ~ 162 Sadhana hours
    • By quick math I've added about 42 hours the last 30 days (missed 2 days). Previous sadhanas, about 120 hours.
  • ~  925 class hours
    • weekly class with Tina, around 10 years, assuming a few weeks off a year for holidays (500)
    • weekly classes at YCT for about 5 years, (275) then up the ante to twice a week for 2 years (150)
  • ~ 260 workshops, conventions
    • 4 years convention, roughly 20 hours (80)
    • YCT, roughly 30 hours total per year 6 years (180)
  • ~ 1270 Home practise hours
    • 5 years of daily practise, average 30 minutes a day x 5 days a week x 52 (650)
    • 10 years sporadic, 1 hour a week (520)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Painted Girls

Degas captures the yearning of his subject so well in his sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The tattered skirt, the 'common' features, the studied poise.

The artist makes several appearances in Cathy Marie Buchanan's novel. But this is not his story, it is the girls'.
While his sculpture of Marie was praised when it was unveiled in 1881, her appearance was roundly criticized as not only ugly but somehow criminal; it didn’t help that Degas exhibited the wax sculpture alongside his painting Criminal Physiognomies, the subjects of which were two young men on trial for murder.
“This was not a kind portrait of Marie van Goethem that he came up with, and he must have known that the critical reaction would be at least, in part, one of revulsion,” Buchanan says. “By and large, [the reviews] were about her being ugly, and that you could tell that she was going to come to no good. It was extremely negative. I have to believe it must have been a blow to her.”
How this would have affected Marie is only one part of The Painted Girls, which seeks to humanize the girl behind the sculpture. Buchanan wanted to write a book that presented “a possibility for her life, not some abstracted version.” In a way she’s done exactly what Degas did more than a century ago: taken a life and turned it into a sculpture, only from words instead of wax.
“I like that idea,” she says. “I feel like I’ve created a more kind portrait of Marie van Goethem than Degas did.” National Post
Toronto author Cathy Marie Buchanan takes me to Belle Epoque Paris. It is a very different place without any money to spend. Working hard to bake the bread others would be eating, to launder the finery others would be wearing.

Her empathy for the characters brings you closer to them, but also makes the story more believable. 
While some historic novels seem to thrust modern sensibilities into their characters' world views, others step back in time  to give readers a taste of how people may have thought and felt during a period in history. Bringing characters to life, and life to characters.

Long after the French Revolution, growing up poor with two sisters and an alcoholic, abusive mother, where would dreams take you, and how could you build a future for yourself?

Ballet girl? Seamstress? Washerwoman? Prostitute? Wife? 

It is no wonder Marie, Antoinette and Charlotte all aspire to life as ballerinas, encouraged by their mother at a very early age. It is a struggle to get into the ballet school, more of a struggle to advance to the stage, and then to rise through the ranks of the ballet corps. The novel is the story of that struggle, but also the relationship between the sisters.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of Antoinette and Marie, so there is the added opportunity to question how two very different personalities view the world, how that view shapes their choices, and how choice makes destiny. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

... when you read a book, what you see are black squiggles on pulped wood or, increasingly, dark pixels on a pale screen. To transform these characters and events, you must imagine. And when you imagine, you create. It's in being read that a book becomes a book, and in each of a million different readings a book becomes one of a million different books, just as an egg becomes one of potentially a million different people when it's approached by a hard-swimming and frisky school of sperm...
- Moshin Hamid

Several million versions of the story must now be living in people's heads, with copies sold across North America, the UK, and likely, 'Rising Asia' itself.

I'm compiling my shortlist for the upcoming Book Babes AGM, and this title is definitely on it!

The novel is the story of a man's life, told with a peculiar mix of intimacy and detachment. Spoken to the reader in the second person. You become the old man, newly born and dieing. A quick read, with chapter headings doling out self-help advice, such as Move To the City, Avoid Idealists, and Focus on the Fundamentals. Early on advice is given, but not heeded: Don't Fall In Love. Satisfyingly consummated in old age, this is a wonderful love story, with a happy ending.

Not just the story of one man, the telling has many layers of meaning.
...and you contain ... this book, and me writing it, and I too contain you, you who may not even be born, you inside me inside you, though not in a creepy way, and so may you, may I, may we, so may all of us confront the end...
- Moshin Hamid
A bit irreverent and a touch subversive, touches of humour, and still managing to be profound without coming across as trite. This is one of the best books I've read in a while.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring at last

Alex took these photos, love his eye!

Happy Easter!

Does it always rain on Good Friday? I've been knocked flat by some virus. Still managing to get to the yoga studio for sadhana, although Friday morning I had to beg off the more vigorous poses for an alternate practise in the corner.

Resting up and feeling a bit lazy, alternating between reading and dozing on the couch for a couple of days. Cracked some hard boiled eggs, soaked them in dye a few hours to a stained glass effect. Very pretty, but no one wants to eat them. Appealing to the eye but not the appetite.

Easter Sunday, such amazing weather, and glorious sunshine. Sun day, Sunday, sunny day.

Made an Easter brunch for Rob, Alex, Penny and I. Then off to Kitchener with my brother Dave, to visit family, sit on the deck, and enjoy the warmth of the sun while we sat outside. Not everyone was able to make it, but it was pleasant just being together, hearing the babble of voices. Easter dinner on paper plates. Delicious.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Coffee Cupping

Rob and I were at this coffee cupping for an introduction into the systematic approach of learning how to identify and articulate the profile of different kinds of coffee. With some basic knowledge, even a novice can provide an educated guess about the continent of origin.

At a commercial coffee cupping, buyers taste 20 offerings or more, each of their purchasing decisions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the potential to impact price listings on the commodities market.

We were at Merchants of Green, where we've been buying our beans since Christmas, when I signed Rob up as a member and gave him a home roaster. Now we taste different beans from exotic locales -  Ethiopia, Columbia, Indonesia - and each is very distinct from the other. But we don't sit down and compare them against each other at the same sitting.

Tonight we would taste three different cups, each a medium roast, served at the same temperature. The grounds were right in the mugs, with hot water poured directly on top. After four minutes or so, a nice coffee crust rose to the top, trapping the gas just underneath. A little nudge of the spoon would release the scent, and we'd have a second or two to try to identify the aroma before slurping on the spoon to try to identify exactly where the coffee was hitting the tongue, how did it taste, and how long did that taste stay with you? 
Derek, who led the cupping, compared the African beans to white wine and the Indonesian to red, a very useful analogy. Turns out that beans from Africa tend to be more acidic, with less body, while those from Indonesia tend to be less acidic, but have more body and a taste that sustains long after the sip.

What happens if you want the nice, bright bite of acidity but you want it with more body, and a longer finish? That's when you get one of the most popular blends in the world, Mocha (from Africa) and Java (from Indonesia).

A darker roast brings out more body and reduces acidity.
We tasted an Ethiopian and Sumatran. The Ethiopian aroma hit my nose with fruity and floral notes, but then I couldn't identify a taste that was on the tip of my tongue. Blueberry! The best beans from that part of the world often have a hint of this fruit. The Sumatran was definitely earthier. As the coffee cooled different flavours emerged in the Ethiopian, but the Sumatran stayed fairly consistent.

The third and last cup was Guatemalan. It had the mellow flavours characteristic of beans from Central America, with medium acidity, nice body, and "just right" for most tastes.

So many variables affect the way your coffee will taste. Country of origin. Elevation. Hand picked vs. mechanical process. How it is cured. How it is roasted. How long ago it was roasted. How it is brewed. The amount of grounds, and how fine. The temperature at which it is served. What kind of cup are you drinking from....

And if you are drinking consciously, how is your choice impacting the environment? The local economy? The birds?

I can see how the quest for a 'perfect' cup will be never ending.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Full Pink Moon - April

She's a beauty!

I watched her high in the sky this morning as I was driving to my early morning yoga class. Couldn't ask for a better view as she followed the car all along Eglinton Avenue to Yonge, peeking through the bare branches of trees and bouncing off chimneys and rooftops. So much more energetic than me at 5:45 a.m.

The moon was officially full on the 15th, at 3:42 a.m.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cab Sauv tasting

Kaarina and I poured 4 different cabernet sauvignon for a blind tasting:

  • Painter's Bridge, California ($15.15)
  • J. Lohr Seven Oaks, California ($21.95)
  • Beringer California Collection, California ($9.95)
  • Catena, Argentina (19.95)
....and no, we didn't finish all the bottles the same evening, lol...

Even after a number of blind tastings, I find myself sometimes unconsciously falling into the trap of thinking 'this is the most expensive wine' or 'this is the best wine,' when what I am trying to do is experience the appearance, aroma, taste and finish for each WITHOUT the influence of a label. Not necessarily attach a quick number to it, but observe whether it is sweet, spicy, balanced, tannin.

And most importantly, which wine did I actually enjoy the most? I found myself returning to glass #5 and enjoying it more with each sip. It seemed the most balanced of the four. Kaarina agreed. When we removed it's generic jacket, it turned out to be the J. Lohr.

The least favourite? Again we were united. Painter's Bridge. This was made by J. Lohr, so we were expecting it to be a 'good value' wine. I found it quite tannin and not improved when served with food.

The best value? We agreed on Beringer. Not only was it the lowest price, it had a great finish. It also seemed to be the the most improved with food. We were both guessing this to be the Catena from Argentina, because it had such nice colour, spicy notes and distinct taste.

The prettiest? Okay, not a real category. But Catena was the darkest of the lot, with great legs. Lots of sex appeal.

Interestingly, Natalie MacLean scored two of our choices for the evening, but not all. Although I agree with her ranking, I'm not sure Painter's Bridge deserves such a high score.
  • Painter's Bridge 88/100
  • Catena 92/100

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Really, really slow food

I love this photo. Maple syrup bubbling on the stove, reducing to a hot chewy toffee that will be poured over snow to caramelize instantly into a delicious candy concoction.The reflections caught in glass: the red-checkered tablecloth composing the other half of the pot, Lois and I with our cameras. Everyone waiting for the moment when the toffee will be ready to pour on the snow. 

It was quite a wait from the time the syrup was poured into the pot.  But really, even longer still... the long months of winter, the gathering of the sap, dripping slowly into buckets and taking hours to fill to the rim. Then gathering the buckets, pouring the sap into tanker, stoking the fire, tending the fite, and boiling it all down to syrup, hours and hours more.  With a 30:1 ratio, that's a lot of sap to make a bit of syrup. A lot of waiting.

Later,  back to Lois' and Mark's place on the Hill for a wonderful dinner. Not so easy getting up to the house. We parked our car and then all hopped in the 4-wheel drive, with chains on the tires, to get us up to the top. Not a trip easily made. I got to thinking what it must have been like two hundred years ago, winters all the more isolating. Maple syrup time demanded families get together to share the labour. Warmer days and sweet time spent together.

Great to share it with Lois and Mark.

For just a few weeks, maple syrup time.
We boil and boil and boil and boil it all day long,
Till ninety sev’n percent of water evaporates just like this song
And when what is left is syrupy don’t leave it too long -
As in life or revolution, rarely is there a quick solution, 
Anything worthwhile takes a little time. 
We boil and boil and boil and boil it all day long. 
When what is left is syrupy, don’t leave it on the flame too long. 
But seize the minute, build a new world, sing an old song. 
Keep up the fire! Maple syrup time. 
- Pete Seeger singing Maple Syrup Time at 90


I have been looking for this spring spark since I planted 'Magic Fire,' back in May 2011.

If I wasn't peering closely I might have missed the budding of the witch hazel. Crumpled curls.
Such vibrant colour, and so welcome in the back garden.

I also love the snow drops this time of year, poking up through the dry leaves. All the seasons evident  - spring in the present moment, the dry leaf offering summer and fall, the snow of winter still sparkling.

Witch hazel (April 6)

April 19 
April 5
April 10

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Sadhana 2014

Day 8 of 30 in the Spring yoga sadhana at YCT coincides with Day 13 at my new job.

I'm exhausted! I forgot how taxing starting a new job can be. The program I'm with has just launched and as a result has a lot of us 'newbies.' Put it this way, there is a lot of forming and storming going on. Very engaging! But also tiring.

I'm pretty sure the 90 minute yoga session at the start of my day is helping me be more mentally agile in the next nine hours of work. To step back and look at the bigger picture of what's going on, to try to look with less criticism at my performance, but also with a critical view to how to make it 'better.' And just what exactly IS better, according to who?

Needing to be at the studio by 6 a.m. is getting me to bed sooner. My yoga mornings help me make better food choices during the day, encourage me to take a walk at lunch, and pay more attention to the people around me.

We are reading sections of the book, Yaugika Manas by Iyengar (Yoga Mind), which explores the yoga sutras. The last few days we've been reading about Past Lives. Who knows for sure? But I can relate to the idea of the many past lives I've lived within this one life. Different jobs, different life stages, beginnings, endings. What have I learned that I can apply right now, in this new job, in this new day, in this moment?

Take a very simple truth, that with basic knowledge, we may avoid unnecessary suffering. So here is a very practical example: why would I skip lunch when I can get outside, take a break, and return clear-headed and less likely to make stupid mistakes? It seems such an obvious thing, yet knowing it changes nothing, unless I put it into action with a bit of discipline. My list of practical examples is quite long these days.

Focusing on alignment in downward dog has some very interesting side effects.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Launch soon

This is our little harbour April 6. Boats in the water in less than a month. Here's hoping Spring works her magic!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Trust Your Eyes

Laura's pick this month, 'Trust Your Eyes'. The first book I've thoroughly enjoyed in months. Not a labour to read, not 'L'iterature,'  no 'Message' clobbering me over the head. Just a good old-fashioned page-turner of a mystery with some great twists. Humour, well-drawn characters, even a bit of a love story. Bonus -  homegrown, from a former Toronto Star columnist.

Stephen King's endorsement on the cover page must have been worth a few thousand well-deserved sales, "Riveting... great entertainment from a suspense master." Unanimously enjoyed by everyone that turned out for the evening's discussion.

I picked this up just a few days before the meeting, surprised there were so many Linwood Barclay titles on the shelf.  Looking forward to dipping into more.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Thanks for the hug

I'm rushing around trying to get a whole bunch of mundane tasks done before I'm out the door. There are important backyard meetings and I seem to be late. Standing on the landing of my childhood home, about to go out the door, I see my grandfather, and I think, I better give him a hug because I may not get another chance for awhile. So I stop, and we hug, and it feels great. Suddenly my morning alarm rings and I try to go back to that place, but the moment is gone.

A wonderful dream, but the hug was real. I felt it all day long and it lingers even now, two days later.

Thanks for the hug.