Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!

This is our first Christmas morning without Alex, but I saw him last night, tonight, tomorrow night. So I am happy to be spending much of the holidays with him.

Rob and I exchanged gifts with some spiced eggnog this morning, with carols on the radio and the cat curled up beside us.

I was a bit nervous about my gift to Rob because we usually make such decisions jointly, but he is excited about going on the Jazz Safari to New York City in March. Whew.

No Safari tickets just yet, so I wrapped up two books: Essential Jazz Recordings - 101 CDs and Lonely Planet, Make My Day NYC. Both should give us hours of pleasure as we wait for the trip.

Rob gave me books as well:  The Big New Yorker Book of Cats, Ian Brown's Diary of My Sixty-First Year, colouring books (The Time Chamber and Secret Garden), and Gin, the Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival in 300 Distillations. Hours and hours of pleasure!

When I developed my sensitivity to wine last year, I looked for substitutes. Sake was one, but gin proved to be more engrossing. I didn't blog much about it, but it became a strong interest in 2015 as I sampled from different distilleries. Ungave, the Botanist, Sipsmith, Tanqueray, Haymans, Citadell, Hendricks, Victoria, Beefeater, Dillon's (loved the rose, hated the unfiltered).  This year, I opted to delay celebrating the Winter Solstice with a tasting with plans to host a Gin tasting for the Summer Solstice.  Maybe I will even distill my own small batch, as the book by Aron Knoll comes with instructions!

Full Christmas Moon - December

A full moon for Christmas!

No pictures of snowy white this year, the grass is still green and the temperature 10C.  Very different from recent years.

The moon 'officially' full at 6:15 a.m.

Now at mid-day, all is calm and all is bright!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Play's the Thing

I think this year I've seen more live theatre than in the past five years combined.

Dramatic, comedic, experimental, amateur, musical and even amateur musicals. I loved them all. Well, mostly. One regret was Sherlock, spectacularly awful, with the headlining actor forgetting his lines and a mashed up script with uncomfortable staging. Shows like that make me appreciate other productions.

I try to save reading the reviews and comparing notes for afterward, so I can enjoy the experience unfolding before me as it happens. The less I know going in to the theatre, the better. Other than knowing the general gist, whether it is a tragedy or comedy, I prefer to be surprised and form my own opinions.

Our friends' son debuted in a couple of plays, occupying the starring role in the second, a rom-com called 40 Carats. Dylan has always been a great mimic, but still I was struck by how perfectly he fit the roles.

This was the year I discovered House Seats, where you pay an annual subscription fee to qualify for free tickets when productions become available. I saw a great variety of shows this way. Stories by Alice Munro was performed by a troupe from San Francisco, who essentially read through two short stories by Munro, word for word, as they enact scenes. Bombay Black featured a male starring in the female role, a puzzling casting choice. Empire was a Cirque training ground, with a couple of acts lifted from their past productions.

One of the most interesting experiences this year was Elizabeth-Darcy, performed at the historic Campbell House. We happened to go on Jane Austin's 175th birthday, and watched Pride and Prejudice come to life, courtesy of two actors. With minimal costume changes and strong performances, they inhabited more than ten different characters, gender-bending quite believably.  Scenes took place in different rooms of the house, and the audience literally followed their story from place to place. I felt as though I was invisible. It's great when the audience gets their own superpowers.

It's also great when there is the opportunity to poke behind the scenes. When we booked Can Stage productions, we chose performances with 'talks.' Harper Reagan offered a chat with the playwright Simon Stephens, and it was interesting to hear comments from writers in the audience about  how difficult it was to get their own works staged. Simon was somewhat sympathetic but made no apologies for his international success, and why should he?  Domesticated, an ironic black comedy, had an after-show chat with performers. Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada, happened to be there, and questioned the feminist message of the play; Paul Gross, who had the role of the philandering husband, talked about dramatizing how this particular archetypal male would soon make himself redundant.

Last summer, when I went out for a walk at lunch, someone handed me a coupon for a reduced ticket price to see Kinky Boots when it was new in town. Since I hadn't been to see a big-scale spectacular in a very long time, I thought it was overdue. Kinky Boots turned out so be much fun I actually subscribed to the entire Mirvish season. The best spectacles leave me singing and humming their tunes, feeling good, hopeful, and openhearted.  Next week is Cinderella, and I'm looking forward to how they will show the glass slipper, and the pumpkin coach, and the evil step mother...

Harper Regan  (March)
Stories by Alice Munro (April)
South Pacific (May)
The Mumberly Inheritance (June)
Kinky Boots (July)
Empire / Spiegelworld (August)
Motown (October)
40 Carats (Oct)
Sherlock (Nov)
Bombay Black (Nov)
Domesticated (Dec)
Elizabeth-Darcy (Dec)
Cinderella (Dec)
Traces (Dec)

post script 
Cinderella was so much fun! Little girls in pink frothy dresses were sitting behind me, squealing and laughing all throughout the performance. Great staging, particularly when Cinderella's dress changed into a ballgown. No puffs of smoke or fairy-helpers, Cinderella twirled and it seemed the dress turned inside out... only a small fabric add-on. 

The last day of the year, we saw Traces, a troupe who combined acrobatics and trapeze with singing and dancing on skateboards. 90 minutes flew by...

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

The unreliable narrator leads the reader through some interesting twists and turns in the telling of their tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the book when I read the story last summer, and planned to refresh my memory before heading to Laura C's for the book club discussion. I didn't get the opportunity for a refresh, but five months later, the lasting impression is definitely the voice of the narrator. 

As the five of us started talking, details came back quickly. The psychological thriller has been on the NY Times best seller list for almost a year. Highly entertaining and well-crafted. 

The reader only needs to get a few pages into the story to understand the narrator is seriously twisted, and it is easy to jump to faulty conclusions. Early judgements lead to false assumptions, and to me that is the neat trick of the book, its reminder that we are not immune to faulty reasoning that can easily lead us into treacherous places and relationships. 

Although it was a small gathering, it was a very nice evening spent with Laura, Pat, Virginia and Nicki. Munching on homemade stilton shortbread cookies & mac and cheese with the Christmas decorations all set out, and a fire burning in the hearth. Cozy.

O's Little Book of Happiness

A compilation of bite-sized articles about happiness, and how people find it in simple moments and joyous epiphanies. Fairly sweet and rich, so it's best not to take in more than one or two at a time.

- Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.
Margaret Lee Runbeck 

- We notice that the moment to be happy has already arrived. It's here, now.
Martha Beck

- It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.
Agness Repplier

Perfect bathtub reading! All except for the quiz, which needed a separate pen and paper. What women's magazine doesn't have a quiz lurking somewhere? I couldn't resist taking this one, which congratulated me for being a happy person. There are days it aint necessarily so, and happiness becomes a conscious choice. The mini-essays were useful reminders for those kind of days.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

Checked this one out from the Toronto Public Library Overdrive app, as an audio book. This was one of the first audio books I've listened to start to finish. Excellent medium on the subway, when it is so crowded coming home there isn't room to hold a book open in front of you, and your eyes are too tired anyway. Although when you nod off or attention wanders, listening to an audio book, it's hard to find your place again.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened is read aloud by the author, who has a bit of a high, squeaky voice that sounds as though it has been sped up. Parts of the memoir were hilarious, and there were some tragic chapters that seemed dropped in out of the blue (to make the author more lovable and less whiny?). Not sure if I would classify this as a great book to curl up with, but as an audio book it was a good listen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Revolving and evolving

YCT has posters up now showcasing Iyengar in his younger years from Light on Yoga, and when they went up, my gaze went first to Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose).

I must have attempted this at least one hundred times over the years, but tonight Neron gave emphasis to approaching it in a different way, and I was actually able to maintain the pose without toppling to the side. Not perfection, by any means, but I was actually able to raise my arm, something that has eluded me in the past.

The difference for me tonight was in finding centre, by keeping my head more in line with my trunk. I was so surprised I wasn't toppling over that I almost toppled over. I will try again a few times this week, hopefully this wasn't an isolated occurrence! Shoulder stand also felt better tonight - maybe from the triumph of the parivrtta trikonasana.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff, was Annika's pick for the BPYC book club, and we had such a large turn out, we separated the larger group into two for discussion.

A provocative and timely choice! The novel was first published in 2000 but is being released as a movie this weekend.

Although Einar/Lili is cast as the 'Danish girl' of the story, for me the Danish girl is the wife, Greta Wegener. Given American nationality in the novel, she was Danish in fact. Greta supported her husband throughout the transformation, even though it meant losing him. When Einar became Lili, he was provided a death certificate and Greta became a widow.

David Evershoff admits to having made so many assumptions that his story is now historical fiction, but it rings true.

Greta Wegener was an  illustrator and painter who dabbled in erotica.  Her husband, Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener was a successful landscape artist under that name, but became far better known as one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery in 1931.

Annika brought along a copy of Wegener's diary, Man Into Woman, which she had to order online from London because it is not yet available here. In that book, the photos of Einar/Lili show a very masculine looking person in feminine posture, whether dressed as a male or female. Definitely not the alluring female portrayed in the film.

At our table, we talked about the nature of the love between Einar and Gerda, how they both supported and exploited each other, and how the story from almost a century ago is enacting itself today. Not just in the movie, but in reality shows with Caitlin/Bruce Jenner and quiet neighbourhoods across the country.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and fiction often true.


A Polynesian foodie night, at High in the Sky, inspired in part by Dick and Maureen's cruise.

Hadn't seen Caroline since August in Waupoos, and Jim even longer than that - was it really last spring?

Maureen and Caroline greeted Rob and I playing their ukuleles, and soon afterward I was handed a Pina Colada that banished any thoughts of a dark November evening.

Hours before I had been in the grocery store asking a question I would not have imagined I would be asking a couple of weeks earlier:  "Where's the Spam?" But after I'd googled Hawaain side dishes, Spam turned up a lot in the list of ingredients, so I thought I'd try it. Other firsts were using toasted ramen noodles in a salad  (a great crunch), and making a popular but simple luau dessert with coconut milk.

Maureen and Caroline were also trying out new recipes with Polynesian flavours. I could almost hear the ocean waves.

Culinary adventures!

  • Appetizers: Oysters & Chevrette à la vanille et coco (Tahitian Shrimp in Coconut-Vanilla Sauce) & Hawai'an Red Runa Poke (pronouned pokey)
  • Main: Polynesian Chicken, Spam Zucchini Patties and Crunchy Polynesian Salad
  • Dessert:  Haupia with grated lime, coco, and roasted coconut flakes

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Seeing What Others Don't

When I read Seeing What Others Don't, by Gary Klein I was hoping for a formula that could be used to help me consistently gain brilliant insights. Wouldn't that be nice?

Klein analyzed a few hundred instances where insights were gained, and along the way we were treated to the case studies:  ground-breaking discoveries in medicine, astronomy, and criminal investigations that started with an insight.

This was Nicolette's book club pick, which I began reading well ahead of the meeting. I started by sampling slowly and then sped-read through to the later chapters. A fascinating premise but unfortunately no reliable method I could use to become consistently brilliant.

Klein concedes there is no one path to gaining insights and models a Triple Path with a common trigger. A new anchor. "Coincidences and curiosities aren't insights in themselves; they start us on the path to identifying a new anchor that we connect to the other beliefs we hold... this shift isn't a minor adjustment... in all paths the anchors in the story after we make an insight are different from the ones we started with." (p. 106)

Napoleon dropped the assumption at Toulon that the French needed to overpower the British - they could threaten resupply lines and cause a retreat. Another example is Aron Ralston, who when trapped by a boulder gave up on saving his right arm and instead used leverage from the boulder to snap the bones and cut off his own arm to save his life. 


"Helping organizations gain more insights means breaking the tyranny of the down arrow in the performance equation. It means dialing back the War on Error. We'll need to restore a better balance between the errors, between trying to reduce errors and deviations on the one hand, and increasing insights on the other (see diagram)... If we think of the down arrow as the brake pedal, organizations need to stop pressing so hard." (p.207)  

"Organizations demonstrate willpower when they act on insights, particularly insights about their primary goals. An insight about a goal isn't abour being flexible and adapting plans in order to reach the original goal. It's about changing the goal itself." (p.217)

One of my favourite quotes comes early on, but Klein uses it as an example of an earlier, simplistic approach that appeals to "magical thinking." I like it anyway:

"happy ideas come unexpectedly without effort, like an inspiration. So far as I am concerned, they have never come to me when my mind was fatigued... they came readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day." 
- German physicist Hermann von Helmjholtz

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Full Frosty Moon - November

The Freedom of the Moon

Robert Frost

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

Thoughts in Night Quiet
Before my bed a pool of light –
Can it be hoar-frost on the ground?
Looking up, I find the moon bright;
Bowing, in homesickness I am drowned.
Li Bai (Li Po) 

(Tr. Xu Yuanchong, 1988 and 2001,
from "300 Gems of Classical Chinese Poetry") 

The moon is full November 25, 5:44 P.M.

Monday, November 23, 2015

McCall Smith, Auden, and generally good advice

Over the years like everybody else I’ve had advice from others on all sorts of topics – on how to live my life, on how to avoid food poisoning while travelling, on where to buy socks, and so on. I was once told by a friend that it is generally best in this life to be kind. “Just be kind,” he said. That sounds like very simple advice, but it is absolutely spot-on. And that friend, by the way, was – and is – very kind. So he practised what he preached. In the writing context, I remember being told by a friend of what he had learned at the feet of his ancient English teacher, one Mr. Robinson. “Never use two words where one will do,” Mr Robinson said. That is very sound advice – or, shall I say, sound advice. Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith also mentioned Auden's Collected Shorter Poems, and how he liked to listen to a recording of the poet reading In Memory of Sigmund Freud, his voice so wise and humane. So of course I had to hear for myself, and found myself in agreement. Here is  WH Auden reciting As I Walked Out One Evening.

The ending is beautiful:
‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunny-side up

It is Sunday morning, and Rob, Alex, Penny and I are sitting around the dining table, cooking up some sandwiches with the sandwich maker we gave Alex for his birthday, listening to some Jack Johnson and Norah Jones tunes. 

Alex says, "What an age we live in," as the little sandwich maker works its wonder. 

I had started this blog post earlier, in a bit of a melancholy mood, which has lifted as everyone in the house woke one-by-one and gathered around the table. 

Life is good.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

November garden

Unusually warm temperatures may have something to do with the fact that the black-eyed Susan's are still showing off their yellow petals on November 21.

The leaves on the witch hazel have browned and curled, but they are still hanging on ferociously. And the Jack Frost bergenia! I had always thought the name was apropos because of the frosty colour on the leaves, but now I think it is because the plant still looks green and fresh, well into the end of November.
The hosta are bright golden yellow, looking like a campfire on a grey afternoon.

Just a few days ago I dug holes in the dirt to over-winter two red bud seedlings from Frank Kershaw, alongside the dwarf cypress. Snow will be falling soon enough.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Heliconian Lecture Series

Kaarina and I signed up for the Heliconian lectures again, enjoying the opportunity to hear authors talk about their work. The popular series has been described as a "cross between a traditional book club and university course without exams." The audience is mostly female, and mostly older. The writers speak for about an hour, often sharing a bit about their process, and then take questions for 15 minutes. So far, they've all been great talks and fabulous books.

Lyndon MacIntyre spoke about Punishment in September, and charmed the crowd. It was prior to the federal election, and he pointedly spoke about not speaking about politics and a certain incumbent.  He also talked about one of the threads in the book that hadn't resonated with me when I read it, which was the Iraq war and how international incidents were entwined at the local level. Many layers to the story. The idea came to him as he sat on his porch in Cape Breton, and I easily envisioned him writing in a breezy uncluttered room with a view of the ocean.

Julian Porter talked about 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe (So You Can Ignore the Others). This was the first time a projector made its way into the proceedings, and it didn't go well. Unfortunately, the red hue was missing, and so many of the masterpieces looked alarmingly cool. To his credit, Julian kept his cool, but you could tell he was a bit frustrated when he couldn't share the depth of colour of some of his favourites.  Obviously passionate about many artworks, it was great to hear not only about the individual works, but his approach to enjoying them over the years: be discriminating and don't try to take in everything at a gallery, zero in on a few and linger.  Good advice. He's working on a similar book, about paintings to see in North America, and highly recommended Pittsburgh for the Carnegie Gallery. Since the Warhol Museum is also there, it could be a fun trip!

Catherine Gildiner retold anecdotes from her memoir, Coming Ashore. The third in a series, it focuses on her early twenties, a time without kids and mortgages and careers. It is hilarious with recounting anecdotes from her time at Oxford, such as scheming to help a friend loose her virginity to Jimi Hendrix and studying as a PHD student while living in the druggie haven Rochdale during it's heyday of the early 70s. When I was reading the book I wondered if it was literally true, or true in the sense of Isabelle Allende and others who say it is sometimes necessary to lie to tell the truth. Catherine's retelling that night sometimes strayed from the details in the book, and then she talked about her writing process aiming to connect with the unconscious, so I don't think all the details are necessarily factual. But does it matter? It is a great read and seems true in the telling.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Concert for George

Blissing out on some George Harrison tunes. It all started with doing a search for My Sweet Lord, detouring to Google images for handwriting samples and then over to You Tube for songs. After a few hours reviewing footage I can say George Harrison was the cutest Beatle. Definitely.

The complete Concert for George, held 2002 at Royal Albert Hall is posted. The first half features Indian music composed by Ravi Shankar as an offering to honour George, and it is beautiful. (George called Ravi Shankar the only person who impressed him--and the only person who'd never tried to impress him.)  Earlier in the week I was at Amita's place to celebrate Diwali, and Ravi Shankar chants were playing, produced by George Harrison.  Today it is still Diwali, and I'm watching Shankar's offering. Nice.

The second half of the concert features the Western music George composed. Famous players are brought to the stage with great music, memories and testimony. The concert was one year to the day of Harrison's death, and the performers had three weeks together to rehearse and work through their grief. The tribute is so joyful. 

Some of my favourite moments from the tribute concert:
My Sweet Lord (Billy Preston sings and also collaborated and played piano on the original recording with George)
Photograph (Ringo Starr sings the song he co-wrote with Harrison, "All I have is a photograph, and I realize you're not coming back, anymore") 
Something in the Way She Moves (McCartney opens the song on the ukulele and Eric Clapton later sings and plays the song rumoured to be about their mutual muse Patti Boyd)

And some other videos.....
Here Comes the Sun George playing acoustic

Hadn't heard I Me Mine before, I quite like it.

Maybe I could play some on the ukulele....

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Falling Slowly

Learning the ukulele now as an adult, it is taking more time for the basics to become second nature. I've literally been working on a particular song for a couple of months, using different techniques of plucking, strumming, chiming. A little bit every day, most days. Trying to get muscle memory working in my favour, using a metronome to keep an even tempo, reminding myself to find the pulse and emotion of the notes and not just the pattern.

Falling Slowly is coming slowly.

So today's lesson with Steve M. we worked on a couple of Christmas carols I had picked out.  We were playing a pretty good rendition of Silent Night with me chiming, but then Steve suggested we record it on the iPhone and I kept flubbing the last phrases. Performance anxiety! Hopefully I will be able to play well enough for family by the holidays:  Silent Night and Huron Carol.

There is also another Open Mic coming up at the club, so our as-yet-unnamed uke band has another excuse to get a song or two together in time for the 27th. Will it be Sloop John B, I'm a Believer, Love Me Do, or Bye Bye Love?  All four are on the practice list.

Playing along with bands is fun, and less pressure because there are real musicians leading the group.

I usually get to the Scarborough Uke Jam about once a month. Last time we did a version of Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and I was actually able to strum along for the most part.

Playing the ukulele is definitely using a different part of my brain, helping me hear music in a new way, and connecting me to different communities. So although it is coming slowly it is bringing me lots of fringe benefits in addition to learning a new skill. Not to mention testing my patience with myself!

Thinking of music illustration
Neuroscience of music illustration

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fall Sadhana - 2015

During my morning sign in, I started off with the check marks to confirm my attendance and then reverted to little smiley faces, mobius loops, and flowers. To my delight, Jenelle, assigned the row just below me, started drawing stems on my flowers and a moon to the sun. It brings a morning smile and I look forward to seeing what she will do next. Wouldn't it be fun to have a full sign-in sheet like that, a joyful mess of scribbles. In some ways this is counter to the Iyengar sense of alignment and order, and non-attachment, but fun is fun.
November 21
Sadhana officially finished November 17, and I fully intended to sleep in until 6 a.m. before heading off to work. My body woke me up, at 4:45, and there was a 6 a.m. class, so off I went. And I was glad I did, as the class was restorative. Definitely needed! 

November 8
This Sunday morning an exquisite pranayama class. At the end the phrase, to be grateful for the energy that gives us life.  

Neron has taught in Marlene's absence the last couple of days and is a gifted teacher. The way he describes certain aspects of posture brings fresh awareness. Such as, in baddha konasa, pressing your feet together in namaste.

November 4

Lots of vigorous inversions for the past few days, coupled with twists. My favourites and my nemesis, paired.

November 2

Clocks went back this past weekend so it should have been easier waking up and climbing those stairs.
15 days into the 30 day fall sadhana at YCT. Half done.  November 2012 was my first session, and this is now my seventh. While doing this one I’ve also participated in an assessment and a workshop. So, about 30 hours of practice in the last 15 days. Why so obsessed with the numbers, dates, years? Trying to quantify and measure in an effort to assess progress, I guess. But what is progress?
I looked around the room this morning and could see I wasn’t the only one a bit tired, or the only one struggling with the full seated twist. Although there were others doing the seemingly impossible pose  Twists energize some people but I find them exhausting and agitating. Someone said,  “There are no more tears left.” and another; “I’ve got news for you, there is no end to the tears.”  and another “This is going to be a fun week, I can tell.”

October 19- October 31

The first day of sadhana was also national election day and a Blue Jays play off. It seemed easier getting out of bed for the first week than I remembered. The second week a bit harder, but that may have also been the beer and wine tastings I was also enjoying.

Getting a much better understanding of the arms and legs as the 'organs of action' and a better awareness of how to use the limbs to get better access to the chest.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Art Brewing

Collective Arts Brewing is a craft brewery located in nearby Hamilton.  Tasty beer, yes, but what is even more interesting to me is that they support and promote a variety of artists, musicians and filmmakers on their labels.  Every bottle has a different work of art. Downloading the free Blippar app enables you to point your camera phone at the label (or coaster) to learn more about the artist, hear a song, or see a short film. Great use of social media and a fabulous conversation starter. Artists submit their works through the website and are paid if the company uses their work, and at the same time keep their original copyright.

I was introduced to the brewery through Frank at the AGO, when they featured a beer tasting and pairing with English food in honour of the Turner exhibit. Each course incorporated the beer in the food preparation, so the pairings really couldn't miss. The Porter was delicious, but so were the Blonde, Pale Ale and IPA. The small sample glasses offered the perfect volume, because the beer itself was quite filling. Smallish portions, but by the end of the meal we were quite satisfied. The LCBO stocks the different ales in 6-packs at select locations.


cornish pastrie minis and piccallilli

(tasted citrusy with hints of lichee)
Saint of Circumstance "Anytime Blonde" Blonde Ale 4.7%
pilot coffee duck confit, scotch egg, pickled current, smoked tomato

Rhyme and Reason Pale Ale 5.7% 
(Rate Beer gave this a 97; Beer Advocate an 88)
wild mushroom, carrot gastrique, roasted chestnuts, butter lettuce and rocket

Stranger than Fiction Porter 5.5%
(notes of coffee & chocolate)
bavette, brussels sprouts, truffled turnip puree

State of Mind Session IPA 4.4%
IPA mulled autumn fruit, mascarpone ice cream, paine d'epices, cinnamon IPA crema

Friday, October 30, 2015


Finally! A chance to try a recipe I've been dreaming of since August.  We've been invited to a wine tasting on Halloween, and I'm bringing the appetizer: Camembert de Normandie marinaded with Calvados, with apples on the side.

When I went to pick up the appellation cheese at the St. Lawrence Market, I couldn't resist sampling a few more. The person offered up something called Blue 1061 and told me there were only 6 rounds, it was going fast. Blue cheese soaked in red wine, with the red grapes softened in the rind. Incredible! It reminded me of testun barolo (the Italian cheese soaked in barolo and encrusted with nebbiolo grapes). But soft blue cheese? I meant to bring some along to share with friends but I'm not sure I will have any left. Sweet, salty, tangy, creamy and such a nice aftertaste. What a combo. When I get a craving for this, I'm not so sure I will be able to satisfy it because google is yielding no sources. The photo doesn't make it look appetizing, I know.

I will walk into cheese emporiums and beg for Blue 1061, only to get blank stares. No one will know what I am talking about or where to get it, and it will become the best cheese I ever had in my life, because I can't get it again. I will be in a bar somewhere, talking about Blue 1061, and the special afternoon we once shared together.

Also picked up some pecorino tartufo and heliodoro rosemary spanish sheep's milk.  They're pretty good too, but they're not Blue 1061.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Full Falling Leaf Moon - October

October 27th at 8:05 a.m. the moon is full. We've been raking leaves for two or three weeks, but there are still lots clinging to branches.

Persian Parrotia
Went on a tour of the arboretum in  Mount Pleasant Cemetery this past month with tree expert Frank Kershaw, something I've been meaning to do for a very long time. I convinced Rob to come along, so we both found ourselves among a small ambling crowd on a crisp fall day.

The cemetery has several species rare for Toronto, including the beautiful Persian Parrotia, the thorny Castor-Aralia and unusual Cherry Birch. The maples were absolutely gorgeous, and I learned I'd been mistaking Sweet Gum for maple.

Plot W is the place to go to see the more rare trees, but the entire grounds are worth the walk. The more unusal trees are labelled so if you can't join a tour you can still learn about new types.  Frank was kind enough to bring along Red Bud seedlings for any takers, two pots that are now waiting to be planted in my backyard.

The Painted Garden, by fellow Torontonian Janet Davis has a wonderful offering of photos that includes the fall colours at Mount Pleasant (I wonder if she is the same Janet Davis that is my city councellor?).

artist illustration Robin Samiljan

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fall Garden

I love fall colours and flowers, the visuals change so dramatically day to day. 

Now it's the end of October, and the toad lily is shriveled along with the asters, black-eyed susan and dahlias. Henry clematis has a few blooms, and there is a beautiful pink rose in the front garden.

It feels great to get my hands dirty. I was working in the garden most of the morning. A full bag of mint roots for the city compost with a thick cover of mulch may eradicate the herb. But then again, it may not. I dug up as many roots as I could, then covered the soil with cardboard and 2 inches of mulch. But I couldn't resist leaving a small corner of mint for salads and cocktails, and that will likely be my undoing.

Expanding the front garden a bit as well, it was so awkward mowing around a very tight corner and a small patch of grass. There is still a fair bit of lawn in the front, but more and more garden every year.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Gardening Geeks

I spent a few hours in Marion Jarvie's garden, along with 12 others who had signed up for this TBG class. The gardening guru used her own backyard as a demo site for pruning, transplanting and other fall chores.

The lesson was timely, as I had plans for weekend gardening projects like transplanting some of the purple cone flowers and black-eyed Susans (best to wait until Spring), as well as turning over soil to expand a new garden bed (don't bother, just place the dirt directly over the grass).

It was a beautiful, warm and sunny morning. Hard to believe our first frost is expected this weekend.

Fall chores
  • Buy garden supplies now because they are often cheaper
  • Lawns can be refreshed by topdressing with good soil and then seeding (don't forget to water twice a day)
  • Transplant spring and early summer bloomers in the fall; leave transplanting late bloomers to the spring
  • Expanding a garden? Lay good soil down now in area, right over the grass you want to replace, and let the grass compost
  • Make soil mix:  peat moss + several cups of boiling water + perlite, cover with plastic and then use the next day to dress/amend soil
  • Divide perennials (hostas, day lilies)
  • Water trees and garden well through to November, their roots will appreciate it 
  • Mulch this time of year, and leave a well around base of trees to capture water
  • Branches on deciduous trees can be removed, but DON'T prune conifers in the fall, they will burn over winter
  • Cheaper to hire arborist in winter months
  • Before frost, bring in dahlias, callas & other annuals if overwintering 

The Right Tools
  • Garden forks should be used to dig up plants for transplanting as they are less likely to damage plants than shovels. Use the shovel for putting the plant into the ground.
  • Light, aluminum shears are useful for pruning cedars, tall grasses and thinner branches (Lee Valley has great ones)
  • A good Division Knife can be used under ground for dividing mature perennials. 
  • Gardena sprinklers are a great make, with a reach of 30 feet on either side, but take them in over the winter (available at Canadian Tire)

  • Itoh peonies have an extended growing period and are well worth the extra expense
  • Culchicum is a pretty fall bloomer, with bulbs available in August from nurseries.
  • Fall crocus can bloom now through to December, many are a beautiful blue.
  • Pretty asters: Little Carlow (pale blue) and Monte Casino (white)
  • It is hard to find many of the trees and bushes at Sheridan or other chain nurseries, so it is best to pre-order from specialty nurseries (this includes dwarf dogwood, hinoki cypress, dwarf Japanese pine, and other specimens I've chased past springs).   
  • 7 Son Flower tree is hardy, salt and drought resistant, and grows about 15' - 20'; very delicate with exfoliating white bark
  • Check out Whistling Gardens (a bit far away but worth the visit).
  • Plant World has great perennials and knowledgeable staff
  • Plants with Latin names Koreana will survive temperatures to -40 
  • Culchicum
  • Nana as part of the proper name indicates a dwarf variety

Good to Know
  • Slow release fertilizer pellets are great & available in 90 or 120 day formulas. (use the 90 day no later than May and 120 day in April... don't want to fertilize too late in the season)
  • Squirrels don't like narcissus, allium, snowdrops, fritilaria or Culchicum bulbs and generally leave them alone. When planting other bulbs, like tulips, to help keep squirrels away, just lay prickly branches of barberry criss-crossed over the spot to deter access.
  • These garden guys are hard to book as they are so busy, but David Leeman (647-701-9101)  is great for Landscape Services and Trevor Ash for tree trimming

Monday, October 12, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Incredible weather! An Indian summer and temperatures of close to 70F this beautiful holiday Monday.

Lois hosted family in Matawachan once again. This year, a pig roast accompanied fantastic salads and sides. The get-together is becoming a bit of a tradition, with celebrations four years running: 2014 and 2013 and 2012.

The leisurely scenic drive, stopping for apple-picking in Colborne and watching the salmon run the Ganaraska River in Port Hope have become Thanksgiving rituals as well.

Years go by, and sometimes looking at past photographs it is easy to mistake one year for another. There is the timeless beauty of an apple warmed by sun, leaves turning scarlet and golden.

But there is also Alex, growing taller and into a young man, as time works its magic. One year is not the next but yet it is, and it is good and wonderful and amazing.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Time will tell

I love the Saturday morning paper. Sitting down with a coffee and turning the big pages. Scanning through the World News, checking out the Business section, reading the Sports headlines, checking out reviews (theatre, restaurant, wine and books). It is usually the news closer to home that captures my closest attention.

Last week, Ian Brown's column, My year of aging semi-gracefully made me laugh out loud when I read it in the Globe.   I didn't realize he had actually published the pages of the diary he kept in Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-First Year. Using mathematical rounding, I still land closer to 50, but if all goes predictably & well, I will be 60 soon enough.

And I will be in good company. Later in the paper, Margaret Wente was pointing out that the seniors crisis is at hand. Canada now has more people over the age of 65 than kids under 14.

At work, by 2020, 35% of the current workforce will be eligible to retire; 8,000+ before the end of next year. I'm not in either cohort but will certainly be impacted by such a massive exodus. The forecast is that government will be smaller, but hopefully if I stick it out there will be opportunities to contribute to something that really matters.

The next while I want to play close attention to what brings me true job satisfaction and then look for opportunities to do more of the same. It is easy to get off course, do the busywork, or get distracted.  I had a very unpleasant experience with someone at work last week, but I also had a great exchange with several mentees and had a chance to meet the Premier of Ontario. I have a new manager, new senior executive, and changes on the horizon. Will try to make the best of what the next day/month/year/decade brings.

copy and pasting below for easy reference should the Globe archive content by the time I'm 60.

Review: In Sixty, Ian Brown chronicles his journey toward the end

“What will I remember as I die?” For most of us the answer is, of course, nothing; we can’t remember much, even now. But this is the existential question that drives Ian Brown to keep a diary as he hits the Big 6-0. Suddenly panicked by the idea of time running out, he figures he had better starting paying better attention: “If you take the trouble to write down the details,” he writes, “you get a second chance to live it.”

But his latest book, Sixty, may find his biggest audience yet; there are so many of us in the same creaky boat. Written with his trademark gutsy candour, and full of self-deprecating wit, Sixty sets out to document what Brown fears might be “the beginning of the end.”

Previous surveyors of life stages – from the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson to the author Gail Sheehy – largely ignored the finer (and funnier) points of old age: Erikson lumped all the years from 65 to death into a stage called “maturity,” while Sheehy’s most famous book, Passages, is billed as a “roadmap” telling us what to expect in our “20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond.”

It’s this “and beyond” that Brown decided to parse, beginning with the days of his 61st year. He doesn’t want to lose the future the way he’s lost the past: “I can’t get away from the nagging feeling that somewhere along the path of my life, I misplaced twenty years,” he writes. “I am not sure when or where.”

Brown was inspired by another man writing down the details of his life – Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel cycle, My Struggle. Brown’s writing is just as edifying, but much more accessible and, Lord love him, much shorter. He’s much funnier, too; he describes his growing baldness as “a monky tonsure … like one of those bare spots in the centre of a Druidic circle of standing stones, the place where sacrifices were made,” and details his hemorrhoid, which he names George, “a rich, lustrous, steamy affair” that “feels like the intersection of Highway 410 and the Trans-Canada Highway … Honestly, there is no greater indignity known to man.”

While his daughter Haley encourages him to keep a diary, telling him to “write true things, and forget about trying for the HuffPost-style self-help manual,” Brown, for his part, envisions creating a YouTube channel called “Ow, What Happened?” in which he will describe “what it feels like to be sixty in a world that doesn’t want to admit that one day it is going to be sixty too.”

Brown’s 61st year is busy – it includes an abundance of travel, from Australia to the Cotswolds, and many locations provide moments of introspection. After viewing the Chelsea Flower Show, he’s envious of gardeners, whose life meant something, “even if it was just consistent, conscientious, care-bound weeding.”

One of the book’s many charms is its distinctly male point of view. Having grown up with brothers, I didn’t realize there was so much I didn’t know. Sex, for example, rears its head all the time. Who knew this was still such a driving concern for newly retired, past-middle-age men? (I thought it was who would fix their lunch.) Brown and his friends still have fantasies that young women on the train might want to have sex with them.

Eight years ago, my children took me to a play at the Tarragon Theatre called Talk Thirty to Me – the comedic confessions of 29-year-olds who were horrified at the idea of turning 30. I had just turned 60. When it finished, the mostly young audience spilled out onto the darkened streets to congratulate the playwright, Oonagh Duncan, who had just hit the Big 3-0 herself. I wondered if they knew they were about to experience their heydays.

This is why Brown wishes he’d started his diary earlier – to save those memories: “I had my heyday in my thirties,” he writes, “but I never noticed.”

When my own children were teenagers, they used to scream, “What’s the meaning of life?!” I remember shouting back, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning!” (I was probably preoccupied – fixing lunch.) But now that they’re headed for their 50s, I’d rather give them a different piece of advice: Read this book!

Plum Johnson won the 2015 RBC Taylor Prize for her memoir They Left Us Everything.



Hey, kid. Stop calling me a senior!

The news is grim. The seniors crisis is at hand. Canada now has more people over the age of 65 than kids under 14. The infestation of old people is only going to get worse. Well before the last of the boomers shuffle off this mortal coil (somewhere around 2059), more than 25 per cent of the Canadian population will probably be over 65.

It won’t be pretty. Daycare workers will switch to looking after wrinkled oldies. Health and pension costs will explode. Vast warehouses of demented people will replace schools as economic growth slows to a halt and social creativity decays. Would you want to live in such a world? Not me.

Fortunately, old age isn’t what it used to be. I used to dread it. I had always thought that seniors were preoccupied with dentures, hearing aids and Shoppers Drug Mart seniors’ specials. Now I know that’s not the case. They’re more likely to be complaining about the dates they’ve met through
“Some of the women are very superficial,” groused a 70-ish something man I know. “They’re just in it for the sex.” Although he’s happy to oblige, he wants to find a woman who likes him for himself. Also, it was awkward to explain to his 40-year-old daughter (who keeps an eye on his) finances why there was a $132 charge from Holiday Inn on his Visa card. “We didn’t even stay overnight,” he said. 

“It was just a nooner.”

Other seniors really do make life a nuisance. In the tranquil little country town near our place, the peace is shattered every weekend by roving geriatric motorcycle gangs. They love to rev their engines up and down Mill Street, with their old ladies on the back. And I do mean old. You’d be amazed how many motorcycle grandmas there are.

Old age is changing even faster than we think. As our lifespans extend by leaps and bounds, we’re also growing older more slowly. Sixty really is the new 50, or maybe even the new 40. If functional old age doesn’t start until 15 years before you die, then most of us won’t enter old age until our early 70s. A lot of us will make it to our mid-80s in reasonably good shape before we efficiently fall off the cliff.

So what will we do with all that extra life? It turns out we’ll do pretty much the same things we’ve been doing all along – hopefully without embarrassing our kids too much.

I confess that this realization took quite a lot of time to dawn on me. I had always thought that turning 65 would be a sort of reverse-Cinderella moment, when youth and love and work would all be snatched away and I would turn into a miserable, wizened crone. Then I turned 65, and none of that happened. Instead, there was a sort of liberation. For the first time in my life I felt that I could, within reason, do exactly what I wanted. And what I wanted was pretty much what I already had (except for the youth part). Work, love, friends, good books to read and woods to walk in. Not much has changed, except in good ways.

Not everything is perfect. Our memories are shot. My friends and I have conversations that go: “I really loved that movie, oh, gosh, what was it called, with that great villain. Casper Sousa? Who played him, anyway? He was terrific.” Fortunately, God invented Google just in time for us, along with artificial hips and other mental and physical aids.

Now that many of us won’t be entering true old age for quite a while, it’s time to revise the language. For starters, we should abolish the odious term “retirement age.” There’s no such thing any more. Almost every “senior” I know is doing some kind of productive work, paid or unpaid, part-time or full. Nobody is “retired.” Everyone is out there in the world, and some are busier than ever.

The other word we should retire is “senior,” with all its dreadful, infantilizing connotations. “Senior” makes me scream. I may be old but my marbles are intact (mostly). My abs are firmer than yours (maybe). I am, in fact, exactly like you, only a little calmer and a little older.

For example, I now know that most people’s interest in sex and passion never goes away, no matter how old and senile they may be. What goes away is the opportunity. This fact may be revolting to the young, but it keeps life interesting for the rest of us. Handsome young men have no idea how older women secretly eye them on the subway, and that is probably a good thing. Sadly, they don’t eye us back. You need an 80-year-old to do that.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse - September Harvest Moon

Skies were overcast in our neighbourhood for the total eclipse of the blood moon on September 26th. We saw glimpses when we looked toward the sky around 10 pm on Sunday night: a silver sliver popping out from behind the clouds and then hiding again, in and out, with the clouds working mischief and adding to the suspense.
"There goes the sliver."
"It's the total eclipse!"
"Right now!"
"No, it was just the clouds."
"It's back.... no it's totally gone."
"It's not supposed to happen until 10:11."
 "Is it now?" 

Yes, yes, it is always now, isn't it?  The celestial event had not occurred since 1982 - and will not be repeated until 2033. But this now, this now, now, will never come again.

People in other parts of our globe got better views of the lunar eclipse. Clear skies in the UK, Athens, Jerusalem and Paris made for some amazing videos and photographs. Just imagine, all these souls around the world staring up toward the heavens.

The September Harvest moon is officially full September 27 at 10:50 pm.

Shine on, harvest moon!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Making Space

Today I carted a car load off to Value Village:  a chair, a microwave, winter gloves.  Rob and I have vowed to make some space in our lives, but it is tough to get rid of stuff. Lots of reasons, I guess... it might come in handy again someday, it's too nice to get rid of, but there are so many good memories etc. etc. etc.

We're still hanging on to the furniture from our living room makeover, shifting the pieces to the basement.  Now I think we may donate to  Furniture Bank. They will collect gently used pieces and will even issue a tax receipt, although you still need to pay a pick up fee. Donated articles are then cleaned up and provided free of charge to people who can make good use of them.

Furniture Bank has evolved to become much more than about a simple transfer of furniture from those who have, to those who don’t. The Furniture Bank movement is one of empowerment – of individuals transitioning out of homelessness, of women and children escaping abusive situations, of refugees and newcomers to Canada.

Last year, over 25,000 households were supported by the charity. 

I might be able to make a couple hundred bucks selling the pieces, but I'd like to think of these finding new homes with hopeful beginnings.

Don't Just Declutter, De-Own was a great little post I came across when searching for 'declutter' images.  “Owning less is far more beneficial than organizing more.”

At its heart, organizing is simply rearranging. And though we may find storage solutions today, we are quickly forced to find new ones as early as tomorrow. Additionally, organizing our stuff (without removing it) has some other major shortcomings that are rarely considered:
  • It doesn’t benefit anyone else. The possessions we rarely use sit on shelves in our basements, attics, and garages… even while some of our closest friends desperately need them.
  • It doesn’t solve our debt problems. It never addresses the underlying issue that we just buy too much stuff. In fact, many times, the act of rearranging our stuff even costs us more as we purchase containers, storage units, or larger homes to house it.
  • It doesn’t turn back our desire for more. The simple act of organizing our things into boxes, plastic bins, or extra closets doesn’t turn back our desire to purchase more things.  The culture-driven inclination to find happiness in our possessions is rarely thwarted in any way through the process.
  • It doesn’t force us to evaluate our lives. While rearranging our stuff may cause us to look at each of our possessions, it does not force us to evaluate them—especially if we are just putting them in boxes and closing the lids. On the other hand, removing possessions from our home forces questions of passion, values, and what’s truly most important to us.
  • It accomplishes little in paving the way for other changes. Organizing may provide a temporary lift to our attitude. It clears a room and subsequently clears our mind, but rarely paves the way for healthy, major lifestyle changes. Our house is too small, our income is too little, and we still can’t find enough time in the day. We may have rearranged our stuff… but not our lives.
On the other hand, the act of removing possessions from our home accomplishes many of those purposes. It is not a temporary solution that must be repeated. It is an action of permanence—once an item has been removed, it is removed completely. Whether we re-sell our possessions, donate them to charity, or give them to a friend, they are immediately put to use by those who need them.