Saturday, February 28, 2015


My workplace offered a half-day even featuring Harvard professor Dr. Mahzarin Banjj, who shared the research behind her book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.

The ideas she presented were complex, but she presented them simply, and had the audience participate in some tests that made many realize they were not immune to blind spots of their own.
The first time I heard this riddle was in the early 1970’s, on ‘All in the Family’.  I was only about 10 at the time, and I can’t remember if I came up with the ‘right’ answer or not, but I do remember my grandfather telling me to take it to heart:
A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son, badly injured, is rushed to the hospital. In the operating room, the surgeon looks at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this boy. He is my son.”

Pause until you’ve formulated an answer. Okay, click here for the answer to the riddle.  Astoundingly, more than 80% people in the year 2015 still don't arrive at the solution.

We’re all guilty of bias because we are all human, but sometimes we are not even aware how these unconscious associations or “mind bugs” influence our behaviour and choices.  Being aware you might have a blind spot can help widen your view.

More than half the people watching fail to see the obvious in this selective attention test, where people are asked to count the number of times a basketball is passed on the court.  If you haven’t taken it yet, please do!

Thankfully there are tools to help you become more aware, such as Harvard's Implicit Association Test.
It is well known that people don't always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’. Understanding such divergences is important to scientific psychology. This web site presents a method that demonstrates the conscious-unconscious divergences much more convincingly than has been possible with previous methods. This new method is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short.
At the end of her presentation Dr. Banjj said something astounding and provocative. We may only have one or two generations left as the human beings we know ourselves to be now. Technology is changing so fast we can expect to have computer chips embedded in our brains and hearts to the extent we become unrecognizable as a carbon-based species and evolve into something entirely different. What can we do now for the generations to come, to help our future society be as diverse as possible?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why not?

I participated in my first ukulele music jam!

It should be noted that I literally just ‘picked up’ the ukulele the day before, looked at it and strummed a C chord by copying finger positions on a tab chart, so I am definitely no expert. However, that didn’t stop me from attending the jam, and I’m glad I went.

The ukulele in question was actually a gift from Alex to Rob a couple of Christmases ago. A fire engine red enamel Blue Diamond soprano. I brought it along to the Olde Stone Cottage Pub to play with the Scarborough Ukes. The website is right describing their event as a fun, low-pressure workshop focusing on playing and singing real songs with real people.

We played Closing Time, Turn the Page and several other tunes with handily projected tabs on a screen so people could play along. During the second half of the evening, more experienced players took to the stage to perform their solos. 

That night I learned how to New York Strum (NYS). The experienced player sitting next to me didn’t get up and leave, although maybe I should have bought him a beer as a reward for being so tolerant. Doing the NYS is a bit of a fake, because you are muffling the strings while working on your strumming technique and getting down the rhythm pattern and up/down strokes. The NYS also keeps you in the jam and you can use it when you don’t know a chord. Fun!

We have occasional Open Mics down at BPYC and some beginner uke players talked Rob and I into joining their cadre and got us out to the Jam. The  debut performance of “You Are My Sunshine” and “Sail Away” is coming up at the club, and I’ll be strummin’.  Our hope is that everyone there will join in the singing and cover up any mistakes in our playing.
I still have my violin in the closet from when I tried to learn how to play more than 20 years ago. I sure picked a difficult – if not the most – difficult instrument to learn as an adult. The ukulele is a bit easier and I think I will enjoy getting plucky.
The truth is, the ukulele is the perfect outsider instrument, one for musical misfits everywhere….
For me, the beauty of the ukulele is that it’s for everybody, with no elitist connotations. It’s quick to learn, inexpensive to buy and one of the most portable instruments you can find…
The most important thing to know about music, and learning how to play music, is that it should be fun. From this point of view, the ukulele is the perfect instrument to get started on: if you approach it in the right frame of mind, you’ll make fast progress, and very soon you’ll be strumming some groovy tunes.
The ukulele comes with a certain amount of baggage. You must always be on your guard, because:

  • The ukulele can lead to an interest in other instruments 
  • There is no such thing as owning just one ukulele 
  • The ukulele is irrepressibly cheerful, and sometimes you just don’t want to be cheerful.
   Get Plucky with the Ukulele, by Will Grove-White
This is a great book, full of history, tidbits, motivation and useful advice. The author is one of the players in the Great Britain Ukulele Orchestra, a group that clearly has fun doing what they do:


Sunday, February 22, 2015

50 Books!

The BPYC Book Club celebrated 50 Books!  To celebrate, Annika prepared a quiz for us to see how much we remembered. There were some tricky questions in there (Was that Year of Wonders or State of Wonder?  The Kitchen God's Wife or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan? The elephant's name from 100 year-old-man or Water for Elephants?)  She also crafted little chocolates for everyone with the inscription: 50 Books! From Crow Lake to Asia. We've been to the Galapagos Islands. We've sailed the seas with a zebra, an orangutan & hyena aboard. We took a journey with a Centenarian. We've learned about Frida Kahlo's. We've been to China. Together we travel and learn on a shoestring budget.

We toasted with bubbly and celebrated our longevity as a book club.

By coincidence it happened to be my evening to host, and my book-pick was 'How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia', one of my favourite reads of recent years. This was the third time I've read it, and found myself admiring the author's ability to be deceptively plain-spoken about life's tragedies and joys. I also wondered how some of the ladies in the group would react to the brash language or unusual framing of the story as a 'how to' book. It led to a thoughtful discussion, as always.

I cooked up a batch of butter chicken and spicy rice, served with raita and nan.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hi Ho Silver

Goodbye Pontiac Grand Prix SE1999. We drove you through 16 winters. You packed a lot in the trunk over the years - bags of groceries, soil for the garden, goalie gear for hockey tournaments, tents for camping in provincial parks, sails for two different boats. Totally reliable, minimum fuss, and no unexpected repairs and maintenance. But when the mechanic at your last oil change said the brake lines were about to go, we knew it was time to start looking for another ride.

Let's hope your replacement lasts as long and is just as reliable. We picked the Suburu Outback because of 4 wheel drive which comes in handy up and down the steep incline at Bluffers. Also the outstanding safety record and fuel efficiency.

When we went to pick up the new (to us) Suburu 2013 it wasn't quite ready, and although I was a bit miffed, part of me was just as happy to have the Pontiac a couple of extra days.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Happy New Year!

Gong Xi Fatt Chai.

Wendy hosted an afternoon at the Crown Prince in honour of Chinese New Year, and we enjoyed some the best dim sum I ever tasted.

I even tried steamed chicken feet, which is supposed to be incredibly nourishing for your joints. Our champagne glasses always seemed to magically refill before they were even half-empty.  Delicious samplings included suckling pig, steamed pork buns, shrimp dumplings, deep fried sesame/sweet potato, sticky rice in lotus leaf. Even though the morsels were bite-sized, the feast was filling.

Our hostess also brought our horoscopes. 2015 is a fulfilling year for oxes such as me. "Your tenacity and doggedness to get things done will work in your favour. Business will prosper. The Year of the Green Wood Sheep will be excellent in terms of money. Relationships for the Ox zodiac sign will flourish. Sex will be more important than real love. Travel for fun and work is in the cards this year. You might be affected by stress and mental ailments. Be sure to take precautions. 2015 foretells that you will be the go-between for all conflicts between family members."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Something old is new again

Penny used a phrase awhile ago that has really stuck with me: "good to the bottom of my belly".  I think that is a wonderful way to mark a truly satisfying meal.

After a week of restaurant food on my holiday, I was dreaming of wholesome home cooked meals & to satisfying my cravings for menus that included lots of vegetables, grains, and meat-on-the bone.  "Good to the bottom of my belly" meals.

Mostly after a full day at work I go to quick & easy, tried & true, but this week I was looking forward to adding a few new twists. Rainbow chard & kale was a nice change from the regular spring mix greens. Preserved lemon added a citrus punch to the grains. Roasting veggies I would normally pan fry (brussel sprouts); boiling something I would normally bake (garlic, turnips); grating potatoes to include in quiche. Something old is new again.

Prepping and cooking ahead definitely helped! Made the bolognese on Sunday; marinaded and cooked the chicken ahead on Tuesday/Wednesday.

Bon Appetit and the LCBO Winter 2015 edition inspired the menu. I would make any of these meals again.

  • Sunday: beer braised short ribs and root vegetable tarte tatin and and fresh chard/savoy kale salad.
  • Monday:  spiced lamb chops with mint jelly and barley risotto with swiss chard and preserved lemon and fresh chard/savoy kale salad.
  • Tuesday: Mushroom beef barley soup (Can't find the recipe online, but what I liked about this was browning the mushrooms in butter first, then adding the celery and shallots, then stock, then bring to boil and add barley.  simmer for an hour
  • Wednesday: Paparadelli Bolognese
  • Thursday: Chinese Chicken Salad, Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts; Miso Glazed Turnips
  • Friday: Chinese Chicken Salad Redux (This was from the LCBO Winter 2015 edition, not yet available online... what I liked about this was marinading and then cooking ahead. It made for a main-dish meal, easy to assemble with minimum fuss)
  • Saturday:  Quiche. Not recipe but a meld of several. Included bacon, mushroom, carmelized onion, roasted garlic & gruyere. Tried a few 'new' techniques. Grating raw potato & then squeezing out the moisture & pan frying; boiling garlic cloves for a couple of minutes before sauteing & browning in butter & then slicing. Delicious combo of flavours, served alongside colourful greens with oranges and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Visiting Paris and London for the first time?

For Lois, who just booked her first trip to Paris & London...

Of course you are doing your research beforehand on Google Earth, You Tube, Trip Advisor, Rick Steeves...  I also read lots of fiction and nonfiction (history, art, architecture) and watched movies (Midnight in Paris!).  This helped tailor the list of the things we wanted to do and places to see on our all-too-brief tour. Definitely part of the pleasure is planning! I also asked friends who had visited for their thoughts.

One friend who earned a living for many years as a newspaper reporter was often called on to write travel pieces. He would spend the first day or two touring by land and then by water to get an overall sense of the geographical orientation.  Of course, Ciairan had an expense account and hotels eager to impress, so there were often limo drivers involved. For Rob and I, visiting Paris and London for the first time, the 'hop on hop off' tours were a great option, and the providers we chose offered both land and waterway tours. Along the way we were able to pick up the sense of place in neighbourhoods and districts, directly experience which hold the most appeal personally, and then go back to spend more time. Although we certainly did a lot of research beforehand, taking the 'overview tour' really did confirm where we wanted to spend our moments.  Even the best primary sources can't capture the vibes, kinetic energy, sounds and smells that resonate with your unique tastes. Also great was getting a birds-eye-view: if you time it right, you can begin your visit on the London Eye or Eiffel Tower in the daylight, enjoy sunset and then gaze upon the night lights.

Once we had a real sense of where we wanted to spend our precious time and energy, we'd visit the neighbourhood and target the things & places we wanted to see within it. The research we'd done beforehand would help us know which days were best for what activities (i.e. Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, or the dates and times for the changing of the Guards).

My favourite sections in travel books were the 'Guided Walks' that mapped out foot-friendly routes. Many of the places you walk past have interesting histories, so it is worthwhile to learn something about the back-story on who lived at the address. London generally puts plaques on their buildings, but Paris is very understated that way... I would never have known I was a block away from where Baudelaire held his opium soirees if I hadn't picked up a Frommer's.  Once I knew the address I had to go just to stand on the street in front of the building, imagining the comings and goings over the centuries.

Alex recommended guided walks, and our friend Laura spoke highly of London Walks, which led us to check out Paris Walks. There is lots to choose from, just pick a day and topic of interest and show up, no need to book ahead. The guides were incredibly informed and entertaining, and we learned something new every time. Definitely time well spent!

There were some places that were obligatory to visit as 'first-timers'.  How could we not spend time at the Louvre, or go up the iconic Eiffel? The Changing of the Guards was originally on our London itinerary, and we actually made it to the gates but ended up blowing it off because we'd have to wait more than an hour to hold our position for a decent view. Some things are best seen on You Tube. We also tried to mix things up a bit and get to places a bit less trod by tourists, like the Canal St. Martin and a narrow boat tour that started in Little Venice.

Our itineraries were definitely packed but we did try to leave some room for serendipity...  easier said than done because there was so much we wanted to see, but really, some of the best memories were just sitting in cafes or galleries and watching the world go by.  

Eating and drinking? I had a list of places I wanted to eat and drink in each city but other destinations ended up taking priority once we arrived. We'd generally have one 'nice' meal a day, either lunch or dinner, having a fortifying breakfast at home before heading out on our whirlwind tours.  After several hours of running around, we'd realize we were extremely hungry, and that realization would hit us when we were right in the midst of a major tourist district. This did not lead to the best culinary experiences. A general rule of thumb would be to avoid the touristy restaurants where they overcharge for mediocre fare and try to enjoy meals where you see the Londoners and Parisians dining. And if you want to go to a really special place, like the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower, you need to book weeks if not months in advance. Bring water bottles you can fill up from home and at stops along the way, and put some nutritious snacks in your pocket so you won't be tempted to fuel-up at tourist traps. In Paris, we had a couple memorable picnics seated by the Seine, complete with a bottle of wine and often live musicians. The batobus goes up and down the river all night, with Paris all lit up and sparkly, and we didn't have any trouble bringing light refreshments along for the ride. In London, the Markets (Borough and Camden) offered the most incredibly tasty and delicious tasting menus!

For more of my thoughts on Paris and London, click here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Full Snow Moon - February

If you close your eyes and squint a bit, this might be a sandy beach somewhere in the Caribbean, but it is actually a snowy frozen sea in Sweden. The landscape reminds me of the gap down at Bluffers - just needs a lighthouse to the left.

The moon is officially full Feb 3rd at 6:09 pm Toronto time.

photo of February 25, 2013 full moon as captured by Jorgen Norrland Andersson (Bothnia Sea, Sweden).

Monday, February 2, 2015

In which I face the facts

I treated myself to a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Definitely the best wine I have enjoyed in months. This centuries' old appellation deserves its reputation. The bottle I chose is organic and has a serious rep - so no cheap production methods to sneak in extra sulphites.

I most enjoyed the first sips before the allergic reaction kicked in... yes, I have to face the fact I have developed a most unfortunate reaction to one of my favourite substances. A sniffly nose definitiely interferes with taking in the aroma and fully savouring the taste of wine.  I guess for the last 8 months or so I've known I've been developing an allergy but thought if I cut way back on wine it might make a difference. Nope.  But those first sips tonight, they were worth all the discomfort that followed.

I've been trying substitutes (saki, cocktails) but they aren't quite the same. Maybe I just need to take antihistamines before a tasting?

Served with spiced lamb chops and barley risotto with swiss chard and preserved lemon that looked beautiful on the plate. Mint jelly added a sweet dimension.

Too bad I forgot to snap a photo, but it did look something like this, minus the cherry tomatoes.