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.