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