Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016



Christmas Eve was our main family celebration this year, with Alex and Penny joining Rob and me at the table set with our best china and crystal. I wrapped ornaments at the place settings, so Alex and Penny would have them as momentoes for their own tree. Then we opened our presents and listened to carols, with the cat jumping in and out of boxes and chasing the crumpled wrappings. Lots of laughter, and hugs.

This is the first year Alex hasn't been with us in the morning for a commotion of opening stockings. It's been a different kind of day, spent leisurely reading by the tree and hanging out with the cat as Rob makes scalloped potatoes for a traditional dinner at my brother Dave's.

Festivities continue the next night at Brenda's.

It really is a most wonderful time of the year. Good food with friends and family. Sparkly light and long nights.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Winter Solstice 2016 - Whisky tasting



It is becoming a tradition to celebrate the longest night of the year with good friends and fine spirits. This year Whisky was the theme.

Whisky was given its name from the Gaelic beverage “uiscebeatha”, which translates to “water of life,” and moderate use of whisky is said to bring many benefits to the human metabolism.

We started with a lesson from Scotsman Richard Paterson on how to taste whisky. He demonstrates how to hold the glass and then how to nose the whiskey. The first greeting, "Hello" the second, "How are you", "Quite well" and then, "Thank you very much."  Don't smell too aggressively, don't rush, and enjoy the aromas that emerge after each approach. Peppery? Citrusy? When it is time to taste, add the amount of still water to suit your palate, take a drink and then pause to "chew" the whiskey in your mouth for 15-20 seconds to experience the body and taste.

Everyone brought a whisky and a thoughtful pairing to share and enjoy. We savoured
  • Highland Park, 12 year old scotch  from the Orkney Islands, served with oysters / Kaarina
  • Macallan, 12 year old scotch from the Highlands (Speyside), served with smoked trout and radish / Liz
  • Bowmore, 12 year old scotch, one of the Islays, served with duck pate and salmon / Grace
  • First Barrel, 2 year old straight whisky from a Toronto distillery (just released), served with a beautiful charcuterie assortment / Laura
  • Makers Mark, Kentucky Bourbon, aged around 6 years, served with pulled pork / Diane
  • Crown Royal, Apple Whisky, blended Canadian Whisky, served with apple cheddar / Nicolette
  • Crown Royal, Northern Harvest Rye, blended Canadian Whisky, served with dark chocolate / Diane


Ate a lot of delicious food, and discovered some wonderful pairings. Some of the most memorable were oysters with the Highland Park, the peaty taste becoming an undercurrent to the brine of the oyster. The duck pate with Bowmore was also outstanding, the notes of honey in the scotch complementing the savoury duck pate. Chocolate and Crown Royal were a satisfying end to the meal.
Some of the facts staying with me are: peat in the Orkney's is 4,000 years old; Mordecai Richler was paid a fee for product placement of Macallan in his novel Barney's Version; Bowmore is the same amber colour of Grace's violin; 2 years in a barrel yields an impatient whisky but the taste is enhanced by cheeses and meats; Maker's Mark whisky goes against the typical American spelling and omits the 'e' because its founders are Scottish; whisky really can smell like Royal Gala Apples; Northern Harvest Rye is a masterful blend.I found scotchnoob.com to be a great source of information, but my favourite was the Richard Paterson You Tube channel. Both were fantastic because they made the subject entertaining, approachable and informative.







“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.” Raymond Chandler

“I’m on a whisky diet. I’ve lost three days already.” Tommy Cooper

Humphrey Bogart’s last words were, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.” James Joyce



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Long Nights Moon - December Full Moon

This month's full moon is the brightest and highest of the year.

December 13, the moon is full at 7:05 pm. Known as the Cold Moon, Frosty Moon and Long Nights Moon.

The last full moon of 2016.

The third Supermoon in a row! Those astronomers have done a good job marketing the Supermoon phenomena, however if something occurs three or four times a year, it seems a bit of hyperbole.

A glorious reflection on sparkling snow.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Slow comfort food

This month the weather hasn't been very cold, but the nights are getting longer, and it seems to trigger an instinct to sleep and eat more. Pots simmered on the stove with chile, spaghetti sauces, broths, and soups to satisfy my cravings for comfort food.

I tried several new recipes and added to my repertoire. Favourites were:

  • Lupini Beans
  • Samosas
  • Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup
  • Asian Short Ribs
  • Pulled Pork


There are a few things I notice about the list: it's full of food that takes hours, and in one case several days, to prepare; it's international, with recipes from Italy, India, Asia, French Canada, and the Southern States; and four out of five recipes came from the internet - even though I have a cupboard full of cook books.

Here are the recipes:

Lupini Beans

I had a craving for white bean soup so grabbed some dried beans from the cupboard, prepped them in the pressure cooker, and then went to look for a recipe using lupini beans. Turns out you need to soak the beans for 5-9 DAYS to make them edible. Otherwise, they are actually toxic.

So every day for nine days, I changed the water in the morning and evening. On Day 5, I took a nibble and the bean was still bitter. On Day 8 they were great. Nice and firm and meaty. The shell around the bean is fairly tough so must be removed before eating, but it can be fun it you eat them as a snack and squeeze the bean out of the shell.

One of the ways to serve these beans turns out to be an Italian Christmas tradition, drizzling oil on top and serving with olives.

Samosa

This month I also (successfully) made samosas  (by hand!).  Which also meant making pie dough. I'm not a baker so was pleasantly surprised that it really wasn't too difficult to make a pie crust, it took about a half an hour. I think if I were to do it again I'd be a lot quicker.

As for cutting and rolling the samosas there are lots of methods, but I chose the one from Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan Iyer. (I had to take the photo on the left as there were no google results displaying a better pic). This seemed the easiest and most straightforward approach from the ones I saw online.

After finishing making the dough, you roll out one big log and then divide it into eight smaller balls, and then flatten each ball into a disc. Since I wasn't making the samosa right away, I wrapped the discs in plastic and placed them in the fridge until the next day. Then I formed each disc into a ball again, rolled the balls into a circle, cut the circles in half, curled the circle into a cone, stuffed it, and wet the dough at the top to seal the edge tightly closed.

The sweet potato filling wasn't to everyone's taste (Penny and I loved it, Rob and Alex not so much). But the dough was a hit.

Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup

We were out at St. Lawrence Market, and one of the butchers had big bags of beef bones on the counter selling for $2. Perfect for beef stock. When he mentioned smoked pork ham hocks, I couldn't resist.

That same afternoon I had two big pots bubbling on the stove. One full of beef stock that would take ten hours to simmer.  The other a French Canadian classic that would simmer just 3 1/2 hours. I found the  five-star favourite for the yellow split pea soup on All Recipes.

Asian Short Ribs

Alex and Penny were entertaining and asked me for a recipe for ribs I'd made in the slow cooker four weeks earlier. I was flattered, but unfortunately couldn't recall making them whatsoever. I even checked my browsing history but it didn't go back quite far enough. It wasn't until Alex reminded me I'd served them with rice and orange slices, that I remembered SHORT ribs, and easily found the recipe.

Yes, it was tasty! And extremely simple.  From Dam Delicious.



INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 5 pound bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS:


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes, if using.
  2. Place short ribs into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in soy sauce mixture until well combined.
  3. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours.*
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup water. Stir in mixture into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and sesame seeds, if desired.






















Pulled Pork

The slow cooker was also put to work to prepare delicious pulled pork for Rob's & Alex' reverso 26-62 birthday party. That recipe, I did bookmark, along with the spicy coleslaw that was a perfect match. I followed the instructions, but then added a splash of bourbon for some extra zing. I'll be making this one again - and soon, for an upcoming whiskey tasting.







(Serves 12)
1 4 lb(s) boneless pork shoulder
1 big splash vegetable oil
1 5 ½ oz can tomato paste
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup yellow mustard
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
2 Tbsp cumin powder
½ cup chili powder
2 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp salt
soft sandwich buns for everyone
Spicy Coleslaw
1. Place a heavy Dutch oven or large stew pot over medium-high heat and splash in enough oil to swirl and coat the bottom with a thin film. Carefully add the pork roast to the hot oil and commence Operation Browning. Continue, turning the works as needed until the meat is evenly browned on all sides. Be patient! This is the only opportunity you’ll have to add the rich flavours of browned meat to the dish before the coming liquids are added and lower the temperature.
2. When the roast is evenly browned transfer it to a slow cooker. Stir together the tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, mustard, chipotle pepper, cumin, chili powder and oregano, add a cup or so of water to help evenly dissolve and distribute the flavours. Pour over the pork. Cook for 6 or 8 hours or longer as needed depending on your slow cooker settings. Reverently return, carefully remove the top and behold your achievement!
3. Using a pair of tongs remove the bones and cartilage. With a pair of forks or tongs shred and pull the remaining meat and stir together with the broth. You have a lot of food. Enough to divide into two different meals. Here’s how. Remove and reserve half the proceeds for another meal then make tonight’s dinner with the remaining goodness in the pot.

Craft and build your sandwiches by piling the pulled pork on the soft buns and topping with lots of Spicy Coleslaw. Serve and share!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, by Beryl Bainbridge, is one of the best stories I've read in awhile. The characters don't say much, but their loneliness and fears and pettiness were fascinations that drew me right into their lives. These are grim times. England, during the Second World War, where so much is scarce. Men at war, food rationed, materials hard to come by, daily pleasures a distant hope. The book itself is pretty spare, less than 200 pages, with events taking such a sudden turn at the end I had to go back and re-read the passage more than twice to confirm the twist.


This was Virginia's pick for bookclub and I was surprised when a few people vehemently disliked the novel. Such a brilliant story, such neurotic and pathetic characters, subversive humour, rich metaphor. Oh well, no accounting for taste.

One area our tastes did agree, was the deliciousness of the lasagna. So good we asked for the recipe.


LASAGNA

meat sauce
Freezes well. To turn it into a Bolognese sauce, add 1/2 milk or cream along with the wine and stock.

1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of chopped pancetta
2 cups finely chopped onions
2 cups finely chopped carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 lb (500 grams) ground veal
1 lb (500 grams) ground pork
salt and pepper
1/2 cup of white wine
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoon of tomato paste
2 28 oz cans of tomatoes, drained and chopped

HEAT oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the pancetta, and saute for one minute, until it is beginning to soften. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook gently for 15 minutes until vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown.

STIR in garlic and parsley and cook for three minutes. Increase heat to medium high. Add veal and pork, stirring to break up clumps of meat. Saute until meat loses its pinkness, about 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

ADD wine and cook until it has mostly evaporated and mixture is juicy, about 4 minutes. Stir in stock, tomato paste and tomatoes.. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for one hour.

UNCOVER and cook for 30 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

lasagna
14 lasagna noodles
6 cups of bechamel sauce
8 cups meat sauce
2 cups parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp butter

- Boil lasagna noodles (aboout ten minutes) 10 minutes, then put in a single layer on a tea towel or parchment paper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Spread a thin layer of the bechamel sauce on the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan, set a layer of noodles and then cover with 1/3 of the bechamel sauce and half of the meat sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of parmesan.
- Repeat. Layering once, finishing with the meat sauce and 1/2 cup of parmesan. Dot with butter.
- Bake 45 minutes in oven until a crust forms and sauce is bubbling. Cover with foil the last 10 minutes if crust is getting too dark.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

26-62

Rob turned 62; Alex turned 26.

A weird little numeric palindrome. How many times in a lifetime does something like that occur in the life of a parent/child? Definitely worthy of celebration.

The last time we had a co-celebration was the year Alex turned 4 and Rob turned 40.

We invited family for a reverso party. Alex suggested he and Rob exchange clothes, but had them change heads instead. It was just a matter of putting life-size photos of their heads on a cardboard stick, and then switching them around.

We served the meal in reverse, starting with coffee and liqueur. Then cake (one vanilla cake with chocolate icing and once chocolate with vanilla icing), and dinner last. Fun!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seu George - Life Aquatic


I was stumped on what to get Rob for his birthday until I learned that Seu George would be performing David Bowie covers the very same night.

When we first saw him in the film The Life Aquatic, we were entranced and charmed by his acoustic guitar and tenor voice singing the lyrics in Portuguese.

During the concert Seu George talked about how Wes Anderson had telephoned him at home in Brazil and asked if he would like to participate in the film. Had he heard of David Bowie? Seu George had not. The first day of filming he recognized his fellow actors not by their names, but by characters they had played: there was the guy from Ghostbusters, the one from Jurassic Park.

The first song Wes asked him to play was Rebel, Rebel, which they would film in a half hour; it was one he hadn't yet learned to play. Redubbed later in the studio, it remains one of the film's highlights for me.  I also love his version of Changes and Oh You Pretty Things.

https://youtu.be/GzkXuHu-xYc

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Zubin: Are you understanding?

When Zubin's five day intensive was announced several months ago I signed up right away. It began the day after sadhana ended, and several of us from the thirty day challenge were back for more. In fact, the studio was packed to the maximum and floor space was at a minimum. Marlene and Neron assisted and for the most part, people were aware and respectful of each other. The large class would often break into halves, with one group working on something complementary to the other, and then switching it up.

Are you understanding? A phrase the teacher used repeatedly.

The first night we worked at the wall, with the reminder that Iyengar used it is a teacher. Just standing with our backs to it, pinning the corners of our shoulders. Trying to broaden horizontally so the top of the back of our thighs align perfectly with the wall, and using a brick in virbadrasana so our knees must pin it to the wall.  Although Zubin had made these demonstrations on his previous visits, I was glad to experience once again how a seemingly simple thing can have profound implications.

He also reminded us we are bigger than our problems, and not to fixate only on fixing a sore shoulder with a specific pose, but rather to approach yoga with body, breath, and mind.

Body, breath and mind entwined for me in moments and I was able to glimpse my skin breathing, mind in body, breath in mind.

To incorporate into my home practice:

  • Stand in tadasana with palms facing back; lift arms backwards.
  • Raised arms with arms behind the ears.
  • Stand sideways, arms-length away from wall with palms pressed flat and fingers pointing down.
  • Stand with back to wall, arms-length away and then press palms flat and pointing down. Work towards arms aligned to shoulder height.
  • Squeeze yoga brick between arms, placed at wrist and palm, with palms facing up; keep arms straight and eyes of elbows facing toward each other. Raise arms above head without brick falling


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

October and November garden


The witch hazel and maple blazed in the backyard. Today the leaves on the back Trompenburg maple are stripped bare, and the witch hazel's are curled and brown. In the front, the dragon's blood is still scarlet.

Unseasonably warm temperatures meant the nasturtiums lasted until November 12 this year. The toad lilies weren't as noticeable as in past years, but begonias made for an exotic touch. The peach dahlia lasted well into October but was gone by Halloween.


I found myself transplanting in November, switching up the hellebore and cedar. It is a more pleasing alignment for the eye but I'm not so sure the cedar itself will like it under the maple. We'll see, can always switch them back in the summer. Also moved a hosta in the front from under the hydrangea bush to the other side. The plant will definitely prefer it's new location, and I'll be able to see it better.

Notes for next year would be to plant more of the begonias in the back yard, they were hardy until well into November and in the summer the foliage was gorgeous.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Mystical Moon - November


The real moon was a distraction in the sky, as I was driving and trying to take photos. Absolutely breath taking! The photos really didn't do any justice to the real thing, not like 'Me and the Moon' by Arthur Dove, one of the mystical landscapes on display as part of the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

This is the 'biggest' moon since November 1948, with the ancient satellite at its closest point to Earth than its been in almost 70 years.

Friday, November 11, 2016

So Long, Leonard Man

Last week I came across uke tabs for Dance Me to the End of Love, a song that has always deeply stirred me. I never knew until the site informed me, that it was about lovers in a death camp. I had always felt eternal love and yearning in that song, not darkness and death. That was the genius of Leonard Cohen, I think, to bring light into dark and despairing corners: "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

Just before falling asleep last night, I learned he died. I actually couldn't believe it at first, and thought there had been some mistake. His latest album, You Want It Darker, was only released a few weeks ago.

This morning I went searching for uke tutorials of Hallelujah, a song that has inspired so many incredible cover versions.

Other songs I'm listening to now: Anthem, Tower of Song, I'm Your Man, Everybody Knows, Famous Blue Raincoat, In My Secret Life, Bird on a Wire, A Thousand Kisses Deep. Lasting gifts to the world.

So glad I was able to see him perform in 2012.

My first favourite Leonard Cohen songs were Marianne and Suzanne. Although neither are my name, I felt he was singing to me directly, and I played and played the album on lazy Sunday mornings. Now when I hear them in my mind, I can see light pouring through a window, dust tumbling in sunbeams. Leonard Cohen provided the soundtrack of many such moments.

Come over to the window, my little darling,
I'd like to try to read your palm.
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy
before I let you take me home.
Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.
Well you know that I love to live with you,
but you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels
and then the angels forget to pray for us.
Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ...
We met when we were almost young
deep in the green lilac park.
You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
as we went kneeling through the dark.
Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ...
Your letters they all say that you're beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.
Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ...
For now I need your hidden love.
I'm cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.
Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ...
Oh, you are really such a pretty one.
I see you've gone and changed your name again.
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside,
to wash my eyelids in the rain!
Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ...

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Life is good

I looked back over the past week and can’t believe my schedule.

Every day I have learned something new, spent time with people I like or love, found a reason to celebrate, practised yoga, taken time for myself, prepared a meal, eaten delicious food, enjoyed music or art or literature. The weather has been unseasonably warm, the skies sunny, the autumn colours brilliant.

Yoga studio at 6 a.m. for sadhana every day + working fulltime Monday to Friday + tons of fun stuff. Although I must confess to nodding off during evening entertainment. It’s a good thing the clocks went back this weekend so I could get an extra hour shut-eye.

Everything is going so great I keep waiting for some disaster to happen, but in the meantime I will just enjoy and be thankful for this wonderful time and the people in my life to share it! 
  • Saturday: Canzine and Mystical Landscapes at the Art Gallery
  • Sunday: Day of the Dead Brickworks market (with Kaarina) + Diwali at Amita’s (with Rob, Alex, Penny & Twincy)
  • Monday: Halloween at home (with Rob)
  • Tues: Celebrate Penny’s Masters! Dinner out (with Rob, Alex, Penny, Amita)
  • Wed: Book Babes Book Club, The Dressmaker (with Virginia, Liz, Nicolette, Nicki, Laura, Miriam)
  • Thurs: Doc Soup, Author: The JT LeRoy Story (with Rob)
  • Friday: East Side Players, Joyful Noise (with Rob, Mike & Kaarina)
  • Saturday: Royal Winter Fair & Horse Jumping Show (with Robin and Rob)
  • Sunday: Mystical Landscapes at the Art Gallery (with Liz) + Giller, Between the Pages (with Kaarina, Laura & Grace)
  • Monday: Scarborough Uke Jam




Saturday, October 22, 2016

Fall Sadhana 2016

I was having trouble getting up at 6am let alone 5am, so was ambivalent about going to the sadhana this season. Yes I should.

These days when I preface anything with 'should' I challenge it all the more. 'Should' according to who? Why? Even if the should is good it isn't a reason by itself. Automatic pilot isn't the way to go through life.

I'm going because. Be cause. Be. Cause.

...

This has turned out to be the most crowded sadhana since I started going five years ago. Lots of new faces, new practitioners, and some just new to Iyengar yoga. It means less intense focus from the instructor, less hands-on correction, and a demand for more self awareness. It also means getting there early enough to get a parking spot.

...

Neron has been subbing for Marlene this last week. One morning he was talking about doing something only for the fruit, or end result, and how disappointing that can be. Like planting a seed for a tree and then going to check every few hours to see the sprout; then once the sprout comes demanding the tree produce fruit. Sometimes the fruit doesn't come for a generation. Does that mean it wasn't worth it to me to plant the seed?

...

Yoga in the west has often come to be simply a new way to exercise. The postures are definitely good for the body, but also my mind seems more clear, my spirit more generous when I undertake these thirty day challenges. In the beginning I am often impatient for the fruit, and then when I stop checking constantly, it finds me.




Eight Limbs
Tree of Yoga

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Full Hunter's Moon - October


This is the first Full Moon following September’s Harvest Moon. It rises just after sunset and sets around sunrise, so this is the only night in the month when the Moon is in the sky all night long. Farmers Almanac

This is sometimes called the Hunter's Moon. This past month, Rob, Alex and I went for a day trip  to Sainte Marie Among the Hurons, exploring the rebuilt 1648 wilderness settlement. It was a beautiful fall day, but a fire still burned inside the longhouse, and there were furs of wolves and bears and rabbits. In the cookhouse, long dead carcass of trumpeter swans and ducks hanging upside down, bounty for a hungry day. 

The moon is officially full October 16 at 12:24 a.m.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!


It was a beautiful drive to Matawatchen with Alex, Penny, Ryan and Rob. The fall colours on the winding roads were stunning. Crimson, orange, gold and canary. The sky a steely gray and then clouds lifting to blue.

Thanksgiving dinner with Lois and Mark, Brenda and Bill, Gord and Linda, James and Spencer. The meal was wonderful, but better still, sharing time with people we love around the feast, a big bonfire, some fireworks, a starry country sky. 

I'd never seen a peanut plant's flowers until Lois showed us the ones in her garden. The few plants were harvested, and we could see the peanut shells covered in dirt. I didn't know we could grow them in our short northern season. 

On the drive home we stopped at Pieters to pick up apples and cider. It's been over twenty years we've been stopping by the orchard, and we've seen it pass from Pieter to the Madambas's, and now to someone new. The family has sold their farm to someone else, and this was the last fall they were working there together before turning it over to new hands. 
We also stopped at a fruit and veg stand, and I picked up some salted black peanuts grown in Ontario. And lots of fall squash - turban, spaghetti, acorn.

The salmon were running in the Ganaraska River. They were very plentiful this year, I can't recall seeing so many people by the fish ladder in Port Hope. The crowd was taking photos and clapping when a fish was successful and made it to the next level. There were also salmon that weren't so successful... I watched as one fish slid back down three levels, tired from its journey, the carcasses of other salmon bobbing nearby. Sad to see, but hopefully mink and fischer and osprey will enjoy their own Thanksgiving feast after the crowds have gone.




Saturday, October 8, 2016

Choice or design

Lately I've been reading memoir and nonfiction. About people thinking, and re-thinking the forces that shape our lives. On reflection I see another common thread, of choice: why and how we make choices, and how important those choices are. We aren't always choosing consciously or even aware of the choices we make, but they shape every day of our lives.



Sugar, Fat, Salt: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss
A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist investigates the food industry, and along the way we learn about addiction, food science, marketing, and the men and women that concocted processed foods. This was Nicolette's pick for book club this month. During our discussion, we talked about how some of the information may not be new but there were definitely interesting reveals, such as secret meetings between food giants, bliss points for sugar and human biology's insatiable desire for fat.

this is happy, by Camilla Gibb
The writer talks about living with mental illness, finding love and getting married to another woman, trying to conceive, her miscarriage, being left by the love of her life while she is still pregnant with their second child, deep despair, and then trying to build a life as a single parent. But it is also about renewing ties with a brother, forging a deep friendship, redefining family, and realizing 'happy' isn't always elsewhere.

A Good Death, by Sandra Martin
Recent legislation in Canada has made physician-assisted death easier to access, so this book is indeed timely. The author spoke passionately at the Heliconian about the right to die with dignity and the fact that we'll need to work a lot harder as individuals and as a society if we are to make a "good death" a reality. Now I have a signed copy on my bookshelf.

Misbehaving: The Story of Behaviour Economics, by Richard Thaler
This is an intellectual memoir by the author that inspired choice architects with the idea that people could be nudged into good behaviour to improve society and maximize wellbeing. There's an interesting interview with the author about the book here. Not sure I will finish the memoir, but I do want to read Nudge.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Aloha



We considered taking a cabin on one of the big cruise ships and simplifying travel arrangements, but decided to plan our own route to adventure in Hawaii. Rob said, imagine planning this holiday 25 years ago? Without the internet, we definitely would have needed a travel agent and wouldn't have had the variety of places to stay.

Looking for accommodation took many hours and hours of fun and frustration. Some places on Home Away and Air B & B look like the hosts had snapped a photo of their kids' bedrooms just after the toys were stuffed under the bed. The occasional review was bedbug-scary. In our virtual tour of the island we were looking for places where we could hear the ocean waves, get a great view of the stars, and get a sense of what makes each island so unique.

Now we have lined up our stays and there is a good variety, including a cottage on an exotic flower farm, an open-air lanai, and an ocean view B&B. The places are all bookmarked on my work computer and when I get stressed out or bored, I take a quick escape to imagine our stay, still months away.

This will definitely be a driving holiday! We will be visiting different places on four Hawaiian islands. After the long flight to Big Island, there will be short commuter flights between each. Several rentals have strict cancellation policies, which means we're committed, and that we'll be paying for the time we don't use if we happen to arrive a day late. Hopefully things will go smoothly, we'll make our connections and there will be no major volcanic eruptions before or during our vacation!

BIG ISLAND
Makalani Oceanview Cottage (Kona) 
Stained Glass Cottage (Volcano Village)

MAUAI
Hana Cabana (Hana)
Moana Lani B&B (Lahaina)

OHAHU
Courtyard by Mariott (North Shore)

KAUI
Zen Root (Kilauea)
Waimea Plantation Cottages (Waimea)



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Let's Sing!


Florence Foster Jenkins lived in New York and in the 1940's, when she herself was well into her 70's, decided to rent Carnegie Hall and perform opera to rally the troops. There is a great documentary, A World of Her Own, on You Tube about the rich socialite with dreams exceeding her talent. Stephen Frears directs Meryl Streep in the recently released version of the Hollywood film. There is a line in the movie that I love, "They can say that I can't sing, but they can't say that I didn't sing."

I saw the film the night before attending my first singing lesson. I showed up to the night class along with the other forty hopefuls. Many seniors, several middle-aged workers, and ten or so young adults. During introductions we heard from people who had been told they couldn't sing in grade school, and now, here they were in their sixties and seventies, figuring, why not? There were others who already sang in church choirs and were looking for some professional voice coaching. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I shared the Florence Foster Jenkins line above.

Going to the Scarborough Uke Jam is fun, and partly because we sing our hearts out as we play. None of the players in the BPYC Uke band, Lost at C, are exceptional singers, but we sing (and beg our audience to sing along with us).

So far I've been to two night classes and there has been some of what I expected... vocal exercises and funny faces and deconstructing songs to look at phrasing (where to take a breath). Also a bit of the unexpected... stretching exercises and yoga to help free the chest, diaphragm, jaw and neck.

I'm not ready to rent Carnegie Hall by any stretch, but then, neither was Florence.

For now I will stick to the shower, uke jam, and strumming with 'Lost at C'.

October 1 is International Music Day.  I think I'll celebrate with a few stretches and singing in the shower!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Aloha


Rob and I booked our tickets to Hawaii on September 10, for travel in Jan/Feb.

We looked at a cruise but decided on island-hopping with an itinerary we'd set for ourselves. So it is flying into Kaui, heading to Maui, and then on to Big Island.

As it gets colder and frostier it will be fun to plan our days. Definitely will include:  whale-watching, star-gazing, checking out a coffee plantation, going for a sail, seeing the live volcanoes, swimming in the Pacific....

I was saving this for my 60th, but Rob said, why wait? He proposed the trip for my birthday this year, and we agreed on a combination Christmas and 30th anniversary present.

Maybe we booked the tickets a bit early for cost savings. The research I did said the ideal is 100 days before departure, but we both had to book work far enough in advance for a three week holiday.

So the countdown begins!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Out and About


I tend to avoid reading reviews before seeing the shows, so I'm not overly influenced, but it is always fun to compare notes afterward. Maybe I am getting more discerning, or maybe just more cynical, but the rave reviews weren't always jiving with my experience. There is also the opposite experience, with poor reviews of productions I've really enjoyed. 

**Matilda:  A fun night of musical theatre, based on  Dahl’s novel first published in 1988. The play has been winning accolades in NYC, with Time magazine billing it the “show of the year.” We attended mid- August and although the show was thoroughly entertaining, it didn't charm me enough to renew for another season of song and dance. 

*****Hamlet: . Rob and I had a backstage tour at Shakespeare in the Park this year and learned the show is produced on a shoestring budget, with actors laundering their own costumes and making the stage blood on the cheap (apparently insects love the recipe!). At 4,000 lines, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and takes 4 hours to perform, but the director took some liberties with this version and edited scenes down to 90 
minutes. Events take place in modern times, and a funereal touch at the end was including a projection of the characters filmed in happier times.. The ampitheatre was crowded with an audience comprised of a great mix of ages and races, as diverse as the cast itself. When the play ended and people were leaving the park, I was listening to some of the teenagers' animated conversations about charactersplot twists, and the blood-bath-ending. We saw this at the end of August and I didn't read any of the reviews until we were actually sitting down, waiting for the show to begin. (mostly positive)

***Come What Mahem: The latest edition of sketch comedy at Second City was predictably hilarious, providing a couple of stand-out bits and  good belly laughs. Saw this the day after opening night (August 31), but I didn't check out the reviews until just now. The Sun was disparaging, the Star and Globe both positive recounts of the irreverent and satirical sketches.

*The Plough and the Stars:  Ireland’s national Abbey Theatre brought this production to Toronto for a limited run to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. The play is a classic and highly regarded, but unfortunately between the strong accents and the poor sound quality I couldn’t understand more than half the dialogue. This is the first time I ever left a play at intermission, thinking I would do better to read it or see the movie if I wanted to understand the original. A strong review in the Star the next day made me wonder if we had seen the same performance. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September garden

Mid-September and cooler mornings have arrived. 

I love the combination of the hydrangea, dahlia, sedum and thyme that greets me by the front doorstep. 

Tomatoes planted this year didn't ripen on the vine - too much shade - so we picked some and left them to ripen in the sun, but it was a wasted effort. They are still hard. Fried green tomatoes?

There is a cluster of leaves in the backyard maple blushing at the coming autumn. 



Friday, September 16, 2016

Full Harvest Moon - September


"Let's go dancin' in the light."

photo: Road to Nowhere by Aaron J. Groen

Neil Young playing Harvest Moon in Austin Texas:



The moon is full September 16 at 9:45 a.m. Although not visible in Toronto, Australia and other parts of the world will be able to see the penumbral lunar eclipse.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Happy Birthday!



55!

Another year older and wiser. My birthdays seem to be coming faster and closer together. Rob and I spent the past weekend at Toronto Island. It was very crowded, what with it being the last long weekend of the summer + the airshow + a dance party event. Lots of people, lots of boats. On the Monday we anchored just off Wards beach, along with 30 other boats. Tuesday when we went back, we were the the first of three visiting boats. Fantastic swimming.

Then it was back to work on my actual birthday. My brother, who works nearby, treated me to lunch. 

When I got home I went to do a quick internet search and was both a bit impressed and freaked out when I realized that Google had sent me birthday greetings .


Rob and I celebrated in the evening by going to Canoe, with its spectacular view from the 54th floor of the Toronto islands, planes flying past, and the CN Tower and other skyscrapers twinkling nearby. We arrived just before twilight, and as the evening wore on, a storm came in and lightning flashed in the sky behind Rob. Very dramatic! We enjoyed the tasting menu, a seven course feast inspired by the route to the Rockies. An incredible and memorable dining experience.

We'd never been to Canoe. In fact, we don't get out to fine dining restaurants, preferring to create our own "foodie feasts" with friends. However, Alex went recently and raved about it, and my birthday seemed a good excuse. 

Speaking of good excuses..... I had been planning to head to Hawaii for my 60th birthday, but Rob and I figured we'd do it this coming year. Why wait? 

...

Forecast for September 2016 to September 2017

If You Were Born Today, September 7:
You have very strong values, and others know it. Your persistence is the major key to your success, but good money management is also a big contributor. Extremely sensitive to your surroundings, you pick up signals that fly over others’ heads. You are generally quite organized. You are competent, hard-working, and very proud of the work you do. Some may find you critical and tough-minded. On the inside, however, you are passionate and emotionally sensitive, and you don’t always show your more vulnerable side. You tend to attract relationships in which there is an imbalance of power – either you are controlling or dominating, or your partner is. Power struggles may be a theme or pattern in your love life until you learn to demand equality. Famous people born today: Grandma Moses, Buddy Holly, Chrissie Hynde, Shannon Elizabeth, Michael Emerson, Evan Rachel Wood.
Your Birthday Year Forecast:
The Sun in a waxing sextile to the Moon in your Solar Return chart has a fortunate influence on your year ahead. You can be especially productive this year, as in many ways you are starting fresh, but you have a rather clear vision of what you want to accomplish. Your inner needs tend to be mirrored by external events, and vice versa, which helps to boost your confidence and happiness levels. You more readily accept that challenges are part of the natural cycle in life, which in turn helps you to meet them with confidence and to worry less. You are likely to be on top of your game this year for the most part, and positive connections with others can be made fairly easily. A comfortable level of personal popularity helps keep conflict to a minimum. With the ability to handle your emotions successfully, there will be less stress on both your mind and body.
Your attitude towards life evolves and transforms in significant ways with transiting Pluto trine your Sun this year. What used to satisfy you may not continue to do so, particularly if your goals have been superficial or a poor reflection of your inner desires. You are no longer willing to make compromises in the important areas of your life, particularly with regards to career and your life path. You are more determined this year, and it’s an excellent time for getting rid of bad habits. This is a year in which to get your life back on track, as you have the willpower to do so. Others are bound to recognize your leadership skills and talents, or, at the very least, your potential. You want your life path and your objectives to reflect what you’re really about. You benefit from being more decisive than usual, and your ability to concentrate and focus help you to achieve what you set out to do. A new project or goal begun this year has a good chance of being successful and long-lasting.
With Venus sextile Saturn in your Solar Return chart, certain elements of your social life and financial life are stabilized, secured, and more reliable this year. You may solidify a romantic relationship under this influence, or become involved with a mature partner. Circumstances may be such that you need to handle money more carefully this year, or this may simply come naturally to you now. Support from older people or authority figures may come by way of solid advice or more tangible help. Renewed ties to old friends are possible, or a new sense of responsibility in existing friendships, are also highly likely.
Saturn’s transiting square to your Sun, active since February 2016, ends in November. This can feel as if weights are lifted off your shoulders and you feel considerably freer.
You may assume a leadership role this year. You are likely to establish connections and/or relationships with people that help forward your personal growth. Teamwork and camaraderie, as well as meaningful connections, are themes. You feel your life has a definite purpose this year. Through your contacts with others, you are encouraged to grow.
You have a stronger focus on, and dedication to, work in the period ahead, sometimes taking it a little too far. Taking the time to pull yourself away from your pet projects or work will help bring more balance to your life, and will ensure that you don’t neglect other important areas of life. However, you can make significant headway in specific areas this year.
You have a strong desire to share your joy or good fortune with others. You can be very skillful when expressing your beliefs and ideas this year. You can be a persuasive salesperson, guide, teacher, or advocate. You have excellent artistic sensitivity this year, and you are especially candid and enthusiastic, which endears you to others. You have added charm and graciousness during this period. Your taste is on the more lavish side this year.
Your ability to express yourself and to solve problems is enhanced. You may have opportunities to travel this year, and matters related to publishing, teaching, and writing should go especially well. You may find that you have the right information at the right time this year. You could also have big ideas and plans. Work, especially in communications, goes well. You can visualize in broader terms and see the “big picture” now. Your optimism can help you to attract positive circumstances into your life. You are especially enthusiastic about your ideas, and expressing yourself comes easily. Public relations and negotiations tend to run exceptionally smoothly. This is a time for making long-range plans, seeing the big picture, and thinking about what is really important to you in the long run.
This can be a year of making important lifestyle changes. You are likely to attract growth-oriented relationships into your life in the period ahead, and you may be strengthening ties with important people in your life. Your powers of negotiation are very strong, and learning, teaching, and writing are highly favored. You are better able to come to a good balance in attitude this year, and many life departments can benefit. You’re in an exceptionally strong position for taking advantage of new opportunities. You are willing to put in the effort for the projects that matter, but you are also giving your social life and leisure time a lot of attention.

2016
 is a Number Seven year for you. Ruled by Neptune. This is a year of preparation, chance, and refinement. It is not a time of dramatic changes. Instead, it’s a year when reflection on the past is helpful, and when refinements to your life path should be made. It’s a good year to study and analyze. Unexpected twists to your life story and “chance” meetings are probable. Advice – take stock of your life in order to prepare for more exciting years to come, examine the past and plan for the future, get in touch with your deepest needs and uncover your personal power, don’t strain yourself or actively try to expand.
2017 will be a Number Eight year for you. Ruled by Saturn. This is a year of power and accomplishment. Actively seeking to expand, taking educated risks, and moving forward are highlighted. This is a year of opportunity, particularly in the material and business world, and opportunities need to be seized. It’s generally not a year to find a new love partner, simply because the focus is on the material world and your place in the world. This is a problem-solving year in which you can expect real, tangible results. Advice – take action, plan ahead, seize opportunities.