Saturday, January 30, 2016

One thing leads to another

Our sailboat needed a slip, so we went to Highland Yacht Club to see about membership. When I mentioned to a colleague at work that we were thinking of joining, he said Bluffers Park Yacht Club was much better. Better bar, better view, and more affordable. Ciairan was so enthusiastic, I actually thought he would get a finders fee for bringing new members into the club. Thanks to him, we checked it out, were accepted, and found a friendly dock. That was more than ten years ago, and BPYC has become so much more than a place to put our boat.

In the many years since, we've become part of a community. The self-help philosophy helps keep annual fees low, but more importantly, the club is a reflection of its members. Fresh paint on the deck, flowers planted in the garden, swans fed.

And an active social calendar. Just this past month, I've participated in such memorable events at the clubhouse. The Commodore's Levee, with live music and mingling to celebrate New Year's Day. Trivia Night, with laughter and learning. BPYC Book Club with engaging conversation. Open Mic, with new and experienced musicians sharing some of their favourite tunes (including the yet-to-be-named-BPYC-strummers). And also Robbie Burns Supper.

The dinner for the Bard was organized by our Amazing Grace. She found the piper and dancers, coordinated volunteers and arranged the itinerary. The Address to the Haggis was dramatic, as the knife pierced the casing and steam rose into the air above. Later, sharing the Immortal Memory, Grace called on three women from Burn's life: his mother, wife, and patron. She embodied their characters as she fiddled, quoted Burns', and reminisced about Rabbie. Rob was Chairman of the dinner, so I ended up at the head table, with a great view of the proceedings.

I am so thankful for the wonderful friendships we've made with fellow sailors over the years. It may have started with the common interest of boating but has bloomed to sharing others: food, wine, theatre, art, music, birding, books. New discoveries and connections.

An example. Just yesterday Caroline organized a road trip and Laura, Kaarina and I were happy to follow her itinerary. Visiting Guildercroft with its antiques and handcrafted furniture. Then on to an afternoon of tastings. A trip to the newly opened Second Wedge Brewery, a flight of beers paired with Canadian cheeses, a tour with the brew master. Lunch at the Urban Pantry. Tasting wine in her neighbours' cellar, who crush grapes they order from California and age their own wine in barrels: chardonnay, albarino, syrah, zinfandel, cabernet. Casks tapped and wine spilled onto a gravel floor. Such delight on a winter's day.

So this January morning, looking over the events of this past month, I can't help but be thankful that more than ten years ago we choose to join BPYC. How different would our lives be if we had chosen a different club? And how much richer our lives have been, shared with these others.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January Reads

Cold days, long nights. Time to read! A string of fiction about mothers and sons, and good and evil. Then on to non-fiction, with questions about the meaning of life and death, the meaning of true creativity, and living our best lives.


His Whole Life, Elizabeth Hay: The way this author writes about place and belonging is quite special. This novel travels between a cloistered apartment in New York City and the open spaces of the Ottawa Valley. The characters remain the same in the different environments, but we see their nature's differently, witnesses to a literary form of optical illusion. I am looking forward to hearing Hay speak at an upcoming Heliconian lecture.

The Mountain Story, Lori Lansens: Book Babes selection this month. The question posed was, "Five days. Four hikers. Three survivors".  How did knowing that one of the characters would not survive shape your reading of the book?"  More than half of us admitted to being influenced and then guessing throughout the story who would be the one to die on the mountain. Morbid curiousity! Lansens drew some great characters in the telling of this story but it is definitely not one of her best books.

We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver: This is the book that brought Shriver to the international literary stage when it won the Orange Prize in 2005. A mother looks back on moments with her son, and the atrocities he has committed, with a mix of horror and guilt. Annika let us know the movie was on Netflix, so part of the BPYC book club discussion was about the film adaptation. Shriver herself was impressed. 

Purity, Jonathan Franzen: Started this with a library download, made it through Part 1, and then the novel disappeared when time ran out. It's a popular one, so I need to wait for availability. Deceptively easy, breezy read. Lots of irony and subversive humour, but dark.

After reading three dark fictions it was time for something more uplifting......
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert: You can listen to Gilbert read her own words in the audio book, as she urges her audience to pursue living creatively while revealing some of her own tribulations as an author. Gilbert is a generous soul and not of the school that creative pursuit needs to be dark and painful if you choose a path of love and joy. I liked the stories and quotes, but couldn't dog-ear any of them for future reference from my digital copy. Regular, diligent practice is key. And humility and patience. Google is helpful finding Gilbert quotes on creativity as she has inspired many.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande:  Gawande is a doctor who has asked some provocative questions in his previous books, and this one, about aging and death, questions our options as we come to the end of life. "For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn't matter whether you were five or fifty - every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality - about what it's like to get old and die, how medicine has changed this and how it hasn't, where our ideas about death have gone wrong." Full of wise questions.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Full Wolf Moon - January

Wolves howling outside villages on cold winter nights, making their hungry presence known. A beautiful sound on tape but I can easily imagine it casting terror in human hearts.

As I'm playing the sound my cat is extremely worried, ears pinned back, belly close to the ground.  Several minutes later, the cat is still on guard, even after I've switched to another kind of Howling Wolf, Meet Me in the Bottom; and with the Stones in '65, How Many More Years. 

The moon is officially full January 23rd at 8:46 pm.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Byhalia, Mississippi

Such powerful performances and incredible script. The play was mounted on a shoestring and performed in very humble surroundings, but it is one of the best productions I've seen in a very long time.

We went to the Storefront Theatre for the World Premier of Byhalia, MIssissippi. The unassuming venue holds seating for less than 50, and when we booked tickets it was with the caveat that latecomers would not be seated due to the intimate nature of the theatre. The play is opening in 7 cities simultaneously. Very strong performances from the Toronto troup.

Rob and I sat in the front row, but all the seats placed the audience right in the middle of the action. For the closing scene, I was only ten feet from the actors. They were crying, I was crying, hell, the whole damn place was crying. It's been a long time since I've been moved to tears by a story.

And what a story. A white couple is expecting their first child, and it is born black, in the heart of Mississippi. To say complications arise is an understatement.

It is story of true love, family, and forgiveness. Absolutely brilliant!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

Sage advice, which I aim to apply both at home and work.

My other resolution is to use diet to tackle my high triglycerides & cholesterol. I eat well (very little fast food or processed foods), and exercise every day, so the doctor was saying my high levels are likely hereditary versus lifestyle induced.

I've successfully lowered my cholesterol in the past with dietary changes, not by cutting out bad fats so much as by adding good ones (olive oil, avocado, nuts).  My mom also did this effectively with a morning concoction of: 1/4 cup 1% cottage cheese + 1 tbsp of olive oil + tbsp flax + tsp. of psylium + dash of cayenne pepper.

So the doctor and I agreed to an experiment to see if adding a concoction might help to improve my results.

I have had the same blood test results for the last year; triglycerides so high that a reliable reading for LDL isn't possible. I'm aiming to schedule a follow-up in spring, which should help motivate me to keep eating this concoction as either a morning or bedtime snack:
  • 1/3 cup All Bran Buds mixed with Greek yogurt OR
  • fruit or veggie smoothie with Metamucil (psylium) or Benefibre (Inulin)
Maybe I'll even add some olive oil and cayenne pepper.


My doctor helpfully gave me a sheet with some tips for adding fibre:
  • Sprinkle 1/3 cup of All Bran Buds over your favourite cereal or yogurt
  • Choose breakfast cereal with 4 grams of fibre per serving
  • Choose whole grain breads with 2 or more grams of fibre per slice
  • Choose whole wheat pasta and brown rice more often than white
  • Add 1-2 tbsp ground flax to cereal or yogurt
  • Choose vegetables and fruits as snacks more often
  • Fill half your plate with a variety of vegetables at your meals
  • Have whole fruit instead of fruit juice
  • It is important to add high fibre foods gradually and increase intake of water.
  • Aim for 25 - 35 grams daily
2 types of fibre
  • Soluble: slows down the amount of time food spends in our digestive tract. Counters diarrhea. This type of fibre can help lower LDL cholesterol and help control blood sugars.
  • Insoluble: Helps to speed up the amount of time food spends in our digestive tract. Counters constipation.
Fibre Scoreboard

Friday, January 8, 2016

Discovering music

In discovering music by trying to play the ukulele, I am also rediscovering the essence of practice. In many ways it reminds me of yoga. The importance of awareness, of willingness to try something differently, and the importance to keep trying and trying again.

Years ago, when I was trying to learn the violin, I bought The Inner Game of Music. I went looking for it on my shelf and was so disappointed it wasn't there anymore! Purged somewhere along the way. I went to the book store to buy it, but they didn't have a copy in stock... it was first published fifty years ago and Indigo seems to favour newer titles. So I browsed through some current offerings, picked out a few, and ordered them online from the library: The Inner Game of Muisc; The Music Lesson, and The Listening Book.

I had high hopes for The Music Lesson, with a blurb casting the author as the Carlos Castaneda of music. Victor L. Wooten is a Grammy-winning musical icon and legendary bassist and he presents the story of a struggling young musician who wants music to be his life, and who wants his life to be great. "Then, from nowhere it seemed, a teacher arrived."  The teacher is a mysterious Michael, a musician with insights that include "Groove before you play" and "play the rests." I would definitely recommend the book to a young teen-aged male musician and could also see it coming alive as an innovative series of instructional-type videos. It's entertaining but really, not a huge spiritual awakening. 

The Listening Book didn't promise any epiphanies but it was full of deep insights. "The truth is, a musician can spend a lifetime learning five notes and still not know everything in them. The more masterful you become, the deeper becomes the mystery and the more you are a beginner."

To the question of "What Should I Practice?' It is the quality of your practice that matters, just as it is the quality of your love that matters, not whom you love. If you are hearing ragtime with special clarity this week, practice ragtime. If it is time to improvise, then improvising is your practice. If all you want today is to listen to Ravel, listen.

There is also a description of a spontaneous dinner symphony, where people gathered around a table started using their pewter utensils and dinner glasses to make music, culminating when one of the women goes into her cupboard for a bag of uncooked rice that she releases onto the dinner tray the pointy little metallic notes fill the space that the other musicians are making for it... uncooked rice falling into the metal tray, the finale of the symphony! A stunning idea!... And Carol's glowing face at the moment of her inspired entrance has been my life model for the way houses are churches, and dinners are symphonies, and earth can be heaven.

*****The  Inner Game of Music is based on the Inner Game of Tennis, adapted for musicians and first published back in the 1980s.
Tim Gallway presented his first "master class" in music at the University of Cincinnati in 1982. No one would have known he wasn't a trained musician. After the class two piano students approached him with a problem: they were having trouble playing a passage together... Tim asked them simply to be aware, and to notice precisely in which bar the difficulty arose in the next practice session... they came back twenty minutes later and told him that as soon as they were listening for the part where they were playing out of synch, they didn't make any mistakes... Awareness cured their problem...
Knowledge of  musical theory certainly helps with understanding some of the advanced exercises, but the book is filled with enough practice tips for even absolute beginners.

An exercise to taste the difference between trying versus awareness; an exercise for becoming the music; hearing the music you play; and the importance of incorporating fun into practice.

This is not a three week read, but a really great reference.

I'm buying this book again, and putting it back on my shelf... close to my ukulele music.

Quote Collecting

As 2016 starts, I turn the pages in a new Zen calendar. 
Here are some of the quotes 
that resonated in the last months of 2015:

Paradise is where I am.
-       Voltaire
I don’t want to earn my living; I want to live.
-       Oscar Wilde
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  It goes on.
-       Robert Frost
There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact.
-       Milan Kundera
But for this rock, its shadow says, I could get at the sun.
-       James Richardson
It is better to do the most trifling thing in the world than to regard half an hour as a trifle.
-       Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
When you are fooled by something else, the damage will not be so big.  But when you are fooled by yourself, it is fatal.
-       Shunryu Suzuki

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.
-       Thich Nhat Hanh
If we forgive life for not being what we told it to be, or expected, or wished, or longed for it to be, we forgive ourselves for not being what we might have been also. And then we can be what we are, which is boundless.
-       John Tarrant
There is no reality in the absence of observation.
-       The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.
-       Virginia Woolf
You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
-       Naguib Mahfouz
Defend your inner world. Be present. Be in the moment. Engaged. Connected.
-       Rainer Maria Rilke
The path is the goal.
-       Buddhist saying
Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.
-       William Faulkner

Life is something that has to be lived and not talked about.
-       Carl Gustav Jung
Be in love with your life. Every minute of it.
-       Jack Kerouac
Develop interest in life as you see it, in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.
-       Henry Miller
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment.
-       Thich Nhat Hanh
The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
-       Henry David Thoreau
Don’t use Buddhism to become a Buddhist. Use Buddhism to become better at whatever else in your life you are doing already.
-       The Dalai Lama
Whenever someone asked a certain Zen master how he was, he would always answer, “I’m ok.”  Finally one of his students said, “Roshi, how can you always be ok?  Don’t you ever have a bad day?”  The Zen master answered, “Sure I do. On bad days I’m ok. On good days I’m also ok.” This is equanimity.
-       Pema Chodron
Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
-       Alan Watts


You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what phones are taking away, the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life, there is that thing, that empty – forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone.
-       Louis C.K.

If you understand real practice, then archery or other activities can be zen. If you don’t understand how to practice archery in its true sense, then even though you practice very hard, what you acquire is just technique. It won’t help you through and through.  Perhaps you can hit the mark without trying, but without a bow and arrow you cannot do anything. If you understand the point of practice, then even without a bow and arrow the archery will help you. How you get that kind of power or ability is only through right practise.
-       Shunryu Suzuki
A priest visited Nyogen Senzaki at his zendo, and asked, “What is Zen?” Senzaki put his finger to his lips and whispered, “We do not speak in the meditation room.” The priest followed him to the library and was about to ask again, when Senzaki whispered, “This is where we read books.” By the time they went to the kitchen Senzaki didn’t even give him a chance to speak, and whispered, “We cook here without a word and eat here without speaking.” As Senzaki opened the door and shook his hand the priest grasped, “What is Zen?” and went away.
-       Zen Mondo
For a table to exist, we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness, and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes in order to be. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain, and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast, fresh air, and so on. And each of these things, in turn, has to be brought about by other conditions. If we continue to look in this way, we’ll see that nothing has been left out; everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table. Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves of the tree, and the clouds, we can see the table. The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one.
-       Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy Holidays!


The nights were at their longest, and now the darkness begins to lift a bit sooner in the mornings and come a bit later in the evenings.

Our Christmas tree was up on the 18th but didn't get decorated until the 23rd. No snow until the 28th. Christmas Day expanded between December 15 and Jan 2. Magical holidays, with time stretching out and simultaneously rushing by with the Solstice.

Food, drink, music, good cheer, and good wishes shared with family and friends. Celebrating the best of the season!


Our BPYC Book Club Christmas dinner started festivities, with the little evergreens in the corner decorated with sailboats and candles flickering on the table. The BPYC Christmas potluck on the 18th had our uke band playing Christmas carols. Then it was back to the clubhouse on the 1st for the Commodore's Levee and to admire the daytime view of the snowy Bluffs.

At work, we held a 'Secret Santa'. People pulled colleagues' names to buy present, but with a twist. We were to choose something they would have enjoyed as a child, and the gifts would then be donated to Sick Kids Hospital. I ended up pulling a name of someone I didn't know very well, and over the week kept my eyes open to see what they might like. Everyone was a bit more attentive, I think. What fun when the presents were opened.... one or two people actually became their eight year old selves, wide-eyed.

Liz and Nicolette both have Open Houses the Saturday before Christmas. It's fun catching up with old friends and meeting friends of friends at their parties.

On the 21st, Wendy treated some of us to Dim Sum for lunch and that evening it was Ukelele Christmas caroling at the Stone Cottage.

I relied on my raclette for easy entertaining. Sitting down on the 20th, standing and milling around the table on Christmas Eve, and a vegetarian version on the 28th. For most of my guests it was a style of eating they hadn't tried before.

Amazing meals! Darcy prepared an incredible Boeuf Bourguignon but credited all the success to Julia Child. Therese pulled together a traditional Christmas turkey dinner that tasted like the best days of my childhood, while Brenda and Bill had us feasting on Prime Rib.

New Year's Eve our foodies stretched a meal from 6 pm to well past midnight, with a Chinese theme that included homemade spring rolls, lobster mushu, ribs, Hot Pot, Chow Mein, Lemon Chicken, Peking Duck.... and dessert the following morning!

Today I'm going to my mom's to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year, the last big party of the holiday. I think we will be banging pots and re-enacting the countdown into 2016, and why not?

Happy 2016!!!!!!!