Monday, February 29, 2016

Real Happiness At Work

I've been reading lots of different cookbooks this month, and went to the library in search of more, when some work-related titles caught my attention.

How could I resist Real Happiness At Work? When I opened the cover and started reading I couldn't believe the serendipity. I'm doing the yoga Spring sadhana, and this speaks to mindfulness off the mat:
A follow-up to Real Happiness, the New York Times bestseller, Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness at Work is a practical guide to improving work life through mindfulness, compassion, and ingenuity. It’s about being committed without being consumed, competitive without being cruel, managing time and emotions to counterbalance stress and frustration. It shows readers how to be more creative, organized, and accomplished in order to do better, more productive work.

Dividing the idea of workplace satisfaction into eight pillars, Real Happiness at Work is filled with secular wisdom; core meditations on broad themes like motivation, awareness, and seeing the good in others; and more than a dozen exercises, including Moving From Me to We and When Things Go Wrong. Sprinkled throughout the book are short “stealth” meditations, the kind that are quick, private, and doable anywhere―“Let the phone ring three times, follow your breath, then pick it up” and “For an upcoming one-on-one conversation, resolve to listen more and speak less.”


The other book was Simple Sabotage, which was a bit hilarious to me, as the acronym for the organization I'm working for right now is OSS.  When I started reading I recognized some parallels, but not much was offered in the way of solutions. Many of the 'tactics' described are just the natural condition of large bureaucracy vs. small business; democracy vs. private ownership:

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the predecessor of today’s CIA—issued the Simple Sabotage Field Manual that detailed sabotage techniques designed to demoralize the enemy. One section focused on eight incredibly subtle—and devastatingly destructive—tactics for sabotaging the decision-making processes of organizations. While the manual was written decades ago, these sabotage tactics thrive undetected in organizations today:
  • Insist on doing everything through channels.
  • Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length.
  • Refer all matters to committees.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible. Haggle over precise wordings of communications.
  • Refer back to matters already decided upon and attempt to question the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate caution and urge fellow-conferees to avoid haste that might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • Be worried about the propriety of any decision.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spring is springing!

As winters go, the weather has been very mild, with little snow and the coldest days in February. But the first signs of spring are always a welcome sight!

Welcome visitors
Witch hazel buds

fiery flowers to melt the snow

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pressure Cooking

Amita gave me a jiggle top pressure cooker for Diwali, and it sat until she visited at Christmas, when I asked her for a demonstration. As it came to pressure it started to jiggle and let off a high-pitched scream. I thought it was about to explode and ducked, which made Amita and her mom laugh hysterically. They cook with jiggle tops all the time and are used to the commotion. It wasn't very much later that we were sipping Amita's delicious lentil soup.

I gave the cooker a try a week later, and didn't get quite the same results. No jiggling, no steam release and the entire contents burned because I hadn't locked the lid properly. I figured I needed a foolproof version, so went out and purchased a model with a few additional safety features. I like hearing this one snap close and being able to see when the pot has locked under full pressure.

For someone like me who likes lifting the lid to visually check on progress, using the pressure cooker has been a bit of a learning curve. I've undercooked a few times, which isn't really a problem, because it is easy enough to pop the cover back on and return to full pressure, or finish off cooking conventionally. I've also learned by trial and error that keeping track of cooking time is important when you can't easily lift the lid to check when something is done, and that it's also important to lower the heat source once the pot has reached full pressure, to prevent burning and scorching.

Turns out a lot of YachtPals are fans of pressure cookers because of their efficient use of fuel and ability to turn humble ingredients into tasty meals.

I've been experimenting with fava and lima beans, navy beans, and green lentils. Such delicous soups, salads, and stews. By happy coincidence, Bon Appetit ran a feature in January about cooking with beans, and had fantastic recipes for pasta fagilioli and cassoulet.

The cookbook 225 Best Pressure Cooker Recipes is inspiring me to try new meals during the work week, like chicken nicoise, butter chicken, and green lentil and spinach gratin. Comfort food in a fraction of the time!

Chicken Nicoise
2 1/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 slices smoky bacon
4 cloves garlic minced
1 large onion chopped
1/2 cup dry wine
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes
1 tsp oregano and thyne
1 bay leaf
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup olives (pitted nicoise or kalamata)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp Asian chile paste
1 Tbsp fresh basil
salt and pepper

1.  Season the chichen with salt and pepper, set aside.
2. in pressure cooker, saute bacon for 3 minutes. Add chicken ad saute until nicely browned. REmove chicken and bacon and set aside.
3. Add oil to the cooker. Saut garlic, onion and red pepper until softened. Stir in wine and simmer for one minute, stirring up any brown bits. Add tomatoes, oregano, thyme, and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken, bacon and any juices to the pot.
4. Lock the lid in place and bring cooker up to full pressure over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, just to maintain even pressure, and cook for 20 minutes. Release pressure quickly and remove the lid. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Stir in arichoke hearts, olives, lemon zest and chili paste, simmer until heated through. Serve sprinkled with fresh basil.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Full Snow Moon - February

Moon and Water

I wake and spend
the last hours
of darkness
with  no one
but the moon.
She listens
to my complaints
like the good

companion she is
and comforts me surely
with her light.
But she, like everyone,

has her own life.
So finally I understand
that she has turned away,
is no longer listening.

She wants me
to refold myself
into my own life.
And, bending close,

as we all dream of doing,
she rows with her white arms
through the dark water
which she adores.
poem by Mary Oliver
painting by JEH MacDonald (Group of Seven)

The moon is full Feb 22, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Monday, February 15, 2016

New York, New York

Our jazz safari to New York City is just three weeks away!

We've been listening to jazz and exploring The Essential Jazz Recordings. Reading a little, listening a little, and enjoying it a lot.

I've always loved jazz and played it often, but usually in the background. These last few weeks have been a great motivation to listen more consciously and marvel.

About how Django Reinhardt developed his hot gypsy style because his fourth and fifth fingers were paralyzed in a fire, and how few with all their fingers can match his virtuosity.  About Billy Holiday's  early recordings, her voice beautiful and uncomplicated, and then hearing her last album, the timbre rich and deep and layered with suffering.

Being introduced to artists like saxaphonist Wayne Shorter, and then having the playlist shuffle into The Song Goes On with lyrics inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke, and the recent album Imagine Project, by Herbie Hancock. Favourites like Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Brubeck.

Discovering and rediscovering and hearing things with fresh ears.

We haven't received our itinerary so don't know the different clubs we'll be visiting yet, but have since found out that a couple from BPYC, Ross and Ann, have been on a few of these safaris and have enjoyed every one. Ross said that he was amazed at how small and ordinary some of the more famous NYC clubs are, where the giants got their start. He's cautioned us that people there take the music seriously, and come to listen, with chatting during dinner being a serious offense.

We've decided to extend our stay a few days to see some other sites, but music will have brought us to explore.

 illusttration: NYC Jazz by Felix Concepcion

Sunday, February 14, 2016

That's the ticket

What a golden age, with film and television and whatever music you want at the press of a button. 

I find myself craving live entertainment in intimate venues that are a bit off-beat.  So I'm fortunate to be in Toronto with such amazing choices close at hand.

I was mesmorized by Cold Blood at the Bluma Apel theatre. Visually spellbinding and choreographed, with the live performances captured cinematically and projected real time. This was billed as 'ephemeral theatre,' and when I saw it advertized I thought it was a bit gimmicky, but I am so glad I gave it a chance! Miniature sets are rolled out in front of the camera, and the performers take the stage using only their hands to convey emotion and dance. It sounds bizarre, but within seconds I was riveted. It reminded me of times camping and casting silhouettes, or doing shadow play with flashlights as a kid. The story line was macabre and jarring. It was about dying seven different times, very ghoulishly. The black humour really pushed the limits at times. If the story hadn't been so wicked would I have taken such pleasure in the visual experience? Hard to say. 


The Chelsea Hotel has played across Canada to sold out houses for a few years but felt fresh.  Six musician/dancers enact Leonard Cohen's creative process and muses in the Chelsea hotel. The interpretation of the LC classics brought a new dimension to the poetry. It was interesting to hear different voices and interpretations. Violins, bass, guitar, banjo and ukulele were played while the talented performers danced. Fantasitc!


And then there was Hogtown.  Set in Toronto, during the time of Prohibition. There were easily 30+ performers and musicians awakening the era in the historic Campbell House. The first half was enacted in sequence, and the audience moved from one room to the next as the story played out. After the first three scenes, you were free to wander to the different rooms and watch different scenarios. Since events are happening simultaneously, so by choosing one room over the other, you  'miss' what was happening in the other rooms.  I would have gone back again if the other performances weren't sold out. It really felt like I was in a speak easy, and in the dining room of a politician, and in the bedrooms of ill-fated lovers.

This play was billed as immersive, "the audience are not merely passive bystanders. They are part of the story, however small their role may be, and they are in the middle of the action... the audience in some way plays a role, whether that is the role of witness or the role of an actual character." I had  some interaction with the actors and was invited to sit at the dinner table, but wasn't put in the spotlight, which suited me just fine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I'm not sure how SiSi the Second ended up tucked away in the closet with my yoga gear, but when I saw him again I knew he deserved a sunnier spot.

So now he rests on the day bed in our new music room/play room.

The room is nicely taking shape, being filled with ukuleles, sheet music, a tv & speakers, watercolours. During the day the light pours through the skylight and another window with northern exposure. It's Alex's old room.

Which is why SiSi fits perfectly.

Alex gave me this bear as a present about 15 years ago, after hearing me lament about throwing out SiSi the First koala when I was a teenager, because after all I had outgrown such silly things, and was now far too mature to hang on to an old stuffed thing that was missing an ear and half of its fur and starting to unravel.

SiSi the Second was such a thoughtful gift at the time, and doubly special now, in my empty nest. A beautiful boy wishing his mother happiness and childhood wonder. And wishes come true, in the fullness of time.