Saturday, August 19, 2017

Finding inspiration

I've been book binging on self-help & mindfulness books. While very informative, I am going to cut waaaaay back and stick to one or two chapters of a book a week.

More digestible that way, and probably more productive in the long run!

In the last month I've read or dipped into:
- The Beauty of Discomfort (Amanda Lang)
- The Ripple Effect (Geoff Wells)
- When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Pema Chodron)
- The Okinawa Program (Wilcox)
- Unplug (Schwatz)
- Savour (Thich Nhat Hanh)
- How to See Yourself as you Really Are (Dalai Lama)

As I was searching for the photo to go along with this post, funnily enough I came across this study "Reading Self-Help Books Can Make You Feel Worse." The research put self-help into two categories and found problem-focused self-help books often have the opposite of their intended effect. The books I've been devouring are focused on nutrition, mindfulness, and positive thinking and fall into the growth-oriented and inspirational category. Good books, good advice, and good reinforcement.


Turning to self-help books for guidance might seem like a good idea when you’re feeling down about life. But a new study suggests it probably won’t make you feel a whole lot better — and it could even leave you feeling worse.
The research, conducted by a team of psychologists at the University of Montreal, found that people who read self-help books show more depressive symptoms and higher sensitivity to stress than those who don’t read such literature.
For the small pilot study, the researchers tested 30 people for personality and mental health traits such as stress reactivity (the tendency to respond to a stressor, measured by stress hormone levels present in saliva), openness, self-discipline, extraversion, compassion, emotional stability, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms.
Half of the participants said that they read self-help books and half did not. The self-help consumers were divided into two categories based on which of two broad classes of such books they read: 1) problem-oriented books that discuss the nature of personal challenges, such as divorce, as well as means of addressing these challenges, and 2) growth-oriented books that promote “inspirational messages about life and happiness.”
The results, which appear in the journal Neural Plasticity, show that readers of problem-focused self-help books had significantly elevated depressive symptoms, while those who read growth-oriented material had greater stress reactivity than non-readers.
However, as the authors note, there’s a big “chicken or egg” problem here. In other words, we don’t know whether high stress reactivity and a tendency towards depression lead people to read self-help books, or, alternatively, if reading self-help books makes people more stressed out and depressed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gardening is a fine teacher

The maple tree was here when we moved in 26 years ago, and it has tripled in height. I love looking at its branches and leaves as the seasons change.

For the last couple years those leaves have been browning. Closer inspection proved a major branch would need to be removed. Better to have an arborist do it than to have it fall onto the house.

Still, I can't quite get used to the sight, it makes me wince a little every time I see the raw cut. Even with the one limb removed, we will likely need to take another. And next year, another, and eventually none of the branches will be left. Just a standing trunk. What to do through these next few years of transition? Maybe a few sculptures or birdhouses would help things not look quite so savaged.

As the crew took down the branch, they ended up also trampling the nasturtiums by the pond and quite a few favourites in the native corner (ferns, blood root and the Jack-in-the-Pulpit).

My shady backyard won't be so shady anymore, so some plantings will need to be re-thought.

And just when I was getting to the point of enjoying the garden and not thinking it needed any major changes...

Monday, August 7, 2017

Full Sturgeon Moon - August

Cloudy skies have hidden the glow, but the moon looked full even two nights ago.

August 7, 2:11 pm, the moon was full, and we were coming through fog on the lake back to BPYC from the island. A passing ship suddenly emerged through the cloud, just a hundred feet or so in front of us, a ghostly visit in the afternoon.

August 8 we anchored in "Little Baja" and watched the sun set and the moon rise. We were the only boat, a rare occurrence. Cool weather is keeping most boats in their slips but we are on holiday and making the most of it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Pema Chodrin touched on the meditation practice of tonglen in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, and I've tried it at moments throughout the day when I find myself facing the chronic and quotidian.

Jealousy, anger, aggression.... breathe it in, acknowledge it and then breathe out peace and compassion.

Here she is with a lesson on You Tube

Monday, July 17, 2017


 A fantastic holiday and total refresh.

A weekend getaway with Rob in Stratford enjoying theatre (HMS Pinnafore + 12th Night).Yoga in the Heart of the City in the mornings from 8-12. TBG Garden Party I saw my old boss Tony Gagliano, said "hello" and "thanks for Luminato!" Summerlicious  Cibo Wine Bar + La Societie + Indian Street Food Co + Tabule. Fox Theatre Film Noir Double Indemnity  Fringe Festival. Am I Pretty Now  ROM Blue Whale Tale. Art Gallery Georgia O'Keefe! Gardening Managed a lot of transplanting and digging and dirt under my nails Pampering Bubble baths and mani-pedi and massage Sailing An incredible sail over to Toronto Island, heeled at 20 degrees and me at the wheel for a couple of hours. Exhilarating! Stayed overnite, watching the night herons fishing, without any other boats for company Dinner at Alex' and Penny's with Alex cooking chicken korma and Penny making raita and Rob mixing mojitos... a nice finish to a wonderful week...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Thunder Moon! July

The Thunder Moon is officially full July 9, early Sunday morning, but we watched a fantastic storm on the lake from the safety of the dock on Yondering this Friday night, and then came home to wonder at the full moon overhead.

I love a good summer storm!

On the way up the hill a deer popped into view... a lovely coincidence for what is also known as the Buck Moon.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Canada Day!

A party at BPYC on Canada Day, with clubs from the basin joining in the festivities. Dancing with Linda D. on the deck to the band Greystone (Mike P. on percussion and harmonica). Fireworks in the night sky and a campfire sing along on the spit. Happy 150!

Sunday we were out with Kaarina and Mike for a shake-down sail. Finally! July 2nd may be our latest date ever. A giddy afternoon.

Monday Rob and I had a fantastic sail over to Toronto Harbour Our mission was to see the giant duck that is taking a tour of Ontario during this milestone year. I'm not certain of the connection, but it definitely makes the skyline playful.

After a month at the marina, we cautiously returned to our home slip. The docks are still covered several inches in water, and I wasn't sure how we would navigate. We had friendly neighbours to greet us, and fortunately winds were light. I stood starboard with a stick to grab onto the dock for purchase. Rob jumped off and tied the lines. Home again, home again.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Babes AGM 2017

What a fantastic AGM! The first time Nicki hosted was 2007. Early days there were many late nights, and way too much food and drink. As we grow older we are more relaxed and there is a bit less excess. This year we went in June instead of May, so the trilliums weren't out yet, but the lake was warm and we were able to take a plunge under blue skies.

Great food! A lovely brunch at Louise's and dinner that included Liz' Morrocan Chicken with spices from Marakesh, and Laura's home baked bread and dessert. 

I drove up this year as my intent was to leave early for a Wang Dang Doodle Ukulele meet-up on Toronto Island. Unfortunately a flat tire delayed my departure. My "donut" spare is only good up to speeds of 80 km, so I took backroads all the back from Haliburton. It was mostly an enjoyable drive, very scenic. I also led a few parades, and there was lots of honking!! Those stuck behind me really seemed to appreciate the fact I was protecting them from any speed traps that may lay ahead.

Book Babes Booklist 2017-2018

Sept: Are you somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O'Faolian (Virginia)
October: The Nutshell by Ian McEwan (Laura)
November: Martin Sloan by Michael Redhill (Nicki)
December: Are we Smart Enough to Know how Smart Animals are? by Frans deWaal (Nicolette)
January: The Wilds Oats Project, by Robin Ronaldo (Liz)
February: Poetry night (Pat)
March: Seven Stones to Stand or Fall... Short stories by Diana Gabaldon (Debra)
April: Canada Reads choices (Diane)
May: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Miriam)
June: Still Life by Louise Penny (Louise)

Honourable Mentions
  • Crooked letter, Crooked letter by Tom Franklin 
  • The Children's Act by Ian McEwan 
  • The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphries 
  • Slouching towards Bethlehem - Collection by Joan Didion 
  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben 
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See 
  • Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Griffin Poetry Prize

Liz and I went to the readings of the shortlisted poets this year and heard seven of the world's best. The voice that I most connected with was Alice Oswald's - both for content and timbre. When the winners were announced the following evening, she had captured the International category.

This is one of the poems she read:

A Short Story of Falling

Related Poem Content Details

It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again

it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower

and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary

is one of water's wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail

if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass

to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip

then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience

water which is so raw so earthy-strong
and lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along

drawn under gravity towards my tongue
to cool and fill the pipe-work of this song

which is the story of the falling rain
that rises to the light and falls again

Heliconian Series 2016 / 2017

Every time I go to a Heliconian lecture I learn something new.

The organizers line up great lecturers, authors and books, and I'm already looking forward to seeing what's in store next year.

Tues, Sep 13Sandra MartinSandra MartinA Good Death
Tues, Oct 25Peter BehrensPeter BehrensCarry Me
Tues, Nov 22Kim ThuyKim ThuyMan
Tues, Jan 10Ian BrownIan BrownSixty
Tues, Feb 7Terry FallisTerry FallisPoles Apart
Tues, Mar 7Nazneen SheikhNazneen SheikhThe Place of Shining Light
Tues, Apr 18Cecilia EkbackCecilia EkbackWolf Winter
Tues, May 9Suanne KelmanAnthony MarraThe Tsar of Love and Techno
Tues, Jun 6Ann Y K ChoiAnn Y K ChoiKay’s Lucky Coin Variety
Sandra Martin spoke about the struggle of many who are diagnosed with incurable and painful diseases. Individuals and families suffer under the burden of costs and intolerable pain. Canada has made some changes in Right to Die legislation many see as progress, some see as timid, and others see as chilling. If you suffer with an incurable disease, the debate becomes less theoretical. Even after legislative changes, many people leave the country for assisted deaths and others plead unsuccessfully for an end to their suffering.

Peter Behrens spoke about concentration camps in England during the second world war, something I'd never heard of before. And at the end of the war, many Germans were deported, even though they didn't speak or write any German whatsoever. The author drew on his own family history to create the work of fiction, Carry Me

Man was such a lyrical book, thin, but very 'heavy' in its themes. What a surprise to see Kim Thuy present. She was hilarious in recounting events in the story and could have done stand-up with her bitter-sweet humour. Such a contrast. The same stories but with such different flavours.

Sheikh was interesting to hear, because she spoke of optioning the book and poking international producers with suggestions for directors and actors. From Afghanistan to Pakistan, the novel braids the story of three men in the pursuit of a stolen Buddhist statue. The author was quite a character herself, with a flair for the dramatic and an air of privilege. I'm more inclined to read her memoir than the novel.

Wolf Winter was a fabulous story. The blunt ending frustrated me and delighted at the same time. I was so looking forward to seeing Cecilia Ekback, but she opted out of the arrangement, and organizers looked for a substitute. We were lucky to have Margaret Cannon, the mystery writing critic at the Globe and Mail step in. Although she liked the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she didn't appreciate its sequel and refuses to read any book with 'the girl' as part of its title. Margaret reads at least five books a week in order to produce her monthly reviews, and is well qualified to set the novel in context. Her verdict is that Ekback's debut novel reveals an astonishing talent.

Suanne Kelman was the guest lecturer for  the Tsar of Love and Techno, and played the music tracks referenced in the book. This was a first for me at the Heliconian. I really appreciated the effort and thought of the many books I read that reference music - how fun it would be to find or make a playlist to add another dimension to the experience.

Ann Y K Choi was charming. I really liked the book Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety.  Choi revealed her struggles with depression, and how therapists encouraged her to write as a way to heal herself. She grew up hating being Korean but is now learning to reclaim her heritage. At the Korean Authors' Association, she needed a translator because her Korean was so poor, so now she is trying to learn to speak the language she spurned in her childhood. She recently found herself in a Korean language class surrounded by young white kids who wanted to learn Korean because it was 'cool,'  and couldn't believe how times had changed. Her editor, Phyllis Bruce, had come to offer support and sat in the audience. Bruce is a recipient of the Order of Canada and has edited many outstanding novels - she even had her own imprint at Simon and Schuster and was a publisher at Harper Collins. Which makes me want to explore the Bruce's titles all the more....

This year, I was especially looking forward to hearing Ian Brown and Terry Fallis. In fact, they were the reason I chose the Tuesday night series. Unfortunately, those were the two nights I had to miss. For Poles Apart, Rob and I were in Hawaii, and at Sixty, I had a work engagement. Rob ended up going to see Ian Brown as Kaarina's date, and took my copy of the book for Ian to sign. Rob also ended up being my date on two other occasions... I got a kick out of seeing him in this hall of older women and seeing them sneak a sideways glance.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Full Honey Moon - June 2017

The full Moon for June 2017 is a being called a “minimoon” because it will appear as the smallest Moon of the year as it’s furthest from Earth. What will be more apparent is that it’s the lowest Moon of the year. Because of that, it’s color may look amber-colored so it will truly appear as the “Honey Moon” that’s also a common name for this month’s Moon. Farmer's Almanac

officially full June 9, 9:10 a.m.

illustration design: Enkel Dika and Evan Ferstenfeld

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sailpast 2017

The sun was shining and the breezes were light. The temperature was a bit cool, and everyone looked fresh in their blue and white.

Rob was Master of Ceremonies and his speech was a great mix of humour and ceremony. Of course he worked on it diligently, but made the whole thing look effortless.

Most of us don't have our masts up as the water is still covering the docks and preventing power being turned on to the slips and mast crane.

This year, it was the Board of Directors that sailed past the clubhouse. As club tradition calls, there were strawberry mimosas and a toast to the sailing season. Later in the afternoon, a band and cocktails on the deck. A tasty dinner with good friends. Really a wonderful day!

Sunday, friends Mike B and Mike P, along with Commodore Bill helped Rob tow Yondering over to Bluffers Park Marina, which we'll call home for the month of June. We'll hoist the mast, hopefully get the engine fixed (finally!!) and enjoy a sail before the month's end. Better late than never!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Doors Open 2017

So many sites to see at Toronto Doors Open this year. I love the opportunity to explore inside spaces you normally can't visit and learn more about the city and its history.

It was once a major jail in Toronto, but now the 152-year-old facility serves as a hospital administration building. The site of so many public executions, it's no wonder the Don Jail is the host to so many ghosts. The imprint of the gallows on the wall is testament to the public hangings, and the last execution in Canada. Although I've been meaning to visit for many years, this year's Open Doors finally brought me inside. All the walls are painted white and windows let in lots of light, but it's not so hard to imagine this place dark, dingy, and crawling with rats and cockroaches.

The Arts and Letters Club was on my list because we tried to gain entry a previous year, but they weren't 'open.' So, of course it made it all the more tantalizing!  The club's address has been 14 Elm since 1920, with past members including the Group of Seven, Frederick Banting, and Robertson Davies. A welcoming space! Although women weren't allowed until the mid-seventies, they now outnumber men. I''m tempted to join myself, and may drop in to the bar some night after work to find out more.

There were two highlights at the Masonic Temple for me. The first was the snooker table Mick Jagger had built on site when he stayed there four months in the 70's. The thing was too massive to fit through the door, so lives there still. The other highlight was a section of floor, with the masonic star and tiles of white and black - symbols of the Great Architect and the struggle against good and evil. I've been to a few concerts here, and always enjoyed the vibe, but didn't realize there was so much more here on the upper levels. The current inhabitant, a tech company opened it up for the day. Murals from previous tenants Much Music and CTV still colour the walls.

My niece Emma was baptised at St John's Church Norway, also known as St. John the Baptist Norway Anglican Church, but I haven't been back siince. We drive by the stately Kingston Road landmark frequently. Perched high on a hill, it becomes a metaphor for the humble to approach a state of grace as they climb upward. Beautiful stained glass windows on the interior, and lots of pale wood. Lovely to just sit and breathe.

We weren't really planning on stopping, but as we were driving by we noticed the Door's Open sign at Scarborough Arts. A walk was in progress, but just coming to an end; unfortunately we'd missed the tour of Birchcliffe murals. Rob started chatting to one of the artists. Berg turned out to be the original painter of the rainbow bridge - a much loved landmark in the Don Valley. He painted it as a memorial to a homeless person. He's done many of the murals in the area, some commissioned like the one on Iki Sushi, and others done simply for the cost of paint.

Fool's Paradise
was the home of artist Doris McCarthy. If I were an artist I would apply to become an artist in residence, a privilege granted 4 times each year through the Heritage Trust. An inspiring view at the top of the Scarborough Bluffs, there was nothing here when Doris bought her acres in the wilderness. Over time, she built it to suit herself - including small proportions for her 4'10" frame. She built a pond to reflect the changing sky and placed it outside her windows for constant view.

I visit the grounds of the R.C. Water Filtration Plant several times a year but have never been inside. What an impressive structure! Marble, steel and built to last. Functional, but with art deco flourishes. A few water fountains were placed throughout, and I couldn't pass without taking a drink of the fresh, cool water. There were also photos of R.C. Harris, I'd always pictured a bookish character, but there he was, all big and burly. His physical size must have been an asset as he pushed his projects through from idea to completion. A man with vision and insistence on investing in infrastructure for the future, I wish he could influence some at City Hall today.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Evergreen spring

Sadly, the cypress fernspray we planted last May suffered extensive damage this past March. It survived the bitter winter, and then shrivelled to brown in the spring, after warm days were followed by a cold snap. 

The damaged cypress was taunting me. I thought I would replace it with some kind of dogwood shrub, so went off to the TBG plant sale to find something. Instead I saw a gorgeous dwarf white pine, and realized I'd really wanted one of those all along. 

The white pine looked a bit lonely, so I dragged Rob out to Sheridan where we picked up a beautiful bonsai juniper, calculating optimistically that it will get enough of the full afternoon sun to keep it happy.

Of course, two evergreens cried for a third. Tried a golden tipped cedar, but it wasn't quite right. So off to Sheridan Nurseries to find a blue star juniper.

Now there is a trio of slow-growing dwarf evergreens: white pine, blue star juniper, and bonsai. The blue star has a mounding habit and should grow to a maximum of 2' high by 3' wide; the white pine similar dimensions, but conical. The bonsai won't grow any further, just requires clipping. Hopefully these will fare better than their predecessors.

Of course, as I was searching for evergreens, each stop brought new temptations. At TBG I picked up caladium, two hosta, ligularia, siberian iris, choral bells, tovara, Irish moss, Japanese anemone, goatsbeard, astor, herbs... At Humber, more herbs, wooly thyme, and 12 pots of euphorbia. Blood grass at Loblaws.

One plant that I couldn't resist, but should have, was moonseed. A native woody vine meant for sandy soil. The name was irresistible, but it isn't really something you'd want in your garden.

Good thing it is a holiday today and garden centres are closed!! 

Everything is now in the ground, and I also did some transplanting, placing the false cypress, enoki and daphne in more prominent places along the side. Good weather for it, with grey skies and wet earth from rain.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

Treated myself to the Women's Workshop for Mother's Day and spent the day designing nourishing and personalized sequences.

Every body is different. Bodies change over a lifetime, and even day to day. Each asana has different effects on breath and internal organs. So it makes sense to tailor sequences that respond to individual requirements.

Each time I go to a workshop I surprise myself with my ignorance and am simultaneously comforted by what I know.

I was looking at a simple diagram of internal organs and was surprised by the location of the spleen (#5 on the right). It was where I'd thought the diaphram was, but the diaphram is so much bigger. This insight has already changed the way I observe my breath, such a crucial element in asana and pranayama.

At one point, Marlene was talking about how the physical body is a way to reach the physiological, and moments later I opened a nearby book randomly and read that "yoga is a path for the body to the mind, and from the mind to the body." The book was Yoga: A Gem for Women, by Geeta Iyengar, who helped to codify her father's teachings and became a respected guru herself.

In the morning we talked about monthly cycles and life cycles, and explored how different asana may help relieve or aggravate physical symptoms; then we designed our own sequences for specific purposes.

In the afternoon we had 1.5 hours to do the practice we'd designed for ourselves. It was great to look around the room and see such diversity in bodies and ages, experimenting with so many different poses.

I designed a core 1.5 hour practice but then also adapted it for a shorter time in the morning, with another version for evening.

An hour and a half! What a luxury! Usually I have a timed practice in the morning, and am acutely aware of minutes passing, with one eye on the clock. I don't want to be late for work; I want to see how long I've been in headstand; etc. etc. It was so nice to just BE in the poses and lose track of time. When Marlene came around to tell us we only had 10 minutes left, I was a bit surprised but actually right on track with the timing of the sequence.

As a result of the workshop, I've added some new poses into regular rotation, as well as taking time in the evening to do a few rejuvenating postures.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Full Flower Moon - May

Moonflower Advertisment from Popular Gardening, 1886-7

Officially full May 10, 2017 5:42 pm

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hot Docs!

Portraits of the famous and not so famous include their relationships with partners, rivals, family and friends.

Rob picked the selections this year, and for three of the selections we ordered extra tickets so we could bring along friends and family.

Seeing so many films over the week is immersive and intense and eye-opening. The stories reflect the larger society and times in which we live, from the quirky to the endearing, to the truly horrifying. It's like traveling the world, and just like at the end of a long trip, I am happy to arrive home with a new perspective.

all descriptions from Hot Docs catalogue unless otherwise noted

You're Soaking in It From Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley, Scott Harper deconstructs advertising’s pervasive presence through a comprehensive and engaging look at the dynamic changes it has made over the past half century—shifting from “mad men” to “math men.”

Mermaids In this tribute to the eternal allure of an ancient myth, colourful fins and swimming pools fill the lives of five modern-day women who strive to embody the mysterious siren as part of a growing “mermaiding” subculture.

Whitney "Can I Be Me" Most of the concert footage in the film comes from Dolezal's incomplete documentary about Houston's 1999 world tour. This forms the backbone of the film, as it constantly flashes back and forth between the tour and historical information about Houston's life. It's stunning to watch the singer at such a pivotal moment in her life, when her connection with husband Bobby Brown became more destructive and she lost touch with her longtime closest ally, Robyn Crawford. It is with Crawford that Broomfield's intention most clearly lies: He takes Brown's claim that Crawford and Houston were lovers and runs with it, portraying Houston as a queer woman trapped in a time and family that rejected anything besides heterosexuality. Hype

Gilbert What’s not to love about Gilbert Gottfried? Publicly polarizing yet intensely private, the scandalous comic opens his peculiar life and process to cameras.

All That Passes By Through a Window That Doesn't Open Embark on a mesmerizing railway journey through the Eurasian expanse where Azerbaijani men labour, dance, dream and wait for a more fruitful life while building the “new Silk Road."

Goran the Camel Man Goran is Swiss, who travels to his gypsy wagon with his dogs, goats and camel recreating the Silk Road. The film was made in Georgia (Eurasia) shows a fragment of his unusual lifestyle.

Avec l'Amour An aging teacher in Macedonia is set to retire and devote himself not to his hard-grafting wife, but to his first love: collecting rust-bucket cars. Find delight in one man’s compulsive drive to live his lifelong dream.

The Last Animals From Africa’s front lines to Asian markets to European zoos, this animal-rights thriller follows the conservationists, scientists and activists battling poachers and transnational trafficking syndicates to protect the last of the world’s elephants and rhinos from extinction.

Bird on a Wire Leonard Cohen's career was on the verge of complete disaster in late 1971. Songs of Love and Hate, his most recent record, peaked at #145 on the American charts – this despite containing future classics like "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Joan of Arc." CBS was ready to cut their losses and drop him from the label. A tour would give him the chance to regain some momentum, though Cohen hated performing live; he only reluctantly agreed to a one-month run in Europe because Songs of Love and Hate found a much bigger audience there than in the States. "He endlessly said that he didn't want to tour," says filmmaker Tony Palmer. "It had nothing do with him, he said. He was a poet, first and foremost."The rock documentary was still in its infancy, but Palmer had chronicled Cream's farewell show at the Royal Albert Hall three years earlier. He was also a huge Cohen fan, and showed up to a meeting at the office of the musician's manager, Marty Machat, clutching a copy of the Canadian icon's poetry book The Energy of Slaves. He didn't realize he had been summoned to create a tour documentary – what would become Bird on a Wire, a legendary lost film that would exist only in bootleg form until 2010, when it was painstakingly pieced together from raw footage. Nearly 40 years later, Palmer's chronicle of what would become one of Cohen's most legendary run of shows is finally getting an audience. Rolling Stone

Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service From Toronto’s diners to Montreal’s “sexy restos,” Paris’s haute eateries to Tokyo’s fantasy “maid cafés,” waitresses around the world dish the dirt on gender, power and the art of service.

Last Men in Aleppo As the Syrian conflict intensifies, residents of Aleppo prepare for a siege, becoming increasingly reliant on the selfless bravery of the White Helmets, a volunteer search-and-rescue group risking their lives to save others.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Poetry, how do I love thee!

My turn for the Book Babes this year was BYOP - Bring Your Own Poem.

People took turns reading their selections and sharing why they'd chosen it, along with their personal connection to the verse. It was wonderful listening to everyone reading out loud, the rhythm and pulse of the language. A very pleasurable evening.

Several childhood favourites appeared, and one poem, Kindness, was selected by three different people. A poem in Spanish (I Love You), a poem in English/Cree (The Language Family), two by Yeats, one by a ribald grandmother (Persian Pussy).

Diane:  The Waking, by Theodore Roethke 
Laura: Persian Pussy, by Emily Delina O'Shea Falkner
Liz: The Second Coming, by Yeats
Miriam: I Love You, by Mario Benedetti
Pat: Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye
Linda: The Language Family, by Naomi McIlwraith
Virginia: The Wreck of the Hesperus, by Longfellow
Debra: The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll
Christina: The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter, by Ezra Pound

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Merry merry month of May

Such a pleasure watching the greening in the ravine, the birds nesting, flowers popping. Chartreuse buds on sunny days turn shades of emerald on rainy mornings. My own awakening from winter hibernation began with the first buds of spring. May is a wonder.

Blood root drops its petals as leaves unfurl
big headed narcissus nod by the pond


Saturday, May 6, 2017

High tide

There was some debate at BPYC on whether to proceed with launch as water levels were forecast to be unseasonably high, but we went ahead last weekend... just six days later and the water is over the docks and still rising. Some people are building frames to extend the height of their docks, while others are tying close to their neighbouring boat. For safety reasons, no shore power. Apparently this has happened only once before in the last 36 years of the club's history. Flood warnings in many lakeside communities.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Practice Habit

At this week's Scarborough Uke Jam, Bill W. inspired everyone with his playing of Bach's Prelude for the first Cello Suite.

Wow! I would love to be able to play something similar. Maybe in a few more years.

Since I've picked up the ukulele I've often thought about how much similarity there is to yoga. Posture, awareness, discipline, and practice!

I've been strumming for a little over two years now, and in the first year I was very motivated to practice every day. Although I would've liked to learn faster, progress was a lot more noticeable and measurable. Now I have the basics down, and there is still lots of room for improvement. Progress is so incremental.

Going to the Jam every two weeks is good exposure to new techniques and songs - and it's just fun to sing and play along with experienced musicians who don't dismiss basic players. I am truly thankful to Paul, Jay, Matt, Lisa for leading the sessions, prepping the charts, and making it all look so effortless. However, if it's been a week or so since I picked up the uke, any callouses I developed have faded and I end the evening with sore fingertips. When I've been "out of practice" I notice I have to think a bit more than I should to find the chords and fingering.

So, why don't I practice uke every day? No shortage of excuses! Too tired. Have to make dinner. Out for the evening, etc. etc. Yet when I do take the time I find it a great way to unwind. And really, even 15 minutes a day can make a difference.

I signed up for online lessons awhile ago, they are nicely put together, and a great approach to thoroughly learning a song. The instructor sent out some useful practice tips via email that are very timely.

Thanks for the advice, Brett!


Brett McQueen

Your Reason – Why You Play Ukulele

You must have a reason for why you practice. 

What motivates you to play the ukulele?

For me, it's to experience the joy of making music with others. It gives me energy and fuel. I'm happier when I'm making music.

For you, your motivation to play ukulele might be to win the heart of your crush. Others of you might want to be able to make music with your grandkids. Some of you have a lifelong dream of playing an instrument. Maybe it reminds you of that time you went to Hawaii. Perhaps you want to be a world-class performer.

These are great motivations to practice.

Think about and identify your motivation.

While some of us don't have to think too hard about this, when you find yourself in a rut and discouraged, it's important to remember why you play the ukulele.

Your Place – When & Where You Practice

While you have to start here, motivation isn't enough.

Motivation can quickly wane when we face obstacles, like when you can't switch chords in that one song without stopping. Discouragement can creep in when your fingers aren't as agile as you want them to be to fingerpick that scale or solo.

When we don't feel motivated, we can fallback on our practice ritual or habit.

A practice habit starts with two main things:
  1. When you practice
  2. Where you practice
The number one reason students tell me for not practicing ukulele is time.

We all have the same amount of time in a day, so if you're saying learning ukulele is important to you, let's get creative with it. Remember, it's better to practice for just 15 minutes per day than having a marathon practice sessions for a couple hours every few days.

You might:
  • Bring your ukulele to work to play on a break
  • Set out your ukulele on a stand in the family room, so you're more likely to pick it up
  • Buy a ukulele case and take it with you when you're traveling on the road
  • Carry your ukulele in your backpack on campus
  • Put your ukulele on a stand right by your bed so you see it first thing in the morning

I know for myself if my ukulele is in its case put up in my closet I'm way less likely to take it out and play. This is why I keep a ukulele on a stand in my office within arms reach, so I'm frequently reminded to pick it up and play. This is a powerful environmental trigger to make it easy for me to play ukulele.

It's even better though if you can schedule your practice and have a dedicated space, such as a your back porch or a quiet room in your house without distractions. For me, my home office is the quietest and free from distractions.

Find your time and place to practice ukulele to create your practice habit.

Think about your time creatively and use the power of your environment to get into a creative mindset.

Your Focus – What You Practice

Have you ever had it where you pick up the ukulele and feel like you're playing the same old things over and over again?

Maybe you're a beginner and you feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ukulele lessons and information out there. Where do you even start? Maybe you've been playing for awhile and you've hit a plateau and don't know how to get better. What do you do to break through?

It's normal to feel in a rut as a musician or like you don't know what to practice next.

You can have your motivation, time and place, but if you aren't focused on a goal, you'll start to feel like you're peddling without a bike chain.

So, what makes a great ukulele practice goal?

Let's borrow from the SMART goal framework. A great practice goal for ukulele is:
  • Specific. The goal is simply stated and easy to understand. Good, specific goals are: "I want to learn how to switch from a G to D7 chord while strumming a calypso strumming pattern without stopping," or, "I want to memorize the C major scale in first position," or, "I want to learn how to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
  • Measurable. It's clear when you have achieved the goal because a number is attached to it. "I will switch from a G to D7 chord to a count of four at 80 beats per minute on a metronome," or, "I will learn the first eight measures of the intro to Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
  • Achievable. Your goal is within reach and not outside the scope of your current ability. For example, if you've played ukulele less than a month, an unachievable goal and one not worth focusing on would be to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps as performed by Jake Shimabukuro.
  • Relevant. The goal should be within the scope of your interests on ukulele. For example, if you're interested in strumming chords and singing, then, learning the notes of the fretboard might not be relevant to how you want to play the instrument. That's okay!
  • Time-based. Every great goal has a time limit for when you should achieve that goal. I recommend making smaller goals for a two-week period to stay focused, motivated and inspired.
Focus your practice by writing out a ukulele practice goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

There is an art to creating effective goals on which to focus your practice.

For many ukulele players, it's quite difficult to craft well-articulated goals that factor in your current skill level and where you want to be.

This is why having a teacher or a ukulele group is so important to help define those goals for you. Having a teacher allows you to spend your time focusing on what's important – practicing your instrument. A great teacher will be able to understand where you're at and suggest the right things to practice to help you make the music you want to make.

A Simple 15-Minute Ukulele Practice Method

No one learns how to do anything without dedicating time. This is true for learning to play ukulele.

Fortunately, It doesn't take hours a day to get better at ukulele.

15 minutes per day is all it takes.

Last week I talked about finding your reason, your place, and your focus when it comes to playing ukulele. I also gave some practical tips for finding time in your busy schedule to play ukulele.

If 15 minutes is all you have, then, I recommend making the most of it and breaking it up into three 5-minute parts.

First 5 Minutes – Pick a Familiar Song

Don't start off your practice session by taking on the latest Jake Shimabukuro arrangement!

For the first five minutes, take the first minute to stretch the wrists, hands, and fingers by opening and closing the hands and fingers. While doing this, focus on your breathing.

After that first minute, start with a familiar song you already know how to play and that you love to play. If you're brand new, start with the most basic chord and strumming you can muster.

This gets the fingers and mind ready to go!

Next 5 Minutes – Pick One Exercise

Next, select one new exercise or one you've already been working on perfecting.

Just pick one!

The biggest mistake new ukulele players make is trying to focus on too many different things at once. Don't try to do it all at one time! You will get there.

To be effective at practice in a short amount of time, just focus on one thing.

This could be a scale, strumming pattern, fingerpicking pattern, chord change exercise, metronome exercise, music-reading exercise, rhythm exercise, memorization exercise, etc. 

If you're scratching head wondering how to come up with these exercises, then, I'd recommend having a teacher give you exercises to practice based on your current skill level and interests. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to tackle an exercise that is outside the scope of your own capabilities.

When you learn from me online in Club Ukulele, I present exercises you can use to improve certain techniques and skills on the ukulele based on your skill level and interests.

Where in the last step, you warmed up the fingers and mind, the goal for this part is to challenge and stretch your fingers and your mind.

Last 5 Minutes – Pick a New Song

Lastly, pick a new song to learn.

Ideally, this song should be one that uses the new skill or technique you've been practicing in the last 5 minutes. Again, it's important to learn a new song that is challenging but isn't too far out of reach based on your current skill level. This is where a good ukulele teacher can help you.

With Club Ukulele, courses build gradually, so I provide these songs for you to learn that fit the skills and techniques you're learning.

As you practice this new, more difficult song, you might break up the song into micro-goals, such as: 

"I'm going to learn all the chords positions for this song,"


"I'm going to learn the first four measures of this song."

The goal isn't to be able to play the song perfectly in one practice session but to chip away at in small chunks.

Learning harder songs like this is ultimately what helps you improve your skills as a ukulele player. Plus, playing songs and making music is what it's all about!