Sunday, July 22, 2018

Screech Owls

This last week I've visited Rosetta McLain Gardens five times, checking the progress on the fledging of four screech owlets.

The park is full of photographers with long lenses, all eager to capture the birds' image. The people on the ground cluster together and point while there is a soft whirr of shutters clicking when the owls shift position.

My first visit I nabbed a fledgling with my camera phone. The fuzzy image didn't do the creature any justice, although it does capture a preternatural vibe.

There was nothing spooky about the sightings. The owlets were simply adorable with their fluffed up feathers. I watched one in the nest sticking one big foot out of the knothole, stretching it's toes, and then testing the other foot, but I didn't see it make it's first flight.

Rob returned to the park with me on my second visit and we brought Alex and Penny along last night. 

The owlets have all fledged now and are branching - testing their wings on short distances, hopping branch to branch. The adults will feed the young meals of mice and small birds until they learn to hunt. The silence of the night would be broken by the sound of other birds defending their nests and the adult owls calling to each other with their soft warbles. Humans whispered.

In twilight, the owls become more active, but they are even harder to locate. Penny was great at spotting them all up in the branches. The long lenses all clustered in a different direction, we were able to marvel in another corner of the park. Eventually the photographers picked up their sticks and followed us. The owls don't seem to mind the humans; they must think us a curious species.

taken with our pocket Sony camera (Rob)
taken with our pocket Sony camera (Rob)

Saturday, July 21, 2018


I scheduled my staycation around Yoga in the City again this year, hitting the studio in the mornings with Marlene. An hour of pranayama, then a half hour break before two hours of asana. Really feel wonderfully renewed at the end of the week. I would like to do more maha mudra, when we did it in class it seemed like something I could spend a lot more time exploring. And for the 'twenty breaths' I am taking in my regular morning practice, why not bring more bhramari breath?

Food Meals from Mark McEwan's grocery were a special treat, no cooking required in the summer heat; although I did enjoy preparing an easy meal of duck comfit one night. Tried a few new Mexican restaurants, Playa Cabana on Dupont had great cocktails and Mariachi's on Yonge added crunchy and carmelized onions to their soft tacos for extra bite and texture. Douce France was a nice end to the yoga week, sitting on the patio in a bistro chair, eating a stuffed plum, and then grabbing some Parisian delicacies to take to Kitchener to enjoy with my mom.

I ended up hanging out in my own backyard most afternoons, just loving being there, in no real hurry. Reading a book and drifting off to sleep in the sun, waking up when the book fell and hit the  deck with a clunk, finding my page and then drifting off again.  Gardening in the backyard, planting some new clematis, monarda by the pond, purple ajuga on slope, moving some shade plants into the ravine (liverwort, solomon seal), transplanting ferns and hosta. Weeding and puttering. Watering. Getting dirt under my nails.

Sailing on the first weekend enjoying the dazzle on the water. Saturday a perfect wind and Sunday anchored at the Bluffs beach. Saturday the day with Rob, Sunday hanging out with friends. Caroline swam over to the boat; Alex dinghied; Aldo hung out for a bit on the swim ladder. Then back to the dock and a lovely dinner of lemon chicken on Caroline's boat.

 Fringe Theatre Festival added three titles to my
playlist, in different venues, so in a way I did get about to explore the city. I really enjoy sampling the offerings of these dedicated amateurs. There are moments of brilliance butting up against the not-so-fine, but that is part of the adventure. So much talent! There was venue in Kensington market, the Poetry Jazz Cafe, that reminded me a bit of Small's in NYC for its dimensions; no more than twenty in the seats but fantastic show where the actors were embedded in the crowd and the audience was able to order from a menu of different emotions to start the show. The Tarragon at Dupont and Theatre Passe Murraille were other destinations. This was a reminder that there is lots going on in the city throughout the year, with readings and open rehearsals to explore works in progress.

I started my vacation on a Friday, and drove to Kitchener to visit with my mom and sister, and returned the following Friday for another visit. Squeezed in a visit with Janine, too, an old high school friend; we've recently reconnected and it is amazing how quickly we've caught up. Going back to my childhood home brings mixed emotions, especially with my mom so sick and my sister's very recent diagnosis of M.S.  But I really liked sitting in the carport surrounded by the green space; the climbing hydrangea making a wall and the scent of rambling roses and the fragrant linden trees wafting into the space.  I am so grateful she is able to be there instead of in a hospital room. Mom now has Facetime installed so we visited throughout the week.......... I took my sister out for a birthday lunch and she was able to joke about her condition, saying she plans on buying a t-shirt that says, "I'm not drunk I have M.S." The second Friday I returned with some yoga gear and taught her a few poses, hoping she will start a regular practice of her own. My brother Pat was celebrating his 49th birthday and we had a few good belly laughs together, too, as he shared evidence from the Flat Earth Society about the fiction of the visit to the moon - he actually almost has me convinced of a conspiracy.

The last day of my vacation I went to Rosetta McLain Gardens to check out a jam with some local musicians. A few people from Scarborough Uke Jam showed up, so although I left my ukulele at home, next time will bring it, along with some charts. I've been meaning to check out this park for quite some time as it is a hotspot for birders. On the way out we went by a tree with three fledgling Screech owlets, and a birder was kind enough to lend me their binoculars. What a little fluffball! Three ready to leave the nest.I got a good look at one curious bird, poking it's head out of the tree and looking around. My phone didn't do the owlet any likeness however this is about the same age and stage. Absolutely adorable.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


I loved my Henryi clematis and when it disappeared from the garden, I missed it!

I tried planting it again on the fence but it just didn't take. Henry the 1st made a brief reappearance, and then vanished altogether. 

Now I've dedicated a trellis to Henryi the 3rd  in the garden, hoping he likes his new home. A few buds on the new vine show promise for fall.

I've also found some vigorous growers for along the fence and hope these white clematis thrive. There are some for early summer flowers and late bloomers for fall.

All white, for petals in the moonlight.

Jackmani Alba:  For the fence, closest to the red Japanese maple. Flowers June to September. This is fully hardy; flowers on last year's growth. It prefers to be facing south or west; I've placed north and east, hopefully its vigorous nature will adapt nicely. Large open single or semi-double blooms. Group 2, prune light. In early spring:
  • Yr 1: Cut back all stems to 30 cm (12") 
  • Yr 2: Cut back all stems to 1 m (3')
  • Yr 3: Cut back all stems to a pair of buds
Sweet Autumn Clematis (clematis terniflora): For the fence, above the chocolate boneset, which has plumes of white in fall. Vigorous twining deciduous vine produces fragrant creamy white panicles of flowers from late August to October followed by silvery seed heads. Ideal for fences or ground cover; considered invasive by some but when properly maintained, the vine can be a well-behaved asset to the garden at a time of year when pretty much everything else has stopped blooming. Prune back to 12" from ground in late fall to keep in check. 

Henryi: Group 2 clematis; blooms in late spring/early summer and again in fall. 6' - 10'. Deciduous climber. Prune in late winter or early spring; then prune again after the first flush of flowers.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Book Babes AGM

Life's circumstances shortened my participation at this year's AGM from a weekend to one day (June 25), but it was definitely one fine day, despite the rain and cool temperatures.

Nicolette picked up Debra and I, and on the drive up we listened to Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling on audio. I had also just started reading the book the book Still Life, by the same author. What an interesting experience! Reading the first in series, while listening to the fifth, as Chief Inspector Gamache solves the murder while in the Quebecois village of Three Pines. The same characters had grown and changed by the fifth, their lives evolving in the not-so-quiet town.

We arrived at Nicki's and walked over the stone road, past the pond with the singing bullfrogs, around the curve and down the hill to Louise's, where we discussed the first book over brunch with mimosas, quiche, limoncello mousse, and fresh fruit. Nicki, Louise, Linda, Laura, Virginia, Nicolette, Debra, and me.

A quick trip into town and then back to Nicki's. As he has done over the years, while her husband Tim was hosting his radio show he played two different versions of "Fever," teasing us for hot and cold flashes and afternoon naps.

A rainy afternoon, while we picked the books for the coming year. A tasty meal, and then back to the car for the long drive home.

Booklist 2018-2019

Sept 5, 2018- Diane: Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Oct 3, 2018- Nicolette: Enlightenment Now by Stephen Pinker

Nov 7, 2018- Laura: Sixty, A Diary of my Sixty first year by Ian Brown

Dec 5, 2018- Virginia: Unearthed - Love, Acceptance, and Other lessons from an Abandoned Garden by Alexandra Risen

Jan 9, 2019- Debra: The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal JourneyInto the Dark Side by James Fallon

Feb 6 2019- Pat: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

March 6 2019- Nicki: Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

April 3 2019 Liz :Republic of Love by Carol Shields

May 1 2019-Miriam: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

June 22 2019 -AGM Louise: Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn

Honourable Mentions
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Mistakes Were Made but Not by Me by Carol Tavris
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Consumption by Kevin Patterson
The World As it Is by Ben Rhodes
The Break by Katherena Vermette
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende
Stranger the Dream by Laini Taylor
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Full Strawberry Moon - June 2018

In honour of the full strawberry moon, I propose a toast with a Strawberry Pimm's Cup.

Ontario strawberries are in season! Luscious and intensely flavourful - so superior to the imported cardboard fruit trucked from afar.

- 1.5 oz of Pimm's Cup #1
- .5 oz of London Dry gin
- 2 oz of tonic or gingerale
- 1/4 cup fresh strawberries
- dash of balsalmic vinegar reduction
- ice!

*The next full moon will be overnight on Wednesday and Thursday of June 27 and June 28. That's because the full moon occurs at 12:53 a.m. EDT (0453 GMT), so depending on which time zone you live in, the full moon will be at its best late Wednesday (June 27) or in the wee hours of Thursday (June 28).Jun 4, 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018


Missed a few of the lectures this year, but was also able to take in a Thursday night when Cheryl had an extra ticket to spare.
Although I hadn't read some of the books I was still able to enjoy insights into the writers' creative process or approach to their work. Many of the books I hadn't read were added to my 'must read' list. 
Next year, it is the Thursday night series!
Tuesday, Sept. 5 Alexandra Reisen: Unearthed Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden
Thursday, Sept. 14 Gary Barwin: Yiddish for Pirates
Tuesday, Oct. 24 Kevin Patterson: News From the Red Desert
Tuesday, Nov. 7 Wayne Johnston: First Snow, Last Light
Tuesday, Jan. 9 Zoe Whittall: The Best Kind of People
Tuesday, Feb. 27 Iain Reid: I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Tuesday, March 6 Janie Cheng: Dragon Springs Road
Tuesday, April 10 Rachel Cusk (Speaker Sandra Martin): Outline; Transit
Tuesday, May 8 Anosh Irani: The Parcel
Tuesday, June 5 Moshid Hamid (Speaker Suanne Kelman): Exit West

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Thank you, Andy!

Andy and I worked together 30+ years ago and would often share stories over lunch. He was 15 years older than me and was a great source of advice early in my career, and a ballast for some early turbulent days on the job.

He also introduced me to Iyengar yoga on a few of those lunches, where we went to a nearby gym and he taught me the virtues of tadasana, finding balance on the heels and balls of my feet, holding my shoulders back and lifting my chest  Those lunchtime lessons had a profound effect, and although we lost touch, when I was looking to find a yoga teacher, I sought out someone who specialized in the Iyengar method.

We bumped into each other fifteen years later at the Yoga Centre, when I went to buy some wooden yoga blocks for home practice. He was looking forward to retiring from his government job so he could go into teaching yoga full time. And when life's turns brought me back to YCT as a student, I sought out his classes. On many Thursday nights I appreciated his acerbic wit and irreverent approach, and took a few workshops with him. When he decided to retire from teaching I asked for his phone number so I could take him out for a beer.

That little slip of paper stayed in my wallet for a number of years, and I came close to calling the number but never did. At the gala this year, I asked Stephanie how he was, because I knew they kept in touch. He was not doing well. In fact, he was battling cancer and in palliative care, but was taking visitors.

When I visited him, I was happy to see the Andy I remembered - wearing a long white beard, looking for all the world like a yogi reclined in a hospital bed. We caught up with each other, and swapped stories. Patricia, his wife, in their back garden, peeked from behind an arbour and raised a glass of wine in a photo. She had died a few years before and he still missed her. He talked about travels with his nieces and nephews.

I visited a few more times. I asked him for advice about preparing for retirement, and he talked about Steven Covey and 7 Habits and how a holistic view of all dimensions of a person - physical, spiritual, intellectual, social should all be taken into account, and not to neglect those dimensions. What is work giving you, beyond the pay check, that may need to be fulfilled?

There were always visitors in Andy's room. Family, friends. I bumped into people from the yoga centre. Andy didn't complain and spoke highly of everyone at the hospital, but he did say although the food wasn't bad, it wasn't great either. He enjoyed sushi and it was often in the room or on order, and I even brought some it along once, in lieu of flowers.

Treatment continued. Weeks went by. He learned he would never have full mobility and would be paralyzed from the waist down. He tried to plan ahead for the day he would be released from palliative care, and then realized that day wouldn't come.

Jane told me on a Friday, the last day of a yoga workshop, that Andy had made the decision to end his life the following Monday. I went to visit him that afternoon. I brought an audio speaker so I could play him a Monty Python song I thought would suit his irreverent spirit - "Always look on the Bright Side of Life." He smiled when I played it, and closed his eyes and listened, and when the words of the song came to, "Always look on the bright side of death, just before you draw your terminal breath," I realized that really was Andy, an eternal optimist. I put my hand over his and said, 'thank you.'

He died of natural causes the following day, lethal injection not necessary.

His funeral was the following week. There were many of us there from the yoga studio as he taught and mentored both students and teachers. There were also his family, his neighbours, his friends, people from the train club, wood workshop buddies, and someone from the Bladder Cancer Society. People got up to speak and tell stories of the time they spent with Andy and what a difference he had made in their lives. As they spoke I came to know more aspects of his person.

He was a man of many dimensions and led a full life. For his train buddies, he had become President of their association for a number of years. For nieces and nephews, he had introduced them to travel, ideas, and good food. For neighbours, he had provided a place to come together and share stories and drinks. He had become a spokesperson and ambassador for the Bladder Cancer Society and helped inspire and support others.

I am grateful we had a chance to connect again and I was able to learn more about his world and passions.

He introduced me to Iyengar yoga, and I will always be grateful I had a chance to let him know it made such a strong and lasting impact, and to thank him in person.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Clear Sailing

What a blessed beginning to the sailing season!

Beautiful blue skies, a flat lake, and gentle winds christened the shakedown sail on May 21. Taking the helm, I felt for the wind on my face to help guide me in pointing the boat to catch the perfect puff of the sail. After a few hours sailing we anchored just off the beach to listen to the burble and murmur of the crowd.

Rushing home after work on a Tuesday night, no other boats on the lake to enjoy the crisp wind and clouds in the sky.

Sailpast - the best in years! Rob emceed and looked so handsome as he delivered his address. The sun was out for the ceremony but the cool breeze kept everyone comfortable. Strawberries and mimosas to toast the start of the season, and new docks. The BPYC fleet out through the gap and sailing around the Commodore to luff their jibs. Caroline, Laura and Wendy served up a tapas feast and Kaarina and I poured Spanish G & Ts at the cocktail bar. After years of bad weather and circumstance, this day seemed absolutely perfect in almost every detail.

When Dave and Karen visited from St. Louis Missouri we took them down to the Bluffs and the boat,  and then over to Cathedral Bluffs for dinner and a view of the lake.

Dock party! Wendy again preparing a feast, this time an Asian theme, with potstickers and rice-wraps and chicken and skewers and and... Joanne had decorated a green alcove with paper lanterns that were illustrated with sailboats and faerie lights were strung.

Four hours on the lake on a Saturday afternoon, winds taking us over 6 knots, I laid down to look at the sky and found myself drifting in and drifting out of a welcome afternoon nap, warm in the sun.

Maybe the fact we can't enjoy this all year long makes the start of the season such rapture.

Looking forward with anticipation to summer days on the lake.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Don't give up, give in

The yoga intensive this week was 6 am to 9 am, before work.

The asanas and sequences were very demanding. Strong inversions and back bends; by the end of the week, strong inverted backbends. I don't recall most of the sanskrit names, but we were: doing chataranga dondasana to upward dog; camel (ustrasana); moving from headstand to a half camel; dropping back from shoulder stand to a backbend; moving from uttanasana to revolve with one leg in the air.

Some of the poses were demonstrated first and I wondered if they were in my range of possibility. We often worked with partners and ran through a number of attempts. I was grateful for partner support and surprised that by the second or third attempt, I could  do with minimal help.

Holding for long periods, I tend to rely on determination and sheer stubbornness.  Marlene has used the phrase "Don't give up, give in," many times; this week I felt more than once that I was passing through a wall and simply giving in. Euphoria? Endorphins? Sudden effortless effort.

Thursday night a massage and Friday I took a holiday, visiting the Toronto Botanical Gardens and then visiting a friend in palliative care. I couldn't help but think about how very briefly a flower blooms, a season lasts, our lives are lived. Moments ephemeral and eternal.

Don't give up, give in.

illustration: - Yoga Pose Paint Splatter One by Dan Sproul

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Curated Dinners at AGO

I love the curated dinners at the AGO. So much thought goes into the preparation of the menu, the visual presentation and the food & wine pairings.

Last November, Laura and I enjoyed the The Roaring ‘20s NYC curated dinner inspired by Florine Stettheimer, Painting Poetry. The menu featured classics from the era: Oysters Rockefeller; chicken consomme; waldorf salad; turkey roulade / pistachio, currant, potato; salmon scallop mousse / sauce mousseline, peas; and the sweet ending fruit salad and mint sorbet. Paired with gorgeous french vintages. So delicious!

This last week, I indulged myself again and Liz and I went to the Kusama #2 Curated Dinner. What a masterpiece of a meal! Each course seemed to surpass the last. I enjoy when the chef and sommelier introduce the course and provide additional context about the ingredients and preparation before the course is served. It builds anticipation and heightens appreciation.


Passed hors d'oeuvres and a selection of sakes

Blackbird Baking Co. Artisan Bread
Miso-Sesame Infused Butter, Sunomono

Beet-Cured Trout Gravlax, Horseradish, Dill, Lemon
Suggested Pairing: Raimat Albariño, Costers del Segre, Spain

Asparagus, Wild Leek, Sea Asparagus
Suggested Pairing: Domaine de la Villaudière Sancerre, Loire Valley, France

Lobster Broth, Seaweed
Suggested Pairing: Alta Maria Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, California, United States

Jack Daniel's 90 Day Dry Aged Rib Eye
Bone marrow, miso, sesame, spring vegetables.
Suggested Pairing: Caymus Red Schooner Voyage 4 - Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina vinified and bottled in Rutherford, Napa Valley, California

Rhubarb Sake Jelly
Shaved Foie Gras

Matcha Chiffon
Black Sesame Meringue, Miso Caramel, Hojicha Ice Cream

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Full Flower Moon - May 2018

Thoroughly enjoying my garden and the appearance of these all-too-brief blossoms. Daffodils, trillium and crocus have made their visits. Bergenia and bleeding hearts are fading fast. Forget me nots are winking and Solomon Seal in elegant display. Poppies about to pop and the beauty bush on its way. I am so blissed out, and loving every petal.

Tonight in the garden, the tree peony fragnance was as amazing as the blooms. Mayapples surprised me under their overhead umbrellas. 

The moon is full May 29 at 10:19 am

Saturday, May 26, 2018

21C Music Festival

21C Music Festival is now in its 5th year, however this was my first taste of the festival which celebrates newly composed music. 

I took in two memorable concerts during the week but as it is sailing season, declined the rest, tempting as they may be. Next year the festival will run in January and I'm planning to  immerse myself in the full series. These few hours spent in the concert halls will translate to many more hours of listening pleasure as I continue to explore the artists online and in newly expanded playlists.

Kronos Quartet with Jherek Bischoff
What great selections! Each piece that followed the next was something entirely new. The string quartet opened with the Middle Eastern arrangement Zaghala (2017); followed immediately by "stop motion animation for a string quartert"  by Canadian composer Lizee called Another Living Soul; Russian composer Sharlat's pencil sketch (which incorporated pencils as percussive instruments substituted for the bow). Other highlights were Kronos' interpretation of Janice Joplin's interpretation of George Gershwin's Summertime and Coltrane's Alabama.  Jherek Bischoff made it a quintet with his bass guitar as the group played Pete Townshend's Baba O'Riley and then presented Bischoff's compositions: Stranger, A Semiperfect Number, and Flying River. Totally unexpected was when they played Jimmi Hendrix Purple Haze.

I have until now associated chamber music with string quartet's and classical music, this concert pushed the boundaries in an incredible way. At one point the musicians were tapping bells with their feet and bowing with fluorescent coloured foam. Emotional conjurors, spinning playful fun, then mournful yearning. Fully memorable.

Kronos' 50 for the Future is commissioning a collection of 50 new works – 10 per year for five years and includes works with Laurie Anderson and Tanya Tagak. 

Anthony de Mare's Liaisons: Reimagining Sondheim from the Piano
This project invites composers to take a Sondheim tune from one of his many Broadway hits, and reinterpret and explore its musical dimensions in new ways. Between pieces we hear audio from the composers, and just after intermission watch an interview with Sondheim. 

My favourite was Wynton Marsalis as he described how he'd applied the call and response approach to his interpretation of That Old Piano Roll, using ragtime swing and then New Orleans ragtime stomp. According to notes, "the basic stride of James P. Johnson is answered by the jagged, obtuse style of Thelonius Monk".

One of the pieces brought entirely new sounds to the piano strings. How were they getting those unusual clangs and bell sounds I wondered? This was Andy Akiho's interpretation of Into the Woods, "My goal in reimagining this prologue was to orchestrate each character's personality with the use of prepared piano - for example, dimes on the strings for the cow scenes, poster tack on the strings for door knocks and narrated phrases, and credit card string-clusters for the wicked witch." Fantastic!

The acoustics in Mazzoleni Hall were perfect for the piano, but not so much for the speaking voice. From my seat at the back of the hall I couldn't hear very much as Anthony de Mare spoke or played the audio excerpts; I ended up pulling out my binoculars to watch the video. The accompanying notes would have been helpful if it wasn't so dark and I had remembered my glasses. C'est la vie.

The entire project is accessible online.

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
As I was leaving the Kronos concert there was a group of women trying to shoot a selfie-video, so I offered to take their phone to catch everyone in frame.

Once in hand the group started laughing and saying Jane Bunnet and Maqueque, and that was when I realized I was filming one of my favourite ensembles.  Didn't think fast enough to ask for a photo of me with the group, so this one will have to live in memory. They were scheduled to play at the Atlanta Jazz Festival a few days later.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Opera Pubs and Backstage Tours

I joined Meet Up for business purposes years ago and didn't realize there was an Arts and Theatre lovers group until Irene extended an invite to an Opera Pub.

The Amsterdam Bicycle Club was jam packed and we arrived two hours before the singing started so we could sit as close as possible to the performers.

What a fun night out, listening to professional opera singers belt out tunes in a bar setting. Sitting less than a hundred feet away, it didn't matter that the acoustics were less than ideal. We heard six highly talented singers and tunes from almost as many different operas, accompanied by one pianist. A very unique - and somewhat surreal - experience.

I joined the Theatre Lovers or Culturists Meet Up Group afterwards and am now getting offers for up to 40% off ticket prices (some of which I had already paid full price), as well as invites to unique events.

Rob and I joined a Meet-Up with 100 others for a backstage tour of Massey Hall before it closes for revitalization this coming summer. We toured the empty theatre and were given time to linger in the cramped backstage dressing rooms. I stood onstage and sang a few bars of Oh Canada! to the amusement of fellow tour-takers. Interestingly the theatre didn't seem quite as big from that vantage point, but then again, the seats were empty.

I took a photo of Herbie Hancock's signature etched into the wooden floor.

There have been great acts over the years and some of music's most memorable concerts, including The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever (Charlie Parker/Charles Mingus/Dizzie Gillespie/Max Roach/Bud Powell, released 1968); Neil Young; Gordon Lightfoot. Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould made their debuts here.

Some notes I pecked on my iPhone: seats are a bit cramped for legroom as the hall opened in 1894 when the average height was 5'5"; when it first opened there were no washrooms whatsoever, those were retrofitted and not many in number; the stained glass was covered in the 1920's as vaudeville required a black box theatre; the Queen's Box became the bar.

We will be going to see Ry Cooder here before the Hall closes - it is scheduled to reopen again in July 2020. When it does reopen I hope it retains the historical character that has made it such a Canadian icon.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Koerner, Live!!!

I think Koerner Hall may be addictive.

Just staring at the ceiling, listening to some of the best musicians on the planet. Watching and listening to the music, live. And yes, that can be pronounced in two ways, a short or long 'i' sound,  as in, being there physically in person; as in, living and breathing and experiencing the music come alive.

Adding to my playlists as I discover new sounds and virtuosos. Such a gorgeous setting and outstanding acoustics.

Many of the groups and ensembles express their pleasure of being in the hall and confirm it is one of the best venues anywhere. How fortunate we are to have this space here in Toronto!

Several of the musicians on my concert list were brand new to me. I selected most of them based on brief samplings and descriptions and was rewarded with new musical favourites. Designing your own series brings some benefits: reduced ticket prices, free drinks at intermission, and being able to exchange tickets without penalty.

I enjoy seating in the Loge but it doesn't work for Rob's long legs... it is definitely cramped. So orchestra seats already ordered here next year.


Jordi Savall and Carlos Nunez and Friends; Celtic Favourites May 10
- Reinventing chamber music! The viols played by Jordi are several centuries old, and evolved into the cello we know today. Carlos Nunez plays a mean Galitian bagpipe. What a night! I felt transported back to medieval times and magical places. Sold-out crowd. (M9/10)

Max Raabe and the Palister Orchestra April 18
- Such a dry sense of humour and impeccable timing. I can't recall laughing when the brass section played at any previous concerts, but the horns provided the punchlines on a few of the musical interludes. Faves from Germany and America. Sold-out crowd.(G19/20 aisle)

Pink Sardines, Saturday April 14
- We booked this on the suggestion of Mike P, and Laura nabbed the tickets more than a year ago. The group ended up recording a live album that night, with the lead singer teasing us that New Yorkers were dubious about whether Toronto audiences knew hot to clap.  Sold-out crowd. (F9/10)

KUNÉ - Canada's Global Orchestra 
and Odessa/Havana April 7
New Canadians playing instruments from their home countries, including: Persia, Turkey, Greece, India, Russia.
After intermission, followed by Odessa/Havanna and a crowded, noisy stage with brass and percussion and piano. Sold-out crowd.

Nicolas Altstaedt with Fazil Say, Friday March 2
- Two brilliant solists. A cellist and a pianist. Performing works by Claude Debussy, Fazil Say, Leoš Janáček, andDmitri Shostakovich. (B9/10)

Leon Fleisher conducts the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, Friday February 16 at 20:00
- Legendary pianist and conductor helms some of the best emerging international talent from the Glen Gould school. The room was electric, with this being the culmination of decades of musical study for students not yet thirty years of age. Such energy! (G19/20 aisle)

Janine Jansen, Martin Fröst, Torleif Thedéen, and Lucas Debargue 05 December 2017 at 20:00
- Chamber music Violinist Janine Jansen, clarinetist Martin Fröst, Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen, and French pianist Lucas Debargue will perform Béla Bartók: Contrasts, Karol Szymanowski: Myths, op. 30 and Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time. (G19/20 aisle)

Yasmin Levy & the Klezmatics on Wednesday 01 November 2017 at 20:00
- Exhuberant accordions! Sold-out crowd. (A9 & 10)

Monday, May 7, 2018

J'ai trop mangé

Wow! voyage fantastique!

My friends the epi-tourists planned a trip to Montreal and I managed to finagle my way along. At first it sounded too extravagant, so I dithered. Fortunately Kaarina, Laura, and Caroline are an understanding bunch so welcomed my change of mind. Also luckily, the Via ticket agent found me a seat with them, so we were able to enjoy a picnique enroute.

Being in Montreal felt like being in Europe. Mon français est pauvre so it was wonderful to have the fully bilingual Caroline there to help us navigate and translate.

We stayed at a great Air B&B in the Montreal Plateau neighbourhood, and managed to fit side trips in to Notre Dame, the Jardin, the Marche, and even get some fashion shopping in... however the real purpose of the trip was to eat and enjoy. Which we did. J'ai trop mangé.

Breakfasts were at the Air B&B. One morning fresh eggs that Caroline had brought from her "girls," another morning St - Viateur bagels with salmon carpaccio fresh from the market.

Otherwise we were checking out the local restaurants. This trip brought lots of new experiences and tastes on the menus. I am not an epicurean, just epicurious. I am no restaurant critic but I do love food, and trying new tastes, and seeing what tastes go together well - all the better with friends. I dine at fine establishments probably one or two times a year, favouring bacchanals with foodie friends to dinners out. Mainly I object to paying too much for the alcohol.

The WoW factor for restaurants starts with great-tasting and great looking food, but it is of course, so much more. Years ago I had a friend in the restaurant business and she said when you opened an establishment, you needed to concentrate on two of three things... it was impossible to have all three of these: ambience, service, and price (or value for money). That was back in the eighties, though, and when I asked Chef Laura whether she had heard the maxim she said no. I think times have changed, and people want and expect all three.

True nourishment feeds you on many levels, so I also have another requirement - how I feel after the meal. Within the hour, and the next day.

These are my ratings, 5 stars for my experiences, based on the criteria above: food; ambience; service; value; after-effects.


Iberica ****
Loved these little tapas! Especially the oxtail croquette served on an actual oxtail. The waitress was patient with our questions and attentive; the ambience was ok but a tv was on, which although in Spanish totally detracted from the experience.  Lots of choice and a good wine selection. We enjoyed our morsels with cava.

Joe Beef *****
Number 3 on Canada's Best. Only 30 seats in this establishment! I counted myself lucky to get a reservation for a late Thursday evening, 6 weeks in advance. Definitely my favourite meal of the trip. Great vibe and a wonderful experience - the best service of any of the spots we visited, with Andie taking her time to speak to the details on the chalkboard and answer questions about preparation. The chef briefs front of house every day about ingredients and dishes which is why they are so well informed. Gorgeous plating and perfection in the preparation. I regret not having room for dessert.  We didn't go for the Lobster pasta or Beef, but throughly enjoyed the appetizers (mushrooms and pomp blanc gres champ au champions + quail besesier brelots and sauce rouge) and main (lamb brisquet). I have no idea how such a small restaurant manages to have such a huge choice of offerings, it is a magic trick! One of the best value meals, too, as Laura and I shared our plates. I will definitely return and might even be able to talk Rob into accompanying me.

Maison Christian Faure ***
We had lunch at this patisserie - of course it was the dessert we came for! The server brought a plate over for us to choose what we wanted. Talk about a tough choice! We lingered over tea before heading back out in the rain. Really delicious, great service, but a bit pricey. I also found all the hard gleaming surfaces to lack a certain welcoming.

Restaraunt L'Original  ****
Loved the ambience - very early Canadian and woodsy, complete with a canoe used for the bar. Quirky embellishments in the decor. Excellent food and fine service. My favourite thing about this meal was the original preparation of bone marrow. A bone, sliced open, with pickled sashimi and red wine sauce. Deeply satisfying. If I ever return I would skip the wine and substitute a cocktail. Aside from this, no regrets.

Caribou Gourmand ** .5
Where else could you find caribou and seal tartare on offer? Who wouldn't be curious? It was an experience however I wouldn't say the flavour was exceptional and the texture was like liver. Having satisfied this curiosity I wouldn't likely order it again. I ordered the wild boar chop with polenta as my main - it was delicious at the start, but before I had even finished the meal I was feeling over-stuffed and a bit queasy. I took my leftovers to go and was astounded by how heavy the little package was. Extremely tasty however lost marks for the after-effects (just how much butter was there??) and remarkably poor service. They also didn't have the wine on their own list, or the dessert that was on the menu (although we were on the first seating). Highly disappointing, however this was one of the most anticipated meals so perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh that it didn't live up to expectations.

Jardin Botani Restaurant ****
The lunch counter at the botanical gardens was one of my favourite restaurant experiences of the trip. The counter service was quite friendly. Not only were we able to eat outside in a beautiful setting in the sun, the salad and sandwiches were colourful, nourishing, tasty, great value, and left me feeling entirely sated. Just dizzy from a fine spring day.

Cocktail Bars
Cocktail bars do not have entirely the same criteria for me as restaurants. I don't expect great value - I want a bit of theatre + great service + great vibes/fun + lots of choice So maximum four stars.

Flyjin ***
I thought this was Flying Gin when the epi-tourists were saying the name and so was a tad disappointed it wasn't all about gin cocktails, being such a devoted fan. The Queen Bee concoction, my second drink, was the best - but that is likely because as Kaarina says, anything with Veuve Clicquot has to be good. We sat right at the bar and chatted up the bartender, who was entirely entertaining.

La Distillerie ****
Best drink menu ever! Lots to choose from: A Yoda cocktail that looked just like the master, limes placed for ears; a phenomenal Caesar. A server that suggested they leave out the sugar for someone and add it in later if required. Fantastic bartender, dressed up geisha style and rocking the cocktail shakers.  Good thing we had reservations elsewhere otherwise I could easily have overstayed my welcome.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sprouting Grass Moon - April 2018

I looked up in the sky on the way home tonight and the moon was almost full. 

... coming home from a fundraiser combined with birthday celebration for Marlene, turning 80 this year. The studio was transformed! Tables and linens, candles, wine, and all these people I have seen for years in yoga tights wearing fancy duds. A very special evening. Several of us ending up dancing to the band, a clarinet and accordion duo. How wonderful, how improbable, how unexpected. 

The April full moon is typically known as the Full Pink Moon or the full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon.

The moon is officially full April 29, 8:58 pm

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dramatic changes

After midnight, the night of the ice storm, I looked up through the skylight expecting to see the branches of the tree swaying in the wind, and there was - nothing. It didn't make sense. "Rob, the tree's not there?!"  "It's in the ravine. It fell across the deck and took down the fence."

The next morning I surveyed the damage. It could have been worse. Thankfully we tended to the most precarious limbs last spring, so there was no tree-fall our house. I did want to remove more of the tree at the time, but the arborist said they could only trim 30% due to city by-laws. We love our Toronto trees and require permits and inspections in ravine backyards due to urban forest regulations. We'll even need to apply and pay a permit fee to have what's left of the tree removed. While I think this is a bit excessive, I do appreciate living in "the city that's in a park."

We're now sorting out details with the city, neighbour and insurance companies. 

This spring and summer I will be keeping an eye on my shade-loving natives, whose habitat has suddenly shifted. Shady corners still abound so there will be lots of transplanting this season.