We did it!*  As of last night at 6:30 pm. (the decorating deadline), zombie ghostI think our porch looked ghastly enough to be a contender in the MAVA Homes for the Haunted decorating contest (results will be announced online tonight)! We shall see if the judges were suitably impressed.

The demon of competitiveness started to take hold of me as I put the finishing touches on our display. I was tempted to make a fast trip to the store to buy a few strings of lights and invest in a few more creepy accessories. But I held off and decided to keep the budget not-too-frightful: the tab for the display ran us around $15 for gauze and new batteries for a handful of dead flameless candles. I already had a bloodied suit left over from last year when Alex wrapped up the final year of his trick-or-treating career as a zombie. Glad I hung on to it. You never know when you might need a bloodied zombie suit.

skeletonI know for sure the life-sized zombie-ghost figure we parked on the porch is scary looking, at least to dogs: Marley freaked out when he saw it in my arms as I carried it out to the porch. He jumped up, growled and ran around me barking: I thought he might actually attack it to try to protect me.

All that’s left for me to do is not eat all the mini-chocolate bars we have on hand before the kids come knocking tomorrow night. (Yesterday I learned that 10 bars = 600 calories. Boo.)

*Try Something New Every Day

The 2014 CBC Massey Lectures with Adrienne Clarkson

Last night, The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson completed the last in her series of five 2014 CBC Massey lectures, and my sister, Mom and I were there to hear it.* Clarkson has a way of making people feel as if they could be better. As I listened to her measured words, I sat up a little straighter and considered the ways in which I could be a better citizen, more tolerant, generous and ethical. On the way to the lecture, I could’ve used Adrienne’s encouraging voice to steady me during the rush hour drive into the city where it was slow-to-go on the 401, and then bumper-to-bumper gridlock all the way down Avenue Rd. to Bloor. I swore the air blue (right in front of my poor Mom) as I navigated past the jerk who parked his car in a no parking zone in the right lane, causing everyone to have to swerve around him. He wasn’t the only one I swore at. If I had had the opportunity to chat with some of the annoying drivers around me, ethics, tolerance and generosity might not have been my strongest suits.

Due to the crazy traffic, we missed the first five minutes of Clarkson’s talk at the beautiful Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music but there was no problem; we were able to catch up to the gist of things quickly.

Turns out Clarkson wants us to all move to Bhutan where the citizens strive to achieve a higher Gross National Happiness quotient. Apparently, Bhutan measures its prosperity by tracking its citizens’ happiness levels, rather than focussing primarily on the GDP. The government there is interested in improving the nine identified domains of happiness which include health, education, good governance, time use, living standards, community vitality, the environment, psychology and cultural diversity.

Or, in lieu of packing our toothbrushes and booking flights, Clarkson suggests we might try ramping up some of these happiness-inducing things here at home. I don’t think it could hurt. However, I’m not so sure Bhutan is all it’s cracked up to be: it is still one of the poorest nations on earth. The literacy rate is 59%. Life expectancy is 62.2. According to guest contributor Dr. David L. Luechauer in an online article entitled The False Promises of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (Global South Development Magazine), “the typical Bhutanese citizen does not enjoy even the most base level amenities, health/human/social services, products, protections, or freedoms of their counterparts living in GDP measuring nations.”

A lack of “base level amenities” means good luck getting private indoor plumbing, hot water and reliable electric service at your house.

Well. Count me out. My toothbrush is staying right where it sits, in its pristine cup on the shining counter of my bathroom, the room in the house I love the best.

I happen to adore private plumbing. And I appreciate it with every fibre of my being. The fact that the majority of the world’s population has to share with the whole extended family or neighbourhood, or use the great outdoors, is not at all lost on me.

According to an article in Time, a recent UN study showed that more people on earth have access to cell phones than toilets. Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.

If I had to live on a deserted island for a year, forget the cell phone: the top thing I would take with me is my bathroom, complete with all its varied magical products and supplies. I especially love my bathtub with its steaming hot water, candles on the ledge, lavender-scented bubbles and the lock on the door that keeps everyone out. The dog can lie outside the door, nose pressed to the gap and whining all he wants, but he is not welcome into my sanctuary of bliss.

In my world view, Gross Personal Happiness is tightly bound to whether the roll holder in my favourite room of the house is full or empty.

* Try Something New Every Day



Hallowe’en Contest: I’m Gonna Need a Lot More Packing Tape

Recently, Peter and I went to a local MAVA (Mount Albert Village Association) meeting. To be good civic-minded sports, we entered the MAVA-sponsored “Homes for the Haunted” Hallowe’en decorating contest.* Now we have to come up with some Hallowe’en creepiness and be ready to go on Wednesday evening when the judges come round.

Help. Me.

Our usual Hallowe’en decor plan involves an old school pumpkin (hastily scooped out, last minute, using the standard triangle and circle shapes for mouth, nose and eyes). A candle is quickly lit and stuffed inside. We have a couple of plastic skeletons that get hung on nails beside the door. It’s a basic five minute’s worth of design and execution. I try to get it all done before the first trick-or-treater arrives so I can relax with a bucket of mini-chocolate bars at the ready.

This year, obviously, we need to make more of an effort. So. I’m making a human tape sculpture.  So far I have one head and one arm. Peter’s head and arm to be exact.

headHe sat still while I worked to wrap him with cellophane and packing tape. He really enjoyed me using his head to make a tape sculpture.

Then I stuffed the head and arm with bubble wrap. I’ve advanced to the ten minute level of design and execution now.

Is there an emergency 911-decorate-my-house number I can call?

*Try Something New Every Day


Song Cook’s and the B&B Cafe

Last night Peter and I went out to dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary with a couple of friends who were also celebrating their own anniversary. We had originally hoped to spend the weekend in Prince Edward County touring the wineries but had to ditch our plans because we could find no suitable inns with vacancies, even though we started googling/phoning around in early September. Turns out, if you want to visit PEC in the fall high season, it’s a good idea to book many months, maybe even a year or ten, in advance. We settled for the plan of meeting at a restaurant for dinner.

Being very organized people, we waited until yesterday morning to come up with our restaurant plan — another fail as it’s hard to get reservations on a Saturday night in Toronto. We finally found a place that met all our criteria (good food, licensed, good food, conveniently located, good food …) We settled on Song Cook’s, an authentic Korean restaurant in Thornhill. None of us are terribly familiar with Korean fare. We had faint idea of what to order so we just stabbed our fingers around the menu pointing at the pictures of dishes that looked the most tempting. I wish I had thought to pull out my phone to snap a pic of our groaning table complete with Kalbi Supreme, BiBimBap, sashimi salad, sweet and sour chicken, a stew with tofu, steamed rice, sauces, several varieties of pickled vegetables called kimchee plus two kinds of Korean beer. The dishes kept coming and we literally ran out of space for them. We should’ve asked for a larger table.

We ate every last delicious bite. And waddled out of there only to decide we needed to follow up with coffee. Just coffee, NO dessert. No, no, no. We headed over to nearby Yonge St, drove along craning our necks and picked a likely looking coffee place: the B.B. Cafe and Pastry Boutique in the heart of North York’s Persian community.

The displays were packed with choices. Cakes, cookies, dried fruits and nuts, rich baklava, nokhodchi, syrupy zoolbia bamieh, sweet tarts and chocolates. Some of us had thick Turkish coffee. We also caved in and ordered desserts: I had icey Faloodeh* (an Iranian dessert made of vermicelli noodles mixed in syrup made from sugar and rose water) plus a scoop of saffron and pistachio ice cream. Both were revelations of intense flavours. I thought the saffron ice cream tasted like cardamom — one of my favourite spices — and the Faloodeh tasted of the roses that infuses it.

I ordered a box of assorted Persian cookies to take home, and the super friendly and patient staff at the counter gave me plenty of tasters so I could make a selection.

I’m a now a fan of Korean food and the B&B Cafe. I am still waddling around this morning.

* Try Something New Every Day


Mehndi Dreams

A few weeks, in a restaurant, I noticed a woman wearing a beautiful design on her hands: I recognized it as a henna tattoo, or mehndi, commonly seen on fashionable hands at special events in India, Pakistan and the Middle East. I wondered if she’d been at a wedding recently?  Then I wondered if she’d had the mehndi art done just for kicks? Which led me to decide I wanted to try it too.* Why wait to be invited to a Indian wedding?

I had no idea where I needed to go to get hennaed. I mentioned my wish to Peter and he said he would ask a colleague from his workplace, Reema, who he remembered had her hands done once. The next day Reema kindly sent me this ready-made henna cone!henna cone

I googled the how-to’s. Fast-forward to this past Friday night at book club (we discussed The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King) when I asked my artist friend Catherine for her steady hand and sharp eye. She’s always up for whatever sounds like good fun and she loves to play with any kind of artsy medium, and so of course she said yes (with an exclamation mark!) (yes! like that!)

This is the pretty result.mehndi

In the pic, the thick paste is still drying. After the henna is completely dry, the crust is brushed away, leaving a reddish-brown ink impression behind. I’m not sure how long the image will last; the Internet says up to three weeks.

Next morning, I waved my decorated hand under Alex’s nose and told him I had gone in for a real tattoo. His eyes went all wide and his mouth dropped open. I don’t think he entirely approved of the idea of his mother getting ink done.

I reminded him that even Grandma, my mother, his grandmother, has a tattoo. A year ago, at Thanksgiving dinner, she announced that she had recently had a small flower design done, on her hip, but it was for Grandpa’s eyes only (so we immediately plied her with wine and jumped her). (Now everyone in her book club plus the girls at the bank have seen it too.)

Everyone is getting tattoos these days. Still, I don’t think it’s for me. Sounds too painful and I am a wuss. And I’m worried: what if I end up with a tat like this?

* Try Something New Every Day

I Am Malala

I am currently reading the fascinating memoir, I Am Malala, in part because its fearless young author, Malala Yousafzai, won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her courage and for her advocacy work for women’s rights and education in her native land, Pakistan (and in all places where women’s rights are lacking).* I am also reading I Am Malala because I am trying new things for Try Something New Every Day and reading the work of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient seemed like a perfect “new” thing, worthy of a special effort to get my copy.

In light of the events this past week on Parliament Hill, in which Cpl. Nathan Cirillo lost his life in front of our nation’s War Memorial — due to a twisted mind meeting extremist views — her words feel all the more poignant to read today. Malala’s description of life in the Swat valley provides me with a deeper insight into how extremism takes root and grows, creating fear and terror in the hearts of otherwise peaceful people who feel forced to accept the loss of everyday freedoms so they and their families will not be murdered.

Malala Yousafzi said the following to the UN last year: “We call upon all communities to be tolerant — to reject prejudice based on cast, creed, sect, religion or gender. To ensure freedom and equality for women so that they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave — to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

I am honoured and glad to be able to read Malala’s address to the UN and I am aware that I enjoy tremendous priviledges: unlike so many around the world, I have had the opportunity to go to school, become literate and now I enjoy the freedom to explore public libraries, bookstores and the Internet to read whatever I wish to read — such as the above UN .pdf text of Malala’s words. I am sad and angered that countless people, in particular women and girls, around the world are prohibited the most basic rights and freedom, such as education and freedom of speech.

I deeply appreciate that I can write whatever I like in this blog. I am grateful for my freedom and the precious democratic rights I enjoy in Canada. I am proud to live in a country like Canada. And I am proud of, and amazed by, courageous young women like Malala Yousafzi who said, “… let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.” I hope she returns to Canada soon so that I might have an opportunity to hear her speak in person. That would be a great day in my Try Something New Every Day project.

Try Something New Every Day has exponentially increased the reading load on my nightstand lately. Trying new things spins me into wanting to try more new things and inevitably brings me face to face with interesting books. I can’t begin to keep up with my expanded book list. I doubt I will ever manage to read all the books on my list as I seem to add a new title every day. But I can think of worse things to do with my life than giving in to the lure of a pile of books.


Alex Colville Exhibit at the AGO

On Wednesday night Peter and I visited the Alex Colville exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.*

Colville’s paintings are heavily laden with story so it takes a while to view all the 100 paintings in the collection. For Colville, story + perspective is everything. His representation of humans (often turned away or staring their long cold stares) and their relationships to animals and landscapes, is distinctive: they are all distant, lost in thought, sour and humourless. Even the dogs look pensive, if not troubled and tortured. I like it. I am Canadian.

We also took a one-hour guided tour of the Canadian collection. The guide led us to the empty, hollow and echoey Galleria Italia to enthuse about Frank Gehry’s 2008 redesign of the AGO. Here’s where I admit that I’m not a fan. (We visited the Experience Music Project in Seattle this past summer and I was equally underwhelmed by the weird and ugly building design, again, Frank Gehry.)

I thought I was maybe the only one but I overheard a woman in our group speaking aloud my very private, unenlightened thoughts to her companion: that Gehry took his assignment — to enhance a public art gallery — and created two massive and enormously expensive spaces where paintings cannot be hung because the spaces are flooded with natural light. The form is fine and remarkable and super-artsy and all that, but it came with the high price tag of significant loss of function. In the end, Gehry’s AGO work amounts to a commissioned piece of architectural art. I am not sure that’s what was on the work order. Also, I have a feeling the AGO construction may become extremely expensive to maintain (a la the Guggenheim). Just saying.

If it had been up to me, I would’ve voted to build an expansive new building down on the waterfront, one with lots of mini private gallery spaces and restaurants and patios overlooking the water (and here’s where a Galleria Italia would’ve made sense).

But the art inside the AGO is still fine, very fine. There’s a way to enjoy the Colville exhibit online, simply go to Welcome to Colville

The show runs until 4 January, 2015.

*Try Something New Every Day

East Gwillimbury Gardeners*

We’ve lived in Mount Albert for three years and all this time I’ve been interested in checking out the local horticultural society, an active group of gardening enthusiasts (since 1924!). I couldn’t resist tonight’s topic: “Lavender Lore” by Kate Seaver, owner of Kate’s Garden in Markham. I love love love lavender.

I’m glad I finally went to a meeting. First, there was the friendly bunch of local plant-lovers. It’s always good to meet other gardeners to compare notes. There was also a member’s flower show and free snacks!

After listening to Kate’s talk, now I know why, here in Mount Albert, for the first time ever, I have managed to grow lavender successfully in my garden. Kate says that lavender hates wet feet but loves the sun. My lavender is planted close to the south-facing side of the house, under the protection of the soffits, where it is both dry and sunny. Lavender likes crappy rocky soil. That’s exactly what I have! Then, back in July, I got greedy and harvested most of my lavender flowers so I could tuck generous sprigs in bath salts and tumble handfuls of buds into sachets. Kate said lavender loves a mid-summer haircut in July; a good pruning brings on renewed growth and more flowers in September. Which is exactly what happened after I hacked down my plants to get my hands on the bounty: more lavender flowers to harvest in September.

Turns out I am, quite by happy accident, a sort of goddess of lavender-tending. I sat up straighter in my chair thinking, well, la di da, I can hold my head up pretty high among these here East Gwillimbury gardening folk. The woman next to me said her lavender died last winter. Mine was perfectly fine. Maybe I should have been giving the lavender talk.

Barb Eland’s pavé arrangement

I was feeling pretty hoity toity about my gardening chops until I saw the blue pumpkin that someone brought in. Yes. Blue. I had never before heard of a blue pumpkin. Then member Barb Elend showed me her pavé arrangement of flowers and veggies. Never heard of pavé either.


Hmmm. Guess I better mosey on down to more horticultural meetings. Maybe someone can help me figure out how to force my morning glories into bloom faster next year? And then I could use some tips on how to grow a spectacular climbing rose. And I’d love to try to espalier a fruit tree. And what about that bonsai tree I just bought: is there any chance it will survive me? And, you never know, next spring when everyone is in planting mode, I might even be able to trade some of my rhubarb roots or dahlia bulbs for a blue pumpkin seed.**

*Or “Mount Albert Garden and Horticultural Society.” The name is up for review as some members feel it is time to include the rest of East Gwillimbury especially since many members hail from outside of Mount Albert. The name will be voted on next month.

** Try Something New Every Day 

In Praise of the Top Knot

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 9.12.01 PMI’ve always had an aversion to the top knot. I associate it with an old lady look, a severe and ugly one at that. Mrs. Tweedy. Mean lunch lady. Shudder.

As of late, however, wherever I go I see women — young and old —sporting top knots. On hiking trails, at shows, downtown, and on celebs like Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and Nicole Hudson. It’s a thing, and apparently its been trending for some time. I just hadn’t noticed. At all. Until recently.

Still, I shook my head. Not for me. So strange. Until the night, three weeks ago, when Peter and I went to Wish Restaurant. At the table beside us, a woman had a messy sort of knot on top of her head and … it looked amazing. Super cute. I loved it. And I wondered: why not Try Something New? So up went my hair. And it has barely come down since.

First, I love it because it’s a quick and easy hair do. It’s great that messy is in — because I would never manage to make it look sleek. That’s for women with dexterity and way better hair management skills than I possess. Second, a bun arrangement keeps my long hair from whipping around my face in the wind. Plus, it’s perfect for yoga — again, no hair falling in my face and I don’t have an uncomfortable bump poking the back of my head during Savasana (relaxation pose), like what happens with regular pony tails.

Now I think the topknot looks très chic. If you disagree, check out this page on Pinterest — huh? huh? I know, eh?

Some men I know are less in favour. At Thanksgiving, my Dad LAUGHED OPENLY at my messy bun. I Googled the issue. All over the Internet men sneer and mock the knot: cafeteria lady they say. Man repeller. 

I don’t care much for these bun bullies.

I say if old men get to feel dope with their comb-overs and young men are still walking around with their pants sagging around their ankles (yes, still. Sigh. I saw a guy’s boxers hanging out on the street today. Seriously this is OLD and it never looked good when it was new either), we women are entitled to our top knots.

Update 21 October: Catherine wants a pic of the bun. It is seriously hard to take a bun-selfie. My arm is not long enough. I took forty-eleven shots that captured a sliver of the bun plus the back of the chair, or my desk, or the ceiling, or the wall top knot 1and finally got one that captured most of my very messy, pins falling out, slutty slutty bun.

top knot 2


The Writing Spiral Book Launch

The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer
The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer

Yesterday I attended a book launch* and picked up my copy of  Jessica Outram’s The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer, hot off the presses. The cover (art and design by Livia Tsang) looks so warm and fabulous and inviting, I have the book propped on its own little stand in my workspace where I can admire it all day long. The prominence of the display has nothing to do with the fact that I am a contributor to this book, no, no, not at all! (My contribution is titled Lifting the Hatch to a Meditative Writing Practice, and you can find it on pgs. 154-165).


Writer, teacher and counsellor Susan Lynn Reynolds calls it an engaging and inspirational book designed to challenge each writer to follow their own spiralling line of ink into authentic discovery. Antanas Sileika, Writer and Director of the Humber School for Writers said: The Writing Spiral is an inspirational and motivational book for those involved in the practice of writing. I say it’s a must-read guide for anyone who writes, or wants to write.

Writer and publisher (Sunshine in a Jar Press) Jessica Outram has done an amazing job writing and producing The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer and I am proud to be a part of this work. Congratulations Jessica!

* Try Something New Every Day