Thursday, March 31, 2016

The End of March

We made it through to the end of March. Let's take a break!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring Walk

There are still patches of snow on the shady south side of my favourite road for walks.

But in the sunny spots on the same side of the road, were the first tiny wildflowers of the season.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Peter Jensen

Recently there was a book review in the Toronto Star for Thriving in a 24-7 World, an Energizing Tale about Growing through Pressure, by Peter Jensen, published in October 2015. I haven't read the book and it hasn't come into my local library yet, but I'll certainly keep an eye out for it because of this review/interview in the newspaper.

Thriving in a 24-7 World: An Energizing Tale about Growing through Pressure

If you're a Canadian sports fan, you may already know that Peter Jensen is a Canadian sports psychologist who has worked with many Canadian sports teams and individuals, at both the amateur and pro levels. These include the Canadian Olympic team through 8 Olympic games, skater Brian Orser, the Canadian Women's National Ice Hockey Team, to name a few. 

In an interview in 2010, he said that a "winning mindset" was distinguished by four attributes: imagery, perspective, time management and focus. In this newspaper interview, he discusses energy management strategies for the everyday person. Throughout, he uses imagery that really caught my interest, hence this blog post.

He recommends that people in high-energy situations act as thermostats as opposed to thermometers. Thermometers heat up, get excited and then become distracted. Thermostats, on the other hand, keep their cool. They recognize rising temps but do not participate. 

He suggests that there are two states of incompetence. In the first, unconscious incompetence, we may be doing something unhealthy, but don't realize it until somewhere down the line. The second is conscious incompetence, where we know what needs to be done or to be changed, but we make excuses. "I really want to eat better but.....". Jensen tells us that a coach he knew in Alberta used to say to his players, "Stay left of your "but". In other words, stay over on that side of the sentence and start eating better, for example. So simple, so expressive, so easy to implement. 

Asked about worry, Jensen says worrying is like having a leak in your head. Some worry, that leads to a positive end, for example, worrying about the safety of your kids leading you to make sure they put their seatbelts on, that's ok. But, he says, most worry is non-functional: that voice in your head is not real, so don't respond to it as if it is. The key to eliminating worry from your brain is to simplify your life (put down the electronic devices and get back to just doing what's necessary) and to recharge your batteries by getting enough rest.

Jensen knows whereof he speaks when it comes to worry. In 2010, he had throat cancer and went through 35 radiation treatments, chemotherapy etc. Who could get through that without worry! But, he says, he spent a lot of time just lying down, resting and sleeping. He's still here today to talk about it and to write this informative and inspirational book. I'm looking forward to reading it. 

Here's a video from two years ago, one of a series that he made. It is directed at business leaders, but I found as I listened to it that if I replaced the word, "leaders" in my head to "parents" and the word "employees" to "kids" that the advice he gives might just be applicable to a family situation. What do you think?

I liked this one too, which is actually geared a bit more toward parents:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Marble Collector

The Marble Collector

Are you familiar with this author, Cecelia Ahern? She's a 34-year old Irish woman, daughter of politician Bertie Ahern, whose name we used to see frequently in the news. 

Cecelia Ahern's first novel, P.S. I Love You was an immediate global best-seller and was made into a major film. Not bad for a first outing! Since then she has written many other novels, The Marble Collector being the 12th. Before now I hadn't read any of them. 

Image result for marbles

Part of the reason I have missed Ahern's oeuvre is that they are classified under chick lit, which, for the most part, I avoid, finding them cringe-inducing. I found The Marble Collector on the "New Books" shelf at the library and after reading the blurb on the inside front cover thought it sounded like a good bet. 

Hot House Glass - "Dichroic Checker Board Marble"
Hot House Glass Dichroic Checkerboard Marble $500
Moon Marble Co

The tale is centred around a 60-ish Irish man recovering in a nursing home from a serious stroke, resulting in some mobility issues and partial amnesia (he has "lost some of his marbles"). His daughter comes upon a marble collection which apparently is his though she has no knowledge of such a hobby. In her investigation of the collection, part of which seems to be missing, she discovers that her dad has had an entire secret life, under another name. 

Earth Marble
Earth Marble $950
Moon Marble Co

Having a day available, thanks to an unexpected change in her usual routine, the daughter, Sabrina, is able to do some impossible running around after various clues and tips and manages to discover not only who her dad is/was, but to find herself at the same time. 

Ahern balances the revelations of Sabrina's day with reminiscences of her dad, Fergus' life over the decades and we begin to understand the conflicts within him which led to his secrets. 

Cecelia Ahern is a gifted story-teller. I didn't experience any cringe-inducing moments in reading The Marble Collector. The plot moved right along and, by the way, I loved finding out more about marbles. 

For example, marbles are named not only for how they are made or how they look but also based on size, right from 

peewee marble
Moon Marble Co

all the way through decorative or game marbles, targets, mibs, commies, duckies, alleys, shooters, A.K.A., taws, bosses, boulders or bowlers, jumbos, super jumbos and toe breakers.

toebreaker marble
Moon Marble Co

Like most kids I had a Seagram's bag of marbles when I was growing up, mine handed down from older brothers. I never played marbles, but I loved sorting through their glassy mysteries and wondering how they had come to be. I even remember having a couple steelies - though I'm not sure they weren't just ball bearings. 

Rootbeer Shooters
Glass Rootbeer shooters $8.50/lb (approx. 50-55 marbles)
Moon Marble Co

Who couldn't read about a snake corkscrew: a three-colour special, a double twist with a green and transparent clear with filaments of opaque white and tiny clear bubbles inside and not want to know more about marbles. Names such as bloodies, Joseph's coat swirls, onionskin and banded lutz, clambroths - all intriguing and reminiscent of earlier times. I wish I had known the names of all my childhood marbles. 

Near the end of the novel Ahern has a glass-blower character who creates a special marble for Sabrina's dad, so we get to find out a bit more about how they come about. For extra reading about marbles and their fantastic names and games go to Wikipedia or Moon Marble Co., which has for sale, bulk machine-made marbles of all kinds and sizes as well as exquisite hand-crafted marbles such as the two expensive ones pictured above and many more besides, including this one:

*Ernie Kober - "Blue Spiral Marble with Copper Aventurine and Dichro"
Blue Spiral Marble with Copper Aventurine and Dichro $65
Moon Marble Co

Yes, I liked this novel. No worries about it being "chick-lit". As Ahern says, "We all have things we never want to forget. We all need a person to remember them just in case."  

In my case, if I start to lose my marbles, I'll be able to refer back here to Some Favourite Things to remind myself of stuff I thought was interesting. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cooking A Home

Cooking A Home

Canada has a long, mostly proud history of welcoming refugees from far-flung countries around the world.

  • Mennonites in the 1920's
  • a few (less than 5000) Jewish immigrants prior to 1945 - not nearly enough, so shameful
  • 250,000 refugees between 1945 and 1962
  • 37,000 Hungarians in 1956/7
  • US draft dodgers in the 1960's
  • Tibetan refugees in the 1970's
  • 7000 Ugandan Asians in 1972
  • nearly 1200 Chilean refugees in 1975
  • 1978 - 81: 50,000 refugees from South-East Asia
  • in 1993, Canada was the first country in the world to issue guidelines on women refugee claimants fearing gender-related persecution
  • 5000 refugees from Kosovo in 1999
  • Refugee claimants are unsponsored refugees who land at our border either directly or via the US, as part of the Safe Third Country Agreement (2004)
  • hundreds of thousands of refugee claimants (approximately 26,000 yearly) have been admitted from places in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, Haiti, China, Pakistan, Mexico etc. Even the US. The country with the most refugee claimants? Colombia

At the moment, the focus is mainly on Syrian refugees, with the Canadian government setting ambitious targets for 2015 and 2016: 25,000 by Dec. 31, 2015, later amended to Feb. 29, 2016, with a further 50,000 by the end of 2016. 

Not that we're comparing (ok, maybe we are) the US Obama administration has proposed to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees. Many, many US politicians and citizens are opposed.

It's important to mention that these 75,000 refugees coming from Syria are in addition to refugees already coming from other countries - that has not changed.

Some of the refugees are government-sponsored and many others are being privately sponsored by organizations, family members and other groups across the country.

Whether or not your community is, or soon will be, welcoming a refugee family, this little book, Cooking A Home, may be of interest. The author, Pilar Puig Corrada is a young Spanish journalist. A couple of years ago, when she was working in Jordan, she had the epiphany that cooking and sharing meals around a communal table go a long way to assuaging homesickness.

Jordan, by the way, is a small country, population approximately 8 million. When this book was written a year and a half ago, of the 3 million refugees which had already fled Syria, more than 600,000 had reached Jordan. These people, along with previously-admitted Iraqi and Palestinian refugees make up more than 25% of the Jordanian population, putting a huge strain on the Jordanian economy.

Most of these refugees are being held in camps, where conditions are very bad. The refugees are not legally permitted to work and they may not own property. The idea is that refugees in Jordan are there only temporarily, that they will either return at some point to their countries of origin or will move on to another country. Young children attend school but older kids have to abandon their studies. These are people who have survived, but whose lives have been suspended. Many are ill, both physically and mentally. There is not much in the way of hope or joy.

However, when food becomes a topic of conversation, heads turn, eyes light up and people chip in with their 2 cents worth. The author then found Syrians, usually reticent about saying anything at all, willing to talk to her, even to tell her their personal stories and to talk about Syrian food. Some were not only willing but eager, to teach her to cook their favourite recipes, which are included in the book. These recipes, as you might imagine, are simple, given the scarcity of fresh produce and grocery items in general. Each person, though, is confident that his/her recipe is the best (or only) way to cook that particular dish and for each, to talk about food is to honour the past and to share the present.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ski Baby

Ski season is probably over for this season here in Southern Ontario. Here's an inspiring video to keep in mind for next season. Keep in mind that Kasper's parents are both professional skiers.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ice Break-up

Spring arrived early this morning in the Eastern Time Zone. No surprise, the ice is starting to break up.

The following video was published on Feb. 16, 2016. by Gary Fiedler and Dawn LePointe, a Minnesota-based husband and wife team who operate Radiant Spirit Gallery. The description accompanying the video follows. 

Lake Superior put on a dramatic show with her recent ice in Duluth, Minnesota. While shooting in Canal Park, I noticed the ice had pulled away from shore and felt the breeze at my back. I anticipated there would be some ice stacking as the massive sheets of ice met the rugged shorelines, so I headed to Brighton Beach. The big lake did not disappoint! The seemingly endless ice sheets broke into large plates and stacked on shore, sounding much like breaking glass. The ice thickness ranged from about 1/4" to about 3" thick [.5cm - 7.5cm]. The sights and sounds were incredible! As the water became exposed, the sea smoke was whisked across the surface by the breeze. The sparkles visible in some segments were from the sun gilding the frost flowers that had formed on top of the new ice overnight -- icing on the cake! I am in awe of and mesmerized by ice stacking (and waves), and spent hours immersed in the sights and sounds of one of my favorite winter occurrences, despite the subzero temperatures and frigid breeze. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into an incredible experience along the shores of Gitche Gumee! (To see incredible footage of a similar ice stacking event that took place during a sunrise in 2011, check out our "Lake Superior: Ice in Motion" video on YouTube at this link:

Four hours of 12-15 mph [19-24 km/h] steady winds from the SW led up to the movement of the large sheets of ice on Lake Superior on February 13, 2016. The conditions during the two hours of filming ranged from -8°F to +3°F air temp [-22°C to -16°C] , 
-20°F to -8°F windchill [-29°C to -22°C], with winds 5-10 mph [8-16 km/h] from the SW. Due to the mild winter, Lake Superior has experienced less ice cover than usual, and consequently the ice has not formed as thick as typical winters. (Weather data courtesy of the National Weather Service in Duluth)

This video is being shown at normal speed. For those who have not witnessed an event like this in person, it may look as if this is time-lapse photography or video processed at a faster speed. Some ice stacking events move more slowly, especially when the wind is weaker or intermittent. The large sheets of ice shown 
in this video had pretty good momentum from sustained winds, but at one point the ice came to a groaning halt and the silence seemed almost deafening; it was a little eerie. Then the breeze picked up and the ice was on the move again, stacking plates. I enjoyed a two-hour immersion in this experience at Brighton Beach, creating photographs and video footage and simply observing. This two-minute compilation of excerpts is a small sampling of what was recorded.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Canada Blooms


Canada Blooms opened last Friday and we were there. This is the 20th year for this ever-growing (pun intended) exposition of all that's new and wonderful around the garden. It's a feast for the eyes, with bloomers from early spring to late summer all magically in bloom at the same time and displayed in an otherwise empty space with landscaping to drool over, thanks to hundreds of volunteers because this is a non-profit enterprise, the largest garden show of its kind in Canada. 

This is the place to come if you're looking for advice, landscaping and design ideas and plant materials for sale. I just like to come for the sensory experience. It's such a treat after the drab winter to arrive at Canada Blooms and enter into paradise for a couple hours. 

The Archway dividing the National Home Show from Canada Blooms

I started off with the Toronto Botanical Garden competition area. There was so much creativity with the designs and lots of variety in the horticultural elements.

Diversion class 1st place Joyce Moffat
amaryllis, raffia and cacho grass

2nd place in the Whirl Class also by Joyce Moffat of the Garden Club of Toronto
Celastrus scandens and millet

Silvana Croce of the Garden Club of Toronto had a winner with this Phalaenopsis

There were many entries in the various classes. 

This entry had all the plants carefully listed

The three entries above are all interpretations of the Class "Gladrags". The judges commented that they weren't sure there was anything "rag" about these entries.

This healthy specimen is Rhipsalis Cassutha, a variant of a plant I have at home. 

Rhipsalis is a type of epiphytic cactus. Here's a photo of mine:

Cereus Peruvianus Monstrose, another cactus

Ponderosa  Lemon

 Onward. So much to see, so little time. More than 20 feature gardens to explore.

Designed and Built by the City of Toronto


Last minute touches on opening day

Infinity pool

a bar at one end

Unusual choice of material: deconstructed used pallets

Water garden

Here's an idea for your (our) drainage problem:

A living wall

Hellebores are always popular

Want this in the garden?

A cozy spot

Mark Cullen giving a talk on Day 1 and promoting his new book

Kids were remembered too. Here's a nifty tree house.


a place to play in the sand.

and some teddy bears' picnic displays.

Ok, confession time: before leaving for home I hit the shopping area and adopted a new Echeveria and a new Kalanchoe. Both are succulents and fit nicely into our little plant family.



Finally, here's a time-lapse video of the building of one (only one!) feature garden last year at Canada Blooms. It takes 6 days to put the show together and then it runs for 10 days after which it all gets deconstructed. So much work!