Monday, December 27, 2010

The Saint’s Name Generator

I used some of my holiday free time to create a little program that will choose a saint’s name at random.

Why would you want to choose a saint’s name at random?

I got the idea from the “saint for the year” devotion, where people have a patron saint for the new year chosen for them at random (usually by a priest or religious, who prays over each choice). I’ve had saints chosen for me this way before, and it’s always been a great experience. E.g. In 2007 St. Maximilian Kolbe was picked as my patron for the year. I wasn’t familiar with him before that, but his life ended up inspiring me tremendously all throughout the year, and I still ask him for prayers for all sorts of matters. He’s become one of my favorite saints.


You can check it out here.

Thanks to Jennifer at Conversion Diary

I do this every year. My patron saint for 2011 is St. Nicholas and among the information provided by the program, he's the patron saint of boys....just what I need to get through another year with two teens of that persuasion. Let me know what you get in the comment box below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Curly girl update

I know that you're all anxiously awaiting the results of my curly girl experiments.  Today I went for my little every-six-week touch-up and had some layering done to my hair.  I had the stylist use curly product and diffuse-dry my hair. 

Here you go!  I'm pretty happy and, while I've laid out a bit of cash over the past few weeks on product, it's been way easier to deal with my mane and it's been less frizzy and more manageable than ever.




Seasonal Reading Challenge (Winter Edition) starts today!

Over at Goodreads, the Seasonal Reading Challenge for Winter 2010-2011 is underway.

The theme is Asia, so apart from some of the usual seasonal aspects of the tasks, we have a bunch related to Asia.

Over half of the tasks are already posted and my reading list is underway.  As with the last challenge, I have created a shareable GoogleDoc spreadsheet with my plans for the next three months.  You can see it here, and it will be updated as more tasks are published and I add to my booklist.  If any of my readers decide to join Goodreads and/or the challenge, let me know and we can become Goodreads friends!

Customer service woes (part 2): make it as easy as Google.

A month ago, I blogged about my experience with my long-time bank.  Some recent customer service glitches in retail:

  • Was looking for an art book for a birthday gift, one that is apparently out of print.  I was *ahem* a little late for mail-order shopping, so I popped down to the AGO to see if they had it.  It was a Henry Moore tome, and I figured that they might have a copy given their large HM collection.  No luck.  I DM'd a local Toronto independent bookshop that I have corresponded with via Twitter in the past.  No response.  I then came across another local art and rare book shop on Queen E that had an online catalog and found that they had a copy, so I shot off an email asking if they could set it aside for me and that I'd pick it up within two days.  No response. I was downtown a couple of days later and decided to drop by said art-book store and sure enough...they had it set aside with my email tucked in the front cover (although it took them ten minutes to actually locate the book they'd "set aside".)  Too bad they didn't bother to respond to me in the first place, telling me that they had it.
  • I popped into a local branch of a small appliance retail and repair chain.  They had just opened in my neighborhood a few months ago and I had a couple of things I needed help with.  My robot vacuum's battery was kaput so I took it in to ask if they could replace it.  I got a call back a week later saying that they were unable to get the part.  I picked it up, did a cursory Google search, found an online shop based in Montreal, ordered the battery on Thursday and it arrived on Monday.  It was a breeze to install and my baby is up and running.
  • At the same store, I asked for help replacing a couple of parts for my KitchenAid Stand Mixer (a thumb screw to hold attachments in place and a flat beater.)  They needed the model number so when I returned to pick up the robot, I left the model number and description of the two parts with the manager.  He called me back two days later and asked me to come in and show him the parts on a diagram.  I returned and the manager wasn't there, and there was no record of my interaction with him. I had neglected to bring the model number of the machine with me so I couldn't point out the parts I wanted.   I proposed that I just call back with the info and leave a deposit over the phone with a credit card. orders can be placed by phone.  Gah!  So once again, Google was my friend.  I found, was easily able to identify the pieces I needed and ordered them yesterday.  Last night, I got notification of shipment and they are out for delivery to me today.

I could go on.  While I would really like to support local businesses, I get frustrated when even the simplest things are forgotten or not allowed.  Returning emails.  Paying by phone. Keeping records of communication with customers. 

Some organizations manage to combine online and in-person customer service.  The Toronto Public Library is one.  They have a terrific system-wide online hold system and wonderful branch staff when you need to deal with a live person. Best Buy lets you shop and order online for pickup at a local store, which means less time waiting for live help.  You just drop by Customer Service and pay for the item that is ready and waiting for you. Chapters Indigo lets you search for items online and find out which stores in your areas have it in stock. You can also order items online from within their stores. My local used bookstore lets me bring my dog in when I browse and answers phone queries, setting aside books when they have what you're looking for.  But as online businesses become more customer-centric, local operations are going to lose out if they don't excel at customer service, including communication and ease of shopping.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why does this woman have a t-shirt on her head?

It's a glamourous life I lead.

Please, if you aren't interested in hair care sagas, move along.

All my life, I've had wavy, coarse hair, which apart from a dalliance with perms in my 20s, I pretty much kept short as an adult.  Something happened when I hit my late forties... It felt too perky and mannish or something.  So I started to grow it out.

During this grow-out phase, I also decided to let me grey emerge.  With some strategic highlights and avoiding mirrors, I had about an inch or so of growth before my sweetheart commented that I was too young to let this happen to me.  I'm probably 75% grey and I suspect he wasn't ready to be married to an older woman.  His culture is one of dark haired 75-year-olds, so it kinda made sense, even though he's probably 99% grey.  So I stepped back onto the colour treadmill.

The in-between stages of the grow-out were painful, but every time i had a blowout at a salon, my hair was soft and straight and lovely.  Problem was that I couldn't reproduce this at home.  My hair constantly looked frizzy, wonky, and to my dear mathematician husband's dismay, asymmetrical.

My sister passed me a plastic tupperware container of "curly" hair product and suggested that I give it a try.  It was an improvement, but I was still spending far too much time fixing and drying and flat-ironing and messing around in my bathroom.

I had read some time ago about the "curly girl" revolution, sparked by Lorraine Massey's seminal tome Curly Girl: A Celebration of Curls: How to Cut Them, Care for Them, Love Them, and Set Them Free.  There's a website devoted to all things curly called  You can find Massey's hair classification system for different types of curly hair at the website.  I'm a 2(c):  "Wavy plus thick and coarse and a little resistant to styling and will frizz easily."  There are lots of product recs and a forum to discuss hair, which is a bit much for me, but I did peruse it to get some product tips.

The philosophy espoused by Massey and her disciples is to work with your hair to bring out it's natural essence.  My sister has been harping (nicely) on me about this for some time but it wasn't until I started reading about how to actually do this that I decided to give it a try.

The main steps seem to be as follows:

  • Stop shampooing and use conditioner to clean the scalp. Sulphate in shampoo lead to frizz.
  • Use a ton of conditioner on your hair and leave it on as long as you can. Rinse it out in cool water. Consider leave-in conditioners as well.
  • Stay away from products with silicone in them
  • Stay away from towel drying other than patting. Use a microfibre towel or cotton tshirt to wrap your head for the first stage of drying.
  • No hairbrushes or blow dryers, other than a diffuser.  Keep your hands out of your hair.
  • Product is your friend.  Find ones that work for your hair.

I haven't been a big shampooer for a few months.  Maybe once a week. So I'm good to go on that front.  I have slathered on conditioner and run a wide tooth comb through my hair in the shower to work it in.  After squeezing my hair dry, I put in product (some styling cream and soem gel) and  I hang my head over and wrap it in an old large tshirt.  After 20 minutes or so, remove towel, don't touch hair (especially, don't run your fingers through it as this breaks up the curls!). 

I did this two days ago and got quite nice waves, a surprising crop in fact.  I'm working it again today, and this time I added some gel before the towel to see how that looks.  I noticed two days ago that I had a patch of frizz on one side of my head and I suspect that I missed that area with the curl cream, so I paid more attention today to get all areas covered.  

I need to get my hair cut to avoid the triangle-head phenomenon common with blunt cuts, and my roots are screaming, but I'm pretty happy with this new hair freedom.  I'll put up some pics of my finished hair later today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Seasonal Reading Challenge starts December 1

I've been partiipating in the current Seasonal Reading Challenge over at GoodReads.  It's really focussed me on getting through lots of great books, limited my TV time, and generally been a good thing for my aging brain.

These challenges are all about reading, and you collect points for reading books that satisfy certain requirements.  For example, in the current challenge, you could get 5 points for reading a book of short stories, a book with a beautiful cover, or a banned book (three of the ten 5-point tasks).  For 30 points, one of the tasks reqiured you to read two books, one with something you find on the outside of a house in the title (I read Rex Stout's The Doorbell Rang), and one with a room in a house in the title (I read Back to the Bedroom by Janet Evanovich).  There were a total of 890 points in the various tasks, and I think I'll hit about 500 by the end of the month when the challenge ends.

Even if you don't participate in this group, Good Reads is a great place to track your reading and keep a list of books you've read and want to read. There's an iPhone app for GoodReads which lets you track your reading even if you're not at the computer.

The new challenge starts on December 1 and the first set of tasks have been published. I spent much of my afternoon yesterday developing my reading list for the next challenge and it's in an online doc here.  As the 20 and 25 point tasks are published I'll update the list.

Here are my recent reads, pretty much all of which are associated with the current challenge. Graphic novels, audiobooks, and ebooks all count towards tasks as well, so I've usually got something going on each device!  Here's my tracking list for the current challenge.  The yellow highlighted entries are books I hope to finish by November 30 for a potential 100 more points.

Janet's bookshelf: read

In A Dry SeasonThe Beekeeper's ApprenticeEssex County Volume 1: Tales from the FarmLove and SummerRaymond and HannahThe Doorbell Rang

More of Janet's books »

Janet Berkman's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Too Jewish then, too Asian now - in todays @NationalPost

Throughout the 1920s, A. Lawrence Lowell, then president of Harvard University, was worried that his beloved school was becoming too Jewish. “The presence of Jews in large numbers tends to drive Gentiles elsewhere,” Lowell wrote in a 1925 letter to a...

Continue reading

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's just say it's been a heckuva week

I'm dog-tired.

This week has been a bit of a blur and I haven't felt up to blogging.  Sunday, Michael had back-to-back rehearsals so while he was at his first one, I helped my brother out at his place as he moves into the rest of his four-plex en route to converting it into a single-family-home.  I drove Michael out to his second rehearsal (way out west at Humber College) and then returned home.  We went out to Seoul House for dinner after picking him up, where I forgot my cellphone and had to drive back to get it.

Monday night was his first ever gig with the Youth Big Band. I took him out to the subway around 3 and then Z and I headed down to the Old MIll on the subway around 5:30. The band was backing Bucky Pizzarelli and I was bowled over by how great they sounded.  I have a lot of wonderful memories from my youth playing in a big band, and I just knew how great the kids were all feeling.  The house was packed, sold out, and it was a great, if late night.  On the way home on the subway, we realised that there had been a mixup with Michael's trombone lesson and he had been expected that evening. He had also just broken up with his girlfriend. I had too much wine along with my terrific dinner which resulted in a migraine the next day.

Tuesday was a relatively normal day (apart from the headache), although Z didn't make it home for dinner due to work.  Michael and I had a "snack supper" which usually means grilled sandwiches or cheese and crackers or popcorn or cereal.   I wasn't up to preparing anything else and Michael is good-natured about all this.

On Wednesday, I had a Catholic Women's League meeting for which I was asked to prepare a reflection just an hour before-hand.  I probably should have realised that I was on the hook for that, but didn't, so I pulled something Advent-y together while making dinner.  We had a very good speaker from Aid to Women at the meeting, although the turnout was quite small.

Last night I had tickets to an advance screening of The Next Three Days courtesy of The National Post and there was a surprise Q&A with director and screenwriter Paul Haggis afterwards. We both very much enjoyed the movie but didn't get home until well after 10, which is late (for me).  

Today, Z had a big presentation at 11 am and pretty much everything went wrong.  We were supposed to meet with our financial planner at 8:30 this morning, but after receiving input from his people for the presentation in the middle of the night, Z realised that he had to cancel.  He was on the phone until 10:30 and asked me to drive him downtown for his meeting.  At 10:45, stuck in the hell that is Avenue Road these days, we turned around and he took the call from home, and then raced off downtown after the call to something else that couldn't be done remotely.  On top of all this, he had a call early this morning to learn that his aunt had passed away.  She was his mother's sister and was in the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease.  It was in some ways shocking when his mother passed this summer before his aunt.

Oh, and it's his birthday today.  

On the bright side, Alex turned 19 today (he shares his birthday with his father), which is "legal" in Ontario.  I queried as to whether he hit a bar after midnight and received an affirmative reply.  He sounds good and has been calling regularly, which makes me very happy. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Middle East Prayer Service in memory of Syriac Christians killed in Iraq

Last Thursday's Prayer Service for Christians of the Middle East was a powerful evening of prayer and support for a community suffering. More than 600 people came together from across the Archdiocese with faith leaders from 15 participating to demonstrate their support.

For those who were not able to join us at the Cathedral, Salt & Light Television will be airing the prayer service this Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 8:30 p.m. with an encore showing on Sunday, November 21st at 1:30 p.m.

It's an opportunity to hear the gospel proclaimed in Arabic, reflections from the Syriac Catholic Bishop of the United States and Canada, Bishop Yousif Habash, as well as our own Archbishop Thomas Collins sharing his own thoughts on the current plight of Christians in an increasingly violent region.

Charles Lewis also has an interesting piece on Holy Post regarding the Prayer Vigil and its broader significance. You can access the story here.

Thanks to all those who worked so diligently in a short time frame to organize this special evening of prayer and communal support.

We continue to offer our thoughts and prayers for all those Christians who continue to suffer in the Middle East and around the world.

Photos: Bill Wittman

Sadly, we were unable to attend, but our hearts are with all those who are suffering.

How can you tell if you live with a 15yo boy?


1. Dog is found mummified, yet still alive and snoring.
2. Disorder in front hall after he leaves for school.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shepherd's oldie but a goodie!

Had some leftovers from our wonderful lamb dinner the other night, so put together a quick shepherds pie.  Here's my go-to method:

Hopefully, you have some leftover meat, potatoes, vegetables (or just use frozen peas and/or corn), and gravy.  

Chop and fry an onion and some garlic (there was enough garlic in the gravy from our leftovers, so I left that out this time.)  Add minced leftover meat and chopped veggies (I had some green beans and broccoli that I threw in).  Heat this up and add gravy to make a thick stew and put it in a casserole dish.  (If you don't have gravy, use a cup of beef or other broth, a tablespoon of tomato paste and 2 tbsp of flour and just throw that in instead. Season with salt and pepper and maybe some parsley.)  

Mash the potatoes if they are not already in that form, with lots of whatever makes them creamy.  I like to add some cream cheese and/or butter and/or cream plus some Lawry's seasoned salt.  Top the meat mixture with potatoes, grate some old cheddar or whatever cheese you want to use up, and pop it in a medium oven, uncovered, for twenty minutes or until the cheese has melted and the stew is bubbling up the sides.  (You can assemble this in advance and just heat it up before you're ready to eat.) 

Total comfort food!  Additional gravy to pour over the top is a bonus.

WWW Wednesdays

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?

From the library:  Raymond and Hannah by Stephen Marche

On my Kindle:  Death of an Obnoxious Tourist by Maria Hudgins

Listening to on my iPhone:  The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

• What did you recently finish reading?

From the library:  Back to the Bedroom by Janet Evanovich, Stitches by David Small, The Incident Report by Martha Baillie

On my Kindle:  Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers

On my iPhone:  Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

• What do you think you’ll read next?

From the library:  Skim by Mariko Tamaki

On my Kindle:  Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

On my iPhone:  Love and Summer by William Trevor


Head on over to Should be Reading to post your reads!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jamie Oliver’s slow-roasted lamb shoulder


Made this terrific lamb dish last night. I couldn't get lamb shoulder at my local butcher so used half a leg of lamb. It took less time to roast than the recipe, but I simply reheated it in the oven before serving.

You roast the lamb on a bed of rosemary and garlic, and then make gravy with the drippings, removing the herbs but mashing the garlic into the sauce. Adding fresh mint and red-wine vinegar gives a beautiful, rich taste. I served it with fingerling potatoes and broccoli, along with the beautiful gravy in the recipe. It was the perfect fall dinner!

Click on the link above for the recipe.

My baby...


...heading up to Collingwood with the Hannaford Youth Band to perform for students.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So, what CAN he eat? The post-kidney-stone diet.

My dear one had his follow-up appointment with his surgeon yesterday following the removal of his stone.  Analysis suggests that it was a calcium oxalate stone, with some magnesium as well, which is the standard type.  He was given a sheet of dietary guidelines to help prevent future stones.

First, remember how I mentioned that he was getting so much sleep now that he didn't have pain?  Well, with the amount of fluid he's to be getting every day (3 litres), he's up at night for other reasons. 

On the diet front....

Calcium:  post-surgery, he realized that he was not bothered by what he thought was lactose intolerance anymore and had been enjoying café au lait in the mornings and ice cream after dinner.  Hah!  He has to keep his calcium intake to 500 mg per day, or about 1.5 cups of milk-equivalent.  He could switch back to soy milk, in on the verboten list (see below).  Knowing Z, he'll stick to cheese and drop all other forms of calcium.

Oxalate rich foods:  this is so funny.  I mean, all the things that he's been eating as part of the Mediterranean diet seem to be limited.  For example, he takes 3/4 cup greek-style yogurt with a handful of walnuts and raisins in his lunch every day.  Yogurt?  calcium =>limited.  Walnuts (in fact, all nuts)?  oxalate =>limited.

What else is on the oxalate list?  beets, beans (he heats up cans of mixed beans for lunch), parsley (tabouleh????), celery, okra, sweet potato, dark greens (spinach, kale, chard, endive, etc), strawberries, tea (TEA????), marmalade, chocoate, cocoa, nuts, wheat germ, cola, tofu.  

Animal protein: He is to eat less meat, poultry and fish, with special emphasis on avoiding the following foods that increase uric acid: organ meats, goose and partridge, anchovies & fish roe, game meats, rabbit, sardines, herring, mussels, scallops.  This is so depressing.  We eat anchovies.  We love sardines and mussels, and had been eating lots of the former for fish oils.

Sodium:  reduce it.

Fibre:  increase it, particularly using rice bran and wheat bran as they bind to calcium.

Supplements:  NO Vitamin D, Calcium, or Vitamin C supplements, or fish oil.

It's going to take me a while to figure out some new meal plans to avoid or reduce our intake of oxalates.  I'm already a fairly low sodium cook, and now that he's giving up nuts, that will be reduced even further.  But I'll have to re-evaluate our vegetable purchases, and forget about anchovies on pizza, those great packs of mussels from Costco, and the multi-can packs of sardines we go through every month.  We'll have to keep tabs on the amount of protein he consumes because so many good sources are limited due to either calcium, oxalate, or uric acid issues.  Pleasures?  I don't see coffee, beer, wine or other alcohol on the list.  Most fruit seems okay.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thinking about Josephine: All Souls edition

This morning, news of the bombing of a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad hit my feed reader via the Archdiocese of Toronto blog.  I directed me to the BBC report of the incident, where I read with horror of this targetted attack on the Eve of the Feast of All Saints.

My first reaction was to call my mother-in-law Josephine to see if she knew anyone in that parish.  She had contacts world-wide in the Syrian-Catholic community and elsewhere.  And then I remembered her passing almost three months ago.  It's funny...Zouheir says that he keeps going to pick up the phone to call her and then remembers that he can't.  Josephine made friends wherever she went, and even in the months before she died, she kept in contact with friends and family by phone.  She was also introduced to Skype in her final year and enjoyed seeing her grandchildren that way, even if she couldn't see them in person.  And she was a prayer warrior, keeping us all close to her heart and the heart of Jesus.

Today, she would have been praying for the church in Baghdad, and I ask for her intercession for the repose of the souls of the dead, and peace to the injured and bereaved.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You never know where KISS is gonna pop up...


I attended the wonderful Creepy Classics concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night.  It was a great program of short-ish pieces, all with a spooky theme.  The evening started out with Bach's Toccata from Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, with a stage dark, the organ lit in blue, and a witch in a tall pointed hat on the organ.  We got some Mussogorsky, two pieces from Bernard Herrman from work he did for Hitchcock in Psycho and Vertigo, plus Saint-Saens, Berlioz, and Stravinsky.

The musicians were all in costume, and a number of shots were posted this morning on their Facebook page.  I think the award for creativity goes to the trumpet section who blessed us with their KISS getup.  

It was a great night all 'round.

Photos courtesy of the TSO Facebook page.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Monday....what am I reading?

Why, thank you for asking!

My reading is really scattered at the moment.  I'm still working on my Goodreads Fall Challenge (my reading list here).

Books:  I finished The Switch by Sandra Brown.  This was a decent thriller, but unfortunately, I figured out the ending/twist very early on in the book and so I was kind of just working my way through the book to confirm my guess.  I'm not desperate to read anything else by her, but it was okay.  I've now started on The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison, which is alright, but rather depressing.  Next up is Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.

Audiobooks:  Finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Incredible (true) story, well-written and organized, and the audiobook was delicious.  Cassandra Campbell, the main narrator, is wonderful and I'd listen to pretty much anything read by her. The audio version has an interview with Skloot at the end that was definitely worth listening to.  I'm not sure whether it's in the printed version or not.  I'll post a more detailed review of this book soon.  I've just started The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, and am quite captured by the premise:  that the 9 year-old protagonist can taste the emotions of the person who prepares food.  I am not particularly happy with the audio version....Bender is the narrator and I don't believe that the written word in this book translates well to the audio format.  The printed version of the book is written without punctuation specifying speech (i.e., quotation marks) and so there are a lot of "he said"s and "she said"s in it.  So, if the premise appeals, I'd recommend the written version.

Kindle:  I'm still plodding away on Dorothy Sayer's Clouds of Witness, but just downloaded a couple more.  I'm going to see the Canadian Opera Company's Death in Venice tonight so thought I'd try to breeze through the Thomas Mann novella today.  I also downloaded the Works of Henrik Ibsen to read A Doll's House.  Finally, I got a copy of Mrs. Fry's Diary, supposedly the cause of much pants peeing in the Twitterverse!

These should keep me busy!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The sounds of home.


I've mentioned before that Michael likes to fill the kitchen (and his room) with classic jazz covers.  Between downloading stuff from iTunes and transferring my father's old LPs to digital format, he's got a ton of stuff.  This morning we enjoyed Jack Teagarden, "Father of the Jazz Trombone", during breakfast.  All this is hugely reminiscent of my childhood years.  Whenever my father was home, jazz streamed from the record player in the living room or from various cassette decks he had around the house.  Even our trips to the cottage in the 60s and early 70s included tunes coming from a cassette player that he kept in the front seat of the car.  The only exception to this was Sunday mornings, when the music tended to be Bach.  

When my mother was here last week, Michael put on some Louis Armstrong.  She put her arm around him and told him that he was making her very emotional (in a good way) and that she almost felt like crying.  I feel that way sometimes too.

A little relationship marketing story.

We've been getting our finances organized and our advisor suggested that we consider refinancing our mortgage to take advantage of lower rates.  So I put in a call to my bank, leaving a message asking for the penalties that would apply, in particular, the interest rate differential.  This is not something that you can determine from your mortgage paperwork as it depends on the rate you received when you first got your mortgage, relative to the posted rates at the time.  I left a message on Monday, and then another one on Wednesday, with no call back.  So I tweeted the following late yesterday (Thursday) afternoon: 
Want to renegotiate my mortgage. Voice messages to my @td_canada branch haven't been returned, so may renegotiate myself to a new bank.
Within minutes, @td_canada was following me.

Within a couple of hours, they DM'd me.
@jannie_b Hi there, sorry we haven't been responsive - can you DM me info about the branch? Thx for your patience Jannie! ^EB
I DM'd back my name and mortgage number.  First thing this morning, someone from my branch called and gave me all the info I needed. 

I have been banking with Canada Trust for about 30 years.  They were the first financial institution to go to longer, customer-friendly banking hours.  They also seemed to have the most flexible mortgages when we were first getting into the housing market.  But since the merger with TD, my perception is that things have gone downhill. We recently moved our chequing account to PC Financial, as were being dinged with fees at TD, even though we have a large-ish mortgage with them.  If our bank balance dropped below a certain threshold, we were charged fees.  Now, we manage a tight ship, with savings and investments going directly into various accounts, and we don't like to keep much money in our chequing account. Fees and service charges (if any) should be based on your entire relationship with the company, not on an account by account basis. This is the way it worked with Bank of America when we were in Atlanta:  we never paid any banking fees because we had a mortgage with them. In all my experience with relationship marketing in my previous life, you looked at the whole customer, to the extent that was possible.

So now we find ourselves motivated to move the second-last (and biggest) piece of our business away from this bank.  All that will be left is a credit card and that's easy to drop.  It's time to start shopping around, not just for rates, but for a bank that will treat our business holistically.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mini Brownie Cupcakes Recipe at

yield: Makes about 72 mini-cupcakes
active time: 25 min  
total time: 1 1/2 hr


  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 8 large eggs
  • Confectioners sugar (optional)
  • Special equipment: mini–muffin tins and about 72 (1- by 1-inch) waxed paper


Preheat oven to 350°F and line mini–muffin tins with liners. Spray liners with cooking spray.

Melt butter and chocolate in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt. Remove pan from heat and whisk in granulated sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition until incorporated, and stir in flour mixture just until blended.

Spoon batter into muffin liners, filling cups to top, and bake in middle of oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering. Cool 5 minutes in tins and turn out onto racks. Repeat with remaining batter.

Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.

Cooks' note: • Cupcakes may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Needed some baked goods for a church meeting tonight and realized that I had these cute mini-muffin tins that I had never used. So I googled "mini cupcakes" and found this two-bite brownie clone. (It's from Gourmet in 1999, and I'm pretty sure that was before the two-bite brownie fad.) Anyway, the two batches are out of the oven and they're pretty awesome.

A couple of tips: forget all the blathering about lining the pans. I didn't have any liners and just sprayed them generously with vegetable oil and those babies slid right out. (I sound like my mother-the-obstetrician, but no matter.)

Also, the first batch were a little....hard. I usually reduce my baking time and check, but didn't do it this time for some reason. Twenty minutes in the oven was loads of time.

A Georgian-era curiosity.

I was browsing through a document containing wills from the Goddard family (Source:  Goddard Association of Europe), and came across a curious entry.  I have highlighted the bit I find....interesting.  My grandmother was a Goddard, but not from this line.

ELIZABETH GODDARD of Wigmore Street, parish of St. Marylebone, co. Middlesex,spinster. Will dated 9 June 1791. Desires to be secretly buried, without much show, in the vault atEltham, co. Kent, between my father and mother; executors not to have my coffin screwed downuntil I am visibly changed and there be evident signs of putrefaction in my body. To nephew SirEdward William James my clock and all my pictures and prints. To said nephew and niece MrsElizabeth Ann Parkyns and my four great-nieces Elizabeth Ann, Selina Jane, Harriet Elizabeth, andAnn Catherine Parkyns, £100 each. To goddau. Elizabeth Ann Parkyns all my ear-rings and trinkets.To nephew George Augustus Kollman, son of Mr Augustus Frederick Christopher Kollman,organist to H. M. German Chapel at St. James’s, my German books and £20 for a ring. To Rev.William Charles Dyer, Chaplain of Tichfield Chapel,and Mr James Shendineof High Street, parishof St. Marylebone, £100 in trust to pay interest to trustees of a charity instituted in 1750 for makingclothes, etc., for poor children in St. Marylebone. To footman Henry Brown interest on £60, part ofmy long annuities, for his life. To own maid-servant who shall be with me at my decease £10 andclothing. My leasehold house in Wigmore Street to sister Dame Anne James, who is sole executrix.

Witnesses: Wm Cardale, Gray’s Inn, Wm Spear, Henry Temple.
Proved 3 October 1797 by executrix. (P.C.C., 642, Exeter.)


Some call it an ecosystem; others, a cult.- Apple to Livestream event to Apple devices only.

Look at Apple. Isn’t it so cute that they finally discovered the joys of livestreaming? Or rather rediscovered it as they used to stream their conferences way back when. But anyway, just like for the last event, Apple will be streaming today’s festivities to compatible iOS devices and Macs running 10.6 Snow Leopard starting at 10:00 a.m. PDT today. PC users will be stuck watching some random stream transcoded from the official Apple one because clearly there aren’t any PC users curious about purchasing new Apple products. Stay classy, Apple.

Click through for a list of compatible devices.

Read the rest of this entry »

No comment required. Silly boys, still fighting over their toys (and whose is bigger.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My little (n=1) sleep study

I week and a half ago I blogged about a new iPhone app, Sleep Cycle, that I was trying out.  In a nutshell, it's an alarm clock that also monitors nighttime movement to determine when you're in the various sleep stages.  It attempts (within in a half hour window) to wake you up when you're in light sleep, leaving you feeling more refreshed. By looking at your nighttime graph, you can also see what kind of sleep you got.

After the first couple of nights, allowing the app to calibrate itself, I had a period of a few days of poor sleep.  Here's one graph:

The time axis is along the bottom. The left hand axis goes from deep sleep at the bottom to "awake"at the top.  I fell into deep sleep immediately (at 12:30 pm) but had a number of periods of near-wakefulness throughout the night, and relatively little time in deep sleep. 

A week later, I had nights like this:

Apart from one period of wakefulness early in the night due to Wilson barking at a stranger (to him) in the house, I was in pretty deep sleep for most of the night.

One thing I have realised is that my natural sleep cycles put me in deep sleep around 6:30, which is typically the time I set my alarm for.  This means that I have to pull myself out of sleep with great effort, and don't feel particularly refreshed when I wake.  Examining the entire series of graphs suggest that waking at either 5:30 or 7:00 am might be better for me. Not great choices, but 5:30 would work if I could get myself into bed earlier in the evening.

I find this very interesting, especially when I'm in a time of life when my sleep can be very disturbed.  More insight into some of my natural patterns should help me get a handle on how best to manage this most precious of resources.

Those of you with an iPhone can download the app at iTunes here for $0.99.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Choral Report

We are blessed with a terrific parish choir, comprised of a combination of professional singers, musicians, and keen amateurs. Our rehearsals are the hour and a quarter before mass, where we spend our time preparing the days hymns, choir-only pieces, and work on music for upcoming weeks with remaining time. We rehearse in a room in the lower level of the church building, and then in the quarter hour before mass, we have a break, robe, and head up to the loft at the rear of the nave during the organ prelude. 

Today's rehearsal went quite well.  We prepared Francis Poulenc's Salve Regina for the Offertory and Jesu, Dulcis Memoria (Tomás Luis de Victoria) for Communion.  I wasn't completely firm on some of the difficult intervals in the Poulenc, but it was 98% good.  

Singing from the loft is such a pleasure.  The difference in the sound between our enclosed rehearsal room and the soaring space in the church is huge.  We also stand in a semi-circle around the organ console when we sing and the acoustics are quite different.  As a result, our efforts typically sound much better when we actually "perform".  (I realise that's not the correct word to use during mass....)  It was no exception this morning.  I joked to one of my colleagues that I got intervals in the Poulenc during mass that I hadn't managed to get during the rehearsal.  It's always a pleasure to finally hear ourselves singing from the loft.  

The presider spoke about the Church's newest saint, the first male saint born on Canadian soil, Brother André Bessette, now Saint André of Montreal.  Father quoted Saint Augustine's recommendation to "Pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you."  I think that will be my maxim for the upcoming week.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Southern voices: my current audiobook loves.

I have just started to listen to another audio book, non-fiction this time, and already completely engrossing.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of an African-American woman (above) who, in the late forties, was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Somewhere along the way, cells were harvested from her body and, due to some unique properties, became the first cells to be able to stay alive indefinitely, reproducing when not frozen.  These cells ended up being used in many discoveries of new drugs, treatments, and even travelled into space. If they were all assembled now, it is estimated that they would make up 50 million metric tons. They apparently can be found in cell laboratories around the world, referred to as HeLa cells (after her name).   All this was done without her family's permission, nor reasonable compensation. Lacks was buried in a pauper's grave, and is virtually unknown.

The book itself promises to be fascinating, but what immediately captured me is that the readers are two of the women who voiced characters in the audio version of The Help that I just finished:  Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin.  Campbell, a Caucasian woman, voices Henrietta as well as the (white) writer of the book, Rebecca Skloot.  Bahni Turpin voices Lacks' daughter and was Minny in the audiobook of The Help.

If you're interested in The Help, I highly recommend the audio book.  The voicing of the characters (mostly women) adds so much to the story, and while I usually prefer my novels printed, this was one that I LOVED in audio format.  I downloaded mine from the Toronto Public Library, but it's widely available.  A film version is in production and so I encourage those of you who want to read it/listen to it first to get busy!




Friday, October 15, 2010

Four guys jamming on the subway....with iPhones

Maybe it's viral marketing, but it's great!

H/T TechCrunch

Barry and Macavity Mystery Awards

Once again, the Toronto Public Library's Book Buzz blog has introduced me to some more books for my list! I've read The Last Child and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and loved them both, so that bodes well for the other award winners.

The Barry Awards are given for excellence in the field of crime fiction.  A list of past winners and nominees can be found at The Barry Awards.

Best Novel: The Last Child by John Hart
Best First Novel: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Best British Novel: If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
Best Paperback Original: Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
Best Thriller: Running from the Devil by Jamie Freveletti

Mystery/Crime Novel of the Decade: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 
The Macavity Awards are selected by the members of Mystery Readers International

Best Mystery Novel: Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman
Best First Mystery Novel: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Best Mystery Non-Fiction: Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James
Sue Feder Historical Mystery: A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell


Man Men theme music...a different take!

For all you Mad Men fans out there, check this out! From Videos Recorded Live.

The notes accompanying this clip:

We loved the song "A Beautiful Mine" by RJD2 that plays during the opening credits of "Mad Men." We wanted to put lyrics to it and realized that "Nature Boy" made famous by Nat King Cole, and written by eden ahbez, was the perfect fit. This was filmed in one take (this one, specifically, happened to be take 29 of the day) cuts, dubbing, lip-syncing or auto-tuning. More videos coming soon...This is a Video Recorded Live.

This is the piece that was sampled for the theme:

H/T to Kerry at Pickle Me This who retweeted these clips.

Join us at the Scotiabank Giller Light Bash, Tuesday, November 10th, 2009


This looks like a lot of fun....any of my Toronto area peeps interested in attending?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 reduces minimum order for free shipping to $25! has just announced $25 Super Saver Shipping! That is, you get free shipping with an order over $25.   It's about time....the differential between the US and Canadian minimum requirements for super saver shipping had become irritating with the Canadian dollar so high.

I've put up some recommended books here so this is the time to take advantage of this great deal.

Wellcome Trust Book Prize Shortlist

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable organization dedicated to improve human and animal health.  The book prize recognizes excellence in novels or non-fiction works with a medical theme. 

The titles on this year's shortlist are:

Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox by Gareth Williams

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Medic: Saving Lives from Dunkirk to Afghanistan by John Nicol and Tony Rennell

  • For reference use only at the Toronto Reference Library

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks

The winner will be announced on November 9.

This came via the Toronto Public Library's Book Buzz Newsletter. I'd never heard of this book prize and am intrigued by the award criteria.

I've listened to the audiobook of Lionel Shriver's So Much For That and though it was a terrific novel covering some very difficult issues. I've just downloaded the The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks audiobook from the library and that''ll be up next.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It feels like Monday....what am I reading?

This feels like a relatively calm week.  My mom is in town until Sunday and my brother-in-law Philippe is visiting from France for a couple of days (he's mainly staying in Montreal with his son).  Zouheir will take him to Kitchener-Waterloo for Oktoberfest on the weekend.

I have a brief (I hope) meeting at the church tomorrow night, and then Mom and I are going to see A Disappearing Number, a play broadcast in HD from the UK, on Thursday evening.  She's attending a meeting at Regis College on Friday and Saturday that is being hosted by the Lupina Centre for Spirituality, Healthcare, and Ethics, and she heads home on Sunday.

I need to get the housework under control, and am looking to Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson to help me get some routines set up.  

Otherwise, I've got the following reading on the go:

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett:  I've said it before, and you're probably bored by now, but this is a terrific book.  I'm listening to the audiobook version and it's stunning.  It tells the story of the relationship between African-American maids and the families in which they work.  Set in the early '60s in Mississippi, there is something for everyone here. It looks at not just the maid-family issues, but issues within each of the communities. 
  • I just finished Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell.  As I mentioned previously, I'm not enjoying this as much as her earlier books.  It seems kind of forced, and I clearly missed some significant events in previous books that I didn't read because the backstory had moved significantly forward. On top of this, I don't know whether it's my aging brain, but her choices of names for characters were very confusing:  Berger, Benton, and Lester all work with her; Marino and Morales are both cops.  I'm not sure that I'll pick up another Kay Scarpetta novel.
  • Next up is Where There's a Will: A Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout.  I don't think I've ever read a Nero Wolfe novel (although I watched some on TV in the past), but it's part of my Goodreads Seasonal Reading Challenge this fall. It should be a quickie.  After that I'm on to The Switch by Sandra Brown.
  • I'm plodding away on Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers on my Kindle.  I haven't had much time away from home for reading, which is where most of my Kindle activity takes place when I have a stack of library books to go through, but I want to make progress on this over the next week.
  • I've got one more chapter of Terry Fallis' The High Road to finish up on my iPhone.  I've been listening to the free podcast from iTunes, but it's now available in stores and is a terrific follow-up to his Stephen Leacock Award-winning first political satire, The Best Laid Plans.  I highly recommend both books!

Monday, October 11, 2010



My men-folk. Zouheir, Alex, Michael.

Warm nights and cool days

Books. And time to read.

Friends, old and new.

Wine that gladdens the heart.

Time to myself. Time with others.

The Church and her sacraments.

Mobility:  my car, public transit, my feet.

Family, near and far.

Plenty.  More than we need.

Music in my life and in the lives of those I love.

Voting, even when then choices are sub-optimal.

Communication:  touch, talk, written, electronic.

Fresh.  Water, food, air, ideas.

Access:  sustenance, information, association.

Love. From and to.  God.  Others.  Self.