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.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A last minute Thanksgiving.

As I do pretty much all the cooking these days (well, for the past few years), holidays really just felt like more of the same.  With teenagers who have an attention span of about 12 minutes at the dinner table, I REALLY didn't want to cook all day for a meal that lasted 20 minutes, the last 10 of which was just Z and I talking to each other.  So Thanksgiving meals have either been done really casually, or at a restaurant.  No pressure on anyone (meaning me).

Up until yesterday, I hadn't given Thanksgiving a thought.  I was planning to just kind of ad lib my way through.  Maybe we'd order in or go out for Korean Barbeque or something.  Alex was arriving home Friday night and Z and I had been busy most nights this week, and I just didn't want to plan.

I was picking up something at the pharmacy next to our local Bruno's and so I popped in to see what they had.  I spotted some beautiful stuffed and rolled turkey breasts and suddenly I felt like planning a meal.  Maybe it was taking the big bird and turning it into an elegant and easy to prepare roast, but I grabbed one of those guys and headed over to Loblaws to get the rest of the meal.

So, in half an hour, we'll be eating said stuffed turkey breast, Pioneer Woman's creamy mashed potatoes (made with 3/4 sweet potatoes), gravy, homemade cranberry sauce (how easy is THAT?), roasted asparagus, and assorted pickles, followed by a cheese plate.  For dessert, I made two pies:  an apple from fruit picked by my brother and his family, and a pumpkin made from cooked, pureed pumpkin that I froze last fall.  

We have much to be thankful, and that will be tomorrow's post.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday




It really feels like Thanksgiving right now.  Warm(-ish) days and cool nights.  We don't have anthing big planned for the weekend....I haven't even really thought about dinner yet.  But Alex will be coming back from Queen's tonight.  He's in his second year of Math, first year living in a house with friends, and it will be great to see him.


Zou and I have been enjoying the week at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival.  After tonight's screening of Budrus (trailer below), we'll have seen five films and four shorts, plus Zou attended the Palestinian Breakfast last Sunday at Beit Zatoun.  The films have given me a lot to think about, and I'm planning a longer post sometime on the weekend. It's such a difficult situation and my heart hurts for those who have been displaced.  


I am really behind on my genealogy courses, and I need to get myself in gear.  I'm planning a visit to the Family History Centre here in Toronto, the first assignment in one of my current courses.  These LDS facilities are an amazing source of genealogical information, and are the subject of one of my two courses this term.


Next week will be another busy one.  My mom is coming for another visit to see an ailing friend outside of Toronto.  Zouheir heads to Rimouski on business for a day.  We're expecting a visit from his brother-in-law next weekend, and Alex may come back to Toronto for a concert on Friday night.  I'm also hoping to see Complicité's A Disappearing Number, broadcast in HD to local theatres by NT Live on Thursday night.  


Wilson had his shots and physical yesterday and all is well.  The vet still wants to do teeth cleaning in February, despite all my efforts with marrow bones and enzyme spray.  He says that his gums are receding at the front, but this teeth cleaning is a huge expense and I'm thinking that I will put it off for another year.  I love my vet, but I can't help but think that this is a bit of a money pit.


Michael has recently bumped his tuba lessons up to an hour and a half (every two weeks).  With all the Hannaford repertoire and learning new fingering on the Eb instrument, we decided that this made sense.  He simply loves his lessons, and is very dedicated to practicing.  He will also be starting trombone lessons with William Carn in a week and a half.  He worked with William at National Music Camp this summer and he needs to get his repertoire solid for the Jazz.FM youth big band and for school stage band.  Bonus for me that William lives a short bus ride from our place so no schlepping him downtown!


I've already mentioned this book, but The Help by Kathryn Stockett is fabulous.  I've been listening to it on audiobook thanks to the Toronto Public Library and now look forward to long car rides and dog walks when I tend to listen to it.  It's set in the early 60s and tells the story of two African-American maids who work in white households in Mississippi, and a white woman who decides to tell their stories.  This is a tumultuous time in race relations in the South, and the voices of these women are well rounded.  There is at least one significant revelation coming and I can hardly put it down!

I'm also reading Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell.  I love her books about the feisty forensic psychologist, but am having a bit of trouble following the action in this one.  The backstory works through her books in sequence, and I think I've missed a few novels over the past years.  


For more quick takes, head over to Conversion Diary!

Curious patch of red...

Img_0055 our otherwise still-green maple. Could it be because that part if the tree is shaded by the house?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

High-tech tracking for a low-tech need.

A recent series in the National Post on the quantified self got us thinking about our sleep (or lack thereof).  We both have issues, although different, and though it would be a good idea to track our sleep patterns.

In seeking an easy journalling device, I came across this nifty iPhone app that is extremely intriguing. Using the accelerometer in the phone, Sleep Cycle  tracks your sleep patterns (based on movements in your sleep) and helps you awaken in the morning during light sleep, ostensibly making the morning wake-up easier, less disruptive, leading to a better day (or at least morning).

You place the phone upside down on your mattress under the sheet (I use the top corner of my bed) and the during the first couple of nights it calibrates your sleep cycles.  You set the alarm (using one of the included gentle sounds to wake you up) and it awakens you in the period up to 30 minutes before the time when it determines you are in light sleep.  Here's an example from the website of what a night of sleep might look like.


I have used this for two nights and got two very different looking patterns, which makes sense since I had very disrupted sleep last night, compared to the first night.  

Here's an example of a good night's sleep.


And one of a disrupted night (which looks quite a bit like my last night.)


It also tracks how long you sleep and lets you review your previous nights with a simple swipe of the screen.  You can also send your sleep graphs via email and (if you so desired) post them to Facebook.

Here's a link to the app in iTunes.  For $0.99, it's a steal.  I'll post my personal gleanings after a few more days of use.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Writing every day.

Visit NaBloPoMo

I'm doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) again, and will try for monthly.  It's a movement to encourage bloggers to post every day for a month, to make it part of a routine.  This encouragement takes the form of various blogrolls for members to visit and encourage, daily writing prompts, various groups to join, etc. 

Writing daily is important to me, although it tends to go by the wayside when things get busy.  I keep a couple of journals as well as this blog, and NaBloPoMo is just one more way to keep me focussed on this practice.  I did a lot of writing in my salary-days:  research reports, regulatory writing, white papers, marketing briefs, and innumerable presentation decks (although I'd argue that those don't really count, if anyone's counting.)  But writing from my head, generating my own ideas, organizing them coherently and making an argument or taking a position of my own (and not on behalf of a business unit or corporation) is a whole new ballgame.

I am interested in the writing process.  My personal blogging seems like the poor cousin in a way as I rarely edit beyond punctuation and spelling. And maybe a bit of paragraph reorganization.  But I'd like to work more on this, planning my posts in advance and spending more time crafting them coherently.  It'll come with time and practice, I'm sure.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"As the Poet Said": A film about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

We attended our second screening at the TPFF last night, the film "As the Poet Said", a lyrical documentary about Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008).  The film consisted of footage of the various places he'd lived and worked, with poets reading from his work, both in Arabic and in various translations, including Hebrew, French, English, Portugese, Kurdish, and Spanish.  The score was mainly piano and harp, both women improvising music based on his poetry.

It was clear in the 65 minutes that Darwish has had a huge influence, not only in the hearts of Palestinians, but also on poetry.  Readers included Jose Saramago, Michael Palmer, Dominique de Villepin, and Joumana Haddad.  One of the most moving moments in the film was a scene of a group of schoolgirls reciting "We have on this earth what makes life worth living":

We have on this earth what makes life worth living
Mahmoud Darwish, 1986

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s opinion of men
The works of Aeschylus
The beginning of love
Grass on a stone
Mothers living on a flute’s sigh and,
The invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September
A woman leaving forty in full blossom*
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
The peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile
The tyrants’ fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, the lady of earth,
Mother of all beginnings
Mother of all ends.
She was called… Palestine.
Her name later became… Palestine.

My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

*Alternate translation "A woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty."

This was my first exposure to Darwish, and I plan to read more of his poetry.  Zouheir wants to get a book of his work in Arabic, but I will have to settle for an English translation.  This is, in fact, what made the film a little awkward for me.  While everything was subtitled, there is so much lost in trying to match the reader's intonation and expression with the translation.  When I mentioned this to Zouheir, he confessed to closing his eyes from time to time so that he would not be distracted by the subtitles. 

This film was not so much a documentary but rather an homage to the life of Darwish.  We are not left with facts about him; not even his birth and death dates are presented.  Rather, we have a collage of his work on a backdrop of visuals from his wanderings and an intense score that seemed to capture the longing of his people.

I embed a trailer for the film that gives an idea of the experience. Note that the print that was screened had English subtitles.




Monday, October 4, 2010

A little polyphony to start the week.

Despite an all-unison choral morning at choir/mass yesterday, we rehearsed Poulenc's Salve Regina for (I hope) next Sunday.  It is stunningly beautiful.  Unfortunately, I've got (just) the alto part running wild through my head.  

Have a listen to the Winchester Cathedral Choir....

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

With Zouheir at home and the ...  ahem... new TV season starting (meaning, I have to watch the pilots to see what will be worth the long haul), my reading has taken a bit of a back burner.  But I'm participating in a Good Reads group Fall Challenge, so I've got a list and I'm trying to get as much in as I can!

In paper, I'm reading In the Woods by first-time novelist Tara French.  Set in Dublin, it's a completely engaging mystery that is heading for a big climax.  Lots of psychological complexity, with the narrator (one of the detectives on a case) also a victim of a cold case that is somehow connected with the current one.  I"m 80% of the way through and hope to get it done this evening.  Highly recommended!  Next up is Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell.

On my Kindle, I'm enjoying Dorothy Sayers' Clouds of Witness.  I haven't read much by Sayers and am totally enjoying her voice, learning some new vocabulary and expressions, and look forward to reading more.  Next up is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  Yay for all the free, out-of-copyright stuff for the ereaders!

On audio, I've just finished an appalling Nora Roberts (Savor the Moment).  I know, why did I even bother?  Well, it was an easy listen to fulfill one of my challenge tasks, but I wish I hadn't even started it.  Brides, cooking, love, and lust. 'Nuff said.  Next up is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Widely acclaimed, it's set in the South and so I'm predisposed to enjoy it!  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Weekend Update

This weekend has felt incredibly long, probably because we stuffed too much in to it.

Zouheir took Michael and a band-mate up to band camp this weekend, so that pretty much ate up Friday night.  On Saturday, we relaxed in our empty nest in the morning, and then headed to Bloor West mid-afternoon to pick up our TPFF tickets at Beit Zatoun and grab dinner before the opening film.  We had some time to kill, so we wandered around Bloor/Bathurst area, dropping in to the By the Way Cafe for tea, and then Sarah's Shawarma and Falafel for a satisfactory (but not great) dinner.  Our film last night was The Time That Remains, directed by Elia Suleiman, a kind of memoir of living as a "present absentee" in Nazareth.  It was a packed house at the Bloor, and it was interesting to see it again with a mainly Palestinian audience, as opposed to the TIFF audience last year.  There were some definite cheers from last night's audience at certain points in the film that didn't raise a peep a year ago.

After the film, we walked over to Yorkville and took in some of the Nuit Blanche sights.  There were long lineups for some of the venues and we decided not to wait.  We got in to the RCM and the Gardiner, the former an exciting installation and the latter somewhat disappointing.  We walked down Bloor and back along Cumberland, streets closed off for the event, but by 10:30, we were kind of cold and tired and decided to head back to the subway and home.

This morning, we had tickets for a Palestinian breakfast, part of TPFF, but I needed to head out to pick up Michael around 12:30, so Zouheir took a cousin and I went to choir and mass.  This morning's music was entirely sung in unison, including hymns, which was not much of a work out.  We did Viadana's Fratres, ego enim accepi a Domino and Accipite et manducate during the Offertory and Ralph Vaughn Williams setting of a George Herbert poem The Call.  The text of this song is beautiful:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

Right after mass, I hopped in the car and headed up to Lake Simcoe (Jackson's Point) to pick up Michael from band camp.  He had a great time, and parents and other visitors were treated to a brief concert before everyone left.  The sound was terrific, and the students clearly enjoy the ensemble.  It is something of a stretch for Michael, but he's loving it and learning a lot.  As soon as we got home, he crashed in his bed for an hour, and then came down and started practicing!  This, after a weekend full of rehearsals and clinics. He's certainly got the bug.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the couch trying to finish In the Woods by Tana French, an engrossing mystery that I've been too busy or tired to spend much time on the past few days.  But it's a great story, and I just want to get it done before I have to get it back to the library.  I predict a significant plot twist shortly, so I'm desperate to get it done!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Our new favorite soap - Dalan Antique


We picked up a five-pack of this soap at our local Turkish grocer (Marche Instanbul) on Dufferin north of Lawrence. It appears to be almost pure olive oil and has a wonderful creamy texture, a sort of neutral scent, and appears to last a long time. At 5 large bars for $5.99, it's a good deal too.

[Marche Istanbul has great "bagels"....a difference experience from our usual Bagel House bagels (Montreal-style) but a nice change. The pastries are good as well.]

Friday, October 1, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday - The I-love-cheese edition.



I lasted 11 days on the paleo diet.  I had a couple of mishaps...I ordered a hotdog at Costco without thinking, and then I had a little mishap at Union Station involving a Cinnabon, but I've realised that I'm just not cut out to give up cheese.  Not to mention the paltry 2 pounds that I lost during that time, eating very healthily.  So last night I had a little party with some Mrs. Fields cookies and Ferrero Rocher thingy's that came in some get-well baskets for Zouheir.  And that I'd been staring at for the entire 11 days.  This morning, I had cream in my coffee, three pieces of raisin toast with butter and some cheese.  Maybe I'd just rather be....curvaceous. 


Speaking of curvaceous, Zou and I went to see the Arabesque Dance Company at the Four Season's Centre yesterday, during their free lunchtime presentations in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater.  There were both female and male dancers, and the women were are all extraordinarily thin for belly-dancers.  Zouheir leaned over to me and whispered "you can see why middle eastern men like their women full!" as skinny belly-dancers just don't really yield the full effect.  So you can see that cheese will also help me maintain my marriage.


We attended a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc at the Bell Lightbox on Wednesday.  A silent film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, it was astounding, even taken on it's own. But the two screenings were accompanied by Richard Einhorn's oratorio Voices of Light, performed by the Toronto Consort and Choir 21.  Einhorn wanted to compose something based around Joan of Arc, and around that time a print of the film was discovered in a janitor's closet in a mental institution in Norway.  He decided to write music to accompany the film, and this is what was presented at the screenings.

It was incredible.  The beauty and emotional weight of the film was masterfully underscored by the oratorio.  The vocal part was in Latin and Old French, and not meant to really be understood by contemporary audiences, although I recognized a lot of the Latin.  Zouheir and I talked about it well into the night, and more the next day.  Apparently Dreyer was one of the early filmmakers to use a lot of closeups, as well as kind of kooky shooting angles.  David Fallis, the conductor for the screenings, held a Q&A afterwards and talked about the film and the process of coordinating the music with the visuals.  A very enjoyable evening, our first Lightbox screening post-TIFF.


Michael heads up to the Hannaford Youth Band camp this weekend for lots of playing and a clinic with Glen Gould School tubist Sasha Johnson.  He's fighting a cold and I kept him home from school today to rest before the weekend.  As it turns out, his school music teacher's daughter (trumpter, out of high school for three years) is also in the band and we'll be giving her a lift to and from camp this weekend.  


This weekend is the opening of the Toronto Palestine Film Festival and we've got a bunch of tickets for events.  Films:

The Time That Remains (2009; Elia Suleiman) - trailer

9 Aab (short film) and As the Poet Said - trailer  (two films about poet Mahmoud Darwish)

Targeted Citizen (short) and Zindeeq

Nine to Five (short) and Jaffa, The Orange's Clockwork - film website

Budrus (2009; Julia Bacha) - film website

We also have tickets for Sahtain! A Traditional Palestinian Brunch on Sunday, followed by films and discussion with directors, but I will probably have to skip that to pick up Michael from band camp. 


This Saturday is Nuit Blanche in Toronto.  I attended it in the past, but this year we'll be on Bloor Street and the opening night of TPFF, so my plan is to wander around the Avenue Road/Bloor area and drop into some of the installations in that area.  I've downloaded a free app for my iPhone which will make finding events easy. 


Zou goes back to work on Monday.  His surgery and recovery has been better than we could have anticipated and he's feeling great.  He's sleeping well, and keeps marvelling at how the lack of pain/discomfort has rippled through so much of his life.  He is anxious to start exercising, which his surgeon told him not to do for six weeks.  He may start swimming to at least get himself moving, now that his incision is completely healed.  The only issue is that he's been having some headaches, but he attributes that to lack of exercise, or possibly a slightly higher blood pressure than is normal for him.  But otherwise, all systems are go!


For more Seven Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.