Friday Seven – Chilly in the YVR Edition


  1. This pretty much sums up the week:
  2. My sister was here this week for a medical conference, and my elder son arrived for a visit as well. It’s been lovely to see them both and to check out some new-to-me restaurants (Cactus Club Cafe, Nuba, Joe Fortes) as well as a meal here at the condo. Fran heads back east today on the train, and Alex is here for another week or two.
  3. Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark
    Photo credit: Wikipedia

    My four month reading challenge is winding down at the end of November. I’ve got two novels to finish up by the 30th: Dead Until Dark: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris (the first of the Sookie Stackhouse series) and Story of Blanche and Marie by Per Olov Enquist. The first is a vampire novel and fulfills the task to read a book set in Louisiana. It’s not the sort of book that I would normally read, but it’s entertaining and light. I picked up the second book in Stockholm and it fulfills a task to read two books set in the same watershed. I’ve chosen the Seine and this book is set in Paris.

  4. The trash sorting system in this building is intricate. Unlike in Toronto, where all the recyclables go into one bin, we have to separate everything here including paper into “dry newsprint” and mixed paper (magazines, junk mail, writing paper, phonebooks, cardboard). No styrofoam or plastic bags, and only plastics labelled 1,2, and 3). I haven’t figured out how to return beer, wine, and liquor bottles yet, and milk bottles go back to the grocer. There is compost for the building, so that’s good.
  5. Our extended family meals are starting to go here.
  6. Last Saturday, Z and I had lunch with a colleague of his and her partner. She is Jewish, from Odessa, and when she heard that my ancestors were also from there, was interested in getting together. We had a lovely time, and it has spurred me on to try to break through some brick walls on my Berkman research.
    Baron de Hirsch - De La Savane Cemetery, Montreal.
    Baron de Hirsch – De La Savane Cemetery, Montreal.

    My great-grandfather was Myer Berkman (b. 1863, Minsk), who was married to Adela (d. bef 1909), for whom I do not have a surname. My grandfather was David Berkman (b. c 1888, Odessa; d. 1956, Hawkesbury, ON). David had a sister Sadie who married Samuel Rubenstein in Lachine, QU in May 1909. They went on to live in Hawkesbury and have nine children. I have recently been in touch with one of Sadie’s descendents and I hope to get a chance to meet him next time I’m in his city.
    I continue to pour over JewishGen, a very comprehensive set of databases, but records are scanty, language and transliteration make names difficult to find, and I still dream of hiring a researcher to see what can be found on the ground in Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. I’ve also done DNA testing, but I really need to get my brother to do it as well as we need the male line to trace paternal genes.

  7. How awesome is this?

    “About to take a Selfie with Medal of Freedom co-recipients Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg at the White House. OMG! I’m so excited!” — Itzhak Perlman (posted on Facebook)

    Itzhak Perlman, Steisand, Spielberg


That’s all folks! Keep warm. Enjoy your leftovers, my American friends. More quick takes over at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

Reading internationally

My book club has a no-stress December meeting, where rather than reading a book and discussing it, we each bring a book to share with the group, something that we’ve read that we loved and that we want to introduce others to.

One year it was completely open. Last year, it was a favorite novel. At our last meeting this year (for which I was absent), there was discussion around sharing an international book (that is, a book not set in North America or the UK).

Today, one of our members posted this video about the pleasures of reading internationally.

In one of the Goodreads groups I belong to, there is an international challenge that runs each year. Points are awarded for each country from which you read (one book per country) with bonus points for non-fiction books, books by an author born in the country, and books originally written in the non-english language of the country (if applicable.) Also, countries are awarded points based on the UNESCO count of how many books are published each year in that country.

My list so far (links are to Goodreads):

USA: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Switzerland: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

England: Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

Scotland: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Norway: My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård

India: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Vietnam: The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Spain: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Canada: Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Australia: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

South Africa: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

France: How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest

Egypt: Baking Cupcakes in Egypt by Elizabeth MacLean

When I do this next year, I’d like to work harder on reading voices from each country, rather that North American or British authors writing novels set there (although this is permitted in the challenge.) And some of my reading didn’t qualify because 3/4 of the book must take place in the country, so two books by Ruth Ozeki that are partly set in Japan and have a very Japanese sensibility (My Year of Meats and A Tale for the Time Being) didn’t fulfill that rule.


Sunny Sunday

We’re battening down the hatches here in Vancouver, expecting some cold weather and snow this week, so we decided to take advantage of the sunnier-than-average day and head out on the town.

Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Catholic liturgical year, and so we walked over to Holy Rosary Cathedral for the 9:30 mass. It’s a lovely neo-gothic church, small for a cathedral (in my limited experience). The women’s choir sang with the Assistant Organist Catherine Walsh and they were joined by a violist whose name wasn’t printed in the bulletin. (At 11:00, trumpeter Katherine Evans was to be present with a number of Telemann pieces on the program.)

After mass, we wandered over to the Vancouver Centre Skytrain station and purchased a Compass card, the transit payment system here in Vancouver that recently launched, and then rode south to the King Edward station. We grabbed a coffee at Starbucks until Pronto opened at 11:30, where we had lunch.

pronto lunch

It’s across the street from the Park Theatre (our ultimate destination) and had good recs on Yelp. Zouheir had an excellent sandwich and so-so soup. My pasta special was dry. Seemed like leftovers, put in a bowl, topped with cheese, broiled, then some tomato sauce spooned on top. But my glass of wine was just fine.

But then we saw Brooklyn at the theatre, and all was forgotten. Based on a novel by Colm Toíbin and with screenplay by Nick Hornby, it was a lovely film, beautifully shot, great cast, and a heartbreaking story. While I had read the novel some time ago, the film particularly resonated with my husband, an immigrant multiple times and familiar with the pull of the old (and the new.)


I missed my book club meeting in Toronto today. I had suggested that we read an aboriginal author this month, and chose Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. This was before I knew that I would be in Vancouver, so I sent in my comments by email last night. I started:

This book is as close to a “10” as I can imagine. From a structure, story, and writing perspective, I find it pretty much perfect. I read Indian Horse, his previous novel and rated it 4/5 on Goodreads. I recall that it sat inside me for days after I finished reading it and I suspect this one will too….

Wagamese has received multiple honours for this novel, and they are well-deserved. Highly recommended.

Finally, a petition has been initiated to ban battery cages (used in raising chickens) in Canada. Please visit this link to find out more and sign the petition.

Friday Seven: Vancouver edition


  1. I’ve been in Vancouver for five days now and don’t seem like I’m adjusting to the three hour time difference. I’ve been waking up between 4:30 and 5:00 am PST and am pretty much nodding off by 10:00 pm. I wonder if it has to do with the dearth of sunlight here. The condo has a gorgeous view, but it’s northwest facing and so doesn’t get any direct sunlight, even on the few occasions when the sun is visible in the sky. Perhaps I should  have brought my Golite with me to dose myself with rays during the day.
  2. We have a lovely condo apartment with a very well-equipped kitchen. I’ve tried a few new recipes, and hosted an old friend for dinner on Wednesday. I worked with him at Bell Canada in the 80s and we’ve kept in touch ever since. I made Za’atar Roast Chicken with Green Tahini Sauce, mashed yams and green beans, plus a cheese plate and a lemon tart purchased from the Urban Fare across the street. Martinis and red wine were also consumed.

    We're on the cheese course here. I probably could have dimmed the lights a little...
    We’re on the cheese course here. I probably could have dimmed the lights a little…
  3. We’re in the Coal Harbour area of downtown Vancouver, right on north shore of the peninsula, overlooking Burrard Inlet. It’s lovely to see the water and the view constantly changes with the movement of the sun and the weather. It’s a great area for walking as everything we could need is close by. Z walks to work every day, the aforementioned grocer is right across the street, and I’m steps from great walking paths along the water.
  4. I brought a couple of small knitting projects with me, as well as a book called ZENSPIRATIONS, CRÉATIONS DE MOTIFS by Joanne Fink. I picked this up in Paris when we were there in September. It suggests a process for creating your own art for colouring and it’s a nice compact book to spur on some creative work.
  5. The apartment is very quiet, with a couple of notable exceptions. During the day, there is a persistent tapping sound that seems to be coming from another unit. It sounds like someone is lightly hammering fine nails or something. It’s most noticeable in the bedroom. I’m wondering whether someone is making jewellry or working on some other small craft in an adjacent suite. Also, I thought a seaplane was taking off this morning, and realized that it was in fact the very loud washing machine that I had just started.
  6. I’ve been trying to find out something about the gorgeous bronze medallions embedded in the sidewalks on some streets in this area. If anyone has a lead, I’d be interested. Haida or Coast Salish perhaps?

    Medallion embedded in some Coal Harbour sidewalks.
    Medallion embedded in some Coal Harbour sidewalks.
  7. How about that investigator on this season’s The Good Wife??
    Jeffrey Dean Morgan

    That’s my seven for today! Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for more.

Friday Seven

  1. What an autumn. I sit here in Toronto with all my windows open, enjoying the November air. In the evenings, I put on the fireplace to keep toasty, but really. I’m enjoying this immensely.

    Ollie, cozy in front of the fireplace.
    Ollie, cozy in front of the fireplace.
  2. I had a med check with my doc last month to discuss what I’m on and, based on my blood work, see if any adjustments needed to be made. I was pretty sure my thyroid levels were a little high as I’m always warm, but he said that I was just fine. I also wanted to reduce the level of the SSNRI that I’ve been on for quite a while as I’m feeling well and thought it would be nice to get off it. He looked at me with a smile and said “You know, it could be the meds that are keeping you feeling well.” Acknowledged this, and we decided to give it a go to see whether my post-menopausal moods really needed it. I started the weaning process and cut down by 25% by alternating pill sizes each day. No apparent changes to my mood, but I had completely forgotten about the pain issues that Cymbalta is known to treat. It’s been two weeks, enough time to get to a steady state at 75% dose and I’ve decided to go back up. The total-body achiness is all coming back to me and I don’t want to be there again.
  3. I fixed the pilot light in my hot water tank! Well, fixed might be pushing it. I relit it. But I’ve never done it before and was pretty happy with my home repair skillz. We’ve never had an issue with our tank, but a recent shower that ended up lukewarm suggested that something was amiss. Luckily, the instructions were written on the tank. The hardest part was getting my creaky body down on to the floor to actually see the little flame (or, lack thereof.)
  4. My friend Kath is coming from Ottawa tomorrow for a week to do some genealogical research and go to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. We’re attending on November 11 and will see the Longines FEI World Cup and spend time on the exhibition floor. Last year I discovered that show cows wear hair extensions and some type of glossy spray is used to shine up the udders. We’ll also try to get to the Goats on the Go show, and watch for the latest Toronto celebrity-goat, Turbo. There are lots of great, local wares for sale, like honey, wool, flour, cheese, and an entire area devoted to Northern Ontario producers. Plus lots horsey and animal stuff for the hardcore. Kath got a gorgeous turquoise blanket two years ago for her horse River.

    Kath and River, Spring 2014
    Kath and River, Spring 2014
  5. Genealogy-wise, we’ll hit the Archives of Ontario (at York University), the City of Toronto Archives, and probably the Toronto Reference Library. We’re hoping to have our annual breakfast with our mutual friend Jay at OverEasy on Bloor Street. (Other hangers-on are welcome!) We’ll try to fit in a visit to the Turner exhibit at the AGO and/or Warhol at the Lightbox; Kath is an artist (although she hasn’t been arting much over the past few years.) When we went to the Abstract Expressionist exhibit at the AGO a couple of years ago (her favorite period), she taught me so much. It’s exciting to see art with a knowledgeable person.
  6. I’ll be spending a quite a bit of time in Vancouver over the next year or two. Z has “moved” out there for work, has a lovely apartment in the Coal Harbour area, and I will be the one commuting. I’m aiming for half time out there and the rest here in Toronto. It will be a change to go from cold and sunny to mild and grey, but I like the city and will try to find a way to bring Ollie out with me with the least stress for him (and me.) Otherwise, his brother from another mother (and father), namely, my elder son, is very happy to dogsit in my absence.
  7. Saw an excellent documentary on the microbiome on The Nature of Things last week. I’ve been reconsidering my diet over the past few months, trying to reduce the amount of animal protein I consume. More to come on the blog.

For more quick takes, visit our host at the This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Ollie’s first report card: “good job!”

Ollie, cozy in front of the fireplace.
Ollie, cozy in front of the fireplace.

Ollie is the darling cockapoo we adopted in the spring. He is a dream dog, although incredibly bonded to me hence “separation anxiety” is the deal I got with him. He basically follows me around the house all day and if I’m gone for any length of time, has a bit of a “seizure” when I return, jumping and yelping and spinning in circles.

We successfully left him with our older son when we travelled for two weeks. He went to work every day with Alex and they clearly bonded as well, as Ollie was a bit sorrowful when Alex returned him to me when we got back. So, basically he’s a serial monogamist.

We did a trial visit at a neighborhood doggie daycare for those times when I need to be away from home for more than a few hours. They kept him for an hour and he was apparently growly and not happy. They required another visit where Ollie was be better behaved before they could take him as a boarder/day care client.

Friends of mine who have a basset hound recommended that I try Parker Pet Care, an organization that they have used for years. Parker offers a free trial day, so I signed Ollie up for last Friday and dropped him off in the morning. The staff there are simply lovely and I felt good about leaving him in their care.

When I picked him up, I got a “report card” along with a couple of doggie treats in a gift bag.

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How cute is that?

I’ve booked him for a day of care while I’m off to Burlington on Wednesday. I’ll be asking for a “Cuddle Time” upgrade.

Notebooks, diaries, journals

Source: have started many a January with a fresh diary, intent on getting my deep thoughts and the minutiae of my life onto paper. I usually last about three weeks. I’ve tried gratitude journals, sentence-a-day journals, free-flow writing, and the best I seem to be able to do is a purse notebook with measurements, business cards, calculations, menu plans and other really unimportant-in-the-long-term but important in the short (like, what size furnace filters we use, or the three things i need to pick up next time at at Home Depot.)  Many would just use scraps of paper for this kind of stuff, but I prefer keep it all bound and, you know, easy to find.

For list making and other kinds of basic notebook content, I’ve turned mainly to technology, namely my smartphone.

  • The Shopi app is fantastic for managing shopping lists and you can share it with someone else in real time. While I’m the main user, when Z goes to the LCBO, or grocer, or hardware store, he can quickly check the app to see what we need.
  • For keeping a record of daily stuff that I might otherwise consign to a diary-type journal, I use the Momento app which grabs all your posts to social media and puts them into one place, plus lets you add your own private posts. You can also get it to prompt you with reminders to diarize at specific times of the day (see “Gratitude” above.) So it’s kinda cool.

I really admire people who keep diaries for years, but I have accepted the fact that I’m not one of them. There are a couple of other note taking things that I’m experimenting with at the moment.

Travel diary

Every time we travel, I try to keep a diary. A couple of years ago, we went to Istanbul. Before we left, I made this funky sewn notebook that I intended to fill with memories. While there, I used a spiral notebook to remember what we did each day and collected ephemera that would go into the notebook.

It never got done. I think I managed to do one or two days of post-trip scrapping and it got pushed aside as real life intervened.

This year, I decided to try something different. We were in France for two weeks, and I took a little pouch with a glue stick and archival double-sided tape, scissors, various fineline markers, and a moleskine blank page diary. This didn’t take up very much space in my luggage. I kept receipts, business cards, and picked up postcards, newspapers, and brochures from the places we visited/dined at/drank at. Each day, I sat at a table and put everything into my notebook in words and pictures. I got behind a couple of days from time to time, but it was still fresh enough for me to be able to get down what was important. I intentionally made it suitable for public reading and we now have a great memory of our trip.

Here are a few shots of my journal.

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For my next trip, I’d like to experiment with a small, very portable printer that I can connect wirelessly to my smartphone and that would print 2×3 shots that I could add to the journal. I’ve been looking at a couple online (Fujifilm Instax and Polaroid ZIP) but haven’t actually seen a demo.

Thought journal

I recently read a post by Jessica Handler, a writing teacher, in Assay. Called My Favorite Essay to Teach: On Keeping A Notebook, she refers to an piece written by Joan Didion back in 1966. You can read it here [PDF].

Her notebooks contain scraps of dialog, observations, and none of it is necessarily true.

Didion talks about the contents of her notebook thus:

Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point. […] It is a difficult point to admit. We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. [….] But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

I have started keeping a similar type of journal, although it’s mainly quotes from books and interesting words. But it’s small and very portable and I keep it with me and/or whatever books I’m reading at the moment. I also use it to make notes about conversations, teevee shows or other media besides books, and connections that occur to me. (My binge on HBO’s Six Feet Under is giving me a lot of food for thought and connections to other stuff in my life.) I’m only a few weeks into this one, but so far it’s working well. It’s a no pressure place. I’m never behind.

Finally, here’s a terrific compendium of various types of journals that I stumbled across the other day. Oberon Design, a maker of gorgeous notebooks, bags, and other accessories, has a section on their website called All About Journalling. If you’ve ever thought about this practice but failed at the obvious types, maybe one of these would appeal.

One last note: I’m thinking of taking my travel journal concept daily, as in everyday life. I plan to use the Hobonichi Techo Planner. Thin, bleed-free paper, purse-proof, lots of space. They were sold out within a day but I’m on the notification list.

Do you keep a journal? What kind? Please share in the comments.


Friday Seven – October 23

— 1 —

Our reno is done and we’re really happy with it. New hardwood floors throughout the second floor and in the living-dining room meant that every item in those areas had to be removed to either boxes in the basement or to a temporary storage pod (mainly the furniture.) Now we’ve got to sort all the boxes in the basement and reorganize (or get rid of) a lot of stuff. It’s actually been a great exercise, to see how the house looks with quite minimalist decor. I am taking things slowly and making careful decisions about what to keep and where. One of the good decisions we made was to have cabinetry built in around our (new) gas fireplace so all our decorative items can be placed together, behind glass, and reduce the clutter on surfaces, one of our big issues.

— 2 —

The timer switch for our exterior lights on the front door quit, leaving the lights on all the time. I picked up a new timer and attempted to install it myself. I’ve done minor electrical work before with no problem but this was part of a three switch plate and the installation quickly proved beyond me, even after a lot of googling and referring to my trusty Reader’s Digest Complete Do-it-yourself Manual. So I left the circuit breaker in the off position and we have no lights in the powder room or at my favorite reading position in the kitchen. I tried to hire an electrician the normal way (Homestars) but the earliest i could get an appointment was in two weeks. I called my contractor for a name and he said he’ll get it done for me tomorrow or Monday at the latest. He’s the best!

— 3 —

I’ve been on the hunt for a daybed or sofa bed for my study. I had it painted in a lovely pale yellow, a good colour for creativity, and when I checked out a couple of shops in the nearby Castlefield Design DIstrict (Elte Mkt, Shelter) everything suitable was only available in a cool grey. By chance, Ethel 20th Century Living posted this gorgeousness on their Facebook Page yesterday afternoon and I’m heading there to check it out in person this afternoon. It’s in a warm grey (Pebble), five years old an in apparently fabulous condition. And at a great price.

BluDot One Night Stand sleeper.
BluDot One Night Stand sleeper.

— 4 —

I am almost finished an absolutely terrific novel by Ruth Ozeki called A Tale For The Time Being. It is hard to describe how much this book resonates with me. I’ve been listening to the audio version, read by the author. Watch the trailer.

— 5 —

Kotodama: the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names; that ritual words can influence our environment, body, mind, and soul. It’s everywhere in Ozeki’s novel and i want to think about it some more.

— 6 —

If you have a chance to see Remember, the new film by Atom Egoyan starring Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, I highly recommend it. I saw a screening at TIFF this year and it was a highlight. While I don’t agree with this review (don’t leave early), I do agree that the rest of it is also very compelling.

— 7 —

Some Friday music humour.

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Mini Reviews: books by John Waters and José Saramago

Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across AmericaCarsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded this book on a whim, as part of a goodreads challenge. I needed a travel book and I didn’t really pay attention to the details.

It’s by freaking John Waters! Director of Hairspray! And he reads the audiobook version!

John Waters at the Edinburgh International Fil...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

He decides to try to get a book deal about hitchhiking across America, from Baltimore to SanFrancisco. He takes a small travel bag (including La Mer face cream, but forgetting the wee scissors to keep his signature ‘stache trimmed.) He has a sign. He had an orange rain poncho.

The book is really in three main parts: the first two are fantasy. Great RIdes and Bad Rides. Fun-ny. The last third contains the deets on the actual rides.

It’s actually a kind of heartwarming book. He finds out that most people in flyover country are really nice. He meets a young republican in khakis. Sex fantasies, food fantasies, boredom, how to find the best places to grab a ride. It’s all here.

Highly recommended for the not-easily-shocked.

CainCain by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite a thrilling piece of writing. Despite being only about 160 pages, it was a long read. I know the early creation stories/myths reasonably well, and Saramago retells them from the point of view of Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son and the one who kills his brother. It feels long because there is so much to think about as you read. Not overly serious, there are bits that sound like they’re from Old Jews Telling Jokes.

Saramago asks a lot of tough questions of God, some of which don’t have very compelling answers (at least in this book.)

View all my reviews

My go-to diet aid: food choices

This is a big chart, but these tips have helped me lose 25 pounds (with 15 left to go.)

What’s missing here is alcohol. My doc challenged me on the number of units I consume per day and i’m committed to cutting back.

THanks to DesignTaxi for pointing me to this chart.