Thursday, April 30, 2009

Carry a Poem in your Pocket Day and other Goings on in My Life

Ok, my excuse is that I have been really busy. I suddenly have a few minutes (I live in a “hurry up then wait” world it seems, so let me fill you in on the bits and pieces in my life at the moment.

Carrying on with the it is Poetry Month theme, today is “Carry a poem in your pocket day”… if you care to participate you can go to to and choose a poem and print it out and carry it around with you to share with others… hmmm, I appreciate the sentiment to promote poetry in this month but someone has too much time on their hands…

Car Shenanigans

I snapped this picture yesterday when I went out first thing in the morning to walk my dog Bella. Seems there is a practical joker in the area. I was wondering what the background to this prank was? Was the owner of the yellow car overly sensitive about others getting near his/her car so someone decided to help him keep others away or is it a case of someone else wanting to give him the message that he/she should not park here? In any case it did look peculiar.

Big Rude Jake (not) and Friends at Liberty Bistro

I went out on Tuesday night to one of my favourite venues for dinner, drinks and live music. I have been trying to get back to see Rude Jake for some time. See here for my earlier blog about Big Rude Jake. I wanted to find out if I had just fluked into a great night of drop in guests and open mic “friends” or whether his musical guests were always as good as the previous night I caught his show.

First we were dismayed to discover that Rude Jake was not going to be performing as he was moving house that day, however the waitress reassured us that the stand in hosts were really good also. We listened to a set featuring Heather and then Jennifer and then both together. Great girly singers on guitars and they each had quite nice voices. At one point heather did the Prettiest Bird song, which I have
blogged about and is sung by the Be Good Tanyas. She did a great job and her voice is probably as nice as any of those gals. Jennifer was of Mexican heritage and did a particularly romantic Mexican song, which my friend recognized (will have to ask him to tell me the name). It was all the more endearing since she had just learned it (so she said) and made a few mistakes with the words as she sang the song.

For dinner, my friend and I shared a baked brie (it was as good as the picture looks) and I had the chicken penne, my friend had the roast chicken. The brie was great and the chicken dishes were nice enough. The Liberty Bistro’s menu is quite limited, and the waitresses are just not what they should be, but they have a great outdoor patio and I love their Tues night entertainment. I am thinking next time to have dinner at home and go for drinks and music afterwards. Maybe one of these times I will catch Rude Jake again.

We paid our bill and were about to leave when a guy came wandering in during the break and said he was there to play piano. My friend joked that maybe he was a virtuoso and we should stay and at least hear his first song. Well, we were both astounded when he sat down to the keyboard and played like no one we had ever seen (in person) before. Greg Zawawski was his name and he is a classically trained pianist who knows how to entertain. He did a lot of really different stuff, including a Supertramp melody. What a treat! Of course we had to order more drinks and stay for another set!

There was also another lady (sorry, did not get her name) who accompanied Greg on a few tunes and then took over the piano when he left and performed a few of her own songs.

We wandered out of there way too late and I was soooo exhausted the next day - yesterday. But happy.

The reason I was not able to blog yesterday was that work (you know the paying kind) overwhelmed me and I ended up working into the night last night – and I was so tired! Hopefully I am back into the swing of things again and can get back to a regular blogging schedule!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nice Day, Stormy Night

Yesterday the weather was spectacular. Having seen that the weather was to degrade as the day progressed, and having received a call from my daughter Tegan who wanted to "borrow" my dog Bella to go walking in the Beach with her friends, I decided to take the opportunity to get out and do errands in the afternoon and at least be able to drive around with the window down and my arm hanging out. After I dropped Bella off at Tegan's house (for those that don't know - she lives with her Dad), I carried on to Best Buy to get a desktop version of Quick Tax (the short time I was using the Internet version it was really slow) and a new printer. Actually I really only needed new ink cartridges, but it seems it was just as cheap to buy a new printer - and the new printer has a wireless connection to the network and is a copier/scanner/fax as well!!!

It was nice to get out and get a taste of the wonderful weather - officially "no coat" weather! Once I got home I got right into my taxes and I can now brag that they are done!

We had a tremendous storm here last evening. I snapped some pics from my balcony.

As the storm approached, a tremendous wind came up and the sky darkened as if it was going to be the end of the world. Since we have had no rain in a while, the dry earth from the construction sites was blown about like the ground was on fire and smoke was pouring forth. A real dust storm as the winds arrived in advance of the rain. Stuff was flying off balconies and below, folks were running for cover.
The sky was dark over the city but the clouds were high and as they rolled in from the west it was was as if someone was painting the sky black on a canvas starting at the top.

The visual effect was quite interesting. Particularly the clouds, as the white clouds were swirling within the black clouds. The pictures, of course, don't do it justice, but I think if you click to get the large view you will see a bit of what I saw.

I saw no damage from yesterday's storm in my neighbourhood, although the news reports said that elsewhere trees were uprooted and shingles torn off with winds of 54 KM per hour! Apparently, the windiest day we have had in Toronto in 30 years!

The weather today is much chillier than it was yesterday. Not unpleasant, but cloudy, windy and damp and definitely "coat weather". Yesterday was just a tease!

I have some things to get done, but want to blog some more about my Las Vegas trip later, so say tuned, perhaps I be able to do a "two in one day" blog to make up for some of the (few) missed blog days.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Saturday file...

I have been collecting a few "bits and pieces" for blogging and thought I would today throw a few of these things out there for you folks. I have been trying for the last few days to get my income taxes done and frankly things are conspiring against me. So, if you don't mind that I get up on my soap box and rant about it for a couple of sentences, I will then deliver the remaining content and get right back at the nasty job! If I can get it done today I have promised myself a wonderful day of creative endeavors for tomorrow. So discipline being my middle name, I forge ahead!

Firstly, my tax software woes. I have used the online Intuit QuickTax software since 2005 and never once had a problem with it. In fact, through using it I have found missing deductions which have decreased my tax payable in the past. However, when I went to get into it this year it claimed that my ID or password was wrong. I could write another thousand words about what I have done to get into my account - and I did succeed in getting access but then it locked me out again after entering data for an hour - but I won't. The account has my previous years tax info, which not only saves me data entry time since it will pre-populate this years form, but also allows me to compare how I have done this year compared to last.

To make a long story short -and at risk of you not understanding the depths of my frustration - I have spent 2 days trying to get the old account info and then an hour entering new info when I was "timed out" and now I can't get back into the account. Intuit cannot give me the password information - the help desk says it isn't available to them. Of course they presume I forgot my password - but I think it is a screw up, before I lost access I was "timed out" while I looked for some information. Due to security reasons the password info is sent to your email address when you "click here if you have forgotten your password".

The snafu is that they send it to the original email address you entered when you created the account i.e. my 2005 email address. At the time I was with Rogers, now I am with Sympatico. In short, I am screwed.

This morning I will open a new account and start from scratch with all data entry. *&*&^%^$$^%&*&(*^(* grrrrrrrrrrrrrrh!

I can thank my friend Kathleen for reminding me about this song on her Facebook posting:

Evidence of Spring is Everywhere!

On a more pleasant note, I went for a wonderful walk this morning and took some pics - signs of spring. There are two small but pretty parks, one on either side of my building and a nice park-like area at the front area of my condo. I took some pics of things "budding" in and around and while it looks pretty dismal now, there are signs of greenery everywhere! Even a few flowers! (OK, some might not call a dandelion a flower, but it is bright yellow and a sure sign of spring.)

A Pandemic in the Offing?

I am watching with some concern and interest in the Mexican flu situation, which has popped into the news in the last few days. From the reading I have done, it is likely that the flu pandemic warning index will go from a 3 to a 5, once the authorities meet and discuss the situation. Apparently, we should expect some action to be taken very quickly and I expect we will see travel warnings regarding Mexico. If it goes to 6 that will mean that we are officially in a pandemic. I hope it won't come to that. I am hoping that they are able to develop a vaccine to be included in our fall flu shot - but I am not sure how long these things take to develop. If it doesn't spread widely before a vaccine is made available to the public it is unlikely to become a pandemic. There is a very informative article about the Mexican virus and its likelihood to become a pandemic here.

I found a very interesting and useful CBC video which explains how colds and flu are spread and gives instruction on how to prevent the spread of both. Nothing too new to my ears, but there are useful reminders. The video spend most of the time on colds and covers flu in the last part of the video. You might want to take a listen. Go here. If you don't want or have time to listen, let me give you the bottom line: Stay away from others who might have the flu - it is spread through sneezes and coughs - air born, unlike colds which are more apt to be spread through hand to hand contact.

Get your Free Cuppa Joe

Did you know that there is a coffee war on? MacDonalds is giving away free coffee for the next 2 weeks (started Apr 20th) and you don't even need to buy anything to get it! Not that MacDonalds will ever replace the expresso joints of the world, but apparently the new brew that they have chosen is expected to be able to go toe to toe with the likes of that served by Timi's and Coffee Time. The other thing to remember that our coffee preference is an acquired taste and if we drink their free coffee for two weeks our preference could change as our taste buds get used to their brew. We may even want to pay money for it after the freebie period is over!

I also heard that Starbucks were going to close an outlet or two and I wonder if high end coffee (or even regular swill) is very recession proof? Last year I bought a Thermos and travel mug and started bringing my own coffee to work. I would buy 2 of Timi's (extra large in the morning and a large in the afternoon) and calculated I was spending nearly $16 per week not to mention the issue of the paper cups. I take it black and we "straight up" folks double cup the brew as the heat of the coffee can be too much to take if you are carrying the cup a ways. I also bring my lunch, out of preference for food I cook and because I like to work through lunch and then would go without. I am not so much into fast food and would rather eat out one great lunch each week with friends rather than have fast food meals at my desk. It does mean I have more money for other things I would rather spend on. OK, so I do watch my pennies.

If you want to read more about our Canadian Coffee Wars go here.

Leonard Cohen - Live in London DVD

I had a shipment of goodies delivered this week from an Amazon spending binge I went on a week or so ago. Right now I am writing this while watching the DVD of Leonard Cohen's "Live in London" concert which is new out and features the songs he is playing in his cross Canada tour. Since I didn't get tickets to see him in person, this is the closest I will get. It is a superb concert and I am completely mesmerized by his music and watching his performance! The man has such class and grace which is so evident as you watch him perform. It puts me in such a mellow and serene mood to listen to his music. This DVD has been no disappointment. Highly recommended!

Now, back to taxes with me!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Blog in Support of Poetry Month

In yesterday's blog, I made a brief mention of my sister-in-law's "Poetry Event". I would have gone into that further, except I thought that it would make a good single topic blog and the one I had embarked on was already too long. Besides, I didn't want to start my discussion of poetry month by saying that my sister-in-law is a poet and so please buy her books... :)

However, having now said my general piece yesterday in support of Poetry Month, let me tell you about my brother's wife Ronda Wicks Eller, who runs a small poetry publishing house and is herself a published poet.

She and my brother live outside the small rural community of Clinton, ON. Last year, during Poetry Month she organized a poetry reading in the town and I was able to travel there to enjoy the Poets reading their work.

I did enjoy listening to the 6 featured poets and the 8 "open mic" poets who participated in the event. However, I found that I am a more appreciative of the conventional poetry and did find some of the poems that were "on the fringe", such as the sound poems, to be a bit too "out there" for me. (OK, so Charles Bernstein would sneer at me - but I hope my sister-in-law does not!) Having said that I enjoyed the afternoon immensely and so did my friend who attended with me. He was visiting from London England. He found some of the language references in the poetry to be bewildering and we talked about some of the differences in language all the way home.

Ronda's company, SkyWings Press has a web site and you can see it here along with a write up of the poetry event I spoke about and the poets she represents and the poetry collections you can purchase from her company.

You can read Ronda's bio here.

I will finish with a plug for her book of Poetry:

The Lion and the Golden Calf
by Ronda Eller,
84 pg, softcover, 2008 SkyWing Press
ISBN-13: 978-0-9809335-0-5

TO PURCHASE you can go to her websight and do so through the internet or send cheque or money order for $10 in Canadian funds to SkyWing Press, 37912 Jenkins Rd., RR2 Clinton, ON N0M 1L0. Be sure to include a full PRINTED (not handwritten) mailing address for shipment. Shipping is within 5 business days from receipt of your order.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Planetary Poetry Month

This month is "Planetary Poetry Month". I guess I am risking niche blogging by doing 2 "observances" blogs in a row, but I can't help it. I noticed a couple of blog worthy newspaper articles whilst researching the Earth Day blog and now I feel I must carry on to discuss Poetry month.

Firstly, let me go on record that I enjoy conventional poetry and can appreciate some of the more modern, "out there" pieces. I even have a few that I have written over the years. I own a number of books of poetry. Every so often I will find a poem that takes away my breath. I have even been to a couple of poetry readings - even discounting my Sister-in-law's Poetry Event last year. So I am happy to support Poetry Month and look with interest to read whats going on in the Poets corner during this month.

Truth is that during the month of April there is an abundance of Poetry events, publications and other goings on. There is value in these "flavour of the month" events to promote awareness as it causes lots of things of that sort to come to the surface on the appointed day or month. I have been reading all the poetry which has been published all month in the Globe in "The Other Words" blog.

She also pointed out in a recent blog regarding the Poetry Foundation's Site that Canada has more than the 3 poets listed (DAH!) . This site has biographies of poets from all parts of the world, organized in some sort of incoherent fashion (it lists areas like: New England, Africa, South-West, Canada and Britain!) and it seems that after doing comprehensive bios on British Poets (there are 53) they ran out of steam! Funny, because when you read their "about" it says: "The Poetry Foundation is one of the largest literary foundations in the world." You would think they would do a better job of promoting the famous poets in the world!

In my survey of things poetic I found an interesting essay by Charles Bernstein titled "Against National Poetry Month, As Such". This poet does not find poetry month to be kind to poets. "April is the cruelest month for poets" he writes. You can read his essay here.

To pique your interest:

As part of the spring ritual of National Poetry Month, poets are symbolically dragged into the public square in order to be humiliated with the claim that their product has not achieved sufficient market penetration and must be revived by the Artificial Resuscitation Foundation (ARF) lest the art form collapse from its own incompetence, irrelevance, and as a result of the general disinterest among the broad masses of the American People.

The motto of ARF's National Poetry Month is: "Poetry's not so bad, really."

He does have quite a few sour grapes and he is probably right - poetry for the masses will never be the leading edge of creative works as those are difficult for the masses to appreciate. I have to count myself right in there as I have difficulty with appreciation of both avant garde art and poetry. He might be right - but I do like more mainstream poetry and why be snobby and insist what I like is inferior. I don't snicker (much) when my daughter talks with glee about the burger she just had from MacDonalds!

I also found an interesting article relating to poetry was a critical article lambasting poetry critics for not being more helpful to the reader when reviewing poetry. Matthew Zapruder, in his essay "Show Your Work!" for Poetry Foundation, discusses his thoughts on what a poetry critic should do and how they are the reason there is not more interest in modern poetry. His views garnered a whole lot of comments from his readers! It was picked up by Judith Fitzgerald, a Globe Writer who added her 2 cents in an article today. Her point was that given the overwhelming majority of the public (43%) who consider poetry either "pretentious" or "too difficult" (as opposed to the 56% who find it "difficult but worth it" or "essential"), how do we get them to appreciate the poetry that planetary poetry month brings us?

Today, in American poetry, very few critics take it upon themselves to examine the choices poets make in poems, and what effect those choices might have upon a reader. As a consequence, very few people love contemporary American poetry. Many more might, if critics attempted to truly engage with the materials of poetry -- words and how they work -- and to connect poetry with an audience based on an engagement with these materials.
At least this fellow is trying to be helpful and suggests that if poetry critics helped us with understanding why (the critic) thought the poem was worthy - in either, style, language or form, us great unwashed might like modern poetry a bit more.

hmm, not sure about that...

I will end with a poem that I like which perhaps is not very well known. It is a translation of a German poem written by Heine called "Die Lorelei". It is name of a precipitous rock on the Rhine, dangerous to boatmen and celebrated for its echo. The story behind it is of the siren of the rock whose songs lure sailors to their death.

Oddly enough Charles Bernstein, who as I said above, dislikes Poetry month so much, was inspired by this poem to use it as a leaping off point for his language poem "Laurel's Eyes". According to wiki, Charles Bernstein is one of the most prominent members of the school of poetry called "Language Poetry". As I read in the Wiki entry, "this poetry is often alien and difficult to understand at first glance, which is what Language poetry intends: for the reader to participate in creating the meaning of the poem." Having read Heine's poem, you might want to listen to Bernstein's reading of "Laurel's Eyes" and see what you think. I quite liked it. I have included a link to it following the Heine poem translation.

Translation of Heine's "Die Lorelei"
I don’t know what it could mean, that I’m so sad:
I find,
A fairy-tale, from times unseen,
Won’t vanish from my mind.

The air is cool and it darkens,

And quiet flows the Rhine:

The tops of the mountains sparkle,

In evening’s after-shine.

The loveliest of maidens,
She’s wonderful, sits there,
Her golden jewels glisten,

She combs her golden hair.

She combs it with a comb of gold,

And sings a song as well:
Its strangeness too is old
And casts a powerful spell.
It grips the boatman in his boat

With a wild pang of woe:

He only looks up to the heights,

Can’t see the rocks below.
I believe the waves swallowed

The boat and its boatman,

That’s what, by her singing,

The Lorelei has done.

You can hear Bernstein's reading of his poem "Laurel's Eyes" here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

We have been celebrating Earth day since 1970 on April 22 each year. It is a day to increase awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. I was curious about this so did a bit of rooting around for more information.

The world was a different place in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This Earth Day – the one held on April 22nd each year - was instituted in the US and promoted widely. At the time, environmental issues and concerns were something no one really paid attention to. Gradually awareness grew – cars got smaller as gas got more expensive and we started to understand that you can’t bury garbage in the countryside. When I was a real estate agent I once showed a property which was a gorgeous countryside estate - on 50 acreas of rolling pastures, except it was being sold under power of sale because the mortgage fell through - because they discovered it was built on a dump site from the 60s!

In 1990 there were 200 million people in 141 countries celebrated Earth Day and this helped raise the status of environmental issues onto the world stage to promote the need for recycling – something we now take for granted. It also helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Since then Earth Day has achieved International significance and taken its place along side Mother’s Day, Secretaries Day (sorry, now called Admin Assistant’s Day) and all those other notable days and is the thing we focus on every April 22nd. To find out more about Celebrate Earth Day go here. --- or -- To see the millions and thousands of "Celebrate this and that Days" go here.)

At its inception, Earth Day’s primary focus was on educating the public about environmental issues. Even today, Earth day is a teaching opportunity in all our schools and has, perhaps in part, resulted in the change in our attitudes about the environment. As Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing.

Interesting to note that the United Nations celebrates an Earth Day each year on the March equinox, which is often March 20. The vernal equinox Earth Day has date has been in place since 1969. It is celebrated by many, among those Margaret Mead. She added her support for the equinox Earth Day, and in 1978 declared:

"EARTH DAY is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space.

EARTH DAY draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way – which is also the most ancient way – using the vernal Equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making night and day of equal length in all parts of the Earth. To this point in the annual calendar, EARTH DAY attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another. But the selection of the March Equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible, and a flag which shows the Earth as seen from space appropriate."

It is traditional to observe this Earth Day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, a bell donated by Japan to the United Nations

Makes you wonder why the US had to pick a different day! Well, the date has to do with the focus of the US Earth Day – education. The date was chosen as a day which would fit into the school calendar and reach the most students. It did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other events mid-week, so Wednesday, April 22 was chosen.

So what should we do. I for one, will spend some time this evening thinking about ways I could change for the better and reduce my impact on the environment. I found a tool to help me and you might want to check it out also.

Calculate your Ecological Footprint Here

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zen for April

Do you remember last month when I talked about my Zen calendar in my bathroom? Well, now that it is April I get a new Zen thought to contemplate as I spend time in the place of contemplation. April is "So whatever you do, just do it, without expecting anyone's help. Don't spoil your effort by seeking for shelter. Protect yourself and grow upright to the sky; that is all."

Something to think about and much harder to understand than the "Just sit and see what happens" of March. That led me last month to think about the Zen practice of detachment and mindfulness.

This is just a bit too obscure by my thinking. I went searching through the internet to find out what "just do it" might mean within the context of Zen thought or principles. This led me a merry chase through some writings of Suzuki-roshi whose quotes are featured in my calendar. It seems a lot of things we do are tedious and require endless practice. I concluded that the sentiment expressed could relate to the hard work of just getting on with the responsibilities of life, while trying to find time for the things we enjoy. We need self discipline to get on with these things, but being true to oneself and doing without help gives one a satisfaction which may seem like "growing upright to the sky".

The Chinese Chan master Baizhang (720–814 CE) left behind a famous saying which had been the guiding principle of his life, "A day without work is a day without food." Sounds like something my father would say! My Dad is one of those stoic, depression era personalities. All hard work and no play. Hmm, Zen Dad.

While I was rooting around in the web I found another of Suzuki-roshi's sayings which I liked. "So the secret is just to say 'Yes!' and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself, always yourself, without sticking to an old self." This is in the same vein as "Just do it".

One site I found, which was very helpful in several ways was "Zen and the Art of Remarkable Blogging" In that site, I discovered that "just doing" is very Zen. It was explained in this way:
Zen is more concerned with attaining wisdom through doing, in that daily life and mundane tasks will teach you more than any sacred text could. In this way, blogging and Zen are closely aligned—simply showing up and keeping at it will teach you more than anyone else can.

So "Just do it" can apply to blogging as well - and I have done mine for today.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cold, damp and miserable day

Having said that I will pull out my glass half full attitude and point out that it is Monday and it was nice that the miserable weather held off until the weekend finished and that the miserable weather is scheduled to leave again before next weekend. Also, it could very well be snow – I do recall that we did have some white stuff last year in April.

Just a quick blog today, my son Jeff will be over any time now to help me with getting all my software loaded into my computer.

Yesterday I had a friend for dinner and attempted a wonderful Greek appetizer.  I had bought the cheese - a Greek cheese called kefalotyri  at the St. Lawrence market a few weeks ago.  One of the things I am very thankful for as a consequence of a few years I spent with my Greek (now "X significant other") is an appreciation for and recipes to make a few good Greek dishes.  Saganaki is one of these.

I winged the recipe and just made it as I recalled from when he and I would make this flambéed Greek cheese appetizer. The picture at right was taken while I flambéed it.  Quite impressive!   I served it with fairly thinly sliced baquette.  It was really tasty and just as good as I remembered it.  

Today I looked up a proper recipe and discovered that there are a couple of variations in the ways to make it. I cooked it without oil and without dredging the cheese in flour – which suited my calorie conscious guest. But in that event the cheese does not brown but instead just melts. It tasted good none the less.

Apparently, some folks prefer to use Greek brandy rather than Ouzo, but I like the anise taste and when the Greek and I used to cook it we used Ouzo. Some folks find Ouzo to sweet and prefer brandy.  Also, we always used kefalortyri cheese, but it seems that Kasseri cheese could also be used. I don't think I would experiment with the type of cheese too much – these cheeses have a distinctive flavour and not all cheeses have the right consistency when heated. Another point to know, this dish must be served right off the pan. It cannot be made ahead, but it is really no fuss to make and doesn't take long so that is really not a problem.  

Lastly, you are supposed to yell Opa!  when you douse the flames with the lemon juice.

Saganaki (serves one)
(Greek γαρίδες σαγανάκι) 
120 g (4 oz) kefalotyri cheese – cut in a ¾ inch slice
1 teaspoon of flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 oz Ouzo or Metaxa 5 Star Brandy
1 lemon

Preheat frying pan (make sure the pan is not too hot)
Add oil to pan
Coat flour over the cheese
Place cheese in the pan and cook both sides until golden brown (touch the centre of the cheese to ensure it has melted)
Remove from heat. 
Add brandy to pan and light to flambe. Be careful. Hold the pan away from you to avoid singing yourself.
Let the flame burn out and squeeze the lemon on top of the cheese.
Don't forget to yell OPA!

If you want to see a video of someone making this dish go here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Last Vegas - Sin City

For those of you who have never been to Las Vegas the first part of this blog provides some background information and overview to help you appreciate the unique atmosphere and sights in Las Vegas. For others who may have been there but not at the specific attractions you can probably skim over the first bit of the travelogue. We did manage to get in a lot of sightseeing in our few days there - so keep reading - over the next several weeks I plan to cover all the major hotels and sights which we enjoyed so much.

Las Vegas is a resort city which was built for gambling, fine dining, shows and shopping. It is spectacular in that way, perfect for that which it was built and there is much there to keep you busy and entertained. Las Vegas is Spanish for The Meadows, but its knick name is Sin City, because it pushes the boundaries of what is permissible in entertainment. As they say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. It is in the Mojave desert, but apparently in the 1800s there were artisan wells which provided sufficient water to allow a fair bit of greenery to thrive, hence the name “The Meadows”.

The thing that sticks out the most about Las Vegas is its over the top architecture. Everything in Las Vegas is over done and spectacular. 19 of the world's 25 most largest hotels are located in Las Vegas, on “The Strip”. This is a stretch of 4 Miles of roadway upon which the best hotels and attractions are located. There is the older downtown section of town, and I understand this is well worth seeing, but we had no time to do that. In the few days we were there (one day was spent at the Canyon) we did well to do ¾ s of the length of the strip.

We stayed at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and it was very well appointed and decorated in a Tropical Theme.
Our room was on the 21st floor and it featured a floor to ceiling wall of glass which overlooked the pool and the beach.

Yes there was a beach! It was, after all, called Mandalay Bay hotel for a reason. The most notable feature about the hotel was the pool area.

While there were a couple of “ordinary” swimming pools, the best area was the Bay. It reminded me a little of the wave pool at Canada's Paramount Wonderland, in that the pool was designed to mimic a beach with the pool getting gradually deeper from a ground level “sunbathing” side. Except at Mandalay Bay they had trucked in thousands of kilos of beach sand and so it did seem like a beach. There even was a wave which lapped up toward shore to all the bathers delight. The wave (singular) was fairly small and there was just one wave every few minutes not like our Wonderland which is much closer to ocean waves.

The first day was quite warm enough for sunbathing and Barb and I sat out for a couple of hours on a beach chair soaking up the ambiance with a tropical cooler. On the 2nd day, I joined Barb at the Beach after her day at her conference (I had been out seeing the sights all day), and it was quite a bit cooler. However, Canadians were out in their shirtsleeves enjoying the comparatively warmer temps while the lifeguards, waitresses and other locals were in parkas and mitts!

The first night we treated ourselves to a really nice steak meal at one of the nicer restaurants. We got a fixed price meal for, as I recall, $59.00 - which was a reasonable price for one of the better restaurants. It was very nice and a good way to end a busy day of travel and sightseeing.

While our hotel was pretty fine and was extremely well appointed and well decorated throughout, after seeing some of the others, I thought it would be really neat to get to stay at one of the other more interesting ones – and I think Venice would be my hotel of choice, or perhaps Paris as those were more interesting inside. But I get ahead of myself.

New Laptop, Spring Days and Good Company

My cute little new baby!
Still a bit computer challenged, but let me give you an update – nearly back in business!  I bought the cutest little netbook, an LG X110 and am now in the middle of trying to round up and load all the software I need on it and to get all my settings back to what I had.  The good news is that these little net books come pre-loaded with XP, rather than Vista, so you need less memory to get reasonable performance from them.  This is particularly good since the RAM on the little PC is not upgradeable. 

 My new baby has a 10” screen and weighs in at only 3 pounds, so I can schlep it around in purse even if need be.  A perfect little travel machine and I can use it where ever I am.  One reason it is so light is that it does not have a CD drive.  I bought an external CD, which will be just as useful, I seldom use it except to load software and purchased CDs  into the computer, and so won't always need to carry it around with me.  Also, this time I purchased maintenance on the computer from Future Shop where I bought it.  Each of the last several computers I have owned have had component failures and this insurance guarantees me no more computer expenses on this machine for 3 full years and it includes a yearly maintenance and keyboard cleaning!  A good deal I thought.

I have not as yet loaded my office software however it came preloaded with a freeware suite called OpenOffice, which from reviews does a decent job and mimics all the Microsoft products well enough.  I will use the text writer product and upload to my blog when I get back home.   So far it seems close enough feature wise to Word and I am happy.  The keyboard is great – my old one had a few broken keys so it is good not to have to work around that disability any more!

Lunch on a Patio - At Last it is Spring!
Yesterday's weather was wonderful and my friend Yvonne, from work, and I had gone out to a patio for lunch.   We wandered up John St and browsed the string of patios that run north of Adelaide up to Queen.  We chose a nice sunny spot at the new Jack Asters.  It was great to be sitting in the sun eating lunch but the wind of the lake was quite cold, so they had lit up the gas patio heater to provide some warmth.  Yvonne, in a fit of weather optimism, had not worn a coat to work that day (reminds me of my school days), so this was a welcome act.  Lunch was fun as we caught up on stuff – it had been a while since Yvonne and I had been able to find time for a long chat.  

Friday night at GopherBrokeFarm
After work,  I hoofed it up to GopherBrokeFarm as soon as I could sneak away from work.  The drive up was spectacular – no traffic, window down, sun in my face and great jazz music from CBC Radio 2 playing loudly.   Johnny was cooking dinner as I arrived and we spent an easy evening with wine, food and chit chat.

Saturday and Visiting Parents at my Collingwood Shangri-La

Saturday turned out to be a great day also.  After a leisurely breakfast with Barb and John, and checking out their landscaping project in progress I headed up to my Collingwood place to check it out and catch up with my Parents, who arrived back from Florida on Friday.  They are staying at my Collingwood condo until their new Condo being built in Toronto is finished – now targetted for mid September.  This was also the first time I have been up to the place since the skier tenants moved out last weekend – so there was a certain amount of “putting stuff back” in order, as I had put a lot of stuff in my storage locker to make room for my ski season tenants.    Spent the afternoon busily getting the place in shape.

It was a good day, nice to see the folks and reassure myself that they were still in reasonable good heath and soundess of mind, something which folks of my generation with parents still alive deal with a lot.  All was well and they seemed in good  spirits as well.  Took them out to the local Rogers and got them fixed up with all the digital channels they wanted and arranged for a phone hookup.  Dad took us out to dinner – the local Swiss Chalet and we all had a great time.

At the end of the day I decided best to head home to Toronto that evening rather than the morning.  I recalled the last time I spent a night in my house after my parents moved in last fall.  They get up before the birds and they seemed oblivious to the fact that I was sleeping upstairs and were having a long and loud conversation.  My dog Bella, of course wanted to join them and somehow my door would not stay shut.  At 5:00 a.m. I gave up and went down to drink tea and chat with them.  It seemed best to head home on Saturday night and be able to sleep in on Sunday morning, if you call 7:30 a sleep in LOL.

Also, I wrecked my knee a few weeks ago, and while I thought it was healing, I threw it out again this week - and it was bothering me a lot.  So my Saturday night was spent with a heating pad and some tiger balm.  It is a bit better this morning but still somewhat sore.

I have had a lazy morning and now having uploaded the blog of yesterday, posted with yesterday's date, will continue to write Sunday's entry after I get my laundry started.  I am going to continue with my Vegas travel tale.  
I will finish with a picture of my daughter Tegan which I found on her facebook profile.  A lot of her personality shows through in this picture and she sure is turning into a beautiful young lady!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cuba - Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

First a big moan – my computer packed it in and I am now on the hunt for a replacement. I vow to take my time and be more careful about the selection – there was so much I hated about my last one which was bought on whim when I noticed a computer sale at my local Staples! Not this time. I may even venture into apple territory!

But I will hoof it right out and buy a cute, little, cheap net book to serve in the interim. I have been thinking for some time how useful it would be to have a net book which I could literally throw in my purse and take with me up north or on vacation. Though I have my iPhone, the keyboard is too small to do much typing and the screen is not really built to spend a lot of time reading. So today at lunch I will run up to future shop and check out those net books.

So the reason this is published without pictures is because it comes from my iPhone - the blog software can't manage pics.

I have been thinking about the Cuban situation lately – it has been in the news. Also, as mentioned in an earlier blog, I follow a blogger who lives in Cuba - The Cuban Journal is published by quite a prolific Cuban-American blogger by the name of Jorge Gonzalez. He publishes many entries a day –some baseball, some social commentary, but mostly repeats of news items of interest from the US. From this source I have come to appreciate a different perspective from the one which the media presents. From his blogs, I assume he has news sources from within Cuba, relatives, perhaps. It does seem to provide a unique Cuban perspective.

I wrote a while ago about, the Cuban Journal blog titled “Fifty Years of Infamy, which was a first hand account written by Alberto N. Jones. This was a recollection from the time of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, no doubt prompted by the anniversary of the attempted invasion of Cuba by the USA, Apr 15th -20th, , 1961. I don’t really know who this person is, there were no hits on Google, but the blog is a first hand account of those days. I found the blog fascinating, since it provided a quite different viewpoint on the incident, which previously I had not even imagined. Of course now reading the actual history of events from Wiki, it is understandable that the Cubans (and Fidel in particular) should be enraged by the behaviour of the US to bring salvation by way of democracy to the Cuban people. We need to remember that this was in the time of McCarthyism, during which even patriotic US citizens were persecuted, most notably Hollywood movie stars. America was quite active in the politics of other nation in Central and South America and it seemed they were able to justify a lot of unacceptable behaviour in the name of “the American Way”.

Read the Cuban Journal Blog entry on the Bay of Pigs Invasion here.

I have the greatest respect for Cuba, its social system and its leaders. One only has to look at it’s neighbour Haiti to know what conditions might exist in Cuba if it were not for Fidel Castro. When I visited Cuba I found the people to be well educated, happy and friendly. I saw none of the extremes of poverty which exists on the other Caribbean islands. Don’t get me wrong – there is hardship and they do without a lot of goods we take for granted here – for instance toilet paper is handed out in measured pieces in the washrooms.

I must admit, it is a bit odd when the guy handing out the beach chairs has a PHD in Business Administration. When I was in Cuba a few years ago I discovered when I chatted with our beach guy that he used to work in an office in Havana. He gave up his job – he made only 20 pesos a month – because he could make much more from tip money working at a resort. He said that no one starves in Cuba – but no one iscwell off either. I guess every system has its pros and cons. The tourist jobs are very sought after. Anyone who wants to make more than the normal wage needs to either work in a resort or set up some sort of business and it appeared that capitalism exists at least in the tourist retail sector. I imagine elsewhere as well.

Of course, it is not a democracy and its human rights record of the time was much worse than the US. However, neither was a lot of other countries at the time with disreputable governments and Cuba is the only one suffering long term deprivation due to long standing policy in the US. I even wonder, if it were a less unscrupulous man than Fidel who overturned the Batista Government in 1958, one who was not communist, but just self serving (like Duvalier of Haiti who was the Dictator in Haiti from 1957 to 1986) Cuba might be in a much, much worse situation today. A lot has to be said for the integrity of Fidel Castro and his dedication to overall improvements for the people of his country. The good of the many over the good of the one. The Cuban model of socialism (with its benevolent dictator) has seemed to fare much better in the last 50 years than other socialist states such as Soviet Russia and China. Fidel is revered in his country and it is no doubt why.

Yesterday, the Cuban Journal blog included something titled “Reflections by Comrade Fidel – Days that Cannot be Forgotten” which was a reprint of something published by Fidel to the Cuban people just yesterday and in it he comments on the recent change in heart of the US Government. An interesting read as well. You will find "Fidel's Reflections" here.

Back to current events.

Obama’s announcement this week that he was opening the door to Cuba a crack was a welcome and overdue improvement in the world order. However the floodgates are not going to be opening for American vacationers as yet and us Canadians will still have our Cuban paradise minus their overwhelming presence for a while.
From my reading of the information available the key provisions are:
To allow relatives within 3 degrees of family relationship (i.e. 2nd cousins) to send money and visit Cuba without restrictionAllow unrestricted telecom links with CubaTo allow donations of communications equipment to CubaI would commend Obama for his actions and look forward to increased electronic communications with the Cubans as a consequence. I note that at present, the Cuban Journal frequently republishes many of the US Publication news relating to articles of interest to Cubans, I suspect that is because information flow between the two countries have been hampered by the embargo as well.
I look forward to gradual improvements in relationships between the two countries and stand by watching to see it happen,
Mobile Blogging from here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

At Two Ends of the Spectrum

A short blog tonight because I have other things on the cook.

Some Funny Videos:
I love Seinfeld.  It was the funniest show on TV and I watched it religiously.  TV has never been the same for me since it finished, honestly.  My kids and my significant other, at the time, could quote whole episodes.  (The kids also quoted Simpsons a lot also, but that is another story).  I really enjoyed the Soup Nazi episodes.  

You really must check out this Video.  ** Liquid Generation's 100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds (video)  ** I found it when looking for DVD release dates.  Someone has selected the 100 best movie lines in all times and it plays in just 3 minutes.  All the best ones are there.  This will have you chuckling.

Now for a change in mood.

Dr. Randy Pausch - The Last Lecture
Carnegie Mellon hosts a number of You Tube Videos on their site.  There are University Lectures and Guest Lectures, and even a Panel Discussion which was chaired by Obama in July of 2008 - before he was elected, on Economic Competitiveness.  Some of these lectures are presented in a similar vein as the TED lectures  and are very interesting.  

I found the one titled "The Last Lecture" given by Dr. Randy Pausch to be a particularly inspiring video.   At the Carnegie Mellon University each year, a professor is asked to deliver "the last lecture".  Dr. Pausch was asked to deliver the last lecture in Sept 2007.    The Last Lecture Video has been seen by millions.  A DIGG article says it is one of the 100 most iconic videos of all time.  (It is a night for 100 ofs...)  

There is a few notable things about this man and his lecture.  After he gave this lecture he became a minor celebrity and was featured on Time Magazine, and (you can also see that on You Tube).  You see this University Professor knew that he had not much time to live when he gave this lecture as he had an incurable form of cancer.  Yet, the lecture is full of hope, optimism and happiness.  It is well worth sitting back and watching.  It reminds us that no matter how bad the cards we are dealt, the hand is what we make of it.  

 If you want to know more about Randy you can go here to see the April 2008 interview of Diane Sawyer with Randy Pausch.    -  Part 1    -   Part 2    -   Part 3

From all accounts he was an tremendously inspiring and well regarded computer science professor.  From this lecture and information presented about him through the interview wth Diane Sawyer, he had a lot more to offer us all.  It is sad that his life had to end so early.

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the university Sept. 18, 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. In his moving talk, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals.

He died at the age of 47 on July 25, 2008.

Carnegie Mellon professors, alumni, students and friends regularly lecture on a variety of subjects. Check out some of the university lectures  (Or the Obama Lecture) here. For more information on Carnegie Mellon, visit

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter Monday

I must admit I am starting to get impatient to have spring unfold itself a little bit more.  We seem to have gotten ourselves stuck with  -5 or -6 at night and  +6 or +7 high in the daytime.  I need my winter jacket as I walk to work in the early morning and even as I walk home at night, as it cools right down as soon as the sun falls low on the horizon.  What I long for is short sleeves in the daytime and a light jacket at night.  Even warmer would be much nicer, but I promise not to complain one bit about the weather, if I could just put away my winter jacket once and for all!

So it is Monday and for me the end of a normal work day.  For some of you lucky to have the day off, it was Easter Monday.  Never quite understood the significance of Easter Monday, except that it was a holiday for those folks who do not get Remembrance Day off.   

Did a bit of research.  In the East Orthodox Religion it is known Bright Monday or Renewal Monday.  In Poland and parts of the USA it is known as Dyngus Day or Wet Monday.   Actually, everyone used to celebrate all of the following week after Easter Sunday, but I guess we can thank the modern era for no week long religious holidays anymore.  (LOL)   Events include egg rolling competitions and, in predominantly Roman Catholic countries, dousing other people with water - that is holy water.  It has been traditional for the White house to host Egg Rolls.  When I read on Twitter today that the President was at an Easter Egg Roll Opening, I immediately thought Chinese Food.  Boy, was I wrong!  I have posted the pic from the White House site showing the President partaking in the egg rolls.  The map shows countries which have an Easter Monday Holiday.

So I had a full day of work.  Which gets me to the next point of discussion, whether I should start a pool to bet on whether my project at work gets cancelled and if I will be out of work in the next month.  After today's business meeting, I am guessing that it is just as likely that my project will be cancelled.  Well, at least in a month the weather will have for sure improved!

I have been so impressed with the Canada Live Concerts that are played every night on CBC Radio 2 and which can be played "on demand" from their website.   Saturday night they featured a Toronto Fado Artist by the name of Sonia Tavares - Live at Lula Lounge .  The concert was recorded in early March at the Lula Lounge, here in Toronto.  I have spoken in a previous blog about the Portuguese Fado music.  Click here to go to that blog and read more about Fado.   This was a great concert.  It seems I am listening to more and more world music.  Toronto is such a diverse city - we have every culture here and this reflects greatly in the live music which is available to enjoy.   Incidently, you should check out the live music concerts "on demand" at the CBC website - there are some awesome artists available for the listen! 

Happy Easter Monday!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Smorgasborg Sunday

SO annoying when your computer screws up and you find that somehow the blogger software didn't save your work like as it is supposed to do!  Before I try and rewrite the last 30 minutes of creativity let me blow some steam.  

I have this awful habit of being in a rush and hitting the wrong spot in the web browser tab and on more than a few occasions I hit the x rather than the tab and then of course I close the tab rather than go to the tabbed page.  Which would not be bad if it would warn me if I was going to lose data - but it doesn't!   To make matters worse, the blogger software is supposed to auto save your work and I know it does it every several minutes - except for some reason today, because when I went to reopen and continue to edit the blog, it said it had nothing saved since this morning when I started collecting ideas for today's blog.  


OK, so now I start again!  I had started the blog with a comment about how nice it was that it there was still some daylight at 7:15.  It is now 7:55 and there is still a wee bit of light - but not much.   I suppose that is nice, but somehow now the mood has been broken and I am not quite so thrilled.

(By the way, I notice it has now autosaved this draft twice in the last 5 minutes!   what in the hell happened to the last hour's work!!!!!!!!!   I want it back!!!)    

Movie Night - The Unbearable Lightness of Being

As promised a review of this 1988 movie.  It was definitely not a romance.  I would rate it quite highly, well done, thought provoking, but a somewhat tragic and it left me a bit melancholy  (but not as melancholy as losing an hours work does!).  Though, it was not without its lighter moments.   The characters were well acted, quite likeable despite their lack of remorse for their less than moral behaviour (hmm, I guess we are all mostly like that and can justify our way out of things)  and their complexities were well portrayed.   Some great (and real) footage of the Soviet takeover of the Czech Republic in 68 and excellent scenes which conveyed the hopelessness of their situation at the time.  (eh, but what goes around comes around, huh - look at the Soviets now)..  Sorry, just can't get into putting the same mindset for this review the 2nd time around.  I suspect I am a tad more snippy this time.

The Obamas welcome Bo, a six-month old Portuguese water dog and a gift from 
Senator and Mrs. Kennedy to Sasha and Malia.
Glad to hear that the White House is getting its "First Dog".  I wonder how long it will take before Sasha and Malia are delegating the dog walks.  LOL  (speaking as a Mom who has not only animal duties but also paper route duties delegated)

I found this funny bit of Obama news when skimming the blog sites which I subscribe too.  P
Mazel Tov to President Obama. On Thursday evening, he hosted the first-ever Seder for Passover in the White House. A rabbiwho was not scheduled to attend said, “"I'm only sorry that I won't be there to see the president and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel say at the same time, 'Once we were all slaves. Now we are all free.'" More here.

Arr, me hearty, keelhaul dem Buccanneers!!

I have been watching the Pirate Episodes unfold with great interest wondering how long it would take the Americans to get pissed off enough to get out their sharp shooters and take out those nasty guys.  Obama, ever the diplomat, authorized lethal force only if the captain's life was endangered.  (Bush would have had them shoot first and ask questions later.)  Of course it just took time before it got to that because there was no win/win in this scenario.  I was glad to see they got the captain out without harm and not sorry that the scallywags got it good.  Really pissed me off that they would pirate a ship carrying food aid to Africa.  Food Aid To Africa, for God's Sake!!  Like the Mafia shaking down old ladies for their food stamps!   

I say it is high time the world governments got together and took the same attitude towards these African pirates as they have done to other terrorists and rogue nations.

From the Funny Files:

Happy Easter Everyone!

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