Capital wanderings…and books

Summer arrives, and the teacher sighs with relief. And heads for the hills. Heads for the valley actually. The Ottawa Valley, where I grew up.

IMG_0151

 

Yes, they DO actually have summer in Ottawa. Here you see boats going through the Rideau Canal Lock System, beside Parliament Hill and below the Château Laurier. This was taken on one of the few warmest days. There were walks and bike rides with my family, space to think, time to read.

zevin_firky_hcI loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. A.J. Fikry is a thirty-nine year old bookseller who has just lost his wife and his priceless copy of Poe’s Tamerlane. Suddenly bereft of both love and retirement funds, one day he finds a basket in his bookstore. The basket contains a baby, and thus begins the storied part of A.J’s life. Thanks to baby Maya, A.J.reconnects to his Island community and finds love and friendship.

If this sounds hopelessly hokey and maudlin, let me assure you, it’s not. Zevin deftly avoids most of the traps of adoption stories and romance by giving us supporting characters as flawed and loveable as the grumpy bookman himself: Amelia, the charming rubber-boot wearing editor, Lamiase, the local police chief  who becomes a crime-fiction afficionado, and Maya herself, a budding writer. This a book about books and book lovers, and it is full of hope. And we all need that, whatever the season.

leiner-reichlmashup

 

Another novel I whipped through was Ruth Reichl’s novel Delicious. Those of you familiar with foodie publications may remember Reichl as the author of such mouth-watering and compassionate memoirs as Comfort Me With Apples and Tender at the Bone. She was also the Editor-in-Chief of the now defunct Gourmet magazine. Her new novel Delicious puts this past to good use, as it recounts the travails of a young woman named Billie who works at Delicious Magazine just as it is going bankrupt. A cache of letters between a young girl and the great cookbook writer James Beard, a romance, a family tragedy, and scrumptious scenes in an Italian deli are but a few of the pleasures of this novel. In spite of my terrible description, this book has a big heart. I hope readers will see beyond the chick-lit-esque plot and give it a chance.

So…that’s my summer so far. Tomorrow: on Ashtanga yoga, cooking and endings.

Good Books….

Here’s a round-up of some interesting non-fiction I read earlier this “spring” (if that’s what we’re calling the cold grey downpour that was April). A note here, as these are three fairly glowing reviews—I am in NO way affiliated with any of these authors. Just appreciated their books.

IMG_0087

 

The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon Many of you know, and likely salivate while reading Angela Liddon’s beautiful blog www.ohsheglows. And if already you’re a fan of her inventive and delicious Vegan fare, warm, self-deprecating stories, and gorgeous food photography, then you’re in for a treat. Her cookbook glows too…from the nutrient packed, rainbow-colored smoothies section, to the impressive selection of Vegan mains, to the final fabulous dessert section, Angela does NOT disappoint. Everything I’ve tried so far has been scrumptious, and her YOLOS, a vegan interpretation of a popular roll-shaped candy, will convert the most sceptical anti-veg. Highly recommended, for Vegans and Non-Vegans alike.

28 Days Lighter by Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley Ok, forget about the title for a moment–this is NOT a diet book, it’s about the menstrual cycle.  Gentlemen, you may want to go stick your fingers in your ears while singing LALALA for these next paragraphs.

Fitness expert Ellen Barrett and Wellness Coach Kate Hanley have teamed up to provide women with a detailed guide to understanding their menstrual cycle, with tips to make each phase more bearable. The goal here is not so much weight loss, but a deep understanding of the moon cycle that allows women to flow through the month (if you’ll excuse the expression) without bloating, cramping or pre-menstrual mood swings. This understanding is grounded in Western Medicine, but also in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yoga and Ayurveda (Traditional East Indian Medicine).

Some of Barrett and Hanley’s suggestions are wise but very counter-cultural. For example, they recommend NO exercise and additional rest or sleep during the first two days of a woman’s period. The idea here is that the body is already working very hard to shed that uterine lining, and exercise diverts the body’s energy away from that crucial task, creating strain.  (Ashtanga yoginis will be familiar with this theory, as Pattabhi Jois also advocated for a “Ladies’ Holiday” from yoga practice during the first days of the cycle). For the pre-menstrual part of the cycle, which they name the Vixen phase, Barrett and Hanley recommend Solitude, Hydration, and Cardio. Essentially, the authors say that women should find the time to be by themselves and to walk briskly, dance or bike in order to channel energy and preempt irritability.

After implementing a few of their suggestions, and finding that they DO make a real difference in how I feel and react, I can heartily recommend this book. For more information, do check out the authors’ websites www.ellenbarrett.com or www.msmindbody.com

Paris Letters by Janice McLeod Ok, I admit, I am an unabashed fan of re-invention memoirs. (This couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that I am in my mid-thirties, and trying to re-invent myself. Heavens, no! ) And this one is especially fun.

This is the story Janice MacLeod, a Canadian copywriter who has achieved success. At the beginning of the book, she is living in a big American city, working for a large company. She has a nice apartment and financial ease. But she is beginning to feel trapped by her career and her mere two weeks of vacation per year.

One New Year’s, she resolves to write three pages in her journal everyday, and to see what changes result. In so doing, she discovers she wants to travel. Thus begins a money saving blitz during which Janice MacLeod cuts out all frills, becomes Vegan (to avoid the expense of meat) and generally scrimps.  At the end of it, she has saved enough money to go to Europe for a year. While in Paris, she meets and falls in love with a butcher named Christophe. After travelling through more of Europe. Christophe calls her back to Paris. There, Janice starts a business sending subscription water-color illustrated letters about Paris back home to Canada and the United States. She is still making a living by writing, only now, she writes about what she loves, on her own hours, in a truly enchanting setting.

What sets this book apart from the traditional re-invention memoir is MacLeod’s refreshing frankness. She tells us what she had to give up to save money, including a whole list of saving tips at the end of the book. She is also careful to point out that challenges constantly come up, even in her new life : MacLeod struggles to learn French. All of which makes for a very pragmatic, but still quite inspiring book. Do check out her continued adventures in Paris at: www.janicemacleod.com

Signs of Spring…

Um, until today, there were none. On Wednesday it was still -9 here in Toronto, with a snow squall warning in effect until midnight. (Snow squall? What it is, January in the North Atlantic? Aaarrrrgg. End of weather rant.)

But here’s what giving me hope this week:

IMG_0083 Purple and yellow tulips from a thoughtful friend.

IMG_0087

Good books…more on them very soon!

And THIS video by genius French singer Corneille. I dare you not to feel happy after hearing this one! Have a great week, everyone…

 

 

Learning to trust myself

March. Suddenly the sun, after months of absence, has taken on that lemony clear quality of light that foretells the coming of spring. It was pouring through the window after morning practice last Friday as I was hanging out in a Junction coffee shop, drinking tea and chatting with my favourite yoga friends. And it made me feel blessed. Blessed, and a bit reflective.

You see, these friends have known me throughout the whole shift. Sometimes growth is slow to happen, but then it happens all at once. I’ve come a long way in five years.

Five years ago, my life began to shift, slowly at first, then very fast, as I went through yoga teacher training, got separated, moved, got divorced and kept growing.

Back then I was doing a lot of cardio and weight training. Now I practice Ashtanga yoga six times per week, strength train a few times a week, and run…occasionally. I teach and learn more about yoga whenever I can.

Back then I ate fruit and processed cereal for breakfast everyday before I drank my heavily sweetened cup of coffee. Now I still eat fruit, and occasionally homemade granola, and drink green tea.

Back then I went to bed late, and tortured myself with negativity. I really hated myself. I thought I was terrible at everything: teaching, being a wife, staying thin. Now, I’m careful about rest. I acknowledge my faults—temper, sweet tooth, tendency towards melodrama—but I don’t hate myself anymore. I love my body and all that it does for me—how it supports me in headstands, lets me play tag with my students, teach, write poetry and just be. I accept that I am me, and I am learning.

Not that my war with myself has completely ended. You see, last November, I was working, practicing and teaching yoga, and running four times per week. My hip flexors hurt all the time. My body felt heavy. And then I fell ill.

Like, really ill. I had pneumonia in both lungs and had to be off work. I couldn’t practice or run. Midway through the first course of antibiotics, I felt no better. Luckily my doctor found another antibiotic.

Then I was well again, but so frail, and my doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to run for a while. But I could do yoga.

Somewhere deep inside my brain, my thin-alarm went off. “What if I gain weight because I’m not running?” So got a little obsessive about strength training, on top of yoga. But then the gains I was making in my practice started to disappear, and I realized something.

I’m enough.

My practice is enough. If I really commit to yoga, and walk like I normally do, I’ll be fine.

I believe it was Goethe who said: “Trust yourself, and you will know how to live.”

I’m still learning how to do that.

My blog

Here, without further ado, is my blog…A space to record my thoughts on what I’m reading, yoga poses I’m struggling with, the general mayhem of teaching middle school or random yummy recipes. Your patience is appreciated, as I figure out this scary new world of uploads and coding! Comments are welcome, but please be kind 🙂