Monday, May 26, 2008

On Hands

I have always noticed hands. I tend to form my opinions of people based on their hands before any other aspect of their appearances. People's hands tell very honest stories of who they are and what they do if you look closely at the posture, skin and nails.

I've always been proud of my hands. I love the shape of my fingers and wrists, and my nails that look long even when cut short. They have often given me problems--I tend to carry a lot of tension in my wrists and hands, particularly when I'm playing instruments and typing, and as a result I've had problems with RSIs and inflammatory arthritis off and on since jr. high.

I remember being ashamed of my hands for the only time in my life when I was working part time at the book bindery. My hands became covered in cuts and scratches, callouses, and scars. They were often so dirty that I couldn't scrub them clean no matter how hard I tried. Not that I'm ashamed of working with my hands, per se, but it was like a visual marker of work that I forced to do because of the challenging circumstances of my life at the time.

I enjoy looking at the hands of people who work hard building or creating things. There is a long line of carpenters in my family, a trade that routinely leaves fingers scarred and damaged. There are many trades that leave the legacy of all the things built on the hands of people who built them.

The delicate callouses particular to musicians are unique and interesting. They are accompanied by finely honed technique and skill, and a sensitivity of touch special to each instrument. They can be worn with pride, and they are symbols of years of dedication and hard work.

I remember my Grandma Bert's hands vividly. Her skin was so fine that it was almost transparent, and even the slightest bump would leave her with horrible dark bruises. You could see her veins and the small brown sun spots that covered them from too many years of gardening without sunscreen. She had long fingers like me with deeply ridged nails and tendons that stood out across her knuckles. There is no surer sign of an aging body to me than hands that have lost the ability to hold, write and express.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Food

Something I think about a lot: food and eating. I've had issues with my stomach since I was 11. It usually manifested as debilitating pain under my solar plexus shortly after eating, which led me to eat considerably less to avoid the pain. This problem persisted pretty much steadily until I was about 20, when it just sort of cleared up. It has returned a few times since then, when I've been particularly stressed. I have undergone every test that exists to no avail, and I think that it's actually caused by eating after not eating for a long period because I generally notice that it returns when I eat a big meal after skipping 1-2 meals prior because I'm too busy to eat.

So, one of my favourite columnists/bloggers is Mark Bittman from the NY times. He does the Minimalist column/video and a blog called Bitten. A few days ago I watched a 20-min video of a conference presentation that he gave about meat consumption in the US that was interesting. The slides left a lot to be desired, but I really like his style. It reminded me of the life- and diet-changing article that I read last year about "real food" and vitamins--that I searched and searched for but couldn't find. The whole premise of the article is that there's no proof that our bodies are able to do anything with vitamins when they are not ingested as food, thus it is much better to eat food that doesn't have ingredients because it is an ingredient.

Bittman makes a comment in this video about how, prior to the mid-20thC, there were no "philosophies of eating;" people just ate food. It was the food that could be grown and raised locally and it was prepared according to traditional practices. I've never liked to think of myself as having a philosophy of eating, because it inevitably leads me to overanalyse what I eat, which then leads to eating paralysis--and I end up not eating until I have so little energy that I can't get out of bed. However, I think that this article I read last year helped me to create a philosophy of eating that is mostly unconscious. It's taken time to change my tastes, but the impact on my health has been undeniable.

When I eat food that is primarily ingredients (starting from raw vegetables, whole grains, fresh herbs, good quality oil, locally raised meat--if any at all) I feel really good. Not only do I have more energy, but I don't get indigestion or bloating any more. I rarely have the desire to eat processed foods, and the only times that I find myself getting the eating paralysis is when I eat several meals in a row of food that I haven't prepared for myself. I start panicking about what I might have ingested or what nutritional value I might have missed out on, and then I have a difficult time eating anything at all. I still don't really have any control over this aspect of my behaviour, but improving my eating habits has made it crop up less often. I also feel better from an ethical standpoint because eating this way produces considerably less waste.

The part of this new eating and cooking experience that makes it most like a philosophy (I think) is that I'm hyperconscious all the time of the nutritional content of my food. Because I don't believe in taking vitamin supplements, it's really important to me that I'm getting a balanced diet--and I'm literally terrified of consuming empty calories (although I still do it from time to time because desert is delicious). I try to get the most nutritional content out of each calorie that I eat, and this is good and bad. My cooking doesn't taste as good as it used to, although I'm learning techniques to improve the flavour and also add nutritional value. One of my favourite pleasures is eating really, really good food... and I'm baffled by how easy it is for me to eat my own cooking without exceptional flavours. That said, my cooking isn't bland--it just uses next to no salt, only just enough fat, and only whatever sauces come from cooking the veggies or meat and deglazing. I do season heavily with fresh herbs and aromatic things like onion, garlic, and ginger.

The summary: My philosophy of eating is to eat real food that doesn't have ingredients because it is an ingredient, and to maximise the nutritional bang for each bite through eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains with meat occasionally thrown in.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Pure Entertainment

Easily one of the most entertaining things I've seen on tv in years, this clip captivated me last night. From Season 4 of So You Think You Can Dance. It goes and goes, and gets better and better right to the end!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


... is one of the great joys of my day. I know that everything is going well in my life when I am consistently able to make and eat a healthy, satisfying breakfast each day. For the last 6 or 7 months my breakfast of choice has been 2 eggs (basted), and apple (gala, chopped), a cup of tea with milk and sugar, and sometimes cinnamon-raisin toast with peanut butter or nutella and/or a fried tomato. It depends on how hungry I am and how long I have to go before lunch.

My old favourite breakfast was balkan-style yogurt with cheerios and blueberries, but now I can't digest the lactose any more so I had to say goodbye to yogurt. I have also gone on french toast and pancake kicks here and there. Coffee and pancakes with fruit salad is such a satisfying breakfast on a Sunday morning.

I've thought a lot about the rituals in my life, because I've never really made a conscious or spiritual effort to include any in my day. I've discovered that there are some rituals that I rely on for structure, without which I feel quite lost. Breakfast is one of them: I start by putting on the kettle for my tea, then heating some oil in the frying pan. When the oil is just the right consistency, I carefully crack in the eggs (if the yolks break I don't enjoy them as much) and add the tomato. I pour the water over my tea and chop the apple. When it's all ready, I read the news and check in on my favourite blogs while I eat. I will forsake all other parts of my morning preparations to make time to have breakfast. It just always gets me started on the right track for the day--giving my body and my mind fuel to tackle the day's challenges.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Great Graffiti Hunt

On Saturday I evening I walked down across the high level bridge and around Garneau for a couple of hours, photographing as much stencil art and graffiti as I could find. Anyone who has spent time in downtown Edmonton or Old Strathcona will recognise these pop art images, found on dumpsters, walls, transformer boxes, and various other common surfaces. Most of my favourite images from summers past have been painted over now, but it's startling the impact they have left behind.

The famous stencil image of the bird and the words "listen" have been transformed by many new artists in hand-drawn renditions, paper appliques of various sizes, and all sorts of parodies. Sadly, I could only find one of the original stencils of this image on my hunt, but there were a variety of new images. I particularly like the "I spent my $400 on spray paint" reference to the Klein government "dividend" payments.

Check out this awesome video that Chloe shared on Facebook. It's a graffiti short film, and it's incredibly impressive.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hola from Edmonton

I'm home safe, and getting settled in. Thankfully, the warm weather has followed me home and spring is going strong. My flights were hassle-free and early, both. My hair is cut and styled, and I'm feeling quite good. Missing my DC friends already, of course, but keeping busy to distract myself.

One of my goals with this return is to attempt to look at Edmonton through new eyes. My feelings about it while in DC were largely that it's isolated and sort of barren (having left from living downtown in winter). Yesterday morning I walked down to the legislative grounds to begin my exploration, and I wandering among the budding trees soaking in the warm sun. It is interesting that the legislative building, which seemed so big to me as a child, is literally dwarfed by most buildings in DC. However, it's beautiful and you can walk right up the front steps and go inside unbothered.

Spring here feels a little more special than anywhere else I've been because it lasts for such a short time. In just a few weeks summer will be fully upon us, and the trees have only just begun to turn green. I plan to enjoy every moment of it.

This morning I'm planning on going for a walk in Goldbar Park. This is where we scattered my Grandpa's ashes, and I have fond memories of it as a child.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Last Day

I had a great last day in DC today. I spent the morning and early afternoon packing and cleaning and playing fiddle. Then I went downtown, had coffee with a friend, and wandered the mall contemplatively for an hour or so. Even filled with tourists, it's a beautiful park. Everything is so green and lush.

This evening the interns held a going-away party for me. It was a wonderful distraction from my imminent departure. There was good food, conversation and much music and merriment. They printed up a lovely photo of us all together, and presented it to me along with a copy of Rocky Horror Picture Show (that one's an inside joke). It's been such a pleasure to get to know them all, and I really hope that I get the chance to come back and spend more time with them.

Now it's late and I must attempt to sleep so that I'm somewhat alert for my flight home tomorrow. It would be a shame to miss my connecting flight by 2 hours or something due to sleepiness...

The next post will be from Canada!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Going Away

Friday night was my farewell party. We held it at J's new house (suitably unpacked) and received a good showing of great friends and lots of good food. A highlight for me was christening the new house with some singing, powerful and heartfelt as always. Later I played fiddle with N and E, my first time playing with other people. We played "Dying Californian," and I was quite pleased with how it sounded. All around, a wonderful evening.

On Saturday K and I saw the Maps exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. It was incredible. I have always had a fascination with maps (I'm surprised that I've never really been one of those people who feels driven to travel). I would paper my walls with maps if I could. It was really interesting to see, contrasted, all the different ways of representing the world around us.

Later in the evening we met up with N&J for some Wii action. I love it! As it turns out, I'm pretty good at bowling, I suck at tennis, and I kick butt at boxing. I think my boxing skill comes from my willingness to flail about wildly, and my back and shoulders are still regretting it today.

On Sunday I went for brunch and then saw Iron Man with K&K. What a fun movie! I don't think I've even been fully disappointed by a comic book movie (I even like Silver Surfer), but this one was better than most. Yay for gratuitous flamethrowing and wild explosions!


I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to have this characteristic. Usually I can tell it when I see it, because it throws me off guard and makes me a little uncomfortable. I have recently been described this way, thanks to K's fanTAStic photos (see them all here). If I have intensity, I think it comes from my ability to focus, whether on my work or music or people. These photos certainly make me a little uncomfortable, yet I can't seem to stop looking at them.

I have to say, Flickr has changed the way I think of images on the Internet. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get hooked on it! I can just spend hours looking through people's photos. I've decided that my favourites are of people, especially good profiles and ones with really saturated colour.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Last night I went out for very tasty Chinese food with Niya and Auntie, and it was a wonderful evening. N complains about Auntie's nagging behind her back, but she does it just as well. To spend time around the loving bickering was exactly what I needed yesterday, plus I finally got to meet Gopi after hearing soooo much about her! It was a lovely evening.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


It has been an eventful few days here. On Thursday I took the usual trip out to Baltimore for singing, then stayed over with K&K for the night. On Friday morning I did a little work, then played Debussy and Bach for several hours. We went downtown for Flower Mart and lunch, then K and I ran errands and walked in a bigbig park. Flower Mart was interesting... there were not a great lot of flowers, but there was a hat competition. Baltimore is such a great city! The streets are paved with cement that has coloured glass bits in it.

On Saturday we went out to Boyce, VA for the monthly Northern Shenandoah Valley singing, then back to the Del Res' for visiting and more singing. The evening was filled with tearful goodbyes, but hopefully I will be back soon to visit.

Sunday was moving day. J's new house is awesome! It's in Greenbelt, a co-op community on the outskirts of DC, and it's so treefilled and friendly and relaxed. I'm very happy for her, and even though the commute is long and expensive, I'm glad to be living here with her for the end of my stay.

I go home a week from tomorrow. It's exciting and sad at the same time...

Thursday, May 1, 2008


... or "shooping" as the very nerdy say, is addictive. I'm learning all sorts of new techniques, and while I still can't convincingly turn an overweight lingerie model into a skinny one like in the infamous video, I have figured out how to do just about anything I want to so far.

I've started a Flickr page for showing some of my experiments. Not much there now, but soon... soon.