April 25, 2018

Washington DC, Pretty In Spring Blossoms

As I was marching through the 3rd floor of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery to the 20th-Century Americans to see the Amy Sherald painting of Michele Obama, a lovely young lady, wearing an embroidered kimono-like costume, slowly approached me with the question, "May I give you the gift of song?". Usually, I don't like stopping at people offering me products or asking me to participate in something, but this time everything seemed different – I was in a gallery, I heard the words gift and song and in my mind they sounded so beautiful and romantic that without much thinking, not knowing what to expect, I replied "Yes! I would love to have the gift of song."
Next, the pretty lady, obviously a singer, invited me with a slow but sure gesture to follow her to the Great Hall of the gallery and sit on the chair positioned in the middle of one side of the space. She moved about 7 feet away from me, turned around to face me, looked straight into my eyes, took a deep breath and following the short piano introduction, began to sing. Her wonderful soprano voice like a sea wave approaching a sandy shore filled the entire hall. She was singing in German, which I don't understand, but it didn't matter to me because the lyrical, slow moving melody, familiar to me, had quickly reached my sitting body and wrapped it in a warm, long, caring hug.
I have always had this 'strange' relationship with music, when very often classical pieces and few songs, with their melodic, harmonic modulations, play with my body by sending tingles down my spine, bringing a lump to my throat and making my eyes brim with tears. I can't explain this game. I know, it doesn't have anything to do with personal memories and association with events. It is uncontrollable and at times can be very uncomfortable. It just happens and it was going to happen again, I was sure.
However, this time I didn't let it go to that extent. In other words, I somehow managed not to cry despite the sensations. I was fully present and completely aware of my emotions and my surrounding. I didn't think, so I didn't judge, but I FELT. In a matter of the song's first line, the melody, the light, the singer, the energy of the gallery, the air in the hall, the breathing of others, every fibre of my being merged into an unbounded eternity. Every single thing become one with the totality of the experience. I was seeing only the singer, but was sensing the whole universe. There was no space or time anymore. I was there, but I was also in another dimension. One that I believe is called ONENESS – known within the heart and felt in the soul. It was special. It was moving. And intimate. And unforgettable. And powerful. And blissful.... And so many other wonderful and unexplainable things, all at once.
It was the gift of song.
It was the gift of Art.
It was Washington in the S P R I N G.

I later learned that in honour of its 50th Anniversary, the National Portrait Gallery during the month of April (from April 5 to 29) is presenting "IDENTITY" series, SONIC BLOSSOM – a critically acclaimed participatory performance artwork by New York- and Paris-based artist Lee Mingwei, in which the audience becomes part of and engages in the creative process. It is about triggering and representing relationships, connections, trust and willingness to share experience with strangers at a specific place, a specific time. When Lee was a child, his mother would play lieder by Franz Schubert at a low volume teaching him how to be still and quiet in order to be able to hear the music. Later, when he took care of her while she was recovering from heart surgery, he played Schubert's lieder for her and they both found great beauty and comfort in his music. This is the first time Lee's work is presented in Washington, DC during the Cherry Blossom season (and without any planning, just with the power of life's everyday magic, I happened to be there).
I am extremely grateful to singer Molly Pinson Simoneau for choosing me on the opening day of the performance and giving me the most beautiful in my opinion Schubert's lied as a precious, unforgettable gift.
You can read more about Sonic Blossom here and here

April 3, 2018

Step into Springtime

"Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of  ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don't keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I took down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and coreopsis with the greatest respect... 
Teach children. We don't matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones – inkberry, lamb's-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones – rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms." 

Attention is the beginning of devotion."
                                                                                                                                                        Mary Oliver, Upstream      

Spring is on its way...
I am happy and ready to cross a threshold from a world of dull brown and stiff grey to the loveliness of soft greens, joyous yellows and deep blues that herald the fresh new season.
Everything smells
like endless hope and anticipation,
like childhood memories,
like morning dew and wet soil,
like awakening...
I finally feel at home in my own skin; at home on the face of the earth...
I feel this pleasant lightness and new clearness that make it easier for me to breathe and actually see.
Like a miniature imperfect blossom, my soul is arising from hibernation, furtively opening itself once again to the universal love of the world. Loving the world requires attention. Because – paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight; the only thing that can heal the heart; the only thing that makes us see life's simple, yet amazing gifts.

Wishing you a splendid springtime. 

Botanical eggs, my son and I coloured for Easter with yellow onion skin, blueberries, turmeric and blossoms. 
Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake recipe (with a few changes) from Live Well Bake Often 

March 16, 2018

Sugar Shack at Sugar Beach

The best thing about March in Canada is that it's Maple Season. It is that sticky time of the year again when sugar shacks open their doors for all of us to see how maple sap is tapped from trees and then boiled down to the purest, golden, maple syrup. We can also enjoy simple sugar shack food from pancakes, sausages and baked beans cooked in a wood-fired oven to the most important one of all, the quintessential Canadian sweet – Maple Taffy. On snow. 
For all of you who are not familiar with this dessert, it is basically a sugar candy that is made by boiling maple sap poured over fresh snow and rolled onto a stick. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? 
Traditionally, sugar shacks are found in the country, amidst the sugar bush. However, there are winter festivals during the maple season that create an urban sugar shack experience for big city dwellers.   
This past weekend, Toronto's waterfront got a big dose of sticky sweetness from the 3rd annual Sugar Shack TO. Yes, you read that correctly – maple syrup at Sugar Shack at Sugar Beach at Toronto's waterfront.
How much more sugar-sweet can it get? 
Torontonians were melting away the winter blues while were celebrating all things maple
live music, 
traditional sugar shack treats,
organic food, 
hot mulled cider,
ice carving sculptures,
maple sugaring demonstrations, 
and much more.

Design by Alexandra Tanner

For those living in the city, I highly suggest putting the Sugar Shack TO Festival on your calendar for March next year.
If you are willing to get out of the city, there are many operating Sugar Shacks and Maple Syrup Festivals around the Greater Toronto Area for you and your kids to enjoy as well:

Maple Syrup Festival at Bronte Creek Park
1219 Burloak Drive
Oakville, Ontario
L6M 4J7

Maple Town at Conservation Halton
2259 Milburough Line
Campbellville, Ontario
L0P 1B0

Sweet Water Season at Crawford Lake
3115 Conservation Road,
Milton, Ontario
L9T 2X3

Maple Syrup Festival at Horton Tree Farms
14844 Warden Avenue
Stouffville, Ontario
L4A 4M8

Maple Sugar Festival at Brooks Farms
122 Ashworth Road,
Mount Albert
L0G 1M0

Maple Syrup Festival at Westfield Heritage Village
1049 Kirkwall Road,
Rockton, Ontario
L0R 1X0

Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival at Toronto and Area Conservation
March 10 – April 8, 2018, various locations

February 4, 2018

The Real Life

N E W  Y E A R ' S  E V E 
After a wonderful Christmas loaded with quiet times, good food, old movies and thoughtful gifts, my family welcomed the new year surrounded by friends and the frigid beauty of one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the country, Niagara Falls. On the last day of 2017, bundling up in layers of sweaters, we bravely walked along the ice-coated Horseshoes Falls while the temperatures were quickly dipping well below freezing. Nothing could ever compare to the fairy tale scene of pristine white snow enveloping everything in a fragile blanket, long crystal icicles hanging like stalactites on rocks and railings, and the colourless flow of rushing water descending swiftly into the river in a magical thick cloud of mist...
What a marvel it was! What an uplifting and hopeful celebration of the crossover from the old year to the new one we had!

J A N U A R Y 
And then came January with its agonizing unhurried pace. It was throwing bad news – one after another – into the lightless, cold first days of 2018. Little ups and huge downs – the new year has been a scary roller coaster. I have experienced some of the most terrifying and debilitating hours of my life when my beating heart was ripped from my seemingly soulless body and my anxious mind felt lost and deserted like a ghost town... There were mornings stuffed with pessimism, anger and resentment. Layers of inner pain and uncertainty, so uncomfortable, challenging and deep, paralyzed the core of my being. You thought you had already grown wise, strong and fearless, but when it came to the well being of loved ones, life took you by surprise and threw you unprepared, emotionally raw and unarmored into the rough wave of the latest ferocious storm (or at least it was the way it seemed at the beginning).

T H E  R E A L I T Y
And then the basic truth has begun to appear from within. L i f e  i s  h a r d. Life is not always fair. Life involves a certain amount of hardship and suffering.  Life does not always work the way we would like it to and often we have no control over many things that happen to us. However, when hard times hit, we have an important choice to make – either let the situation define us, let it destroy us or let it strengthen us. What I know for sure is that one of the main differences between those who live their lives to their fullest potential and those who let life happen to them can be found in their choice of how to handle adversity: whether they allow themselves to be crushed, to give up, and to feel sorry for themselves or choose acceptance, face the fear, look for a source of strength within them (it is always there), and turn the negative experience into a positive one as a means of transformation and growth.      
If there is one single lesson I would like our son to learn from his parents, it would be in the words of the wise Eppie Ledere, better known by the pen name Ann Lander; something I read years ago, wrote it down on paper and hung it on the refrigerator for encouragement and a clear-eyed perspective: 
"If I were asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye, and say, "I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me."  
(Later I found that she also said: "I would rather have my column on a thousand refrigerator doors than win a Pulitzer." Isn't it the most refreshing perspective on success?!)

Once we accept the fact that life can be "wild, hard and sweet" as well as "wild, hard and cruel', we begin to grow by recognizing that every difficulty is also an opportunity and a learning experience. It is then that we dig down and discover what we are made of. It is then that we find a means to transform negative events into positive ones, wounds into wisdom. In her book "Broken Open", Elizabeth Lesser is convinced that "Suffering and crisis transform us, humble us, and bring out what matters most to us."
And just like that, my word for 2018 came to me. During a month of convoluted and unstructured thoughts on a new year, a challenging month with snow and lots of cold (figuratively and literally), this word has been coming back to me.
It does not matter what kind of experience we have had, it is of no consequence. What kind of transformation the experience brings is what matters in life. We cannot destroy anything, dissolve it, or make it disappear. We can only transform it.
Resistance into Acceptance. 
Negative thoughts into Positive Affirmations.
Worries into Present Moments. 
Pain into Inner Search. 
Fear into Actions. 
Tension into Listening. 
Overgeneralized Statements into Concrete Statements. 
Emotional Reasoning into Rational Responses.
Prejudice into Knowledge.
Complaining into Gratitude.
"I used to see a butterfly in my mind's eye every time I hear the word transformation," wrote Cheryl Strayed in her book "Brave Enough". I did it too, Cheryl. I did it, too. "But life has schooled me", she continued. "Transformation isn't a butterfly. It's the thing before you get to be a pretty bug flying away. It's huddling in the dark cocoon and then pushing your way out. It's the messy work of  making sense of your fortunes and misfortunes, desires and doubts, hang-ups and sorrows, actions and accidents, mistakes and successes, so you can go on and become the person you must next become." 

I asked myself out loud:
Sylvia, will you be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed? 

I found my body the other day on one of the swings in the empty park. I was pushing it hard forwards and backwards through the winter air. The old snow was glistering while the timid sun was trying to rip the clouds off. Pumping my legs, I was gaining height and the world was spinning around me...
Forward – breathing in. Back – breathing out. I leaned my head back and then I remembered how fortunate I was to be breathing... what a richness to my life my family and friends were... how strong my faith in the goodness of life was...
This shall pass.
Everything passes.
Life is hard, but life is also g l o r i o u s. Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a dark tiny tunnel and the light at the end seems unreachable. Nevertheless, we do come out the other side drained, yet transformed to better daughters, better sons, better mothers, better partners, better friends, better Humans... and before we know it, we will have slid over this rough wave and we will ride again onto the next one.

(Chestnut Bundt Cake with Chocolate Chunks, recipe by the inspiring Mimi Thorisson of Manger)

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