Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The healing power of muscari...

Hi everyone!

I hope your week is going well!  I am busy here, both house-wise and work-wise.  I am about to undertake a small consulting job, which I am quite looking forward to.

I have not really decorated for Easter, though if truth be told, it is a pretty quick affair, as I don't put much out.

However, I did steal an idea from the wonderful blog An Anglo in Quebec, and filled a soup tureen with muscari, or grape hyacinth.  Donna got her flowers at the grocery store, I found mine at the local hardware store and they have cheered my up considerably, especially since - not a word of lie - it snowed all morning again.  I feel like I am in an endless loop of the winter in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers....

My handiwork:

Honestly, just seeing the muscari in my little sitting room is making me giddy, given how long it will likely be before I even see a crocus blossom!

And if I had planned well enough, I could have bought Barry the matching tie:


They got me all dreamy about fields of them...

River of Muscari at the Keukenhof. Also beautiful with yellows of daffodills.

Dreaming of violet-blue Muscari and the scent of sweet Phlox and Daphne x burkwoodii in May.

Spring garden ~ so ready for some pretty flowers!! Come on Spring time!!!

I think tomorrow I am going to steal Donna's idea for store bought hydrangeas....

I have never used my tureen for anything but soup, but that is all changing now...

How about you?  Are you all decorated for Easter?  Or are you celebrating Passover?  I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Arianna Huffington's Thrive

I must admit that I am a huge fan of Arianna Huffington.  I like a smart woman and she certainly fits in that category and I like a trailblazer, and she certainly fits into that category as well.

A few weeks ago I caught an interview with her about how out of whack her life had gotten a few years ago.

Arianna Huffington, Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life

It had gotten so bad that she actually fainted (and cut her head on the way down) from sheer exhaustion, prompting her to step back and make some major changes in her life.

The result is her new book Thrive, which is a nice bookend to the book I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Greg Marcus' Busting Your Corporate Idol.

Both books point to the need to create and celebrate a third metric for defining success in one's life, one that is different, though complementary, to the current societal definitions of success: power and money.  In fact, she likens success to a three-legged stool.  If we only have power or money, the stool will eventually topple over, because we will be missing our health, our spirituality and our sense of community.

Huffington divides the third metric into four pillars and discusses each in depth in the book:

  • well-being
  • wisdom
  • wonder
  • giving back

For those working long hours and who will continue to work long hours, this book is a must, as like Marcus' book, it offers practical advice to help add balance into one's life.  

The book is well written and thoughtful, and cites a myriad of research to back up her arguments.

Huffington spends a tremendous amount of the book discussing the need for sleep and critiquing the current cultural obsession within the workplace of bragging about how little sleep one gets or needs. 

The impact that lack of sleep has on one's health and one's decision-making ability is discussed at length and it should give anyone pause.

What the book really is, however, is a call to action, especially for women.  Huffington argues that the current work world simply isn't working and that it is up to us all collectively to define a new way of working that is more humane.  In a recent interview with Time magazine, Huffington discusses this:

There are lots of new books with advice for young women. How do you think young women should navigate that push and pull between starting a family and ramping up their careers?

I think a lot of young women look at my generation and say we don’t want to do it this way. They say, ‘we don’t want to burn out in the process of climbing the career ladder. We don’t want to make those sacrifices in our health and happiness. They’re prioritizing giving.’ But I have a bigger dream and wish for all women where we lead a third women’s revolution. We don’t just want to be at the top of the world, we want to change the world because it’s not working. I think it’s a stunning statistic, that women in stressful jobs have 40% increased risk of heart disease.

I think you will see the leadership for implementing this third metric begin in smaller companies and in the private sector in general, who often better understand the connection between healthy happy employees and profits and who are more likely to buy in when they see the success of other companies adopting these practices.

I also think you will see it in younger people who, as Huffington notes above, having seen their parents tied to the workplace 24-7, are choosing more and more to eschew promotions in favour of a life that allows them to go home at the end of the day without responding to email all evening or reading and writing reports.

My experience in the public sector was that there is lip-service paid to wellness programs, but the combination of workplace attrition and the pressure to produce results in short periods of time makes balance nearly impossible.  

For myself personally, the section that really spoke to me was wisdom.  During my career, I would see experienced workers retire or be replaced by younger employees, who were under tremendous pressure to produce results and advice.  Bosses would expect information to be pulled together rapidly - wasn't it all available online anyway? - and synthesized into quality results within hours.

But reading data, and having the experience to understand that the data might not tell the whole story are two different things.  I saw more and more bad decision-making, typically the result of rushed or flawed logic.  We have become instantaneous workplaces and just because we have information does not make us masters of it.  I think as more individuals retire we will see an increase in these bad decisions for awhile, not because the younger people are not as smart as their retiring counterparts, but because they will face increasing pressures from their CEOs to provide instant advice.

She also talks about digital detoxes and i think I may increase my time away from the computer, as my friend Naomi has recently decided.

I really recommend this book, and I also recommend checking out the third metric section on Huffington Post

As I said when I reviewed Greg's book, had I read this or Huffington's book, I might have implemented some changes that would have averted burn out and one of those things I would have implemented was saying no.

Have a great Tuesday and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is the internet impacting our ability to read books?

Hi everyone - hope you had fabulous weekend!  We went to see Captain America on Friday afternoon, cooked and cleaned yesterday and had our good friends Ben and Geraldine over for supper last night.

Today will be a quiet day: a walk I hope if the weather holds, some more spring cleaning, revisions on my book.

And reading.

One of the greatest joys of my new life has been the luxury (and yes, for those of you who are working so hard, I am well aware it is a luxury!) of reading for pleasure again.

For the past ten years, I was working so hard that I really only had time to read work-related material and email (ack!); I was lucky if I was able to find time to get through 10 books a year.

When I started to read again for pleasure, I discovered that it was a muscle that had atrophied; I struggled to stay focused on what I was reading and not get up and run around and do ten other things.  I also felt guilty when I read, as if it was some naughty pleasure that had to be justified because I was always so behind in my work reading.  And not only that, I found I was so used to flitting around online that it seemed difficult to read linear text.

I'm not alone.

I read with interest an article in the Sydney Morning Herald: How the internet is making it harder to read books.

It turns out that our online world is impacting our brains' ability to read deeply.

The skimming and skipping about of digital reading is making it more difficult to read traditionally, despite evidence that demonstrates that we learn and retain more from reading materials in print, not online.

There is great alarm that if we do not help children to master both types of reading - online and traditional - we may create a generation of people who are in many ways incapable of wrapping their brains around complex text, creating what the article calls "twitter brains".

Attention Spans are declining - titles count

Instead, strategies need to be developed to help people have "bi-literate brains".

This is intriguing to me.  My daughter is an English literature major at university; though she is online constantly, she has developed the ability to read dense 18th and 19th century literature, although she concedes that is often easier to do if she is in a room without a computer calling to her (which, by the way, is no different than how the TV or local pub used to call my name when I was at university!).

My son, on the other hand, struggles with this.  He likes to read, but reads less and less unless he is really sucked into the story (and when he is he can get through some pretty dense stuff such as Tolkien).  My advice to him would be to read  5 pages a day of traditional text, to not let the muscle atrophy any further.

I recently read that Egmont Press has apparently abridged Winnie the Pooh for its story app in order to make it more action-oriented and shorter for today's children who don't have the attention span to get through the classic.

The story of Winnie-the-Pooh has been abridged for a new app because today's children have shorter attention spans

What would Pooh say to this?  "Oh Bother!"

This is an interesting topic and it has certainly given me food for thought.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this.

Are you seeing the effects of the online world in your ability to read and concentrate?

Are you seeing it with your children?

If yes, how are you combating it?

Have a great Sunday and stay safe out there!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My Latest Style Inspiration - Jessica Goranson

It began with the January/February 2013 issue of the online magazine Lonny.

I came across a story featuring the New York rental apartment of one delightful Jessica Goranson, then unknown to me, who was living in NYC on a short term basis.

Every picture was like a revelation to me.  I LOVED her decorating style.  This was definitely not for minimalists, but for those who espouse the more is more philosophy (like Ines' sister, Wendy), it was glorious!
These images courtesy of Lonny
love the styling of this mantle!
I actually have a similar tray with goodies already on my dresser...
A shoe armoire!  Damn!  I need a shoe armoire!  UPDATE: i do know this is a china cabinet!
Love the stacks of books - I already have stacks everywhere!
I may have to get Jessica to pop up to New Brunswick and help me...
I am still swooning over this...
and this...
If my bar wares weren't under my mother (literally and figuratively), I would so do some cherry blossoms.  Of course, I have spring fever and anything in blossom is like catnip to me!

There was nothing I didn't love about how this woman decorated!  And over the coming months, I would return again and again to the article and pour over the images.  I wish some other magazine would do a spread on her place in Boston - I would love to see what she does there with full reign!

And then I visited the website of her charming boutique, Holiday, located in Beacon Hill, Boston:

And no surprise, the store and its wares appear to have the same sprinkling of fairy dust as her apartment:

Photo: It's a beautiful sunny day in Beacon Hill! Our doors are open until 8pm tonight! #goholiday
all images courtesy of Holiday Facebook page

Photo: So much Spring cheer over here!  #goholiday

Photo: We're polished & poised this holiday weekend.  Come say hello!

Photo: Fresh from our (family) studio... new sunny prints for our custom, hand-made collection!  #thanksmom #thankssis #goholiday

Photo: We're so excited to feature many of our day-brightening jewels for purchase online!  We love our Beaton Bauble necklace & India Star earrings. #souvenirbyholiday

Again - my obsession with pink!

Goranson opened the shop in 2002.  I think of all of the times I've been to Boston in the last decade, missing this gem every time!

But not again.  This year, if I can, I plan to make a little pilgrimage to what Goranson herself calls "The Dollhouse".

As I spring clean, and refresh both my home and my wardrobe, I will be thinking of Jessica, especially as I am giving my dresser in the bedroom a wee refresh.

How about you - are there images from a magazine that you return to again and again, clip out, drool over?  I'd love to hear about it!

Have a wonderful Thursday and stay safe out there!

xoxo wendy

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

(Hair) Style Wednesday

They, whoever "they" are, claim that a change is as good as a rest.

I tend to agree, but if I am honest, it is only because I have the attention span of a small hummingbird and so change is always welcome Chez Wendy.

I have been mulling over a haircut for several months now and took the plunge yesterday.

My inspiration?

Ines and her daughter Nine, because I find in life it is always a great idea to compare oneself to a cultural icon of fashion and her equally fashionable daughter.

Ah, but never mind, I have broad shoulders (I actually do!) so threw caution to the wind:

I still need to grow out some layers on top, but we are getting there.  My wonderful artiste, Sue, made the front longer and the back shorter to give it more interest and more bounce.

Then I threw on the wellies and went to coffee with my good friend Ger!

It was a shock in the shower when I didn't have all that hair to wash!  My hair is very fine, but there is actually quite a lot of it and it still took well over an hour to an hour and a half to dry naturally.

This will be a fun cut for awhile and I look forward to the layers growing out and being mistaken for Ines' sister...

Have a happy Wednesday and stay safe out there!

xoxo Wendy

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Duck Ragu Anyone?

I love to cook, though I often find myself in the slump of cooking the same things over and over again for the family.

I fall victim to that slump whilst making my own lunches as well - I went one month straight making the same smoothie, now I am 2 weeks into having a spinach/avocado/lemon juice salad.

This past Sunday I was dying to do something a little more elaborate, so I turned to my old friend, Jamie Oliver.

I am firmly in the Jamie Camp, and he has yet to steer me wrong.

And I had duck on my mind...

Jamie is nothing if not exuberant; not only were we having a slow-cooked duck pasta, it was going to be gorgeous!

First you must roast the duck...

And whilst the duck is roasting, you are making a ragu of pancetta, carrots, celery, onions, herbs:

Then comes the tomatoes and wine:

Cook your rigatoni, shred the meat from the roasted duck, and toss it all together and bring it to the table:

Do you see the sun?  It was a miracle!

Then sprinkle on a little Parmesan cheese and voila!

My mouth is actually watering this morning thinking about this dish and I am pleased to say that it makes at least 6-8 servings, as we are having this for dinner again tonight.

For those interested, here's the recipe:

Recipe for Gorgeous slow-cooked duck pasta from Cook with Jamie

1 duck (or leftover roast duck)
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground pepper 
1 orange
1 lb pasta (rigatoni or occhi di lupo work well)
2 knobs of butter 
1 large handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving 
a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped 
zest and juice of 1 orange 
red wine vinegar
For the sauce:
olive oil 
6 slices of pancetta, finely diced
1 red onion, peeled and finely diced 
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely diced 
6 springs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 stick of cinnamon 
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced 
2x14 oz cans of good quality plum tomatoes 
1/2 a 750 ml bottle of fruity red wine (Valpolicella of Barbera works well)
chicken stock 
a handful of raisins 
a large handful of pinenuts
Preheat the oven 350ºF/180C
Stuff a duck with a quartered orange; rub the outside with olive oil, salt, and pepper; and roast, breast-side down in a roasting pan, for two hours, turning every 30 minutes. Let it cool, and pull off all the meat.
Pour some olive oil into a large pot. Fry the diced pancetta until golden. Add red onion, carrots, celery, rosemary, cinnamon stick, and sliced garlic cloves. Cook slowly until it all softens up (about 10 minutes). Add the plum tomatoes and red wine. Let simmer for about an hour. Shred the duck meat and add it to the sauce. Cook for another half hour, adding water or chicken stock if it becomes dry. Remove the cinnamon stick, and add a handful each pine nuts and golden raisins. Continue to simmer while the pasta cooks.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water. Drain (preserving some of the cooking water).
Toss the pasta into the sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in a knob of butter, a handful of grated Parmesan, the zest and juice of 1 orange, chopped parsley, and a splash of red wine vinegar.
Loosen the sauce with the reserved cooking water if necessary. Check seasonings. Served with parmesan.

I continue to work away at the spring cleaning and it is going quite well.

On Saturday afternoon I spent an hour cleaning out and organizing my buffet:

My "extra" plates, neatly stacked.  These are neither my china nor my everyday dishes.  I admit to being a sucker for pretty dishes, especially pretty dishes with birds on them...

Platters and salad bowl waiting for future dinner parties:

And a freshly polished buffet:

I also washed three glass vases of seashells - they get so dusty and I can only be bothered to do them every few months or so.

There is something very soothing to me about a jar of shells - these were collected by me a few summers ago at the beach:

I wish you could have all come to dinner on Sunday night - it was divine!  We had a nice bottle of Valpolicella to wash it all down and I would have gladly poured you a glass!

Have you been cooking anything special lately?  Do tell!

Have a wonderful Tuesday - I am off to get a haircut - I may take a few inches off this time!

Stay safe out there!

xoxo Wendy

Monday, April 7, 2014

Why Mickey Rooney Matters

Those of you who know me well know that I am a lover of the Golden Era of Hollywood.

That era lost one of its brightest stars  with word that Mickey Rooney has passed away at age 93.

Mickey Rooney still.jpg

Mickey Rooney started his career as a child, starring in dozens of shorts before graduating to the big screen.

His most iconic films?

Of course there are the Andy Hardy movies, which TCM still plays now and then and which still stand up as being lovely representations of family life and of kids who don't always do what their parents want them to do (Andy is always getting into scrapes and always has some kind of scheme up his sleeve).

And it was in those films of course that he was first paired with Judy Garland, and their successful pairing launched several Busby Berkeley films.  If you've ever said "we should get a barn and put on a show" when talking about raising money, you're quoting Mickey and Judy!

And who can forget National Velvet, one of my favourite films of all time, starring Tabitha's favourite, Elizabeth Taylor?

Or Boys Town with Spencer Tracy?

boys town 2.jpg

and even Breakfast at Tiffany's:

This casting was accused of being racist and I think the critics are right!

From 1939 to 1941, Mickey Rooney was the top box office draw in Hollywood, and he worked tirelessly to raise morale during the war.  He joined the army himself, and from 1944 to 1945, his job was to entertain the troops full-time.

For the rest of his life, he worked tirelessly to support veterans' rights.

If he was the Prince of Hollywood, his personal life was no less colourful.  Like his friend Elizabeth, he was married eight times.  His first wife was the gorgeous Ava Gardner, who later described his as one of the greatest lovers she'd ever been with.

Mickey worked his entire life and became a fixture later on TV.  He was by times a raconteur, a windbag, charming, pugilistic.

He become a punchline of many jokes, due in large part I think to the fact that he remembered when he was the biggest star even when others did not.  The same spunk that made him a star in his teens and twenties often made him seem like an old man out of touch later on.

But he was, till the end, a star.  He continued to work, most recently filming Night at the Museum 3.

At one of his last public outings at the end of February, Mickey attended an after-Oscars party, where he was attended by many actors who wanted to hear the stories one last time.

If you love movies, like I do, it is important to know the evolution of the medium, its history.

Imagine a time before TV, when times were hard, when all you had to cheer yourself up was a trip to the local movie theater, where for a nickel you could forget your troubles and watch a magical world where boys lived in nice families, got the girl, sung and danced their way through their troubles.

Mickey Rooney made people feel good in the 1930s and 1940s when they most needed to feel good.  He had a long and storied career doing the thing he loved best: entertaining people.

Many of his peers, including Sir Laurence Olivier, considered him a genius.

You'd be hard-pressed to imagine a bigger star than Mickey.

Somewhere right now, he has just finished a cocktail with Elizabeth, and he and Judy are already looking for a barn....

Thank you Mickey, and God Bless!