Today’s post is dedicated to the letter V.
V for Valentine’s Day. Virus. Variants. Vaccinations. (And maybe, in a year or three, Vacations.)
Scientists say the more transmissible B.1.1.7 could become the dominant variant in North America before month end. That we’re more likely to become infected now than during much of last year. That we’re watching an endless marathon of vaccinations racing variants in which Canada is in 39th place.
What’s to loVe in a time like this (besides each other of course)?
Well…here’s an idea. Pour a glass of your favourite libation, as we did, and see what pops up.
Spice: Rediscovering CKUA Radio: Alberta’s voice for music, arts and culture
“Good Morning” on our touchpad turns on CKUA, weekdays to the Goldilocks voice of Grant Stovel. I even love to hear him announce the weather: “In the mountain parks, it’s -30 in Jasper, -28 in Banff and in Waterton -36.” (Prairie nostalgia?) On a lucky morning, he’ll play “The Spark” by William Prince, from the album Reliever released when COVID was a new word, William’s deep and soothing voice reflecting his country roots, where he says “You could sit for hours and only hear the sound of the trees keepin’ the lake and sky apart.”
On the air since 1927, CKUA is donor-supported to the tune of 60%. Its 35 or so hosts have free reign to curate playlists from CKUA’s legendary library or their own collections so you hear an eclectic variety of music rather than same old, same old. I also find the music they play to be in sync with what you want to hear at different times of the day or week from “Dirty Windshields” to “Traffic Jams” to “Lionel’s Vinyls.”
Spice: Replaying Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa singing “I’ll See You in my Dreams”
“The road is long and seeming without end…” Bruce’s twentieth album Letter to You released last October is the first time he and The E Street Band have recorded an album together since Born In The U.S.A.. As Bruce told AARP‘s Robert Love, “[the album] was all live, no overdub vocals and just a few overdub instruments. It’s the first truly live, in-the-studio record of the band we’ve ever made.” We first heard “I’ll See You in My Dreams” late one Saturday night on SNL. The band rocks this last song on the album, a signature, heart-strong winner.
Spice: Being delighted by a favourite author’s new book
Growing up in the sticks in Saskatchewan, my love affair with reading began with mom ordering books for us from the public library in Regina. Of the shelves of books I read during COVID, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain subtitled In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life by George Saunders won out over Maggie O’Farrell’s story Hamnet and Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson.
For the last twenty years at Syracuse University George has taught a class on Russian short stories to MFA students (for which more than six hundred students apply for six positions). In his new book George presents what he and his students have learned from Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol, writers who “let a story explore and explode” with such artistic bounty they incrementally change the state of our mind—and life.
In the Afterthoughts following each of the seven stories reprinted in his book, you will be delighted by the mindfulness, humour and plenitude of George the writer and George the man. Here he is on finding his own voice:
It was as if I’d sent the hunting dog that was my talent out across a meadow to fetch a magnificent pheasant and it brought back, let’s say, the lower half of a Barbie doll. To put it another way: having gone about as high up the Hemingway Mountain as I could go, having realized that even at my best I could only ever hope to be an acolyte up there, resolving never again to commit the sin of being imitative, I stumbled back down into the valley and came upon a little shit-hill labeled “Saunders Mountain.” “Hmm,” I thought. “It’s so little. And it’s a shit-hill.” Then again, that was my name on it.
Spice: Buying local produce online
Our favourite Vancouver restaurant is chef Andrea Carlson’s Burdock & Co. During COVID, with her small restaurant accommodating even fewer diners, Andrea is supporting her local suppliers by assembling weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) bags. Sized for two people, each CSA bag is filled with veggies and seasonal foods. Here’s what Magellan picked up for us last week: crimini mushrooms, eggs, sunflower sprouts, pea shoots, purple potatoes, red lentils, chiogga beets, purple carrots, Brussels sprouts…
Paul Healey and his wife Rebecca Haber of Hannah Brook Farm send out a Fresh Sheet every Friday. This week you could order cabbage, garlic, kale, leeks, mint, onions, parsnips, shallots, spinach, squash and sunchokes. You must order a minimum quantity, i.e. for leeks, it’s four pounds. I sautéed leeks for a galette, blended leeks into a mushroom soup, steamed leeks with a mustard/caper vinaigrette—I feel like a farmer’s wife who has to be inventive with what’s ready in the garden.
Spice: Working on the SPELLING BEE every Sunday morning
The best thing about having the The New York Times delivered on Sunday is the SPELLING BEE, a puzzle in which you spell common words of five or more letters using the seven unique letters in the hive. Every word must use the centre letter at least once. Letters may be reused. And at least one word—the pangram—must use all seven letters. You score a point for each word and three points for the pangram.
I open the NYT magazine to the SPELLING BEE straight off and compose as many words as I can before setting the puzzle aside to read the rest of the paper, go to yoga and, if I haven’t reached genius level, finish it when I get home. Last week the letters were ACEILTF, F in the hive’s centre: 9 words=good, 19=excellent and 29=genius. Give it a try. (The answers are in navigation below.)
Puzzle-maker Frank Longo creates the SPELLING BEE from a computer program that generates words sourced from the official Scrabble list. As Frank says, “Who doesn’t love a game that gives them the chance to feel smart—smarter than its editor, even—as well as talk all about it with others?” I tell people I don’t do crossword puzzles because they make me feel claustrophobic but really, they’re way above me. Much easier is SPELLING BEE, rather like Scrabble-for-one, more open, more my style—creating from a jumble. (Like our weekly posts which, taking a cue from George Saunders, I’ll call writing from “vole-hole hollow.”)
Spice: Practicing yoga online, outside and in-studio
Sempervivia, whose yoga studios I frequented for twenty years, went out of business last March unexpectedly. Luckily, two of my favourite teachers Jolene Bayda (a creative instructor) and Pamela Ferman began offering yoga online. One of my fondest memories of COVID is Pam’s early summer-morning classes on a platform extension of the seawall overlooking False Creek. Yoga to the chorus of a kayaker’s paddle slicing the water, a cyclist whirring by, the flutter of a bird’s wings overhead. When Dr. Bonnie Henry relaxed the rules, Pam rented space for Sunday morning classes in a studio. An hour’s walk from our place to contemplate life: a dad snuggling a new baby; friends walking their coffees; daphne’s heady fragrance announcing spring. (And spark another word for SPELLING BEE—effete.)
Magellan: Working on my rewards program at Legacy
Because of the quarantine, we are not travelling or going out to restaurants. Meaning we are drinking more wine at home. Having been a former rewards program specialist (like the 56-hour mileage-run Pat and I did to Sydney, Australia, for a round of golf at the great NSW course for Air Canada’s Million Mile Club!), I’ve joined the Legacy Liquor Store frequent drinkers’ club.
Magellan: Watching Rake
Despite upgrading our “SmartHome,” after using the cursor on a remote to spell out our choice of TV series or movie one letter at a time only to learn it wasn’t on that streaming service, frustration led us back to the wine cellar. Now we have the app JustWatch loaded on our computers, iPads and TV. No more “damn, I spelled that wrong,”“are you sure it’s on that service” or “is it even released in Canada?” Right now, we’re loving Rake, the 2010 Australian TV series, a brilliant comedy/drama about an endearing rake named Cleaver Greene, a Sydney lawyer defending usually guilty clients.
Magellan: Having a motion light go on when you go into our storage room
During the repair of our leaky condo in 2007, the geek in me wanted to upgrade to a SmartHome. Hundreds of metres of Cat5 wire were run (just months before wi-fi blossomed as an integration backbone) and a Control4 system was installed. We ended up, instead, with an OxymoronicHome, where Spice would phone me when I was in Guyana or Toronto for help to turn on the lights on our deck and when we were both travelling, guests would phone for help to turn on our TV. By 2020, our hardware and software had become two generations outdated. During the pandemic, I’ve upgraded my programming skills and replaced 2007 boat anchors with new hardware. I’m thrilled that when we enter our storage room, the light now turns on automatically. The next challenge is to add a motion light in the adjoining wine cellar!
Your turn now; What’s to loVe in a time like this (besides each other of course)?
Hannah Brook Farm, reviewed in The Vancouver Sun
Rake, reviewed in The Guardian.
SPELLING BEE: Sunday, February 7th’s puzzle had the letters ACEILTF with F in the centre. My words were factual, fatal, facial, fetal, fillet, filet, filial, califf, afflict, cliff, effect, affect, fecal, fleece, fleet, affiliate, facet, facile, leftie, cleft, fellate, filiate, califate (panram!), flail, facilitate (pangram!), falafel, fatale and effete for 31 points. I missed facelift, alfalfa, fella, leaflet and taffeta.Here’s an article about the SPELLING BEE and its impassioned followers.
Bruce Springsteen. In this YouTube, you can listen to Bruce and Patti sing “I’ll See You in My Dreams” live on November 19, 2020. (The SNL one is better but I can’t find it.) And in this blog you can read why fans like Shawna LeMay love Bruce.