May 22, 2017

Spring, Tulips & Chocolate Cake



I blinked... and it was May again, pouring its aliveness over me...
I've been watching the group of yellow and red tulips in the corner of the back yard. And boy, they loooove the sunshine. Every morning when the warm spring sun touches their petals, they bring their bountiful colors to the world, fully open to the light until the evening twilight makes them calm down and relax in peace and fulfillment. I've been watching the white and pink tulips in the pitcher playing with the warmth in the room, making the known-like-the back-of-my-hand space cheer up. Spring isn't spring without tulips, is it?
I've been crossing the streets of the city witnessing the awakening of the apple trees, the magnificent display of the magnolia's fragrant blossoms followed by the dancing lilacs in the wind...
And I have been soaking it all up...
Passing trough the ordinary dailyness, you think your life is pretty normal, but you can't miss a little spring bulb blooming inside of your body filling it up with unexpected energy. You can't miss the sense of change penetrating the air with hope, promises and newness. Someone once said that "when the beautiful spring comes and nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also."
I found this to be true. But! What I also noticed is that we don't talk about the human soul very much anymore. We spend time writing emails, messages with emojis, posts on social media, and long resumes with our achievements and expertise abilities, but sharing with others our true soul is something more of us have forgotten how to do. With each person we meet dwells an inner life and we mostly see their outer flower – the blue eyes and the small nose, the title or perhaps political beliefs, the shyness or the brimming confidence. But by peeling the petals, within that flower resides the human soul. One that is timeless, that is Self, that is "a unique event in the history of the universe", that is what a person is and what he or she will always be. Inside every corolla is an ache to be heard. But how many of us today show a genuine interest in others? How many of us today have the time to listen to a stranger or even a friend trying to communicate something deep, something coming from his heart, something he believes in, or troubles him or fills him with joy? How many of us are listeners with no attachments to views, absolute knowledge and prejudices avoiding assumptions and judgments? There is so much noise out there every day – iPhones, iPods, podcasts, newsfeed, headlines, headphones – we can barely hear the voice of our own soul much less to find room for another voice. How many of us are comfortable with taking down the walls, opening up and sharing our souls as vulnerable, strong, appalled or joyous as they might be?
I recently found a new favorite quote "I hate small talk", someone unknown wrote. "I wanna talk about atoms, death, aliens, sex, magic, intellect, the meaning of life, faraway galaxies, the lies you've told, your flaws, your favourite scents, your childhood, what keeps you up night, your insecurity and fears...
I like people with depth, who speak emotion, a twisted mind. I don't want to know "what's up."  
Today, that is me.
I've had my own share of preoccupation with my thoughts, opinions and knowledge so that I was ignorant or easily irritated by someone trying to fill my space with unneeded information and emotions. Not any longer. I can see the treasure trove of wisdom, experiences and unique perspective that everyone is longing to express in one way or another. I want to talk about the soul. I am ready to listen. I want your soul to touch my soul... while we talk. I know that your Self will extend a hand to my Self to find my true voice by listening to the voice of my soul. I know this would be the most honest way to craft the most authentic version of myself. I am not taking the human connection for granted; in fact, I believe that sharing our soul with others reveals true humanity and beauty in being connected. Words and actions that emerge from our soul can bring love, compassion and kindness – the only cure for our broken world. We just have to open ourselves the same way the tulips in the spring open to the sun.


"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. 
Meanwhile within man is the soul of the whole; 
the wise silence; 
the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; 
the eternal One. 
And this deep power in which we exist, 
and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, 
is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, 
but the act of seeing and the thing seen, 
the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, 
are one. 
We see the world piece by piece, 
as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; 
but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, 
is the soul." 
                                                                                                                             Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Over-Soul", 1841




I baked this moist, creamy and rich in flavor Triple-Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake from a recipe from Souther Living Magazine – a keeper for every chocolate lover.


April 16, 2017

Toronto Children's Chorus Concert


Grand us Thy peace, Almighty Lord, O Source of every blessing!
We cannot keep Thy saving Word unless Thy peace possessing.
Thy peace O give by which we live.
                            Verleih uns Frieden Felix Mendelssohn, text by Martin Luther German composer, professor, priest 

Early April Saturday afternoon, the warm, sunny weather heralded the long-awaited beginning of spring and the atmosphere inside of the venerable church was much the same. A man was tuning the grand piano while guests were gathering to hear Toronto Children's Chorus' seasonal concert called "Reflections". The sunbeams piercing through the stained glass windows filled up the Rosedale church with divine light and calmness. Sitting in anticipation, one immediately felt the spirit within himself and the hope that was in the air. And here they came. The excited faces of those beautiful young singers of one of the finest treble choirs in the world, ready to blend their voices in their challenging repertoire of songs of hope and peace. Songs we would all celebrate the arrival of spring with.   
From the first traditional Inuit song Arctic Lights telling the story of a lost hunter, (by throat singing, dancing and drumming) through George Frederick Handel's love song between Radomisto and his wife Zenobia and Debussy's Nuit d'Etoiles to the opening number of the musical Chicago All That Jazz, these talented children demonstrated excellent vocal techniques, discipline and passion about the choral art. The choir also uplifted us, the audience, with songs by Canadian composer Jeff Enns, Wehi Whanaus of New Zealand and Romanian-born Hungarian Levente Gyongyosi. Conducted by the Artistic Director Elise Bradley and the Associate Conductor Matthew Otto, the children were accompanied by guest musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
While I listened with delight how these kids poured out their hearts in perfect harmony, I reflected on the fact that the confused and divided world we live in right now perhaps is missing exactly that – humans – being in harmony, with nature, with each other, with themselves. More of the things that we all desperately need nowadays can absolutely be found in music. Peace, comfort, spirituality, humans connection – that is what music gives to people. And no doubt, that choral music has been one of the supreme examples of that. When one person sings, he or she expresses the human soul in the song. However, being part of a group and singing together with others requires not only skills in singing, but personal characteristics such as responsibility, dedication, cooperation and effective teamwork.
I recognized the importance of music this Saturday afternoon once again. I saw the proof of the incredible benefits that music education brings to kids' lives. Rhythm, harmony, melody, modulation, tone quality cannot be learnt without structure and standards. They must be skillfully taught by knowledgeable, dedicated pedagogists. Children thrive on the gentle and joyous discipline of music and rhythm. Their self-awareness and confidence rise as they understand what it means to be a contributing member of your group, family, community.
This joyous spring concert with the name "Reflections" made me think of the fact that there is no better promoter of peace, beauty and harmony than music. And music indeed has the power to save the world as many prominent musicians and wise minds thought so. Perhaps not just music itself but rather these young people, our offspring, who through music and music education are becoming happy, smart, grateful, emotionally healthy and competent citizens of our planet, ready to make the world a better place. In the words of philosopher Confucius, who apparently was also an astounding musician "When music and courtesy are better understood and appreciated, there will be no war."

The next concert of these young choral ambassadors, who have been representing Toronto and Canada all over the world, is on May 6, 2017 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. If you have a chance, please, go and give your support to them and their passionate teachers.

To learn more about Toronto Children's Chorus, visit their website here.

If you are a parent, guardian, or a relative who wants your child to become a part of such an internationally recognized organization, TCC spring audition registration is open for the 40th anniversary season. They are generous enough to offer a free audition for the readers of Sylvia's Simple Life – simply follow the link Register your child for FREE audition to the Toronto Children's Chorus and use the coupon code "SSLTCC" for an audition on either Saturday, May 13 or Saturday, May 27. Limited free auditions are available. 


P. S. To all of you who celebrate Easter, I wish you a joyous and meaningful celebration of life, love, healing and peace.


February 25, 2017

In Pursuit of Mindfulness


While I type on the computer right now, each click under my fingers harmonizes with the staccato of the raindrops hitting the window.  It makes me stop and pay attention to the rain. There is artistry in water falling from the sky. I have always considered rain to be a healer, like music. I notice how my breath is pattering softly with every "musical note" that the innocent droplets are extracting from the air. It is a duet. It is a conversation between myself and the universe. It is a connection. The quiet of being one with the rain makes me sing. Deep inside of me. The moment seems like an instant from a piano concert. The joy of listening to the rain, of revelling in the winter light, of looking at the white tulips, of sipping hot coffee, of relishing in the safety of the dailiness is tap dancing in my heart. I am here appreciating the world around me. My awareness erases the worrisome thoughts and stillness pours through my reality.  
At this moment, I understand: just like that, the beauty of the present moment is unfolding in front of my eyes and all my senses are detecting what is going on inside and outside myself. This powerful energy of mindfulness makes me fully alive, fully present to touch the good, the bad, the ugly, the boring, the unpleasant, the habitual, the beautiful, the blissful for my nourishment and my healing. I do not want to live a happy life. I want to live a mindful life. Because mindfulness gives birth to happiness. In fact, happiness is not found in external things at all, but it is a power we hold within ourselves. And if I have to choose a theme word for 2017 (which I barely do), MINDFULNESS it is.
So how do I do mindfulness? How to become skillful with my awareness in present time? How to stay HERE and now so I encounter life in the most truthful way?
Thich Nhat Hanh, the master of mindfulness, whose books I've read several times, makes it sound simple and possible. "The practice of mindfulness", he says, "requires only that whatever you do, you do with your whole being." "When you pour tea", he continues, "the act of pouring the tea into the cup can become an act of meditation if you pour with mindfulness. Don't think about the past. Don't think about the future. Don't think about what you're going to do next. Focus entirely on the act of pouring the tea. Everyone knows how to pour tea, everyone knows how to drink tea,  but not everyone pours tea mindfully and drinks tea mindfully... When you hold the hand of a child, or when you walk, or when you hug your partner, invest one hundred percent of yourself in the act of hugging." Always go home to your body. Your true home is in the here and the now.

Being fully in each moment and connecting to peace in the midst of chaos and uncertainty is harder than it sounds, especially in a world which constantly demands your time and attention. I have been trying to practice mindfulness for years, but I am human. Some days, some months, some years are better than others. This year, I am promising myself to invest more in training my attention as I begin simply to:


CARE MORE ABOUT                                               CARE LESS ABOUT 

my breath                                                                                           my thoughts
my body                                                                                              my jeans
  my smile                                                                                             my wrinkles
     listening                                                                                              talking 
    concentration                                                                                    interruption
kindness                                                                                      shallow judgements
giving                                                                                                  taking
the lessons                                                                                         the failures
books                                                                                             news on FB feed 
letting go                                                                                           attachments 
other people's story                                                                       know-it-all expert
making art                                                                                       conflicts
exploring                                                                                         traveling
experiences                                                                               material possessions
my spiritual growth                                                                        changing others 
confronting my fears                                                                      my comfort zone 
the glass half full                                                                       the glass full empty
speaking my truth                                                                            consequences
critical thinking                                                                          conformism 
good enough                                                                                        perfection 
Jazz                                                                                                    rules 
trying my best                                                                                    multitasking
the dance                                                                                           the how 
my photography                                                                                 comparison  
        the rain                                                                                           getting wet        
nature and its silence                                                                     my smart phone 
people                                                                                                 objects 
being                                                                                                  doing
                                              
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you been practising mindfulness? Share with me how? Let's breathe, smile and be aware of the present moment, with purpose and without judgment, shall we?



December 22, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time



Only three sleeps until Christmas! I love this time of year – the snow, the lights, the smell of baking, the Christmas tree, my birthday, the Christmas movies, the music...  
While the voice of Andy Williams affirms on the radio that this is the most wonderful time of the year, my news feed on my phone is full of images of frightened children trying to escape from bombs, bodies of humans lying crushed on the ground in a Christmas market, a man shooting another man in a house of ART... The world is breaking my heart. This is the most wonderful and the most vulnerable time of the year right here. I cannot help but think of the millions and millions of people going through assorted suffering, despair and injustice as I sit comfortably, in my warm, decorated home, writing blissfully away. Sadness and joy are equally feeding my soul. And a strange sense of irresponsibility slowly nests into my consciousness if I choose to only share the wonderful side of my simple Christmas and overlook the news of sorrows in the world. I know this world of ours has never been perfect or sensible. But we, people, still make it increasingly divisive. We are easily destroying a healthy morality system and code of conduct that shows us how to separate right from wrong. We carelessly ignore the proven connection of the butterfly effect, that even the smallest of occurrences, such as the flutter of a butterfly's wings, can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. We, people, still perform activities that are tremendously destructive toward nature and humanity.....
How to find holiness in the messiness of this confusing world? How to survive my tears through the heartbreaking agony of parents whose children are killed before their eyes? How to sustain belief in ideals and human progress when civic values, freedom and rights are threatened? How to deal with my anger and hopelessness?
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the only possible answer to all these questions has been given to me and repeated time after time, after time, in one form or another:

"And thought I have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries and all knowledge,
and thought I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not love,
I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,
and  though I give my body to be burned and have not love,
it profith me nothing.
Love suffereth long and is kind.
Love envieth not.
Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doeth not behave itself unseemly,
Seeketh not her own.
Is not easily provoked.
Thinketh no evil.
Rejoiceth not in inequity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
Bareth all things.
Believeth all things.
Hopeth all things.
Endureth all things.
Love never fails.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. But now abideth faith, hope, love... these three. But the greatest of these is LOVE."
                                                                                                                                                                    1 Corinthians 13

I know, the world does not need my opinion on everything. But the world, I believe, desperately needs my genuine empathy. My hope. My grace. My generosity. My acceptance. The world needs from me to do my job and to do it with passion. The world needs my contribution and accountability. My benevolence. My gratitude. My open heart. My love.  Most of all, the world needs my awareness and peaceful mind. No one can say it better than Etty Hillesum, the young Holocaust victim: "Living and dying, sorrow and joy, the blisters on my feet and the jasmine behind the house, the persecution, the unspeakable horrors – it is all as one in me, and I accept it all as one whole and begin to grasp it better of only for myself, without being able to explain to anyone else how it all hangs together... Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim larger areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and reflect it toward others. And more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world."
I wish we can each find a little more of that peace this Christmas, this most wonderful time of the year. I hope we can each find ways to connect with our better selfs and each other this Christmas, this wonderful time of the year. Whatever sadness, anger, or confusion reside in our souls, I hope we transform it together into openness, strength and determination to create a safer, tolerant and peaceful world. I hope, we can each slow down this Christmas, do less and feel more, practice compassion to all living beings and practice gratitude for all the things we have – a roof, heat, water, clothes, comfort food, lights, lovable people, healthy bodies, pets in our feet, a glass of hot wine in our hands, a blanket, a couch, a good book...


                                             Merry Christmas!





Fruitcake Rum Balls

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups ground almonds
6 tbsp icing sugar
1 cup vanilla wafer cookie crumbs (Mr.Christie's Nilla vanilla wafers)
2/4 cup chopped dried or glacé cherries
1/3 cup chopped candied fruits (pineapple, mango)
60 gr. marzipan, torn in small pieces
2/4 cup dark rum


Directions:

In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp of the ground almonds with icing sugar. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, stir together remaining ground almonds, the cookie crumbs, cherries, mixed candied fruits and marzipan. Stir in rum; press into dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm enough to roll out, about 15 minutes.
Roll by rounding 1 tsp into balls. Arrange on waxed baking sheet; refrigerate until firm. Roll balls in icing sugar mixture.



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