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.



Sharing with  Home Sweet Home

November 5, 2016

This Fearless November


I was driving on the highway singing out loud (one of my all time favourite things to do) along with the powerful voice of Dinah Washington "Today you're young, too soon you're old. But while a voice within me cries, I know heaven will answer my call and this bitter earth, ohh, may not be so bitter after all". Shortly I got stuck in traffic and a bumper sticker on the car in front of mine caught my eyes. Never let your fear decide your fate. I read the words once, twice... three times. Never let your fear decide your fate. The entire world squeezed into the word "fear" and my mind was somehow instinctively going through all the moments of fear I had experienced those past months. For the longest time in my life I had felt muddled by uncertainty and loss. I had easily let all of it prevent me from finding joy, seeing love, creating beauty. However, I had never lost faith in the goodness of life and I had never lost faith in the wisdom of the universe. I know how sometimes it is hard to follow your heart, but there is nothing worse than to let your fear decide your life. There is nothing more saddening than to vote out of fear, not travelling out of fear, not trying new things our of fear, not being yourself out of fear... There is hardly anything more dramatic than allowing fear to control your fate. I understand very well this kind of suffering from experience. And almost every time when I sense how I am using my mind to enforce my fear, I remember that summer evening when my father (who generally left to a great degree the parenting decisions to my mother who was a teacher) made my 8-year-old self go to the upper storey of my grandparents' house through the outdoor stairs, in the dark. I was crying and trembling, going back and forth, "No, I can't!", Yes! You CAN!", until I collected myself, marched up the old stone staircase, open the door, lit the light and saw that there was no such thing as monsters... or weird men waiting for me, and my fear of darkness was perhaps a result of my imagination. My grandma used to tell this story – brutal to her opinion – with a judgmental tone in her voice. But soon after it, I realized the lesson my father wanted me to know – confronting your fears will demystify them, allowing them to be conquered. Or to use the words on the bumper sticker – face your fear and never let it decide your fate. Yes, fear is a natural part of our lives and prevents us from dangerous situations. But it is really heartbreaking when fear keeps people from achieving their full potential, especially from living a mindful life. And it is then, when we lose faith in life and faith in ourselves and become fearful of what might come next.
What I also learned over the course of the months of this past summer is that the sooner I accept that life is uncontrollable, the quicker I am released from many of my fears. The ugly truth is that much of life is out of my hands and that is nothing to be afraid of. I cannot always know how things will turn out. I only know that I will always try my best. Therefore, it is imperative to let things unfold naturally and to find a way to be okay with that. Very often, due to the wisdom of the universe, events unfold even better than I expect. Besides, when I am obsessed with the outcome, I miss what is happening right now. Living in a profusion of security and predictability can create an attachment that prevents us, humans, from being awake and aware. Part of the joy of life is the surprises that pop up now and then when we exit our comfort zone.
"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them", writes the French author Andre Gide. "Don't let your fears control you and cause you to miss life's many pleasures". And life, indeed, is full of many pleasures – simple and comforting – like the smell of roasted butternut squash with maple syrup, brown sugar and pecans;
like the beauty of a perfectly shaped light-orange pumpkin that evokes memories of love and kind living;
like a steaming bowl of homemade, warm, creamy squash and sweet potato soup that is nothing but a culinary extended hand, a tissue, a hug, a heart... And they might heal what frightens you right now.



Do you let your fear decide your fate? Do you let your fear stop you from experience life's many pleasures? How do you overcome your fear?    






 Roasted Squash, Sweet Potato & Garlic Soup 


Ingredients: 

1 sweet potato
1 acorn squash
3 shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves
3 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup (approximately) light cream
salt and pepper
nutmeg (optional)
snipped chives to garnish


Directions: 

Preheat the oven to 375F.
Peel the squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Cut into 1 1/4- inch cubes. Peal and cut the sweet potato into cubes as well. Place the squash, potato, sliced shallots  and garlic cloves on a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss well. Roast in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, until the squash and potato are tender, turning once with a spatula. 
When ready, put the vegetables in a saucepan. Add the stock and a pinch of salt. Bring just to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring until the veggies are very tender. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly, then process the soup using a handheld mixer (or in a blender or food processor) until smooth. 
Return to the pan and stir in the cream. Season gently to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional), and simmer for about 5 more minutes. 
Ladle into warmed serving bowls, garnish with pepper and shipped chives, and serve. 


Enjoy!