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Thursday, April 21, 2016: Outer joy in an inner tube

I’ve been immersed in the joys of inner-tube water polo. It’s great fun, full of laughter and intense competition. My family in Ottawa, who met playing this sport, has organized a weekly night with their friends at a nearby pool.

At first I was hesitant to play, mostly because I’ve got a belly I’m self-conscious about. But I can’t let that control my life, so I jumped in. The hardest part for a beginner is staying in the tube, because I was taught you can’t simply let your butt sag into the centre. To free your legs for kicking, you need to sit more on tube itself. Then you kick like you’re cycling, except backwards.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the game, which was invented by an athletics staffer at the University of California at Davis in 1969:

Inner tube water polo is a variation of the sport water polo with the important difference that players, excluding the goalkeeper, are required to float in inflatable inner tubes. By floating in an inner tube, players experience less contact and expend less energy than traditional water polo players, not having to tread water. This allows casual players to enjoy water polo without undertaking the intense conditioning required for conventional water polo.

I started out playing in goal – also in a tube – so I could watch how the game works. I managed to block some shots but also let in a bunch. Then I ventured out as an attacker. So much for attacking. When you’re moving backwards, it’s hard to see where you’re going. And I struggled just to stay in the tube.

This may require less energy than regular water polo, but it was still a major workout for me. I spent as much time out of the water as in. Today I’ll be more in my element on a tennis court.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016: Eastern chanting

In Vancouver, I’ve been leading sacred Hebrew chanting events since 2004. In Eastern Canada, it’s pretty new. The last time and this time I’ve come to Ottawa for family visits, I’ve had chances to bring the joy and magic of chant to local audiences.

Thanks to organizing by Joel Yan, I joined with members of his Ottawa Simcha Band to present a chant evening Monday at the Jewish Community Centre, and again this morning with a seniors group at the JCC led by Merle Haltrecht. The wonderful musicians with Joel included Aditi Magdalena, Steve Shapransky and Elie Goldman Smith.

I’ve chanted on five continents and it’s always a beautiful experience. Each chant is a short phrase of sacred text, with a lovely melody and a deep kavanah (spiritual intention). And then repeated for about seven to 10 minutes. I told the participants in Ottawa that if it seems like it will never end, pause, take a breath or two, and dive back in.

Monday night’s program was similar to our evenings in Vancouver. We opened with my new favourite chant – one of my teacher Rabbi Shefa Gold’s many compositions for Modah Ani, the first prayer we say upon awakening, a prayer of gratitude for being alive. We included my chant for Ahava Raba Ahavtanu, A Great Love, and concluded with a Sephardic melody from northern Greece for Kadesh Urchatz that Charles Kaplan of Chanting & Chocolate discovered. Here are earlier recordings of the program’s chants.

After a first Seder Friday evening, I return to Vancouver in time for the April Chanting & Chocolate on Sunday. That’s 7:30-9 pm at or Shalom, 10th and Fraser. I’m baking gluten-free, kosher-for-Passover triple-chocolate brownies that promise to be yummy. Coming up is a special healing chant on May 22 – stay tuned for details.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016: Rite of spring

Did I bring spring from Vancouver? Last week it snowed three times in Ottawa and after I’ve arrived on Thursday it’s been lovely, hitting 21C  (70F) today. It seems the whole city was out in shorts and I helped my family with a rite of spring  – changing from winter to summer tires, and cleaning the car inside and out, especially the salt stains.

Today was another fantastic meal in Ottawa. We went for brunch to Benny’s Bistro in the Byward Market, a small but attractive room tucked in behind a French bakery. I had the roasted forest mushrooms with aged white cheddar and potato dumplings, peas, pesto, greens, beets, preserved lemon crème fraîche and white truffle vinaigrette ($18). I’m usually a pretty fast eater, but I took my time savouring this excellent dish’s complex flavours.

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Ottawa’s two half-Japanese Jews

Also this weekend we visited the one-day Makers Market at Makerspace North with more than 40 handmade artisans and food vendors, including illustrator Yoko Feinman, who creates beautiful cards and prints. Her company is called Art Freed, which was the business alias of her grandfather, Aaron Feinman. It’s interesting that Yoko practises her Japanese mother’s Buddhism, while in our family it’s the father’s Judaism.

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Friday, April 15, 2016: Being in Ottawa

Ottawa doesn’t have a reputation for great restaurant eating, but I’ve had some wonderful meals here. I flew in from Vancouver Thursday for a family visit and we went out to New Mee Fung, a plain Vietnamese restaurant in the capital city’s Chinatown.

The daily special was one of my carnivore delights – roast duck, in a curry coconut soup with yam, potato and eggplant with vermicelli rice noodles. Truly a meal in a bowl, for only $9.95. The soup was so rich and tasty I could have been satisfied just slurping it up alone. The rest of the dish was a bonus.

I’m looking forward to Shabbat morning services tomorrow at Ottawa’s Reconstructionist synagogue, Or Haneshamah. I hope I can say something about the chant evening I’m leading at the Jewish Community Centre on Monday. I’m also doing a chant workshop with a seniors group on Tuesday.

Did I bring spring weather from Vancouver? It was bright and relatively warm today, reaching 13C (56F) in the world’s second-coldest national capital after Ulan Bator, Mongolia. It’s expected to hit 20C (68F) by Sunday.

As you can see from the photo, there are still remnants of winter dotted around the city.

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The sun is melting the piles of crusty snow that remain in Ottawa.

 

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016: Being helpful to Ugandan orphans

Ugandan orphans Sarah, Willy, Joel and Abraham have changed from a boarding school to one where they can live in their home village in Namutumba. But now they live far from their new high school, Kisiki College, and have to walk two hours each way, beginning at 5 a.m. to attend early classes. It’s taking a toll on their health. They need bicycles to make the daily journey easier so they can focus on their studies.

The students lost their parents to malaria, typhoid and AIDS. I lived in Uganda 2009-2010 and since then have supported the education of these and other orphans in the Abayudaya Jewish community through my monthly Chanting & Chocolate events and Shabbat dinners in Vancouver.

But I don’t have the money for bikes. So I’ve launched a US$ 500 crowdfunding campaign with Generosity.com, the nonprofit arm of Indiegogo. Your donation will help buy them each a bike like the one in the photo, with a lock and a pump. I hope you can help. And please share this post on your timeline.

The Abayudaya (“People of Judah” in the Luganda language) have been Jewish since a Ugandan military leader studied the Bible over many years and eventually declared himself a Jew in 1919. Many people followed him. Several hundred of the approximately 1,500 Abayudaya have gone through formal conversions since 2002 when rabbis from the Conservative movement came to Uganda.

Just this week, there’s news that Israel’s Jewish Agency has ruled that the Abayudaya under Rabbi Gershom Sizomu are eligible to move to Israel under the Law of Return. Down at the bottom of the story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz there’s a very interesting paragraph:

In a related development, the first member of the community to request permission to immigrate to Israel was contacted by the Jewish Agency this week and asked if he was still interested in moving. Mugoya Shadrach Levi had applied for citizenship under the Law of Return about five years ago but never received a response from the Ministry of Interior. The Conservative movement said it views this effort to reach out to him by the Jewish Agency as a hopeful sign.

That’s particularly interesting to me because Mugoya Shadrach Levi is my partner in supporting the Namutumba students, acts as the rabbi in the village, and is a student in the rabbinical ordination program of ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, my stream of Judaism. Just Monday he sent me the photo he took of the four orphans.

 

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Monday, April 11, 2016: Fire-alarm bharta

Our team of three served an Indian feast for dinner at Vancouver Cohousing, complete with my fire-alarm eggplant bharta – named not for its spiciness (we dialed that down because of the kids) but because when I was sauteing the onions in smoking oil for it Sunday night I triggered the fire alarm that brought three firefighters to the common house to investigate. Now I’ll always turn on the fan before I turn on the stove.

The feast included vegetable korma, fresh-made coconut cilantro chutney and mango chutney, yoghurt and cucumber raita, naan and roti breads, white and brown basmati rice, and regular and vegan chai tea.

It was a huge hit with the 40 or so adults and children who turned out for the Monday night common meal. We have them also on Wednesday and Thursday evenings as well as a brunch on the weekend. The cost is $5 per adult; $7 for meat options when we have them.

Getting a headstart on Sunday gave Darcy, Tara and me the chance to offer a more elaborate meal than usual. Even with the fire alarm, it was so much fun working with them to present a feast to the community.

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Our baby boom

Catching up on some community news: Thursday night I heard even more footsteps in Andrew and Ericka’s unit above me than usual, like there was some serious pacing going on. It was getting to me until I remembered Ericka was full-term pregnant and I should cut them some slack. Little did I know.

Friday morning I spotted Andrew with a little bundle cradled in his arms. The baby boy was born at 9:37 pm in a birthing pool at home with a doula and midwife attending. Today Andrew said they were 90 percent set on a name for Jacob’s baby brother. Somehow I don’t think the name I suggested in jest is in the running – Strata, since he was born on the same evening as our first strata annual general meeting.

Baby boom? Leila in the unit next to me was born in November. There are now 21 children in the community, about half of whom have been born since we started this project four years ago.

 

 

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Sunday, April 10, 2016: The block party and the blockhead

First, the block party: The weather was looking grey and foreboding in the morning, but the sun burst through in the afternoon for what turned out to be a wonderfully well-attended block party for the immediate neighbourhood around Vancouver Cohousing.

No one had RSVP’d to the invitations we delivered but we were pretty sure curiosity would attract some of the neighbours. In the end, more than 40 people came to check us out and see for themselves. The teams of greeters at the front gate ran out of name tags and had to get more.

Many of our members contributed yummy savoury and sweet snacks. We had lots of one-to-one conversations getting to know each other and showing them our homes. Most people expressed how much they were impressed with what we built. But I also heard from the  neighbour directly across from us how it bothered her that construction began at 7 in the morning, and another neighbour to the west about damage to his driveway and some concrete that our contractor partially repaired.

Tours were organized of the common house. Mark and Cyrena played classical string duets in the lounge, and Ian invited me to drum with him as he entertained with children’s songs on our patch of grass in the courtyard.

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I’m very glad I took the initiative in our external relations committee to organize the party so we could begin building relationships.

Next, the blockhead

In the evening, I prepared a curry called eggplant bharta for our Indian-themed community dinner on Monday. It was the first time I’d used the common house stove and the first time I’d cooked for 40 people. I totally forgot to turn on the fan, and when I was sauteing large amounts of onion in large amounts of oil, I triggered the very loud fire alarm.

Shortly, three firefighters appeared on the scene – see Taryn’s photo. I explained what happened and after a little while they left. Fortunately, the fire department doesn’t charge for answering alarms. They don’t want people disarming alarms to avoid a fine.

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Saturday, April 9, 2016: Amazing musicians

A trio of amazing young musicians held me spellbound at the Sakura Days Japan Fair at VanDusen Gardens. Called Tsumugu Project, they are Chie Hanawa on Tsugaru shamisen, Keita Kanazashi on taiko (pictured) and shinobue flute, and vocalist Anna Sato.

They’re playing again Sunday afternoon at 3:25-4:05 at the Cherry Stage. The fair runs to 5 pm. The trio is on a Canadian tour, having already played in Toronto, and going next to Salt Spring Island for a taiko workshop on Thursday and performing on Friday before returning to Japan next Tuesday.

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They are all strong, virtuoso musicians who can perform with both great power and tenderness. I played taiko for 10 years in both Japan and Canada so I particularly enjoyed Kanazashi’s energy, skill and creativity. Here’s a taste of their show on YouTube.

I was married to a Japanese woman for 14 years and lived in Japan for three years, so I consider myself a bit of a Japanophile. I never miss the Powell Street Festival in August. But I was surprised to learn the Sakura Days Japan Fair, a project of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, is in its sixth year and I’d never heard of it.

There’s lots to enjoy, including a children’s tent, hands-on woodworking, haiku writing, the tea ceremony, a Japanese garden, cooking class, sake tasting, ikebana (flower arranging), calligraphy, a host of vendors and a great variety of Japanese food. Parking is limited – there’s a bicycle valet and handy transit service.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016: Did you miss me?

I’ve been focused on editing a 120,000-word report since Friday, but I did pause to put together a poster for an evening of sacred chanting I’ll be doing in Ottawa. I’m so grateful to Joel Yan in Ottawa for organizing it and asking Roslyn Wollock, Adult Education & Cultural Programs Manager at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, to host the event. That’s very generous of the centre.

I’m looking forward to joining with Joel on guitar and perhaps other local musicians for the evening on Monday, April 18. Please share this information with folks in Ottawa and even Montreal who might be interested.

We did a similar evening in Ottawa two years ago and had a wonderful time. I wish I could be there more often.

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Today also had a food focus. I took some time to prepare a good lunch in my carbon-steel wok on my new gas range. Just love cooking with gas. It was organic brocollette (cross between broccoli and gai lan), onion, Yves ground round (a soy product), garlic, ginger and a sauce with Chinese mushroom stir-fry sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce and Japanese shoyu in a stock from rehydrating dried shiitake mushrooms.

This evening, Darcy and Tara came over to discuss our menu for the community dinner we’ll be serving on Monday. It’s going to be an Indian feast and I’m taking on an eggplant dish, Baigan ka Bharta. I’ve basically never met an eggplant dish I didn’t love, so this should be fun.

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Friday, April 1, 2016: Raising the bar

Today’s main photo shows Wade working on his laptop at the new bar counter Cam installed today in our shared office space. Cam built the 12-foot counter in our workshop from two $5 wood doors he bought used, one oak and one mahogany. I contributed two bar stools, an adjustable leg for support and some organizing.

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Cam, left, tries out the counter he built in the Vancouver Cohousing workshop.

I’m in awe of people like Cam with building skills. When I drive a nail, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be crooked. Just lucky I don’t hammer my thumb.

I’m planning to spend some time this weekend at the counter enjoying the mountain view. It will be a break from working all day at home.

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Betsy and Lorne in the Bay Area in 1968.

Today I got a lovely message from Betsy in New York marking the 49th anniversary of when we met in 1967 on Kibbutz Nirim in Israel’s Negev Desert. I’m so glad we reconnected last summer when I was in New York for a family wedding, the first time we’d met in 40 years.

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