Sunday, January 24, 2010

Toulouse and Nina Go To Whistler (and stay in our jammies)

When I was visiting family and friends in British Columbia over Christmas, we had the opportunity to go to Whistler, one of North America’s primo skiing resorts, where my son wanted to check out his brand new reverse-camber skis (unfortunately, they came too late and he had to use his old skis in the park). The drive with my friend Margaret and our two sons was pleasant – I promised not to sing. We met up with Heather, our good friend who’d graciously let us stay at her condo for the small fee of also me not singing… oh… and a dinner out with Toulouse, her new friend.

We chose the Mongolie Grill, where you can watch your custom-selected meal of meats, fish, vegetables and other cool mysterious foods with sauces of your choice get stir-fried by crazy guys who throw their knives in the air and toss broccoli into somersaults—all while you are sipping a wicked sangria and visiting with friends and strangers. Well, I had a sangria--Toulouse insisted on a Guinness...It was a very civilized way to dine, I thought, as I surveyed the clientele: a cosmopolitan mix of mostly young skiers, cell-phone afficianados, traveling dilatants and escapees from the business world.

The next day, the boys skied and boarded from the doorstep of the condo while the rest of us, including Toulouse, spent the day deciding where to go that day. There must have been too many of us because we never did reach any kind of consensus (we’re Canadian); instead, we stayed in our jammies ALL day, sipping coffee, eating bonbons, writing, reading and telling stories. Margaret, an Italian chef in another life, made her father’s signature spaghetti and meatball dinner (the secret, besides the sauce, is that you don’t pack the meatballs firmly) served with salad and an Italian red wine. And by then we were out of our jammies and looking quite civilized again.

Whistler Blackcomb is an international ski/boarding destination and the largest ski area in North America at 33 km2 (it’s 54% larger than Vail, the next largest). The site consists of two awesome mountains with a resort village nestled below between them. Whistler Blackbomb offers some of the largest lift-serviced vertical skiing in North America, with Blackcomb having the most at 1565 m (5133 ft). Whistler has slightly less vertical at 1530 m (5020 ft). The highest lift elevation is on Blackcomb at 2240 m (7349 ft).

Whistler Blackcomb will host the alpine skiing events for the 2010 Winter Olympics only three weeks away, this February 12-28, with Paralymmpic Games this March 12-21. Events on the mountain include the men's and women's Olympic and Paralympic alpine skiing disciplines of downhill, Super-G, giant slalom, super combined and slalom. The only thing they need now is more snow! Since I was there, very little has fallen and a significant melt has occurred. Last I heard, they were considering trucking and/or helicopering snow there from the local Cypress Mountain, which is having its own issues with snow (they closed it down for recreational use to preserve what they currently have). I wish them luck… and snow from the heavens.
For more on travel adventures with Toulouse, check out his veryown site, Toulouse LeTrek, the COOL Travel Cat!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

“The Mozart Effect”, the Power of Music

Music is a holy place, a cathedral so majestic that we can sense the magnificence of the universe, and also a hovel so simple and private that none of us can plumb its deepest secrets—Don Campbell

If, indeed God moves us to express that within us which is divine, then poetry is the language of the heart and music is the language of the soul—Nina Munteanu

Don Campbell calls it the “Mozart Effect” in his book of the same name: the ability of music to heal the body, strengthen the mind and unlock the creative spirit.

You’ve all felt it—its rhythm resonating with your throbbing heart, soothing your mind, calming your breath. Or you’ve felt the reverse— depending on the music. Whatever your response, says Campbell, music produces mental and physical effects in you; and—I would venture to add—in all things animate and inanimate (see my next post on Cymatics). Therapeutic uses of music are many:
  • Music can slow down and equalize brain waves: music with a pulse of about sixty beats per minute can shift consciousness from the beta wave (ordinary consciousness at 14-20 Hz) toward the alpha range (heightened awareness at 8-13 Hz), enhancing alertness and general well-being

  • Music affects the heartbeat, pulse rate and blood pressure: a study of expectant mothers at the College of Nursing at Haohsiung Medical University (Taiwan) demonstrated significant reductions in stress, anxiety and depression after two weeks of listening to Brahms lullaby, Beethoven and Debussy and traditional Chinese children’s songs

  • Music can regulate stress-related hormones: Anesthesiologists reported that levels of stress hormones like ACTH, prolactic and HGH all declined in those listening to relaxing music

  • Music and sound can boost the immune function: A Michigan State University study demonstrated that listening to music for fifteen minutes increased levels of interlukin-1 in the blood from 12.5 to 14 percent (interlukin is involved in the immune system, protecting against AIDS, cancer and other diseases)

  • Music improves productivity: a University of Wisconsin study of ninety people copyediting a manuscript found that accuracy in those listening to light classical music improved 21.3% compared with those listening to a popular commercial radio format at 2.4%
Music can strengthen memory and learning: studies have shown that music increases stamina during exercise in addition to the ability to concentrate.

When I was pregnant with my son, I felt an overwhelming urge to listen to classical music (mostly Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel and Mozart) and soft “new age” Celtic music (mostly Enya). What I’d intuitively felt is now known: music calms or stimulates the movement and heart rate of a baby in the womb. It has also been shown that children who receive regular music training demonstrate better motor skills, math ability, and reading performance than those who don’t. High school students who sing or play an instrument score up to fifty points higher on SAT scores than those who don’t.

These observations are borne out by another observation: that adult musician’s brains generally exhibit more EEG (brainwave) coherence than those of non-musicians.

Music is a language understood instinctively by all peoples because it communicates directly to the soul. Darwin suggested that music may have played a role in the evolution of language, comparing the sounds of speech to the way birdsong is used in courtship, reports Caroline Green in the Jan/Feb 2010 Issue of BBC Knowledge. “Some have referred to this as a ‘musical proto-language’.”

In an article in the Fall 2009 Issue of Super Consciousness Campbell eloquently described music as, “the sounds of earth and sky, of tides and storms. It is the echo of a train in the distance, the pounding reverberations of a carpenter at work. From the first cry of life to the last sigh of death, from the beating of our hearts to the soaring of our imaginations, we are enveloped by sound and vibration every moment of our lives. It is the primal breath of creation itself, the speech of angels and atoms, the stuff of which life and dreams, souls and stars, are ultimately fashioned.”

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nina and Toulouse Eat Out in Lunenburg

Well... it started with a door. A most beautiful door...

Behind every door is a story. And here's mine... or should I say Toulouse's and mine... :)

This door belongs to the Mariner King Historic Inn in the charming fishing port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, an UNESCO designated World Heritage town. Lunenburg was settled by mostly German farmers in the mid 1700s. Home to the racing schooner Bluenose II and known for its vernacular architecture, Lunenburg’s charming lanes and dominant hillside setting have remained largely unchanged since the 1700s. A friend of mine described Lunenburg as a “small San Francisco”. While this is a good description, it doesn’t accurately portray the town’s character: its European-style maritime charm and Canadian influence; its steep lanes and historic buildings; its charming cafes where salty characters in woolen hats mingle with world-known avant-garde artists and discuss projects in London, Toronto and New York; and its small eclectic shops with names like The Laughing Whale, Adam & Knickle, EmOcean, Large Marge’s Diner, Jenny Jib, The Tin Fish, The Scuttlebutt, The Black Duck, and Windbag Company.

Since recently relocating to Lunenburg, I was instantly charmed by the heritage houses. Many of the two-story British classical Georgian houses were remodeled in eclectic Victorian Gothic or Italianate styles, with mansard roofs that featured what’s called a “Lunenburg Bump” (usually an overhang or front piece above the central doorway) and flanked by two attractive dormers. What struck me also was that these elegant homes were painted in bold but tasteful colors. I saw bright red, green, salmon, pink, lavender and, of course, light yellow (worthy of a whole post) forming a cheerful and tasteful tapestry of color.

Inspired by a poster I’d seen in one of the shops that showed many of Lunenburg’s artful doors, I went out on a photo-shoot, looking for some myself. I discovered many (you’ll see in a later post) and many were gateways to some beautiful buildings. One of them was the Mariner King Historic Inn with its elegant restaurant, the King’s Plate, where I decided to eat on some occasion.

That occasion came soon when a good friend of mine and her friend dropped in on me for a few days in Lunenburg; I invited them to join Toulouse and I for some fine dining—a Christmas Dinner—at the King’s Plate.

Susan Reibling, the owner, had earlier taken me on a tour of the historic hotel and had introduced me to all her staff, including their chef from Meunster Germany, Konrad. While on tour I was offered excellent coffee and my first eggnog of the season! Woohoo! Geez... all I did was photograph the door and tell them I was a writer... I could get to like this writing thing stuff.

The Mariner King was built in a Georgian style by Dr. Charles Bolman in 1830 to mark the coronation of King William IV of England, the “Mariner King”, and the first British Royal to come to Nova Scotia. Six years later it was purchased by the Zwicker family who "Victorianized" it along with the famous Lunenburg "bump" over the entrance. The Reiblings bought the hotel in 2007 and remodeled it as a boutique hotel decorated with tasteful eclectic furnishings and art obtained from all over the world.

We had some time before supper so we lounged in the front parlor where our hostess, Joanna, recommended that I order a "Sagittarius". The Sagittarius is a cocktail of limejuice, dill, cracked pepper, muddled, with a shot of vodka, shaken over ice, strained over ice and topped with tonic. It was SUPERB! Toulouse, of course, had to give it a try. Being the discerning French cat that he is, of course he liked it too. A little too much. Next thing I knew he was IN my drink doing the Locust pose!

"Doesn't take much to get him drunk," my friend Teresa quipped, raising her brow at Toulouse's aromatic wet fur as I pulled him out of the drink. "He doesn't have much body weight." Can you tell she's an engineer?

We were called into supper, which consisted (for me anyway) of creamy mushroom soup with morels (Oohlala! It was good! This rivaled the mushroom cream soup I’d had in Brio, a Tuscan Grill in a posh mall in Detroit, a while ago, where another “Toulouse” incident occurred). Toulouse, of course, had to taste everything. As entrĂ© I had Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff with pearl onions and mushrooms. That was followed by a Bavarian Cream, drizzled with caramel sauce.

While Toulouse and I fought for the last spoon of desert, Konrad Haumering, the chef, joined us. Luckily, by then Toulouse was acting decently (in other words, he didn't have his head in the cocktail--mainly because I'd drunk it all). Toulouse charmed our chef, like he does everyone, and Konrad took him to the back for a private tour of the kitchen facility. Geez! They didn't give ME that tour....

For more on The Adventures with Toulouse, check out his very own blog, Toulouse LeTrek, the COOL Travel Cat.


1. Front door of The Mariner King Historic Inn
2. Historic Lunenburg waterfront
3. The Dory Shop on the Lunenburg waterfront
4. Yours truly standing at the Lunenburg waterfront and enjoying the winter snow in Lunenburg
5. The lobby of The Mariner King Inn
6. The parlor of The Mariner King Inn
7. Toulouse oogles the delicious mushroom soup at the King's Plate, The Mariner King Inn
8. Toulouse doing one of his Yoga Stretches--or trying to wear the entre at the King's Plate
9. Konrad Haumering, chef at The King's Plate, makes friends with Toulouse

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Striving for a Better World, Starting Now in 2010

An article of the December 2009 Economist entitled “Onwards and Upwards”, discusses the concept of "progress" by introducing the story “The Tragedy of Man” an 1862 allegory by Hungarian writer Imre Madach. The cautionary tale follows the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden as told from Adam’s perspective--a man’s perspective. Adam boasts peevishly: “My God is me; whatever I regain [of Eden] is mine...”

The tale plays out a little like the Ghost of Things to Come segment in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The three main characters of Adam, Lucifer and Eve, travel through time to visit turning points in our history. Lucifer easily convinces Adam that life will prove meaningless and mankind is doomed. Adam and Lucifer appear at the beginning of each scene, with Adam assuming various important historical roles and Lucifer usually acting as a servant or confidant. Eve enters only later in each scene, playing a minor role.

As we move through time, Adam glimpses the glory of the Egyptian pyramids only to discover that they were built on the misery of slaves. Rejecting slavery, he advances to Greek democracy only to see heroes condemned, and turns to the worldly pleasures of hedonistic Rome. Sated but ironically empty, he seeks the chivalry of the knights crusader only to witness their debauchery and hypocrisy. He turns to equality and the rights of man only to see it curdle into Terror under Robespierre. He embraces individual liberty, which crumbles under the greed of Georgian London financiers. Finally, at the twilight of humanity, a scientific “utopia” dictates that Michelangelo make chair-legs and Plato herd cows because art and philosophy are not considered useful.