A Caucophony of Lifestyle

Archive for September, 2011

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken

Now that Justin has a job where he works from home, we were very excited to try out new slow cooker recipes.  Always a yummy favourite is the slow cooker butter chicken.  Justin looked at several recipes and this is what we ended up with:

Note – We found boneless, skinless chicken thighs were the best kind of chicken to use and there was a note from the allrecipes.com website to use a needle and thread (for example) to link the cardamom pods together.  This is essential because we didn’t do this the first time and they taste like gross perfume-y flowers.


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 chicken thighs (or more if desired)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon curry paste
  • 2 teaspoons tandoori masala
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 15 green cardamom pods
  • 1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • salt to taste


  1. Melt the butter and vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the chicken, onion, and garlic. Cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, curry paste, tandoori masala, garam masala, and tomato paste until no lumps of tomato paste remain. Pour into a slow cooker, and stir in the cardamom pods, coconut milk, and yogurt. Season to taste with salt.
  2. Cook on High 4 to 6 hours, or on Low 6 to 8 hours until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced to your desired consistency. Remove and discard the cardamom pods before serving.

We also have had either basmati rice or naan bread on the side, either of which is an absolute asset to this meal.  Yum!





Seperation Anxiety in Dogs

My dog, Grover the Bichon (kennel name of Grover Washington Zeyl…we thought it was funny he needed a kennel name), will be turning 12 this October and has long suffered from severe seperation anxiety.

I’ve found over the past few years that I talk about my dog the way parents talk about their kids.   As a result, it seems that my co-workers often come to me with dog-related questions.  While I am certainly no dog expert (and in fact, I’ve gained most of my dog knowledge from my boyfriend and his former dog-breeder parents over the past couple years) I always try to give the best advice based on my experiences.

As a result, the one subject that I feel very adept at talking about is seperation anxiety.  From what I understand, there are varying degrees of seperation anxiety in dogs.  This can be anything from light whimpering while left alone to severe destruction – to themselves and their surroundings.

What I would suggest is that when your dog is a puppy, crate train them properly.  This provides a small safe area, so that your dog doesn’t feel the need to watch over and protect the whole home.

In my case, we did not know how to crate train properly, so we ended up with a breed of dog already prone to seperation anxiety that was only increased by improper training.

Grover’s real training for his seperation anxiety began when Justin and I first moved to Mississauga.  We lived in a shared house.  Luckily, when we first moved in we were the only tenant’s in the house.  This was great, because we would always come home, no matter how long we had been gone for, to a howling dog.  He would sound like he was being axe murdered, and would also urinate all over the floor and be drooling excessively.  He would also be destructive, if he wasn’t confined.

We decided that to help his training move along faster we would go to the vet to ask for suggestions.  We ended up with Clomicalm, which apparently only works with training.  I’m still not sure if I believe that this medication actually works, but it did make us feel like we were exercising all possible means of controlling this behaviour. 

When we moved downtown Toronto, knowing we would be in an apartment building, we knew we had to make the transition as smoothly as possible.  By the time we finally ended up moving to a different area of the city, Grover was the perfect dog.  He had been totally weaned off his medication, and we never caught him crying.  When we moved we thought we’d be able to take a couple weeks off work to help smooth the transition, but that he was ‘over it’.  Not so.

These are the measures (that I can think of) that we had to take, and please feel free to try out all or some, depending on the degree and severity of your dogs anxiety:

Lessening the anticipation of leaving  – Start out with simple things like opening and closing the front door, put your jacket or shoes on, etc.  Do these things randomly throughout the day and try and replicate the same energy as when you really are leaving. 

Coming home and Leaving are NOT exciting – When you are leaving or coming home, make sure you ignore your dog entirely.  This might sound mean, but any acknowledgement of the feelings of anxiety that are brewing may be miscontrued by your dog.  Cuddle long before you leave, and long after you get home.

Start with short trips out – We started in our new place with going downstairs to do our laundry, or just waiting in the hall for a few minutes.  These trips can start to increase in time.

Doggy Day Care – Doggy Day Care is essential to those who have to go to work for 8 hours.  This is a gradual process.  Doggy Day Care is expensive, but it means that your dog will be happy, and will be more open (and exhausted) to the training you’re providing.

Medication – I mentioned Clomicalm earlier, but we have tried several different herbal remedies as well.  I’m not sure if any of them actually work, but the peace of mind for the dog owners is sometimes worth it.

Treats – One of the main tools we’ve used with Grover for transitioning is giving him a treat that he only gets when we are not at home.  We use a Kong with wet dog food in it.  The key for this to be effective is that you have to take the treat away when you’re home again, or some dogs will wait until you get home to relax and enjoy their treat.

Walks….lots and lots of Walks – Or other exercise, but definitely long long walks help drain the energy.  I know when Grover is determined to be anxious he can still find the energy somewhere, but it works tremendously in tandem with the other training.  Remember the saying ‘A Tired Dog is a Happy Dog’!

One of the most important things to remember is to Always Stay Calm!!  If you do come home to a whining dog, don’t be upset.  Breathe and keep moving forward.  Ignore the negative behaviour.

Justin and I were in PetSmart the other day and there was a woman asking for a bark collar for her dog because it’s anxiety was terrible, and she had a neighbour who was a shift worker.   My heart was bleeding for this poor woman, because I’ve been worried about getting kicked out before too.  When you see the number of Bichon’s at rescue companies I always figure this is the main reason why.

Seperation anxiety is a very serious issue.  It totally drains your energy and feels like a constant battle.  I remember being so, so angry with our doggy day care the first day because we expressly told them we brought Grover to day care because his anxiety was so bad.  Apparently, they decided that it would still be ok to leave him by himself on his first day.  The owner called me in a sheer panic because she had put a muzzle on him and citronella collar and nothing was working.   Note – trying to constrain the behaviour won’t help, the more they have to fight against, the more determined, and worse the anxiety becomes.  I had to calmly speak to the owner and explain that she was only witnessing the reason why he was in day care, and that I had given them all of the warnings, and I wasn’t exaggerating.  He did end up loving doggy day care, and they didn’t isolate him at the end of the day the way they did with some of the other dogs.

Grover is lucky that he now has Justin working from home, but we had pretty much gotten him back into a stable state of mind anyway.  We still come home to him whining sometimes, and I think this is just something we will constantly be reinforcing and training.

If your dog has seperation anxiety, please remember that it’s a lot of work, and that there are a lot of people out there who can help you and who understand.   The main goal has to be a healthy, happy dog!

Last Night’s Debate

While I’m not sure how many people tuned into the Ontario premier debate last night, I have to say I only watched the first little bit.  It was on at an inconvenient time (6:30pm!) and I started to get annoyed with the repetition and talking over each other.

Let me summarize my thoughts and opinions…keep in mind that I am an avid arts lover.

Dalton McGuinty:

The Liberal Premier and the incumbent. I think no matter what he could have said last night wouldn’t have changed the fact that Dalton McGuinty is not well liked because of his tax hikes and broken promises.  What I would like to note though, is that all politicians break their promises, he’s not the only one (cough cough…Rob Ford). 

My favourite platform peice he brought up – Promoting growth in the clean Energy sector in liaison with David Suzuki and using this for job growth and environmental friendliness. 

My favourite put down – Saying to the other two candidates that if they keep bringing up how much everyone hates the HST then why isn’t it in their platform to get rid of the HST.  *zing!

Tim Hudak:

The PC candidate.  All I could think of for the first while watching the debate was how much he looks like Andy from the office.

My favourite platform peice – Well, I’m just not  a fan.  But I I did think he held his own.

My favourite put down – When he told Dalton McGuinty that the people just don’t trust him anymore.  *bam!

Andrea Horwath:

The NDP candidate.  While I always love having strong female leaders I was not a fan of her interruptions and talking over the other two.  It wasn’t an effective way of making her point.  I think the NDP could have come across a lot stronger in this case, but I was glad she really held her own.

My favourite platform peice – For some reason, most of what I remember her and Tim Hudak saying was that they would ‘get rid of taxes for families’, but I don’t really know how either of them will go about doing that.  They were both kind of unclear about specific points of their plans.  I wish they had both been more on topic, or on platform peices rather than just trying to tear Dalton McGuinty apart.  It meant I know what McGuinty’s platform is all about, and I’m not really sure on either of theirs.

My favourite put down – I don’t actually remember a specific put down, because she kept saying things that seemed like put down, but were just her talking over someone else…even sometimes when she agreed.

My verdict – vote on the candidate in your riding that will best represent your area.  I don’t think this debate acheived anything other than to close the gaps between the parties.

And don’t forget to VOTE!

Upcoming Election

All of the full fledged election campaigning has officially been in motion for a few weeks.  From wondering what the ‘Vote Against Kids’ ads have been (see video links to youtube below) to listening to Liberals coming out in full force this election (the Tim Hudak – Dalton McGuinty face off), I’ve been trying to pay a bit of extra attention to the flyers coming to my door and focusing on my own neighbourhood a bit. 

When I lived at Spadina and Bloor, I rarely had any campaign teams coming door to door canvassing for votes.  I think this was because the building I lived in was a highly student populated building, and most of them were international students, making them inelligble to vote.

Now that I live in the Yonge and Eglinton area, we have had canvassers every election.  I always appreciate someone actually coming to my door and taking the effort.  Last election, I voted for the person in my area just based on the fact that I had seen them in my building, at my door, and in my neighbourhood several times throughout the campaign.  My willingness to learn about the issues they care about and their platform shows how effective this can be.  This election I’ve been learning about our incumbent for quite some time, as I both live and work in the same area.  This is her website – check it out! 


The campaigners that came to my door last night said something that I definitely appreciated – that not only is she a Liberal party member, but that she’s just a special hard-working lady.  I can definitely appreciate that, and I loved the time and dedication spent by her canvassers.  I once canvassed with a municipal councillor that my Dad was campaign manager for, and even though I was so young, I appreciated the hard work that is put into running a campaign.

My opinion – with all the issues that Toronto has had with it’s current mayors unwanted budget cuts, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upsurge of non-conservative votes this time around.  I’ll weigh in again after watching the debates tonight!






Rubato – Casual Opera

I thought I’d take today to introduce my shared pet project that Justin and I started a long time ago now.  Rubato – Casual Opera is a group of young up and coming performers in the Toronto area, and the goal is to sing in bars throughout the city.  Mostly, our performances have been at Harbord House, because of our personal connections there.  And because they’re awesome. 

Our most recent performance was an ‘in concert’ style version of Die Fledermaus by Strauss, which was a lot of fun.  I played the part of Adele, the chambermaid, and I have to say it was a great character, as well as a vocally challening role.  Our other jobs have been dinner gigs with varying numbers of Rubato members.  One of the more interesting one’s was for an event celebrating the Royal Wedding (so while ago now!) where we sang in a pub, but were off in a corner.  The set up was a little awkward, but mostly this created a very laid back environment.  I can honestly say this is the only time I’ve ever been singing where someone has come and tried to start a conversation, or expected an answer while I’ve been singing.  Or about to start singing.  It was a fun time though, and we got to practice singing a little more than we had expected to.

The nice thing about this group is that we get to work with extremely talented artists who are hard working and easy to get along with.  We’ve made a lot of long term friends through this group.

We’ve been rather busy lately with dog-related things (see previous post), but I would love to hear suggestions for any shows or songs or pubs that you would like to see Rubato be a part of.  We’re always looking to expand and diversify!  Maybe even a show in a different city?

Check us out – www.casualopera.com

Grover and the Cone

Lately, I’ve had a lot of inquiries of why Grover is and has been wearing a cone for so long.  I thought I’d write a blog about this, so if anyone ‘out there’ has any similar issues with their dogs that maybe they can give me advice.  Don’t worry, I won’t post any of the gross pictures online.

The first time we started noticing that something funny was starting with his eye was on Canada Day this year.  We were taking care of our friends parents dog, and I took this photo of Grover.  He had started rubbing his eye and we thought he had a mosquito bite above his eye.

The Sunday of this weekend we woke up to Grover sleeping under our bed (which he never does) and when I woke up his eye was green, the size of a swollen golf ball, and very pus-y.  Luckily, we had a cone on hand from some hot spots he had last summer.  Hence, the coning began.  The next day, I brought him to the vet, and she gave us some antibiotics for the eye infection, and cleaned his eye out a fair bit.  We went with this for a week and Grover’s eye was no longer green, but he still couldn’t keep it open.  So we were referred to an eye specialist.  His name is Dr. Goldstein and his practice at Forest Hill Animal Clinic is amazing.  They always give us a discount for the referral, and I think also because they know how draining (financially and emotionally) this kind of thing is on you.

The summary of all our vet appointments with Dr. Goldstein…Well, the first visit I went by myself and had very challenging news and decisions to deal with.  Grover has a very unusual eye thing “and no one ever wants to hear that”.  Basically Dr. Goldstein described how the eye works, drew me a diagram and thoroughly went over everything that he was thinking about what was going on.  Because it seemed futile to get all sorts of expensive testing done on what we may not have found a solution, I conceded and decided to get the ultrasound as the only fancy test.  The ultrasound showed that Grover has a mass of something unknown behind his eye.  We went home with 3 medications 4 times a day for Grover.


This initial treatment worked super well for Grover.   He was still itchy, but we could leave his cone off for brief periods of time without fear that the scratching would re-ulcer his eye.  We still brought Grover with us like usual and he’s still having a lot of fun.  The follow up visits were basically great, that we need to get the infection back and under control and that he seems to be reacting to the medication well.


A couple weekends ago we went to Ottawa for Justin’s brother’s wedding (It was a beautiful wedding, by the way!).  A couple days before we left for Ottawa we started noticing that Grover was starting to itch at his other eye a little bit.  But just disregarded this that he was itchy from not being able to rub his face at all.   While we were in Ottawa his other eye continued to get worse and worse, until Justin made the executive decision to start giving him his medication in both eyes.  We figured that mass we know about back there is shifting and it seemed very likely that it was the same thing.  Dr. Goldstein told us at the follow up that we (Justin) did the absolute right thing.  The other issue is that after Grover had had a fun day swimming with Jagger (my dad’s Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever) and Herman (my sister maltese/shitz tzu cross) I wanted to give him a good burshing.  As I was brushing him I realized that his whole body was super hot and realized he had angry red skin and very angry red spots.  I decided to give him a bath, and had to bring him to our own vet that day as well (double vet bill day…not so good).

In our follow up with Dr. Goldstein most recently, he believes that the skin and eyes are related and there may be an underlying issue, such as auto immune disease.    Through online research, I believe what Grover may have is VKH http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/articles/vkhsyndrome.htm . This sounds very like what he has, but without the discolouration.  Although, he has been getting really bad age spots, and he now has brown scabs spread over his body.  He does seem to have relaxed though, and sleeps most days.

Justin and I don’t think the next trip to the vet will be a very good one, because of the degradation that has been going on lately.  Wish Grover the best, as we continue to try to make him a happy little guy, and keep him feeling good about himself for awhile yet.

We love our little Grover Bear!

Arts in Toronto and Glee

So the season premiere of Glee aired last night.  Being an avid musical theatre lover, I was thrilled with the first season of Glee and seeing so many of my favourite Broadway talents on the show.  I adored Lea Michele in Spring Awakening and who doesn’t love Idina Menzel from Rent and Wicked, and Kristin Chenoweth from Charlie Brown and Wicked…all of them among others!  Needless to say, I’ve found a few episodes strayed from the usual endearing truths and realities (Britney Spears episode…coughcough).  However, I did find that this premiere was a touching return to the first season, appropriately, since this is the last year a lot of the characters will be on the show.  Firstly, there were a ton of musical theatre peices, so I was a happy camper.  Secondly, the most touching moment of the show for me was when Kurt and Rachel realize that they might not have the wonderful planned careers after high school they had always dreamed of.  A little too close to home for most.  Thirdly, I loved the daring look at the Sue and Will clash and the stand Sue took against the arts.  This is super topical, as seen in this article in The Toronto Star today:


The article notes that slashing of the arts is not a solution for Toronto, and will put the city back by 25 years.  This has been an ongoing issue, especially in Toronto lately, with all the clashing of our current mayor and his brother with Art in several forms (ie. privitization of theatres, closing of libraries).  I remember growing up the constant talk of taking arts programming out of schools, which would have been terrible for most of the people I know, myself included.

What I don’t understand is how financial experts seem to always think that cutting arts programming is cost effective.  Do we  not all watch television when we go home at night?  Do we read magazines and watch cartoons with kids?  We’re surrounded by ads every day that are created by artists.  The arts are just as essential as other programming, and it seems absurd that there is so much hate towards such a flexible and accessible medium.

I signed the online petition to keep arts funding in Toronto – I would highly suggest everyone to take action and prove the necessity of fostering creativity!

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