Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 273: Letting Go

Day 273: Letting Go, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I'm getting my kitchen redone. Everything has to be packed up. This is part of my get rid of pile. Even it is full of reminiscences. The ceramic pumpkin, with candle inside, would glow on our table at supper time in October. My children are well in their twenties; the custom has fallen by the wayside.

This plastic car was given to me by my sister-in law. She knew my then young son loved anything with a motor. What could be more fun than a jello car! My son was sick with a sore throat. It seemed the perfect time for cool jello. I prepared the jello, poured it in the mould and walked gingerly to the refrigerator. As I opened the door the car tipped, spilling jello on the floor and into the fridge. What a sticky mess! That was the last time I used this car. Yet it has sat in my cupboard for over twenty years. Time to let go. Time to move on.

Day 272: Pumpkins

Day 272: Pumpkins, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Nothing quite confirms autumn as the piles of pumpkins. Each year I am astonished at the variety that appears at Atwater Market. There are the more traditional ones for carving as well as gourds of every shape. Then there are pumpkins known for their flavour that can be cooked for soups or pies.

A few years ago I noticed something growing in my garden that looked very much like a pumpkin vine. How did it come to be growing there? I let it grow and waited to have my own pumpkin patch. Unfortunately it only produced a couple of small ornamental gourds.

As the days get shorter and drearier, we need the bright colours of pumpkins and the changing leaves to offset that feeling of impending gloom. My trips to the market may become more frequent as I feast on the autumn colours.

Day 271: Rainy Night

Day 271: Rainy Night, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Rain fell steadily. Lights spilled onto the mirrored streets creating painted puddles. Newly fallen leaves made the surface slick - autumn's ice rink.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 270: Snail Mail

Day 270: Snail Mail, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I was thinking the other day how rarely I have something to put in a mail box. So much of what we do now is online. I keep up with friends and family through email and social networking sites and most of my bills are delivered and paid online. My mailman delivers far more requests for charitable donations than personal mail. While I still have a childish anticipation of his visit, it is rare that there are any gems in the bundle he drops off. I do still receive some magazines (hard copies are still better for reading in bed), but so much of my mail makes a quick trip into the recycling bin.

But for those times you need to post a letter or parcel, these bright red boxes are very handy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 269: Red Barn

Day 269: Red Barn, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Driving between Casselman and Ottawa I spotted this red barn (I was the passenger so this was taken from the car window while we were moving). It reminded me of the games we would play in the car when my children were young.

Game 1 - Spot the.... I would have a list of things and the children would be on the lookout for them so they could cross them off their lists - somehow a red barn was always on the list.

Game 2 - Alphabet - Find something that you see, starting with A and then through the alphabet. Needless to say, some letters were harder than others. Clotheslines helped as we got to U - underwear and sometimes they had to get creative V - very small house.

Game 3 - Geography - This is one I played in my childhood and continued with my own children. Someone starts with the name of a place (can also be a body of water, mountain range...). The next person has to respond with a place name that starts with the ending letter. There was always a groan as we fell into the a's. Alabama, Asia, Alaska, Antarctica.....

Game 4 - Ghost - This is a spelling game. One person starts with a letter. The idea is not to finish a word, but you can't just say random letters as you can be challenged and have to reply with a word you had in mind. Words have to be at least 3 letters. If you finish a word you get a G (and subsequent words continue through the letters in Ghost). The first person to get Ghost loses.

These games, along with music tapes and songs (especially those where we could make up our own verses) provided me with peace as I drove. Though occasionally the car battles erupted anyway. The children were not immune to the issues of "he's looking at me", "she's in my space". But mainly we had fun!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 268: Franco Ontarian Pride

Day 268: Franco Ontarian Pride, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Trying to Work

I sit
My back to the window
Staring at my computer screen
Sounds reach me
Pulling me from my online world
To real life outside
Geese fly by
Their honking a haunting reminder
Of the coming cold
Train whistles sound
Gaining and losing intensity
As they approach and pass by
But suddenly pounding and shouting
Fire engine sirens
Percussion sounds
Coming closer
They pull me from my seat
Students, many dressed in green
Parading their pride
In their Franco Ontario origins

Then back to work

Day 267: Ubiquitous

Day 267: Ubiquitous, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Driving between my two residences I had to stop for supper and like many who travel highways, I stopped at a fast food place. It was a question of convenience as I really wanted to get from point a to point b quickly. These so called restaurants are ubiquitous, homogenizing the world with their lack of character. This sign could be anywhere in Canada and with slight variation could be in many places in the world.

Often when you drive in the suburbs of a city there is a strip with one fast food place after another. You have no sense of where you are. There is little to identify one community from another. Aside from the fact that they are ruining the health of our nations through their plentiful servings of over-processed food and fried offerings, they are ruining our taste buds.

So many people eat here because they know what they will get. Even in a city like Paris, where there is a plethora of good restaurants at fairly reasonable prices, fast food places do a brisk business both with locals and North American travellers. There seems to be a need to stay with the familiar even when venturing away from home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 266: Continuity

Day 266: Continuity, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A few ideas have converged. I was thinking about music and how albums of the past had a coherence. They were often not just conceived as a place to put several songs, but that the songs were in some way related - there was a concept. Although we often had favourite songs, we usually listened from start to finish. With iPods and CDs it became commonplace to shuffle so there was no longer any continuity from one song to the next - just randomness.

Yesterday I met with an elementary school teacher who had been training other teachers on the process of reading text and reading images. She spoke of the continuity in a picture book, how the artist helps structure the story through his use of images. For example, sections that are "real life" were drawn paler than sections that came from imaginary events. When children learn to expect continuity they are better able to understand text and to see it as a whole.

Our ability to concentrate and follow through was once more mentioned in an interview with Leon Fleisher, a classical pianist who will be playing a concert here this week. He spoke of the fact that many works (concertos, symphonies) are as long as 40 minutes and that audiences need to learn to stay focused for that length of time. Many have grown up on the ten minute television segment followed by commercials. The ability to focus has been compromised. And you need to focus to really enjoy the music, to hear the theme move and be transformed and come back in new ways in each movement. I went on a cruise some years ago and was really bothered when the classical string quartet played one movement from one piece and then a movement from something else. The continuity was lost.

Today's society is fond of morsels: sound bites, sampling, clips, excerpts. But we lose the continuity, the depth and breadth of the experience, whether it is a whole concert, reading an entire book, looking at news in depth or simply focusing on an idea long enough to make sense of it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 265: Standing on Guard

Day 265: Standing on Guard, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I'm not sure if these terracotta warriors are lost. They are standing guarding who knows what, separated from their thousands of troops. They had been gone for a while. We are not far from a high school and some of the students thought it would be funny to knock the head off one. I don't know if these are replacements or if they have recovered from their battle wounds. They certainly look incongruous here. But they do lend character to the neighbourhood.

I have seen some of the original warriors at an exhibit in London. I would love to visit their compatriots in China. For now I will have to be content seeing these fellows on guard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 264: Maybe she won't notice

Day 264: Maybe she won't notice, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I went downstairs to answer the door and came back to find one cat sitting on the keyboard of my laptop and the other on my "Time Capsule". They were enjoying my electronic heating pads. I picked Basil off the keyboard and Elmo slipped behind my computer and curled up behind the screen, soaking up the heat it gave off. His head poked out and I couldn't resist photographing, but it didn't come out quite right, so here he is in duplicate: on the screen and behind it.

It is amazing how these cats love heat. I have described their trajectory around my house before. In the evening they get more creative about their search for warmth. As I write, Elmo is on my chair behind my back, a feline lumbar support. Cats know how to get their needs met. I just found this quote

If a dog jumps into your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer. ~Alfred North Whitehead
I know it is true - but not quite, because cats are picky with laps and know where they will get the best reception and added benefits. And there is nothing quite so relaxing as petting a cat.

Day 263: Changing Times

Day 263: Changing Times, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This character has looked down on those coming up the steps of this building on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal. Built in 1899 as Royal Victoria College, it served as a parallel university as part of McGill, but separate - this was where women could live and study. Perhaps the lion was daring the men to enter at their own risk.

Once women were integrated into the mainstream of university classes, they still were considered members of Royal Victoria College. The building continued to serve as a residence and as a centre for women's athletics. To learn more about the residence - click.

In 1971 the Faculty of Music moved in, and though a small part of the building still served as a women's only residence, the main part was transformed into classrooms, practice spaces and a lovely concert hall.

This lion has witnessed this transition. His pained expression seems to say he has seen enough. Too bad he cannot enter the building and witness the wonderful events that have taken place here. I am sure that change will continue to happen. We cannot just close our eyes to it, but learn to adapt and shape our futures and not allow ourselves to turn into stone and be as immobile as this character.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 262: Music the Unifier

Day 262: Music the Unifier, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Day three of the Montreal Recorder Festival ended with a joint concert of Ensemble Caprice and Quynade (a medieval ensemble from Israel). There were a number of things that were interesting to note that shows how unifying music is.

The concert was played in a church on the second evening of Rosh Hashonah. If you stopped to think about the people on stage (Israelis along with the Montreal based musicians who originated from Montreal, Germany, England, Egypt and Iran) and the program they chose to share, there are odd combinations. The program included medieval music written for religious purposes (as so much of it was). Yet a message that may have been written for one purpose, for example the Cantigas de Santa Maria - songs written for Saint Mary could convey the mood and feelings Quynade wanted to share.

If you watched the musicians, their thoughts were not on politics and historical hatreds, but on sharing that intangible spirit that comes from creation - their joy in the music, their pleasure in playing together and creating something larger than themselves. Certainly, in this concert, music transcended time, politics and religion.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day 261: City of Gold

Day 261: City of Gold, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The sun cast a golden light making the city look like a fantasy place in the distance. Gold windows twinkled beckoning those who dared to come to this elusive mirage.

Evening light is wonderful, exaggerating, intensifying. It sets the autumn trees on fire. The underside of the clouds looked like the downy belly of a chickadee.

Darkness soon fell, cloaking the magical moment.

Evening Clouds

Day 260: Before the Concert

Day 260: Before the Concert, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Flutissimo's tenth anniversary concert took place at Tanna Schulich Hall at McGill University. We shared the stage with a professional viola da gamba ensemble, Les Voix Humaines. What a thrill to share a concert with these incredible musicians. My seat was next to them so I felt I had a private concert each time it was their turn to play.

I go to many concerts and know many of the early music performers in Montreal. It is interesting to play in such a professional space and feel, just a bit, some of what they face in their concerts. To live the dress rehearsal, when things go wrong, to face the nerves, to experience the feeling of the audience and then the exhilaration after the concert is to glimpse into their realities. I wouldn't want to live it on a regular basis, but it was sure fun for an evening....
....and by the way - the concert went very well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 259: Unusual Orchid

Day 259: Unusual Orchid, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I have a number of orchids and they keep giving back to me. My aunt showed me a number of years ago, that when her orchids stopped blooming, she simply put them in an inconspicuous spot (in her case behind a couch near the window) and eventually it bloomed again. I always thought orchids were difficult flowers to keep, but mine have payed me back many times over.

I bought this one because of its unusual colour and pattern. It's funny how we cherish flowers that are different and unusual but cast aside people who don't fit "the mould". I was at a meeting today where we discussed a learning and evaluation situation for young students (a teaching unit encompassing evaluation as well as teaching) and I was introduced to the book, "Don't Laugh At Me" by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin. In it, children who live with their differences (glasses, braces, sitting in a wheelchair...) tell others not to laugh. How can we help children understand that we are all different in some ways and the same in others and that is what makes each of us unique.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 258: Jacket Weather

Day 258: Jacket Weather, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The weather has changed subtly; going out the door now means stopping to put on a jacket. No more carefree barefeet in sandles on a summer evening. As the leaves change, so do the colours of our clothes. Dark business attire replaces the pastels of summer. Sleeves creep down arms, exposing less and warming more.

The young still parade in their warm weather togs, bare legs, bare arms. They are not yet ready to relinquish summer. On the same street walk sweatered adults, beyond caring about the impressions they make, intent just on their comfort. I donned my jacket before stepping out to go to a rehearsal, tied my closed up shoes and felt my step a little heavier as my autumn attire weighed me down a little - it's part of the loss of freedom Autumn brings.

Day 257: Boggle

Day 257: Boggle, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The theme this month in the 365/2009 Flickr group is Games. So I thought I would include my favourite on: Boggle. This is my giant boggle set. The idea is to make as many words as you can in three minutes
"When the timer starts, each player searches the assortment of letters for words of four letters or more. When you find a word, write it down.
Words are formed from adjoining letters. Letters must join in the proper sequence to spell a word. They may join horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, to the left, right, or up-and-down. No letter cube, however, may be used more than once within a single word."

My spouse and I play and laugh a lot. He plays bilingually (French and English). I usually just use English words. Now I'll get you started. Here are a couple of the words in this random fall of letters

What else can you find? I'll give you as much time as you need.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day 256: Autumn Approaches

Day 256: Autumn Approaches, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A splendid day for biking. Not far from Casselman, a disused railway track has been converted into a bike path. We pedalled from Hammond to Bourget and back with signs of autumn evident everywhere. As we approached the path a flock of geese flew overhead, their raucous cries heralding the coming colder weather. The air smelled sweet as we cycled through a forested area. In spots there were crisp dry leaves on the path which crunched as we drove over them. Their smell was an autumn aroma, still fresh, not like the decaying smell of November. We continued past farms with their own aroma, pungent and not at all sweet.

It's odd how autumn brings both the brilliant hurrah of the maple reds and the fading whisper of the flowers. Both in their way, are a preparation for the dormancy of winter.

Day 255: Sheep Herding

Day 255: Sheep Herding, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Instinct - that's what the gentleman spoke about as he demonstrated how his border collies herd sheep. They are bred for herding and it is remarkable to watch them focus solely on herding the sheep. He explained that in training them he does not reward or praise them, just lets them know through tone of voice that they are off the mark.

The dogs understood spoken commands as well as whistle commands and obeyed completely (well not quite completely), never taking their eyes off the sheep.

I'm just reading Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness in Room 56 by Rafe Esquith. Our students are much more complex than these dogs. Instinct alone will not help our students develop. But the respect for the capabilities of our students and the belief that they can achieve is common to the approach of both Rafe and the dog trainer. As for the sheep - we have to help our students see that following the flock and banding together isn't the best path to growth!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 254: Nature's Paintbrush

Day 254: Nature's Paintbrush, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Nature paints with a joyous brush
Streaks across the sky
I've been looking at her artistry
On the newly painted leaves
and in granite slabs
That tell the story of millions of years of upheaval
I'm not sure
we can ever match her creativity
She has such a large canvas
To play on.

Day 253: Make it Shine

Day 253: Make it Shine, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I took my car for a long overdue wash. There is a hand carwash not far from me, so the inside and the outside of the car got a thorough cleaning. I would never put up with the same dirt in my house that I put up with in my car. Now I can feel I am driving in a healthy environment (if there is such a thing in a car) for at least a few days. If I could only stop eating in the car......

It was a day for water - I had to hook up my hose for the first time this year and water my flowers. We have had a full week without rain and the flowers were starting to beg. It's that time of year when the garden starts to look faded. I need to keep the flowers happy as long as possible. One nice thing about this photo/blogging experience is that I am watching spring burst forth in Australia so I will have virtual flowers all winter.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 252: Colours Change

Day 252: Colours Change, originally uploaded by susanvg.

We have had a delayed summer with rainy, cool weather in July. By the middle of August it heated up and temperatures still linger slightly over seasonal averages. I put on my shorts and t-shirt, go out in my sandles, and enjoy the mild weather. The leaves, despite the temperature, know that autumn is closing in. Tinges of red can be seen on some leaf tips. The shorter days, as we approach the equinox, must signal the trees to don their autumnal splendour. A time of change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 251: Pottery

Day 251: Pottery, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I made this piece of pottery when I was sixteen. I spent my summer at a fine arts camp. The arts have always had a priority in my life. In those days I played the modern flute and danced a lot - had recently discarded my pointe shoes to dance barefoot. The camp had ballet classes but no modern dance so it was the first summer there that I wasn't dancing. I spent my mornings in the pottery studio producing a variety of pots, from hand coiled pieces, to slab pots, of which this was one. I never mastered the wheel. I think I enjoyed all the pounding I had to do to make a good slab pot - it got rid of a lot of teenage angst.

What I remember most was the pottery instructor talking about the inside space of the pot, that it should feel full of air, not collapsing. The interior space was as important as the exterior. A metaphor for people, I guess. It will be great when we stop focusing so much on people's exteriors, which can be molded and pinched by everyone in the beauty industry and focus on the interior space which each of us has to grow and nurture ourselves.

Day 250: Music on the Mountain

Day 250: Music on the Mountain, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A walk on the mountain on a gorgeous day. We lingered near the chalet at the top just people watching. A parade of people of all ages and dogs of all sizes provided smiles. Music wafted down from the top of the stairs - mainly jazz and a few traditional melodies, strummed on first one then two guitars. It added a delightful soundtrack to the scene.

Some of the buskers in Montreal are predictable. There is an older gentleman who sits in the same spot on the mountain, playing tunes on a plastic recorder. In the metro station near my house there is variety from the accordion-playing Hare Krishna beggar to the cellist who plays only a few notes and then shouts angrily. Last week I heard a man playing a South American flute - a lovely lilting melody. Some accomplished students earn a little money through their gifts.

I was fascinated to read a story about Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist who busked in Washington DC at the behest of the Washington Post, just to see what would happen. Would people recognize beauty? Read this. How would you have reacted?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 249: Art in the Metro

Day 249: Art in the Metro, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I often travel on the metro (our subway system) and am struck by the lovely art in some of the stations. What this photograph doesn't show is that on the adjacent wall there is a huge advertisement for iPods. I wonder which attracts more attention. The stations, like stations in cities I have travelled in, have a succession of ads plastered around. Montreal has limited them a little more than some places. Does it devalue the work to have it juxtaposed beside advertising? I don't think all art work should be in museums; I love to see art in urban settings. I just wonder what other people see.

If you want to learn more about the art in Montreal's metro, visit this link. There I learned that this piece is called Hommage aux fondateurs de la ville de Montréal and is by artists Gaboriau and Osterrath. It is located in the Berri-UQAM station.

Day 248: Bixi Bikes

Day 248: Bixi Bikes, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This is an idea whose time has come. Montreal has placed Bixi bikes, which are for rent, all over the central part of the city and they are slowly spreading out from the central core. These bikes are meant as transportation. You can get a yearly membership for 78$. With this your first half hour is free multiple times during the day. Each successive half hour is more expensive. This fee scale makes it practical for people wanting to get from one place to another (the bikes can be returned to any Bixi stand) but are not practical for those wanted to have a day of cycling.

The idea is spreading and these bikes will soon be found in Boston and London. Montreal is becoming a city of more bicycles (though not in winter - these bikes are only available from May through November). More and more bicycle paths are being built with the intent of transportation, not recreation. And more and more stands to park your bikes are appearing. Many of our parking meters are designed to provide a place on which to lock a bike.

I have not yet embraced the bike culture here. I live on a hill and it is a challenge to go many places. In addition, I don't feel confident riding in traffic; the bike paths don't reach everywhere. For now, I keep my bike in Casselman and, weather permitting, have been slowly developing my confidence. It had been many years since I used a bike. But, who knows, I may yet learn to be an urban cyclist.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Day 247: Squirrels

Day 247: Squirrels, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Several days ago I posted a picture of this temple and mentioned that squirrels stop by to dine there. This visitor brought his own food (plucked from my neighbour's tree) and perched here to enjoy it. The moss this year is particularly thick due to the rain we have had this summer. Nature is quite something. I always marvel that growth continues despite us. Weeds push up in cracks in sidewalks and moss grows where none was planted.

I have a love / hate relationship with squirrels. They are certainly cute and it is fun to watch their antics, but they do leave a mess. When I had a bird feeder, for a few months I enjoyed the variety of birds that visited. After a while the squirrels figured out how to shimmy down, hang upside down and gorge themselves on the plentiful supplies. While it was fun to see their acrobatics, the birds no longer came by, other than the pigeons who quite liked the seeds that were spilled on the ground due to the squirrels' wild swinging. The feeder came down. I do take pity on the squirrels on icy winter days and occasionally throw leftover bread out the window (good, nutritious whole grain bread). But mostly, I let them fend for themselves and with the number of squirrels I see, I guess they are thriving.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 246: Cello

Day 246: Cello, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This cello belongs to a friend of mine, a professional cellist. It was made in China. She has told me that the Chinese are making wonderful instruments now, that they will become the predominant instrument makers.

She, like me, has someone in her family who is over 100; in her case it is her mother. When her mother was still living at home, H. and I used to play together to entertain her. What a privilege to have a professional accompany me while I played sonatas. Now that her mother is in a nursing home, we have decided to prepare a little concert to entertain the residents, so instead of just sight-reading through music, we are working on a few pieces. While I have to practise to get all the fingering fluid, she has been adapting her playing to baroque music, which is quite different stylistically from what she usually plays. So Vivaldi, Barsanti, Handel - your music will bring pleasure, yet again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 245: Sunshine Boys

Day 245: Sunshine Boys, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Every day my cats spend part of the day following the sun around the house. Both are Cornish Rex, a breed of cat that is missing a layer of fur, the guard hairs, so they are not as cosily dressed as most of their feline cousins. Thus they have become heat seekers, hunting for hotspots.

The morning starts in the kitchen with each trying to find the right spot on a chair, window ledge or on the floor to catch a few rays. As the day progresses the sun shines into the side of the house. My windows have perfect cat ledges, a place to lie down and bask in the sun's heat as it radiates from the window pane. And that is where you see the "boys", soaking up the heat. As the sun moves, so do they until they are confined to a corner on the floor near the front door. When entering the house in the late afternoon sun, it is important to be careful opening the door.

There are other hotspots they enjoy, from cuddling under a comforter on the couch (we call it the cat sleeping bag) to lolling on a pillow near the radiators in winter. But I think this window ledge is a favourite as they can look out at neighbourhood birds in between their cat naps.

Day 244: Weaving a Web

Day 244: Weaving a Web, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This seems to be a very busy time of year for spiders. Some days I open my front door and am confronted with a freshly woven web. The creator is not happy when I brush its masterpiece aside. This spider wisely chose a bush in which to weave its gossamer threads. I'm hoping it will catch a few of the wasps, who live in the next bush.

I appreciate spiders as they keep the insect population down. But I prefer to appreciate them from afar. They can get nasty when disturbed, though, fortunately we are not in an area with venomous spiders.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 243: Beauty

Day 243: Beauty, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I just finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. One theme that kept coming up was the importance of stopping to appreciate beauty - those moments are what makes life worth living. That beauty could be a flower, a friendship, a cherished book, whatever it is that makes you stop and go ah!

I have always loved tuberous begonias - their vibrant colours, the two kinds of flowers growing side by side. They just brighten up a garden with their showy blossoms. So I stopped for a moment of beauty and I share it with you.