Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day 303: Ghouls

Day 303: Ghouls, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A number of homes in my neighbourhood have decorated for Halloween. No longer is a jack'o'lantern enough. Now people create elaborate displays. I like the ones that are creative, with scarecrow people and home-made decorations. The latest craze - large inflated decorations leaves me cold.

Halloween was simpler and fun when I was a child. My mother made us costumes or we improvised with what was in the house. We canvassed our neighbourhood, always carrying boxes to collect money for UNICEF - children collecting for children. There was a pharmacy at our corner and we always stopped there. The pharmacist requested a poem or song in return for which he gave us a 5¢ chocolate bar. I know I am dating myself.

When it was my children's turn, I made costumes; we carved the pumpkin together and sometimes created simple decorations we hung in the window. Then Hollywood seemed to take over as people put out more and more elaborate decorations and even rented costumes. Young adults put on, and sometimes pay for makeup with special effects. Fantasy turned wild. We all need some escapism from time to time, but I balk when consumerism takes over what should be a time for simple fun.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 302: Arlo

Day 302: Arlo, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Arlo Guthrie and Family's Montreal concert was delightful, nostalgic, moving and most enjoyable. It was a tribute to the Guthrie who started it all: Woody, with many of his songs along with songs written by his children who were on stage - sung and played by Arlo, his children and his grandchildren. It was a trip backwards and a look forwards, always with a positive, upbeat feeling.

It is amazing how music touches us, triggering memories, emotions, bringing people from our past back to life. Woody Guthrie and Arlo were very much part of my past. I grew up on Woody's songs and matured with Arlo's. As I listened my mind swirled with images of my childhood, of a cold, snowy winter night when I went to see Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, of evenings spent singing with friends.... And his children sang some of their songs which triggered memories of myself as a young mother. Each song spoke to me; some brought smiles, some tears and most brought joy.

Their land is my land and I pass on to you the message from their last song - all I can give to you is my peace. Please pass it on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 301: Cat in the Bag

Day 301: Cat in the Bag, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This is Noel. I was playing music with my friend and Noel decided to crawl into my bag. It's a cat thing - cats do that. Noel was born in the apartment where he is living. His mother, Yuki, was found on the street and was brought to the SPCA. She was bedraggled, pregnant and scrawny and my friend fostered her "temporarily" so she could have her kittens in a warm and comfortable environment. Both she and Noel have never left. They share their space with Théo, a relative newcomer. Noel seems to enjoy music; he often sits in the room when we play.

Yuki Théo kittens
On the left: Yuki In the middle: Théo On the right / front: Noel as a kitten

I know about "temporary" cats. My daughter brought one home a few years ago. It needed shelter for one night. It's been a long night as she is still here - a clever, lively, little feline. Once smitten by a cat, it is hard to let go.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 300: Flowering Cactus

Day 300: Flowering Cactus, originally uploaded by susanvg.

My plants are confused. While they usually thrive under my benign neglect, my house renovations have certainly put them off their normal patterns. My orchids, which usually bloom for a long time have shed all their flowers, unwilling to display their beauty among the construction noise and dust. My Christmas cacti have thrived. I'm told they flower when they are stressed, so this may be why I have four plants which are covered in buds. This one is the first to have open flowers. Maybe they have the right attitude - when the going gets tough, put on something nice and keep growing, unlike my shy orchids who just can't take the changes.

Day 299: Burning Bush

Day 299: Burning Bush, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The red leaves on the euonymous shrub flash their bright colour while the rest of the reds are gone. All around the trees are slowly revealing their naked limbs as their leaves fade and fall. These leaves cling stubbornly to the branches not willing to give in to the inevitable.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 298: Golden Carpet

Day 298: Golden Carpet, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The reds have given way to the yellows. A golden carpet of leaves covers the path in transition to the drying and browning that will come. A last hurrah before the grey days of November. Walking in October is accompanied by the smells of autumn - the slight decaying odor of the leaves that have fallen. Our feet crunched on the already dry leaves and swished through the more recently fallen. Time of change.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day 297: Fado

Day 297: Fado, originally uploaded by susanvg.

On a rainy night we left the dark and gloom behind and stepped into a Portuguese restaurant. It was Fado night, an evening of Portuguese dining followed by a concert of local Fado performers. The meal, a leisurely affair was delightful.

Fado is normally performed accompanied by a Portuguese guitar, pictured here and a classical guitar. The Portuguese guitar has 12 steel strings and is plucked using the nails giving it quite a bright sound. Fado songs are quite melancholy, speaking of the sorrows of life - love, loss, difficulties. As such, the music is quite intense. The music is hauntingly beautiful and touches the soul.

You can learn more about fado here.

Day 296: Gull Gathering

Day 296: Gull Gathering, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I arrived at the nursing home to visit and the entire roofline of the building was framed by a gathering of gulls. These birds have learned to adapt to city life, fishing for garbage rather than fishing in the water. Buildings have become their trees on which to perch.

They are such social birds, usually sticking with the flock. Yet when one snags a piece of food, instinct takes over and they are not interested in sharing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 295: Dusting of Snow

Day 295: Dusting of Snow, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Renovations help you to divest yourself of all kinds of junk. I had to clear out my front cupboard for repairs and painting and put a couple more garbage bags of stuff out. The rain that was falling changed to snow and dusted the bag with snow.

It's too early for me to appreciate snow and all the hassles it brings, but I do love its clean white feel. Today was like a November day, grey, damp and gloomy. It was a day for soup and hot tea and a fireplace, the warmth needed to chase away grey feelings. In a couple of weeks I'll be able to enjoy all those things at home; for now there is dust falling everywhere, from plastering. But the next step is fresh paint and my house will have a pristine feel like fresh fallen snow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 294: Oriental Instrument

Day 294: Oriental Instrument, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I went out to eat in a Vietnamese restaurant and as part of the decor there were instruments on the wall. This one may be a Dan Ty Ba. I found a photograph of someone playing one here. It is a plucked instrument, supposedly with a sweet sound. I would love to hear it played rather than see it on a wall.

Music is so essential to the human spirit - every culture has invented some kind of instrument. It is amazing to see the variety: percussion, wind instruments, strings that are plucked,bowed or hammered, horns - these seem to be common to many cultures. Humans have the need to communicate and express themselves through the language of music.

Addendum: My spouse found a site with more information about the ty ba. I then found a YouTube video of a girl playing the ty ba.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day 293: What to read next?

Day 293: What to read next?, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I always have books going and now it is both those I read and those I listen to in the car. You can see some other books I have read on my Shelfari shelf.

The spoken books I have on the go currently are A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and Great Expectations by Dickens. I got started on the latter because I just read Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones and it is heavily intertwined with that book. It is my book in hand reading where I have to make my next choice. Do I go with a professional book like Teaching Visual Literacy, one that is more tenuously connected to my job, but is important nonetheless liike Shirkey's Here Comes Everybody or Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap. Or do I go for literature? Nino Ricci's The Origin of the Species looks interesting while Follett's The Pillars of the Earth taps into my interest in the middle ages. Hmm - decisions to make.

Any recommendations? Or perhaps you have another book to suggest.

Day 292: Cafe

Day 292: Cafe, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I like the idea of a cafe, especially in summer when you can sit on a terrace and slowly sip coffee. This cafe is not far from me and it is quite nice in summer, with bushes and flowers to buffer the hum of traffic. After a day of sitting at the computer, working and listening to the drilling, hammering and other noises emanating from my kitchen (under renovation) I realized I needed to escape the dust and mess of my house. I walked to the cafe and had a light supper.

Some things make me feel old - I am sure I was the oldest there. Most of the patrons were twenty-somethings, using the cafe as a workplace with their laptops and a place to socialize. The music, fortunately not too loud, was of their vintage - not mine. But I pulled out my book, lingered over my meal and enjoyed the refuge from my dusty home.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day 291: Russell Park Dry Stone Bridge

We read about it in the local paper and went to have a look - this is a dry stone bridge - a bridge put together just with stones - no mortar. You can learn more about the process here. The key - is the keystone - just as in other arches. You can see a detail below.
Russell Bridge
First they built a wooden structure or scaffold underneath and placed the stones on top. The keystone, once it was wedged in holds the stones together by the pressure they exert on each other. I find it amazing that people discovered this possibility long ago. Though most structures are built with mortar, it is the same principal of wedge shaped blocks of stone (voussoirs) leading to the keystone that creates an arch. There are arches built on this principal that still stand since Roman times. Ah - the ingenuity of man.

Day 290: Window-shadow

Day 290: Window-shadow, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This is actually two photographs that have been juxtaposed - though the shadows on the door were created by this window. I just liked the idea of the positive and negative. The sun was low on the horizon, casting a golden glow on the door, projecting stripes from the blinds. I find it interesting that the shadow made the lines more obvious whereas in the window the lines seem to fade, letting the outdoor scene take precedence.

Sometimes a shadow can seem larger than life - as when we let worry take over. The worry becomes larger than the problem. Perhaps we should keep this window in mind - that usually there is a way through to the other side of problems and issues if we just look through them instead of focussing on the shadow the problem casts. It takes a lifetime to learn.

Day 289: Five Little Pumpkins

Day 189: Five Little Pumpkins, originally uploaded by susanvg.

In those days of teaching Kindergarten, this was always a good little poem.

Five little pumpkins
Sitting on a gate
The first one said,
"Oh, my, it's getting late"
The second one said,
"There are witches in the air!"
The third one said,
"But I don't care"
The fourth one said,
"We'll run and run and run!"
The fifth one said,
"Let's have some fun!"
OOOOOOOH, went the wind
And OUT went the light
And the five little pumpkins
Rolled out of sight

I happened along these pumpkins as I was walking and was reminded of some of the activities we did with pumpkins - everything from ordering them by size, estimating which was heaviest, counting pumpkin seeds, roasting the seeds, writing about the pumpkins, observing them over time..... and of course, learning the little poem above. Five little pumpkins can teach so much.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Day 288: Studio Du Verre

Day 288: Studio Du Verre, originally uploaded by susanvg.

As I was walking from my car to a concert in my favourite church in Old Montreal, I passed this shop selling stained glass objects. I love the intensity of colour in stained glass as well as its luminosity as the light shines through. I thought of a conversation I had earlier in the day with one of my colleagues about art and craft. She directed me to the PBS web site Craft in America and the incredible objects that people create. When is something art and when is it craft - and are we using craft in a pejorative sense? Is an artist a craftsperson? Is a craftsperson an artist? Surely the stained glass windows in Chartres are more than craft - they demonstrate incredible artistry. A beautiful piece of pottery, a hand-blown piece of class can certainly be works of art.

I guess to me - craft is the set of skills we need to produce something - we even refer to the writer's craft. Art is that intangible that enters the piece making it unique. We each look with our own eyes and appreciate and understand based on our aesthetic sense, our background, our culture etc. We may each draw the line in a different place. Much of what you see in this window would be more a demonstration of a craftsperson's skill. It becomes art when it touches a person's soul.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 287: Russian Box

Day 287: Russian Box, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I visited my Internet friend's blog and found a box like this. I learned that it is called a Palekh box. I thought it would be fun to share mine, which I bought in St. Petersburg. It just called to me as I saw so much of myself in it. My parents were both born in Russia, though they came to Canada as children. My mother read me Russian folk tales so I was attracted to the image as it reminded me of those stories. Symbols in the image - the cat, the woman playing a wind instrument are both important in my life. So this box came home with me.

I do wonder about all these "treasures". As I cleared out my kitchen for renovations I made many choices of what was kept and what went. These items we pick up on travels add to the baggage of our lives. Yet they are often meaningless to others, even our children as they did not live the event that made them into treasures. When I move in a few years there will be many more decisions to make as I downsize. Will this be one of my keepers?

Day 286: Crabapples for the Birds

Gentle raindrops leave pearldrops on the leaves. The crabapples have ripened. I used to have a crabapple tree in front of my house. The crabapples would cling to the tree even after the leaves had fallen. In winter the birds would come and peck at the frozen fruit. I hope these little globes provide for some birds this winter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day 285: Pile of Leaves

Day 285: Pile of Leaves, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The winds and rain have brought down many leaves. They lie on lawns waiting to be swept into piles on the street. Eventually the city trucks come and scoop them up to take them to the recycling centre where they are composted.

No childhood is complete without playing in the fallen leaves. I love the crunchy sound they make and tossing them in the air to watch them fall again is great fun. As we walked today we saw a youngster walking through the piles left by the side of the road; the delight on his face was obvious. Nothing quite says autumn as walking through the leaves while crunching on a fresh-picked apple. I must go to the market again!

Day 284: Turkey Time

Day 284: Turkey Time, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Thanksgiving in Canada - complete with turkey, stuffing and too much food. With my lack of kitchen, I was very grateful to be invited to my cousin's.

For a number of years, my children and I spent Thanksgiving at CAMMAC, the music camp we attend. The tables from the kitchen were moved into the concert hall and a crew of people spent the afternoon decorating with leaves, dried flowers and whatever bits of nature was around. Before dinner everyone stood up to sing our thanks in canon (my son reminded me of this last night). As it was a music camp, there were always enough good voices to sound beautiful and the hall reverberated with feelings of friendship and warmth.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day 283: Orange Leaves

Day 283: Orange Leaves, originally uploaded by susanvg.

We took a drive out to the country to see the last of the autumn leaves. Higher up and further north, the nighttime chill speeds up the change of seasons. The fiery reds have given way to oranges, yellows and browns. It was good to leave behind the frenzy of the city. Walking along le Parc Régional Dufresne - on what used to be a railway line we were intoxicated by the smell of fresh air, dry leaves, cedar and pine. Birds chirped and the occasional cricket could still be heard along with the sound of water in the nearby river.

Along with the bright leaves there were the beiges and browns of the fallen leaves and the dried up grasses and flowers.

Milkweed dries on the stalk, its seeds scattered ready to begin again in spring. The monarchs which feed here have long gone to warmer climates.

Little Rapids

By evening we could see our breath in the crisp air. It's a time for soups and fires in the fireplace thoughts of hibernation as nature shuts down for a rest.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day 282: Apples!

Day 282: Apples!, originally uploaded by susanvg.

A dreary rainy day echoing the dreary state of my house. Workmen are pounding, drilling - beginning the slow rebuilding of my kitchen. Dusty plastic hangs over every opening.

I set out to the market for food and colour and was not disappointed. There are many apple orchards outside Montreal and the market was full of many varieties of apples.

Usually this time of year I cook and fill up my freezer, but with no stove I can only stop and admire the local produce. I bought a few items that don't need cooking, but the soups, ratatouille and apple sauce that usually fill my freezer will have to wait - unfortunately by then the available vegetables will have come from somewhere else.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day 281: This was my kitchen

Day 281: This was my kitchen, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Days of packing are over and now I live in a haze of dust. Demolition was speedy. Tomorrow the electrician, plumber other workmen start the lengthy process of rebuilding. It's odd to see the "bones" of the house - the wood floor that was laid in 1936. The kitchen had been redone since then. I wonder what the original one looked like.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day 280: Urban Art

Day 280: Urban Art, originally uploaded by susanvg.

So often, driving in the city, I see walls spray painted with graffiti. While some of it is creative, most of it is just tagging, which to me is a totally self-centered activity. I always love to come across a mural painted on the side of a building; this is a new one for me.

In my youth, the only wall murals were giant advertisements. I photographed one several months ago. Now there are a variety of murals around the city, some, like this one, conceived as a whole and others done by talented graffiti artists. They do add life to the city.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 279: Turtles

Day 279: Turtles, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The Turtle
The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.
Ogden Nash
How do collections start? My turtle collection began because I was the computer teacher and I loved logo, the programming language. Shelly the turtle, lived in my room. The first one was a small china turtle that came in a box of tea. Then I bought a turtle puppet. The moment you have two of something you have a collection and people start supplying you with turtles. I have everything from a large turtle pillow (from my daughter) to jewelery, to many turtle sculptures made of wood, stone, plastic, shells, glass... I am no longer in the classroom and the turtle is no longer part of my teaching life (though I still think Logo, Logowriter, Microworlds and subsequent incarnations of logo are powerful tools for teaching children to think and problem solve in an authentic way) yet I find it hard to part with them as each has a story and a connection to the person who gave it to me.

I can remember when one boy came into my computer lab with a paper bag and a shy smile. He had gone through his toys and picked out the plastic turtles to give to me. I have a couple of turtles which were given to me by a class at the end of the year. The glass one in the photograph is one. The ornate turtle is a candle which came from a very dear friend; I dare not burn it. And the yellow and green fellow is one I bought myself, in a clockwork and music player museum in Utrecht, Netherlands. It plays The Internationale, which I find somewhat amusing for a turtle.

So Ogden Nash - one turtle led to many. And along the way they inspired students to create, to solve the problems they set for themselves and to collaborate. You can read an article by one of my former students in LEARNing Landscapes. Select the article by Stewart Adam - his explorations with the turtle were in my class. Turtles are fertile indeed.

Day 278: Autumn Colour

Day 278: Autumn Colour, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Autumn sets the leaves on fire
Bursts of red like flames
Licking up to the sky
I often wonder why some branches blaze
while others hold onto their green garments
And why this majestic display
before the long sleep of winter

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 277: Shadows

Day 277: Shadows, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Shadowy stairs climbing up to a shadowy world. The shorter days bring us into darkness so much earlier. Each day we lose a few minutes of light. Street lights cast their glow creating doubles, while inside the television glows with the signal from alternate lives. I prefer to walk in the shadowy world where the fresh rain washed streets have a clean smell. I head down the street to a brightly lit church where a beautiful concert is my escape. Ah Bach who speaks to us from the shadows of the past with incredible clarity.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 276: Chinese Lanterns

Day 276: Chinese Lanterns, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Light can feel like magic, especially when it is making Chinese lanterns glow. Each year the Botanical Gardens displays theme-based Chinese lanterns which are designed in Montreal and made in Shanghai. This year's theme was astronomical, with lanterns representing the Chinese asterisms or constellations. There is one below. The lanterns lights danced on the water.

Lanterns 3

There were also a number of lanterns of performers: musicians, acrobats...

Lanterns 1

If you want to view a couple more photos click to see a dragon and another dragon.

It's quite magical and a lovely way to spend an evening, the warmth of the light fending off some of the damp chill of a drizzly autumn evening.

You can learn more about this event here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day 275: Organ Pipes

Day 275: Organ Pipes, originally uploaded by susanvg.

These organ pipes served as the backdrop for a joint concert given by Ensemble Arion and Tafelmusik. The pipes live in Salle Claude Champagne. Organs are usually up high in the back of a church - here it takes the place of pride.

This is not my favourite hall for concerts. It is too wide so if you are not in the centre section you don't have a good view of the orchestra. In addition, I find it feels too stark for the music I love to hear: baroque and renaissance music. This is not aided by the fact that the stage is lit and the lighting people seem to like to change to colours shining on the organ with each piece. At times it shone blue, other times magenta.

But the music was lovely, especially the second half of the concert which finished with a rousing rendition of Handel's Fireworks Music. That's when the lighting people should have shown off their skill by emulating the fireworks that should have accompanied the piece. I once saw an outdoor version complete with fireworks as part of the Montreal Baroque Festival - quite a spectacle!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 274: I need flowers

Day 274: I need flowers, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This is the first day that I did not take a photograph. I need flowers to ease my stress, so here is an earlier photo.

Timetable of my difficulties (nothing compared to what is happening in The Philippines, Indonesia...)

Monday evening I went to install Snow Leopard - my computer died.
The good news is that it was still covered by my AppleCare Warranty (never buy a computer without one). The bad news is that repairs take days.
Tuesday I bought a new computer and started to get it set up the way I like it (my data, applications etc were recovered but it had to be done manually).
Wednesday I tried to synch my iPhone - had to re-setup various permissions so it could be allowed to play audio books from Audible (my computer, too had to grant permission). In synching, my iPhone was populated with many duplicates which I started to delete
Thursday - I found that not only had it deleted the duplicates from my iPhone but it had deleted all the entries from my iCal - no up to date agenda. It also wanted to delete all my contacts from my computer!!!! Yesterday's (Oct 1) lack of photograph is due to the enormous amount of time I spent dealing with all this. I restored my iPhone (to eliminate the problem of duplication etc.) only to find it could not copy any of my music or audiobooks.
Friday - After sleeping on the situation - I thought the problem was a corrupt file in my iTunes library (which lived on an external HD). I tried to delete the file - which led me to believe the problem was the hard drive.

So..... after copying the backup I had of my music library onto my very ample new computer, purging my iTunes library and importing the new version, resetting up playlists...... my iPhone has now synched.

The old computer needs a new hard drive which is covered by my applecare warranty (only good until Jan10) so now I will have a backup computer until it decides to die. I think it's time for a new external HD for yet another backup.

All this while I am trying to work, pack up my kitchen for renovations which start next week and deal with all the other realities of life.

So forgive me for no legitimate Day 274 photo - but I really needed some flowers.