Sunday, February 28, 2010

Feb 27/10: Horizon

Feb 27/10: Horizon, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I need to escape to the country every so often, to give my vision a longer horizon. Daily walks down city streets give a narrower view on life. The cleaner air, the slower pace and the quiet all help still the mind and help me focus on the essentials.

I sometimes wonder if people who live in the country manage to clutter their minds the way I do with shopping lists, phone calls to make, work issues, to-do lists. Or do they take the moments to stop and listen to the quiet and just be still? We have to learn to live the moments, to be in the moments. I try to take these lessons home from the country.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Feb 26/10: Lake Massawippi

Feb 26/10: Lake Massawippi, originally uploaded by susanvg.

It smells like March, that earthy aroma as the ground comes to life. Water trickles can be heard as the melting snow drips off roofs, down slopes and into creeks. Even the cardinals have started to sing. The warmth of the sun can be felt and walking the hills I need to open my jacket. It's early for this transition. Walking on the dirt road I leave muddy footprints. From yesterday to today, the snow has retreated visibly.

Feb 25/10: Tracks

Feb 25/10: Tracks, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Finally we got out on our snowshoes - tough slogging through a wet sticky carpet. Paul's traditional pair fared better than mine as the frame of my aluminum pair picked up clumps of snow.

Snow Shoes
We started easy through a golf course, criss-crossed with deer tracks. Our tracks were added becoming part of the landscape. Occasional car sounds were heard in a crescendo diminuendo as they passed nearby. The wind sometimes whistled through, much like the cars. Bird calls punctuated the air with the occasional raucous cry of a crow to the chirps of a chickadee. The silences in between were audible - no hum of a city, just peace.

Hoof TrackHoof Imprint

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Feb 24/10: North Hatley

Feb 24/10: North Hatley, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Winter grey settled on the sky, on the hills and on the open water. It has its beauty. There is a stillness in the country, broken by the sounds of nature more than those made by humans. North Hatley is one of the prettier towns in the Eastern Townships with many heritage buildings. No chain restaurants can be found here. It is a unique village that has preserved its character. Once the summer haven of wealthy Americans, it now attracts a variety of tourists in the summer. We were an anomoly, winter wanderers in search of quiet and a place to go snow-shoeing.

North Hatley Pier

The pier at night

Feb 23/10: Plants

Feb 23/10: Plants, originally uploaded by susanvg.

My home is full of plants. I know they supply me with oxygen and some are known to actually help clean the air. I need the feeling of life plants offer, especially in the long winter months when plant life stops outdoors.

I revel in their growth, delight in new flowers and appreciate their resilience. Despite my irregular watering and rare fertilizing, they flourish. Maybe we need to keep that in mind when working with children. We need to nurture them, but give them the space to find their path. Too much nurturing may stunt their possibilities.

Feb 22/10: Squares

Feb 22/10: Squares, originally uploaded by susanvg.

It's interesting to think how technology changes but some vocabulary doesn't. Having grown up with rotary phones, I still think of dialling a number. I'm not sure what one would say now with all the push buttons.

When I was very young we had a country place with a very old telephone. It was a box with a regular receiver and a handle which was cranked to make a bell ring. No one had a separate phone line. There were two kinds of party lines: those whose ring you could hear and those whose ring you didn't hear. Our number was 31 ring 1 4 which meant we were on exchange 31 and our ring was one long ring followed by four short ones. If you wanted to call someone on the same exchange you simply cranked the handle causing it to ring long or short depending on how far you turned the handle. To call someone on a different exchange you had to go through the operator (one long ring). If we visited friends who were on the same exchange we could get our phone calls.

As I have grown up, I have seen phone numbers go from letters and numbers (Hunter 7051) to standardized 7 digit numbers and now to 3 digit area codes followed by 7 numbers. Along with that has come more complex phones with more varied services and the loss of real people at the other end of a phone. We reach answering machines, automated replies and a labyrinth of press this for that until I sometimes hang up in frustration.

I do like my newer telephones and the services they offer, but I am not a fan of automated calls from machines, nor of the many calls I get asking for donations, requesting my participation in surveys, or offering me goods I don't want. It seems to be one of the prices of progress that others find more and more ways to invade our private spaces.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Feb 21/10: Icicles

Feb 21/10: Icicles, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Water droplets slide down the icy surface adding to the girth of the icicles. Some escape dripping onto whatever is below. Each night the icicles get longer. In daytime, the sun warms the air. Freeze and thaw; freeze and thaw. Winter constantly changes the scene, dropping snow, sculpting ice and melting.

With longer days the sun's warmth is starting to be felt. What felt cold in the fall as the seasons changed, now feels warm as we slowly move towards spring. The seasons have their rhythm played each year with variations.

Feb 20/10: Scroll

Feb 20/10: Scroll, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Music is my recurring theme - a theme and variations. As I work through La Follia with my friend, a cellist, we find new meanings in the piece as we discuss our situations dealing with very elderly women both born in 1908. Music can tell stories and tell our stories as it touches parts of our emotions.

I think listening to music has layers - the first are the notes on the page and what the composer tried to say, the second the performer and his/her interpretation and the third the listener and what s/he brings to the music.

In playing La Follia I find myself conversing as the melody transfers from one instrument to the other. We cross cultures (music written by an Italian based on a theme from Spain, played on instruments from Quebec and China ) and yet find the universal in music that speaks to anyone. So much to work on - to play all the notes, to make them tell the story of joy, of sorrow, of intensity and to match our styles so that there is continuity. Music is a life long pursuit.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Feb 19/10: Tuque

Feb 19/10: Tuque, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Daily Shoot: Symbols can be simple, ornate, plain, or colorful. Make a photo of a symbol that represents or stands for something else.

I couldn't resist snapping this photograph through my car window. The bus stop is wearing a tuque - for many a symbol of winter. We have had very little snow this winter, but last night we actually had a bit of snow which enhanced this tuque's winter connection. It would be nice if I could use my snowshoes at least once this winter.

Bus Stop

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feb 17/10: Dry Flowers

Feb 17/10: Dry Flowers, originally uploaded by susanvg.
The flowers bereft of colour
Dry and crumble
In the winter cold
I walk to the nursing home
The woman who sits
day after day in a wheelchair
Nearly 102
Wondering where her mother is
I see her disintegrate
Body and mind
Handle with care.


Feb 16/10: Coat Rack

Feb 16/10: Coat Rack, originally uploaded by susanvg.

At rehearsal of Flutissimo I glanced at the coat rack and grinned. Although we are a recorder orchestra, we have a couple of members who also play string instruments - a string bass and a cello. Hanging among the coats was the bass' winter coat.

Finding the unusual, noticing the unique, noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary - these are all things that happen when you start to look.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Feb 15/10: Olympics

Feb 15/10: Olympics, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Looking down at the Olympic Stadium which seems to hover like a space ship from Star Trek my thoughts go to the Winter Olympics now taking place in British Columbia. It is a time for patriotism as countries vie for medals through sport. While I cheer for the Canadians I also marvel at the incredible prowess of all the athletes.

Today Canada celebrated Bilodeau's gold medal in moguls with "we won a gold". We didn't win - he did (and very graciously, I must say). I did nothing more than watch his performance. I applaud him and his humble reaction. I admit to a little Canadian pride, but more - an admiration for his dedication, perseverance and attitude.

Bravo to all athletes who have spent so many years working to reach the height of their potential.

Feb 14/10: Love

Feb 14/10: Love, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Sometimes life throws you curves of the most wonderful sort. I had been a widow since my young husband died in 1982 . By the time I turned 50 I was content with my life. Children were less dependent; the external demands on my life were lessening and I could just be me - not "mother of" (though that never totally disappears - just evolves). I had time to follow my passions.

I had known Paul for a number of years, having met him at music camp yet we were acquaintances more than friends. Why did it change? Maybe because I was at a point when I looked ahead not behind, when those other burdens (even when they were delightful burdens) no longer tied me down. And now we share our love, our lives and our passion for music. Life has many new beginnings - and yes - it can begin after fifty!

The rings were made by a Toronto jeweler: Vivienne Jones

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Feb 13/10: Jam

Feb 13/10: Jam, originally uploaded by susanvg.

The variety of good jam that is available has multiplied. Once only the over processed, over sweetened varieties lined the shelves at the supermarket. I grew up with home made jam. My mother made the most wonderful jams with fresh fruit of the season. Of course, the best was when we went berry picking and the jam was made the same day - raspberry, blueberry - I can smell it now, bubbling on the stove. Our neighbours in back had a plum tree which hung heavy with small Italian plums in early autumn. We would pick the ones that hung over on our side (with permission) and they too would be turned into jam.

I learned from her and for years would follow the season - in June it was strawberry jam, August - occasionally jam from fresh berries and September peach and plum jams. But waistlines expanded, a cutback in sugar consumption and some years the jams sat on the shelves untouched. Now I indulge in good store bought jams. But they don't come with the memories, with the heavenly aromas that permeated the house with thoughts of my late mother. I think I'll have to make at least one batch this year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feb 12/10: Pedal Harpsichord

Feb 12/10: Pedal Harpsichord, originally uploaded by susanvg.
I went to a concert of Clavecin en Concert with Luc Beauséjour. The concert featured a pedal harpsichord. It was the first time I had heard one. It sits under a regular harpsichord and is played with foot pedals, much like an organ. In fact, it was used as a practice instrument in the 1700s and later by organists. They could have one in their home. The organ needed someone to pump the air (now done by electricity), lighting so the organist could see the music, and often some way to heat the organ loft. These were costly additions, so the pedal harpsichord made a good compromise. This one was made by Yves Beaupré; you can hear and see it played here.
It was a novelty to see it and hear it, though I think I prefer the regular harpsichord. It has a clearer sound without the extra keyboard.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feb 11/10: Mont Royal

Feb 11/10: Mont Royal, originally uploaded by susanvg.

It was the golden hour, that point when the sun is near the horizon. I drove a bit to find a spot for my photo. I stopped at a Montreal landmark, parking near the chalet at Beaver Lake. Shadows were deep and the sun's setting rays shone on whatever they could reach. Beaver Lake is a man-made pond on the mountain. It is not deep and is now off limits in the winter. Just above the lake is a slope where people go toboganning. Now there are lanes carved out.

When I was a child it was a free-for-all. I first learned to ski on the "mountain". The local sports store gave lessons there in the evening. We climbed herringbone style up the hill and skied down. Those who were more adept took the rope tow that pulled you to the top. I remember one lesson, after my share of falling and hoisting myself up again I was finally skiing down the hill when I found myself knocked from behind by a wooden toboggan. I slid part way down the hill sitting on the curved front. Imagine my surprise when we reached the bottom and, once back on my feet, I saw the tobogganers were clowns. It was the start of a winter festival.

This beginning to my attempts at skiing was a clear indication of what was to come. I have crawled up a mountain when I couldn't get back on a T-bar, felt the excruciating pain of feet thawing after a morning on the local hill at our country place (no chalet to warm up in) and my last attempt at skiing was foiled by high winds. The chairlifts couldn't operate, though I seem to remember the hot chocolate was very tasty. Some forty years ago I abandonned downhill skiing and have stuck to winter sports where I did not have to rely on machinery or share a hill with people who valued speed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feb 10/10: I Love to Read

Feb 10/10: I Love to Read, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Daily Shoot: We all have some sort of hobby or favorite activity. Make a photo that shows something you enjoy doing. (via @azmichelle)

I love to read, but sometimes I read (and play) music and other times it's books. I play music regularly, on my own and with others. Often when I play with others we sightread through music, sometimes returning to pieces we have played before. Each time we revisit a piece we find new layers, are able to find more meaning in the piece and we can make it more and more musical. But isn't that the case with books too? When you revisit a book you always find more layers that help your appreciation and understanding.

And with both, I often go back to my favourite composers / authors and discover more and more of what they have written to get a real sense their style and "voice". Or I venture out to new discoveries both musical and literary, expanding my horizons.

Feb 9/10 Something Beautiful

Feb 9/10 Something Beautiful, originally uploaded by susanvg.

How do you define beauty? It is so subjective. What is beautiful in one culture is odd in another. The daily shoot - photograph something beautiful - I have taken so many photographs of flowers and other natural beauties. This shell caught my eye because it is three kinds of beauty - the natural beauty of the shell, the beauty of the man made carving and the beauty of the story behind it.

My parents had a good friend, Nat, who spent his whole life selling life insurance. He earned a good living, but it wasn't enough to satisfy his curiosity. He became fascinated by shells and started to study them and collect them. This is one he gave to my parents. Some years ago they (my parents and he and his wife) wintered in Sarasota and I brought my then young children there. Nat would walk the beach with my son and take him to the best spots for finding shells. His patience was limitless as he spoke about the animals that had once inhabited the shells. A large portion of Nat's collection was donated to a local library. My son's class (around grade 4) went to visit and Nat shared his fascination and pleasure in shells with the young students.

This shell has layers of beauty.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Feb 8/10: Life as a Cat

Feb 8/10, originally uploaded by susanvg.

My cats, as I have written before, are heat-seekers. They pass the day from the pillow near the radiator to the sunny window, to this comforter, to sunny spots on the floor. There is always a warm spot to accommodate them. They often can be found cuddled up together, their body heat adding to the warmth of the chosen spot.

Basil, the white cat, was wary of my camera. Sleep was disturbed by a previous flash. Elmo, a lofty 15 years old, was unperturbed. Today's cat photo was at the request of the Daily Shoot. I try to keep my pet photos and stories to a minimum. It's a bit like new parents and grandparents who go on about their babies, I don't want to be seen as just the cat lady. But some days, when work is busy and there just doesn't seem to be time for a walk in more interesting surroundings, the cats are handy subjects and they do make for rather cute photos.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Daily Shoot: Challenge: Practice storytelling today. Look for 3 images that tell a story, and make a set of photos that go together. I cheated a little and chose 4.

Casselman 1, originally uploaded by susanvg.

It's interesting to see what happens to a town when its purpose changes. Casselman, Ontario was once a small town which serviced a farming community. Small stores lined the main street, the centre of which was the church. Now some are empty. Most business has moved to the outskirts. There is still a place to buy farm implements, but the town has a different clientele.

Casselman 2

For many, Casselman is just a place to stop en route between Ottawa and Montreal. Gas is less expensive than in Montreal and it is a quick detour off the highway. Tim Hortons, that Canadian icon is also handy to travellers. Before I started spending time in Casselman, I, too used these services.

Casselman 3

The "downtown" of Casselman has moved. With the opening of bigger stores, like Canadian Tire, commerce has moved away from the centre and closer to the highway. These stores serve the small towns nearby and offer jobs to the locals, albeit low-paying jobs. The town has lost its character.

Casselman 4

With its proximity to the highway, Casselman has become a bedroom community for Ottawa. Housing developments have sprung up. These are the new clientele of Casselman, but most work outside of town. They want services, such as the bigger stores, but did not grow up with an attachment to the place the way the previous farming community did. And so the town has become "any town," North America, with little to set it apart from the many suburban areas near our cities.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Feb 6/10: Curves

Feb 6/10: Curves, originally uploaded by susanvg.

I think it is the curves in the road of life that set into motion the changes. We often go along complacently and those jolts make us examine our priorities and sometimes change course. Curves can be both positive or negative and I have certainly had my share! They make us more resilient, stronger and more appreciative of the many magical moments that require us to just stop and enjoy. Fortunately we cannot always see the road ahead of us so we don't know what awaits, both the difficulties and the delightful surprises that may be there just around the bend.

Daily Shoot: Curves carry the eye along with them. Make a photo that creates a sense of movement with curves today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Feb 5/10: Up the Down Staircase

Feb 5/10: Up the Down Staircase, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Is it up or is it down? Stairs can lead you anywhere, or just be a place to sit. And how often have you gone up the stairs to get something, only to wonder why you are there. Then you climb down and your memory is jogged, so it's back up the stairs. Are these like Escher's stairs that lead both up and down, you don't know which way you are going? Or are they grounded in reality and just serve their everyday purpose? In a child's mind, stairs are whatever you make them.

From A. A. Milne
Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where i sit.
there isn't any
other stair
quite like
i'm not at the bottom,
i'm not at the top;
so this is the stair
I always

Daily Shoot: More fun on a Friday: Make a photo that goes with the title of a movie you've seen, interpreted any way you like!

Feb 4/10: It has landed

Feb 4/10: It has landed, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Daily Shoot: Contrasting ideas engage the mind. Make a photo today that tells a story with contrasting elements

This was a quick drive by - shot at a red light. The rocket, a climbing frame looked so incongruous beside the trees. The trees reach for the sky far better than this rocket ever will. Both are stripped bare, skeletons of themselves.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Feb 3/10: No longer sharp

Feb 3/10: No longer sharp, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This is the paw of Basil (not the sharpest tack in the box). When we got him as a kitten over thirteen years ago he hated having his claws clipped. It took two of us, one to try to keep his bicycling legs still and the other to grab one paw and get to work. Even at that we often had to stop after a few claws and wrestle him down at a later date. I am sure his caterwauling could be heard across the neighbourhood. But somewhere through the years he learned that he could survive the ordeal and later that it wasn't so bad. Now I hold him and clip his claws while he purrs. I still, sometimes don't get the whole job done in one sitting; maybe he wants to come back for a second cuddle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Feb 2/10: Winter Continues

Feb 2/10: Winter Continues, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Winter continues - but what an easy one this year. Even our cold snap is not so cold. The disadvantage this year has been more days with smog warnings when the sky just doesn't have its crisp blue brightness. There is little snow on the ground and barely any forecast in the days ahead. My snowshoes lie, unused in the garage. No fluffy snow to sink in, there is just compacted snow - great for walking.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pont Jacques-Cartier

Pont Jacques-Cartier, originally uploaded by susanvg.

This is part of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge which spans the St. Laurence River. I love its grace. Built in the 1920s and opened in 1930, it was the first bridge connecting Montreal Island to the South Shore which accommodated cars. In summer the bridge closes when the Fireworks Festival is held. People line the bridge to get a good view as the pyrotechnics are set off at La Ronde amusement park just east of the bridge.

It's hard to image Montreal without the bridges, the tunnel and the metro which connect it to the mainland. At one time, ferries and ice bridges were the only way to bring goods from one shore to the next. In between seasons when the ice was forming or breaking up must have been treacherous. Now the river rarely freezes completely. But even bridges can be treacherous in inclement weather. In our infamous ice storm of 1998, bridges were closed as the ice which had build up on the girders began to crash down.

I found a site about the bridge and was surprised to learn that one of the members of the design team Joseph B. Strauss, went on to design the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.