Saturday, June 30, 2007

Deacon Blues

I was in our local Long & McQuade (a musical instrument store) buying music books for the kids when a guy walks in and starts playing Steely Dan's Deacon Blues on one of the pianos. It reminded me of an essay I found on the Web a few years back (which unfortunately, I can't locate anymore), in which the author claims that this is the greatest pop song ever written. I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but the author did put forth persuasive arguments.

So this week I dug out an old Steely Dan CD and have been listening to it in the car, despite protests from the kids who'd rather hear something from the current decade. Todd also likes Steely Dan and, in the past, has learned some of their songs. It sounds great when he plays them, but we really could use a horn player in the house too .... Anyhow, here are my 5 favourite Steely Dan songs, not necessarily in order:

  • Deacon Blues
  • Hey Nineteen
  • Dr. Wu
  • Peg
  • Kid Charlemagne

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Birthday Lunch

OK, so my birthday was several weeks ago, but that's no reason to stop celebrating. Fei Min's and Laura's birthdays are close to mine, so for the last few years, we've had a birthday lunch together. We didn't get a chance to celebrate Sharon's birthday earlier in the year, so we persuaded her to join us. Here's a photo of my lovely friends. We really enjoyed the sangria and desserts ... and oh, yes, we did eat some real food in between those courses.

Having lunch with two tech writers can lead to interesting conversation. We had a lengthy debate over whether single characters should be distinguished from multiple-character strings by enclosing the former in single quotation marks and the latter in double quotation marks. The conclusion was: it depends. It depends on whether you want to follow computer programming convention or write real English. I was gently admonished and will try harder in the future to follow the rules of English, unless, of course, I'm sending an e-mail message to one of my fellow programmers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

William Hutt

I was saddened to read that Canadian actor William Hutt had died. I was fortunately enough to have seen him several times at the Stratford Festival over the last two decades. The Globe and Mail published a lengthy article today that is worth reading.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The 101-in-1001 List

In November, I started my "101 Things to do in 1001 Days" list, based on the ideas on this site. I'm hoping that maintaining such a list will remind me to do the things (small and large) that are important but not urgent - specifically, those things that keep getting put off to another day. I have not posted my entire list. Some items, like my target weight at the end of the 1001 days, are better left out of the public domain. However, I will list 5 of the items that I have completed so far:
  • Watch the 6-hour Pride and Prejudice BBC series again.
  • Try a new kind of cheese. (I tried Wensleydale, popularized by Wallace & Gromit.)
  • Go with my family on a ski vacation. Try to enjoy it. (I did.)
  • Keep an indoor plant alive for at least 6 months.
  • Go an entire week without eating out. (Man, this was tough!)
... and 5 of the items still to do:
  • Finish Julia's quilt. (I've been working on it for only 5 years.)
  • Take another train trip ... anywhere.
  • Finish a New York Times Sunday crossword.
  • Visit Joe and Jill in the Bahamas. Visit Joe and Jill in Singapore. Visit Joe and Jill. (This last one is safest, considering how much they like to move around the globe.)
  • Donate $10 for every item not crossed off by the end date. (This is a way to put a positive spin on failure.)
I've completed 23 of my 101 tasks so far. Stay tuned ...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Weekend Activities

A few of the things we did on the weekend:
  • We went to the neighbourhood potluck picnic, and our neighbour Nick sent us this great photo.
  • Julia participated in her music school's annual recital. She played Beethoven's Sonatina in F Major (1st movement) from the RCM Grade 5 Repertoire.
  • We had a friend from Switzerland over and engaged in a long discussion about the current state of the tu/vous distinction in Quebec and France. Todd cooked a leg of lamb on the grill for the occasion.
  • I added a new scrapbook layout to the Scrapping Turtle gallery. The challenge of the week was to do a layout about feet, and I had that photo of Kate in her orange crocs handy!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday Craft Update

For the past year, my sister-in-law Jill and I have been sending each other Monday updates summarizing our knitting and needlework progress for the week. Jill suggested we move the updates to the blogs, and I'm also going to shift my Monday update to Sunday. Monday mornings are always too busy, and in any case, it's Monday for Jill in Singapore right now.

This past week, I've made progress on a sweater I'm making for myself: a Louisa Harding design, made with a blue/green/purple Kimono Angora yarn. I've finished the front, back and most of one sleeve. The goal is to have this ready for the fall. After finishing Deco Spirits (see the June 20 post), I was encouraged to go back to my next oldest Mirabilia design, Adia. The work-in-progress is shown here. I am using a hand-dyed linen (Belfast, in the colour Petal) from Sugar Maple Fabrics.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Au Pied de Cochon

I recently read a Macleans article about chef Martin Picard and his restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon and decided I must get Picard's cookbook, described as "part scrapbook, part manifesto," for Todd. Why? Because Todd loves good food, enjoys cooking (and is good at it), and has always shown an interest in the culture of my home province, Quebec.

The cookbook, Au Pied de Cochon - The Album, comes with an entertaining and inspiring DVD, though I suggest you avoid viewing it if you're a vegetarian. (Indeed, if you are not fond of meat, it's best to stop reading this blog entry immediately and go back to your previous activity.) While I do like pork and can stomach almost all parts of a pig (I grew up with Cantonese food, after all), I am in the habit of reading all food labels and buy my kids veggie hot dogs. So I am simultaneously fascinated and horrified by Picard's work, which, according to the book's introduction, is "an ode to all things porky, ducky, fatty, and wonderful."

I am pleased Todd likes his gift but I do fear he might actually cook a recipe from it for the family one day. For me, there is a voyeuristic appeal to the book: "Wow, so that's what people who don't care about their arteries like to eat!" I've never been able to bring myself to try poutine, but Picard's poutine with slabs of foie gras covering it is so over the top (in a literal sense) that I'll have to go to his restaurant one day to see for myself. Well, maybe I'll opt for one of the stupendous seafood platters instead. To my Montreal cousins: if any of you ever visit this place (it's at 536 Duluth E.), please send me a review!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Track Meet Results

Julia participated in the annual local track meet for her school and seven other nearby public schools. She was chosen to be on her school's 12-year-old girls relay team, running first in the group, and they came in second out of eight teams! She also ran the 80-metre dash, placing 4th among 8. I was stuck at work, but Todd was there cheering her on.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Morning Walk and Thoughts on Digital Scrapbooking

A couple of weeks ago, Kate and I decided to record the morning walk to school, so we can better appreciate the little, everyday things that make life beautiful. This is the layout I made of the walk, using Photoshop Elements and Jessica Sprague's Strawberry Lemonade kit.

I'm having fun experimenting with Photoshop but I want to reassure my scrapbooking friends that I'm not about to give up on real paper. Consider this. Option 1: get together with my friends, drink wine, eat chocolate, and enjoy the tactile pleasure of playing with paper, scissors, glue and markers (just like in Kindergarten). Option 2: spend hours alone in front of the computer, attempting precision operations with an uncooperative mouse and intermittently swearing at the monitor. Now which would you choose? (Given the number of high-tech geeks I know, I'm not sure I want to know the answer.) Well, I've been accused of being a geek myself, but I'm not that anti-social. Indeed, I'd be at Sharon's house this evening exercising Option 1 instead of writing this blog entry if I didn't have to stay home with the kids. (Sharon is my friend and Creative Memories consultant, in that order.)

Nevertheless, the idea of digital scrapbooking intrigues me, and I'm fascinated by the fact that one can (and would actually want to) purchase digital "paper", "ribbons" and "brushes" at a place like Designer Digitals. The truth is, I haven't bought any of these yet, mainly because I'm cheap and am content for now to use all the freebies I can download. But it's just a matter of time before I succumb to paying for virtual paper.

Hwae Dup Bop

I had lunch with Fei Min and Laura yesterday at a little Japanese place close to work. I ordered my usual, Hwae Dup Bop, a Korean version of chirashi: raw fish, nori (seaweed) and fish eggs scattered over a bed of greens, served with sushi rice and a generous bowl of hot sauce. Yum!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Deco Spirits

Yesterday, I finally finished "Deco Spirits", designed by Mirabilia (Nora Corbett). I'd been working on this off and on for the past five years and had put in over 160 hours. I love the colours but stitching was very tedious at times, with those big patches of white and gray. I learned a good lesson: I will never stitch on 32-count lugana again. I'm OK with 28-count lugana or 32-count linen, but the holes for 32-count lugana were too small for such dense stitching. It gave good coverage but was very tiring to stitch on. Now we have to decide on how to frame the piece and where to place it in the house. Fortunately, Todd likes it too (or at least he felt it was prudent to say so yesterday), so we can display it on the main floor. The cute fairies tend to get relegated to the kids' bedrooms.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Stratford Festival

We went to the Stratford Festival yesterday, with the kids and Todd's parents, to see Oklahoma. We all enjoyed it very much. I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, but I've liked every one I've seen at the Stratford Festival over the years, mainly because the production, choreography and acting are always first-rate.

I've been going to the Stratford Festival faithfully for the past 25 years and try to attend two or three shows each summer. There was a gap of a few years when I did not go to any show; ironically, it was when Todd and I actually lived in Stratford. Once we moved away, the theatre's appeal returned. Memorable performances for me have included Hamlet, A Man for All Seasons, The Glass Menagerie (twice!), and Death of a Salesman (with Al Waxman and Martha Henry).

If you ever visit Stratford, be sure to check out my favourite places: Rheo Thompson chocolates, Bentley's (one of the few pubs in this area that feature both good beer and great food), and Family & Company (an incredibly fun toy store).

Kate dressed up for the outing. The lacy white dress gives the image of youthful innocence, and a hint of a delicate, ethereal nature. However, the orange crocs totally give her away. Yup , Kate is most certainly an orange-crocs kind of girl.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

I'm not good at writing poignant, meaningful prose, so I'll just include a link to a terrific article. This was written by Ian Brown of the Globe and Mail a few years back, and it describes a trip to the spa with his father and captures very well the essence of Father's Day. Here are a few of my favourite pictures of the fathers in our family.

Todd at the Halifax Ale House, enjoying his favourite drink.

Todd and Julia, in a happy moment.

John, with Marilyn and Todd, in Montreal for my parents' 40th anniversary celebration.

My father with Kate in 2003, and the scrapbook page it inspired.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Skating as an Adult

After reading about my continuing attempts to learn figure-skating, Sandra sent me a video of an 81-year-old figure skater, Yvonne Dowlen. The story is here and it includes a link to the video. I sincerely hope I'll still be skating at 81, though I expect I'll be pleased enough if I can just go forwards around the rink at that point.

I took figure-skating lessons as a kid but did not get much past the basic skating skills: forward/backward cross-cuts, edges, etc. Julia has already progressed way beyond where I'd left off and Kate is not too far behind that point. I took classes on and off in the years since then but I started skating more regularly again a couple of years ago. The skating club was holding an adult ice dancing class in an adjacent rink at the same time as Julia's lesson, so I decided to join, as an alternative to sitting in the stands. The following year, I couldn't fit the group class into my schedule and so I started weekly private lessons with a terrific coach and am still doing them now.

A while ago, I found this piece on what it means to be an adult skater. The first item is, "Telling your body to do something and watching, helpless and horrified, as it does something else." Yup, that pretty much sums it up in a sentence.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Process or Product Knitter?

I was reading a book Joe and Jill gave me, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off. The author writes the immensely popular (well, popular with knitters anyhow) Yarn Harlot blog.

In the book, she writes about the distinction between process knitters (ones who enjoy knitting for its own sake) and product knitters (ones who knit mainly to get the finished product). I have always been a process knitter. I detest the finishing-up stage of knitting, where I have to wash, block and seam the pieces together. In my youth, I tended to complete the knitting stage, throw the pieces in the closet and get back to finishing it months later, usually in the wrong season to wear the sweater. I am more disciplined these days and try to finish my projects within a reasonable amount of time. I only have two works-in-progress (for knitting only ... I'm not counting WIPs for other hobbies) and one awaiting in my stash, which is pretty good for me. As I grow older, I'm trying harder not to reach the SABLE (Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy) point.

I'm not a process person for all my hobbies. I'm definitely a product sewer. I dislike most sewing tasks but I like having the ability to make custom skating dresses for my kids at a fraction of the price. I'm not that good at sewing, but as long as the dresses don't split apart after a spiral and the seams don't look crooked from a (largish) distance, that's good enough for me. If you knit or pursue another hobby (e.g. playing a musical instrument), feel free to leave me a comment telling me whether you do it for the process or product.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Buffalo, NY

Two weeks ago, Laura and I went to the Creating Keepsakes Convention in Buffalo. For those of you who can't fathom why anyone would spend a weekend at a scrapbooking convention, I can assure you it was at least as exciting as some of the numerical linear algebra conferences I've attended. Scrapbookers will be interested to know that I attended classes by Basic Grey and SEI. I also attended a class given by Stacey Julian, founding editor of Simple Scrapbooks magazine, and she took us for a walking tour of downtown Buffalo. I sent her a digital layout of our walk and she posted it in her blog, in the June 7 entry.

While I had a great time at the convention, I was thrilled to find out that Buffalo has a number of architectural sites of interest. The first photo is the Buffalo Savings Bank, built in 1901, and is an example of the many turn-of-the-century buildings in downtown Buffalo.

Visiting the Darwin Martin House, part of a complex built by Frank Lloyd Wright, was definitely the highlight of the trip. The complex had been neglected for decades, falling into ruin, but it is now undergoing a renovation of enormous proportions. Laura and I were very fortunate to catch a special behind-the-scenes tour given by Mary Roberts, the COO of the restoration project. A month or two ago, Todd and I had seen the superb documentary, "Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo" .

The third photo is of a restaurant called "The Chocolate Bar". While the building is of limited architectural significance, how could I not include a place that specializes in "martinis, chocolate and desserts"?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Skating Tests

Julia passed her Preliminary Skills test today. This is a Skate Canada StarSkate test, consisting of Waltzing Threes, Waltzing Mohawks, and Preliminary Circles. She'd also passed her first three dance tests (Dutch Waltz, Canasta, Baby Blues) earlier in the year. This was a great way to end the skating season. Last week, Kate received her 5th Canskate badge and will be starting the StarSkate program next season. We will celebrate at one of the kids' favourite restaurants this weekend. My coach has asked me to consider trying the StarSkate tests myself sometime in the future. We'll see ... First, I have to get used to the idea of wearing a skating dress again. The last time I did that, I was ten years old.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Oliver Layouts

I've been doing a lot of scrapbooking lately and one of my favourite subjects is my nephew Oliver who is so incredibly cute. This is one of my first attempts with Photoshop using the free "Love Ya" digital kit from Jessica Sprague's site, SpragueLab. I used this as a prototype and made a paper layout from it, which I posted on the Scrapping Turtle's bulletin board. Actually, I like the prototype much better, though the colours of the paper one look better in real life than in the photo.

The photos were taken by Todd in Beijing. Oliver was obviously in a good mood, despite the heat and exhausting schedule we experienced!

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I celebrated my 40th birthday yesterday. I always thought 40 is a great age to start something new, so I'm starting my new blog.

I had a lovely day on my birthday. Kate had a pile of beautifully decorated presents waiting for me at breakfast, including a sheet of coupons that featured items like, "Free song on the violin." Todd, Kate and Julia gave me a copy of Photoshop Elements 5 for digital scrapbooking. Got lots of phone calls from family too, including one all the way from Singapore from Joe and Jill.

When Todd asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday, I'd suggested a "quiet" dinner at one of my favourite restaurants, 20 King (which isn't on 20 King anymore). When we showed up, a crowd was waiting for us: Mark, Sharon, Laura, Scotte, Ruth, Dave, Terry, Glenda, Marilyn and John! Unfortunately, Fei Min and Don were on vacation and couldn't make it. I was very touched that Todd's parents drove all the way from Wasaga Beach for the evening.

Was I surprised? Very. It didn't occur to me that Todd could arrange such a thing without my help (not that he isn't capable, but he never has the time or patience for such things). He even gave the house a thorough cleaning to prepare for our guests, without my noticing that anything was out of the ordinary.

I had more wine and food than was good for me: raspberry marguerita, Ahi tuna appetizer, arctic char, complimentary piece of cheesecake with candle. I had my second dessert with champagne back at the house, accompanied by all our guests. Julia and Kate stayed up to have birthday cake with us. All in all, it was a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday, surrounded by my closest friends and family.

I didn't think last night that I'd make it to my skating lesson this morning, but I managed. It was the last spring session lesson for Julia and me. My coach and I worked on waltzing threes and expanding exercises today. I'm still learning these but Julia is preparing for testing. I also practiced spirals and drags; these definitely get more painful at age 40.