Monday, July 28, 2008

Problem Solved

Today we found out who won CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? competition. I'd been rooting for Marisa, our local talent, and Jayme, who we'd seen in the Stratford Festival's 2006 production of Oliver!, but I have no doubts that Elicia will be wonderful as Maria.

I generally sneer at reality shows and this columnist has a point. Yet I, along with the rest of the family, couldn't stay away from our TV sets the past few Sundays and Mondays. When Julia was much younger, she danced around the house singing the songs from The Sound of Music, and now Kate is following in her footsteps. The fact that Maria was tall, blond and Austrian (and they're not) never seemed to deter them. I've always loved the movie myself and it's given rise to my favourite scene from The Simpsons.

Homer (after hitting a deer statue with his car): "D'oh!"
Lisa: "A deer!"
Marge: "A female deer."

So having fallen for all the hype, we'll dutifully buy our tickets and look forward to seeing the real thing, a true Canadian Maria, in Toronto later in the year. "The hills are alive with the sound of music ...."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Craft Update - July 20

It's hard to find knitting patterns that appeal to teens (or at least to my teen) but I found a terrific Sirdar pattern book called "California Girls" that features their Luxury Soft Cotton DK. I'd bought the pattern and yarn when Jill and I went on our big yarn shopping spree. Julia picked out this shrug pattern from the book, and I like the finished garment so much I might even borrow it from her one day. I must say that Sirdar has the best pattern books for kids and teens. I have a number of them, all well used, though the ones with baby and toddler patterns are collecting some dust now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Skating Success

The StarSkate program that Julia takes has a series of tests. At each level, there are several tests for each of the components: skills, dance and freeskate. Typically, a skater will attempt a test every few months. Julia had earlier passed the first three dance tests and the first skills test. In the past year, however, she'd not had much inclination to try any tests. Nevertheless, she continued her lessons and kept working on the test requirements.

A month ago, Julia and her new coach decided it was time to try a test again. Todd and I agreed it would be a good idea to try one and see how it goes. Well, the one test turned into four. The coach convinced her to attempt tests for the full year's worth of work all in one day! On test day, I don't know who was more nervous, Julia or myself. Thankfully, Kate had a violin lesson at the same time, so I let Todd take Julia because he's a lot calmer about such things.

It's not uncommon for skaters to fail a test, even more than once. Some skaters take a test even if they're not totally ready, just to get the experience and feedback from the judges. So we were prepared for several failed tests. However, Julia amazed us by passing three of the four tests, including the most difficult one that she was attempting "just for the experience". She failed one over a minor issue that will be easily corrected in time for the next test date.

We were so stunned by the results and very proud of our lovely skater! We were even more surprised today when her coach told us that the skating club chose her as "StarSkate Skater of the Month" for those excellent results. Julia's next test will probably be her freeskate solo in the fall. Her coach is working on the choreography using music that Julia had chosen, and I can't wait to see how that develops.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Final Concerts

Kate finished off her Suzuki Institute with her group concert on Thursday and her orchestra concert on Friday. We then watched the musical theatre group's production of The Mikado, which was loads of fun.

The photo shows the junior orchestra playing in Queen's University's majestic Grant Hall. As a parent spectator, the orchestra class was definitely the most interesting to watch. The progress they made over the week was quite impressive. On Monday, the twenty-five kids, most in the 7-12 age range, received the music for three pieces, each having four parts (violin I, II, III, plus cello). They had only five one-hour rehearsals, and they performed the pieces on Friday afternoon. Sure, the performance was a bit rough in spots, but I find it amazing that they could play together at all. Only a fraction of the group had extensive orchestra experience; some kids had never played in this kind of setting before and were scared stiff on Monday. It helped that the teacher was an incredible instructor -- dynamic, energetic, witty, encouraging and completely in control of the group. I'm convinced that it takes a very, very special kind of person to teach junior orchestra.

The orchestra played a couple of folk songs ("Raggle-Taggle Gypsies" and "Hey Fiddle Fiddle") but the crowd favourite was "Do Wah Diddy Diddy". Kate loved this piece and sang it continually for days. In the confined space of a residence room, this was rather trying. So in some ways, it's a relief the Suzuki Institute is over, but we enjoyed it enough that we will probably do it again next year.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Exploring Kingston

We're almost at the end of our Suzuki Institute week. It's been a busy one, but we managed to find a few hours to explore a little bit of Kingston by foot. Fortunately, the Queen's University campus is well situated. It's a short walk to the downtown area, and one has the choice of walking along the river to take in the gorgeous views or through older residential streets lined with interesting examples of architecture.

Yesterday, we visited the Murney Tower, built in 1846 as part of Kingston's defences. It is now a museum and has a nice display of military artifacts, though Kate found the cellar rather spooky. The tower shows the name, "Murnay Redoubt", carved in stone. Apparently, the tower was originally named after Sir George Murray but was commonly known as the Murney tower, after landowner Henry James Murney. At some point, the second 'R' in the carved 'MURRAY' got changed to an 'N' to make a hybrid name.

Today, we toured Bellevue House, the home of John A. Macdonald. The extensive gardens are as interesting as the house itself, and a treasure hunt kept Kate well occupied during our visit. The house is said to be one of the best examples of Italianate architecture in Canada.

Finally, I have to show the Chez Piggy sign. As mentioned earlier, this is our family's favourite Kingston restaurant. We've stopped in many times en route to Montreal. Kate and I ate at Chez Piggy before the week started, and the residence food drove us to return yesterday night, our only free evening this week. I did suggest trying a different restaurant, but Kate vetoed the idea, not wanting to mess with a good thing. A bit of trivia: Chez Piggy was started by Zal Yanovsky, lead guitarist of the Lovin' Spoonful. Maybe that's why Todd was persuaded to try it out initially.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

At Camp

The whole family is at camp. Julia has been at a summer residential camp the past week and is spending her time hiking, canoeing, enjoying camp sports and games, and going on an extended out-trip. Why she needed to pack a suitcase full of make-up and hair products is beyond my comprehension, but I understand that all the teenage girls do this. Kate and I are in Kingston for the More Than Music Suzuki Institute. She's taking violin workshops and I'm just hanging around, as the institute requires parents to accompany students. Todd's at camp too -- it's called a "business trip".

So here we are on the lovely Queen's University campus, enjoying very pleasant weather. We are staying in a new, clean and comfortable residence, in rooms with a private washroom and air conditioning -- sheer luxury compared to the places I'd lived in as an undergrad. The only complaint I have is the food. We opted for a meal plan at the dining hall as there are basically no other food options. All other food providers on campus, apart from the hospital cafeteria, are closed for the summer. The dining hall offers mostly the same bland, overcooked slop I ate at the University of Waterloo residences over 20 years ago, except now there are signs displaying the nutritional information, so one can't even pretend that it's somewhat nutritious. Mercifully, we've progressed since those early days, and I can now at least get skim milk, whole-wheat bread, real orange juice, and tolerable (if not good) coffee. The evening before the week started, Kate and I walked into downtown Kingston to eat at our favourite Kingston restaurant, Chez Piggy, and we'll try to go into town again before the week is out.

We've completed only half the week at the Suzuki Institute, but so far, things are going well. Kate had attended the Southwestern Ontario Suzuki Institute last year, which is closer to home. This year, because of scheduling conflicts, we decided to venture a bit further. We were warned that these institutes can be overwhelming, but we're surviving just fine by keeping activities and commitments to a reasonably low number, and (for my sake) avoiding some of the over-zealous parents. Each day, Kate attends three workshops: a group class, an orchestra class and a private lesson ("private" meaning she gets 15 minutes of private instruction, but she attends together with three other students). The teachers here are terrific. One can debate the merits and drawbacks of the Suzuki program, but all of the Suzuki-trained instructors that Kate has ever had, including her regular teachers at home as well as Institute teachers, have been excellent. Kate gets three performance opportunities this week: a solo recital later today, plus recitals with her group class and the junior orchestra. In addition to these recitals, there are performances by faculty members and other students throughout the week that we can optionally attend. It's going to be a busy week!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Steely Dan, Finally

Todd and I had waited a long time to see Steely Dan, and we finally got the chance last night at Casino Rama in Orillia. This was the first time I'd been in a casino, and the aisle I saw en route from the casino's front door to the theatre entrance was entertaining enough, but we didn't linger. After taking a series of probability courses in the third year of my math undergrad program, I'd decided that there was no point in ever visiting a casino. Dropping my pocketbook in the street would be a more efficient and less painful way of losing my money.

Back to Steely Dan .... Great concert! It wasn't the religious experience that the recent Leonard Cohen concert was, but it was two hours of first-rate music played by exceptional musicians. Spectators not familiar with Steely Dan might have thought it was a one-person band. Donald Fagan was in the spotlight for most of the concert, with Walter Becker wandering out of the shadows for the occasional guitar solo and speaking part. The one-song encore left me wishing for more, but given that they played a good mix of their recent work and old classics (including three of my top five), I didn't leave disappointed. Todd, a harsher critic than me when it comes to guitar legends, also left satisfied, glad to have finally seen Walter Becker live, even if most of the solos were left to the younger and nimbler Jon Herington.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all, but especially to my Canadian family members living abroad! Wish you were all here to see the fireworks with us tonight. On the last day of school, Kate got a maple leaf tattoo and had on a bright red shirt (which happened to say "Switzerland" on it, but we'll ignore that) . This gave me the perfect photos for a Canada Day layout.

Layout credits: Papers from "Cabana White" and "Naturally Krafty No. 3" paper pack, ribbon (recoloured) from "Hemp Ribbons", brush from "Graphic Pop Clusters No. 2", frame from "Snap Frames", journaling tag from "Curled Journaling Spots", alphabet from "Little Tot Transport" kit, all by Katie Pertiet at Music embellishment from the national anthem sheet music available at the Government of Canada Web site here.