Sunday, December 6, 2009

Kate's Pompom Hat Pattern

I wanted to make another slouchy hat for Kate with the purple Tanis yarn I got at the Knitter's Fair, but she had other ideas. She insisted on a brimmed hat with a big pompom. So here it is, and I've included the pattern too, even though it's pretty basic. It's sized for an older child. However, this one turned out to be fairly stretchy and can probably fit a teen or small adult.


Size: Child's large. Final circumference is 45cm/17.5in but will stretch to 56cm/20in.

Yarn: 1 skein Tanis Fiber Arts Hand Dyed Yarn (100% superwash merino wool), Green Label Aran Weight (115g/4oz, 196m/215yds per skein) in Grape.

Gauge: 20 stitches and 26 rows over 10cm/4in square using larger needles.

Needles: 3.75mm and 4.5mm (set of 4 double-pointed needles or 2 circular needles in each size) or size to achieve gauge.

K: knit
K2tog: knit 2 together

Instructions for Hat:

With smaller needles, cast on 88 stitches. Join in a round, making sure the row is not twisted and do rounds of 2x2 rib (K2, P2 around) for approximately 10cm/4in.

Change to larger needles and start stockinette stitch, knitting every row in the round. Continue in stockinette stitch until the hat measures 24cm/9.5in from the beginning.

Start shaping for crown.
First round: (K9, K2tog) 8 times. (80 stitches)
Next round: Knit.
Next round: (K8, K2tog) 8 times. (72 stitches)
Next round: Knit.
Next round: (K7, K2tog) 8 times. (64 stitches)
Next round: (K6, K2tog) 8 times. (56 stitches)
Next round: (K5, K2tog) 8 times. (48 stitches)
Next round: (K4, K2tog) 8 times. (40 stitches)
Next round: (K3, K2tog) 8 times. (32 stitches)
Next round: (K2, K2tog) 8 times. (24 stitches)
Next round: (K1, K2tog) 8 times. (16 stitches)
Next round: K2tog 8 times. (8 stitches)

Draw yarn through all 8 remaining stitches and close tight. Secure yarn in a knot. Weave in ends. With remaining yarn, make a pompom with diameter of 10cm/4in and attach to top of hat. Fold ribbing to form brim.

Sunday Craft Update -- December 5

It's been a busy few weeks, with holiday parties and concerts, including a solo recital, orchestra concert and strings school concert for Kate these past three weekends. We're also enjoying a visit from Todd's brother, Tim. Consequently, crafting time has been scarce, but I did manage to complete a hat for Kate (photos and patterns to appear shortly). I'm also more than two-thirds of the way through the cross-stitch ornament for Jill. It's going to be a challenge getting it to Singapore in time for Christmas, but I'm still hopeful!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The 2009 Evergreen List

One of my goals this year was to read most of the books on the 2009 Ontario Library Association's Evergreen list. I didn't think at first that all of them would interest me or even if that were the case, I'd manage to get through all of them, but I did! Even better, some friends and family members joined me in reading these through our book club. Here's a quick run-down:
  • Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover's Tour of Canadian Farms by Margaret Webb. Journalist Webb examines 11 Canadian foods and how they are produced, with a focus on sustainable farming. Fascinating stuff. I bought Ambrosia apples for the first time after reading this book. Would like to try dulse too, but not sure where to get it locally.
  • The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe. This is a psychological thriller, gruesome at times, written by Wolfe, a pseudonym for a supposedly well-known Canadian writer. Wolfe develops the characters well and does a good job of portraying small-town Ontario. The second book in the series, The Taken, has just been released.
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. This is a compact but intense story about three people trying to survive during the siege of Sarajevo. The title refers to the real-life cellist, a mostly symbolic character in the novel, who risked his life to play Albioni's Adagio to honour the dead. Definitely recommended!
  • Coventry by Helen Humphreys. Humphrey's spare and poetic style really appealed to me and it was a pleasure to read this story about two women whose lives cross during wartime.
  • Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott. This book, about a middle-aged woman who takes in a family after she accidentally crashes into the car in which they've been living, explores the notion of being "good". It's an engaging story.
  • In Spite of Myself: a Memoir by Christopher Plummer. Plummer's book is long and verbose, with names dropped on every page, but it is full of hilarious anecdotes and a must-read for fans of the theatre.
  • The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper. This is the story of a struggling writer who joins a writing circle and finds himself and his son drawn into the world of a serial killer. Wonderfully suspenseful, scary and disturbing!
  • The Outlander by Gil Adamson. The story of a young widow's flight through the wilderness of western Canada and US in the early 1900s, this was my favourite book of the ten. Beautifully written and a page-turner at the same time.
  • Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood. Taken from the Massey Lectures, Atwood's discourse on debt (a historical, philosophical and literary view rather than a financial guide) is thought-provoking and timely. I do enjoy her fiction more, though.
  • Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese. This was the biggest surprise for me. Had never heard of Wagamese but absolutely loved this book about four homeless people who win the lottery. Wonderful storytelling!
And the winner is .... The Cellist of Sarajevo! The Distinction of Honour goes to Coventry. See the announcement on the Ontario Library Association's Web site.

The new Evergreen list will be released in February 2010. However, the other 2010 OLA Forest of Reading lists are available now. Kate plans to participate in the Silver Birch Fiction program again this year.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Julia's Slouchy Beanie Pattern

Julia and I had seen a few slouchy hats in the clothing shops at the mall and I figured this would be easy to make. I had the perfect yarn for this project -- the gorgeous Tanis Fiber Arts yarn I picked up at the Waterloo County Knitter's Fair in September. Julia loves orange and this yarn has the most beautiful shades of that colour. Too bad the photos can't really do it justice. I include the pattern below for your enjoyment.

Size: teen or adult small. Final circumference is 51cm/20in but will stretch to 56cm/22in.

Yarn: 1 skein Tanis Fiber Arts Hand Dyed Yarn (100% superwash merino wool), Green Label Aran Weight (115g/4oz, 196m/215yds per skein) in Orange Blossom.

Gauge: 20 stitches and 26 rows over 10cm/4in square using larger needles.

Needles: 3.75mm and 4.5mm (set of 4 double-pointed needles or 2 circular needles) or size to achieve gauge.

K: knit
K2tog: knit 2 together
M1: make one new stitch by picking up, twisting and knitting through bar on previous row

Instructions for Hat:

With smaller needles, cast on 88 stitches. Join in a round, making sure the row is not twisted and do 10 rounds of 2x2 rib (K2, P2 around).

Change to larger needles and start stockinette stitch, knitting every row in the round. In the first round, increase 11 stitches as follows: (K8, M1) 11 times. (99 stitches)

Continue in stockinette stitch until the hat measures 24cm/9.5in from the beginning.

Start shaping for crown.
First round: (K9, K2tog) 9 times. (90 stitches)
Next round: Knit.
Next round: (K8, K2tog) 9 times. (81 stitches)
Next round: Knit.
Next round: (K7, K2tog) 9 times. (72 stitches)
Next round: Knit.
Next round: (K6, K2tog) 9 times. (63 stitches)
Next round: Knit
Next round: (K5, K2tog) 9 times. (54 stitches)
Next round: (K4, K2tog) 9 times. (45 stitches)
Next round: (K3, K2tog) 9 times. (36 stitches)
Next round: (K2, K2tog) 9 times. (27 stitches)
Next round: (K1, K2tog) 9 times. (18 stitches)
Next round: K2tog 9 times. (9 stitches)

Draw yarn through all 9 remaining stitches and close tight. Secure yarn in a knot. Weave in ends.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Here's my crazy family on Halloween night, minus Julia who was in bed with the flu. Kate very generously offered to share her loot, which goes to show that little sisters aren't always annoying pests.

I'd bought Kate this lovely white princess dress for Halloween last year but she'd refused to wear it. "Princess" just isn't her thing. Instead, she opted to shred it up with scissors and splatter it with (fake) blood, for the zombie-bride look. (Personally, I think she looks more like Lady Macbeth with that knife.) We were especially pleased to find the perfect fabric for her veil at Len's Mill, but it made me sick to my stomach to think of how much I'd paid for my own wedding veil 18 years ago. To think that I could have made do with a $2 piece of fabric, a $1 head band and two safety pins ... but it's too late to return it to the bridal shop now. Todd opted not to repeat the Napolean Dynamite act (too embarrassing to Julia, who cringed at the thought of her friends seeing him on the streets) and went for a more basic look.

I stayed home and passed out candy to over 230 kids before shutting down at 8:30pm. When you have a crazy family down the street who sets up a huge and elaborate haunted house and opens it up to the entire community, you can expect a lot of trick-or-treaters. I don't mind, though, and the kids are always pleasant and polite.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quantum to Cosmos

In what kind of town would you find a physics festival for the general public? Well, right here, of course! The Quantum to Cosmos festival was an eleven-day event featuring lectures, exhibits and films to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Perimeter Institute. In contrast to the academic conferences I attend now and then, it was a refreshing change to hear and talk about science with regular (dare I say "normal"?) people. With my usual busy weekday schedule, I didn't get to nearly as many events as I would have liked to attend. However, I did get to a few and plan to view some of the ones I missed on the Web.

Last Saturday, I attended Sean Carroll's talk, The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time, with my friend Sharon. Carroll is a dynamic speaker and I'm planning to check out his book, From Eternity to Here: the Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time.

The next day, Todd and I attended a panel discussion on Seeing Science Through Fiction that included Neal Stephenson, Lee Smolin, and Jaron Lanier. We were accompanied by our friend Mark who has convinced me that I should try Stephenson's novels. Certainly the themes for several of his books, mentioned in the course of the discussion, seem intriguing enough. Apparently, these are substantial tomes and I'll have to wait until I have a good chunk of time to devote to them. Maybe I'll start with Snow Crash.

Later in the week, I watched the documentary The Quantum Tamers: Revealing Our Weird and Wired Future. This was an entertaining and interesting film featuring interviews with a number of physicists around the world, but I'm not sure I understood quantum theory any better by the end of it. Incidentally, my first real exposure to this topic (outside of high-school physics class) was George Gamow's Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory -- an entertaining and highly readable book, if one can say that about any book on quantum theory.

Today, on the final day of the festival, I took Kate to the Physica Phantastica Exhibit, open to adults and kids of all ages. This included a prototype of the next Mars Rover, a 3D movie about how the universe was formed (including colliding galaxies, no less!), and many other fascinating exhibits. Unfortunately, we missed seeing Mark, even though he'd spent much of the weekend volunteering there in the big tent sent up in the city square.

All in all, it was a terrific festival. Hopefully, we won't have to wait for the Perimeter Institute's 20th anniversary to enjoy another event like this one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Two-Colour Infant Hat

I made this set for twins whose parents are Harry Potter fans. You can use the Hogwarts house colours, as I have, or any two contrasting colours. There are notes at the end for making a larger size.

Size: 3 months; circumference of 40cm (16in)

Yarn: 1 skein Patons Astra (50g, 147m per skein) in each of two colours, or other DK weight yarn.
For the hats shown in the photographs, I used the following combinations of Patons Astra for colours A and B: Cardinal (02762) and School Bus Yellow (02941); Dark Denim (02777) and Silver Grey Mix (02729); Black (02765) and School Bus Yellow (02941); Forest (02881) and Silver Grey Mix (02729).

Gauge: 22 stitches and 28 rows over 10cm (4in) square using larger needles.

Needles: 3.25 and 4mm (set of 4 double-pointed needles or 2 circular needles) or size to achieve gauge.

K: knit
K2tog: knit 2 together
M1: make one new stitch by picking up, twisting and knitting through bar on previous row

Instructions for Hat:

With colour A and smaller needles, cast on 76 stitches. Join in a round, making sure the row is not twisted and do 10 rounds of 2x2 rib (K2, P2 around).

Change to larger needles. Join colour B and begin fair-isle pattern starting with first round at the bottom of the following chart. In the first round, which is all in colour B, increase 12 stitches as follows: (K6, M1, K6, M1, K7, M1) 4 times. (88 stitches)

Work chart from bottom to top, repeating the 8-stitch pattern to the end of each round. Note that white squares are done in the main colour A and grey squares are done in the contrasting colour B.

Break off colour B and work remainder of hat in colour A. Start decreasing for crown.
First round: (K9, K2tog) 8 times. (80 stitches)
Next round: (K8, K2tog) 8 times. (72 stitches)
Next round: (K7, K2tog) 8 times. (64 stitches)
Next round: (K6, K2tog) 8 times. (56 stitches)
Next round: (K5, K2tog) 8 times. (48 stitches)
Next round: (K4, K2tog) 8 times. (40 stitches)
Next round: (K3, K2tog) 8 times. (32 stitches)
Next round: (K2, K2tog) 8 times. (24 stitches)
Next round: (K1, K2tog) 8 times. (16 stitches)
Next round: K2tog 8 times. (8 stitches)

Draw yarn through all 8 remaining stitches and close tight. Secure yarn in a knot. Weave in ends.

Notes on making a larger size:

Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to work out other sizes. However, I've included some notes below to help you adjust the pattern on your own.

I made this in a child/youth size as follows. Cast on 96 stitches. Do 11 rows of 2x2 ribbing. Increase 16 stitches to 112 stitches on first row by repeating (K6, M1) to end. Do fair-isle pattern, repeating a couple of the narrow bands to increase the height of the hat. Work crown as above except start with (K12, K2tog) on first decrease row, (K11, K2tog) on second, etc. If you don't want to do all the crown shaping in one colour (which leaves a largish area in that colour at the top of the hat), improvise and add in a yellow band, but take care to work the decreases into the pattern. Alternatively, you can add a pompom in the contrasting colour.

You can also increase the size by using a thicker yarn and correspondingly larger needle size.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Romanesco Cauliflower

I love the fractal patterns in this cauliflower. Tastes good, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Literary Weekend

I had the great pleasure of seeing Margaret Atwood at the Kitchener Public Library yesterday. Actually, I saw her via a live video feed, in a room adjacent to the library auditorium where she was speaking. The overflow crowd was enthusiastic all the same. It was enough to be next door to greatness.

When I saw the announcement months ago, I planned to show up early for the ticket distribution that took place two weeks before the event. I arrived 15 minutes before the doors opened, figuring that would surely be early enough. After all, we're talking about a reading by a novelist who writes serious literature, not a U2 concert. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was told the auditorium tickets were all gone and there were only a handful of overflow tickets left. I managed to snag two for myself and my friend Fei Min, and I saw over 50 people in the line behind me go home disappointed.

Margaret Atwood read from her new work, Year of the Flood, but much more enlightening and entertaining were her comments during the Q&A period. She covered utopian and dystopian literature, the purposes of blogging and Twittering, anecdotes from her early writing days, and much more. I didn't envy the interviewer, as this is one very sharp and quick woman. It must be tough keeping up with her.

We then lined up with the rest of the crowd to get our books signed. I had the new one, while Fei Min had her cherished copy of Alias Grace, which might very well be my favourite Atwood work, of the ones I've read so far. (I'd read this novel during the long hours breastfeeding Kate right after she was born; it was so compelling and disturbing that I didn't manage to get the sleep that I so badly needed at the time.) Fei Min and I then spent the next hour rehashing the event over a couple of sushi rolls. All in all, it was a terrific way to spend a Saturday!

This afternoon, I headed over to Victoria Park for the Word on the Street Festival. I picked up a few books for the kids and listened to a couple of readings. The highlight for me was attending Shane Peacock's reading from his first Boy Sherlock Holmes book, Eye of the Crow. I already knew he was a first-rate writer, but I discovered that he is a superb speaker as well. He spoke about his passion for Victorian England and his inspirations for this series. He also warned would-be young writers that it's very hard work to write. I believe him, as his books seem to be meticulously researched. After the reading, I got Kate's copy of Death in the Air signed. She couldn't come with me to the reading because of a previous commitment, but she was thrilled to see the signed book when she returned home in the evening.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mac 'n' Cheese

I'm way too tired to write a book review, knitting pattern, or anything else requiring much thought, but I've been getting gentle reminders from various sources that I should keep my blog up to date. So the best I can do is this: Kate's fabulous home-made mac 'n' cheese, which I had the honour of helping her make. It was better than KD, really.

Why am I so tired? I guess it's the back-to-school chaos: getting used to waking up before 7am again, rushing to Office Depot because one of the kids absolutely needs a binder/notebook/glue-stick by the next day or else she is doomed to failure for the school year, dashing out to the grocery store after realizing there is no lunch food except granola bars in the house, being told about a parent-teacher meeting just as it was about to get started (with the reassuring words, "But you don't really have to attend, Mom"). However, things are starting to get better. Life isn't exactly returning to "normal", but we're starting to establish a new routine.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My TIFF Experience

On Sunday, Todd and I went to TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival for the very first time. It's sad, really, that we've never ventured there before. I always had the impression that tickets would be expensive and difficult to get and that it would be worthwhile only for serious art film aficionados or celebrity chasers, but I was wrong on both counts.

We left early on Sunday morning and arrived in Toronto in time to pick up our tickets and line up for our first movie, Up in the Air, at the Elgin Theatre. There's Todd, in the photo above, with the much needed Starbucks latte. We got in line an hour ahead of time, and already the line was several city blocks long, but the wait was worthwhile, as we did get good seats together.

It was a great experience to see a movie at the beautiful Elgin, the ceiling of which is shown in the photo above. Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman (of Juno fame) was superb. I loved everything about it: the acting, the story, the humour, the cinematography. It's definitely Oscar material. All these years, I've never really understood the George Clooney love, but in this film, he is fabulous.

After lunch and ale at Les 3 Brasseurs, which these Torontonians insist on calling The 3 Brewers, we returned to an even longer line-up in front of the Elgin to wait for The Joneses. This movie, directed by Derek Borte, shows consumerism taken to an extreme. Unlike Up in the Air, The Joneses was merely good, not great, but it was still entertaining and thought-provoking. A bonus was the fact that this event was the world premiere and consequently featured celebrities walking the red carpet. The director, joined by various members of the cast including David Duchovny and Demi Moore, appeared on stage after the screening for a short Q&A session.

So was it worth it to travel to Toronto, stand in lines for hours and pay twice a normal movie-ticket price to see films that will be available everywhere in a few months anyhow? Definitely yes! There is something thrilling about seeing a film for the first time with 1500 other enthusiastic people. The other filmgoers we met in line were generally friendly, polite and well-informed (typical Canadians, I'd like to think). Though we weren't all that concerned about spotting celebrities, we were impressed when one fellow sitting next to us said he saw Penelope Cruz the day before. A couple of minutes later, his friend passed by in the aisle and told him that she just saw Geddy Lee from Rush, prompting Todd to say, "Wow, I'd rather see Geddy Lee than Penelope Cruz anyday!" I have no doubt that statement was said with complete sincerity.

All in all, it was a terrific day, and next year, I'll have to figure out how to abandon kids and work for a much more substantial TIFF experience.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Craft Update - September 13

I went to the K-W Knitters Fair yesterday. This stupendous annual event is really the best of its kind in our area, and probably in the entire province. I could have spent the whole day there but given my tight schedule, I had to power-shop. I bought, among other things, four skeins of Tanis yarn. Unfortunately, my photo does not do the yarns justice. The colours are various shades of glorious grapey purples and brilliant oranges. Buying high-end hand-dyed yarns in colours other than blues, reds and neutrals is extremely out-of-character for me. Orange yarn?? What the heck was I thinking? Really, the Tanis yarns had such beautiful shading that I just couldn't pass them up.

Friday, September 11, 2009

This Day Eight Years Ago

The September 11 disaster will be a perennial choice for the "What were you doing when ... ?" question. As with John Lennon's death and the Challenger disaster, I can remember vividly what I was doing the moment I heard the news.

Shortly after 9am, word was spreading through our office about the attacks on the twin towers. Soon after, a television set was set up in the common area and a crowd was forming around it. The managers probably concluded early on that nobody was going to get any work done that day.

Just before 10am, I got a call from Todd, who had arrived in Los Angeles a couple of days earlier. He had just woken up, as it was 7am in his time zone, and he had not had any news of the day yet. After I told him what I knew, he looked out his hotel window and saw armed officials patrolling the streets. Later in the day, he found out that the conference he was to attend in San Diego was cancelled, as was his flight home.

That evening, I spoke to my mother in Montreal. She had spent the entire day trying to reach our many relatives in New York City. We found out the next day, to our great relief, that all were accounted for, including a cousin who worked on the ground floor of the World Trade Center.

Over the next few days, I worried about how Todd was going to get home. Though I didn't have any real concern about his safety, we figured that being out of the country at that time was not a particularly good idea. Todd and his colleagues decided to rent a minivan and start driving in the general direction of Canada. After a few days in the car, they reached Des Moines, where they were finally able to get a flight to Toronto. Five days after the disaster, Todd arrived home. A friend of ours, who lives near us and who was also in southern California for a different business meeting, decided to wait it out at a beach resort. He arrived home shortly before Todd did.

I worried also about my Muslim friends, many of whom I'd met during my graduate studies, and hoped that the fallout wouldn't affect their families greatly. One of my saddest moments was seeing a former high-school teacher on the CBC news, several weeks after the disaster, talking about the daughter and son-in-law he lost when the towers collapsed. I'd always remembered him as an energetic, funny and powerful man, but that day, he seemed so fragile and broken.

As a child, I'd spent several summers in New York City, and I recall my aunt proudly pointing out the antenna on top of one of the towers. Her son, an engineer, had been part of the design team. I haven't been back to New York City in 30 years, but I would like to return one day soon and see how the city has changed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First Day of High School

Kate started grade 5 yesterday, but today is Julia's very first day of high school! By 7:30am, she was dressed, had eaten breakfast, and had all her stuff organized and ready to go. What happened to my kid??!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Summer in a Nutshell

It is definitely time to revive this blog, and I'll start with, "What I Did During My Summer Vacation." One thing I did was work, as I wasn't fortunate enough to have the whole summer off, but I still had plenty of time to spend with family and friends. My cousins Beryl and Rob spent several days with us, and the girls had a great time with Emma, Amanda and Olivia. We went into Toronto with them after their stay here and spent an afternoon at the Ontario Science Museum.

Julia had a terrific two weeks at summer camp with one of her friends from school. She claims she had a great time, despite the fact that she and her cabin-mates got caught in the biggest and wettest storm of the summer during their three-night out-trip. She then spent the rest of the summer relaxing at home and doing some volunteer work at the library and at our neighbourhood pool, reading with kids and assisting with swim lessons. Julia seems to enjoy working with younger kids, as long as the group doesn't include her sister.

Kate also had two weeks at a different summer camp with one of her good friends. This camp had a small lending library and Kate made it a personal mission to finish one Nancy Drew mystery each day at camp. Not surprisingly, she earned a "fastest reader" award from her camp counsellor. She told me that she did put the books aside long enough to swim, canoe, learn to make a fire, and do the usual camp activities, and she is looking forward to returning next year.

Todd and I had the opportunity to enjoy a kid-free weekend with our friends Mark and Sharon. We spent a couple of days in the Niagara Region, tasting and stocking up on wine, eating excellent food, and playing Settlers of Catan and Pandemic. I also got through at least a dozen novels and produced a decent crop of lettuce, peas, beans, eggplants and cucumbers this summer, though tomatoes were disappointing. Tomorrow, it's the start of a new school year!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Touring Ithaca

Kate and I have had some breaks between her violin sessions to tour Ithaca and the surrounding areas. We visited Cornell University, where I'd spent four months as a visiting student 23 years ago. The photo above shows Williard Straight Hall, and it houses the Ivy Room in which I had a good many lunches. I spent much of my time at Cornell studying in the beautiful, old Uris Library, which unfortunately was closed when Kate and I arrived. I also tried to visit the North Campus townhouses, which are not particularly interesting but holds some nostalgic value for me. Sadly, the entire campus seemed under construction and after several tries, I gave up trying to find an open route there. Nevertheless, it was wonderful walking on Cornell's beautiful campus again.

The Finger Lakes region is well-known for its waterfalls, and it's not surprising that so many people here are sporting "Ithaca is Gorges" T-shirts. One afternoon, we popped over to the Buttermilk Falls, just a 5-minute drive from Ithaca College. Buttermilk Falls is actually a series of small waterfalls rather than one large drop. Kate and I worked our way down one of the two trails following the falls and saw a number of interesting rock formations along the way.

The next day, we took the longer drive to Taughannock Falls, which supposedly has a greater drop than Niagara Falls. We parked near the lower part of the gorge, where we were able to hike 20 minutes on a wide and gentle trail to the base of the waterfall. If you're in the area, I highly recommend a visit. The views of the gorge and waterfall are stunning.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Week at the Ithaca Suzuki Institute

Kate has now finished Day 4 of the Suzuki Summer Institute at Ithaca College, and there is one final day to go. This is Kate's third Summer Institute. Two years ago, she attended the Southwestern Ontario Suzuki Institute and last year, the Suzuki Kingston Musicfest, which I wrote about here. These week-long camps are held every summer, in various places across North America, and they all follow similar formats.

Kate has four classes each day. The first is an hour-long lesson, shared with two other students who are playing at a similar level. The instructor works with each student on his/her particular strengths and weaknesses for 20 minutes. Then, there is a group class with 10-15 other students, in which the kids work on songs from the Suzuki Repertoire. After lunch, Kate has an orchestra class, and finally, there is an hour-long play-in. The play-in is an informal, lively session in which the kids get together with an instructor and go through pieces from the Suzuki Repertoire, often with fun variations.

When you follow a Suzuki program, you're expected to be able to play all the repertoire from the early books from memory. Kate's private and group violin teachers at home expect her to review all the pieces regularly, and she gets the opportunity to play them at group classes and concerts. The consequence is that you can throw a bunch of Suzuki-trained violinists together at any time, and they'll be able to play a large selection of songs together.

In addition to the classes, there are recitals and concerts every afternoon and evening, as well as lectures about the Suzuki method for parents. To avoid burning out, Kate and I pick and choose carefully just a few events to attend. Earlier in the week, we saw a concert given by the Preludio group, consisting of the most advanced students. The concert included the entire Four Seasons by Vivaldi, which Kate knows well, having had to learn parts of it for her orchestra group at home. The soloist, Allegra Wermuth, is a teacher at the institute. Just as impressive (to me, anyhow) is the fact that she is also a knitting designer and publishes an on-line knitting magazine, Petite Purls. (OK, I had to get some mention of knitting in here, and yes, I've been taking my knitting along to some of Kate's classes.)

Then, there is practice to be done. At the end of each day, or in between classes in the practice rooms available at the music building, Kate reviews the instructions given by her teachers. It's not all work, though, as you can tell by the previous blog posts. We've had time to tour Ithaca and the surrounding areas. Tomorrow will be a busy day, though, as the week ends with the final concert. Kate will be playing in the orchestra and also doing a selection of the Suzuki repertoire with all the other violinists, and then she gets to enjoy a big party at the end of it all!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arrived in Ithaca

On Sunday, Kate and I arrived in Ithaca, after passing through tiny towns with wonderful names like Romulus and Ulysses. Ithaca is a lovely city, with breathtaking views and a granola feel to it. Indeed, we drove by the Grassroots Festival as we were nearing the city.

We stopped in the downtown area for lunch, and Kate immediately spotted Ithaca Guitar Works. (She clearly takes after her Dad.) We browsed for a bit and eventually left with new guitar picks for Todd and a Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus songbook for Kate. The warm and enthusiastic shop owner had the good grace not to sneer as we bought it. We then stopped into a little cafe with excellent smoothies and wraps for lunch. We liked the food so much that I intended to return with Kate later in the week, until I found out it was owned by a religious cult. Maybe that's why the staff members were so friendly and helpful.

The Suzuki Institute takes place at Ithaca College, and we're staying in one of the residences here. Yesterday, we took a needed break from the university dining hall food. The food here is about as good as you'd expect from such a place (i.e. not particularly good), but at least they have decent Green Mountain coffee. We returned downtown and had an excellent meal at the famous Moosewood Cafe. I bought one of their cookbooks years ago and still use it frequently.

This is the amazing view from outside our residence room. Unfortunately, the view on the inside is not as beautiful. When we walked into our room, Kate immediate said, "Mom, this is just like a prison cell!" I reprimanded her for having such a negative view, but then I started to see her point. Perhaps it was the cement-block walls, or the small window located at the top of one wall, or the sheer sparsity of the room, even by residence-hall standards. However, a quick trip to Walmart to get supplies (including pillows that offered more than a centimetre of height) made our room much more comfortable. We really can't complain. The mattresses are comfortable, the room is very clean, and it is reasonably close to the classes. We do have a 15-minute hike uphill, though; it's a good thing Kate plays violin and not cello. Also, no one complains if you practice your instrument here. In fact, there is a kid next door who seems to be practicing every minute she's not in a class. Not surprisingly, she's one of the most advanced students in her age group. I'll write more about the violin program itself later.

First Stop: Niagara Falls

Kate and I stopped at Niagara Falls on Saturday, en route to another week-long summer Suzuki Violin Institute, this time in Ithaca, New York. Kate had been begging to see Niagara Falls for ages, whining about how her friends were more well-travelled than herself, the only one who hadn't seen the falls yet. This comment came from a kid who's been to various countries in two other continents, thanks to having family members scattered all over the world. However, I agreed that it was a shame that neither of us had seen one of Canada's greatest tourist attractions located practically in our backyard. I'd technically seen the falls once before, briefly in the wintertime, but that barely counts.

So off we went to do the grand tour, despite Oscar Wilde's famous words: "The Niagara Falls is simply a vast amount of water going the wrong way over some unnecessary rocks; the sight of that waterfall must be one of the earliest and keenest disappointments in American married life." I bought each of us an Adventure Pass, which started with a ride on the Maid of the Mist. This boat ride, the highlight of our day in my opinion, took us close enough to the American and Horseshoe Falls to be soaked in spray. Well, we would have been soaked were it not for the ubiquitous rain ponchos handed out at every attraction near the falls. Feeling the power of the water thundering down around us was an incredible experience.

We then went on the White Water Walk, a very scenic walk right next to the Whirlpool Rapids. This was followed by the Niagara's Fury "4-d ride", included in our Adventure Pass, but which frankly pales compared to the real thing. Kate loved it, though. Finally, we did the Journey Behind the Falls for a close-up view of the Horseshoe Falls. And now, we can say that we've really seen Niagara Falls!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Anniversaries

Two days ago, Marilyn and John, Todd's parents, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. There was a big party in Wasaga Beach, well attended by over 200 family members and friends. Their entire wedding party was there, along with many people they've worked with in their long careers and extensive volunteer service. It was clear from the stories and comments I heard that they've touched many, many lives and they play a vital role in their community. We, of course, already know that they're wonderful parents and grandparents. Congratulations, Marilyn and John! We wish you many more years of happiness.

Todd and I are celebrating our own 18th wedding anniversary today! We're having a low-key celebration with our girls this evening. It's been a good year for our family, and I expect the next will be even better.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Renaissance of Sorts

I've been reading a lot lately. I'd always read a lot, spending hours a week at the library in my youth and taking literature courses all through university as my non-technical electives. However, sometime in the past decade, I became brain-dead. With the pressures of raising kids and working, I found myself reading mostly paperback mysteries, knitting magazines, and children's books, while only occasionally picking up something more substantial.

So what happened to change that? I'd been reading more the past couple of years, but the real turning point occurred in March. Kate participated in the Ontario Library Association's Silver Birch program and raved about the books. At the same time, Julia started studying Shakespeare in her grade 8 class. With some feelings of envy, I realized that my kids were reading more interesting and weighty material than I was!

I seem to be making up for lost time now, though the reading is seriously cutting into my craft time. (I'm still knitting every day though!) I've recently discovered LibraryThing, an online service for readers that's just as fun and comprehensive as Ravelry is for knitters. I'm working through my 7th book from the Evergreen list and also finished The Book of Negroes by Laurence Hill, our region's "One Book, One Community" choice. The Book of Negroes was fantastic ... can't really say much more about it that's not already been said in all the glowing reviews. I also loved Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, a novel from the "young adult" category. On our way home from our Montreal vacation, I made Todd drive the entire seven hours because I couldn't put the book down. I'm also slogging through Mark Danielewski's The House of Leaves, after being tempted by an online event announced at the Wordsworth Books blog. This is one bizarre, challenging and mesmerizing read!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Celebrating the End of Middle School

Julia celebrated the end of Middle School with her grade 8 prom a couple of nights ago. Here she is, looking very grown up in the dress and wrap I'd made for her. For those of you who had wondered why I've not had any "Sunday Craft Updates" for a while, the reason is that I was not allowed to divulge any details of the prom outfit until after the event.

Grade 8 has gone very well for Julia. It culminated in her school's annual end-of-year ceremony today, where she learned that she graduated on the honour roll. It's been a fun two weeks for her. As soon as exams finished, the whole grade 8 class went on a trip to Quebec City and Ottawa that included a white-water rafting experience. Then there was prom followed by after-prom parties, and now summer vacation begins!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

48-Hour Book Challenge: Summary

The 48-Hour Book Challenge hosted by MotherReader is done! Here is the final summary:
  • Hours spent reading: 16
  • Hours spent blogging and writing/reading reviews: 2
  • Books finished: 4
  • Pages read: 1268
These are the books I read:
  • Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott
  • Eye of the Crow, by Shane Peacock
  • Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter, by W. Bruce Cameron
I also convinced Kate, my 10-year-old, to do some extra reading this weekend, and she completed 4 hours. She suggested we donate to our local Humane Society, for each hour we've read. For each of her hours, she will donate 50 cents from her allowance and I'll match her donation, and then I will donate $1 for each of my own hours, for a total of $20.

I enjoyed the weekend immensely (even though I have a lot of unfinished housework waiting for me now), especially having my friend Sharon join me for a few of those hours. It is great to be able to read with good friends, without feeling the obligation to make small talk during the process, but being able to exchange recommendations and ideas with them afterwards.

I am also happy to have discovered this challenge and MotherReader's blog. Many of the other bloggers doing this challenge seem to be particularly interested in children's and young adult books, and a good number regularly review books in these categories. I mainly read literature (especially Canadian literature) and mystery myself, though I do read a good number of children's books recommended by my kids. However, these days, I'm always on the lookout for good young-adult novels for Julia. I only managed to read a small sample of the many reviews posted during the 48-Hour Book Challenge, but I'm looking forward to going back to some of the blogs in the next week.

It was a great weekend of reading, and I certainly hope to do it again next year!

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #4

I spent my final 3 hours reading W. Bruce Cameron's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. As the mother of a teenager and a preteen, I found this book absolutely hilarious and sadly all too true. Here's a typical morsel of wisdom from Cameron: "The teenage years represent a formative period in which your daughter goes from wasting money on childish things to learning how to waste money like an adult. Your job is to fund this process." I tried to persuade Todd to read this book, as it is written from a father's perspective. However, he probably feels he is too busy surviving the arduous process to read the survival guide.

While we're on the topic of how to cope with a teenager, a truly useful book is Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? This book had been recommended to me by a number of people, and it offers good, practical advice, written in a succinct manner. Of course, even after all this reading, I still don't feel like I understand the mind of a teenage girl (despite the fact that I was one a few decades ago). If you ask Julia, she'll probably tell you it's equally difficult understanding and coping with parents.

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #3

I've read another 4 hours now (3 yesterday evening and 1 this morning), for a total of 13 hours. There are still 8 hours left in my 48-hour challenge, but I have to squeeze some exercise and chores (maybe even a shower and meals) in there as well. In those 4 hours, I read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.

Blink is about how people make decisions, and it contrasts the decisions made from "snap judgments" and those made from prolonged, rational thought. The book is mainly a collection of anecdotes. I'd read Gladwell's Outliers earlier, and there is similar criticism of both, that Gladwell is not providing original research, that he doesn't show the whole story, that some of the conclusions are flawed. However, I enjoyed both books immensely. Whether or not I agreed with every conclusion he draws, he made me think about details I'd missed and re-examine assumptions I've made about the way I perceive the world.

I loved, in particular, the closing story about trombone player, Abbie Conant, who faced an enormous struggle in the classical music world because she was a woman. The whole story, as written by her husband, is here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

48 Hour Book Challenge: Update #2

It is almost 5pm, the halfway point in the 48-Hour Book Challenge. I managed to read for another 4 hours today, and a friend will be arriving shortly (with her own stack of books) to join me for the evening. I'm pretty pleased with the number of hours logged so far, considering that I also squeezed in the following tasks: hosted a sleepover party for a bunch of teens (not so hard, since my job was mainly to put out food and then stay out of the way), finished two loads of laundry, went for a 40-minute walk, and interacted (a very small amount) with the rest of my family.

I finished Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault, one of the books on the Evergreen list that I'm tackling. The story is about a middle-aged woman who takes in a family after she accidentally crashes into the car they have all been living in, and the mother is discovered, while being examined in the hospital, to have cancer. The novel explores the notion of being "good" and what it means to be selfish or selfless. It's an engaging story and well worth a read, though it didn't have the same impact for me as some of the other books (like The Cellist of Sarajevo) on the Evergreen list.

48 Hour Book Challenge: Update #1

Yesterday evening, I managed 5 hours of reading, which was actually more than I'd hoped for. The bad news is that I stayed up until 1am reading but woke up at 6am, as I do every morning, and couldn't back to sleep, so I'll have to see if I can focus today. I got halfway through Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault before opting for something lighter. I then finished Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock.

Eye of the Crow tells the story of the 13-year-old Sherlock Holmes's first case and shows how his origins lead to his developing into Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character. Kate read this book as part of the Silver Birch program and recommended it to me. I've read all the original Sherlock Holmes books, seen many of the Basil Rathbone movies, loved the Jeremy Brett TV series and dragged my family through the Sherlock Holmes museum when we were in England a couple of years ago. I thought Peacock did a great job of developing an interesting plot, forming a faithful characterization of the young Sherlock Holmes, and recreating the atmosphere of 19th century London. Kate found some of the scenes rather scary but loved the novel, and I hope this will inspire her to read the real series when she's older. It looks like Peacock plans to develop this series further, as there is now a second book, Death in the Air, available.

Friday, June 5, 2009

48 Hour Book Challenge: Starting Line

I'll be starting the 48 Hour Book Challenge at 5pm, Eastern Daylight Time. The goal is to read as many hours as I can before 5pm on Sunday! I'm starting with Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault and Shane Peacock's Eye of the Crow.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cabled Baby Hat and Mittens Pattern

Here is the pattern for a hat and mittens set I made for a friend's new baby. The mittens are thumbless. I ended up using approximately 150m of yarn.

Size: 6-12 months; hat stretches to a circumference of 38-40cm (15-16 in).

Yarn: 1 skein Wool Gatto by Lana Gatto (50g, 165m per skein) or other DK weight yarn.

Gauge: 24 stitches and 32 rows over 10cm (4in) square using larger needles. One cable pattern repeat (over 10 stitches) is approximately 2.5cm (1in) unstretched and 3cm (1.25 in) stretched.

Needles: 3 and 3.75mm (set of 4 double-pointed needles or 2 circular needles) or size to achieve gauge. 1 cable needle.

K: knit
P: purl
C4: Make cable over 4 stitches by holding first two stitches on cable needle at front. Knit two stitches from back and then knit the 2 stitches on the cable needle.
M1: Make one additional stitch by working into the previous row before next stitch.
Pat4: Follow the cable pattern for 4 stitches (either K4 or C4 depending on row).
K2tog: Knit 2 together.
SSK: Slip, slip, knit to decrease a stitch.

Instructions for Hat:

With smaller needles, cast on 96 stitches. Join in a round, making sure the row is not twisted and do 10 rounds of 2x2 rib (K2, P2 around).

Change to larger needles.
First round: (M1, K2, M1, P2, K2, P2) 12 times. (120 stitches)
Next 5 rounds: (K4, P2, K2, P2) 12 times.

Start cable pattern:
Round 1: (C4, P2, K2, P2) 12 times
Rounds 2 to 8: (K4, P2, K2, P2) 12 times.
Repeat rounds 1 to 8 until hat measures 14cm (5.5 in) from cast-on row.

Start decreasing for crown, keeping pattern until you start decreases on the 4-stitch cable.
First round: (Pat4, P2tog, K2, P2tog) 12 times. (96 stitches)
Next round: (Pat4, P1, K2, P1) 12 times.
Next round: (SSK, K2tog, P1, K2, P1) 12 times. (72 stitches)
Next round: (K2, P1, K2, P1) 12 times.
Next round: (K2tog, P1) to end of row. (48 stitches)
Next round: K2tog to end of row. (24 stitches)
Next round: K2tog to end of row. (12 stitches)

Draw yarn through all 12 remaining stitches and close tight. Secure yarn in a knot. Weave in ends.

Instructions for Thumbless Mittens (make 2 identical)

With smaller needles, cast on 28 stitches. Join in a round, making sure the row is not twisted. Starting with P2, do 12 rounds of 2x2 rib (P2, K2).

Change to larger needles.
First round: K4, P2, M1, K2, M1, P2, K4, K14. (30 stitches)
Next round: K4, P2, K4, P2, K4, K14.
Next round: K2, M1, K2, P2, K4, P2, K2, M1, K2, K2, M1, K10, M1, K2. (34 stitches)
Next 3 rounds: K5, P2, K4, P2, K5, K16.

Start cable pattern:
Round 1: K5, P2, C4, P2, K5, K16.
Rounds 2 to 8: K5, P2, K4, P2, K5, K16.
Repeat rounds 1 to 8 until mitten measures 7.5cm (3in) from cuff (not including ribbing).

Start shaping top of mitten, keeping pattern until you start decreases on the 4-stitch cable.
Next round: K1, SSK, K2, P2, Pat4, P2, K2, K2tog, K1, K1, SSK, K10, K2tog, K1. (30 stitches)
Next round: K4, P2, Pat4, P2, K4, K14.
Next round: K1, SSK, K1, P2, Pat4, P2, K1, K2tog, K1, K1, SSK, K8, K2tog, K1. (26 stitches)
Next round: K1, SSK, P2, SSK, K2tog, P2, K2tog, K1, K1, SSK, K6, K2tog, K1. (20 stitches)

Divide stitches so there are 10 stitches on each of two needles. Graft stitches together to close the top of the mitten. Weave in ends.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Film Club: Round 4

For round 4 of our film club, Julia chose Clint Eastwood's The Changeling, with Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. The film featured an intriguing story, based on true events, about a woman whose son is abducted. A boy is returned to her, but despite the authorities' insistence that he is her son, she realizes he is an imposter. Coincidentally, we watched the film shortly before a real child abduction occurred in a nearby community and we recently learned of the sad and tragic conclusion to this situation. However, the film is more an exploration of political corruption and the struggles of women in the 1920's than a story of child abduction. Both Julia and I gave thumbs-up to this movie. It had a great story and excellent acting, and it recreated the 20's atmosphere beautifully. My only disappointment was that Colm Feore, one of my favourite actors, had such a minor role in it, but I'm consoled by the fact that I'll be seeing him as Macbeth at the Stratford Festival in a few weeks.

My choice for this round was Best in Show, directed by Christopher Guest and starring SCTV alumni Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. I'm grateful to my friend John for recommending this hilarious mockumentary about five dogs and their owners preparing to compete in a dog show. The whole family enjoyed this movie, even though it's probably deemed unsuitable for Kate. She didn't understand (I hope) most of the double-entendres, but she sure loved the cute dogs!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

48 Hour Book Challenge

I recently found out about this 48 Hour Book Challenge, and I'm seriously tempted to join in the fun. The idea is to read for as many hours as possible over a 48-hour period on the June 5-7 weekend. MotherReader, the blogger hosting the challenge, emphasizes the "guilt-free" aspect. The problem is that I have to get the rest of my family to buy into this, as laundry, cooking, cleaning, and chauffering will become very low-priority tasks for a couple of days. Actually, Kate wants to read along with me, and we've vowed to give up TV, computer games, Internet surfing and unnecessary social contact for the weekend. However, friends who are willing to BYOB (bring your own book) are welcome to come over and join us.

The timing is good, as I have a huge stack of books to get through. I'm currently reading from the Ontario Library Association's Evergreen list. From it, I've finished Gil Adamson's The Outlander, Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo, Christopher Plummer's In Spite of Myself: a Memoir, and most recently, Andrew Pyper's The Killing Circle. (I'm still shivering from that one!) I'm also working through Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, our region's "One Book, One Community" pick for the year. Then, there is a long list of recommendations from my kids, including the Twilight series that Julia loved and the Silver Birch fiction list that Kate enjoyed immensely this year. I'm going to need way more than 48 hours ....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Busy Concert Season

Kate has been a busy, busy violinist these past few weeks. First, the junior orchestra played their final concert of the season. They worked for months on the third movement of Vivaldi's Summer Concerto and they played it beautifully. They also joined the intermediate and senior orchestras to play a modern piece composed by David Wadley. A few days after that concert, Kate participated in the local Kiwanis Music Festival, in three violin competitions and a composition competition. She had practiced many hours for these competitions, and we were very proud that she played her pieces so well.

The following weekend, Kate's strings school had their annual spring concert. Kate played, with her group, a medley featuring pieces from "The Sound of Music". It was definitely a crowd pleaser and appreciated by Todd's parents, John and Marilyn, who joined us for the weekend. She also played selections from the Suzuki repertoire with the entire school. Even though I have to see this at every Suzuki event, I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing a stage full of kids playing Twinkle variations together! There's Kate in the photo above, among all the violinists in their best black-and-white concert garb.

As if there wasn't enough craziness, Kate also had to attend dance rehearsals the week before the concert. I spent much of the weekend shuttling her between her two dance performances and the group violin rehearsal and concert. The whole family attended the dance recital too, and Kate performed beautifully in her "Pool of Tears" and "Card Guards" dances with the rest of her class. My friend Laura designed this lovely card guard costume in the photo above.

Now, Kate gets a few weeks' break before an upcoming violin exam. Julia had decided some time ago to abandon the arts scene and is no longer doing dance and piano recitals. However, she too has been busy, going to track-and-field meets every week or two with her school team. It's nearly impossible, though, to convince a teenager to pose for a photo for her parents, so you'll just have to imagine her racing in her school colours and spikes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Film Club: Round 3

For round 3 of our film club, I chose Breakfast at Tiffany's, an old favourite that Julia also wanted to see, especially after hearing that it was one of Blake Lively's favourite movies. I love Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, that sappy Moon River song, but most of all, I love Cat.

Julia chose Twilight, newly released on video. She'd read the entire series and had already seen seen the movie at the theatre with a friend, but she wanted to see it again and share the experience with me (or so I like to imagine). We watched it together with her former schoolmate who was visiting for the day. It's fun, romantic, escapist entertainment, especially if you like watching very pale, serious young people giving each other long meaningful stares (and glares) across the screen. As soon as we were done with the movie, it was Earth Hour, so we got to sit in the dark and contemplate vampires for a while, until some friends invited me for a walk to Starbucks.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Craft Update

I've been trying to work on five knitting projects simultaneously, which means that I'm not making any significant progress on any of them. However, I did manage to finish a bunch of hats with the tons of yarn I had left over from Alysha's hat. Shown above is a nightcap that I made for Fei Min's daughter, Kirin. I haven't had time to write out the pattern yet, but that will appear on this blog eventually.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Film Club: Round 2

A few weeks ago, we finished round 2 of our film club, but I've been rather negligent in updating the blog. Julia chose Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which follows several characters throughout the day of a school shooting and is partly based on the Columbine high-school massacre. Despite being somewhat repulsed by the theme, I loved the camera work and the use of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise. I was worried Julia would find it hard to go back to school after watching the movie, but this gave us a good opportunity to talk about such events and how truly rare they are. Sadly, a couple of days later, we heard about the school shooting in Winnenden, Germany.

After this highly disturbing selection, I figured it was time for something light-hearted but not without substance. I chose Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility. Of course, the 6-hour BBC Pride and Prejudice series is far superior, but given the typical teenager's attention span, I thought it best to give her a gentler introduction to Jane Austen. With a cast that includes Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, you can't go wrong. After the first half-hour, Julia admitted that she didn't quite "get it", though she was enjoying the film. I told her that was OK. A lot of adults don't get Jane Austen either. However, by the half-way point, she seemed engrossed (and was finally "getting it"), and even Kate and Todd (despite dismissing this as another "chick film") stayed to watch the film with us.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Julia Passes Her Solo Test

For the past couple of months, Julia had been working on her solo program for the Skate Canada StarSkate Preliminary Freeskate test, and on Tuesday, she passed the test! She has now completed her Preliminary and Junior Bronze dance and skills tests, and both portions of the Preliminary Freeskate test. She is going to take some time off skating to concentrate on Track and Field for the Spring, before resuming later in the year. Congratulations, Julia. We're proud of you!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy 10th Birthday, Kate!

Our little Kate turned ten today! She had a terrific day, receiving birthday greetings from friends, family and classmates. We all went to her favourite Viet-Thai restaurant for dinner. Happy birthday, Kate!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March Break in Montreal

The kids had March Break last week, and we spent it in Montreal visiting family. Todd was eager to get a few more skiing opportunities before the season ended, and so we brought our skis along. Our first stop was at Beryl's and Rob's house, where we always get a warm welcome! The girls were happy to spend time with their cousins, Emma, Amanda and Olivia, who is reading her new Dora books with Julia and Kate in the photo above. We had a terrific day at Mont Avila. Rob took Todd and me skiing, while Beryl took all the girls snow tubing, and the evening ended with an excellent meal at a local gastro-pub.

We had an opportunity to ski again later in the week, at Bromont. Bromont's a great place to ski. It's a large resort, like Tremblant, but slightly less expensive and definitely less glitzy. There are enough challenging runs to satisfy Todd, and there is enough variety in the easy runs for me. Though the snow was rather slushy, both ski days were sunny and warm.

Being on vacation, I didn't keep up with news, and it was only after we returned that I heard about the death of Natasha Richardson at Tremblant. I was somewhat shaken by this, having done that same run a number of times. The Nansen run is a beginner run, but when I was on it in February, there were some very icy sections. However, we ski with helmets, and being the worrying type, I always insist on a trip to the doctor after a head injury. Our family seems to be prone to this, as we've had three (non-skiing) incidents in the past few years, with two requiring stitches. Maybe we should wear helmets all the time ....

We spent the second half of our March Break at my parents' house, where we had fabulous Chinese food. My mom cooked my favourites, including steamed lobster (also Julia's favourite), braised mushrooms, and stir-fried greens. We joined my cousins Teresa and Leo for dim sum, but unfortunately, their kids were in school, as Quebec students get March Break earlier in the month. We rounded out the week with the inevitable clothes-shopping trip, a walk through the McGill campus (a futile attempt to inspire Julia to pay more attention to her studies) and an afternoon at the Biodome, a nature museum housed in the velodrome originally built for the 1976 Olympic Games.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Film Club: Round 1

For round 1 of our film club, Julia chose the recently released Passchendaele. Having studied the two world wars at school a number of times over the past few years, she wanted to see this dramatization, but I confess that I am not a fan of war movies. I don't need to watch lengthy bloody battlefield scenes to appreciate the miseries of war. All the same, it was interesting to see a war film made from a Canadian perspective, and I do like Paul Gross, who wrote, directed and acted in this film. Julia said she liked the movie, though she was saddened by the tragic ending.

My choice for the first round was Amadeus, a story about the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, which I'd first watched on the big screen as a teen. Despite having only a tenuous connection to reality, this is a terrific story, with superb acting and a wonderful soundtrack. (How can the soundtrack be anything but wonderful?) Having forgotten about the gruesome first scene, I let Kate join us for this movie. The girls were familiar with some of the music, as Mozart's Magic Fantasy was a car favourite in their younger days. They both enjoyed the movie, though they found the scenes of Salieri dressed as Mozart's father quite frightening. I am sorely tempted to ask Todd to don a black mask and cloak the next time either girl gives us trouble.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Film Club

One of the items on my "101 in 1001" list is, "Read a novel by a Governor-General award winner whose works I've not read before." I checked this off a couple of weeks ago after finishing David Gilmour's The Film Club. I'm stretching the definition of "novel" here, as the book is a memoir about a period in his life spent watching movies with his teenage son. Gilmour, who had worked as a film critic for the CBC, agreed to let his son drop out of high school on the condition that they watch three movies a week.

This was a wonderful read. Many critics pointed out that the novel was not really about the movies, and rather it was about the father-son relationship through the troubled teen years and how to connect with your kid during a period when communication is tough. Living with a teenager myself, I certainly appreciated those aspects of the work, but for me, it really was about the movies! I spent many hours of my own teenage years watching old films from the 30's through the 60's, and Todd and I had, for a number of years, spent our Saturday evenings with Elwy Yost. This man loved movies, and the enthusiasm was contagious. David Gilmour loves movies too, and one day, I'll try to go through his list. (Thanks to John for the link.)

Coincidentally, Julia has lately developed a great interest in films and has, on occasion, asked to see showings at our local repertory cinema. After I told her about The Film Club, I proposed we take turns choosing movies to watch together. The rule was that each person must sit through the other's choice, though we were allowed to express our honest opinion about the film afterwards. We're both a bit apprehensive about this venture. We used to enforce this rule with respect to music CDs on long car trips. As a result, the girls had to put up with a lot of 70's and 80's rock and classical music. Todd and I, in turn, listened to enough Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus to last a lifetime. We'll see how long our little "film club" lasts, but for now, I'm looking forward to seeing some movies that I might not have selected otherwise.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Craft Update - February 22

I've been knitting like crazy, to keep up with my yarn purchases. Elann is still having incredible sell-offs of discontinued Needful Yarns stock. In a moment of madness, I bought three bags of Santa Ana, in the colours shown above. When I made my Siesta Blanket, Kate loved the Santa Ana so much that she begged for an afghan of her own using this yarn. So I am working on one now, using the purple and blue Santa Ana along with a bagful of Takhi Durango (also purchased from an Elann close-out sale) and some Elann Peruvian Highland Bulky wool.

One of my co-workers took 3 skeins of each colour off my hands, but that still leaves an awful lot of Santa Ana .... I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, but at 12 USD for a bag of 10 skeins, it was impossible to resist. I'm itching to buy more too, as there are still bags in many colours available at Elann. This yarn is a mixture of nylon and real wool, not the plasticky "fun fur" stuff that's usually available. I'm thinking this would be great for making soft stuffed animals. I'd like to make a wrap or cardigan out of this too, but the trick is, as one Raveler put it, "to find a pattern that doesn't make you look like a Muppet when you wear the finished garment."