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!