Saturday, January 14, 2006

Erin's Osprey Chair

About three years ago the second violinist in my string quartet ("the Osprey String Quartet") was no longer able to travel to New Denver for rehearsals. Our quartet owned four nice hardwood folding chairs, for use in small-town venues where the only other option was uncomfortable stacking chairs. The fourth chair has been empty for the past three years. We made ourselves into a trio (my mom on violin, me on viola, and a cellist friend rounding things out), and grasped for repertoire among the much more paltry body of string trio repertoire. We kept performing our regular recitals, but wished a second violinist would materialize in the area -- there's so much great quartet music!

Three weeks ago I heard Erin practising her Beethoven Romance and realized what a huge leap she's made in technical and musical ability in the past 6 months. I talked to my mom about maybe giving Erin the chance to try playing a quartet with us for the experience. They thought that would be lovely, a great opportunity for her, and kind of fun for us. We handed Erin the first movement of a Mozart quartet in a friendly key and told her to look it over. My mom, who is Erin's official violin teacher, even thought that we might be able to perform it with her at some point, though she thought we'd have to be patient with her over stylistic and ensemble issues. She worked with Erin on the music a bit at her lesson.

This morning we had a trio rehearsal scheduled and told Erin we would run through the Mozart with her at the beginning of the rehearsal. We started reading through it ... and never looked back. We did the first movement. The blend of the quartet is terrific. Erin's 3/4 violin (the new one, with a huge sound) holds its own just fine. There were a few stylistic things up until the first repeat... but by the second time through the first section, she'd absorbed the weighting-and-unweighting stuff that we were all doing on the syncopated motif and had adjusted her bowing style to match ours. Her solo passages were confident and beautiful. She was doing so well, we decided to sight-read through the third movement. Erin played as well as the rest of us, I think. And then the more challenging last movement. Same deal. Our cellist said "Well, it sounds like we have half a recital here. Erin you're hired. Let's figure out what we'll do for the other half." So we started talking about romantic quartets.

Our quartet is whole again. And it's my kid who has suddenly blossomed as a born-and-bred chamber musician who has filled the empty Osprey chair. I am awed. I am proud. I had no idea her musical maturity had grown so far.

She was thrilled. She knew how well she was doing. She knew that in the space of an hour the equation had shifted and she had become part of the quartet, and not "some kid we were doing a favour for."

When we came home, she spent almost three hours delightedly playing with playdough. What a bundle of incongruities she is!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Growing up and moving out

Erin has moved into her own place! Over the holidays, with the weather unseasonably warm, and the resurgence of "issues" concerning her pre-bedtime routine and how it ostracizes Sophie from their shared bedroom, Erin decided to move out to the cabin.

It's a 140 sq.ft. log cabin situated about 30 ft. from our back door. The guy who homesteaded here 35 years ago built it his first summer here and lived in it for a winter while felling and seasoning logs for the main house. Two years ago we turned it from the storage shed it had become into a nice little three-season guest cabin with a proper subfloor and floor, some basic furniture and a new roof that doesn't leak. But it's unheated and basically unwinterized. The plan had been to put in a heating system and to double-glaze the window and fix the ill-fitting door this spring and turn it into a bedroom for Erin. That would give Fiona a bunk in the "girls'" bedroom and possibly encourage her to relinquish the family bed she inhabits now. It's a beautiful but simple little space and I was feeling quite envious -- the dark trek through the sometimes forbidding weather between bedroom and the rest of the living space (including the indoor plumbing) seemed a small price to pay for the serenity and space.

Erin decided to grab it early. It seemed a decent solution to the turf issues in the shared bedroom, and appealed to her sense of adventure. She moved about ten blankets and a space heater in and set about making herself comfortable. If the weather gets really cold again (below, say, minus 10 Celsius), she'll probably have to spend a few nights inside on the pull-out couch, but for now she's so happy.

For her birthday earlier this week she was given an electric blanket (to supplement the electric baseboard heater) and a wireless networking card which enables the old clunker of a laptop to grab basic internet content. She's begun writing stories again with a vengeance, and doing music composition projects. She's reading lots and basically enjoying a level of independence that is safe and comfortable for her right now. On the whole I think she's happier and more gracious in interacting with the family when she's inside with us too.

She is having fun working with me to plan furniture and d├ęcor. We will order a proper double-glazed window and build a properly-fitting door once spring comes. The heating issue is the big area of indecision right now. The clearance needed for a woodstove would eat up a lot of the floor space. A propane heating stove would be very pricey to purchase and install. And I can't stand the idea of using electricity to heat it. I'm leaning towards propane ...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Featherpuff Bread

I've been dropping little hints for a couple of years about how nice it would be to be able to grind our own grain for bread. Last fall when we went to the Menno Relief Sale / Pioneer Festival at Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto (big family event for Chuck, and we just happened to be around Ontario at the time, so we took the kids) Chuck got totally entranced by the miller and his obvious passion for his mill and for the benefits of fresh-milling flour.

So it wasn't exactly a huge surprise to find that my Christmas gift was a Family Grain Mill attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. (Supposedly you're supposed to have the 'big', 325W KitchenAid to use the grain mill, whereas ours is the 'small' 250W model that we got free on points a few years ago, but we'd been told it works just fine, so long as you keep the speed slow and give the machine breaks after every few cups of flour.)

I ordered a book about whole-grain bread-baking that I'd been hearing about on the Home-Ed list for a long time. It's "Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" and it arrived a couple of days ago. I'm really impressed with it. It's a veritable bible of whole-grain bread-baking, but it's not so crunchy that it doesn't discuss things like breadmakers and store-bought flours, yeasts and additives.

The 'finesse' touches, which I'd been ignoring because I didn't understand whether or why they are important, are explained simply and thoroughly. For example, how and why to rest the dough, how to test for the right amount of rise, how to know when you've kneaded enough, etc.


Lately I've been on a sourdough kick, making dense, dark breads with thick chewy crusts. With Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book in hand I decided I wanted to challenge myself to bake a loaf of light, elastic sandwich bread out of fresh-milled whole wheat. I followed the recipe in the book for "Featherpuff Bread". It was everything I expected and more! It rose almost four-fold on the last rise and the consistency was consistent and, as promised, feather-light. Yum Yum Yum, the first loaf probably won't make it through to tomorrow morning (it's now 10 pm here).