Friday, March 30, 2012

Summit Strings Cuba Concert

Summit Strings began in 2008 when our most senior local violin and viola students began playing ensemble music together on a regular basis. It has evolved as students moved away, moved on, graduated or what-have-you. For a couple of years we had a tight group of five, and they anchored the first half of a community concert last year. There are only three of them now. All three sing in Corazón too, which is kind of neat, and the older two will be participating in the big choir trip to Cuba next month. Sophie isn't eligible based on her age, but we hope she'll be able to do cool trips in future years.

They decided that a full-length concert would be a good way to raise money for the trip to Cuba. Sophie, good sport that she is, was fine with doing all the work required to support the others. I did some arranging and gleaning and transposing, vetting repertoire (a lot of it new, though some recycled from previous years) with their input. And then we spent the winter rehearsing. There was a nadir in motivation in November, but they rallied and as it got closer to performance time there was some real energy and excitement there. It was a big program with lots of varied repertoire. Not all of it was challenging, but some of it definitely was, and the sheer volume of music they had to get to know made for some pretty long, hard-working rehearsals.

Noah and Danika put together a poster-board presentation about the choir, about Cuba, and about the trip the group will be doing. We cooked a bunch of Cuban-inspired appetizers for intermission, designed and printed tickets, wrote and submitted ads and press releases, created posters and plastered the community. And we came up with background information to introduce the music.

It was a packed house, and the fund-raising proceeds were beyond what we expected. The community was so generous and supportive. It was a wonderful performance with lots of good feeling surrounding it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Break for Fiona

March Break, the one- or two-week spring schools holiday, has never had much to do with us, other than loosening up our out-of-home activities schedule. But with Sophie in school full-time, and Noah part-time, it's gained relevance this year. Those two headed off to Montreal to visit their big sister. And that has made Fiona an only child for a week. With siblings gone and activities on hold, we felt we needed something nice to fill things up.

We had to drive to Calgary to get the middle two on their flight. So Fiona and I made a excursion out of it. We spent a half day at the new Calgary Science Centre (better than the old one, but still not in our top three, and over-run by busloads of Alberta schoolkids who are not on their March Break for another week or so). We went shopping for summer things. Fiona is a great shopper. She likes clothes, but has an eye for bargains and a healthy skepticism for brand names. She was very excited to buy a tank top for gymnastics. After holding our breaths all year, we were finally able to get her registered for gymnastics beginning in April. So buying a gym tank was a major highlight. Then we picked up a couple of small items other people had asked us to buy for them, and in the process wandered past a place that offered ear piercing. Fiona had decided a couple of years ago that she would pierce her ears when she was 9, and then a couple of weeks ago had decided the time was finally right. So she marched in and asked the person at the sales desk and within ten minutes had some lovely little studs in her lobes.

The next notable excursion was to the zoo. We took the C-Train rapid transit system there, which was an exciting adventure all in itself. We enjoyed the penguins, and assorted other wacky animals. It's a relatively small zoo, with enclosures that aren't nearly as spacious and natural-looking as those in Toronto.  We talked a bit about the ethics of zoos.

While Montreal was enjoying summer-like temperatures, we were having a blustery cold day, so we mostly stuck with the indoor exhibits. New to us was the plant and butterfly Conservatory which had opened a little over 2 years ago. Fiona was absolutely entranced. It was quiet, and warm and practically creaking and squeaking with the sounds of growing plants. We spent almost half our zoo time with the plants.

The next day we got up super early and headed to Lake Louise ski area. We put in a few huge runs. It was cold, though the sun did its best to warm things up a little. Fiona got to experience her first rides in a gondola, and on various chair lifts. She was amazed by the length of the lifts and the runs. 

We had a lot of hours of driving ahead of us, so we didn't stay beyond lunch-time, but it was a lovely morning. 

Now we're home, and poking around for a few special things to do here too. Today Fiona cooked dinner for her parents and her grandma. We had Tuscan Bean Soup, fresh-baked herb buns, and tapioca pudding for dessert. She had a little help along the way with the main course, but mostly it was her cooking that brought it all to fruition. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mileage and blisters

Marathon training is going pretty well. The green line shows the number of kilometres I've run per week of my training schedule. It's increased dramatically as the weeks have passed, taking "step-back weeks" on occasion to allow my body recovery time following two or three weeks of significant increases. That's the sensible way to do it, I'm told, and it seems to be working. No significant injuries thus far.

It's a lot of running for me. To put this mileage in perspective, look at my monthly trend over the past couple of years. January '12 was an all-time high-mileage month for me: about 70% more kilometres than I'd ever run in a month before. February was higher again, and March will almost certainly be higher than February.

The really cool thing is that this peak in mileage has occurred even though it is the absolute most difficult time of year to run. The treadmills at the fitness centre are both broken this year, so I haven't even had that option. Look at last winter's mileage: nothing in December, and not much more than that until May. But I haven't let the cold temperatures and occasionally atrocious road conditions dissuade me this year.

I'm trying to increase my barefoot mileage. That's the orange-red line on the first graph. Weather conditions have turned out not to be nearly the obstacle I had thought, but it took me a while to realize that. By week 9 I began really pushing to increase my barefoot mileage and moved my distance from 2-3 km at a time up to 8 km. I also built up to being able to run barefoot on back-to-back days as my soles seemed to be getting well enough conditioned to be resistant to damage. Last week's big spike unfortunately produced a blister the day I did 15 barefoot km's after 11 soggy shod km's. I think the blister was already well on its way when I dropped my shoes -- which was in fact why I dropped them -- but the barefoot running wasn't any better, and of course has suffered more this week for the blister. Still, I'm hopeful that a week of duct tape and some moderation will fix that.

And here again is my cumulative 2012 mileage ticker. I wonder if I'll meet my goal for the year by running my marathon on May 6th? After that the trails will have opened up, and I expect I'll be happily running through the forest, having abandoned training goals and simply enjoying being out there. Fewer charts and graphs, more photos.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recital time

It's been a challenging year musically for all three kids. Erin moved away, and though the other kids would never articulate that she was a motivating force in their music studies, she certainly "normalized" diligent daily practicing around our house. Not only that, but as a member of the Suzuki group class and of Summit Strings she had provided herself as one of the scarce "advanced role models" in our little musical backwater. 

Sophie started school full-time in September. And she joined Corazón Youth Choir. Both of which have enriched her life in many ways, but have also eaten up the lion's share of her creative energy and time. The lifestyle change involved in going to school is not to be under-estimated. And so, with very little time and motivation going into her violin, she decided to drop lessons last fall. She continued to prepare ensemble music for the Summit Strings concert which was a huge program they presented a couple of weeks ago.

She's continuing to mess around with her violin, working on some little Kreisler pieces that she likes, and she's asked for occasional coaching from me or her grandmother. She plans to get back to working consistently on her violin and would like to attend SVI this summer. For this recital she chose to play "Meditation from Thais" with her Summit Strings sidekick Danika. It was an oldie for both of them, easy to pull out and perform without too much polishing work required. It's tough to play in unison with just one other person; I thought they did an excellent job.

Noah had an almost full-time course load at school last semester and the lifestyle change struck him amidships as well. He had a viola lesson on September 9th and that was the end of it. He had been getting monthly or bimonthly lessons in Calgary for the previous two years but he had always hated the travel and felt guilty about the scanty work he'd done between lessons. We were taking Erin, so bringing him along was no big deal and he tolerated it. But this year, with his work ethic on viola still suffering, Erin moved away and no one providing us with a very good reason to drive for two days every month, we decided to just let the lessons go. 

Like Sophie, he's continued to be committed to the Summit Strings ensemble music and performances. And he did a couple of Symphony gigs with me in Cranbrook, where he showed a lot of improvement in orchestral skills and confidence. But as for practicing solo repertoire, that pretty much stopped last August. Yet he pulled out the first movement of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, which he had almost finished learning the notes of last summer, and in his usual infuriating way put a mere couple of hours of practicing into bringing up to a fair degree of polish. It's a really big piece, both technically and musically. He did some masterful work with it in very short order.

Fiona continues to take weekly lessons with her grandmother. And for the most part she practices. But with Erin moved away and Noah and Sophie spending so little time on their instruments and doing so many exciting things away from home and away from Fiona, it has been hard to stay motivated. More so than the other kids Fiona's interests have always been socially driven to an extent: she loves doing things in part because the people she loves also like doing them. But she is beginning to figure out that violin playing has value for herself as an individual, not just as a member of a musically active sibship. And so she keeps working away, is looking forward to SVI and continues to practice most days. She played the first movement from Handel Sonata No. 3 in F Major.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Fiona and I have both been enjoying doodling lately. The internet is full of inspiration: repeating patterns, geometric iterations, fill patterns, awe-inspiring creations. Suggested search keywords: zenspirations, zentangles, tangle patterns, zendoodle.

Fantastic for fine-motor control, creativity, geometric awareness, and just chilling while listening to a readaloud, audiobook or podcast.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Check your boots

When you hike a couple of hundred metres through the nasty snow and frozen slush of your laneway to reach the road for a barefoot run, it's sometimes nice to wear your boots, especially if you know you'll be doing your longest barefoot run to date and coming home with tired feet that have been pushed to the limits of their comfort. So you wear your boots and leave them at the top of the laneway to await your return 90 minutes later.

It might be good to return while it's still light out, with your powers of observation still keenly functional. Because as you near your boots you might notice the small furry presence of a field mouse considering moving into a new home. And therefore as you move closer you'll notice that, startled by your approach, he has now scurried into the safety of the dark neoprene-insulated recesses of your right winter Muck boot.

And so you thankfully you take the time to invert your right boot (and the left, I might add, just as a precaution!) and give it three good shakes to dislodge any would-be tenants.