Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three weeks in review

Somehow time becomes a void during the holidays. Andrew and I fly home to Ontario to spend the time with friends and family, and I lose track of the days of the week because my schedule and usual way of living is totally shot. I barely manage to check my email, facebook or twitter and I don't manage to sit down long enough to write a blog post. Therefore, here are my last three weeks, in review.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009
The Sunday prior to flying out Andrew and I attended the men's curling final at the Olympic trial at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Unfortunately, it wasn't a great game. Kevin Martin (the eventual winner) was in control pretty much the whole time. Even when mistakes were made, team Howard seemed unable to capitalize. Oddly, the more Howard and his team struggled the more I wanted them to pull through, but unfortunately things didn't work out. The final score was 7-3 for Martin.

Friday, December 18th, 2009
On Friday evening Andrew and I got together with my university friends, as we always do at Christmas time. We met at Caroline's place as they have a new house in Oakville. We had a wonderful time, with lots of food and drink.

Saturday, December 19th, 2009
This afternoon we got together with Michelle and Mandy to play Bridge. Mandy and I had extremely bad luck with cards that day.

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Sunday afternoon we got together with some of Andrew's high school friends. We had a delicious lunch (cooked by Cassandra) and played cards for much of the afternoon. All of us are married, none of us have children, but all of us have cats. What did much of our conversation centre around? Answer: Our cats.

Monday, December 21st, 2009
Andrew's grandmother died on the December 14th, 2009. The funeral was delayed until all of the grandchildren (since many of them now live out West) could return home. Here Andrew's dad, David, talks about his mom, Nancy.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009
For the last several years I've cooked a dinner for some of my family and friends at Christmas time. Since I can't hold holiday events at my own home (being in Edmonton) it's a nice way to get together (and I can show off my cooking skills). We played Wii for a while afterward and I got a chance to entertain with my nephew Alexander (14 months).

Saturday, December 25th, 2009
Christmas day, of course. We played lots of bridge in the afternoon and evening with John (brother-in-law) and his girlfriend Cindy, who he proposed to that evening.

Sunday, December 27th, 2009
The Olympic torch went through my hometown. The torch bearer waiting to receive the flame was very friendly and took pictures with several of the people in the crowd, including me.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009
Andrew and I split for a day and a bit so he could go to North Hatley, QC for our other nephew's baptism and I stayed in KW and got together with Michelle and Josh. We spent much of the night playing the new Mario game on Josh's big screen t.v.

Thrusday, December 31st, 2009
New Years. Some people care, some don't. I like to get together with friends, although I think this was the first night I went out somewhere to do it. We went to the Whale 'n Ale in Kitchener. They held a casino night (with fake money). I had a great time, although was quite happy to go to bed at the end of the night.

Now I'm home in Edmonton, ready to start normal life again.



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The annual Christmas show

For several years now, Andrew and I have attended the Vinyl Cafe's Christmas show (although we missed last year's). If you've never heard of the Vinyl Cafe, it's a one hour radio show that runs on CBC 2 on Saturday at 9:00 am and on CBC 1 at 12:00 pm. The show is hosted by Stuart McLean and features music from up and coming Canadian artists, and stories, some by Stuart, some by audience members who have written to Stuart. When you see the show live, it's a little like a variety performance, I suppose. Stuart will talk a little (okay, maybe a lot), and various musical guests will play in between, and usually there's at least one group number. It's a great deal of fun. Stuart's stories are often quite humours, and the musicians are often quite good.

This year's show (this past Sunday) got off to a bit of a slow start. Andrew and I made it to the theatre with about 15 minutes to spare, which was our plan, although the other 2 members of our party whom we were meeting there were running late, due to traffic. Many other people were running late, due to traffic too. We were sitting in the theatre wondering when the show was going to start when an unassuming figure walked out onto the stage. It was Stuart and he had heard that there was a huge line up for the parking garage with he figured, people yelling: "I told you we should have left earlier" at each other. So, for about 15 minutes he took questions from the audience. The first couple, very basic: What is your shoe size (10), and how old are you (it has a 6 in it). Then we got to hear about Georgie Murphy and how Stuart only ever kissed the air between him and her, and then Stuart told us his favourite story about Peter Gzowski (involving a charity bucket for Tourette's Syndrome).

After that the show really did start. The lights went down Stuart came out again (wearing a vest and jacket this time) and the fun began. A word about the musicians first. This year's musical guests were Jill Barber, and Matt Anderson. I'd heard of Jill Barber before, she's played fairly often on the CBC. She has an interesting, quivery (as opposed to vibrato) voice that's reminiscent of female singers from the 1940s and 1950s. I think I like the slightly anachronistic quality of her style of music, as many of her songs sound like they should be playing on an radio with the whole family sitting around listening. The second artist was Matt Anderson. I'd never heard of him before, but WOW. That man has a voice that easily filled the entire Jubilee Auditorium. He was called back out onto the stage after both of his performances. I purchased both of their CD and listened to them on after we got home.

Stuart told 3 Dave and Morely stories during the show. The first was a re-tell of one of his older Christmas stories: Polly Anderson's Christmas Party. I've heard this one a couple of times before, but it's still enjoyable to hear again. The second story seemed to only have a fleeting glace at Christmas, beginning with a simple bike given as a gift one year to Ted Anderson. The rest must have happened several years after the Christmas gift and in the spring or summer. It described how Ted, after being given a basic 3-speed, had grown to love biking. The final story, again had less to do directly with Christmas, and more about a surprise gift that led to Stephanie's love for reading. I really enjoyed this story. It wasn't silly or ridiculous like many Dave and Morely stories are, it was just wonderful. I won't give anything else away, but the current year's Christmas concert is usually played on the CBC the weekend before Christmas. Listen in for a good time.

Finally, as a Beatles fan, since I've written a post for today anyway, I just want to note that today is the 29th anniversary of John Lennon's death. Imagine.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My physiotherapy experience

At the end of September I blogged about a fall I had experienced while skating. That post focused mostly on the after affects of the fall, but it seems like that actual impact itself did quite a number on my body. I'm still not one hundred percent sure that the fall lead to the subsequent problems I've experienced, but after having my first physiotherapy session it seems like a good chance. When I fell I banged my right knee and my left hip hard on the ice. I had a bump form on my hip and there's still a tiny pink mark where it hit. I took a week off from my normal running routine after this incident as I was plagued with a cold. When I got back to running, bad things started to happen. My left knee started to hurt, a lot. To the point where I feel like my knee is actually going to tear itself a part.

I visited the Health Services clinic at the U of A a week or two after the pain began. At the time I was told it was probably my IT (iliotibial) band and I should do some stretches for it. I did as I was told (although granted, perhaps not as regularly as I should have) and waited two weeks before trying to run again. The same thing happened. After about ten minutes the pain had returned and just as bad as it was before. I went back to trying the stretches and waited a further three weeks. Last Saturday Andrew and I tried to run again. We decided to try a five minute on, five minute off routine to see if easing myself back into running would help. It didn't. We agreed as we walked the rest of our route home that it was time for me to go back to the doctor.

Monday morning I headed off to Health Services and saw a second doctor. This doctor agreed with the initial assessment that it was probably my IT band and it was time to go see a physiotherapist. I set up my appointment after leaving Health Services and now I've finished my first assessment: It's my IT band. Although, instead of just in the left, it's actually tight in both hips. I suppose I should explain what the iliotibial band is. It's a large muscle that runs from the hip (why I suspect my fall may have had something to do with my current problems) to the side of the knee and also connects to the glut muscle. I've been told that my hip tends to "pop out" which pushes on the IT band and then pulls on my knee. This seems to be why I tend to only have pain while run--the constant motion builds up until it forces me to stop. The other structures of my knee are solid (yay).

I now have a specialized strengthening and stretching routine. Four different strength moves four to five times a week plus three stretching moves every day of the week. I have to go back in two weeks (just before Andrew and I head back to Ontario for Christmas) to see how things are coming along. I'm going to have to make a concerted effort make sure I go through this routine as directed. I want to make sure my IT bands get better so I can get back to running. I had hoped at the very least to run another half marathon next year, and maybe even move up to a full, plus I was toying with the idea of trying a Women's triathlon in Leduc. For now, we'll see how things go. I'll keep on with alternative forms of exercise until I'm given the go ahead to get back to running.



Monday, November 30, 2009

Beethoven and Wagner in one evening

I'm playing catch up a bit here. I have no good reason to have not blogged earlier, except that I didn't get around to it. On Friday night, Andrew and I went to our regular Friday Night Master's concert at the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It's the first one in a while. For some reason there was no concert for the Master's series in October, so it felt like we hadn't been to the Winspear in eons. We made a nice evening of it, stopping at the Blue Plate Diner for dinner before heading to the show (it's conveniently located on route). I finally tried the veggie burger (good, but definitely not trying to pretend to be meat, which some veggie burgers do) and Andrew had the Indian platter (which was actually an appetizer, but offered ample food for a meal).

We arrived at the Winspear with plenty of time to spare and took our seats early, as we're dead centre and wanted to avoid having to crawl over too many people. We had lots of time to read over the program, which contained a number of intriguing facts about the guest conductor and preformer for the evening, as well as the pieces on the program. For example, the guest conductor, Mr. Eri Klas was once a junior lightweight boxing champion in his native Estonia. You don't find too many conductors who have that kind of experience on their resume. Musically, Mr. Klas also holds a number of awards, posts with orchestras and operas throughout Europe, and an honourary doctorate. It's not surprising that the orchestra sounded good Friday night. Katherine Chi was the guest pianist. It floors me the age that some professional musicians held their first recitals. Ms. Chi? She was nine. At nine I was maybe playing The Happy Farmer. At present she's working on her doctorate at the New England Conservatory of Music.

So, the music. During the first half of the concert the ESO presented Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, also known as the Emperor's Concerto. I think it's a fairly well known piece and if I could hum a few bars you might recognize it. It's the third movement that's best known, I think. I've definitely heard it on the CBC before. Mr. Chi was excellent, as to be expected. It also astounds me that soloists can lock such extensive pieces of work into their memory like that. Almost forty minutes of playing all by memory. I can't even manage a simple 3 to 4 minute song. The audience clapped for sometime after the piece concluded (although no standing ovation).

The second half of the show brought an orchestrated version of Wagner's Die Meistersigner von Nurnberg. Apparently this was Wagner's only opera that he did not base on myth or fairy tale. The orchestra grew significantly in size for this piece (Beethoven included only a small section of woodwinds, maybe a trumpet, I don't recall). For Wagner, it was close to full complement including 3 trumpets, several trombones, 2 tubas (although played by the same person), as well as a harp and a large percussion section. I liked the orchestration of Meistersinger von Nurnberg. I found it very flowing and relaxing at times, then exciting and lively at others. Again, the audience seemed appreciative of the orchestra and Mr. Klas. This was the first time the ESO preformed the arrangement.

Our next trip to the ESO won't be until January, but I expect it will be quite the show. Beethoven again, with his ninth symphony, Ode to Joy.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Crossing my fingers, holding my breath, saying a prayer and all that other stuff

Today I am mailing out a query letter to the young adult editor at Harlequin regarding my manuscript The Cure. I purchased some fancy resume paper and printed the letter and synopsis out on high (I used the draft setting on my printer even for school assignments). Who knows what sort of response I'll get. I enjoyed writing this manuscript, and I'm happy with the way the story turned out, but it all depends on whether or not I can pique the editor's interest enough to have her request a full manuscript (ideally I'd like a publishing contract, but I've got to take it one step at a time).

Initially I had intended to search for an agent (and that's the next step if Harlequin's uninterested) but some weeks ago I discovered that Harlequin's started up a young adult line. Now, before I go too far, I think many people have a very bad image of Harlequin. Most people think of the bodice-ripper style cover and terribly cheese titles, but they publish a wide range of books. Yes, there's Blaze (lots of sex), but they also have Intrigue (spy/action) and LUNA (fantasy) to name a few. They are the biggest publisher of women's fiction. So why not aim big?

When I first discovered their young adult line I was very excited then disappointed. Most of Harlequin's lines accept unsolicited submissions (part of the reason why I sent them my Cimawi's Bay manuscript); however as I read further on the Website, I discovered that this was not the case for the young adult line. Only agented submissions would be accepted. After some trepidation, I did the best thing I possibly could and emailed Maria Synder, a fellow alumnae of Seton Hill and a successful author with Harlequin.

First of all, I wasn't sure if Maria would remember me. We only talked briefly once, and she never read any of my work (although I got to read a really interesting short story by her about a weather magician). Second, I wasn't sure if she would help me. As it turns out Maria is fantastic. In response to my first email she gave me the names of several agents who accepted young adult material and who worked with Harlequin. A few weeks later she emailed me about a new young adult publisher called Leap Books (which will be another avenue to try sometime in the future) and last week she emailed me about Harlequin. They would look at manuscript proposals from unagented authors. She gave me the name and address of the young adult editor and suggested I mention her name in the letter. See, Maria IS fantastic (her books a pretty good too!).

So today I'm putting my query into the mail. All I need to do is purchase the postage required to mail to the United States. What are my chances? Slim, probably. About a gazillion people want to be writers and only a small proportion of them actually get a break; however my chances are better than if I didn't submit at all. If anyone has a spare set of fingers to cross, cross them for me. Say a prayer or do anything else that might sent a little luck my way. And now the waiting begins.



Monday, November 16, 2009

My sourdough experience, expanding the repertoire

In the summer I blogged about my experience bringing to life a natural yeast, sourdough starter. I made several very delicious loaves of sourdough, but started to wonder if I could really make a loaf every week without growing sick of it. My dedication to feeding my starter dwindled, going from a once a week thing, to a week and a half, to "crap, I need to feed my starter before it dies." Now, thanks to Clotilde, the writer of the blog Chocolate and Zucchini I have added two more sourdough recipes to my repertoire (it was from reading her blog that I first decided to try sourdough).

Two weeks ago she put up a recipe for sourdough bagels. The tasty looking pictures convinced me that I wanted to give it a try and so last week I made my first batch. As it turned out, they were an awful lot like Montreal bagels. If you've never had Montreal bagels, you're missing out. They're delicious, even though they don't have fancy flavours like blueberry or garlic and herb. Andrew and I happily munched on my bagels all weekend (breakfast and lunch). And so, when I had lots left over starter this weekend I decided to make them again.

After the success of the bagels, I looked through the Chocolate and Zucchini archives and discovered a recipe for sourdough English muffins. I whiped up a batch of those, with a mix of whole wheat and white flours. They were all right, but mostly just tasted like nice brown buns. Still with lots of extra starter I decided to try them again with just white flour and a sprinkle of corn meal. They turned out much closer to the English muffins you can buy from the store than my first batch, although still not quite as porous. I'm going to have to try them again and see if I can get the timing from after the starter is fed, to the making the dough right.

At least if the librarian/PhD thing doesn't work out, I can always fall back on being a baker. I can already make fabulous white and whole wheat bread/buns, sourdough bread, bagels and English muffins, and any kind of regular muffin, cake, pie or cheesecake you could ask for. I just need to add a few more types of bread, maybe ciabatta, pumpernickel or rye bread and find a good cinnamon bun recipe and I'll be in business.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A day to remember

Today is Remembrance Day. We here in Alberta have the day off. I intend to spend the day at home, working mostly, but I've got a poppy pinned to my hoodie and will take the time to stand in silence at 11:00 a.m. It's important to me to do something to observe this day and to reflect on the sacrifices made. I've always been interested in the history of the two world wars, although I've had less opportunity to study them than I would like. I hope to take a trip to Normandy either this summer or next and visit the landing beaches, especially Juno. I expect I will probably cry.

Some of my family members fought in the wars. I believe my maternal great grandfather fought in the first world war. From what I understand he was in Ypres. I have also been told he survived a mustard gas attack. Perhaps not to surprisingly he had respiratory problems the rest of his life. My maternal grandfather fought in the second world war. I think he enlisted fairly early on (1940?) and miraculously survived. If memory serves he spent time in Italy, but I don't know much more about his service. Like many men who returned from the war, he didn't talk about his experience to his family. I don't know anything about my paternal side. I expect they were involved somehow, but I don't know how.

So, remember to remember. Even if it's just a few minutes. Our lives would be very different if the thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives had just stayed home.

My grandfather Clark Eaton (right) and his brother, Jack at Trafalgar Square in London, England, 1942. (Sorry about the flash burst over my grandfather, but we don't have a scanner so I had to take a picture of the picture and was having light difficulties.)



Friday, November 6, 2009

It's that time of year again. No, not Christmas, but NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The always reliable Wikipedia tells me that NaNoWriMo began in San Fransisco in November of 1999 with 21 participants. This number has increased to over 119,000 participants in 2008. The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words in length during the 30 days of November. I have mixed feelings over this event. First, 50,000 words does not a full-length novel make, unless you are writing a young adult story, and even then it's a bit on the short side. Second, and more importantly, I feel that NaNoWriMo encourages mediocrity.

I agree that NaNoWriMo motivates people to write that novel they've always wanted to; however, the whole focus is on getting those 50,000 words done in 30 days. If you work or have other commitments that limit the amount of time you have to spend on writing, it means you have to write fast, almost without thinking. On average you have to write 1,666 words a day to complete the challenge. That takes a while. When I'm on a roll I can pound out a little over 1000 words in an hour, but that's when my fingers and my brain are really humming. If not, it can be a struggle to get 500 or 600 words out, which means I could spend two or three hours or more after dinner sitting at my computer not talking to, or interacting with Andrew.

I attended a NaNoWriMo session in Edmonton a couple of years ago and honestly I found it scary. They held "races" where a timer was run for 10 minutes and whoever wrote the most in that time frame won, they might have even received a prize. When the time was up people claimed to have written 100s, if not over 1000 words. I thought, how can anyone write something worth reading in that time frame? Quantity does not equal quality. The other thing I don't like about NaNoWriMo is that is encourages people to just write, don't bother with the editing until later. True, I tend to write a first draft completely and then go back to edit, but I often will fix or tweak passages as I go along. This isn't even encouraged with NaNoWriMo. It's just full steam ahead until you get your 50,000.

I'm also worried that writers may, upon completion of NaNoWriMo believe that they now possess a publishable manuscript. That's simply not the case. I don't think every completer necessarily feels that way, but many people want to be (published) writers, and few people actually are. One month of frantic writing does not make a person a writer, much less a published one. It takes years of dedication and a little bit of luck.

Issues aside, I have participated in NaNoWriMo, although only once officially. My first time was accidental. In 2005 I spent the month of November in Dresden, Germany. Andrew was there to conduct research and I had nothing to do between 9 and 5 when he was at work. Since I don't speak German I didn't go out much on my own except to the grocery story, so I filled my mornings by writing 3,000 words every day. Later when I told someone about the amount I'd been writing they asked me if I was NaNoWriMo-ing and I said, what? I think I wrote over 60,000 words that month. There's something about being in a foreign country, with nothing else to do that really gets your creative juices going.

I actually signed up for NaNoWriMo in 2007. I went onto the Website and created a user profile and even set up the app in Facebook. I worked on Cimwai's Bay that year and even toted around my little AlphaSmart 3000 to choir a couple of times. I had stayed on track pretty well, but around November 22nd I decided I'd had enough, I'd written over 30,000 words. It's tiring to write every day after a full day of work. I did of course go on to finish (complete word count: 103,000) Cimwai's Bay and submit it to Harlequin. For now it sits collecting metaphorical dust on my hard drive until I run out of new ideas and decide to rework it. Last year I knew I wouldn't have the time. With 4 courses, plus working 14 hours a week I knew I couldn't make the target. I did, however, make an effort to write whenever possible and managed around 14,000 words.

This year, I'm "feeling lucky, punk." I don't have any school work due until the end of the month, so my thinking goes something along the lines of this: if I time manage carefully, if I get in a couple of really good days on the weekends, if I don't burn out, I might just manage it. Since Sunday, I've written 11,292 words for my second Nora MS, The Cause (technically you're suppose to start with new material for NaNoWriMo, but I'd rather complete the MS I'm working on rather than starting something fresh). In some ways I'm glad for NaNoWriMo. Nora's story had gotten stalled by school. Now that I'm gunning for that November 30th, goal I'm writing her everyday--something that makes me happy. I guess that's the most important thing for me, writing, it makes me feel more-or-less whole.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, charge on, but edit carefully afterward.



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last call for writers to participate

Lovely Readers,

I've only have four responses and I'd love to get a couple more. If you write, please take a few minutes to fill out my questionnaire available in the post: Why do you write? It's all for the sake of curiosity, which thankfully will not kill me (i.e. I am not a cat).

Many thanks.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

A call for writers to participate

Lovely Readers,

If you write, please take a few minutes to fill out my questionnaire available in the post: Why do you write? It's all for the sake of curiosity, which thankfully will not kill me (i.e. I am not a cat).

Many thanks.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Five years ago today

Five years ago today, Andrew and I were married at St. Aloysius Church in Kitchener, Ontario. I don't want to spend much time reminiscing about the wedding, as those of you who were there probably remember, and those who weren't, probably don't much care. I do want to say that we have amazing friends and family. We had a relatively low-budget wedding thanks to the talents of the people we knew. Our families provided the music, friends did the photography and food, and other people surprisingly pitched in (such as ushering) when we didn't expect it.

Now Andrew and I live in Edmonton, far away from many of those people. It makes us sad at times that we get to see the people we care about so infrequently, but we've had great opportunities here that we probably wouldn't have had in Ontario. We've also celebrated every one of our wedding anniversaries here. Last year I recall I was rather frazzled over a school homework question (503) and actually postponed celebrations because I had skating that night. Today Andrew and I are both at our respective offices, but we'll go out for dinner tonight.

I count my blessing that Andrew and I met at FASS in January of 2000. I don't know where I'd be, or what I'd be doing with out him, and I'd rather not find out. He supports me in my writing efforts, and although I'm far too old to ever become a star figure skater he supports me in my endeavours there too. He sings For Good with me whenever I play it on the piano and dances with me at other people's weddings. I would never boast that our relationship is perfect, but it's pretty darn good. I love you, Andrew, and I look forward to spending many more years together.



Monday, October 19, 2009

Melodramatic evening

Friday evening Andrew and I attended a dinner theatre event at Fort Edmonton Park. We decided this would be a part of our wedding anniversary celebrations this year. I can't quite remember how I stumbled upon the advertisement for the show, but I think I was poking around the City of Edmonton Website when I found it.

The show was preceded by a four-course meal (soup, salad, entree and desert). I hadn't been inside the Hotel Selkirk, the 1930s period hotel that runs in the Park, before. We both enjoyed the architecture of the old building, with it's fancy woodwork, antique items on display, and the bar was long and narrow like how you might expect in a old-fashion saloon to be built. We also enjoyed the dinner, starting with parsnip and apple soup--one of the few encounters I've had with parsnip that I actually found pleasing. Everyone at the table agreed the soup was sweet with either a hint of nutmeg or cinnamon. The salad was actually more like an antipasto, with grilled (but cooled) vegetables in a vinaigrette, then dinner was either duck or beef. Andrew and I both like duck, so we were happy to take that option, but a couple of other people pointed out that it might have been nice to have a third option of chicken. Desert was a little tricky. It was a frozen almond mousse, which really was frozen solid. Numerous people sent little bits of desert flying as they tried to dig it out of the dish. The mousse was definitely the least spectacular portion of the meal, but I still liked it well enough to finish it off.

The theatre part of the evening took place in the fire hall located across the road from the hotel. The play was a farcical, "slamming-doors" style production, where the idea was that the 5 actors in the play didn't know the others were staying in the abandoned hotel. Unfortunately, the only other "slamming-doors" style play I've seen is Noises Off, which I absolutely love, and so I felt this one paled in comparison. Also, a couple of lines/ideas were blatantly ripped-off ("I have a thing about violence, it makes my nose bleed. I also have a thing about blood..." (Freddy faints), Noises Off). Regardless of my thoughts about the writing, I thought the actors were quite good, better than the material in my opinion. They were very energetic, and the one actor who became "possessed" by a ghost did an excellent job.

Overall, it was a fun evening and would recommend it to others.



Friday, October 16, 2009

A call for writers to participate

Lovely Readers,

If you write, please take a few minutes to fill out my questionnaire available in the previous post. It's all for the sake of curiosity, which thankfully will not kill me (i.e. I am not a cat).

Many thanks.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why do you write?

I was skimming a few articles about parents of children with cancer (I know, very uplifting) and one of the articles discussed a writing technique used to help parents cope with their children's illness. The articles were for my health communication course, but as my afternoon progressed, two unrelated (to the course) thoughts came to mind. One, was that it might be interesting to write a story that featured a dying child as the protagonist, and two, why do people write...I mean other than to get published? In the spirit of research and my progression into PhDland I thought I might conduct an informal research project through my blog to investigate why people write.

If you write (I mean as a past time, not for class or work) I would appreciate it if you took a few minutes to answer the questions below. Your responses only need to be a few sentences per question. It doesn't matter whether you write prose or poetry. You can post your responses through the comments section of my blog, through Facebook, or through email: pegraelian(at)gmail(dot)com. I'll use the responses I receive to write a journal-like article discussing any themes I find. Since this isn't an official research study I will just use your real name unless you ask me to do otherwise. Please respond by November 1st.

Questionnaire: Why do you write?
If you do not have time to answer all of my questions, or do not know how to answer a question, please skip it and send me as many responses as you can.

1) When did you start writing as a past time?
2) What kind of stories/poetry do you like to write?
3) What do you like about writing?
4) What makes you "feel" like writing?
5) What kind of emotions do you experience when you write?
6) What is your writing space like?
7) Are there any particular types of characters or themes you like to write about? If so, please describe. If not, why not?
8) Is there anything else you'd like to add?

My Responses

1) I can recall enjoying to write as far back as grade 4. I used to write stories about a group of worms who formed a rock band (not The Arrogant Worms). I also recall writing a Christmas play for the kids at church one year when I was quite young. It was from the point of view of the stable animals.

2) I generally write speculative fiction or "light fantasy" (I don't do magic or creatures). There's usually a romantic aspect--I can't help myself.

3) Writing is my main creative outlet (for some reason I am completely uninterested in creating my own sewing or knitting patterns). I like creating worlds and characters, although often the worlds aren't much different from the current world we live on. I like to tell stories. When I tell stories in real life I try to be as factual as possible, without exaggeration, but when I write that changes. I like to entertain people and if I hear someone laugh at something I wrote I always want to know what triggered their response.

4) Fantasy movies and books often put me in the mood to write, especially if they're similar in someway to the story I'm working on. Music, primarily classical music that's very romantic, with huge swelling passages with heavy strings (think Jupiter from The Planets) often inspires me. I sometimes put on the soundtrack from the first Harry Potter because it helps me think, I too might one day achieve my goal of publication. Sometimes the weather can also do the trick, like a good crisp fall day.

5) I'm usually very excited when I write, especially when I'm working on a part I've got well planned out. I balled once when I wrote short story about a couple who experienced a still birth.

6) I write at home on a desktop at a corner desk, so I face the wall. I'd like to change that so I could look out a window. Music is almost always playing. Sometimes I write by hand in class when the teacher/subject is not very interesting.

7) My main protagonists are always female. I try to make them smart and capable of solving much of the story's problem on their own; however, I don't like invincible characters who can do everything themselves, so a healthy dose of uncertainty usually plagues them as well. I try to make sure my characters are smart (such as Nora, who is deaf, but wants to be a scientist) to promote a good image for potential readers who are likely to be young girls.

8) I do want to publish my manuscripts one day, but that goal is not the driving force behind my writing. If it was, I would probably never write as I have yet to experience success. I feel "down" and incomplete when I don't have time to write as much as I'd like. Writing is an important part of who I am.

Thanks in advance to all of you who take the time to respond!



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Musical mayhem

I wrote a quickie blog entery a few days ago to say I would update my blog "soon". Several days have passed since I made that promise, so I figured I'd better get typing before I found myself a week behind, which could easily slide into two or three or four weeks behind. Then I might lapse into complete neglect of my blog and that would be sad. Not that I think there are many readers of this tiny space on the vast Web of blinking lights and cables, but I actually kind of enjoy saying my little piece once a week and I'd hate to give it up. Unfortunately there isn't much time for writing of any kind these days, but that's a different matter.

The Drowsy Chaparone

I've wanted to see the Drowsy Chaparone since I first heard it discussed a few years ago on the CBC (before the format change). It intrigued me because the show began as a gift at a stag party, then was redeveloped and preformed at the Toronto Fringe Festival where it was picked up by Mirvish Productions and developed into a full-out musical.

What makes the The Drowsy Chaparone different is that it's meta-fiction, narrated by a contemporary "Man in Chair" as he leads the audience through a record recording of the 1920's musical: The Drowsy Chaparone. The forth wall is completely demolished (even though he begins the show by espousing about how much he hates it when shows brake the fourth wall) as Man in Chair gives the audience he opinions about various musical numbers, the actors, general comments on musicals etc. The shtick of the musical being a recording is incorporated effectively into the show, including amusing "re-enactments" of certain scenes as if they were being replayed on the record, and beginning the second half of the show with "the wrong record" on the player.

I thought the Citadel production was well done. The Man in the Chair, was especially good (important since he carries the show) and it was interesting to watch his reactions to the musical, even when he wasn't apart of the main action. The singers all had strong voices, particularly Trix, the Aviatrix (whose part was quite small) and there were a couple of tap-dancing numbers (which I always enjoy). The costumes were very colourful--as would be expected for a musical set in the roaring 1920's. And the small musical ensemble (which was on stage, positioned under a gazebo) were also quite good. As we walked home Andrew and I sung and re-quoted bits of the show. Although I found The Drowsy Chaparone thoroughly entertaining (it's quite funny, too) it's not quite as engaging as some of the other shows I've seen such as Wicked. Both times I've seen Wicked I've walked away with a wispy, longing sort of feeling, but that didn't occur with this show. I would hazard to guess that has to do with the fact that it's more "realistic" and a bit silly, really.

Pro Coro and the Pre-Tenors

On Sunday afternoon my friend Mandy and I attended the Pro Coro concert (she had scored free tickets through her supervisor). This was my first time attending a Pro Coro event and was surprised to find that it's a small ensemble--only 4 singers per part. They're a professional choir, that requires audition every year (even from singers who have been in the choir in previous years) so as you might be able to imagine, they're quite good. Much of what they sang was a cappella. I was particularly interested in the last piece they performed in the first half. It was by Leonard Bernstein titled, The Lark, which is incidental music for a play by the same name about Jeanne d'Arc. It included a solo for countertenor. I've heard this particular countertenor sing before, but it's always a little disconcerting to hear a man sing that high.

The second half of the show was a tribute/spoof of the Three Tenors, by a trio known as the Pre-Tenors. First of all, the singers were excellent--in both their singing and their comedic acting abilities. The pianist came out first and was shortly after joined by "Placido Domingo" and "Jose Carreras." "Luciano Pavarotti" appeared shortly there after (carrying his trademark handkerchief), but paused at the stairs to the stage. After a couple of attempts to mount the stairs on his own, the other tenors came over to help him (one pushing, one pulling) and the show continued. The Pre-Tenors sang many of the operatic pieces for which the Three Tenors are famous for, accentuated with much clowning around. Pavarotti was constantly eating throughout the show. I'm not sure where the first french loaf materialized from, but it was followed by celery, liquorish (which was passed out to the audience), gum and a can of Pringles (also sent to the audience). Poor Carreras (the tenor nobody ever remembers) was often the butt of Pavarotti's jokes, while Domingo was frequently busying himself with combing his hair or flossing.

One of my favourite quotations from the afternoon went something like this: "We're going to sing from the well known American musical written by Andrew Lloyd Weber, Oklahoma." Then the pianist broke into music from West Side Story.

In other news: Skating

I had my first skating lesson of the season (adult ice with Ice Palace F.S.C. only started this week). I got new skates in April with money I received for my birthday. I've been struggling with them all spring and summer, not feeling completely comfortable in them and wondering whether or not the expense was worth it. After watching me do some basic one-foot spins my coach told me that there was definite improvement in my spinning--it made me feel much better about buying the new skates. Also, the plan for the year is to work towards my Junior Bronze Freeskate. The elements are: flip, lutz, axel or wally, loop/loop combination, backspin and flying spin. The big challenges are going to be axel (I have landed some in the past, but a) not since getting back into skating, and b) my technique needs serious work) and my spins. Hopefully starting to work on them now will be enough to get me ready by March. I'll be finishing off my Preliminary Freeskate too, which requires a program. I'm happy to be having lessons again.

Here endth the blog post.



Monday, October 5, 2009

Place holder post

My dear little blog (and my little circle of readers), I have not forgotten you. I have been busy (and sick) and have not had a chance to write about my weekend experiences yet. I will post something soon, although maybe not until tomorrow...I saw The Drowsy Chaparone at the Citadel Theatre on Saturday night and ProCoro Sunday afternoon.

Until I next find the chance to write,



Friday, September 25, 2009

For the love of skate

I had a terrible fall on the ice this morning. Embarrassingly, I wasn't even doing anything difficult. I was just skating forward, not even doing crosscuts. I caught my toe pick and *wham*. I went down hard. I banged both elbows, my right knee and my left hip. I even managed to cut the skin over my hip--probably due to the friction between the ice and the seam of my yoga pants. Ouch.

The fall by itself was pretty jarring, but what followed was even worse. I get head rushes. Not everyday, but they're not uncommon either. I usually just stop what I'm doing, lean against something and wait for the sensation to go away. A couple of years ago I ended up in the emerg because I'd fainted after getting up out of bed after a really bad leg cramp. I went to the bathroom to get a glass of water, but wound up on the floor, my head resting against the door frame. It's the only time I've ever fainted and I was worried because I thought I'd hit my head. I also experienced cloudy hearing, sweats and nausea. The phenomenon is called vasovagal syncope.

I'm pretty sure that that's what happened this morning. Vasovagal syncope can be trigger by an event such as severe pain (my fall) then a rapid change in position (I got up immediately afterward to go sit on the bench). What happened was this rapid change in position caused my blood pressure to drop (this is also what causes head rushes). I'm lucky I made it do the bench and didn't pass out on the ice. Once I sat down I kept my head bent over my knees as I waited for my body to return to normal. In the meantime I felt like I was hearing the music in the arena through earplugs and I got really sweaty. The skating monitor came over and made sure I was okay. I lied to her a little bit and just told her I was a shaken up from the fall, then I waited for Andrew to show up before I got back on the ice.

Aside from being really sore on the points of impact I was (and am) all right. After several rounds around the ice I cautiously tried some spins to make sure I wasn't going to get overly dizzy. I was fine and even got in some good sit and camel spins. I can't wait for lessons to start, I want to really work on my spins this year...and my axel. I even got in a couple of great lutzes(sp?), which I've been having a lot of trouble with since I got my new skates.

Anyways, that's all for now. If any fantastic bruises form I might take pictures--as a demonstration of my love for this sport.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

Movie tunes at the ESO

Friday night was our first ESO concert of the season. This is our third year subscribing to the Masters Series. Thanks to my hyper time-awareness I was probably the first one to have their request in for tickets three years ago, so our seats are dead-centre of the first row on the Upper Circle. I like this spot because I enjoy watching the musicians at work (especially when the percussionists are busy) and the Upper Circle provides an excellent vantage point of the entire stage.

As always, I was pleased by the skill of the musicians in the ESO. On the program was music from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Red Violin, and Gershwin's Second Rhapsody, which was featured in a 1931 movie called Delicious (and is also apparently unavailable except for a few short clips on YouTube). The evening started with Oh Canada (as it was the first concert of the season) and a short organ and brass fanfare by Howard Shore. I phased out during this piece, absorbed with thoughts about The Cause and can't say much about it, except it ended in one massive wall of sound. There's something about the organ and the wafting, all encompassing sound it makes that can make a person feel like they're being pressed into their seat by the force of it.

The dynamics couldn't have changed more drastically than going from a huge pipe organ to a Chinese erhu, the featured instrument in the music from Crouching Tiger by Tan Dun. The erhu has such an interesting quality, ranging at times from the rich tones of a cello (which the music was original scored for) to unusual, bird-like chirping. The variety of musical sounds in Tan Dun's music is astonishing and I found myself watching over the orchestra as I searched for what instruments were involved in what I was hearing. Of the more unusual, some of the percussionists at one point ran rows along the edge of a suspended symbol creating a very ethereal sound. During another section, the string bass players heartily strummed their instruments then clapped their hand over the fingerboard in unison. During the second movement there was an impressive drum solo involving four percussionists, of which the audience seemed very appreciative. The erhu, played by George Gao was by far the star of the show and returned at the beginning of the second act to play a piece titled Galloping Horses. There was no mystery around how the piece got it's name. It was fast and furious and somewhat reminiscent of the William Tell Overture.

A few minutes before the end of the intermission two men took up the empty seats beside us. I have to admit that at first I was worried. They were not the typical symphony goers. They were both heavily tattooed (both wore dress shirts, but had the sleeves rolled up) and had, well, missed the entire first half. I was worried that they would talk during the performance, but aside from a few whispers they seemed to be genuinely appreciative of the music. I don't know if we will see them at future shows, but they would certainly be breaking a stereotype if they are new subscribers.

The second half of the concert was as equally enjoyable as the first, although I have far less to say about it. The music from The Red Violin is beautiful and haunting, although as pointed out during the after thoughts talk, it has been reworked and is relatively independent of the actual movie soundtrack. Martin Riseley, who normally takes the concert master position in the ESO, played the solo for this piece. He is taking the year off from the symphony to work on a project in New Zealand (where he is originally from) and so we are unlikely to see him for the rest of the season. I closed my eyes a couple of times during this piece, so I could just hear it. The theme is particularly enchanting and I felt I could enjoy it more fully by not watching the musicians.

The final piece was Gershwin's Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra. Close to the full complement of players were out on the stage for this final number, plus a solo pianist, Sara Davis Beuchner. The Second Rhapsody, as we were told, is rarely played and this was the first performance for the ESO. I thought there were clear hints of both Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris in this piece. I enjoyed it over all and Davis Beuchner's playing was excellent. We were told during the after thoughts that Gerswhin often tinkered with his pieces after they were published. At times, Bill Eddins (conductor and music director) would look over at the piano and wonder what Davis Beuchner was playing, as it wasn't in his score, but wasn't too concerned since he figured Gerswhin must have written it at some point.

Now we've got more than a month to wait for the next concert, which isn't until the end of November, with Beethoven on the program.



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Page turning

On Saturday night Andrew and I intended to watch a movie. I was to do the dishes, while he took our cat for a walk, then we would sit down and watch something (while I knit). I finished my task before Andrew did and decided to fill the time with Maria Snyder's new book, Sea Glass. (Note: I attended Seton Hill at the same time as Maria. During her first semester [my second] her first book Poison Study was about to be published. I remember Maria, but I'm not sure she remembers me. I like to purchase her books to support a once fellow student, but also because I like her writing.) By the time Andrew returned with the cat I was onto chapter 3. He joined me on the couch and picked up the Blue Beetle comic book series, lent to us by some friends. Then it was 10:30. I was half way through chapter 10 and we weren't going to watch a movie. Unsure about what my blog topic would be this week I started to ponder what I like to read and why.

I humour myself by thinking I like a wide variety of genres. I have Canadian authors like Margaret Attwood and Jane Urquhart on our bookshelf, 19th century writers such as Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, contemporary British writers such as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (Andrew is trying to collect them all), children's writers such as Diana Wynn Jones and Hilary McKay and fantasy writers such as J.K. Rowling and the affore mentioned Maria Snyder. These authors and their genres overlap, of course, and we have more books on our bookshelf than what I've mentioned. We also have North American comic books (Sandman, the Watchmen), Japanese managa (Hana Yori Dango, Ranma 1/2) and a small collection of picture books. We're under represented in the science fiction category, although we're both Trekkies and I loved Quantum Leap when I was younger. Also, I do not do horror. This is for the same reason I do not watch horror--I have an over active imagination.

After some consideration, I have come to the conclusion that one of my major hooks into a story is the characters. This became aparent to me when I tried to read Heart of Stone, which is a Luna title about gargoyles. I couldn't get into this book. I read at least half, if not more, before I finally gave up. I didn't care about the main female character or the romantic-interest gargoyle. I liked the poor detective who was definitely going to get the stiff and I couldn't compel myself to read further. Going back to my first reading of Gone With the Wind I recall I probably read about half of the book overall. At thirteen I found the descriptions boring and tended to scan for scenes where Rhett was involved, as they were always more interesting. I also noticed while reading Storm Glass, the book preceding Sea Glass that I didn't care so much about finding out how the conflict was going to be sorted out, but was much more interested in which romance angle was going to succeed.

I think the second feature I look for in a story is the world. I absolutely adored Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I could related to Rae (if this PhD thing doesn't work, I could totally see myself working in a bakery) and so I didn't mind that I felt the story itself was rather slow moving. I also enjoyed Rae's world, even though I would never, ever want to live in it. I think this is also what I like about the Harry Potter series. I don't have a favourite character (although if I was pressed to name one, I would probably actually say Harry--very unoriginal, I know) but I loved the world. I loved the idea that people can use magic and there's a whole magic-using world hiding in plain site of ordinary people. I want to go to Hogwarts. If I had to guess, I would also say this is what suckered me into Twilight. I find the idea that gorgeous, non-people sucking, vampires could be out there, rather appealing; however, now that I'm out of my Twilight haze, I can't see many other redeeming qualities about the books.

Plot seems to come third on my list of reasons why I would read a book. I guess this is a little odd, since I hated Lord of the Rings, which I feel has a very unimaginative plot and an over-described world. I will reign in my tirade against LoTR here, as I think I'm about the only person on the planet who does not like it. I sympathize with those of you who do not like Harry Potter, all 6 of you who aren't religious nuts--it can be frustrated to hear people gape over a story you personally don't like. I think my low plot-priority may be why I enjoy 19th century novels, which aren't necessary light in plot, but certainly don't move very fast. This again begs the question why I couldn't finish Mrs. Dalloway if I consider plot so low on my list. It may have been the time at which I tried to read it. I suspect it may have come directly after an Attwood novel--very different in style and tone and couldn't get my brain into the right mindset. When I get the chance, I'll try Woolf again sometime.

My final thought is on the series. I've had differing success with the series. I endured it quite happily with Harry Potter, but gave up after the fourth book of the Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon. I also found Maria's third "Study" book a little frustrating. The problem is that characters sometimes fall into what I like to call: "the most unlucky person in the world" syndrome. In this situation everything terrible can and will happen to the main character just because they're the main character and even though this scenario already befell them two books earlier. I've also given up on the Hendee's Dhamhir novels. I felt like the third installment was dragged out far longer than necessary, and accomplished far less than possible just so there could be a fourth book. I do, however, like Pratchett's novels, set on the Discworld, which are perhaps a serial rather than a series. The world is the same, but the possible cast of character's is so large that any given book can include only two or three, or a dozen or more established individuals. The stories are related, but storylines don't stretch across the entirety of the Discworld collection.

So there's a look into some of my reading habits and some thoughts about what I like to read. I think I will end off here, so I can go and read, in my favourite place and time. In bed, half an hour before I go to sleep.



Favourite 5 books (in no particular order):

1) Alias Grace
2) The Graveyard Book
3) Nightwatch
4) A Northern Light
5) Sunshine

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nora 1.0 and beyond

I am happy to report that I completed the final draft of my manuscript on September 2nd, 2009. This draft stands at 64,457 words and spans 208 pages. The actual story word count is a little lower, since the TOC and the chapter headings take up some of that total (I would guess around 100 words). This is more than 3,000 words longer than the first draft, which I completed on June 2nd (61,107 words, 194 pages). I began writing my manuscript on April 9th, 2009.

I noted in an early post that I struggled to come up with a proper title for my story. I wanted something simple. Despite my mixed feelings about the series, I liked the one or two word titles of Twilight, New Moon, etc. I essentially played a bit of word association to find something that I thought symbolized my story. Since the presence of a mysterious disease plays a major part in my world, and the major conflict centres around a con man who claims to have a cure, I thought: The Cure, was a logical choice. Also, it lends itself to an easy second book title: The Cause and possibly The Prevention for the third.

I am relatively happy with my manuscript. I think I've kept my writing tight and I tried to keep my character's reactions as realistic as possible. I also really like my characters and I hope Nora would be a good influence on young girls who might one day read about her adventures. Andrew enjoyed reading the story as well--granted he has a somewhat biased opinion--but he also thought this is the best writing I've done to date. I hope the other readers I've sent it to feel the same. And most importantly, I hope one of the eventual agents I send it, think so too.

Of course, like many amateur writers, I have publishing aspirations. I've submitted other works before (also previously blogged about), although I've always attempted to submit directly to the publisher. This time I plan to solicit literary agents. My reasoning is twofold. One, I've written a young adult manuscript, which is a harder sell, and two, many of the publishing houses I checked explicitly stated on their websites that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Of course, finding a good agent may be as tricky as finding a publishing house, but right now I feel it's the best way to go.

While I wait for my readers to get back to me I plan to work on Nora's second story, The Cause. Actually, I've already begun writing it. With the fall term underway, my free time is of the essence and will soon be of the past. Things are going well for the writing, but not so well for Nora. Poor girl, not only is she deaf, but she never gets a break.



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Brown, brown all around."

The father of a friend of mine said that once. If I remember correctly, her family had been on vacation and were eating breakfast at a restaurant. They normally ate brown bread at home and my friend was looking forward to having white toast while on vacation only to be foiled by her father, who when the server came by told them: "Brown, brown all around."

I thought I would post my regular bread recipe (after my sourdough experience yesterday). As a different friend would say, "it's a gooder." I had also at one point (several months ago) promised I would.

White or Brown Bread
Recipe makes 2 loaves.


2 tablespoons of yeast
2 (2 1/2) cups of water
1/2 cup (3 tablespoons) of sugar
2 eggs*
2 teaspoons of salt
4 tablespoons of oil
0-2 cups of whole wheat flour**
3-5 cups of white flour**

*The measurements in brackets are for if you wish to make the bread without eggs. Additionally...you have to omit the eggs.
**If you wish to make plain white bread omit the whole wheat flour and use 5 cups of white flour.

1) Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients.
2) Allow the dough to rise for a minimum of 1/2 hour.
3) Kneed the dough for 5 to 10 minutes.
4) Split the dough in half and place each half into a greased loaf pan.
5) Bake bread at 375F for 20 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when it's tapped.

Additional Notes from Andrea:
1) I'm lazy and use instant (breadmaker) yeast, therefore I don't have to activate it. If you prefer regular yeast, you will need to soak it in the water before you use it. The water needs to be warm, but not boiling. Boiling water will kill the yeast.
2) I mixed everything by hand with a wooden spoon.
3) I like to add only half of the flour at first, let it rise for 1/2 hour and then add the rest of the flour. I never measure the flour, I just keep adding it until the dough won't hold anymore...and it "looks right." Then I let the dough rise some more before splitting it into loaves.
4) I bake the loaves one at a time, although you can do it simultaneously. Sometimes I will bake the bread for 20 minutes, then remove it from the pan and bake it for another 5 minutes or so, to make sure it's cooked all the way through. I don't like it when the middle of the loaf is doughy.

I think that's just about it...and oh, this is what my recipe looks like (the actual paper is about 4"x6").



Monday, August 31, 2009

My sourdough experience

As you might know, I love to cook and bake. I make my own bread from scratch, and I have to boast, I think my regular brown and white loaves of bread are far superior to the ones that can be bought at the grocery store. So, about a month ago, one of my favourite cooking bloggers, Clotilde Dusoulier, at Chocolate & Zucchini detailed her experience about making sourdough bread. Although she didn't make her own starter, she did provide links to other bloggers who did. Being always up for a baking challenge, and wanting to expand my bread-making repertoire, I decided I would give sourdough a try--including making my own starter.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you will know that my first attempt at sourdough starter (or "started" as I typed numerous times) didn't go quite right. I used the directions from the blog, The Fresh Loaf, as they are well laid out and easy to follow. Day 1 and 2 went along swimmingly. The starter was nice and bubbly on the second day, but on third day it didn't double like it was supposed to. The instructions said to wait until it had doubled, so I waited. And waited, and waited. And then my starter was rancid and I had to start again. The second attempt went much better. This time, I noticed that the instructions said to give the starter I little boost with extra flour and water if it didn't double, so when Day 3 came around and my starter hadn't grown enough, I gave it a little extra to eat. And voila! My starter continued to grow and bubble and collect wild yeast like it was supposed to. Huzzah.

Last Friday rolls around and I ponder the eternal question of whether or not I should pull my freshly minted starter out of the fridge so I can bake with it the next day. Due to scheduling uncertainties, I decided to leave it be. Saturday morning, up early as per usual, I changed my mind and reversed yesterday's decision. I was going to bake sourdough bread. I pulled my starter out of the fridge, follow Clotilde's instructions for preparing it and continue on with my day as I waited for the starter to rise. Fast forward to 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. The starter's looking good and I'm ready to roll. I pull up the recipe again and begin weighing my ingredients (we recently purchased a kitchen scale).

I've got everything mixed when Andrew asks me something along the lines of: "Have you actually read all of the instructions?" To which I sheepishly reply, "At some point I did." Now Andrew starts reading me the recipe out loud. "Let rest for 2 hours...6 hours later..." My response is a somewhat panicked: "Are you s**ting me?" I come over to the computer and after a few minutes we discover alternate instructions, which permit the baker to place the dough in the fridge to rise over night. I took the alternate option.

On Sunday Andrew and I got up, went for our long run (18 km) and when we got back I pulled the dough out of the fridge to warm up. We went to church and even had brunch with another couple who go to St. Joseph's chapel before returning home to the sourdough-dough. At this point there were only a few quick kneadings to go before placing it in a 3 litre pot and into the oven for an hour. My last tribulation of my first attempt at completely homemade sourdough bread: the bottom got a little burnt. Our oven runs hot. Roughly 100 degrees hotter than what the temperature dial reads. We've known this since we moved into our apartment over 2 years ago. We've got a little thermometer in the oven to gauge the actual temperature. Unfortunately, it runs even hotter at higher temperatures and so when I went to pull the bread out of the oven I was greeted with "burning" smell. I was preoccupied with hemming pants while it cooked and I forgot to use my nose to tell me my bread was done.

Regardless the bread is delicious. The sour flavour isn't really strong, yet. But it comes with a more aged starter.

In Garden News...

I wanted to give a quick shout out to our garden, continuing to preserver on our 12th floor balcony. We have strawberries! They're tiny, but they're there. And tomatoes, which, with the wave of hot weather we're getting here in Edmonton, I hope will continue to grow.



Monday, August 24, 2009

Redundancy...and playing with fire

I've been made redundant. Just for this week though, and just for this blog post. Andrew and I and a couple of our friends went inner-tube rafting down the Pembina River on Saturday. We lucked out with warm, sunny weather and even the river temperature was quite nice. We spent the whole afternoon in the great outdoors and the evening too. After we got back to Edmonton we stopped at our apartment long enough to grab our poi equipment, next to Save on Foods for dinner supplies, then we headed over to our friend's house. We sat around a fire, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows then Andrew and I spun poi. We haven't done that in ages. If you want an in depth report on the day, you can go here. Like I said, I've been made redundant this week, and I'm feeling too lazy to write up a full report myself.

Instead, how about a few words on poi, also known as fire dancing?

I started spinning poi, oh I'm not quite sure now, six, seven, maybe eight years ago? A friend of Andrew and mine had spend some time in Australia woofing (that's working on organic farms for room and board). One night she and the friend she'd been traveling with, spent the evening on a beach. This particular beach is apparently where all the hippy, poi spinning people hang out, and for the price of sharing their loaf of bread our friend got to learn how to spin poi using socks stuffed with rocks. When she got back from Australia she demonstrated her new found talent and wowed us all. Andrew picked up the hobby next and not too long after so did I. I was once told by a member of the girl guide group I used to help out with that, "I wasn't as boring as I seemed," after I had demonstrated my poi spinning skills.

The way to learn how to spin poi is with tennis balls. Do not start out with flame on your first try, you will probably seriously hurt yourself and potentially others. Practice poi cost about $3.00 to put together with a quick trip to your local hardware store for 2 tennis balls, string and 2 washers. You just have to nick the tennis balls with a cut long enough to slide a washer tied to string inside and you're pretty much done. Then you start spinning, just the basics of course. Spinning forward, maybe turning and the basic beat/wave. Once you've masters those tricks you can move onto the butterfly and its variations. I learned many of my tricks off of a website called Home of Poi, which I believe is still in operation (just Google it).

The first time I tried poi with real fire was pretty terrifying. I recall it was a New Years eve and I could do all of three, maybe four tricks. For some reason I also recall wearing a white shirt at the time. I think it's good to have a healthy does of terror on your first live spin, you are after all, flinging flaming balls of fuel soaked Kevlar (in my case anyway) around your body. The flame roars while you spin. Andrew often tells people we can't hear what's going on outside our poi while we spin, but that's not entirely true. I don't practice too often, and get to spin with fire even less, so I have a tendency to have little mess-ups. The worst I've done is smack myself in the face while preforming for a bunch of girl guides. I swore rather loudly. I had singed some of the skin around my upper lip and felt a bit like the Phantom of the Opera for the next week.

My poi are made from Kevlar rope (as noted above). The rope is tied into a monkey's fist knot around a large metal ring, which is then attached to a length of chain. I used to have handles made out of bits of an old leather belt, but they broke a long time ago and now I hold onto the metal rings the handles were attached to. It's a little hard on the hands, but I've gotten use to it. We use citronella oil as fuel. You can use kerosene as well but it's rather smelly. Most of my tricks center around the butterfly maneuver, including: regular butterfly, giant butterfly, Mexican wave, alternating Mexican wave from front to side and from front to over my head, as well as a front butterfly/behind the back thingy. I can only do a 3 beat wave, whereas Andrew can do 5. I've said for a number of years I need to learn more, but I've never found the time/someone to teach me.

Below are my poi, unlit. You can see the monkey's fist knot and the bear rings I hold onto. You might also notice that one of the poi is frayed. This happened one night when some chemist friends of ours brought us some salts to test in our fuel in an attempt to make the flames burn different colours.

These two pictures are from a few years ago when Andrew and I went camping in Pembina Provincial Park, AB.

These final pictures are from a June night in Elora, ON several years ago (I don't remember when specifically). They include our friend who originally showed us poi as well. I'm not really sure which picture is of whom.



Friday, August 14, 2009

Heading down PhD road

I think I might be heading down PhD road. I'm not too sure what to think of this.

Today I had a meeting with my adviser for the literature review I discussed in my last post. We didn't actually talk too much about my work thus far, which is fine, I'm sure I'll get feedback soon enough. What we did discuss for some time was the prospect of my doing a PhD. The thing is, I'm not sure I would be happy with a librarian-esque job. I could probably manage it for a short while, doing reference or giving library instruction. But I suspect eventually I would grow bored and want something else to do. Also, I don't want to drop my research topic once I'm done the advanced research course this fall. I think there's more work to be done in the nutrition information seeking area, and I'm not likely to find a job that will allow me to pursue my interest.

I'm not concerned about the work required for a PhD degree. I know I can handle it, possibly better than many people who have gone through the process before. I'm highly, one might even say, over motivated--I think this has to do with my being the youngest. I'm pretty good about not procrastinating too much and I can work without direct supervision. My adviser told me I would probably do well in a PhD program, and even hinted if I didn't do one now, I would likely wind up doing one eventually anyway. The good thing (actually there are 2 good things), is one, I will be able to apply to both SSHRC and CIHR (where there's a lot more money) for funding. And two, the Library and Information Studies/Science (LIS) field is in need of professors, or so I'm told. In fact, according to my adviser (who was recruited to U of A before she'd even completed her degree), they've been in need of professors for at least 10 years. Therefore, getting a job shouldn't be too difficult.

So what's the problem? My writing. I want to keep writing. I want to be published, not just on scholarly papers or government reports, which I already am, I want to be a published fiction author. And just when, in the 3-4 years it takes me to complete a PhD or the years after will I have time to write? I might, as I did last year, still be able to squash 30 to 40 minutes of writing in before I go in for morning classes. But only writing 30 to 40 minutes a day will take me a long time to complete a full manuscript, even a young adult one. This, above the marking, above the teaching, even above the pressure to produce papers and attend conferences is my greatest concern. When will I find the time to write? When will I ever see one of my stories, printed and bound on the shelves of your local bookseller?

Despite this, I will probably begin the application process soon. U of A does not have a LIS PhD program yet, and aren't expected to for a couple more years. Instead I have to apply for an interdisciplinary degree. This means much rigmarole. I have to co-ordinate advisers and courses (6), then get approval from grad chairs and then the University. In the end, if I decide this is what I want to do, I should be able to start in the fall of 2010 (or potentially even do a course next summer). Then I can really start reading PhD (comics) in earnest.



Monday, August 10, 2009

Food for thought

I thought, since it's currently consuming my life, I would take this opportunity to briefly describe my literature review and the related research project I am completing for my Masters. Also, nothing much of note happened this weekend, although I did get the chance to try out Starfarers of Catan.

I have an interest in nutrition; however, I have only taken one course on the subject during my undergrad, and I've done some reading on the topic (primarily Michael Pollan's books--who's not a nutritionist). In general, I have an interest in how medical/health information is passed onto the public and how that information is preceived and used. This interest has grown out of my experiences during my nursing degree, my time as a research assistant involved in systematic reviews, and my general outlook on health care and how it should be conducted. Since I am currently in a library and information studies program, I have combined this interest with the the LIS field of information seeking (basically, how people look for information).

Currently, I am enrolled in an independent study course involving a literature review on the topic of undergraduate information seeking behaviours for food and nutrition-related information. Since no one has specifically looked at the nutrition information seeking behaviours of undergraduates, I'm having to combined data on undergraduate nutrition (perhaps not to surprisingly, it's not great) with information seeking behaviours of undergraduates in general (also not that great) along with a smaller section on what is known about how people search for health information (I haven't gotten to that part yet). This whole process has taken a considerable amount of time, much more time than I had anticipated. I'm glad I don't have to factor in class time as well. Sadly, because of this, completing work on my Nora MS has been delayed.

During the fall semester I'll be taking on the primary research part of this project. I'm going to interview U of A undergraduate students to find out if, how, where and why they search for information on nutrition. This is a slightly terrifying prospect, a) because I'm an introvert by nature; and b) I suspect I'll be dragging information out of these students by tooth and nail. My suspicion is that most students don't look for information on the food they eat. They eat what's convenient (which is what I've found out from my literature review) and cheep. I think the whole thing is going to be a tough go. Once I've completed the interviews I'll have to transcribe, code and analyze my data and finally write up a paper. From where I stand, it seems like a mind-booglingly large amount of work.

After that, well, I'm not sure. I would love to continue on with this vain of research except, the only way for me to really do that is through PhD studies--and I'm not convinced I want to do that (when would I find the time to write more adventures with Nora?). Another possiblity bouncing around in my head is I could look at applying to the Nutrition department at the U of A for a second Masters. I would be a little behind on the nutrition knowledge, but I think given my background experiences I might be able to swing it. However, there again, do I really want to do a second Masters? I don't know. This is a problem, and I see no immediate answer to the question. Maybe I should just apply to everything that comes my way (jobs included) and see what happens.



Monday, August 3, 2009

A hiking good time: Lake O'Hara

Andrew and I spent the last 3 days (July 30th to August 1st) camping at Lake O'Hara, a very scenic area in Yoho National Park. To camp at Lake O'Hara you must make a reservation. And to make a reservation you have to call at 8:00 a.m. MST 3 months (to the day you want to arrive) in advance and keep calling until you get through. Otherwise, you'll be out of luck. This is a very popular campsite, with only 27 spots per night. Since we made our reservation back in May, Andrew and I have been planning what we were going to take with us. Also, Lake O'Hara, is a back country campsite (albeit pretty "cush" i.e. it has running water and non-smelly outhouses). This means you cannot drive all of your stuff up to your site. You can either take the Lake O'Hara bus, or you can hike the 11 km access road.

Thursday, July 30th: Day 1
In the morning Andrew and I both went to work. We left our respective offices at 11:00 a.m. and met back at our car. We were on the road around 11:20 a.m. We arrived at the parking lot of Lake O'Hara (Yoho is in B.C., by the way) just before 6:00 p.m. We pulled together our packs and started up the road on foot. We completed the 11 km, 450 metre elevation gain, in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, it started to rain just after we passed the 9 km mark. Not a complete torrential down pour, mind you, but plenty hard enough to soak us and some of our gear strapped to the outsides of our packs. We put up our tent as quickly as we could (putting the fly on inside out in the process) then hid under one of the shelters as we sorted through our food and clothing, etc.

Aside from arriving in the rain, we also ran into a bit of confusion about where our campsite and food locker were. Since we arrived after the park warden had left for the day we were assigned the extra (and no longer regularly used) campsite 3. The site wasn't labelled and so we wasted a lot of time (in the rain) trying to figure out where it was. We also didn't have a food locker (Lake O'Hara is in bear country and food lockers were a must), which added to our confusion. Thankfully, another couple who were headed out the next day allowed us to share theirs for the night. The rain let up and before going to bed we took a quick walk down to the lake (probably 1/2 km). We were snuggled in our sleeping bags shortly after 10:00 p.m.

All of our stuff in the back of our car.

Friday, July 31st: Day 2
Our second day started early. I think I was awake around 6:30 a.m. (Andrew woke up at this time too). Since it was light outside and I wasn't overly tired I got up. We set to preparing breakfast not too long afterward: boiling water for tea, preparing the pancakes (I put together a mix at home) and pulling out our lunch things. We ate standing, sharing one pancake at a time as they came off the pan. We didn't head off to the hiking trails until after 10:00 a.m. We wanted to speak with the warden to sort out our campsite and locker issues.

Cooking breakfast on our light-weight camp stove.

Our tent re-installed at site 13, fly readjusted so it faced the right way out.

We were on our way by 10:30 a.m., walking along the edge of Lake O'Hara until we came to the trail leading up the Huber Ledges/Wiwaxy trail. Now, let me pause here for a moment. I spent some time trying to figure out what to say about the hiking at Lake O'Hara. First off, the scenery is beautiful: mountain peaks in every direction, crystal clear lakes and streams, and lush forest foliage. But, I'm not sure it's the place for everyone. Most of the hiking trails take on a sizable elevation climb. Lake O'Hara is located at 2,035 m above sea level. The hike up to Wiwaxy took us up to 2,530 m above sea level (it took us around 1 1/2 hours at a leisurely pace). The trails are narrow and at times difficult to figure out where they lead. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, but we're also active people.

The trail on the way up Wiwaxy.

Us at the edge of Wiwaxy, stopped for lunch. Lake Oesa is in the background.

After lunch we headed on to Lake Oesa where we stopped, took off our socks and shoes and soaked our feet. The water was freezing, but it felt good on our tired toes as it was sunny and hot (+25C). From Oesa we carried on to the Yukness Ledges, mostly rocky terrain. We accidentally strayed off the path at one point and spent 10 or 15 minutes wandering around trying to figure out where we were supposed to go. When we reached a point where we could see the trail below us, but had no safe way to get down to it, we decided it was best to turn back to the last known marker. From there we managed to get ourselves back on route and continued around the mountain side to Opabin Lake. We took another short rest at Opabin, but found the bugs to heavy to want to stay for long. Once on the trail again we headed down East Opabin trail (thus not completing the full Alpine Route) and back to the campsite. The decent along the trail was steep at points (really engaging the quadriceps), but lovely amongst the trees. We returned to the campsite by 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, August 1st: Day 3
Having heard the night before about the adventures of a pair of guys who had climbed to the top of Yukness Mountain we thought we might give it a try. The trail up Yukness is not maintained. It is for the more avid hikers who don't mind sorting their way up by scouting for cairns (small man-made rock piles). We had been told by the two guys we needed to head back up to the Yukness Ledges and look for the trail that climbed up instead of down at the point where you descended. We reached the Ledges via West Opabin and without too much difficulty identified a thin trail working its way up the south side of the mountain.

Climbing the first stage of Yukness.

After a short detour to check out a lake on the first ridge of the mountain we followed the cairns around the southeast side, at which point the trail markers promptly stopped. We had been told the cairns at times were difficult to find, so when we made it around to the rock-covered southeast side of the mountain we were a little concerned. After consulting with our limited map and making some educated assumptions that we couldn't possibly go another way, we carried on further east hiking over the massive rocks for maybe 20 to 30 minutes. We broke for lunch still uncertain of where exactly we were going next when Andrew notice other people on the mountain. They were climbing up a ledge farther east of us, right up against a sheer mountain wall. We quickly finished off what we were eating and continued to cut across the mountain until we reached the ledge where we'd seen the other hikers. We caught up with them after a little ways as they'd stopped to eat. After a brief chat they pointed us in the right direction: farther up along the scree, switch backing until we reached (what I believe is called) the crux gulley*

It was here in the crux gulley that we were no longer mountain hiking, but actually mountain climbing. I think Andrew and I both enjoyed this section of the trek, but at the same time experienced a good healthy dose of terror. One miss-placed hand or foot could have left us tumbling down the mountain; however, this section wasn’t too difficult as neither one of us have done much wall/rock climbing and we were still able to clear the gulley without concern. Once we got over the gulley we realized that reaching the peak of Yukness would probably take us close to another hour and we had already been out 4 at this point. We sat on a small ledge to finish our lunch and decided that this would be the peak of our climb. The summit of Yukness reached 2,847 m above sea level. By our guestimation we probably made it to around 2,700 m to 2,750 m.

Andrew at our stopping spot at Yukness

We returned to camp via Opabin Lake, through the Opabin Highline and back down through East Opabin. It rained that evening, but not until almost 9:00 p.m., well after when we'd finished up with dinner so simply returned to our tent. We were pretty tired after two all-day hikes anyway.

Sunday, August 2nd: Day 4
Day 4 was home day. You're only allowed to reserve spots at Lake O’Hara for 3 nights and I'm not sure we would have had the energy for much adventurous hiking this day anyway. We did, however, walk the road back down to the car, rather than taking the bus. We met a number of tourists (mostly Asian for some reason) heading up the road for a day-hike.

I think we would probably be happy to return to Lake O'Hara again sometime. Maybe we would try to get right to the top of Yukness Mountain. Next year, we're thinking about trying the Jasper Skyline Trail.


*Not being a mountain climber and not knowing the lingo, I am not sure if crux gulley is the right term. After a quick online search the reference appears to match the terrain, but I'm not sure if this is a general or specific term.