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. 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").