Friday, June 25, 2010

G20 reference librarian on duty, online

I am not a reference librarian. I'm a research librarian, and presently I am only half of one of those. So, when a posting came out across the U of A library school listerv looking for volunteers to help with an online reference service for accredited media for the G20 summit, I'm not exactly sure what possessed me to put my name forward. I have since begun to feel nervous about the prospect of having to handle questions from only God knows where and God knows who; however, I'm stuck with the task now, so I'll have to find a way to manage.

Two truths: 1) I put my name forward because lately I've been feeling bad about my lack of volunteer activity*. I used to be a girl guide leader, but stopped that when I went back to school. I'm not inclined to return to this as I'm not a huge fan of the way the girl guide program has gone (i.e. less camping, more focus on trying to be "hip"). I had hoped I might be able to be a Can Skate figure skating coach this season, but at present I don't actually have the qualification for this (hopefully I can fix that over the next year); and 2) I thought it might be good for the CV/networking aspect of my career since the project is headed by the librarians at the University of Waterloo, where at least Andrew would like to work one day. I might too, depending on how things go. I guess actually there are three truths: 3) it also sounded sort of cool in the email.

So what exactly is this gig? Well, as I mentioned above, the UW librarians along with OpenText (another Waterloo company) have put together a forum for attendees and members of the accredited media covering the G8 and G20 summits to go to for assistance on questions related to the summits. Inside the Website are a number of different "rooms," or forums relating to a variety of topics, such as different G-8 and G-20 countries, Climate Change, Financial Regulations, and Global Economy. These areas contain spaces for uploading/downloading documents, and a wiki that users can contribute to. The two most important for me are: Ask Librarian and Library Room. In either of these areas users can pose research questions with which they require help. The hope is that most of the answers should be locatable either through the other G20Net rooms, or government and other official Websites, etc.

The whole idea is meant to be an experiment in social networking and reference services, with a small army of librarians (primarily from UW, U of T and UWO, and 3 additional helping hands from the U of A) ready to take questions from 5:00 am to midnight EST every day. So far things have been pretty quite in the library rooms, which as you might have guessed from my comments above, I'm not too concerned about. I have just started my second out of four shifts and from scrolling through the days events there's been approximately two questions all told. I suppose I don't want the whole of my experience to go by without having to answer a single quiry, but I am presently on duty after 9:00 pm EST, and have to imagine that most people are done for the day in Ontario (both reporters and politicians).

I'll try to remember put up a quick post after my experience is over to comment on how things went.



*I often feel like I should be more socially active, ideally through volunteering with some kind of non-profit organization; however, working standard office hours and having creative writing as a hobby/hopefully one day career make it difficult to scrounge out the extra time do do this.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Balcony graden 2010: Containers galore

I have not yet blogged about our gardening attempts for 2010. Even though we haven't had a huge amount of success in the past, we've really gone all out this year. I'm not sure what's made us so optimistic for this season, I think part of it is the introduction of our worm composters. We had plant matter growing in our compost bins (which we keep in our storage closet, in the dark), so we'd like to think that now that we have things properly planted in the soil and kept on the balcony in the sunshine, we should see more things growing, or even thriving. I think we're also just somewhat foolishly determined to grow something out there and the more stuff we plant, the better chance that at least one crop will work out.
Full view (or as much as I could get in) of the balcony with all of our containers. Note the bistro set, which we just got this weekend from Canadian Tire.

We started planting during the weeks following our return from Europe. First there was the epic task of trying to sift through our worm bins. At first we tried to be really careful and separate out as many of the worms as possible. However, after an entire afternoon disappeared spent working on only one bin, we were less devote going over the second. Once we re-bedded our worms we started planting (in fresh containers, or course), just the basics that we've tried before: carrots, radishes and the rhubarb plant we purchased from the farmer's market last year. We opted out of peas as they always ended up getting fried in the sun. Then we planted zucchini, as everyone I've ever known to grow zucchini says it grows like weeds. The next week at the farmer's market we picked up tomato and pepper plants (I tried to sprout these at home, but they didn't grow) and added them to the growing collection of pots on our balcony.
Our radishes. I hope we can harvest them soon.
Rhubarb, destine for jam or some kind of desert, like pie, or maybe a coffee cake.
The tomato plant, doing quite well too. Note the two tiny green tomatoes growing in the middle of the plant.
One of our big planters with a zucchini plant starting in the middle section. Lettuce is growing all around the exterior.
The peppers, starting to flower already.
Have I mentioned the potatoes yet? Supposedly they're great for container gardening and after I discovered a couple of instructional videos online about how to grow potatoes, we purchased a blue bin, some seed potatoes and planted those too. Oh...and then there's the newest addition to the family...this one's entirely Andrew's baby...we have a grapevine named Valiant. Okay, so Valiant isn't really it's name, it's the type of grape, but Andrew told me that's what its name is, so that's what I'm going to call it.
The potatoes, which seem to be as happy as a proverbial clam in their blue box. And Tabitha, probably watching some birds.
Valiant. A spindly right now, but we'll see what we can do over the summer.
We'll see how things progress over the months. Edmonton hasn't had a lot in the way of hot weather so far this year and after we'd gotten everything going we even had a couple of days of snow--which I think might have stunted the radishes. I have high hopes for the potatoes though, which seem to be doing really well. Otherwise, who knows what will work out. I'll definitely post again if we have any success.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Season finale time, even for the orchestra

This past Friday night was our last Masters concert for the season, and the ESO definitely went out with a bang. The program was filled with five selections (including two in the second half, which is usually dedicated to presenting a single symphony). The orchestra was close to capacity for several of the pieces (i.e. lots of woodwinds, brass, harp(s) and percussion), and Marc-Andre Hamelin appeared as a featured solo pianist. To top it all off, the CBC was there recording the concert in order to air it on the radio later this year (the date was unknown as of Friday night).

So, what did the ESO play? They started off with a piece by their composer in residence, Allan Gilliand, titled Shadows and Light. This was quite a lovely selection with lots of colours and shades to the music, as the name suggests. It had several "shimmery" bits, where the strings played long, legato notes, while earnestly applying vibrato. If I remember correctly, I believe Mr. Gilliand stated that this was one of the first pieces he wrote after taking up his composer in residence post. This was followed by another Canadian piece, Fall Fair by Godfrey Ridout, which happened to have been broadcasted on the CBC that afternoon. Nonetheless, I was most happy to hear it again, as it's a very rousing sort of piece that puts me in mind of wide open spaces. Fall Fair was originally commissioned for performance at the 1961 United Nations Day in New York, NY. It is also one of the most well known and frequently played pieces in Canada.

After two, what I would definitely call "easy listening"*, selections came the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings in C minor, Op. 35 by Dmitri Shostakovich. This is not for the faint of heart, or at least the fair-weather classical music fan. You can't just sit back and let this Shostakovich piece roll over you like those that preceeded it. This music is more likely to put you on edge, get you sitting at the front of your seat and maybe even wishing it was over. I don't think there's been a particularly listener-challenging piece this season (at least not at the shows we attended), so I was rather glad to hear this. I can't say I necessarily liked this piece, as I felt through most of it that the piano and orchestra seemed to be playing entirely separate selections, but I like to hear different things, unlike those in my collection. I was also excessively impressed with Mr. Hamelin and the way his fingers flew across the keyboard. Even though I took piano for many years, I know I could never play something like this, and definitely not with the competence he did. At times it seemed like his fingers jumped many inches above the keys and miraculously hit the right notes (although I suppose I might not be able to tell otherwise). If I did that I would get a random assortment of different notes every time.

After the intermission the audience was treated to a second performance by Mr. Hamelin. This time it was Richard Strauss' (not to be confused by Johann Strauss, the Waltz King) Burleske in D minor. There was much to do for the tympanist in this piece, which I must imagine doesn't happen too often. He started the performance, and I believe he was one of the last to finish. To be perfectly honest, I don't remember much of this piece. I'm not sure why it hasn't stuck in my memory, it's not at though I didn't enjoy it at the time, but it hasn't. Perhaps I should look it up in the future to remind myself.

The final piece of the evening was La mer (The Sea) by Claude Debussy. I seem to have a thing for water-related music as one of my favourite orchestra works is the Moldau by Bedrich Smetana. Perhaps there's something about the rolling, wave-like quality of both of these pieces that inspires me--not that I spend much time on either lakes or rivers, but I've always enjoyed water and swimming. At any rate, Debussy wrote this piece in three sections, titled: 1) From dawn to midday on the sea, 2) Play of waves, and 3) Dialog of the wind and the sea. I felt that these descriptions aptly depicted what I heard (although Edward Blackeman, a flutist from Debussy's time disagrees). When the first movement began the strings started by playing tremolo high up in their range, suggesting to me the dawning of the sun, to the luxurious long-bowed notes later on that suggested rolling waves over the sea. Overall, I enjoyed this piece, a great deal and thought it a very satisfactory end to the 2009-2010 ESO season.

Now Andrew and I are without a Friday night ESO concert until the Gala performance scheduled in October. I guess I'll have to make due with CDs and the CBC for now, until then.



*I don't mean to use "easy listening" as a derogatory term. I just mean to say that this type of music is more likely to be well liked by a wide range of people as it tends to be flowing and melodic.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adventures in Cakeland

*I started this post almost two months ago, but was unable to complete it before leaving on our trip. Now here it is, my step-by-step experience with rolled fondant*
I've always enjoyed baking and decorating cakes. A few years ago I brought 2 or 3 cakes into work over the course of one summer to celebrate colleagues who were retiring or moving on to new jobs. I would like to take a proper cake decorating course so I can master really fancy techniques like rolled fondant, gum-paste flowers etc, but so far timing has not worked out. This issue is becoming a bit of a concern since last Christmas I offered to do the wedding cake for my brother-in-law. Therefore, for my birthday I decided to try my hand at rolled fondant.

The base cake was lemon with a lemon curd filling. The triple lemon cake recipe came from Fine Cooking. In hindsight, I wish I had evened out the bottom half of the cake since when I stacked all the layers up, the top half of the cake slid around on the rounded base.

Before adding the rolled fondant I put down a layer of regular icing. Again I used the recipe from Fine Cooking, to complete the triple lemon flavouring. This preliminary spread of icing helped keep the top half of the cake more-or-less in place.

I prepared the rolled fondant the night before by following a recipe off of the Wilton Website. I wasn't quite sure when to stop adding icing sugar to the fondant as I'd never made it before, nor been present when someone else was making it. As a result my fondant was a little stiff, but it seems to have worked out more-or-less. I coloured it a light purple-blue with icing colouring purchased from Michaels. I think it was a garden colours kit. Finally, I had some difficulty with the fondant sticking to my counter, so I laid down a large piece of parchment paper to keep it from getting stuck. It also made the transfer of the fondant to the cake relatively simple.

The fondant transferred and smoothed (relatively). I had some problems getting it totally smooth and I wound up with an unsightly wrinkled section at the back where I couldn't ease out the fondant. I also ended up with some cracks, again suggesting that I'd added too much icing sugar.

The completed cake. Swirls are sort of my fall back when I don't know what else to do for a design. I used left over lemon icing for the pattern. It probably took me no more than twenty-five minutes to do, which was a relief as I was worried the decorating would take an hour. Overall I think it was a very pretty cake, and it tasted delicious.



Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Late Night with the ESO

*Now that I'm finally finished all of my blogging related to my trip I can return to the regular mundane happenings of my life...*

Friday night Andrew and I went to the ESO. Not our regular Master's series, but a show which was a part of their "Late Night" series, which indeed took place late at night (at least for old ladies like me). The show began at 9:30 p.m. The evening's performance was titled Late Night in Paris and featured the music of George Bizet and Francis Poulenc (both French composers, of course). As these tickets were less expensive than our regular series seats we opted to sit on the main floor of the Winspear, putting us only a few rows back from the stage. It appears that these late night concerts are a less formal affair than the regular performances as the men in the orchestra only wore black shirts and jackets (rather than their regularly required tails) and perhaps more importantly, we were entertained by the comedy routine of ESO Music Director Bill Eddins, and conductor-in-residence Lucas Waldin.

Okay, so they weren't actually putting on a comedy act...but they certainly had a good time playing off each other. Bill treated poor Lucas with "faux" disdain as the young, still learning conductor, and Lucas took it in with good humour and some witty banter of his own. This included Bill ordering Lucas to fetch him a glass of champagne (with a well timed response about requiring the appropriate number of Euros to pay for it--they were supposed to be in Paris after all). Then, when the requested glass of champagne was produced, it was not handed over, on the demand the Bill must play for it first. All-in-all, a highly entertaining evening.

A benefit of our near front-row seating was that it afforded us a good view of the musicians facial expressions as they performed. I noticed some players were very animated, rocking and swaying with the music, while others were practically motionless and entirely focused on their music. Bill, being an already highly animated character, was especially interesting to watch. He played the piano solo for the first Pulenc piece, Aubade, while Lucas conducted (often Bill conducts from the keyboard). His posture at the piano ranged from sitting very upright, and calm during more tranquil sections, to hunched over the keyboard (making him appear even smaller than he really is--and he's not a tall man) during more intense, quick sections. I also noticed that at times of rest he occasionally conducted along with Lucas, out of habit I suppose, but kept his motions small as to not interfere.

The music was, of course, delightful. As noted above, Bizet and Pulenc were on the program list. The selections by Bizet were from his Sympony in C major. The first movement opened the show, while the fourth movement closed it (they did not play the other two). I recall both of the movements as light and bouncy, and highly enjoyable. The first of the Pulenc pieces was the above mentioned Aubade, which as Bill explained, is a mixture of a ballet and concerto rolled into one. Apparently the woman who commissioned it requested it be written for only 18 instruments, and so an intriguing mixture of woodwinds, trombone (I think), stings (excluding violin), tympani and piano made up this ensemble. Bill introduced this piece, playing the various themes on the piano as he explained this story of Diana and her friends. I liked this piece the most, probably for it's interesting themes and for the exuberance with which the orchestra played. The second Pulenc, excerpts from his Suite Francise (a series of courtly dances) although playful did not captivate my interest quite as much.

Our next ESO concert is in a little less than 2 weeks, then comes the summer hiatus before things start up again in the fall.