Friday, December 28, 2012

A Bowlful of Health

Every morning when Jim gets up he spends about half an hour cutting up fruit for a fresh fruit salad.  I really appreciate his doing that; I'm not that wild about spending time in the kitchen.

I eat a salad bowl of the fruit; he eats a serving the size of the bowl you'd serve salad to a family of four to six people.  (He eats it throughout the day.)

You hear more and more about the health benefits of fruit and vegetables, especially of berries.  Now fresh fruit, especially berries, can be very expensive this time of year, and if you live in Alberta where the landscape has been covered with snow since the middle of October, you have to forget about the 100 mile diet, and buy fresh from California, Mexico or Chile.  We try to have a light carbon footprint, but fresh fruit is our exception to that "rule."

The blackberries are especially yummy!  There are also bananas, strawberries, blueberries and mangoes in that salad.  As I said, expensive, but so good and so good for you.

On the other hand we do not buy potato chips, candy bars (any candy), donuts, prepared foods, etc.  Plus we very seldom go out for a meal (more his idea than mine!)  When we do go out, one of our favourite places is the local Chinese restaurant for a huge bowl of Wor Wonton Soup.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Days of Leisure

I am greatly enjoying this holiday from all my usual "duties."  The first week and a half I read several books.  One very enjoyable one was "A Christmas Blizzard" by Garrison Keillor.  I had actually heard that whole book (it's a small paperback) read on CBC FM last year about this time.  I was sewing on a lap quilt for the DDIL at the time.  That's such a wonderful combination: sewing on an interesting project and hearing something interesting on radio at the same time.  I used to listen to CBC FM from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.  Their programming included a great deal of classical music, along with some commentary, and a few news breaks.  A few years ago they cut back severely on the amount of classical music and started broadcasting jazz, which I don't care for.  Just a matter of personal taste.
They now broadcast classical from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., which is not prime sewing time.  Plus, I just don't care for the host, Julie Nesrullah.  Now I often put on a CD to accompany my sewing time.  Lately I've been listening to the West Coast Mennonite Choir CD, "Carols to the Infant King."  What glorious music for the Christmas season!

I did finish one project early in December, but couldn't post a picture on the blog at that time.  Now whoever is in charge is letting these pictures slip through.  I never did sign up for paid picture space.  But I've reduced the size, just in case.  I believe if you click on the picture you can see it full size.

So this is a lap quilt that I started some time ago, just to see if it would work out.  These are paper foundation blocks.  That's not
paper-pieced, which is pretty "fiddley" but strips of material sewed
onto 6 1/2 squares of phone book paper.  It's totally scrappy, made with almost any materials. I just controlled the colours a bit.

I started each square with a strip of red diagonally across the paper backing.  Then strips of scraps are sewn on either side.  This photo shows the start of the second half of the square being applied.

Here's the pile of scraps I was using.  A Purrfect place to relax!  I think scraps actually multiply when you are not looking, much like wire coat hangers replicate themselves in the closet when the door is closed!

When you have four squares completed, sew them together to make a block.

The red fabric is from one of the first quilts I made.  It was bought in 1986.  A friend who was a quilting instructor helped me cut out the squares for that quilt, a Pennsylvania Hex design that has been on our bed since January of 1997.  Yes, it took me 11 years to make that quilt, one that is completely hand appliquéd and hand quilted.  It's coming to the end of its useful life, as the fabrics have faded completely away, and even have rips, due to exposure to sun while on the bed.  The quilt I'm working on today is intended to replace that old quilt.  Either that or become a gift quilt for a DD.  We'll see.

There was enough of the red fabric to make 16 squares, and that's what determined the finished size of this lap quilt.  I quite like it, and have decided to keep it for ourselves.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


It was -32ºC when we got up this morning.  There's only one sensible way to handle that kind of weather and Dickens has it down pat.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

O Christmas Tree!

We have several hundred Colorado Spruce growing in the triangle field south of the dugout.  Early in December we go there and pick out one that appeals to us and tie a red ribbon on it.  A week and a half ago Jim went out with the tractor and a saw, cut the tree down and loaded it in the tractor bucket, a much easier way to get it to the house than dragging it by hand!

A week ago we took it into the house and set it up.  It wasn't quite straight so he propped up one side of the tree stand to create the illusion that it was completely straight.  Over the weekend I added the lights and started hanging ornaments.

I like to limit what I use to create a kind of "theme" tree.  This year I first hung about 18 little brass coloured drums.  Then up went about 3 dozen hand crocheted snowflakes that I made a few years ago.  They were followed by a few dozen (fake) red apples.  Something more was needed, and that gap was filled with plain gold balls.  But I had only 5 of them.

Yesterday I found a package of 24 bright gold balls, unbreakable plastic, and placed them on top of the branches.  We think the tree looks great!

Jim takes care of watering it regularly so it won't drop its needles soon.  Last Monday he lay down on the floor to reach under it and poured a whole container of water into the tree stand.  He still couldn't feel the water rise to the top so he got another container full.  Still didn't reach the top.  He couldn't figure out what was going on.  Until, OOOPS!!!  There was a growing lake of water spreading under the tree.

Because we had shimmed up one side, the side nearest the room, the water was simply running out the back side of the tree stand as quickly as he was pouring it into the front!  What a disaster!  What to do?

We pulled the tree away from the railing into the middle of the living room and started mopping up the mess.  When the floor was dry I got out another plastic tablecloth to put under the tree to protect the floor.  We managed to slide the tree, stand and all
onto the new cloth and gently slid it back into position.  Several apples and snowflakes had fallen from the tree, not to mention lots of needles.

Eventually all was restored to its proper place and we've been enjoying our tree ever since.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Breaking News

New definition of "breaking news:" news that breaks your heart.

Today Jim and I watched with horror and deep sadness as the details of the mass murder in Connecticut came out.  I can't call it a mass shooting.  It is simply mass murder by someone who had guns (note the plural) and crates of ammunition.

How many innocents (both young and old) must die before the people rise up and say, "Enough!"

Who can deny that if he did not have guns, the toll of lives taken could never have reached these levels?

When will all the survivors, not just the wounded, but all those whose lives are wrenched into the depths of sadness will unite and demand an end to the supply of deadly weapons in the hands of anyone with the money to buy them?

Can you imagine the despair of those parents when they hear the seasonal carol, Joy to the World!

The world is weeping!

Another Christmas Concert

On Wednesday evening the violin students and the string ensemble gave their Christmas Concert/party to which we invited parents, grandparents, cousins, friends, etc.  We had a good crowd, about 40 to 50 people came, so the little old church which now houses the Arts Academy was nicely filled.

The concert began with the littlest students, seriously and with utmost care playing Jingle Bells (at about 4 times slower than normal) and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.  They were darling.  There were three other more advanced students, all students of the other violin teacher there because I hadn't taught my students Christmas music, other than what we did in the ensemble.  One piano student joined our concert and that gave a nice touch of variety to the program.

The ensemble then played four carols in very nice arrangements, after which the pianist joined us for a rousing rendition of Joy to the World, which the audience was invited to join in, singing along with us.

With the pianist helping we then played a medley called "Angels, Shepherds, Christmas, Kings" and we ended with "The Bells of Christmas" for which two brothers joined in with percussion instruments.  Before we played the final number I said to the group, "This is the last song before the end of this season.  Let's give it all we've got!"  And did they ever!!!  It was totally the best they have ever played anything, and they just thrilled me with what they accomplished.  Our audience, inclined to be appreciative anyway, was also delighted and thrilled with what their children and grandchildren achieved.

We then had a social hour with lots and lots of delicious goodies the families had brought to share.  Some of the students helped by stacking all the chairs to the side, storing the music stands downstairs and sweeping the floor when most of the guests had left.  There are always lots of willing hands to help with set up and take down, and that's a blessing for those of us who organize and are responsible for running the show.

Now I have 2 1/2 weeks off with the only things on my schedule being playing for church services the next two Sundays.  This Sunday Jan and I will play organ/violin pieces, and next Sunday I will be alone on piano.

I'm really looking forward to this time off.  I want to get pictures back up on the blog and I want to expand my email "inbox."  I've received messages about every other day that my boxes are too full, and the truth is they are almost totally empty.  I'll have to get that straightened out.

For now here's the wish for each and every one of us: May we be blessed with peaceful hours, an ability to focus on the spiritual meaning of this holiday, and a real experience of the coming of Christ into our lives.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Christmas Concert

On Saturday we went to Red Deer for the second concert of the season, this one titled, "A British Isles Christmas."  It was given in the Gaetz Ave. United Church, rather than the auditorium at the Red Deer Community College, as is usual.

We arrived early as we know it fills up well ahead of time, and seating is a little tight.  There were some people who came later and had trouble finding a seat.  Perhaps even some of them were turned away, which must have been a very big disappointment.  But it seemed to us that using ushers would have solved a lot of the problem.  People had to wander in and find their own seats in the pews.  At one point a young man made a request for people to create whatever room they could and raise their hands to indicate an available seat, but this was not followed up on.  There was room for another person in the section of pew where we were sitting, and also two rows ahead of us.  A little organization would have gone a long way toward solving this problem!

The concert featured the Calgary Boys' Choir and began with the beautiful setting of "Once in Royal David's City" which begins the Service of Lessons and Carols performed by the choir of King's College, Cambridge every year.  A very young boy, perhaps 8 years old, with a beautiful, pure voice sang the first verse solo, unaccompanied.  The choir remained at the rear of the auditorium for this entire song, and then processed in singing the Hodie of Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols.  The rest of the Britten was sung from the platform.

I was not familiar with this music, and I think Britten needs familiarity to be really appreciated and enjoyed.  But I did enjoy it on this first hearing, particularly the harp accompaniment, and the harp solo number in the middle of the series of pieces.  It was unfortunate that the audience there is not as sophisticated as it is enthusiastic: they clapped after each piece in the Ceremony (well, except for the harp solo).  Quite disruptive to the flow!  But the conductor just waited with his back to the audience each time, arms raised to begin the next movement, not acknowledging the applause.

Gustav Holst's "In the Bleak Midwinter" was listed second on the program, but they sang it after the Britten.  The audience loved the Boys' Choir, but I was a little disappointed.  In the Britten I could decipher only about 9 words, all in Latin.  The rest I couldn't make out.  I think the acoustics in that fairly large church (seats about 550 and is tall with a wooden ceiling) must have changed dramatically from the (I'm supposing) afternoon rehearsal, when the church was empty, to the concert when it was packed with people in winter coats.  Usually boys' choirs have excellent diction, and they may well have had that, but at the performance it was not evident.

They gave us an extra number just before intermission: Choir and small orchestra in four spirited verses of Joy to the World.

After intermission the orchestra played a traditional Irish carol, Curoo, Curoo -- Carol of the Birds, which had a very interesting rhythm.  It seemed to be in 6/8, but with the occasional 9/8 measure, plus 4 measure phrases with a 5 or 6 measure phrase thrown in every now and then.  Very chipper and bright.

Then came the most interesting (to me) music on the program: an original composition by the conductor, Claude Lapalme, written as accompaniment to Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.  The Red Deer Mayor (last name of Flewelling, which I believe is Welsh) read the text and did it masterfully!  The orchestra accompanied him.  It was superb!  I think the music deserves to become a classic.  I loved it!

For the final number the orchestra played "Auld Lange Syne" and the audience was invited to sing along when the brass entered.

A memorable evening and a really fine and enjoyable Christmas concert!

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Summer Meal on a Winter Day

Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know that we grow a large percentage of our food.  Among the vegetables we stored for this winter are some very fine, small beets.  I had pretty much forgotten about them until Jim reminded me last week, so one of our "hot" meals featured beets, boiled, skinned, sliced and served with a little bit of butter, salt and pepper.

Eating those beets put me in mind of a salad that I've been making for about two years, but usually in the summer.  I got a yen for that salad, so today, in spite of -18ºC temperatures, we had a summer meal.

Here's the recipe (basically just what I decided went well together):
For two people as a main course:
1/2 head of Buttercrunch lettuce
chopped celery
diced onion
some cooked and cooled quinoa or couscous
1/3 cup of corn kernels (preferably Peaches & Cream)
a sprinkling of pine nuts
3 smallish beets, boiled, skinned and chopped
lots of imitation crab pieces
one lovely avocado, diced

Sprinkle a bit of lime juice over the avocado and crab before adding them to the bowl.
Drizzle some good olive oil over the mixture.

If I had some focaccia I would have served that also, but instead heated some stew to round out the meal.  Jim had a good helping of stew after he finished the salad, but the salad was plenty for me.

Cold Weather & Warm Socks

The concert on Sunday also went very well.  Some thought that the little string group did an even better job on their two numbers.  The whole experience was very rewarding, and I'm so pleased with the enormous progress they have made since September.

On Wednesday I took them to a local Seniors' Residence for a 45 minute afternoon concert.  We were missing two of our good violin players, but the group played well.  We were also hampered by a low ceiling just in that particular area, a very "sound absorbing" ceiling, so we never sounded very loud.  But the audience was really appreciative.

Wednesday was pretty warm, hovering right around the freezing point, and that's a help when you are transporting instruments and stands, etc.  But Thursday the temperature started dropping.  Jim and I bundled up well and walked into town to visit the post office and the library.  The wind was from the northeast as we walked in (mainly on our backs) and we were fortunate that by the time we walked back the wind had almost completely died down.  It was really cold on the way home!  Time for hot chocolate when we got there.  This morning our official temp is -24ºC, but the thermometer on the balcony is registering -29ºC.  We are almost always colder than the official temp because we are at a low spot on our road.  

These days I'm finding that my mind is too occupied with all my duties, and I have no space for the sweater that I've been trying to finish.  It involves following a chart closely to get the colour work right.  But I do like to have something handy to knit while watching t.v. or just sitting relaxing.  So I picked up two balls of sock yarn that had been given to me.  They are the same kind of yarn, Paton's Kroy Sock yarn, a nice yarn to work with, but are different colour ways, both striped, with some of the same blues in each ball.  Since it takes one whole ball (50 gram) to make one sock, I decided to make a pair using the two different stripes together in each sock.  I do have pictures, and will post them when the picture upload thing gets straightened out.

On my first attempt I was knitting three or four rounds in one yarn and then switching to the other, but the joining area where the two yarns met was not nice.  It just wasn't working well.  And then I remembered something I had read once about knitting stripes and decided to rip out what I had knit and start over.  The new method is working like a charm!

It works this way:  at a certain point, introduce the new yarn and knit two of the needles with the new ball, which I am thinking of as the right-hand ball. Then go back, pick up the first yarn, or the left-hand ball, and knit one needle.  Switch to the r.h. yarn and knit one needle, switch to the l.h. yarn and knit one needle.  You never have the awkward switch from one yarn to the other!  They just chase each other around the sock seamlessly.

By the way, I always use five needles to knit socks in the round.  That means the stitches are held on four needles and can be evenly divided, two needles for the sole and two needles for the top of the foot.  The fifth needle is the active one used to create the new round of stitches.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Joy

We live just outside a small, rural Alberta town, population around 3,500.  It supports a surprisingly active and effective arts community with wide participation.  I served over five years on the Task Force and then the Board of the volunteer organization that seeks to support the arts here and to connect the artists with the community.

One organization in town is the Arts Academy.  This non-profit was started by an individual in 1993, and some years ago became a self governing society that seeks to provide arts education and live, artistic productions for the local community.

Last year and this year I am teaching Suzuki violin lessons there and leading the small string group.  At the beginning of the season in September we lost four of our best players, who were too busy that semester or had moved on to more advanced groups, and we gained five players who had no experience in group playing which involves several skills not needed when playing solo.  So we had a bit of a struggle for the first few weeks.

Since I knew we would be involved in the annual "Community Christmas Celebration" that the Arts Academy has staged for several years, we immediately began working on music for that program.  In the last few weeks we've been joined by some community helpers: two on violin, two percussionists and a very able pianist.

Last night we gave the first performance (of two) of the Community Christmas Celebration, a free program to which the whole town is invited.  We had a good crowd, an almost full house.

The program was wonderful!  It included polished performances in dance, a clever and amusing dialogue on the season, a community choir that did a great job, a combo (two guitars, banjo, drums, piano and voice) that performed two highly enjoyable songs, a bell choir, and our little string group.  All of the performances were of high quality, and the audience was delighted.

I was even more delighted with how the string group rose to the occasion and delivered a stirring rendition of our two songs, both medleys of Christmas music.

This afternoon we give our second performance, and I am just hoping that we give as convincing a performance as we did last evening.