She's not from Maine - Day 2

Slept in until 8! Woke to the sun on the leaves, making them glow bright red and yellow and orange against the deep blue sky. And I believe to the sound of a passing logging truck.

Have been reading and writing and lounging all morning, but must get out at some point and wander about. Trying to determine if my knees will accept a hike up Grafton Notch, or whether they'd prefer a 10k run. I'm fairly certain they'd prefer to stay in bed.

So yesterday, I had my route, which started with a dreary run along the two-lane which the locals treat like the autobahn. No real shoulder to speak of, so pretty terrible. Finally get to the turn off, Vernon Street, which goes back, way back behind the pond and loops around to town. Paved, but very quiet. Too quiet in fact. Realised that there really wasn't much out there in terms of anything. My thoughts turned to city-girl fears - bears, serial killers, you know. On the other hand, I'm enjoying the peace and the woods all around and being the only thing on the road. To combat my fear of startling a bear (my brain is a truly stupid place), I started to sing whatever my ipod was playing, of course terribly because I'm running, I'm wearing headphones, and who can sing the Beegees and Abba? Was fully expecting to come upon a bunch of locals BBQing in their backyard and staring at me. Luckily, that didn't happen.

Passed the occasional house and bit of civilization. After about 12.5k I came to the next turnoff that I'd seen on the map. Paradise Road cuts directly into town instead of going further around and then back. This seemed more efficient to me as I'd sat at the house planning. It looked harmless, as all truly bad things do. There were quite a few houses along the route, although the road was narrow. I took it. It had started to rain, a light drizzle, it was a bit cool, windy.

I now have a new rule about checking elevations when I plan a running route.

Paradise Road got its name because its purpose seems to be to bring you to the kingdom of heaven. The grade started slowly for the first .5k, then turned into the equivalent of running up Peel Street ten times, in a now harder and cooler rain. At a few points I actually felt like I was moving backwards. I was rewarded at the top with a vantage of the mountains and surrounding colourful countryside and a cemetery with one headstone. There are a couple of houses up there and I was mighty jealous. The way down was much less steep and I made it into town in time for the sun to come out. I wandered a bit and then ran, stumbled, occasionally walked, the last 7k back to the house, iced my knees, went and found some food, had a hot bath, and read until I couldn't stay awake.

Out and about again!

She's not from Maine - Day 1

IMG_1350Woke up this morning to see a pink sunrise and water rippling and everything was so quiet and lovely. Threw some clothes on, made some coffee and went out to the dock outside the back door to enjoy it. Sipping hot coffee, world so peaceful, beautiful Fall colours, birds, chill in the air, sound of the water lapping against the dock. Bliss. Noticed one of the metal chairs had fallen into the water. Bent to retrieve it.

Fell in, obviously.....

If I ever warm up again, have a run mapped for today - about 23k as far as I can tell. I will be stopping halfway for a walk around the town.

In love with the cello

Just finished listening to all six of Bach's Cello Suites performed by Jean-Guihen Queyras. His playing was marvelous - lively and crisp, playing that tore at my soul and then lifted it into the sky. I sat there in awe that anyone could store this much beauty in his head and bring it out from his fingertips. At the first break, Adriana turned to me and asked how anyone who is able to play something like that can get on with their day like a normal person. How many hundreds of hours of practise did it take to create so much wonderfulness that sang in my ears and thrilled me? I got out floating, wanting to hug the world and take it all into my heart.

Things I meant to say

One of my friends stopped by today and over a cup of tea while we were getting caught up, told me that his sister had called to say that she had some bad news. He told me that his 15-year-old nephew had just been diagnosed with Aspergers. He indicated that the diagnosis was no surprise to him, and we talked about that. I automatically corrected about the term "bad", "Well, that not really bad news, just news", and we discussed the lack of resources briefly and his educational plans, and then moved on to another topic. He left, I took the kids out sledding, and then we came in and started some baking.

So I'm taking some cookies out of the oven, thinking about getting supper ready, and I look over at Ben, who is helping shell pistachio nuts with his sister. That's when it hit me.

If I'd been in a movie, there would have been that whooshing noise and some kind of blur special effect and then a flashback to me, almost five years ago, sitting in a metal chair in a small room at the Children's autism clinic. We'd just gone through days of tests with an array of doctors and PhD students. We'd been referred to the hospital by our pediatrician, and after an exam with audiology, we'd been sent to the clinic because they told us that even though they were sure it wasn't autism, it was the fastest place to get all the testing at once. I now believe that they tell parents that because they don't want you to bolt and not go ahead with the diagnosis.

So, sitting in the metal chair, watching Ben with the final assessor - the head psychologist - expecting that she was going to tell us that he wasn't autistic, just like the audiologist and our pediatrician and everyone else who had chimed in for months. But while Ben sat there creating a block tower, she turned to us and said, "So, Ben's autistic". There were words after that, sentences, paragraphs, but I don't remember any of that because at that moment the bottom fell out of my world.

That was the feeling that I relived in my kitchen tonight, that awful, stomach-twisting confirmation of what I didn't want to hear.

I know that on the grand scale of things it is not the tragedy of being told that your child is dying, or will suffer with a life of pain. I kept telling myself that over and over while what I was really thinking about was how he'd never have a neurotypical life. We all expect our kids to have at least our choices in life, if not more. We take for granted that they will have as much of a shot at education, relationships, careers, happiness, and fulfillment as we have. It is unbearably sad to suddenly think that their lives may be severely restricted. I used to stay awake at night thinking about the fact that Ben may never get married and have kids and a mortgage and a steady job. Honestly, sometimes I still do. But it doesn't terrify me like it used to.

Flash forward to me holding a sheet of cookies in my oven-mitted hand looking at Ben and I really did feel like the most insensitive person on the planet. Time, experience, education, and work have made me a person who no longer fears the spectrum and Ben's future. Part of me is so proud that I no longer see autism as a bad thing, just a difference, but there's no way I would have understood that five years ago. I understand the denial and the wishful thinking and the fears that we beat down and the lies we let ourselves believe because we so desperately want our kids to be "normal". The nephew's Aspergers may have seemed obvious to some, but to my friend's sister I'm sure it wasn't and I'm fairly certain that the bottom has just dropped out of her world.

I wish I'd been a bit more present today so I could have offered a kinder word and a warmer heart.


McGill Chamber Orchestra with Victor Simon

McGill Chamber Orchestra with Victor Simon

From the choir, Maison Symphonique, Montreal

From the choir, Maison Symphonique, Montreal

At the end of September I headed back to the Maison Symphonique to hear an evening of tango - Una Noche en Buenos Aires - with the McGill Chamber Orchestra and Victor Simon. Victor Simon, an Argentinian pianist and composer who fell in love with our city and founded Montreal Tango, is a master of spontaneous tango. Watching him play is a humbling experience for any piano student. He makes the intricate, finger-flying rhythms seem effortless, possessed digits weaving the seductive sounds, classic tangos as well as his own compositions. According to his web site, Victor didn't take up tango composition until he left his home for Montreal, an impulse the audience surely appreciated. The McGill Chamber Orchestra with Boris Brott played marvelously and the joy of the musicians was obvious. Tango is fun, and passionate, and freeing. The hall was tuned for the evening - seating was reduced and the ceilings were lowered and the musicians all sat on a single level. The sound was very good, the hall seems designed for the piano - the clarity of the Steinway in the new hall is delicate and clean and sharp. I cannot wait to hear more pianists to hear if there is a difference with a full hall. For the second half of the concert, the piano was moved from the front of the stage to the back to accomodate dancers who occasionally appeared from the wings to dazzle the audience with giros, ganchos, and sacadas. I have recently fallen completely in love with this dance (I'll share that in an upcoming post), and it was all I could do to keep myself from leaping out there and failing to dazzle everyone with my very basic step. Oh! And guess where I was sitting? In the CHOIR! When there is no choir, the seats are used for regular patrons and so I jumped at the chance to face the audience and get a new perspective on the orchestra. Sound is great in this area, but any talking using the microphone is garbled and difficult to make out, so skip the opening speeches.

There are many performances of Tango Montreal coming up and they've just released a new album, so check out their site.

Guilt-free Shopping

Christmas is coming and the usual crisis is upon me: I want to give my loved ones gifts, but I dread the feeling I get when I walk into a mall full of mass-produced garbage. It goes against everything that I love about the holidays and makes me feel cheap and commercial. Over the years I have taken to finding alternatives that make me feel more giving; I bake and make cookie baskets, I make gifts with my own little hands (I call them "rustically charming"), and I try to shop at stores that give something back. Shops like 10,000 Villages are my preferred haunts for finding presents for my friends and family, and now I have a new one to add to the list!

On my walk down Sherbrooke Monday, I came across a great new shop that takes all the guilt out of Christmas consumption.

Pure Art

Pure Art

Pure Art is a Canadian charity dedicated to alleviating poverty, promoting education, and providing clean water in developing communities around the world. Started by the McKinnon family in Hudson, the Pure Art Foundation has two fair trade stores, one in Hudson, and now one that has just opened in Westmount. An eclectic mix of jewellery, clothing, tableware, bags, cards, and children's toys from artisans around the world promise a unique gift for everyone on your list.

Pure Art - Westmount

Pure Art - Westmount

The friendly and knowledgeable service from Danielle behind the counter was educational and enthusiastic. She was more than willing to answer questions about the foundation and all the beautiful creations available in the shop. Many creations are made using recycled materials, such as purses decorated with pop tops and bracelets made from phone wires. With colourful friendship bracelets made by a shaman in Peru for $5 and an array of reasonably priced necklaces, bracelets, and original clothing, this is one-stop shopping for mom, your best friend, and your children's teachers.

Thoughtful gifts that give back are a trend that I want to see more often.

La Maison Symphonique - new concert hall for Montreal

new concert hall

new concert hall

September 11 was the inaugural children's concert for Montreal's newest concert hall. Five years after the project was approved, and 266 million dollars later, La Maison Symphonique is open for business! I bought our tickets in June, some of the last available in the balcony, and waited all summer in anticipation of the opening. I read the less-than-stellar reviews of the grand opening first show and Beethoven's ninth, but was not discouraged, and on the Sunday I got everyone dressed up and we headed downtown. By the time we got there, the kids and I were pretty excited. There was a lot of activity around the area with the Marathon des Arts festival happening at Quartier des Spectacles, with free tours of the hall being held to draw people in.

Approaching the hall, it is obvious that the building is not finished. Bare plywood and make-shift ramps are everywhere and the windows at the back reveal insulation, ducts, pipes, and general construction. Inside, the reception areas are sparsely furnished and airy. The spaces do not appear as large as Salle Willfrid Pelletier though, which makes me wonder how the traffic around the bars during intermissions will fair. Narrower stairs and escalators reside where I think that a wide staircase should have been. Elevators are also present, and the design seems beautifully thought out for wheelchair accessibility. I also spied some back stairs which will be no doubt ugly but will afford an easier escape. Both kids were delighted with the open space, running around an empty top reception level before heading into the concert hall. The glass walls made the space during a matinee bright and the hanging wooden sculptures are charming and set the tone for inside. The inside of the concert hall is finished, and is beautiful despite the outgassing of wood and upholstery. The light beech wood contrasted with the metal is clean and modern and a dramatic change from the weight and dark of the older Place des Arts halls, although I question the creamy white seat fabric which may be overly hopeful and ill-though-out by the designers.

We found our seats and settled near the middle at the top of the shoebox. Even on the balcony, the stage does not seem as distant. And the view is impressive indeed: 1900 seats and room for 120 musicians and 200 singers. The choir area can also be used for spectators, and being able to surround the performers allows for more seating and makes the music more of a community event. Everything about the new design seems more relaxed and casual and inviting.

The concert began without a lot of ceremony and Nagano appeared with two young female pianists, one his daughter, for Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals. Naomi's attention was very short-lived, and I had to start hissing at her almost immediately, but Ben and I were entranced and I tried as much as possible to point out which animals were being imitated so they could follow along. Peter and the Wolf was next and Naomi was constantly asking what was happening, sometimes quite loudly as I tried to quietly translate the narration for her. The last was a ballet by Debussy which was performed by École supérieure de ballet du Québec students and which was simply too long to hold the attention of children, or adults for that matter. In addition to the restless youngsters, I saw more than one parent checking their smartphones. I think opting for a shorter excerpt from a ballet and finishing with a more dramatic musical selection would have been more appropriate for the audience. I still remember the thrill my children got from the Queen of the Night's aria last year and going back many years to another children's concert, the Star Wars theme which left small boys humming down the stairs enthusiastically and perhaps considering a career in music.

Now, the sound. Yes, it is not life changing. In my opinion, it will take about a year to tune the room completely. I don't think that this is a failure, it is a process. There is simply no way to perfect a sound for every size orchestra and every type of music and different audience sizes without playing in the hall and tweeking. The sound baffles (nine motorized canopies that move individually) are designed to be adjusted and the hall was acoustically well planned, so even though there will have to be some changes made, eventually the sound will evolve to meet the expectations of the conductors and the audience members. I didn't find the sound muddy, but from the balcony it was dulled, and didn't seem to hit the audience with enough resonance. I want to sit in different areas and see what else is happening on lower levels of the room. Luckily, I think that the initial reviews may mean that tickets will be readily available this season, hopefully at discounts.