Artists, Arts, Canadian life, Musicians

Talented People Doing Fabulous Things

I was privileged to sit with two famous and very interesting Canadian musicians at separate, but wonderful, events in late November.

Blog Photo - CPAC Susanne Hou

The first was violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou, winner of prestigious international awards and a busy performer. Susanne’s talent has been acclaimed by musician Yehudi Menuhin as “absolutely phenomenal”.

Blog Photo - CPAC Awardee Susanne Hou1

In November, Susanne was one of three outstanding individuals who received the Professional Achievement Award at a gala in Markham, Ontario. (More on this event and awardees later.)

The other performer was Liona Boyd, a critically acclaimed classical guitarist whom you met on my blog earlier. 

Blog Photo - Liona Boyd on right

Blog Photo - Liona Photo from her FB pageLiona has released more than 20 CDs of her music over the years and has been performing across Canada in 2017. 

She was back in Toronto for an author reading and an afternoon tea celebrating her new memoir and CD ( both titled “No Remedy for Love”).

Blog Photo - Liona Book Launch Reception1

The reading was held by the Verity Book Club. The afternoon tea was hosted by two remarkable women, Isabel Bassett (consultant, former government minister and network TV boss) and Nancy Coldham (women’s advocate and founding member of Toronto’s Verity Club) and organized by Marilyn Mirabelli.

Blog Photo - Liona at Afternoon Tea 1

Despite a hectic schedule, Liona was fresh, funny and inspiring.

Blog Photo - Liona Book Luanch Reception2

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Back to the gala, now, where my husband and I were pleased to be guests of CPAC (formerly known as the Chinese Professionals Association of Canada).

Blog Photo - CPAC Gala 2017 Dignitaries on Stage

Executive director Andi Shi has invited us to this important event every year, but I was in no shape to attend. This year, I was determined!

Blog Photo - CPAC Gala1

Blog Photo - CPAC MIng gets Award

At our dinner-table was award-winner Dr. Ming Li, a researcher, university professor and co-author of a book on “Kolmogorov Complexity”. He explained his work to us – simply, thank goodness – and told us about the randomness of things like lottery-winning numbers.

Blog Photo - CPAC Gala Ming

Across the table from us were awardee Alissa Wang and her proud parents. 

Blog Photo - CPAC Alissa and Parents

Alissa is a law student and Ph.D candidate with many achievements in her relatively young life. One of them is a research and educational project on Asia’s WW2 history.

Blog Photo - CPAC Gala 2 winners

To our right were violinist Susanne Hou and her friend Frank — delightful dinner-companions. Susanne explained that her international performance schedule is demanding and trips back home have become more and more rare. 

Blog Photo - CPAC Gala with F, S, HG and Me

CPAC is a vibrant non-profit organization based in Toronto, with 30-thousand members across Canada. It helps internationally trained professionals in several areas: recognition of their credentials; cultural integration; career and business advancement in Canada and globally. 

Bravo, awardees. Bravo CPAC!

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Photos 6, 8, 10, 11 from CPAC

 

 

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A Good Home, Arts, Libraries, Myrtle The Purple Turtle, Spirit of the Hills - Arts Group

A Busy Week and Purple Fingernails

Accepting a blogger friend’s challenge, I painted my nails purple to attend the Festival of the Arts in Cobourg, Ontario last weekend.

Blog Photo - Myrtle Purple Nails

Of course, my friend won the challenge hands-down (hands-up?) because in this picture below, she’s also wearing a purple shirt! 

Blog Photo - Myrtle and Mandy and Purple Nails

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I’m a volunteer with the Festival and it was a great success! Painters, photographers, authors, actors, musicians and others shared their talents with enthusiastic audiences.

Blog Photo - Festival Marie-Lynn playing guitar

Blog Photo - Pat Calder Stall at Festival

Blog Photo - Festival Mandy Bing paintings

Blog Photo - Festival Book Fair

Blog Photo - Festival Sharon Ramsay Curtis

Blog Photo - Festival Kim aubrey reading

Blog Photo - SOTH Festival Performers

Blog Photo - SOTH Festival gifts for Chairs
Above 6 photos by Hamlin Grange

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In the photo just above, publisher Jennifer Bogart(right) and I are presenting gifts to Felicity Sidnell Reid (left) and Susan Statham (2nd from right), the hard-working co-chairs of the Festival’s organizing committee.  

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It’s also been a great ‘Myrtle week’.  I dropped into A Different Booklist  – one of Toronto’s best-known book stores. Owners Itah and Miguel introduced me to customers Shay Lin (holding a copy of Myrtle), an international student from China, and Qing, her mother.

Blog Photo - Myrtle and Friends at A Different Booklist

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Earlier, CBC Radio interviewed daughter Lauren and me about Myrtle. Metro Morning host Matt Galloway and his team were terrific. They pre-interviewed us, and, when we arrived, made us welcome. Then they talked us through the journey the interview would take.

Blog Photo - Myrtle Interview by Matt Galloway

They were so kind, I suspected that someone in the team must have read An Honest House, which describes my struggles with PTSD, cognitive difficulties and pain following a car accident. So I asked producer Morgan Passi.

Imagine my delight to discover that this is just the way they operate!

Blog Photo - Myrtle interview by Wei Chen

Next, Lauren and I were skilfully interviewed by the wonderful host of Ontario Morning, Wei Chen. She greeted us warmly, made us feel entirely at home and the interview began. 

Bravo, CBC Radio!

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A few days ago, Seattle’s Allen J. Mears posted on Facebook a photo of his daughters, Megan, 8, and Hailey, 6, with Myrtle. I loved it! Thanks to the Mears family for allowing me to share it here.

Blog Photo - Myrtle with Megan and Hailey

I love  photos of children reading Myrtle, courtesy of kind parents and grandparents.

Blog Photo - Myrtle being read to 2 daughters

In these photos, Ashly Dixon in Wisconsin is reading Myrtle to her daughters Denali, 9, Anika, 6, and son Vincent, 2, while their father Damien takes the photos. 

Blog Photo - Myrtle being read to children by Ashly

Ashly says they all love the book, including the brilliant illustrations and Myrtle’s “message of acceptance and knowing one’s self-worth” .

Thanks, Dixon family. 

And don’t you just love the pyjamas?

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Carl Randall, a veteran marathon runner, did something unusual to spread the word about Myrtle.

Blog Photo - Myrtle and Carl at Brunswick County PL

He and his wife Jackie have brought Myrtle to libraries in various cities — including New York, where he recently ran the marathon.

Blog Photo - Myrtle held by Carl at NYPL 2

Thanks, Carl and Jackie! 

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Finally, Kev Cooper – blogger, book reviewer, author and musician — has made Myrtle “Book of the Month” on his website, Books & Music.  Wow, Kev! Thank you!

A Good Home, Artists, Arts, Canadian Art, Spirit of the Hills - Arts Group, Writers

Felicity Sidnell Reid — Arts Multi-tasker

I don’t go out much. But I recently got ‘volun-told’ to help my artists’ group.  You can blame Felicity Sidnell Reid.  I joke that she twisted my arm — most graciously.

Blog Photo - Felicity and granddaughter
Felicity and her grandaughter

An author and radio interviewer, Felicity is always involved in the arts.

She and her husband John moved from big-city Toronto to Northumberland County 20 years ago.

SOTH - Patricia Calder Farm Country

“I love the country,” she says. “And I love the atmosphere of a small village. I feel more relaxed here.”

Felicity lives in “a small house on a large lot with a stream that runs year-round.”

Blog Photo - Felicity garden

Blog photo - Felicity pet

Blog Photo - Felicity Creek

Blog Photo - Felicity Book Cover

Her book, Alone: A Winter in the Woods was published in 2015 by Hidden Brook Press. Skilfully written and illustrated, it’s a survival story about a teenager left alone to look after his family’s cabin and livestock in 1797 while his father fetches the other family members from abroad.

Felicity also chairs the 50-member writers’ group within Spirit of the Hills arts association (SOTH).  That’s how I met her.

Blog Photo - Felicity Sidnell Reid

Welcoming and kind, she took my sometimes-strange speech and always-strange walk in stride, and made me feel at home at my first meeting. 

The monthly breakfast-meeting is supportive, fun and opinionated. As chair, Felicity sets the tone.

“I love chairing the writers’ group,” Felicity says. “Although one might want to shut oneself up in an attic sometimes — to escape from all the email and phone calls – it’s a great bunch of people. And a lot of fun.”

Blog Photo - Felicity and authors-at-book-reading-spirit-of-the-hills

“Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you’re herding cats?” I ask. “How can you be so unflappable and gracious with us all the time?”

Felicity laughs.

“I taught high school for years,” she says. “You have to be unflappable. I’m not sure how gracious I am, but I’ve noticed that if you are, people tend to be gracious back.”

Blog Photo - Felicity and Gwynn

The writers’ group is productive. It initiated a literary radio show – hosted by Felicity and author Gwynn Scheltema – and a Festival of the Arts, being held November 3 and 4.  All of SOTH is involved.

SOTH’s membership includes writers, artisans, musicians, performers and a variety of painters and other visual artists. They come from as far away as Toronto to the west and Kingston to the east.

SOTH - Patricia Calder Red Barn

But most, like Felicity, live in Northumberland County, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

SOTH - Patricia Calder-View of Rice Lake

“Driving through the countryside is always exciting because the hills themselves are so lovely,” Felicity notes. “There’s invariably another incredible view, maybe of a small lake or of Lake Ontario, or the next pretty town, or more hills covered with forest or farms, fields and animals.”

SOTH - Patricia Calder Horse Photo - 2 paints

The Festival will be held in lakeside Cobourg, one of Canada’s most beautiful  towns.

SOTH - Marie-Lynne College St Photo
Credit: M-L Hammond
Blog Photo - SOTH Reva Nelson Marina shot
Credit: R. Nelson

“We wanted to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday but, more importantly, the creativity and diversity of the arts in this region.”

Felicity and SOTH president Susan Statham are co-chairing the Festival.  It includes arts competitions, a musical play, a concert and book launch, a book fair and art show, a panel discussion and exciting workshops.

Blog Photo - Felicity and Authors - photo credit Northumberland News
Credit: Northumberlandnews.com

“What do you hope it’ll do for Northumberland?” I ask her.

“Northumberland, like most places in Canada, is always changing,” Felicity replies. “It becomes more diverse and interesting because of change. We all profit from this. And the influx of artists in the last 30 years has led to increased vibrancy and innovation in the artistic community.

Blog Photo - SOTH Mandy Bing Painting1
Painting by Mandy Bing

“I hope our programme will engage people from our many communities. We want to appeal to young and old, those who have lived all their lives in this area as well as newcomers.”

SOTH - Rene Schmidt The Beacon drop in centre
Credit: Rene Schmidt

Although some Northumberland arts organizations recently folded, SOTH remains strong.

“An Ontario Arts Council study (June 2017) encouraged us. It reported that 90% of those surveyed agree that an active local arts scene helps make a community a better place to live and 97% agree that engaging children in the arts is important to their overall development.” 

As for my involvement? A year ago, Felicity invited me to join the Festival committee.  Committee members feel privileged to help, as does she.

“I love working with others and building a team, so conceiving and planning the festival have been exciting and very fulfilling.”

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Special thanks to Patricia Calder for photos 2, 10, 11 and 12.

A Good Home, Artist, Arts, Authors, Canadian life, Children's Books, Homes

At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara

Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in Morning

“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.

“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”

Blog Photo - Andrea view to the barns

Blog Photo - Andrea and Maisie

Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.

Blog Photo - Andrea Swashbuckling Guinea Pig

She fell in love with pictures early.

“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Mouse Vacation

“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Office

Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’.  “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”

From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.

“I can’t believe I have barns!”

Blog Photo - Andrea Barns and hydrangea

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Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.

“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.

“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Living Room

Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.

“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.

“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in spring

As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.

“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)

Blog Photo - Andrea Living room

“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”

Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.

It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”

Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.