Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What Is It?

On our evening walk along the Avon, I was startled to see a lady with two small dogs who appeared to be pulling little carts behind them. On closer examination and in discussion with Pat, their owner, I discovered these were not carts, but rather "doggie wheelchairs". We listened fascinated as she shared her story about the dogs who appeared strong and very capable of giving their mistress quite a run!

Haricot, 9 years old now, had come to her from the French Bulldog Rescue Centre. He had been run over by a car, and his owner had been so negligent that as he dragged his paws behind him they became raw, infected and were constantly bleeding. Loving care at the rescue centre and from Pat has brought him back to health. He has leather shoes for his back feet as he has some limited use of those legs and was constantly working himself out of the stirrups.This enables him to "walk" as he is able, but in a very supported manner.

Pearly is a more recent addition to Pat's family. She had been so badly abused in a puppy mill, that she has no use of her hind end. The rescue centre called Pat to see if she could take her right away rather than having her first adjust to the centre and then later to another home. Pat readily agreed. The wheels support Pearly's body so she can move quite freely. She craves affection and is very protective of any human who bestows love. As my friend was petting and playing with her, a large dog came by, and she seemed quite ready to attack if necessary to defend us all.

It is amazing the lessons one can learn while walking the Avon. Tonight it was a lesson in human love, and in the animals' determination to survive and to enjoy life to the fullest.

This article also appeared in Helen's column AROUND TOWN WITH HELEN HARRISON in Your Daily Source. September 8,2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Fond Farewell

Summer 2010 is quickly drawing to a close. September 1 marked the final date for the Stratford Concert Band's series of outdoor concerts held in Upper Queens Park every Wednesday during the summer.

The venue could not have been more perfect. After the current heat wave, it was extremely pleasant to sit basking in a lovely evening breeze. Mare's tails strewn across the sky made a perfect backdrop for the gulls who soared overhead as if in time to the music. A large audience had come out to enjoy the concert sitting on the benches provided by the park system or spread out across the area in friendly conversation groups on lawn chairs brought from home. The Stratford Police Pipe Band was featured during the halftime break. There is nothing quite like the strains of the pipes wafting across the evening air, especially when they choose to play some of one's favorites.

This was not only this season's final outdoor concert, but for maestro Nigel Evans it was his final stint on the podium after guiding the band for the past nine years. He took advantage of this concert to bring us many favorites from his time as director. Stratford and the Concert Band will certainly miss Mr. Evans but, as he pointed out, we have a treasure in the band and they will continue to bring us joy over the coming years.

It looks like there is a wonderful series in the works for the coming year. Why not consider buying a season's ticket and cast your support behind this enjoyable part of Stratford's cultural life?

writer's note: Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me last night. These photos capture the essence of the concerts in the park, but were not taken at the farewell concert.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

High Seas Adventure

I traveled across town last week and got caught up in a high seas adventure.

No, I was not accosted by pirates - although I did see a few. I did not get sea sick - although there was a mighty storm and many people got soaked! What, you wonder, happened to me?

Well, I followed the scent of adventure and ended up at Memorial Baptist Church, where close to 100 children and 80 volunteers were involved in the annual Vacation Bible School.
Following the theme of an expedition on the high seas, the church sanctuary had been transformed into an ancient sailing ship complete with seagulls flying overhead.

Whales and dolphins swam in the craft room.

A talking chipmunk named Chadder starred in a video adventure that left us hanging at the end of each day's segment wondering if he would ever see land again and be able to stave off the evil intentions of the mutineers.

I think I have shared enough for you to get a taste of what happens at several churches around town when they host children from the community for a week of Vacation Bible School. Christian leaders spend hours of time and creative energy to help the children of Stratford have a great time while learning about God.

Through active games, crafts, fun Bible lessons, rousing songs, and amazing snacks, they share God's love with the kids who come. Thank you to all of you who volunteer to host these summer events. May God bless you and the children that you serve in this very worthwhile endeavour.

You can also see this article in Your Daily Source available at local coffee shops, businesses and laundromats in the
Around town with Helen Harrison
column on August 25,2010.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fine Art Photography

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the RPA Photography studio. Rob and Peggy Andrews moved to Stratford recently and set up a studio in their home on Shakespeare Street where they live with their two cats and three birds. Rob is a Fine Art Photographer accredited by the Professional Photographers of Ontario, and recently recognized in the National Image Competition of Professional Photographers of Canada as a photographer "with the ability to produce above average images for (his) clientele." (Press Release from PPOC May 12, 2010).

I was thrilled to see some of the exquisite artistry that he creates with a combination of top-notch equipment, an artist's eye for line and light, and a sense of adventure when it comes to the use of Photoshop on his computer.

Right now, until October 31, 2010, Rob is offering a special deal for pet lovers. He is calling it Puss and Pooch. (Did I mention that he has a great sense of humour.)For a very reasonable price he will give a client an hour of his time, photograph the pet on location in a favorite outdoor spo t as well as in his studio, touch up the photos and then provide a choice of pictures with half of the "sitting" fee going towards prints. RPA Photography also offers matting, framing, and mounting as well as other special features.

If you would like to see more samples of his artwork or to book a sitting, check out his website at www.rpaphotos.ca

A version of this blog post appeared in Your Daily Source, August 19 to 27, 2010.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Frozen Music?

I heard an interesting quote while watching a documentary recently. "Architecture is frozen music" (Goethe) and "Music is a fluid architecture of sound." (Roy Harris) This interplay of music and architecture carried me back to the Stratford Farewell concert of Jamie Klassen and Megan Franken on August 13 at St. James church. That evening I was struck by a quote inscribed in gold across the front of the sanctuary. "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10)

Savouring the expansive romanticism of Brahms' Intermezzos, I allowed myself to absorb the atmosphere of this historic church. The beautiful stained glass windows, including small ones placed at the top of each gothic arch to catch the sunlight, the elegant castings on the lecturns in the chancel and the lovely banners adorning the walls made me realize once again how abundant our life is here in Stratford.

I have the freedom to wander across town on a sunlit evening to hear amazing talent on a beautiful instrument and to listen, centuries after his lifetime, to the mathematical intricacies of Bach's Preludes and Fugues. Closing my eyes I could envision the Roaring 20's flappers dancing the Charleston to the ragtime frivolity of Scott Joplin. For me, the piece de resistance was the fluid line and harmonic undercurrents of Liszt's Grand Etude in D flat major, "un sospiro" (Italian for "a sigh"), a nickname given to the composition by those who no doubt like me, felt their spirits breathe with the rise and fall of the melody.

Yes, frozen music, fluid architecture, abundant life... all in Stratford on a summer evening.

Farewell, Jamie and Megan. May you enjoy abundant living as you pursue your dreams. We hope you will invite us to once again experience "the fluid architecture of sound" if you ever come back this way.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sunset in the Park

I love to walk along the Avon at sunset.

The sky, the silhouettes,

The perfect reflections by the water's edge

The swans enjoying a bedtime snack.

There is peace in Stratford in the evening's glow.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Berries Galore!

This beautiful summer weather whets the appetite for fresh fruit and vegetables. Just a short drive into the rolling hills of Oxford County, there is a bustling hive of edible activity at Sheldon Berries farm.

Ray and Peggy Sheldon bought the 50 acre property at RR#3 Lakeside in 1992. On a family outing that year, Ray saw bush blueberries for the first time and realized that the acidic soil on his farm was perfect for growing the luscious fruit.

He planted his first acre in 1993. I did not realize that it takes the plants 4 or 5 years of growth before they will yield a crop of any amount, and 6 or 7 years before they produce well. After that, as long as you prune out the old wood each year in March, they will keep producing forever. Having a blueberry farm is a long term investment. At about $10,000 an acre to plant and with a wait of at least five years for the product, the word "patience" takes on new meaning!

A few years after planting his first acres, Ray decided to also invest in raspberries. Over the past 18 years the farm has continued to develop and is now a thriving business employing eighteeen to help with picking, plant maintenance, and manning the store, where one can get buckets for picking or buy the produce itself. Beginning with strawberries in June, the season runs through to November, featuring the berries, but also rhubarb, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash, gourds and pumpkins. The blueberry season which is at its peak right now, will run until mid-August, and the fall raspberries, just coming into their prime,will be available until early November under the high tunnels which help to keep them dry and protected from the cold.

In addition to fresh produce, the store carries frozen fruit, preserves, raspberry/apple juice, and fresh honey from the 26 hives that Vince Bryans from St. Mary's keeps on the property to help with pollination.

Ray supplies produce to the markets in Grand Bend, Exeter and St. Mary's, as well as to Woolfy's, McCully's and the Gentle Rain. In the fall, Food Basics and Canadian Tire carry his pumpkins and squash. With 10 acres of pumpkins, he does have a few to spare!

Regular customers across south west Ontario make their way to Sheldon Berries each year, coming from as far as Wiarton, Listowel, Palmerston and of course the more local communities. Many tourists also enjoy the country experience.

To get to Sheldon Berries follow Hwy 7, cross the Wildwood Dam and turn left at Hwy 119 to Medina. Turn left and continue until you come to the 27th Zorra line, the first road east of Lakeside. Turn right and watch for the sign. Call 1-519-283-6025 to find out what crops are current. Store hours are Monday to Saturday, 9 - 6.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stratford's Own Music

Stratford Summer Music is filling the air with guest artists, but last Friday night (July 23) at St. James Church, we were treated to a concert by four very talented teens from Stratford and area. The concert was a fund raiser to help with their ongoing studies in the fall.

Jamie Klassen, a very accomplished pianist, will be attending the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. As well as amazing us with his nimble fingers and sensitive interpretation of the classics, he also served as accompanist during the concert. He will be sorely missed in Stratford, not only as a pianist, but in his role as Operations Manager for the Stratford Symphony Orchestra.

Mimi Liu, as well as being a fine violinist, has a passion for social justice. Through her vision, Vivace Student Music was organized in 2008, finding instruments and providing lessons for students who could not otherwise afford them. This fall Mimi will be studying International Relations at University of Toronto.

To hear Daniel Ramjattan playing classical guitar was a joy. His virtuosity on the instrument made it obvious why he us a popular performer. His interest in music is diverse as he also teaches for Vivace, and plays electric guitar with the local alternative rock band, Thirsty Wench. He will no doubt excel in his musical studies at University of Ottawa.

Victoria Melik from Kitchener will be attending Wilfred Laurier's Music Program. She was a joy to watch both for her technique on the violin, and for the way the interpretation of the music shone through her face. She provided an extremely rousing and fun end to the two-hour program.

Once again, I feel blessed to live in Stratford, where people are so willing to share their talents. Good luck to these four talented students as they head off to pursue their dreams.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SSM Opens With a Bang

Once again, Stratford Summer Music got off to a great start last night, with perfect weather for the concert on Tom Patterson Island.

At the bottom of Nile Street, we caught sight of a flotilla of dragon boats, festooned with banners and sparkly streamers, preparing to accompany the Summer Music Barge down the river, with the St. Mary's Children's Choir on board ready to entertain the crowds.
As we meandered towards lower Queens Park, tunes from the concert wafted over the evening breeze...jazz, rock, singers, bands. Those who paid for the seats on the island were treated to a varied concert with CTV anchorman Lloyd Robertson as Master of Ceremonies.

The higlight of the opening every year is an orchestral composition accompanied by fireworks. As it grew closer to 10 o'clock, the crowd of onlookers continued to grow. Stratford, as I've said before, loves a chance to party. So our citizens young and old crowded both sides to the river, the hill behind the theatre, the route along Snake Hill, and balconies of houses and apartments in the area, all taking part in their own way in the celebration of the opening night of the 10th anniversary of the Summer Music Festival.

Kudos and many thanks to John Miller and his associates who work so hard to bring quality musicians to the city every summer. Do try to get out and enjoy the fun.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Knight

Another hot Saturday afternoon. I was walking home from a visit downtown when my eye was caught by a yard sale at the home of Susan Murar, the artist whom I have introduced to you before (See April 16, 2010). A 13th Century knight beckoned me to visit.

He wore chain mail, an authentic helmet, and had a grizzled face that looked like it might come to life before my eyes. Human hair from an old swordsman added a further touch of authenticity. Placed at the front of her display like a guard, he stood with vigilance as he would have so long ago.

Susan is an artist who works in a wide variety of mediums. If you would like to connect with her, call 271-8396.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Fun Begins!

If you are lucky, you will be able to take in the opening of Stratford Summer Music with the orchestra playing on the island while fireworks split the air at Lower Queens Park on Monday night around 9 p.m. Then the fun begins! Until August 22, Stratford will be humming with music, much of it free and all of it very affordable. If you need to watch the budget, or you would like to expose children to a fun concert series, head down to the War Memorial for the next 5 weeks at 12:30 from Thursday to Sunday. 3:00 p.m. performances are added on the weekends. Take a picnic, sit on the grass and enjoy the "Barge Music". The Langley Ukelele Ensemble who are playing next week are truly amazing. Plan to arrive early to get a good spot on the lawn. Ben Heppner will also be in town performing from Tuesday to Saturday at St. Andrew's Church for a mere $35. On Friday and Saturday evening, Pazzo's will feature "Jazz Legends" from 9:00 to 11:30, and the Church Restaurant will host a "Saturday Night Live" cabaret starring comic singer Bruce Dow. You can find more information about these and other concerts at www.stratfordsummermusic.ca

I will be out and about during the Summer Music Festival, so will try to keep you informed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

St. Mary's Heritage Festival - A Stratford Connection

This morning I went to St. Mary's. I have always appreciated the beauty of the buildings there.

But today there was an extra enticement. They were celebrating their Heritage Days. The streets were filled with activity - vendor's stalls, entertainment, kid's activities, music and groups of friends out enjoying the beautiful day.

On the north side of Queen Street my eye was caught by an artist standing in a store window sketching. The door was open so I wandered inside and discovered "Creations" an intimate art gallery featuring the work of the artist, Mark Czajkowski, his parents Mary and Ed, and other local artists who submit work to display.

Born in Stratford, Mark began to draw as a child, and when he sold his first sketch at Art in the Park here in town for ten cents, he was hooked. He has been painting ever since. Now a recognized Canadian artist, Mark is a carpenter by trade. He worked in the props department of the Stratford Festival for about 5 years before starting up Czajkowski's Creative Carpentry.

As well as working in wood, his carpentry has taken him into creating with steel. A few years ago he built the intricate Tir Na nOg gateway off of Downie Street in Stratford. His newest creation, a Remembrance gateway by the War Memorial in St. Mary's, was unveiled yesterday.

It is quite lovely and worth the drive to see.

As well as being an amazing creative artist, Mark is a delightful person to meet. I encourage you to add a trip to St. Mary's to your summer itinerary. Drop by Creations Art Gallery.

If you time it right, Mark just may be painting in the window. He tells me he paints there an hour early in the morning and about an hour after his day at work.