Saturday, March 20, 2010

Making music at KAUST

Childhood included much music for me, from piano lessons very early in life, to solo and orchestral violin a a bit later. From about nine years of age, Interlochen's music camp spelled many happy summers, first as camper and then as a counselor. After a hiatus, the violin found its way back into hands and heart again at college and then, sporadically, with various students over the past two decades, often through duets or trios... or even via the absolutely ridiculous playing of Pop Goes the Weasel with students singing the quadratic formula.
Music, almost any kind of music, seemed on a too distant horizon when we arrived at KAUST now nine months ago. Illusive is perhaps a word that might best describe music's role here. And, besides, we had a school to start, two sons to look after, and various other commitments.
Yet music, or at least the desire to make music, is a very natural and wholly human faculty, and before too long I was asking around to see who played what and if there might be a possibility of creating an informal chamber group. Fortunately, we have a person on campus with a wonderful musical background in viola, and an evangelical bent to further music's cause, played or heard.

About three months ago this woman drove over to our house, pulled out two music stands, a number of duets for violin and viola, and before I could get nervous was having me play all sorts of pieces with her. That impromptu tryout led to a later formation of a chamber group consisting of a string bass, a cello, two violas, and four violins. We practice just once a week, and often sound like we do, but it has been an increasing pleasure to be able to play in a group once again. The added bonus is that I've found our stone-floored house and its attached huge garage to be great practice places (though not necessarily able to increase practice frequency), making me sound much more rich and melodic in tone than I deserve.

A week or so back our informal group even gave a small concert, in our music director's house, which happens to have a huge gallery-like grand entrance, perfect for a small chamber music gathering. So, just like in the old days, we each invited a few friends to attend, and shared a relaxing evening of music, with cookies and juice for both big and little kids afterwards!
The plan is to work up a more extensive set of pieces and play in a public venue before the end of the school year. In the meantime, I'm beginning to think that the battered violin case I've had since childhood may soon need replacing. Old violins may be worth something; the same can't be said for sad-looking cases!

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Logan and Curling

Hello all,
We were able to watch only some of the Olympics on a station that seemed to just have a camera set out somewhere to record whatever was happening. During the half-times, we just saw ice. Still, we saw some events, particularly from 3 a.m onward, and the final hockey game was shown completely - with lots of rivalry between various faculty members. Boy, did that generate some competitive emails.

The best part, though, was watching curling with Logan. David had just come in from a bike ride early one morning and Logan and I were watching the Olympics. The camera had just switched from amazing ice skating to curling. Logan said, "No Daddy, it's not on yet. They are just cleaning the ice." Actually, it was in full competitive mode at that moment.

Enjoy. Thanks for reading. More soon.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

KAUST Activities

In the last several weeks here at KAUST, many new places have opened up. After many long months of waiting, we are able to go swimming in the lovely, newly opened pools. There was initially a male pool, which can be seen from the bowling alley and some apartments across the canal, and then a female pool, which is outside but behind a tall wall and so is hidden from view. There is also a children's pool, but it is out by the male pool. After a few days and several comments by community members, the male pool became the family pool during most of the day time hours, allowing women to be able to swim with their children. This has been wonderful for so many people. Often Logan enjoys jumping into the pool for a bit, usually surrounded by friends and classmates, in the afternoon when I pick him up. We are so grateful that our boys are such strong swimmers!

A week later, the beach also opened up. (Photo above is actually from our recent trip to Oman, and, therefore, shows the beach of the Arabian Sea rather than the Red Sea.) Trucks and trucks of sand were brought in to create a sandy beach where there not had been one, and last weekend we headed out there to enjoy a swim, some sunshine, and reggae music. Kayaks and pedal boats are also available to rent, so I am hoping that we get into kayaking - something that we can easily continue when we head home to Seattle. Below the surface of the water at the beach is a dead coral reef, so water shoes are a must, but the water itself is crystal clear and refreshingly cool this time of year. By August? It may feel like a bath. For now, the beach is open only on weekends, which probably works fine since not many people would make it out there during the week.

Hayden has been taking some golf lessons and seems to really be enjoying his time golfing with David. He also gets to drive the golf cart, which is always a thrill. David and I are on a bowling team with two other colleagues. Once a month, all the teams get together and bowl against another teacher/staff member/spouse team of four. As far as I can tell, nearly no one practices much between games, and few of us are fantastic bowlers, so we have a lot of laughs and high-fives for the random strike or spare. (Sadly for me, we are not allowed the gutter barriers during the games, which I benefit from when I bowl with the boys.) Logan loves the pool and the climbing gym and biking up and down our flat quiet street with many other kids in the afternoons.

Tomorrow starts our weekend. David is off to CPR training in Jeddah. Just after the Dec/Jan break, one of our staff members collapsed from a heart attack and was kept alive through CPR given by another colleague. When this teacher eventually was rushed to the KAUST clinic, stabilized and then ultimately transported to the international hospital in Jeddah, no one was sure of his status, but he is now alive and well and back to teaching. Everyone has been so grateful to have this amazing and engaging colleague back at school. As a result, many of us were reminded of our lapsed certification in CPR and are wanting to update. My turn is the following weekend.

Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bike Races at KAUST


A first year on a brand new campus includes many inaugural events, with each one catering to as much of community as it can. Yesterday's bike races and family fun activities were just that, providing another "first" for KAUST. Naturally, planning and safely undertaking a day of bike races and other activities takes countless hours, but in the end, as the 120 or so kids involved finished one of the three age-group races, the smiles and looks of satisfaction provided all the evidence needed to gauge the day's success.

In truth, the day began inauspiciously. The afternoon before, a group of us had carefully placed 40 straw bales at each of the four corners on the race course, hoping to soften the crash of any errant rider by covering the base of trees, posts, hydrants inadvertently positioned to the outside of the course's corners.
As you might gather, straw isn't a huge commodity in this part of the world - indeed, I've yet to see anything remotely approaching straw growing anywhere nearby - so weeks in advance the straw had to be ordered and, given the tight security at the campus perim
eter, the truck driver hauling the bales to campus had to be escorted from the campus commercial entrance to the race venue by one of the event organizers. So, that night we left the course with significantly safer corners, now ready to complete the next big task: putting up 4 km of police tape early the next morning in order to fully secure both sides of the 2 km race loop.

Imagine our surprise the next morning when we all showed up to put up the tape to find that our carefully placed bales had all disappeared; even the loose straw had been swept away. Minutes later it was confirmed that a fastidious campus cleaning crew had come through sometime in the night and had apparently seen the stacked bales as just a larger job than usual, and now our bales were in the landfill! I quickly called a teaching colleague, arranged to have a large load of gymnastics crash pads brought over from the school, and before the first race went off the corners were safe once again.

After the races, I chanced meeting a large contingent of Chinese graduate students from KAUST. They had come for the 30 minute race for anyone 17 or older and were visibly excited about having ridden in their first race and, like true learners, were trying to soak up as much as they could about bike racing and training from the old guy. We had a short chat, during which they asked if I might ride with a group of them from time to time to help them improve their riding skills while I, noting their interest in my descriptions of the math classes at Harbor Secondary School and sure of their extensive math backgrounds as doctoral candidates in the hard sciences, eagerly invited them to join our weekly math team meetings.

As I walked slowly back to my bike, a palpable feeling of community and shared mission swept over me. About 120 kids had biked in their first bike races that day, many of them wearing a bike helmet for the first time in their lives. A modestly dressed girl with a head scarf (under a helmet!) had won the girl's division of the 13 - 16 year-old race. Not many bike races can make that claim!

Thanks for reading,