Category Archives: Blogging

Mundane Monday: Sand

Sometimes the Mundane Monday photo challenge is a challenge–I do it on Tuesday, or it’s not really mundane, or I use it as an excuse to write about geocaching, or I search my photo library for something that kinda fits and get creative–whatever. Since Jithin at photrablogger stopped doing it each week it has become a little more free form, which fits my style anyway. But, this week it all comes together with this picture:

SandalSand

Yep, that’s my sandal-clad foot next to some sand.

IMG_3783This is actually a geocache near Leuven, Belgium. My family stopped there on our way to Brussels. This is a subclass of geocache called an “earth cache,” which teaches you something about geology. In order to log an earth cache on the geocaching website, instead of finding a logbook in a container and signing it, you have to answer some questions about rock formations you find at the site.

The sand is incongruous. It doesn’t seem to belong here in the forest. This particular site is completely dry, but if you look closer there is evidence of a former sea bed in the area, with fossilized worm holes in the rocks.

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When we were in Paris 2 years ago we found a number of earth caches there too. Many of the big cathedrals and city halls of Europe are built with stones containing fossils, fossils left when the old sea beds dried up.

 

 

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Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

So I am here in Berlin, and I have wifi. Woot!

“Tor,” which sounds a lot like “door,” is the German word for gate. (It’s also the German word for “goal,” which you’ll be hearing a lot of with the World Cup about to start). The most famous Tor in Berlin, and perhaps in all of Europe, is the Brandenburger Tor. According to wikipedia, “the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered not only as a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.”

I lived in Germany for 8 months in 1983. I graduated from high school young and took a gap year between high school and college, living with my family while my professor father took a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet in Berlin.

This is what the Brandenburger Tor looked like back then, in a picture I took with a Kodak Instamatic. You could only see the back of the chariot on top, from a distance, behind the Berlin Wall, and the whole structure was pretty dirty.

“Achtung! Sie verlassen West-Berlin”

“Attention! You are leaving West Berlin,” the sign informs you, in case you were confused about the concrete wall, the no-man’s land, and the guard towers nearby.

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Brandenburg Gate from the West, May 1983

(Admittedly, the faded color printing doesn’t help, but it’s held up surprisingly well for 35 years.)

This is what it looks like today, from the other side, on the famous avenue, “Unter den Linden.” The gate itself has been cleaned up, the wall is gone, and there are tourists everywhere.

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This souvenir shop now hangs the opposite sign over its door: “ACHTUNG Sie verlassen jetzt Ost-Berlin” (Attention you are now leaving East Berlin). Our kids, who weren’t yet born when the wall fell, don’t remember anything different. To them, Berlin’s Tor has always been open.

Achtung

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

 

Mundane Monday: Fingerprints

This week’s Mundane Monday theme #164 is “A Use for Hands.” I am posting it on Tuesday because of European hotel wifi bandwidth failure.

Last week my hands were used in a fingerprint forensics STEM outreach activity.

There are 3 classes of fingerprints: arch, loop, and whorl. Arch is the least common, with only 5% of fingers in the USA exhibiting an arch print. My right index finger happens to have a good arch.

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So, I made a bunch of examples.

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They were used in an outreach activity at a STEM festival last weekend. Kids who came to the booth had to figure out who stole the candy, based on fingerprint, hair, and cryptology evidence.

Here’s one of the suspects. (My hair is not really pink: it’s an app!)

IMG_3494Mug shot of the Strawberry Snatcher

Thursday Doors: Germany

I’m getting ready to go on another trip, this time to Germany. Internet access will be spotty, and while I can technically blog from my phone, I find it cumbersome. I will be gone for a month and not sure how much blogging I will be able to do.

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Memmingen City Gate

Since 1983 when I lived in Berlin, I’ve been to Germany many times, at this point more than I can accurately count. I traveled to Germany in graduate school and gave my thesis seminar at institutes in Tübingen and Frankfurt. I married a German a few years later, we went to Germany for our honeymoon, and we have been back every other year since then, for the last 21 years.

ThroughTheGate

I find myself in an odd position in that although I’ve been there pretty often, Germany is not home for me. I am semi-fluent, enough to get around, but not a native speaker. We have been trying to get our kids to learn to speak German since they born, and frankly it is much harder than I was led to believe!

But, about the doors. The two photos above are different views of the gate into Memmingen, in Bavaria, where we were two years ago after dropping off our kids at German camp. Memmingen is an old town in the Swabia area of Southern Germany. Its origins date back to the Roman empire. I wasn’t doing Thursday doors back when I was there, so if I happened to catch a door in a photo, I was lucky. I’d say that gates count.

There are also some nice-looking old buildings and monuments in Memmingen that have weighty doors. But the doors are better in context:

This last door is more personal. Here my husband is standing in front of the door to the house he grew up in. This house is not in Memmingen. It is much further north, in the Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the town of Mülheim an der Ruhr.

AtTheDoor

My husband’s mother passed away young, before I ever met him, and by the time I visited this house for the first time it was starting to fall into disrepair. Eventually his elderly father, who had remarried and was no longer living there, could not keep up with it, and it had to be sold. By that time it was barely livable, the yard had become overgrown with weeds and trees, and it required a complete overhaul. The new owners have done a great job with it. We saw the exterior had been painted and fixed up, the trees tamed, the living areas made bright with new windows and paint. The old house, shuttered and lonely for years, has new life now and echoes with the laughter of children.

Last year my trip to Asia supplied me with Thursday Doors posts for a lot of the rest of the year. I’m hoping that now that I know to look for the doors, this trip will do the same!

CanalDoors

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

Mundane Monday: Rectangles

On Saturday I had been feeling a bit under the weather, but I was on the mend. I had an evening concert to play in and decided I was well enough to go. On my way to the concert I went to find my geocache of the day, which was at this gazebo in a park nearby the high school auditorium, which was also the concert venue.

The sun was going down making all sorts of rectangular shadows through the railing. The cache was an easy find, tucked behind the gazebo just by one of the supports.

I found out after I arrived at the concert venue that the power had been out in the entire town for about 3 hours prior to the concert, and just came back on. The sunshine made me feel better and the concert went well.

Gazebo

For the Mundane Monday Challenge #163 from Dr K Ottaway. What is your take on rectangles, what perspective lifts them out of the mundane and makes a magical photograph?

My answer: Sunlight and shadow!

 

Mundane Monday: Fountain

When we moved to CA almost 3 years ago, one of the first places we went was this movie theater: Century Cinema 16. It is near the Googleplex and is on a street aptly called “Movies.” It is a fancy theater, with reserved, reclining seats, which were a major novelty when we first arrived. The experience has gotten pretty routine now, since if we go out to a movie we never go anywhere else, and otherwise we watch Netflix.  Continue reading Mundane Monday: Fountain

May #WATWB: New Redwoods Park in Silicon Valley

When people come to visit in the SF Bay Area, they often want to see redwoods. The iconic place to go is Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County north of San Francisco, which is amazing, but it has gotten crowded and difficult to park there.

There are others, around Lake Tahoe:

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Or on the peninsula in Woodside and Portola Valley:

Even in Los Altos, the next town over from Mountain View where I live, there is a small redwood grove:

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And in Sunnyvale town, or on Sunnyvale’s Sunken Gardens golf course where squirrels play:

Walking among the redwoods, even some closer to home, brings a feeling of peace and even enlightenment.

Cuesta Park, Mountain View, site of several geocache finds and many a Pokemon raid
Cuesta Park in Mountain View, site of several geocache finds and many a Pokemon raid

Now there is going to be a new park for more people to enjoy: “Silicon Valley has a new redwoods park, groundbreaking Tuesday,” from the San Jose Mercury News, by Paul Rogers.

It is known as the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, and sits in the hills west of Highway 17 across from Lexington Reservoir. From 1934 to 1969, the land was the site of Alma College, a Jesuit campus. Now trails and amenities such as parking lots are being built for more access. There is a growing tension between preservation of wild open spaces and public access as California’s population increases. But I believe that projects like these are the best chance for balancing those needs.

We are the World LogoWe Are the World Blogfest,” posted around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world. The #WATWB co-hosts for this month are: Shilpa Garg, Inderpreet Kaur UppalPeter NenaAndrea Michaels, and Damyanti Biswas. Please check out their posts and say hello!

 

Thursday Doors: At the Concert

I haven’t made a Thursday Doors post for a few weeks because I’ve been busy preparing for and giving a concert, in which I played the Telemann viola concerto solo with the South Bay Philharmonic. With this post I want to introduce Thursday Doors readers to some forgotten or ignored doors in a musician’s life.

Continue reading Thursday Doors: At the Concert

Mundane Monday: Light

CatherinePalaceHeaterI’m hesitant to use this photo for the Mundane Monday challenge because it’s not really mundane. But in context it sort of is. I took these pictures on a tour visiting the Catherine Palace in Pushkin near St. Petersburg in 2016.

The Catherine Palace has so much going on–the chapel, the facade, the gardens, the amber room, the Nazi destruction, the ongoing restoration–that taking a picture of a wall and a wall heater seems a little silly. But I did anyway.

This ballroom is splendid all around. It’s the sort of place that makes you think of Disneyland and Mad Ludwig. All that gold has to be fake, right? Or at least not quite real, conjured by a cartoon fairy godmother. You expect Mrs. Potts, the talking teapot from Beauty and the Beast, to pop out at any moment and finish the tour.

CatherinePalaceBallroom

But this is the real deal. Princesses danced here on cold winter nights, and the heat and gaiety kept the wolf at bay.

CatherinePalaceHarpsichordThese palaces, outposts carved from the forest in homage to the great cities of Europe, humanized the Russian royalty for me in a way that I had never considered before. Everyone wants a beautiful hearth, home, companionship.

Everyone needs a candle in the dark.

CatherinePalace

World Enough and Time: My Telemann Performance

It’s a bright, cool California day heralding the coming of summer, and I am free until the evening. I slept well overnight, in spite of reading bad news about someone I knew a lifetime ago. I earned my certificate for completing the 100-day practice challenge last week. Regretful emails trickle in: car trouble, a grandson’s recital, an urgent sample to be analyzed, an unexpectedly long appointment. But my red sparkly Bolero jacket arrived from Jet unexpectedly early. And it fits!

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The New World: Yosemite Valley

Once, before a different performance, I dreamed of breaking my bow, borrowing a replacement, and running endlessly over hills and valleys that opened up in between me and the concert venue as the bow morphed into an archery weapon in my hand. But all these current ups and downs . . . I just watch them from a comfortable distance. The new black dress materialized; the professional make-up job did not. The peach cobbler I baked for the reception didn’t turn out well; the persimmon cookies did.

Either way, it’s time to go.

Foothill Presbyterian Church
Foothill Presbyterian Church

“Here we go!” That’s what our fearless leader and conductor of the South Bay Philharmonic uses as the subject heading on his concert week emails. At Foothill Presbyterian Church, the concert venue, they’re just setting up, getting ready to take tickets, and my musician’s pass is buried somewhere in my gig bag. “I’m not sure where it is,” I say apologetically. “But that’s me!” I’m on the sign. I take a moment to post it on social media.

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Here we go!

I have a list of snippets to warm up, including shifts, string crossings, and the openings to the first and third movements. That list is today’s stick for the elephant trunk brain to hold onto. I made the list after the dress rehearsal, which wasn’t my best effort. I take my instrument out and stand on the stage where I’m planning to stand for the performance, look out, and play a few things from that list. I remember the low ceiling, pews, and decent acoustics from when I was here rehearsing with the harpsichord. Nothing has changed. It’s still mostly empty.

Portraitwithviola
In black, before the quintet

The first half of the concert will bring people on stage step-wise: a trio, followed by a quintet, followed by a septet, followed by my concerto with string orchestra. (The second half will be the full orchestra playing Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9). While this ascending sequence of prime numbers of musicians appeals to the nerd in many of us, it is also good for me personally: it gives me something warm up with, namely Dvořák’s “American” viola quintet, Op. 97, a thematic match to a concert featuring both the viola and Dvořák.

This still means a quick change for me though: play the quintet and then rush off somewhere to put on my red soloist jacket and get used to my Baroque bow again while the septet is playing. But where to rush off to? There is an AA meeting in the usual warmup room, so I cross an interior courtyard to put my stuff in a corner of the social hall and decide to eat the banana I tucked into my gig bag. The septet arrives while I’m eating the banana and starts warming up too. I can’t hear myself at all and I really need to practice the openings of the 1st and 3rd movements of Telemann. I haven’t done that yet, here.

Back out into the courtyard, the Beethoven septet fades into quiet. People are arriving now in earnest, but they’re mostly staying over in the main sanctuary. A few are hurrying towards the social hall to put away their cases. I set my electronic tuner on the bench around one of the courtyard trees and play the opening measure several times. I take my hand off the instrument, put it back on, and play a B again. I watch the tuner; the intonation is fine. I don’t know what was happening during dress rehearsal and I don’t really want to know. Whatever it was that was making me come in out of tune, the problem seems to be fixed now. I fixed it.

The wind blows and rustles my hair, the skirt of my dress, and the leaves of the tree where I am practicing. The sun is starting to go down, lengthening the shadows of the hurrying musicians. I am vaguely aware that someone, a friend, is taking pictures. I just keep playing the first movement. This is the last time I am going to be playing Telemann before the concert. It is the end of the beginning, and the light is turning to gold.

Golden Light

The quintet movement went well. At least I think so. I didn’t play it perfectly, and I didn’t play it badly. Dvořák wrote the Quintet while he was living in Spillville Iowa, immediately after the “American” Quartet, Op. 96. It is not played as often as the Quartet, and sometimes overshadowed. It almost didn’t happen at all when our 2nd violinist headed to the Middle East on a business trip, but we were able to engage a sub who learned the piece in 3 weeks and did a great job. Also, the viola 2 part was played by a cellist on an alto violin (more on alto violins another time, perhaps. But I’ll be sticking with the regular on-the-shoulder method of playing the viola for the foreseeable future!)

Back out to the social hall, put on the red jacket, visit the rest room and wash my sticky hands, take out and tighten my Baroque bow, check the tuning on my viola, and back across the courtyard again in heels. The septet is nearing the end, and I stand to one side of the stage with George, the conductor, as we prepare to go on.

PlayingTelemann

Here’s the complete video of the performance:

For an encore, I prepared a spiritual called “I’m Just a-goin’ over Jordan” from Solos for the Viola Player by Paul Doktor. It’s a relatively simple melody, repeated several times in different octaves and with different dynamics and tempos. It takes advantage of the lonely, bluesy sound the viola can make. I played it as a meditation in church a while ago. To “go over Jordan” can be like crossing the River Styx in another mythology, to a better life in the next world. Would Dvořák still recognize, in today’s America, the “New World” he wrote of in his symphony?

EncoreGoinOverJordan

***

I was asked, on Facebook, “what did it feel like to be on stage with an orchestra?” The first answer is “surprisingly unremarkable.” I wasn’t that nervous. The temperature was warm enough that my hands weren’t cold, and my bow didn’t shake. Mainly, I had a script to follow: 1. While the orchestra is playing and I’m not, look out into the audience and smile; 2. When the orchestra hits a predetermined passage, usually when it goes up in pitch and foreshadows the cadence, that means it’s time for the viola to come in soon, so I raise my instrument to my chin; 3. While I’m playing, focus my eyes on where my bow contacts the string; 4. When necessary, particularly when the orchestra comes in after the cadenzas, turn my head to look over at George and the cellos.

That was it. I followed the script, and it was almost like a tape, or a DVD, was playing in my head and through my hands. That was what it felt like to have world enough and time to prepare, to know a piece so well it that had become a part of me. Although I didn’t take risks or stray from the script in the moment, it was fun. And as I headed into the last repeat of the last section of the 4th movement, the thought came to me, “I might really get through this whole concerto without screwing up!” And I did.

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