Category Archives: California

February #WATWB: Bicycling for the Climate

We are the World LogoI’ve written about adventure cycling for the We are the World Blogfest before, when I wrote about my friend Jasmine Reese, who is cycling across the country and around the world with her dog and her violin.

This month I want to call attention to another adventure cyclist, local resident Tim Oye, who is riding for Climate Ride, a nonprofit that organizes events to raise awareness and support for “active transportation” and environmental causes. Tim’s ride will take him through Death Valley this coming week.  Tim will also be giving a presentation at my church on Saturday night.

Environmental advocate and Sunnyvale resident, Tim Oye, is biking across the US to talk with adults and kids about Oceans, Plastic, and Climate Change. While bicycling 4500 miles from San Francisco to Boston, he will stop to give a talk about bicycling across the continent, how day-to-day human activities affect our oceans, and what we all can do to save our environment for our kids. With a degree in Chemistry from Harvard and after more than 30 years in high tech doing product development at Apple, Sun, and Adobe, Tim switched careers to pursue environmental advocacy and public service. He is a certified bicycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, a coach instructor for the American Youth Soccer Organization, a 4-H leader, and on the cutting edge of going zero waste.

I worked on “Anything But a Car Day” at my son’s school last year. It is an initiative to promote kids biking to school safely. My son biked to middle school. Now, in high school, he lives close enough that he can walk.

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I like to bicycle and I used to ride my bike to work when I had a shorter commute, but I am not as hard-core as these adventure cyclists. We can’t all do everything but we all can do something!

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The “We Are the World Blogfest” (#WATWB) shares positive news on social media. Cohosts for this month are: Inderpreet Uppal Shilpa GargSylvia McGrath , Peter Nena, and Belinda WitzenHausenPlease check out their WATWB posts and say hello!

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Double Bach

Since January 8th I’ve been reliving adolescence. Hopefully in a good way: I started a job as a Teaching Fellow, training to become a full-time Biology teacher.

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The view from my office window in the morning

Working for someone else 40 hours a week, every day M-F, has required some adjustment after 6 years of part-time work. And getting up before the sun has never been my favorite thing, neither as a teen nor as an adult. But there’s another way in which I’ve been revisiting my teenage self: with my violin, the most reliable time machine yet invented.

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The author as a middle school violinist

Last fall was a whirlwind of music. I played in 3 different orchestras, and I played some of the most difficult repertoire I have yet attempted. I played in San Francisco with professionals! I had solos! It was exhilarating . . . and it was also tiring. At the end I felt like I might be getting tendonitis, or some vague inflammatory condition resulting from overuse. And the larger, heavier viola might have been making things worse.

I took most of December off playing altogether, and as the New Year dawned, I considered whether I might want to take more time off, especially with the new job looming. But an old friend from violinist.com, Jasmine Reese, was returning to the Bay Area to play the Bach Concerto in D minor for two violins, the Bach Double, with the South Bay Philharmonic. And another friend, chamber music partner, and fellow violinist.commer, Gene Huang, was going to be playing the Bach with Jasmine, and the Bruch violin concerto as a solo. I really didn’t want to miss that concert!

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So I arranged to play the violin only for this concert. I had played the violin I part of all the repertoire before, so I thought maybe I’d have less work to do, and I could do what practicing was necessary on the smaller, lighter violin and preserve my hand and wrist.

Some of it, namely Beethoven #2, was quite recent, but the rest goes back. Way back. The Egmont Overture, for example: I first played that during my senior year of high school. I was sitting inside next to the concertmaster and turning pages. The way the sheet music is laid out, the last page-turn is a pregnant pause, a brief break in the tension before all heck breaks loose, horses come galloping in on the wave of a crescendo, and you climb up the ledger lines to the highest notes you have ever seen, and wail away up there as loud as you possibly can, while no one can hear you anyway because the brass is also wailing away as loud as they possibly can . . . and although at this point in my career I have now occasionally seen–and played–higher notes,  the excitement of playing Egmont is still like that for me. I love Egmont! If I listen to it on the way to work, it has the added bonus of waking me up, no matter how early or dark it is outside.

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Car dashboard

Listening to the Bruch and the Bach on my commute, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. One year in my youth orchestra, we accompanied a competition winner playing the Bruch, and that sparked a surge of interest among the violin section players. Have you played it? Have you? Are you ready for it? I had to say no. Unlike many violinists who like to play concertos, I have never studied the Bruch. Back then, I was not ready for it, and now I’m more into viola and chamber works. I did learn the opening bars and I played them while I was violin shopping, to cover all the strings and a decent portion of the violin’s range. But other than that, I have hardly listened to the Bruch since I was back in youth orchestra. Even now, among some violinists, I notice that the piece can take on the role of technical benchmark for comparisons and competitions. That aspect of playing the violin–the comparison and competition–is something I was more than happy to leave behind when I left school.

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Morning stars

On the car stereo in the morning as I prepare to leave, the opening measures of Bruch rise like the first rays of the sun. Then comes the G–just an open G, which on the violin can’t be anything else . . . how does Joshua Bell manage to make a simple open G so expressive? I wonder, and am curious and delighted. But as it goes on, I start to hear tension creep in. A cello pizzicato repeats over and over,  lub-dub, lub-dub, beating like a heart. It’s cool at the beginning but after a while, for me, it starts to evoke more Edgar Allen Poe than Valentine’s Day.

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Mountain View High School, the school my kids attend(ed), before students arrive

Ironically, last year around this same time I blogged about a similar topic from a different angle: Anxiety, Biology, and Playing from the Heart. I had had to teach a heart dissection class for heart-lung day at a school, and it was making me anxious, much as the prospect of playing a solo concerto made me anxious. I eventually made my peace with the dissection and learned to enjoy it. I wonder, as I listen and drive past my son’s high school, if that will happen for me with the Bruch concerto too. Maybe I have been too busy, or too stuck in adolescent ways of thinking, to really hear the piece’s gentler, sweeter side. In any case, the tension dissipates when the second movement arrives along with the full sun.

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The Bach Double was the first major piece I ever learned with my childhood violin teacher, Philip Teibel, a violinist with the Buffalo Philharmonic. He passed away years ago, but his handwriting–his fingerings and bowings–are still vivid both in the music and in my memory. I’ve looked through this piece periodically since then. I played the 2nd movement in church for “Music Sunday” back in Boston in 2008. But the main person I have played it with the most before now, both parts and all 3 movements, was Mr. Teibel, and I still associate it most strongly with him.

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Bach Double, mvt 3. Schirmer edition, annotated by Mr. Teibel, my childhood violin teacher

Mr. Teibel was an older gentleman when I was his student, and he gave me a recording to listen to of the husband-wife team of Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels playing the violin I and violin II parts, respectively. I had to look up Gilels’ name for this blog. What Mr. Teibel actually said at the time was “Kogan and his wife.” She didn’t get a name. And it went without saying that the husband was violin I and the wife was violin II. I also remember him suggesting to me that I might be able to play the Bach Double with a “nice young man” someday. At the time, I discounted that suggestion immediately. I didn’t aspire to be some famous dude’s nameless second fiddle.

I needn’t have worried. The musical romance implicit in the suggestion never happened. My husband is not a musician, and one of my few regrets in music is that I rarely have gotten together with friends to just jam or play for fun with no goal or performance in mind. While I do that occasionally now, I never did it as a kid. Competition, not fun or connection, seemed to rule the day back then. Even in my unfinished novel, which has a teen violinist protagonist named Hallie, I wrote a scene in which Hallie and her friend Annie try to play the Bach double. The session ends in tears as Hallie comes to a realization that Annie has advanced so far beyond her technically that she feels they can no longer play with each other. In the story, Hallie and Annie are (as I was at the time) also, at least temporarily, losing their fight against the toxic inferiority complex of the second violinist.

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Playing the Bach double with Jasmine

My meeting with Jasmine is nothing like what Hallie and Annie experienced in fiction. I stop by after work; she is staying with friends close by. Her dog Fiji and her hosts’ dog run around joyfully as we are playing, and they occasionally accompany us. There are mistakes but we restart, or play through them. There is a lot of laughter.

What Mr. Teibel knew already then, but what took me 30 years and a 16-year hiatus from the violin to learn, is that one of the best things about this piece, and the memories it holds, is being able to play it with a good friend.

Motion

December 20th 2018 was my last day at my old job. I worked as an instructor at the educational non-profit, Science from Scientists, for over 5 years. Fittingly, my last day took place at Lipman Middle School, the same school I started in when I moved to CA in 2015.

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View from the Lipman parking lot, my first day, in 2015

Nestled on the side of San Bruno Mountain in Brisbane CA (pronounced “Briz-bane,” not like the “BRIS-bin” in Australia), Lipman is in an idyllic environment. Like many public schools in CA, it comprises a collection of smaller buildings, which students walk between and among to get to classes. (One aspect of school I always disliked when I was a student was the “closed campus” rule that students couldn’t leave the grounds during school hours. If they did, even to go to, say, the pizza place across the street for lunch, they faced severe consequences. Suspension for getting a slice of pizza—a strange prison-like mentality.)

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Almost the same view, a year later

Lipman, though, has an outdoor classroom the woods, and we were able to do some of our SciSci lessons outside. Beanbag tossing with prism goggles could get a little rowdier than usual outside, and no one would mind.

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Tossing beanbags at a target while wearing prism goggles. “Altered Reality”

Other days, we fished, we looked at the moon, we made DNA origami, and we built models of brains.

Our last class before Christmas break was a lesson called “Rover Restraint.” Many schools do this: students have to build a contraption to keep a raw egg from breaking when dropped from a height of around 8 feet. In our version, we compare it to landing a Mars rover like Curiosity.

And to keep expectations in check and the playing field level for everyone, we limit the planning and building to one class period, using only the materials we bring with us from SciSci. I stand on a stool and drop each entrant from the same height. This procedure usually leads to a nice mix of some eggs cracking and some surviving, and a range of designs and budgets, making it relatively straightforward to pick a winner. (The winning group gets a nice set of SciSci pencils!)

Onward and upward! I’m going to miss Lipman, and Rover Restraint. This post is 2 weeks late for Dr. KO’s Mundane Monday prompt, Motion.

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View from the parking lot in 2018 during the devastating Camp Fire, 180 miles away

 

Thursday Doors: Mural

I started a new full-time job last week. I’ve been too busy with it to blog about it in detail–too busy to blog at all, in fact. But I wanted to get started again with this week’s Thursday Doors.

Behind the school where I work, there is an astroturf “lawn” and a basketball court. There are also some picnic tables for the students to eat lunch. And a door.

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Students painted this mural, with names of famous cultural figures, next to the back door last year. I like how they included two genders and several nationalities. I spend a lot of time looking at this mural when I’m supervising student lunch.

I have showed a school, with murals, in Thursday Doors before. That school was a more typical California public school, with a lot of separate buildings.

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My new school is different. It is located in a former office building in San Jose. Architecturally it is unusual for a school too, with a lot of windows but not much in the way of athletic facilities. These students are more interested in science than sports anyway.

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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 and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog

Mundane Monday: Reflection

It’s the last Monday of 2018! And it’s not so Mundane, since it’s New Year’s Eve. It’s approaching midnight on the East Coast, the ball is dropping. Here I have 3 more hours. I may or may not make it until then. I’m pretty tired and my eyes are feeling dry and sandy.

This week’s theme for the Mundane Monday Challenge is appropriate for this time of year: Reflection. I am starting a new full-time job in January. I will blog more about the exciting changes this will bring to my New Year when I have the mental energy to do it justice. But right now I am reflecting on how my life is going to change in mundane, daily ways after I start working full-time again.

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Power Lines, Smoky Sky

I took this picture one day in early November of this year. It was also during the weeks of terrible air quality in the SF Bay Area during the Camp Fire. I was driving home from one of the schools where I worked, and I stopped to find a geocache in a park near the water, as I did many days for my daily geocaching streak. I have been finding at least one geocache a day, every day, since December 31, 2015. Some of these cache stops in parks on the way home from school have been beautiful. This one was too, in a way. But it was also dystopian and strange. I hope it isn’t the new normal for California.

The air is much better now, but I still had a rough day today. Just before Christmas, my husband and I decided to do a 12-days-of-Christmas geocaching challenge and today was day 10. This means we had to find 10 caches today for this challenge. And, rather than being fun, it was a pain in the neck. I’m not going to stop the challenge now that I’m so close to completing it, but I am ending my streak in two weeks, and days like today have convinced me that it’s definitely time for it to end. No regrets!

I am also not making any New Year’s resolutions, other than to survive the transition back to full-time work. Earlier in the year I took Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and I found out that I’m a Rebel. Rebels resist expectations, inner and outer alike. (Rebels are also the smallest category, apparently, so I’m feeling overlooked and in the minority.) With respect to resolutions, Rubin has this to say about Rebels:

Rebels generally don’t bind themselves in advance, so a New Year’s resolution might not appeal to them. They want to do what they want, in their own way, in their own time — not because they promised themselves they’d do it.

And I have to say, this sounds a lot like me. If I make a resolution, I may be less likely to do whatever it is, not more. And then she goes on:

On the other hand, some Rebels love the challenge of a New Year’s resolution: “My family thinks I can’t give up sugar for a year? Well, watch me!” or “Starting January 1, I’m going to work on my novel, and I’m going to finish by December 31st.”

BINGO, again. Why did I start this geocaching streak in the first place? I started it because I thought my husband, a serious cacher who was once ranked #10 in Massachusetts, thought I couldn’t do it. But now I’ve been doing it even longer than he has. And I will probably even miss it a little bit when it’s over.

I am celebrating the end of the streak in 2 weeks with a geocaching event at a donut shop. A couple of people have already written to congratulate me, and one mentioned that his streak had become a crushing burden by its end. I’d rather quit while I’m ahead: I’ll make an intentional decision to end the streak on my own terms, surrounded by friendly faces and donuts.

Mundane Monday: Making a Move

Today’s Mundane Monday blogging prompt is “Making a Move.” On Dr KO’s blog, the move involves a cat.

I tried the new Word Press editor last night on my blog. Change is inevitable: even if it ain’t broke, people still try to fix it. So I was planning to “make a move” to the new editor. Use blocks! Paragraphs! Pictures! Galleries! It’ll be so easy, and my blogging efficiency and posting frequency will skyrocket!

Epic fail.

The problem for me centered on the picture galleries and the captions. They don’t work on iphones or ipads (at least). If you put your pictures into a gallery on the phone while you are waiting for a long intermission to finish, when you get back to the computer to finish up the post, the computer doesn’t recognize the pictures as a gallery at all and turns those gallery blocks into lists.  In list mode, rather than being under the pictures, the captions were to one side. And there were weird, annoying bullet points next to the text. The placement of the pictures wasn’t right either.

So I re-made all the galleries in the new editor and published the post. It looked fine to me. Then I got an email from a friend. On his ipad, my blog looked like this, with the pictures STILL messed up.

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New editor gallery block fail

So I went back to the classic editor. The blog looks fine now.  I hope. I’m not making that move yet. But please read the blog–I worked hard on it! Thanks to these editorial snafus, I didn’t get it published until very late, when most people east of me had already gone to bed.

When I first read this prompt, “making a move,” I actually thought of something different, however: a physical move. I am working on my holiday letter, which always puts me in a retrospective mood. I scroll back through most of the current year’s pictures, and sometimes those from previous years too. Three years ago, we got ready to make one of the biggest moves of our lives.

This is our realtor’s gift of flowers and a balloon, congratulating us on our new house (set in front of the door of the old house):

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And our cars, on a truck ready to move across the country:

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And our empty house:

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This post about the move, “Gandalf’s Knock,” is still, more than three years later, my most-viewed post.

Am I glad we moved? Yes. But more on that another time . . .

 

 

We are the World Blogfest: The Volleyball Team from Paradise

“Camp Fire” is a strange name for such a terrible thing. I grew up thinking of campfires as cozy opportunities to gather around and roast marshmallows. But that is the name for the most devastating wildfire in CA history, destroying the town of Paradise, killing 88 people, and causing $7 billion worth of damage. Thanksgiving rains brought relief from smoky skies and a reason to be truly thankful as they helped the fire to reach 100% containment.

There are many stories from the Camp Fire, which was only about 180 miles from my home. Some scary, some sad, a few happy. I chose this particular story for the “We are the world” blogfest: “OUTPOURING OF LOVE: Forest Lake Christian community lends helping hand to Paradise Adventist Academy during time of need”  by Walter Ford, from The Union, Nov 12, 2018.

This was a semi-final girls’ volleyball game in the CIF NorCal Division VI. The Cougars from Paradise, the town devastated by the fire, still showed up to play the Lady Falcons. They didn’t even have uniforms. But their opponents welcomed them with jerseys, shorts, knee pads, and socks, donated food and clothing, cash, and gift cards collected from the community. It struck me that these young people know better than adults how to treat others who may be their adversaries in one area of life.

These communities will be dealing with the fire’s aftermath for months and years to come. Please consider donating to fire relief efforts.

~~~About #WATWB~~~

The We Are the World Blogfest (#WATWB) seeks to spread positive news on social media. Cohosts for this month are: Eric Lahti Inderpreet UppalShilpa GargPeter NenaDamyanti Biswas. Please visit their blogs and say “hi.”

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month.

3. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. The more the merrier!

4. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

5. To signup, click here to add your link.

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Mundane Monday: Kitchen Close-ups

Good morning and Happy Monday! I don’t teach on Mondays so I tend to have a better relationship with the day than many people do. I had a concert last night, I got enough sleep, and like most Mondays, I usually have a little time to catch up on blogging.

And then the email appears. If I have teaching later in the week, I have to send my teacher prep email. I schedule it with Boomerang to show up in the teachers’ mailboxes on Monday morning, and I bcc my personal account to make sure it arrives. I also send a follow-up email to the classes I taught last Friday. And I schedule that for Monday Morning too because who wants work email on the weekend? Ugh!

Along with those emails, I got my weekly Mundane Monday email from Dr Katherine. For today’s challenge, she posted a photo of a blue butter dish from her kitchen. I wouldn’t have recognized it as a butter dish without the label. What I do recognize is the beauty of glass. As a child I used to collect beach glass in different colors. And one of my favorite wedding photos has my husband’s and my faces framed by a glass.

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I think my favorite part of the kitchen is also something mineral, as opposed to animal or vegetable. Like glass, there is also a quality about stone, (or even fake stone) that makes me think of timeless and universal beauty. The food that is prepared in the kitchen is ephemeral, but there are other parts of the kitchen that are more permanent. I think that “stone hearth” and “brick oven” and “granite counter tops” are part of our kitchen vocabulary for a reason.

Back in Belmont MA we had a nice kitchen that we had had remodeled from its former 1980s decor. In particular I liked the geometric backsplash pattern we chose, which just came from Home Depot, but it had a historical Italian feel to it. I sometimes used it as a backdrop to photograph other things. Like this jar of Swedish Fish I won for guessing there were exactly 250 of them:

SwedishFish

And on the candy theme, since it’s almost Halloween, several years ago my son got a Rock Candy-making kit for Christmas. The candy grew nicely there on the kitchen counter:

And in one of my more successful home improvement projects, I replaced and installed a kitchen faucet myself.

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My kitchen in California is much darker and I don’t like it as well for that reason. But that backsplash too makes for some good pictures, if nothing else.

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This is our current faucet (that I did not install). And, in CA we have persimmons from a tree in the backyard!

Our new kitchen faucet, with persimmons on the counter behind

This time of year there are always some on the counter, ripening, getting ready for me to make persimmon cookies.

Fuyu persimmons on the counter

The Mundane Monday photo challenge seeks to find beauty in the mundane. It was started by TraBlogger and is continued by Dr. Katherine Ottaway. Stop by and say hello, and submit a photo!

 

Mundane Tuesday: Coral

These posts are getting less and less mundane, but I like the chance to find the theme in my photos and showcase that. Dr. Katherine showed a picture of some beautiful coral mushrooms from the Olympic national forest.

My coral is from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My daughter had a friend visiting last summer and we took her there for sightseeing.

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We found both Nemo and Dory.

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The last image is not coral per se, but is from an art exhibit about plastic that was at the aquarium at the time.

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“Message in a Bottle” by Alison McDonald

Artist Alison McDonald reuses and reforms everyday materials in her sculptures. She writes, “this transformation from refuse to artwork will I hope echo the transformation in our attitude towards recyclable products and encourage more responsible use of our resources.”  

Our coral reefs need this transformation in attitude, and are counting on us to bring it about.

Little Women Legacy: All Smiles from Silicon Valley with KL Allendoerfer, Featured Author

This week I am featured on Pink Umbrella Books’ blog! This appearance is part of a blog tour featuring contributing authors to “Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes,” an anthology for the 150th Anniversary of Little Women.

In this blog post series, we’ll feature contributing authors from our new anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy. Today we’ll catch up with KL Allendoerfer, California-based writer, science educator, and musician.

Allendoerfer

Contributor KL Allendoerfer reads Little Women with “Pie,” the ubiquitous green droid in front of Silicon Valley’s Googleplex.


What is your favorite scene from Little Women?

It would be easy to say my favorite scene is the one I wrote about in my essay, in which Beth thanks Mr. Lawrence for the use of his piano and they become friends. I do love that scene, but there are so many others as well. I think the one that most got under my skin, and that I remembered many years later, was Jo’s disaster of a dinner party when Marmee decides to let the girls run things themselves. It shows Louisa has a wonderful sense of…

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