Category Archives: California

Thursday doors: if it’s not a door, what is it?

I have to give this homeowner credit for a sense of humor.

Walking to my car from the CalTrain station in Mountain View I came upon this door. Or at least it looks like a door: it has a handle, steps leading up to it, and a small roof to keep you dry if 1. you were knocking at this non-door, and 2. it was actually raining here in droughty California.

A door this is not

Other people must have thought so too, or the owners wouldn’t have had to paint those words on it. I wonder what is behind the door to make them take it out of commission.

You can find the real door–same design, same color scheme–a bit to the right.

The real door

I don’t know these people–I was just walking home from my train–but I really like the color scheme they chose. The contrast between the door and the surrounding wall is satisfying. It blended in very nicely with the setting sun.

I’m also using the process of editing this simple post to learn how to use the WordPress block editor. I failed at this last week and went back to Classic, because I couldn’t find the menu that would let me add my featured image and tags. It’s surprisingly non-intuitive. The internet told me that if you just opened up and edited a post you would get that menu. But you actually have to click the settings icon to see it, or at least I did. And then you have to click the jetpack icon to see how to share the post on your social media accounts.

These aren’t that difficult of tasks in and of themselves, but every new step is a stumbling block at first. I hope that eventually getting familiar with the block editor will make blogging easier again!

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 your link in the comments at Norm’s blog

Thursday Doors: The Garage

I have to hand it to Norm 2.0. During my whole almost-year off blogging he kept the Thursday Doors challenge going every week, through a quarantine and a pandemic. As I watched the emails come and go, I wondered if Thursday Doors would go the way of some of the other blogging challenges I’ve participated in. But no, here it is, right on schedule, like a long-lost friend. Only I was the one who went away.

Like everyone else’s, my traveling has come to a screeching halt, but I still have many unused door photos. I have so many unused door photos in fact that I am not sure anymore which ones I have blogged about and which ones I haven’t. So rather than try to deal with that hot mess, I am going to celebrate something that has been an unexpected pleasure: my new garage doors.

BelmontGarageSnow
Our snowy garage in Belmont MA

Our old house in Boston had a little “one-car” garage that we used as a garden shed and a place to store bicycles and toys and hide the garbage cans from the yard critters. It was separate from the house, too, so there was no way to just come inside directly after your harrowing drive through the snowy wasteland. The garage door pictured here is “new” as well; the one that came with that house was painted black and made of particle board. By the time we replaced it it had rotted through in the bottom panels and probably was not even good for keeping the garbage cans safe from the raccoons. And even on the new metal door, there was no opener–there were no cars in there, so why would we need one?

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The original CA garage doors, from the Zillow listing for the house we bought

When we moved here to CA five years ago, not one but two garage doors with openers came with the house. After years of parking our cars behind each other in the driveway and arguing about whose turn it was to be first, having a 3-car garage was an almost embarrassing luxury. And then we promptly filled up even that garage with stuff. It turns out that California houses don’t have basements, so the stuff has got to go somewhere! However, when I got my electric car (not a Tesla, a VW Egolf), I needed to park it in the garage to charge it, and we found a way.

GarageJunk
Junque

Then one night I was coming home from a rehearsal while my husband was away on business. I pushed the button, as usual, and not as usual, nothing happened. I drove closer and pushed the button again. I saw that something was happening; the light was on, and there were some noises coming from the garage, but the door wasn’t rising.

I parked in the driveway and looked closer. The garage door was about halfway up, and it was stuck. I couldn’t really move it one way or the other. My teenage son who had been home at the time said that he had heard a noise coming from the garage while he was making his dinner. He had gone out into the garage at the time but not seen anything. Then he pointed out that the spring on one side looked different from the spring on the other side. It was broken.

Together, my son and I tried to close the garage door so as not to leave it open overnight. As we pushed something cracked. The door split where the opener was attached, but we finally got it down, and it looked normal from the outside.

BrokenDoor
The broken door. Crack . . . craaaaack

I checked google to see what my options were. My son had been doing this too while I was gone and we determined that it was a good thing we hadn’t been there when the spring failed. We didn’t think we wanted to touch it again. We wanted to call someone who knew what they were doing.

The next morning I did that. The business owner came quickly and analyzed it. He said even if it could be fixed, we should replace this door with something more current, and safer. The old door was one big piece, and as it opened it jutted out into the driveway. We had learned to park our cars a certain distance from the door. Because of this opening method, it could injure someone when it opens, even if it was in perfect working order. He hauled it away on the top of his truck.

HaulingDoorAway

And, in just one day, he installed the new ones. They are quiet, safer, and even have windows. They are sealed at the bottom so dirt and leaves aren’t always blowing in. We probably should have replaced the old doors when we moved in.

 

 

NewDoorsFeatured

Better late than never.

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 your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

My 4000th Find

I started this blog in Belmont MA more than 5 years ago, around the time of my 1000th geocache find. You can read more about that here.

Soon after, we moved to California  and I embarked on a geocaching streak at the end of 2015 that ended up lasting for 1111 consecutive days. Those days included my 2000th find (which I didn’t notice or remark upon) and my 3000th find (which I did).

I ended the streak at 1111 days because of my new full-time job as a middle school science teacher. One night a few hardy souls and I gathered at Donut Wheel in Cupertino to eat some donuts and talk about streaks and caches we had found. I brought Hallie, the doll I won for liking and following a geocaching “cozy mystery” author’s Facebook page.

EndOf StreakEvent

I was sad to see the streak end, but it was necessary. I reaped the first-year teacher whirlwind, and later that busy-ness was amplified by the COVID-19 quarantine and a full-scale shift to distance learning for me and 212 6th and 7th graders.

Last year was also almost the end of my blogging too, but I’m hoping to change that this summer. That is, if I can figure out the Gutenberg block editor on Word Press. So far my attempts at using it have not been promising. In fact, this afternoon for this post I gave up and am writing with the classic editor again. But, in the past 3 months I have of necessity learned how to use Zoom and Microsoft Teams. How bad can it be?

Okay, enough complaining about the block editor. What about my 4000th find?

By now I had had let my premium membership lapse, but my husband still had his. He was working on a series called the “100-mile hike” and he needed one that was accessible from a back entrance to the park it was in.

TheHills

It was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot, and you almost wanted to be singing that “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” We passed some cow gates and climbed a short distance. We mostly didn’t see other people and with those whom we did see it was easy to keep a safe social distance. I found 7 of the 8 I needed in this park and its immediate surroundings.

One of them, in the rocks at the base of a lonely tree, was hidden by my husband a few weeks ago, and I didn’t realize it until I had the cache in my hand.

LonelyTree

For the 4000th, we went back to an old cache I hadn’t found the first time. This was a cool cache because it asked you to triangulate with ropes in order the find the exact location of the container. This is kind of the way GPS technology works too, combining the signals from at least 2 satellites. The container was right there where the two ropes met, and and it was a quick find on a quiet suburban trail.

4000FindsCoin

I bought this coin for my husband quite a few years ago now, when we still lived in Massachusetts, and now it applies to me too.

Karenview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Long Time

It’s been a long time since I have blogged. This past year I have been teaching grades 6 and 7 Biology at a private STEM-oriented school in Silicon Valley. It’s my first year teaching full-time and often it feels like I have 2 jobs, not one, and hardly any time for orchestra, let alone blogging.  I had started to feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, technique-wise, and I wondered, am I going to have to quit playing altogether again, at least for a while, to make this job work?

But now, my school, like all the others in Santa Clara county California, has been closed for almost 4 weeks, and we teachers and our students are slowly adjusting to distance learning, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, Zoom Zoom.

TheMask

I am privileged to still have a job and roof over my head. And I have a box of masks left over from the CA wildfires last year–not sure whether I can call that lucky, but I do have them. Introvert that I am, I may not be minding the current situation as much socially as some folks are. I need quite a bit of alone time, and I remember many long days of childhood spent at home with only books, dolls, and imaginary friends. In some ways, I’ve been doing this before it was cool. Or necessary. I even have a husband who shops and cooks, so I don’t have to!

But one aspect of this quarantine that has bothered me and made me disappointed and sad even more than I expected was the complete loss of my musical outlets and opportunities. First it was my remaining chamber group: no, we can’t go to the organizer’s house this week. He and his partner are in the high-risk age group. Then it was the South Bay Philharmonic concert that got cancelled. In honor of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, we had planned to play Beethoven’s 4th, one of two Beethoven symphonies (#4 and 8) that I need for my bucket list. We had been through all the rehearsals but the dress, and then the news came: no gatherings of more than 250 people allowed.

Things moved quickly after that: I went home from school for a short March break and haven’t been back since. My son’s high school closed too; my Googler husband is working from home.

And here we are.

ViolaHanger

For some reason when I finally did pick up the viola to play again, I felt the need to go back to my viola roots, to the basics. When I first started playing the viola, switching from violin around 14 years ago, that meant Bach suites. I played the Courante from #1, which had been my favorite back then, and the Allemande. Then I found suite #2, with its D-minor prelude. It seemed darker and more serious than suite #1. That was when I really started feeling like I had gone over to the “dark side,” the viola, and there was no turning back.

Instead of putting my viola back in its case after that, I put it on a hanger in my spare bedroom/office. I started taking “Bach breaks” from online teaching or lesson planning. I would just run through something, work on a little bit here or there . . . and then something else occurred to me. My daughter stayed in Oregon, where she attends Willamette University, because she lives off-campus and dorm closures didn’t affect her. Her room, sitting empty, has a balcony, which is why she claimed that room when we moved here in 2015.

Inspired by the quarantined Italians I had seen singing from their balconies, I stepped out from my daughter’s room with my viola. Would this work, or would I look ridiculous? A few joggers and dog walkers went by, and I brought out my music stand and played some Bach.

Later I set up my phone and livestreamed it on Facebook. I think I had a larger audience on Facebook than I did live on my small, quiet street, but that may have been for the best. If a real crowd had gathered I might not have had the courage to continue.

That balcony session led to some surprising and delightful responses. One was the reaction of my new friends and colleagues at school. I decided to go out on a limb and share it with my fellow teachers and my students in our online platform. They were very sweet–“that sounded awesome!” said one. The video got shared in our school newsletter too. And then there were the oranges. One of my neighbors left some oranges on our front porch from a tree in their yard, with a nice Thank You card for the “beautiful music while working in the garden.” I eat one orange every morning for breakfast, and I still don’t know who it is!

I’ve also had a Skype lesson with my viola teacher. We worked on Bach–the prelude from the 3rd suite now–and also on Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, which I think might be my next project. The lesson worked quite well and I think I’d like to continue this type of lesson with my teacher even when the quarantine is lifted. Not having to drive to Palo Alto and back saves me almost an hour, and might enable me to fit more lessons back into my regular schedule, even when school starts again.

And, I’ve played some fiddle tunes in what I’ll call “Zoom church.” It is the UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale’s answer to having to close down live services. Instead, we have Sunday services on Zoom, with everyone calling in from home. At this point I’m still not a pro with Zoom by any means (just ask my students) but any squeamishness I may have felt about being recorded on video is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

But, what about orchestra? I still miss it terribly. When I moved to CA, orchestra was both my greatest loss for what I left behind in MA, and my best source of new friends and experiences in CA. But I’m no longer just finding my way in these orchestras. I’ve been here a long time. It surprises me and brings me up a little short that now, here, I’m at the point of grieving another musical loss rather than exploring something new and exciting.

I’ve seen many wonderful videos of orchestras playing together at a distance, some of them on violinist.com. George Yefchak, our conductor at the SBP, had the idea to do a video like this as well, using the Scherzo from Beethoven’s 4th that we were going to play in the concert. He had the vision and did a heroic collecting and editing job to make that vision a reality. I’m there in the third row on the left, wearing an alto clef T-shirt. Fellow violinist.commer Gene Huang, the SBP concertmaster, is up in the top left corner too.

It’s not the whole symphony, and my sympathies go out to Roger, our horn soloist, whose concerto had to be postponed. But I’m still going to count it for my bucket list. Only Symphony #8 to go!

I know this quarantine has been a disaster for many professional musicians who live from gig to gig. I appreciate every one of them who has been sharing their talents with the rest of us to inspire hope and help us get through this difficult time. This is also a time when some of those distinctions start to fall away–professional, amateur, rich, poor, famous, ordinary, even young and old–the virus, and the need for human contact and hope, don’t know these distinctions. We may be here a long time, and we can all share with each other, and need each other. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best.

Redwoods

 

Thursday Doors: More Little Free Libraries

Since putting up my own Little Free Library a few months ago, I have made it a project to visit others, both local and out of town.

My library has a geocache, and this month I have gotten extra visitors looking for clues for the geocaching “Mystery at the Museum” puzzle. I also put a geocache in a local friend’s Library that she made out of an old newspaper box. Here’s the door to that one:

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I started inline skating again recently. I originally learned to use inline skates in graduate school, the last time I lived in California, and I dug my old roller blades out of the garage with the intent of getting some exercise around the neighborhood and reliving old times. Those skates were unfortunately so old that the plastic cracked and the skates were unusable. Undaunted, I bought new ones and went out skating several days last week. While skating, I found another neighborhood LFL with nice blue doors. You can see my shadow taking the picture in the lower left corner.

 

Some LFLs are close to elementary schools and are well-stocked with kids’ books behind their doors (or not):

 

And some LFL Stewards really go all out, decorating not just their libraries but the areas around them. There are benches, chairs, solar panels, statues, flowers, signs, and paths around these libraries.

San Jose has some other great LFLs too:

 

This last one doesn’t have a door at all, but I’m adding it into this post anyway because I think it’s a cool idea. The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton airport has its own book exchange too, where you can pick up a book for the upcoming flight, or leave one that you’ve finished reading.

ABEAirport

I’ve used LFLs for Thursday Doors before–LFL Stewards are very creative!

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 your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

Thursday Doors on Friday: Flag on the LFL

I have had my Little Free Library up for a few months now. I had been wanting one for a long time, and I think that the impetus of going back to work, teaching, and having published some books (with small presses), is actually what got me there. I’ve been putting copies of my published work in the LFL, and happily, three of those books have been taken! The others come and go. I haven’t yet figured out what are the most popular. There are some kids who live in the neighborhood who have been enjoying my teenagers’ old board books. It’s a much better fate for them than a box in the garage!

TakeABook

What I generally do these days when I start a new project is to join a Facebook group or two, connected to the project. (Well, who am I kidding, it’s usually more than two. Ask the twelve science teaching groups I’ve joined in the past several months!) This one is no exception. The members of Little Free Library Stewards don’t mess around. They have events: grand openings, readings, canned food drives, story hours, bookmark-making parties . . . and their libraries even have their own Facebook pages!

I can’t say that I’m that active. I started a full-time teaching job in January and have only recently been able to catch my breath. My blogging activities have slowed down a lot.

LFLFlag

But in any case, I was able to decorate my LFL a little bit for Independence Day. This little flag was one that I think we got back in Cambridge MA when my daughter was a toddler. Or it might have come from the Memorial Day parade she marched in as a Girl Scout.

I was also able to decorate my front doorway in CA, for the first time. I bought this flag holder a couple of years ago and only recently got around to installing it, in what feels like the same burst of energy that got me through the LFL installation.

DoorWithFlag

This is the same flag that traveled from Massachusetts, where it adorned our house every Memorial Day, Flag Day, and 4th of July since ~2007. It has been in the closet for almost 4 years, but got to fly yesterday.

We’re often traveling at this time of year and spending the fourth in another city or even another country. This is my favorite blog about one of those trips, to visit my parents in Western New York. But this year was different: we rode our bikes to Crittenden Hill in Mountain View and took a position overlooking Shoreline Amphitheater, where the San Francisco Symphony was playing a tribute to the moon landing.

We had a nice view of the sunset, the parking lot, some planes, and a waxing crescent moon. They turn off the floodlights 10 minutes before the fireworks start. And from here, viewers can see other celebrations up and down the SF Peninsula. Little balls of fire in the distance.

Shoreline

I brought along a few chemiluminescent bracelets, unused leftovers from a long-ago birthday party or Halloween.

Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Chemical energy turns into light and sound energy, every year.

Fireworks

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 your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

Thursday Doors: My Little Free Library

I have wanted a Little Free Library at my house for about as long as I have known there were Little Free Libraries. I may have been first introduced to them via geocaching. Or at church. I have blogged about Little Free Libraries for Thursday Doors before, just not my own.

Last December, for my birthday and Christmas, I asked for a Little Free Library. My husband obliged, but that was only the first step. The unpainted, unfinished library (and its post) sat in the entryway to our house for months and were threatening to become a permanent fixture.

I bought some paint that was meant for outdoor deck furniture, in colors that looked like they went together, and in the store near the paint there were some stencils. At the time, the stencils seemed like a good idea, so I bought them, hoping to make the library look cute.

I took off the sign, and the door handles, and eventually the hinges, while I was painting. My 15-yo son painted the post, as we took over the garage for a weekend.

I enjoyed using the stencils to paint designs on the library itself. I liked the idea of painting a wise owl and a fantasy dragon on the library. Books have introduced me to both wisdom and fantasy.

But ugh, I guess I didn’t get the memo about how to use the brush, because the end result of the stencil painting wasn’t very good. Some paint oozed underneath the stencil and blended together in a mess. (I didn’t document this in pictures.) I had to fix the pictures freehand. This was a little daunting at first, but I warmed to the task and decided that it looked okay, even charming.

Close-up of the back panel of the LFL, after I fixed the mess I made with the stencils
Close-up of the back panel of the LFL, after I fixed the mess I made with the stencils

Even more daunting than the painting, to me, was digging the hole for the post. If I’m being honest, I think that was my main reason for putting off the installation this long. I wasn’t even sure if I could dig a deep enough hole. Fortunately I had help. I borrowed our neighbor’s post-hole digging tool, my husband and son both pitched in along with me, and we had the necessary 2-ft hole in about half an hour.

Then there was attaching the library itself:

All of this was a long process that happened over several hours. While I was out there, I met two sets of neighbors who were interested in the same thing. One said he had his own library still sitting in his garage. The other offered some books.

Most of these books are mine. I got some free with the library, and I have a stash that I brought along from MA of old books that I and my kids will probably not read again. There’s something I like more about putting them in the LFL rather than selling them or even donating them.

I was a little concerned about book theft, since I have a friend with an LFL in a busy area of Philadelphia, and she has had her LFL cleaned out more than once. I stamped the books so that they will be less attractive to used bookstores. You may also note the presence of one of my books, Geocaching GPS!

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The stamp: Always a gift, never for sale

I even put a geocache in there: LFL 69535, named after its charter number. Since we bought the library from the official organization, it came equipped with a charter number, which means you can find it by searching on this map. The First-to-Find (FTF) was none other than our neighbor Rich, owner of the post-hole digger!

If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello! If you’re not, check the map for an LFL near you.

My library's charter sign
My library’s charter sign

 

For Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors. Since this is supposed to be about doors, I’ll highlight some of the doors’ features. They are held closed by a magnet. I painted the handles to be like flowers. And I put a couple of pockets on the windows to put in bookmarks and orchestra cards. There are flowers on the outer edges and a “lawn” across the bottom.

LFLOrchCards

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 your link in the comments at Norm’s blog

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!

Bike

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.

MVHSSunrise
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