High School, Again

It’s 6:45 am but it might as well by 1:45 am. Or 2:45. It’s dark as night out and i have to go to work.

I started a new job in January. I am a teaching fellow in a highly academic, STEM-focused school, training to become a Biology teacher. I’ve spent the last 5 years teaching science part-time with a small educational non-profit. While this was good for my family life and my music-making, it was time to go back to work full-time again. My daughter is in college and my son is in high school. They are both pretty self-sufficient now.

As I walk through the noisy hallways of the school, which is located in a converted office building, I am surprised and a little dismayed by a feeling of deja vu. This is a private independent school (which means I can teach here without a teaching credential) whereas I went to a public school in a more typical public school building. But it’s no secret that I didn’t enjoy high school very much the first time around. I was 2 years younger than my peers and a social late bloomer. I have realized in retrospect that I was suffering from at least social anxiety, math anxiety, and their granddaddy, performance anxiety. Awareness of all of these, as with many mental health issues, is much better nowadays, as is treatment. But this time of life can still be fraught for many teens, especially here in hyper-achievement-oriented Silicon Valley.

Some folks have even asked me, why do this at all? I have a PhD, so perhaps I could get another biotech or project management job. Perhaps. But when I did work in those fields I felt like there was something missing: a human connection, a child-like joy in learning new things. I felt that joy intermittently in music, and with my kids, but rarely at work. I was stuck forever looking for my “passion” in all the wrong places.

Teaching, though, makes sense. In a weird way, it’s like coming home. There is something very primal, and comforting about having a bell schedule and class periods that are the same every day. The subjects are familiar too. While cutting-edge science has marched ahead, high school physics and math remain much the same. They are learned at younger and younger ages though; the AP Calculus I learned as a senior is taken here by sophomores and juniors. And, as Christa McAuliffe said, it touches the future. I’m here now as a teacher in midlife because I wasn’t ready before. I only came to like teaching after I became a parent and taught in a number of informal, non-school settings like church and Girl Scouts. It’s time, after all those years, to face down that anxiety and defang it.

Tomorrow is another day. The alarm rings at 5:45.

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American Masterpieces

In my experience, American music is not a staple of the symphony orchestra repertoire. It’s February, and in my orchestra we are already well into our rehearsal cycle for the winter concert. It is going to be a “Three B’s” concert: Bach, Beethoven, and Bruch, three well-known and beloved non-American composers.

Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 9.21.51 PMLast concert we did something different. The program included William Grant Still’s “Afro-American” symphony, written in 1930 and first performed in Rochester NY, and a movement from Dvorak’s “American” string quintet No. 3, Op. 97, written in Spillville IA in 1893. Neither of these pieces was known to me before I started preparing them for this concert, and I’m writing about them here to bring more attention to these American masterpieces.

The “Afro-American” symphony is the first symphony written by an African-American composer to be performed by a major orchestra. Even the sheet music was a little different, written in the composer’s own charming and quite legible handwriting:

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And insured for thousands of dollars:

Warning

Still gave each movement a title: LongingSorrowHumor, and Aspiration, and he included with the symphony some short poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Once you figure out how to read the manuscript, the symphony is challenging, but not intimidatingly so. It uses jazz, blues, and gospel themes in a traditional, tonal, 4-movement structure. It also employs a banjo in the 3rd movement. I immediately said, as a shorthand, “oh, it sounds like Gershwin.”

It turns out plenty of other people think so too. Still and Gershwin knew each other and played music together. Although scholars don’t agree on this issue, it is possible that Gershwin borrowed the famous “I’ve got rhythm” motif from Still. The same motif can be heard clearly in the symphony’s 3rd movement.

The “American” quintet was written immediately after the more famous “American” quartet, during the summer of 1893 when Dvorak was living in Spillville IA. In fact, this piece isn’t always referred to as “American,” although there are a number of high-powered reviewers and references who use the term, for example this review from Gramophone, or this clip from the BBC.

Our group decided to do it for a more prosaic reason: after performing the Schubert cello quintet last year, we needed another quintet. And one of our cellists was learning to play the alto violin, which is tuned like a viola. So he took the viola 2 part. We played the first movement in the spring, and it served as the warm-up for me before my Telemann concerto performance.

The highlight of this movement for me was my viola solo about 2 minutes in. It is a plaintive melody, which I decided sounded better fingered high up on the D-string, rather than on the higher, shriller A-string. After I read that a group of Native Americans visited Spillville while Dvorak was composing this piece, I hear sadness in the melody along with its beauty. The drum-like viola 2 solo that opens the piece also brings Native music to mind.

Reviewing this concert to write the blog, I realize that so much is missing from this account. It’s very hard to write program notes; one is tempted to say “Just listen to the music!” But I hope that these lesser-known American masterpieces will find their way into more concert programs in the future!

Thursday Doors: Luxembourg II

When I was in Luxembourg I knew I would eventually blog about it for Thursday doors. So I took pictures of a lot of different doors. Last week it was old-fashioned doors under arches. This week it is some business establishments and restaurants:

There were often stairs leading to the doors. We didn’t have time to eat at any of these places, but they looked nice. Even the graffiti in Luxembourg is tasteful.

 

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

ThroughTheGate

Follow my European trip with this and previous posts:

January 24, 2019: Luxembourg I

December 13, 2018: More Brussels

November 29, 2018: Brussels, Part II

November 22, 2018: Grand Place, Brussels

November 1, 2018: Belgian Beer and Chocolate

October 27, 2018: Dutch Whimsy

October 18, 2018: Nordrhein-Westfalen

October 11, 2018: Landschaftspark

September 21, 2018: Pattensen

September 6, 2018: Birdhouse Cache

August 30, 2018: Achtung, Baby!

August 16, 2018: Ku’Damm

August 9, 2018: Berliner Dom

July 20, 2018: Berlin Walk

June 13, 2018: Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

June 7, 2018: Germany

#WATWB: Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents

I’m always late with the We Are the World Blogfest, but the month isn’t over yet! (As much as we all might wish to leave January behind with its cold and snow).

The story I chose this month was first shared by a couple of my Facebook friends: A 5th grader’s boredom while visiting her mom’s job led to $30,000 for the elderly in need. My first thought was, 5th grader? I’ve been teaching 5th graders this week. They are sweet and fun, but they can also be a little self-centered and disorganized. (This is developmentally appropriate). But the 5th grader in the article, Ruby Kate Chitsey, has organized a way of getting lonely seniors in the nursing home where her mom works items that they need and that make their lives better. Her 5th-grader-ness is an asset here because, as her mother says, they will tell Ruby things they wouldn’t tell an adult.

Many of the seniors are on Medicaid and have no money left for extras. Many of them also no longer have family to fill in the gaps. This is where Ruby comes in. She collects requests in an old repurposed notebook. These requests are usually easy to fill: fresh strawberries, a haircut, a new pillow, a Happy Meal.

Ruby now has a GoFundMe account, which has raised more than $30,000 for residents in five nursing homes in Arkansas.

This story resonated with me because I saw my Grandma in a nursing home and I am now seeing my parents aging in a senior community. I have been thinking about what I want to do when the time comes. I read an article recently about co-housing for seniors. I hope I’m well enough to do something like that. It’s heartbreaking when the want of such small things can make such a big difference in someone’s life.  I applaud Ruby for making people’s lives better!

The We Are the World Blogfest (#WATWB) seeks to spread positive news on social media. Co-hosts for this month are: Inderpreet UppalSylvia Stein, Shilpa GargSimon Falk, and Damyanti Biswas. Please stop by and say hello!

~~~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.

We are the World Logo

 

Mundane Monday: Nurse Log

This week’s Mundane Monday theme is “Nurse Log.” That means I learned something new this week. nurse log is a fallen tree which, as it decays, provides ecological facilitation to seedlings. Broader definitions include providing shade or support to other plants. 

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I have seen these many times while out geocaching and hiking, but I don’t often take pictures of them. However, I may have something that’s at least close in my travel photos from Hong Kong a couple of years ago. It’s very humid there in the summer and there is a lot of growth. This tree is almost completely covered in moss.

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The heat and humidity make a lot of trees like this. Here too you can see the rough moss covering on the branches silhouetted against the sky.

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For Dr KO’s Mundane Monday prompt #196.

Thursday Doors: Luxembourg I

Leaving Brussels, we decided to visit Luxembourg by driving through. It isn’t hard to drive through all of Luxembourg in a relatively short trip. I was there once before, when I lived in Germany for a summer as a student. I took a cheap bus trip to Luxembourg, which turned out to be a chance for the tour company to try to sell us fur coats on the bus. My German wasn’t good enough to be able to pay attention, so the hard sell was lost on me!

This time I was more interested in geocaches and doors. These doors were close to the center where the parking and the monuments were.

 

They didn’t all look like that. Some were more modern and painted.

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And then we went to look for a geocache in some back alleys.

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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

ThroughTheGate

Follow my European trip with this and previous posts:

December 13, 2018: More Brussels

November 29, 2018: Brussels, Part II

November 22, 2018: Grand Place, Brussels

November 1, 2018: Belgian Beer and Chocolate

October 27, 2018: Dutch Whimsy

October 18, 2018: Nordrhein-Westfalen

October 11, 2018: Landschaftspark

September 21, 2018: Pattensen

September 6, 2018: Birdhouse Cache

August 30, 2018: Achtung, Baby!

August 16, 2018: Ku’Damm

August 9, 2018: Berliner Dom

July 20, 2018: Berlin Walk

June 13, 2018: Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

June 7, 2018: Germany

Mundane Monday (on Tuesday): Gulls

Do you take pictures of gulls? asks Dr. KO of the Mundane Monday challenge.

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Enquiring minds want to know

Surprisingly (since I don’t live particularly near a beach): Why yes, yes I do!

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Carmel Beach City Park, Carmel CA

I read and was a fan of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach in high school, and perhaps because I didn’t grow up near a beach, I still have a romanticized view of these opportunistic scavengers.

Gulls following a cruise ship in search of food they can grab off passengers' plates
Gulls following a cruise ship in search of food they can grab off passengers’ plates

I am a very amateur photographer and I don’t use any special equipment other than my phone to take pictures, but if there is a gull flying around, I seem to be unable to resist trying to capture it in flight.

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Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove CA

A few years ago I went to Carmel, Big Sur, and Pacific Grove for my birthday, and there I hit the gull jackpot (and probably drove my husband crazy), taking pictures of gulls flying silhouetted against the pink sky of sunset.

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Make them fly in formation!

Traveling, I have found gulls to be a world-wide phenomenon. They, not bluebirds of happiness, fly over the White Cliffs of Dover.

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And across the English Channel:

And even in deep mid-winter, there they are:

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Lake Tahoe, near the CA-NV border

They don’t need skis to fly!

 

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.)

parkinglot2016
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.

sciencemuraldoor

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.

sciencemuraltable

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

Book Review: In Numina by Assaph Mehr

In Numina (Stories of Togas Daggers and Magic, #2)In Numina by Assaph Mehr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have not read the first volume in this series, Murder in Absentia, and it was not necessary to have done so to enjoy the second one. This book’s strengths are world building and the seamless integration of the world into the mystery plot. I also got the sense that the characters are becoming more well-rounded as the series progresses.

My knowledge of Roman culture is superficial, and so I found the world of Egretia to be fascinating, from the Roman Numerals that number the chapters, to the sporting and debate contests, to the theology of the Numina themselves. I suspect a classicist might be bothered by the liberties taken with magic in Egretia the way I am by silly neuroscience in science fiction, but for the intelligent lay reader, the author’s research presents a pleasing and believable world. The magic fits well with the materials and knowledge available to its inhabitants. And I loved that the climax of the book came at a trial with a famous orator showing off his skills.

Unfortunately, for me, the plot took a little too long to get going. I picked the book up and put it down several times before I really got into it. Felix and his sidekick-and-sometime-love-interest, Aemilia, spend too much time investigating haunted houses in which nothing much happens except that the reader is given a detailed description of the truly gross and horrifying demise of the former occupants. I think that for such scenes, less would be more, and I found it somewhat difficult to suspend my disbelief that there wouldn’t be more swift and serious consequences–both legal and social–for a landlord whose tenants died such gruesome, unexplained deaths.

So in these early sections of the book I found the romantic subplots a bit more interesting than the main plot, in particular Felix’s relationship with Cornelia. I was a bit surprised to learn in the bonus material that Cornelia, a widow and Aemilia’s mother, was only a few years older than Felix himself. The love triangle between Felix, Cornelia, and Aemilia was something new that I haven’t seen much of in fantasy or anywhere else.

I was glad that the female characters were not simply ciphers or cliches, but I still felt that they could have had more depth. Felix was a decent narrator and came across as thoughtful and level-headed, but his voice was a little generic. He was neither a relentlessly logical Sherlock Holmes nor as introspective or passionate as I might have liked. He seemed only intermittently capable of strong feelings, and I wondered about the origins of his ability to compartmentalize them. The allusions to his lost love, Helena, are tantalizing but very incomplete. Perhaps here is where I would have benefitted from reading the first book the most. Overall this is a well-done series with an intriguing protagonist. I am interested in reading more!
View all my reviews

The Brain—is wider than the Sky

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