Tag Archives: featured

Not Irish

I’m not Irish. Not even a little. When I was a kid I would forget to wear green on this day and get pinched on the playground, a custom I’m still not really fond of.

But as a musician I am getting more fond of St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to play fun music.

Playing at the Belmont Farmers’ Market

We were in Ireland last summer as part of our trip. One of the places we visited in Dublin was Christchurch Cathedral.

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The cathedral’s choir had its first performance of Handel’s Messiah in April of 1742. There is an electrical box on the grounds painted in Handel’s honor.

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The oldest geocache in Europe is also in Ireland. It was placed on June 3, 2000. Here I am, finding it:

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (Please don’t pinch anyone . . .)

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Bringing the Past to Life: A Conversation with violinist Er-Gene Kahng

PSAConcertKahngBack in 2009, not long after I joined the Philharmonic Society of Arlington, that group celebrated its 75th anniversary season. The winner of that year’s Young Artists’ Competition was violinist Er-Gene Kahng, who performed the Mendelssohn concerto. I made a rare appearance as a violist in that concert, my last before I went back to the first violins for good.

Almost ten years later and 3000 miles to the west, I remembered and met Er-Gene again at her performance of the Florence Price Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Camellia Symphony in Sacramento. Florence Price’s two violin concertos were recently rediscovered amidst other forgotten manuscripts by Price in an abandoned house that was once her summer home. Kahng, a Professor at the University of Arkansas, has edited and recorded these concertos in order to bring the work to a wider audience.

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I caught up with Er-Gene after the concert and we made arrangements to chat via Skype, as she was leaving the next day–to go to London!

KarenandErGeneKaren with Er-Gene after the concert in the fabulously renovated art deco CK McClatchy High School Auditorium

Karen: I wanted to talk with you about Florence Price, but I also wanted to talk about your development as a musician. You mentioned that you are from California. What brought you to Arkansas?

Er-Gene: As I was finishing up my doctoral degree at Northwestern, I started applying for jobs. University of Arkansas listed a vacancy for a violin professor. I applied, interviewed and got the job! Sorry the story is not more interesting! 🙂 Growing up in southern California, I didn’t know anything about Arkansas, and had never even visited!

Karen: I also went to grad school, to get a PhD in Neuroscience. I’m only belatedly realizing that academia is a path for violinists too. Did you have plans to become an academic?

Er-Gene: No, I did not really have plans to be in academia. And I didn’t know–still don’t–if it is a common path for violinists. I was very idealistic and only knew that I liked the structured environment of school and wanted the chance to learn more and dedicate time to my artistic self-development.

I would even go further to say that for me growing up, the understanding was that people went into academia if they could not “make it” as a practicing artist. It was the “those who can’t play, teach” concept.

Karen: I noticed something similar, even though I didn’t go on professionally in music. When you are a child learning violin you are exposed from the beginning to performers who were all child prodigies and major soloists from an early age, and you get the impression that that is the only path.

Er-Gene: I feel like even the concept of a doctoral degree in music was relatively new’when I was going to school. It may have existed for decades before, but the idea was that a Masters’ degree should be enough, and that if you actually needed “all that time” to learn your craft, it was evidence of a lack of talent. It’s interesting how this narrative of “genius”, “prodigy”, and “talent” is so prevalent in our industry.

Karen: So did you go to a regular public school? Many violinists homeschool or do school online so that they can spend more time practicing!

Er-Gene: I’m very proud that I went to a public school. My school still exists today: the LA Center for Enriched Studies. It is a humanities magnet and I still keep in touch with some of my teachers. I remember my third grade elementary school teacher had us memorize Robert Frost poems by setting them to music. He composed at the piano, which was housed in our classroom. I didn’t realize how incredible this was until much later.

Karen: That sounds very cool! I teach at a relatively new STEM-oriented private school. I’m always interested in hearing about what works to make a healthy school community.

Er-Gene: I took my music classes at Colburn, back when it was still near USC, not downtown as it is now. I took music theory, chamber music, orchestra, piano and violin lessons there. From there, I have seen some stars born. I remember seeing and hearing Leila Josefowicz, and I was completely amazed, as I am still.

Karen: I’ve seen her on YouTube. Yes, she is pretty amazing!

Er-Gene: Being surrounded by such young artists growing up, I wasn’t sure I had a place in the music world. I definitely loved violin, but the master teachers enforced a strict 3-4-hour practice schedule, which, at the time, I couldn’t handle. I still don’t really have an explanation for it, only that I was very interested in academics and wanted to divide my time equally. I wanted to take the time to study and read, as well as practice.

Karen: I can totally relate to that. I always had a lot of other things I wanted to do besides practicing.

Er-Gene: I had very supportive parents and many teachers who never “pushed” in the sense of being stern time keepers. I think they observed my interests and allowed me the independence to use my time the way I wished.

I do sometimes think about “what would have been” if I had gone to a conservatory. I think I would be a much stronger violinist today. But I’m also grateful that somehow, so far, I’ve been allowed to progress at my own pace.

Karen: How do you think your academic training and orientation influenced your interactions with Florence Price’s music? Do you think that you felt more ready or willing to take on the project because you have a doctorate? What is the degree called in music? Is it still a PhD? I mean, this project is a dream PhD thesis. You discover this awesome music and bring it back to life!

Er-Gene: My degree is called a “DM, ” a Doctor of Music. I think my program at Northwestern was a good fit because again, it allowed for a lot of independence and space for me to explore and play with ideas. But it didn’t literally prepare me for work like the Florence Price concerto–although obviously it also did!

I don’t think that most higher ed programs are able to be, or want to be that prescriptive. So much of academia is trying to play catch up to the pace of real life. Many jobs that we train our students for may not exist by the time they graduate.

Karen: That’s an excellent point! There has been a sea change in what PhDs do with their degrees in many fields. I have a PhD in neuroscience and I am not doing the job I trained for either. Do you have your own graduate students that you teach now?

Er-Gene: Yes! We don’t offer a DM, so the highest degree is a Masters. I have my own students and I’m also Director of Graduate Advising. This is my favorite part of the administrative side of my job: the chance to talk to our students about their passions, their hopes and their concerns about creating a path in music. It’s so exciting to see them going off to their dream doctoral programs!

Karen: What else do the graduates of your program do?

Er-Gene: Music education is our most popular major, so many of our graduates go on to secondary school teaching within the state of Arkansas. Some have gone to neighboring states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Others choose to freelance and/or set up their own private studios.

Karen: One tends to hear about music programs in schools being cut, especially in states with less money. I hope that is good news for AK overall, that there are jobs for music teachers!

Er-Gene: Working at a state university means that I am able to have friends who are involved in the work of new ideas . . . the work of thinking, speaking, teaching and writing. For interpretive / performing artists, we also have the experience of realizing our interpretations and performances! I’m sure that being in this environment helped me feel the familiarity of doing primary research, even if I had never done it before, even in my doctoral work.

Karen: That is really great! I think that is the ideal of how universities are supposed to work. How did you first learn about Florence Price, and how long did it take before you felt ready to perform the Price concertos and record them?

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Kahng playing the Price concerto No. 2 with the Camellia Symphony

Er-Gene: I first learned about Price at the University of Arkansas’ own symposium about her in 2015. With respect to the recordings, I didn’t really have the luxury of choosing the timeline. Our contract set a date with the Janacek Philharmonic, who were available in the summer when I had time myself, but who only had a 3-day window to record. There was no choice but to agree to their timeline! Nevertheless, I had about 9 months before that to prepare.

Karen: Where would you place Price in the tradition of violin concertos? Does her music remind you of any other composer?

Er-Gene: This is actually a tricky question, because I believe the paradigm with which we have judged, excluded and included certain composers would not traditionally include Price. We can’t properly judge Price’s concertos against this tradition.

Karen: That’s fair enough. I don’t have a lot invested in that paradigm. I haven’t studied many violin concertos, myself, other than Bach and Mozart. And at this point I’m primarily a violist.

Er-Gene: It would be easy to say that Price deserves a place . . . up there with the Beethoven Violin Concerto! But even if I felt that way, it’s not as simple as persuading people to see the “greatness” of Price against the narrative of greatness they have inherited and been taught since childhood.

On the other hand, to say that Price (or any other historically underrepresented composer) is not the same as composers traditionally included in the canon is not equivalent to saying she is not great. Rather, I think to say so simply acknowledges that the canon has been very exclusive and narrow.

And that brings into question the way in which we raise our young musicians. We teach them a great deal about how to think and judge greatness. History is so much of the stories we tell our children. And sometimes–often times?–our children never question those stories that they hear from their parents and teachers.

Karen: Interesting. I felt that a lot of what I learned about determining greatness didn’t have much substance. It was mostly about hero worship and about talent, as you mentioned earlier. I love what you are saying here, that we need to be more thoughtful about that.

Er-Gene: This is not to say that Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, etc. are not great masters. They are. But we need to be more conscientious about the stories we preserve, and informed about the important figures we overlook (even when it is unintentional, which I believe it is, most of the time). This brings to the fore our responsibility as citizens, parents, teachers. We have to face our own blind spots, stay curious and cultivate critical independent thinking in our young musicians.

Karen: Yes! I think that for many musicians their introduction to the repertoire comes when they are students. They learn concertos in a very formative time, when they are children or teens, and that shapes their whole outlook on concertos and on which ones should be included.

Er-Gene: Because so much of violin training at earlier ages has to address basic sound production and technique, it focuses on the absorption and successful performance of these 50 or so “great” pieces that we as a community have agreed deserve to be learned. And as you know, just making a pleasant sound on the violin can be all consuming! Where in all of that do we have time to bring up these critical questions? I’m not sure, but we must make it a value and a priority in our lessons.

Karen: I came to the concert with a friend, Jasmine Reese, who is a violinist interested in learning concertos, and she thought the Price concerto you played was within her technical abilities, or at least that it could be if she worked on it. If that is the case for other students, then I think the Price concertos will come to be more widely known.

Er-Gene: I believe the mission is about expanding and redefining the canon, not denigrating “dead, white European males” or pushing Florence Price to hold an equal place in the old canon. We need to address the points of accessibility and visibility. Publishers will help with accessibility, while performances and programming will address both.

EGKreceivingflowers

I did a recital with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and afterwards I posted on Instagram something that is in line with what we have been discussing:

The shift into Db Major when the second theme first appears in Florence Price’s second violin concerto is tender, jarring and heart-breaking. Though its final statement is a resounding D Major, it feels like a Pyrrhic victory, despite my best efforts to convey celebration and triumph. Perhaps I give myself away in expressing skepticism at simple happy endings, even as the notes on the page could suggest otherwise. This is not only the vessel of emotional ambivalence Price’s concerto carries, but more largely the truth (of an unequal, unjust society) in which Price lived. I’d like to believe that with every deeply considered performance, we can take on the role of stepping up to the daunting task of moving toward a more just (musical) society. Here is to our collective efforts to program and interpret with intention and justice.

I keep trying to find ways to salvage the narrative, but then I think that it’s not my job to put a pretty package on the narrative. Many things are broken, and it is our job, first and foremost, to show the truth.

Karen: When I first heard the concerto, I found it touchingly sunny, and I was a bit surprised by that. With everything Price must have gone through, I expected something heavier and darker. I want to listen to it again in light of your comments!

Er-Gene: I encourage performers who may feel that their work is not as impactful as that of historians or librarians or publishers to acknowledge the raw power of their medium. It takes a village and no single element is most important. A performer is not just a simple “mouthpiece.” That view downgrades the power of direct transmission and the realization of abstract notes on a page that brings the essence of music to life!

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Kahng with Chris Castro, composer of “Sing High,” which premiered at the same concert

 

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 Garg, Sylvia McGrath , Peter Nena, and Belinda WitzenHausen. Please check out their WATWB posts and say hello!

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Thursday Doors: Edinburgh Pubs and Eateries

After some time on the continent, we were off to the British Isles. These doors are from our first day in Scotland, where we stopped in Edinburgh. I have heard that Edinburgh is the model for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series. In the spirit of Harry Potter, I thoroughly enjoyed the names of some of these establishments: 

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DirtyDicks

Lots of flowers and nice places to sit, but it was a little early for lunch, let alone a drink.

Or live music. 

It was a very pleasant walk to the park and university, though, and we followed a virtual geocache to see other sights. Scotland was also having an unusually warm and sunny summer, which benefitted us tourists!

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 31, 2019: Luxembourg II

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

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.

OfficeWindowView
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.

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.

#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 Uppal, Sylvia Stein, Shilpa Garg, Simon 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

 

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.)

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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