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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

 

Blogging Break

It’s September 1 and looking back, I see I haven’t blogged for an entire month, since August 1. I have started a new teaching job and it is taking all of my time right now.

I heartily dislike being this busy and I’m hoping things will settle down as I find a groove.

But until then I’m taking a hiatus from blogging. I estimate it will last about a month, and I will revisit in October. Enjoy the fall, it is one of my favorite times of year, and I hope the season brings you much happiness!

Leavesinthepark
A walk to the Underwood Playground

 

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:

01TakeaBookLeaveaBook

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.

July #WATWB: American Heroes

We are the World LogoThe “We Are the World Blogfest,” posted on or around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. There are many oases of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world.

I have not managed to do a #WATWB post for two months, but this month’s was easy. It is a straightforward story of 4 heroic young American men, who saved a child’s life. The story appeared in the Washington Post as “A 6-year-old was swept out to sea, and a group of brothers dove in after her.” The unfortunate girl was riding a pink flamingo raft, and no lifeguard responded to her father’s cries when he saw her being swept out to sea. The father then put on a life vest and swam out after her himself, but was not a strong enough swimmer. Four visiting American young men effected a rescue, swimming out to save the girl first, and then her father.

I rode a raft in the ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina when I was about 10. I was a decent swimmer for my age, but reading the story, I realized this could have happened to me. And I especially felt for the poor father, who was in danger of losing his daughter, and tried his best to go after her, but his best wasn’t good enough. If not for the heroic American tourists, the day could have ended in a double tragedy.

Every year in the summer, this message bears repeating: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Familiarize yourself with water safety and with the real symptoms of drowning. My daughter saved her little brother in a pool when she was about 8 and he was about 4. I was on the other side of the pool from them, and he slipped off a ledge where he had been standing and went under. She reached down and pulled him out.

Sign up to join us and be visited on the last weekend of the month when you post your article. Click here to enter your link on this Linky Tools list. #WATWB cohosts for this month are:  Shilpa GargSimon Falk , Damyanti BiswasLizbeth Hartz and Eric Lahti. Please link to them in your WATWB posts and go say hi!

Thursday Doors on Saturday: St Petersburg

I’ve been working on an old scrapbook. It is a record of a trip we took in 2016 to the Baltic Sea. This was really a nice trip, and I’ve had the scrapbook materials, including pictures, sitting around for a couple of years in the living room on the bottom shelf of the coffee table. In a push to organize the house and get rid of piles and extraneous junk, I’ve decided to complete the book. And since we’re not going anywhere fancy in person this summer (unless you count my upcoming teacher training in Chandler Arizona), it’s been nice to relive this previous trip through pictures.

I did blog about the trip a little bit, and I even did what you’re supposed to do in the blogosphere: let people know that I was away (hey, I was new). But it took place before I was participating in Thursday Doors, so I didn’t take any pictures of doors specifically for this challenge. Still, this is the trip that got me my very first Thursday Door. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were others.

I’ll start here with the city of St. Petersburg. The stop in St. Petersburg was my first and only time in Russia so far. And the city seemed too good to be real. It was kind of like a Disney city, complete with opening the door to Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage

Cinderella

And to the ballroom where she met the prince.

CatherineInside

Behind the gates of an enormous palace!

CatherineGate

The churches and cathedrals also have doors.

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood:

SpilledBloodStP

St. Isaac’s Cathedral:

StIsaac

And, of course, the Hermitage museum:

There were also familiar sites, in Russian. Over the door of the Nevsky Inn, does this logo look familiar?

SubwayStP

In this case I’ve limited my pictures to those with doors, but even then there’s a good sampling. Doors make good subjects!

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.

Decline, declined

orchids.jpg
April 2017

My orchid plant has been blooming for more than 3 months now. I received it at a housewarming party in 2015 not long after we moved to CA. After the party it lost its flowers and didn’t bloom again for almost 2 years.

After those flowers were lost, I discovered that orchids without flowers can get pretty funny-looking. So I almost threw it out. Again.

And again, another 2 years later, I was suddenly surprised with a richness of blooms. I didn’t use the support sticks this time. By the time I realized that the blooms were happening, it was too late.

AprilOrchid
April 2019

And then, as July 4th rolled around, I saw this. First to bloom, first to wilt.

Orchid
July 2019

At the same time, I saw this article: Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner than You Think, by Arthur C Brooks.  It’s making the rounds.

I’m starting a new career, back to work full-time this year, headed to teacher training in a couple of weeks. This is not the kind of thing I want to be reading. Cue the curmudgeonly grumbles about annoying clickbait headlines . . . But in fact, this article is worth reading in spite of the incendiary headline. Reading it was almost a relief: a rehash of an old, tired narrative, narrowly focused on a narrow skill set and narrow demographic.

Back when I was in graduate school this crap was what young male physicists liked to torture themselves with: if they hadn’t made their Nobel-winning discovery by the time they were 30, they were washed up and might as well throw in the towel. And sure, I guess privileged white extroverted males who have a certain type of high-profile executive career in western neoliberal economies may often follow such a life trajectory. But I think it can be different, and more complicated, for other types of people and other types of careers and economies.

Let’s take science, since there seems to be a lot of fretting about it among graduate students (who really have other things to fret about). I have been fortunate to know and know of some wonderful woman scientists. For 6 years I worked as a project manager for Dr. Susan Lindquist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge. She was one of the most creative and collaborative scientists of her generation, and a winner of the National Medal of Science. Somewhat famously absent-minded, she was more famously able to see patterns and make connections that others could not. She established new fields of inquiry in her 50s and was in the prime of her career, running a lab the size of a small biotech company, when she passed away from cancer in 2016. At the time many people remarked that she was “too young” to have passed away, and that her life was too short. I understand and agree with these sentiments, yet Lindquist was 67 when she died, well into Brooks’ alleged “decline” phase. 

Or, let’s consider Rita Levi-Montalcini, discoverer of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a molecule that I did my PhD thesis on. Born in Turin Italy in 1909 and having spent her young adulthood fleeing Nazi persecution, Levi-Montalcini did her seminal work on NGF in her 40s, with Viktor Hamburger. She won a Nobel Prize in 1986, founded the European Brain Research Institute in 2002 and went on to serve as Senator for Life in the Italian government until she passed away at the youthful age of 103. We are all fortunate that these scientists didn’t give up when they hadn’t made it at 30. At the very least, maybe the the lives of women scientists, like the lives women authors, need to be written differently.

I’m not the only one to have found this part of Brooks’ article’s scope and message irritating and limited. For an alternate view, check out Chris Farrell’s article in Forbes. Instead, I think the “decline” that Brooks writes about is more an indictment of our values as a society and of the way it is set up than a real decline in anything that is actually important in people themselves. Brooks himself makes a big deal about processing speed. He says: “if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.” 

When I read that, I had a lot of questions, the main ones being:  “what kind of analytical capabilities are we talking about here?” and “do *most* professions really require this, or is that some kind of bias on the part of the author?”

I will admit here that  I am biased. I’ve had slow, or at least inconsistent, processing speed all my life, and have suffered for it at the hands of perfectionists and their expectations. Particularly in social situations and with things I only hear rather than see, it has always taken me time to understand what I am taking in. I fit the definition of introvert that is in vogue these days: an observer who needs to think before acting.  But it’s not, and never has been, age-related.

And happily, it’s not worse for me in middle-age, because now more people seem to be in the same boat. Introverts are having a Quiet Revolution. Other people are finally admitting out-loud the value of electronic reminders, habits, routines, and other coping strategies. Other people are having to give up a dangerous over-reliance on working memory to run their lives. Other people are acknowledging the costs of toxic perfectionism. To them I say, come in, the water’s fine. It’s really quite freeing to not have your ego so completely tied up in your ability to rattle off random factoids from memory or to quickly process a complicated schedule without looking at a calendar. We all benefit from slowing down and reflecting, and there is more than one Quiet Revolution underway.

That said, I thought the advice Brooks gives in his article about teaching, sharing knowledge, and lifting other people up, was pretty good. Rather than a “decline,” I think what he is writing about is a shift in values as we get older towards a more sustainable and livable way of life. And you don’t have to be older to behave that way. Some younger people figure it out sooner–young people can make great teachers too. 

MayOrchid
May 2019

And as for the orchid: when these blooms are gone, there is no way I’m throwing it out. I know better now.

montalcini

It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain
Rita Levi-Montalcini

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: Oregon Drive

MountShasta
Mount Shasta, August 2017

A couple of years ago, I had several posts associated with driving my daughter to college at Willamette University. That drive took several days because we stopped to admire Mt. Shasta or to sample the sights in interesting little towns along the way. She was a new driver then, having passed her test only a couple weeks before we left, and we split the driving about 50/50.

SadieTreat

We made the same drive again this year, for a different reason. She moved off campus for her second two years, and she wanted to take the cat, Sadie, to live with her.

I’m also giving my daughter my old car, a 2012 baby blue Mazda 5. She learned to drive in that car, and feels comfortable in it. The magnet I bought for the rear hatch door fell off sometime ago, but the car fits in here. It will be useful to have a minivan to carry stuff around.

She drove the whole way from California this time. I got to doze off in the passenger seat.

HatchDoor
Car hatch door with bearcat magnet

Sadie the cat did better than we expected. We were concerned that she might meow her head off for 10 hours, making the trip unpleasant for all 3 of us. But the vet gave her a pill, and, mildly sedated, she spent most of the time sleeping in her carrier. Occasionally she meowed, but just enough to let us know she was still there.

At the pet-friendly Motel 6 we opened the door to her cat carrier to let her out, but she didn’t venture far.  She wasn’t crazy about the trip in general, and is glad to have gotten here!

CrateDoor
Cat carrier door stayed closed most of the time

And the final door for this post is the door to their new home:

FrontDoor

An interesting green, newly painted. It’s a charming little house. Now it just needs some furniture!

For Norm’s “Thursday Doors.” I’m getting back to it this week!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I find it a fun way to focus and curate my many, many travel photos!

Musical Monday: Florence Price’s String Quartet in G

sbp2019-05posterIt’s spring, and the season for concerts. One of the orchestras that I joined when I moved to California, the South Bay Philharmonic (SBP), turned 10 years old this spring. Formerly known as the Hewlett-Packard Symphony, it is now an independent group, with a few members remaining from the old HP days. (I don’t work for HP, so I’m happy about the transition).

One of my favorite things about playing in the SBP is the opportunity to play chamber music at a high level. With SBP chamber music, I’ve explored classics of the repertoire including the Dvorak “American” viola Quintet and Schubert’s famous Cello Quintet and “Death and the Maiden” Quartet. For this concert, we tried something new, a movement from the Florence Price String Quartet in G.

florence-finalFlorence Price is not as well-known as Dvorak or Schubert. She was an African-American composer who lived in the first half of the 20th century. She passed away suddenly in 1953 and in the confusion surrounding her death, many of her manuscripts were lost, only to be rediscovered in 2009 in an abandoned house that had once been Price’s summer home.

I traveled to Sacramento in March to hear Er-Gene Kahng play Price’s violin concerto #2. I also talked with Kahng about the Price string quartets, and obtained the sheet music for the String Quartet in G. This recording is of the Second Movement, the Andante Moderato. Like the Dvorak quintet, it has two contrasting sections, in this case a lyrical opening and a jazzy middle. Like the concerto, it is sunnier than I expected, and the lyrical section evokes the beauty of the South.

 

Book Review: Foiled by Carey Fessler

FoiledFoiled by Carey Fessler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Foiled by Carey Fessler is an enjoyable, fast-paced middle grade novel. Set in the 1947 at the time of the Roswell incident in New Mexico, it reminded me of stories from my own youth, in particular “Escape from Witch Mountain,” which also had two school-age kids on the run from government agents and hints of flying saucers, aliens, and magical mind-reading powers.

The plot is basically a road trip, as two young friends, Kate and Billy, come into possession of a piece of magic foil that enables them to read other people’s thoughts. It is soon revealed that this foil came from aliens who crash-landed at Roswell, and a government agent named Falco wants to recover the foil and hush up everyone who saw or heard about it. Kate and Billy take matters into their own hands and run away to Kate’s grandfather’s house out in the Arizona desert. The action never lets up, and the kids manage to repeatedly outsmart and outrun the cartoonish Falco.

Rather than making it a buddy book aimed solely at boys, Fessler gives us a strong, resourceful heroine in tomboyish Kate. Strong girl protagonists are not particularly remarkable these days, and I enjoyed that aspect of the book. But this treatment felt a little anachronistic set in 1947. As a Roswell skeptic, I also found that aspect of the story to be somewhat dated. And I admit to being annoyed at how the adults were portrayed—or not portrayed, as the case may be. They were mostly absent like Kate and Billy’s parents, in need of rescue like Grandpa Clyde, or bumbling idiots like Falco. This too reminded me of cartoons I used to watch on Saturday morning, in which the villain yells as he is led away in handcuffs, “I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

But as I read, I realized that this old-fashioned quality is both the book’s weakness and its strength. In my interactions with 21st century tweens, I find them to be more street-smart and savvy than either Kate or Billy, at least in their imaginative lives. I suspect that kids who have found the Horcruxes with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who have destroyed the Death Star and gone to the dark side with Anakin and Luke, who have slain vampires with Buffy, who have survived Camp Half-blood, who are really from Wakanda, and who build and occupy their own fantasy worlds with Minecraft and Fortnite, are going to find Kate and Billy’s sojourn a little bit white bread and tame, even if it does involve flying an airplane by yourself.

These same kids, however, could be pleasantly surprised if they temporarily put their digital pleasures aside in favor of the analog, tactile excitement of the journey described in this book. The protagonists survive by their own wits and manage to accomplish their goals. Kate’s relationship with her grandfather is sweet, as is her loyalty to her parents and Billy. Her life of fishing and stargazing evokes a simpler, more optimistic time when anything was possible.

View all my reviews