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A Door and Windows

I’m a couple of days into the new job and so far I like it a great deal. The office I’ve been assigned is shared with only one other person, and it has windows! OK, they are over my head, but I can look up and see the clouds and my plants will finally get some daylight, once I remember to bring them in. Also, there is a door. I haven’t had a door in four years.

As anticipated, there’s a bit of a learning curve, and this is a somewhat different pace and type of banking than I have done before. That makes it exciting, and I’m champing at the bit to master the software so that I can start really digging into the work. I’ve already been tagged for a nice-sized project which might indicate how my portfolio will shape up going forward.

With the new job, I’m having to up my wardrobe a bit. The ladies here wear much nicer clothes than we did at the old place. I’m even wearing makeup! It has been fun doing research on both. Ulta has been entered several times now and I bought myself a Naked 2 eye shadow palette as a gift. It is the best shadow I’ve ever used. In fact, it might make me into a makeup junkie.

As far as wardrobe goes, I’m holding off on buying anything new until the fall styles get into the store. It’s hard, but I don’t want to buy summer styles and then turn around and have to buy more clothes when it gets cool. I’m hoping to find the perfect grey wool dress.

I’ve done so much that hasn’t been covered here so this post is sort of a brain dump.

A couple of weeks ago I shared that I was looking for a mandolin. Well, I found one on eBay for a good price. It was listed as “mint condition”. What I received wasn’t exactly mint. There were several scratches and dings, two of which were unsightly on the front, and several non-professional fixes. The instrument was missing two strings, and the remaining strings were corroded and dull-sounding. But the worst part was the fingerboard, which resembled nothing less than an old wooden roller coaster.

Still, I didn’t pay much for it so I took it down to the luthier in Cary Town to see what he could do with it. He tightened the truss rod as far as it would go without breaking, which made the fingerboard, if not flat, then immensely improved and certainly playable. He restrung it, and polished it up. In the end, the cost of the set-up and new strings, along with shipping and purchase cost, netted me a beautiful Eastman 504 A-style mandolin with a delightfully clear, bell-like voice.

I also started running again. Sadly, with this last long break I have lost the strength and flexibility in my hip flexors. It makes it rather painful to sit, stand, or even lie down on my side. Several friends have recommended biking in the past as a good cross-training exercise. I’ve wanted to try it, but my big-box $89 Huffy broke within a few months of purchase – 13 years ago. When looking into the costs to fix it, I discovered that bikes have come a long way from when I was a kid. They have all kinds on the market now. I also discovered that the cost to fix the cheap bike were at least twice what it initially cost.

With that in mind, I visited a nearby bike shop with a familiar name from my childhood and learned everything I could about what I might need. I did some internet-warrior style research for a bit and made the decision to purchase a low-end (not cheap!) hybrid bicycle. It’s heavy, and has very few of the upgrades I might want down the road, but it was in my price-range and will suit the purpose admirably, with the added benefits of not falling apart immediately, and a relationship with a repair person not too far away.

Oddly enough, I have already had to take the bike back to the shop. On our maiden voyage, I blew the front tire. The repairman was kind enough to give me a whole new front wheel and tire, and installed a water bottle holder free of charge to make up for the inconvenience. He said it was his fault for not making sure the tire was seated properly before we left.

I went back out on the bike after dinner tonight and did maiden voyage part deux, going a different route entirely. Now I know why people wear those padded bike shorts. My lady parts are a bit bruised. Looks like I know what my next bike-related purchase will be. In other news, the temperature is still in the 90′s out there. If sweat is any indicator of effort, than I am a big damn athlete.

Interesting side-note: I love running uphill and hate running downhill. On a bicycle, it is completely the opposite. There are a lot of steep hills in this neighborhood. Just saying….

Being unemployed, I have lots of time on my hands. I had all kinds of plans for that time. There was going to be house cleaning, and calls to handymen and plumbers, tons of time spent on the violin and mandolin, and there’s even a brand-new puzzle just waiting for me to put it together.

Instead of all that, I have embarked on a knitting project. I’m making the Elianette Shawl by Wendy Neal: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/elianette using Dream in Color Smooshy. So far I have had to frog it and start over twice. Oh well, I have no idea who I will give it to so there’s no rush.

At least I’m knitting again, and running, and apparently fostering a real shopping problem.

So this is what being unemployed is like.  Yesterday was my last day at work, and I found myself rather at odds with the remainder of the day, post-exit interview.  It was weird being at home in the afternoon.  There was plenty to do, but I couldn’t settle in one place or focus long enough to do anything, so I piddled around until it was time to take the youngest to his drum lesson.

Today I took my eldest out shopping.  We stopped at Just Drums to pick up some things for youngest boy.  Sadly, that store is closing.  It’s a shame, because we just discovered it and it’s very cool.  Then we went to Conte’s bike shop where I fell in love with simply the perfect bike.  Sadly, I am unemployed and it is at a less than perfect price point.  Seems I just love things from Italy.  I’ll have to go there one day to experience it for myself.

In the end, we found a pair of flip flops for eldest boy, along with a bunch of t-shirts and a belt from Old Navy.  Then we wandered over to Barnes & Noble to get some books from his summer reading list, and a book for me.  A substantial lunch from Cracker Barrel ruined our appetite for the rest of our planned expedition so we came home.  Boy went out on his bike for a while (inspired by the bikes earlier in the day) and I have spent some time manually watering the lawn as the sprinkler system is currently down due to a supply line break.  Please, oh please, let us get some rain from the tropical storm making its way up the coast!

In the periods between moving the sprinkler, I have been pinning cocktail recipes on Pinterest.  They all look so refreshing!  I may have to have my own personal little party here soon.  Sangria, goat cheese & crackers, a melon platter, and tasty little finger foods might make a a nice little dinner without worrying about all the house cleaning.  Must think on this.

My parents were as opposite to each other as could be.  Dad was always interested in quality over quantity.  We always laughed that Dad had to have the biggest and best of everything.  “Texas-style”, we called it.  Laugh all you want, but his stuff lasted.

On the other hand, Mom was always seeking a bargain.  If you specified an item, she would come up with a generic – not necessarily the closest generic, mind you  Nikes would get translated to $3 Keds from Roses.  After all, tennis shoes all do the same job, right?  Need a frying pan?  Sure!  They sell them at the dollar store.  Or, even better, you can get a used one from the thrift shop.  Heck, I’ve probably got a spare here in this pile somewhere.  (Rummage, rummage, rummage…)

Now Dad’s stuff lasted, but that means we never got rid of it.  The storage unit is full of things like reel to reel tape decks and speakers from the 1960’s, roller skates with wooden wheels, and some of the world’s ugliest, and sadly, sturdiest furniture.  Mom’s stuff never lasted, but she never got rid of it, so we also have multiple cheapie cameras, broken appliances, and assorted “as sold on TV” garbage cluttering up the storage unit.

But the storage unit is a story and a job for another day.

I inherited Dad’s philosophy, which is causing me heartburn because I have a new obsession.  It turns out that mandolins have the same tuning as the violin, which would make it a simple thing to pick up a second instrument.  I’m not sure why I am so interested in picking up a second instrument, but there it is.  For some reason, I just really want to play one.

Purchasing an instrument one doesn’t know how to play can be challenging, particularly when you don’t have friends nearby to drag to shops for their opinions.  And being a violin player, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to what constitutes a decent starter instrument.  Therefore, I did a lot of research on my good friend, the internet.  Dontcha just luuuurve the internets?

The internet tells me that the instruments in the guitar shop down the road with the attractive prices all sound bad, will have no resale value, and might actually self-destruct sometime in the future.  Instead – buy this “cheap” $1,000 name brand until you have time to save up for a “real” instrument.  Huh, sounds exactly like buying a violin.  Only I don’t want to put as much effort into a mandolin as I do the violin.  It’s really just something for me to dork around with.  But, but, but cheap is bad.  Ugh!

I’m so torn.  Either I’ll swoop something up at a stupid expensive price and regret it later, or Ill buy something cheap and regret it sooner or later.  Regret, angst, indecisiveness, oh my!  Better let this simmer for a while.  Of course I did that with the violin and the desire got more intense, not less.

Three Notes

Three notes at a time.  I thought I had it.  I had played it flawlessly at home, with and without the metronome, as well as with and without the soundtrack.  The timing was spot on, the intonation was perfect, and both slow and fast practice went without a hitch.  All told, a series of successful practice runs.

 When I walked into the lesson, I was confident that I would play well.  What I had forgotten was that those flawless at-home performances followed an extensive warm up, and weren’t attended by an expert with an ear for finding weaknesses.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s his job.  It’s just that I had conveniently forgotten those particular data points at the beginning of the lesson.

 Prepared to dazzle, I began the etude and made a mistake in the first measure.  Rather than letting me keep going, I was stopped to work on those first three notes until they were right.  Then we played the next three notes until they were right.  After two pages of frequent stops to work on three notes at a time I was so flustered I could barely play at all.  Then the metronome came out and we repeated the whole process again.  Painfully slowly, and embarrassing as all get out, we ground through the first piece of the night, only to repeat the exercise on the next piece.

 We have arrived at the point in time where the real work starts.  Up until recently, it has been easy to master a week’s worth of assignments (master being a relative term).  However, now all that technique needs to be polished, and lazy practice habits need to be replaced with better ones.  I either need to figure out how to accomplish what needs doing in an hour and a half a night, figure out a way to get in more practice time, or resign myself to much slower improvement than I have enjoyed to date.

Today I decided to see how long it would take to run through the lesson material, minimal review, and do the detailed study of the items that need work.  It took nearly three hours.  That means I’ve been putting in roughly half the practice that improvement requires.  No wonder I feel stuck.  It appears that I need to either find more time, or streamline my practice.  Time to get to work.

Going for it.

I did the recital.  My lesson was two days prior.  After going through a couple of options, and discarding the ones already taken, my teacher and I decided I would play Dvorak’s Humoresque for my fist ever solo.  Yes, two days prior to the recital.  Ugh.  I hadn’t played it in nearly a year.  With very little time to bring it up to speed, I showed up late due to traffic and had the opportunity to play it through with the accompanist exactly one time.  Needless to say, I flubbed the performance, missing two shifts in the middle and demonstrating some pretty poor intonation.  *sigh*

I was under prepared for the group numbers too.  For one of them, I laid out the wrong music.  How many gavottes are there anyway?  I tried to play it from memory and ended up air bowing a couple of measures before stepping into the back row to cheat off someone else’s book.  Honestly, if anyone I knew had been there I would have been deeply embarrassed.  As it is, I will just chalk it up to one bad experience and hope that I get more notice and practice time for the next one.

Sadly, I was the only adult student there.  None of the others ever make time to attend.  I’ve never even met them.  They might be mythical – like unicorns, or good hair days.  However, I really enjoyed watching the kids perform, and took some mental notes on what I can learn to improve my own performance going forward.  It was surprising to realize that most of them have been playing for years longer than me, even though I’m playing more advanced material.  Also interesting was that they all struggled at certain points.  Nobody had a flawless performance, even the superstar.  I was a bit relieved by that.  Perhaps I should suggest that we do something just for the adults sometime.  We could gather at someone’s home and have drinks after.   Or maybe before.  I might play better after a glass or two of wine.

Once all the performances were done, certificates (for testing I assume?) and trophies were handed out to the kids.  I was surprised.  That never happened when I played piano as a child, but we didn’t have testing then as far as I’m aware.  If there was, my parents opted out for me.  I certainly don’t remember having certificates or trophies at recitals.  We did do group pictures back then though.  I have one or two of them around here someplace with me rocking out one of my groovy 70′s maxi dresses.  There were no group pictures this time.  No trophies or certificates for for me.  I settled for a cup of diet coke and a quick exit. 

Honestly though, while a poor performance would have been discouraging in the past, this time it makes me want to work harder.  I want to play well, and even if that means I play alone 99.99% of the time, I will use that time to improve.  This isn’t a race.  It’s not my career.  The only thing I have to worry about is not meeting my own expectations.  I know what I need to do.  Time to buckle down and make it happen.  And I suppose my participation must have encouraged somebody.  One of the moms asked me how long I have been playing, confessing that she had always wanted to learn.  I told her to go for it.  I hope she does.

Afterwards, I took this picture, just to prove I survived.

Image

Then I went out and had a margarita the size of my head.

The garden continues to mostly thrive.  The peas are growing especially well, and taste delightful.  Next year I will have to plant more because I’m eating them before they make it into the house.  The beans and cucumbers are only now starting to take off.  I’m trying to decide if I want to replant the harvested squares with something or just let them go until autumn.  Everything will need a nice thick application of compost as the current mixture appears to be too off balance for certain crops.

 

The boys are wrapping up their school years.  It has certainly been an off year for them both.  Hopefully next year they will find their respective niches.  I don’t remember having nearly as much school-related drama at their ages, but I don’t always remember stuff.  It’s times like these when I wish mom were still with us.  Of course she might not have remembered either because during those years things were pretty rough at home.  Probably the same reason my memory is for shit.

 

I am finally getting some traction in Suzuki book 4.  It appears as if my issues with playing the Seitz concertos may be partially related to my violin’s setup because I can play them just fine on my cheapo camping violin.  Anneliese is due a trip to our friendly luthier to check the tailgut length and bridge & nut height.  I recently gave up my Russian A string in favor of a synthetic core string, which helped a little bit with traction, but there is still some difficulty with higher positions and transitions between the A and E strings indicating that the string height and after length might be off.  My luthier is great.  He’ll know what to do – even if that means telling me I’m full of crap.  LOL!

 

Speaking of strings, I’m still experimenting.  Dominants went off for me in only 4 months and I don’t like their metallic ringing.  Vintage Brilliants sounded wonderful, but my teacher felt they were too loud.  Ametysts are only OK, but my teacher likes them.  My next set will probably be Ambers, and if I don’t like those, I’m not sure which direction to go. There’s Evah Pirazzis, and Passiones, or Obligatos, which are all on the pricey end of the spectrum.  The camping violin has Obligatos, but they are mainly on there to dull the unpleasant overtones of that particular instrument.  Anneliese has a very pleasant warm and sparkling richness that just isn’t responding well to any of the strings I was disposed to like.  Please don’t let my violin prefer Passiones!  I don’t think I could afford them as often as I need to do a string change.

 

Last week, my instructor let me know there will be a group recital this weekend and asked if I wanted to play a solo from one of the earlier books.  I’m unsure whether I will.  On the one hand, I think I need the experience.  On the other hand, one week isn’t long enough in my mind to drag something back up to performance level.  It’s a two-edged blade.  I rarely get the opportunity to play with and for others.  However, because I don’t have those built-in performance opportunities that the children take for granted, I am insecure about the few times that do offer one.  Plus, the recital is made up of children, with the audience made up of their parents.  It seems as if I’m taking the spotlight away from them.  My addition feels like an unwelcome afterthought.  I’m certain it’s not, but that’s how my mind works.

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