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When I was a child there was an advertisement in every comic book for “Sea Monkeys” with colorful depictions of happy little beige mer-people wearing crowns, carrying tridents, and building castles. Just add tap water to the handy dandy included plastic aquarium, treat it with this little package of powder, pour in the eggs, and prepare for hours of fun watching your new pets. You were supposed to be able to view said pets through little circles of magnification built thriftily into the walls of the habitat. So simple, right? What’s not to love?

7809_sea_monkeys

Only, Sea Monkeys don’t exist. They’re really brine shrimp and they don’t look even a little bit like mer-people. Brine shrimp don’t wear crowns, or build castles. They just swim around microscopically and exist. Then after a couple of weeks you just have a lovely crop of algae and nothing to show for it. Endlessly disappointing, and yet we continued to try to grow them. I think my mom had one of those silly habitats on her kitchen window sill for two years.

Enter the new generation. They are being marketed a similar product that Milton has dubbed “Aquasaurs”.

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Just add bottled spring water to the colorful and cheaply made, non-rigid plastic habitat, pour in the package of eggs mixed with organic matter, and in just one day watch your new pets come to life. I was prepared for the disappointment. After all, Sea Monkeys were a joke. I planned how I was going to sooth my son’s sorrow over not being able to hatch a dinosaur fish. It was a great mothering moment in the making. I was practically chomping at the bit while I waited for the proof of failure.

The next day we had microscopic little swimmy things. OK, I thought, they’re basically sea monkeys. I can work with this. With just a little patience, there was still a great parenting moment in my future. I was practically giddy with anticipation. However, my plan was crushed when a week later we had 10 one inch long crustaceans that looked like this:

triops

These things are so very, very grotesque. The picture makes them look cute, but it’s basically like growing an extremely ugly bug. And we have 10 of them! They are lively, and eat voraciously, and are reproducing. I think I am doomed to have these monsters and their poorly made habitat on my breakfast table indefinitely. Ugh, Ugh, Ugh!!!!!!

Yes, they really are sort of a prehistoric creature. Officially, they are called Triops Longicaudatus, named so for their three-eyed configuration. Their physiology has remained virtually unchanged in the last 70 million years, exactly matching their ancient fossils, making them one of the oldest animal species still in existence. It’s a type of tadpole shrimp that can get up to 3 inches in length. These guys look like they might make it to that size, although they are ugly enough already at 1 inch.

I have one saving throw. They only live up to 90 days, or until the water temperature drops below 72 degrees. Twenty one days down, 69 to go, with winter on its way. Fortunately, the tank water is now so dirty, I can only see the terrifying creatures when they get near the walls. I suppose it’s time to clean the tank again. This is not the glorious parenting moment I was hoping for. Making my kid happy is good too, but I really didn’t want any more pets to take care of. Looks like I learned a lesson instead of getting to teach one.

My Weekend Adventure

I had the opportunity to meet another adult starter violinist. We found each other via the Violin/Fiddle Adult Starters group on Facebook. She has been playing about six years and is a member of a local string ensemble. We met on Saturday and had a delightful afternoon getting to know each other and visiting with her friend, Don Liester in his awesome studio.

Don is a local violin maker who makes really lovely instruments. He allowed me to play several of his violins and I fell absolutely in love with one. So much so, that he gave me the opportunity to take it home for a week’s test run. It’s a full-size instrument, and I have determined that it’s still too much of a stretch for me to play for any length of time. However, my teacher says that I could consider a 7/8ths violin now that my hand is better able for it.

In playing the borrowed violin, I discovered that the reason that I like it so much is that it sounds just like mine, only bigger. When I mentioned that to my teacher, he was quite intrigued. He is very interested to hear and play it on Friday. I know that he is simply going to love it! It would be fantastic if he bought it so that I could hear it more often. If I can’t have it, then it would be cool if he did. I really love this violin!

Don also makes 7/8ths size violins. My new acquaintance has one, and it is delightful. Because I love the full size one so much, I am considering commissioning a 7/8ths one from Don with the aim of sounding like the one I have out on trial. My husband thinks I’m daft for wanting to spend more money on a violin that sounds like what I have already. However, I think it will be difficult for me to be taken seriously on a small instrument with a small sound. A 7/8 would still be a compromise in sound, but would be much closer in output than the 3/4 I have.

Part of me thinks that I should consider something with a different sound quality altogether, but every time I try violins I gravitate to the sound I have. I wish I were experienced enough to know whether it is the right one for what I plan to do in the future. Is it sweet enough for chamber music? Is it colorful enough to play solo repertoire? Can it be heard in a hall, and blend with an orchestra? There are so many questions that I don’t have the answer to. In the end, does it matter? After all, I am the one who hears it 100% of the time. If I don’t love it, will I want to play it, regardless of whether it sounds fantastic in a space or situation I will probably never play in?

In other news, I told my teacher about the Facebook group and mentioned that it’s closed with no teachers or professionals allowed. His immediate reaction was a stunned, “You mean I can’t check it out?”. Yup, that’s right. It’s a good thing I like you, buddy. LOL!

It’s Alive!

I have to say for the record that the square foot gardening method worked for me. This is the first year ever that I have gotten to the end of August and still had a living, thriving garden. The tomato plants are taller than I am. The dahlias and zinnias did fantastic. The cucumbers, peas, beans, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, bell peppers, and marigolds all did wonderfully. I will not grow onions or pole beans again, I think. They did poorly.

The family all agrees that the produce from the garden is much, much better than what we get from the store. There have been so many tomatoes that we can’t eat them all. And weeding has been a complete non-event. I have pulled maybe three stray blades of grass from the garden. Overall, I am calling it a win. I might even expand it next year to grow more things. We’ll see.

Now that it is almost September, it is time to put in some cool weather plants. I will do another round of radishes, some lettuce, more peas, and maybe some spinach. I won’t go overboard and will probably confine it all to one square so that I can do some amendment to the soil in the first one. Seriously, guys-I never thought this square foot gardening thing would work out. I’m really pleased with this project.

The Process of Enjoyment

I think that sometimes, because I use this outlet to vent, that people get the incorrect impression that I am not enjoying my violin journey. Quite the opposite! I would not have stuck with it for over two years, paying out thousands of dollars in tuition and equipment, if I did not truly enjoy what I am doing.

I vent here, because it’s safe. If I have a rough practice, or a phrase isn’t shaping correctly, or I just can’t stand to watch yet one more miniature prodigy on You Tube, then I come here and complain. What I don’t often do is tell you what I love about playing this instrument.

As silly as this may sound, I love being able to say that I am a violinist. Sure, I’m not Anne Sophie Mutter, but I can play a pretty fair tune or two. When once I felt awkward even holding the instrument, now I’m doing fun things like double stops (chords), harmonics, and creeping my way towards the very far reaches of the finger board. The harder this gets, the more interesting I find it to be. And there’s nothing more gratifying than going back to an old piece and wondering what was so hard about it the first time. With this instrument, I’m always learning, always improving, and always have more to work towards. I can’t get bored. It’s simply not possible.

Sure, I mostly play for myself, and a relatively tolerant husband and children; but I dream of one day playing with a group of musicians. I want to know what it is like to be a part of a whole – one voice in a sea of orchestral sound, or a supporting role in a small chamber setting. Maybe one day I will even nail a solo in a group recital. I can’t possibly play worse than I did for that first ever solo.

For once, I can see measurable progress in something that I am doing, and it hasn’t stagnated. Other endeavors have not been so satisfying. Running was great at first, but after I ran several races, I stopped improving, and I lost interest because training for faster speeds was fruitless and exhausting. Knitting is just wrapping yarn around needles. There’s variation, but there’s tedium too. Of course I still knit because it’s relaxing, but it’s less interesting to me now.

Playing the violin is both relaxing and exhausting; but it’s also intriguing, exciting, sometimes tedious, always a welcome break from every day chores, intellectually stimulating, and blissfully frustrating. The extremely difficult nature of this instrument is the very thing that keeps it always fresh. Plus, there’s so much to learn that if you hit paralysis on one aspect of playing, you can attack something else and still make progress.

I don’t think I would enjoy the process as much as I do if I didn’t have the capable guidance of my teacher. He knows when to push me, can pick out and solve any problem, and reminds me frequently that I’m only human, that my struggles are normal, and that I’m still moving forward. My teacher provides that constant gut check that helps me refocus and direct my energies in a positive direction. Without that, I would lose my way, and playing would have a much less satisfactory return on investment of time and energy.

With my violin, I can sing like an angel even if I can’t vocalize. When the low notes reverberate through my collarbone, or the E string vibrates in sympathy with a well placed finger on the A, or a heart-stoppingly high note rings out perfectly in tune, you can’t help but feel joy. Joy-because the notes are so sweet, and joy because you made them.

The definition of enjoy is to have or experience pleasure or satisfaction in something. That’s what playing the violin is like – pure enjoyment.

On a serious note – there has been a huge disturbance in the Force. So much pain and misery have been felt, that it has begun to seep into my bones. I want to make things better for people, but I don’t have the fortitude, or the capacity to help.

In the violin world, I am discovering that I have so much left to learn that it may not be possible to do it at all. The very concept of knowing there are so many things that I don’t know is crushing. There are six year olds who have forgotten more than I have ever learned on this instrument. Their execution is so effortless and free, while mine is stilted and mechanical. I fear that I will be unable to make music.

Where once I was excited at the journey, now I feel defeated. Possibilities have begun compressing themselves as my limitations become painfully apparent.

It’s not as if I can’t progress. I am progressing at a steady and measurable rate. But that rate slows perceptibly as time goes on and I can see that some of the goals I was hoping to achieve will be all but unattainable.

All the “if only” things come to mind. If only:

-I had more time to devote to this.

-there was a group I could join. Playing with better players ramps up your skills.

-other people took me seriously.

-there was a tangible goal. Kids get exams, workshops, and orchestral opportunities. Adults don’t.

-I wasn’t so hard on myself.

Yes, I know that I am in control of this. I’m not sure what I expected when I started. Maybe I thought I could create something. Now I don’t know. I can’t seem to let go of wanting technical perfection enough to actually make music. Clearly, I have some sort of flawed approach to this. I just don’t know how to fix it.

On the Frizz

Today has been an exercise in frustration. I hit paralysis on a deal early in the day, which stuck until nearly time to go. Then there were multiple personal communication issues, not the least of which was missing my long anticipated hair appointment.

A short digression: My hair is unmanageable. When most people have a bad hair day, they might have a few flyaways, or limp locks. My hair is like electrified barbed wire on a good day. So when I found an amazing hair stylist a year or so ago, I swore no one else would ever touch my hair. He’s uber expensive though, so I only go four times a year.

Going so infrequently to the salon means that I walk around with pretty awful hair for the last three to four weeks before my scheduled appointment. My salon has always taken good care of me though, and made sure I didn’t miss my appointment by both tweeting and calling beforehand. Except this time they didn’t and I missed it.

I freaking missed my GD hair appointment! Do you know how far out I have to make an appointment with this guy? Like 10 weeks! I can’t go 10 more weeks without some hair intervention. I will seriously just die of embarrassment.

Please, somebody send chocolate and wine, STAT! Also a wig, because now I will have to shave my head.

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.

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