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The Omission

My oldest son is doing some online genealogy at school. I suppose it must be for a project because it doesn’t sound like something he’s likely to pursue on his own. He’s more likely to study video game cheats, conspiracy theories, or ways to beat the school’s built-in fire-wall.

When I picked him up from school yesterday, he got in the car and the first thing out of his mouth was “I finally found out your dad’s name”. I froze and rapidly rewound every conversation I could remember in my head and realized that I have never discussed my father with my children. We’ve always concentrated on their living grandparents. Besides my mother, who was killed in a tragic accident just over a year ago, we never bring up the subject of family members who have passed on. Pets, yes. People, no.

Regarding my father, he rarely comes up even in my own life. He died in 1984 after a difficult battle with cancer. I knew him sober for only a year before the cancer took over. My years growing up with my dad are difficult to remember. Dad was a heavy drinker, and was in and out of treatment facilities. Growing up with an alcoholic parent is never easy.

When he was sober, he was an amazing person. It’s simple to see how my mother could fall in love with his charming good looks, sparkling personality, and rapid-fire intelligent wit. But he was an ugly and violent drunk. We never knew when he would be reasonable or if something minor would rile him up. My younger brother and I took refuge in our rooms when we could. It’s probably why I’m such a voracious reader today. Reading was a good excuse to lock my door and stay out of the way.

I don’t know how to discuss my dad with my kids so I have avoided it. Do I only talk about his Army career? I can tell them some things about his tour as a tank gunner in the Korean war, or as a paratrooper in Vietnam. I could describe how hard he worked to get his college education after he retired in 1976. His long hours holed up in his office, typing papers, and cobbling together two Apple IIe plus machines to form a network so he could FTP into the William and Mary College library to do research might make a good story. But my good memories are so few compared to the bad ones that I really don’t have much to say after that. Perhaps I just felt that if you can’t hold your dad up as a hero and a great role model, it would be best just to leave his memory be. Maybe we could just ignore anything that happened before my Junior year of high school.

Dad had a lot going for him when he was young – drive, passion, a strong sense of responsibility coupled with national pride, keen intelligence, and a desire to help people. He was a lead dancer at his mother’s ballet school, taught himself Spanish style guitar, and a was wicked good roller skater. He told us how my grandfather lied for him at the Army recruiting office, telling them he was 18 when he was only 17 so that he could sign up to go to war in Korea. Dad was hoping the Army would train him to be a doctor, but that didn’t pan out. He never lost that dream, and he hoped to pursue a PHD in Psychiatry after retirement, but he was derailed by his descent into drink and finally died too early at the age of 50, shortly after earning his Masters degree.

From what I was led to believe, he drank to manage the pain from nerve damage to his feet incurred by jumping out of planes through two tours in Vietnam. My earliest memory is me standing with him at the front door as he was headed out for tour number two. The sun was coming up behind him, and my mom was giving him a hug. The dog (we had a dalmatian at the time, named Snoopy) was trying to get in the action. That last tour broke him. War does horrific things to people. When dad came back, he was an entirely different person. Nothing was ever the same after that.

In retrospect, it’s not odd that I have not told the boys about their grandfather; but it’s not right. I need to ferret out the good parts – try to remember them – and give them a piece of history to hold onto. I see so much of what made dad a good person in my oldest son. It seems a shame to keep that from him. I’ll try to do better.

LTC Richard “Dick” Del Randall – B: 2/18/1934 D: 12/14/1984
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String Trio

Life has been pretty busy of late. Last month, my youngest son came home from 4th grade completely enamored with a group of kids that came over from the middle school to play their stringed instruments for his class. He fell in love with the string bass. So much in love, that I looked all over town for a 1/4 size bass to rent, but nobody had one. Fortunately, I know a few cellists, and they talked him into learning the cello until he is big enough for a bass.

When I took youngest boy to rent his instrument, oldest boy admitted that he would like to learn to play a string instrument too, but he wasn’t sure which one. He finally settled on the viola because he thought the violin is too screechy, and his brother already was going to play the cello.

I found teachers for both boys. The youngest is with a wonderful lady who teaches in the schools and subs for the Richmond Symphony. The oldest is learning with my violin teacher, who also teaches viola. We were lucky enough that my teacher could just extend my session by 30 minutes and we share a lesson. It works out great.

My boys picked string instruments! To say that I am thrilled is a bit of an understatement. I truly hope they stick with them. Playing can be so rewarding, once you get past the basic stage. And a little part of me hopes that they will play with me sometimes too. The cool thing is that I get to try their instruments too, which I’ve been dying to do forever.

Now if only money would fall out of the sky. I was saving up to buy a new violin, but with the addition of two instrument rentals and two more sets of lessons, all that money is going away. I don’t mind though. Music education is just too important to me. My new instrument can wait.

It’s so fluffy!

I find myself conflicted. Losing weight is supposed to be a positive thing, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. My body isn’t the same as it was the last time I was at this weight. Some of my old clothes fit. Some of them don’t. It’s been so long since I was at this size that half the stores that my work clothes are from don’t exist any more, and the clothes are out of style. I’m also older so some of the clothes are not as flattering or appropriate. It sucks, because I basically threw 10 years of my life away being fat.

Honestly, I don’t like the way I look now. Hopefully things will improve once I get where I want to be. It’s going to take a lot more work.

Changing your diet has its downfalls. After you change the way you eat, things that once held a lot of appeal suddenly don’t taste as good as you used to think they did.

It all started with a Board meeting at work. When the Board members show up, the office provides lunch, and if anything is left over an email goes out for everyone to “come and get it”. I wasn’t tempted by the usual deli offerings after Tuesday’s meeting, but there was just one brownie left. It was soft, chocolaty, and covered in pecans. Honestly, it was worth throwing off my daily plan.

However, that brownie led me down a road of bad food choices for the next two days. Tuesday night I didn’t feel like cooking, and the kids talked me into ordering pizza. Mind you, I only ate two pieces, and it didn’t really derail me – just put me at maintenance calories for the day; but I felt bad about it. Not only was the pizza not in alignment with the healthier choices I have been making, it really just didn’t taste good. It used to taste savory and garlicky and wonderful. This pizza seemed overly sweet and greasy. It wasn’t made differently, I just had a different reaction than I used to.

Wednesday I swore to myself that I would hop right back on the wagon, but I met some friends over by McDonalds during the lunch hour. Instead of driving over to the grocery store for a salad like I had planned, I swung through the drive through and got a Big Mac meal (one of my favorite meals there). Once again, it was a disappointment. The fries tasted greasy and the sandwich seemed to be all bread and sauce. Not to mention that it used up all my remaining calories for the day. I ended up eating only green beans and mushrooms at dinner, ultimately going just 71 calories over my goal.

In all, I really didn’t derail my food plan that much. The worst effect was the one to my ego. After having been good for a month, I let myself feel guilty for eating the “wrong” foods. In reality, they fit fine into my day with some minor adjustments. I just assigned guilt to them because they’re supposed to be bad for you.

The change in eating has really started making a difference though. I’m down a dress size, which is nice because that was one of the goals, but bad because I had recently bought a new wardrobe. I’ve noticed other changes as well, like now I can cross my legs. I can’t remember when I stopped being able to do that, but one day last week all the sudden I could do it again. Yes, I know it’s bad for you. I don’t care. I know that losing the next dress size is a ways away, but it’s something I can actually picture now.

What did I learn by all of this change so far? Focus on eating healthy food most of the time, but don’t skip the brownie. Brownies are yummy!

Updatey Fu

I am suddenly obsessed with knitting a sweater. Specifically this sweater on Ravelry: Birdie Fair Isle Cardigan by ViolaGee I would post a picture instead of a link, but I appear to be html incapable of doing so.

In other news, our house full of instruments is going to grow by two. The boys have decided to take up string instruments. It all started when the youngest decided he wanted to play the string bass. We couldn’t find one to rent in his size, so he decided to learn the cello instead. The oldest, not to be left out, chose to play the viola. We have consultations with potential teachers this weekend for each of them. I’m not sure where I’m going to find the money for rental instruments and lessons, but we’ll manage.

Still on the diet. It’s going, but the loss has slowed. Adding in carbs means I’m eating closer to maintenance. Sometimes being short sucks.

Rachel Barton Pine’s concert at VCU in Richmond, VA last night was terrific. I hate driving into the city during the weekend but it was entirely worth it, even though I had to walk four and a half blocks from the parking garage in stilettos. My feet look like I tip toed the whole way in pointe shoes; but I don’t care cause real life Rachel Barton Pine, that’s why.

As an amateur violinist, I was particularly enthralled by her technique. Fortunately, when you only need to purchase a single ticket options open up; and I managed to snag a seat in the middle of the second row with a fantastic sight line. I was mesmerized by her deft fingering – so quick, with her fingers kept very close to the fingerboard and the fastest pinky trill I’ve ever seen. Her vibrato had enviable variation and depth, and her bow arm was perfection. That was the most controlled spiccato! Although I can aspire to that sort of virtuosity, it is unlikely that it is something I can achieve in this lifetime given my late start.

She played the following:

Duo in A Major for violin & piano – Franz Schubert

Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op 80 – Sergei Prokofiev

A set of 4 lullabies from her lullaby album:
Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) No. 4 Funf lieder, Op. 49 Johannes Brahams (yes, that one)
Reve d’Enfant (Child’s Dream) Op. 14 – Eugene Ysaye
Lullaby (1918) – Rebecca Clark
Mother & Child No. 2 from Suite (1943) – William Grant Still

Sonata in A major – Cesar Franck

Ms. Pine introduced the last piece as one that is featured in a mystery novel that recently came out in which she is a character. It’s called “Fleeting Note” by Sherban Young. I bought it last night for the Kindle. It’s a nice, light book and I look forward to finishing it.

I have to say though, the highlight of the evening was the Prokofiev Sonata. I swear I didn’t even breathe during it. Ms. Pine stated that it was written as a descriptive of war and you really felt that as she played. Two sections involved putting a mute on and were intended to evoke the wind in the graveyard. It was so spooky! The whole audience took a collective breath at the end. I don’t think I was the only one that was holding mine.

After the program was over she did a meet and greet in the lobby. She and her pianist, Matthew Hagle (who was marvelous, BTW) stayed until everyone was gone to sign books & CD’s. I picked up her 2 CD set of complete violin concertos, which she signed for me. She was so gracious even after I fangirled all over her.
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I’ll leave you with the first movement of the Prokofiev sonata played by Oistrakh, for whom it was specifically written.

Messy Little Ball

Yeah, that last post – yeesh!

See, playing the violin is a little weird. Because what you are doing is showing a piece of yourself to the world, it gets wrapped up in this messy little ball of emotionally charged angst. It’s like being a hormonal teenager without the zits. One moment you love that wooden box; and the next you want to set it on fire just to watch it burn.

There’s one thing that always makes things better. It’s painful, and humbling, but it always works.

Practice Better

I didn’t say practice harder, or longer. I said better for a reason. It never fails, but when I start feeling the most frustrated it’s because I’m mindlessly playing through my pieces without focusing on the details. We all do this. It’s a lot more immediately satisfying to play something all the way through. Then we can say we “finished” practicing and feel accomplished when all we managed to do was reinforce what we’ve been doing all along.

It’s not fun to tear a piece apart and practice the same three measures (or three notes) over and over until our fingers can’t do it wrong any more. It really stinks. I hate doing it, but it works. When I take the time to identify what is going wrong and work on it until it’s right, suddenly everything else just gets better.

For some reason, one wrong thing can set up a cascading chain of wrong things. Can’t vibrato on that one piece? Maybe it’s because your brain is busy chanting “Oh crap, that string of 16th notes is going to suck!”. And guess what, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You were so distracted that not only did the 16th note arpeggio totally fall apart, but you couldn’t vibrate either, and just to make the party fun, your bow started bouncing too. Yay! All that training and it just comes down to whether or not you use your energy wisely.

It reminds me of that movie, “Dodge Ball”. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. My favorite line? “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” Drill until you can’t get it wrong. Why do I keep forgetting that?

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