Happy Violin Things

These last two days have been great. Our ensemble conductor really spent time breaking down how to approach two of our pieces last night and I learned a lot from that. Plus one of my teacher’s other adult students came to ensemble for the first time. He’s really stoked about finally playing for someone besides his cat, and I’m thrilled for him. I remember that lonely feeling. He fits in great. Maybe now I won’t be the only adult playing in the studio recitals. That would be awesome.

Then I had a fantastic lesson tonight. My teacher was unusually complimentary about my progress and seemed excited for the upcoming performance with the Vivaldi. He feels certain it will be polished in time. I confessed my desire to perform all three movements of the Vivaldi A minor together and he’s on board with helping me get there. I think that will help me feel like a real violinist. Yeah, I’m never going to be Rachel Barton-Pine; but I can still harbor some higher aspirations than playing for my cat, right? Adult students need to feel relevant too, even if we aren’t as adorable as our tiny tot counterparts.

When I got home from my lesson, I discovered that the Yitamusic IPE Baroque bow I won on eBay had shown up early. It took less than a week to get here from China! There hasn’t been much time to try it out. However, since it’s a full-size bow and they are shorter than 4/4, it’s about the same length as my 3/4 bow, but heavier. It’s also stiffer, which I did not expect. The bow has an altogether different action that will take some getting used to. Right now, it feels more like a viola bow than a violin bow. We’ll see how I get on with it. It’s fun to have new toys!

I spoke to my teacher tonight about how challenging it is helping my son (who is also his student) with viola practice. It is easier for me to read alto clef when I am playing viola than trying to transpose to another key on the violin, but my son’s viola is far too big for me. Although I thought he would hate the idea, he seemed pretty OK with my suggestion that I get a 14 inch viola to practice with him. Our teacher likes my son, so that probably helped him realize I wasn’t just wanting one to be silly. Sometimes he reminds me (and rightfully so) that I need to focus more on refining my sound rather than trying change up my equipment. He seemed surprised that I was participating so fully in youngest boy’s cello lessons as well. I suppose he didn’t think I would play the cello too. It did tickle him when he realized I have to read in three clefs now. Since I used to be a pianist, only the alto clef is really new to me so it’s not as hard as it might be for somebody else in my position.

I tried desperately to instagram the crap out of an oddity today but got caught in the act and had to slink away slowly.

So my coworker and I made a run to Chipotle to grab some lunch. The one near our office usually has limited parking so as soon as C found a parking space he raced up to it, only to change his mind and circle the lot again. “Holy cow! Did you see that?” “Did you see what I saw?” Yup, we both saw the same thing.

As C was getting ready to maneuver into the spot, we both noticed a Very Large and Prominent mud dauber’s nest coming out the trunk of the car next to the space we were about to occupy. Even crazier, it had live wasps going in and out of it. Now we’re at that Chipotle several times a week, so it’s not like that car is permanently parked there. Somebody is driving a car with a LIVE mud dauber’s nest on it. You know they had to be all up in the trunk too – and how were they not inside the car if they are in the trunk?

Anyway, I knew nobody would believe me so I approached the car and prepared to take a picture for posterity when the driver and his companion walked out of Chipotle and caught me. They seemed oblivious to the scary nest of stinging insects on their car. I gave them a quick nod of acknowledgement and practically ran into the restaurant, red with embarrassment.

It is killing me that I didn’t get a shot of that noise to share with you all. Just another day in the River City.

Difficult Lesson Days

If it seems like I’m only posting violin thoughts here lately, you’re probably right. Most everything else involves other people so I don’t feel comfortable discussing it.

My teacher has been more picky recently. The plan we’ve had in place for over a year and a half now has been to have me play with the local university orchestra. I’ve been panicking since December. I think he’s starting to panic now.

He came to watch a performance of the string ensemble I play with on Saturday, and unfortunately my performance was lackluster at best. Nearly the first words out of his mouth were “why doesn’t your bow move when you tremolo?”. Of course it was moving. We were playing ppp, but I suppose he didn’t like what he saw.

Today’s lesson was difficult. Nothing I practiced came out right. My posture was wrong. My bow hold tense and inflexible. I couldn’t play double stops to save my life. Everything was choppy, accented wrong, or played with the wrong dynamic. Of course the more he corrected me, the worse it got. I slumped out of there knowing I have so much to do to improve that it seems impossible. If my son hadn’t been with me, I probably would have cried in the car.

It’s days like this that make me question why I want to do this so badly. Honestly, I don’t have the answer to that. This is just something I have to do. There’s no rhyme or reason behind it. I only wish that I could apply all the great techniques my teacher is trying so hard to give me. He must feel like I”m not really trying, and that’s so incredibly frustrating because It seems like I’m killing myself over here. Nothing I do makes a lick of difference.

My teacher held a recital this past weekend. Of all the recitals we’ve done, the format for this one was my favorite. I really liked how organized and well-paced it was.

My son, who has been playing for three months played a solo and did a very nice job. As a violist, he plays nearly all the same songs, but in a different key from the violinists. Unfortunately, he’s the only violist in the studio and he’s too new to know how to transpose the music. That meant that he couldn’t play in any of the group numbers; except that he forgot and got up to play Twinkles. For the first few variations, he just stood there. For the last one, he went ahead and played in the key he knows. It sounded a bit off and he worries that everyone assumed that he couldn’t play in tune. His teacher and I told him it was alright. I only wish that the teacher had pointed out that Trip plays a different instrument to the audience. After all, it is a bit special if you’re the only one.

Awkward pre-recital pose

I chose not to do a solo this time. The only thing I have close to ready isn’t quite where I want it yet. One of the children played it instead. In comparison, I think I play it better, but not as effortlessly. It seems silly to compare my playing to that of a child; but she has been playing for much longer than I have.

My husband took some video. It was really hard for me to watch. In most of the pieces I was standing next to the best student there. She was amazing to watch. Her playing is just about perfect. I look like a stilted machine. My arm is high, my wrist barely moves, I hold the instrument too high, and my face looks like I’m in pain. Honestly, I wonder if I am capable of the proper mechanics at this point. It is depressing, and makes me want to quit. While I know that quitting isn’t the answer, does it make sense to continue if I can’t fix the obvious problems? Am I really that resistant to what I’m being taught? When I play, it feels like I’m doing everything I’m supposed to. How am I ever going to play right if I can’t tell that I’m doing it wrong after all this time?

Things I Notice

I’ve been reflecting on maturity lately. Aging hasn’t been all that good to me, mostly because I didn’t take very good care of myself when I was younger. Large weight swings, too much sun exposure, poor diet choices, bad exercise habits, injuries – all add up to issues I’m dealing with now.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am preoccupied by my weight, my frizzy hair, my stumpy stature, and all manner of things. Some of them I can manipulate, but don’t. Others, I’m stuck with. This body feels like a joke to me. And like most jokes, I don’t think it’s terribly funny.

For the longest time I have been fooling myself that I’m way heavier than I was when I got married. For a while there it was true. However, I’ve lost a fair bit of weight recently. It made me feel good, and I have been strutting around as if I had won a prize or something. But I’ve been looking at old pictures and comparing them to current ones and I realize that I currently weigh less than 10 pounds more than I did 16 years ago, and I look very much the same. While I look way heavier now than in those old pictures, most of those clothes pretty much fit. They don’t look that great, but I can wear them. Does 10 pounds really make that big a difference, or has my self perception changed so greatly? I mean, I used to think I was almost cute back then. Now, not so much. Either I wasn’t as cute as I thought I was back then, or getting older has done a number on me in ways not completely related to my weight.

Everything has shifted and it’s not going back. As much as I would like to be as slender and attractive as my sisters, that’s simply not in the cards. There isn’t enough time in my day to devote to it. Everyone who has sisters knows it’s a competition, and I have lost.

But there’s good with the bad. For example: folks say that when your hair starts turning grey/silver/white, it gets more wire-y and less manageable. Well, bonus! Mine was that way to start with. In fact, I think the white (yes! thank you!) hairs are softer and easier to style, yet maintain the curl I like. I like my dark hair, but I look forward to seeing what I will look like with a lighter head of curls.

Also, I’m more emotionally stable than I used to be. That’s a huge plus right there. In fact, someone asked me today to chat with his wife about how things have changed for me since I was her age. She’s going through a lot of the same things I did and he thinks that since I “have it all together” that I can give her some sense of how she can get past the roadblocks she is facing. I think its flattering that he asked. Not sure about the wisdom of doing it, but it never hurts to make a new friend so I might at least approach it that way if I do.

The thing I notice most though, is that I’m not afraid of much anymore. Not for myself anyway. If I want to try a new thing, I try it. Who cares if I’m too old, or too short, or too fat, right? The last thing I want for the second half of my life is to regret anything anything else. I’ve done my fair share of that already.

Reluctant Gardener

A friend of mine went to the Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh this weekend and helped me out by picking up some roses for my soon-to-be garden border out back. She knows I love old garden roses the best so she picked up Rose de Rescht, Blush Noisette, and Souvenir de la Malmaison. They will soon join the hydrangea, the cherry bush, and the lilac by the back fence. Boy do I have a lot of grass to get rid of!

The bushes will all be spaced eight feet apart and the spaces between them will be filled in with whatever strikes my fancy. I will be looking for a hardy lavender, some rosemary, a bunch of bulbs/tubers (gladiola, iris, tulip, lilly, daffodil, grape hyacinth), salvia, garlic, alium, daisies, coreopsis, monarda, thyme, dianthus, and gosh, just whatever isn’t a dandelion, chickweed, crabgrass, or some kind of thistle, which is what grows there now. I can picture what I want, but not how to describe it. Maybe like a cottage garden – only not as messy.

I’m a bad gardener in that I did not prepare beds at all. I just plopped the bushes in the ground and left all the grass and weeds in and around there. It’s going to make my life a lot harder now to get the border in, but it seemed preferable to leaving the plants in pots to die of dehydration like I have every other year. This is a long term project anyway. It’s not like I’m going to have a picture-perfect border by the end of the summer. There’s a lot of work to do, and I hate digging, being dirty, and heat. But I like flowers, so there’s that. Just call me a reluctant gardener.
The good news is that the front yard looks pretty good. We have a service do the lawn treatments up front so it’s pretty much all nice, green grass. The front landscape beds are starting to shape up too. Mom’s irises bloomed this year and look nice with the clematis and other plants already in there. The heirloom peony has about 30 blooms on it waiting to burst open. The new peony just got transplanted so it’s a bit small with no buds, but it’s alive and we may get flowers on it next year. The lilies seem to be settling in, and the knockout rose is well, a knockout. Once I get bulbs bought and planted this fall, the front yard should start really coming into its own.

In an effort to get it all down in print before I forget everything, here is part II of our Seattle adventure.

Pleased with ourselves for having squeezed in so much in our first full day in Seattle, we made an early start the next morning. Not that it’s hard to do when you are used to eastern standard time and you’re staying on the west coast. We went down to the handy dandy concierge (gotta love a 5 star hotel!) to help us with our itinerary. They managed to wangle passes to the Pompeii exhibit at the Pacific Center, which is something we wanted to see after the driver told us about it on the way to the hotel two nights earlier. The concierge also let us know that we could have the hotel driver take us where we wanted to go if they were available. Sweet!

OK, I don’t know about you guys, but as much as I enjoy walking, eleven blocks on an empty stomach was none too appealing. And seriously, who gets a chauffeur at their beck and call? Nobody we know! We made our way down to the doorman who called the car over for us right away, just like in the movies. Hello? Black Cadillac town car with privacy screens and a guy in a uniform driving it? Heaven! My jeans and cotton sweater felt a bit casual for the occasion, but who cares? We’re in a chauffeured car!

The driver was super nice, pointing out all the cool places to eat and telling us where we should go to see the best stuff, and what touristy things totally weren’t worth it. Hint, go look at the Space Needle, but don’t spend the money to go up in it. There are taller buildings with better views and cheaper elevator tickets. He dropped us off right at the Pacific Center and wished us a good day. Nice guy.

It was about 9:00 AM and we noticed that not a darn thing was open. Furthermore, there wasn’t anywhere to eat nearby. Fortunately, I had my phone and we found a Subway only four blocks away so we walked over there to get breakfast and had the whole place to ourselves. Subway breakfast is pretty good. We got back up to the Pacific Center about an hour later and things were just thinking about starting to open up. After wandering around for a bit, we happened into the EMP museum and checked out the gift shop. It had a few cute things, but nothing worth dragging around Seattle for the rest of the day.

Our next stop was the Pacific Center to see the Pompeii exhibit. Seeing all those marvelous things from so long ago was fascinating. I wanted to touch all the things, but of course I didn’t. But I’m jealous of all those museum employees who get to handle actual history. Being able to get close to the carvings and glasswork was amazing. I wish pieces like that were more common today. Life would be ever so much more beautiful. That exhibit was huge and totally worth the money. Too bad Seattle was its last stop in the US. What a treat!


Since we were already at the museum, we spent some time with the regular exhibits. I wished that the kids had been there. They would have loved it, even if they are a bit too old for some of the hands-on type things. I was fascinated by the working bee hive enclosed in plexiglass. It didn’t take too long for me to locate the queen. Bees are cool, even if I am a little scared of them.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the butterfly aviary. I didn’t take any pictures of it, sadly. The variety of butterflies and the tropical plants were just stunning. I could have spent all day in there if it hadn’t been so hot. I suppose butterflies like the heat and humidity, whereas it just makes me want to find a margarita. Sadly, there were no margaritas to hand. I wonder if butterflies like margaritas?


Of course, we visited the gift shop. There were tons of things we liked and would have gotten, but they were mostly not exclusive to the museum and had huge mark ups. We figured if we really wanted those things, we could search them out on Amazon later for a better price, and we wouldn’t have to trek all over Seattle lugging them in my tote bag. We visited a few of the souvenir shops in the area that we did buy some things from. After all, you can’t go away with your husband on a lovers’ vacation if you don’t bring something home for the kids, or the folks taking care of them. How is your child going to complain about only getting a T-shirt if you forget to bring home even that, amiright?

Then it was time for the #1 reason I wanted to go to Seattle – the Chihuly museum and garden! I wish I could recreate that at my house. It was so light, airy, and full of color. I can’t imagine how many gardeners they employ, but it’s certainly beyond my meager budget. The gardens are all themed, based on the colors of the glass objects installed in each one. Everything was beautifully balanced and delightfully arranged. If a Dr. Seuss book was brought to life, I expect it would look a lot like that.



The museum itself was awe-inspiring. The first room took my breath away. It was the size of a small ball-room and the center of it, end-to-end, featured an enormous multi-hued spectacle of shapes and colors. There was a room that had all items inspired by southwestern Indian culture, with glass imitating the woven baskets and rugs they were displayed alongside. Then there were several spectacular rooms of ocean-themed glass, followed by the Persian ceiling. My pictures do not do any of it justice. I need a new phone that can take photos in low light without blurring. Moe bought me the exhibition book so that I would have some decent pictures of the art.


At this point Moe and I were getting a bit tired and footsore. We debated the merits of taking the monorail halfway back, or calling the chauffer. However, Moe found a glass-blowing shop that would be right on the way back if we walked. Despite the knowledge that we would have to walk 11 blocks, we decided to go to the glassblowing studio. It was totally worth it. I got to do some serious geeking and spent some time touring the hot shop and warm studio. They also had a lot of local glass art for sale. Since I was disappointed that I couldn’t afford a piece of glass from the Chihuly museum, I consoled myself with a beautiful dichroic marble from a Seattle artist. Every time I look at it I will remember what an amazing trip it was.

We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, stopping only to get some sodas and junk-food from a pharmacy along the way. After about a 45 minute rest, Moe went back out exploring, and I spent the next two hours practicing repertoire on the violin. Thank goodness for metal hotel mutes!

Moe and I had a wonderful dinner that night at the Capital Grill. It was expensive, but I can’t say that I’ve had such a good steak or table service like that in a very long time. Honestly, if you go to Seattle for no other reason, go for the food. We ate our way through that city and would do it again in a heartbeat. I gained 6 pounds and have only just now lost it, and I would still hop on a plane tomorrow to dine in Seattle.



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