Bonsai!

Last week I got my first seed catalog.   Usually, that triggers a desire to get out into the yard and get my garden prepped, but we just had two snowstorms in two weeks.  Additionally, I don’t need any more seeds right now.  There are enough left over from the last couple of years that are still good.  Plus, the garden was deeply neglected last year because I don’t do heat and last summer was a scorcher.  It appears that I will need to dig out the beds and start over, which I am dreading.

However, I am still in a planting mood.  Over the holidays, I acquired a Christmas cactus and a poinsettia for my office.  That prompted me to re-pot the terribly sad Thanksgiving cactus, an aloe from my sister (an offshoot from one I got when I was four years old), and my insane spider plant that are kept at home.  For some reason, those are the indoor plants that I find myself unable to kill.

With the nearly 70 degree temperature yesterday, I found myself at the greenhouse while out running errands.  I have been thinking about trying a bonsai for some time so I headed over to the part of the shop where they are displayed.  The ready-made bonsai plants were too expensive to consider, but the greenhouse sells the pots and plenty of young plants used for bonsai.

I chose a serissa variagated snow rose because it is reputed to bloom profusely with hundreds of tiny star-shaped flowers.  Flowering plants are a bit of a weakness.  Of course, after coming home and researching what I purchased, it turns out that this is one of the more difficult plants for a beginner, and the regular potting soil I keep on hand is too peaty for this type of plant.  Amazon Prime to the rescue!  The right soil, some screen, wire, and a few tools will be here later in the week so I can get started.

In the meantime, I repotted some ugly Chinese evergreen rescued from the trash at the office.  If they live, yay.  If not, at least I tried, right?

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Happy New Year

Christmas has come and gone.  The boys had a wonderful holiday break and got back in school just long enough for there to be a coastal snow storm which has kept them home from school since Thursday of last week.  My office doesn’t close, so I had to brave the icy roads, but few other people did.  Since the temperatures have not been above freezing for the last 9 days, that’s a good thing.  We aren’t equipped to clear snow from the roads around here.

I called a potential violin/viola teacher last week and got on his wait list.  At least he answered the phone.  I’ve tried to contact a few other teachers who haven’t even bothered to acknowledge me, even to say they had no vacancies.  It’s apparently a bad time to go teacher-hunting.  It appears that most teachers operate on a typical school schedule.  I read an article the other day that claimed that 25% of new violin students are over the age of 18.  Maybe teachers will eventually begin to count on adults as part of their target market and shift their thinking a bit.

Without rehearsals for the last few weeks, and no lesson to prepare for, I have not picked up either my violin or viola in some time.  Quartet rehearsal is tomorrow and I’m not really prepared.  It’s really going to be rough as I switch off between violin and viola and switching clefs can be problematic on a good day.  Then we have chamber rehearsal on Thursday, fiddle camp is Friday-Monday, and orchestra starts up again that Tuesday.  It’s a full plate.  Hopefully my little break won’t be too detrimental.

Sea Change

I recently stopped taking lessons with my violin teacher of 5.5 years.  We haven’t parted ways.  In fact, he still teaches my oldest son, and I will still be taking part in some of his holiday concerts for charity.

There were several reasons behind my dropping lessons.  The biggest reason is just pocketbook pressure.  With three of us in the family taking music lessons, and cost of living going up, something has to give.  Of course, I’m going to give the precedence in taking lessons to my children.  I want to be taking lessons, but other things have to come first-like paying for car insurance for my teenager who can’t wait to get his driving permit in two weeks.

One of the secondary reasons for leaving was that this fall I ended up being overscheduled between new travel demands for my job and people’s discovery that I owned a viola.  Suddenly I found myself a member of four musical groups; and the firehose of new material really put a damper on time to spend on violin lessons.  Learning my way around alto clef took some effort.  Orchestral parts for viola are very different than those for 1st violin.  Fewer notes, but much more awkwardly placed on the strings.

Along with suspending lessons, I am also planning on dropping one of the groups to free up some time.   It is interesting how having to rapidly learn so much new material really helped me grow my sight reading skills.  That was a nice side effect.

However, dropping the one group where I only play violin leaves me primarily playing viola these days.  While my teacher has been wonderful up to this point, he does not have a deep understanding of viola.  I thought it might be beneficial to eventually look for a teacher who plays both.

And lastly, as much as I admire and appreciate my teacher, he and I have increasingly divergent opinions on technique and interpretation.  I concede that I don’t know what I don’t know, but it is possible that my research might have more validity than my teacher gives credit to.  It’s worth me looking around to see if there is someone with whom I could explore those concepts.

I had a consultation with another teacher over the weekend who gave me some useful tips to help with some technical issues. It is humbling to have someone provide constructive criticism in a way you aren’t used to receiving it, but a good exercise.  I am hoping to have several such consultations so that I may decide what approach to eventually steer towards.

 

Time management for the insane

I joined an orchestra in August.  It would be a challenge for me if I were playing violin, but I got in on viola.  I have been playing violin for 5.5 years, but viola isn’t just a bigger version of the violin.  It is tuned lower and uses a different clef – a clef I didn’t read at the time I took the audition.  Plus, playing viola requires a change in technique.

Being in an orchestra for the first time is a bit of a shock to the system because it is a very different experience from the slow and easy pace of the string ensemble I have been participating in for the last three years.  The orchestra is playing music that I have never played, and doing so at lickety-split speeds.  Adding to that, I’m learning a new clef and instrument as I go.  Total immersion is supposed to be the best way to learn, right?

In addition to joining an orchestra, I was asked to join a quartet on viola as well.  Fortunately for me, I really like the other ladies in the group and though we are on varying skill levels, we really seem to work well together.  The wine helps.

If only we had wine at orchestra!

My son recently pointed out that the reason why I am having a difficult time organizing, or even getting to my practice, is that I am in four groups.  I had no idea.  But it’s true, I’m in string ensemble, orchestra, quartet, and a Scottish fiddle group.  All four groups got new music in August, and again several times since.  Talk about overwhelming!

If I were smart, I would probably drop at least one group but I love all of them  I have backed off on the Scottish fiddling somewhat because it has the lowest demand.  However, I still plan on going to fiddle camp in January so I need to put some effort in to improve my Scottish fiddle chops.  Looks like dropping that one isn’t in the cards.  Oh well, being smart is overrated anyway.

I can’t drop string ensemble because my son is in it as well and it’s pretty much his only extra-curricular activity.  It’s also the reason he is in honors orchestra.  Who am I to stand in the way of a good grade for a good kid who is trying to do the right thing?  If I have to be there anyway, I might as well play.  After three years, it’s kind of my musical home and it would be weird not to.

I won’t drop orchestra or quartet because those two things were my goal from day one.  Looks like I need to find a way to get organized.  Here’s to crazy dreams, ya’ll!

 

The Delivery

This evening I found myself unprepared for dinner when one of the boys came downstairs looking for food.  How do the weekends go by so quickly?  After weighing the relative merits of going shopping, or ordering in, I picked the easy way out.  Only two places deliver to our house.  We could either have lukewarm Chinese or hot pizza, so the latter was the obvious choice.

Dominos pretty much has us on whatever special VIP plan they’ve got.  We are such frequent customers (remember the “unprepared for dinner” statement above?) that I think we probably keep that particular location in business.  They usually send the same driver each time and we’ve gotten to the point where we have some inside jokes together.

Tonight’s delivery featured a heretofore unknown-to-us driver – a slight young lady with a brow piercing and a fair bit of awkwardness.  After signing the ticket and helping her wrestle with our order (teenage boys eat a LOT), I offered her the usual farewell I give to all delivery drivers.  Apparently, my flip “Be safe!” was not something she anticipated because she gave me a look usually reserved for Christians offering unwanted blessings.  As if they had the power to bless anyone, but whatever.

The reason I tell delivery drivers to be safe is because I truly hope they will be.  Our pizza driver has come through rain, snow, sleet, flood, and high winds to bring us pizza.  Sure, they do that for anyone who calls, but my pizza place and I, we’ve bonded.  Ok, I tip pretty well too, but people who drive for a living deserve hazard pay, and very few of them get it.

Maybe I caught her off guard, or maybe she resented my command to stay out of danger when she was very obviously getting into a soon-to-be hurtling death machine made of metal and combustible fuel.  Perhaps she thought I was being condescending because of her age.  At any rate, I’m not sorry I said it because I meant it, every word (all both of them).  ‘Cause here’s how I see it: if they don’t get back safely, then the probability of me continuing to get hot pizza on demand goes down.

Seriously though, I don’t like it when people get hurt, particularly on my behalf.  Oh, and I don’t tip as well for lukewarm food.  Just sayin’.

Like I said, my pizza place and I have bonded.

Time for a Change

I have a love-hate relationship with my hair, but one thing that has been pretty consistent over the past 30 years is that I have kept it long.  It occurred to me recently that the only reason I was keeping it long was so that it would look right for historical reenactment purposes.  Well, I haven’t been doing that nearly as much as I had to, oh say, go to work, or look professional for other reasons.  Hippie-long hair does not lend itself well to what I do for the majority of my life.

The last straw with the long hair came last weekend when I came down for breakfast and my husband joked that I looked like a religious radical.  That tore it.  I made an appointment with my hair stylist with no real plan in mind, just a vague idea that it needed to be shorter.

I thought I would only take off about 4-5 inches and layer it up again.  In the end, when I marked off how much I thought we should take off, it came to around 7 inches.  The stylist said that if I took off 8 inches, it could be donated to wigs for kids.  Sure, go ahead.  After tying it off, it ended up being 9 inches off.

After all was said and done, about 11 inches was cut off the length, and my hair is above my shoulders.  It turned out pretty cute though.  Best of all, hubby likes it!

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Sometimes Better Really is Better

I started playing violin 4.5 years ago on a borrowed violin that probably cost $200.  At the beginning I thought I sounded bad because I was bad.  And it was largely true.  You hear about multi-million dollar instruments that sound better than the average fiddle and wonder how that can possibly true.  After all, it’s just a wooden box, right?

A year later, I was offered a $500 violin to purchase.  It was being traded in by one of the kids in my teacher’s studio.  But when the dealer saw me with it he instantly knew it didn’t work for me.  You’d think that a beginner who has played for one year wouldn’t know the difference between a good violin and a bad one, but this one didn’t do it for me, and even I could tell.  So I ended up with a $1,200 instrument.  Now, it’s easy to say that a dealer talked me into paying more than I should, but the difference between $200 and $1200 was way bigger than $200 and $500.

The next upgrade, just last year, was a significant one in terms of value – not just in cost, but in playability and sound.  At the same time, I bought a better bow too.  A $120 bow and a $200 bow were terrible in comparison to the new stick.  I know it’s hard to explain how a stick can make a difference in your playing.  It’s really something you have to experience.

If you can’t hear the difference in a bow or an instrument, it’s OK.  That just means you haven’t outgrown your instrument yet.  Or, it might just mean you haven’t tried one that is better than you are.  The funny thing is, the better your instrument is, the more you learn from it.

It may take me a while to deserve the instrument I have now.  I’m finding that the better you get, the harder it is to get better.  Improvement happens slowly, and you have to be OK with that.  I’m trying really hard to be.