This is For the Birds

We had such a cold, snowy winter I worried that the local birds (especially the cardinals) wouldn’t find enough to eat.  I found some bird seed that had been a give-away at a wedding and laid it out on the back deck in a tin pie pan.  The birds thought that was wonderful.  They came by the dozens, and soon there was no seed left.

Since my little experiment had gone so well, I purchased a bird feeder and some seed.  Well, the local bird community thought that was just the best idea ever.  I must confess that I thought that having bird feeders was such an old-lady thing to do, but the whole family has really enjoyed watching the birds.  Especially the cardinals.  There’s a big cardinal we named Brutus.  He’s so fat he looks like a dirigible coming in for a landing.


As the season has changed, so has our bird population.  Warmer weather has brought all kinds of new birds, including a bunch of rather unwelcome crows.  I have nothing against crows in general, but these fellows chase all the other birds away and completely dump the feeder every day to pick out the corn.

I read somewhere that switching over to black oil sunflower seed for a couple of weeks would discourage the crows.  They do seem to be coming by less frequently, but they still check things out.  It has only been about a week so far.  Hopefully they’ll find some new feeder soon so I can switch back to the other mix.  Black oil sunflower seed is more than twice the cost of what I was getting before.

Just so I have it documented somewhere, here’s a list of what comes around so far: cardinals, house finches, mourning doves, american goldfinches, crows, american tree sparrow, chipping sparrow, black capped chickadee, red breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, pine siskin, and carolina wren.  Some of them have stopped coming since we changed the seed.  Right now the cardinals, house finches, and american goldfinches are our primary visitors.  Maybe summer will bring us different birds.  We’ll see.



My First Stitch Fix

I have a dirty little secret.  I love to shop.  In fact, Amazon Prime pretty much pays for itself in the first two months of the year based on how much I order.  The UPS guy knows my address by heart.  This is because I really don’t like going to the store.  When I do enter one, it’s a grab and go situation.  Get in, get it, and get out.  It has nothing to do with me being an extreme introvert.  Nope.  Ok, yes it does.

What you might not know is I love fashion.  If I were skinny me with fat me’s income, my closet would make you cry with envy.  But going into a store, browsing through racks of clothes, and changing in a stuffy dressing room under unflattering flourescent lighting is pretty much my idea of torture.  There’s too much input, and nothing ever fits anyway.

I was commiserating with a girlfriend at the office about my lack of cute work clothes a week or so ago and she mentioned that her friends love this service called Stitch Fix.  You set up a style profile that includes some pretty thorough questions about what kind of clothes you like, the sizes you wear, your proportions, things to avoid, and preferred price points.  Then you have the option to schedule a “fix” and a stylist will take your information (and any other info you share like your Pinterest, Twitter, etc.) and send out five surprise items.  They don’t make an “outfit” per se, but they should fill in some gaps in your current wardrobe.

I decided to try it.  After all, it lets me try new clothes (yay!!!), I won’t be overwhelmed by too many choices, and I might learn a bit more about how to dress this rather frumpy peri-menopausal frame.  There is a $20 styling fee, but if you buy something, it’s applied to your purchase.  There’s no way I’m not going to buy something, so I had nothing to lose.  If you don’t want any (or all) of the items, you plunk them in the provided pre-paid priorty mail envelope and drop it in the nearest post office box within three days.  A 25% discount applies if you buy everything in your fix.

My first fix arrived today.  Seriously, where has this been my whole life?!  Wait, words can’t describe my glee!  I’m so excited with this that I’m even going to post (gasp!) selfies!

Here’s what the box looks like.


It comes with a styling idea card and a personalized note from your stylist.


I unwrapped the pretty tissue paper to discover this!


Oh my!  It’s not something I would have been drawn to in a store, but the colors in that top piece were so pretty I rushed to put it on.  It fit perfectly, and hubby liked it.  The belt is mine.  That’s one of the coolest things about trying things on at home, you can figure out what you already have that works with it.  I have shoes to match the belt but was too lazy to get them out.


Seriously, these colors are so pretty!  I would never have thought this pattern would work for me, but it does.  Ignore the bushman eyebrows.


I’ll never be a model.  Oh well….      Next, I paired this green blouse they sent with the skirt that was in the box.


Digging it.  Check out the sweet tulip sleeves!


Even though I already have a blouse in this exact color in a smaller size *cries*, I’m buying this one.  Blouses with adorable details that fit are far and few between.  Stitch Fix also carries jewelry, bags, and shoes.  They sent me these awesome enameled bangles.  They had me at enamel.  Gotta love that pasty, Polish complexion, amiright?


This last piece I’m not so sure of.  It’s a mixed material knit top.  The fabric is OMG so soft!  It’s super comfortable.  But it seems a bit long on me, and it feels boxy, and I’m not so sure of the polka dots.  The stylist suggested pairing with white denim, but I don’t have that, so I threw on a pair of skinnies, my favorite perforated gold flats, and my go-to Stella & Dot lariat necklace.  Tell me what you think.  I’m not sure about this one.


And the back –


I loved my first fix!  If this appeals to you, go for it!  Here are some final thoughts to help you make a decision.

  • Prices are retail, but they price-match.  Although you can choose your price point, keep in mind that the prices average $55 per piece (before discount).  However, these items are not from Target or Old Navy.  You’re more likely to find these brands at Nordstroms.
  • The quality of these clothes is better than the stuff I usually buy.  That dress is fully lined, and I’ve NEVER felt a t-shirt that soft.
  • The picks are personalized to your wants and needs.  Your stylist is there to help you.
  • Do you like fun surprises in boxes arriving to your door?  I do.  Enough said.
  • Are you too busy/tired/overwhelmed to shop for yourself?  Fill out a style profile and get started.
  • Fixes can be scheduled on a bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or as-needed basis.
  • If you need styling for a wedding/cruise/camping trip (whatever), just tell your stylist before your next fix.
  • Your Pinterest board is your best tool for guiding your stylist.  Here’s mine if you’re curious My Style Pinboard
  • They carry Petite and Tall sizes, but only go up to size 14.  Sorry.  If it makes you feel better, I’m a 14.
  • Some folks think that only slender young women can have successful fixes.  Proving ya’ll wrong, right here.  Ha!
  • They will be starting up fixes for Men in the fall.  Hubby is going to look so dapper!
  • Hate taking your little kids to the store to try on clothes?  I found a subscription service for them too: Sprouting Threads

Now the nitty gritty.  I did not receive compensation for this post, nor did I receive anything for free.  However, if you click over to the website using this link – Stitch Fix I might be eligible to receive a referral credit.  I don’t expect any.  Anyone who is interested has probably done their own homework by now.  I’m pretty late to the party.

Planting the Salad Crops

The days have been lovely and warm this week.  I ended up taking two days off from work to recover.  I still feel wobbly, but not awful – just tired, but I really wanted to take advantage of the comfortable temperature today to work in the yard.  I added some manure to one of the square foot garden beds and put in the salad crops.

10398736_10208874805686445_8949625700541521115_nThose are peas over by the trellis.  I started them indoors about four weeks ago and hardened them off this week.  They should be OK.  The other plants you see (if you can) are spinach and chard.  Filling the rest of the squares are three types of lettuce, a cabbage, radishes, carrots, and beets.  Some were direct sown, some already started.  Although our final frost date isn’t until April 15, I feel as if we have probably seen the last of the freezing temperatures.  As early as it is, if something does freeze, there will be plenty of time to direct sow later if need be.

I weeded the other square foot bed some more today.  It is going to take a ton of work to get back in shape, but it is more than half way there.  Moe is a little irritated with me for leaving clumps of weeds in the yard, but I don’t have enough energy to gather them up.  I’ll send one of the children out later to take care of it.  Once this bed is cleaned up I will put in the other plants.  Still not sure if I’ll waste it on the watermelon the kids want.  Ideally, we’ll get that grape arbor put in and I’ll plant the watermelon under that so I can put some better behaved plants in the bed.

Touring the yard, I found that the lilac appears to have made it through the winter, as well as the lillies, one of the peonies for sure, and the cherry trees.  All of the daffodils in the back are setting blooms, and the ones I planted out front in December are coming up.  Most of the tulips came up too, and one is setting a bud, so yay!

12814182_10208874797966252_8577431098681075097_nI should go shopping and pick up a new drop spreader so I can fertilize the yard, but I’m beat.  Instead, I’ll play the violin, read a book, and maybe knit.  There’s always tomorrow, right?

Lucky Enough to Forget

Now that I have started to come down from last week’s excitement, I realized something important.  I forgot that I have a chronic illness.  That’s huge and amazing at the same time.  First off, how awesome is it that I have managed to arrange my lifestyle to accommodate enough time for self-care that my symptoms are minimal enough not to have a negative impact most of the time?  I see friends of mine with similar chronic conditions talk about how many spoons they have left and thank my lucky stars that I usually have enough spoons to get through each day with a few in reserve.  Spoon Theory

Sure, I have my bad days, but my illness is largely in remission.  In fact, I’m not even medicating for it right now.  But I’m never going to be cured, and it could turn ugly and kill me without a lot of warning.  So I wake up every morning and say to myself “today is not the day” and move on with my life.  Because my life is unbelievably good and I love it.

It wasn’t that long ago really that I had to worry about covering up the fact that my hair was falling out, or having to walk with a cane, or couldn’t write my name because the tremors were so bad.  Ok, some days I hurt, or my vision goes all wonky, I’m short of breath, and I can’t think or talk straight.  I admit it.  Some days just suck, but it has been much, much worse.

So I was taken a bit by surprise how tremendously awful I felt during this camp.  My emotions were all over the map.  I shook, my heart rate wouldn’t slow, my eyes were red, not just from crying, but from swelling of the muscles around them.  In short, I didn’t do what I needed to do to keep from being a broken mess.  Oddly enough, I didn’t make the connection to my disease until today when I was sitting at work wondering why I still felt so darn terrible.  Duh!  You’re sick, stupid.

I forgot.

It’s sort of a blessing, really.  While it was miserable at the time, I am so lucky that I am in a position that I can forget something that is such a big part of my life.  Still, forgetting was dumb and I shouldn’t make that mistake again.  There really aren’t enough spoons for that anymore.

Second Fiddle

First off, day three of string camp was great.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but a switch must have flipped overnight because it was fine.  Nothing changed about my playing other than the fact that I had more familiarity with the music.  Maybe that was it.  Having slept on it, my mind probably assimilated everything and I could finally move forward.

That has been my modus operandi since I started playing.
1. Get assigned a piece and go over the hard parts slowly.2. Go home and analyze the piece – break into smaller, more manageable chunks, and try to perfect by the next lesson.
3. Have lesson – figure out with the teacher what needs more work.
4. Rinse & repeat.

Now here is what I haven’t been doing:
1. Drilling scales, arpeggios, and etudes.
2. Practicing with a metronome.
3. Playing anything for fun (i.e. sight reading practice)
4. Reviewing old pieces.
5. Focusing on dynamics and time signatures.

Basically, I have been getting by because I work hard at just what I need to do to get through a lesson.  That doesn’t work if I want to reach my goal of being able to play with others.  I know what I need to do now.  The trick will be to rise to my own expectations.

The thing is, I really do not want to quit and I’m mucho embarrassed by how emotional I was those first two days.  So what if I couldn’t play, right?  There were things I could do to make the situation easier.  I could have practiced the violin II part more before the camp.  I could have planned my time more wisely.  Knowing I get anxious, I could have gotten a script for Xanax (possibly-not sure on that one).  Perhaps I could have asked to move to the back of the section where I wouldn’t have felt so exposed.  I know I said I don’t have time to play fun stuff and that’s true.  But why is that true?  How can I plan my time better to make sure I feel like a success and not a failure?  So time management also needs to play a part in the equation.

We did perform at the end of camp.  The general track group played the orchestral number.  I still don’t like the piece, but I understand the educational significance for it.  Was it perfect?  Not even slightly.  Was I the only one who messed up?  Not remotely.  On day three I was able to expand my tunnel vision to something that was more attuned to the group as a whole rather than my flaws as the sole object of my attention.

The camp also focused on small chamber groups that also performed at the end of the camp.  There were several very talented people in mine, and everyone else was a more confident player than I am.  In our small group, we had an interesting situation in that there was one very self-assured player who frequently pushed the tempo and volume because he wanted to be a star.  And we had another self-assured and extremely competent player who was more interested in the group’s ability to play well as a whole.  The result was the one show-off player looked exactly like what he was, and the rest of us put on, not a flawless, but a credible performance despite him, thanks to the rock-steady support of the other fellow.  I learned that I really want the group to perform well as a whole rather than be a super star.  I don’t mind being second fiddle.  Now I just have to do the work that will let me be a good one.

Time to Stop the Madness

Come May, I will have been playing the violin for 4 years.  One of the biggest obstacles of beginning this instrument as an adult is finding other people to play with.  Unlike piano, string instruments are really more fun when played in a group.  Sure, there is plenty of solo music.  And many people are content to play in their living rooms for the simple joy of it.  But the fact of the matter is, for me – playing in a group is what I long to do.

For several years, maybe even since I started playing, I have wanted to play music with others.  I found a local adult string ensemble.  It’s fun, and I enjoy it, but I have to work hard to hold up my end of the score.  I had heard of an adult chamber music camp and thought it would really help me with learning some of the skills I need to level up.  I’m at that camp now.

There are several tracks one can take at the camp.  There’s a beginner track for people who have been playing less than three years and/or don’t read music well.  There’s a performance track for experienced players with 12 or more years of experience, and there’s a general track for everyone else.  Well, I don’t belong in the beginner group so I picked the general track.  However, this venue is too small to have a performance track, so everyone who is not “basic” is in the same group.

We were given some music ahead of camp to learn with the instruction – learn what works best for you and you’ll probably be playing that part at camp.  No problem.  In my world, the better players play second violin because the inside voice is more difficult to play well.  So I learned the first violin part because – hello melody,  duh.

When I got to camp it turned out they assigned me to the second violins.  Great, I don’t know that part.  Oh well, I’ll be fine.  I’ll just read it, right?  Except the group doesn’t play it through slowly first in the way that I’m accustomed to.  Nope, they have all been playing since they were children, and they go lickety-split through the piece.  And it has been that way the entire time I have been here.

Half the time I have been here, my violin has been sitting in my lap because I simply can not sight read at speed.  I have had three panic attacks- once having to leave right  in the middle of a session.  And I have spent a large portion of time crying in my hotel room.  Today I had a private violin lesson and the teacher suggested I just not play anymore.  “If you’re not having fun” he said, “then it’s time to stop.”

I think he’s right.  This hasn’t been fun for more than a year.  I work hard.  I’m not getting anywhere, and I don’t have time to deviate from the program to play “fun stuff”.  Every mistake is the MOST IMPORTANT THING.  I just cant let them go, which leaves me no time to enjoy just playing.

The better you play, the more enjoyable it is to play both solo, and in a group.  There is no timeline in the world that can tell you when you will be “good enough” to be happy with your playing.  Each person develops at their own rate and in their own time.  However, some people might be given plenty of tools to make that happen, and they will still atrophy at some point.  I suppose one can find ways to move on once that occurs.  But at what point do you throw in the towel and decide it’s not worth it any longer?  After all, it’s a huge investment in time, money, and equipment.

I have been asking myself that question for over a year now. Maybe this was the world’s way of telling me to stop playing.  I think about quitting every day.  It’s probably just time to stop the madness and throw in the towel.


Garden Prep Time

We had so many responsibilities in town this week that we had to skip an event, which sucks.  But the advantage of staying near home is getting a lot done.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend Natalie and I went to the hardware store to buy some seed starter.  The hardware store is a dangerous place for me (and her too, it turns out!).  We bought so many seeds!  I also got yard weed & feed and some black plastic to kill off existing vegetation where I want to put a border along the back fence.

12662685_10208599242197530_3365714783705255403_nSaturday was beautiful and nearly 70 degrees.  I tried to put the weed & feed on the lawn, but my drop spreader is broken.  Fail.

So for my next trick, I rolled out a 10×25 foot stretch of black plastic, cut it in thirds lengthwise, and used yard staples to pin it to the ground along the back fence.  It’s about 45 feet too short, but it ends behind the shed which sort of looks as if we planned it.

After that, I cleaned out the near square foot garden bed.  It’s all ready to receive plants as soon as they can go in the ground outside. We probably have 7 weeks before it’s safe around here to do that.  Even though I let that bed go at the end of the year, cleaning out was just tedious, not hard.  I started on the other square foot garden bed, but gave up half-way through.  When I put that one in, I didn’t do as good a job digging out all the grass beforehand. It wasn’t so bad the first year, but last year I overwintered onions and didn’t bother to plant anything else.  And then it got ignored.

I did dig out some of the weeds after the onions were lifted, but by then the grass had found it’s way in and I gave up.  The same thing happened yesterday.  After about 40 minutes of pulling grass, I threw in the towel.  Perhaps we will have more warm days before planting time and some more weeding can get done.

Today I did some extra house cleaning because some friends were bringing by an antique screen that I bought. It looks marvelous, by the way!  I also started some peas, swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and peas so they will be ready to go into the salad garden when it is warm enough.  We are also going to plant carrots, beets and radishes, but we’ll direct-sow those later, along with more peas.  The boys want watermelon, and I have lots of flowers too.  We’ll find places for it all.  And Moe promised to put two 4x4s up for me so I can plant grapes too.  Fingers crossed that I don’t kill them.