Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Just finished practicing piano alternating between McDowell's "To A Wild Rose" and a boogie-woogie version of "Frankie and Johnny" both are big favorites of mine. What a great contrast shifting from the syncopated, B-flat, F&J to the slow, romantic A-centric Rose. And getting that syncopation down by next Wednesday is a nice challenge. I'm due to play F&J then. Wild Rose is my final class piece towards the end of May. There the big challenge is all the notes in the left hand, lots of movement and getting the lovely roll in my left hand at the point when my left hand just won't stretch across nine notes. Often I get the roll but then my right hand gets lost, so I have to really focus on engaging that muscle memory with lots and lots of single hand repetition.

Hold on and Bloom

Erignyum or fleabane daises growing in concrete on El Camino Real. Where's the dirt? What's making them not only grow but bloom luxuriantly?

They remind me that some people manage to come out great with no nourishment at all.

They makes me humble.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Alcatraz Part 2 of 2

New to me, it wasn’t only stereotypical bad guys like Capone and Machine Gun Kelly who were incarcerated in Alcatraz. Political prisoners and people of consciousness went as well. On a brief ranger-intern led walk we learned that Hopi parents who refused to send there children to culture-negating boarding schools were also taken there. Though I knew that those schools attempted to change native children into different people, I never heard before that there was a fifty percent mortality rate. That’s something to read up on.


In January I virtuously purged the house of maybe a fifth of our books and managed to eliminate and repurpose several book shelves. We have a small house and the sheer mass of stuff is overwhelming. I forced myself to donate even books I might, just maybe read again reminding myself continuously that if I really wanted to read it again, I would very likely be able to find another copy to check out from our marvelous vast county library system. I purged the house and piled box after box into the back of the car. I know I made at least five trips over to the donation zone during the week. Since then I’ve been awfully good about not buying every exciting book that I hear about on a talk show or in a podcast. And I have found all but one in the library system.


But did I follow through on the Alcatraz trip? Oh no… I brought home two new books from the Alcatraz gift store. However when we’re done with them, I’ll give them a year and then send them off to the book sale unless they’ve been reread or dipped into. OK maybe two years.


For the trip I wore the new Passover fleece vest I created. I used my tried and true jacket pattern, the bodice of which I always double. Here I cut it longer but left vents at the sides and I like the way that fits. The swallow design I put over my front pockets, and on the back, was the same one I had created on a fleece blanket I recently made for someone I love. (See April 1 in this blog). The swallows flying free and safe up above feels right for the celebration of the festival. I didn’t make a pocket bag on the inside under the two front swallows, just an opening into the lining. That way I can drop in camera, sunglasses, and my cell phone. I sometimes have to dig around a little to find what I need but it works pretty gosh darned well. I also made a little chapstick and cell phone pocket  high up on the inside which seems to work for the way I live. My main challenge was the closure on the pockets. At this point, I just put on Velcro. After wearing it for a week of unusually cold weather I sewed in some hardware store magnets. They are better than the velcro. I think if I do the same kind of appliqué/flap another time I will line the inside of the appliqué and weight the hanging-down part so that I can just flip it up, grab my camera, and then let it drop. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Finding the right note

I can go there and higher, when I'm working on technique but rarely have I hit that note when I'm singing with other people. On a recent Sunday, Easter the Christians call it, I went along to help fill out the sopranos in a small congregation, sixteen voice choir. I practiced on my own, and went to three rehearsals with the group. I was very sure, however, that I would not achieve that beautiful high note in a hymn called Majesty. Only one of the four sopranos could. Nancy told me she was sure I would pull it off too. I tried to believe her but I practiced the lower E!

During all the different melodies, which included other hymns and choruses from Messiah, I focused on all that good technique; my breathing, resonance and manipulating my cheek bones while NOT raising my tongue or tightening my throat. Also I thought about singing out to the people who were listening, about the message they were listening for. During their prayers and sermon, I thought about the uplifting story of Passover and focused on my own Jewish blessing, Baruch Ata Adonai Elohainu

The swell of shared singing experience took control and Nancy and I hit that A flat.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Heading Out to Alcatraz

During Passover, Alan and I took the ferry to Alcatraz. I love the hiking on Angel Island so much, that I never thought about going to the miniscule Rock, though I've lived in the Bay Area for over thirty years. I took 139 pictures in two and a half hours and would have taken three times that many if we hadn't parked in a four hour zone back in San Francisco. Though we snuck in a small bit of gardens and birds, we mostly focused on the audio tour of the prision itself. It's really well done, self-paced and interactive. It's also a photography paradise. I don't know how many light and line photos I took of ceiling grids, cell blocks and gun galleries. Bars everywhere, silhouetted against huge openness. We're planning to go back maybe in June to see all the things we missed. More gardens, more focus on the native occupation, more bird observation, and even more history.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Our community chorus is not affiliated with an organized religious group. As is common for musicians who need to earn a living, our director also runs a church choir in a Baptist church. I'm going to be an extra soprano for her in their Easter service. They are doing a chorus from Messiah I had never heard before. It is, 'But Thanks Be to God'. I finally realized why the title sounds odd. I was looking at the music during my piano class and one of my classmates said, "Well you always look for the conjunction and contrast it with the rest of the sentence." Then I realized what was bothering me. Where is is the rest of Handel's sentence? What was he contrasting the tune to? Maybe it's something along the lines of, no-matter-how-stinky-life-is-you've-still-got-this-resurrection-thing-to-count-on?

Perhaps I'll get a better sense of it when the cellist comes for the dress rehearsal. It's easier being Jewish. We're still waiting.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On Cinquains

I was motivated to write the cinquain below because of two days spent substituting in a third grade classroom. They had to write one. I carefully went through the form with them: simple subject here, adjectives there. We all made up a class example together. The subject line was 'dogs'. Then about two thirds of the class wrote theirs about a pet. I heard one kid say to another, "Penguins aren't pets. You can't write that!". I then tried to explain that a cinquain is just a poem and the the subject can be about anything, even an idea.

Most of them totally zoned out because

a) It was almost spring break
b) I wasn't the regular teacher
c) They already did the assignment anyway.

Also a bunch of them copped lines from the class poem. Apparently several liked the final line where we equated 'dog' to 'small brown wolf', so they included that. I would guess this is because they are used to taking other people's graphics off the web and using them in their reports. The photo below is my own. After I wrote the poem I went outside and looked around for a good shot. That wisteria smells delicious right now.

I never did figure out what I smelled as I walked down to school!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Cinquain

Elusive scent
Piquant, Joyful
Dream, Reminisce, Awake
I follow you on my rosy-sky walk to work
Spicy bite of paradise

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mardi Gras Blanket

My daughter was only home for a few days of her spring break, but we managed a little heart-to-heart about some of the challenges of freshman life. Our solution to whatever tough challenges may face her in spring quarter was a nice, new snugly, study blanket. Hey, it's a lot better than sending her homemade cookies every week! She asked for something yellow or maybe orange.

I made the blanket out of fleece, 2.5 yards of yellow and 2.5 yards of orange. I also used several quarter yard pieces of different colors of fleece for the appliques. I made my swallow shape out of sandpaper, which griped the fleece nicely and kept my birds from shifting around while I was cutting them out. I winged the wing, trying out different places and shapes of feathers. Sometimes I created long ones and sometimes just little pin feathers at the tips, sometimes two colors, other times just red or purple. I liked the mosaic-swallows that emerged, though I think the yellow and orange also gives it a mardi gras look. I ended up making twelve of them, starting with a batch of four, glue-sticking them down, then appliqueing with a zig zag stitch in bright orange. I did a lot of batck and forth, laying it out on my daughter's bed and considering whether or not I had enough birds. At ten I was sure I did, because I was just tired of making the little guys. But it really needed two more. 

More on later....