Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day One Hundred and Sixty-Five

Several days ago I tried a new restaurant for Item #95 (try five new-to-me local restaurants). I had lunch at the Cascade Baking Company on the recommendation of a friend who raved about their Farmhouse Cheese bread. I think I might have done better to just buy a loaf of it instead of having lunch. I had a cheese sandwich (one of my absolute favorite foods) with a couple of kinds of cheese on their Salem Sourdogh - it's good, crusty bread, but it was a little too crunchy for sandwiches. See?

It's just not a moist enough bread to tolerate being grilled like this instead of tossed on a pan with a little butter. I ended up gnawing on the crusts and finally had to skip the last bits, and I like breadcrusts! I could tell, though, that the bread itself was good, it just wasn't a very good way to prepare it. I plan to go back and get a loaf of the same stuff and bring it home for toast and sandwiches - we'll see how that goes.

Good cookies, though. ;)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day One Hundred and Sixty-Two

the latest for Item #33

Maria: When we entered the abbey, our worldly clothes were given to the poor.

Captain Von Trapp: What about this one?

Maria: Oh, the poor didn't want this one.

I hope the poor want lots of knitted hats ...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day One Hundred and Sixty-One

Today I rescued worms.

I've always had a tender heart toward critters. I cried when cats caught birds, conscientiously avoided touching butterfly wings, and spent hours petting and talking to our various pets. I conducted funerals for dead mice, and snuggled with a beloved cat to which I was violently allergic. I was so angry about my cousins throwing a stray dog off the dock into the lake (not realizing that the dog probably thought it was great fun) that I caught him at the shore, wrapped him in my coat, and marched the entire length of the campground in high dudgeon so I could warm him up inside. I fantasized at length about freeing the neighbor man's prized hunting dog, Chrissie, who was so valuable she had to be kept in a chain-link dog run. She was well fed, but she was not loved, and I spent a great deal of my time sitting on the concrete edge of the dog run with one arm through the gap in the fencing, petting her and making sure somebody was glad to see her every day. I even went through a brief phase of walking carefully along outdoor paths for fear of stepping on ants.

This will hopefully give some background to why I spent half an hour outside today in pursuit of Item #63 (spend at least 15 minutes outside daily for 100 consecutive days), walking up and down the street with my children, looking for worms.

I had taken pity on my daughter and picked her up from school instead of making her walk four blocks in the rain carrying a backpack and a cello, and on the way home we stopped at the mailbox. Since our home is on a hill, the street has a very slight arch so that the rain runs down the sides. During a good downpour, these temporary streams are 2-3 inches deep and over a foot wide, and even on a merely wet day like today, there is more than enough water to drown a critter who thinks grasshoppers are tall.

I stepped over the rivulet to get to the mailbox, and noticed a fat, pink, wriggling worm caught on a leaf and buffeted by the current. Naturally I plucked it out of the water and tossed it into the more hospitable dirt - it would have been horrible to leave it there. As I walked back to the car, I saw another worm, and of course it had to be rescued as well. And another ... I gave him a new home, climbed back into the warm car, and informed the kids: "Let's park the car and rescue worms!"

I am not sure whether it speaks more to my children's good natures, or to my penchant for occasional nuttiness, but they cheerfully agreed. (Buddy opted to use gardening gloves, since he didn't want to actually TOUCH the icky worms.) We left the car at the house, pulled up our hoods to keep out the light drizzle, and set out on our mission of mercy. We quickly learned to identify which tiny flood victims were beyond our aid, and Buddy helped by announcing, "THIS ONE'S DEAD" every ten feet or so. Even with the many, many worms which had fallen victim to rain, cars, and booted feet, we still saved at least 30 from the watery depths and found them new homes in the dirt.

It's silly, and perhaps more than a little weird. But I can't help but feel like I did something good today.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day One Hundred and Sixty

I am 16% of the way into my 1001 days, but I have only accomplished 8% of my list.


I am not going to let this bother me.

There, glad we got that settled. So here's my latest recipe, obtained (of all places) from the recipe pages of the Reader's Digest. The kids were less than impressed with the capers, but after all the trouble I went to for them, I wasn't about to surgically remove them from the finished dish just to avoid offending their delicate sensibilities. (Laughing here - I was going to edit that sentence, but it is such a perfect example of my writing professor's warnings against lack of clarity in your pronouns [see Item 13], I'm just going to leave it and let you figure out what's being surgically removed from what - or from whom.)

This caper jar ... if they really want to make cars theft-proof, all they really need to do is make it so they're airtight with doors that unscrew, and have this company manufacture them. I could not get that lid off. Not by running it under hot water, not by using the little grippy thingie that works on virtually everything, not by using The Glare, that baby was STUCK. Fortunately, deep in the dim and dark recesses of my mind where grade-school science lessons are kept, I remembered something about breaking a seal to loosen a ...



Yeah, never mind, that was practical experience from nursing one of my children, the Human Remora.

So. Anyhoo, the caper jar. I finally realized that the problem was not the lid, but rather the tight seal. Breaking the jar (while appealing on many levels) would not improve the quality of the capers. The lid, however, turned out to be no match for a hammer, a thumbtack, and me in full-on "I Am Elastigirl And I Can Do Anything" mode.

Here are some of the ingredients:

Noodles, cherry tomatoes baked with bread crumbs and olive oil and capers and I forget what all else, and fresh-grated Parmesan with little bits of fresh Italian parsley which is NOT the same regular parsley so make sure you use it if the recipe calls for it. Then you stir all that together and let the cheese get all melty, and then you try to get your kids to eat it. I took a picture of it when it was all stirred together, but it tastes MUCH better than it looks, so I will spare you that sight. 9 recipes down, 11 to go - yum!

Elastigirl is my hero.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Nine

I flossed my teeth for thirty days in a row - see, nice clean teeth! That's one more off the list (Item #62).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Eight

The next few will be catch-up posts, since I have been DOING the 101 Things project, I just haven't been TELLING you about it. The last two weeks have been so insanely busy that today when a musical colleague asked me how yesterday had been (since he'd missed my frantic phone call asking how to reach a mutual student to tell her I needed to reschedule since my daughter was feeling sick) ... I stood there in some confusion, saying, "Yesterday ... yesterday ... I can't remember." I went to a concert a week ago that feels for all the world like it was last year. The only reason I will have the faintest idea when the next few list items actually occurred is that my camera (bless its little electronic heart) records the date each picture was taken.

So, without further ado - and what kind of word is "ado", anyway? - here is the successful completion of Item #65, sort all my sheet music and books.

I have a lot of music. This isn't too surprising, given that I have been playing the piano for 31 years and I am terrible at throwing things out in the first place. Throwing music out always seems vaguely sacrilegious, so when I started this project I still had pretty much every piece of music I'd ever been assigned, from "Toy Train Choo-Choo" (age five) right up through Mendelssohn's Variations Serieuses (college senior recital). Unfortunately, my filing system left something to be desired:

And this is the NEAT version. See that pile of papers next to the two white boxes on the desk? That is a stack of photocopied music which needed to be sorted out and filed, and I think it's pretty self-explanatory why that particular chore had not leaped to the top of my to-do list at any point in the last four years of professional accompanying.

See all those papers and books on top of the filing cabinet? Thousands of pages of music, some loose, some in books, all dusty, which included two elderly Baptist hymnals, several recital programs, the sheet music to "A Wink and a Smile" (you know, that really cute little tune in "Sleepless in Seattle"), a few Legos, large quantities of random Beethoven, countless books which promise to improve my scale technique, and an autographed program from a Carol Channing show.

See the filing cabinet? The inside wasn't TOO bad - hanging folders with my most-used books organized somewhat loosely by composer, plus a few hanging folders in the bottom drawer after Schubert and Tchaikovsky, and who KNOWS what was in those.

See the other filing cabinet? Well, no, because the camera wasn't big enough to take in the full scale of the mess, but it had music in it too. In stacks, not folders. It was all the stuff that was so disorganized I couldn't even stand to look at it, so I put it in that drawer and hid it under a stack of the kids' random baby pictures. (Well, isn't that what EVERYBODY does with their old music?)

Now turn around, and you'll see the piano itself, the entire top covered with teetering stacks of music. This is where I kept anything I was "currently working on", a definition which gradually expanded to include "any and all books containing music I'm working on, played for fun at any time in the last six months, or got out because I was looking for that one song which turned out to be one of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, plus all the accompaniments for anybody who has a performance coming up this semester." It was not pretty.

Step one was to give the cherry finish filing cabinet to my daughter, since she inherited my questionable organizational skills and hopefully a filing cabinet will help. (Also, the cherry veneer didn't match all the nice oak in my piano room, so it looked messy even when it wasn't.) I replaced it with a larger metal filing cabinet that was big enough to hold all of the books. I started with them, and don't they look lovely?

Step two: Get out every other scrap of music, even the ones in the piano bench and behind the filing cabinets and hidden under the baby pictures (where they had apparently been reproducing like rabbits). Sort by type. Get drink of cold water, sigh, and contemplate torching it all.

Step three: Make nice neat little labels for them (Pop Piano, Movie Themes, Church Music, etc.) and put them in folders. There, isn't that better?

I especially enjoyed doing the classical vocal pieces, which took up most of the bottom drawer since instrumentalists are more likely to have their own books of piano accompaniments, which they keep when the performance is done. Vocalists, for whatever reason, are more likely to disregard any and all copyright laws and hand me a stack of photocopied music with an apologetic, "I meant to hole-punch these and put them in a binder for you, but I forgot." (It's OK. I have my own system, so when you hole-punch them, I have to take it all apart and re-do it anyway.) These are now neatly organized by composer, with each piece paper-clipped together. The idea is that it will save a few sheets of paper down the road, instead of getting a new copy of "Vergebliches Ständchen" every year and using last year's for grocery lists.

And I didn't stop there! Now, instead of stacking everything randomly on top of the piano until it tips over and slides down the front of the piano and lands on my hands and falls all over the floor (not that I would ever let it go that far), I have little wire baskets for my various books. The one on the left is accompaniments belonging to high school students, the middle basket is accompaniments for my college students, and the basket on the right is anything I'm just playing for fun these days. Right now that contains Grieg's Lyric Pieces, a set of Gershwin preludes, and Chopin's Nocturnes.

Ahh. Much better.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day One Hundred and Forty-Eight

Tonight I am a tired, happy, jumbly mess of contradictions.

I am out at 11 p.m. enjoying my daily infusion of fresh air (Item #63), and I admit I am oddly attired. I am wearing those ubiquitous, ugly rubber sandals, an old pair of black yoga pants, and an oversized black windbreaker over a T-shirt proudly bearing the logo for Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese. This ensemble is accessorized with a dressy hair clip, sparkly earrings, and a classy necklace in a double strand of tiny sparkly white rhinestones.

The rain and clouds are taking a brief hiatus, and I am taking it on faith that my feet can navigate the familiar bumps and dips in the sidewalk from memory, since my face is tilted up to the black sky and its brilliant scattering of stars. The dampness from the earlier rain is seeping into my shoes and loosening the curls from my hair, and my carefully applied makeup is forgotten as the occasional tiny droplet of rain lands on my upturned face.

The night air is cool on my skin, but I am still warm with the remembered heat of stage lights, excitement, and the glow of a concert well-played and fully enjoyed.

I hear nothing but the sound of my own breath, my soft footsteps, and the hush of the faint breeze in my ears, but my memory is alive with the laughing lilt of Beethoven and the sweet sound of my friend's violin.

I feel the rain-softened breeze and the pavement under my feet, while my hands hold the memory of the dance and whisper and crash of the piano keys under my fingers.

I stop for a moment, turning in place on a patch of wet sidewalk, awestruck at the brilliance of the nearly-forgotten constellations overhead. I breathe, and the tension begins to ease out of the muscles in shoulder and forearm and back that have served me so well tonight. My mind rests, allowing the bright tangle of thoughts and emotions to gently unravel a little, settling into easier patterns that will, in a while, allow for much-needed sleep.

I finish my walk, and I am home. I am slightly less jumbly, still happy, and still tired, and now I am going to bed.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day One Hundred and Forty-Four

How the heck am I gonna take a picture of myself flossing my teeth?!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day One Hundred and Forty-Three

Oh, I do love going for walks in the rain.

(Item #63)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day One Hundred and Forty-Two

If we're going to get all technical about it, I spent part of the afternoon outside (Item #63) engaged in trespassing, theft, and property damage. I didn't get caught though, and I will happily give all their leaves back if they ask for them, so hopefully that makes it be OK. There's not much I can do about the little pieces of grass that got ripped up by the rake, and I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping they don't notice.

I've had a long history of hit-and-run gardening with the next-door neighbors. It started years ago when I looked outside and realized that Dave had raked part of my yard when my yard bin was full. So I retaliated by raking his entire (much smaller) front yard when he wasn't home, since the leaves were all off of my oak tree anyway. He escalated things by using his leaf blower to clear the leaves off the street in front of the house, and I ripped all the weeds out of his rose beds - that'll teach HIM not to bring that contraption over here any more. He spread some leftover barkdust around my roses when he bought more than he needed for his own, so really, I had no option but to wait until he and his wife went to work, reach across the property line, and eradicate the nasty wild blackberry vine that had taken root at the base of their retaining wall.

Today I noticed that the leaves from my oak tree had drifted across to their normally pristine yard some time at the end of fall. Now that their personal yard maintenance service has grown up and gone to college, the leaves were still there, slowly decaying into their grass. I had my rake out, the yard debris bin was still under the tree from my latest attack on the Ancient Disintegrating Leaf Piles of Doom (see Day 133), and nobody was home - perfect! I snuck through the rose border, checked to make sure I didn't see their car coming up the street, and went to work as fast as I could. Twenty minutes later, I had some VERY sore muscles and an upset stomach from doing that much physical activity with no warning to my poor winter-indulged body, but they had a clear yard.

I think I got away with it, but if I come outside in the morning and find the sticks picked up off of my lawn, the leaves in their flowerbeds are GONE, BABY, GONE.

(gratuitous oak tree shot)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day One Hundred and Forty-One

After the sudden surge in visits to my blog yesterday when I posted it on my Facebook page, I realized that if more than a handful of people are going to read it, maybe I should, you know, update it a little more often. (Nothing against my first readers - you know who you are, and I know who at least some of you are, and I appreciate you very much. Just so ya know.) So today I got all inspired, and said to myself - well, I didn't say anything since I generally don't talk to myself at all, as it tends to give a bad impression. Musicians are weird enough without walking around muttering to themselves.

(Note to self: Make sure to get more than five hours of sleep before posting next blog entry.)

ANYWAY. I thought it would be fun to do Item #77, do a day-in-the-life photo essay. Since I am the only person I know who will allow me to walk around with a camera taking pictures of them all day, I figured I'd just snap pictures of everything I did today, and ta-dahh! One more item off the list!

It did not work out quite as I had planned. It turns out that the inside of a car (approximately 105 minutes in seven separate driving segments), the keyboard of a piano (120 minutes), the inside of a classroom (75 minutes), a middle-school orchestra classroom (40 minutes), a kitchen (60 minutes), and the checkbook and a calculator (25 minutes) do not make for gripping photo essays. Also, it became quickly evident that I needed to try this again in a few months, and next time I will a) use a better camera (see Item #2) and b) pick a day whose schedule is not utterly insane.

So, in the absence of a beautifully photographed and wittily captioned photo essay, I give you the latest on Item #33 (knit or crochet 20 items for the homeless). Four down, sixteen to go!

(I will probably go back at some point and photograph this spot again for Item #80 [the windows and doors photo collection]. I must have walked past this spot hundreds of times in my years as a student and on staff at the college where I work. But even with my keen eye for the hidden delights of this campus and its history dating back to the 1890's, today was the first time that I saw this remnant of a stone staircase, half-buried in the ivy by the music building. The ferns, the ivy, the moss, and the cool grey light from the overcast sky are so completely Oregon, don't you think?)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day One Hundred and Forty

Maybe this is cheating a little, but I'm counting today for Item #6 (read 10 new books by authors who are new to me), because it was so much fun I can't stand not to write about it.

My son's grade school hosts a monthly event where parents are encouraged to come to the school library with their child at 7:30 a.m., 45 minutes before school starts. Muffins and mini-donuts are served at the door, age-appropriate books are laid out on the low tables, and after that you're on your own. This month a rescheduled rehearsal allowed me to come, and it was completely delightful.

We sampled the muffins and had tiny cups of apple juice, and came into the little library, which was already busy with little wiggly bodies and the murmur of voices. Some families sat at the tables reading, others spread out on the floor. Many of the parents read to their children, but I saw one dad sharing a low bench with his two daughters, the girls leaning on him as they read, all three of them engrossed in separate books.

My son (whom I'll refer to as Buddy, since that's what we call him half the time anyway) and I opted for shared books on the floor. We made a selection from the books laid out on the table, and dutifully made our way through a brightly illustrated book that taught us all about animal camouflage in the wild. Cute enough, but definitely educational, even with Mama reading it with her best teacherly zest.

We plucked our next book from the shelf we were leaning on, and it was much more entertaining - a bee buzzes into a farmyard and passes along a bad head cold, and in the process all the animals switch voices. Now, I am a sucker for any book that lets me "do voices." I read my kids Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" books for years after they'd outgrown them, simply because I like Frog's cheerful, optimistic tones and Toad's perpetual grumbling. In all of those books, the scary snake gets only one line, and my rendition of his gleeful "Helloooooo, lunch!" is now a family byword. This book wasn't quite as fun as making Frog and Toad shriek their way down the hill (being brave, of course, at the top of their lungs), but it did let me bark, meow, moo, quack, oink, and finally, at the very end,


Our favorite, though, was the "one more, please, Mama" that Buddy begged for in the last few minutes of the reading session. I didn't have time to look very hard, so I picked the first one that caught my eye, "The Remarkable Farkle McBride". It wasn't the art or the title that got my attention on this one - it was the author, actor John Lithgow. The book's hero, four-year-old Farkle McBride, is a musical prodigy who learns various instruments and discards them when he gets bored, a process he repeats until he works his way through the orchestra and eventually finds fulfillment on the conductor's podium at age eight. I cringed at the sight of the bashed-in violin and the bent trombone slide sticking out of the garbage can, and couldn't resist some horrified editorializing about how we do not do that to our instruments in real life. Buddy, though, was entranced by the rhythm of the language, C. F. Payne's vivid illustrations, and the admittedly funny idea of two wide-mouthed fish gazing in astonishment at a flute in the bottom of their pond.

As we read on, I found myself smiling too, but for different reasons. Having played the flute very badly for eight long years, I share Farkle's eventual displeasure with the instrument (which, amazingly, he is holding correctly in the picture), and I admit that I identify with his urge to pitch it in the lake. I had to stop the story for a minute when Farkle masters the trombone, since I was laughing too hard to keep reading. At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about the illustration of the shirt-sleeved men in orchestra rehearsal, trumpets and trombones in hand. To anyone who has spent time in a full symphony orchestra, though, the instruments propped on knees and slightly glazed expressions of the musicians are immediately identifiable as the brass players' all-too-common two hundred measures of rests. And when Farkle finally finds peace with himself and the orchestra, baton in hand, something about his relaxed stance reminds me of every really good conductor I've ever played for.

On second thought, I don't think it's cheating at all to count this book for my project. When you read mediocre books, you find a story and perhaps a character or two. When you read good books, you find characters that come alive and a story that pulls you into its reality. But the best books are the ones (not the same ones for everyone, which makes it even more fun) where you turn the pages, and against all expectation you find yourself. If I can help my little Buddy find a few of these to take with him into adulthood, I will be well pleased indeed.