Thursday, June 29, 2006
Operating a Bucket and Backhoe
The first few stumps were pretty hard to pull. But by the third or fourth one, I came up with a way to do them pretty easily - digging out one or two of the three/four main roots and then yanking out the stump. In all I pulled about 30 stumps. It wasn't very hard to dig a ten foot-hole for the stumps using the backhoe, even though I never did quite get it working that smoothly. Backfilling the hole was a lot harder. Then I switched over to using the bucket as a blade to scrape all the tundra and %$@#&*^ alder roots off the surface. I ended up pushing a lot of these scrapings over the sides of the hill. Then I scraped down some of the higher points to fill in some of the lower points as much as possible. Finally we had three truckloads of topsoil delivered and I used the bucket as a plow to spread it around, fill some holes, and generally smooth the final surface. Two long hard days. The tractor rental and topsoil cost about $1,150.
After ten years the stumps are all gone!
Next, I'll borrow a garden tractor for final smoothing and leveling, followed by raking by hand. Then, lime (lots of it, to raise the pH) and fertilizer, followed by grass seed and tons of water. It sure will be nice to have a big lawn!
With all the yard work, I missed two days of playing my cello. I was too tired to even look at it. This morning was a struggle to get back into it. My fingers just didn't seem to remember where to go to find the notes, and they wouldn't move fast enough in coordination with the bow. Finally, after two hours, I had loosened up a bit and was able to continue working on the new second position. First, I'll have to construct a new mental map for my fingers and then work on fine-tuning the intonations.
I picked up a few more cello CDs this weekend; two from Title Wave:
1. Mstislav Rostropovich: Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor and Strauss Don Quixote,
2. Mischa Maisky: "Meditations";
And one from Barnes and Noble:
3. Yo-Yo Ma: "Plays Enrico Morricone".
The hardest part is finding time to listen to them all. The best time and sound system is in my Subaru, by myself, on a long drive (like when I go to lessons every other week).
Monday, June 26, 2006
Second Position! (Lesson 11)
Maybe, just maybe, Summer is finally here! We've had a run of sunny days, even though it hasn't been very warm - in the 50s, and windy. But when the sun is out and the sky is blue, the world seems full of promise, of hope and possibilities! I am such a slave to sunlight. I live for the summers. It would be nicer of course if the weather were warmer and there were fewer mosquitos (gak), but I'll take all the sun I can get, at least.
Finally, Saturday, I started SECOND POSITION!!! I didn't have too much difficulty finding the new octave targets for my second finger. I've played the "Target Practice" measures in Mooney's "Position Pieces for Cello", over and over, until my second finger is sore. Mooney teaches by alternating the open string note, it's octave-harmonic on the same string (using the third finger in fourth position), the first octave on the next string using the fourth finger in first position and then that same note using the second finger in second position. By repeating this over and over, the second finger learns its proper location on the fingerboard. Mooney also includes a couple of brief pieces using the a and d strings with first and second position.
Suzuki 2 uses a slightly different approach, presenting both the upper (hand-closed) second position and the lower (hand-open) second position at the same time. My teacher also gave me a brief “Countdown” etude to help teach my fingers to find the target points for the basic positions. She wrote it out for me on a sheet of scratch paper using the note names and finger numbers, which I then transcribed using Finale Notepad. I haven’t paid much attention to finger numbers before now, but now I guess I’ll have to start. It will be important to easily recognize them in order to know what positions are required.
It's such a great feeling to be making this big step forward (in one sense it's not that big a step - musically - it only adds E (a-string) to the top end of the scale, but it also opens F# (c-string), C# (g-string), G# (d-string), and D# (a-string) to a more comfortable playing position instead of using the 4th finger extension). It's a lot bigger feeling than when I moved from Suzuki Book 1 to Book 2. I feel as if I have now moved onto a whole new level of learning, beyond the basic introductory level. It feels like I've now progressed from being a raw beginner to a more serious student. It also helps that I quickly got pretty comfortable working on the new position. It also helps that my ears are becoming quite sensitive to the accuracy of the intonations. Next I have to build a new mental map for the all the finger locations in second position.
At the lesson, I played both "The Happy Farmer" and the Bach Minuet fairly well. She pointed out a few areas to attend to, but commented that I had come a long way. Also the C-Major version of "Long, Long Ago & Variation" went well. As always, she advised me to stick with pizzicato until I had the fingering all worked out. Also, she suggested that I continue to follow along with the music instead of playing with my eyes closed (as I always seem to do).
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Ignatius J. Reilly
Major Amos B. Hoople
Major Amos B. Hoople was a character in a once-famous cartoon strip called "Our Boarding House", which featured the goings-on at Martha Hoople's rooming establishment. It was written and drawn by Gene Ahern, and began to appear in September 1921, though Martha's husband, Major Amos Barnaby Hoople, doesn't apepar from ten years' away globetrotting until 27 January 1922. The Major was a layabout given to whopping lies about his achievements and addicted to get-rich-quick schemes. As I've noted before, he has been called "perhaps the greatest windbag, stuffed shirt and blowhard ever to "hrumph" is way across the funnies page."
"Hoople" was used as a derogatory term from the time of the strip's appearance in the early 1920s, and continued until the series' demise in 1981. The use of the term "hooplehead" appeared recently from the lips of the infamous 'bad guy that you can't help but root for', Al Swearingen, in HBO's "Deadwood", and appears to be a vague reference to that famous windbag.
Major Amos B. Hoople was the central character in "Our Boarding House," created by Gene Ahern, which ran from September 1921 to December 22, 1984. The overweight, balding Major had a bushy black mustache and always wore a fez. Compared by some to W.C. Fields and Shakespeare's Falstaff, he considered himself an expert on every subject, and was always on the lookout for a new get-rich-quick scheme. His wife, Martha, was the owner of the boarding house that was home to the strip's cast of characters.
From "Did you Know...", by Scoop:
In comics history's cadre of curmudgeonly grumps, Major Hoople is king. And like another of this week's features, Hoople was a late addition to an already thriving comic strip. Our Boarding House, the story of wizened homeowner Martha Hoople and her quirky stable of boarders, appeared for four months in 1921 before Major ambled obnoxiously back into estranged wife Martha's life after a ten-year absence.
Though the strip was interesting enough without him, Major Hoople's disagreeably daft personality proved to be quite the ratings boon, as readers embraced him in with Archie Bunker aplomb.
Aside from his affinity for cigars and the weathered fez donning his balding head, Hoople was best known for stretching the strip's text bubbles to the bursting point with his long-winded speeches, littered with "Hmph"s and "Egads," about the astounding ten years he spent away from his wife.
Though strip creator Gene Ahern retired in 1953, Our Boarding House, continued in popularity for decades, inspiring a shortlived radio show starring Arthur Q. Bryan, Patsy Moran and Conrad Binyon, as well as a Big Little Book and a oneshot comic.
I can't figure out how to send it to you, so if you don't already know it, Google Yoyo Ma wombat foto. If you think you like him now, just wait.
I ought to confess that when I retired I moved from Florida to Massachusetts, so I have standards for crazy moves.
bloviate, andyou beat me to it! As I read that daily AWAD word, I also recalled Major Hoople, a comics regular in my youth in our local paper (Redlands, CA). Off I went to college armed with the paper to connect me with home, my roommate objected to my posting Our Boarding House in our room and so that came to an end. What a great walk down memory lane -- thank you. (Right next to it ran Down Our Way, a nostalgic comic of kids hanging out and commenting on the world. Our paper loved memories like that.)
I've now connected with your blog: I'm about to retire, and it appears either writing or reading a blog is a way to go.
Links to this post:
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Solstice - 19 hours, 5 minutes, 8 seconds of sunlight
The last visitors left today. Son-B, daughter in law-C, and grandaughter D were here a week. The weather sucked the whole time, until it cleared off yesterday evening. Overnite temps dropped to 35F, but it warmed up fairly quickly and it was sunny most of the day today. Yay!
It was nice to have them here. We had a good chance to get to know our grandaughter in a different setting and age level. We won't be able to see them until next year at least, when there'll be another grandchild to visit. It always amazes me to see fleeting glimpses of my relatives in my kids and now in my grandaughter. She has so many traits from my mother - not the dark traits which, I think are primarly determined by how we are raised. What I'm seeing are genetic traits. Besides having similar facial features - especially the eyes - as my mother and sister, like my mother, 'D' seems to like to sort things out in logical ways (at 3-1/2 yrs.) such as determinging everybodies' favorite colors (and alternates), exactly where we are and where we have been all day and at what times, etc. It's also how she does this, the facial expressions she displays, the voice tones she uses... combined with her glances, sometimes it seems as if Mom has been reincarnated.
Seeing D brings up poignant memories of Z at that age. How strongly I felt for him at the time, and how much I enjoyed and appreciated every moment! How I miss those moments! Still, I watch him sitting at the computer, engrossed in his game, headphones blaring some White Stripes piece; very tall for 13-1/2 but rail thin; with big hands and feet; long unkempt hair; large intent eyes; a hint of a mustache; playful and full of humor; with his usual happy outlook. I still feel close to him, as close as before, even though I have to work at respecting his increasing independence and his natural growing apart from us.
Z apparently hurt his neck/shoulders on the trampoline a few days ago and it has been bothering him quite a bit. This morning I put a couple pain patches on his neck, which helped quite a bit. I really like Salonpas pain patches. They contain some sort of aspirin derivative which gets absorbed through the skin directly to the source of pain.
We were supposed to drive everybody to the airport in Anchorage today, but Z had stayed up most of the night - ailing - and felt nauseous this morning, so we sent them off in our Saturn. So we'll drive our motorhome up to Anchorage this weekend and tow it home. In a two week period we will have driven to Anchorage three times, to Seward once, to Homer three times, and to Ninichik once. We also bailed on a trip to Fairbanks. Also, we'll have dined out seven times...
Next week I'm finally going to rent a tractor to pull stumps. I've got more than 50 stumps around the house that were cut eight to ten years ago, which should be pretty punky and easy to yank out of the ground. The backhoe attachment sure looks sturdy enough. I'll dig a hole out where the garden used to be to bury some of the debris, and I'll haul the rest over to our old gravel pit, and bury it there. Then we're supposedly going to get a few truckloads of topsoil delivered. I'll probably rent the tractor again to spread it and do a few other jobs - I want to drag some of the fallen trees from the creekside of our hill and stack them in the gravel pit, with a sign offering the wood to whomever wants it. I'll also haul the tractor over to the property on Tustumena Lake Road and see if I can pull out some of the brush and fallen trees around our hill, along with some additional grading.
Any kid would give his right arm to spend a few days playing with a tractor/dozer/backhoe. Still, many, many years from being a kid, I'm really jazzed. I wish I could buy one...
With all the visitors these past two weeks, I missed several days with my cello; but I did fit in several sessions at opportune moments. I'm beginning to notice improvements in my sound. I'm working a lot on my bow hold, trying to keep it loose and controlled by only the thumb, forefinger and middle finger as needed. I'm also working on the various shortened bowings. I'm still a little confused about which type of note is which, but I think I know how to play the ones in the Suzuki books (at least). I briefly looked through the Potter book, but that only made me more confused than before. Nevertheless, my sound seems to be improved in various subtle ways. I've been working on the four (actually five) fiddle tunes with steady progress. The Mozart piece is coming along fairly quickly. I'm trying to focus a lot on rhythms and timing.
Sometimes, after playing really nice on a piece for the first time feeling the cello vibrating through my chest, that I sit, exhilarated, with my arms wrapped around the cello and realize that I am finally making music, and that I am improving. It helps reinforce the fantasy that the more I play the better I'll get.
When I first began playing, all I could see was how far I had to go. Now, after almost seven months, I can finally begin to appreciate the distance I've come - even if it's just one tiny step so far in this endless but fascinating journey.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Despite the crappy weather we've been enjoying these last three weeks, we found a hole in the clouds out in the middle of Cook Inlet - clear, calm, warm. But as soon as we limited and turned for shore, the weather turned and the wind and clouds followed us home. A great experience, and plenty of yummy meals ahead!
Then 'B' arrived the next day with his wife and daughter for another week. Yesterday we all went on a cruise from Seward into the Kenai Fjords National Monument on the Glacier Explorer. The weather really sucked - rain, wind, heavy seas. Almost everybody on board seemed to get sick, except for me and a handful of others who sat on the front deck and enjoyed the ride. We saw a few Humpbacks and a whole pod of Orcas. And, of course a glacier. I could spend hours watching glaciers as ghey crackle and calve.
With all the visitors and touring we've been doing, I've unfortunately missed a few days playing my cello. It's frustrating doing without playing every day. Today I had an especially good day. I felt as if I had made some noticeable improvements in several of the pieces, especially the five fiddle tunes I've been working on and the new Mozart piece from the Suzuki book. By playing them slowly and repeatedly, and concentrating on the difficult passages, I felt as if I'd made a breakthrough (more or less) on several of them.
We're sure hoping for better weather. Summer so far has sucked.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Spammers & Hackers
The biggest problem, however, is the hackers who somehow get in behind the boards and delete posts. I've been backing up the forum on a regular basis and am able to rebuild the boards after these attacks. The sad part, though, is that a lot of messages, which included a lot of irreplaceable information and advice, were lost before I was finally given the authorization to log in and make backup copies.
Supposedly, the website host will be replacing the forum engine later this summer.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
I described my frustration with playing the C on the G string, that I was finding it hard to get a good ringing tone. My teacher said she heard it loud and clear. Maybe I've lost some hearing sensitivity at that particular frequency (from 25 years of working in the plant?)
My bow hold was quite a bit better than before. My thumb and forefinger are used to push the bow into the string. I should feel the bow move around in my hand on each stroke. The occasional (sometimes frequent) fuzzy sound I get on stacattos and tenutos - are the result of not enough pressure or force into the string.
I have to do much more counting aloud during tricky rhythms and on longer notes. I found it hard to coordinate the fingering with the counting, so she suggested I count while doing open bowing along with the counting, then count doing pizzicato, and finally combine everything.
On the Bach Minuet (I actually played it quite well today - not perfect by any means, but almost satisfactorily), I should work on the string crossings. Play these out slowly, using the arm to lift and drop the bow. Another good one to practice - slowly, slowly, slowly - with is the Long, Long Ago in C. Also on the Bach piece my extension for G# was OK, but I should move my thumb along with the extension.
As we went through some of the fiddle pieces, we talked about the extensions (F# on C-string, and C# on G-string). I told her I wanted to start working on the lower register D Scale and the A Scale. I learned that I wasn't doing these right - the extension is not just the pinkie, but the whole hand - second, third, fourth fingers and thumb - except for the first finger - should move up half a step, so the second finger plays the third's note, etc. (on C-string; 2=D#, 3=F, and 4=F#) and (on G-string; 2=Bb, 3=C, 4=C#) and (on D-string; 2=F#, 3=G, 4=G#) and (on A-string; 2=C#, 3=D, 4=D#). The first finger stays in place.
I asked again about the dots and dashes above/below the notes. The dot is called stacatto, the dash is tenuto. We talked about how to play them. My earlier assessment wasn't quite right. There is space between notes, but it is less formal than I had thought. As much it is important for the stacatto to start the note with a crisp bite and then stop it without a "second" sound. The amount of time between the notes is somewhat variable. For the tenuto, the stop is more of a sliding out after the crisp start.
I begin the second piece in Book 2, "May Time" by Mozart. The only "teaching point" is to learn 6/8 time.
My teacher suggested I get a copy of Mooney's "Position Pieces for Cello" (I had already picked this up several months ago.) Rick Mooney is a Suzuki teacher who has developed several companion books. Normally she waits till mid-way into Book 3 to bring this out, but she thought I'd be interested in starting it. I'm supposed to bring it to my next lesson. We will probably start the 2nd Position then.
So, again, a good lesson!
Thursday we went back to Anchorage again, to get the MH's "Check Engine" light diagnosed. I guess I wasn't too surprised to learn that the fuel lifter pump was bad - $625 to replace it (we had to replace the main fuel pump in the summer of 2000 - within two months of purchase). It seems as if I've lost a lot of fuel pumps on my vehicles over the years - three Subarus, a Suburban, another motorhome, etc.
I picked up a few more CDs from Title Wave:
1) Mstislav Rostropovich playing cello concertos by Lutoslawski and Dutilleux (I've never heard of them);
2) Raphael Wallfisch playing the Barber Cello Concerto and Shostakovich Cello Concerto #1;
3) Stephen Isserlis playing Faure' complete works for cello
4) Yo-Yo Ma playing several cello pieces by John Williams
5) Mischa Maisky playing Prokofiev and Miaskovsky.
And then a couple from Barnes and Noble:
6) Ha Nan Chang's "Swan" with assorted pieces;
7) Yo-Yo Ma playing Japanese Melodies.
Finally, from Amazon:
8) Maria Kliegel playing Saint-Saens' Cello Concertos #1 and #2.
Now I've got way too many new cello CDs to listen to...
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Weird sensation in my forefinger
It's weird - each time something like this happens (and there have been three or four other instances of inexplicable pains and sensations), my first paranoid reaction is that my body is trying to stop me from playing - like when I mangled my finger with the tablesaw while trying to learn the violin.
I finally contacted my teacher and setup a lesson for Saturday. It was my only free day for the next two weeks, with all the visitors and touring planned. Unfortunately, I've not been able to keep up my schedule of practicing as fully as I'd hoped, and I'm afraid it will show. I have been focusing on my bow hold (keeping it loose), playing in the middle of the bow (and using whole bows in some cases), and spicatto notes. I'm also working on ringing tones - playing lots of scales at various tempos trying to hit the pure notes. Whenever I run into any tricky parts, I try to slow waaay down until I get it right.
We have to go back up to Anchorage Thursday afternoon for an appointment Friday morning with the Cummins shop to get the Motorhome's "Check Engine" light diagnosed and fixed. Hopefully, we'll be able to drive up without any problems. We had planned to go on to Chena Hot Springs for the weekend, but decided that it would be too much of a rush, and we cancelled it. Hopefully, we'll get up there in July.
Since it looked as if it would rain today, we spread some calcium chloride on our driveway and on the new driveway and pad at our land on Tustumena Lake Road. The CaCl is very hygroscopic, so it absorbs and holds water. This will keep the dust levels down - it was pretty gross last week when we stayed up there for a few days. Even when there is just high humidity, moisture will be absorbed into the CaCl. This evening, it rained just enough to dissolve the little pellets.
I reserved a halibut charter for four of us: myself, Z, A and his friend, for next week. Last summer, my friend Luis and I went out on a charter and caught enough halibut to last all year (we finished it tonite). I really like it barbecued with hot spices and also batter-fried (in the winter). The four of us could concievably take home 4oo pounds or more of fish. It's going to cost A and his friend about $4 per pound to pack and ship any fish home to Seattle. For sure they'll want to take as much as possible, but, still we could end up with quite a bit of fish in our freezer. I'd also like to get a king.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Cold summer, so far
Our oldest son, A, arrived yesterday for a "visit" with a hiking buddy. They already took off this morning for Mt. McKinley for several days, then on to Chena Hot Springs for a few days, and back here for one day before heading home. Our second son, B, arrives with his family the next day and will stay for just a week. We're going to go out on a halibut charter that last day with A and his friend. Mmm, mmm, we sure love that halibut (and also any saltwater king salmon if we're lucky).
We're hoping to meet them in Chena, but we had some problems yesterday with the MH and will have to spend Friday morning at the shop (assuming it will drive the 160 miles to Anchorage). We had quite a time getting home yesterday, with several stops to reset the "Check Engine" light. I'm guessing a loose wire or faulty sensor of some sort, but we'll have to hook it up to the code reader to find out for sure. Naturally, there are no code readers on the peninsula, hence the stop in Anchorage. The service guy at the shop said he expected they have most of the necessary parts in stock and should be able to fix things quickly, unless it is something unexpectedly serious.
Still, we got that old familiar dreaded feeling each time that d...n light came on - what's wrong? how are we going to figure it out? should we call for a tow? should we turn around and head for the shop? how much is it going to cost? how much hassle is it going to be? etc., etc., etc.
I'm not sure if there's something wrong - I called my cello teacher today to try to squeeze a lesson in this week, but she wasn't home. I left a message with her daughter, but no callback this evening. Now it looks like I won't be able to schedule anything until after the 21st (when B and family leave).
It has been hard finding the time for practice every day. I had to skip yesterday, and today I didn't get started till late. I find it harder to practice later in the day, for whatever reason. I've always been a morning person, I used to do my best creative thinking, etc. at work between 6am and 10am. Now, I try to practice between 7:30 and 9:30. If I delay it much later, I find it a bit more difficult to stay focused (and my fingers don't cooperate as fully, either). One day last week, I didn't get started till almost 12:30, and at one point, I almost fell asleep!
I'm still struggling with the newer pieces - I can play through the Bach Minuet with reasonably good intonation (ringing tones, etc.) but still quite slowly. As soon as I try to pick up the pace, I start messing up that opening phrase. I am getting the first piece and variation, in Book 2, pretty comfortably and have been able to pick up the pace. I've also been "cheating" by working on the second piece. I'm also doing OK on the four fiddle tunes.
I have been focusing on my bow hold - loosely holding with my thumb and first two fingers; letting the last two fingers "float". Also, I'm working on playing with the middle of the bow (instead of at the frog). And I'm working on keeping the wrist level and loose. It seems like all of these adjustments are going pretty good. Finally, I'm still trying (with less success) to keep my left arm elevated...
Yesterday in Anchorage, I scored a bunch of used cello CDs from Title Wave Books:
1) Pablo Casals (!) playing Dvorak and Brahms - a Naxos historical edition;
2) Mstislav Rostropovich playing Brahms;
3) Mischa Maisky playing Beethoven Cello Sonata Opus 5;
4) Mischa Maisky playing Elgar's Cello Concerto and Enigma Variations;
5) Maria Kliegel playing Schnittke's Cello Concerto;
6) The Best of Ofra Harnoy - playing a variety of pieces.
Then, because I had a bit of spare time, I stopped at Metro Music and found:
7) Jacqueline DuPre and Barenboim playing Elgar;
8) A 3 CD compilation of Jacqueline DuPre (the second half - only - of a 6 CD set) playing Chopin, Franck, Faure, Bruch, Bach, and Beethoven.
Also, I finally got part of my Amazon order:
9) Apocalyptica's Inquisition Symphony;
and also Coldplay's Parachutes.
I'm still waiting for another one by Kliegel playing Saint Saens.
So, now I have a ton of music to absorb over the rest of the summer. I've depleted all the cello CDs from Title Wave's inventory.