Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Consequences of Fatigue

Someone at the church where Nathan works pulled him aside today and said, "Could you please talk to your wife about yawning in church? I saw her yawning in the choir loft."

What I think he should have said: "Sure! As a matter of fact, since her yawn last week bothered you, I'll just tell her to stay home on Sunday mornings instead of getting up at 6:00 every week. I'll allow her to get some much-needed rest instead of volunteering her time both in the choir and as a violinist in the service of this church's music ministry. After all, she is working 30-40 hour weeks as a musician and teacher in addition to being a full-time graduate student, and I'm sure she could use a day of the week to sleep in. She really never gets a day off. She will so appreciate it - thank you for your consideration of my wife's well-being!"

What he actually said: "Sure, I'll mention it to her."

You see, I'm the wife of someone in ministry; no one wants to know how I am doing, but everyone likes to notice how I am behaving.

Procrastination and Metacognition

On impulse control, thinking ahead, and the power of marshmallows: Procrastination by David McRaney.

"You keep promising yourself this will be the year you do all these things. You know your life would improve if you would just buckle down and put forth the effort.

You can try to fight it back. You can buy a daily planner and a to-do list application for your phone. You can write yourself notes and fill out schedules. You can become a productivity junkie surrounded by instruments to make life more efficient, but these tools alone will not help, because the problem isn't you are a bad manager of your time – you are a bad tactician in the war inside your brain."

Raney has written a very interesting article on life skills, and at their roots, metacognition - thinking about thinking, or knowing about knowing.

"Thinking about thinking, this is the key. In the struggle between should versus want, some people have figured out something crucial – want never goes away.

Procrastination is all about choosing want over should because you don’t have a plan for those times when you can expect to be tempted."

You know the age-old advice: don't do your grocery shopping when you're hungry. You'll make a half-dozen impulse buys along with the things you really need, and once you've brought those m&m's home, once the cheez-its are in the pantry... you can be sure you'll eat them now that they're at your fingertips!

"The tendency to get more rational when you are forced to wait is called hyperbolic discounting because your dismissal of the better payoff later diminishes over time and makes a nice slope on a graph."

But if those m&m's and crackers aren't in your cupboard; if you'd have to drive to the store to get your hands on the junkiest of junk foods, you'll be forced to wait before eating something you know you probably shouldn't, and voilĂ ! Hyperbolic discounting kicks in. You have time to remind yourself how the sugar would give you a headache, junk food makes you feel sluggish, the long list of unrecognizable ingredients couldn't possibly be good for you, the grease would go straight to your hips. You reach for an apple instead.

"You must be adept at thinking about thinking to defeat yourself at procrastination. You must realize there is the you who sits there now reading this, and there is a you sometime in the future who will be influenced by a different set of ideas and desires, a you in a different setting where an alternate palette of brain functions will be available for painting reality.

The now you may see the costs and rewards at stake when it comes time to choose studying for the test instead of going to the club, eating the salad instead of the cupcake, writing the article instead of playing the video game.

The trick is to accept the now you will not be the person facing those choices, it will be the future you – a person who can't be trusted. Future-you will give in, and then you'll go back to being now-you and feel weak and ashamed. Now-you must trick future-you into doing what is right for both parties."

[Hey, you! Should you be doing something other than reading my blog right now?]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lattes and Fall Color

Sometimes it's the little things that make long, difficult days bearable.

Things like argyle knee socks, warm and cozy, hugging my legs against the chilly autumn air.

Things like soy lattes and baristas who take the time to make latte art.

Things like beauty all around me when I take the time to stop and see it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Pit

Over the past week, as I mentioned here and here, I spent a good deal of time - two mornings and nine evenings, to be precise - in the pit orchestra for a show at my school.

The violinist who sat to my left is a Christian, and one night during the pieces not requiring violins, she was reading her Bible. Suddenly she started silently cracking up, and pointed out a text to me:

"You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths." (Psalm 88:6)

In a literal sense, that is exactly where we were.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of verses in Psalms that speak to this.

"Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit." (Psalm 143:7)

"I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength." (Psalm 88:4)

Ah, but there is hope when one is in the pit!

"Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." (Psalm 103:1-5)

Come to think of it, David was a musician. Maybe at some point he sat in a pit and played "I Hope I Get It" from "A Chorus Line" eleven days in a row.

Monday, October 18, 2010


It's funny how music affects people.

Sometimes I go to a piece of music hoping to experience it again the way I have in the past, and am surprised to find that it doesn't affect me. Over the past years, occasionally I listen to the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony when I want to hear something heart-wrenching, something deeply emotional. Recently I played it in a concert and was surprised to find that I didn't experience any particular "feeling" or "moment" at all while playing the work. [I guess it's impossible to conjure up elusive feelings, even under the influence of something as powerful as music.]

On the other hand, last night we celebrated Nathan's birthday at a restaurant. My Grandma's recent death was certainly on my mind, and Aselin Debison's (at least I think it was hers) Somewhere Over the Rainbow came on. I've never loved her version; the mixed-up lyrics were actually mildly annoying to me.

But suddenly I thought it was poignant, touching, beautiful. A most unexpected reaction.

It's nice to live a life filled with music, and yet still be surprised by it so often.


My Grandma died over the weekend.

I'm 27 years old, and she was 89; I don't know why I keep feeling like crying about this. I should be more mature and able to handle it. She lived a full life.

I talked with a friend about this recently, and he and I ruminated on how the death of a loved one is hard on several levels - you miss that person, of course, but it also somehow reminds you that there are more losses to come, that you'll walk this road again with more grandparents, and then with parents. You'll go through it with friends, and siblings, and someday with a husband or wife. The death of one person awakens you more fully to the reality that this life ends in death, and it is a difficult and sad thing to navigate. You go through one, two, or three losses, and they plant nagging reminders in your mind. There will be many, many more deaths - ultimately culminating, of course, in your own.

Grandma and Grandpa (my Dad's parents) lived near us for most of my life, and I usually saw them several times a week. Grandma was a good hostess, a good cook, and a good talker, and Grandpa was a gentleman, sous chef and dishwasher, and the best of listeners. They are a part of every memory I have of Christmases, Thanksgivings, July 4ths, and so much in between.

When my Grandpa died a little over two years ago, I had a really hard time with it. Encroaching on all the memories of Grandpa as I knew him, I couldn't get an image out of my mind of Grandpa's body lying in his coffin, usually in that powder blue suit of his.

(And I hadn't even gone to the viewing; imagine what a wreck I would have been if I had.)

For weeks after his death, whenever I'd try to go to sleep at night, I'd picture his body, his coffin, his grave, and try as I might, I couldn't get these difficult images out of my head. I cried myself to sleep for many, many nights that summer.

So the good news is, I am handling my Grandma's death considerably better. (Which actually isn't saying much.) Maybe these things get easier as one gets older, or maybe losing someone you love just makes the next time a little more bearable.

For the past few years, any time I would visit my family in California I was aware that it could be the last time I'd see Grandma this side of the resurrection.

If I was prepared for this, why can't I better recall the last time I saw her? Why can't I remember what we said, that last hug we shared, our last goodbye? With Grandpa it was different; he had cancer and I made a trip out just to see him - for the unspoken yet very real purpose of saying goodbye. I remember that goodbye so clearly.

My last goodbye with Grandma, by contrast, has blended in with hundreds of hugs and conversations. Did I stop by her house on my way to the airport after last Christmas? Or had I said goodbye the day before? Was she wearing a red skirt and blouse, or the navy blue skirt, or was it pink? What were our last words to each other?

And when I last called her on the phone, back before she was too weak to come to the phone or to chat with anyone, what did we talk about? I'm sure I told her about concerts I'd been playing, students I'd been teaching, and assured her that Nathan and I were well and happy. I'm sure when I asked how she was, she replied, "Not too bad for an old lady," and then went on to tell me how she prayed God would take her soon. Ever since Grandpa died, Grandma didn't want to linger around any longer than necessary.

I don't understand how life after death works, or what happens between death and the resurrection, but my Dad said he pictures Grandma and Grandpa dancing together right now, and I like that. They loved to dance.

I'm going to write a post about my Grandma - the fascinating life she had, the kind of person she was, and my memories of her - but I need to buy a box of kleenex before tackling that project.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Climbing Uphill"

A show I'm playing at school this week features a song from "The Last Five Years" that makes me laugh every time I hear it. It's a stream of consciousness type piece, and while I can't see what's happening on the stage from my spot in the pit, it seems to be a sequence of musical theater auditions given by an aspiring young singer. Something about the lyrics - basically every thought that goes through her head as she sings for the judges - seem to encompass fairly well the thoughts of any performing artist, and maybe that's why this song makes me laugh.

There are lines like these:

"I'm standing in line with 200 girls who are younger and thinner than me... who have already been to the gym."

"Why did I pick these shoes why did I pick this song why did I pick this career whyyyyyy does this pianist hate me?"

"I suck I suck I suck I suuuuuck!"

"I will not be the girl who gets asked how it feels to be trotting along at the genius's heels!" [How many times have I thought this?!]

But the capstone humorous moment, for me at least, is always this line:

"But Jamie needs space to write since I'm obviously such a horrible annoying distraction to him what's it gonna be like when we have kids?" [Because when one is being dramatic about one's relationships and furthermore one's entire life, one ultimately comes to this question as the drama to trump all dramas.]

You can listen to the song on YouTube, although I should preface it with a warning that it does contain a bad word. You have been warned.

Banana "Ice Cream"

I recently realized, while enjoying one of my favorite desserts, that it's actually possible that not everyone already knows about the banana soft serve trick that's been popularized on many a food blog. Dairy-free, low-fat, vegan, raw, gluten-free, no added sugars -- this dessert works for almost any dietary needs, as it contains in its purest form only one ingredient: a banana.

God bless Gena for discovering that if you whiz a frozen banana around in a food processor (not a blender, a food processor) for a few minutes it will first become flaky frozen pieces and then gradually transform into something truly creamy and decadent.

While the original banana version is delicious, ever since I saw peanut flour hit the aisles at Trader Joe's, I had it in the back of my mind that adding this low-fat, high-protein stuff to banana soft serve would be the perfect combination.

I was right.

After my chunks of frozen banana have blended for about twenty seconds, I add a splash of non-dairy milk (I've been using So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage), and then a few tablespoons of peanut flour. (Serving size: 1/4 c. 110 calories, 16 grams of protein. For those who care about these things.) Blend until creamy. (You may need to scrape down the sides of your food processor a time or two during blending.)

Go. Make. This. Now.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Sweet Potato & Cabbage Soup

Ever since the weather started getting cooler I've been wanting to make a spicy sweet potato curry soup. I've made various soups of this kind before - usually with plenty of coconut milk, coriander, and other such delicious flavors in amongst the sweet potatoes.

This afternoon I decided to put the bag of sweet potatoes in my cupboard to good use. However, I also had a purple cabbage in the fridge from my CSA share, and wasn't in the mood for a coleslaw or salad. Lo and behold, the soup gods were smiling upon me. I came across Karina's recipe for Purple Cabbage and Sweet Potato Soup and decided to alter it to fit the current contents of my kitchen.

Without measuring anything, I threw into my stockpot:

A drizzle of olive oil
A heap of curry powder, a bunch of cumin, and several dashes of red pepper flakes
Three or four peeled and diced sweet potatoes
1 yellow onion, chopped
About half a head of garlic, minced
A whole head of purple cabbage, shredded
1 green pepper from my garden
The remnants of a jar of jalapenos from my fridge - maybe 1/4 cup of slices, finely chopped

I sauteed these ingredients for 10-15 minutes until everything was softening and smelled amazing. Then I added:

2 or 3 cups of water
1 can of lite coconut milk (Trader Joe's brand)
The last of my package of Trader Joe's peanut flour (this stuff is amazing - watch for another post about it soon!) - maybe 1/2-3/4 cup
A little palmful of kosher salt

I let it simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the smell was so enticing I had to eat a bowl.

[And then a second one...]

I used peanut flour instead of the peanut butter Karina calls for, and it imparted delicious peanutty flavor while also thickening up the soup a bit. I omitted the vinegar, beans, and a few other things Karina's recipe calls for, and changed up the quantities completely to use up some things I had on hand.

Nevertheless, this concoction was certainly inspired by her recipe and I was so pleased with how it turned out.

Check out Karina's blog for a nice photo of the soup that will make you want to make some immediately.

I'm already looking forward to having leftovers tomorrow - that's how good this soup was.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

La Rondine

I'm playing in the pit orchestra for an upcoming series of "Gala" performances at my conservatory celebrating the opening of a new theater building for the school. The rehearsals are long "hurry-up-and-wait" affairs involving more time listening to announcements of who should be where and when than actual time playing music, but such is to be expected when a show involves ballet, musical theater, opera, instrumentalists, and various other types of performances all on one stage.

The nicest part of the program is a gorgeous ensemble number from Act II of Puccini's La Rondine. I know very little about the opera and can't see any of the action from my seat down in the pit, but the lush melodies of the singers are all doubled in the violin parts and I have to admit I'm loving playing this music.

Some things in my life are sad right now.

(Things like my Grandma nearing the end of her life.)

And every time we play this soaring melody I notice the notes blurring a bit on the page.

[I'm sure the photocopy of our Violin I part just didn't come out clearly.]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Orchestra Concert

Tomorrow afternoon will be my first conservatory orchestra concert as a grad student. At first I was a little annoyed about being cast in this orchestra cycle, because I wasn't crazy about playing any of the pieces on the program, but as rehearsals have gone on, I've found that I really like the music.

We're opening with the William Tell Overture, which despite being over-played and having connections to rangers and that sort of thing, I must admit is pretty fun to play.

[The video is only the final portion of the Overture; the first and second sections are lovely but probably less familiar to most listeners.]

In a complete change of color and character, Debussy's Iberia is exquisite. The second movement, Les parfums de la nuit ('The scent of the night'), is beautiful:

(The part at 5:23 is my favorite, but skipping to it would sort of be cheating and probably rob you of the real experience.)

The second movement moves seamlessly into the third movement, which really goes into full swing at about 1:05 on this recording, with the strings plucking away vigorously - and no doubt having quite a bit of fun doing it, as we certainly are in my orchestra.

Also on tomorrow's program is a somewhat rarely-performed work by Benjamin Britten for strings, horn, and tenor, with a rollicking movement also calling for pizzicato in the strings:

And the Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis, which I was initially not excited about playing, I've ended up really loving. The last movement is glorious!

For some reason some people came into our second rehearsal on William Tell and videotaped us rehearsing. And my school has put it on YouTube. So if you're curious about how we sounded in the early rehearsing stage, you can watch.

[It's a weird video; it jumps around a lot and is heavy on the low brass because of where the camera was positioned.]