Thursday, July 12, 2012

Food For Thought

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” 
― Thomas Jefferson

Monday, July 09, 2012

Monday's Deep Thought

“Forever is composed of nows.”
- Emily Dickinson

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Life is super-excellent


Main Entry:
good [good]  Show IPA
Part of Speech:adjective
Definition:pleasant, fine
Synonyms:acceptableace*, admirableagreeablebadboss*, bullycapital
choicecommendablecongenialcrack*, deluxeexcellent,
exceptionalfavorablefirst-classfirst-rate, gnarly, gratifyinggreat
honorablemarvelousneat*, nicepleasingpositivepreciousprime
rad, recherch√©, reputablesatisfactorysatisfyingselectshipshape, 
soundspanking, splendidsterlingstupendoussupersuper-eminent, 
super-excellent, superbsuperiortip-top, up to snuff, valuable
welcomewonderfulworthy
Notes:using good  as an adverb in place of well  ("she dances real good", 
"he did good") is nonstandard usage - so, it would be best to 
say "she dances very well", "he did well" 
well  is an adverb to describe an activity; good is an adjective 
to describe a condition or state
Antonyms:bad, detestabledisagreeableunpleasant

(from dictionary.com)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Friday


"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for."
- -  Epicurus

Friday, May 04, 2012

Flashback Friday: Why Bugs Bite

from 2006

Ever since my friend's husband got really, really sick with what the doctor said could either have been spinal meningitis or West Nile Virus, I have been really paranoid about mosquito bites. I have them all over my legs and toes because I am also, unfortunately, paranoid about putting chemicals, including insect repellent, on my body. It is hard to say in some cases which is more dangerous, the disease or the cure. However, in the case of mosquito bites, I think the diseases are pretty frightening.

I have done some reading about mosquitoes recently in a book called Field Notes from the Northern Forest by Curt Stager in which he pretty thoroughly explains the predicament of biting bugs in a chapter aptly titled, "Why Do Bugs Bite?".  He explains that it is only female mosquitoes who bite. Male mosquitoes, who bunch together in clouds at dusk to attract females, don't bite at all. In fact, most of the time, most mosquitoes feed only on sugar water from plants. However, after insemination,

"[the female mosquito's] reproductive tract is freshly loaded with sperm, and hundreds of fertilized eggs are growing inside her abdomen. Each egg is a living, growing cluster of cells draining her maternal tissues of protein and minerals. She must replace those losses or die, and mere sugar water is not rich enough in the necessary compounds. Only blood will do. This is why biting flies bite, and why it is only the females that do so... It is hard to feel sympathetic about the lot of a female mosquito. But think about it: She is risking her life by approaching you, and she only does so for the sake of her unborn young, albeit instinctively. The risk is more than just a chance of being swatted. From her perspective, we humans are the ones who carry the parasites... If you happen to be suffering from filariasis, a single blood meal from you can send a swarm of nematodes down her throat. Once inside her gut, the worms bite their way out of her stomach and burrow into the fibers of her flight muscles..."

He further explains that there are many species of mosquitoes that don't bite humans at all. It is unfortunate that they are so tiny we can't tell apart the ones that bite from the ones that don't, but in any case, it's a good idea to make sure there is no standing water near your house, since that is where they breed. It is pretty fascinating to think of things from a bug's point of view, but it is hard to feel sorry for an insect that's been around for 170 million years and spreads disease to 700 million people a year. So maybe they don't *mean* to spread disease, but they are a serious threat to human life, particularly in regions of the world plagued by malaria.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blogging

This whole blogging thing has not been going so well lately in case you haven't noticed. I'm not going to give up yet... but I don't have anything to blog about at the moment. I have been doing the Couch to 5K program, but I don't have much to say about it. It's going fine. I've been listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast while running. That podcast has been such a blessing to me this year. I love it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Routine

I just started the Couch to 5K program and I think therefore I will also start blogging again. And, the first thing I have to say is that the first day of the Couch to 5K program was a little harder than I thought it would be. I mean, it was completely appropriate for my level of fitness, which has really gone downhill since last October when I was last running. But, I think I had the idea when I looked at the routine that it would be really easy and it really wasn't that easy. I definitely can feel that I'm out of shape. I definitely need to do some work to get my heart and lungs working better. Part of me really wants to jump in and try running at least twenty minutes every day, but another part of me thinks starting with this easier, prescribed routine will be better for me in the long run.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Firey Truth

It's been a while since I've blogged about catching on fire. But, I don't think I can tell the story of my first time lighting up better than I did when I blogged about it three years ago. So, here it is again. The Firey Truth.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Music Videos

I've been experimenting with ways to make a music video without live action... mostly, I guess, because I don't have a good videocamera, but also because even if I did, I'm not really sure what I could do that would be interesting, given that I don't have money to buy costumes and sets. I have recorded a couple of videos of me at the piano using Photo Booth, but they are relatively boring. The stop motion videos I've been making are pretty simple and repetitive and also a bit bizarre because of how I have sometimes chosen to tweak the color, but they have been a lot of fun to make. I have posted a bunch (accompanied by original songs) on YouTube:

My YouTube Video Page

Check 'em out and let me know what you think! Thanks!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

I Love A Piano

Growing up, my family had a baby grand piano in our living room. It was usually cluttered with books and papers on every inch of it and it was not always well-tuned, but it was a constant during my upbringing and a reliable source of good entertainment. My brother and I both took piano lessons, so we practiced our scales, etudes, and solos there. We both enjoyed playing around, sightreading through new songs, and making up our own songs, too. My brother strongly identified as a songwriter/composer at a young age, so he played the piano a lot. My mother double majored in piano and violin in college, so although her main job was playing the violin in a symphony orchestra, she was eager and willing to play piano for me whenever I needed an accompanist, a luxury I've never quite become accustomed to being without. Some of my favorite memories from childhood are the times when she and I would read through books of non-classical songs together at the piano, with me singing and her playing. That's how I learned most of the jazz standards and ballads I know.

It's not that I didn't watch television or movies as a kid. It's not that I didn't read books or play board and video games or do my school work. I did a lot of other things than play the piano. But, having a piano in my home always was and continues to be a source of great joy to me. I love that I can sit down and play it anytime. It's one of my very favorite things in the world. And, whenever I go to someone's house or to a restaurant or bar or cafe where there is a piano, I feel drawn to it like a squirrel to a birdfeeder. It's hard to believe almost every home had a piano not too long ago, that people played music to entertain each other instead of watching TV, that people felt like music lessons were a necessity in a child's life partly for social reasons. I am always so glad to see pianos. I always want to play them or at the very least touch them gently like I would if saying hello to an old friend.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Songwriting, Piano, and Faking It

As a child, I took piano lessons on and off for many years with varying levels of commitment. I was also required to take piano lessons in college. I can still play many of the pieces I learned in the past (Bach, Bartok, Chopin, Schumann, etc.) and love to do so, but I lack patience when it comes to practicing new material and getting it up to speed. I sometimes sightread piano music just for fun, but I rarely have the patience required to polish it, so generally when I sit down to play something, it's something old.

As a voice teacher, I have had to accompany students regularly in lessons, and with the exception of "Caro mio ben" and "Vaga luna", my method has mostly been to "fake" it. The minute I realized that I could just arpeggiate the chords instead of actually learning the music, I was hooked. As a result, I became good at playing piano by ear, subsequently learned to transcribe some of my favorite pop songs so that I could play them myself, and then ended up writing a lot of my own songs.

Apart from about half a dozen exceptions, most of my own songs have been written on notebook paper. So, usually this means that there is one line with the words written on it, above each word the letter name of the note that goes with that word, and each chord change indicated above that and circled. The way I remember how each song goes is generally only by playing it over and over again until I can't forget it, or recording it right away. Otherwise, how would I know how the rhythm of the vocal part is supposed to go, or the particulars of the piano arpeggiation, dynamics, tempo, etc.?


When I first started writing songs, I was pretty pleased with myself. But, in time, I started to bore of them and realized that most of my piano accompaniments sounded the same.

Test Bunny (2006) and I can't hide (2005) are examples of the basic arpeggiation technique. The last one (2005) and Split (2009) are examples of an even more simplified block chord.

For many years I only wrote sparsely because my work schedule was too demanding to allow me much writing time. But, in the last year and a half or so, I've decided to try to tackle this issue more directly. The end result I've been looking for is more variety in my musical output, but enough continuity to maintain a fluid set of music.

My first inspiration for trying something different came in November 2010, when I was given the opportunity to perform "something" at an informal gathering hosted by my former voice student, Karl, who is a singer/songwriter and cellist. In looking through some compositions I had written in my comp for non-majors class in grad school, I found a piece for voice and violin I thought might work. I originally asked my friend Sid if he would sing the violin part (in his beautiful cello-y register), but he suggested I play the violin part myself. I hadn't originally intended for this to be sung and played by the same person, but I liked his idea and I gave it a try. I subsequently decided to write a few more pieces and performed them on a recital later that year. And, after that, I wrote some more.

In this song, I've been wandering, set to the poetry of Emily Bronte, I am indeed playing the violin and singing at the same time. What I learned from this experiment, though, was that I had to use my classical voice in order to project above the violin. Also, that playing the violin and singing at the same time is really, really hard and mostly because my violin chops require a lot more practicing than I actually do. In the end, I was looking to have a fluid set, even if varied, and didn't feel that the interjection of something this classical sounding would really fit with my vision.

In another attempt at variety in November 2011, I collaborated with my good friend Terri on a song written specifically for guitar. I had written one other song for guitar and violin with my cousin Annie and her husband Drew back in 2006 that we unfortunately never recorded, but I remembered it being a lot of fun and a very different sound from the music I normally wrote. I am the one who wrote this new song, but it's really Terri's talent that comes through, as she picked up her guitar and made up a harmony vocal and a lovely accompaniment on the spot. It's also her expertise with recording equipment that makes this the best recording of my music that's ever been made.

This is Come on by (2011) with me on lead vocals and Terri on harmony vocals, guitar, and shaker.

When I got back to New York state, I started fiddling around with Garage Band Loops. I did write some music I like, but it's very jazzy.

Here are Help me baby (2012) and Get Over Here (2012) which were undoubtedly inspired by watching too much Mad Men. They were created with Apple Loops in Garage Band with the addition only of my voice. Again, this was fun, but would require getting together a jazz band to complete legitimately, and it's a totally different genre of music from the other stuff I've written.

After that, I wrote a few more tunes back in my old style, including Making the choice (2012) for which I made a video that I put up on YouTube.

Then, I recorded a couple of piano-accompanied cover songs, including Doing it Wrong by the R&B artist, Drake, and Sideline by the singer/songwriter (and "Renaissance man"), Peter Broderick (sent to me by my friend Scott). These two songs were easy to play and made me realize that there is more I could do to add variety to my songs even at my level of skill.

What's next? Well, I think I need change some of my long-ingrained habits in order to take my songwriting to the next level. If I'm going to write music that's as good as the singer/songwriter-pianists I admire, like Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, for example, I need to be able to play their music as written and stop the incessant opting to simply arpeggiate chords. And, I just plain need to practice more. In 2003, when I submitted a request to sing "Little Green" at the NEC Joni Mitchell Tribute concert, I was rejected because my piano playing sounded clumsy on my audition recording. Luckily, I did get to sing two other songs with other ensembles, but honestly, I would have loved to be able to accompany myself. Maybe giving up "faking it" for a while could do me some good. But, habits are so hard to break.

In the meantime, it looks like my best bet for adding variety to my musical output is in collaborating with other musicians. I wonder if I really need to stick to one genre or if audiences would be more receptive to a variety show of genres than I think they would be. At any rate, I keep plugging. I've been writing songs since I was a young teenager. I doubt if I'll ever stop.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Insomnia

What do you do when you can't sleep?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mom's Cooking

I have to admit, over the last year of trying (and failing a lot) to be vegan, my mind continues to be blown every time I encounter a really tasty, rich vegan recipe. Last night, my mother invited me to dinner and made a recipe called Thai-Style Vegetable Curry from Lorna Sass's Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure cookbook. From the first bite, I was in heaven. This recipe is incredible and the secret to its deliciousness is in the combination of coconut milk and sweet potatoes. She served this broccoli heavy vegetable curry over brown rice and I was compelled to eat seconds despite how full my stomach was from the first serving. My mother has been cooking delicious vegetarian (and often vegan, without her realizing it) meals in the pressure cooker for decades and they are always wonderful. I think it's about time I fight my lazy cook syndrome and learn her secrets (including how to use the pressure cooker!).

Let me know if you'd like me to send you this recipe!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Food Blogs and Vegan Pasta

I guess the reason I have so many food blogs on my blogroll is because I enjoy drooling. Especially when I see pictures of Chocolate chip cookie dough-filled chocolate cake. But, seriously, I have always aspired to be a good cook. Unfortunately, I am not the most patient person with recipes, so when I do make something that tastes good, it always seems to happen by accident.

Tonight I made some vegan pasta that tasted delicious. Here's what I did to the best of my recollection. First, I sauteed half a diced red onion in olive oil until it was translucent. Then, I added maybe a cup of chopped baby portabello mushrooms. After a few minutes on - oh, I don't know - medium heat, I added two stalks of chopped broccoli heads. I added about a cup (or so) of garlic pre-seasoned tomato sauce, about a tablespoon (or so) of tamari sauce, and some dried minced garlic. I turned it up to high and covered it until the broccoli was just right and then turned down the heat and stirred in about a cup of cooked macaroni.

That's about it.

A well-stocked bar...

is a good bar.


And, a good bar is not usually well-lit. But, it may have nice lamps.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bowling





I have gone bowling three times in the last five weeks (in three different states: CA, CO, NY)! That's a lot for me. And, I admit I was proud when the last time I bowled, I broke 100 three games in a row. So, that might tell you that I am not a good bowler. But, also, not a terrible bowler either. I have always enjoyed bowling. I can usually get the ball to go straight down the middle of the lane. And, I'm not too bad at picking up spares.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Couple of Songs

So, you may remember that I've been writing songs for a while. I thought I'd post something I recorded last month with a friend of mine in California.

Come On By

Also, I started teaching myself to use Apple Loops in Garage Band and found myself singing a totally different sort of tune. It was fun and makes me wonder how cool it would be to put together a trio.

Help me, baby!

I think maybe these songs sound better than the ones I've been writing at the piano. I hope you enjoy listening!

This LINK goes to the main page with more song selections.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Snowy Day in Syracuse

As I adjust to the freezing-my-butt-off cold weather here, I am in total awe of the birds and squirrels going about business as usual. It's a tough life out there.


This picture is worth clicking to enlarge. I think there are three juncos and three cardinals in the tree and two more juncos on the ground.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Beach

A great place to put your feet in the warm sand...


or wade in the shallow waters...


A great place to bring your happy dog...


or just enjoy watching someone else's happy dog...


A great place to watch people learning to surf...


or just relax the day away...

I wish I was still there.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Sunsets

Pacifica, CA - January 4th
This sunset got redder and more dynamic as I drove north into San Francisco. I wanted to stop and take more pictures, but I wasn't able to.

Denver, CO - December 28th