Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Not too surprising

You Are Incredibly Logical

Move over Spock - you're the new master of logic
You think rationally, clearly, and quickly.
A seasoned problem solver, your mind is like a computer!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bow thumb pad enhancers

I have very tapered thumb tips. My fingers are also slender and tapered, but not nearly as pointy as my thumb tips. Why is that important? While many would find that an attractive feature, it causes me constant annoyance. No matter how close the thumb pad on my bow is to the edge of the frog, my thumb tries to dive through the gap. No loose, curved thumb position for me. And the undesirable end result: excess bow hand tension.

I have tried to put surgical tubing over the thumb pad and frog on a couple of occasions, but never been successful. Maybe the stuff we stock at my (former) hospital was just the wrong size ~g~. But I could never actually get it onto the bow. And I was always deterred from ordering samples by the complexity of materials and size permutations. Plus, the tubing I've seen other players put on their bows seemed too thick to me, anyway.

In a recent post on the Internet Cello Society Instruments and Equipment Forum, one user suggested trying BIC pencil grips. That sounded interesting, so I went looking at my local Target. Alas, sold out. But not wanting to leave empty handed, I bought the cheap Chinese version, $1.50 for 8 pencil grips and 16 worthless plastic eraser-shaped objects. (After smearing a blob of lead-on-paper, the latter were promptly discarded.) I wasn't too sure about the color, or the textured surface, but what the heck. The price was right.

The pencil grip/thumb pads were easy to put on, as demonstrated in the photo below. Completely remove the bow screw. Slide the pencil grip over the end of the bow stick and about half of it onto the thumb pad. Slide the end of the frog under the pencil grip, re-engage the frog into the slot and replace the screw. Voila.

I am using less tension holding the bow. In fact, each day it feels a little better, both more secure and more fluid. The textured surface I was hesitant about enhances the secure feeling. And because the plastic is clear, the bright colors don't stand out too badly, but rather fade into the color of the bow.

I'm happy. Another successful experiment.

Monday, February 26, 2007


So, over the weekend it snowed. Not a remarkable happening in the middle of February, but it started out with freezing rain, which made the roads very messy. Then there was almost a foot of accumulation, which takes a while to clear, plus it was a weekend and I bought groceries on Friday, so I decided to be snowbound in the house for the duration. That meant I had lots of aimless (but not mindless) surfing time.

One of the things I did was to check out all of the Charlies waiting for adoption on PetFinder. In case you've forgotten, this is "my" Charlie. Check out these look-alikes:

A 4 y/o male in Ontario, CA. His bio says that he was 3 y/o in Jan 2006, so he's been waiting for a home for over a year.

A young female in Menands, NY. They don't state an age, but her bio says Charlie is a darling little girl. She had a home but couldn't handle the young children and all the noises they made. In a quieter home she will be a wonderful companion. Charlie is a beauty!

This Charlie is 2.5 years old, from Mount Pleasant, PA. His bio says that when you get close to his cage, he runs to you for attention, thus the weird photo. He has the two black spots on his head, but it doesn't say anything about a black tail.

Looks like this Charlie likes to eat! A young adult male from Altamonte Springs, FL.

Not so much of a look-alike, but this black-and-white Charlie from Clovis, NM had the saddest bio: Charlie was rescued from Cannon Air Force Base and brought to the sanctuary for care and rehabilitation. Whether Charlie was dumped, abandoned or lost is unclear but what we do know is that at one time he was a cherished friend. When he came to us he was declawed and neutered so someone took good care of him once. Charlie is partially blind in both eyes. He can see about 30-40% of what a normal cat can see. We believe his eyesight loss is due to a taurine deficiency. Charlie is very friendly and loving and would make any household a home.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The rest of the story

In a previous comment, Rallentando asked me to fill you in on what was going on with my damaged cello. So here it is:

R.I.P. English cello, 6/29/06 - 2/15/07

Though our time together was short, I loved the sounds I made with you. You helped bring me out of my introverted way of playing and into a new world of sharing my sounds with others. You rewarded my attempts to learn new techniques with sounds that weren't unpleasant at the beginning, and quite delightful when I finally "got it". I'm grateful, and I miss you terribly.

But really, I'm not sure who feels worst about this: the player, the dealer, or the maker. Never fear, PFS, this isn't some fly-by-night operation, and Guanaco, I'm satisfied that proper care went into the selection of the wood. Our best theory is that a number of factors that we will never be able to completely define (qualities of the wood, nature of the varnish and sealant, tightness of the gluing), plus the stress of moving from a very temperate, humid environment to a very cold, dry one, plus perhaps the specific barometric variations that were happening here last week, were just too much for this cello and it's sibling.

Now technically, I suppose, this cello could be repaired. It would require patching every single piece of wood on it (there were cracks in the upper back near the button that either I did not notice, or that occurred after I packed it for return to the shop) at a cost of at least several thousand dollars. And even if I were to choose to do that, I would constantly worry that, due to those elusive factors that I mentioned in the last paragraph, factors over which I have no control and cannot alter, I would always be waiting for the next crack.

Fortunately, I don't have to make that choice. The maker intends to make me another cello to replace this one. The dealer intends to honor the original purchase contract, which permits the purchase price to be applied to future "trade-ups", substituting the new cello for the deceased one. I don't expect to see that cello until summertime, and I'm not spending time worrying about what I'll do then until I have a chance to see and play it.

While I'm waiting the shop is providing loaner cellos. I don't expect I'll keep any one for a long period of time, so it might be fun being able to try lots of different cellos. Who knows, maybe I'll fall in love again while I am waiting.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cello lesson 2/23

I see I haven't posted a lesson summary in a couple of weeks. I'm still trying to figure out what's useful, as I transition from my old lesson and practice log system to... something else. I played the loaner cello. It's not really to my taste, but I thought it might be to T-'s, and it was. The bigger and more extroverted the sound I can make, the happier he is. And it's interesting that after a week of playing it it sounds less harsh to my ear, and more like me with an added edge. I don't know whether the primary factor is habituation, or more likely that my physical approach has subtly modified to get more of the sound that I want to hear.

This week we worked on two etudes and several core elements.
* Lee #5. I'm working my way through the Lee melodious exercises. We no longer spend months on an etude, like we did with the first three. I now work up an etude for a couple of weeks, play it and drive on. I take the comments home and apply them to that etude while also working up the next one. Like T- says, if I can just clean up my string crossings by (1) keeping the weight in the bow and (2) making good tunnels over the strings I will have nailed all of these exercises. Just. Also concentrate on leveling off the string changes, more "bow strum" and fewer terraces.

* Gruetzmacher #13. This is the beginning thumb position etude that I've been playing for at least a year. I like it, and time and repetitions have really been key to developing strength, coordination, and good finger positions and hand patterns. I've increased the tempo from 1/8=80 then to 120 now.

I still struggle with physically backing away from the cello when I play "up there", which leads to the vicious circle of unpleasant sound, followed by more tension. Today we worked on the bow change motion at the tip, with the desired end again of keeping the weight in the string. I am to practice by making the motion with my hand for now, extending the fingers and thumb on up-bow and rounding them on down bow. T- demonstrated a good way to practice this using Duport #21, where the bow distribution leads to playing fast notes at the tip. He thought that etude is too difficult for me right now, but I can use that bow pattern when I practice scales or other etudes where I already know the notes.

After a short time working on the bow change motion I was able to get much more sound on this etude. Personally, I thought it a not very pleasant sound, but T- was delighted. He has been telling me frequently that I am trying to refine too early, a common adult failing, and that first I need to have a sound to refine. So I guess this is progress.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

We're baaack

Look who's coming back to my house. Spay and neuters went fine yesterday. Little Charlie had a bigger operation than they expected, when he was discovered to have "inguinal cryptorchidism", otherwise known as an undescended testicle. So he and Eden both got little belly incisions. The plan was that they were to go back to their original foster home after surgery, which they did.

But... there are two pregnant mommas-to-be looking for foster homes, so it seemed like a better plan was to have these littles come back to me, which would open space at D-'s house for one of the mommas. Eli and Eathan will stay there overnight, because they are already scheduled to go to their permanent home tomorrow (yay!). Charlie and Eden will stay with me until either (1) they're adopted, or (2) their foster organization wants them to move elsewhere. This rescue group works a little differently than the shelter I usually foster for.

I'm happy with that plan. It's so quiet around here without kittens. These two mommas may be a harbinger of things to come in a month or so, but right now we are blessed with a lull in kitten production. I'm off to lesson and orchestra rehearsal now, and will pick the babies up on my way home.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's in a name?

What Gottagopractice Means

G is for Glitzy
O is for Orderly
T is for Tender
T is for Trustworthy
A is for Alluring
G is for Gorgeous
O is for Overwhelming
P is for Peppy
R is for Rebellious
A is for Altruistic
C is for Cheeky
T is for Talented
I is for Insane
C is for Charismatic
E is for Enlightened

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tummies and updates

Is this little guy photogenic, or what? For whatever reason, Elroy was not working for me, so I've been calling him Charlie, in honor of the Chaplinesque mustache. It looks like someone took a Sharpie and modified the picture, but no, his nose really looks like that. Looking at that tummy, dough boy might be a good nickname, too. So cute, and such a sweetie. I can't believe the week is nearly over. Tomorrow they're off for spay and neuters, then to hopefully find new homes, but back at their "real" foster home.

To finish yesterday's saga, the MRI showed a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), one of the ligaments that forms the "X" in the middle of the knee and keeps it from moving in undesired directions. It was nearly completely torn off the end that joins the femur, or thigh bone. I'll start physical therapy next week to see how stable I can make it by building up the muscles, but there's a pretty good chance I'll be looking at a surgical reconstruction in a few months. And in the meantime, the increased energy requirements for doing just about anything coupled with my decreasing conditioning are a ready excuse for feeling tired.

It's Tummy Tuesday. To see more of the (feline) sunny-side-up variety, visit LisaViolet.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I'm tired. It's been a kinda tough two weeks, I realize as I am totalling up the events to try to explain why I am so tired. They went something like this:

* That nasty bug that sidelined me from blogging for a few days was a bad kidney infection. That cost me a day in the ER and several days in bed until the fevers and chills stopped.

* Started a new church gig, Wed night rehearsals and Sun services, middle two weeks of each month.

* I spent the beginning of the next week in DC, still a little weak but able to travel. There in time for that nasty east coast snow and ice storm. Not really back to exercising, but got to shovel some heavy snow (pant, pant.)

* Getting off the plane, planted my left foot, turned, and my left knee folded sideways. Ouch. Drove straight to the acute orthopaedic injury clinic, where I was put in a knee immobilizer.

* Made it to church rehearsal that night, and to lesson and orch rehearsal the following day. T- said not to worry, Navarra had the same playing stance, with left foot extended. But pretty tiring to lug the cello around in a knee immobilizer.

* Cello disintegrated. Took the cello back to the shop, and played the loaner in church yesterday.

* Four kitten visitors. I love them, but scooping litter is a little more work than usual because I can't bend down very well. And kittens make lots of used litter.

* Knee MRI today. I took the knee immobilizer off on Sat since I have almost 80 degrees of flexion and it only hurts if I bend it or twist on it ~g~. Figured better a little pain than total leg atrophy. Will find out tomorrow what the long term implications are.

* Finally, had an excellent practice today. Maybe I feel more like playing because I can't do much of anything else.

Since I still can't exercise much, I might as well open a nice bottle of wine. Without my usual endorphins I have to do something to numb the pain. Even better, a nice bottle of wine and some purring (but stinky) kittens to hug. Somebody hide the scale.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


No, this isn't Group 5, because technically these aren't "my" foster kittens. They're visiting for a week while their foster mom takes a brief vacation. You can see they're pretty big - about 12 weeks old. They spent the first 24 hours confined to the Nursery and the office. And as I surmised, when I opened the door to give them access to the house, my bigs were there waiting to greet them. Sniffs all around, and it was as though they had been here for weeks.

This group was born in a household where there were three cats. The owners thought they were all females. Not. So mom was spayed and the two large adult males were neutered, and their progeny are just about ready to find new homes. From upper left and moving clockwise we have:

Eli. Gray and white spotted boy, boldest, wants love and comes to get it.

Eathan. Gray boy with white trim and gray nose, shy, cries the most for attention, really likes to be held. (He's purring in my lap as I type.)

Elroy. The little white boy with the black spots seems to have recovered from his crippled legs. (His back legs didn't work well initially. With the black spot over the base of his spine, I wonder if he didn't have a forme fruste of spina bifida. He also has two black smudges on his head that you can't see in the photo, and his nose is very interesting: pink, except for a black septum and philtrim = the line where the face joins in the middle over the lips.) Lively & sweet. Smallest.

Eden. The white girl with the black spot on her head and the black tail with a kink. (Very cute. It looks like she has a black hairdo with curls around the ears. And the kink at the end of the tail feels like the tail was broken, and the tip may have been amputated when she was smaller.) She is the shyest, last to try new things. (But she loves cuddles as much as her brothers do.)

The descriptions were provided by their foster mom, with my comments in parenthesis, and they correlate exactly with my own observations. I'll never ceased to be amazed at how different each kitten is, and at how early you can sort out their personality preferences.

Friday, February 16, 2007


The unthinkable has happened. Sometime between my cello lesson and orchestra rehearsal yesterday my cello disintegrated. I viewed the first foot-long crack with anguish, then sat in stunned disbelief as a half-dozen more seemed to magically appear, another each time I looked down. To say that the Frozen Tundra of the North does not agree with this nearly new English instrument is an understatement. But hearing at the end of rehearsal that the sibling to this cello, purchased only two months ago by a fellow student, had developed a large crack this week also leads one to wonder about the characteristics of the wood this maker used.

Well, all of that will be sorted out eventually. I'll take this cello back to the shop in the morning, and come home with a loaner while they figure out the best thing to do. Too much to think about right now. Oh, BTW, the cello sounded great yesterday. The release of tension appeared to agree with it.

(1) 11 in. belly, treble side of tailpiece, from edge to ~ 2 in from lateral edge of bridge foot, just lateral to soundpost.

(2) 10 in. belly, centered under tailpiece, from saddle to about length of tailpiece

(3) ~ 6 in. belly, from upper edge, ~1 in. lateral to treble side of fingerboard

(4) ~7.5 in. belly, from upper edge, centered under fingerboard

(5) ~5 in. center of upper bout rib, treble side, extending across the upper treble corner

(6) ~5 in. center of lower bout rib, bass side, extending up from endpin hole

(7) numerous small cracks in center bout ribs and extending across corners

(8) ~1 in. belly, extending up from lower f hole, treble side

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I like the color ones

Your Brain is Purple

Of all the brain types, yours is the most idealistic.
You tend to think wild, amazing thoughts. Your dreams and fantasies are intense.
Your thoughts are creative, inventive, and without boundaries.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people and places - or a very different life for yourself.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Blogging and writing and sculpting and music

A couple of months ago, as I was aimlessly (but never mindlessly) following links through the blogosphere, I read a post or two about the death of Donald Murray at the end of last year. Mr. Murray, with whom I had not previously been acquainted, was evidently an influential teacher of writing and journalism, and also wrote a well-known and well-regarded column on aging for the Boston Globe. (Anyone who is more familiar with Mr. Murray will please cut me some slack for what is undoubtedly a neophyte's superficial comprehension.)

However, he sounded like someone who wrote things I would like to read about, so I put a couple of his books on reserve at the library. I am just about to finish the first, Writing to Deadline, most of which I read on a recent flight.

An aside. While sitting on the runway for an hour waiting for the flight to take off (one of those), my seatmate turned to me and stated "I am a Journalist". (It sounded like a capital "J" to me.) I responded, "I am not, but I am a blogger." (Definitely a small "b".) That led to an interesting discussion off and on through the flight about his job as a reporter for Radio Free Asia, and on the process of writing in general, much of which reinforced what I was reading. He didn't know much about blogging, so I was able to fill him in on amateur writing and the blogging community. A neat coincidence.

What I loved the most about the book were the many parallels between the processes of writing and of producing music. I would like to share a quote from p.46, in which Mr. Murray quotes the sculptor, Henry Moore:

The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your whole life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is - it must be something you cannot possibly do!

Oh, my 'cello. How sublime.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ear worm

Oh, my poor head. I have snippets of the first of Dvorak's Slavanik Dances stuck in it, going round and round, from one ear through the neural jungle to the other. It started after our strings-only rehearsal on Thursday, and seems to get worse daily. Even though I haven't touched the piece since rehearsal. Guilt? Revenge?

There is one 8-bar phrase in that dance that I despair of ever playing. It's a set of ascending broken thirds, and the last 5 measures are the same repeated fragment. Since it's eighth notes in 3/4, that comes out to a unique 32-note fragment. A similar 3-bar motif in Beethoven Op. 59 No. 3 was the only fragment of two quartets that I could not play at all at camp last summer. Is this my Waterloo?

Maestro encouraged us in this movement, pointing out that it is scored very pianistically. Unfortunately we aren't playing keyboards. The bottom line was to suck it up, quit whining, and fake it as best we can. He also suggested that if we practiced these short sections slowly for 25 hours playing it fast would be a piece of cake.

That does exceed the limits of my faith. I have experience with slowly bringing a piece up to tempo with a metronome, but no experience with it magically improving with extended slow practice. So I am going to try an experiment. I hereby resolve to play these 8 bars over and over s*l*o*w*l*y for 10 minutes at each practice session until I reach 25 hours of practice time. That should be in about 6 months. I'll let you know what happens.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

It's cold, Part II

It's been an unseasonably warm winter. Or was an unseasonably warm winter until three weeks ago, when the temperature dropped 40 or 50 degrees and it got a lot more normal around here. This was my first clue that I might need to find my winter coat. That is the inside of my front door, and the white is not paint.

It took a few hours to decide that I was just going to have to turn the heat in the house up a little bit. After all, the babies needed to be warm. In the meantime, the babies had decided that Uncle John was a pretty nice substitute furnace. I discovered them clustered on one level of the Colonade at 11am.

12:35pm. Same place, different configuration.

1:35pm, and they have again re-assorted themselves, but seem perfectly content to snooze the day away in their very comfortable huddle.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


There's more to my practice room than me and the cello. You've already seen my way with whoopee cushions and silly putty. Another indispensable tool is the timer. Or perhaps I should rather say, are the timers. I use two types, not every day I practice, but often. I use them alone and together, depending on my goals.

The timer on the left is a standard kitchen timer. This allows me to set a desired time in minutes and seconds, then counts down and beeps when the time is up. I use it to define my practice segments. For instance, today I planned to do four 15 minute intervals before my lesson, consisting of scale, Bach, trio music, and orchestra music. I just got a call that I won't have a lesson today, so I'll probably add an etude segment and another orchestra block, since we are having a strings-only rehearsal tonight.

Why bother with a timer? (1) It keeps me honest, (2) it allows me to concentrate deeply on the task at hand without the requirement to keep half-an-eye on the clock, and (3) it allows me to schedule rest at appropriate intervals so that I don't exacerbate my overuse syndromes. I don't always use 15 minute segments. It depends on the plan for the day.

The timer on the right is a standard stop watchwith an interval timer feature. This watch actually has two interval channels. Each channel allows you to set a time interval and a number of repetitions. After starting the countdown, the watch beeps at the set time interval for the number of repetitions programmed. If two channels are set, it rotates between the two intervals. The advantage it has over the kitchen timer is that you don't need to interrupt your practice to restart the timer.

There are a number of uses for the stop watch in practicing. I use it when I am trying to keep a particular technical point in mind throughout my practice, usually a physical fine point such as "keep right shoulder down" or "feel the weight under the right arm". This functions similarly to the teacher who keeps reminding you to do something as you forget while concentrating on something else. Bringing the desired action more frequently to consciousness hastens formation of the habit. I usually start out with a short (1-3 min) interval and gradually lengthen it.

I also use the stopwatch when I really need to spend time on something, knowing my own short attention span. For example, this week I used it to spend an hour (plus) block practicing Bach. After my analysis, the Prelude to the 2nd Suite fell into about 12 phrases or half phrases, where the beginning of each phrase was a logical starting point for my memorizing efforts. I set the watch to 3-minute intervals, and focused one phrase per interval, moving on with each beep. This allowed me to play the phrase, fix 1 or 2 things, usually play it again, and also to get through the entire piece. Each 3 minutes was an efficient practice, I covered a lot of ground, I put in some of the time I needed to, and best yet, the hour seemed to fly by.

Another item in my box of cello toys.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Missing Luke

You will be happy to hear that Luke and Leia's "alterations" went well, and they are happily installed in their new home. After almost zero adjustment time they own the house, have played with all their new toys and climbed all their new trees, and are generally delighting their new mom, S-. S- says that off and on through the night they climb up on the bed and purr. She has also discovered why we called him "Luke Facewalker". No such thing as a solid night's sleep with those two around, but we miss them here, anyway.

S- notes that Luke periodically walks through the house at night making calling sounds. She thinks he may be missing my bigs. I think my bigs are missing the littles, too. They've been moping and sitting around staring at me with big, reproachful eyes. John has also been doing the nocturnal calling. Today he sat down in the middle of the Nursery and wailed. But maybe he was just looking for kibble.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's cold, Part I

I took my cello out of the case today, the first time since Thursday, and discovered that only the G string was hanging on at nearly full tension. That's the third or fourth time in the past two weeks my pegs have popped, a real pain when it's cold and dry and the pegs won't stick at tension. So today, after straightening the bridge, I took the time to rewind all the strings so that they are coiled snugly up against the side of the scroll box. Instant gratification. Now, why didn't I do that sooner?

Monday, February 05, 2007

My aura today

This is not completely spot on. Or maybe to me, cats are people, too. Or maybe I've taken on a blue tinge from spending a few days in bed. Or maybe I'm blue because Luke and Leia are back at the shelter. And how on earth do they decide who famous blues are?

Your Aura is Blue

Spiritual and calm, you tend to live a quiet but enriching life. You are very giving of yourself. And it's hard for you to let go of relationships. The purpose of your life: showing love to other people.

Famous blues include: Angelina Jolie, the Dali Lama, Oprah

Careers for you to try: Psychic, Peace Corps Volunteer, Counselor

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pardon the interruption

A nasty bug has laid me low. Hopefully I'll be back to blogging in a few days.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Leia, too

Yes, there's been a lot of focus on Luke this week, but Leia still lives here, too. Luke, being bigger and more mischievous, seems to get himself into photogenic predicaments a little more often. Leia is growing, but is thin and dense and will always be much smaller than Luke. She shows no signs of growing out of the tiny head with huge eyes. Really lovely. As she gets older she is showing a marked preference for NOT being picked up, but still gives plenty of cuddles on her own schedule. She also prefers NOT to be burrito wrapped and given meds, and I have the scratches to prove it. Ouch. Need to do some more nail trimming at my house.

Our routine morning schedule goes something like this: DH gets up at a ridiculously ungodly hour before the sun rises. The cats get up with him, and he feeds them breakfast. Then they all troop back to bed with me and nap until a civilized hour for arising. This morning Cricket was cuddled with the kittens at my feet, washing Leia's head while Luke played with Leia's twitching tail. Gentle purrs all around. Such a warm, domestic scene to wake up to.

We'll all, people and cats alike, miss these kittens when they leave. But there is good news. I don't want to jinx it, but I'm so happy I need to share it. There's someone here who wants to adopt these monsters together. She still needs to get through the application process, which can't occur until after they return to the shelter, pass their physicals, and get spayed and neutered. But I am excited that all looks good for them being together with someone who loves them. And that I'll know where they are, and may even get updates now and again.

It occurred to me, watching John and Cricket warm up to these kittens, that we may have somewhat of a meerkat social hierarchy developing in this house, with me as matriarch. I wonder if the bigs are beginning to think that periodically I just have a litter of kittens?