Wednesday, February 27, 2008

WFMW: Unstuffy Classical Music

This week for Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer's Works for Me Wednesday, I am going to give you an insider's guide to some of the coolest classical music and FREE internet resources for finding more you might like.

Broadening your child’s musical taste while expanding your own

As a professional classical musician (I’m a violist, in case you are bopping by for WFMW. Feel free to submit viola jokes in the comments if you like.), civilian friends sometimes ask me what music I like to play for my kid. There are a lot of pieces out there you are probably already familiar with (whether you know it or not) because they’re common in soundtracks, car commercials, produce departments and Muzak tracks worldwide. I’m looking at you, Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

There are some really cool classical works out there that you may not have heard yet. I’m aiming for things that are accessible enough that you’ll enjoy them the first time but complex enough that you’ll still be enjoying in a few months (hopefully years!). Here are some of my (and my 2 year-old boy’s) favorites.
So let's dig in!

Bela Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
I’ve blogged about this piece before, but it really does get the job done. It’s got it all: huge brass and strings parts, rhythmic drive, beautiful melodies. Bartok was a fascinating character and also happens to have written a lot of great stuff for viola. If you like this piece, you might also enjoy his 44 Duos for Two Violins. Here's a link to a free listen of one movement on Rhapsody.

Maurice Ravel: String Quartet
This is an incredibly cool piece and I bet with a little legwork you can find it online free from some enterprising ensemble, because it's one of those pieces you have to play if you want to be the new hotshot virtuoso string quartet.

Felix Mendelssohn: Octet
Can you believe he wrote this at 16? Sheesh. I totally want this played at our 50th anniversary or some other huge party. Help me think of reasons to throw a fete.

The Naked Violin: Tasmin Little
Don’t worry, she just means naked as in unaccompanied. This is a FREE release for download by well-known British violin virtuoso Tasmin Little. I am in love with her concept, and have in fact been trying to get a similar (though currently not so famous) project off the ground. I would recommend starting with the incredible Bach Partita, then moving on to the intense Ysaye (pronounced Eee-sigh), and working your way through the Patterson. Her website even includes ideas for classroom use (cough- heyhomeschoolers- cough).

Which brings us to an intro to a few of the many Rad Online FREE Broadcasts
New York Philharmonic
Here’s a great site to get you started with listening to lots of different repertoire if you don’t happen to have a good classical station where you are. You can listen to whatever they had on the air that week through your computer for FREE. And NYPhil, they aren’t going to let you down.

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
If this orchestra were a person, for me it would be Johnny Depp. Maybe Will Smith. Anyway, it’s hot with a million t’s, and I have always loved them. Ask any classical string player about their dream orchestra job, and I’d lay money they’ll mention Orpheus sooner or later. They play without a conductor and every single musician is one of the best in the world. When I was a wee undergrad in New York, I had the pleasure of getting to know a few of them. Once I even got to listen to a dress rehearsal in which Gil Shaham (wonderful violinist) was playing and James Taylor was sharing our row in the seats at Carnegie Hall. It was neat, even though I didn’t know who James Taylor was at the time. So, that’s a tangent, but you should really look into any recordings/videos/podcasts/internet broadcasts you can find. I especially recommend their recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (I know, but it’s a great piece and actually deserves the fame), and the disc with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Britten’s Simple Symphony is one of our household favorites.

Alexander Street has a blog offering a free classical download once a week, which I just discovered while surfing for this post. Might be worth checking out, and I know there are more like this out there.

Many classical radio stations have excellent podcasts available free, as do a ton of orchestras. The last three top-tier orchestras I played with all had a free kid's program at their local libraries. Check around- I bet there is a whole community of vibrant, unstuffy classical music near you.

So that's what works for me- another WFMW whacked out at the JWards.
Thanks for sticking with it to the final cadences!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

28 days!

Because I don't count today or the day I'm actually due, there are just 28 days left on this hormone trip! Last stop, everybody off, this train is speeding back to the yard to remedy all misshapenness.

28 days is a fun thing to google, because you come up with either everyone's favorite sweatpants & beer movie star Sandra Bullock or a deadly virus.

I'm doing a little dance. It's jiggly, but it's mine.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I wanted to put some thought and organized writing into this post, but for now I'm just going to get it out.

This weekend at Imago, an African man called Saah Joseph came and told us a little bit about how our church and others had helped him in his pursuits over the past year. He told us a ton of churches have sent folks over to talk about how they were going to supply wells and promising him the moon, only to disappear. I cannot fathom how a church could do that to people in such dire straits. Christians should be outraged at that, maybe hunt down the offenders and slap them with fish. I recommend either electric eels or spiny blowfish. But that's not what impressed me about Saah's story: check out a few of his accomplishments.

Saah played on the Liberian national soccer team before the chaos in Sierra Leone in the late nineties. Since the struggles he has planted 17 churches, 12 schools and a technical program for women whose only choice before his doors opened was prostitution. His programs sound practical and effective: for $500 sponsorship the street women are taught to read, given a meal a day and basic medical care, given a sewing machine, given prenatal care should they need it, and upon graduation receive $100 toward starting a business. This is a man whose father was killed and mother shot, who was forced to escape on foot, walking more than 400 miles through the bush to a refugee camp. He is 32 years old.

He is 32. 32!

He was joined on our church stage by Benjamin Nkusi, a man who survived the genocide in Rwanda. This guy spoke so matter-of-factly with the lilting accent of Africa that you could easily have missed the facts of his story. He hid in a home with his wife when the rebels came, and hearing them fire on the room where she lay he assumed she was killed. Fortunately, she was unharmed. They were then stranded behind enemy lines without food, and he was forced to go out in search of some. He said this like I would mention a trip to Target. In fact, he had to leave their hiding place on foot, was picked up by somebody with a truck and unfortunately didn't escape the notice of the rebels. They pulled him from the truck and tied him in the back room of a bar. He said a man drinking in the bar was a "specialist in the killing of people", in just the tone you or I might mention that somebody's very good at Trivial Pursuit. Happily for Benjamin, a priest happened by while he waited for his executioner and asked permission to speak with the prisoner, then chided the rebels for having innocent blood on their hands. And they let him go. I imagine that saying this is an exceedingly rare outcome is an understatement.

After the genocide, Benjamin started a ministry of reconciliation (ALARM) and has seen executioners turn themselves over to the mercy of families of those they killed. As he said, "it was very difficult for those families, but they were able to show mercy and forgiveness."

There are so many unimaginables in these stories that I can hardly believe I sat in the same room with these people. I've seen Hotel Rwanda, I had Japanese friends who were in Sierra Leone as all hell broke loose. Reconciliation, grace, mercy, hope: these words act weighty, but what do they really have to do with my own world?

The grief and terror these people have experienced is so indescribable: hopefully it doesn't also become forgettable in the clutter of my daily life.

ps. If you'd like a good place to start with support, try Living Water International. It's our church's Lent project.

Juno (not Juneau)

I'm really glad Diablo Cody won the Oscar for best screenplay. I like her freestyling ways, and wonder if she's fun in real life or if she's too cool to just hang around with. This is a woman who pulls off leopard print and jet black dye jobs. I can honestly say I'm looking forward to reading her stripping memoir and am curious to see what angle she takes on what I think would be kind of a sad life.

And with that, my swelled up hands are numb and I'm going to need a poking stick with which to type. Pretty!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Skip this- it's ugly.

I cannot believe I have 32 days left. My hands get sausagey and numb with no provocation, I am awake every night at 4am (give me a call, we'll chat), the steering wheel in the Jeep is giving me a cello-mark on my belly button and I... well, I waddle.

I think the extra fat has infiltrated my grey matter, because even my thinking feels groggy unless I'm mad. Which is a lot more often lately, right honey?

I am drinking raspberry leaf tea and casually asking the midwives WHEN WILL YOU START THE NATURAL INDUCTION STUFF??!!! (In another 2.5 weeks.)

How do people do this with more than one kid?

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I'm feeling gushy! Schmaltzy, sentimental, full of good cheer. Here, have a pic from last Easter. It has been a lovely Valentine's, and my man isn't even home from work just yet.

Toby gave his first spontaneous hug to anyone in his age bracket today. His girl Audrey (an older woman at 2 3/4) walked in and he pretty much chased her around hugging her and looking deeply into her eyes for several minutes. She played hard to get, but I can tell she digs him.

He also put his hand on my cheek and called me pretty while I was writing this post. He's never done anything like that before, either. My men are goooood, people. The bigger one sent me Valentines tulips!

Here, have another heart-stopping recipe from last night's double fondue date with my parents!
Grown-up Creamsicle Fondue

1 package vanilla chips
A splash (maybe 1/4 cup) milk or heavy cream
Grand Marnier to taste (we doubled the recipe and used one of those airline-sized bottles, about 4 tbsp)

Melt the chips with the cream, either in the microwave in 20 second intervals or in a fondue pot while stirring constantly. Add orange liquor once smooth and melty.

Give your loved ones some banana hunks, pieces of pineapple, strawberries and pulled-apart chunks of angel food cake to dip. Since we'd already done a big fondue dinner, we gave everybody their own little bowl of the good stuff instead of all dipping in the fondue pot again.

In addition to being Valentine's day, did you know it's Oregon's birthday? She'll be 150 next year.

Here's to you, my friends, family and occasional random blog readers. Hope you and yours are enjoying the day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pot, Kettle.

Rachael violin ho came for a visit! And she brought her better half Tim, and together they brought Toby a bubble machine (mind. blown.) and a huge green ball and some clothing he can put on his little brother. Yay!

This afternoon Tim and I ganged up on Rachael and made her commit to at least three Big Auditions this year, because she is awesome and is clearly on the cusp of winning a lucrative job. Maybe even something with an insurance package, which is nothing to sneeze at for a classical musician.

When we got done browbeating her and they piled into their Seattley blue Volvo to drive back to their trendy Seattley home, I realized I was feeling kind of... jealous. Or guilty. Or... is that strange sensation... could it be I felt- motivated?

See, there's this minor local audition in four weeks from which I had excused myself for two reasons. One, I am huge scary pregnant and my hands regularly take tingling catnaps without warning. Two, I feel sorry for myself having not won much local crap and would like a break from the suckage wringer. (I really wanted to write suckage wiener. Wierd.)

So I went to the orchestra's website and took one more look, and at least one of the positions only requires four excerpts. There is pretty much no excuse for wimping out on such an itty bitty thing. Except maybe labor. (C'monnnnn labor!) So now I think I stop whinging, commit and take the stupid audition.

Of course, by the time J got home just two hours after this epiphany, I was already in a foul mood- and no, I haven't even taken the viola out of the case yet. I'll say it before Rachael can. Hypocrite!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cream: Good

I am making this recipe, which I found at Epicurious, my favorite recipe site:

Cream Cheese Ice Cream (Gourmet Magazine, August 2003)

Active time: 5 min Start to finish: 2 1/2 hr (includes freezing)
Makes about 1 qt.

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup heavy cream


Blend cream cheese, milk, lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, then stir in cream. Freeze cream cheese mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 2 hours. Let ice cream soften 5 minutes before serving.

So, if you don't hear from us for more than a few days, assume our arteries have clogged and hardened and we have developed instant diabetes from eating- or perhaps even smelling or looking at- what is essentially hunks of sweetened, frozen cream cheese with berries on top.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

LLLLLLLLLet's gggggoooooooo....

I seem to be slowing down at everything lately, blogging included. I miss coming up with thoughts and commentary on a regular basis, but it seems every time I turn around it's 3 or 4 days later.

Toby and I went for a long walk today over on 23rd and Lovejoy, a popular Portland area. I think it used to be all artsy and eclectic, but now there are at least three Starbucks and several other chain restaurants in the mix. Not that we mind that- in fact the kiddo and I shared a muffin and some quality car-on-table-top noisemaking time in one of them.

A few doors down from S'bux there is a super cool store called Hello Portland. If we were throwing away money, I'd pick up a bunch of the plate sets and stuff they have for kids. We don't last long browsing while Toby grabs at trendy and breakable nicknacks, but still it's a neat little place.

It's hard to be patient with Toby. He's generally a really compliant, curious, energetic guy, but he also weighs 31 pounds and is almost as stubborn as J. Not even close to my level of obstinence, but he may just get there... I'm kind of relieved that at just a hair past two years old he probably won't remember Pregnant Mama.

Today was a beautiful 55 degrees and sunny, and I tried to focus on just letting him walk at his own pace and explore (mostly) whatever he wanted. Alas, there were still moments where I wished we could put him on wheels and pull him around. I'm thinking something along the lines of a human-powered sidecar. J's suggestion is to find a stout harness with metal hardware and mountain climbing ropes, to be attached at the parent's waist. All those people who snicker at Toby's beloved stuffed dog-shaped backpack harness leash doohicky would really have a field day with that, but then they don't have to worry about him careening into traffic or picking up smoldering cigarette butts or getting squashed by a homeless guy's shopping cart, or.. or... I could go on all day with these. Must be the pregnancy hormones.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Works for Me! Frugal Websites

Today's Works for Me Wednesday theme from Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer is all about websites.

My current favorite websites are about living within your means. My definition of frugality encompasses getting exactly what you want for as little outlay as possible, while avoiding buying things just because they are cheap or wasting money on things that turn out to suck. With that in mind, here are my recommendations and habits as a thrifty net citizen.

1. Getting my game on.
The ability to be frugal and remain on a budget is similar to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime. I need to do it in a flexibly creative way that motivates me, or I will drop it faster than a toddler can empty an unprotected tissue box. (3.52 seconds, in case you're wondering.)

One key component for me is saving money in ways that give me a sense of accomplishment. By finding sites that tell me about stuff like home design stuff I can do well myself without looking hokey, luxe baby clothes I can copy or find used, or cheap versions of material goods I can upgrade on my own, I stay in the game and want to stay on the savings wagon. Some things can't be faked, but by comparison shopping I can at least know for sure I've found a decent price. Shopping around also requires time, and denies my NOW NOW NOW impulses.

Design Mom & her sister Oh Happy Day are good places to start for my daily dose of hip things though neither include frugality in their design lust criteria. DM in particular has a great blogroll to surf through, often holds giveaways and is at least as satisfying as a subscription to a design magazine without all the piles of magazines. (I do LOVE realSimple, though!)

Sweet Juniper, a talented SAHD writer ex-lawyer, talks about finding great stuff at thrift stores in Detroit so rapturously you can't help getting caught up in his vibe, and about being thrifty as a cultural heritage.

From there, if I need more creativity inspirations I look at sites about whatever it is I'm focused on at the moment. Lately that's been Apartment Therapy, Martha Stewart and Strobist. Find what you like, and look around to see what other people have come up with. Don't be turned off by big price-tags; look for items that might work in your own home and could be copied or emulated DIY. If it turns out to be something worth saving up for, then you'll know where to find it when you're ready.

2. Actual advice on living cheaply
I've recently discovered Want Not, which is a site written by the very pretty Mir (short for GUESS WHAT most awesome name?!). She posts daily on all sorts of deals, coupons and sales at both online and brick-n-mortar shops. She also posts often on her level-headed financial philosophy and between her and her savvy commenters I have picked up some good tips. Frugal Hacks, Parent Hacks and Dave Ramsay's anti-debt site are other good bets.

3. Sites where I am a regular customer
Craigslist, baby. In-person, local, cash-only, no-surprises is made for me. I've bought and sold high-end furniture, strollers, and musical instruments there. (My family jokes about finding their Christmas gifts posted there but I swear I haven't done that... at least not with anything they gave me!) My current favorite searches include "murphy" (we want to build a wall bed for our guest BR queen), "joovy", "tandem" and "double" (we're looking for a schmancy double stroller but I'm allergic to paying $280 for one). I've seen some really neat things go through the free pages, but in Portland you have to be VERY fast on the trigger to snatch those puppies so I hardly even look at that section anymore. Some folks swear by FreeCycle, but I found it annoying. has some great deals, especially when they have a coupon special for 60% off their vouchers. I like the sites everyone else goes to, like Amazon and iTunes, but it has to be a pretty serious deal for me to actually pull the trigger and buy from them.

4. Research
I often search the internet for thrift and resale shops in my area, and even at retail I like to know before going anywhere in person what the going rates are for things I'm hoping to find. The customer reviews & ratings at bigger sales sites are invaluable. I don't go to five grocery stores or do a ton of coupon printing (though I do clip from the paper) like some hard-core frugal folk, but if something costs more than $20 I usually compare prices online.

The internet is filthy with frugal parenting and how-to-stay-home mom sites. Some are better written and more regularly updated than others, but a quick trip through a few blogrolls should yield a crop you like. One site I found linked from who knows where is A Year Off, in which a family strives to get rid of anything extra and avoid bringing new crap into their lives for a year. They aren't doing it to save money, but the principal of living in moderation is a good one.

5. Conclusions
Finding inspiration, goods, philosophies, ratings and hacks is pretty much what the internet was born for. Keep your eyes open and your cynicism on high, and you can find some great tools. Cheaper is not always more intelligent in the long run, if it turns out to be junk. Budgets need room to build a life you enjoy, and that shouldn't be impossible if you calmly pick your indulgences & apply your throbbing brainpower.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


...or, How to Trick Your Man Into Finally Taking the Family for a Tram Ride.

Imagine you are in early labor, and get the midwife-on-call to agree enough to have you all trek into town. While waiting the hour for test results (all negative) and having all uterine activity stall immediately upon entering the hospital (just like when it was Toby's turn) you might scam a nice gardenburger and a tram-ride out of the somewhat humiliating deal.

I'm still feeling crampy. Eight more weeks of this??