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Christmas Eve 2013DSCN1079

While I am upstairs reading a post from a friend whose dog just “discovered” the Christmas ham as it was  stored out on the porch, my own Dog is downstairs hovering over the remnants in the cat dish. Dinner has already been served, and yes, I am distracted, especially since it’s Christmas Eve and I don’t want to find in June, the stocking stuffers that I am dangerously close to forgetting about right now.

And there was something that desperately needed to go in the attic. And, in fact, something that wanted to come down, but I can’t remember what.

So when I finally return to the kitchen, Dog is still engaged in the waiting game. She stands over the cat  dish, her head hanging and her eyes somewhat glazed. Her eyebrows bob. This has nothing to do with any rules I am aware of. She will wait until I spoon the leftovers into her own dish, and then have at it like the scavenger that I know she is. This behavior has always bewildered me, but I happily go along with it.

I’ve had dogs before, and I’m reminded in particular of a dear Golden Retriever who would cozy up to a dumpster as soon as she would hop onto the couch. This dog of mine right now, Saint Dog, as I imagine her because of her unworldly display of “patience”, is a different sort.

It’s true that, I myself have been accused of having the “patience of a saint”. I have a long history with Catholicism, so I should know what that means. However, a moment of doubt (!) sends me to the dictionary. A quick search reveals only a reference to Job and his nagging wife. Well, screw that.

If I were to attempt to boil my observations down to something meaningful (in fact this is what I try do every day), today’s lesson would be that Patience = Faith in a Positive Outcome. As an alternative, Grab the Ham!

Have a Merry Christmas Everyone, wherever you are!

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Downstairs, life goes on – including the usual bow rehairs, glueing, sound adjustments, and lost dog placements (I choose not to go into that at the moment). Predictably, I have cycled back into Busy 2, which means more phone calls involving phone solicitations than client inquiries.*  I’m okay with that. It simply means another surge of effort devoted to the work room I’m creating upstairs.

In fact George, the electrician, has come and gone. I gleefully gave him two and a half days of pretending I was twenty-five, while I chopped out floor boards in the attic and ran one end of the wires that would supply a confident and updated source of power to the new workshop. I learned many things, including that walkie-talkies  are now called radios. I suddenly remembered how dirty and exhausting this kind of work is, and how I admire and respect the skill, intelligence and perseverance of professional tradespeople.DSCN0473

Turns out, George plays bass and knew an old mentor of mine, Frank Lucchesi. I make a point of trying to do business with people in Holyoke because there is really so much skill and talent right here. This in itself would explain the connection, since Frank was from Holyoke, but music also provides an extraordinary web of intrigue. If the norm is six degrees of separation, within the musical world, the degrees of separation can amount to no more than three. I invite discussion on this point.

In any case, I now have power for all the lights and appliances I may need.DSCN0471 My body is complaining just enough to register a job well done. Next up, finish some cabinets and set a move in date.

*btw does anyone know who the h&%# Ramone Medina is? I keep getting calls for him. He must owe somebody a lot of money!

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On most days, I take my Dog for a short hike at the Mount Tom Reservation in Holyoke, MA, a short distance from my home. There’s a loop that we frequently do that takes us up the slope through the woods and then down and over the brook and finally along the edge of Lake Bray. It’s beautiful in any season.IMG_5172

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As is the case in most of these well maintained, and accessible pseudo-wildernesses (aka State Reservations), one is likely to have the most encounters with other humans somewhere not too far from the parking lot. Indeed, yesterday’s walk included an encounter with a couple who were clearly headed back to their car. It was a week day. It was the first surprisingly warm bright spring day at the tail end of an insultingly long winter. The fellow was in shorts and called out to me “Great day, huh? Can you believe it? There’s NOBODY here!”

Well that was pleasant – people getting out in the sunshine, Dog gets to be wiggly and happy as she makes new friends. And I’m thinking, “I’m here, you’re here, I bet that bear and her cub that I saw last time is still here.”

Our walk takes me south and up the slope under the hemlocks where I spotted the emergence of springtails last winter on a warm day after a late December snow. I will have to remember to point the spot out to P, who knows which mushrooms are edible. Apparently, where there are springtails (snow fleas), there are mushrooms. I know little about foraging, but have the pleasure of knowing a bona fide hunter-gatherer, so I hope to learn something eventually. I have an observant nature. I think that might be an advantage.

Dog and I cross the convergence of seasonal streams that I amuse myself by calling Three Rivers. There is actually a town near here that is called Three Rivers. I am sure that “Shorts Man” would conclude that NOTHING happens in either place. This Three Rivers is simply a point in the landscape where water runs off  the slope in three rivulets as it heads inevitably for Lake Bray. In the fall, one might not even notice it. But this spring, the crossing inspired me to get some waterproof hiking boots. There is a vernal pool as well, and I am curious to see what I may see there as the spring progresses.

I am still having a language moment.”There’s NOBODY here!” Interesting choice of words, that.

Dog and I have passed the place, where, on our last walk, we watched a mama bear and her crying cub descend the slope, left of the trail, toward the lake. I was relieved that young Dog neither bolted nor made chase, but stood apprehensively, breathing deeply against the back of my leg. I have raised a cub of my own, and so I know, that if Baby is that whiny, Mama is not to be in a good mood either.

Past Three Rivers, we flush a Pileated Woodpecker. Mostly, I see the flash of red crest. I see a pair of them now and then, and hear their thrumming regularly. This is a bird that is still so amazing to me that it elicits images of mystical majesty tempered by cartoon celebrity. It’s big, but I assume it’s not an Ivory Billed. That is truly the stuff of fantasy. Off to my right, the landscape ascends through a deciduous forest, where I have spotted deer on a number of occasions. Beyond the crest of the trail, I have seen their foot prints in the snow. The snow is gone by now, but still Dog’s interest is piqued.

At the bottom of the hill, there is a small wooden bridge over water that flows year round into the lake. Dog crosses it every time as if it’s her first time. I have yet to really get inside her brain about this one. We head north again. There is one last hill to climb before the trail gracefully descends toward the lake. Dog stops to contemplate the reptilian chorus of peepers off to our left. Not a bear, probably not a predator. What? This is her third spring, her first spring walking this trail. We are approaching the marsh at the upper end of the lake. It’s still too early for turtles sunning themselves on logs. Too early for copperheads. I’m ok with that.

Another bridge and I am on the last stretch of trail heading for the parking lot. The lake is to the right. I am eagerly awaiting signs that someone is inhabiting the new nesting box at the upper end of the lake. I’ve seen a pair of Mallards but I’m not sure if the box is intended for them. Somehow, I don’t think so. I am humbled by my ignorance.

I’m not sure what “Shorts Man” meant by “nobody”. I suspect it’s relative. I am already making a plan for the rest of my afternoon. I don’t have any clients scheduled, which means I will have some concentrated work time . Dog, no doubt, will be napping.

5213e11ae5228adc62d7d4c5a420bf0b      Credit: Tyler Breton, violinist and photographer extraordinaire

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So my triceps are aching and my hands tingled with “pins and needles” all last night.

Actually, I like shoveling snow. But I’ve had enough of it for the time being. Some young muscle-y young fellow showed up this afternoon and finished shoveling my driveway for the best $15 I’ve ever spent. “Where were you yesterday???”… I was thinking, while being ever grateful that he had spared me this last insult of having to clear a path just enough wider to squeeze the car out onto the street. The Car. Which I stupidly parked way back by the garage, about a mile and a half from the street, in the spot that I know is prone to drifting. By the way, my car is black.

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My first words, Saturday morning, were reiterated a few hours later, by my Puerto Rican neighbor, who, upon opening her front door to discover  snow nearly up to her waist, simply exclaimed, “Oh my God!”

The nice thing about this kind of weather event is that it brings people out. I have noticed, in my neighborhood, a spectacular showing of men and machines. In fact, being the newcomer in these parts, it still surprises me that they all seem to know one another, having attended school together apparently, some time before the middle aged paunch and grey whiskers happened. Then there is the other slice of neighborhood, the one that says all with a keyboard post and shout out (it could be from anywhere in the world, but it’s) from around the corner.

One is concerned about the elder woman that lives across the street. Another is grateful for the refuge offered by a neighbor during a CO scare. Another is trying to find the owner of a trash can gone AWOL. We watch out for each other, and I like this about this multi-layered community. I like getting the (albeit) recorded message from my beloved Mayor, stating the parking updates and a reminder to stay safe and check up on neighbors.

Someone decided to call this snowstorm Nemo, which I think is both preposterous and endearing. Preposterous because Nemo is a name that’s been appropriated by  Disney, and endearing because,… well…! I’ve neglected thus far to mention that my own twenty-five year old daughter hightailed it from Boston, hound dog riding shotgun, to arrive here in Holyoke just before the storm hit. And speaking of Disney, it was this same 25 year old, who at age 5 would not eat flounder unless we called it salmon. Whatever.

It’s been Weekend Interruptus by all accounts. One more day of school is cancelled and with the good graces of our stellar DPW, all should up to speed by Tuesday. With the driveway cleared (and why this seems to me a marker of some sort, I don’t know, since I really don’t go out much!) it will be business as usual. DSCN0218

Oh, and I promise, the next post will be more about serious violin restorer stuff. I may just get out that “Heap of Cello Bits”. I have one more snow day to think about it.

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I have a hard time following directions. Specifically, I fail at following recipes. This is not because: 1. I cannot read  or 2. I have cognitive disabilities. In fact, sometimes I just have a better idea, or an alternate method that works for me. Or maybe there’s no Dutch Chervil in the cupboard (whatever the hell that is). Generally, this truth is an asset for me and not a liability. I suspect it relates to my being self- employed. But more specifically, I think it relates to the nature of my work. There are very few recipes when it comes to restoration work.

For instance, it is impossible to google “restore this heap of cello bits” and get a concise and printable course of action that may result in something worth putting strings on:
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This cello is actually not in such bad shape, since most of its parts, rather ALL of its parts, have literally come apart at the seams. Beyond that, there will be some serious planning, some random moments of ingenuity, and an otherwise brilliant trajectory of skill and awesomeness. All in a day’s work.

This, however, is a challenge:

re-heartlandmenu-shrededsprouts608

http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2003/11/brussels-sprouts-maple-hickory-nuts

Here is a recipe that I love, for shredded Brussels sprouts with maple glazed pecans. I can never quite get it right, for all its simplicity. It’s best when the flavors are isolated and the textures are differentiated. I know how good it can be. I excel at soups and stews, or when a visual presentation is required. But the perfection of this particular recipe eludes me. I’m thinking it might take someone who can follow directions.

Happy New Year!

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Chopping has come up in a couple of conversations with women friends lately. Yes, chopping, not shopping, thank you. Since I am who[sic] I am, sometimes a word or an image repeated, even in completely different contexts, lights up some mysterious part of my brain. I got to thinking.

The friends in question and I are all artists/artisans. One friend mentioned that after working at a computer for an extended period of time, she needs to go into the kitchen and chop vegetables. Another friend had her work with a cutting tool admonished as being “choppy”, not to mention unbecoming her gender. What? I thought about how I enjoy a job that requires getting out my bamboo froe. More about that later.

In my view, the act of chopping means taking an edged tool in hand and inviting a certain blend of speed, momentum, and larger muscle groups to augment an already practiced partnership between the hand and the eye. For instance, tonight’s butternut squash was bisected with one formidable whack. Had I not spent much of  the day fine-fitting a ridiculously little piece of wood, I may have been happy to simply lean into the vegetable with my biggest knife, rocking with it until the blade hit cutting board. That squash got whacked and it felt gooood!

Now this post, begun in all innocence, is about to take a timely turn. Next Tuesday, we here, in the States, exercise our civic duty to stand behind the candidates of our choice. This is a privilege and, in my view, an obligation of the highest order. I have never missed an opportunity to vote. I consider myself a humanist, sometimes even an optimist. That said, I recognize my not-so-inner curmudgeon. People are basically self- interested and short-sighted jerks. I have been closing my ears against the barrage of measured lies and twisted truths. Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot else to listen to. So I find myself trolling the neighborhood for places to be on Tuesday night, where I might  drink with abandon in case this election heads for the crapper.

The alternate title to this post was “Chopping Therapy 101”, which may help explain why this election digression is not totally a non sequitur. If I were still heating with wood, you can be sure I would be out there with my maul and axe reacquainting myself with my right-side rotator cuff. Instead, I chop vegetables. I use the biggest knife I have. I fit little pieces of wood all day and then split out a bunch of end blocks and bass bars. Whack! Here is the aforementioned bamboo froe: It’s a Japanese tool that is used for splitting bamboo. Someday, perhaps I will understand where it figures in terms of  Japanese craft and construction. It fits nicely in my hand, with a comfortable balance and confidence-inspiring heft. For me, it’s the tool I turn to when I need to be assured that the grain direction in a given piece of wood is appropriate to the purposes to which I am employing it. I use it to split out bass bar stock and also endblocks. I pick up a small hammer, position my froe, and  give it a whack. The split follows the grain line. There is no deception here.

Chopping exposes the nature of a material, the propensity of the tool and perhaps the mindset of the chopper. It’s an activity  that employs a kind of controlled abandon, or calculated wrecklessness. The perfect antidote to a day filled with the questionable minutiae of modern life.

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With only some regret, I’ve pulled the last of the tomatillo plants. And just tonight, while a handful of hot peppers are still turning orange on my windowsill, the last of the kale was consumed. Next year, I plant smarter, tend smarter, hopefully cook smarter and eat smarter. That’s what they all say! No traffic jams in the kitchen! Hah!

In any case, it’s almost time to put the garden to bed, and yet I keep finding the most interesting things out there.

I especially like this time of year for its odd mix of hope and resignation. I am relieved and delighted to see that the dogwood I planted just this year survived the drought and indeed has buds that I hope to witness in full flower next spring. If this baby tree had not survived, I would have been put in the awkward position of having a cosmic discussion with the Golden Retriever-in-a-can that I’d planted with it.

Likewise, the rhododendrons have buds, and the little peach tree, in spite of having lost all its fruit shortly after I planted it, seems to be healthy and willing. Sometimes it is wise to hunker down and focus on setting roots, even if it means passing on the flashy stuff.

As I walk in the woods and tidy the garden these days, I remember that there are things that are beautifully and inextricably entwined with their own decay.

It’s a good time of year to share a meal with friends, to visit children and aging parents. It is a good time of year to contemplate the dying and turn toward the living.

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Yesterday I delivered a bunch of home grown veggies to my neighbors. I was grateful for the short term loan of a dehydrator, with which I dried my first batch of Principe Borghese tomatoes. I look forward to committing these little red gems to olive oil and herbs, probably sometime in January or February, when a hit of summer will be ever so much more effective than the latest designer “pick-me-up.”

So my thanks to M and her partner T, with whom I remarked about how this summer seemed to be  unusually difficult for many of us. I say was, because we have just been kissed by our impetuous lover (if you live in New England), Autumn. Yes, the temperature dipped below 60〫F just the other night. In New England we love and hate the weather. It is unreliable – glorious and disappointing in turn.

For the better part of the summer we have been looking at this:
I did not mow the grass during the month of July. And while that would seem like a strange gift of time otherwise unallocated, the “brown out” has, overall, been a serious downer. I’ve been thinking about my first year in this house – only last spring/summer, really – in which I sweated through a dramatic late winter thaw that flooded the basement, a nearby spring tornado, an almost unheard of East Coast earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and a devastating late October snowstorm that downed trees still dressed in showy yellow, red  and orange foliage. The aftermath of that last storm inhibited mobility, left thousands without power for days and caused several deaths including the old lady up the street, who died wrapped in a blanket, in a comfortable chair, because she would not leave her 45 〫F house.

For me, the weather events of 2011 were all near misses. Still, I admit to becoming weather shy. Maybe it is a function of my age, or of circumstance. I am a newcomer to this community. In any case, as this dry, dry weather seems to take a needed turn, it is a joy to be sharing the bounty of a summer salvaged by care and diligence:

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I was planning to make pickles today, but since my source at the farmer’s market forgot about the request I submitted last week for a pile of cukes and fresh dill, my plan changed around 10 am this morning. I will NOT buy pickling cukes from Stop and Shop. I’ll wait for the next local market. If I’m really smart, I will make a note in my gardening notebook, which I never write in, and make sure that next year, I grow cukes. HOW could I be growing tomatoes, eggplants, greens, beans, peppers, kale, cabbages, brussels sprouts, tomatillos and NO cukes? Frankly, sometime last spring, after digging the second, or was it the third new bed in a relatively uncultivated property – vaguely, I remember flopping in the garden bench and thinking : “That’s it. Screw it!”

Now I’m sorry about the cukes, even though the pass on zucchinis was rather calculated. This time of year, in these parts, it’s almost impossible not to have a run in with a delicious, cheap zucchini that somebody else grew.

So instead of making pickles, which I will hopefully do next weekend, I engaged my tried and true decision making process, which is to seriously ask myself – what’s making me craziest, right now? It was the disarray of jars and varnishes, strewn about my back porch.

Three or four months ago I made fresh retouch varnishes. My own materials were low, but I was also preparing to teach a workshop, and so made up some fresh stuff to share with students. So today I finally  got around to finishing the project, which meant straining and dispensing the remainder in appropriately sized receptacles with labels and everything. The yield: about four times as much as I need. (Thank God I didn’t plant zucchinis).

This stuff is gold. I have about a three year supply, with plenty extra to share or use as leverage. The thing is, successful varnish retouch is largely about knowing your materials, so this is good. A relatively new facebook friend, and member of my community joked “Why 3 years? Is something happening in 2012 I should know about?” Not to worry. This is violin speak. Quintessentially slow art. I have wood in my attic that I bought years ago and may not use for years to come. If I’m smart, I’ll scribble “DO NOT BURN” just in case it outlives me.

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Sweet Supplication Rain

We are in the midst of a worrisome drought. And although we, here in Holyoke, MA, are not in imminent danger, as our friends and family elsewhere in the States have been due to forest fire, it’s been dry, dry, dry.

Actually, I take back that part about imminent danger: the other night after 20 minutes of smelling smoke that I attributed to the neighbors up the hill, who have a fondness for their fire pit (not to mention an obsession with fireworks), I discovered my next door neighbor’s garage lit up like a jack o’ lantern. An undetected ember from the previous day’s grilling extravaganza had been deposited in their trash can and neatly stowed in the garage (thankfully NOT near the mower and gas can), awaiting our usual weekly trash pick up. Twenty four hours later it was fully aflame before they (and I) realized it. They hosed it down and everything’s fine, except for the molten wad of plastic rubbish bin. I watched.

Anyway, this was not meant to be (overtly) a cautionary tale. I have been thinking about the weather again. In my own way. I was thinking about a friend I had back c 1980 for a short bit. Her name was Vicky and her mother was a landscape artist. Vicky earned extra cash by offering a typing service (now that’s a thing of the past). I thought she was very clever because she called it Alice’s Typing Service and so whenever anyone called asking for Alice, she knew it was a business call. This was long before email, multiple phone lines and voicemail, and long before I had any reason to think about the pros and cons of separating my own business life from my personal life. No further comment.

Vicky’s mother was working in watercolors and had gained herself a reputation as a painter of  Prairie landscapes. Vicky was from Kansas. Maybe this painting of her mother’s was in her apartment (in Northampton, MA)? or maybe it was a framed print? I don’t remember, although there was certainly NOT an internet search involved, which is how I came up with it just now (I’m sorry it’s not a better rendering, it’s a beautiful painting):

Joan Foth
Storm Lifting, 1980
Cloud Light Series
watercolor on paper, 25 x 35″

I’m a native to the Northeast, USA, so this image got my attention. In the New England landscape that I am familiar with, that kind of horizontal just doesn’t happen unless you are standing on the shore of the Atlantic. Thirty two years later, I’m still thinking about this.

There’s an adage around here: if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’s changeable. Maybe even more so lately. But I also wonder: here in New England, with our hills and valleys, maybe we just don’t see it coming.

There was one time, when I stood on the cottage porch in Gloucester, MA, with Marianne, and we watched something happening way out on the surface of the ocean, that we didn’t understand, until it was suddenly evident that we were seeing serious weather headed our way. We had barely enough time to drag the porch chairs in (which would have been on their way to Liverpool) and set our shoulders against the casement windows which were already being beset upon by fierce winds and soaking rain. Is this what it’s like to live on the prairie? Is that what I’m missing here in NE – an ability to read the horizon?

This afternoon, we finally had some rain. Last night’s event was mostly a light show – enough thunder to send the dog panting under the bed, but not a lot of real juice. Today, the clouds rolled in and spewed huge drops of soaking rain along their trajectory through my northwestern sky, while the sun shone from the southwest. Sun, rain, shadows.

I’m afraid to wish for more. The last time I attempted to invoke the rain during a heat wave was about a year ago. It rained alright. And the storm drain out in the street backed up into my basement. Didn’t see that coming.

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