Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sherwood Forest Faire: The Last Weekend

David, Alexis, Brooks, Candelaria, and Chris

Since we had such an excellent time at Sherwood Forest Faire during our last trip, my husband and I decided to go back this past Saturday, this time with a group of our friends. Once again, we had a great time, and I can't wait for next year's fair.

This time, we tried the food at HawdyLo and Hubble's Hearth. My husband tried the frog's legs, which were very good, and our friends Candelaria and Chris got the Irish stew and a veggie kabob. I was a bit disappointed, because I wanted to try the Welsh Rarebit, but they didn't have any. But no matter, the fair had lots more delicious looking food to try.

In the pub next door, I listened to some of the band Saxon Moon. It had three guys playing guitar and mandolin-like instrument called a Laud, and the music sounded Gypsy-like, but with a fun rock edge.

A Water-Wheel

Since I didn't eat at HawdyLo's, I decided to try the fried artichokes at Merlin's Favorites. Some of the thinner artichokes leaves turned crispy in the batter, but the larger hearts were beautifully crisp on the outside, and tender and soft on the inside. They came with a tasty remoulade that I enjoyed very much. 

Next, we listened to some of the band Wine & Alchemy. They played a mix of Greek, Gypsy and Celtic and Renaissance music I found both exciting and haunting. Their singer also performed a beautiful dance where she spun around with two lovely scarves. 

After the show, we ran into some charming fairies at the Paleo Puffin, Oops the Fairy and her sister  Bubbles the Fairy.

Her bodice has a map of Tolkien's Middle Earth drawn on it!

Hungry from our many wanderings, we stopped for food at Como's Italiano Ristorante. Their pizza came highly recommended, so we ordered a large one for all of us to share. I love it--the crust was thin but still tender, and the wood-fired stove gave it a depth of flavor you rarely find in fast food pizza. 


We decided to check out some of the many shops around the fair. When I needed to stop for a rest, I decided to listen to the Scottish band Drones and Drums. They were charming and light-hearted, and actually marched around the audience for part of their set. 

Once again, my husband loved firing arrows at the archery range, and this time Chris gave it a shot as well. They gave David a gold coin for being the best shot they'd had that day.

Of course, we couldn't miss the joust, which had been one of our favorite shows last time. This time, our knight, Sir William Dudley, shattered his lance over half way down and knocked his opponent of his horse. The other knight, Sir Victor Thorne, fell so hard that for a moment we worried he'd been hurt. It certainly made for an exciting show! What makes this joust so unique is watching the knights actually hit each other with their lances. It feels far more unpredictable and improvisational than many of the jousts we've seen at other festivals. So much fun!

Once again, we had a great time at Sherwood Forest Faire, and we're sure to come back next season! Until then, Scarborough Fair starts next week.

Other Renaissance Fair Posts:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Suzuki Method for Adult Students

As a Suzuki violin and viola teacher, I often teach children as young as three how to play the violin. In fact, Suzuki method emphasizes early childhood music education, and many teachers believe it's best for children to start learning music no later than age five. However, this is often misunderstood by adults or parents of older children to mean that older people can't learn violin, or that it will be incredibly difficult for them to make progress. That isn't true. In fact, I have many successful adult students, and while ideally people learn music as children, there is no age limit for playing the violin! Music lessons are an excellent way to keep your mind and body active and give yourself powerful creative outlet.

How do I adjust Suzuki method to make lessons more effective for adult students?

I've found that the most important Suzuki techniques, including listening to recordings, just as effective for adults are they are for children, with some minor changes. For example, young children often love and crave repetition. Think about how a child often wants to watch their favorite movie or read their favorite book again and again. Children's love for repetition makes it easy for them to listen to their reference recordings every day without getting bored. Adults, on the other hand, can quickly tire of listening to the same pieces. That's why I often encourage adult students to listen to a wide variety of classical recordings, instead of focusing on just the pieces they're learning. Suzuki took the rhythms from the "Twinkle Variations" from the more advanced violin concertos in book four, so why not encourage adult learners to listen to the book four recordings as well as the ones for book one? They'll get to hear how the simple rhythms they're learning eventually develop into advanced, sophisticated music. Teens and young adult violin students might also enjoy listening to "pop" violinists like Lindsey Stirling. I've had several of my YA violin students tell me that they specifically wanted lessons after they started listening to Lindsey! When teachers encourage adult students to find outside violin recordings they enjoy, students stay more engaged in their lessons while still regularly hearing good tone, intonation, and technique.

Note Reading or Ear Training?

One of the notable facets of Suzuki method is that teachers often don't teach young children to read music right away. At three or four years old, a child usually isn't ready to begin reading music. Learning basic techniques like good posture, holding the violin and the bow, and getting a good sound require so much of a child's attention that note-reading is just too much. But what about adult learners or older children? I've found that while adults can begin note-reading much quicker than younger students without trouble, but I think ear training, including learning to play by ear, is as valuable for adult students as it is for young ones.

For older children or adults, I usually begin teaching them to play the violin by rote, but at the end of each lesson (or possibly the beginning, depending on the student) I have them learn note-reading with a supplemental book. In particular, I like using the Violin Note Speller or the I Can Read Music series. It's important that the bulk of adult lessons is still spent on skills such as good posture, good bow hold, and learning to make a beautiful tone. By keeping note-reading separate from the time we spend learning to actually play the violin, I keep students from getting distracted by the music. Often, when adult students transfer to me from non-Suzuki teachers, they tend to stare avidly at notes, playing them one by one with no sense of the musicality of a piece, and they frequently have poor tone. For those students, I often have them learn to play more by ear, so they can listen to their tone and begin to play the music, not just the notes, of a piece. I've found that the difference between a happy student and a dissatisfied one is tone; students get frustrated when they've been playing for awhile and they don't have a good sound.

Common Difficulties for Adult Students

One of the beautiful things about children is how fearless they are about creativity. They have not yet developed that cruel inner voice that so often plagues adults, so they rarely put pressure on themselves (their parents can be another matter, but that's another post). Instead, they come to music with a wonderful fascination and willingness to take risks. I work hard as a teacher to help them keep this feeling for as long as possible--music is a far more exciting and rewarding experience when it's about discovery and learning, not judgement.

Unfortunately, adult students aren't so lucky. They become very stressed when they don't think they are playing "well enough" or learning "fast enough."Ironically, the enormous pressure they put on themselves often creates tension/inhibitions within their bodies and minds that makes playing beautifully even more difficult. Child beginners might make terrible squeaks and squawks on their violins at first, but once they learn to make a good sound, their hands almost never shake with tension or fear. In contrast, almost every single one of my adult students has this problem at some point--they try too hard and put so much pressure on themselves they can't relax enough to make a beautiful tone!

Thus, I often recommend Barry Green's excellent book The Inner Game of Music for adult students, and I frequently use Green's techniques to use them stay relaxed and focused. In particular, I love using "awareness" techniques--having adults learn to feel the instrument beneath their hands, or listen to themselves intensely. It's important that they learn to keep their minds focused on playing the instrument, instead of getting distracted by the negative voices in their heads.

Adults also want to push themselves very hard in their lessons. They ask me to teach them advanced techniques before they're ready, and they can resist regular review. Children, especially those under six, rarely question their teacher, so it can feel surprising and even off-putting when an adult does this in a lesson. It's important to recognize that adults want more explanation than children do, so I address their questions directly and honestly. In other words, I explain why I'm teaching them this way. For example, I point out how regular review ensures that they don't neglect any of the skills they've previously learned. It also allows them to master a large repertoire of songs, so they are never "between" pieces, with the last piece half forgotten and the next one only halfway learned. If I feel a piece or a technique is too advanced for them to learn right now, I explain why, and then I give them a time frame for when we might start working on it (i.e. I'm happy to teach you Minuet I after you've mastered Etude. It's important to master Etude so that you're comfortable in the key of G before you start the Minuets).

Once adults start getting comfortable with the violin, however, they love playing! It's challenging but engaging and creative. There's evidence that learning an instrument keeps adults' minds active, preventing mental decline and the onset Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Playing a string instrument can keep your hands active as well, which can keep arthritis from progressing. Of course, if you have children in music lessons, learning an instrument yourself means you can often play music together as a family. One of my adult students has a young son in lessons as well, and they have a wonderful time playing duets together. Music can be a beautiful way to bring a family together. So if you've always wanted to learn an instrument, no matter what your age, give it a try!

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

Persistence--The Most Important Aspect of Talent

Seven Ways to Develop Listening and Aural Skills in Music Students

Music Lessons for Children with Disabilities 

Overcoming Performance Anxiety: How to Help Music Students Prepare for Recitals, Auditions, and other Performances

Excellent Supplemental Books for Suzuki Violin and Viola Students

Suzuki Method--a Violin Teacher's Perspective

Suzuki Philosophy: Every Child Has Talent

Suzuki Techniques--Listening is the key

Violin Life Lessons

Inspiring Practice

Practicing Violin Effectively

Great Apps for Musicians

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

More Apps for Musicians and Music Students

Classical Music Isn't Dying--It's in a Recession

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Knitting and Sewing: Baby Sweater, Jumper, and Receiving Blankets (Update: Nursing covers)

Update: Since I first posted this, I've finished all four receiving blankets and two breastfeeding covers based on a pattern from blisstree. I'm very happy with how all of them turned out! Looking back at my receipt, I realized I only spent about forty dollars on fabric, but got a total of four receiving blankets and two nursing covers. Considering that many of the nursing covers alone were at least twenty five dollars, that's quite a lot of savings. Here are some pictures of the finished products.

This is everything I made (four blankets, two nursing covers):

Here's one of the nursing covers close up. It has some boning in the neck to make it easier to peek under the cover to check on how the baby is doing. I used regular D-rings to make the neck adjustable, and a darker fabric to make sure it wasn't see-through:)

This is the other nursing cover I made. It's similar to the first, but with a pleasant green pattern on the fabric.

Here are some individual pictures of all the receiving blankets I made. This one has a cute pattern of elephants and giraffes!

These were ridiculously easy to make! All I did was sew a hem around one yard of soft, baby-friendly fabric. There were tons of cute choices in the fabric store to choose from, so I felt like I had more variety and choices than I would have gotten if I'd bought them pre-made. These are also a bit bigger than most store bought receiving blankets, which I had heard was very important.


I've been working on two new knitting projects since I finished the elephant, cat, and frog toys, and I'm starting several sewing projects as well.

My first finished project is a baby cardigan with a lovely cable pattern, which I found in a book called Baby Knits by Lois Daykin. The book has several lovely patterns, and I'm eager to try more of them. I made this sweater using a dark purple acrylic/wool blend recommended for babies. It turned out a bit bigger than I expected--I used the pattern for a 6 month size, and I think it is large enough for a 12 month baby. Since I'd much rather have a sweater run big than small, I'm still very happy with it. Here's a close up of the cable pattern:

I've also been working on a jumper pattern from the same book. It's not quite finished, but here are some pictures of the work in progress:

Finally, I've decided to try sewing some receiving blankets and a breastfeeding cover with my new sewing machine. I've bought some adorable patterned flannels, and I'm eager to get started! I'll post more pictures when everything is finished. Here's a picture of the raw fabrics:

Other Knitting/Sewing Posts:

Knitting Toys: an Elephant, a Frog, and a Kitty

Moby Kitty

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wheat Berries in Milk and Honey

This recipe is inspired by my favorite stove top rice pudding recipe. But I've been experimenting with eating healthy whole grains, especially wheat berries. This is a delicious combination of wheat berries, milk, honey, and fresh blueberries.


1 cup soft white wheat berries

2 cups of milk

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (or to taste)

1/2 cup blueberries (or other berries you like)

First, soak the wheat berries overnight in water. This helps them to soften and cook quickly. In the morning, drain the wheat berries and put them in a pot with two cups of milk.

Cook the wheat berries and milk over medium low heat, stirring regularly (though not constantly) for one hour or until the wheat berries have absorbed most of the milk.

Stir in the honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then add the blueberries.

Finally, you can eat the delicious wheat berries in milk and honey!

*You can usually find wheat berries in the grain bins at stores like Whole Foods or Central Market.

Other Food Posts:

David's Delicious Okra

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Warning: Pettiness, Jealousy, and Narcissism Will Not Help Your Writing Career

In a recent article in Salon, Alexander Nazaryan admitted that he wrote mean-spirited reviews of novels by Keith Gessen and Nathaniel Rich because he was jealous of them, thus forever confirming authors' suspicions that nasty reviewers are actually just bitter, failed writers themselves (Your mom was right all along! Who knew?). Of course, anyone who can't objectively review a novel shouldn't write reviews, but a deeper reading of Nazaryan's confession reveals many of the pitfalls that ruin the careers of writers like him in the first place.

First, although Nazaryan bitterly mentions his many rejections from the traditional publishing world, he never once considers self-publishing as a viable alternative. Why? He humble-brags that at least three literary agents show considerable interest in his novels, though they fail to sell them to a publisher. After ten years of frustration with the world of traditional publishing, indie publishing seems like his best option. But he never once mentions or appears to consider this course, and the tone of his article reveals why: Nazaryan isn't interest in telling a great story or connecting with an audience.  He wants fame and glory. Like many privileged, entitled, white men before him, he wrote a novel and handed it to agents and editors with an attitude that screamed "Here is my novel. Now acknowledge my genius. Acknowledge It!"  When that didn't happen to him, he's shocked that why, other writers are getting published and having the kind of success that he's entitled to. Thus he spends plenty of time licking his wounds and bashing other writers instead of, say, self-publishing. Yes, self-publishing might be an excellent way to build an audience, have people actually read and review your work, possibly even make money from your writing, but it just isn't glorious enough for him.

The destruction wrought by Nazaryan's lofty sense of entitlement doesn't end there; when given a chance to network with one of the editors who rejected his book, he appears to go out of his way to make the encounter as painful and awkward as possible:

Speaking of rowing: Once, I set out with the Gowanus Dredgers to canoe the filthy canal that winds between the hills of brownstone Brooklyn. I was in a canoe with another woman who, it took us about five minutes of conversation to ascertain, had recently rejected some draft of some “first novel” of mine.
In silence we rowed through fecal matter and oil sludge. Then, slowly, conversation restarted: Look, a cormorant! She meekly offered that a novel about the Gowanus would sell. I haven’t quite gotten around to that one yet.
We rowed out to the Upper New York Bay. Here the water was choppier, but our guide urged the several canoes forward into the churlish channel. But then the weather began to sour, too, and some of the more novice canoers became alarmed. The agent made a joke about going down, which I thought would be particularly cruel irony: dying with a woman who had killed my book. (From "I'm Sorry I Trashed Your Novels")

It's hard to imagine what he thought this poor editor would think about rejecting his novel after this encounter. Perhaps he believed the bitter cold of his shoulder would inspire thoughts like "Oh my, if only I had realized how much I had wronged this tortured genius! Now I'm just dying to read more of his work!" More likely, she thought "What a blessing I rejected his book. Who wants to work with such an arrogant jerk?" Note to writers: yes, rejection hurts. But do NOT take that out on someone in a position to help your career. Smile. Be kind. Ask for feedback. Raging entitlement turns off editors, agents and readers. Also, no one can kill your book but you (see my earlier paragraph on self-publishing).

I know that it's tough out there. It takes a lot of guts to face rejection time and time again, and we live in a culture that worships at the alter of self-confidence. Yet there is a fine line between self-confidence and inflated ego. We need enough humility to assess ourselves and our work honestly. Bitterness is a sign that you blame other people for your rejection, instead of taking responsibility and actually addressing the issues that are holding you back.

One last thing I gleaned from Nazaryan's many failures: don't become so hung up on external validation. Fame and fortune are rare and precious commodities. If they're your primary motivation for writing, then stop now. Ironically, Nazaryan himself makes this point at the end of his article (apparently blissfully unaware that he's completely contradicting himself). He quotes William Faulkner (a Nobel prize winning author who's "largely forgotten" according to Nazaryan. Really? He thinks Faulkner is forgotten?).
The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat … He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. (William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Speech)
Though he asserts that "if you find it [the quote] romantic and impractical, you have no business writing," it's clear he refuses to take his own advice. You can write to lay bare the haunting mysteries of the human heart, or you can write to win fame and glory, but you cannot do both. Especially not when the size of your ego prevents you from noticing the depth or the power of another writer's work.