Thursday, December 31, 2015

Holiday Pictures!

Here are some cute pictures we took over the Holidays this year!
Scribbles loved our Christmas Tree!
We enjoyed seeing the Christmas Village in Richardson.
Baking cookies with my little girl!
Cooking with daddy.
Unwrapping presents!
Playing with her new Kitchen set--she's wearing a tiara and a superhero cape:)
Riding her new tricycle.
Showing how she can ride to Auntie, Mommy, and Grandma.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Seven New Year's Resolutions for Writers

1. Write One Short Story a Month

I've been writing lots of short stories lately--partly because I've been a bit too distracted to focus on a new novel, and partly because I've had tons of ideas for them. I've written so many that I'm close to having enough for an anthology, especially if I keep going at this pace. I've written before about why writers should write short stories--they're great for experimenting with genres or exploring a character's backstory, and make fantastic writing exercises. By writing one short story a month, I hope to keep my skills sharp and have my anthology complete by the end of the year.

2. Write a Chapter of a Novel Every Month

I know this doesn't sound like much to many writers, but it's a realistic goal for me. I think one of the reasons I get more stuck on my novels than my short stories is that I get overwhelmed. Between working and parenting, I only have a very limited amount of writing time. Large word count goals don't work for me--they just keep me from writing at all. But one chapter at a time feels like a comfortable target I can make. Slow and steady:)

3. Submit Short Stories Regularly

While writing is necessary, I think it's also important for writers to regularly submit their work. In my case, I intend to submit my short stories to different magazines as often as I can. Regular submissions help me get my work out there--I might get plenty of rejection, but at least I've tried. Besides, lately editors have been sending me helpful feedback with their rejection notices, which helps me with revisions and future submissions.

4. Write a Hundred Blog Posts

I had this goal last year, and while I didn't make it, I did write considerably more posts this past year than I had the year before. So this year, I'll try again! 

5. Write and Submit 10 Queries for Non-Fiction Articles

I had good experiences writing non-fiction articles this year--I've had two articles accepted into Renaissance Magazine! Writing non-fiction gives me a chance to learn new things, which helps my fiction writing as well. What's more, it pays:) It's definitely different from fiction, but I enjoy writing it, and I think it also introduces me to a new audience. I made my goal writing non-fiction queries since most magazines prefer you query first before submitting an article.

6. Read Widely

I love to read, and I do think that you need to read regularly to be a good writer. This year I'd like to read widely, including authors I've never read before and less familiar genres. 

7. Attend a Critique Group Twice a Month

I have a great critique group that's been really helpful to me, but with a busy schedule over the holidays I haven't had a chance to go as often as I'd like. I'm going to try and make a commitment to going at least twice a month. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for Musicians

The New Year is coming up, and like many people, I've got a whole list of resolutions, from exercising more and eating more veggies to being more patient and kind to everyone I meet. As a musician, I also think about what I can do this next year to improve my artistry and boost my career. So here are some of my musical resolutions: 

1. Practice

This almost goes without saying, but practice is an essential part to developing as a musician. In my practice this year, I want to focus on improving my mindset and experimenting with different kinds of music, including both Medieval/Renaissance pieces and newly composed works. I'd also like to learn a new violin concerto. 

2. Listen

I've written about discovering new classical music, as well as exploring early Baroque repertoire, and this year I want to continue listening to new and exciting recordings. Music is an aural art after all, so I think it's important and necessary for musicians to develop their listening skills by, well, listening. But listening involves more than just recordings--I also hope to attend many lives performances this year. To often, I get so busy playing in concerts I don't get a chance to attend other musicians' recitals and performances, but this year I want to take in as much classical music as my schedule allows. This is a great way to support my fellow artists as well as practice listening,

3. Read

I think that a thorough understanding of music history and music theory can help to deepen our understanding and interpretation of classical music. There are many excellent books out there that give us valuable insights into composers' lives and compositions, or even specific musical techniques. What's more, books on the science of learning (or teaching) can help musicians discover more efficient practice techniques. Therefore, this year I intend to devote some time to reading about music (and learning), as well as other forms of practicing.

4. Collaborate/Network

Since graduating from University, what I've missed most is playing chamber music. Sure, I'll play in quartets or trios for a wedding, but I rarely get the chance to actually rehearse a high-level piece and play it with other musicians. So this year, I'd like to collaborate and network with other musicians, in hopes that we can play/work together. I know this is likely an unrealistic goal, since musicians (including myself) often have frantic schedules that leave little opportunity for just playing chamber music together for fun, but hey, how many people manage to keep up with all their New Year's resolutions? It's still a worthy goal.

5. Teach

Right now I have a good number of students, so I teach regularly. But I think that teaching is a skill that requires quite a bit of thought, devotion, and work to improve. This year, I'd like to improve my communication skills, and help my students improve theirs. I think better communication will help my students understand me, as well as helping me to understand them, and what they need/want from lessons. 
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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Reasons I Love Parenting a Toddler

My Funny Little Girl

1. Snuggles

I can't speak for every parent, since I know all kids are different, but my little girl is snugly and affectionate. She gives great hugs and sloppy baby kisses. To me, baby kisses are one of the best things in the world, and I'm pretty sure her hugs are a potent cure for sadness, depression, and anxiety. Everything feels better after a baby hug. Everything.

2. Conversations

Hearing her talk is incredible on so many levels. When she first started talking, each new word was exciting. Now that she's talking more, each new idea she understands is amazing. There's something wonderful about talking to your child and hearing about the things she likes (dragons, ponies, play-doh), and realizing she's a little person. A unique, amazing, special little person.

3. Bubble Baths

Bubbles, warm water, bath toys. Cuteness overload. I wish I could take bubble baths every day too.

4. Everything is Amazing

As an adult, lots of things have become routine, typical, ordinary. We never stop to think, "OMG, we have airplanes that FLY through the SKY. Look, it's a flying machine that people made and we can use it FLY to places!" But my toddler looks at airplanes like they're pure magic. Toddlers are a constant reminder that the world we live in is incredible. We have birds, and dogs, and Christmas trees. We use lasers to entertain our cats. Toddlers have a wonderfully fresh, joyful point of view I think we need.

5. Holidays are Magical

Adult movies about the Holidays are almost always about reconciling somehow with your quirky, annoying family or learning to how to stop being a massive jerk. Children's movies are about joy, playing, and having fun. And is Christmas ever the same once you find out Santa isn't real? Well, toddlers bring back the magic of Christmas. It's just much more fun when at least one person believes in Santa and is crazy excited for Christmas morning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Classical Music for Christmas 2015

In the past, I've written about Classical Music for Christmas, listing some beautiful classical pieces that are a great antidote to repetitive Christmas classics. This year, I've discovered more excellent pieces that are worth checking out, for anyone who wants some different music for Christmas this year. 

1. Christmas Mass by Thomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis is a fascinating English composer who lived during the tumultuous reigns of the Tudors, including Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. His Christmas mass was likely composed during the reign of Mary I for a grand occasion, though historians don't know what the exact occasion was. It's a beautiful example of Renaissance music--pure gorgeous singing and elaborate polyphony. As someone who loves Renaissance music and Christmas, this is a great piece to celebrate the season.

2. J. S. Bach's Christmas Cantatas

I've written before about Bach's lovely Christmas Oratorio, but he also wrote several Christmas Cantatas, which are arranged for different days of the Lutheran Christmas celebration. I love this music--it's joyful and haunting by turns, with a wide variety of soloists and orchestrations. In the cantata "Christen, atzet diesen Tag," Bach makes beautiful use of the oboe, which weaves among the vocalists and a solo violin during the third movement duet, creating a lovely four-part polyphony. Truthfully, I enjoyed these cantatas even more than the Christmas Oratorio, perhaps because the music seemed lighter and more joyful, but with all the grace and beauty of Bach at his best. I'd recommend them to anyone who loves classical music.

3. Dance of the Tumblers, from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden

I played this energetic, exciting piece for the first time at the Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular. It was definitely a challenge to play all the notes--it's quite fast! But once I learned the notes, it was fun to play, and it had a great manic energy that seems well suited to Christmas (Christmas shopping, in particular). So if you want stimulating, exciting music that makes you want to move, this is the classical Christmas piece for you.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Discovering New Music

As a musician, I love discovering new music that I haven't heard before. One of my favorite ways to do that is to explore the CD section of my local library (of course, music libraries at Universities often have wonderful collections of recordings). I also take note of pieces I play in orchestra that I've never heard or played before. So here's some music that I've listened to for the first time the last couple of weeks.

1. Ralph Vaughn William's Tuba Concerto

I'm a violin and viola player, so I often end up listening to repertoire that features string soloists. But one of the orchestras I play in was doing a performance of Vaughn William's Tuba Concerto, so I decided to find a recording to hear what it sounded like before I started practicing. I was amazed at how expressive and powerful a tuba could sound. The more I heard the piece during rehearsal and at our final concert, the more I ended up really liking it. It's so easy to limit yourself in music to listening to works for your instrument, or at least your instrument's family. Listening to this concerto has inspired me to look at more music for other instruments, especially winds and bass. It's like there's this whole world of repertoire I'm only now finding out about!

2. Amy Marcy Beach's Piano Music

This is music that I found at my local library. I'd heard of Amy Marcy Beach, but had never actually listened to much of her music. I checked out the CD, which contained "Les Reves de Columbine," op. 65 as well as her "Variations on Balkan Themes," op. 60. I loved both pieces--they reminded me a bit of Schumann's piano miniatures in their Romantic expressiveness, yet they often had the tonal color of Impressionist composers like Debussy. The music was so beautiful I plan to seek out more of her works, including her symphony. 

After listening to her works, I read more about Beach, and she's a fascinating figure in music history. She was one of the first American composers who wanted to create an original "American" sound inspired by our native folk songs. Well-respected and prominent in her own time, Beach is now being recognized for her musical achievements and innovations.

3. Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach's Keyboard Sonatas and Rondos 

When exploring new music, every once in a while you come across something that doesn't quite work for you. I wanted to like C.P.E. Bach's piano sonatas--after all, he's the son of J.S. Bach, and often considered the most talented of the Great Bach's offspring. Alas, I didn't find his music particularly engaging. Indeed, C.P.E.'s music sounded flashy and superficial to me, as though he had written this music to show off his (no doubt impressive) keyboard skills, not to express any particularly thought or emotion. Perhaps the pieces I listened to were not representative of his best work, or perhaps he simply suffers from the comparison to his famous father (and to Amy Marcy Beach, who'd I listened to right before hand). Nonetheless, I found his music disappointing. 

Still, my overall experience in discovering music has been wonderful. So don't get bogged down in the same musical standards you've listened to a million times--take a risk and find something new.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lost Cat, Found Cat

He loved hiding in the laundry basket.
This past September, our beloved family cat, Mead, got out. We spent the last few months searching for him. We put up flyers, and I walked the neighborhood in the evenings looking for him. We had lots of hope at first--our neighbors rose to the challenge of looking for him (we put up flyers), and my husband and I frequently dashed out of the house when someone would call saying they'd seen him. Unfortunately, there's another cat in the neighborhood who looked a lot like Mead (this unfortunate cat was caught by well-intentioned neighborhood kids several times), so we were disappointed again and again. Mead is still missing. I have some hope that he'll come home someday. We'd always kept him indoors, but he'd been a street cat before we adopted him, so I think he's still alive somewhere. He's also a particularly beautiful and friendly cat, so it's possible another family took him in thinking he was a stray.
So this one time I put my daughter's baby socks on the cat.
After a few months without a cat, your home feels empty. I missed having a kitty to cuddle, and I wanted my daughter to have a cat to play with. My husband was reluctant at first to get another cat, but I think the emptiness weighed on him too. So we started looking for a cat. We wanted a sweet-tempered kitty who would be comfortable around a two-year-old, and wouldn't scratch or bite. My husband found the website for Lost Paws Rescue, and we started looking through their website. They have adoption days on Saturdays. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was feeling a little down, so my husband decided to cheer me up by taking us to look at kitties. That's the first time I saw Scribbles

Scribbles, an adorable little Maine Coon mix.
She struck me right away as a sweet little kitty. She let her foster mother hold her, and seemed okay with letting my little girl pet her (even though my daughter was a bit cranky from having just woken up from her nap). But we were going to go out of town for Thanksgiving, and we didn't want to get a kitty just to leave her home alone for days. I was a little sad about letting Scribbles go, because she was so cute and sweet that I was sure someone else would adopt her before we got back. But when we came home from Thanksgiving, she was still listed on the Lost Paws website. I had to go out of town on Saturday (I was in the orchestra for Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet in another city), so I wouldn't be there for the Lost Paws adoption day. But since I'd already met Scribbles, I told my husband he could adopt her on our behalf without me there (if he decided he liked her as well). He hadn't met Scribbles at the last adoption day, but he agreed to go check out the adoption event.
Let me melt your heart by curling into a cuddle ball.
Scribbles completely won over my husband with how sweet and gentle she seemed, so he went ahead and took her home. She was shy for a few hours, and hid under the couch, but once she came out, she seemed to love her new home. My little girl loves playing with her, and we got her a "kitty fishing pole" toy that she uses to dangle a mouse for Scribbles. The little kitty cuddles up to us and sleeps in our bed at night. She tried to drape herself around my hubby's neck like a furry scarf. It's been lovely. I'm so glad to have a kitty again. And if Mead comes home someday, Scribbles will be a good friend for him.
He's learned to be pretty tolerant, after all.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: Furiously Happy

While I was registering people to vote in Half Price Books, people kept asking me about a book signing for Furiously Happy. I'd never heard of the book or read Jenny Lawson's blog, but the crazy raccoon on the cover, and her legions of devotes fans, made me curious. I was even more intrigued when I discovered that my lovely and talented friend Sarah Mensinga did the inside cover drawings. So I decided to buy the book and check it out.

While it's not the kind of book I usually read (I prefer scifi/fantasy to memoir), I ended up really loving it. Lawson has an amazing sense of humor, which makes her writing hilariously funny even when she's writing about terrible, dark things. I could relate to her struggles with depression, and the shame of not fitting in. Yet Lawson's snappy intelligence and sharp observations makes this book about more than just depression or mental illness. In her offbeat way, Lawson pokes fun at our uptight society as well. I particularly loved the part about her getting attacked by swans (yes, swans can be aggressive. They're very territorial). It reminded me of another book I like, The Seventh Bride

Still, I could only bring myself to read this book in small doses. It's mix of pain and fierce joy made it a bit of an intense read, and Lawson's manic escapades felt very over the top (in a delightful, but in-your-face way). It felt a bit like a roller coaster read that never seemed to stop. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I'd recommend it to anyone with a quirky sense of humor, or who's ever struggled with mental illness, or who knows anyone who's struggled with mental illness. Lawson clings to life and joy with the strength and ferocity of someone who know how hard won those things can be. I think I'm going to read her first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, next. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dallas Zoo Trip

My husband and I recently took our sweet little girl to the Dallas Zoo. It's a good zoo with lots of fun things for toddlers to do, and we got some great pictures.
They have an aviary, and this cockatiel decided to spend some time on my shoulder.
My little girl feeding the cockatiel.
One of the best things about the Dallas Zoo getting up close to the giraffes!
The giraffe sticks its tongue out.
My sweet girl gives the giraffe a carrot!
She thought the giraffe licking her fingers was hilarious.