slogging

day 7 of the practice challenge wasn’t particularly breathtaking for me. glad for the consistency and interesting to see how long it takes for a couple of the things I’m working on now to click.

however, as I’m thinking about it, I’m remembering that I used to spend a lot of time in resistance or frustration about practicing – so simply neutral is actually pretty darn good, really.

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day 6

the only trouble with this practicing thing is that the more I do, the more aware I am of the places where I’ve just been fudging it without really being able to break it down. . . teaching also points out those places. . . I’m trying to be gentle while also getting more precise.

this is how Jonathan Harnum illustrates it in his book “The Practice of Practice” thepracticeofpractice.com/book-preview-sample/

practice

I am in love with the marimba and marimba ensemble music. It’s official. You probably knew that. It is the first instrument that I have been gleefully able to practice. Not as much as I would like, as I have a super-cute 1.5 year old who likes to grab the mallets out of my hands, but I do get to practice. And I get to play with people, and I get to inspire folks to play music who might not otherwise get to play. Yesterday while waiting, I worked on a rhythm that I’ve been struggling with. I think I’ve got it. This is very exciting.

We sent this next bit to our newsletter, but it felt valid enough to share here as well. . .

With the darkening days, it’s a great time to go inward, and to go to the practices that keep us healthy. It is amazing what a bit of consistent dedicated practice can do for any artform – but especially for playing music. As simple as matching our breath to our steps while walking, or actively listening to music, or practicing rhythmic patterns on the chair while waiting at the dentist’s office, practice of all kinds will help deepen our musical relationships and improve our playing.

Here are two books that both David and I have read and enjoyed on the subject of music practice:

First, Learn to Practice by Tom Heany “First, Learn to Practice is a book about how to practice a musical instrument – any musical instrument. It’s suitable for all musicians – professional, amateur, student or beginner. “Certainly part of the problem in learning how to play an instrument is the way an individual approaches practicing. One must be committed to spending lots of time on eye, ear, and hand coordination; learning how to listen; learning how to sight-read; and, having fun during those many hours of conquering notes on and off the page. But, how many “students” really know how to practice in the first place?”

The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life – Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process by Thomas M. Sterner “In those times when we want to acquire a new skill or face a formidable challenge we hope to overcome, what we need most are patience, focus, and discipline, traits that seem elusive or difficult to maintain.” Sterner writes about learning to love the process.

happy practicing!!!

bacteria

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and really enjoying it. Right now I’m in the fermenting section and it is making me want to bust out my pickling (read: ferment) recipes so that I can up the healthy bacteria in my gut.

I’ve known that fermented foods are good for us. I’ve known that while anti-biotics can be useful in certain cases, they come with a whole host of side effects by killing all the bugs in our intestines, not just the bad ones. I’ve been suspicious for a little while now of anti-bacterial soap and how clean the average American suburban home is. There is research now that shows farm-kids as healthier because they are exposed to more germs.

But reading about what is actually going on in here, makes me want to feed my bacteria.

“[The human body] is more like a complex ecosystem—a social network—containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. In fact, most of the cells in the human body are not human at all. Bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to one. Moreover, this mixed community of microbial cells and the genes they contain, collectively known as the microbiome, does not threaten us but offers vital help with basic physiological processes—from digestion to growth to self-defense.” -Ackerman http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ultimate-social-network-bacteria-protects-health

I get all sorts of science fiction images when I read this. . . what happens if the bacteria takes over? . . .

But so far, it seems like we are in charge, and that it also makes sense to start taking better care of these little bugs that do so much for us. Like pickling and fermenting and such good things. So here’s a recipe for you by Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation www.wildfermentation.com

I’ll let you know how it goes at my house. . .

Making Sour Pickles by Sandor Katz

The biggest variables in pickle-making are brine strength, temperature, and cucumber size. I prefer pickles from small and medium cucumbers; pickles from really big ones can be tough and sometimes hollow in the middle. I don’t worry about uniformity of size; I just eat the smaller ones first, figuring the larger ones will take longer to ferment.

The strength of brine varies widely in different traditions and recipe books. Brine strength is most often expressed as weight of salt as a percentage of weight of solution, though sometimes as weight of salt as a percentage of volume of solution. Since in most home kitchens we are generally dealing with volumes rather than weights, the following guideline can help readers gauge brine strength: Added to 1 quart of water, each tablespoon of sea salt (weighing about .6 ounce) adds 1.8% brine. So 2 tablespoons of salt in 1 quart of water yields a 3.6% brine, 3 tablespoons yields 5.4%, and so on. In the metric system, each 15 milliliters of salt (weighing 17 grams) added to 1 liter of water yields 1.8% brine.

Some old-time recipes call for brines with enough salt to float an egg. This translates to about a 10% salt solution. This is enough salt to preserve pickles for quite some time, but they are too salty to consume without a long desalinating soak in fresh water first. Low-salt pickles, around 3.5% brine, are “half-sours” in delicatessen lingo. This recipe is for sour, fairly salty pickles, using around 5.4% brine. Experiment with brine strength. A general rule of thumb to consider in salting your ferments: more salt to slow microorganism action in summer heat; less salt in winter when microbial action slows.

Timeframe: 1-4 weeks

Special Equipment:

  • Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
  • Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
  • 1-gallon/4-liter jug filled with water, or other weight
  • Cloth cover

Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):

  • 3 to 4 pounds/1.5 to 2 kilograms unwaxed cucumbers (small to medium size)
  • 3⁄8 cup (6 tablespoons)/90 milliliters sea salt
  • 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4
  • tablespoons/45 to 60 milliliters of any form of dill (fresh or dried leaf or seeds)
  • 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled
  • 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or horseradish leaves (if available)
  • 1 pinch black peppercorns

Process:

  1. Rinse cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to freshen them.
  2. Dissolve sea salt in ½gallon (2 liters) of water to create brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns.
  4. Place cucumbers in the crock.
  5. Pour brine over the cucumbers,place the (clean) plate over them, then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon of salt to each cup of water.
  6. Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
  7. Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
  8. Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
  9. Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.

http://www.wildfermentation.com/making-sour-pickles-2/

possibility

A whisper and a murmur,

a shuffle and a clank

the muffled shwoof of a door being opened.

A breath slowly taken and released.

I want a word for the way my heart feels when

it is filled with love

and also touched deeply by the sorrows of the world

and what I view as short-sightedness.

I want a word to describe the very particular way

that spring has overwhelmed me;

possibility and wanting to get it right – planting and watering.

Did I miss the time to transplant that “what-kind-of-bush?”

from the middle of my medicinal herbs?

And there are 24 baby pine trees in the root cellar that need homes in the earth

and more trees on their way to us.

Here we have truth

and here we have the nuances of color that are

the greens of lambs quarter and dandelion in our salad.

I offer a yowl for the spring.

A yowl for the soulfulness of April.

view nutritional info on Lambs Quarter here: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2469/2

What I really want to say feels generally buried just under my heart somewhere. I want brilliance and beauty and love and profundity and evolution. I want to know that I am in the right place doing the right thing. I want to know that my life serves the greater good and I also want to be sustainably happy. I want to glow with my zest for life, I want to radiate my beauty and strength and courage and wisdom and willingness and I want it to be authentic.

Yet some days there is sadness that lurks at the back of my throat. It says, “there is so much pain in the world. There is so much torment. It is dangerous to be too happy because then there is further to fall.”

This sadness says, “winter is nearly here and are you living your full potential?”

There is a wail in me for all the women past, present and future. There is a wail for all the children. There is a wail in frustration at a species that has gotten out of balance.

And. I take a breath. And another. Until it is clear, I can only live this one life. Until it is clear, I can only do the work in front of me. I pray for clarity. I put my faith in the children. I put my faith in soulful education. I put my faith in living well and in harmony with the earth. I put my faith in music. I put my faith in the simple rituals of noticing the new and full moons, the turning of the seasons. I go to the garden to harvest mullein leaf and lovage root. I practice my instrument. I love.

a poem

The tiredness that infects me
is the tiredness that I find when all possibility
equals something I do not want and did not choose.
Did I choose to be born?

What I know is this –
the next breath in inevitable
and still there is a choice in how to breathe it.

But we do what we do –
have you noticed?

I offer my breath to the power of words
I offer my breath to the possibility
that I have something meaningful to say or
that I can transmit this meaning
or that you will find your own
buried in the blank
notebook and moving letters across a page.
This is the gauge –
have you said something that surprised even you-
have you listened deeper than you ever thought was possible?
Have you let your soul shine through
this window of space time
and let it flow into rhyme?
Have you danced under the rain lately
or listened while the wold world
went through the wash cycle?
The moon moving from new and back again.
Have you let yourself fall in love with this moment.
Just for an instant.
And let that carry you through.

back to the blog

New goal: minimum of one blog post per week.

School has started and I have a new class of creative writing through NF Vision, the group is still forming. This is my version of yesterday’s writing practice. . .

 

I have to listen beneath the human sounds, but the natural world is still here. I’m sure that this applies to me as well. The animal nature of hunger and the need for sleep. The things that inexplicably I like or would rather avoid – is that a human tendency or an animal one?

A small black spider comes into focus. It is sitting on a piece of gravel – catching my eye with its movement. I wonder if it can feel me notice it – if that makes it nervous? Attention soothes my cat – he doesn’t like to be in the house by himself and likes a good pet before he crunches on his cat-food. He is tamed from the feral cat his mother was.

I will not tame the spider. I’m surprised by a jump maybe five times the length of his body and it doesn’t even look like it took any effort. A fly lands on my bag, it feels less wild than the spider, perception is a curious thing.

The poorly orchestrated cacophony of birds is audible if you listen beneath the tread of tires. It’s as if they are a middle school band with new instruments. There is a wild beauty in the sound, but it is not human music.

collage of thoughts

I got distracted from blogging for a few days by:

1) sewing felted wool hats out of recycled sweaters (check out “Handmade Home” by Amanda Blake Soule, “The Sweater Chop Shop” by Crispina ffrench and “Felt it! Stitch It! Fabulous” by Katheryn Bieber)
2) reading “Slow Love” by Dominique Brown and “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
3) playing music and teaching drum class on Tuesday (yay for frame drumming – it was really fun to share this instrument with folks)
4) my little black cat who likes to roll in the dirt (he’s just a scapegoat)

I’ve been having a lot of middle-of-the-night thinking. Not sure why, but sleep has been slippery around 4am for a week or so. Last night in my sleeplessness, I decided that what my creative writing class needed (and the whole school) and possibly the whole town – was diversity training. Because it can be a tricky thing entering the world after spending one’s life in such an isolated bubble that small-town Colorado presents. But I don’t feel qualified. I’m such a product of this environment, having lived here most of my life. . . but I could at least present masculinity and femininity on a sliding scale vs. a cut and dry line that some folks might view male and female and start there and see about getting backup.

In the news that I find baffling category: we would rather pump water into the earth to get out natural gas, than to find sustainable ways to create energy and keep our water for local food. Sigh. I do not get this species. And it saddens me. “Really?” I say, perplexed. And write another letter and sign another petition.

 

My little sproutlets are finding their way to the sun mixed in with about a million weedy sprouts. So it goes. Baby lettuce is so infinitely small, it always blows me away when things grow. While I spent a lot of time around gardens and growing things when I was little, it’s only been in the last three years that I have claimed gardening as a skill. I’m loving it. Very happy to have parsley, dill, cilantro, and kale in the cold-frame and more fresh greens on their way. It’s springtime.

Now in bloom:
peaches
cherries
plums
apricots
forsythia
tulip tree
daffodils
dandelions
periwinkle
violets
and a few snapdragons are about to bloom in my cold-frame
and the asparagus is up and going (even if a bit slowly). yum.

the pursuit of happiness

I decided that non-fiction would scratch my itch for literature more than the nightmare inducing young adult books that I just powered through, so I picked up a copy of Outliers by Malcom Gladwell at the library today on my way home from answering phones for the final day of KVNF’s pledge drive. I like his other books – Blink and The Tipping Point and have been drawn in similarly to Outliers.

I’m only halfway through, but so far I would summarize his premise as this – successful people are not successful alone, there are collaborative circumstances that help success. In the field of hockey in Canada it happens to be your birthdate. For mastery of anything, it is the number of hours you are willing to put into it (10,000 hours being the magic number). And much of success lies in how your parents teach you to deal with authority and following your interests.

One former employer said to me in a moment of frustration, “you are so entitled.” Which is to mean that, overall, I expect things to go well for me. I expect to find work that I find satisfying and live a life that I find valuable. And I would say that my life backs this up. Not to say that things are always easy or that I am rich or what-have-you. But right now the apricot blossoms are blowing off the trees and spiraling towards the ground and it is gorgeous, and I have the time to sit and notice this on a Saturday afternoon and I am thankful to my parents for teaching me that my values and interests are important. I get to choose the kind of life that I have, and I have chosen this life, which means if I don’t like it, then I need to choose again.

So – I’m quickly trying to wrack my brain – how do I fit more “practical intelligence” skills into my teaching. Robert Steinberg defines it as “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.” Knowing how to ask for what you want and knowing how to help people help you to get what you want.

I’ll let you know, because I’m afraid that even more than when I was in high school, when young people look at the world they are inheriting, it is hard to feel entitled to lead a good life. But hopefully I’m just underestimating humanity’s intelligence and of course we’ll figure all this out. In fact, we already have and we just need to put the new systems in place for mass consumption.

____________________

Declaration of Independence -“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”