Saturday, December 31, 2011

For the Birds

 The weather has been pretty nice here.  Kind of icky at night, but pretty sweet during the days.
I've been watching the birds go nuts at the feeders, watching from the warmth and security of the kitchen nook, and shooting out the window.
Tomorrow, I'm gonna set up a faux-blind on the deck, and shoot the feeders from a different angle, as I'm not really happy with all the window glare that's showing up in my photos.  But for now, I've had a few successes.
Hello, Flicker.

Oh, sweet little plain brown birdie.  Glad you're liking one of the myriad of sunflower heads that the folks harvested from the crop that sprouted from last winter's droppings.  I bet you're dropping seeds all over the garden to plant next year's crop, too.

This tower feeder gets filled twice a day.  It's quite popular.

Here, you can see the glare on the window.  It's so sunny that everything reflects.

Shortly after I took this, mom looked out, and said "Kem, get your camera."
There had been an accident.
One of the little buddies had flown into the wind-break on the patio and was stunned.

When mom reached down, he was very willing to just step onto her finger, and recover slowly on a nice warm perch.  He stepped onto Kelly's hand about as easily as Jewel usually does.  He was quite docile as he came to his senses.

She put him carefully back onto the feeder, so he could recover around a nice buffet.

And he sat for a moment and thought...

And then flew away.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Green Christmas

 Greetings from Canada.
After a much-worried-over, yet rather uneventful drive, we made it to my folks' place in the middle of the afternoon yesterday.
The roads were rather cooperative, and apart from the slushy bits outside of Hope, and the crazy drivers in said slush, and the complete fog-bank white-out on the Pennask summit, we had a pretty easy go of it.  The kids always hope for a hotel with a pool, and when we got to Bellingham (after a great experience with a pizza-place-found-on-the-internet in Everett - man, I have got to bookmark that place, because it was fabulous), the kids were on the lookout for that tell-tale 'pool!' sign on the hotel billboards.
We pulled into one that the kids were all excited about.  Pool!  Sauna!  Jacuzzi!  It was heaven!  And when I went into the lobby to check on the price, it certainly was right.  $50 less than the place we'd usually stayed in Marysville.  And then we drove to the parking spot we'd been assigned, and I realized that the "POOL!" was surrounded by a fence, and covered by a blanket.  Um... hello, out-of-season pool that has been put to bed for the winter.
But the kids got over it, and we goofed off in the room for a short bit before crashing hard and sleeping the sleep of the dead.
Also?  The continental breakfast ("FREE!") wasn't so bad, either.  I'd count it as a win, all things considered.
So we're now in BC, having a relaxing time with very little snow.

Like the new look?
Mom is getting involved with the local cancer support center, and makes hats for anyone who wants them.  A friend said "Hey!  I've got some stuff that your cancer group might like" and it turned out to be a pretty spiffy wig.  It's almost enough to make me want to cut my hair, except that if my hair was that short, it would stick out to my shoulders, as it's about a dozen times thicker.

Kelly liked it, too.

She'd make a good ginger.
After a quick supper, we got down to business at mom and dad's.

Dad liked his multiple seasons of Everyone Loves Raymond.

Kelly got treated well, too.

So did the boys.

But what had the kids been waiting for all day...?

Come on!  It's SNOWING!  Let's go outside in our bathing suits!  Because we're  crazy Californians!

It was a good way to end the long drive.

Next up, we hunt for snow.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A big box of...

 We did things a little differently this year.

After a lovely brunch out with friends, we came back to the house on Christmas Eve, and OPENED OUR PRESENTS!

This should take a bit of the stress out of the next few days, while we're scrambling to get to Canada.

The kids had a ball with all the loot.  I think they were more surprised that we were opening early, than they were about the actual, you know, gifts!

Just one story, as it's time to do other stuff here.

It came time for Skip to open his "big gift" (this year, he had a giant box, really heavy.  Didn't know what it was, and actually, didn't think it was for him, as I wrap the kids gifts from us in three different wrapping papers, so they can't guess who's got what).  It was too heavy to lift, so he just unwrapped it where it sat, next to the tree.

He couldn't shift it.  It was too heavy.  So he just ripped the paper off the one end, trying to discover what the box might contain.

OH LOOK!  Skip!  You've got a giant box of...

Poor kid.  Kelly wanted a pony, but Skip got a box of ass.  Hee haw to you, my boy.

Fortunately, he kept unwrapping, and was pleasantly surprised that it was actually GLASS!  Whew.  Wouldn't that have been worse than a box of coal.

It's a giant box of Torani Lemon Syrup.  Twelve bottles.  One for each day of Christmas.

he's a little protective of his stash...

Merry Christmas, all.  It's after 10, and I think I finally am hearing the family stirring.  I wonder if they forgot that there are still stockings...
And croissants, seeing as I've been up for 3 hours, getting the last of the laundry done, and the packing started...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let's crash a party

 Unlike Narnia under the White Witch, where it was "always winter, but never Christmas', life around Google seems to be "Always Christmas, but never winter..."

Until today.

I had a few minutes of 'turn around' time after getting the Littles from school, and I'd come onto G+ to just look at a few pretty pictures (I follow a bunch of really talented photographers).  At the top of my stream was a shot of the Android Sculpture Garden in front of Building 44, and things were looking decidedly WINTER.

I made an executive decision:  I could stay home, and fret about the concert tonight.

Or I could take the kids on a sudden and unexpected excursion.

It was Field Trip Time!

I texted Ken, but he didn't know anything about the sudden cold snap at Google, so I thought I'd just go and take a look myself. Maybe the photo was from the archives and I'd just missed the date stamp, after all.

It was the real deal, and the kids were over the moon.

The area was cordoned off, but that didn't stop kids (and employees) from scooping snow from the periphery, and making little snow things.  Or eating it. (yuck)

It kind of looks like snow coming down, but when you get closer, you can see it's got a few chunks, too.

Giant Android is impervious to the cold.

Soon, someone "in charge" removed all the caution tape, and we were free to go play in the snow.
The kids were ecstatic.

Even Ken made an appearance, saying "Well, I didn't know about it, but that's probably because it's a private party for one of the other groups at Google."

Um... I believe that means that we just CRASHED A PARTY!

Oh well.  we're here now...

The kids got really cold, as the gloves weren't really "snow" gloves, but just fashion gloves to make you look good.  So the piece de resistance for them was when a mobile restaurant (aka Roach Coach - but honestly, you'd NEVER call this thing a roach coach) pulled up, and started handing out fresh gingerbread men and the most exquisite hot chocolate you've ever tasted.  And then, if you wanted, you could add Torani peppermint syrup, giant dollops of soft whipped cream, and as many mini marshmallows as you could fit in your cup.

"This is the BEST way to spend an afternoon!"

One down, one to go

 Well, last night is over.

In retrospect, it could have gone a lot worse, but I really wasn't all that thrilled with how I played.  I forgot that I do get stage fright, and while it doesn't show on my face, my brain does shut down, and my fingers do forget everything they've ever been taught.  Fortunately, the kids are all good little soldiers, and just kept singing when a sour note (or worse... SILENCE!) came from the piano, and several people I talked to afterwards said that it was great, and they had no idea that I'd made any mistakes.  Whew.

I had hoped that they really were just there to listen to the kids, so I'm glad that my glitches faded into the woodwork.  But to be honest, I will say that I will not be ordering a DVD of the evening's concert.

And for those of you who commented on the price, I'm really just ball-parking, based on the fact that I play with the three choruses three times (or more) a week, which is at least 10 hours of face-time per week, since September.  Even at minimum wage, and factoring in private practice time (which, for a real honest-to-goodness pro, would be minimal), and the two nights, 4 hours-per-evening concerts (yes, I was there from 6 until nearly 10) you're looking at about 120 hours that could be billed.

Tonight is the final concert evening.  It's a little lower stress, in that I'm only playing for one chorus, but the stakes are higher because they are singing a few things that are above my pay grade as an accompanist.  Exhibit A:  "For Good".  A broadway show tune that modulates to SIX FLATS right in the middle,
Um, and I know there are three other songs, but right now, that one consumes my brain.

Hmm.  OK, there's this kind of melancholy-starting one that has a neat African groove going on.  I suck at the piano part on that, but the vocals are pretty interesting, so I just don't play all the notes.  That one's hampered by the fact that the first 2 months, I just played the vocal lines for the kids, so I actually don't really *know* how the piano is supposed to go, because my fingers sometimes just play the alto line, or the tenor line.

Their opener is a song that they did for a music festival (to a CD track) back in September, but fortunately, it's got a completely intuitive piano part, so the fact that I just saw the music 2 weeks ago isn't giving me heart failure.

Ah, and they're doing a song that's got a real strong three-against-four vibe, that I have difficulty playing (that is the one I was blocking out of my brain).  Listening to it, it sounds easy, and it was an easy one for the chorus to learn, so honestly,  I probably rehearsed it with them only 3 or 4 times, which is kind of making me mental, because playing it by myself is pretty easy, but the minute you put the distracting vocal track with it, my concentration is shot to pieces.

Bla bla bla, wah wah wah, first world problems, etc.

But by this time tomorrow, it'll be all over but the shouting.

Now, to just find some time today to make Beaver Tails for the Concert Bake Sale.  I'm just really glad that Kelly's basketball game (in another city) after school was re-scheduled.  I think that would've been the straw that broke my back today.

OH!  Ha ha ha ha.

So while I was at the piano, I did the secret-spy move of holding my phone up and snapping a quick shot of the audience.  Or part of the audience...

Ah!  Also?  funny story... The intermediate choir (7th and 8th graders who didn't audition for the advanced chorus) was performing, and between songs, suddenly there's this pop-tune noise, and folks are looking around, and from my vantage point, I see a girl in the back row OF THE CHOIR grab into the belt of her skirt, and CHECK HER TEXT MESSAGES.

She is SO busted.  I should've taken a photo of that, but, like, you know, my hands were kind of busy...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011



I am about to have them.

I go on stage in an hour to accompany two of the three choruses at our Middle School Winter Concert (Night The First), and the Sixth Grade Orchestra, which is really thin in the Cello/Bass department, so I am hiding at the piano, and pretending to be the invisible bass players.  (as an aside, it apparently isn't funny to the orchestra director, when you say, on the day of the concert, "So, if I'm pretending to be several bass players, does that mean I should occasionally play minor seconds, to mimic the sound of the musicians not agreeing on a note?"  Heh.)

Anyways, it was 9 o'clock this morning before I ever figured out what I was doing wrong in the one 6th grade chorus song, and I just hope I do it the right way, instead of the Incredibly Wrong Way that I've been playing the one passage for the last 3 months.

I'm having kittens.
This music is above me.
I am going to go down in flames.

Oh well.  if the parents complain, I will say "You get what you paid for, and I was free.  Maybe next concert, you'll donate the $1500 that it'll cost to hire a professional accompanist"

Or maybe I won't.  Because i am nice.  And most of the parents are nice.  If I go down in flames, they'll just avoid making eye contact, and say they didn't notice anything amiss.

And, hoping I don't crash and burn, tomorrow is ANOTHER night of concert, and I'm accompanying there, too.
Another chance to blunder horribly.  And tomorrow, it's in six flats.
Manic, much?  Panic much? Who?  Me?
Look at the pretty horsies...
Ohm.... ohm...

Pastoral landscapes.  Good for the blood pressure...

Oh, and this one, she's going to be my page turner... maybe I can blame my gaffes on her?  Nah.  I wouldn't do that.

Fly free.  Reach for the stars.  Or at least the moon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lights, Camera, Traction!

Let's see if I can just use 'talking about my photos' as a way to get a bit of traction in the 'get back into writing' groove.

You like that shot up there?  Kelly took it.  I'd like to talk about how she really nailed the Christmas Bokeh feel, and how you can get lost in the sparkle of all those bright colours, but the truth is that she started taking photos while my camera was still set to manual focus, and this is really just a happy accident.

This was taken last night, on Eucalyptus Street, a beautifully decorated street in one of the cities on the Peninsula.  Many years ago, Skip's 'extra Grandmother', Grandma Bey lived on this street, and back then, the town would hold "Christmas Decoration Competitions".  Eucalyptus Street won it most, if not every year, and Grandma Bey proudly displayed her plaque on her mantle.  Now, to be fair, she never decorated her yard.  The neighbours on either side strung lights up from their houses towards hers, and met in the middle.  They took care of her like that, and I really appreciated it.

Anyways, we've been coming to see this street for years.  Kelly usually brings a friend along.  Yesterday, I carved out an hour while Skip was at a high school youth meeting, and took Kelly and her friend Addie.

(I think the orange tree behind their heads is on Grandma Bey's old front yard.)
THey had fun walking up and down the street, even though the rain was threatening, and actually sprinkled for the first half of our visit.
In the "Not every hit is a home run" category:

(this kind of makes me laugh, actually)
The decorations ran the gamut, and all were pretty superb.

And when the girls found decorations that were out of alignment, they tried to fix them.  I thought that was cute.

My favourite tree!  These ornaments are each as big as my head.  Maybe bigger.

And every trip to Eucalyptus street isn't complete until the girls have had theiir photo taken with Santa.

This photo took a bit longer than I thought, as there were a rush of folks who were very happy for me to take their photos (or their kids' photos) with Santa.  It made me feel like a *real* photographer, so I was happy to do it.  I blame the fancy pro-grade tripod that Ken got me for my birthday.  Makes me look like a bona fide.

I tell you, these decorations are really something else.  I bet you can see them from space.

Ah, and I can feel my stress dropping, as I wish you all a holly jolly Christmas.