Post #3222: Made it through

This week was *much* better than last; I made it to the finish line on some work stuff and my union AGM which was yesterday. Now I’m on holidays for the next week!

But to recap in a bit more detail – last week started with my birthday on Monday and a lot of pain in my left shoulder. I had chosen to work on the day, and so was feeling pretty sorry for myself – in pain, working, feeling every bit my 48 years as I plodded through the staffing paperwork, project work and so on. Pretty much all week I struggled a bit with the shoulder and feelings of overwork, and so I ended up taking a bit step back from exercise (down to two weight workouts and one run), spent more time in the sauna, and booked myself a massage. I was exhausted all week, but doing the right things to take care of that. Getting snowed in Saturday/Sunday only helped because it gave me the excuse to do little except read, sauna, write and hang out at the house.

So I started this week out with a lot more in the tank even though I knew it would be heavy work and unionwise (which it was – every day this week was full on). I still got overwhelmed at certain points, but my weight lifting and running came back online and I’ve so far done 2 runs and 3 strength workouts (1 more of those this afternoon), though I did notice yesterday how much stress was diminishing my heavy lifts.

Besides overwork, my stress these last couple of weeks has been mostly related to preparations for my union AGM which happened yesterday at lunch hour. There is quite a bit to get through at these meetings, budget to pass, finances to account for, elections and so on – and doing it all online makes it extra stressful (not the least of which because the polling function disappeared from the meeting yesterday and I had to ask people to vote by selecting the appropriate emoticon – thumbs up for yes, frowny face for no). I did run for one more term of office as president out of a sense of obligation, but let people know that it would be my last term and I’m going to spend the next two years training up our next president and transitioning out. I also said goodbye to a longtime exec member who retired yesterday which felt weird to do without the traditional presentation of the gift and party. Fingers crossed that by the time I step down, we can go out for drinks to celebrate my liberation!

Now that’s over, I have to get back to my more interesting focal areas – writing, playing music, and so on. I am mid-way through my essay for next Friday’s Comfort for the Apocalypse, and have some new pieces of music that I am learning to play. Because I have so much stuff I want to do right now (plus some household stuff I have to catch up on), a week off doesn’t feel like nearly enough time to get it all done, plus spend time relaxing!

Food lately has been so utilitarian. Neither Brian or I has felt much interest in cooking so I don’t have much to share on that front. Tonight we are doing a seafood pasta though, and I’m making a cardamom orange cake for dessert – it feels very fancy after a week of carrot soup and quinoa salads for dinner. I’m hoping to get some pressure canning done in the week coming up – last weekend I did can a ton of pinto beans which means refried beans for the next two years or so. Next up Brian has asked for maple-baked beans, which make for a great bbq side in the summertime. I’m also thinking of doing another round of soup – maybe chicken or beef vegetable base – it’s so great to have ready-meals on hand during weeks like the ones we just had where work sapped all our energy for cooking.

Brian is working part of next week and then we are taking a couple of days off together to recharge. He’s been pretty swamped lately also. Awhile ago someone asked why I would bother taking time off work when I can’t go anywhere. The person who asked is retired, so I think they forgot that work is depleting! Staycation is the most satisfying to me since my happy/relaxed place is when I have free time to write, read, play music or sew. International travel isn’t something we do, and I don’t feel the need to get away the way I did when I lived in the city.

Feeling a big sigh of relief and gratitude wash through me as I look forward to some “down” time 🙂

Post #3221: Fiddles on the Beach

After a really sparky/energetic last week, this one turned out to be a bit difficult on a number of fronts and I am burnt out. Union people are angry, work is piling up, and a really good dog-friend died on Tuesday. It’s left me all a little bit fried. So instead of telling you all about that I’ll just share this video that my neighbours and I made last week – socially distanced (we recorded the music on separate tracks in our own homes).

I’ve got another few difficult workload days to get through, culminating in my union AGM next Thursday and then I am taking a week off. I am looking forward to that greatly. This time of year is a bit of a drag at the best of times, moody weather and government year-end combined, and quarantine is not the best of times!

Post #3220: Trying to fit it all in

My birthday is on Monday and I will be forty-eight years old. Brian and I are the same age from February until May, when he turns forty-nine which is only one year away from fifty. This week also marks my work anniversary of twenty-three years. I haven’t had exactly the same job all this time, but I have worked in the same field (Communications) for the same organization for almost half of my lifetime. By the time I turn fifty, I will be able to say half. Half of my lifetime will have been spent at one desk or another, in front of a screen, telling things to people about fish and fisheries or managing projects intended to distribute information about the same.

I’ve been thinking about my age this week, not because of my birthday, but because I’ve been asked more than once in the last few months if I want to learn French to advance my career. In the federal government, once you get to a certain level, no matter how well you do your job you must be bilingual to go further. I am fully qualified as a manager, for example, and yet I cannot be a manager without learning French because I would be responsible for managing people in a bilingual environment, where everyone has the right to work in the official language of their choice. Even in my work life now, I go to meetings where I don’t quite understand my colleagues because they speak too fast for my slow-French ear to pick up. Over the years I’ve tried to get language training, but it was never deemed a priority. Now that I’m senior in my career, it has become one and I wonder if I’m too old to become fluent in a second language, enough to pass the written/oral/comprehension tests within a year or so. It would require a lot of focus, for sure.

At the same time, I’ve been working through some music composition practice, and reflecting on music as just another language. Notes are, like words, abstract representations of a thought and there are rules about how those thoughts are put on the page. Because music is a language I learned from my earliest years, I can read a musical score just as I read a book. I pick up the music sheet, and “hear” the notes as I my eyes take them in. Sometimes music is too complicated for me to do this with, just as some academic texts are too difficult for me to comprehend. But it is all the same to me whether I pick up a book or a musical score – I understand what the author/composer is trying to convey. There is a part of me that hopes this language fluency between English and Music means that part of my brain is turned on and accessible for other forms of language learning.

A photograph of a couch with books, papers and a laptop strewn around.
This is my writing and reading nest. I spend a lot of time here these days.

Since the start of the year I’ve been in a really inquisitive phase. I am writing again, reading with great intensity, learning how to use musical notation software, and investigating approaches to language acquisition. I’m thinking about joining an academic seminar this spring, attending weekly Zen lectures, and listening to a wide range of violin music whenever I get the chance. I feel a bit like I did a few years ago when I started my Masters degree and had to read 35 books in a couple of months; taking in information from a variety of sources fuels my creativity in new and unexpected ways and creates a little buzz of excitement around learning and doing more! Though it’s not sustainable to remain in this state over the long term (in order to really focus on something, you need to pare back to do that thing well for awhile), in the short term it’s all kinds of interesting creative energy and that feels like the counterbalance I need to the winter/pandemic time we are living in.

As a result of all the thinking, reading, playing music, and writing – I haven’t been doing any sewing or weaving lately – and I’m choosing to be okay with that. It’s not for lack of desire, but there is only so much time in any week and there is very little “extra” time in my life. One thing I do continue to prioritize is workouts and runs. Not only do I need the exercise, but I am pretty sure that a part of what fuels all this energy and confidence is my powerlifting and fitness progress. I haven’t had any big gym gains lately, but I do notice small changes in strength and agility that I’m quite pleased with quite often. The Stronger by the Day program continues to deliver really great workouts that give me new challenges weekly while still maintaining a focus on the powerlifts. I’m really glad I signed up for that in December, as it’s put new fuel into my workouts and I have a very solid 4 day per week lifting commitment now (up from 3 days per week).

I look forward to birthday festivities this weekend, and especially cake! An old university friend moved into our neighbourhood last February and has started a baked goods business. We’ve been on his list for free treats as he’s been experimenting with recipes – and finally, have had a reason to put in a custom order. If you are on Gabriola, check out B’s Baked Goods – currently selling through Robert’s Place, and (soon) the Farmer’s Market. He also does custom orders and catering. I’ll let you know how the cake was during my next update here. Until then – have a good weekend all!

Post #3219: A week of Exhaustion and small victories

Today was the official relaunch of Comfort for the Apocalypse with Issue #16, in which I write about mushrooms, my favourite winter recipe, and things I found interesting in January. It feels good to have it done because now I can move on to the February issue.

This week has been a strange one health-wise in that I seem to have missed all the cues for my B12 deficiency. The last couple weeks of eating ravenously should have been a tip off that some kind of nutritional imbalance was happening, but it wasn’t until the extreme brain fog on Tuesday that I clued in and started taking my sub-lingual tabs again. It only takes a few days for the B12 to do its work, and as of today my energy levels are feeling more normal. I haven’t even had to take a nap!

It’s a good thing I was on a de-load week in the gym, which meant workouts were shorter and with lighter weights. De-loads help with muscle recovery and psychological fatigue. They are also a way to gauge where you have been: what is light now was heavy only a few months ago. As a result my workouts felt more like play and I even got the disco going and did some dancing in between sets of lifts! That helped boost my low energy and was a reminder of at least one of the benefits of working out in the garage. There is no way I’d be sashaying all over if I was at the fitness center in the village! Unfortunately today will be my last day of that and it’s back to a higher-intensity period of workouts starting Monday.

On Sunday I made and canned lemon curd (photo above), but food was otherwise a bit boring. Brian was in the city for most of the week, so meals consisted of leftovers from last weekend, and a lot of scrambled eggs – which are my go-to food when I can’t be bothered to make anything else. I used to eat scrambled eggs every single day for lunch, but now I only eat them 4 or 5 times a week. Last night I made an awesome ginger-pork dish with Japanese rice and cabbage to celebrate dinner for two again, and tonight it’s chicken enchiladas and palomas!

It will probably come as no surprise after my post last week that I went ahead and decided to purchase both bows, and then another bow I ordered back in December also arrived in the mail (inexpensive, carbon fibre). I’ve been trying to get as much playing time as possible out of my schedule, and it’s been such a reminder of what gets accomplished with regular practice. I’m learning and memorizing new songs, fixing intonation problems, and returning to long-abandoned techniques as my fingers get stronger again. It’s really no different from weight lifting, writing, or anything else – you get out what you put in. This week I also went ahead and signed up for composition “lessons” with one of our neighbours who teaches music, music theory and so on. We have our first session tomorrow and I have no idea what will come of that. I’m a very proficient “noodler” when it comes to the fiddle, but I never get much out in the way of real music. I’m hoping he can support me in changing that.

Work has been a series of small victories this week. One half of my staffing process is nearly at the end with all our candidates “signed off” on by managers which opens the door to offering them jobs. The other half will be there at the end of next week. This is the largest and quickest staffing activity I have ever done in my career and it’s gone much better than I had hoped! Also, my project management approach, messaging, and web prototypes went up to the senior managers yesterday, which is a milestone because once we get approvals then we are really moving along. Working on this project, I can really see how much the team I have been working on and sometimes managing over the last year, has really progressed and gotten a lot healthier. A lot of that has to do with our toxic Director leaving, but also my co-manager and I have spent a lot of energy on team support and cheerleading this year and it’s paying off in terms of better relationships and more focused outputs. Mostly this work week has been about a long bout of hard work paying off.

So even though things have been a bit rocky energetically, I have mostly kept to my schedule of activity and work this past week. I have booked a week off at the end of February and between now and then I have a lot to get done – but I feel on track and am grateful that even during this hardest period of the year I have been able to keep putting one foot in front of the next. Sometimes that is all you can do, but it’s what gets you to the finish line no matter how plodding things seem at times.

Post #3218: Of Bridges and Bows

Besides work and writing, this week has been almost entirely consumed by instrument-related issues.

I have two violins – a “Stainer” copy (factory-made likely in Germany around 100 years ago), and a 5-string acoustic-electric Realist that I bought seven years ago new. It’s the second instrument I’ve played most since I acquired it. It has a nice big sound when played acoustically, as well as built-in electronics that make it easy to plug in and amplify. Neither of my instruments is professional-grade, but they are not bottom-barrel either – and both are enjoyable to play for different reasons.

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve returned to playing recently and been fooling around with amplification and effects pedals. Last Saturday Brian loaned me a practically-new Peavy amp, one with a bunch of built-in settings and effects (too complicated, he says). He hauled it up to my studio and I got down to figuring out what each of the knobs did to my sound and started having some real fun with it. Amplified and using the low octave setting, I was getting some growly cello-like sounds, which inspired me to get a little bit heavy with my playing style. I didn’t think I was going all *that* hard until suddenly my bridge broke into two pieces, pinging out into the room and causing my strings to collapse.

Fortunately, I was recording when it happened so you can listen to that moment (and my reaction) here:

The sound of a bridge breaking mid-action.

In my whole lifetime of playing, including some serious rocking out on stage with the Flying Folk Army back in the day, I have never had a bridge do that!

I got right down to figuring out where I could get a new bridge by putting the feelers out on one of the Gabriola Facebook boards, and was pointed in the direction of Michael Vann, a world-renowned bow maker who also does all-manner of classical string repairs. Someone had mentioned him to me previously because I was in need of getting my very neglected bow redone, but it was news to me that he handled other small jobs also. I sent him an email on Saturday afternoon and by that evening we had made an arrangement to meet the following day.

When I met Michael at his studio, he quickly assessed my violin as “not a collector’s item” (no it certainly is not) and also told me he’d never seen a 5-string and he would work out a sturdier bridge for it. The bridge the Realist shipped with never did sit on the instrument properly (it wasn’t fitted) – so I was glad to have an actual violin technician fit it up. Entering Michael’s workspace was more than just dropping off an instrument for repair, it was also a step back into my youth where instrument shops and repairs were a regular feature of my life. I left feeling a bit of nostalgia for my old teachers, the halls of the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and the other young people with whom I trained before quitting classical music altogether at the age of 16.

After I left my violin, I decided that on my return I would bring my bow to have it re-haired. People who are playing regularly have this job done once every year or two. I haven’t had mine done for at least ten, partly because I haven’t been playing much, but also because I just never get around to it. Over time bows lose hairs, but they also get really dirty from rosin buildup and skin oils. Even if you never touch the hairs (which is drilled in from a young age), there is still enough close contact that things get pretty shabby over time.

On Wednesday I returned to Michael’s shop and tried out my newly-bridged violin (which also had new strings and was polished to a high-shine). He pointed out to me the greater thickness compared to the one that had broken, and I also noticed he reinforced the slot where the e-string sits (so thin, it can cut into even a hard wood like maple with time and tension).

Better than new!

When it came time for me to leave my only bow with Michael for his attention, he offered me a loan of one of his bows to try out. I had joked with him on the previous visit about how it would take me the rest of my life to pay off the cost of one of his bows which retail for about $8000 Cdn. But I was curious – not to try a bow I could *never* afford, but whether or not he carried something more in my price range (under $1000). Of course he does – and he sent me home with two Chas. Dubois bows to try while he is re-hairing mine.

That was on Wednesday night, and since then I have been playing with each of them on both of my violins whenever I have the chance. I have played almost every song I know from a variety of musical traditions and have been stumped as to how to choose between them. Both are vastly superior to the bow I have had all my life – my playing is immediately improved 1000% by selecting either of these. I made Brian come and take a listen and he was as impressed as I on the quality of sound after only hearing one. After I trialed both for him, he was pretty definite in his preference as listener, and I agreed with his ear on that, but as a player I am more torn. One of them is heavier, takes more effort to bow but stays really true on the string and produces a full-throated sound. The other one is lighter, it skips a little, and is a pleasure to play with though the tone is a bit brighter/sharper. The heavier one plays Eastern European/Klezmer tunes with the right tonal range, the lighter one bounces through Celtic-style jigs and reels. And finally, one of them makes the Realist sound better, and the other picks up the bright tones in the Stainer.

When I agreed to take two, I thought that choosing would be much simpler. With most things I am decisive, I can feel my way to a choice right away. Not so this time, because they have such different attributes, which is something I have never given much consideration to. Frankly, up until now, I couldn’t really afford to pay attention to the differences. I had an instrument and not a lot of money to purchase anything else. Since moving and dispensing with our massive mortgage a few years ago, I am finally in a place where if I want to upgrade my equipment, I can. The irony is not lost on me that as a young performing musician, I couldn’t afford nearly the instrument I can afford in my settled, non-performing life now.

I am in a privileged position in that if I want both, I can afford it with a little bit of saving around the edges for the next couple of months. That would give me a bow at the low-end of the professional level for each of my instruments, and also give me options when recording or playing specific types of music live (if that ever happens again, right now I just want to play for me). My old bow could serve as a back-up or whenever I don’t feel like taking something pricey out for the ride. The question for me is if this is just indecision, a refusal to make a choice when faced with two really compelling options. Will I use two bows? How much playing do I anticipate over the next years of my life? These are questions that will only be borne out over time. Right now, I’m playing again and there is no doubt that these bows make that much more pleasurable.

I’ve got a decision to make and in the meantime I am playing through my repertoire with each bow which means lots of extra practice this week!

If you really want to nerd out about this stuff with me – take a look at the Youtube video at the end of this post in which professional violinist Timothy Chooi compares a Dubois bow, a Vann bow, and a cheap bow from Amazon. Fun fact – Timothy Chooi and I share two teachers – Esther Tsang (Ngai) and Sydney Humphreys (now deceased), though clearly Chooi got a lot more out of their instruction than I did. He’s a phenomenal player!

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