Monday, August 31, 2009

One Day Until September

On my walk back from the school this morning the wind blew down through the pines and I felt like autumn. What was it? The low angle of the sun? The color of the shadows? The breeze that promised cooler weather?

It is over a hundred degrees outside. I'm ready for some relief.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


My children are growing up surrounded by cameras---digital cameras, video cameras, cell phone cameras. Any time you want you can snip out a piece of life and store it on the hard drive. What does that do to their little brains?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Carlson Home for Neglected Instruments

On Sunday afternoon the latest addition to my collection of orphaned instruments arrived. A friend of mine found it abandoned in the garage of her daughter's new house and asked me if I wanted it---an old-fashioned electric organ with foot pedals.

The first time we turned it on, I thought it was going to catch on fire. It made this massive WHUMP sound, like someone snapping a blanket in the air. Even after we shut it off again we could smell the dust burning inside. I slept on the couch that night with a fire extinguisher next to me on the end table.

I found an electric organ technician on the internet who assured me my dinosaur organ has a good set of fuses inside and will not spontaneously combust. He thinks he can repair the broken keys in the swell and re-attach the foot pedals. I'll have him over once we've got a paycheck in the bank. In the meantime, my husband enjoys practicing the organ at home rather than having to go to the church.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leap of Faith

I contributed to my IRA today. If I'd been sharp and savvy I would have done it a few months ago when the stock market was still severely depressed. This morning I found a note I'd scribbled to my husband during church last spring. It said-

Did I mention that my IRA earned $3000 this quarter?
My husband looked really impressed. I grinned and added another line.
Now it's up to $8000
My husband's expression turned to surprise and alarm. Before the crash I had over 20K. With a rueful smirk I penned one more sentence.
I don't even want to know...

Don't tell me what the bottom of that pit was. I didn't look and I don't want to know.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Harping Away

Yesterday afternoon I ordered the materials to build three new harps. I had just come home from playing my 29 string harp at a funeral. Because I had focused so much on my writing this past year I had stopped practicing the harp every day. Four days before the funeral, when I was called and asked to play, I accepted eagerly. Two days later I thought I was going to have blisters on my finger-tips. No amount of catch-up practicing could make up for all those long months that my harp sat in the corner.

Never again. I'm going to practice the harp every day for the rest of my life.

My performance at the funeral went well, and now because of the nice thick callouses I've built up over the last few days I can barely feel the keys under my fingers as I type. After the funeral I got lots of nice comments. It was wonderful to think that an instrument I'd built with my own hands was able to bring peace and comfort to so many people. One of my friends who was there told me she'd always wanted to learn the harp. I had been thinking of building some more harps this fall, so that clinched my decision. Once the three harps are done I will sell them or rent them out to students. There should be more harps in the world!

And this morning, what rolled me out of bed was not some sentence I felt I had to restructure, but a need to know exactly what the angle between the soundboard and the strings should be. Hooray for the internet! The answer: between 30 and 40 degrees, closer to 30 for a modern concert harp.

For more info on how to build a harp, visit my How to Build a Harp page.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rebecca Reviews: Whisper of the Heart & Ponyo

I have a new favorite Miyazaki film - Whisper of the Heart. Miyazaki did the screenplay and the storyboard for this charming romantic comedy, produced in 1995 by Studio Ghibli. Shizuku, an aspiring writer who should be studying for her high school entrance exams, instead throws herself into writing her first story. She's never worked this hard at anything in her life. Inspired by her friend Seiji, who dreams of being a violin maker and who has gone to Italy for the summer to try out as an apprentice, Shizuku feels this is her one chance to prove herself. In the end, what they both learn about themselves and their talents rings true for any young artist - you're not great yet but you could be. Keep learning!

What I loved best about this film was its portrait of life in Tokyo. Loving touches - like the way bugs swarm around a florescent light at night, or the way sunlight gleams of metal railings and dapples the ground when it shines down through the trees, or the experience of a ride on a public train - made me feel as if I'd spent a summer in Japan.

Once again, what worked for Ponyo, Miyazaki's latest film, was the setting. I loved the small Japanese port town, the winding roads, the mountains, and the sea. When the typhoon came I felt the power of the wind and rain, and I loved the sheer imagination of the sea magically rising and burying the whole town underwater, with devonian age fishes swimming through the streets.

But, unlike Whisper of the Heart, Ponyo lacked a compelling story. I spent a lot of time wondering what was going on, why the characters were doing what they were doing, and why I was supposed to care. Ponyo, a plucky little fish-girl, the daughter of an evil wizard and the sea goddess, gets stuck in a glass jar and is rescued by a small human boy. Somehow this leads to the world getting entirely out of balance, the moon falling closer to the earth and the seas rising. In order to set things right the evil wizard and the sea goddess arrange a test for the boy, a test which left me scratching my head wondering why I'd been sitting there for nearly two hours if that was all we were leading up to.

I also felt disappointed by the animation. It was much more simplistic than I've come to expect from Studio Ghibli. The backgrounds were brightly colored and impressionistic, the characters were lacking in form. Not one of Miyazaki's better films.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Wheel of Time Turns Slowly

This afternoon I came upon my husband reading The Eye of the World, first book of Robert Jordan's popular Wheel of Time series. I frowned when I saw how the pages lay. "Hey, you're still only a quarter of the way done with that book."
"I fell asleep once," he said.
"Twice!" I reminded him. The first time he cracked the book he fell asleep before page thirty. Then he'd fallen asleep again when he'd tried to read it the next day.
He raised his eyebrows at me. "No, today. I fell asleep once today."
I laughed. "That makes three times!"
When I was a teenager I really enjoyed that book. My dad bought the sequels for us, each one as they came out. But my husband has never been a big fantasy fan. He just loves Brandon Sanderson's books, and Brandon Sanderson has the honor of finishing the Wheel of Time series in Robert Jordan's absence. My husband wanted to read some of the earlier books before Brandon Sanderson's installments to the series come out.
No hurry, Mr. Sanderson! The reading is going to take a good long time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Best Meteor Shower Ever

Last night we went out to the dry lake bed and watched the Perseid Meteor Shower. I had never seen so many! My daughter counted thirty-five between 8:30 and 11:00 pm. I didn't see that many because instead of watching the sky the whole time I was watching small boys run around in the dark. The ones I did see were spectacular.

The meteor shower peaked last night, but it is still going on. Catch some dark skies tonight and get your taste of wonder.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Homework Machine II

Here's a better video, taken from the second row. Now you can appreciate the machine in all of its glory. We raided the garage and put it together in one afternoon. Maybe that's why it works so well.