Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Best Things about America

Whenever you go abroad you learn to appreciated the things you love about America. When we visited Italy we had such wonderful food, but I craved American dishes as soon as we entered the terminal. The funny thing Cali and I noticed was that what we missed about American food was all the Mexican and Southwest influences. Italy doesn't use chiles or salsa in their cooking and it made me realize that one of the great things about America in general is the amazing cultural influences that come from such a diversity of cultures. I notice this every day in school as I teach kids from Pakistan, India, Mexico, Brazil, ect. Because of this I have been irritated with some of the recent bills and legislation targeting both legal and illegal immigrants.

Kansas and Missouri are now both working on passing bills that focus on immigrant rights. Both bills seem pointless and maybe a little vindictive. I wonder if some lawmakers are upset with the way the economy is going and blaming it on recent immigrants. The Kansas law is one that is similar to the Arizona law being held up in court right now. This is such strange timing to try to pass this law in Kansas and no one seems to be able to figure it out. Arizona is in the midst of getting sued over virtually the same law and it makes no sense to pass a law in Kansas before a court ruling on the Arizona law. I thought this was very puzzling.

The Missouri law seems just as puzzling. They are seeking to up the standards for getting a drivers license in Missouri. The bill that has been proposed makes it a requirement for citizens to be able to pass the drivers license test without the use of an interpreter. Since it is already a requirement to be a legal immigrant in order to get a Missouri driver's license this bill only targets legal immigrants who are still mastering English.

Hopefully people will begin to realize that America is great because of our diversity and learn to appreciate it, even in the midst of difficult economic times.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Cooking and Cats

We have had a lot of time at home this last month. Right now we are in the midst of our 6th snow day, which is maybe a little excessive. During that time we have had lots of time for cooking and we feel lazy if we don't cook. I have been working my way through the Dunham family cookbook while Cali has been moving along through a cookie cookbook (which is a great combination). I have made everything from Coffee Cake to Beef Con Queso. Cashew Chicken, submitted by Leah was one of our favorites. It was a big mess and not particularly healthy, but a fun meal. The sauce especially was good and not too sweet, which is a necessity in our house. We also had a good time with the Beef Burgundy (pictured left). This I have been wanting to try ever since we got our new dutch oven. This was a great way to use some round steak if you have three hours to kill. Many of these recipes were ones that Cali grew up with so they reminded her of being a kid. Some of them she wasn't even sure if she would like if she met them as an adult, but memories of food can change the way we feel about it. We both enjoyed the Hungarian kraut although like many of these recipes we had to freeze 2/3 of it.

While waiting for food to heat up, we have enjoyed sitting in the living room with our fireplace and cats watching a BBC show called Doc Martin. I have been using up some of the wood sitting in our back yard that looks like it has been there for years. A lot of it burns quickly, but every couple hours or so I throw in one of the huge logs that seems to burn for hours. Worf is fascinated with the fire which makes us a little nervous, but he looks pretty cute when he is lounging on the rug in front of it. I couldn't get a good picture of it, but I did catch him hanging out on the footstool. Mali didn't get quite as close and mostly hung out on the futon.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


We saw this great presentation at school called Rachel's challenge. The program is in memory of Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed in Columbine. The program is designed to challenge students to be kind to their classmates and gave them several challenges, one among them being to set goals and write them down. Apparently, their is a famous study with Yale graduates that found that those who wrote down their goals were way more successful than those who didn't. I decided to write down some goals and I am taking it slow because I only want to write down goals that seem attainable. Most of them I will keep to myself, but one goal I did write down was to get involved with charity work in some capacity. Cali and I decided to start with Harvesters. We are interested in Harvesters because of the backpack programs at our schools, where students take home food for their families over the weekend. Cali likes helping a program where she can see the impact in the lives of her kids.

Tuesday we went to Harvesters for the first time. They had us work on sorting cans in various bins. The guy who worked their was pretty funny. He went around telling us which types of food went into each bin. Then he would tell us about the ridiculous mistakes people often made when sorting and that the consequences for those mistakes was getting made fun of after you left. It was fun work because we got to move around and work with other people. It's the type of work where you can see that you have accomplished something which is always rewarding. There were lots of kids their including one of my former students working with the boy scouts. Cali was pretty sure she saw one of hers as well. We actually got some exercise for once which was also nice after being cooped up in the house with all the snow days. We liked it enough that we are heading back next week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tempo Changes

I remember being so excited the first time I heard "A Day in the Life" from Sgt Peppers. What makes this song so great is all the tempo throughout. It is not very often that pop music writers decide to make changes in tempo or even use interesting time signatures like 5/4. Cali and I spent some time listening to K-Love, the Christian music station, figuring out how some of these songs might be less monotonous if they were in 5 instead of 4. The Beatles did some of these great tempo adjustments pretty frequently and there have been a few groups that followed their lead:

On New Years Eve we went to Joel and Traci's to play some Rock Band. This may sound stupid, but when you play this game you find out which songs really do "rock". Everybody gets into these songs and everyone sings along (Weezer still rocks by the way). Anyway, one of my favorites from the game is the Franz Ferdinand which totally has the best slow down tempo change:

I've totally gotten into the tiny desk concerts on NPR. They bring in some great bands to sing in their studio and have made the videos available on youtube. The Avett Brothers were fairly recent guests and the first song they performed on this video is one of my favorites (although I wish they had taken a little longer to tune their instruments up). At the end they do a great accelerando:

Amanda turned me onto this next one. I have been a Radiohead fan for a super long time, but for some reason I never bought In Rainbows. I think sometimes you just need a break from a band for a while. Anyway this next song is in 5/4 (Christian producers please take note).

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Slow Build

I was listening to this song by Mumford and Sons and realized that I am a big fan of the slow build. This song starts soft until the crescendo midway through. My experience with the slow build is that it tends to emerge out of repetition. They hammer it home as the energy builds. It's also a nice touch to soften it up for the ending.

Playing songs for people is always tough because you are always way more excited about the music than the other person. They are normally like "yeah this is pretty cool" and then try to talk to you about some other subject, but you are like, "wait wait check this part out is really good". I think this is especially true of songs that have the slow build, becuase you can sense them getting impatient and you are like "no wait it gets really good just hold on. It like crescendos and then there is this part where it is really loud". I am paraphrasing of course, other people probably sound way more intelligent when they are describing the music. It's normally better to play it cool and act like you don't care if they are paying attention or not. This next song has a long wait time for the slow build (if you are super impatient it starts about 5 minutes in):

Classical music has of course been doing the slow build for years. I remember first hearing this next one when I was in high school. I was so excited because when it started on the CD you could almost not hear what was happening. Sometimes the range on classical music is so great it is difficult to to listen to in recorded form. You constantly have to adjust the volume nob. We performed this piece (Enigma Variations) when I was in college and Cali said it moved her to tears. Apparently, when I saw her after I said something cynical about the crying (sorry Cali):

Friday, May 01, 2009

What's up?!

What's up?! I am fully aware that I never post in this blog and I don't even have any good excuses like my computer was down for three months and so I couldn't get computer access. Anyway, I have had a gazillion concerts recently and so today we kind of chilled and watched part of a video today. I normally don't do that for strings, but apparently I need to give them a break every now again or in 6th grade they really complain and say things like, "We never get to do anything fun like play a game or watch a movie in here." Of course I normally answer by saying, "Every day is fun in strings!" It's kind of like when your parents tell you that even though there is a Mother's day and a Father's day there is no Kid's day because every day is Kid's day.

We watched part of a barrage video and I now have my whole spiel down. (Barrage is a strings band and they play rock, fiddle, and other types of music. They are pretty cool, they are made up of violin and viola players, bass, guitar, and a drummer). First, I have to let them know that these people dress kind of like rock musicians so they should be aware that one of them has a midriff shirt on and they look a little grungy just like your favorite bands. Also, I have to warn them that there will be dancing and singing and that they really get into the music when they play, they are not spasming. That pretty much takes care of it. If I give my preemptive speech they really enjoy the music and are super impressed with how well they play. Occasionally I have to stop the tape and say, "No, they are not in love with each other they are just being entertaining for the audience." Sometimes I think maybe my kids should get out more. I guess it is my job to expose them to things and make their world a little bigger.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Close to the holidays motivation is a bit tough. 5th graders are still going strong, becuase they can't belive they can now play Jingle Bells on their instruments. They look excited even when I tell them to take out their bows! Every direction I give them is exciting! 6th graders, however, are a little harder to motivate sometimes. They still get excited about certain songs, but it's not the same as when a 5th grader comes in telling me about all the songs they have performed for their parents. I just started using a new trick to try to get my 6th graders to go home with the same excitement.

Whenever my 6th graders look bored and I feel bored, I just have them close their books and I teach them a song by rote. This week we learned Star Wars, which was super fun. They get excited when they get to play "a real song". I already have some other ideas running around in my head. I was thinking about teaching them The Hockey Pokey and Pirates of the Carribean. Maybe I can even use these rote songs as leverage. They can be my new reward for good rehearsals.