"When you change the way you see things, the things you see change." - Author Unknown


The Best of 2014

Another Special Sunday

Today was my second time playing violin as a volunteer for the residents at the retirement center. I was again stationed on Cherry Avenue, same place as last time.

Here is my program (yes I know there are a few repeats but it's not like people would remember):

Concerto in C Major by Kabalevsky 5:30
Partita no 2 Allemande by Bach 3:30
Singing the night among fishing boats 5:35
Partita no 3 Gigue by Bach 2:00
Concerto in A minor by Vivaldi 4:10
Fantasia on a Theme From Thailand 5:35
Concerto in G major by Mozart (first part) 2:15
Meditation from Thais by Massenet 5:45
Concerto in G minor by Bruch 6:57

This time when I got there, there was already a handful of residents seated around at the end of the hallway chatting amongst themselves, so I just set up my stuff and (somewhat awkwardly) began to play. Everyone seemed preoccupied, and since I wasn't the focus or anything, I found no point in introducing myself or the pieces I was playing, rather, just providing music auxiliary to whatever they were already doing.

I didn't mess up completely and my nose stayed docile this time and I didn't randomly start coughing in the middle, so I guess that was something of a bonus. Many of the pieces I had learned quite some time ago, so considering that, I think it went much better than expected and certainly much better than last time.

The true experience of today, however, actually came after I had finished playing. While some of the residents seemed nonchalant about my presence, a few seemed quite delighted and began to talk to me and thank me.

One lady, named Mrs. P stands out to me in particular. She has straight gray hair falling over her shoulders, wide-rimmed glasses, and wide, hopeful eyes that seem to absorb everything in. When I was finished playing each piece, she was the only audience member to applaud, the only one who seemed to be paying attention. Beckoning me over with one hand, she told me, "Your concert was beautiful. It's a shame they didn't appreciate it," gesturing toward the other ladies.

To which my mother responded, "Oh, they probably do, they just didn't show it."

I know this sounds really cheesy, but she really seemed to have genuinely enjoyed my little performance or maybe just my being there, and I was quite touched. I'm not so accustomed to being appreciated by other people.

Mrs. P was one of those people whose eyes are windows into her soul: you could just look into them and read the thoughts, hope, love, and longing. Like she wanted my mother and I to stay but was afraid of keeping us too long. Like we were missionaries from the outside world coming to bring some life into their days. It's inexplicable. They might not have visitors very often, so I guess having a lady and a middle school girl come and play a little music for them makes today a little special.

Then there was Mrs. M, a loquacious lady with thin, downy white hair tied up on top of her head. She appeared eager to talk to me, but didn't seem entirely sure what to talk about, just wanted me to be around. When I was just about ready to leave, naturally, I said, "Bye! See you next time!" She asked, "And when would that be? Could you come in a few days? Or maybe tomorrow?" I broke down in smiles, lifting my hands and then dropping them back at my sides, really wishing I could say yes with certainty but knowing that most likely wouldn't happen, not sure how to respond. Because if I didn't have so much on my plate already, this is most definitely what I would want to do.

Chronicles Dec. 25

Today is Christmas Day. Not that I have any parties or social events (because yeah I'm not a totally antisocial freak). But wait-- I do! (Blehehehgahptoo well that's a first) With a bunch of nonagenarians a local retirement community (volunteering. yes that counts).

My warm-and-fuzzy-hearted mother had originally planned to join in the sundry exploits as well, but seeing as all week the cold virus has deemed her a satisfactory companion-slash-home which entailed her nose to be exceedingly uncooperative, she dropped me off grudgingly instead. It almost felt like I was going to school (ahaha what a lovely comparison).

Once I entered, I had to ask about five different people for directions on how to get where I was supposed to go. The Dining Room is about the size of our school cafeteria, with fancy carpets and square tables with white tablecloths (ahem there is a reason why we don't have those at school) and cloth napkins and large plushy chairs with wheels. Very comfortable and elegant. Meanwhile the kitchen is a little steamy place reeking of food (yes, reeking is the correct word to use here) and the clanging together of pots and pans and highly-shatterable crockery. These are the two locations I was running back and forth between for the entire duration of my stay.

Pouring, hollering, serving, carrying: these are the verbs I've been DEMONSTRATING (another verb: ho-ho!) for the past two hours of my life. My self-given job title? "Coffee-Distributor."

My main duty was hauling around (okay, so maybe not exactly HAULING I'm not that weak okay?) jugs of Miracle Fluid, a panacea which soothes all ailments and clears the mind of all afflictions (okay fine, it' coffee. And water) to refill the diners' drinks.

Yeah I'm obviously so skilled that I can totally tell the difference between a jug of coffee and a jug of water. One lady, with wavy g silver locks of hair framing her face and large, thickly-framed glasses magnifying her eyes about five times the normal size, asked me to add more to her (regular) coffee mug. Not realizing exactly what my pitcher contained, I began to fill it up (yay). Except for one tiny problem. "Oh! Oh! Oh! This-- this isn't coffee! This is water! This-- this is water!" she exclaimed, eying me through her large spectacles in a combination of hilarity and mild alarm. The comparison between the utterly amused expression on her face and the utterly bemused expression on my face must have been hilarious.

Laughing and somewhat shaky, I ran back to the kitchen and retrieved a jug of regular coffee and a clean mug. I brought it to her table and, amidst profuse apologies, prepared to pour a new mug of coffee when she said nonchalantly, "Naw, it's fine, you can just pour it in here," tapping with a gnarled finger on the brim of the mug I just completely botched. And then she went on drinking the (massively diluted) coffee as if nothing had happened.

Only when I was already like halfway through with my job did I realize that the jugs were labeled "REGULAR" or "DECAF" on the handles. (This is the part of the story where I demonstrate an ostentatious facepalm.)

Another wobbly little lady, through sips of coffee, which she shakily struggled to repeatedly lift between her lips and the saucer, gratuitously gave me a piece of advice. "Don't grow old. It's much too hard. Remember that: Don't ever grow old."

At this point I'm not yet exactly sure how to adhere to this principle. Although I know, someday I will figure out what you mean.

Christmas Morning...

A Special Sunday

I walked around the building confusedly with my mother, carrying a bag of sheet music, a violin, and a suspicious black object (also known as a music stand GEEZ PEOPLE GET IT RIGHT)

Today was my first time volunteering at a local retirement community in Mason, and -- surprise surprise -- I was supposed to be playing violin for the residents there, in a hallway called Cherry Avenue. I was wearing my Volunteer badge with my photo on it for the first time and feeling super professional and legit.

To our dismay, when we got there, there was already a (professional and super legit) band performing downstairs where a bunch of residents were congregated. Which meant that I was the underdog (like, again) and there would probably be like no one listening to my performance, which on second thought, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But nevertheless we went upstairs to the hallway I was supposed to be in, and a staff lady helped me figure out where I was supposed to go and lead people out of their rooms to listen. I should describe the setting. In essence, I was in the middle of the hallway, which is wide, carpeted, and scattered with wheelchairs and regular chairs. Left and right, there are doors leading into the residents' rooms, and colorful shops/a few food places/clinics/et cetera.

The residents there are all nonagenarians, some of them might even have made it past their big 100 I imagine. The ratio of staff members to residents there is about 4 to 1, if that gives you a good picture of anything.

I selected a variety of pieces to play, some of which I had learned a couple years ago, trying to mix and match the slower, more lyrical pieces, with the faster and more lively ones; some of them I learned from private lessons, some of them from CSYO or school orchestras. I tried to incorporate some holiday themed music as well. Here's my "program", a total potpourri of my repertoire:

Concerto in C Major by Dmitri Kabalevsky 5:30
Waltz of the Flowers from Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky 3:30
Trepak from Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky 1:15
Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod 4:40
Dueling Jingle Strings by James Pierpont 1:45
Salut d'Amour (Liebesgruss) by Edward Elgar 3:30
Partita No. 2 Allemande by JS Bach 3:30
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 2:00
Partita No. 3 Gigue by JS Bach 2:00

Sure I messed up a few parts I didn't practice that well I GET IT OKAY? But surprisingly people kept smiling and gawking at me, like nothing was wrong, I guess they didn't care. Also I doubt that everyone's hearing are all exactly acute, except my psychic mother of course.

And plus apparently I played "Ave Maria" about ten thousand metronome markings too slowly, because one person in the audience literally fell asleep. She woke up when I was playing "Dueling Jingle Strings" , but then she fell asleep again...

Even though I totally jacked up certain parts of the music and made a person fall asleep (HEY IT'S A GOOD LULLABY OBVIOUSLY), I don't think it would be inane to call today an overall success. It was a good opportunity for me to practice playing and speaking in front of a group of people (and manage pressure, for that matter). My mother's favorite parts were the little "blurbs" that I said to briefly introduce each piece. (Shurp.) Not to mention, of course, that I added a new diversion to the day of some residents this afternoon, and (I'd like to think) made them happy and at peace for a little while.

Bach - Allemande from Partita No.2

Sometimes I feel the melodies of these two partitas resemble my two different selves - one is cheerful and energetic living for BT, the other inexplicable melancholy.

Apple Hats

It was teacher's appreciation holiday luncheon today. This morning, along with the large B the T, I also sent to school these little sweet guys I made last night -- I call them hmm... Apple Hats -- a proud invention from my kitchen lab some time ago, they are petite in size with low fat, low sugar, low calories and simply delicious.

This is how you are supposed to enjoy the moment: when you slowly break the delicate triangular shell in your mouth, close your eyes, the irresistibly sweet apple filling together with the delicate shell start to... MELT, gently caressing all your senses and taking you to a place where sweet dreams come true ;) xD

During lunchtime when I volunteered at school, I was so happy to find that although there were many other desserts there, my Apple Hats were already almost all gone... (only three left!)

The Firebird

CSYOCO 2nd Concert 2014

Our second concert for CSYO Concert Orchestra took place this Sunday, December 14, at CCM Corbett Auditorium. Yes, poor B the T managed to brave the two-hour rehearsal and one-and-a-half-hour concert with a pounding headache. (This is where you say Aww and ask me if I'm feeling better now and then I say I'M FINE THANKS FOR ASKING) Anyway.

Our program went like this: "March from Folk Songs from Somerset" by Vaughan Williams, "The Nutcracker" by Tchaikovsky, "A Pirate's Legend" by Newbold, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", "Cello Concerto in B minor" by Dvorak, "Berceuse and Finale from Firebird" by Stravinsky, "Symphony No. 3" by Mahler, and "The Little Drummer Boy". Little Drummer Boy, the last number, turned out to be an audience favorite apparently, but NO ORCHESTRA likes rehearsing that piece. Especially the violins; all we do is pizzicato the same two notes about twenty thousand times and then play the same note about twenty thousand times. The lengths we will go for our beloved audiences. In all, this concert was a lot more successful than the last concert (duh...) since we had more time to prepare and more rehearsals. Also it was festive and a whole lot longer, but that's a whole different story. And you know what, who was that lady in sweater giving out the program and greeting people at the door? My fearless mother! :)

Embrace the Innovation

Right after she stepped home from school, BT was tuning her violin, with great excitement, as if she were savoring something delicious... a wave of exhilaration swept through her.

Three and half hours of time and ninety miles of driving to two violin stores was what I dedicated to our violin today. Look at what I have done.

The ebony tailpiece here is one of the lightest (weighing 20.0 gram) types of wooden tailpiece I could find online. It's made by Schmidt, a violin maker in Pennsylvania, who came from Israel and was once a conductor and violinist himself. The tuners are light composite material and are removable - but perhaps I would prefer them to stay there to achieve some sort of visual harmony with all other parts :). By the way, the first tailpiece I ordered from Johnson, which was made by Les Bois D'Harmonie, France, was the most beautiful violin accessory I have ever seen, it was gleaming, like a piece of jewelry. I even ordered the matching boxwood pegs. But the funny thing was, I found myself STARING at the little hole when one of the fine tuners was removed, hmmm... "What's the purpose of that, if we are surely to take at least two of them away?" So off they went, wistfully, back to where they came, with my good wishes.

As about the new pegs (my greatest discovery online last week), looks quite normal, or perhaps very humble, right? But do you know 4:1? How dreary it would be if we continued to use conventional pegs which slip, are painfully difficult to tune and keep in tune, and unavoidably make the holes larger over time? Must we always follow those doomed frustrating violin tuning methods just because our ancestors have been doing it that way for hundreds of years? Definitely NO. I'm so grateful of having our new pegs, they look very plain, but they are REVOLUTIONARY. They were invented by cellist Chuck Herin in South Carolina in 1999. I was so tempted to install the fancy version Peghed on our violin but it needs at least two trips to a violin maker's studio for measurements and custom order placement in downtown Cincinnati.

Now I can't wait to watch BT enjoy her "new" violin every day and how our violin pedagogue will frown, grimly, during our lessons at our bold renovation - but no matter how angry he might be, BT and I will just smile and sing because we know we are making a GREAT choice.

Read a detailed analysis on these new exciting pegs.

Life lesson BT learned this week, always be open-minded and embrace the innovation.

2014 Winter Orchestra Concert @School

So we basically butchered this concert to smithereens. And no, that's like, not a good thing.

Our orchestra conductors skillfully chose six pieces for this concert, in order: Dragonhunter, Elegante, Hyperdrive, Themes from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, Fantasia on a Theme from Thailand, and Dueling Jingle Strings, running the gamut from aggressive to exotic to cheerful and spirited.

Biggest fail of the concert? Blame the adrenaline, folks. One of our pieces, Dueling Jingle Strings, is one of those rare instances that we tend to SLOW DOWN during rehearsals, but during the concert we took off enormously. Luckily, we didn't fall apart though.

Biggest personal fail of the concert? I nearly came in four measures early during a rest in Hyperdrive. It doesn't sound all that conspicuous, but it looks really obvious, what with me cueing ostentatiously and all... *shudder*

But ahaha it's not like the people in the audience know how it's supposed to go anyway, they still said we did pretty well :D (Uh, shurp.)

Bach - Gigue from Partita No.3

Happy Thanksgiving - Eat Tofu!

This Thanksgiving, we decided to break tradition. Or rather, start a brand-new one. Tonight, turkey was not the centerpiece at the dinner table: rather, our plates were heaped with tofu, which (SHOUTOUT!) Mother skillfully crafted into scrumptious new dishes.

This morning, I read an article with Mother about this year's presidential turkey pardon. President Barack Obama pardoned a white-feathered, blue-faced plump male turkey named Cheese, on Wednesday at the White House, sending it to a turkey farm where it would forever be safe. Cheese had been voted by Americans via Twitter to be the lucky one. Strangely enough though, Americans still eat 46 million turkeys nationwide each Thanksgiving.

How can we feel such fondness and sympathy toward Cheese, yet such indifference and disregard for the 46 million others every year who are not so fortunate? Do the nondescript, run-of-the-mill, dull-colored turkeys on our plates not pull the same heartstrings as their elegant, snowy-plumed counterparts? What difference does it make? Why do we choose to set certain turkeys free and set certain other turkeys doomed?

All creatures are created equal. Every chick has as much a right to live as the next. So let's not attach stick-on labels separating the one lucky percent to the 99 percent who didn't make the cut. Every turkey has as much a right to live as the person eating him. So let's not stand on stools and throw rocks at the lost and trampled.

This Thanksgiving, we ate nothing that has feelings or at any point ever had feelings, nothing that can think for itself or at any point ever could think for itself. This Thanksgiving at our home, nothing was hurt.

Yeah I know this sounds super Cheesy (ahaha), but we're thankful for so much; including the animals, not just for food, but for making the Earth a beautiful place to inhabit, for peacefully sharing their home with us, for forgiving the many wrongs and hurts we've inflicted upon them and letting us live alongside them nonetheless even though what we've done is unforgivable. And I think the least we can do to give them our thanks is to give them the life they have the right to.

And tonight, Mother gave us real-life proof that, baked or boiled, even a turkey-less (and actually animal-less) Thanksgiving dinner can still be absolutely delicious.

I Wish...

It was BT's birthday, but MT was making her wishes as well, fanatically but furtively, alone, in the darkness of night.

She realized her wishes sound perhaps trite and most hackneyed, but she considers those are the words in her heart she must utter for B the T fagunt.

Two Hours Delay!!

That's the verdict from our sagacious superintendent for today!! How wonderful!! I'm the one who gave the loudest applause. It's the sweetest news I hope for in the winter. Even better than Snow Day, on which the teachers of all subjects at school, even the orchestra (and GYM!) teachers, would relentlessly assign piles and piles of homework to students. (Which they try to make sound really fun by calling them "Blizzard Bags" 0_o)

According to Zeno's Paradox of motion, it is impossible for one object to move from one point to another - meaning that the effort of going to school will be in vain. But still, MT strongly defied this great theory and drove BT to where she belongs, leaving her to keep counting and capturing the frosted trees passing by on our trip.
As we did arrive at school, 10 minutes later, Zeno's theory seems... not legit.


#Leadership and #Teamwork

Introduced by BT's Dad, we found this movie is not only lovely but also meaningful and inspiring...


Look at that. The unusual composition - the close up hairy innocent face of a little creature full of life contrasted with the cold rusty iron bars of the cage which confined it... There's no sound in the room. But I hear a loud cry inside. It shocks me. It makes my heart ache.

At the same time, I marvel at the thoughts she put in when she was drawing it (Oh, summer!). She said she wanted it to be framed and hung in our dining room or in the kitchen. Jeez. How would we be able to chew and swallow while having that pair of sparkling black eyes fixed at us from the wall? I knew what she meant. I knew what she wanted to do. "The face of bacon", she called it. Obviously she has somehow read, or at least partially, that book - "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer.

She argued that they are mammals, and mammals are closely related to humans. They are warm blooded and have feelings like us. From a nutritional point of view, pork and beef are quite unnecessary, they contain high cholesterol and high cholesterol may lead to high blood pressure and high blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessel walls, which may eventually lead to a stroke. And also, we drink milk everyday and milk comes from the cow. If we eat beef, it feels like we are eating our kins and that's what we call cannibalism. Ok, let's end this argument, I don't want to debate any more, but you must agree that you always eat chicken and fish, I said. Also, in extreme situations, I reserve the right to feed you any food if we have no choice. She agreed. Deal. So pork was off our menu in our kitchen. So was beef.

Dad succumbed to this epic revolution in our house, grumpily, on the condition he requested that he is free to eat anything outside our home. She gave her yes, a little mercy on Dad.

She started this, let's call it NMOP (No Mammal On Plate) journey months ago. It may seem naive and quixotic, but she decided to do it anyway, just like the old man in the Starfish Story. And what amazed me is her self-motivation and independent thoughts, her genuine concerns for the animals she cares about and the will power of putting it into action with personal sacrifice. But seriously, is it just impulsiveness? We'll see...

Say "Quadrivalent"!

Brrrrr... It's COOO..OOO..OOOLD. Time to roll up your sleeve again! But remember to say Quadrivalent, loudly, when you go to a pharmacy or doctor for the flu shot this year.

Here's what I have searched online: quadrivalent flu shot is designed to protect against four different flu viruses; two type A viruses and two type B viruses, while the traditional trivalent flu vaccine offers protection against only three, one type B and two type A strains.

According to the CDC, about 50% of available flu vaccines are quadrivalent. Give yourself the best protection this flu season, that's what I was looking for and finally had BT prickled for last week. If you cannot find quadrivalent, don't delay ordering the traditional one. Learn more from CDC website.

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