October 26, 2010


According to WBEZ this morning (as well as an email Rod sent to me), Chicago is supposed to experience the strongest storm it's had in 35 - 70 years today. A tornado watch has been issued and power lines are down here and there, but other than that I'm wondering what specifically is going to make this storm so horrible. I walked to the shuttle stop this morning while fighting powerful gusts of wind and a light rain, but I feel that there's been worse weather since I've been here...I think. Maybe it's just not so bad in Evanston at the moment...maybe its intensity will increase as the day wears on.

Right now I'm hanging out in the lounge (what a killer view we have here! A straight shot at a downtown city scape!) waiting for my lesson at 10:00 and watching clouds sailing over the wind-buffeted lake Michigan. I've practiced a ton for this lesson, but still feel that I'm less prepared than I wish I could be. The NUSO concert this past Saturday went fantastically well and I was pretty much at the top of my game. It was good to log a performance I feel satisfied with, but for the rest of the week I'll be battling just to survive on my horn. We're playing Holst "The Planets" in rep class today, I'm playing 1st on Tchaik V on Thursday, and we've got a batch of new orchestra music that (some of it anyway) is quite challenging.

Somebody just walked in the lounge and said the Intercampus Shuttle service is running 2 busses behind...it must be a mess out there somewhere. My guess is there are power outages all over that have knocked out traffic signals...thank goodness I don't have to drive anywhere!

I just walked outside and took some better pictures...check out that sky!

I can't help but be enamored with the colors here...I swear it's all natural too!

This seagull looks a little nervous about having to fly into the hulking mass of clouds looming on the horizon...I don't blame him one bit!

October 22, 2010

A Good Beginning

I had an annoying night last night. Nothing major, just ate too many peanut butter m&ms...again! (Why do I even allow myself to buy those anymore?...UGH!) So anyway, I decided I'd better try extra hard to have a good day today. I woke up a few minutes early and walked to school just in time to catch a lovely sunrise.

Here is the very first moment a bit of sun peeked above the horizon...

Slowly, more appeared...(check out the cool parallel wave patterns in the water!)

After a minute or so, a lone seagull began circling in front of my camera...over...

...and over...

...and over...as if he were asking "did you get me this time? Was my pose dramatic enough? No? Here...let me swoop around again and see if this is better..."

It was fun! And with my eyes safely behind the display screen of my digital camera, it may have been the only way I could've steadily watched the evolution of sunrise without turning my retinas to dust.

I know I've been a bit delinquent lately in keeping up the regularity of my posts. There is always a ton going on that I could talk about, but I generally find myself either without time to post, or lacking the motivation to rehash everything I've done in a given day.

So, to sum up, when I said back at the beginning of the summer that I expected NU was going to be a "trumpet boot camp", I was right on the money. In every lesson I'm assigned at least 4 etudes (ALL of which are to be transposed into various keys), some excerpts, and given suggestions of daily exercises I should perform to keep on my mission of embouchure-strenghening and high-range-and-flexibility-building. There are weekly performances of etudes in solo class (which are separate and in addition to the etudes required in lessons), weekly rehearsals of major orchestral rep in rep class, section rehearsals for different and additional standard rep in excerpt class, and then of course I have to be prepared on the material for Orchestra and Brass Choir...oh and did I mention I'm supposed to be doing those embouchure strengthening exercises every day too?!

My improved warm-up technique has helped keep my chops balanced (halleluja!!!), but still, whenever I go into my lessons in particular I rarely feel sufficiently prepared despite the fact that I've persistently worked on all the material. It always feels as though if I were just given one or two more days to practice, everything would be great! Instead, I go in, play the stuff as well as I can (rarely satisfied with my performance) and then I leave with a bunch more new assignments and instructions to "keep looking at that old stuff too". I feel out of breath just writing about it!

Last night in my practice room I decided that all this material is assigned to ensure that I am never left with nothing to do. I'm always being challenged to better my playing and the effectiveness of my practicing. It goes without saying that I'm pushed physically, but as the more important part of the game is the pursuit of success through "intelligent practice", this bombardment of material demands that I use my brain to come up with smart ways to fix problems and strategically plan my mode of attack...rather than just put some music up on the stand and slog through it.

Other students I've talked to say they do a lot of mental practice: thinking through pieces away from the horn. This is a great idea, but I sometimes find it difficult to maintain focus during such exercises. Along the same lines, I've now adopted the strategy of playing through my etudes on the piano during my practice breaks. This is a good way to work on transposition without wasting precious chops, as well as just getting the sound of a piece in my head--and if I can hear it...I can play it.

Tomorrow is NUSO's first performance. We're playing the Schumann Cello Concerto and Bruckner 7--though I'm only on the Bruckner. It will be the first time I will have donned my concert black in months and I'm really looking forward to it! After all, every now and then it is good to get out of the practice room and onto a stage.

October 17, 2010


NU has been notorious for developing trumpeters that win symphony jobs.

What's the secret? Is it just because their reputation attracts those students who are already gifted enough that they'd win jobs no matter where they chose to go to school? Are Charlie and Barbara cutting shady back-room deals with orchestra conductors (who, as I understand it, have final say in the acceptance or dismissal of a candidate)? Is there some sort of special training program here that produces not only good players, but those who know how to win? All I can tell you is what I've experienced so far...and I can tell you that I am really encouraged by that experience.

One of the most significant insights I've gained is about my warm up. A couple weeks ago (I know, I'm really behind in my story telling) Barbara Butler gave a class about how to warm up. Many approaches to this vital part of every trumpeter's routine have been developed by top players and educators and she stressed that we should learn and adopt techniques from all of them as we create our own personal tool set. This should almost go without saying.

What came next in the class was what really made a lightbulb turn on in my head. She brought up the fact that as we all begin our days of playing, it is easy to fall into the habit of defining each day by the quality of our chops. I can't tell you (maybe Rob can though:) the number of times I've warmed up and thought either, "Wow! My chops feel awesome! I feel like I can play anything!" or, (perhaps more frequently), "Ugh...my lips are really horrible today...this sucks! I can barely play anything at all."

Barbara asked the class (and admittedly, these are not word-for-word quotes, but they are as true to what I remember as possible), "Do you think Chris Martin [principal player with the Chicago Symphony...only a couple years older than me] has bad-chop days? He can't afford to have bad chop days! Do you think he can stand up before Mahler V starts and ask maestro Mutti 'um...my lips feel pretty crappy today...do you think we could skip over some of this stuff?' No, he can't. He'd lose his job. When I've got a string of Brandenburg performances coming up do you think I can say on the second night 'Man, my lips are really stiff...I'll just have to sit out this concert'. Of course not! As professional players we NEVER have bad-chop days."

When she said this I remember thinking, "Yeah right! How is that possible? We all have bad days now and then."

She continued: "As a professional player, there are no good days or bad days--there are only DAYS. When you warm up for the day, it is your responsibility to make sure your air, body, lips, and mind are BALANCED so that you are ready for anything. You can think of your chops as a sort of 'house' and when you begin each day--no matter what happened the day before...whether you had a great performance or you had to play really heavy or whatever--you always start from the beginning--building your 'house' from the ground up, brick by brick."

She then went on to illustrate each "brick": it's purpose and place within the greater structure. She stressed that once you lay each brick it's possible that further building might occasionally put stress on the lower levels and that you'll have to "circle back around" and maintain the integrity of your structure throughout each practice session. (I'll get to what the specific bricks are in a minute).

She said to all of us seated in the auditorium "In order to make it as a professional player you have to have four things:
*One, a natural gift--which all of you DO have or you wouldn't be here.
*Two, a good work ethic--which again, we're assuming you have at this level and if you don't, then go home...you're wasting our time and yours. (Barbara can be so wonderfully blunt!)
*Three, and this is probably the most important, the ability to approach your playing--and your practicing--with intelligence.
*Four, perseverance."

About this "intelligent" practice, here's what Richard Shuebruk says in a method book Chris Martin sent to me, "Any person who hopes to attain excellence in anything must be intelligent as well as industrious. He must not only do certain things, but know why he does them. Unless he is intelligent and industrious he has no right to expect Success." And, in an earlier section of his introduction, "Anyone who wishes to do a special kind of work very well must give those parts of the body which perform the work a special kind of training. All work is training in a sense, but certain kinds of work do more good than other kinds, therefore we should do those things the most which give us the best and quickest results. Digging in a garden is fine for exercise; if one does enough of that work he will grow strong of course, but it will not train him to be an athlete. Special work requires special exercise and the training must always be kept up if the worker expects to keep his ability. An instrumentalist is a specialist."

So, each exercise of the daily warm up should have a clear purpose and address a specific issue. It is foolish to waste a lot of time just playing through stuff...it is absolutely necessary to know WHAT IT IS YOU ARE SPECIFICALLY ACCOMPLISHING at ALL times. One should not play the same tired routine every day, but creatively address each specific aspect of trumpet playing in order to achieve balance.

Here are the "bricks":

1. AIR: more specifically "ready air". Warm up "from tip to frog" (a string-playing reference to using the whole bow). Remember that contact (where the air meets the lips meets the mouthpiece) is the area of power. There are a few great breathing exercises that get air flowing quite nicely--start with these.

2. RESPONSE: Use mouthpiece buzzing to ensure immediate vibration. This is one area that has made a big difference for me since I've tried it with that specific purpose in mind. I've done mouthpiece buzzing off and on in the past with negligible benefit. After hearing from some players that there really is no point to mouthpiece buzzing because the lips don't actually vibrate the same way when you add the horn, I stopped doing it altogether. I agree--there is no point of buzzing the mouthpiece just to follow a routine, but the benefits (for me) were instantaneous when I began buzzing with the idea of response in mind. Now I buzz a little bit throughout the registers--sometimes tonguing (which was something I never did before, but find very helpful now) sometimes slurring. If I have issues making notes speak as I continue my practice, I stop and try to play the problem passage with the mouthpiece alone. So far, this has always been able to bring my response back where it needs to be and I have hugely reduced the occurrence of "air balls" in my playing.

3. TONE: play beautifully! Play something slowish and really focus on achieving a brilliant sound. Make sure this sound carries through throughout all the registers. And yes, for me that means the pesky high register. In fact, for me that especially refers to the high register. Because that is where I have most trouble, I should make sure to go there in the first 10 minutes of my warm up. That is not to say that I should be screaming out high notes after 5 minutes of buzzing, but that I should use those previous two bricks to facilitate a natural extension of my comfortable range into the upper portions of my range (from concert g on top of the staff to concert c or d above the staff). It is also necessary to make sure you can have a good tone throughout the dynamic range. Can I play a forte low f# followed by a piano high a flat?

4. MOVEMENT: flexibility. This brick is great for connecting things and building strength. Flexibility should be considered both tongued and slurred. It refers to the ability to play lip trills as well as the ability to play a 2 octave scale from low to high c with fluidity and good sound. Can you believe that?! Try thinking of approaching the high range as an issue of flexibility...for me this has moved mountains!

**An important question: Is articulation a separate brick? Are dynamics a separate brick? Is range a separate brick? Or can one effectively multi task during warm up to save time and balance the embouchure? With the amount of stuff I've had to learn since I've been here, multi tasking in my routine has been a lifesaver!!!

5. A good way to round off a warm up/balancing session is to play a lyrical etude or flow study. This is a great way to connect everything you've laid down thus far in the routine.

Other important notes:
*MAKE SURE FUNDAMENTALS ARE COVERED DAILY (scales, arpeggios, clarke's etc.)
*PLAY OFFENSE (get at the issues before they get in the way)
*DON"T SHY AWAY FROM THE HARD STUFF (make a list of everything that is difficult for you and then jump right into that stuff! If you're really bad at coming in on a high note at a soft dynamic practice that...don't waste precious time just playing through everything you can do easily)

And of course, ALWAYS PERFORM. Every time I pick up the horn I should play as though I'm on stage.

Feel free to take or leave anything I've said here. For me personally, keeping these ideas of balance, intelligence, flexibility etc. in mind as I practice has made a big difference. This stuff has been key to (first of all) my very survival at NU, and I've also noticed marked improvements in all aspects of my playing just 2 weeks since that warm-up class took place.

I should say one more thing. REST IS VITAL!!!!!!!!!!!!
Intelligent practice is efficient practice. If you're doing things right, you shouldn't have to spend 6 hours in the practice room per day to get a lot accomplished.
Muscle is not built while you lift weights, but during the down time between work-out sessions.

October 13, 2010

Walking on Water

Today's post is another "WOW LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL SUNRISE" as well as a general question: does anyone know what these people are paddling around on that makes it look as though they're walking (and sitting) on the surface of the water?

I'm pretty sure I wasn't witness to a modern-day miracle (other than the general miracle of existence) and that the thing these people were moving around on has to have a name. From a distance it looked as though they were atop a submerged raft of some kind--but one that is long and lean like a kayak instead of wide and chunky like what you picture Huck and Jim using on the Mississippi.

So anyway, click on each picture for a full screen-size view and let me know if you've heard of or seen something like this before.


October 9, 2010

Finely Decorated Copper Weights

I've been thinking lately that I want to try to get back into doing some engraving. If I keep my "chops" up it might prove to be a beneficial source of income on the side...plus, I just plain enjoy it so much that it would really be a shame to let my talent slip away.

The other day as I was bumming around on the NU website I noticed that there is an instrumentation shop where many task-specific gadgets can be made for labs and other research needs, and where students and faculty can pay to use big scary tools like band saws. "I wonder if they might have some scrap metal hanging around." I thought..."maybe some extra copper or brass that I could use to practice engraving." I know these metals are quite pricey, but of course it never hurts to ask. In the very least I figured they might be able to tell me where I could purchase sheets of copper on my own. I sent an email to the shop's operator and sure enough, he said he had a couple pieces of copper laying around that he'd be happy to give me.

So on Friday after brass choir rehearsal I hopped one of NU's free intercampus shuttles for a ride into downtown Chicago. NU's Chicago campus is where many of the medical school's buildings can be found and I wandered the hallways of one of them searching for the instrumentation shop. I passed through hallways of imposing labs with pictures of brain scans and diagrams of neurons and tumors plastered to the hospital-white walls. I really felt like I was somewhere I shouldn't have been.

Finally I found the shop. It was much smaller than I had imagined and was completely filled with all sorts of scary looking equipment squeezed into a tiny room about the size of my current apartment. I knocked shyly and a man came to the door. After I explained who I was he reached over to a table at the back of the room and handed me two heavy blocks of solid copper--about 12 x 3 x 1 and at least a good 10 pounds each. They were filthy...covered in adhesive residue, tarnished to a dull greenish brown, and significantly scratched up. I thanked him for his generosity and headed back to catch the shuttle back to Evanston...worried that I might appear a little suspicious while awkwardly carrying around such odd cargo.

When I got home I tried polishing up one of the blocks. The tarnish came off fairly well and an initial polishing revealed a brilliant rose-colored surface hiding beneath all the grime, but I decided I'd need to do some serious surface buffing and get rid of as many of the scratches as possible before I could attempt to engrave anything. I went and picked up some fine sand paper and steel wool from Home Depot and then got right back into the business of improving the quality of my canvases. The final result wasn't pristine, but I was pleased enough and eager to dig in!

I started with a really classic design. The copper cut like butter and I was invigorated by the feel of the metal beneath my gravers and the brilliant shine left behind in the lines...

Today I thought I'd try engraving a snake on the other side of the block I'd worked on the previous night. I had ideas about how to make the detail of reptilian scales really shimmer...and my plans ended up working quite well! If you handle the block under a bright light, the shine from the scales gleams in dynamic circular patterns...the movement is mesmerizing...

My plan is to show these to my fellow students here and hope the word starts to gets around that my services as an engraver are available...if anyone is interested that is. I know it can be scary to imagine one's multi-thousand dollar instrument going under the knife, but I'm hoping to continue my practice and be sure enough in my technique that I can convince people that they can trust their horns in my hands.

October 8, 2010

Everything EXCEPT Lake Michigan

Believe it or not, there have been things going on in my life that don't involve worshipping at the shrine of Lake Michigan. Last night Rob drew my attention to the overwhelming dominance of pictures of the lake on my blog and, though all the evidence would point to the contrary, I have been taking (well...a few) photos of other things...promise! So in the spirit of a little healthy variety, I'll post a few of those other photos in today's blog.

I don't think I've even shown you what my little studio apartment looks like. Here is one of its features I appreciate most: having a nice view of trees and classy building facades...rather than of a decrepit alleyway that my neighbors across the hallway are stuck with...

The interior is small, but nice enough. On the other wall I have my keyboard and bookcase and I was standing in the tiny kitchen when I took this photo.

Next up...No! I promise this isn't Lake Michigan!

This lovely pond is located in the center-east area of campus...near L.M....in fact the mini waterfall at the bottom of this photo drains into a short channel leading to its larger neighbor. There is a great little system of walkways surrounding the pond that offer a picturesque stroll connecting the south of end of campus to the north. On one end there's a little overlook where people frequently gather to throw stale bread at its resident population of fish and any waterfowl that might be stopping by for the afternoon. I have no idea what kind of fish these are, but some are enormous!

Sometimes as I walk by I wonder how healthy it is for these creatures to be so dominantly eating old white bread and bits of bagel. I guess most bread products these days are highly enriched with vitamins and minerals, but is overly-processed people food really that good for wild animals? Judging by the size of the fish it's obvious that such a carb-heavy diet isn't exactly inhibiting physical growth...so maybe it's ok...I dunno.

Here is a view of the stage in NU's Pick Staiger concert Hall. This is where NUSO has been rehearsing the Bruckner and where many high-profile concerts by visiting artists are offered throughout the year.

So guess what?! I actually drew a picture the other day! My visual art endeavors have been so few and far between that even completing this little informal sketch felt like a major victory. I did challenge myself to put the central figure facing a different direction than is typical for me (as a right-handed artist, most of my people end up being drawn facing to the left), and I tried positioning her face, arms, and hands in such a way that I'd really have to work to get the angles and perspective right. By the way...for those of you who are occasionally disturbed by my frequent portrayal of female nudes I do apologize, but please understand that I find the body lovely to illustrate and I've made every effort to avoid creating images that could be viewed as pornographic.

Ok, so there ya go! I didn't gush about the lake once!

October 7, 2010

Early Morning Rite of Spring

Following my own personal recipe for "how to build a good day", I once again woke early and walked to school. I didn't start out quite as early as I had yesterday so unfortunately I missed seeing the moment when the sun first peeked above the water, but the view I did get was nearly as satisfying.

While contemplating this glorious orb (using peripheral vision of course) I was reminded of a chapter from Neil DeGrasse Tyson's entertaining assemblage of scientific essays, "Death by Black Hole" entitled: Journey from the Center of the Sun. In it he describes the incredible million-year long journey of a single photon of light from the moment of its birth in a high-speed collision of hydrogen atoms in our star's fiery core to the day it exits at the sun's surface and continues another 8 1/2 minutes to arrive at Earth in order to contribute to my daily dose of vitamin D.

Once a photon is created, it shimmies outward from its source in a seemingly aimless pattern of step-wise motion called "the drunkard's walk". Imagine a hopelessly drunk man who begins taking tipsy-turvey steps beginning at a light post in the middle of town square. If his step pattern is truly random it is most mathematically probable that on average he will actually slowly but surely move away from that light post. If our hero the photon were allowed to travel uninhibited from the center of the sun to its surface, the journey would take only 2.3 seconds, but instead it collides every few billionths of a second with other atoms and electrons. Every one of these crashes redirects its course and additionally creates millions of new photons of various wavelengths to join in the exodus. As I basked in the glowing rays of this morning's sun, I could feel my skin being kissed by billions of old souls...particles of light that began their life when Earth was young and humanity only a glimmer in the eye of our mother Universe.

I arrived at school early in order to warm up for an 8:15 trumpet excerpt class. This week the 5 of us had been assigned to learn Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring". I was on 4th trumpet and though I'm certain that my part was by far the easiest of the 5 (4 trumpet parts with 1 piccolo on top), it had still been a challenge for me to decipher the plethora of quick meter changes and rhythmic puzzles. The class is led by my teacher (Charlie Geyer) who's past experience includes actually playing a full concert of Stravinsky's music in the Chicago Symphony with Stravinsky himself at the helm...though I've heard Maestro Igor's conducting technique left much to be desired, that's still pretty awesome! It was a riot to work on these parts! Professor Geyer always demands the highest attention be paid to details written in the score and was clear enough in his conducting to keep the momentum of the music going and all of us players on our toes.

Past NU trumpet students who've won jobs in orchestras (and there are a lot of them these days) have pointed to their experiences in excerpt class as being a highly valuable resource while they negotiate the first few precarious years of their professional careers. It is a great way to get to know a lot of rep we may not otherwise play in full ensembles and allows us to spend a lot more time on details like section intonation and tightness...details that are expected to be perfected before you sit down in a rehearsal. In addition to excerpt class, I'm playing in orchestral rep class...which has the same mission only it includes the entire wind and brass section.

Lots o' playing...Lots o' fun!

October 6, 2010

Trombone Lesson

I have so much I could talk about today that I don't know where to start. So (as usual) I'll just begin with what is starting to become your daily dose of the lovely Lake Michigan...

Can you believe this sunrise?!

I had to get up at 5:30 today in order to get to school and observe a trombone lesson by 7:00, and because the shuttle doesn't run that early I had to walk. I'm sure trekking a mile at 6:30 a.m. in the cold and dark hefting a trumpet and shoulder bag sounds utterly miserable to many of you, but I was literally weeping with gratitude when I made it over to the lake shore to watch the sunrise. I know...I'm really over the top sometimes in my worshipfulness of nature, but I can't help it. When I started walking, I glimpsed a tiny sliver of a moon beckoning from the east and the beating of my heart rate immediately increased. I began walking more quickly so I'd be able to have at least a good 5 minutes to stand at the lakeshore. In 15 minutes or so I emerged from the neighborhood and basked in the calm splendor of pre dawn.

The air was crisp and fresh and the only sound was the soft murmmer of moving water and a distant humming as the rest of the city started to think about waking. Overwhelming gratitude is the only way for me to describe how I felt just then. Gratitude that I was forced to wake up early so that I'd be able to witness this loveliness. This week in my Art Song class we've been studying Charles Ives and there are a number of his quotes (both serious and funny) that I've really enjoyed. One particularly fitting to this occasion was the simple observation, "To see the sunrise a man has but to get up early." Amen!

When I arrived at Regenstein the sky was really beginning to glow and I stood along the lakeside walkway in rapt attention as the sun's arrival neared...almost afraid to look away for even a second for fear I'd miss a moment's most lustrous congealing of color. Now seriously, have you ever seen a sunrise so glorious?

Finally I had to wake myself up from the reverie so I'd be able to make my lesson appointment in time. Brass players (well, perhaps musicians in general) strongly dislike playing early in the morning (I am an exceptionally unusual case) so when I met Terry (the doctoral student whose lesson I'd be observing for my teaching techniques class) at the entrance to Regenstein I could tell he was less-than excited about having a lesson at such an ungodly hour. Still we said a cheerful "good morning" (which in his australian accent sounds particularly endearing) and waited around for a couple minutes until the building's doors automatically unlocked at the stroke of 7:00. He showed me in to the studio of the infamous trombonist Michael Mulcahy (who, oddly enough, is also from down under) and began getting ready to play.

Mulcahy seemed pleasantly relaxed and began the lesson by asking Terry to copy some simple slurring exercises--a call and response activity just to get the mind, body, and ear engaged. I don't have time to relate the whole lesson to you, but I have to say it was truly fascinating to observe the process of teaching from a no-pressure position and think about why he chose to do and say some of the things he did. He worked a good deal on getting Terry to play with a continuous "pulse of air" and with assured economy: something he loosely defined as "using the simplest form of energy and the clearest form of thought."

Other things he said that I enjoyed:

"Expecting perfection in the practice room is the enemy of allowing for the license you need to find the best way of doing something."


"Frustration is an expression of ego."

Mulcahy has a pretty set weekly-assignment procedure. Each student is to prepare: one scale (a key of his/her choosing) in as many octaves as possible, the regular arpeggios that correspond with chord progressions in that key, and finally, one lyrical and one technical exercise in the same key. I think that standard excerpts are also usually expected, though he never got to those in this lesson. In general I enjoyed seeing what a major part playing with the student served in his teaching. I thought it was a great way to allow the student to relax while simultaneously demanding a high standard of performance. Terry played all the assigned material very well and seemed to benefit from comments made. Always, whenever there was a needed improvement, Mulcahy played along with him to best illustrate the practice tricks, techniques, and exercises he came up with to address difficulties.

All in all it was a rewarding experience that will likely benefit my personal playing in addition to informing my teaching techniques. I am required to attend a total of 10 lessons this quarter and am looking forward to being exposed to a diverse range of teaching on any number of different instruments. The class itself meets once biweekly to discuss our observations...should be cool!

There's a lot more I could tell you about, but it is a gorgeous fall day--likely one of our last--and I want to get some sunshine on my skin before I have to hit the woodshed tonight.

October 5, 2010

Coming in From the Cold

I'm really glad that I caught a beautiful sunrise this morning after spending a night plagued with bad dreams and sudden awakenings.

Last night during my usual phone call with Rob, I got out of bed (the light was still off) and walked over to get some papers out of my school bag. I was all excited about a couple of quotes from Charles Ives I'd found in the readings for my Art Song class and wanted to relate them to Rob over the phone. When I approached my bag I saw a big black thing skittering across the slightly-less-black floor and wailed "Oh NOOOO!" I hurried over to turn on the light and told Rob to hold on...said I had to put the phone down for a minute (I can only imagine what he was thinking at this point). I turned on the light and sure enough, (have you guessed the source of my emergency?) a COCKROACH!!!

I've always heard that if you see one there are bound to be a bunch more hiding out somewhere close by. When I got a good look at the thing--about an inch long, shiny, leggy, and cowering up against the strap of my bag--my heart hit the floor with a thud. Up to last night I had been thrilled that my aptartment building seemed to be pretty bug free and had figured that as long as I kept things at least moderately tidy I wouldn't have much to worry about. Well, I guess those days are over.

I was a total wimp about the whole thing too. I went and got the phone again and whined to Rob, "Eeeeewwww! it's so creepy! What do I do?! This is HORRIBLE!" Rob of course advised me to squish it with a shoe--something he'd had to do a time or two while living in Pasadena. "But it's so big!" I whined back, "It's going to squish all over everything!"
"Yeah, probably will." My ever-supportive boyfriend replied.
"I need you here to do it for me!" I said back.
I hemmed and hawed and eeeewwwed a few more times, but finally got up some nerve and swatted the poor creepy thing with a shoe. Sure enough: quite a disgusting mess...which I then whined and eeeewwwwed about some more.

For the rest of the phone call (and the night) the only thing I could think about was that bug and the further creepiness it could be foreshadowing. It didn't help that after I turned the light off again, the radiator started coming on in the corner for the first time since my arrival. My ears, still unaccustomed to its hissy whine, interpreted the sound at first as an army of angry roaches collecting in the walls and preparing to lay siege on my little one-room dwelling after watching the brutal and heartless murder of their unlucky comrade.

All night my dreams were filled with hoards of creepy crawlies. I woke up several times at the slightest creak or imagined skitter believing I'd turn on the light and see a mass of little black bodies running all over the floor.

And it didn't help that when I eventually woke up to get ready for the day, I went into my bathroom, turned on the light, and found this lovely little thing sidled up next to my toothbrush...

I guess now that some real cold weather has begun to arrive (nighttime temperatures have fallen into the 30s), critters of all shapes and sizes are finding ways to come indoors. I told Rob, "Maybe I should catch one and keep it as a pet...like my black widows...maybe then I wouldn't be so indiscriminately bothered by them." I dunno...maybe...maybe not (shudder!).

October 4, 2010


I know you're all sick of me gushing about Lake Michigan, so I'll make sure this one is really short!!!

This was last night's incredible sunset...as always: facing to the East...

I was standing in a gale of freezing wind when I took this, but I'm glad you all can enjoy the view uncorrupted by such in-your-face midwestern reality.

On Friday morning, I had taken a mid-morning walk around the neighborhood just to get some sun on my face and noticed this incredible arachnid development spun around a large and somewhat ancient-looking light post. I have been meaning to write about the numbers of spiders that exist here, but was waiting until I could get a spectacular pictoral illustration of my observations. So now you might be able to believe me when I tell you there are spiders everywhere! Though fortunately (up to this point) I haven't had any inside my apartment.

In Utah, you encounter spiders here and there if you happen to run into a juniper bush and its resident throng of wolf spiders or reach into a long-neglected cinder block and come face to face with a giant black widow. There are translucent yellow things that climb the walls and spunky little jumpers with iridescent jaws hiding in the grass, and I hear that in places you might get a tarantula in the basement. My least favorite Utah spider has a shiny red body and a gray backside reminiscent of a pussy willow. When I still lived with my parents in a tiny bedroom in the garage I'd get these on my clothes and creeping along the corner between the carpet and the wall all the time. If you look closely, they have enormous black fangs and are easily provoked. Issshhhh! I get the shivers just thinking about them!

Evanston however is crawling with industrious eight-legged critters that build giant intricate webs in profusion decorating everything that will allow for it. If you look up into any outdoor building corner you will see at least one but sometimes a cluster of three or four swollen orange-brown bodies arrayed around an impressive mass of silk. I've seen large circular webs built in between the handlebars of bikes that have been left alone for only one night, and the couple of times I indulged a whim to run my hand over the feathery surfaces of decorative weeds that line the pathway up to the music building, I came out with a hand crawling with teensy creepy crawlers. So far I haven't had any really unpleasant encounters, so I've mostly just enjoyed observing the spider's handiwork.

During one of my visits with Rob in Pasadena, we caught a spider in the act of spinning its giant circular trap near one of the entrances to the Cal Tech campus. It was fascinating to watch the builder's purposeful acrobatics and I wish we'd stuck around to see him (or her) finish the job. I think at the time we imagined it was going to take all night, but when we stopped by again on the way back to our hotel, the masterpiece had been completed.