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Archive for the ‘Blethering’ Category

My new website is up and running!  www.cynthiakuni.com

I have long worried that my professional site on this platform, which started as a humble blog, has been looking more and more like somebody’s middle school project. I want to thank the endlessly patient tech support people at Bluehost for helping me start fresh.

I will continue to blog here and occasionally share posts on my Facebook page. See you at cynthiakuni.com!

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I miss photo albums. I miss those envelopes with the photos in front and the negatives in back. Sigh.

No, I don’t want to go back to where paper was the only option.  I like deleting with a single key stroke those pictures that make me look fat. I like holding a thousand memories on a single page I can scroll through. I’m talking about a nostalgic feeling for a time when “scroll” meant something about Egyptians.

Years ago I decided that photo albums were for suckers (so overpriced) and started putting pictures in shoebox-like “photo-boxes”, where they subsequently languished.  After my recent move, I vowed to go through my photo boxes and at least make them easier to peruse and enjoy. (That is code for: get them out of the damn envelopes, line them up in those boxes in such a way that they can be flipped through, and put the negatives into storage. Honestly, if I haven’t searched for a negative in 25 years, will I ever?) This process has unearthed some lovely gems, but also a few mysteries.

For example, behold a charming scene featuring myself and my adorable siblings. And on the left side of the photo (all on one piece of card stock)… wtf? Mrs. Rohrbach? Our terrifying school principal?  NOOO!  Why??

photo - family, and ?? mrs rohrbach

Let us move beyond this disturbing apparition to a picture that warms my heart. This is my mother (right) with her niece and best friend, circa 1931. My mother lived with her sister’s family for several years during the Depression. This resulted in her not starving to death.

photo - mom with rena 1931

Never fear. When a photograph begins to pull you down, there is sure to be another that lifts you up. No names. You know who you are:

 

photo - s, t

Ok. Next. Now, who are these people?  My photo boxes are filled with mystery guests like this. Note to the wise: label the backs of your photos; I know you think your children will remember these people but trust me, we don’t.

photo - who are they?

The other thing that fills my photo boxes are these childhood shots that are unbearably sweet.  Before the heartaches, bereavements, and wounds that balance out the exuberance of childhood into that thing we call Maturity, this is who we were and what we had. And that is point of taking photographs in the first place.

photo - cutest babies ever

 

 

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I’m sure I will have bad days ahead, where bears scare me, the septic pump fails, or a tree falls on the chicken coop. But the honeymoon in our new house is sweet indeed!

Running this morning on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail I came across…
IMG_4186

I do believe that is a beaver dam. I have never seen them in Washington, though I knew we had them.

Coming back up my hill I saw my neighbors Peter, Paul & Mary (as I have named them). Mary is hanging back. She’s still shy with me…

IMG_4179

And The Supremes…

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As I ascended up my hill out of the fog, I wondered at the beauty of the sun in the forest. Our forest. Do we really get to live here?
IMG_4191

 

The sign behind Sunny reads “Stewardship Forest.” The previous owners participated in a Federal program that no longer exists, which was to encourage native tree planting on private lands.  They planted over 2,000 trees on this property. Little seedlings that now stand at 4-7 feet among the “second growth” trees.

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WHEN WILL IT END?!? Don’t answer. I know it ends late in September. Regular readers of my blog might recall that I don’t particularly like summer weather.  Of course, I have to write this on the one day (the only day?) this summer which has seen us creep into the 90sF. Wimp.

This morning we awoke to a smokey smell and a warm pool of air, both of which were delivered by overnight express from Eastern Washington. They’ve been on fire over on that side of the Cascade range for the past few weeks, as usual for summer. Now it is nearly my bedtime but we are still in the 80s. (For non-local readers, that is weird. We generally cool off at night.) The thunder clouds are starting to roll in.  Tomorrow is going to be a hot, wet, noisy mess.

Screen shot 2014-08-11 at 8.22.48 PM

Source: Weather.com

 

 

But it is great wedding weather! Well, not tomorrow, but in general the warm sunny days have been a real gift for anyone who wants to play outdoors.

Sunny and I take the stage at the Skagit Highland Games

Sunny and I take the stage at the Skagit Highland Games

What I am doing most outdoors is… cooking!  This is the first summer I have really taken full advantage of our grill, which has a little side burner for whatever needs to be cooked in a pot or pan.  My rule this summer has been: if I cannot cook it outside, I’m not cooking.  IMG_3596

The hardest part has been finding ways to use my CSA vegetables without turning on the stove or oven. Houses get hot enough without steaming broccoli or roasting chickens.

 

Screen shot 2014-07-05 at 5.51.15 PM

Source: City of Snoqualmie

Sorry, that’s not funny.  These poor neighbors of ours had a 4th of July rocket land on their wood shingle roof this summer.  It makes me miss the wet, chilly days even more when I drive by the ruins. It makes me shudder.

Stay cool! Think October! Ok. I’ll think October and you go ahead and enjoy August.

 

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“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” -Love Story (that was a movie, for you younger readers). Well, it’s a ridiculous quote if you ask me. A person you love should be the first in line to receive your mea culpa if one is merited.  Nevertheless, what is unworthy of true love may actually make sense to blogging. So here is my non-apology for radio silence. Good lord, has it really been over 7 months?

 

The joy of my life since January has been… my new dog.  Sunny is a nine year old Border Collie whose former owner passed away.  A dear friend, who owns Sunny’s sister, introduced us and worked diligently to arrange the adoption. Running buddy, house protector, cat wrangler, and affectionate companion… these roles scarcely begin to represent how much he does for me and how deeply I adore him.

This adoption was a perfect example of that bumper sticker that reads “Who rescued who?” (Don’t you just want to get out a marker and add that “m”? Arg!) What a smart, sensitive, and helpful dog he is.  It was only after he had settled into my home and heart before my friend gave me his papers, and we discovered that Sunny is the grandson of a champion Border Collie named Stetson! We have no sheep in our HOA-controlled neighborhood, but Sunny’s smarts and intuition are daily proof of his heritage. It is as if he can read my mind sometimes.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny's bed.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny’s bed.

And now that I have a dog (drum roll please), I feel safe enough to run trails!  So much fun.  The peace and beauty of trails, and their strengthening effect on my legs have been such pleasure.  In spite of TWO bear encounters in the past month, I am as enthusiastic as ever.  It is therapy. It is the anti-treadmill.

 

My greatest accomplishment of my life, the raising and homeschooling of my daughter, is nearly finished.  This past school year (her junior year) has been busy and fulfilling.  If you do not know much about homeschooling, let me just mention that nowadays there are so many people doing it, so much curriculum to choose from, and so many opportunities for educational experiences, that only a part of the business gets done at home.  It really should be called “home-based instruction,” which is in fact what the state of Washington calls it. Yes, we do let our kids out of the house!  (I know that is the number one misconception of homeschooling, the S word.) Anyway, we have one more year to teach, facilitate, guide and support her at home. What a privilege.

 

And in the world of harp… oh my, yes – it is a harp blog. OK. For some reason, I always think this is the least interesting topic that I talk about.  I practice, I perform. I teach a bit.  Not much to say about it all.  I don’t talk about the zen mind required for plucking a perfect harmonic or the best way to make string ties because I can just see my non-harpist audience surfing away.  I don’t blog about my clients or the people I meet, in case it violates their privacy. But perhaps I should make more of an effort to include musical topics. We’ll see.

Nevertheless, since my last foray into Blog Land there has been one important development.  A new harp.

Pilgrim Clarsach

Pilgrim Clarsach

I long to avoid a lot of  blah-blah-blah about the how and the why of getting this new instrument, so I will just say that this is a replacement for my Thormahlen Swan, which is now for sale.  Details upon request. 😉  The new harp, a “Clarsach” made by Pilgrim Harps in England, has a lovely, very Celtic tone, perfect for the Scottish music I play.  This model was originally designed for Derek Bell of the Chieftains, though it has undergone a few minor revisions.

I will be playing this new harp at the Skagit Valley Highland Games on July 12 at 10:25 AM.

I still play at the Black Dog in Snoqualmie every Second Sunday (mostly on my pedal harp, but occasionally on the Celtic harp). That is a brunch performance, 10:30 to noon, and all proceeds still go to Pasado’s Safe Haven Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. I will continue to appear through October, then I plan to take a break from this gig until next spring.

Music I have been working on lately: Medley of tunes from the film Titanic, When You Wish Upon a Star, Glenlivet, Flowers of the Forest, and Beauty and the Beast (for a wedding client).

My great, mysterious challenge and goal for the remainder of 2014: make more YouTube videos of my music! Great, because it would be so helpful for my clients, and mysterious because I cannot figure out why I’m stuck and not doing it!

For now, cheers!

We love those trails!

We love those trails!

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“The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”        

-Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Technically, I am not “supposed to” enjoy the spotlight. I am an introvert.

I used to  berate myself for not being a more glittery and gregarious performer…

Deborah Henson-Conant rocking out as only she can do.

…but all attempts to emulate such a creature were disastrous.  I eventually learned (and am still learning) to be a performer on my own terms, and to love the process of sharing music — which I have always felt driven to do.

I recently compiled a list of performance tips for a harp student of mine who was going to play publicly for the first time.  It started as a very practical list, which you will see below. But even after the lesson was long over, the list of advice kept growing in my mind and becoming increasingly philosophical (as you will also see below).

These tips, advice, and musings that I have collected might be helpful to other students and new performers.  Especially those who have similar temperaments to mine. In other words. Introverts.

It’s not that extroverts are unwelcome here! But I have doubts as to how much value they will find. Extroverts are naturally focused outward, on the world around them, and are likely to feel like their interaction with an audience is natural, easy, and even vital. They might not have much use for advice about connecting the inner life of a quiet mind to performing music publicly.

Still, even extroverts can have issues with public performance. As Susan Cain points out in the aforementioned book Quiet, social anxiety can certainly strike extroverts (e.g.- Barbara Streisand, paralyzed by stage fright). And conversely introverts can be very comfortable in social situations, as I am.

If you are a musician who feels brilliant while playing in your own kitchen, but inept and stiff when confronted by an audience, I hope you will benefit from some of my thoughts.  If you have ever sat down to play your harp for others and felt so disoriented by your audience that you looked at your own instrument and thought, “what the hell is this?” — perhaps my point of view will give you a few insights.

love to play my harp for people. But I do not love to “perform” in the classic sense of “ta da!  here I am! Me me me…” I spent a long time earlier in my life wishing that was me.  I know I am not alone in this. But let’s stop asking Santa for a unicorn and see what else he might have in his bag…

First, some practical advice for harp students and new performers:

1. Detach Experience from Place.

The physical area in which you practice is linked psychologically with the music you have learned in that spot. So a week or a few days before your performance, start moving the harp around to other rooms, other lighting, etc.  Move repeatedly and practice in those different spots. For the sake of self-confidence, move the harp back to your normal spot during your last practice before the performance.

2. Dress rehearsal.

Play for other people before playing for the “target audience.”  Enlist neighbors, close friends, the UPS driver — anyone you can get — to listen to you play a little. If you can do a “test performance” at a nursing home or for a group of friends, do it!   If you really cannot manage that, record yourself.  Hearing yourself on tape or on video will teach you all kinds of things about your weak spots.  And the act of recording will provide a kind of performance pressure that you can use to desensitize yourself.

3. Over prepare.

As a new performer, whatever you intend to present publicly has to be beyond ready.  Introverts especially must over-prepare their music, because we are not wired for external distraction during performance.  Our brains are actually, physically different from those of extroverts. (Read Introvert Advantage for more on this.) Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones, and can “wing it” with pieces that are not rock solid.  But most new performers should not depend on adrenaline or luck to pull them through a weak section.   Do not be like the Dilbert cartoon that shows his Project Timeline with a big sign in the middle reading “Insert miracle here.”

4. “Play like you practice, practice like you play.” – Sports maxim.

If it is an outdoor performance, practice a bit outdoors. A nighttime event, practice at night. Candlelit Christmas Eve service, turn off the lights, get a good stand light, and light some candles. A background music event, turn on the TV and the radio to simulate distraction.  Ask a friend to distract you with an ill-timed question, by pretending to talk about you within earshot, or by singing along.  Practice blocking it all out.

5. Performance day – practical tips.

  • No miniskirts. “Miniskirt” for a harpist is defined as anything above the middle of your shin. Seriously. Either go long or go with pants. You do not want to provide entertainment unrelated to the music, and this is no time to ride side-saddle.
  • Nails short (unless you play wire-strung) and clean.  No nail polish unless you are used to seeing it there when you practice. No jewelry unless you’ve practiced successfully in it.
  • Know the floor you’ll be seeing behind your strings. If it will be white, beige, or color-patterned, or if you are not sure, bring a black cloth to lay down so you can see your strings.
  • Bring a zip lock baggie with a damp (not soaking!) wash cloth to clean your hands between pieces. You may need a dry one too, but something about hand sweat is very sticky when plucking strings, even after drying. It’s nice to have a way to clean your hands during longer sets.
  • Before playing, wash and/or soak your hands in very warm (not hot) water if you can. Many public bathrooms do not provide warm water, so consider bringing some in a thermos. Hands immersed in warm water will respond much like they do to a physical warm up on the harp: capillaries open up, finger feel nimble, skin is softer – producing better tone.
  • If you have to wait on or near a stage (in other words, out where people can see you), use the waiting time to open and close the fingers flat to the palm, slowly and deliberately, to keep them limber.
  • Micropore paper tape: use a small piece to hold rings in place if you have floppy rings. It can also be used to cover small cuts or hang nails if they are not on the string contact spot.

The Mind on Stage

We are artists, but we cannot go look at our paintings on the eve of the gallery opening to reassure ourselves that, indeed, we really do have a lovely body of work.  We see only our own hands, and they are empty. We know our brain is full of music, but the doubts and fears can block our view.  Let us look at some ways to cope with the mental aspects of performing.

In some situations (such as background music performance), you can begin with some improvisation in the key of your first piece as an introduction to the piece. Improvisation helps the mind feel control and a sense of ownership. As a new performer, improvisation can help you avoid feeling like you are walking on stage to take a test, or face an enemy, or fall into deep water. But always practice improvising at home. It sounds like a contradiction: do something completely new, but practice it first. The point is to feel comfortable just “doodling around” on your harp so you can do it in performance.

It is crucial that you practice covering “mistakes” during your regular practice!  If you play a wrong note, or forget to move a pedal or lever, or you just realize you went to the “B” part too soon — it is a normal part of playing live music. We are so accustomed to the perfection of recorded music. But many “takes” and much patching takes place in the studio to clean up every track. The late Lynne Palmer, an extraordinary musician with a career spanning many decades, told me she could count the number of truly perfect performances in her life on one hand. That means she played hundred of times with flaws. And you will too.

How do we live with flaws? By dedicating a certain amount of practice to “covering.” If you always stop and fix mistakes in practice, you will never learn to cover. Use some of your practice every day to consciously, deliberately, continue playing past mistakes, and see what your amazing brain can come up with to get you back on track. 

When you make a mistake, preserve the ongoing rhythm of the piece – do not pause.  Keep playing something! Practice this. It really does come more naturally on stage if you have been doing it at home. Be very aware of your key signature and preserve that tonality.  Identify “repair points” in the music, where you can go if there is a total “train wreck” and you need to just time-warp to another spot.

When I was in a high school play, I had to stand on a ladder back stage and open a window in an artificial wall, facing the audience, and deliver a single line. In true introvert fashion, I opened my window, saw the audience, and went completely blank. Someone taped the play, in which I saw my head flop forward – chin to chest (was I fainting?), then jerk up as I delivered a different line from later in the script. My eyes at that moment looked insane. I have no memory of how I got out of that. I have no memory of thinking or problem solving. That is not how the brain works when it is rescuing you! The answer comes from a place that speaks no words and has no logic. No one wants an experience like this – for years I cringed at the recollection – but if you have such an experience, believe in your brain and trust that it will bail you out somehow.

Let us leave thoughts of train wrecks and fainting and now discuss what will happen, and that which we go forth to do…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  -Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems.

Your music is art-in-the-moment. Why are you there, if not to spend a part of your wild and precious life sharing music? “Well, it seemed like a good idea back in March to play at my sister’s wedding, but now…”  Perhaps you need to reach back and recreate that mindset, that the wedding is in four months, not four minutes.  If you can, this bit of mental gymnastics might calm you considerably.

But as an introvert, I believe the wild and precious moment is also an intimate one. As much as I need my audience to give life to my playing, pulling that harp back onto my shoulder is like putting a call on hold.  They no longer matter, temporarily.

I realize this is not standard protocol, and certainly not how an extrovert would handle an audience.  Advice from that quarter might ask you to view your audience as friends, or as naked — or any number of mental tricks to minimize their distraction. For me, I know after years of experimenting that I must view them not at all. Not once I begin playing.

The second I start thinking about my audience, or how I look to them (“smile!”) — the second my attention strays from the music, I will fall. Skip a beat, miss a note, do something that requires me to dig out my “covering” skills.  So why not just get inside your music and stay there?

“It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.” -Sir Winston Churchill

Resist the urge to think of the next section, or the next song, or even what notes are coming up in a few seconds (unless and only unless that’s how you always practiced it, with the mental experience of looking ahead). Your brain is going to experience the music sequentially, and all your fabulous muscle memory goes straight out the window if you engage in frontal lobe debates over whether the next measure begins on D or D#. Don’t do it! If you have doubts about an upcoming note, follow the music in your head and let your fingers take you there. Think about bowls of fruit or horses in a meadow if you must, but do not question “while the ball is in play.”

Never say “sorry” if you make a mistake. That takes your head out of the music and into the eyes of your audience. I guess if you feel sorry you can apologize mentally to the music itself – anything to stay focused on the music.  For all you know, people may not have even heard the flaw, and if they did it was not the Gong of Judgement that you experienced in your own ears.

To get inside your music, let your imagination conjure up places, images, and feelings as you play. Reach for, express, and be conscious of every color in the music, its dynamics, rhythms, imagery and tones. Do this in practice every day so that performance is not different, only richer.

This has been quite a difficult post to write. I feel a responsibility to convey all that I’ve learned about performing, which is impossible.  If you have further insights, please leave a comment.  And if you want to read my ongoing analysis of how an introvert performs music, I will be creating a new category for blogging about this in the future: “Performance experiences.”

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“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
-Alice in Wonderland.

I have little use for the impossible, being a very practical sort of person. And six is a difficult number when what you are counting might flutter by only every 15 minutes or so, over the course of hours.

So I count Five Beautiful Things sometimes. Mostly, I count them when I am running.  It is a marvelous distraction from ugly things (trash), annoying things (bad drivers, off-leash dogs), and discouraging things (“When will this summer heat ever end?”).

Wow. This really makes me sound like a new-age, lavender scented, dance-in-the-meadows kind of dreamer. Which I am not.  I like to rant and I hold grudges. I get very cranky about all kinds of things. Sometimes I laugh out loud at perverse or dark humor.  (To wit, have you listened to Welcome To Nightvale? It’s Twilight Zone meets Monty Python. So funny. )

But I have a very restless mind, and sometimes it likes the challenge of a counting game.  Moreover, there is a sort possessive urge in me to put things on lists.  For instance, if I list:  mist in a forest, orange tabby cat sitting on a white fence, Mt. Si with new snow, trellis with vines, pink cloud… I feel like I own them in a way.   And dammit, it feels nice. Who couldn’t use a little more Nice in their lives?

Pink Cloud

Number 5, a pink cloud.

UPDATES

Harp at the Black Dog went really well.  Knowing I was playing for a cause energized me and changed the way I was playing.  If you live in the area, I’ll be there every 2nd Sunday, 10:30-noon to raise money for animal rescue and shelter.

Fundraiser at The Black Dog

 

Knitting – Feels like I’m stuck in the mud.  I make progress, but there are too many projects on the needles! (Three cardigans, two pair socks, and a lace shawl.)  Unable (or unwilling) to set some aside and just finish a project, I rotate through them, changing every week.  Never again, Cynthia!  Bad, bad, bad!  Limits and boundaries are your friend! Here it is in writing in case I need to refer back: ONE stockinette project, ONE lace, texture or color-work project, and ONE pair of socks. That’s what I can handle.  Sheesh, what was I thinking?

Running – In spite of the hottest, most humid summer I can remember as a runner, I have stuck to my marathon plan fairly closely. I am not 100% sure that has been a healthy thing to do.  There have been long runs when I really felt ill from the heat but forced myself to finish. I hate that, because I cannot get a good idea of my real fitness when I feel that bad.  My last really long run before Marathon Day is this weekend, then we’ll see in two weeks. I might really be in miserable shape, or I might find it was all an illusion if the weather cools off on race day.

 

 

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I cannot believe it is only the beginning of August.  I think I might wonder at this every year, but it might be like childbirth — you just forget.

With all the lovely grey (no sarcasm – I really like it) that is our Normal Weather, it just seems impossible that a whole month of sunshine was just the beginning of summer, and that we have more to come.  Such weather was also a metaphor for busy times in July…  we have a lot more summer to go!

Here are some photo highlights from the past month….

 

Mt. Rainier from Snoqualmie neighborhood. One clear day after another…. is this my world?

One of many abandoned train tunnels on the Iron Goat Trail. By going both directions on the trail and doubling back, we got 14 miles out of it.

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Mr. K was awesome – though not a runner these days, he jogged-with-walk-breaks the whole 14 miles with me, even after falling and scraping up his elbow and leg. You can see the abrasion in this picture.

 

I enjoyed participating in the “Harper’s Circle” at the Enumclaw Highland Games, the one time/place all month where I actually got cold. (You can see me shivering on the far left in the picture.) It was so much fun that I think I will do more of these next summer (we have several Scottish Highland Games in this area), but I will bring along some good Scottish wool! I had such a cute outfit on too – and had to cover it all with one of my husband’s “emergency sweatshirts” from the back of his car. Sigh.

 

 

In the midst of having family visitors from out of town, we scrambled to get a couple of beds ready for our close friends who live a stone’s throw from the Mt. Si fire that broke out in late July. It was a close call, but they were able to stay in their home after all.

 

 

I brought my smaller harp on a 2 day getaway to The Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort in Leavenworth WA. One of the most peaceful spots on earth.

 

There are two videos up this week on YouTube, and I hope to post more in the next couple of weeks.  Please subscribe to my channel, HarpMyDay, if you would like to see updates.

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I feel like the Grinch in Ron Howard’s movie, wondering if he should go to the Cheermeister festivities: “yes! no! yes! no! yes!no!yes!no!yes!no! –aaarrrgh!”  — as the dog pulls the cord to the chute under Grinch’s feet.   So, at least for now, I’m back in the slippery chute of blogging.  Whether I will survive the Chair of Cheer is yet to be seen.

cheermeister

When last we left our harpist-blogger, she was fed up with the time-sucking vortex of all things Social Media and needed a break.  The thing is, I keep thinking of blog topics, and I miss writing.

Besides the time-sucking thing, there is also a nagging issue in my mind about topics: this is “supposed to be a harp blog.”  I’m afraid it really is destined to be more like a variety show.  So the blog will have to continue to include news about my running, my knitting, the weather, and my endless, strong opinions about food, the economy, children’s rights, and other stuff that very well may piss you off.  Sorry.

Let’s talk about what I’ve been up to.

  • Parenting/homeschooling: It’s awesome, rewarding, worth every minute. I would talk more about this but must respect my daughter’s privacy. (How many of us would have liked our mother to blog every detail of our teenage life? Right.)
  • Running: I am building up my long runs and it is going well. I’m up to 20 miles now, with a goal of 24 before my fall marathon (yes! I’m finally doing another marathon after a 3 year hiatus).
  • Knitting: The sweater drafting experience has been very successful. I’m flying solo now, having completed my lessons and my learning projects.  On the drafting table: yet another plain, British-looking cardigan (can’t have too many). On the needles: 2 pairs of socks, a scarf, a fair isle sweater, and a pullover.  More on these in a future post. 🙂
  • Music: the 2013 Memorization Project is proceeding slowly; I have committed only 3 pieces of my repertoire to memory since January, but they are pretty solid! (Sheep May Safely Graze; Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered; and Ashokan Farewell) There is a Bach Andante that is giving me grief (to memorize), but Dawn (from Pride & Prejudice) is sounding good.  I really hope to make some more YouTube videos this summer. For me filming is a bit like cleaning the garage – so hard, but so rewarding.
  • Also in harp news…

As resurrections go, The Bramble Band does pretty well. This is the now-defunct Scottish Country Dance band in which I met my husband, back in the 80s. Somehow, we manage to pull together enough band members once or twice a year to play for a function.  Last weekend the corpse was revived once again for the Northwest Folklife Festival, in which we played for a dance session.  Someone took this picture of us:

bramble band folklife 2013

To prove that this is an actual resurrection, I would like to point out that you cannot see any clear faces except the ghostly reflection of our pianist on the piano… The stuff of Poe, don’t you think?

With all the music and excitement of the festival, I managed to come home with only one poor photo of… baskets.  I get a bit overwhelmed in big crowds.

baskets

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I do love writing my blog.  But I do not write quickly.  And editing is always a long, long rumination over every sentence before I can bring myself to click “publish.” [Edit note: over 2 hours for this post.]

So rewind if you will to the beginning of the new year, and that magical 24 hour period in which we all make our resolutions.  I love resolutions.  I make them on January 1, on my birthday, at the beginning of September, and just about any other time I think of something that will improve my life. I know that this sort of fanatical self-improvement is not for everyone, but it seems to flood my brain with endorphins.  And I tend to keep my resolutions, unless they become irrelevant.


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Resolutions can be tricky though, since they almost always involve giving something up. Case in point, there is something new I want to do this year (more on that in a moment), and I must give up something else to make time for it.

The glaringly obvious candidate for schedule-pruning was “Computer Time.”  (That’s often the case with me. I don’t watch TV, so computer time is the only thing that seems frivolous to me.)  So on January 1, I applied my discipline to make a new start!  But next thing I knew, I had 30 pages of unread Facebook posts on my feed, and zero new blog posts in 2013.  Great. Now I have guilt.

I am really not sure what the answer is.  Facebook is a hard one, because it has this addictive quality; vows to limit oneself to 10 minutes, for example, don’t usually work out.  But if I ignore it altogether, I miss news about friends and family. I’d like to invent a Facebook Intervention Circuit that will shut down my home’s electricity after 15 minutes on that URL.

My blog is a different sort of problem. There is no way, no hope whatsoever, that I could limit the time it takes for me to post something here. (See first paragraph.)  For a time, I considered writing an official Closing The Blog post and giving it up. There would be no more guilt over the long silences, and besides, I like closure. On reflection, however, I think I’d better just let it live. There will be a place to collect and publish the occasional thoughts, stories, or pictures, even if it is infrequent.

So, what am I taking on in 2013 for which I need more time?  Back in December, my husband (who is also a fine musician) and I had a wonderful discussion about  musicality and the nature of musical performance.  We agreed that the music which one memorizes is usually played with much more expression and sensitivity than the music one performs while reading it off the page, even if the latter is something one has played for years.

I have memorized over 50% of my repertoire, but there are lots of pieces I never planned to memorize because they are so easy to read.  Moreover, I used to be less secure about memorization and liked the idea of keeping that page in front of me.  Did I mention I also have beautiful music stand?

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As so often happens in my marriage, my husband’s insights gave me a lot to think about.  (He is an incredibly smart guy.) I decided to start the long, slow process of memorizing my whole repertoire in 2013 (with the exception of ensemble parts). It goes slowly because I want to really internalize each piece. In some ways it is like relearning them.  Thank goodness I already have so many memorized. I am really looking forward to playing them with a fresh perspective, and hopefully with greater expression and richer musical ideas.

And my second harp goal for 2013 is to make more YouTube videos. Now that I have done it once and the ice is broken, I feel more confident about the whole process.  And speaking of ice…

In weather news, we had the weirdest stretch of cold, winter sunshine I have ever seen. I think it lasted nearly two weeks.  Most of the Puget Sound area was blanketed by fog day after day, but my house was above the fog most days. At night, however, the fog would roll up and lay a fresh layer of frost on everything. Nighttime temps were in the 20s, daytime in the low 30s.  The ice got so bad that I stopped running. Desperate to get my exercise (I will not use the Dreadmill!), I climbed Mt. Si, lifted weights, and even dragged out some of my old step aerobics videos, with the hilarious 80s-90s leotards.

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In places where tall trees blocked the low winter sun, the frost built up so much that it looked just like snow.

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I prefer the real stuff. Less slippery.

Lastly, I just have to share this picture of the Chicken Chess Board I saw this week. Those of you who know me are probably aware of how much I would like to have some chickens if our Homeowners Association would allow it. Alas, I will content myself with all things chicken-themed.

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I got it into my head to make some homemade holiday gifts this year.  Not a complete DIY-Fest, but just a few “supplemental” gifts.  I cannot say what they are just yet, since a few of my readers are on Santa’s list.

But let me just say this: there always seems to be a significant gap between the quality and classiness of the imagined gift…

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…and the actual end product.

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Parents, I would like to urge you to think good and hard about encouraging youngsters to make handmade gifts. Some of us never get it out of our heads that we can produce a treasured object, and even decades later we are foisting our hand-mades on friends, family, our favorite cashier at the grocery store, the UPS man…

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It’s all harmless, I know. But it’s quite time consuming. The time-spent-to-quality-achieved-ratio is way out of whack. And worst of all, we never learn from the past. We go on crafting gifts year after year, leaving a trail of dreadful projects in our wake as we cling to our belief that the next one is really going to shine.

I think the real trouble is The Gift Balance phenomenon.  Even if you are giving a gift that will not be reciprocated, there is a certain equality involved. “You were kind to me this year, so I made you this lovely cake.”  It’s a nobler version of “we’re even.”  A citizen’s take on the Naughty And Nice List.

The problem is that the things I make that are really worth having (i.e. hand-knits) take hours and hours to create.  A pair of socks takes about 25-35 hours, for example. If I stuck to the sure winner, not only would it be impossible to get through my gift list, but my gifts would be overqualified for the job in most cases.

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“Just buy something!” …I know. I assure you I’m not being cheap. My time is my most precious asset.  Unfortunately the training of early childhood, which maintains that homemade gifts contain more love, is deeply ingrained in my holiday consciousness.

Friends, please accept (and forgive) my wonky gifts. Go ahead and throw them away when I’m not looking. But don’t discard the wrapping: my deepest regard and warm wishes for a happy holiday.

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I don’t know how to break this to you if you haven’t already heard.  (Takes a moment to pull herself together…) No. More. Twinkies.

I don’t know about you, but I am seriously concerned about what Americans are going to have for breakfast in the coming days.

My point is, Twinkies are in danger.  Just imagine if people in this country had to give up those 37 magical ingredients and go back to the dark days of eating bacon and eggs?  (During which we had significantly lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity…)

And what is the Twinkies Diet man going to eat?!?

We are all going to have to work to together through this crisis. Surely someone, or perhaps the government, will step up and save the Twinkie.  Shall we nationalize Hostess? With the appointment of a Monsanto VP as the FDA “food safety czar”, we might as well.

The beloved Twinkie, in history…

 

 

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This is a blog post for all the people who have ever asked me how I get up so early, or those who are interested in starting a new morning routine and might find my method useful.

First, let’s get one thing straight. This getting up early is not for the faint hearted. I have no magic method to offer that will make this easy. But I have found a way to get the job done. and that is what I’d like to share.

I am neither a “morning person” nor a “night person.”  I am sleepy when I wake up, and I am sleepy at night.   This whole lark-vs-owl dichotomy really doesn’t work for me.  It doesn’t even seem to matter much if I’m getting lots of sleep. On the rare occasion that I sleep very late, I still hate getting up.

Thanks to coffee, I can be somewhat human in the wee hours, but wouldn’t a true “morning person” just jump out of bed like a puppy?  I’ve read that this sort of instant cheeriness is the sign of a happy life. I disagree. I have a wonderfully happy life, but I never get up that way unless it’s a “special day” (by which I mean, I am to receive presents).

Let’s assume for the moment that both getting up early and going to bed late are inherently painful.  Let’s also assume for just a moment that caffeine is the key to extending one’s day. (I will give a mediocre but workable alternative in a moment.)  Hence, if one wants to get some decent sleep and use caffeine to extend daylight productivity, morning is your best option. I don’t know about you, but any caffeine consumed after about 4 PM is going to seriously mess with my Z’s.

So. Early morning wake ups.  Whether it’s to exercise, get things done before children wake up, study, or get in some extra harp practice, morning is it. I still want to destroy the alarm clock and return to sleep, but if I can get through the first 5-10 minutes, I am good to go.

Without further ado, Cynthia’s wake up routine:

Step 1. The night before… I’m sorry if this is obvious, but you must go to bed on time. Furthermore, you must strive to get 8-9 hours of sleep in a very dark room.  Six or seven might seem normal, but I think for most people it is too little.  Normal is how we are wired, not what our friends and neighbors are doing.  Normal is what we did for millions of years, before electricity.  If you don’t believe me, ask your cat. Sleeping rocks.

Step 2. When the alarm sounds, repeat mantra #1: “Don’t think, just go.”  Thinking and reasoning when one first wakes is a bad idea.  The tips and tricks of a thousand motivational seminars will not trump the strength of your brain’s will to go back to sleep. Recite as many “Reasons for the Importance of Exercise” as you want the night before, if you are like me they will mean nothing  at 5 AM. One must cut off all chatter completely and move forward.  No snooze buttons, no wondering “if I really ought to.”  Just go.

Step 3. Now to mantra #2: “If you can sit up you can get up.”  Just sit up for a bit, either cross legged or with legs over the side of the bed. Don’t linger long enough to undo step 2, but just long enough to get your inner ear balance mechanism to stop contributing to the “better stay horizontal” campaign waging in your brain.

Step 4. “Go to coffee.”  Delay those morning chores, pet care, or whatever may await your attention. Be single minded: go to coffee.  I usually read the news or get dressed while drinking my coffee. Something easy. But beware of step 5!

[Non-caffeine option: cold water on the face, and lots of light.  Be kind to your spouse/partner on this one.  Closed doors between loved one and light, no screaming in horror at the temperature of the water, etc.]  

Step 5. Don’t check your email, Facebook, or messages until after you do what you got up early to do.  “Just a quick check?”  Hahahahahahahahaha.  Ask me how I know.

6. Schedule a day off from early rising every week.  I like to know there is one day a week that I won’t have to get up until my duties absolutely require it.  If I got up early every single day I think I would start feeling deprived and chuck the whole idea.

Good luck with your goals, and I hope you succeed in having some productive morning time.

 

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OK. Two months of sunshine is not that much. But I’m done. I want this to end. I want rain. I want to wear sweaters.

Unless you are a very close friend, you will not hear me talk this way to your face.  “Isn’t it nice out?” “Yep. It’s grand. Let’s grill something!”

I won’t rain on your parade. But this is my blog and I can cry if I want to. So no, it’s not nice out. It’s bloody hot and dry and if I liked it so much I would live in California.

Sorry. Little tantrum. But evidently Mother Nature is on my side. In fact, she is burning up about this.  Literally. 

In this picture, taken last week, we see the smoke beginning to flow in from the east. The 100+ wildfires on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains were sparked by lightening on September 8 and the smoke just keeps on coming.

Clouds of smoke, from fires far away

In the count-your-blessings department, at least my back yard is not on fire.  But can we please have a bit of rain soon?

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Today is the day I sort through pictures, finish up laundry, and get things back in order all over the house.  I have had the kind of month you would never want to repeat if you knew how crazy it would get, but I’d never want to give up the memories I have. Wonderful, lasting memories…

For example, during a day hike at Twin Falls with my visiting family we came across this little guy. (His little high-tops and goggles are worn for medical purposes.)   How cute is that?

I had the privilege of playing for the wedding of a young lady I’ve known since she was a little girl. (Excuse me a minute while I go get a tissue.)

I played, I worked, I hosted, I visited, and my beloved Schedule (I’m that kind of person) went totally out the window.  On one day, I fit in a four mile run, a practice session, a few hours at the Boeing Classic and a somewhat rushed visit to a quilt show. In my world, this is the definition of crazy.

An incredible example of “thread painting” on a quilt.

In the midst of the insanity, I seriously considered becoming an alcoholic, but I didn’t have time. And I rather like my liver.

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The cricket-chirping punctuated silence you’ve been hearing (i.e. me not blogging) does not indicate illness, a dislike of WordPress, or a move to New Zealand.  I’ve just been extremely busy.

Never mind that it is the height of wedding season.  I also have preparation for out of town guests, everything in the garden going crazy,  and a flurry of household related obligations – none of which really would take very long on its own, but all together they sing at me like an out-of-tune chorus of second graders.

Whining. Sorry.

So, instead of having to be bothered putting together a coherent and interesting post, please allow me to just sputter out some random thoughts and observations before I get back to work.

RANDOM, it’s the new Methodical

Watching my daughter pick out frames made me smile. Until we got the bill.

 

This scene, at the school district office, startled me. “Learning Annex” and barbed wire… I don’t know whether to be sad or horrified.

 

Pilot lets me know when I’m not giving him enough attention.  Notice how considerate he is to avoid the harp fingers.

 

 

I am pleased to report that I have joined stock.xchng to get some higher quality photography into my blog.  Readers will still see my iPhone camera views of the world, but now interspersed with the works of “real” photographers. (See also, my thoughts on photography, here.)

Sunburst in cloudy sky by Andreas Krappweis

 

And my final random thought…  The difference between “I am enjoying summer,” and “I am enjoying my summer,” is subtle but significant.  The former is something I don’t think I will ever say; it’s too hot, it’s too bright, and I prefer fog, crackling fires, sweaters, etc. The latter is more a frame of mind, and an attitude about life in general.  I am enjoying my summer. I will enjoy, be productive, appreciate fresh tomatoes, stay hydrated, and be happy for my friends who adore this season. Still, I will be glad to see October.

 

 

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While others may dream of visiting Paris or Greece, I have a crush on New Zealand. Generally speaking, I’m not a big travel fan. I love where I live, and I love being at home. I’m boring that way.

But New Zealand…  I might even pack up and move there sight unseen if I was the impetuous type (I’m not), and if it wasn’t for that whole Christmas-is-in-summer thing.  That’s a deal breaker for sure.

Still, I cannot help thinking we were made for each other…   Wanted: Single, English-speaking country with more sheep than people. Must have skiing, lots of ocean beaches, rich history in distance running, year-round temperate weather, marine mammals, a strong Paleo Diet community, a lack of propensity for invading and bombing other people’s countries, appreciation for harps, and a good sense of humor.  

If only that Christmas thing hadn’t come between us.

In weather news…  

Good heavens, look at this cloud over the Cascades!  Hang on, Dorothy!  I see that Cliff Mass (my favorite weather blog) wrote a post on it.

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Once again, my hopes of living in a perfect, risk-free world are dashed.  Recent events have confirmed that I am not, precisely speaking, safe when I go out running.

We were watching a documentary about lions, one scene of which showed this poor African guy’s scars from a lion attack.  I thought, “Wow, good thing we don’t live there!”  That’s when the Great Cosmic Whap of Truth hit me in the head.  “Cougars” =  “Mountain Lions.”  Mountain Lions.   

Now, you can tell me over and over how few people in the US have been attacked (“and even fewer killed!” – big smile) by cougars in the past 50 years, or 100 years, or whatever little statistic you want to trot out.  But I’m not buying it.

Do not feed on runners, lion!

Here is my logic. Cougars like to chase down stuff that runs.  I run.  I run where cougars have been sighted.

At a wildlife lecture a few years back, a cougar specialist explained that if you have spent a fair amount of time hiking, biking or running in the woods around here, even if you’ve never seen a cougar, you “can be sure a cougar has seen you.”  I still get chills up my spine at the memory of his slide show, where we were repeatedly challenged to “find the cougar” in the photo of seemingly deserted woods. No one could, until he pointed it out, hiding, watching, staring into the camera.

At Northwest Trek, a marker high up on a tree shows the point from which a cougar can jump down on prey. It was damn high, certainly out of my peripheral vision range.

And then there is The Snoqualmie Bear Problem.  At a community meeting I attended last week, the main message was about garbage being left out, and about the new law where you can get a ticket for “unintentional feeding” of bears.  If I am found lying half-eaten on the trail, I hope they will let me off with just a warning.

Actually I’m not as frightened of the bears as I am of the lions, but I have had some close encounters.  Early one morning while running, I was about to enter a narrow, public pathway that cuts between two houses and leads into a little greenbelt. A very nice lady with a towel on her head came out of her house and yelled, “Don’t go in there! There is a bear!”  Ah. That would explain the garbage strewn all over the street.

The poo of Pooh.

Since bears cannot hide as well as cougars, and cannot jump down on me from the highest branch of a Douglas Fir, I tend to be a little less nervous about them. But I do think about them a lot, especially in winter when I’m running in the dark, early mornings.  I always look for trash cans overturned and listen for rustling in the bushes.  If I’m on a trail, I notice droppings and I keep my ears open.

Speaking of early mornings, I have a request.  Please don’t get behind the wheel of a car while you are still asleep.  I’m “only human” too, and I am sure I’ve been a crappy driver on more than one occasion, so I’ll try to make this civil…  Just because it’s dark-o-clock-early and you feel like you are alone on the road, there are actually other people using this asphalt.  See those miniature people lined up on the corner? Those are called “school children waiting for the bus” and here come some more, trying to cross in front of your speeding car in a 20 mph zone.

Now, listen carefully, because this part seems to be really hard for most drivers to understand…  When you turn right, it’s not enough to stop at that stop sign and look to your left.  I know, I know – what could possibly be coming from the right?  Well, me, actually.  Over the years, I could have been hit by cars at least a dozen times because of the nothing-could-possibly-come-from-the-right syndrome.  But fortunately, when I go out, I am awake.

It turns out that after all my fears and precautions, one of the most immediate dangers I face is: my own feet. This past weekend, after getting through fifteen miles without being attacked, eaten, or hit by a car,  I caught my toe on a bump in the sidewalk, just two blocks from home, and went down.  So, no risk-free world after all.

Snoqualmie Valley Trail

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His name is Pilot. He attacks the vacuum cleaner. He greets guests at the front door. He comes running if there are loud noises. He loves dogs. He loves a party.

He is…A Bengal Cat.

Bengals are a relatively new breed (1986). Although they look exotic, most of them are quite domestic in personality, to the point of being dog-like.  Pilot will actually fetch and return a nerf ball, but only his favorite pink one these days.

When friends, clients, or workmen come to the house, Pilot is the cat that they see (the others will be hiding under the bed), and inevitably they want to know all about him.  For one thing, he is gorgeous. (Don’t you think so?)  But his friendliness also amazes people. There is no better way to put it: he is an extrovert.  The more the merrier.  What you smell like, what you are doing, where you are going, what are you holding there in your hand — Pilot thinks all these are his business. And just to test you every now and then to see if you might feel like playing, he will jump out of the shadows, briefly wrap his front paws around your leg (claws retracted of course) and then run off in that sort of sideways run that kittens do, with his tail in a question mark. In fact, Bengals tend to remain as playful as kittens for most of their lives.

Before you fall in love with Bengals, consider carefully whether you have a lifestyle that will accommodate these little extroverts.  I work from home, so adding Pilot to our family made us all happy. He is a perfect pet for a harpist. True, I have to be very careful about not leaving my instrument standing with its canvas harp cover on.  He will climb it. “Yay! You brought me a tree!”

As much as we play with him, Pilot will get into a lot of trouble if he is bored or wants to remind us that it’s his dinner time. We used to leave water glasses out on the counter top, until Pilot figured out how to push them over with his paw and watch the water run onto the floor. (Did I mention how much Bengals like water?) He never broke a glass though; I call that talent.

You can baby-proof a home, but you cannot Bengal-proof one.  You have no idea what they will get into or onto.  Like, licking the furniture. Seriously, Pilot? I have no idea why he does that, but the grandfather clock is his favorite.  Or pushing nicknacks off shelves. Or repeatedly leaping up to dislodge a map off the wall. (Only that map, not the other pictures on the wall.)  Interestingly, he has never messed with my knitting.  Probably too pedestrian (“that is SO normal cat”).

But beware of bringing a Bengal home if no one is going to be around most of the day.  A bored Bengal is not a nice Bengal. I have heard enough dark tales about Bengals that were left home alone every day to know that the consequences go far beyond physical messes. Bengals need to run, chase and be chased, explore, climb, and most of all, be near you and be a part of your life.  To be left alone is like torture for most Bengals. The people who get Bengals only for their exotic good looks and then leave them all day lose the best Bengal trait: their sweet and friendly nature.  From what I hear, it is like the wild ancestor takes over and you are suddenly living with a bobcat. Distant, mistrustful, and destructive.

Sigh.

The way I look at it, good Bengals are like friends: you have to earn them.  But the rewards are priceless.

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My mother had a “darkroom.”  [Note to the young: people used to take rolls of “film” (plastic stuff inside the camera) into these dark rooms, and do something or other with trays of chemicals and paper coated with magical silver stuff,  and come out with pictures.]  We kids could get in BIG trouble if we barged in there during the few precious moments my mother had to devote to her hobby, especially if the Mysterious Red Light was on.

When I was 8 or 9, I realized that not all mommies made their own photographs. Amazing. Once or twice I was allowed to come in and watch her work the magical alchemy.  Absolutely amazing.

I am still easily amazed by the world of photography. The door to the darkroom remains intimidatingly closed for me, not only because I have quite enough to do but because really good cameras always seem complicated in a way that makes me want to go have a nap.

I’ll stick with my iPhone camera, thank you very much.  But for a couple of bucks at the iTunes app store this week, I got to feel pretty clever as a photographer. The app I bought is called True HDR.

My clever husband, who knows what all the buttons on his camera do, tells me that “HDR” is a technology that was invented to capture the light of stained glass cathedral windows without diminishment of the interior features of the cathedral. The idea is to merge multiple exposures into a single image that is uniformly colorful and well lit.

This is as technical as this review is going to get if I’m to avoid undue napping…  First you pick a subject that will hold very still, and you try to do the same. When you click the shutter, the app is going to take three exposures and it takes a while (so hold still!).  Then you hit “merge” and wait some more. Then you will see a screen with little slide-y bars that enable you to adjust the look. (This is the part where you can give photos that antique, “hand tinted” look if you want.)

And voila! You hit “Save,” sit back, and feel downright smug.  Well, I do.  I mean really, all my life I have photographed beautiful scenes, only to come home and find that my flat, boring pictures totally betray the memory of what I saw when I took them.  I always assumed that’s what you get for not using a decent camera.  But Technology has finally rewarded my simplicity!

 Behold, “Stratocumulus Avec Les Arbres,” with and without HDR:

The color in this particular HDR image is a little over the top, but I feel clever just the same.

-Cynthia

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