Practice, practice, practice what you preach

Good morning and happy Saturday! The Albany Gay Men’s Chorus annual spring concert was supposed to be this evening. I am really bummed that it had to be cancelled but considering the state of things, it is for the best. Even if it were perfectly safe to have a large gathering, our rehearsals stopped in spring and there was no feasible way for us to continue to rehearse remotely.

Our last rehearsal was in March, and it was an interesting departure from our usual rehearsal sessions. We gathered at the Shaker Meeting House in Colonie to practice shape note singing with the Sacred Harp group that meets there weekly. Shape note singing and the Sacred Harp tradition is very unique, and my words wouldn’t do it justice, so click on the links and check it out.

Until we were contacted by our director around the beginning of May for our Why We Sing project, I hadn’t been keeping up with any vocal exercises at all. It was a struggle for me to come up with a recording to submit that I wasn’t thoroughly horrified by. I cannot tell you how many times I have sung this song. I know it well, and I rarely need more than a brief refresher with the music to perform it. Most of my struggle (99.9%) was literally me trying to do something…anything knowing that there was a camera recording me. Eventually, I got something that I felt okay about so I sent it in. 

While I haven’t been keeping up with any choral work, I haven’t been letting myself go musically stale either. When I began taking violin lessons and practicing (mostly) daily since then, I knew that improving my music reading skills as part of that would help me in chorus. I didn’t think that I had picked up that much in my time with the chorus, but as it turns out, I picked up more than I thought and that has helped me with the violin too. 

My spinning students all hear me say that learning to spin yarn is like like learning to play a musical instrument, and that it takes practice, practice, practice. I tell them to practice daily, or as close to that as possible. About 20-30 minutes, maximum, increasing the time as they get mote comfortable. Learning something new, especially something that uses your muscles in ways you aren’t used to using them, can cause fatigue pretty quickly. I started out practicing for about 20-30 minutes twice a day, morning and evening, but I typically practice only once a day for about 30 minutes now.

I also tell my spinning students to go easy on themselves. Most adults have forgotten how to be new at something and we criticize ourselves harshly when we don’t pick things up as quickly as we think we should. Building muscle memory takes time. Building competency at something takes time. And building skill at something takes time. Before I began my violin lessons and practice I had to think about what my goals were. They had to be specific and realistic. 

Red = 1st finger position
Yellow = 3rd finger position
Green = 4th finger positions

I don’t know that being able to play without the use of tape to mark finger positions is necessarily specific as a goal, but it is realistic. I have replaced the tape several times since January, and most recently removed the second finger tape as I am now learning high and low second finger positions and have been able to hit those notes relatively accurately. It was difficult at first though, as everything I had practiced up until this point was with the high second finger position, so there was new muscle memory to build. 

My progress has been slow. The dexterity and coordination of my left hand is definitely improving, as are my bowing skills, but it’s my music reading skills that improved most. I have made time for reading a part of but also separate from my hands on playing practice, and spending that time up front is helpful when it comes time to practice playing a piece. It is very much like reading through a knitting pattern before you sit down to cast on a project, which I admit I rarely do. 

We are following the Suzuki method with my lessons. Books 1 through 6 were some of the extras I treated myself too when I got my violin five years ago. There are ten books in the Suzuki violin program, and I am nearing the end of book one after just six months. It will likely be a couple more months before I “finish” it, and it will be a long time before I finish the books I have.  That has not stopped me from venturing outside the Suzuki program, which my teacher has encouraged, and I have found that other resources can help round it out.

Early on, I purchased a good deal of violin sheet music for a number of more contemporary songs that interest me, and I have pulled a few to slowly start practicing in addition to my Suzuki studies. My teacher has paired me with a  practice buddy who is at about the same level with the piano as I am with the violin. Our assignment is to learn Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, but there’s a twist. We have no existing arrangement to work from. We are working it out by ear, which my teacher had started to do with me on Sunday last weekend when we met for some in-person time for the first time since moving to the Zoom app in March for my lessons.

Yep, six months into learning to read music and I am already being challenged to learn to play something without it. It’s a good thing I like challenges, and I expect there will me more as I move forward with this endeavor. Bring them on!

That is all I have for this morning. I am heading outside to enjoy the rest of the morning before this day gets too sweltering hot to do anything but veg on the couch inside with the AC cranking. Have a great weekend, stay safe, and remember to wear your damn mask when you’re out in public and cannot maintain a safe social distance. 

On this day…

Good morning and happy Monday! Yes, happy Monday. It is possible.

It has been a rough couple of weeks as I dealt with my seemingly seasonal insomnia. As the days get longer, I have trouble getting to sleep at night and staying asleep early in the morning as it starts to get light and birds start singing. I hit my breaking point Thursday night/Friday morning and slept all day on Friday. The rest of the weekend and last night were pretty ‘normal’ as far as sleep goes for me, and I feel fantastic now. Continue reading “On this day…”

Fall retreat news and sweater progress

Good morning and happy Saturday! Yes, Saturday. I know what day it is today. That is not necessarily true for much of the last month or so, especially week/work days. They are mostly all a blur.

Today is a special Saturday too. Registration for the third North East Men’s Fall Knitting Retreat opens this morning at 10:00 AM. It is hard not to be nervous about this event considering the Covid-19 pandemic required us to cancel the spring retreat which should be taking place next weekend. Continue reading “Fall retreat news and sweater progress”

It’s been one week since…


If the song is now stuck in your head then this blog post is already a success.

It’s been one week since I deactivated my Facebook account and deleted the app from my phone and my tablet. I don’t miss it. Sure, I miss the puppy pictures and the beautiful fiber work and the other bits of their lives that my friends share. Michael still shows me a lot of stuff from mutual friends that he sees in his account so I do at least still see those puppy pics. Continue reading “It’s been one week since…”

I Love Soap

Good morning and happy Saturday! Got enough toilet paper? Hand sanitizer? What about soap?

It has been years since I have used any of the big name soaps you see on the shelves in the store. Or maybe you don’t see them right now because they are probably selling out now too.

One of the first things I buy at any fiber festival is handmade soap and there are several independent, small scale producers whose soaps I can never resist. If you are familiar with what handmade soaps cost then you’re probably already thinking about how expensive that can be, especially if that’s what I use all the time and it would be.

I will admit that I do supplement my handmade soap purchases with a more affordable commercially produced soap but I will stick to ones that are more naturally/ethically produced and preferably as locally produced as possible.

Continue reading “I Love Soap”

My Winter Hiatus

Good afternoon and happy Sunday! I meant to publish this on Saturday morning but I was struggling with formatting and adding photos. I dislike The new WordPress editor I am forced to use now.


Our long, cold, and dark winter is coming to an end. While the calendar may say spring is still a couple of weeks away, the clock change this weekend is my benchmark. That our weather forecast for the next week has so many days in the 50’s and 60’s is a bonus. Continue reading “My Winter Hiatus”

December to remember

Good morning and Merry Christmas!

December has been a busy month for us, as it is for pretty much everyone. Because of commitments to dog shows and singing with the Albany Gay Men’s Chorus, I had to skip playing Santa for our Pet Pictures With Santa fundraiser for Italian Greyhound Rescue this year. This is the first time I’ve completely misssed this event since I started doing it about 17 years ago. Maybe more. I don’t remember if we were still living in Rensselaer when I started or if we were in the house that we are still living in today. There have been a couple of years that Santa duties were split with someone else, but I still had at least one full weekend of donning the suit. I’m bummed that I misssed it entirely this year, and I hope I will be ble to do at least one weekend next year. Continue reading “December to remember”

Rhinebeck recap, new spinning project, and fun with a pharaoh puppy

Good morning and happy Saturday! Did you go to the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival? I only went on Saturday and primarily for the Men’s Knitting Retreat meetup. In the past I’d have news and updates about the spring and fall retreats at Easton Mountain and that was one of the original reasons for having these meetups. They’ve become less about retreat info and more about the socializing and reconnecting with guys who we may not see at every retreat. Continue reading “Rhinebeck recap, new spinning project, and fun with a pharaoh puppy”

Life after the retreat

Good evening, and happy Sunday!

This past weekend’s Men’s Knitting Retreat was the best yet. At least I think it was, and during our feedback session at the end of the retreat, I heard similar sentiments from some of the retreat regulars. It was a perfect combination of great weather, a great venue, but most of all, great guys.

On Thursday afternoon, the very first day of the retreat, and before it had even officially started, most of the guys had already arrived and had gathered in the main room of the lodge. We had a great mix of retreat veterans including some who were new to this retreat, as well as a few who had never been to any men’s knitting retreat before.
Continue reading “Life after the retreat”

Wrapping it all up

Good evening and happy Autumn! Summer is officially over and I am ready to say goodbye to it. The pool has been closed for a couple of weeks now. It got used a lot this season. We spent a lot of time in the back yard, most of it watching our newest addition, Jade, grow from the cute, floppy, bitey, puppy we brought home in June to the absolutely gorgeous young girl she is today. Continue reading “Wrapping it all up”