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Although I have not written in my blog in the longest period of time since I started it a couple of years ago, I read my usual list of other people’s blogs daily. It’s part of my morning routine.

I have had flashes all summer of feeling like life is passing me by without documentation, while my blog-mates are busily recording their day-to-day existences to share with the masses.

However, I have been handwriting my journal almost every day since I arrived in the San Francisco Bay area on May 17th. My penmanship, once admired by the recipients of my profuse handwritten letters “back in the day” before computers, became rusty from disuse over the years of clacking away at the keyboard.

In these cyber times, it seems that many people have forgotten about handwritten letters or journals.

This summer, it has been very satisfying for me to revive and refine my handwriting after all these dormant years, penning my journal. I started writing at age fourteen and continued writing in that mode until I was in college, when I switched to typewriters of various sorts. Then I kept a journal on the computer.

Handwriting a journal feels so personal. Of course I don’t get any comments because no one else reads my entries except for me. This is okay.

I celebrate the fact that my penmanship is gradually coming back. I am beginning to love it again. My third-grade teacher instilled in me the beauty of handwriting at age nine. She had the best hand.

I am starting to feel less stilted in my handwriting, having to form my thoughts complete before setting them down, without the benefit of computer editing. It is improving with each page that I scrawl out.

Sometimes my handwriting is VERY jerky on the fast-moving train!

I write on the BART train every day on the way to my various music gigs, and then again on the way home.

It is a good release for me to write down my private thoughts.

I write mostly about work and the freelance scene of musicians here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a very different world than the peaceful, idyllic life that James and I live in The Woods, where we do not interact with very many people.

I do not play in any musical organizations when I live in The Woods. So I have to go other places — big metropolitan areas — to work. Most freelance musicians have to settle in such places in order to make a living.

For me these days, the San Francisco bay area is the “happening” place work-wise. James & I are very fortunate to be able to travel in our Airstream trailer to wherever my musical employment is.

Right now it’s in the City by the Bay.

The freelance musical scene here is a curious combination of comeraderie and competition. It is an extended network of classically trained musicians, scattered throughout the Bay area, highly qualified in their field. We are all vying for the same gigs. It is a tight-knit, friendly group of people from their mid-twenties fresh out of music schools to musicians in their seventies, playing in orchestras all over the area.

Everyone keeps the pulse of “who’s hiring who” and why aren’t they being hired any more for this gig or the other? Buzz…buzz…buzz…it’s very incestuous. Yet, almost everyone accepts the vagaries of the music business and manages to remain cordial with each other.

It is amazing, really. An exclusive club of musicians trying to make a living from their craft.

I am currently playing the two-week Midsummer Mozart festival. We play in four different concert venues around the Bay area each week. When this is over at the end of next week, James & I will finally be able to return home to our beloved Woods!

Until a few days ago, we had parked our Airstream on the front row of RVs closest to the beach. But we got tired of the constant shifts of energy as short-term neighbors were replaced by new ones. There were some good folks, but our most recent parade of neighbors was extremely invasive and obnoxious.

This finally pushed us into changing lots, to one “in the corner in the back in the dark”, as James puts it. It’s in the line of RVs furthest from the beach. We’re on the end, so there are no neighbors on the left side. The neighbor in the rig on our right is hardly ever there (I’ve never seen him) so it is very peaceful.

Here are some pictures of our life right on the beach, ending with our present location.

Dog Ringo loves the RV park because of the numerous dog smells here. Highly stimulating!

One of the advantages of having a lot right on the beach was that we had our own little “back yard” facing the ocean. This view looks south towards the Pacifica pier.

This view looks north towards San Francisco and Marin.

On my rare nights off, we would have cocktails and watch the sunset. It’s almost always cool by the shore, so we have to bundle up!

James doing his Kenny of South Park imitation:

This is the shot that EVERYBODY takes of the beach at sunset. If you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all!

My attempt at being artsy with one of our bicycles:

I did enjoy our time on the front line closest to the water, but looked forward to moving to a quieter location.

It was a relatively quick and simple operation to move the trailer to this back lot, last Saturday, July 18, 2009.

It’s wonderful to open the windows on the side with the bushes and see a canopy of greenery instead of a rig parked only a scant few feet away.

Whenever I’m on the road, time distorts. It either goes by in a flash or seems to stand still.

Or both.

Looking back on the past five weeks, there’s really not a whole lot to write about. Yet, I’ve been very busy.

Eight shows a week is a relentless schedule, especially when half of them occur in only two days, over the weekends.

It is a predictable work routine which I am very comfortable with. Although demanding, I know what to expect. After many years of doing it, I have learned how to pace myself.

I am amused (and gratified) to see how my father’s strong work ethic manifests in my nature. Over the past two years of on-and-off employment, I seem to be happiest when I am working.

As a musician, this means playing. My work is my play and my play is my work!

Lately, it feels good to bring home a paycheck every week too. I’ve been fortunate to sub with Phantom for a few weeks, literally here and there, over the past year.

Here’s a shot of me playing the harp with Ringo and Rupert providing an ever-appreciative audience:

I am now down to my last five days (and seven shows) in Hartford CT. This is the second week of the run here; James and I arrived on April 21st.

I still have a hard time believing that I’m all the way across the country! This is a BIG piece of dirt.

We left the Airstream at the RV park in Kansas City because the northeastern part of the country is not very RV-friendly; there are very few places to park.

So we’ve brought just the truck the 1200 miles to the East Coast, and are staying in a Residence Inn just north of downtown Hartford. In fact, we stayed at this place the last time Phantom played here, back in early 2002.

Thankfully, the dog and cat are good travelers and good sports. They’re doing fine!

We stopped in Delaware on our way to Hartford to visit briefly with our dear friends Caroline and Peter, who had flown from England to stay with their family who moved to the States. It was wonderful to see them, even if for only a few hours.

Backtracking: our three weeks in Kansas City were pleasant; it’s always nicer to stay in our own little space, the tastefully and artistically decorated vintage Airstream. It’s a very comfortable environment, and works well for us.

It was also nice to be able to spend time with our good friends Jerry and Judy. It had been several years since we’d seen them, and we always have a good time together.

This usually involves visiting Kansas City’s fine art galleries, seeing movies, and eating at various restaurants, including KC’s famous barbeque. (Yes, we’re 99% vegan, ha ha!)

Jerry is an enthusiast of the French horn and has a large collection of instruments, hanging from bicycle hooks in his basement. In fact, we originally met in 2000 when Jerry found out that I was selling a horn. We became fast friends.

It’s always fun to play on his instruments, and Jerry often invites other area horn players to his house to play ensemble music when I’m in town. I was particularly gratified that the horn section of the Kansas City Symphony came one afternoon to play through my new horn quintet. They sounded great on it and were very complimentary.

One of the other players at this fun gathering commented that my piece should be in the standard horn ensemble repertoire. High praise, indeed!

This has inspired me to finish the other two movements. Until this latest flurry of activity to finish the first movement of the horn quintet in Kansas City, it has been a long time since I’ve composed any music for horn; all of my energies have been devoted to writing for recorder ensembles.

When we left California on March 27th, Spring had arrived a couple weeks earlier. In Kansas City, the season was just starting to manifest with little buds on the trees and slightly higher temperatures. Three weeks later on our two-day trip to Hartford, we discovered that Spring’s clock was turned back yet again a couple of weeks.

Until a few days ago, when the temperatures soared into the 90s. Crazy!

This morning it is a more seasonable 57 degrees, and the weather is expected to continue cooler through the remaining five days that we are here.

Today I am busy editing video footage that I took on our trip from California to Kansas City. When I finish doing that, I will finally post!

(Later: The total footage was too long to put into one video, so it’s in two parts.)

Greetings from Kansas City!

I am here to play three weeks of Phantom. Then on April 20th, James and I will drive to Hartford, CT to play two weeks of the show there.

We look forward to visiting friends in New York City, Boston and Nashville after my five weeks of Phantom work are concluded on May 3rd. We should arrive back home in the Woods sometime during the second week of May.

We are staying in the Airstream trailer at an RV park in Merriam, just south of downtown Kansas City. We have parked here several times before; once with the show in 2001 and other times just passing through. This central location is a convenient stopping-place.

It is so good to be out of the car finally, after three long ten-hour days of driving to get here. On our return home we have decided to take four days to get back to California from Kansas City, which will be less wear and tear on our bodies.

Since my previous post, Winter has receded in the Woods, but it is not quite Spring yet up in the mountains.

The snow melted during the last week of February. The run-off from the higher mountains created a large amount of water rushing down the Yuba River. James and I awoke on the morning of the 24th to the sound of the river, which was positively roaring!

In the month since then, the signs of Spring have been subtle. The new season will intensify while we are gone, culminating in an explosion of lupin and bachelor buttons in the meadow by the time we return in mid-May. We can hardly wait!

In late February I took this picture of ladybugs (breeding?) on a holly bush close to the back porch.

A couple of weeks later, I checked the bush again:

In mid-March, temperatures crept up into the upper 60s during the day. James brought out the patio furniture which we installed on the back porch, and we enjoyed several lunches out there until it got cold again.

Springtime means that we can dry our clothes out on the line rather than in the Music Room (we don’t own a dryer). There’s nothing like the smell of sun-dried clothes!

Cat Rupert enjoys being outside more now that the snow has melted.

The only patch of snow which remained on March 13th was on the north side of the Music Room where the sun does not shine.

You can see the chimney which had fallen after the first heavy snowstorm in December. We didn’t hook up the new woodstove this Winter, as staying warm in the Airstream was much easier.

In my next post (which I will put up soon, I promise!) I will describe our current life in Kansas City, so very different from the one we have in the Woods.

Over the past month, James and I have lived at the beach in Pacifica, the central valley in Sacramento, back at our home in the mountains, and NOW, in the completely different vibe of LA-LA land.

Backtracking…

The Beach
We spent the first day of 2009 with my cousin S. She lives in a quaint fisherman’s cottage, a stone’s-throw from Half Moon Bay.

It was a gorgeous noon, sunny and mild. We walked along the water along with many other beach wanderers and enjoyed the springlike weather, and laughed at S.’s two dogs frolicking with the crowd and other canines.

Here’s a shot of a little Australian boy who was perfect for the camera:

I’ve very much enjoyed reconnecting with my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in thirty years.

We had been very close as kids, since S. lived in San Francisco and I was in Sacramento, and our families would get together several times a year.

In high school I moved to the East coast and I didn’t see S. again until after I’d graduated, when I visited the West coast. Then we went off to our respective music conservatories (Cincinnati, Baltimore) during our college years.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen S. since she was in Baltimore, at the end of 1978. I was in the city for an audition with the orchestra, and stayed with my cousin and her college roommates in a big, rambling house that they rented. (I was playing in the Nashville Symphony at the time.)

Working in the San Francisco bay area for six weeks during the holidays provided me with a chance to connect with a few friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen in years. But the show schedule is always relentless and it was challenging to set aside little chunks of free time to see people.

I’m glad that S. and I found time to visit on two occasions during my sojourn in the Bay area. I look forward to having her come visit us in the Woods when the weather warms up.

Here are some shots taken during our stay at the San Francisco RV resort in Pacifica:

I faced away from the beach as I took this picture on the night of a Full Moon:

The view towards the ocean:

Early on in our visit, I had James take this shot of Ringo and me:

Rupert trying out his new scratching post:

It was challenging to practice horn in the small space of the trailer. I used a mute to dampen the sound.

Whenever James and I walked a few blocks to the grocery store with Ringo, I stayed outside with the dog while James went inside to shop. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the passerby, many of whom smiled at Ringo and often stopped to chat. Having a dog is a good way to meet people!

I finished the very successful Phantom run in San Francisco on January 4th, then had a rehearsal with the Modesto Symphony (in the central valley) the next evening. James and I made the two-hour drive there and back the same day, arriving back in Pacifica at midnight.

We decided to stay at the beach a couple more days, to allow the road conditions to further improve at home in the Woods. We didn’t want to repeat the disaster of getting stuck as we had on our previous visit! Every mild day that passed would increase our chances of being able to get our trailer back up the hill and parked in front of our barn.

The Valley
We left the beach on the 7th and went to Sacramento (on the way home) to see our family. We had regretted missing them at Christmas and looked forward to spending time with my brother, his wife and my niece and nephew. The latter was home from music school in Boston and I was anxious to hear about his first months there. He’s maturing so quickly!

Originally we had planned to spend only a few days in Sacramento, staying in our Airstream parked in the family driveway, and then venture on up the hill for home.

But a drive up to the Woods for a brief exploratory visit that weekend convinced us to wait another few days, as that last steep dirt road to our place (where we had gotten stuck just before Christmas) was still covered with ice and snow. Nearly a foot of snow continued to blanket the meadow and area around the barn, which doesn’t get much sun this time of year. It would be very difficult to back the trailer over that slippery mess. It was best to wait a few more days.

So it was fine to go back down to the valley to hang out with the family, and had a lovely visit. There were many excellent meals alternately prepared by my sister-in-law and James, while my brother is a master at the barbeque grill.

My niece and nephew, home from college on break, had a steady stream of their friends in and out of the house. The place was very much enlivened by their presence and we all enjoyed each other’s company, an extended family. There were several meals in which we managed to fit ten people around the huge round table in the diningroom. What fun!

James and I both preferred staying in our Airstream in the driveway rather than in the guest house as we usually do when we visit the family in Sacramento, because it’s our own familiar, intimate space. It also minimized the hectic atmosphere in the main house, at least a little bit.

My father designed and built this adobe brick house in 1952, and it is amazing that it continues to be the family home.

The weather in Sacramento was unseasonably sunny and warm for January. The standard winter day there usually entails fog and cool temperatures. We were very thankful that the weather was so nice while we were there, although the region desperately needs rain.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country suffered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Living in California can feel like being on another planet, in more ways than one! (Especially in the southern portion of the state, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

The Woods
We finally took our leave of the family in Sacramento on the 18th, and towed the Airstream back up to our home in the Woods. There were a few slippery sections on the steep dirt road where it was shady, but not enough to pose a serious problem.

However, there was still quite a bit of ice and snow in front of the barn where we wanted to park the trailer.

The truck’s wheels spun on the ice as we tried to back up the rig to level it properly. We spent the next hour-and-a-half trying to move it a few inches. We finally thought of putting tire doormats under the truck’s back wheels, which helped.

A neighbor happened to pass by and he suggested that we put a series of boards under the trailer wheels rather than try to back it up on the large metal chocks, which we usually use to level the trailer on uneven ground.

This worked! The trailer was finally level, on a combination of snow, ice and mud.

Besplattered with mud from head to toe, we thanked the neighbor and James filled the Airstream’s water tank directly from the well so that we could have running water inside. He needed to replace the pipes by the pump and by the faucet in the barn that had burst in our absence.

It was so nice to be home!

The peace and quiet. The lovely views of evergreens and mountains.

Temperatures were mild all last week and the snow and ice gradually receded, helped along by much-needed rain for several days. The trailer needed to be leveled again as the ice melted.

Here is a shot of the snow behind the barn, near the meadow. This area doesn’t get much sunshine during the winter as the sun dips behind the mountain in early afternoon. As you can see, there was still plenty of snow even a month after the storm:

It was quite different to live in the trailer rather than in the Music Room as we had done last year. The Airstream is so much easier to heat! James had basically spent three months last winter tending the woodstove, so we wanted to see what it was like to spend the winter in the trailer this time. As we had lived in it full-time since before Thanksgiving anyway, it was a very familiar, comfortable feeling to be in that small, cozy space.

We still need to install the new woodstove in the Music Room. Meanwhile, we are using a combination of kerosene heater and small portable electric heater, which warms up the large room quite adequately during my horn practicing sessions.

I needed to keep in strong playing shape for my upcoming stint on Principal horn in Phantom in Los Angeles this week. I prefer playing the horn in the Music Room rather than in the small confines of the trailer. Brass instruments like a lot of space!

It was also nice to play my three harps again. I had to devote quite a bit of time tuning them, as the cold temperatures had changed the strings’ pitch, and a couple of strings had snapped.

It always amazes me how musical instruments feel “dead” when they haven’t been played in a while, and how they magically come alive when they are played.

Of course, our dog Ringo loves the Woods. The wolf part in him definitely comes out as we walk the trails. It was nice not to have to pick up his poop as we did at the RV park at the beach, and he was much more calm not having to sniff the traces of numerous other dogs.

The week went by in a pleasant blur. Neither of us wanted to leave our beautiful slice of heaven on Sunday, but duty called! We needed to get to Los Angeles for my week of Phantom.

We woke up on Sunday morning to find three inches of new snow on the ground! And it was still snowing heavily at 9:30 a.m.

We had intended to leave the Woods in late afternoon, but decided to get the heck out of there immediately, before the roads became difficult to navigate.

So we threw a minimum of things together and packed them into the car, along with the dog and cat, and managed to escape just in time.

It amazed me that only twenty miles down the hill, there was no snow whatsoever in Nevada City.

We spent the day at my brother’s house in Sacramento, and stayed overnight. Although the kids are back at college, one of my nephew’s friends is staying in the guest-house and the five of us had an enjoyable dinner together at the Big house.

We left Sacramento at 10 a.m. on Monday morning.

LA-LA land
The weather on our drive down the state was beautiful — sunny and cool. Interstate 5 is often a very boring road to travel, but it is considerably faster than State highway 99.

We arrived at the huge, sprawling apartment complex at Toluca Lake (in the Hollywood Hills) in late afternoon. Traffic was zippy and aggressive but not too horrible on Highway 101 going towards L.A. at 4 p.m. I imagine that it got worse not long after.

We’re staying in a one-bedroom corporate apartment which is completely furnished. It feels HUGE to us! We would have preferred a studio but they were all taken.

This complex was built in the ’70s and has seen better days, although it is certainly tolerable for one week. Our apartment is on the end of the building and has nice wrap-around windows in the corner of the livingroom.

At the front desk, I had to sign an affidavit accepting the fact that the walls contain lead. “Don’t be licking the walls,” the clerk quipped.

There are twenty-six large buildings nestled in these hills, from A to Z. We are in building Q. No comment!  😉

Parking is at a premium. The tiny, narrow spaces fill up completely in the late afternoon after work. When James picked me up from the theatre at 10:45 p.m., we had to park in another lot further away from our building.

After we had brought our possessions into the apartment and made a cup of tea, we ventured out to a nearby Vons grocery store (in Hollywood) for supplies.

What a trip that store was.

Lots of trendy, packaged foods. Young women wearing black jeans and t-shirts with gold sequins, spelling “PINK” on their butts. Older women in power black suits with lots of gold jewelry and major attitude. People racing their shopping carts with great urgency down the narrow aisles, as if they were speeding in their cars down the congested highways.

Everyone on cell phones.

I imagined that there would be a wide selection of health foods since Southern California has such an emphasis on keeping fit. There was indeed a wide array of juice drinks in attractive bottles, but not many natural juices. There was no bulk food health section. Almost everything is packaged in eye-catching and glitzy ways.

The produce was adequate but not inspired. The aisles were very narrow and the attitudinal women racing here and there got on my nerves.

All of a sudden, all the commercials and TV programs make much more sense, watched in this setting of L.A. It’s like a light bulb has gone off in my head. Most of the commercials here are different than the ones shown further north. I have never seen so many weight loss, home fitness “systems” and weight-reduction surgery ads as I have here!

My first Phantom show of the week was on Tuesday night at the Pantages Theatre, on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

It dates from 1930. You can read its history here

The orchestra pit is twelve feet below stage level, so most of its occupants are invisible to the audience. I was amazed at how informal the musicians can be in such a setting, unseen by the public.

Several players have tables next to their music stands, where they surf the Net on laptop computers. Others are busy online with their PDAs. There is quiet laughing, joking and talking while the show is in progress, when the musicians aren’t playing.

This behavior would not be allowed amongst the traveling musicians on the road. But this is a different kind of situation, with mostly local musicians who play regularly in that particular venue. Most pits are visible from the audience, but the one at Pantages is not.

The locals have been very welcoming and complimentary to me, which I appreciate. I will enjoy the week, but am greatly looking forward to spending more time at home. At last!

Every morning, James and I take Ringo for a walk through the neighborhood near our little brick 1922 house, in a residential section only two blocks south of the main street which eventually reaches downtown. Further south, the neighborhood abruptly ends with the Interstate highway.

Having been truncated by two major thoroughfares, the neighborhood has definitely seen better days. But perhaps it may have seen worse and is now on its way up. One can dream, anyway.

The oldest houses appear to have been built in the late 1800s, with the majority having been constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. There is a sprinkling of post-war houses as well, and less common, new construction usually consisting of “project”-type housing.

If I had a LOT of cash, this neighborhood would be a good investment, buying up cheap houses, fixing them up and selling at reasonable prices. But who knows what direction this neighborhood will really take, especially during these tough times?

It is rather sad to walk through this neighborhood. Echoes of a bygone era whisper as we walk through the narrow alleys choked with weeds and discarded furniture and appliances.

One can tell that the houses were grand at one time, with detached garages lining these rutted little byways. It is a sad testimony of neglect and careless dumping.

Alleys and fields are perfect places for Ringo to “do his business”. There are more vacant lots close to the Interstate. The juxtaposition of wide-open weedy spaces and the roar of the cars on the freeway offer a clashing contradiction for the senses.

Walk #1:  10/19/08

Yesterday morning was sunny and clear — cool but not brisk — as James, Ringo and I started our walk. There were more people up and about on a Sunday than we see during the week.

The first person we encountered was a man of indeterminate age shuffling aimlessly along the cracked sidewalk in our direction on the opposite side of the street. He stepped into the intersection and veered left, weaving into the middle of the street.

Ringo perked up his nose and sniffed the air, his attention immediately drawn to a flock of large, black crows picking at an object in this intersection.  As humans and dog approached, the birds rose up in a clattering flurry of wings and caws.

The roar of the highway increased in volume as we neared Ringo’s favorite vacant lot.

At the far end of this lot are two abandoned houses. I finally remembered to bring my camera in an attempt to capture some impressions of this neighborhood for the blog. I snapped this shot of the first “foreclosed” house, where new plywood has been tacked onto the windows just over the past couple of days:

…and the house next to it, in similar condition:

We walked up a couple of blocks back towards our house, away from the highway, and were treated with the sight of this yard full of “collectables”:

Then we turned down the alley which eventually leads to our house, and I took a picture of this garage and back yard which had caught my eye over the past few walks:

A few doors down, this house shot from the alley:

Further down the alley, on the other side, was this structure which looks older than the others:

Another sad house, with a larger weedy lot, taken from the alley:

And now for something more cheerful — a couple shots of the Fall colors:

James asked me to take a picture of this place with the tall pine and the tiny smudge of the moon to the left:

Walk #2 (today)

I took a break from writing the above to go on this morning’s walk. It’s one of the few overcast days we’ve had since we arrived on Oct. 6th. It looks like it’s going to rain soon, so we were glad to do the walk beforehand.

I suggested to James that we walk in the opposite direction from our house than we did yesterday, so I could take a picture of this colorful assemblage at “The Kings”:

An informal playground for the kiddies:

Lots of local residents park their cars and boats in their yards:

Here’s a sad little house. For some reason I could actually see myself living in this, if it were spruced up.

…and the house directly across the street:

Many yards have wood ready to be split:

I trust that the string of lights in this front yard make this place look better at night (with passing shot of Ringo):

A typical alley in the ‘hood:

A bit o’ this and a bit o’ that, including Halloween decor:

Another temporary change-of-scene with more Fall colors:

More creative Halloweening:

Combining “car in the hood” with Fall color:

As we approached the following house a few doors down from the car, the dog in the front yard started barking furiously. I snapped the shot without realizing that I caught the owner, who emerged to see what all the barking was about:

I don’t think he saw me taking the picture. I noticed him standing in front of his door afterwards, when we had already passed by, and he didn’t even look in our direction as he was so focused on his barking dog.