on milestones

singing with the Ellensburg Women’s Chorus in the 2005

Some of you may know that I enjoy singing in choirs/choruses/chorales these days, even doing a solo every now and then, but I’ll bet few of you know that I was too shy to sing in front of most people until my second year of college. Most of my college friends could sing pretty well, and many of them were in the university chorale or the chamber choir. I loved singing, but I was too nervous and shy to audition, as much as I wanted to. Somehow, they convinced me to take a voice class. Not private lessons, but with a small group of students and one teacher, all at once.

This was safe for me to start out in. We sang everything together, until our final, and that was the first time I’d sung for real, alone, in front of anyone. It was terrifying! But it also gave me the courage to go through the audition process the next year, and I was in the chorale for the second half of my college career.

Since then, I’ve sung with Sacred Harp groups, church choirs, community women’s choruses, and a university women’s chorus (I still sing with two groups that fit in the last two categories). It’s been an amazing learning experience, and I sometimes marvel at how a person who was too shy to sing in front of a handfull of friends can now stand on stage and sing in front of hundreds of strangers.

In college, I was obsessed with singing low. I was proud to sing the alto part, and one of my fellow altos and I would frequently try to hide with the basses until our director made us go back to our section. For me, alto meant harmony and something interesting. Soprano seemed, well, boring.

These days, I sing first alto or second soprano, depending on the group and the arrangement. And the strange thing is, I’m finding that the low notes aren’t as much fun anymore, and sometimes are rather uncomfortable to sing. My voice, as women’s voices do, has been changing and maturing over the years. When I moved over to the second soprano section in my community women’s chorus last year, it was the first time I acknowledge that shift to anyone, including myself. It was a bit of an identity crisis at first, but I’ve come to embrace it.

Back in that voice class in college, my instructor called me a “chicken soprano,” and she was right. I could sing higher than I was willing to (or brave enough to) back then. Now I know I can, and I have quite often. The strange thing is, I can feel my voice changing. I started noticing this on octave leaps that would take me up to the C above middle-C, and beyond. They didn’t feel strained anymore — I just thought it, and then sang it with confidence.

My ear is much better. I have a good sense of certain notes and placement and intervals, although I couldn’t tell you what a perfect fourth or a major seventh sounded like to save my life. Those names never stuck with me. But, I can sight read pretty well, if you give me a starting point, and back in the day I had to hear it a few times before I could follow along.

So, I’m moving into my upper range, and it feels fine. But also weird. Sometimes, I can’t trust my sense of place anymore, because what feels like a G may be something else entirely now. My voice breaks are shifting, or maybe I’m just not as aware of them anymore.

This makes me feel less certain. Unbalanced. And it doesn’t help that I’m turning 37 this year.

Back to that voice class and the instructor who told me I was a chicken soprano… she also told us that women’s voices hit their peak maturity around age 37. To my 19-year-old mind, that seemed like a future so distant I couldn’t even imagine it, and now I’m here. Or nearly there.

People talk about how turning 30 wasn’t as big of a deal as turning 31. I get that. For me, as a woman and a singer, I think this 37th birthday is going to be more significant than either of those previous milestones. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that to happen yet. Luckily, I have about six months to figure it out.

my love/hate relationship with reading books

ALA Read mini-poster
“ALA Read mini-poster” by me

This year I participated in the “set your own challenge” book reading thinger on Goodreads. Initially, I set mine at 25, as a little stretch goal from my average of 19 books per year over the past four years. But, I was doing so well in the early part of the year that I increased it to 30. The final total was 27, but I’m part-way through several books that I just didn’t have time to finish as the clocked ticked down to the end of the year.

What worked well for me this time: audiobooks. I read more of them than paper books this year, and it forced me to expand to a variety of topics and styles I would not have patience for in print.

What failed me this time: getting hung up on a book I felt obligated to finish, but did not excite me to continue on it, so I kept avoiding it. To be fair, part of what turned me off was on disc two, I accidentally set my car’s CD player to shuffle. This is great for adding some variety to music listening, but it made for confusing and abrupt transitions from one topic/focus to another.

I read a lot of non-fiction, because that works better in audio format for me, and I read more audio than printed (either in paper or electronic) books. For 2013, I’d like to read more fiction, which means reading more in print. Which means making time for my “must read the whole book cover to cover” method of reading fiction.

audiobook: 20
print book: 7
ebook: 0

fiction: 5
non-fiction: 22

books read in 2012



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I created something delicious last weekend

chocolate salted caramel peanut butter cookies
chocolate salted caramel peanut butter cookies

Some friends host a cookie exchange party every year, and they have a panel of judges determine which ones are the best. I decided to do something a little different this year, rather than following a basic recipe for the same old, same old. I started thinking about it shortly after Thanksgiving, which may be why I decided to take my inspiration from the turducken.

I began with a basic peanut butter cookie dough (mine came from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book), which I chilled while I ran some errands and then made a chocolate ganache (warning: that recipe makes far more than you really need for this). I’d picked up some salted caramels from Trader Joe’s recently, and I chilled them in the freezer before chopping into three pieces each.

Next, I shaped the peanut butter cookie dough into a log and divided it into 24 slices. Carefully, I shaped and flattened each slice into a cookie round, as thin as I could while keeping it from falling apart. I spooned some ganache on a round, added a piece of the salted caramel, and then put another flattened round on top. I sealed the edges together, making a little pie/turnover out of the cookie, and then placed that carefully on the baking sheet. They baked beautifully, and spread out more than I was expecting, so the second round were spaced a bit more.

Ultimately, they did not win the competition, but I received an honorable mention and plenty of compliments. Well worth the effort.

Does anyone have suggestions for what to do with a bowl full of well-refrigerated chocolate ganache?

carpe diem

Mac & Cheese is a vegetable!
Mac & Cheese is a vegetable!

I told a friend yesterday that I felt like I didn’t carpe enough diem at Charleston Conference. It was my first time attending, and I didn’t have a good sense of the flow. I wasn’t prepared for folks to be leaving so early on Saturday, I didn’t know about the vendor showcase on Wednesday until after I made my travel arrangements, and I felt like I didn’t make the most of the limited time I had.

Next time will be better. And yes, there will be a next time, but maybe after a year or two. I understand from some regulars that the plenary sessions were below average this year, which matched my disappointed expectations. Now knowing that there is little vetting of the concurrent sessions, I will be more particular in my choices the next time, and hopefully select sessions where the content matches my expectations based on the abstracts.

The food in Charleston definitely met my expectations. I had tasty shrimp & grits a couple times, variations on fried chicken nearly every day, and a yummy cup of she crab soup. Tried a few local brews, and a dark & stormy from a cool bar that brews their own ginger beer. I’d go back for the food for sure.

train blog

Amtrak Palmetto by mod as hell
“Amtrak Palmetto” by mod as hell

Left Richmond on time. This is the first time I’ve traveled south on Amtrak, and apparently the system is a little different. For one, the conductor assigned me a seat in the coach car, rather than letting me choose like I usually do on the train to DC. Maybe it’s because the car was full? There also appeared to be designated seat groupings depending on whether you’re going to Savannah (final destination for this train) or Charleston (my destination). Everyone else was fit in where there was room, and one woman kept pacing up and down the aisle saying she didn’t know where to sit, so I guess not everyone was assigned a seat, either.

What is it about train stations being in the ugliest areas of town? The gorgeous view crossing over the James River followed by an amble through the wooded neighborhoods on the south side of the river was a nice balance to the ugly.

After munching on my packed lunch, I pulled out the laptop to work on some to-do items that didn’t get done before I had to leave for the train. Unfortunately, this is not an Amtrak train equipped with wifi (again, another thing different from the train to DC), so all the emails I composed will be delayed until I get to my hotel in Charleston tonight. Same with this blog post, actually.

The view seems to be better in smaller, less industrial towns. The area around the tracks in Emporia (VA), for example, is actually quite pleasant. Pretty sure I saw a deer in a field of corn stubble south of town, too. The tracks here are pleasantly not surrounded by trees on all sides, and we’re clearly in major farm land. Reminds me of Ohio. Except for the cotton fields! So pretty.

Stinky, gassy child across the aisle from me is pleased with her stinky gassiness. Wishing once again for the quiet car option. Or at least a 21+ car.

The late night watching the NPR election page and listening to their coverage hit me. Along with the rocking of the train. Was out cold for a good 30 minutes before I woke up when we pulled into the next stop.

Somewhere in the middle of North Carolina, thousands of beat up cars go to die in a junkyard near the train tracks.

Discovered that the snack car has wifi, and was relatively child and talker-free. Got an hour of online work done. Yay! Also, did some research on beer bars in Charleston. Pleased to see there are several near my hotel.

The train arrived 15 minutes early, and I was at my hotel at the time I originally projected I’d arrive at the station. Sweet! Time for a beer. And thus ends my train blog post.