30 January 2012

Cara Cara

I love grocery store surprises. Like the time I walked into a Hen House with my mom and discovered orange bell peppers on sale for 50 cents each. Sometimes you don't know what a great bargain you are getting until a little later, though.

This week during my regular grocery shopping I decided to stock up on citrus to fight off a cold I could feel slowly making its presence known. They had bags of some kind of oranges I had never heard of for two dollars, which seemed pretty good, so I bought one of the bags. Later when first slicing into one of the oranges I realized I had found something special: Cara Cara pink navel oranges. They not only taste better than normal oranges (almost as good as blood oranges but with less mess), they also have a really nice color.

So that was my fun discovery this week. I also had an interesting time trying to cook with artichokes for the first time and made artichoke soup. I'm still not sure whether I like it or not but maybe it's an acquired taste. Other recipes this week: peanut butter honey oatmeal bread, Italian S-shaped cookies, salt and pepper "cookies," swordfish with spinach, brownies from scratch, improvised fried rice with some random ingredients from my pantry. For me there is no better way to spend a weekend day than in the kitchen whipping up lots of recipes for the week ahead.

Other things I have been enjoying recently:

  • Warm weather: my bike lock has stopped freezing up, but I am kind of wishing for snow, if only to kill off the mosquitoes so they aren't as bad this summer.
  • I really want to make these.
  • An interesting upcycling storyabout finding solutions, which reminded me of Cradle to Cradle on a small scale.
  • Another innovative idea in education.
  • Robert Reich on public institutions.
  • An essay on the quotative "like."

22 January 2012

Lessons in Music and Life from Yo-Yo Ma

"Do you believe in magic?" "Yes," she replied.

Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist, addressed Wei Shen, the second of three Kansas City area cello students who performed at a master class at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City Saturday. A master class allows music students to work with experts for a short time, often providing new insight and inspiration. The class on Saturday included a high-school student, a master's student, and a doctoral student, KU's own Hyerim Jeon.

During those two hours unfolded one of the most magical musical and educational experiences I have ever witnessed. Yo-Yo Ma transformed the playing of Alyssa Aubuchon in just a few minutes by getting her to engage with the audience and to focus on expressing specific emotions in her playing. He demonstrated the elegance that befits the Tchaikovsky piece played by Ms. Shen, escorting a little girl from the front row of the audience around the stage and pretending to greet various invisible friends, transforming the almost empty stage into a fancy party in the audience's mind. He encouraged Ms. Jeon to take rhythmical risks, and he made the historical perspective of the Elgar concerto she played come alive.

At one point he complimented Ms. Shen on her hard work, and then began to delve into a subject that he felt was important for future professional musicians, but that is just as relevant to the rest of us. He encouraged her to ask herself every day why she was going to be a musician today, and then to come up with magnificent reasons each day for doing what she does. This practice, Mr. Ma asserted, would lead to magic itself.

Yo-Yo Ma has the gift of being able to approach people at the right level and challenge them to move beyond themselves to a greater plane of being. He has the ability to make connections between people and to reach out to the audience while performing. His willingness to be gracious, funny, humble, and ridiculous at times yet completely serious at the right moments is what makes Mr. Ma so magical. He seems to embody the best of humanity, radiating an aura of love, humility, and pure joy that infectiously spreads to everyone around him.

While listening to him play the Dvořák Cello Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony on Saturday night, I was quite literally at the edge of my seat. Yo-Yo Ma is as relaxed and familiar with the cello as if it were an extension of himself. He barely looked down at his instrument, instead maintaining constant communication and contact with the conductor, orchestra, and audience. During the third movement of the concerto, he had a big smile on his face as he played the theme. He was enjoying himself so much that the audience could not help but be pulled in.

There is a big lesson to be learned from watching Mr. Ma at work. We humans seem to be in the constant search for happiness, and I don't think I've ever seen someone as happy doing what he does as Yo-Yo Ma. He must be following his own advice, finding magnificent reasons every day to reaffirm his calling. Do you love what you are doing? Are you doing what you love? Question yourself daily, and eventually magic may come of it.

06 January 2012

Intense in a Good Way

I went to a local Indian restaurant for lunch today with my brother and my dad. At the restaurant there is a man who greets all the customers who come in, seats them, and then proceeds to bring every table extra naan, pour chai, and bring out special dishes like naan infused with hot peppers. Let's assume that this man was the owner, based on his greeting everyone and the fact that he was wearing a nice shirt and tie. Talking to the owner was a little intimidating. He seemed so eager for everyone to have a positive experience that in his whirling around, wishing everyone a happy New Year, asking how  many were in each party, quickly and efficiently placing each party at a table and so on, it was difficult to respond or try to have a conversation. Despite this he left a good impression because he was just so friendly. He was very intense about his job, but in a good way.

I've definitely encountered others who are intense in a good way. Lots of these have been former teachers, whether at school or of music or various other disciplines. It seems to me that part of being intense has to do with having intentions. A music teacher intended for us to play the best we could, produce the best sound possible, and play together with the best ensemble we could generate. A history teacher intended for us to have a deep understanding of the connections between different events in American history and be able to analyze historical documents with quality writing. The Tae Kwon Do instructors intended for us to be able to defend ourselves effectively and for us to understand what it means to practice martial arts.

Like them, the owner of the Indian restaurant intended for all his guests to feel welcome and to have a positive experience. Each of these people could sometimes be a little intimidating but this is because they would have lost their effectiveness by being lax. They each had a vision of an outcome that they wanted us, their students, to live up to, even if we had a long way to travel before reaching this destination. They would stop at nothing to inspire us, scare us a little bit, or whatever it took to help us along the way.

If you have a great vision for yourself or others, don't be afraid to be intense about how you pursue it.

03 January 2012

Regretting Something That Never Happened

Do you ever have those dreams that you really believe are happening while you are dreaming them? I don't think I'm talking about lucid dreaming because it doesn't exactly feel real. I mean the dreams that you wake up from slightly surprised that what you just dreamed didn't really happen. Previous examples from my personal experience include dreams where I forgot to do something important or accidentally failed a class. Usually during the dream I reach a point where I realize what has just happened, and then I am as reasonable as possible, deciding to deal with the consequences in the best way I can while wondering how it is that I could have neglected whatever it was that caused the problem in my dream.

I had a dream like that last night. A couple of days ago I decided to participate in a Facebook Sabbatical since I probably waste more time on Facebook than I realize and the idea came up on a blog I was reading. I'm not calling this a New Year's resolution since it's not something I'm trying to do all year. I'm just not going on Facebook for a month (until February 1). In light of this I had a dream that I did go on Facebook without even thinking about it and then after a few minutes I remembered about the Facebook Sabbatical and was dismayed that I could have accidentally logged on to Facebook just out of habit. Of course accidentally getting on Facebook would have had much less severe consequences in my dream world than accidentally failing a class. But I was still glad to realize it had been a dream once I woke up.

Maybe the reason we have these dreams is to alert ourselves to possible mistakes we could make before we make them so that we live more conscientiously and with more awareness of our actions than we might otherwise. I could easily see myself accidentally clicking on the Facebook app link on my Chrome New Tab page, which is why I deleted the link before I started the sabbatical. So far the only urges I have had to get on Facebook have been when I came across an interesting story on the internet that I wanted to share. Now I suppose I will have to share those stories here instead, where I might actually write something about them and think more about them than I would if I were to just post them on Facebook without much preface.

With that, I'm off to enjoy reading a book. Now that I would not consider a waste of time!