Thursday morning Beth and I drove up to Freeport Maine to attend the Northern New England Conference’s 34th Annual Music Clinic. I think this was Beth’s sixth time going (and my third). In previous years she participated only in piano, but this year she was in the choir as well.

I brought my work laptop with me, found a quiet place to hang out and worked Thursday and Friday while Beth attended her practices. She very much enjoyed the weekend, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t.

I was treated to three concerts – one Friday evening, one Saturday morning, and another Saturday night. We had Saturday afternoon off, so we decided to hike up Hedgehog Mountain, the tallest mountain in all of Freeport. Yeah, at 300 feet above sea level, it’s not quite a mountain.

There was quite a bit less snow on the ground in Freeport compared to our house, but the trail was still covered with it.

The trail is snuggled up alongside several stone walls.

The trail is snuggled up alongside several stone walls.

The view from the top was very nice, but not spectacular. After all, we were only 300 feet up. We still enjoyed the view.

View from the top

View from the top

On the way back down we saw this weird pool.

An odd pool

An odd pool

It took me a little while to put my finger on it – the bottom of it is covered in ice. Ice is less dense than liquid water, so when it freezes it floats to the top. That’s why ponds and such freeze from the top down. They do not freeze from the bottom up. If they did, fish would have a very difficult time surviving New England winters. In fact, it might not be possible for them to survive at all.

And yet here it was, a pool with an ice floor. I’m pretty sure that the way this came about was that the pool was not very deep when it initially froze, and it probably froze solid, gaining a death grip on the ground underneath. Then as spring arrived, the surrounding snow pack melted and flowed in on top of it, burying the ice in a foot of water. It was pretty cool looking, and I was really glad to have seen it.

The hike didn’t take much time, so we headed back to the school. Most people were still gone for the afternoon. Beth decided she had not played enough music yet at the point, so she went up on the stage in the empty auditorium (save me and one other person) and played all the non-clinic songs she had brought. The set was still lit up on the stage, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a photo without interfering with a program.

Beth plays during some downtime

Beth plays during some downtime

It wasn’t long after this that Va arrived for the evening concert which was pretty awesome. I had saved us a pair of seats, so we weren’t stuck in the back as in years past.

The concert finished up around 10:00pm, we got in our cars and drove home arriving around 12:30am.

It was a long weekend, but it was sure worth it. I’d do it again.


I would have to say that Music Clinic was an unqualified success.

Beth during a performance

Beth during a performance

This photo was taken during the morning church service on Saturday, but I don’t remember which song they were playing – maybe Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons. I do remember that all the songs sounded pretty good though.

The pianos were all on stage, with the band to the left, the kid’s choir in front of the stage, and the full choir to the right. The strings were down on the floor in front of the kid’s choir. There were a lot of musicians. This photo shows only about a quarter of the full choir.

Some of the musicians

Some of the musicians

After one performance, we sat at some tables located behind the choir where it was less crowded (but where we could still hear). Beth didn’t want me to take her picture, but I did anyhow.

She didn't want me to take her picture.

She didn't want me to take her picture.

It’s what Dad’s do.

After the morning service we had lunch, and then I had to help clean the kitchen again (which was great). Then we were free for the afternoon. I wanted to go for a hike, but couldn’t talk Beth into it. Yes, I could have made her hike with me, but it’s a lot less pleasant to hike with an unwilling companion. We went back to the hotel and she swam in the pool for an hour. Then we went to the room and I took a 20 minute nap. Not very exciting, I know.

Then it was time to head back to the school for supper and then a few more practice sessions (during which I helped clean the kitchen again). Beth went to her seat, and I went to the kitchen.

Pre-show excitement

Pre-show excitement

While I was in the kitchen, Va showed up. She found a seat, while I finished my assignment. By then the gym was packed and I had a hard time finding her. When I did, she was along the back wall and I had to climb over four elderly people to get to the seat she had saved for me.

I didn’t want to sit back there during Beth’s performances, so just before she went on, I clambered over the elderly again and got up to the stage for photo ops. I didn’t have the heart to climb over them again though, so I stood somewhere else with an even worse view, and waited for the Grand Finale (A Mighty Fortress, by Martin Luther). She had a piano part in that, and I took photos, but they don’t look much different from the ones I already posted.

After the performance, the three of us headed back to the hotel. I made a dessert run while the girls kicked back and relaxed. When I got back we shared the treat and then went to bed. I slept until 8:00. Va wanted to eat breakfast in Portland at the “Old Country Buffet” except it has some other name that I can’t remember up here. Hometown Buffet? I dunno. They used to have one in Manassas when we lived there, and they put out a pretty decent breakfast spread. Much better than your typical hotel continental breakfast. So we stopped there on the way home.

After breakfast we set out in a homeward direction. That’s when Beth had a bit of a meltdown. She was upset about something pretty minor and was crying as if someone had cut off her foot. I tried to give her some perspective and told her to think about the good things that happened to her this week instead of the bad things. I told her that’s what I was doing. Bad things happened to me while we were away (mop bucket), but I was choosing to think about the good things instead. She regained her composure, and I felt like I had done something right. I didn’t know how right until later.

The plan was to have another cardboard boat building session at the church at 1:00pm. We were running too late to go home and then come back to the church, but early enough that Beth and I were able to stop along route 4 and look for some geocaches. Va went on home.

At the first place we stopped to look for a cache, we saw someone at “ground zero” poking around some fallen logs. There was car parked there with e geocaching bumper sticker. I correctly assumed it was a geocacher. We introduced ourselves and then looked for the cache. Beth and I were not able to find it, and I don’t think the other cacher was able to either. But I did find something better:

My first skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

My first skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

I have been looking for skunk cabbage for a couple of years now, and this was the first time I had ever seen it. I recognized it immediately and called Beth over. “What is it?” she asked, so I told her “Take a whiff!” “Ewww!” It does smell rather like a skunk, but not nearly as strong. Peterson says it’s edible, but since I didn’t know what part was edible (or when) we left it alone. That’s a good thing too. When I got home I looked it up, and you’re supposed to let it dry out first, or its calcium oxalate crystals will cause some significant mouth pain. Maybe someday I’ll try it after properly drying it out first.

We stopped for two other caches, but only found one out of the three. Oh well. We got to the church right at 1:00 and found some Pathfinders already there waiting. So we did some boat construction. Both of the boats are coming along “swimmingly” as I like to say. That sounds like it might involve swimming, but it means “pretty good.”

I was too busy with the cardboard kayak to take any pictures. Which means I was doing too much of the work myself. 😦

The rest of the plan for the day was for Beth and I to go to our first Geocaching event, which was about a mile from the church. We met Bandyrooster there – a cacher that I have been corresponding with for a little while. She is a very friendly person, and it was great to meet her face-to-face. The three of us went caching for about two hours (I think – I was starting to tire by that point), and we found something like ten caches. Beth found one more than me, because we stopped at one I had found previously without her. Here’s a shot of Beth with Bandyrooster (aka, Marge).

Beth and Bandyrooster fishing out a geocache.

Beth and Bandyrooster fishing out a geocache.

Penny was over the moon when we got home.

Beth took a bath and went to bed shortly after that, and I stayed up as long as I could keep my eyelids propped open. Then I headed up too, and found this two-page note on my pillow.

Dear Daddy,
Thank you for bringing me to Music Clinic. I really had a fun time. Thank you for letting me swim at the hotel. Thanks for buying me Twistables. I love my new hair ties. Thank you for paying the Music Clinic fee, the hotel fee, and other payments for me. Also Thank you, for letting me have some free time in the hallways. I really enjoyed it. I really don’t have anything to offer you except for a really big hug and a kiss. Plus, of course this note.

Thank you for taking me Geocaching afterwards with you. That was so much fun. Please accept my full apologies about how I reacted in the car.



That’s what I call payoff. I don’t think she’ll know just how fully this paid for all that money, time, and effort, until she has kids of her own.. It brings tears to my eyes to even type this. I count it as one of the best “fatherhood” events I have ever experienced. Sweetheart, you have repaid me in full.

My son David loves to play chess. He is pretty good at it too, to the point where he has to go online to find someone who can beat him. Unfortunately, he lets his love of chess interfere with his studies at times, so it’s something we have to watch.

Before he got into this hobby, I had no idea that chess games were timed, but apparently, they are. Some games (bullet and blitz) are pretty fast, and some games are slow. Well, they are not slow to me. I’m used to taking all the time I need when thinking strategically. But I think the clock adds an exciting element to the game.

In live matches, the players use a chess clock. It has two clock faces on it (or digital readouts) and two buttons. When a player finishes his move, he touches his button which stops his clock and starts his opponent’s. They usually count down. The game ends at checkmate or when one player’s clock reaches zero (which counts as a loss for that person).

The really good chess players don’t usually play anything other than fast games when they are online. There is a good reason for this. As a person plays, his rating changes. A win against someone with a higher rating increases a player’s rating, and a loss against a weaker opponent decreases it. I don’t know what happens when a player loses to a better player or beats a weaker one, but if it affects the rating at all, it’s not by as much.

Once a player reaches a certain level, he starts running into cheaters. These people run a chess analysis engine on their computer, and plug its moves into the live online game. This is harder to do in blitz or bullet, because making the move in those games represents a pretty significant amount of time relative to the thinking. Cheaters can’t keep up with a real chess master. And that’s why the really good players don’t play anything other than the fast games online.

So why write about this tonight? Because as it turns out, a chess clock may have other applications, and I have ordered one to try it out.

Beth takes piano lessons, and part of that includes 45 minutes of practice five times a week. This is a point of contention and a source of major unpleasantness in our household. She will whine and fuss and “ask questions” during practice, and all of that is intended to reduce her actual practice time. Apparently, whining is more enjoyable to her than playing beautiful music. Go figure. By the end of practice everyone in the family is mad, because no one likes to listen to this. I have tried many things to try to put an end to it, and I’m about to try one more.

Enter the chess clock.

Player one is Beth practicing. Player two is Beth not practicing. Practice ends when player one’s count reaches zero. If player two’s count reaches zero (which is not only possible – at this point it seems even probable) then… I don’t know yet. Maybe we start over. Maybe something else. The clock will be here in a week, so I have time to decide.

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

A few years ago I got this puzzle (provided by my brother Steve) during a Dirty Santa Christmas swap. I got it out a few days ago and started working on it. It’s nearly finished now, with only black pieces remaining. It’s the classic situation I see at work all the time – where the last 20% takes 80% of the time.

The puzzle depicts the cover of my all-time favorite album. It may also be my favorite album cover. It was beautifully staged photographed. I listened to it while I worked. Since I’m rattling off favorite things, I might as well say that the fifth track, “The Camera Eye” is also my favorite song (and has been for a very long time).

In the Moving Other Things department, I helped a friend move yesterday – Christmas Day. They bought a new house (built in 1780) and needed to be out of their apartment post haste. I found out that he was planning to do the move on Christmas, so I asked him who was helping him. He said it was just he and his wife. No way! So David and I went over there around 11:00am yesterday. Two of his brothers showed up too (I had never met them before), so we had five able-bodied men at the scene.

Yes, it included a piano.

We loaded the truck, drove to his new place, and then unloaded it again. We were done by 2:30. I wanted to grab lunch at Taco Bell, but David reminded me that they’re closed on Christmas. So we went home and had a snack. Va fixed us something very nice for dinner.

My original plan was to go over there around 9 or 10 am, but I noticed there was a new geocache hidden not too far from my house, and no one had found it yet. So I went and grabbed it. I have tried many times to score a first-to-find (FTF) on a cache, and there have been several occasions where I was 10 minutes too late. But not this time! I got my first FTF on Christmas Day. Hooray! I also stopped and too a picture of this fallen chicken house:

Collapsed Chicken House

Collapsed Chicken House

It collapsed sometime last summer. I had kept meaning to get a photo of it, but just couldn’t manage to find the time. I would imagine that taking it down the rest of the way would be a fairly dangerous proposition. Maybe the snow this winter will flatten it a little more.

This weekend, Norio Ohga died. He was the chairman of Sony who oversaw the development of the audio CD. Ohga insisted on two things: that the CD be 12 cm in diameter, and that it hold 75 minutes of audio (in stereo), so that it would have sufficient capacity to hold Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its entirety. This is a fact that I have long known, because I used to do a lot of signal processing work revolving around digital audio. A CD stores music using a sample rate of 44.1KHz, and that is a strange number, especially since it is so close to 48KHz, which would have been the more logical case. Except for Beethoven. In order to meet Ohga’s demand, the engineers set the sample rate to 44.1KHz. Had they used 48KHz instead, the Ninth would not have fit.

As the work week began, I started hearing stories about Ohga on the radio, and sometimes they would play the Ninth in the background. If you are not familiar with that particular symphony, you really need to check it out. I used to own a copy on cassette, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. And even if I found it, then I’d need to scare up a cassette deck. So with Ohga’s passing to remind me of what I have been missing, I decided that it was high time I replace that cassette.

I signed onto iTunes and did a search. It turned up, but as the four individual movements. Movement number IV is the choral piece upon which the hymn “Ode to Joy” is based. But that movement is 24 minutes long, and iTunes won’t sell you a song that long as a single track. Instead, you have to buy a whole album. I didn’t object to that, because I wanted to buy all four movements anyhow. The whole album (by the London Symphony Orchestra) was in the neighborhood of $4.00, which I thought was pretty good, so I bought it. As it began to download, I realized that I was getting all nine of Ludwig’s symphonies. Bonus!

I listened to Number Nine at least nine times today, but mostly just the fourth movement. Man. There is no other song like that. Parts of it are so beautiful that I am literally moved to tears when listening. If you have a copy, there is a passage about 15:20 seconds into the fourth movement where the sopranos come in singing “Diesen kuss der ganzen welt”, taking four notes (and about four seconds) to sing the word “Diesen” and that gets me every time. Translated from the German, that passage means “with a kiss for all the world” and is speaking of the Creator’s love for us. That just makes it even more beautiful to me. Beethoven didn’t write the words – it was an extant poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785. Tchaikovski had also written a symphony set to Schiller’s poem, but when he was urged to publish it, he refused. He did not want his work to be eternally compared to the Ninth, because he knew there really was no comparison. Can’t say I blame him!

Va and I selected Ode to Joy as one of the hymns sung at our wedding (almost 25 years ago). We also listened to the National Symphony Orchestra perform it at Wolf Trap back in 1987 or so (pre-kids, but I don’t remember exactly when). What a performance.

This song is all the more spectacular when you know that Beethoven was completely deaf when he composed it. He never heard it, but there’s no way he didn’t know what it sounded like. When it was first performed in 1824, Ludwig got on stage a couple of times to indicate the tempo, but since he could not hear, he couldn’t really do more than that. But it was sure more than enough in my book.

Before I left work today, I burned the Ninth onto a CD (it fits quite nicely, Mr Ohga!) so I could bring it home and listen to it in the car. I think I’ll pop it into the CD player in a few minutes and listen another nine times.

We had more snow today, but it changed over to rain in the afternoon. It accumulated to about an inch at my house. Yup. April 4. I left my camera at home today, which I seldomly ever do, so I have no pictures of the latest snow. In Concord, it wasn’t even quite enough to cover the dirty snow banks at the edges of the parking lot. I could still see patches of black snow through the new cover of white.

Music Clinic went pretty well. Va and David arrived shortly before the Saturday evening concert, and we bailed shortly after Beth played her piece (which was excellent). We got home a little after 11:00pm. Beth got some sleep in the car and slept late Sunday morning, but that was not nearly enough for her. She was a BEAR on Sunday.

April Fools Snow Storm

April Fools Snow Storm

Today I found out that on April 1st, it’s a bad idea to tell people that you’ve been praying for snow – even if you’re just kidding. Most people will not appreciate that.

I’m in Freeport, ME with Beth this weekend for Music Clinic. This is what my car looked like when we left the hotel this morning. The roads were kinda bad too, as one might expect. I made it to the school OK though, and got a pretty decent parking space. Beth had an 8:30 practice, and another one that ended at about 11:00am. I had forgotten my name tag, which doubles as a meal ticket, so we went back to the hotel. The roads were even worse then. I nearly got stuck, and actually had to shovel out the car to get out of my decent parking space. At the hotel we ate some PB sandwiches and watched cartoons (Curious George if you want to know). Then at 1:00 or so, we headed back to the school. The roads were a ton better by then. Beth had another practice. When that was over we were free until 5:30 which is when I was on the hook to help move ten pianos. Luckily, they were all electric, and I wasn’t doing it myself. We had to move them out of a practice room and onto the stage for the “dress rehearsal” and the first performance. Why ten pianos? Because Beth’s performance was shared with about 25 other kids. They actually sounded pretty good too.

Here’s Beth waiting for her turn on the stage for the dress rehearsal.

Waiting In the Wings

Waiting In the Wings

They did not sound good at all during their first rehearsal yesterday. I don’t know how the instructors can stand that, much less how they were able to turn it around so quickly.

Tomorrow she will participate in two more pieces. Between these two, we’ll take a short snowshoe trek. There are plenty of places to do that up here, and there’s enough snow on the ground that it won’t be ridiculous to try. As long as the snow is still here after lunch, anyhow. Since this snowstorm was forecast pretty well in advance, I brought the snowshoes with us.

Va and David will be coming up for the evening performance, and Jonathan will stay home to keep Penny company (and allow her outside to transact doggy business). We’ll drive home after Beth’s final performance.

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