Friday, August 29, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jason passed Schaum Book One

Jillian and Jason have been real good sports about this whole moving thing. Consider: they're going to a new school. The pool is closed for the summer. We've pretty much packed away their toys. And they aren't as good at going outside and creating their own mischief as we were. They've been pretty bored, but considering the circumstances, they've done a pretty good job keeping themselves busy and out of trouble.

Jason, in particular, has been spending quite a lot of time on the piano. For those of you just joining us (where've you been, anyway?), Jillian has been teaching Jason everything she knows about piano and music. That's cute enough in and of itself. That they chose this without any prodding from us makes it doubly so. Here are some shots from a recent lesson.

She has assigned him pieces out of her Schaum Green Book, and has given or withheld stickers, as appropriate, depending on how he's progressed on the little songs. Stickers are apparently a fiendishly powerful motivator for 5 and 6 year-olds. Who knew? As we neared the end of the summer, Jillian and Jason reached the end of the book, which meant it came time for a recital and exam.

Jillian wrote her own exam. She took some questions from the Schaum book verbatim; took others and transmogrified them slightly; and simply concocted others right out of thin air. Here is the exam she wrote for Jason.

I'll translate for you.

Write down the answer. If it's right, put a "T". If it's wrong, put an "F".
This means "Right Hand".
This means "Left Hand".
This gets three (beats, I assume).
This gets two.

This is an 8th note.
This means to go 8 keys higher.

He got 5 out of 6, which is passing. Then he played a selection of songs from the book. (I'll post a clip once we get new batteries in Flip.) Jillian then created a certificate, certifying that Jason had passed the course.

Not bad. More than I can say, that's for certain.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gosh, this seems like he's in a hurry

Clearly, it's a matter of interpretation. But even if I could play this fast, I am not sure I would.

I got about 20 minutes or so to experiment with Stella yesterday. It's a slow start, I must say. I don't expect to be able to sight-read this material, but at this point in my development, getting up and going on the new patterns for each new piece is a slow process. And to be honest, I don't really enjoy it.

Holding pattern

Sorry for the radio silence here at AW2PP. Hopefully you haven't gone and become addicted to some other "I'm learning to play piano" blog. There are lots of quality players in the genre, to be sure.

You may recall that we're building a new house, one big enough for Sue's folks and our family of six. (And no more.) You may also recall that for many moons now, we've been targeting August 22 as our closing date. You may then be unpleasantly surprised to hear that August 22 came and went, and we did not close. Two words: lender approvals. It's apparently a bleak new world out there for underwriters, who are just itching to reject applications these days, even those (like ours!) with enthusiastic pre-approvals. Here's hoping that our new target closing date (this Friday, August 29) does not slip.

In between packing boxes watching Sue pack boxes (she's very good at it, takes pride in her skills, and even, egad, seems to enjoy it), I have been:

  • Moving packed boxes to our staging area, formerly known as the garage.
  • Making meals.
  • Turning on new shows for Rowan, who seems to be developing a hearty love for television. She is particularly fond of the Backyardigans, even though she's nowhere near being able to pronounce "Backyardigans". Which, as is often the case for the just-turned-two-year-old, doesn't stop her from trying. Hey, we understand her.
  • Watching as much Olympics as I possibly can.
  • Getting updates from our mortgage broker, and providing requested documentation.
  • Sitting down at the bench and getting many short, focused repetitions on Ombre.
With Ombre, I am roughly at the same place as I was with Limbo when I snatched and posted that clip about a month ago. Which is to say, while I can make it through the whole thing, I consistently struggle with a couple of passages. One in particular is the second instance of the triplet quarter notes (see measure 69)... I've accidentally gotten that right maybe a couple of times, but that's because I wasn't paying attention. I can't do that triplet correctly on purpose. I've yet to make an entirely clean run through Ombre. And I haven't paid as close attention to dynamic and tempo markings as I should. While I tinker with those items, and continue to polish Limbo, my wandering mind has already moved on to the next piece. But which would that be?

The candidates are Stella del Mattino, Tracce, and I Due Fiumi. The first two are pieces that were recommended by Josh, a professional pianist over at the Einaudi forums. They gently introduce techniques and patterns that are reused in other, more sophisticated Einaudi pieces. I Due Fiumi is a very interesting, albeit lengthy piece that our own sawtooth has worked on, and recommended. I played all three of these on the iPod for Sue, and we talked through them.

Tracce first. We decided it was very serious. And in some ways, reminiscent of the first two Einaudi pieces I have learned. I'll probably learn it some day, but it's time to break things up with something lighter. Fortunately enough, Stella fits the bill there nicely, with light, repeating patterns that supposedly sound harder to play than they really are. And while we liked I Due Fiumi too (perhaps that will be next?), Stella won out with its (her?) light, happy mood, and comparative brevity.

So, as is my custom, have a listen for yourself. Go ahead, it's only 2 and a half minutes.

Stella del mattino - Ludovico Einaudi

I'll try to recover from my recent posting slump with more frequent, albeit briefer posts. Upcoming topics (as usual, this is for my benefit as much as yours, I might forget otherwise):

  • Jason's update - His teacher (that would be Jillian) graded his exam and recital.
  • A comment on Olympic volleyball
  • Closing / moving pictures and updates (let's hope)
  • More baby pics
  • Costco and Digital Pianos

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not much going on this week

Baby Joe (trying on new names for the boy, that's the one I am going with right now) is now two and a half weeks old. Like all of us, he wasn't born with an innate sense for day versus night. So we're still working with that. He seems to be growing, though, and that's a good thing.

The (new) house looks great. It seems to be ready for us; we're certainly ready for it. Thing is, our lender is backed up, and because of their slow processing, it appears that our target closing date (um, that would be this Friday) is going to slip. We're real happy about that, as you can guess. Still, we're packing up the current house, in preparation for moving as soon as we're allowed to.

At work, I have been assigned an entirely new set of accounts. This means I have had to gracefully hand over my old customers (a mixed bag there, to be sure, I am glad to be rid of some, sorry to see others go) and begin visiting a whole new set of customers. My new group is called, euphemistically, "General Business". These accounts used to be called SMB ("Small to Medium Business"), but it turns out that no business likes to be called small. Even those that are. And, given the size of my company, what we defined as "small" (you know, companies like, oh, Motorola) was a bit mystifying. Anyway, things have been very busy at work, which, combined with the new baby, moving out of the old house, getting ready for closing on the new one, and living day-to-day life means things seem to be going by very quickly these days.

This leaves very little time for, you know, watching the Olympics, or learning Ombre.

So, since I have very little to offer you from my own experience, let's all appreciate the #2 All Time Muppet, Beaker. I swear, I had a dentist once that was his long-lost identical twin brother.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's garbage day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Olympics are awesome

On the Interwebs these days, it seems fashionable to bash the Olympics. In their idealized version, the Olympics are pure sports competitions, pitting the top amateurs from around the world. Young, beautiful, athletic people competing against each other, representing their country out of pure National pride, trying to be the best. Faster! Higher! Stronger! No politics, no prejudices, just pure, unadulterated competition.

In reality, of course there are politics, doping scandals, corrupt IOC Members, professional athletes, last-second citizenship changes, and sponsorships from super ginormous multi-national inter-galactic corporations. I sympathize with the cynics among you.

And yet? I, the biggest Olympics sucker of them all, willingly suspend my cynicism. You know I play volleyball, and I am watching all the volleyball I can. (I highly prefer the indoor game, by the way.) But it's not just that. The vast majority of Olympic athletes are regular people with day jobs (where there are such things). These are regular Joes and Janes* who just happen to be really good at, and have a burning passion for, a particular sport or activity. There is something totally compelling to me about watching people who excel at something they love. I'd watch a competition between the world's best Monopoly players if NBC covered it.

* - And Sergeis and Svetlanas and Hidekis and Ikos and Deepaks...

So I don't mind staying up late these days with the baby*. Those of you who have not had any children, but intend to some day... make a note to yourself that, should the opportunity arise, try to have a newborn baby right around the Olympics. It provides a socially acceptable reason to be up at 3:00 AM watching preliminary heats in single sculls.

* - Not that I can do much anyway, short of looking plaintively at Sue and asking, in futility, if there is anything I can do to help. Last night she let me get her some water. I felt useful!

And the requisite piano-related comment? At this point in my progress on Limbo, I had accumulated about 10 or 12 hours of practice on the piece, including most of an entire Saturday. I've probably put about 4 hours into Ombre, and it shows. Progress is very slow. Make no mistake, I LIKE OMBRE A LOT! It goes places, musically, whereas Limbo sort of meanders around in one place, examining the same space from various perspectives. I'm sure when I reach an acceptable level of expertise on both, I'll probably prefer Ombre. It's just that, with the new baby, requisite attention paid to the three we already had, preparations for moving next week (I mentioned something about a new house, right?), and life as usual... something has to give.

But it ain't gonna be Water Polo. Those people are unbelievable.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Ombre, then three more baby / kid pics

I had it in my mind that all I had to was memorize the LH pattern of Fuori Dal Mondo, and it would all come easily after that. This may be true, but the first part of the equation is much harder to solve than I thought. The pattern has subtle changes that are not coming easily to me. For this reason, I decided to shelve it for the time being, in favor of something easier.

I am now working on Ombre. Take a listen while you go through the rest of this post. Should make for some good baby-ogling music.

Ombre - Ludovico Einaudi

The RH part of this piece, though important, is trivially simple. The LH is where the party is. Like Fuori Dal Mondo, there is a pattern in play here, but it is a much simpler one than Fuori's, and I hope to pick it up quickly. My LH could stand some improvement before I tackle some of the more challenging pieces in the Best of Einaudi book.

In the meantime, here are more baby pics. You knew these were coming. You know more are on the way.

Monday, August 4, 2008

It's a boy!

Joseph Martin Amsler was born just shy of midnight, August 2. I've got plenty to say on that in a second, probably more than you wanted to know. But let's get the piano talk out of the way first. Not much is going on. There has been no time to sit down at the piano, as you can imagine. Nor have I missed it. The next few days might have some time, however, as I am staying home to:

a) Keep the kids off Sue
b) Make meals
c) Change diapers
d) Take pictures
e) Periodically check emails when there is nothing better to do
f) Update this blog with updates on the baby. Mostly stuff like "took another nap. Seems tired from the move."
g) Work like a dog.*

Take your pick there. Multiple answers are accepted. The correct answer(s) depend(s) on your role in my life. Unless you are my manager, in which case the only answer is g) (hello, Mr. O'Neil, thanks for dropping by, I'm setting up that session on AJAX and Rich UI Development Frameworks, I promise).

* - Why "work like a dog?" I have known many dogs. Very few worked, and those that did had an awful attention span. I was going to quote Homer Simpson here ("I work like a Japanese beaver!"), but I felt like that would have been too obscure.

I'm getting good and useful feedback from the various places where I've posted my Limbo clip. Thanks to all of you who have commented. If you've been wanting to post some feedback, and haven't gotten around to it, I'd welcome your comments. Any piano time over the next few days will be spend polishing Limbo and learning the LH patterns of Fuori Dal Mondo.

Anyway, since you're here, you have some interest in all this, so if you've 15 minutes to spare, and if you are interested in labor and delivery details, read on. If you just want to see a picture, here's one. I will say, he's really, REALLY cute. And this being our 4th (and final) baby, I feel like I have amassed some expertise in identifying cute babies. So trust me on this. Or see for yourself.

So here you go, the announcement I sent friends and family yesterday afternoon.

Many of you have already heard the news that Sue, Jillian, Jason, Rowan, and I welcomed Joseph Martin Amsler into the world last night, August 2, at 11:54 PM. We just completed our first-ever family pow-wow, then left to leave mommy and baby some time to rest and discuss things. On the way out, Sue reminded me that some of you are probably patiently waiting for your more detailed baby announcement, such as you’ve become accustomed to with previous Amsler babies. So here is the 4th (and final!) Amsler baby arrival announcement / recap.

To set the stage… our fourth (and final!) baby was due some time mid-August. As before, we didn’t know the sex of the child, and didn’t know exactly when to expect him. If the baby didn’t take matters into his own hands by August 8, 2008, we had tentatively scheduled that day to be induced. Many of you know that Sue is into the number 8, it being her number in college, so that date seemed like a natural choice. However, ultrasounds showed that the baby had met all requisite developmental milestones, and was sitting VERY low, perhaps ready to make a move. More importantly, mommy was CERTAINLY ready to get things over with, and it had become clear that we simply weren’t going to make it much further. Yesterday morning, we paid a quick visit to Jill, Sue’s midwife, and they decided that the time to have a baby had come.

Note: For those of you (like Sue’s brother Marty) who are not interested in Labor and Delivery details, you are going to want to skip ahead now. Scroll down until you see the words A TINY LITTLE BABY BOY

We checked into the hospital a little after 3:00. Like the pros we are, having done this three times before, we went straight to the Labor & Delivery desk. “Hi, remember us? We’re here for our fourth (and final!) baby delivery? Can we have the usual room?” Only, it was no longer the L&D desk; the hospital had done some sort of remodeling. We hung our heads like rookies and traipsed down the hall to the new L&D wing. On the way, we passed the room that Rowan had been born in (two years ago next week), and saw that it was unoccupied.

This was important, because this room has a large tub. Sue was very interested in going through labor from the comfy confines of a warm bath. We’ve gone to the swimming pool a lot this summer. And though, as you’d expect of a pregnant woman in the summer, she’s been very uncomfortable a lot of the time, she was always happy in the water. By extension, if she could go through labor in the water, she’d be more relaxed, more comfortable, and have an overall easier time of it. This being the 4th (and final! Did I mention that?) pregnancy, Sue would never again have a chance to experience this. If it didn’t work out, we could always say “Well, we tried” and call for the epidural, as we’ve done for the first three babies. Sue was excited about this, Jill was on board with it, and I was happy to spin appropriate music selections on the iPod.

Helen, our L&D nurse, was considerably less enthusiastic. Helen was a fill-in from another hospital, one with extremely conservative birth procedures. No tubs. No midwives. No walking around if your amniotic sac bursts. (“You’ll use a bedpan, and you’ll like it!”) Helen began our stay by telling us how unfamiliar she was with our hospital’s computer system. She then proceeded to whiff, twice, on connecting Sue’s IV. The first failed attempt was, in fact, as painful as anything Sue had ever felt (to that point, anyway, but hold that thought). With each step in our unconventional labor plan, Helen grew visibly less comfortable. We felt bad for her. But by the time Jill arrived later that evening, everybody was happy to let Helen take a step back and let Jill run the show.

We started the Pitcocin (a synthetic hormone that stimulates contractions) around 6:00 PM. Sue and I walked the halls a little, once or twice leaving telemetry range for the sensors. Poor Helen, chart stickler that she was, gently reminded us not to stray so far. We fought with blood pressure cuff every fifteen minutes. (“Sue, hurry, you’ve only got 12 seconds, get that thing on!” “No, Jim, not that way, it’s backwards! Oh, geeze, we’re too late!”) I got some pizza, and refused to smuggle some into my now-hungry wife. Helen was stressed out enough as it was, Lord knows how she would have taken that.

When Jill arrived around 9:00 PM, Sue had only dilated to about 3 cm. After some discussion, it was determined that it was time, now or never, to get into the tub. Apparently, they don’t do this very much, because the act of filling the thing brought a crowd of L&D nurses and techs. I think some came to watch out of morbid curiosity; others came to issue their opinions about how it should be done. This was a very lively 20 minutes or so, for all of us except poor Helen. She was mortified. “I’m just going to come in here to see what music is playing. You can’t go wrong with Van Morrison.” I bet Death Cab for Cutie would have been prohibited at her hospital?

Sue got into the tub. Sue was very, VERY happy to get into the tub. The discomfort had been steadily increasing, but that all disappeared pretty quickly. Warm water, no pressure. And I had nothing but winners coming up on the iPod.

Before going any further, let’s step back to clarify two things. First, it was not our intention to actually give birth in the water. Indeed, the hospital regulations specifically forbid this, and we knew it. (Maybe the local Baptist hospital would be OK with a full-immersion birth, but we were at a Catholic hospital.) Instead, the water was simply to make Sue more comfortable during and between contractions. Second, it wasn’t necessarily the intent to do this in lieu of an epidural. We (well, I, but what do I know?) figured she’d stay in there for awhile, and when the pain became too much to bear, she’d get out, and call for the big needle. What I underestimated was the anxiety that accompanies an epidural. It’s a really scary thing, I gather. I don’t know, though, because they kick the husbands out of the room when they give it. Three times, Sue said something along the lines of “Ok, let’s give this another 15 minutes, and see where we’re at.” Three times, 15 minutes expired, and she stayed in the water. Next thing you know, an hour had gone by, Sue was in a LOT of discomfort, and she was now 7 cm dilated. That must have taken an hour, but it seemed to go by really quickly.

However, by that point, an epidural was out of the question. Jill proposed an alternative med, something that would relax Sue much like “5 glasses of wine” would. Candy said, “Oh, you wouldn’t like Sue after five glasses of wine.” Me, I didn’t see anything wrong with this. 5 glasses of wine are how we ended up in this situation in the first place, so I found a natural symmetry to this idea. However, in order to administer the med, Sue would have to leave the tub.

No dice.

Another 30 minutes. Discomfort had turned to pain. Sue was 9 cm, and it was time to come out the warm, comfortable tub. Sue and Jill made their way from the tub to the bed, a process that took about 10 minutes, including three powerful, knee-buckling contractions. She wailed in pain during the contractions, but was still coherent enough to announce “Next song!” when I started dialing up annoying iPod selections. Suddenly I couldn’t pick any winners. It is during this time that poor Helen had seen enough and ran away screaming got to go home, because her shift was finally over. She introduced us to her replacement, Cari (I think), who said nothing, just sort of nodded in our direction, and started reading the chart.

Sue finally made it to the bed, just in time for another contraction. Jill told her it was time to push. Thing is, while the baby’s head had cleared the cervix, the cervix itself was still not entirely ready for prime time. In the middle of a contraction, Jill did something or other (I sort of lost my train of thought when she later explained what was happening… go figure). Whatever she did forever redefined the word “pain” in Sue’s mind.

If you’ve seen The Princess Bride, you know the sound. For those who haven’t (shame on you, first of all), there was a scene in which the protagonist, Wesley, was hooked up to some sort of torture device with lots of suction cups, and subjected to 50 doses of whatever it was that the machine did. His grunt / scream (a gream, if you will) sounded throughout the kingdom. Everyone, wherever they were, stopped in their tracks, alarmed, looking around, trying to figure out what the sound was, who or what was making it, and where it was coming from. Everyone except Inigo, the Spanish Swordsman, who correctly identified the sound as The Sound of Ultimate Suffering. (The movie ends well; all the good guys live happily ever after. Go rent it, or better yet, read the book.)

(In the announcement, I neglected to finish this thought...) As Sue made these sounds, I couldn't help but wonder whether they too penetrated out into the world, making people wonder "Good Heavens, what is that?"

When Sue made her first push with Jill helping, Sue greamed in a deep, gutteral way. The Sound of Ultimate Suffering was not a shriek, the kind you see in Hollywood depictions, usually for comedic effect. No, it was a deep, from-the-soul response, something that you can’t reproduce. It was also very alarming. Sue later told me she was very frightened, as if pushing would… well… be a very bad thing, let’s leave it at that. And it was at that time that “Cari” decided it was time to speak for the first time. She was making charting notes, and apparently didn’t have enough information to make a required entry.

“Um, so what would you say your pain level is right now? (On a scale of 0 to 10) a 10, maybe?”

To her credit, Sue did not kill Cari. Jill answered on Sue’s behalf that the pain level was probably a 20, and for all we know, that’s exactly what Cari wrote down. My response was to turn off the iPod. I couldn’t bear the thought of, oh, Rock Lobster coming on in the middle of a push.

Jill let Sue “relax” a little… “relax” being a relative term. Sue pushed on her own for about 10, maybe 15 minutes. Then it was time for Jill to help out again. The baby’s heartbeat began to drop, and Jill told Sue, “Look, you are in control here. You can have the baby in two minutes or ten. But I need to tell you, this baby needs to come out now.” Two pushes and three greams later (each as mournful, gut-wrenching as the first), we had a baby boy.

Not just a baby boy… A TINY LITTLE BABY BOY. (Welcome back to the story, those of you just joining us here.) It’s funny, Jillian and Jason were big babies. We induced Rowan because we were concerned she was going to be too big, and she came out a mere 7 lbs. 9 ounces (or thereabouts). It was clear to me on first sight that our little boy wasn’t even in that neighborhood. To be honest, when I heard he was 7 lbs. 1 ounce, I was surprised it was even that much.

Back to Sue. She has always (correctly) self-identified as a wimpy, lousy patient. She’s now forever cast some doubt on that status… she did this without an epidural. Those of who know her, you are, of course, aghast. And while it’s true that they don’t give out Girl Scout patches for that (insofar as I know, maybe scouting is different these days), she did say this: “I had a natural childbirth. Anything else, from now on, is going to be easy.”

Joseph is not only little, but quiet and calm. He has already nursed for about 20 minutes (and potentially more during the couple of hours it has taken me to type all this out). All his parts are in place, and he is not as beat up as his older siblings were at this point in their lives. While he can (and does) cry, he also has long spells out quiet, studious wakefulness. He has lots of hair, which seems equal parts red / brown / blond (if that is possible). Of course, Sue says he looks like me, but she always says that.

Jillian, Jason, and Rowan are beside themselves. They are so happy. Ever since we got home from the hospital, all they want to talk about is going back again.

Pictures attached. Which is, of course, what you wanted in the first place, right?

Expect mommy and son to come home tomorrow, August 4. Y’all come by and see us when you get the chance.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Going to the hospital this afternoon...

... expecting to deliver a baby this evening.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Baby update

Basically any time now. We're scheduled to induce a week from today if the baby doesn't decide to come on its own before then. I'd say the odds are we won't make it that far.