Thoughts On Music and Life

On a recent trip to Tucson I stayed in a home which had a baby grand piano. It also had no television so I was inspired to find some sheet music and dust off my pianist fingers and see what I could remember from ten years of grade school lessons. One beautiful thing about learning to read music is that you never forget how. You don’t have to be Mozart but if you know how to decipher the notes on the page in front of you then, with patience and practice, you can play most anything.

I experimented with music from a variety of levels until I found the one where I was comfortable. At this level I could mostly play through the pieces without a lot of stops and starts and sound reasonably decent pretty quickly. I included a couple of pieces from levels just above this as well, to keep engaged and challenged. My right brain started dancing with joy as I found myself getting lost in the music, so focused on what I was doing that I was unaware of time (and was late for work a couple of mornings because I was having too much fun).

This morning I was playing a piece that seemed relatively easy except for this darned part in the middle that I kept stumbling on. I forced myself to hang on those few bars and bang out each hand individually and then together over and over until I could play without mistake. For a piece that seemed easy this took a painstakingly long time but the minute it all came together a giant smile crept over my face and I realized now the piece was complete and my effort had created a moment of perfection.

It occurred to me that life is like this. We each have areas we struggle and it would be easier to skip over those places and just focus on the parts of us that we feel really good about already. But until and unless we place a deep emphasis on those areas that need work and do the work persistently until we get it right, we live like beautiful masterpieces that have a hole somewhere in the middle.

Ego stroking and validation feel good in the moment, as does being praised for playing “most of” a song right but as the artist you know that troublesome section will nag at you and no amount of adoration can replace the satisfaction of getting it right so that the entire piece flows off the fingertips.

Organic Garden Slug Control

Last year we had the “accidental vegetables” when the compost soil we used for plants in the back yard suddenly sprouted tomatoes, squash and other goodies. While it was a total surprise and I’d never grown veggies before R and I decided to research, care for them and harvest the fruit to eat, which we did.

This year I decided since it went so well before I should try planting some vegetables on purpose. In March I picked up several packets of organic seeds and soil and planted a variety of tomatoes (my favorite), basil and cilantro in pots on the deck. My organic gardener friend (and teacher), Jessie, also gave me seeds for cucumber, tromboncino squash, spinach and another tomato variety. Since all of these are vining vegetables I can create one long row and run them up a trellis together.

Last weekend we dug up our section and created the garden. I transplanted the tomatoes and cucumbers, all of which were looking great in pots. I planted the squash and spinach seeds and covered them with clear plastic lids to keep the birds from transplanting them, something the birds in my yard love to do.

I put down landscape paper to keep weeds at bay and watered everything carefully (“milk for the babies,” as Jessie would say). The next morning I headed down the steps to see how my precious little life forms were doing. I was shocked to find the baby leaves of the cucumber plants nearly eaten through and slugs milling about my garden happily. I “eliminated” 3 slugs on the spot and then called Jessie for advice.

She recommended beer, which most gardeners know already. I took tiny plastic cups, buried them in the soil up to the top and filled each one with cheap beer (I’ll admit walking out of Walgreen’s with a 12-pack of The Beast was actually a bit embarrassing). The second morning I counted 23 slugs in my traps. They were working! But so many slugs!

The third morning I had 27 slugs and counting (there were still some milling about which I “helped” into the beer traps). On this day I began to think the price of the beer to maintain this garden might be more than the price of buying some local organic veggies throughout the season!

Fourth morning: only about 8 slugs in traps and 2 that needed help getting there, and my cucumber finally looked like it was starting to grow again. Then Jessie sent me this link to a variety of natural methods to control slugs, including copper strips and using a simple board to attract them by day. This article also mentions a product my mother-in-law recommended we try for our carpenter bee problem (a story for another post), diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth (Also known as “Insect Dust”) is the sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. It lacerates soft-bodied pests, causing them to dehydrate. A powdery granular material, it can be sprinkled around garden beds or individual plants, and can be mixed with water to make a foliar spray.

In addition to the Beneficial Nematodes I wrote about for my all natural gnat infestation solution, this insect dust may become another staple in this house.

Of course what I didn’t account for is that my slug traps would come under attack by the Bad Dog. Last night it occurred to me that Tinny was taking way too long on her last potty break for the night and it dawned on me why as I stepped outside and yelled for her. Sure enough, she came slinking up the deck stairs reaking of beer and fertilizer. Now… how to control for the largest garden pest yet?!

Accidental Vegetable Progress

Here are a few photo updates to the accidental garden that appeared in our back yard. What started as vegetable plants from no effort have now invoked lots of work on our part. We strung up the netting all around to give the plants something to grow up, and now Ryan has taken to researching how to pollinate the squash flowers ourselves to ensure they all become little squashes! We’ll have to see how that process goes!

Main bed with first squash growing, plus tomato plants
Second squash plant growing by itself
A smaller plant, all alone. Jessie hypothesized this might be a melon. Time will tell...




Accidental Gardener

Newly planted bed in back yard

As mentioned in the last post, six weeks ago some dear friends helped us landscape our yard. In the process we built a new bed along the back fence. The monkey grass used to border the bed was planted using soil from our composter. This was the first time we’ve made use of the soil we’ve been accumulating for over a year now and we were excited to put the fruits of our labor to work for us!

What happened next was… well, surprising (to us).

Above is how the new bed looked just after completion, six weeks ago. We tended to it daily, watering, weeding as needed, etc.

Then one day I noticed a number of “weeds” had cropped up in the monkey grass. For some reason I decided to just watch these for a few days (maybe I was just being too lazy to walk down the stairs and pull them). The day I went to pull the first one I noticed it was growing a pretty yellow flower and I couldn’t decide what it was. Pause here to understand that I’ve never grown anything edible besides herbs in planters before. Uncertain what it was I decided to just leave it for now, until my friend Jessie, the organic gardener, was over again. On her next visit she was showing me photos of her garden at home. Suddenly I saw a picture that looked identical to one of my weeds. I made her go back, asking what it was.

Same bed, squash and tomatoes growing through monkey grass

Darned if she didn’t tell me it was squash. I said: I think that’s what’s growing in the monkey grass!! Sure enough, Jessie went down to inspect. Not only are we growing multiple squash plants. We are also growing about 10 – 12 tomato plants, plus something else she said looks like melon. I could not believe it! How was this possible.

Then Jessie reminded us we had used the compost and it must have grown from our seeds in the compost. Ryan of course was ecstatic to hear all his hard work composting was paying off, until Jessie enlightened him that vegetables growing out of the compost soil was a sign that we’d been composting incorrectly.

Well, I don’t care if it IS a result of our poor composting skills, I’m pleased as punch to be growing vegetables (especially tomatoes), and purely by accident! Jessie suggested we string up netting and give them a place to thrive. So that’s just what we’ve done. We finished the last of the netting Thursday before leaving town. By the time we returned Sunday we had our first squash growing like a… well, a weed!

P.S. If you’d like to know how to garden on purpose here’s a post from Jessie on growing veggies from seed.


Cresting Plateaus

Great article below from ezine on how to solve the pervasive struggle with exercise plateaus (in this case targeting resistance training/muscle building, but applicable everywhere). How can you apply the concept of muscle confusion to your cardio/weight loss routine? Change it up! Continue reading “Cresting Plateaus”

Eating Local, Organic and In Season

Is it odd to anyone else that we have to put actual effort into figuring out how to eat the same way that people have eaten for thousands of years?

A week or so ago someone told me about The Night Owl Cafe, located in Old City, downtown Knoxville. He said they use all locally sourced and organically grown foods, which made me wonder how I haven’t heard of it sooner.

Some more research told me that it’s still fairly new, and apparently they don’t try real hard to be found. As best I can tell they unabashedly have no phone, and apparently no website, though they are on Twitter and Facebook. And there are plenty of rave reviews. Sounds like the owners of The Night Owl focus on doing one thing and doing it well: providing good, fresh food. I’m not going to write a review though, because I still haven’t been there. Yet. If you have, please let us know how you liked it!

Looks like they get at least some of their food supplies from Organicism Farms, which posted the below list on their Facebook page. I’m sharing it here, so all the non-Facebook users can access as well.

Thanks to all the local Knoxville businesses who support not just us but all the local organic growers: The Night Owl CafeChez LibertyThe Tomato Head, The Orangery, RouxbarbAisle Nine Grocery, Three Rivers Market, Benefit Your Life, Natural Products Market, VGs Bakery, Sun Spot, Java, and Spoiled Pet Cafe.

Eat fresh. Eat Local. Eat Organic.

Tragedy? What Tragedy?

As anyone with a CHD child in their life knows, good news is always fully embraced, while the fear of new potential health risks and dangers lurk, never far from conscious thought. In the McClurg family however, we have come to expect bad news to be but a wrinkle in our day, from which we gather ourselves, do what needs to be done, and move forward.

For example, on July 3rd, 2001, my father was told he had renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), and should return to the hospital on July 5th to have his kidney removed. Continue reading “Tragedy? What Tragedy?”

Matthew’s Journey

I’ve been ignoring my own blog lately, but with good reason. The last several weeks I’ve been channeling my “inner Matthew” and posting on Matthew’s Journey, in his own words, of course. Matthew is my nephew, son to my youngest brother William and his wife Nikki. In the final few months of anticipation of and preparation for the arrival of their first son, William and Nikki learned Matthew has a rare heart defect, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) with Endocardial Fibroelastosis (EFE). Continue reading “Matthew’s Journey”

Did You Know? Exercise And Your Brain

Aerobic activity actually makes you smarter! When you exercise, your muscles release protein that travels through your bloodstream and into your brain, where it builds new brain cells and causes them to link together. Studies show that fit individuals (those with normal BMI and strong aerobic capacity) perform better on tests and complex tasks. Under MRI, fit individuals demonstrate increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive function) than non-fit individuals. And in schools, children who took their toughest class immediately after aerobic activity performed much better than those who took the class at the opposite end of the day from aerobic activity.  Want to think more clearly and perform better? Move your body every day!

For more on exercise’s amazing benefits for your brain, check out the new book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.