Thursday, July 30, 2009

Theme Thursday - BUTTON

When teaching the very young, we learn that the keyboard is made up of patterns. A group of three black keys is followed by a group of two black keys, all the way up the piano. I call the group of two the "Doghouse" and "Doggy D" lives in the doghouse. In the very middle of the piano is a group of two black keys. It is often centered right under the brand name of the piano, it's easy to find.

I ask the little ones to line up their belly BUTTON with Doggy D. Many times, I've been flashed. "Hey!", they say, "I have a belly button!" Working with little ones always makes me laugh. Here's an inspirational story about a little one that's far past finding "Doggy D". Peace.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our Sunset Pond

Perhaps the rocking chair didn't call to you yesterday. Would you prefer a moment of solitude to listen to the geese? Happy, giggling children feed the ducks just around the bend; can you hear them faintly on the breeze? The traffic noises fade as the wind laps the water.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Isn't it Time

to sit a spell? Have you been so busy that the lonely rockers are becoming overgrown? Two chairs, a glass of lemonade, and good conversation; let's watch the cars go by.
Breathe deeply and take a moment, you deserve it!

A Reputation Story

(Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20 (left) from Japan and 19-year-old Haochen Zhang from China both took first prizes at the 2009 Van Clibnurn International Piano Competition)

This is a sad but true story. The names have been changed, not to protect the innocent, but to protect the guilty. The innocent and I are talking about this, one step at a time.

These are the facts:

Fifteen year old John, and his Teacher, Mr. B, decided over a year and a half ago, that he was ready for the challenge of a more significant piano competition. The parents were required to increase John's practice time, pay for music,entrance fees and extra lessons, and attend his lessons to take note on what needed improvement. This plan was carried out. The music was college or even master's candidate worthy. The student was up for this unique opportunity. He is a brilliant, dedicated young man with parents who understood their role in this. He already played very well, to say the least.

Over the course of the year, the teacher often seemed dissatisfied in the youth. He would make berating comments about the student's lack of motivation or remarks about his pianistic ability. The repertoire was challenging; John was improving but would it be enough? The diligent work continued. I heard him play the pieces about one month before the contest; I was proud of the work he had accomplished for his first competition and although I was not his teacher, could hear all the progress he had made. I also know what judges at this caliber competition are listening for, and John was probably not going to win.

Two weeks before the event, the competition imminent, the teacher announced at the weekly lesson that he had pulled John from the competition. The parents were quite surprised. In front of the student and his parents, Mr. B glared at the boy and said, "I simply cannot let you ruin my reputation by playing that way in public."

John is continuing studies with this teacher. John has said that he let Mr. B. down, and will try harder.

Now the editorial:
I'm embarrassed that this teacher put himself before his student. His "reputation" should have been put on a shelf long ago. Critique his music, but not his person. It's horrendous to believe that there is still abuse when they are one-on-one, teacher to student. A psychologist friend of mine said to remember that 80% of what some says indicates more about the teacher than it does about the student. 80%.

I'm angry that the parents are still subjecting John to the torment of a teacher who is not ever going to be happy with their son's progress. There are other wonderful teachers out there.

I'm anguished that this student was not commended, in fact he was punished, for his hard work. This competition was his first in this more strident, different league. Let him get his feet wet, feel the pressure, control the nerves. This was about so much more than winning. John still learned a lot about himself and the music. I guess this detail could go under the facts section. But he also learned about human pride and arrogance.

As musicians, we often carry words of our past as baggage fettered to our legs every time we go out on stage. We remember the bad more loudly than the good critiques. We hear the whisper in our inner ears; "you're not that good, you know. Who do you think you are". The stage can be an intimidating place. I will place a wager that this young man will be done with lessons after high school, and never play piano again. It will be our loss.

Please, may I not be part of anyone's chains. We need more beauty and music and art in the world. May I do no harm.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Corn-y Drive thru

Perhaps it is more common across the country than I am giving it credit. Perhaps all of you are madly awaiting the first precious corn stands to grace the roadsides near you. This is yet another way that my area marks the passage of summer time. First it was rhubarb, then strawberries, and now it's corn, and soon, tomatoes. I giggle at the sign that comes out this time of year at our local market. That's right, folks, we have a drive-through for corn on the cob.

Not only do you get the privilege of driving right up to the door and getting handed a brown bag of deliciousness, but if there is not someone waiting right there for you, you can "honk" and they come running. See the sign in the distance? I'm not kidding! I had to wait several minutes for the cars to pass for these pictures of the signs.

The price today was $5.00 for a dozen or $3 for a half dozen. One dozen isn't really twelve. In Minnesota, a dozen corn is usually at least "a baker's dozen" of thirteen, and today it was fourteen lovely ears of sweet goodness. In general, this state is very fussy about its corn and knows several varieties by heart that it prefers. They talk about early versus late corn. When my parents ask at the stands what kind of corn it is, they are hoping to hear that its "Jubilee"; my friend from Iowa is a bi-colored corn lover and waits for its arrival. There is white, yellow, and bi-colored corn, and at some select markets, they carry red. I prefer an early yellow, but don't have a favorite flavor after that.

Many hybrids of corn have been developed for its various uses and canning/freezing properties. Seneca Foods has been instrumental in the development of corn hybrids for their "Green Giant" label. There is a large corn canning (it's called packing here) plant in my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota. I'm pretty sure Libby's is packed in Rochester too. The Seneca Food's distinctive water tower is a city landmark. I have been told that it is painted as an exact replica of an ear of corn, right down to the number of rows of corn. But I don't know what variety! I've never counted the water tower's rows, but there are different numbers of rows depending on the type of sweet corn. If you're going to count, count around the middle of your ear of corn, as each end tapers and you won't get the correct number. Usually I get between ten and sixteen rows, but always even numbers. You'll have to check yours next time.

The tassels at the top of the corn stalk in the field are the pollination for an ear. My friend lost his crop of corn last year after deer ate all the tassels off. So he had a pretty green field, but no cobs. A Midwestern farmer will also give away his background by being able to tell the field of sweet corn at first glance by the tassel color. Field corn is dark tasseled, and is grown for cattle. Although I've eaten it, it's tough, and strong tasting, and made for storing in a grain facility over winter. It's usually got dented kernels, which is also a sign that your corn is past maturity.

At the state fair, corn is cooked while still in its husk, peeled with heavy-duty gloves, and the husk becomes the handle.

Husking corn is almost always relegated to the youngsters of the family. It's an outdoor job, done by a garbage can in my day, by a recycling bin nowadays. Bonus points are given the less "hair" you leave behind. It's proper name is silk.

You may purchase many corn accessories. There are special handles which poke into each end of corn so that you can hold the corn without burning your fingers. They are big sellers. Butter dispensers of various styles are available too, but many simply put a stick of spread on a plate and let everyone "roll their own".

Some cooks bring the water to boil and then put in the cobs of corn. Some cooks bring both the corn and the water to boil together. Some salt the water, some say that dents the kernels. Some boil it only four minutes, some over ten. Some prefer to steam it in only an inch or so of water. And when making only one ear, you can wrap it in wax paper, and microwave it for two minutes. Debates rage about whether or not to pepper corn, simple salt and butter are the gold standard.

My mother brings a sharp knife to the table and cuts hers off the cob. When I had braces on my teeth, I could still enjoy corn this way. The goal was to see how big you could get the pieces to fall off the ear. My goal is always a full row, top to bottom.

When I had corn once in Connecticut, the host had made one ear per person. Although that seems like built-in portion control, in my family, that would have raised eyebrows and been the brunt of a snicker in the car on the way home. Some of us make a meal of corn during the season here, and "How many ears can you eat tonight?" was a staple question of my youth.

Do you have a corn-y story?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I adore days like this. The summer sky is a perfect blue, yet we had a 5 minute drenching shower about an hour ago. The household purrs along with its Saturday jobs. Everyone had something they wanted to get done today, yet the lists were short and left room for detailed, or scant, work. A trip to the farmer's market, cutting the lawn, the laundry is moving, puttering in the shed, painting that little spot by the door, a new light bulb, or using a new squeegee outside on the windows; it is a contented day.

On our deck, young robins decided to preen and try their wings and their voices. Not quite mature, they swoop off the deck rather clumsily, and return to the perch near our door. They seem to encourage each other to try again. Try again. Soak up the day, stretch into the wind. Why did they grace us with their song? Wasn't it an every day, an ordinary day, or was it an extraordinary gift, let's choose today to learn to fly?

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Day Off

Do you really think I can go a whole day without playing piano? Without teaching music? Without thinking or referencing pedagogical thoughts? This will be harder than it sounds for me. But I need a day off. So I'm off to shop and coffee, go mini golfing, lunch, and "Fiddler on the Roof" this evening. (Ohhh, does that count as music?)

I'll talk to you tomorrow...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Theme Thursday - SHOE

I am reminded of my age when I reference Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin in a lesson. This particular conversation began when I believed a student was playing a piece titled "The Old Soft Shoe" too fast. I asked if he knew that it was a dance, what did he know of it? "Nothing, basically," he replied. He didn't know Vaudeville or silent pictures. We talked about imagining the black suit, the rhythm of the dancers, and he was mystified. In order to explain it better, I postponed the discussion and I spent that week finding a video for him to watch to hear the music and see the dancers. I explained that tap dancing was very popular in the 40's and that dance studios still teach it today.

Charles "Cholly" Atkins was an American dancer and vaudeville performer, who later became noted as the house choreographer for the various artists on the Motown label. Charles "Honmi" Coles was an American actor and tap dancer known for his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of Philadelphia.

In 1940, while dancing with Cab Calloway's band, Charles met Charles. As Coles & Atkins, their routine opened with a fast-paced song and tap number, followed by a precision swing dance, a soft shoe, and a tap-challenge. Their partnership lasted nineteen years.

What set this brilliant soft shoe dance apart was the seemingly perilous slowness of it. Each step was executed in graceful symmetry that was absolutely breathtaking. Never before had such precision and style been brought to this tempo of soft shoe.

This is what I showed him.

The beauty and elegance of this tap is what I wanted to emphasize, as much as the tempo of the piece. I had even asked him whether he had seen anyone dance to "Tea for Two" in any old cartoons; that is also a soft shoe dance. He looked completely bewildered. (I still think Buddy would have made a wonderful Tin Man)

I am so excited to share music with my students that should be timeless. In a way, YouTube is helping me in ways beyond measure, similarly, in my opinion, to when cartoons used orchestral music to tell their tales. I know I heard many famous opera themes or overtures the first time on Saturday morning. Many of those melodies remain in my head with Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny movie "clips". I will never hear the Barber of Seville quite the same way, for example. Here is my last "Shoe" entry, Charlie playing with his food. Charming as ever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Italian On His Terms

At the state convention in June, Maurice Hinson discussed the many Italian words we use to describe the tempo of a piece. Adagio, Andante, Allegro, Vivace, the list is long. He described each word in depth and the deeper meanings behind them. When I was ready to go into a deep diatribe with a student yesterday, full of wisdom about Andante, I was cut off with a better question! "Why did the 'guys' who wrote this music on paper use Italian? Didn't they speak English?"

True that! So rather than wax eloquently on what I had prepared, we discussed that some of the men to write music on paper were the monks who lived in Rome, Italy. They weren't the first, but it has lasted. They spoke Italian and used their native language to put the melodies, notes and rhythms, into a form so that the other monks in Italy and eventually around Europe could sing. The same chants and melodies would unify the congregations no matter which church they attended, the same as the ones at the Vatican.

This is also why there are lines, like fingers, on the staff. The lead monk, in front of the group, used to hold up one hand, fingers outstretched and sing the pitch of one of the fingers. Then he used the other hand to point to the different outstretched fingers, or their spaces in between. The monks could all change pitches together then and sing their mass. When it came time to write down these songs, they drew it on paper the way it looked as they had pointed on their hand. You can pretend to direct what is written above! Tricky, but it works.

We still use Italian as a sign of respect in a way to the first composers. Some later composers used their native languages, (English, German, French, etc.,) in their music. Most of this began in the Romantic period when there was a big Nationalistic push across Europe. At this point the student interrupted and said that it should have been printed in English because that's what he reads.

He certainly has a point.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Can't Trust that Day..."

I teach a split shift on Mondays. Sometimes the students have used the weekend to really do a bang up job on their music. Sometimes students have been at the cabin, on a mental holiday, or just didn't get around to practice. I wonder what this Monday will bring.

I adore seeing videos like this when there is a simple guitar on stage, yet we hear strings, drums, tambourine, and full accompaniment background. Were they lip-syncing way back before "Milli-Vanilli"? I also like the groovy mod stage, man.

Monday, Monday, can't trust that day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Top 40 Radio

My friend M. asked me whether the singer on the radio was singing flat today. He said if it was that bad that he could hear it, what was it doing on the radio?

Singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, or Bing Crosby had amazing voices. I know. I've left out a plethora of fantastic ones. In an era before you could rework a vocal, they sang with long breaths, great pitch and amazing tone. I sense that most singers today do not really have the vocal "chops" and are entertaining us as much as being profoundly great singers. Of course there are exceptions, and there are entertainers that are also fabulous vocally, but less often, in my opinion.

Recording studios today can manipulate every aspect of a performance. When I was there, we could balance any instrument against the others, tune, move the rhythm to square it up with a player who had come in late or early, and yes, even change the pitch and diction of the singer. There is an entire sub-industry devoted to tuning and tone.

When I watched the New Year's Eve countdowns across the country on the various television stations last year, many of them were proud that they were hosting this or that band "live". Some were not really live, they were lip syncing to a recording without a band behind them. And some of them were just plain awful. Out of rhythm, out of tune, and perhaps on drugs, the music was not what I expected from a nationally recognized recording artist or group.

I'm not a big fan of the many video camcorders that save every precious note of my students' young performances either. Recordings were not available when I was a student, thank you so much for that! Let the performances be what they are, and let us learn from what we remember of them. Sometimes I can tell that my students have studied and watched themselves on these videos so many times, and keep reliving the inevitable mistake, glitch or memory lapse to the point that they believe they are not good pianists. Taping things so that Grandpa can see it, or that it can go on Facebook, or (gasp) a blog have changed the way we listen.

I have to remind students that live performance at their recitals is LIVE. It is not a CD, it has not been digitally "mastered", and it is gone like the wind in time after the last note sounds.

Friday, July 17, 2009

POGO Sticks

POGO Sticks are my unique way to help students remember to practice. It's easy to stick these anyplace, like on your piano right in front of your nose! I stick them on my student's foreheads, and then they have fun sticking them somewhere that they would see them at home.

The students who have trouble OPENING THEIR NOTEBOOK during the week really liked that they would stick somewhere easy to see. Some have used it as their bookmark.

Do you know what POGO stands for? The students came up with some very clever words for the abbreviation. Some of their slogans have been "Practice On, Great One”, “Pursue Only Gorgeous Opus”, “Practice Overcomes Giant Obstacles”, “Post-its Or Green Ogre-teachers, or “Patience Overcomes, Get Original!"

But I know the truth. It's "Practice Or Get Out". I meant it in the nicest way possible. And I liked the play on the words Pogo Sticks, like the child's toy. In fact, I still can't say it without smiling.

The green POGOs sold out on Friday. This is amazing to me in a way. I thought I might be using my own personal stack of them into my eighties. There is more than a difference in color. The green ones have minutes pre-written on the bottom, and the watermelon is blank. I made the green ones first, with my own studio practice requirements. Then when I started selling them nationally, I ordered the blank minutes so other teachers could use them too. Some liked the same practice minutes requirements as mine, I guess!

One of my students said that "these have really motivated me. I realized I hadn't practiced in two days when I got back to the piano. So I made up
the minutes by practicing longer the rest of the days in the week. They are really helping me achieve my goals." And a teacher emailed me and said, "I just had to email you this. My student came back this week and told me that these had `inspired him to practice harder'. He said, I want to be a WOW this week”. What a compliment!

Now I get to decide. Should I make more WITH minutes? Or choose another color? Or choose another color but only offer blank minutes, as these seem to sell better? The artwork is already on file at the printer, so the costs will be the same, a reprinting charge. Do you have an opinion?

PS, I have some complimentary samples if you'd like to try some on your students!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Theme Thursday - STAGE

Practice, practice, practice! So the joke goes. That's the answer to the question, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

Many pianists strive for the moment that they can play here; they believe they have arrived, and in a way they have! Masters students in New England compete for the coveted spots on the concert schedule. Many resumes indicate that the pianist has played at Weill Hall, the smaller more intimate stage pictured here. It seats fewer than 300 people, and it a lovely venue for a salon style performance. Although it's not "the" hall, and it's up on the third floor, there is an air of profoundness that hits you immediately upon entering. It is almost revered.

I went on a tour of the building back in the 80's. It was not actually in the best of shape at the time. It needed major work and the non-profit foundation has done a wonderful job of restoring some of the art, trim, flooring to its original luster, according to what I've heard from friends in the city. When Andrew Carnegie himself laid the cornerstone in 1890, he said, "It is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country,” and he was correct.

Many of my students, piano performers world-wide, and I will never perform on this illustrious stage. Perhaps for me the better thing to ponder after realizing that I will not perform on this stage is, does my music touch people here, right here, in my community? Is it from my heart, do I move them to something more, more serene, sharing peace, or to a different plane? Music has the ability to speak past the language of words. When my student plays so beautifully that I am speechless, or that I weep, I think it may have been a Carnegie moment.

Practice, practice, practice...

(For more information on Carnegie Hall, visit here)

There IS such a thing as a free lunch!

On Saturday, after the St. Paul Farmer's Market, my friend and I kept a good thing going by heading to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. But we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at a Chipotle restaurant first. (The following is not a restaurant recommendation, I think my friend J. has powers; she says these things always happen to her.)

Two high school students of mine praise, laud, extol, no, almost worship this chain of restaurants. Looking at the map on their website, only some of you will know and be able to taste it yourselves. My students talk about it incessantly, and plan their lives around their next dining experience. I was told that I absolutely needed to try this extremely gourmet Mexican (fast) food. This is to me an oxymoron already-gourmet fast food. My friend J.'s daughter feels the same about this place, so we went in.

I am a food-y. I love to try new things and the menu was full of meats, sides, salsas and extras. It took me over ten minutes to decide, staring up at the fast food menu as if it had been years since and until my next dining excursion. J. went first and ordered an amazing burrito just the way her daughter told her that she liked it. I ordered a three taco "sampler" if you will. One of each type of meat, one with rice, one with beans, it was quite a basket. I tried all three salsas.

While chatting all the while with the help, the manager overheard our status as first-timers. She was so friendly and helpful. She made the whole experience better yet by telling us her favorite combos, and gave us a sample of the pork carnitas. Then, to top it all off, she gave us our lunch for FREE if we would tell her at the end of our meal what we thought.

Later, after our critiques of the combos and the burrito, she gave us each a gift card to come back and try something else another day. She also gave me two gift cards for my two students. I'm going to use them this fall for the most blatant bribery you can imagine.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ferrari

While we were walking back to our affordable, boring car from the Saturday morning Farmer's Market, a crowd had gathered around this sharp looking vehicle. I had to laugh though when I saw the parking ticket. Who tickets a Ferrari? Who does the Ferrari driver think he is? I loved the reflection of the buildings in the windshield. Vroom vroom-I'd pay the parking ticket to drive the car!

Monday, July 13, 2009

St. Paul Farmer's Market -Saturday Morning

No two colors the same!
Colorful! Yellow wax beans, light green snap peas, deep green beans, brown garlic, white onions, Yukon gold and red potatoes, snappy orange baby carrots
The Capital City Brass!
More than a horn of Good Plenty

A friend and I had a delicious time at the St. Paul Farmer's Market on Saturday. Many of Minnesota's tasty bounty are now beginning to show up on the marketer's tables. Some of my "must-have" items are fresh flowers, kohlrabi, green beans, and red potatoes. Since The Hassenpfeffer Heist, as it's become known at my home, I am forced, sigh, to get to farmer's markets around the area as often as I can. Do you feel for me? You don't?

There are location choices. There are satellite markets Tuesday in one suburb, Thursdays in a western city, and Saturdays both in Apple Valley where I live and in St. Paul. I went to our city market about two years ago, and wasn't that enthralled, but it may have been my timing. Two weeks in our short growing season makes a big difference.

On this past Saturday, we went to both Apple Valley and St. Paul, wondering which was better, or whether the choices would be limited at the smaller suburban venue. I was pleasantly pleased with the fact that our market had almost everything the "big city" had. They were all the same price, and they had everything on my grocery list! The raspberries and a few blueberries were coming in, some small broccoli, currants, and a few tomatoes from western Wisconsin were there. This farmer's market boasts a fifty mile radius for goods.

The St. Paul market is much bigger. It included organic meats, eggs, cheeses and dairy, beef jerky a table of hmong purses, and a handmade jewelry marketer.

However, the best part is that up in St. Paul, there is music. Every Saturday, a different group performs. Here is the schedule if you're interested. This requires a fair amount of work from the performing group. Horns and chairs, music stands, clothes pins, and even a towel become part of the experience. Ask people who've ever played live outside, and they will tell you that clothes pins are an indispensable musician's tool. I learned the hard way on my first outdoor wedding. Since then, they are always in the bottom of my bag. You just never know.

I'm still waiting for my first tomato of the season. They just didn't look quite robust yet today. It needs to dribble down my chin.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I Won a Book!

I entered a drawing at the Common Good Bookstore. This is Garrison Keillor's shop in St. Paul, a really interesting lower level nook of a shop with the most interesting reads. See Here for a few photos of the shop.

I received an email that I won a copy of My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult. Click Here to see the cover and an overview. I can't wait to dig in and read it next week!

My impression is that most all books are better than their movie counterparts so I am also glad about the timing. I have a pact with myself that I will see movies based on books only after having read them. I have instigated a similar "rule" at the house for all the readers here. Well, we try.

Here are pictures of the sidewalk and storefront of the Common Good Bookstore, the building style of old St. Paul, and the beautiful day. Sorry, I didn't see Garrison Keillor there - but I already have his autograph. We were speakers at a music seminar a few years ago.

Please let me know what you thought of the author, or the book, or the topic, if you've read it. I've heard that it's controversial.

Lola Rosemary Update

Lola Rosemary's hair done gone a lil' WILD! She be needin' a haircut soon!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Culinary Final Exam

The City of Minneapolis
Mpls. campus of the technical college
Instructor in tall white chef hat, another instructor in the orange shirt

I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend to her job yesterday. She is a teacher of culinary art at our local technical college. She was asked to help critique the downtown Minneapolis students in their final exam and invited a few foody friends to join her. What an amazing event.

For $10.00 U.S., the price of almost any buffet in the city, you were given access to overwhelmingly gorgeous tables of food. It was called the Grand Final Buffet, and each student was responsible for presenting a main entree, a salad or soup, and an appetizer. (Two chefs per table) They were judged on presentation, service, taste, creativity, use of ingredients, and a host of other things. My pictures do not do their work justice.

On each table was also an ice sculpture! I asked a very young looking chef about this experience. I told her that I have seen many ice sculptures at weddings and buffets but that it had not occurred to me that this was part of their classroom experience. Would she tell me about it? Her eyes were huge and she said that they were given about three hours of instruction and then handed a chainsaw! Oh My! The artistic ability varied highly. Some were quite ornate, like a feathered swan, and hers was a five-pointed star. But her facial expression of sheer terror at being handed a power tool was the best part of the story.

One table had a lot of sushi and Asian cuisine, another utilized an Israeli, Middle-Eastern style, and there was even a chef who was experimenting with sauces for chicken wings. Much was French inspired or very creative uses of pairing ingredients together.

I'm going to forget the inventive names they had for these dishes. But on my plate in the photo is a watermelon salad with an amazing vinegrette,a lamb roll with tomato, a toasted rye with a very intriguing spread, a slice of duck with apple chutney, mahi tuna on a tortilla, a bland-filled pasta with Italian dressing, peppercorn turkey, something sushi with a cantalope melon ball on top, beef with wild mushroom glaze, a seasoned shrimp cocktail and terriyaki chicken. Above the plate, in the black cups were samples of cherry soup, gazpacho, and the most delightful cantalope soup, all served chilled. There was iced tea or water to drink and you could go back and sample as often and as many as you wanted. It was pretty inspirational.

I have no idea how you could really judge these "exams". It was so much fun to be a part of their big day. Out of this little excursion, several of us determined that it would be fun to have a book or cook club. We'll see whether that comes to fruition.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Orchestra in the Park

The other evening we went to an outdoor concert. It was part of a city's week-long annual celebration. It is a civic orchestra, click here to see it better and get more information about them, they performed selections that varied along the theme of "I Love a Parade". I was distracted by the noise from the cars on the road nearby, pitch, and intonation issues. But the sound for the performers under the shell was well blended, they said.

The sound for the audience was picked up from 10 condenser mics around the perimeter of the group, carried to a 16 channel soundboard and then to speakers. This would never have crossed my mind a year ago. But as I'm now in a worship space that needs electrically driven sound, and we needed sound for our Dew Days parade float, I was curious. There was a nice size crowd at the park that evening, and the rain held off. The city park is nestled near a lake; boaters, volleyball players and children on the playground all enjoyed the music while doing what they do. Several listeners brought coolers and had a picnic; there were grills sizzling, and the lake accompanied the strings with the gentle lap of water on shore.

Their last piece was "Stars and Stripes", to which I sang along the silly words I had learned as a child. See here if you're curious. I was the only one of our group who knew them! Then one friend started playing her imaginary french horn part; she had learned the piece in school, and I joined in with my invisible piccolo; we had a very silly time. The crowd clapped along to the music, and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Wandering the downtown area of this city after the concert, we happened across the cutest ice cream stand and had to stop for a blueberry shake, hot fudge sundae and a banana split.

I lost a dollar bet at this roadside oasis! The owner of this adorable stand IS a former Minnesota Viking football player, and now Coney dog cook. "Paul Krause, #22, a safety, still has the record for the most Viking interceptions, 81 I think." my friend tossed out this random trivia. What a riot. I don't know football at all, let alone stats from the '70's. A Hall of Fame Football player was in the kitchen of the Dairy Delite! He is known to be very philanthropic to the community.

I'm buying! What dairy delight would you like to order today? Yum, what a lovely evening.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Little Beauties!

On Mother's Day three years ago, we planted a pair of pear trees. This year is the first that we've gotten fruit, even though they are less than two inches in length at the moment. Look at the fruits of this labor, sweet and small, and oh so tantalizing!

Theme Thursday - GHOST

This was tricky for me, but I'm sure you'll consider this musical selection humorous, regardless of the political statement it may or may not be making. In my opinion, quitting your job in the middle of a four-year term is a sure way to give yourself a GHOST of a chance in the next election.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Do you need proof of things for them to satisfy you? I am back to teaching today. Did I need proof that I missed the students? I half joked that it was quite a guilty pleasure to take 3 weeks off; perhaps I could grow used to it!

It was obvious to me after the evening was over that I adore spending time with these wonderful young people. But yes, I do need to feel that feeling. I am in a state of reevaluating a lot about my life, who I am, what I am, and what I do. I have been questioning my roles in the multi-faceted world in which I live. I have three jobs, children and spouse. There are four if you want to count my composing as a "job". Although busy, these jobs overlap and work together, and bring much color and variety to my life. However, sometimes I DO need proof that validates my time and how I'm spending it.

On television there is a "Naked Archeologist" episode (great show, by the way) in which the proof is inconclusive about King Solomon and whether he existed, whether he built a temple, whether he built fortified gates at Meggido, Hazor, and Gezzar. The archeologists do not agree on the time periods of each site. They do not agree on the artifacts. Are the artifacts real or forgeries? They need the proof or they will not believe.

So, do I need archeology evidence to trust whether Solomon existed? Yes, sometimes I do. It would certainly be easier to believe if there was indisputable tangible evidence. Do you? Do you have faith on something when evidence may only speculate? What about your life do you take on faith? Have you questioned why you're doing what you're doing? Does it frighten you to do so?

A friend of mine says that to question the things in my life is to potentially upset the apple cart. "If it's going fine, why would you want to ruin it", she urged. I countered, "Why would you want to continue doing something just because that's how you've always done it?" It made her too uncomfortable to continue the discussion.

Where do you stand?

"Faith is taking the first step when you don't see the whole staircase."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Midwest Parade

Our local parade begins with a flyover by World War 2 planes and a revolutionary colorguard. Local talent sings the national anthem on the grandstand stage where the floats and entries are judged. My friend's twin sons sang this year. The streets have been lined for days with folding chairs, canopies, and blankets, as people hold their favorite spots. The curbs are full of expectant children, bags and five quart pails in hand, as candy pours from the floats that pass along.

The music is the key to a great parade in my opinion. You can have your Shriner motorcycles or the political candidates. The Klondike Kates, the churches advertising their upcoming Vacation Bible School events have canned music. I saw more than a few city princesses, the grocery stores and ice cream shops. I'll take a good marching, polka, or mariachi band every time. I rise to my feet and clap and yell; I probably make quite a spectacle of myself, but I love to hear these groups and the tunes they choose.

The live musicians at our parade are wide and varied. Fantastic high school bands in full uniform, "chops" bands in Hawaiian shirts, and even a bagpipe troupe showed their stuff this year. Our local high schools gather mid-summer in matching t-shirts and khaki shorts to play. For the nineteenth year, Summer Pops has been a mainstay of our local parade. This is a group of middle schoolers who are studying their instruments over the summer with a committed band director. They play melody accompanied by background tracks that make them sounds pretty good!

Other than the police cars,fire trucks,or the army tanks that go by, I don't understand the floats or entries that are silent. No amount of waving can replace even an average musical track. This day can be a firecracker, picnic soundfest. It's not hard to put any tune on a speaker. However, it may define your group more than you know. And I have a wonderful memory, knowing that certain groups play the same 3 tunes every year.

It reminds me again why I'm in the profession I'm in. It matters so much to me. Happy Independence Day, all my blogger friends. Remember today that freedom is only a hope to many.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pre-Fourth of July Preparations-The Unexpected

On a pleasant note, (Db), my new triangle flower garden between the paths is coming along beautifully! See the Roman Candles, sedum, geum, astilbe, and lovely little impatiens? Sometimes the bunnies have eaten the buds off the impatiens in their impatience, but not so far.
On a sad note (Eb), a wascally wabbit discovered my lovely garden over the last two days and has eaten everything except the tomatoes and some of the radishes by the fence. I mean everything, down to the ground. GONE! My lettuce, carrots, bean plants in bloom, the pea vines, just beginning their delicate climb-it's all gone. I came out to admire and weed this morning and ended up wandering aimlessly through the dirt. I could not and still can not quite believe that it would eat even the leaves of the bean plants. The lettuce I can understand and the tops of carrots, sure. But bean leaves? I was so disheartened that I took out the rototiller and had M. churn it all up. The glass half full side of my stomach says this is why farmer's markets were invented. The ticked off side of my gut says this is why they invented pellet guns.

We try to be kind, we really do. We use live traps, and chicken wire. We shoo, and have tried every spray, fox urine, blood meal, and human hair.

My garden is fenced. It has a strong chicken wire mesh around its formerly merry perimeter. There is obviously a breach in the "prison" wall. This calls for close scrutiny, repairing wire and more time than I wanted to spend on it today. And the fresh produce is gone, gone I say! I succumb to replanting. I will have some trouble finding seeds, I imagine.

"Shhh, be verwy verwy quiet. I'm hunting wabbits. I'll get those wascally wabbits, oooooohh."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Theme Thursday - FUNKY

This is my summer craze song. I know, I know, but I need to hear it at least 3-4 times a day. It's a great rhythm, infectiously happy, and FUNKY!

Who's been to Visit?