Some things never change…

I wrote this about solo/ensemble festival in a long-ago blog post:

I can write this before Saturday because I already know what the day will be like. There will be herds of young people moving up and down the halls. Girls will be dressed in their uncomfortable finery — some sporting high heels that are clearly killing their feet. Boys may have ties or tennis shoes, and sometimes both! There will be smiles, laughter, tears and frustration. There will be donuts, hot dogs and probably BBQ sandwiches. Some will perform better than they ever have (or ever will again), and some will make huge mistakes. Some who deserve twos will get ones, and some who deserve ones will get twos. Families and friends hover, chatting quietly, and move from room to room. The tension and nerves of many performers is nearly tangible. Scraps of conversations can be overheard: “I got a one/two/one star!” “That judge is crazy/easy/hard/good/bad!” “The room is running way behind.” “Where is my accompanist/instrument/music/director/reed/room?”

Flash back to this past weekend:  I had a conversation about this topic with another Mom while we were waiting for scores to be posted on Saturday (which was our state solo/ensemble festival this year). I said there are always the same types of people every year; some things never change. There are girls in too-high heels or no shoes at all (one walked by as I said this!), girls in too-short skirts (we saw one on the way to our cars), and people in various costumes (medieval dress, sparkly show choir outfits, bow ties and suspenders, etc.)

Nerves can be covered by a veneer of confidence that is only a millimeter thick — or not covered at all. Red-rimmed, tear-filled eyes are easy to spot in nearly every hallway. After (and sometimes even before) a performance that may or may not have been an accurate showing of the musician’s ability that inner voice that says “You completely messed that up!” or “You’ve never made that mistake before — EVER — why now?” can drown out all other coherent thoughts.

Musicians are fragile yet incredibly strong at the same time. If you’ve never had to stand up in front of a group of peers, or strangers, or experts and sing, play or perform knowing you’ll be evaluated not only against yourself but against everyone else who will perform in that room that day you can’t imagine the amount of courage and fortitude that requires.


We want to be perfect and perfection is nearly impossible to obtain. (That doesn’t stop us from trying to attain it, though!)

I think that is why we sometimes play the “Diva.” We can easily hide behind the DIVA persona . “Who gives a damn what you think? I know I’m fabulous.” But all the while We still have nagging doubts: “I missed that G#!” “I can’t believe I mixed up the verses!”

The fear that we are not good enough is always there. (At least it is for me.)


It isn’t easy to let go of the ideal “perfect” performance goal. Striving for steady progress and for excellence while appreciating and enjoying the journey are much more achievable, healthier goals.

Easier said than done.  But saying it is the first step toward doing it, right?perfectionism-quote

A friend posted this article on her Facebook wall soon after I wrote this blog post. It is ON POINT so here it is:

Pianist Misses Notes In Recital, Says Pianist

“Oh my god, no. What are you talking about? I was terrible,” Hayes said, challenging Christine’s version of events. “I missed so many notes, I can’t freaking believe it. I never mess up there.”

Several audience members besides Christine also failed to notice Hayes’ embarrassing mistake, leading them to falsely conclude that the recital was a success and the 22-year-old pianist should be proud of his tremendous accomplishment. Most attendees were seated at a considerable distance from the stage and had at best a partial view of Hayes’ hands, while several among them lacked the musical education necessary to have formed a credible judgement of his performance.

Their glowing accounts of Hayes’ recital were directly contradicted by Hayes himself, who was the key eyewitness to the memory slip in the Schumann. Not only did Hayes have a closeup, firsthand view of his own senior recital, he had also been studying his repertoire in depth for several months and had better knowledge of the correct notes than anyone else present in the auditorium.

(Read the complete article which was posted on SubMediant on May 2, 1016.)



This week has had some odd moments.

sharks and jets
Sharks and Jets ready to rumble. Google image from West Side Story.

I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot

As I drove to choir rehearsal on Tuesday evening, I witnessed a fairly large group of  young people (high school to 20s) gearing up for a fight.  They were on the sidewalk and spilling out onto the road.  Guys were charging toward each other, and a couple of them were pulling off their shirts.

I couldn’t decide if I should slow down or speed up.  I was going to drive by about when the groups would collide.  Could I find my phone to call 911?  What if someone has a gun and shoots it?  I could get hit by a stray bullet…

Though I had my windows up and music playing, I could their angry voices.  I kept a steady speed and drove by.  I looked in my rear view mirror as several people (males and females) physically put themselves between those who were intent on fighting.  I admired their bravery and said a prayer of thanks for their courage.

I got a little further away and slowed down as I tried (again) to decide if I should call 911 or not .  If I called, what would I say?  Nothing happened; it just appeared that something was on the verge of happening.  But what if the peace makers didn’t succeed?

I didn’t call.  I went to choir.  I wonder what happened.


Popeye’s red beans and rice side dish. Google image.

Red Beans and Rice.

One of my food-related “guilty pleasures” is to have Popeye’s shrimp or chicken with a side of their tasty red beans and rice. As I hurried from my morning of teaching to an afternoon gig to accompany a group of singers for an hour long program at a senior citizen lunch, I realized I only had about 30 minutest to eat. I decided to drive through Popeye’s. Well, at least in the Milwaukee area, you need to be prepared for at least a 10 to 15 minute drive through “experience” but I figured that would still give me 15 minutes to eat.

There was only one car ahead of me and they were sitting at the ordering speaker.  I took the risk.  I watched the car clock tick away the minutes.  I considered going to another fast food place (there were several in the near vicinity).  I decided to stay.  I ordered.  I waited. My food appeared many minutes later.  I didn’t want to sit in the that parking lot to eat so I drove away looking for a little nicer place to park.

I stopped at a library branch.  I felt a little guilty because of the large warning sign: “Parking for Library Patrons ONLY.  Violators will be towed.”  I reasoned with myself that I AM a library patron because I borrow ebooks all the time and my library card is in the Milwaukee County Federated Library System.  All of this is secondary to my upcoming drama with the red beans and rice, though.

The shrimp was hot and spicy.  It was delicious.  The chicken was hot and crispy, too. I saved the red beans and rice for last.  I opened the container.  Yes! They gave me a spork this time!  (I have eaten them using the lid as a “spoon” more than once).

I was trying to open the plastic covering the spork and somehow managed to spill nearly ALL the container of beans and rice on myself.  I was stunned.  What on earth could I do to clean this up well enough to perform on stage with only a few napkins and only a few minutes to spare? As Dr. Seuss so famously said, “This mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we can not clean it up!  There is no way at all!”

dr seuss
Dr. Seuss quote. Google image.

I was wearing black pants and shirt with a long red knit jacket over.  The jacket had a batik -ish pattern printed on it.  It was made so the serged seams were showing on the outside as part of the design.  The fact that the jacket is somewhat reversible becomes an important point.

I got out of the car.  I brushed off as much as I could.  Birds and squirrels were going to have a treat.  I used the spork.  I used the napkins. Most of it came off, but there were HUGE splotches in several places.

I wondered if I could wear the jacket inside out?  The decorative seams would be on the inside and the stains would most likely not show through as much that way.  I only needed to find a pair of scissors to cut out the tag.  It could work!

Ultimately, I wore it right side out.  I did find scissors.  I did cut the tag out.  I did try it wrong side out.  In the end it seemed best to leave it “as is.” Most of the staining was on the left side, which as it turned out would be facing away from the audience.

Moral of the story:  Open your spork BEFORE you open your beans and rice.

The biggest lingering problem? A very strong fragrance of Eau de red beans and rice.



Anne Ruthmann Lockdown
Lockdown image by Anne Ruthmann, via Flickr CC license


I accompany two children’s choirs.  At the second rehearsal this week, during our break one of the girls told us about a lockdown at her school.  She said it happened right away in the morning.  There were police cars in the cemetery across the road from her school. They huddled in their lockdown positions for a very long time.  She asked if any of us had been in a lockdown before and nearly everyone raised their hands (including me). She said she felt scared and began to cry. Someone asked did you find out what happened?  Yes.  There was a man digging his own grave and he shot himself in the head.  She said she didn’t know if he died or not.

I told her I always feel the need to apologize to my students after a lockdown drill.  I’m so sorry they have to go through such a scary experience.  Most of the lockdown time I spend wondering if it is real or not and what I would do if someone came in shooting.  Is this the day the unimaginable happens?

The school day went on as usual for the girl and her schoolmates.  So many aspects of her story leave me feeling extremely sad and somewhat hopeless.

Accession Number: 1974:0193:0195 Maker: Southworth & Hawes Title: Unidentified Child Date: ca. 1850
Southworth and Hawes image; George Eastman House public domain image of unidentified child, c. 1850.

*A quick online search did not yield any shooting or homicide in the MKE area this week that matched this girl’s story.  I wonder if the explanation she heard came from a teacher or a student.  Sounds like an elementary school rumor, but one can’t be sure.  Often real life is stranger than fiction.

*You can read about my very first lockdown experience here.












Tromp Queen: The Evangelist

Calvin Smith preach
“Preach” image by Calvin Smith via Flickr CC generic license. Speaker’s Corner, London 2007

Sometimes I feel like an evangelist. I feel excited about something I’ve discovered or I have some knowledge that seems relevant to share. Whatever the reason, I find myself telling people about things they might be interested in or that might be of help to them.

Here is my current list of “really great things”:

  1.  Hamilton. The Musical.Months ago, my daughter suggested I should listen to the soundtrack.
    “I think you’d really like it, Mom.”
    Yeah, hmmm. I wasn’t sure.
    I knew it was a hot ticket on Broadway in NYC but I also knew it had a hip-hop and/or rap vibe.
    Not really my wheel-house.But earlier this week I finally asked her to put it on a memory stick for me so I could put it on my iPod.

    Yes, I’m a musician, professional pianist and music teacher — but I mostly listen to music in the car not at home.
    I tend to get too caught up in listening that I end up getting nothing done.
    Unless it is a special genre of what I call “house cleaning music” but that fills a special purpose.
    I digress.


    Hamilton.  The Musical.
    Anyway, It took me a few trips around town to listen to the whole soundtrack, but even before I finished the whole thing I was already telling pretty much every I met that I LOVED it and that they should listen to it, too. Right away! I have listened to it numerous times now and I am still hearing new things in it.

    I’m so excited about it that I’m going to organize a group to go see the show when it comes to Chicago this fall. I can’t wait!

  2. Zenni Optical. Yes, you can order excellent quality inexpensive eyeglasses online. I got three pairs for about $30 including shipping. THREE pairs. I recently bought a pair of glasses at a local eyeglass store that cost nearly $400! I honestly can’t tell the difference between the expensive pairs and the very inexpensive pairs.
    This pair is on my wish list. Zenni Optical.

    Zenni has a very good website. You need your prescription from your eye doctor (with the pupillary distance if possible, but that is not essential since the website tells you how to measure it yourself). You can upload a photo of your face so that you can try the frames on YOUR photo. I found that it takes about an hour to get the photo and prescription enetered, choose your glasses and fill out the order form.

    I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I’ve ordered SEVEN pairs of glasses from Zenni (so far.) I stepped on one pair and one pair is AWOL, but they cost about as much as two grande mochas so I don’t feel horrible about it.

    I LOVE the cool frames. I have a pair that green multicolor, bright blue plastic, a purple polka-dotted pair, blue wire half-rims, and a pair that look Mondrian-ish. The pair that looks like wood is the AWOL pair, but I have hope they will turn up.

    Seriously. Wouldn’t a nice pair of trendy, colorful, hip eyeglasses perk up your day?

  3. Penzeys Spices. I’ve used these spices for probably two decades or more. There IS a difference in quality over the grocery store brands. These are some of my essentials: Cinnamon (I have three different kinds), Chili Powder (two kinds), Peppercorns (Special India Extra Bold), Rogan Josh (curry blend), Sweet Curry, Northwest Seasoning, Double Strength Pure Vanilla Extract, Italian Seasoning, Cocoa (two kinds), nutmeg, Chicago Steak Seasoning.



  4. Take Vitamin D. Most people don’t get enough of this vitamin, especially in the winter months and especially up North. I take 1000 IU a day. The RDA is lower than that, but the research I’ve read seems to suggest a higher amount than the RDA. Some recommend up to 2000 IU a day.  The studies that most convinced me to take the extra Vitamin D were those identifying lower cancer risk and lower incidence of colds/flu with higher levels of Vitamin D. Check some Vitamin D facts here.
  5. Thrift Books. I have to thank my niece and my sister for this tip. If you don’t want to pay full retail, you still enjoy reading “real” books, and you don’t mind if your books are “pre-owned” — this is the site for you! You can find all sorts of books and most are $3 or less. You can get free shipping with orders over $10. They have saved over 200 million of books from going into landfills! Good stuff.
    thrift books
  6. Goodwill. Favorite things to find: jewelry (gemstones and glass beaded necklaces and earrings either to wear or tear apart to make new creations), cashmere sweaters, silk scarves, original art and photography, books (cookbooks, too), CDs, leather purses, picture frames and so many useful, beautiful items over the years.

    find a grave

  7. Find A Grave and My two (FREE) “go to” sites for family history research. I already wrote a blog post about this whole topic, so you can read more about this there.


    There are many more but I won’t continue to go into so much detail. I’ll leave you with brief list of past evangelistic crusades I’ve been on:
    A&E Pride and Prejudice (Yes, all five hours of it).
    Humans of New York (Facebook page)
    Terry Pratchett (author, Discworld series)
    Shutterfly (make your own books)
    Colossal:  website devoted to photography, design, animation, painting, installation art, architecture, drawing, and street art

I’m sure I’ll think of other items to add to this list as soon as I post it.


As I am winding up this blog post, I realized suddenly that I read an article recently about having  a friend who was always making connections between people and always had a recommendation to give about almost everything.  I can’t find the article and I can’t remember the term for the person who doled out the advice and links. (If anyone happens to have read it or finds something similar, please let me know!) There wasn’t a negative connotation; the point was that this person was a good type of friend to have.  They know a lot of people, and they have a lot of knowledge about a wide range of topics/places/people/things/ideas/etc which they share freely and without any ulterior motive or need for approval/praise. I wonder if I’m this type of friend.  I hope I’m not annoying!  I do tend to share things I’m excited about, though —

What are some things, recommendations, or topics you tend to get evangelistic about?



A Song sung to rest the tired dead
Miss you

I’ve known for many months that you were going to die. That doesn’t make the news that you are gone any easier to bear.

I’m thankful I had the chance to let you know how much you meant to me before you were gone.

I wish you had not had cancer. Knowing that you suffered and shriveled makes my heart ache.

Losing you leaves me as the sole caretaker of our shared memories. We both claimed the other as “brilliant” and as the best (teacher/student) we ever had.

We only had about 4 years that overlapped in time and geography, yet your influence and spirit are with me still (more than 40 years and counting).

You were effervescent, ebullient and jaunty. I can still hear your voice and your laugh; I still see your lively eyes and joyous smile.

I didn’t know until last night when I Googled you, that you had taught in Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela as well as at Indiana University. That our paths crossed and that I became your student leaves me humbly grateful.

You changed my life.
Without your talent and knowledge (and patience) I would not be a musician, a pianist, an accompanist, a music teacher, a choir director.
I would not be who I am.

There are not enough words to thank you, dear Susan. There are no words to convey the sorrow; but the joy and the music and the wonderful memories will endure.

all rights reserved, The Tromp Queen
The pianist, 1980.  (Yes, this is me.)

Two poems that will always remind me of you:

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

–Elizabeth Bishop


Image by Mimi Phan via Flickr CC, Cherry Bomb
The Wild Cherry Tree

Why does the wild cherry tree
on the Hudson
make everything
more so
more itself?

So the green
of the elm is greener than
when it stands alone,
the sky

So you
are one of those
who make others
more themselves
more what they

Of those who draw them to
the extreme verge,
the edge
that crackles:
that is
your beauty;
that is what
you do.

–Hilda Morley

“The Wild Cherry Tree” from “To Hold in My Hand,” published by Sheep Meadow Press, Riverdale, N.Y.
image via Flickr CC by Bill Rogers, Gone Forever
Gone Forever

(Excerpts below are from a letter I sent many months ago…)

There are no words to thank you for teaching me. Your daughter tells me that you think of me as your best student in all the years you taught, and I thank you for that gift. You were the BEST teacher I ever had! I would not play the way I did and do without your guidance and knowledge.
I’m so thankful that we found each other. You changed the direction of my life, whether you know it or not. Before I had you for piano, I was planning to become a beautician. By my sophomore year in high school, I had begun to think of music as my career.
I’ll never forget how I felt playing that first wonderful Rachmaninoff piece. The power, the beauty, the drama — I fell in love with it and with the piano. Then learning Fantasy Impromptu the next year was a new and completely different journey. I remember spending several weeks just working on the fingering and timing of the first page or two. I fell in love with the beauty of the phrases, with the melodies, with the emotion of the music. I felt like a door had been opened into a wonderful world that I never knew existed. I can still play Fantasie Impromptu mostly from memory even after all these years. Since learning that piece, I’ve loved Chopin’s music. Many of my future teachers continued to let me study Chopin pieces because I was good at it — AND because of the technique and training I got with you.
I think those two gorgeous pieces (and so many others you taught me) gave me so much confidence, not only musically but also personally. I realized I could do something quite well that most people couldn’t do at all and better yet, that I LOVED doing it. I played solos at school and at various community performances, and I felt proud and appreciated. YOU did that for me. I would not have had those experiences or opportunities without your expertise.
I also love the other big pieces we learned together, especially Reflets dans l’eau and the Chopin Ballade (and others). Each piece became part of my heart and soul. I can’t imagine my life without this wonderful music and without you having been in it.
Because of your influence on my life, I in turn have influenced many other lives. Some of the high school students I taught tell me that I made a difference in THEIR lives and that I was their favorite teacher. Parents tell me that students I had when I was a long term sub (for various maternity leaves) still talk about some of the fun things we did in music class many years after I taught them. That is YOUR legacy, too.
I’m sorry I haven’t called, but I am not great at expressing my feelings — especially over the phone. I asked L if she would consider reading this to you so that you will know how much you mean to me. You, your knowledge, your teaching, your expertise — your love of life and your wonderful personality — thank you for sharing part of your life with me and for making me a better person.
Thank you, from the deepest part of my heart.

Sometimes you just have to go home and eat a ham sandwich.
Roast chicken image by urban bohemian, via Flickr CC license

It was Christmas Eve.

My husband had gone grocery shopping that afternoon with a list I had made. Unfortunately, he forgot to buy the main ingredients for two items I had planned to have for dinner that evening.

Normally, grocery shopping is my domain. But I had done nearly ALL of the Christmas shopping and gift wrapping, so he had volunteered to do this errand today.

He had gone to two stores already to get various items. I didn’t want him to have to go out into the fray again, so I tried to figure out alternatives.

One item we could easily do without. I had wanted to make that yummy spinach dip with the water chestnuts and Knorr vegetable soup mix. Yes. Nosh and nibble. It is kind of impossible to make without the soup mix. The other thing was a deli roasted chicken that was going to go into a made-from-scratch chicken pot-pie. You can’t really make a pot-pie without a chicken.

I looked in my freezer. No chicken.

I decided to run to the nearest grocery store to get one.

I got a parking spot (which is surprising since the small lot is usually packed). I got to the door and a young woman stopped me saying, “I’m sorry we’re closed. I can’t let you go in.” I looked at her blankly.

“What time did you close?” I asked.

“5,” she answered.

I looked at my blank left wrist where I usually have a watch. I thought I had left home well before 5 (and we only live a few minutes from the store).

I looked back at her and calmly asked, “Well, what time is it now?”

She said, “I don’t know but it is after that.”

I said, “I really need a chicken. Don’t they have some left in there?” (looking past her longingly into the store…)

Again, “Sorry. I can’t let you in.” Then she added helpfully, “Maybe try Pick-and-Save? I’m sure they’ll still be open.”

I wasn’t trying to be uncooperative. I had my tastebuds set on delicious home-made chicken pot-pie. My daughter had volunteered to make it for our dinner and I was really looking forward to it! Sigh.

I got back in my car. The clock read 5:02 pm. I groaned inwardly. Really? They kept me from buying a chicken because of one lousy minute?

I sighed (again) and decided to drive the 10 minutes or so to the other store.

Driving.  Traffic.  Stoplights.

I got to the parking lot and drove slowly by the main doors. There was a cluster of people there.  I had a sinking feeling that I knew why they were there.  I rolled down my window.


Yep. Sorry.

As I slowly drove away I said out the window to no one in particular , “I really need a chicken!”

I tried to think of where I could get a chicken (cooked or raw). I thought of our favorite Greek place. Their baked/broiled Athenian chicken is delicious, juicy and always quick to pick up. Or even better, I could get Greek food for dinner and then my daughter could make the pot-pie for Christmas dinner or the next day.

More driving. More traffic. More stop lights.

Nope. The Greek place was closed. No chicken. No carry out food.

Hey — The Boston Market back there was still open. They have cooked chickens! I pulled in hopefully. Yes. They were indeed open. I walked to the door. YES. There was as short line. The person behind the counter said to everyone, “We are out of chicken and meatloaf. No more chicken or meatloaf.” Sigh.

I turned around and went back to my car.

Hungry. Tired of traffic. Feeling frazzled.

But I was determined not to get angry.

Hey. He DID buy the ham for tomorrow. We could cut it open and carve some slices off the bottom. I also had him get swiss cheese and buns so I could make those tasty hot ham sandwiches with some leftover ham. We could have those tonight! It is fast and we have all the ingredients. We had enough carrots and fruit to round things out for a meal.


I sent a quick text. “I’m coming home. No chicken, but I have a plan.”

Sometimes you just have to go home and eat a ham sandwich, even when you really want to have chicken pot-pie.
Mmm…hot ham and cheese with homemade mustard. Image by jeffreyw Via Flickr CC license.


Now I realize this whole story is a 1st world problem.  I’m thankful for a refrigerator full of food, for a fully equipped kitchen to cook food in, a home to eat it in, a car to drive to the grocery and a range of very luxurious grocery stores within short driving distance of our home.  All these things are blessings and I’m truly grateful for all of them.

Sometimes we have to remember to be flexible in our expectations and desires.  Let it go.  Anger leads to the dark side.  (Hah!  Couldn’t resist the Star Wars reference!)  Chicken or ham.  It’s all good.

For the recipes mentioned in this post, please visit my food blog: The Tromp Queen COOKS! (I’ll post them in the next few days.)

Spinach Dip

Hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

Chicken Pot-Pie













Gifts that Give Back 2

Rwanda Path to Peace Basket Collection at Macy’s
Macy’s Rwandan Woven Basket Collection

I realize this post is probably too late to be of any real help with Christmas gift shopping for this year.  But maybe others, like me, wait until the very last moment to get those last few (or many) items. These ideas are also excellent ideas for gift giving for any event all year long.

37 ideas from Huff post.  The social enterprises listed give back either a portion of the revenues to a cause, donate an item for an item sold, or directly invest in people by creating meaningful job opportunities.

who's sari now
“Who’s Sorry Now” jewelry by Rosena Sammi.

Daily News.  2015 Holiday Gift Guide of Gifts that Give Back.

Real Simple. Gifts that Give Back — That your friends actually want.


For more ideas, you can also browse my previous posts featuring Gifts that Give Back:
2014  Gifts that Give Back.

2013 Radical Gift Giving.



These gifts don’t give back, but they seem like some really great (simple and inexpensive) ideas.  Click here.



rain soaked field
Rain soaked field, Granville County, North Carolina. Image by Jack Delano, 1940 via Photo Yale Photogrammar

Sestina, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

wood stove
Dorothea Lange, 1939 Sharecropper’s kitchen, North Carolina via Yale Photogrammar

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

woman in kitchen
Mrs. Haubeil in her kitchen of her home, Ross County, Ohio. Image by Arthur Rothstein, Feb 1940

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

Walker Evans, 1935, Hale, Alabama via Yale photogrammar

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

old house
Person County, North Carolina. Image by Dorothea Lange, 1939. Yale Photogrammar.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

girls reading
Girls reading, Ontario, Oregon. Dorothea Evans, 1939 via Yale Photogrammar.
child picking flowers
Child gathering wildflowers, New Mexico. Image by Russell Lee, 1940. Yale Photogrammar.

The I Am poem

Sunday night means writing lesson plans.

As I was cruising the internet for inspiration and resources, I found this gem.   It is the format for a poem: The “I Am” poem, specifically.

I Am Poem (format)

I am (two special characteristics about your personality) I wonder (something you are actually curious about) I hear (a saying that someone might say to you that encourages/discourages) I am on a journey toward (a vision for your future/challenge in your present) I want (an actual desire that you hold for yourself) I am (the first line of the poem restated)

I pretend (something you actually pretend to do) I feel (a feeling about something imaginary that is holding you back) I touch (an imaginary touch) I worry (something that really bothers you) I cry (something that makes you very sad) I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

I understand (something you know is true about yourself/context) I say (something you believe in) I dream (something you dream about for your future) I try (something you really make an effort to do/understand) I hope (something you actually hope for yourself/context) I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

multicolored rose
Image by The Tromp Queen, CC License BY NC SA 4.0

My result:

I am musical and creative.  I wonder about a lot of things
I hear keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I am on a journey toward an unknown future.
I want peace.
I am musical and creative.

I pretend everything is okay.
I feel like I’m underwater.
I touch cold space.
I worry about being shot.
I cry for beauty.
I am musical and creative.

I understand Love.

I say aspire to inspire.
I dream in color.
I try to improve.
I hope I can sleep.
I am musical and creative.

Why not give it a try?

source:  Yale National Initiative. The Odyssey: Seeing My Journey through Film Lesson plans by Susan H. Buckson Greene.


Image by The Tromp Queen, CC License BY NC SA 4.0

Wise Words from Bob Ross

caNdLE image by Sykez Tom via Flickr CC.

“You need the dark in order to show the light.”




-Reji simplicity is beauty
Simplicity is Beauty image by -Reji via Flickr CC.

“Look around. Look at what we have. Beauty is everywhere—you only have to look to see it.”




tree friend
A tree is a friend. Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.”





that tree2
Friend of That Tree Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC.

“Just go out and talk to a tree. Make friends with it.”

that tree
Friend of That Tree Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC.




Sandy Brown Jensen
Here I Go image by Sandy Brown Jensen via Flickr CC license.

“The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe.”





Mark Chadwick Fluid Painting 92
Mark Chadwick, Fluid Painting 92 via Flickr CC.

“We artists are a different breed of people. We’re a happy bunch.”

10 Rules for Students and Teachers

NASA image via Flickr CC: Astronaut Butch Wilmore Visits Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Camp (201506240028HQ)

As a teacher, one of my fundamental desires is to “Aspire to Inspire” my students.  I found this list of rules (with a great little backstory*) and am sharing it so that you might possibly find truth in it as I did.

Swedish graphic designer Rikard Heberling’s poster of Corita’s list of 10 rules.

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

*John Cage (most famous for 4’33”) was a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg (created 12-tone technique for composing music). Cage, in turn, inspired a generation of composers and artists.  One so inspired was a California nun, Sister Corita Kent, who created this list of Rules in 1968 for a class project.  For more information read this Open Culture article.

KW Barrett
Teacher of the Year – Cristina Torres. Image by KW Barrett via Flickr CC.

Found Words

Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC license.
Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC license.
Public Domain photo found via Flickr (em ha). Norwegia 261 unknown author
Public Domain photo found via Flickr (em ha).
Norwegia 261
unknown author
Public Domain photo found via Flickr (em ha). Norwegia 145 unknown author
Public Domain photo found via Flickr (em ha).
Norwegia 145
unknown author


From earth I flow, seaward I go,
Refreshing the world on my way.
My duty done, my guerdon* won,
I rise on celestial ray.

Drink, weary traveler, in the Land,
And on thy journey fare
‘Tis sent by God’s all giving hand.
And stored by human care.

*Guerdon is an archaic word meaning reward or recompense.

Bambini 24 image by em ha via Flickr CC.  Public Domain.
Bambini 24 image by em ha via Flickr CC. Public Domain.

I enjoy looking through Flickr photos. I peruse the “Explore” recent photos category as often as I can clicking on all my favorites so I can look at them again in the future. Many of the images are sometimes ho-hum and very predictable, but I usually see something that inspires me greatly. Recently I found a whole series of images “em ha” uploaded as Public Domain items. I’m sharing my favorites here. The wildflower photos are mine, though. (TTQ)

Photographs I wish I had stopped to take.

Kodaira cat image by Takuya Goro via Flickr CC.
Kodaira cat image by Takuya Goro via Flickr CC.

Do you ever see something out of the corner of your eye and think — “Oh! That would make a great photo!”

This seems to happen to me frequently. But I hardly ever do anything about it, and I regret that.

Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC license
Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC license

Last spring, on my drive to school I spied three red tulips that were growing in a very obscure place beneath a tangle of on/off ramps. Each day as I drove the tight right-turn of the clover leaf going under a multi-lane Interstate highway and off ramp to emerge going in my chosen direction on the Interstate I just drove under, I would see the flash of red off to my left. Each day I thought, “Bloom where you are planted. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.”

"Bloom where you are planted" quilt.  Image by Sophie via Flickr CC.
“Bloom where you are planted” quilt. Image by Sophie via Flickr CC.

How did tulips get planted in this desolate, neglected, non-landscaped area of highway underpass undergrowth? Did someone throw a few tulips out of their car window one day and they happened to land in a protected and fertile enough spot? I plant bulbs in my flower beds nearly every fall, and each fall, many of them are eaten by squirrels (or other varmints).

Each day, I thought “I should stop to take a picture of those tulips before they stop blooming.” Each day I would tell myself I didn’t have time and that there was no safe place to pull over and stop. Needless to say, there is no photograph because I never stopped. But the image has stayed with me.

Google images, 16 ft inflatable Santa with reindeer and sleigh.
Google images, 16 ft inflatable Santa with reindeer and sleigh.

Another image that I regret not stopping to document happened last fall near my school. I was with my college-aged son in the car going shopping for school necessaries when we was on break. It must have been Thanksgiving weekend because what we saw were people putting a large inflatable Santa sleigh (complete with reindeer) on top of a ranch style house. The funny part was that there were two legs sticking out from under the sleigh part, toes down. It looked like Santa had accidentally landed on someone and squished them flat. Who knows what that person was doing on the roof while Santa was trying to land, but that is beside the point. We discussed stopping but didn’t.

I WISH I had taken a few seconds to stop and take a quick photo. My son and I both laughed at the sight of those legs; at first we thought the legs were not real but were an intentional part of the scenario they were erecting. As we drove away I had the chorus of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” running through my head.

Credit: Oliver Burston. Wellcome Images Computer illustration of a human skeleton hand. Digital artwork/Computer graphic Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK
Credit: Oliver Burston. Wellcome Images
Computer illustration of a human skeleton hand.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

Just this past week I was driving on a road that goes behind the garage area of a nearby car dealership. There are always a lot of cars parked along this not-very-busy-dead-end-road; some new cars for the dealer, some cars for their repair shop; and I presume some of the cars of the dealership employees. I noticed a long black sedan type of car. Sticking out of the closed trunk was one skeleton arm and hand. It was totally creepy looking (and fake, I might add!). Again, I considered stopping but didn’t have a camera with me (not even my phone camera). Consequently — no photo.

Image by Walidhassanein:  Sunflowers via Flickr CC license.
Image by Walidhassanein: Sunflowers via Flickr CC license.

On a trip to Indiana driving at highway speed on US 30 between Valpo and Warsaw (which must be in contention for the US most boring highway) my eye caught a beautiful scene as it flashed by in an instant. There was an old red well-used barn, a field of sunflowers in full bloom, a blue sky with puffy white clouds and the whole thing was framed in green leafy trees. You guessed it: I didn’t stop.

Images by John 'K' via Flickr CC license.
Images by John ‘K’ via Flickr CC license.

Remember the NYC pizza rat? Well, I had a pizza squirrel one day in my backyard. The squirrel had pretty much a whole slice of pizza and somehow managed to carry it across our backyard, up a tree trunk and then hop to the top of the fence with it. The squirrel paused then looked at me with an accusatory glare as if to say, “This is MY pizza. Keep your hands OFF!” I wondered where he had found a whole slice of pizza and how he managed to carry it while running and climbing. I wondered if eating the pizza would make the squirrel sick. I wished I had my camera so I could catch a photo (or video!) of the pizza-toting squirrel. Alas, the only image I have of this scenario is in my mind.

Am I the only one who has these photographic regrets?
Does this happen to anyone else?

Praise What Comes

Praise What Comes

surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved
of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise

talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps

you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,

finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another

ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?

~ Jeanne Lohmann ~

I posted this poem in a previous blog post, but the photos disappeared. I added a mosaic of images (most are photos I’ve taken) that the poem evokes for me. I still find this poem captivating and inspiring. I hope you do, too.

How much FAITH is enough?

The theme of the sermon this morning was “My Statement of FAITH.” The church recently got a new pastor and the installation ceremony takes place today.

During the children’s sermon, a statement was made that struck me as odd:  “You have to have a LOT of faith.” I think she might have even said, “You’d have to have a lot of faith to make that happen” which is a whole other issue but for right now I’m going to focus on the LOT of faith statement. She was speaking about the Israelites having faith that God would provide food (manna) and water for them during their journey in the wilderness after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. (The manna story is told in the Bible in Exodus 16)

The people of Israel called the bread manna.
It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.
(Exodus 16:31 NIV)

I wrote a note to myself that said, “Isn’t any amount of Faith enough?” What would constitute a LOT of Faith?

Faith as a Mustard Seed: Image by Juliane Bjerregaard via Flickr CC license.
Faith as a Mustard Seed: Image by Juliane Bjerregaard via Flickr CC license.

What about the parable of the mustard seed?

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
(Mark 4:31 NIV)
Mustard Tree

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5,6 ESV)

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
(Matthew 17:20 NIV)

Image by Steluma of Ain Avdat in Israel, via Flickr CC license.
Image by Steluma of Ain Avdat in Israel, via Flickr CC license.

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen.
(Matthew 21:21 NLT)

Black and White mustard seeds: Image by Mattie Hagedorn via Flickr CC license.
Black and White mustard seeds: Image by Mattie Hagedorn via Flickr CC license.

The image of a mustard seed sized bit of faith has always been a source of fascination and something I ponder. I wore a mustard seed necklace somewhat similar to this one for quite a few years. (I still have it, but the chain is too short for me to wear it now.)

I thought about what I think Faith means. I thought of Hebrews 11:1,3, 6, 11-12

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

And it is impossible to please God without faith.

Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

And then, I mused about the very personal experience I had with the story of Abraham and Sarah’s miraculous child: (for a more complete telling of this FAITH and GRACE-filled story, read this.)

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man (and one woman), and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

If I ever get a tattoo, the one I would most consider would be an image of the word faith slicing through the word grace, as in “by faith are you saved through grace.” (Faith through grace, get it?) Something like this, but with it cutting through a larger word “GRACE” done in a way so that both words are clearly seen.
Faith tattoo image

But I digress.

The pastor ended with the thought that each person’s statement of FAITH is their life. Your statement of FAITH is YOU.

My faith is personal. I am not one of those people who evangelize every person I meet. I don’t, however, avoid talking about my faith it if is relevant to the conversation. I pray throughout the day. If I tell someone I’m going to pray for them, I do. I have deep convictions about certain beliefs and a very strong sense of liberal theology (which isn’t surprising given the hodge-podge patchwork of churches I’ve attended so far in my life). This quote* says it so well:

In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity (love).

Faith is not a creed, a recitation of a list of beliefs. Faith is not something that can be measured.

Faith, in my opinion, can not be more or less than it is. One either believes or doesn’t.

Yes, there may be reservations or questions — but when it comes right down to it — are you IN or out? You can’t stay on the Titanic and be in the lifeboat at the same time. Well, technically, I guess you could do that but your ultimate choice would be Titanic in the end.

At some point the decision has to be made.

I don’t think there is more or less, to it.
I don’t believe one can have a “LOT” of faith.
Faith just IS. Or it isn’t.
You’ve taken the leap or you haven’t.

One tiny grain of faith, as small as a mustard seed is enough to move a mountain. Given that, does attempting to quantify faith make any sense?
How much more faith than that tiny grain is possible or even needed?

Faith has gotten me through all the major decision in my life. I’ve seen miracles. I’ve lived miracles. I’ve had sorrow, sadness, heartache and pain. There has been joy, laughter, and love. Through it all, like a thread woven into a gorgeous piece of fabric — FAITH is what holds it all together for me. Thanks be to God.

*The attribution of the quote is quite a story. You can read all about it here. Research points to this person as the author: Marc’ Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), archbishop of Split (Spalato).

Summer Evening: Kayaking Through Downtown Milwaukee

My family has been “into” kayaks for many years now. Though we have 4 people in our family, we had 6 kayaks for quite a while. We still have five!

Image by Lori Wright: five little kayaks and how they grew. Via Flickr CC license.
Image by Lori Wright: five little kayaks and how they grew. Via Flickr CC license.

My husband is the activity cheerleader and organizer. A few weeks ago he went on a “midnight paddle” that was put on by the River Alliance of Wisconsin and Milwaukee River Keeper. The event didn’t take place at midnight — they actually started at 7:30 pm.

Image of Milwaukee River at night by Rough Tough, Real Stuff via Flickr CC license.
Image of Milwaukee River at night by Rough Tough, Real Stuff via Flickr CC license.

Since then, he has been trying to convince me to go with him on an the same route for an evening kayak trip on the Milwaukee River.

Map image of Moonlight Paddle trip; Hasker CC license.
Map image of Moonlight Paddle trip; Hasker CC license.

You might wonder why I would need to be convinced. Well, kayaking is fun while you are on the water, but there is a lot of lifting, carrying, tying down, loading and unloading involved. Since I’ve gained some weight in the last few years, it is also very difficult for me to get in and out of the boat and sometimes I end up IN the river.

Last night, I said yes.

Riverwest Outdoor Educational Adventures photo, showing the Kiwanis Landing on the Milwaukee River via Facebook (public photo)
Riverwest Outdoor Educational Adventures photo, showing the Kiwanis Landing on the Milwaukee River via Facebook (public photo)

It was nearly dark by the time we got into the boats and started down the river. There is a wonderful canoe/kayak landing hidden away which I presume was built by the Kiwanis club because there was a big canoe shaped sign proclaiming the place as “Kiwanis Landing.” For Milwaukeeans, the landing is just upriver from Bel Air and Gastropub on the north side of the river. (?)

Almost immediately I was spellbound by the experience. A mother duck and her three ducklings swam alongside of me. They might have been hoping for me to toss some food out for them, but I loved seeing them so close as they quacked, paddled their feet and chomped on bugs.

Image by Ingrid Taylor, via Flickr CC license.
Image by Ingrid Taylor, via Flickr CC license.

After the first bridge, there are condos and apartment buildings on both sides. At times the walls on both sides of the river reach so high, you feel like you’ve entered a canyon.

Going under the bridges is kind of spooky. There are ladders, dark corners and creepy little windows. Imaginations can run wild in a place such as this!   (This photo is not of the creepy ones; it was the only photo I could find of under a bridge at night in MKE.)

Image by Erik Aldrich, Pylons. Via Flickr CC license.
Image by Erik Aldrich, Pylons. Via Flickr CC license.

At one bridge, we watched while the road was lifted so that a taller boat go could through. We were passed by pontoons, huge yachts and regular speedboats. There was a LOT of boat traffic going both ways, so we were vigilant about making sure we stayed safe.

If you’ve never spent time on a boat at night, you might not realize there is a system of required lights that help everyone navigate around each other. In the front, there is supposed to be a light that is green on one side and red on the other. Red is starboard, I believe. If you see the red light, you should yield right of way. If you see the green, they are seeing your red light and it should be safe for you to proceed. If you are heading directly toward each other, you pass on the green side. All boats are supposed to have a white light in the back of the boat. For slower not very large boats like kayaks, the only required light is a plain white light in the front. We both had lights, but if we do this again — I’d prefer to have the red/green light in the front and a white light in back as the larger, faster boats are required to have. Or possibly not go on a gorgeous summer Friday night. There was LOT of boat traffic, and some boats were being driven by people who clearly didn’t have much experience (rental party boats, for instance).

The sun was down. There was a half moon in the sky. The lights from the bridges, businesses and buildings shimmered like a magic kaleidoscope on the surface of the water changing as the breeze and wave patterns evolved.

I didn’t take my camera, but my husband had his cell phone. I kept asking him to take photos because the light on the water was so mesmerizing.

People on the water are usually friendly, waving and sometimes saying a few words as boats pass each other.

We went about 2 miles or so through Milwaukee and turned around near the Public Market. We passed several outdoor patios (at restaurants and breweries for example) full of happy people, drinking and talking. One guy tried to convince me that we were heading for some dangerous rapids up ahead. Another person warned of sharks.

Image by Hasker, Singers Sausages. CC license.
Image by Hasker, Singers Sausages. CC license.

I laughed when we saw one of the letters of the Usinger’s sign was unlit.  The building now proclaims “Singer’s” — which as a music teacher and choir director I found amusing. (For non-MKE folks, Usinger’s is one of the famous sausage and bratwurst companies here).

As we paddled back toward the landing, a couple shouted “Good job; you made it!” and clapped for me. The woman added, “We saw you headed the other way.” I laughed and thanked them.

We also saw a very interesting and quirky boat docked on the river:  the Solomon Juneau.  Apparently it is a fixture on the downtown river and the man who owns it has lived in it for many years.  For additional photos of this boat, click here to see “Aboard the Solomon Juneau.”

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I kept thinking, “I grew up in my little tiny town with one stoplight and here I am paddling through the middle of a major city on a Friday night in a kayak.” You never know where life will lead you, that is for sure!

I will say, I was horrified by the amount of trash in the river, though. I can’t believe people are still so lackadaisical about throwing stuff willy-nilly into water (or anywhere not in a trash can, for that matter). Next time, I’m going to take a big trash bag (and some rubber gloves) so I can pick it out of the river. Didn’t they see that pollution commercial with the Native American and the tear running down his face??  He would have been crying again last night for sure.

But other than the trash and a few boats going too fast with clueless drivers, it was a magical evening. I can’t wait to go again!

Oh, I forgot!  We saw a great big green frog at the end as we were getting out of our boats.  He was alarmed by all the fuss, I think.

Ingird Taylor, via Flickr CC license.
Ingird Taylor, via Flickr CC license.