Lean on Me


I’m a music teacher.

I teach first and second grade general music.  Each year I plan and prepare a 30 minute musical program of songs (usually with choreography and various props) for my students to perform for the rest of the school and for their parents, family and friends.

I started thinking about what I wanted to do for this year’s program last summer.  I considered several ideas.  One that I liked a lot was to have a rainbow theme for the songs.  Each song would represent a color of the rainbow.  For instance, Purple might be “Flying Purple People Eater” and Green could be “It isn’t easy being green.”

I liked the idea.  I had trouble coming up with a good idea for “orange” though.

While I thought about various ideas, I kept having the song “What the World Needs Now” running through my head.  In light of all the tragedies of the last year and considering the course our national government is on, I began to think of a different type of theme for our program.

What if we sang songs about what the world needs now?  Love, obviously, according to the song — but what else does the world need?

Song ideas poured out of my mind.

I remember songs I learned as a young child. I firmly believe lyrics of songs can be something to hold onto in times of trouble.
Words have power.
Our minds have power.
I want to fill my students young minds with power and hope.
With love and dreams.
I want to arm them with songs that will feed their souls, and not with fluff to fill the time in a music program.

I considered many options.  I distilled my ideas down to a list of 7 songs.

I chose songs about family, community, love, dreams, tenacity, peace, friendship, healing, and music.


One of the songs I chose was Lean On Me. I was concerned about not having enough time for the students to learn all the lyrics.  I came up with what I thought was a great idea — to have one of the school custodians sing the verses as a solo.  The students would then only need to learn the chorus and bridge sections.3ell, the night of the recital came.  When the time came up, he was nowhere to be seen.
I asked if anyone had seen him.  No one had.

I said, “Oh well, we’ll skip that song and come back to it when he arrives.”

In my mind, I was trying to think of who could sing the solo verses.  I’m a music teacher and of course I could do it.  I’m not a solo singer, though.  Never have been.  I’d much rather have my back to the audience (directing a choir) or to my side (playing the piano).

A song or two later a teacher came up to be between songs and whispered, “We’re going to sing it.  We’ve got you covered.”

Ah!  What a perfect solution.  I was filled with gratitude at their thoughtfulness, resourcefulness and … bravery.

We sang our songs.  We came to the end of the last song.  I grabbed the microphone and announced that we had a solution to our missing soloist issue.  The teachers (12 of them, including student teachers) along with the principal and one of our assistant principals gathered on the gym floor in front of the children and sat down in a semi-circle.

Started the music: Lean on Me, the Bill Withers version.  We hummed the introduction.  Then the teachers began to sing the verse.  Everyone was smiling.  The children came in with the chorus:

Lean on me when you’re not strong.
I’ll be your friend.
I’ll help you carry on —
For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.

Call on me, brother, if you need a hand.
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’d understand.
We all need somebody to lean on.

During the next verse I encouraged the audience to join in singing the verses by saying the words as they would need to sing them. Many people joined in the singing.

It really was a wonderful ending to our program.  The song ended up being the closer for the concert, and it was absolutely perfect.

What the world needs now is love, yes, but also friends and community and people who are willing to lend a hand.

Singing teachers
These are the teachers. They are singing.
teachers sang
I love the part when all the teachers sang for Mr. Ron at the concert.


In the morning I found this whole school email from our principal in my inbox:

Dear Staff,

I can’t let your day begin without sharing something that was pretty amazing about last night’s 1st and 2nd grade concert. Our scheduled guest soloist couldn’t make it so we all decided to sing! Our students and their families will likely never forget the day the 1st and 2nd grade teachers along with their principal and assistant principal sang with them, Lean on Me, directed by their music teacher. Thank you to the teachers who were courageous and willing to take on my crazy idea! The kids and the families were amazed and the families decided to sing along with us. I am so proud of our school family! Have an awesome day!!!

It takes a village and I’m so thankful my village is full of wonderful, caring colleagues.

This was my reply:

Hello all,
Thank you sharing our magical moment, Mrs. Smith.
It was a wonderful experience and I’m honored to be surrounded by such caring and resourceful colleagues.  Thank you to all who sang the verses for us!!
After the plan was hatched, one of the teachers whispered to me, “We’re going to sing it.  We’ve got you covered.”
It takes a village, and I’m thankful to be in this village together.​
Be what the worlds needs today!

Curious minds might want to know the song titles I chose:

Proud By Teresa Jennings

Reaching for a brass ring is symbolic of taking hold of an opportunity or winning a great prize.

We Know The Way By Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina from “Moana”
We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain.


What the World Needs Now is Love By Hal David and Burt Bacharach

Is love, sweet love:  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Lean On Me By Bill Withers

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend — I’ll help you carry on
We all need somebody to lean on.

Peaceful By Teresa Jennings

Think of the world without any war. Think of the world at peace.

Young and Positive By Nitanju Bolade Casel, of Sweet Honey In The Rock from the album “I Got Shoes”

My eyes are on the prize and they will stay that way.

Kusimama By Jim Papoulis

Sung in Swahili:
Mimi Kusimama — I stand tall
Na upendo — with love
Na tamani — with hope
Watoto ni karibu dunia –children are closer to the earth




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.












5 stitches and a tube of glue

quilt and photo by qurikyjazz aka Jill
quilt and photo by qurikyjazz aka Jill

This date is the one year anniversary of the day after the night I cut my finger badly with a rotary cutter.
Badly enough to warrant a late night trip over the river and through the woods to a not so nearby ER.
Badly enough to need 5 stitches (including one through the fingernail) and a tube of glue.

The tale has a happy ending, so don’t be afraid to read on.

Here is the summary of that eventful night that I wrote up as a Facebook note last year on the “morning after,”  November 9, 2012:

finger stitches2 finger stitcheshere begins the Facebook note

So here is the whole “finger” story for those who need to know gory details.

I am at a quilt retreat with 9 fabulous quilting friends in a lovely house in DeSoto, WI. We arrived last night and will stay here til Sunday morning.

After sewing a couple of bindings on nearly finished quilts, I decided it was time to begin a brand new project. It was only 10:30 pm so I was not yet breaking the quilter’s rule of “don’t cut after 11 pm”.

I cut five skinny strips with a strip cutter and then — the next cut
— OUCH —
I had my left index finger on top of the groove I was cutting in! I knew I had really sliced it hard, so put pressure on it instantly and went straight to the sink. I ran cold water over it and kept the pressure on it.

Several people there gave advice (–there is never any shortage of advice with a bunch of quilters in the room!–) and we decided I should keep the pressure on, hold it above my head and get ice on it. I had the pressure on it for about 45 minutes or so, but bleeding still wasn’t stopping.

One friend started looking on her phone for the closest hospitals. Finally, after an hour and a call to my husband and to my on-call Med Associates nurse and advice from a friend (You are a pianist, it is your livelihood, you should go if you think you need to) — I said let’s go. Jean and Christina were the designated ER crew. By this time it was nearly midnight and though I had a pretty good bandage on (thanks to Christina and several of my well prepared for emergencies friends). I was worried it was still bleeding under there and worried about infection and healing and about how deeply it might have cut.

We went to Waukon, Iowa which was about 20 min. away. The nurse took one look at it and called the on call Dr. to come. He arrived a good long while later. He gave me two shots to numb it and started stitching it up. He was quite the comedian. I asked him where he went to med school and cracked, “Oh, was I supposed to go to med school?” Hilarious. He had several more jokes as we went along.

The result was five stitches including one THROUGH my nail! He used a tube of dermabond to seal it up. He said the pain would be numbed mostly for five or six hours. He said Friday it would hurt but by Sat. it should be feeling better. He thinks I will be able to play Sunday night for the concert if it is bandaged up to give it some protection while I play.

We got back to the house at about 2:30 am. Christina and Jean even sang on the way home to keep me entertained.

We saw several varmints, a deer and a train but managed to complete the trip safely.  🙂

those eyebrows
those eyebrows (Photo credit: inajeep)

If you don’t know what a rotary cutter is, Google it. It is like a round razor blade that is VERY very sharp. It cuts multiple layers of fabric all at once.

photo via flickr mollygolightly
photo via flickr mollygolightly

Another highlight of late night ER trip was the very handsome orderly DAN. Jean can give more details, if anyone needs to know. 😉

Final season cast (2008–2009)
Final season cast (2008–2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

here ends the Facebook note

The cut happened late on Thursday night. Careful readers will notice that I had a CONCERT the following Sunday afternoon. One of my jobs at that time was piano accompanist for two university choirs. The concert usually involves about 1 hour or more of pre-concert warmups and run-throughs and then the concert itself which can last anywhere from an 1 to 1 1/2 hours usually. For this concert we had some special guests playing with us so the warmup time was extra important.

Steinway & Sons piano

I had bandaged the heck out of my finger to prepare to play. I wrapped it and covered it with a “finger cot” (which looks like a tiny condom for your finger in case you’ve never seen one of these things!).

An example of a finger cot
An example of a finger cot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, it was a little painful during the warmups but I could stand it. What I couldn’t stand was the feeling of all those bandages, though, so between songs I took the bandages and padding off and just put the little finger condom thing back on.

THEN….I accidentally hit my finger underneath the piano as I was adjusting my skirt or something. O.M.G. It hurt. It throbbed. I was surprised that blood wasn’t pouring out of it. I nearly burst into tears. The special guest (clarinet) asked if I was okay and I said (nearly in a sob) “No, I just bonked my finger and I have five stitches in that one!” He was horrified. He had no idea I was playing that way. By this time the director noticed I was in pain and was concerned immediately. When I explained what happened he gently said, “You’ve got to leave the bandages on.”

I said I needed a break to re-bandage, so they grabbed a replacement pianist from the choir. As they continued without me, I ran to the dressing room and let the tears go. I couldn’t see how I could possibly get through this concert. The music at this level is always challenging, always demanding — even on a regular night it is easy to make mental or technical errors if you aren’t on top of your game. But I was beginning to doubt whether I could physically do this or not in my current condition.
In my bathroom haven, I looked at my finger. The stitches were intact. There was no bleeding. Yes, it was painful. Painful didn’t begin to describe it. But it didn’t look like there was any new damage.

After the tears subsided, I took a deep breath. I decided I COULD and WOULD do this. It didn’t matter how much it hurt for the next hour or so — I would get through it. I decided there was no way I could hurt my finger badly enough to cause further damage by playing normally in the concert. I don’t know if what I told myself then was true or not, the important thing is that I believed it at that moment and believed it for the next hour or so.

I splashed cold water on my face. I tidied up my ever crazy looking hair. I gathered up my courage and went back out there.

We did it. I made it through. It is still very difficult for me to listen to the CD of that concert. I hear several places where I am hesitant or where there are a few blurby notes, but I think any casual listener would not be able to tell I had I a severely injured finger that night.

My finger? Thank God it is completey healed and nearly back to normal. There is the teeniest trace of a scar and a very very small loss of sensitivity, but it could have been much much worse. I’m grateful, thankful, and blessed.

The quilt? It is nearly finished. I still need to put the binding on.

I did manage to finish the quilt top and get most of the backing pieced that weekend before we left the retreat. Later that fall, I had it professionally quilted (QuilThyme). I chose to put fabulous orange minky on the back and picked out some cool quilting patterns to complement the modern look of the quilt.

Names I considered for this quilt
“Over the River and Through the Woods to Waukon ER We Go”
“I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends”
“No Tears For Me and My Finger” (Argentina…)
“Waukon The Wild Side”

I’ve decided to call this quilt “Five Stitches and a Tube of Glue” unless someone out there comes up with a better name for it!

Here is a preview of the almost done quilt:

This post is the explanation I promised in an earlier post: Quality Time with Quilt Friends — These tables are protected by a special type of mat that is used with rotary cutters, wheel-shaped razor-sharp cutting tools that can slice fingers as easily as several layers of fabric. (I will explain how I know this in another post, another day!) https://haskerj.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/quality-time-with-quilt-friends/