I drove through the rolling green hills of the Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin today. The farm fields have sprouted; some are already knee-high with corn or soy beans. The hills are dotted with clusters of trees, grand old solitary oaks and pastures full of grazing cows or horses. The sky was bright blue with a few floaty white clouds. It was a nearly perfect early summer day.
I used to live in that area. I didn’t think I ever took the beauty for granted, but after not seeing it daily for the last five years or so — I was definitely soaking it in today.
I had a hand-drawn map on a piece of paper to guide me. The address didn’t show up on my GPS. In this now-city-girl’s opinion, it was out in the middle of nowhere. Absolutely gorgeous nowhere, though. I had never been to this farm before. The friend who lived there was the friend-of-a-friend with whom I’d have a few coffee chats over the years.
I had also had this woman’s daughter in my children’s choir at one time about 8 years ago or so.
The two friends were waiting for me on a lovely screened in back porch as I drove slowly up the long gravel driveway. I got out of the car, flung my arms wide and declared, “I’m never leaving! This is absolutely beautiful.” (This photo is the view from the screened in back porch).
The woman who lives on this gorgeous farm was diagnosed with an aggressive very rare form of cancer last October. She went from mammogram, to biopsy, to starting chemo in FOUR days. It was urgent. Her prognosis was never good. The doctors thought she wouldn’t make it through October. I saw her today, looking great and full of joy and love — about 9 months after that thought. She is fiercely determined, surrounded by prayer and LOVE.
We had peppermint tea and some delicious veggies, cheese (it IS Wisconsin, after all!), gluten-free crispy crackers, and dark chocolate covered cherries. A lovely tea party for three.
We chatted about family, about our children, about our lives. We talked about her treatment until she declared she’d had enough. We went on to talk about the book she had finished (during chemo!) and about her upcoming book signing. I bought a few for family and friends, and she happily signed them for me.
We talked about balcony people and about basement people. She said, “If you are on the stage performing at the very top of your ability and the balcony is full of people who love you unconditionally, who believe in you, who are your most loyal supporters — who is in the balcony?” I got teary and reached out my hand to Anne, “Anne Donovan.” She grasped my hand. I talked about how Anne has buoyed me through the years and not only me, but my children. Without fail, without reservation, without shyness. She is on our side. Always. No question. Ever. I’m incredibly blessed to have a balcony packed full of wonderful friends and family and colleagues.
Then she asked, “Who is in the basement? Who second guesses you? Questions your words, your motives, your actions?” Well, I could name a few people. But thankfully very few.
This woman inspired me. She gave me comfort and support today; she declared my life had already touched many lives for the better and predicted I would be continuing on that path. She hugged me tightly and she knew I was thinking I might not ever see her again. She saw my tears. She prophesied that I will be open to more joy and love than I can imagine. All three of us hugged and at least two of us were tearing up.
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.
In the morning I found this whole school email from our principal in my inbox:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
I’m hitting a milestone this year, birthday-wise. I guess every birthday is a milestone, though. This one feels very much a mid-point.
Fifty-five, in case you are wondering.
I’ve been thinking about memorable birthdays from my past.
When I was turning 49, I decided to have a party instead of waiting until the big five-oh. As I talked with friends, we began to call it “Jill-Fest.” I made buttons. We ate at our favorite local Chicago-style pizzeria and had our favorite beverages. Friends from the various parts of my lives met each other for the first time: quilters, church folks, university colleagues, neighbors, musicians. We had a great time!
Many birthdays were spent performing in concerts or recitals. Both of our children were members of the local Children’s Choir, and I directed the youngest choir. Every few years, the last concert of the year would fall on my birthday. One year, the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to me. One year I had a university choir concert (I was the accompanist for two of the choirs) AND there was a Children’s Choir concert at the same time (different venue).
Another memorable year, I accompanied two talented students who sang for a vocal studio recital. They sang a hilarious song called “Tear Jerk.” (This video is not of our performance. I’m including it in case you want to watch a version of this very humorous duet.)
In 2006, I also played for my first ever full vocal recital (university level). I had three weeks to learn all the (very challenging) music for a 45 minute program. It went well and I went on to play MANY more in the following years.
For my 40th, I got to eat lunch with by three best friends in a Galena, IL at Vinny Vanucchi’s (a FABULOUS Italian restaurant) and then shop the quaint main street stores. I bought a sterling silver ring with a small stone (which fell out a few months later). They got me a bottle of wine (to share during lunch) and a stone for my garden.
Some years I had a “birthday week” or so. I had a flexible schedule (working about 5 part-time music related jobs) so I had plenty of time for coffee chats, breakfasts and lunches with friends. So many good memories!
Simple family birthday celebrations are the most common through the years, though. We almost always have a cake or pie following a special meal of some sort (either home-cooked or “out”). When I was very young, we’d celebrate with Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins. Middle school and high school years we celebrated with something sweet at school (cake or cupcakes) and maybe a pizza night (at home or “out”). Usually by the time my birthday rolls around, the trees are just beginning to grown their fresh green leaves, daffodils and tulips bloom, and the grass is growing again. When our children were small, we celebrated by going to the zoo or by taking walk in the woods. I try to avoid cooking on my birthday if at all possible!
When I was the music director at a small high school in Illinois, I spent my 27th birthday with my students at the very first America Sings! festival in Washington, DC. Everything except the cherry trees seemed to be in bloom. My eyes were red and I couldn’t wear my contacts. I’ll never forget the sound of thousands of singers singing “Love will be our home” with the White House to our right, the Washington Monument behind us, and the Lincoln Memorial in the distance ahead of us as the day melted into twilight.
On the bus ride back to the hotel, they sang the song again spontaneously, beautifully, a cappella. This was memorable because I usually have a no-singing rule on bus trips. (They tend to over sing and cause vocal stress; plus, it gets annoying!) We when got back to the hotel, we had cake and a little party to celebrate the event, the end of our trip and my birthday, too.
Way back when I was in high school, we had a swing choir performance scheduled on a Sunday evening (on my 17th birthday). I asked several of my friends to go shopping or whatever during the day. Everyone said they couldn’t or were busy. I felt sad and a bit hurt, thinking no one wanted to celebrate with me. THEN our choir director called an extra rehearsal for that afternoon (at his house, which was very odd). I was definitely NOT happy.
I arrived at the house and wondered why I saw Carla Darr’s car there. She wasn’t in swing choir. SURPRISE! Yes. I was totally surprised. It was not a rehearsal! It was a surprise birthday party. I was shocked and SO pleased. After thinking no one cared, I had no doubt they DID care. (I love my friends!) I got my first dozen red roses from my BFF.
One year sometime in the early to mid 1990s, I spent my birthday at the AQS quilt show in Paducah, KY. Quilters all over the United States (and around the world) aspire to attend this event.
The whole town of Paducah focuses on all things QUILTS for those few days at the end of April each year. To begin with, there is the main show with thousands of quilts on display and hundreds of vendor booths for shopping. Then, all around the town are other smaller quilt shows, fabric stores and art galleries — and of course, the fabulous Hancock’s of Paducah (fabric frenzy central). It is a quilter’s paradise.
Speaking of birthdays and shopping, we used to live in a town with a Bargain Nook.
On your birthday you could get 50% off your total purchase (up to a certain amount, but usually it was $100 or even more). This store sold mostly Lands’ End items — returns, seconds, defectives, etc — but also other used items in good condition. I LOVE Lands’ End stuff. Because of this store, I could indulge my love of cashmere sweaters! (For instance I’ve bought them for a little as $10!) Even better, the proceeds from these stores benefit a community organization: The Hodan Center. Including my town, there were four bargain nooks within a radius of about an hour’s drive. Some years I would go to all four stores!
It is the mission of Hodan Community Services to provide and promote opportunities for work and personal development so that persons with disabilities can achieve individual life goals.
The celebration today (so far) has included breakfast cooked by my husband (bacon and eggs), a nap, time to read and fiddle with facebook, talking to my mom, and coffee (also made by my husband). Tonight we’re going to eat sushi and then see the national tour of the musical “Chicago” which is playing here in Milwaukee.
Most days, I probably spend a little too much time on Facebook.
On weekends I probably spend a LOT too much time on Facebook.
But sometimes I’m deeply touched by the things I read and see there.
I’m flabbergasted by the kindness of strangers and friends.
I feel connected to people and places I’ll probably never see again (or ever see period).
Yesterday I made a new friend.
She lives in Hobart, Tasmania and I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Here’s how it happened.
As I was scrolling through my newsfeed, I saw a post about a conversation between two friends:
FRIEND: I need a tea. Do you want anything?
ME: A new president.
Thinking the post was by a friend, I commented:
“I can’t believe it’s only been a week.”
Turns out the post was from another source and a friend had re-posted it. A short while later I got this very kind message from a woman in Australia who said my comment struck a chord with her which prompted her to contact me:
Please excuse me contacting you like this .
I normally wouldn’t. But I’m sitting here in Hobart Tasmania like 12 thousand miles from Washington and I was thinking exactly what you said
” I can’t believe it’s only been a week”
A cry from the heart or just a bemused thought or whatever.
Exactly that. A week in time. There’s 52 in each year. If things are 208 times worse in 4 years god help us all long before then.
My apologies again but you struck a chord in me. Peace.
This was my reply:
Thank you for your words. I had planned to try to bury my head in the sand for the next four years, trying to naively believe all will be well. Every single day it is more apparent that I can not in good conscience pursue that passive path. My comment was a cry from the heart; I appreciate being heard.
I was having a bout of insomnia. It was about 1:30 am here and I don’t know what time there, but I’m guessing 17 or 18 hours since it is almost literally half-way around the world.
We chatted (via Facebook Messenger) about the new US President and various issues, then meandered on to family and common interests.
I spent a little time trying to figure out if she and I had any mutual friends.
This was truly a serendipitous connection.
We decided to become friends on Facebook and just started our first game of Words with Friends together.
A person can never have too many friends — virtual or otherwise.
Being kind is always a good thing to be.
I heard a song this week for the first time in a long time. It brought to mind the very first time I heard it which was September 27, 2013. You might wonder how I know exactly when I heard this song for the first time. Well, there is a story about that. I realized the other day that I never wrote about it. At least I don’t THINK I wrote about it; hence the title for this post.
The song is “Ain’t It Your Birthday?” by Jonny Fritz and the In-Laws.
The words to the chorus go like this:
Hey well ain’t it your birthday?
Then why aren’t you smiling?
I just drove 250 miles
In the middle of the night
On an empty tank
Dodging deer along the way
On a central Virginia moonlit byway
Brought to you by this small town
I always thought I could come home to
Oh well I guess I was wrong
I had attended my Aunt Linda’s funeral in Indiana that late September Friday and I was driving all the way back to Dubuque, Iowa in order to attend the rest of the annual fall guild quilt retreat that weekend.
I had been driving several hours in the dark. I was tired. I was drained emotionally and physically. As always, a family funeral brings together far-flung relatives who do not see each other very often — usually just once a year or so at the holidays. It had been a good day of reminiscing and of re-connecting. I was sad, but I knew I had done the right thing in going to the funeral. I was also looking forward to spending the rest of the weekend among very dear friends being creative and relaxing. There would be much talking, laughing, eating and sewing.
I had my ipod hooked up to the car stereo and I must have had it on some kind of shuffle. This wacky country song came on. I heard the chorus. I laughed. Here I was driving over 250 miles at night (okay, it was only 9 pm — not midnight) and I had just stopped for gas. I was on a curvy, hilly country road in the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin and was most definitely being cautious for deer and other night critters that might dash out in front of me.
Then it hit me. This would have been my dad’s birthday. September 27.
He loved country music. The twangier the better. The more steel guitar and sorrowful the better. He would turn the radio up really loud in the garage while he was doing his woodworking (making sawdust as he used to call it) and sing along to Johnny Cash or Ernie Ford or anybody that old country music station happened to be playing.
Though he was a marshmallow on the inside, he was not one who usually spent extra time smiling.
He also really, REALLY loved to drive. He would drive hours just to attend a high school football or basketball game, especially if one of his nephews was playing or anyone from our hometown for that matter.
So — this song surrounding me in that dark car on that lonely, long drive with family on one end and friends on the other — felt like a great big hug from my dad.
The weird part is that I had no idea where this song came from or how it came to be on my ipod.
A solo version by the same guy who is also known as Jonny Corndawg:
I later found out that this song was on a free mp3 album I had downloaded from Amazon, so it didn’t appear out of nowhere. It just seemed that way. I still like to think it was a hug from my dad and that is was sent to me on that night especially. (I checked. Amazon no longer offers this album, free or paid but you can download the song for $1.29).
From The Tromp Queen archives on related topics of quilt retreats, Dad, and being a good neighbor:
I posted this last year, but I updated it just a tiny bit. REposting because this is still what I want him to hear as he goes out the door.
To my nearly 20-year-old son as he prepares to leave for college (again) this weekend:
You’ve seen these lists.
I’ve posted at least one list on your Facebook page.
I KNOW you read everything I post on your page, so maybe this is redundant.
It is amazing to me how fast these years have gone. You don’t realize yet how fast time truly does fly. Soon you will. It picks up speed during college and never slows down after that.
Remember Grandma always says, “It’s Monday; then it’s Friday. It’s Monday; then it’s Friday.” She’s right.
First of all, let me say that I’m incredibly proud of you and that I love you more than you can imagine.
I can’t resist the urge to impart some words of wisdom before you go, though. Brace yourself for the forthcoming flow of wisdom because here it comes!
1. LISTEN TO ADVICE, but find your own path. People will tell you which class to take, which Prof to avoid, which dorm is best. What is true for another person may not be true for you. Gather information, investigate and decide important questions for yourself. Don’t rely on what “everyone” tells you.
2. GO TO CLASS. This really should have been number 1, but I’m not that great at lists, following advice or thinking in a linear fashion. But you already know that and I digress. There is no way to succeed without BEING THERE. Yes, sleep is important. So is eating and socializing. But the main reason you are there is to LEARN stuff, to gain knowledge — and you can’t do that if you aren’t in class. Seriously. Don’t skip. Figure out how much each hour of class costs and imagine throwing that money away or burning it. That is what you are doing when you skip.
3. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. I could have said “make friends” but I believe there is more to it than just making friends. You will find people who make you better at being you, who make you feel more alive and more interested in the world. Avoid the people who create turmoil; those who are more interested in what you can do for them than in who you are. Making friends is fairly easy, but keeping them isn’t as easy. Invest time in people wisely. Choose carefully. Some of the friends you make in college will be your friends decades from now. One of the best ways to do this is to be in and to stay involved in a music organization.
4. Find your PASSION. (I know — trite but true). In your baby book, there was a page for “Mother’s Wishes for Baby.” I couldn’t put into words what I wanted for you at that time, but this is what I wanted to say then and still want to say now:
I want to you be healthy. I want you to have enough challenges so that you grow in faith and courage but always enough tools, resources, and friends to meet those challenges. I want you to have a job that doesn’t feel like work; a job that you love so much that you are thankful each day you get to do what you do and get paid for it. I want you to have confidence, compassion, joy, respect, curiosity — LOVE. Aspire to inspire. In short: Do what you love and love what you do.
5. TRAVEL. Save money and plan for trips. When opportunities to travel arise, turn over every rock to make it happen. Go, see and do.
6. THINK DEEP THOUGHTS. Let your imagination run. Dream. Set some incredible goals. Have great conversations. Have some adventures. Keep your sense of humor. (You’ve got this one down pat, already!)
7. BEWARE OF THE VORTEX. Don’t sit alone in your dorm room (unless you are studying or have homework!).
Please be aware of how much “screen time” you are spending. Don’t be that guy who sits there for five days playing video games and eating Cheetos. You are better than that.
8. REACH OUT. If you feel overwhelmed, depressed, out-of-sorts, unhappy or lonely — call someone. You can ALWAYS call home. 🙂 Also — If you are lost or confused in a class, go see the Prof. Just do it. It is the best way to get back on track.
9. While I’m on the home topic — FAMILY IS FOREVER. Hopefully you’ve already picked this tidbit up. Family will be there at the hospital, at your life events, at whatever. We’ve got your back. Through thick or thin you are stuck with us (in a good way).
10. KEEP YOUR WORD. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Don’t lie. You don’t have to say everything you think out loud, though. Be kind. Have integrity. Stand up for what is right, even when it is not the easy thing to do. Learn to say “no.”
11. Be a good neighbor. Always vote. (Sliger family rules!)
(and this addendum since last year — )
12. ANSWER YOUR PHONE when we call! If you can’t talk right then, fine. Text us and let us know when it would be a good time to talk. We MISS you! Have a little sympathy for the old parental units now and then. It doesn’t matter what we talk about — we mostly just want to hear your voice.
This post marks the end of my February Haiku (part of my Joy 365 project). This was more difficult than the January photos. I am already behind on March! I’m not sure what I will be doing with March yet. Stay tuned, and as always, thank you for reading and following The Tromp Queen!
25 Tues — First rehearsal with area HS students preparing for upcoming district solo/ensemble contests.
Singers prepare songs. First run-through: a little shy. Music minds the gaps.
26 Wed — Meet with photographer at Milwaukie’s Art Museum lobby to take head shots for my new job as MCC accompanist.
Hair, make-up, jewelry: Head shots at Art Museum. Carved marble profile?
27 Thurs — Driving across the state from east to west. Going through Pville en route to quilt retreat.
image by TTQ, CC license
image by TTQ, CC license
image by TTQ, CC license
image by TTQ, CC license
image by TTQ, CC license
Driving Driftless roads Passing bluish-white meadows Trees and cows dot hills.
Tears rush to fill eyes. I don’t live here anymore. “Home” is elsewhere now.
Favorite coffee shop: Time to chat with my dear friend. Joyful day begins.
Next stop: Quilt Retreat. Bound with stories, tools, advice, Hugs, laughter, sorrows.
Connections endure: Souls and voices — we still hear. Fabric soothes us all.
It is also the two-year anniversary of my dad’s death.
I wrote a post about my dad last May as I contemplated Father’s Day without Dad. The post is “Missing Dad.”
A year later — I’ve written 140 blog posts as The Tromp Queen. I have 200 followers here. I’ve made new friends and have enjoyed this whole blogosphere more than I ever imagined. I recently started a recipe blog, called The Heat is ON! My family endured a year cram packed with changes. New job, new city, new home, new schools, new neighbors — new practically everything.
Some things never change. I still miss Dad, and I always will. The events of that day and the week after feel simultaneously quite recent and a long time ago.
Thank YOU for reading, commenting, following and most of all for caring. I hope you’ll continue to hang around for rest of the journey.
“Sorrow prepares you for joy.
It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place.
Image by Will Law, Blooming Hill roots, via Flickr CC
It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
This Rumi quote has been in my draft posts for quite a while. I believe I found the quote through Soul Gatherings, and I saved it thinking I might have something profound to say about it eventually. I chose a few photographs to enhance the imagery and in the process my thoughts got a kick-start.
I do read more (and different meanings) into this quote now than I did last summer, though. The anniversary of my dad’s death is quickly approaching (Feb. 4). It will be two years since he died, and I find I still have a lot of baggage to sort through emotionally and spiritually.
Also, most of you know I’ve been adjusting to (and grieving for what was left behind, really) all the changes this last year brought. I left a home and community of loving, creative, supportive friends after 17 years (and also left our 18-year-old son there to finish his senior year of HS). I’m still very much up and down in how I’m feeling about and dealing with all of these issues from day-to-day, even now.
This Rumi quote has, at times, made me angry as I browsed past it in my drafts. “Sorrow prepares you for joy? Yeah, right. I’d rather avoid the sorrow part, thank you very much.” I didn’t/don’t want things or people swept violently out of my life then or now — the sorrow is still very present some days.
But then the older and wiser me chimes in. Yes, I realize sorrow is indeed an integral and unavoidable part of life. Change happens. For better or worse: It happens to us all.
I continue to have Faith and Hope.
I always believe that I’m going to slog through it,
that I will find equilibrium again,
that the fog will eventually lift.
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.*
I’ve watched nature programs enough to know that after devastating, ravaging forest fires come meadows of lush new grass and rich swaths of wildflowers.
Weeping may last through the night, but Joy comes in the morning. (Ps. 30:5 NLT)
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. — A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.**
On the positive side, I am on alert for the new green leaves and roots: both figuratively and literally.
My mini daffodils, TTQ cc
My heirloom lilac, TTQ cc
backside daffodil, photo by quirkyjazz, aka Jill
daffodil in late afternoon sun; photo by quirkyjazz, aka Jill
Literally, I planted a lot of spring blooming bulbs in our new yard. I will be thankful and happy when I see them. I look forward to fragile new growth as summer follows spring, as the roots and leaves grow larger and greener each day.
Figuratively, I have made some small forays to find and make friends and to begin to send out roots and branches (creatively, musically and otherwise).
I am thankful for each of you who read my blog. Many of you have been hanging in here with me for pretty much the whole year I’ve been at this. I appreciate the friendships that have sprung up, the emotional and creative support and inspiration I gather (and hopefully share), and the incredibly kind and thoughtful comments exchanged.
I just tried to find a comment from many months ago that has stuck in my mind. I looked through all the pages of comments from all my posts and could not find it. I’m not sure who said it, but I DO remember the meaning of it. I must have either posted something very short or re-blogged something I found interesting but did so saying I didn’t have any coherent thoughts or time to share them because of the move and all the goodbyes and such — and someone very kindly said (and I’m paraphrasing): That’s fine. Don’t worry. We’ll be here waiting for you on the other end of it. When things get back to normal, we will be here ready to hear about it.
Thank you for caring.
*lyrics by James Taylor from “Fire and Rain.” **excerpts from Ecclesiastes 3, New Living Translation.
image by Lys* via Flickr creative commons (I forgot to take a pic!)
Jan 5: Phone calls with family and friends
image by Lee Jordan, via Flickr CC. I’ve seen several sunrises lately that look much like this photograph. Since I didn’t take time to grab the image, I’m happy to borrow Lee’s through the creative commons license.
Jan 8: Snuggly kitten
Jan 9 Joy: Laughing with my lovely daughter
Jan 10 Joy: Friends share their JOYS
image by Leo Reynolds, via Flickr CC; additional editing by The Tromp Queen in picasa
Jan 12 Joy: 29th Anniversary
Jan 13 Joys: Nature’s Perfect Heart image via Flickr CC edited by Tromp Queen.
Jan 14 Joy: Trader Joe’s
Image from Boswell Book Company’s facebook cover; text added by me.
Jan 16 Joy: Coffee Chat with Christa; coffee cup image by Doug Wheller via Flickr CC
Jan 17: Sarah got an A+ on Odyssey and Ben got nominated for a Tommy
Jan 18 Joy: Snowy Walk in the Park
Pink Sunset over South River, Mays Landing NJ image by Ann Marie Morrison via Flickr CC
homemade noodles drying; image by Tamera Clark via Flickr CC
Jan 21 Joys: Thanks, Honey! Image not of actual husband. Photo by August Allen via Flickr CC from Antartica set 2009.
Jan 22 Joy: Sunset — This is looking EAST!
Jan 23: Time to READ!
Jan 24 Joys. Image by Kicki Holmen via Flickr CC
Image by Lamerie via Flickr CC license.
Jan 26 Joy: Family movie night watching Ghostbusters! and eating Trader Jo’s Indian food
Jan 27 Joy: Ben is accepted at MSOE
Jan 29 Joy: Finding New Blogs to Follow. Image by thePhotoZoo via Flickr CC
Jan 30 Joy: AMAZING sunrise
Guacamole image by Rob and Jessie Stankey via Flickr CC license
Jan 6: Snow Day (actually frigid wind chill day) — watching Bollywood Bride and Prejudice — FUN and JOYFUL! (clip below)
Jan. 28: Snow Day again! Thankful to be safe at home with both children. No School for either because of Blizzard/Polar Vortex revisit.
I don’t like the idea of “resolutions” (resolving to do something).
I’m going with ENDEAVOR.
Endeavor can be either a verb (try hard to do or achieve something) or a noun (an attempt to achieve a goal).
freedictionary.com gives the definition of endeavor as — 1. A conscientious or concerted effort toward an end; an earnest attempt. 2. Purposeful or industrious activity; enterprise.
What will I endeavor to do this next year?
1. I really love the idea of doing a “Thankfulness: 365” type of project. I’m not sure I am diligent enough to take a photo every day, but Apple Hill Cottage’s posts inspired me to give it a try! http://applehillcottage.org/thankfulness-360/ I might work this in with #3.
2. I will be a better friend. I realize that I’ve been more self-centered than usual this year. I need to make amends with some friends who were going through difficult times. I wish I had been more supportive and present for them. I also need to invest time and effort in making new connections. I’ve taken quite a while to mourn the loss of all I left behind, and I realize I need to focus on the here and now.
3. I will make more time for creative projects. One of the few TV show I enjoy watching is Quilting Arts on PBS. Several of the programs I saw recently — (who knows when they aired? I love our DVR!) — were full of ideas for making time daily for being creative. With so many hobbies and supplies and my new “Creativity Room,” I need to be more intentional about using time for things I enjoy doing creatively.
4. I will pursue better health. This covers a wide range of issues. I’m not looking forward to this one, but I can no longer pretend I’m 24 and thin. (I’m definitely neither of those things now!)
5. I will get our household unpacked and better organized. (groan!) After living in one place for 17 years and then moving across the state this summer, we are still looking for many items that seem to have disappeared during the move.
6. I will learn some new piano music just for ME. For several years, I’ve played mostly music that was chosen by others. This is one endeavor I’m pretty such I can manage! Again, making time for doing things for personal growth and enjoyment should be a priority for most everyone. Why is it so difficult to do?
7. I will get more involved in our new community. I have several ideas and possible directions — too many, in fact. I need to choose a few and go. Getting an opportunity for a fresh start is a wonderful gift in many ways. Where should I spend my time, talent and attention?
8. I will continue to write this blog. Thank you for reading, following and/or commenting! This whole “blogging” process has been an interesting journey so far. I’m secretly hoping I can either finish and post all my drafts and/or decide they are unworthy and delete them. (I guess it is a not-so-secret-hope now!)
9. I will continue to make time to read — not only books of all kinds but also poetry.
10. This is by no means last on my endeavor list. In fact, this endeavor has always been and will continue to be integral to every part of my life. I will endeavor to continue growing in faith and in spirit. I saw this tweet today: “Thanksgiving makes time. Give thanks, slow time down w/ all your attention, & time multiplies. #1000gifts”
There seems to be a theme here: T H A N K F U L N E S S.
Another theme is: T I M E
Nearly every endeavor on my list will be achieved or not in relation to the T I M E given to that endeavor.
God of all time, all seasons of our living,
source of our spark, protector of our flame,
blazing before our birth, beyond our dying–
God of all time, we come to sing your name.
Spirit, who draws our fragile selves together;
Spirit, who turns a stranger to a friend:
be at the table where we greet each other;
be in the peace we pass from hand to hand.
A woman in a thrift shop said this to me yesterday, and I took it as a nice compliment. “Actually, I’m jealous,” she said when commenting on the friendship she observed between me and my dear friend, Anne, as we shopped in the Agrace Thrift Shop in Madison.
Anne and I had planned this day for ourselves several weeks in advance. Neither one of us cared at all what we did, but we just wanted to BE together. I call this “friend time.” What you do and where you are doesn’t matter. What matters is having the luxury of time — lots of it — and the opportunity to talk about anything and everything.
After doing a bit of shopping in a fabulous artistic hip fabric store and having a delicious lunch of Indian food, we spied this Thrift Shop across the parking lot from the restaurant.
No big discussion needed. We went inside.
We browsed. We got separated and found each other several times. At one point I walked over to Anne carrying a juicer saying, “I think I need you to talk me out of buying this.” (The juicer was only $7.99 and looked in great shape. I’ve been considering trying juicing as a means to be healthier, but haven’t taken the leap to buy a juicer yet).
Anne immediately said, “Oh, I can do that.” Then without missing a beat she went on to tell me several reasons why this one wasn’t that great. I said, “Okay” and then walked over to put the thing back on the shelf.
A little later Anne came up to me with a small stack of CDs saying, “Will I like this music?” I looked them over and said yes I thought she would. As she walked away she said, “Just so it isn’t Wagner” (which made me smile.)
I hadn’t looked at the CDs so I wandered back there to peruse them. I thought Anne was nearby so I said, “Anne, how about Chopin and Schumann? I think you would like this one.” A woman came around the corner and said something like “Chopin sounds good.” I looked up and said, “Are you Anne?” — which in hindsight might have sounded a tad bit snarky but I meant it in a friendly way.
A little later I was trying to talk Anne into trying on a cool patchwork sweater. Anne was saying she didn’t trust her own judgement on sweaters anymore since she won an ugly sweater contest with a sweater she owned and liked. I said the sweater “looked like her” but I thought it might be too large for her, but it wouldn’t hurt to try it on.
At that point, the woman (the same one who responded to my CD question) came by and said she had enjoyed listening to our conversations and our manner of relying on each other’s advice.
Then she said it: “Actually I’m jealous. I wish I had a friend like that.”
I was speechless. My first thought was to say, “We’ll be your friends!” But then I realized that was impractical. Neither Anne nor I live in that town, and we are making quite an effort to keep our friendship in tact now that we are nearly 3 hours apart rather than just around the corner from each other. By the time I got through all those thoughts, the woman had drifted away so I didn’t have to say anything at all.
I was (and am) left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’m thankful to have a friendship that just by being is noticeable and exceptional in a good way. I’m extremely blessed to have not just one friendship like this, but several — each unique and enriching.
The rest of the day was great, too. We went to a fabulous bead shop, then to a practically perfect coffee shop (where we dissolved into tears for just a few short minutes), and then browsed the adjacent “Absolutely Art” store.
Here’s hoping you have a friendship that could be a source of envy. If you don’t, then open yourself to the possibility. Invest your time and energy with people who share your passions.
Be a good friend and you will create a good friend.
At least, I’ve always found this to be true.
The amazingly talented young singer I describe in that post recently wrote about me on her blog, Sometimes There is Beauty, reflecting on what I wrote. The post is called “Dear Jill.”
Working with people like Amanda is the reason I’m still reeling from the changes this year brought. I’m now several hours away from them, not playing piano on a regular basis now, and I am still grieving the loss of those deeply personal and creative connections we shared.
This was my reply when I read her post: I love you, dear Amanda. Thank you for writing these beautiful words and for sharing them with me. My heart feels the same as yours. I try to tell myself that Pooh was right: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” But my heart is still sad and empty without the music and connections we created — day by day, week by week. (Of course, tears are streaming down my face as I write this!) i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) — For Good.
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
— by ee cummings
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
I recently found out one of my quilt friends is dying.
She has been fighting breast cancer for well over a year now.
She tried alternative medicines (including a trip to Ecuador for frankincense treatment) and traditional treatments (surgery and chemo, etc.) but the battle for her body is being won by the cancer this week.
I have known Barb for years. We belonged to the same quilt guild for over a decade. I’m guessing 16 years? I got to know her not only through the guild meetings and guild quilt shows, but also through her volunteer position in the guild as co-tech ed organizer. Her partner in crime for tech-ed was her buddy Annette. They were so hilarious together. Barb, tall thin and dark haired, and Annette, short round and grey haired, reminded me of a great comedy team along the lines of Stan and Ollie (but neither being stupid or mean!)
Barb and I also got to know each other at the guild quilt retreats* (see explanation below), held annually in Feb (or March) and October (or September) depending on when we can get reservations at the retreat space. Barb and I often ended up sitting near each other as we were quilting and often chatted as we worked. Eating meals together is one of my favorite parts of quilt retreats, and I would often find myself sitting near Barb and getting involved in a lively conversation.
One of the first conversations I remember having with Barb was when we discovered several mutual interests: Jane Austen, Colin Firth and more specifically those two together in the A&E production of Pride and Prejudice. Oh my! I thought I was a big fan, but she left me in the dust.
She had seen nearly every movie Colin Firth had ever made (and he has made a LOT of movies).
She regaled me with the story of seeing Colin in leather pants in the movie “What a Girl Wants.” Barb claimed she stood up, fist in the air and yelled “YES!” (Annette confirmed this was true. So funny!)
She told me the story of finagling DVDs of all the PBS Jane Austen movies from either her cable company (or satellite, idk?) because she had reception issues when the movies were aired. She got them ALL! She was very persuasive.
We both loved eating at Athenian Grill in Dubuque. She would always tell me when the place was closed (it went through much drama and changes of ownership). We would always commiserate whenever that happened (and it happened often!).
She told us stories from work. She taught computer classes at a community college. I am sure she was a fabulous teacher and that she was much loved and appreciated by her students. As a fellow teacher (though I teach music), I pick up on passion and dedication when good teachers talk about students and classes. Good ones care. A lot. And you can tell just by listening to their stories. Barb was a good one.
Barb certainly had her quirks, too. She and another friend created an elaborate reward system to try to keep themselves motivated and on track in their quilting projects. There were monetary rewards for certain amounts of time spent, for completing projects and for I don’t remember what all. The part that fascinated me was that the money was IMAGINARY and that the amounts were quite small. Once I asked, if the money wasn’t real anyway, why they didn’t reward themselves with higher pay? Like maybe more like $100 an hour instead of whatever less than minimum wage they were paying themselves?
She replied, “Well, we don’t want to go crazy with it.” (I am shaking my head and laughing out loud as I write this and remember this conversation. SO FUNNY.)
The other amusing thing is this imaginary money reward system actually WORKED for them!
Another “Barb” thing I enjoy is the way she talks herself through a project. She is a perfectionist. She will tear things out that I would never dream of fixing. She usually has a running commentary going about the fabric, her machine, the pattern, the project in general, the intended recipient, or the reason she is making the thing. She struggles to follow directions at times, and also likes to have confirmation from anyone who can hear her that she is doing everything correctly. Barb manages to do this without being annoying.
Barb often would be working on projects for her nieces and nephews (whom she dearly loves). She worked on one Buggy Barn (a quilt pattern company) star pattern for her sister for several retreats! The stars had lots of pieces and each piece had little borders around them. The whole project was in pale colors so all the work didn’t really show up that much. This is not the exact pattern, but it was very similar to it.
Several of us encouraged Barb to just quit working on it because it seemed to be frustrating her so much. But she kept working steadily on it and I am pretty sure she did finish that project eventually. (For many quilters finishing a project is not mandatory. A lot of us are excellent at picking out, designing and beginning projects. Finishing them? Not so much.)
Last fall, as we sat in the sewing room at our retreat I kept hearing an inner voice tell me to ask Barb’s permission to pray with her about her cancer. She had been through several months of alternative treatments by this time as well as some traditional medicine. She was wearing a cute brown pageboy wig, so her hair was gone from having chemo.
I looked for times to talk to her quietly but in a room with 20 creative, happily sewing quilters, there is not much down time and not much quiet time. I argued with myself about the prayer idea for at least the first day. Why me? Someone else could do it. The inner voice was not giving in. Yes, you. Yes, now. Do it.
So I went over to Barb’s table. I asked if she would be comfortable with the idea me gathering everyone who wanted to into a circle of friendship to give her support for her upcoming treatments. She said YES instantly. So I turned around and asked people to gather. I did not want to assume prayer would be the word everyone there would use for what we would do — but whatever I said — everyone came over. We held hands. We stood in a circle. Everyone looked at me. I asked if anyone wanted to say a few words or lead a prayer or anything — someone said “You do it.” So I did.
I don’t remember what I said, but I poured my heart out. We need Barb healed. We need her with us. This cancer needs to get out of her body. We wrap her in our friendship, love, comfort, encouragement and support.
I’m usually a crier. (See any number of my previous blog posts!) I’m not much of a public prayer either. But this was on my heart and I did what my heart (I believe it was the Holy Spirit) was telling me to do. This is one of those times that I believe the power of prayer was not only a mental but also a physical experience. Is there an energy that generates when people hold hands and stand in a circle and all focus their thoughts and minds on one person? — I don’t know. I felt something, though. Love, Faith, Friendship, Compassion. Words don’t mean anything much at a time like that, though.
I didn’t cry (much). At least I was able to continue talking and to form relatively coherent thoughts for which I am truly thankful to this day!
At the end of my words– everyone, EVERYONE, hugged Barb and whispered encouragement to her. Tears were flowing. Barb thanked us and shed a few tears of her own. It was a wonderful moment of personal connection between all of us in that circle.
As the weekend went on, many of the other quilters came over to my table to say how much they appreciated the circle. I think many of us had the thought that something should said or done to show Barb our love and support, and we were thankful to have found a way to express that to her.
This year, we knew that Barb was near the end of her life. We had some roses both in the work room and on our table in the dining room in her honor. We gathered again in another friendship circle to pray for her and for ourselves as we were missing her presence with us.
As I visited with the quilters there, I found at least one of them working on a “Barb” project. One that she had worked on, but had not finished. She was hoping to get it finished for Barb before she died.
I just got word a short while ago that Barb died in the early hours this morning (October 1). My heart is sorrowful, but my spirit is comforted to know that she free of the cancer and is now pain-free. I miss you already, dear friend.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there will be no more death
All these things are gone
forever. NLT Rev. 21:4
*Quilt Guild Retreats: A Brief Explanation
(Modern quilt retreats are NOT like the photo above!) Imagine 20 creative women (mostly strong-willed and not afraid to express their opinions about anything and everything) sitting around a long large conference room. Each person has their own work table and chair. On each table is a sewing machine, light, and quilting tools/gadgets. Most people have fabric nearby, some cut into pieces large and small and stacked ready to sew. The stacks are neat or messy depending on the creative style of the person. (I’m in the messy category — is anyone surprised?) In the center of the room are several “cutting tables.” 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!)
Everyone works on their own projects at their own pace. If you need advice or opinions, just ask. Someone (usually SEVERAL someones) will gather ’round to opine. You can stop to take a nap or a walk (either outside in the verdant gardens or in one of the meditational labyrinths) or just take a break to sit and chat.
It seems that we eat every 15 minutes, but in reality we eat three times a day down in the spacious dining area with extremely large windows overlooking beautiful pastoral farmland. The Mound (short for Sinsinawa Mound) has a fabulous bakery, so we often have their home-made dinner rolls, breads, pies, cinnamon rolls, etc. Some people finish several small projects, some bring one large quilt to assemble, some bring hand work only. The point it to spend uninterrupted time together doing something we love — quilting — with people we enjoy.
Yes, we sit and sew and talk and eat for three day (or more if we can manage the time away!).