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.












Into the Woods Philosophy

Though it drives our sixteen year old daughter crazy at times, our family often has “deep” discussions after watching movies, plays, musicals and sometimes after viewing art exhibits and the like.

We finally (in our fast-paced-first-world-lives one week after opening seems like “finally”) saw the new Into the Woods movie last night.

I’ve been thinking about various themes from the show —

  1. People make mistakes. So many mistakes.
  2. Even when you think you are doing “the right thing,” people often get hurt.
  3. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what you believe is right. (Doing this is easier if you don’t have to do it alone; see #4).
  4. Being “in the woods” is confusing, sometimes scary, and often dangerous. Take a friend; don’t go alone.
  5. Actions often bring unintended (far-reaching, severe) consequences.
  6. It is impossible to protect everyone from evil and danger. Bad things happen; even to good people.
  7. Getting what you thought you wanted will not necessarily make you happy.
  8. Lies, deceptions, greed, stealing — never the best way to go.
  9. Beauty does not guarantee a happy life.
  10. Stay on the path? Get off the path to smell the flowers? Not an easy decision.  “Isn’t it nice to know a lot? And a little bit….not.” One of my favorite lines!

And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn’t known before:
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.
Isn’t it nice to know a lot!
And a little bit not.

from “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods, by Sondheim

I by no means exhausted the list of themes from this show.  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

“Please stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

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:







March Inspirations: Another Week

Monday — Old Oak Tree

Embed from Getty Images

I mentioned that I had a couple of job interviews last week.  I ended up getting both jobs!  One, being a sub for the local HS, I only got to  do for two days!  Because the other job will be as a long term music sub (K-8 general and vocal) for the rest of the school year.

I went Monday to the two elementary schools where I will be teaching to sign some papers, to see the buildings, and to meet some of the faculty/staff.  One of the schools is several miles away from the interstate on a country road.  From the outside, one can see the school was built onto an old brick one-room schoolhouse building. Outside the front door, a bit off to the side, is a huge ancient oak tree.  I stopped to take in its strength and silhouette.  I thought of all the students that tree has presided over — all of their comings and goings, all the days of learning and playing.  I felt a sense of “place,” of being rooted, and at that moment I was assured that once again, I will be where I belong, where I need to be right now in my life.

Tuesday  — Girls play “The Voice”

Embed from Getty Images

At the end of the young girls’ choir rehearsal I accompany on Tuesday evenings, the girls were given a few minutes of free time because they had worked so hard to learn the new music.  The girls began playing “The Voice” and self selecting into groups of judges, performers, score keepers, and one girl who sat off to the side watching. It was so fun to watch them disappear into their imaginary world of play!  I enjoyed seeing them choose their roles, some switching roles several times, and that one girls who felt most comfortable sitting to the side watching the whole thing (with a shy smile on her face — I don’t think she was unhappy or upset — she just wanted to watch instead of be involved.)

Some girls were natural and instant leaders.
Some struggled to decide where they fit in.
Some felt comfortable in supporting roles.
Some tried several different approaches.
Some needed to have a friend by their side.
Some stood in the spotlight and sang, pouring out their heart and soul.
Some kept track of what everyone else was doing and tried to impose order on the chaos.
One watched with a shy smile.

I thought about how this “play” the girls created relates to grown-up lives. Hmmmmmm —-

Wednesday — Being the “Sub”

Embed from Getty Images

I was subbing at the HS again on Wednesday.  I think my favorite moments are when I have conversations either with an individual student or a group of students that gets “real.”  I catch a glimpse of the “real” person behind their public persona, and/or they catch a glimpse of my “real” self.  I try to be genuine in all situations, but being a sub is a pretty artificial scenario so it often takes a bit of convincing and ice-breaking until any sort of tentative temporary relationship can be established.  I’m thankful when that happens.  Those moments are why I continue to “aspire to inspire!”

Embed from Getty Images

Thursday — Another first day

Today I spent the day getting acquainted with the music teacher for whom I will be long-term subbing.  I met most of the students at one of the elementary school where I will be teaching.  The most common question I was asked by the students was, “Can you play the piano?”  🙂  Happily, my answer was an emphatic — “YES!”  It was a good day, and I’m looking forward to the joys and challenges of the weeks ahead.

Embed from Getty Images

Friday — HUGE Smile

Embed from Getty Images

At lunch (new music long term sub job school) — a student was recognized by one of the teachers with a good-bye cake.  She called the student up, and told everyone in the cafeteria that this would be his last day at their school.  On Monday, he would start school at ta new school.  She had a large sheet cake so that everyone could have a piece of cake to celebrate this student’s time at the school with them.  Everyone applauded and cheered. He had the HUGEST smile on his face. He was absolutely BEAMING.  (p.s.  The young man has Down Syndrome).

Final Few February Haiku

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.

image by TTQ
image by TTQ

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.

image by TTQ, CC license -- at Milwaukee Art Museum
image by TTQ, CC license — at Milwaukee Art Museum

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.

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.

28 Fri 

image by lynn Dombrowski attribution, sharealike CC license via Flickr
image by lynn Dombrowski attribution, sharealike CC license via Flickr

Favorite coffee shop:
Time to chat with my dear friend.
Joyful day begins.

quilt and photo by qurikyjazz aka Jill CC license
quilt and photo by qurikyjazz aka Jill CC license

Next stop: Quilt Retreat.
Bound with stories, tools, advice,
Hugs, laughter, sorrows.

Connections endure:
Souls and voices — we still hear.
Fabric soothes us all.

Mid-February Weekend Haiku: Singathon and Goodwill

image by davidmulder61 via Flickr CC
image by davidmulder61 via Flickr CC

Feb 15

Playing piano
in the Bayshore rotunda —
Girlchoirs East and West.

Fingers on Steinway.
First MCC gig complete.
It’s where I belong.

image by viewerblur via Flickr CC
image by viewerblur via Flickr CC

Feb. 16*

Goodwill shopped so long
Customer thought I worked there.
Not a good idea!
I would spend more than I earned,
though it would be lots of fun.

Browsing for sweaters:
Cashmere, lambswool, angora.
Cute skirts:  Goodwill finds!
Mutant Ninja Turtle (lunch) box.
Cobalt blue vase with daisies.

*Tanka form 57577

February 4: Happiness Haiku

image via Flickr CC by nexus6

Girls’ choir spins pure tones
Words of comfort, peace and grace:
No tears in heaven.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there will be no more death
or sorrow or crying or pain.
All these things are gone forever.
Rev. 21:4
(New Living Translation)

I got a call on Sunday from the Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Children’s Choirs.  Suddenly, they were in need of a replacement (permanent!) pianist.  Thanks to a friend and fellow accompanist, I was recommended and asked to play.

I went to the first rehearsal this evening.  The group of young 3rd to 5th grade girls meets once a week in an absolutely fabulous downtown Youth Arts center.

The room was filled with red t-shirts, snazzy boots and wiggly, smiling girls.  When they sang it was angelic and the room was transformed into a huge gothic cathedral!

The first song they sang with piano accompaniment was a setting of Rev. 21:4.  My heart lurched when I opened the music. Tears sprang into my eyes as I quickly scanned the piece. This verse was one that I held onto two years on this very day — the day my Dad died — the day he fell asleep on the couch in Indiana and woke up in heaven!

He had been sick for so long and had been so miserable. It was a great comfort to me to read these words and to keep them in my mind and heart that week — through the funeral planning, all the visitation hours, through the sorrow, laughter and tears.

So as I sat there in that room with all the that young vibrant musical energy, I was filled with gratitude and joy.

God brought me through. I believe I was sitting in the exact place I was meant to be at that moment.
Thanks be to God!

Charles Wesley and a Boatload of Singing Moravians

CC via Flickr, image by by Riku Kettunen
CC via Flickr, image by by Riku Kettunen

I enjoy reading the Writer’s Almanac.  Each day Garrison Keillor publishes a poem and describes several historical figures or events related to the date.  I’ve learned a lot of very interesting tidbits about authors and such, and have found many wonderful poems to love through this avenue.

At the website there is a link so you can listen to Garrison read the poem and tell about the historical events.  I find his voice very soothing and expressive.

Today, Keillor tells of the influence singing Moravians had on a young Charles Wesley during a long Atlantic crossing back in the early 1700s. (Today’s poem is “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, which I instantly added to my “poems that speak to me” list.)

Here is a portion of the Wesley story featured in today’s  Writer’s Alamanac for December 18, 2013 by Garrison Keillor:

Charles Wesley was on a ship traveling from the colony of Georgia back to England. Many of his fellow passengers were German Moravians, and they constantly sang hymns together. This was a radical idea — the Anglican Church had beautiful choirs, but the congregation never joined in. When he returned to England, Wesley began to write hymns that could be sung by congregations, and it became his life’s work. He sometimes wrote a hymn every day, using popular songs for the tunes. The Wesley brothers traveled around England, preaching in the open air, and Charles continued to write on the road. By the time of his death at the age of 80, he had published more than 4,500 hymns, and left thousands more in manuscript form.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Photo credit: A. Strakey)

His hymns include “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and “Jesu, Lover of My Soul,” in which he wrote:
“Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing.”

Beauty Sleep
Beauty Sleep (Photo credit: tarotastic)

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/

Tuesday Travels — Cefalu, Sicily

Tuesday Travels — Cefalu, Sicily.

What a beautifully written piece about a lovely moment of blessing in a faraway cathedral!

I follow “Soul Gatherings” and read it regularly.

This post caught my attention because the Christ the Pantocrator mosaic image from this cathedral in Sicily is so similar to the ones I saw this summer in Istanbul, Turkey at both Chora Church and at Hagia Sophia.

Sometimes There is Beauty

The Heart
The Heart (Photo credit: petalouda62)

Some of you might remember reading a post I wrote several months ago: It hurts because it matters.

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.

Thirds (Photo credit: e_monk)
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
–lyrics of For Good, from the musical Wicked
music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel sing For Good, accompanied by Stephen Swchwartz on the piano:


fabulous Fazoli piano!
fabulous Fazoli piano!


Heliotrop vua flickr creative commons by Don Burkett
heliotrope via flickr creative commons by Don Burkett

Old Tunes

As the waves of perfume, heliotrope, rose,
Float in the garden when no wind blows,
Come to us, go from us, whence no one knows;

So the old tunes float in my mind,
And go from me leaving no trace behind,
Like fragrance borne on the hush of the wind.

But in the instant the airs remain
I know the laughter and the pain
Of times that will not come again.

I try to catch at many a tune
Like petals of light fallen from the moon,
Broken and bright on a dark lagoon,

But they float away — for who can hold
Youth, or perfume or the moon’s gold?

Sara Teasdale
Moonlight on the Water, via flickr RobW_'s photostream aka Robert Wallace (creative commons)
Moonlight on the Water, via flickr RobW_’s photostream aka Robert Wallace (creative commons)

Who knew Sara Teasdale wrote a poem about earworms?

I love this poem just for its inherent beauty, but also because it highlights a common (nearly constant) problem I have:  songs stuck in my head.  

I nearly ALWAYS have some sort of music running through my mind.  I think this is why I don’t often have a radio playing even when I am home alone:  I already have a station going in my head!


image from ComposerBase dot com

This week my inner song cycle has been full of choral music because I recently accompanied a high school choir concert.  I frequently have a mix of Broadway tunes and classic rock going, too, though.  Throw in a few children’s songs (I taught elementary music and children’s choir for several years), a few hymns (church organist and choir director), a few pop tunes (60′ to 80’s era mostly) and random other items from my iPod — and, well, you get the idea.

My least favorite thing to get caught in my head is some operatic aria that I don’t even know the words for (usually in a foreign language to boot).  This is a job hazard when I accompany voice students for their lessons and recitals — and it happens frequently.

One day, I was wondering how many people have this constant stream of music in their heads so I recently used my Facebook status to ask what my friends had playing in their heads.  It was quite a mix, but not many people replied.

As I looked into this phenomena, I discovered Vicky Williamson — a psychologist who researches and collects earworms.  She said, “It’s an interesting everyday phenomenon. It happens to at least 90 percent of people once a week, [they] get a tune stuck in their head.”  If you are interested, you may read the whole article here:  Why That Song Gets Stuck in Your Head.

Other articles about this topic:

I’m curious:  What is playing In YOUR head?

(Journey is a frequent camper in my head)

Don't stop believin'
Don’t stop believin’

The Small World of Ram Sam Sam

The larger of the two amphitheaters in Ephesus.

My family took a trip of a lifetime in July.  We spent three weeks visiting family in Turkey and had the opportunity to see many historic sites while we were there.

One of those historic places was the ancient city of Ephesus.  Yes!  THAT Ephesus:  the book of the Bible, the letter to the Ephesians written by the Apostle Paul.

The library of Celsus in Ephesus

The Ephesus site is near the modern day city of Selçuk, in the Izmir province and near the western Aegean coast of Turkey.  The day we visited was very hot, very sunny, and the area is always very dry.  (No water is available inside the historic area, so it seemed even hotter!)

Road in Ephesus
Road in Ephesus

We walked along the huge flat marble and other types of stone slabs on the streets, marveling at the magnificent columns, sculptures, city buildings, temples, homes, amphitheaters, etc.

As we were walking near the large amphitheater on our way back to the car after several hours of walking through the amazing ruins – I heard a familiar song being sung faintly nearby.  I quickly looked around to try to locate the person(s) singing.  I saw two teenaged young women walking behind an older couple (the parents, I presumed).

I listened as we walked.  They continued to sing.  The girls sang part of the song and then the Dad sang part of it back to them.  I was amazed to recognize the song as A Ram Sam Sam!!

What a small world!  I know and love this song and so do many children in my hometown area.  I teach this song, A Ram Sam Sam, to my young children’s choir every year.  Children love to sing it because of the fun words, catchy tune, and the clapping/hand motions we do as we sing it.  I find this song is a great way to introduce singing rounds because it is simple and repetitive.

I only hesitated a couple of seconds before I approached the young women from behind asking if either of them spoke any English.  I quickly explained that I recognized the song they were singing and was curious to know where they were from.

The family smiled and gathered around.  One of the girls told me they were from Romania!

I tried to explain that I am a music teacher and that I teach this song to children.  I’m not sure if they understood me completely, but I am sure they knew that I recognized their song since I sang a little of it with them.

This whole exchange probably took less than a minute.  I thanked them and we all went our separate ways.

I wish I had thought to take a photo of the family or to possibly make a quick video of them singing the song!  I, an American music teacher from Wisconsin, was so flabbergasted at hearing this children’s song — which originated in Africa and sung by a Romanian family in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey – that I didn’t think to do any of that.

Sometimes a moment is just meant to be enjoyed and remembered, and it does not have to be saved and chronicled for posterity in order to be a precious memory.  This is one of those moments now.

Ephesus Amphitheater
Ephesus Amphitheater

All photos taken by me (quirkyjazz, aka Jill) and are under CreativeCommons copyright.  See front page of The Tromp Queen for details.  

It hurts because it matters

It hurts because it matters.

“So often we try to make other people feel better by minimizing their pain, by telling them that it will get better (which it will) or that there are worse things in the world (which there are).
But that’s not what I actually needed.

What I actually needed was for someone to tell me
that it hurt because it mattered. 

I have found this very useful to think about over the years, and I find that it is a lot easier and more bearable to be sad when you aren’t constantly berating yourself for being sad.”
– John Green

See 20 more John Green quotes here.  

It hurts because it matters.

We were in a small practice room on campus. If you’ve never been in a practice room it is a bit like a walk-in closet. There is a piano, a piano bench, maybe a chair and usually a music stand. Sometimes there is a mirror. The rooms are small and are supposedly soundproof. In reality they are stuffy, dusty, and sometimes smelly!

But back to my story . . . I was accompanying one of the amazing young singers here recently. She sang this fantastically difficult passage gloriously (as always) — from a Handel aria — it is fast, complicated and very high! She sings it with such a lovely ease (though it is not easy at all!) and the sound spins and shimmers.

I stopped and looked up at her with my eyes suddenly full of tears. She stopped and said, “What? What’s wrong?” I croaked, “I’m going to miss you so much.”

I will miss her talent, her humor, her quirkiness, her musicality, her dedication, her humility — her love of thrift shops, of purple and of God (not necessarily in that order!) — her glorious high B flats! All of that.

We hugged.

We shed a few tears.

My mom happened to be visiting that day, so she was also in that tiny dusty practice room and she said —

“The risk of loving is worth the pain.”

I’ve had a few more teary days since then. During the last voice lesson for each of my students I reflected about the journey I’ve been on with each of them, and on the journeys I’ve been on with other students before them.

I can’t yet put it all into words, but I have been hanging on to this idea to get me through —

The reason it hurts so much
to let go and say good bye
is that it matters.

A line of text from a Chanticleer CD came to mind as I was writing this post. The song I remembered is called “Wild Grass.” It is one of a set of Tang poems set to music by composer Chen Yi. The second is from the same set of texts, and I just discovered it tonight while I was searching for the wild grass text.

English: Wild Grass in India

Wild Grass

Wild grasses spreading o’er the plain
With every season come and go. 
Heath fire can’t burn them up, again
They rise when the vernal winds blow.
Their scent o’er runs the old pathway;
Their color covers the ruined town.
Seeing my friend going away,
My sorrow grows like wild grass o’er grown.
–Bai Ju-yi (772-846)

Sky and earth forever last,
Lonely, I felt sad with running tears.

–Chen Zi-ang (661-702)

English: Lonely Tree In the fields to the west...
English: Lonely Tree In the fields to the west of the A515 near Cubley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)