Friday, August 26, 2016

Fish Taco Friday

I know, I know: shrimp aren't fish. They are arthropods, and have no backbone. They are more similar to spiders and grasshoppers and crabs than they are to fish. But they are seafood. Therefore, I hereby declare that I might talk about any taco made with seafood on Fish Taco Friday.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

But I digress. Last weekend I tried a new menu item at my local Del Rio Restaurant. Sriracha Shrimp Tacos. I love sriracha. I love shrimp. I figured this was a sure winner.

I figured right.

They were taco perfection, tender shrimp smothered in a simple honey sriracha glaze with just the right balance of hot and sweet, stuffed in grilled flour tortilla shells with just the tiniest bit of crunch, topped with sweet onions and a generous helping of fresh cilantra. On the side, there was a cup of rice and a generous portion of chipotle mayonnaise - delicious but completely unnecessary. 

I stole the grilled jalapeno pepper from the plate of my dinner companion. We also shared a pitcher of Dos Equis Amber, served in tall frosted glasses. And of course there was chips and both red and brown salsa for starters. 

It was an altogether delightful dining experience. 

Now I just might have to find a recipe so I can try making these at home. On the other hand, it is hard to compete with perfection. Instead, I just might have to plan another visit to Del Rio very soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

88 Keys, 88 Days: Piano Practice Journal

I have maintained a journal of my music practice for several years, using simple composition notebooks in which I keep a list of pieces practiced with a few notes here and there - metronome markings, sections memorized, and such. But as I have been recording assignments the past couple of weeks in the beautiful practice notebooks I made for my students, it occurred to me that it would be lovely to have something a bit more aesthetically pleasing to use myself. So I set to work.

Here is the results: 88 Keys, 88 Weeks: Piano Practice Journal. Adapted from the pages I created for my students, each journal page in this notebook is designed to record a week's worth of practice, with an inspirational quote at the bottom for encouragement. In the back, there are pages for keeping track of new music terms encountered and a list of repertoire memorized. The very last page is a bibliography in which I share my all-time favorite books about practice and performance.

After receiving several queries from several colleagues, I have decided to make these available for purchase, with additional color choices available for the front and back covers. To order, click HERE.

Happy practicing!

Monday, August 22, 2016

America: A Tribute to the Patriots of 9/11

Many people don't know that I play the clarinet in addition to the piano. I joined the school band in the fourth grade and played all the way through my senior year in college. When I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I resigned from the University Wind Ensemble so that I could pour all my energy into my master's program. Years went by. I thought I would probably never play the clarinet seriously again.

Then last fall Dr. Thomas Martin Wubbenhorst, the former director of bands at Georgia State University from 1991-2000, returned to Atlanta to conduct the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra (GSWO). This unique ensemble draws literature from the symphonic band, wind ensemble and military band traditions and varies in size accordingly. Membership is by audition with the conductor or by invitation. 

Well, I'm in, and I play both the clarinet and the piano in the GSWO. We performed three successful concerts last year and have four in the works for this year. In our first performance, which will take place at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia on Sunday, September 11, 2016, we will join forces with the Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra (Robert Trocina, director), the Gwinnett Symphony Chorus (Rick Smith, director), and the Gwinnett Symphony Jazz Orchestra (Jose Manuel Garcia, director) in a program called "America: A Tribute to the Patriots of 9/11". The program will include Barber's Adagio, Copland's A Lincoln Portrait, and Clausen's Memorial. The GSWO's contribution will be Maslanka's Fourth Symphony. I have fallen head over heels in love with this powerful music and have been working hard preparing the challenging piano part to play with the ensemble. To whet your appetite, here is a recording of the United States Navy Band performing the work.

If you live within driving distance of Atlanta we would love to have you come to our performance. To purchase tickets for the concert (and for the 20th Anniversary Gala to follow, supporting Care for Cops, the Georgia Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Operation Homefront), click HERE. Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Musical Monday: Back to School

Today it's back to the books for the children in my local school district and back to full time piano teaching for me.

I've always loved this time of year. When I was a kid, it meant going shopping for new clothes and new shoes and school supplies. Of course, now I don't need a new box of crayons but I usually buy one anyway, along with a stack of composition notebooks (on sale, of course) and paper, printer ink, folder, and everything else I need to get ready for a new year of teaching.

Last year, I invested in a comb binding machine and made assignment notebooks for my students. In the notebooks, we kept track of weekly assignments and daily practice along with music terms we encountered throughout the year and a list of pieces memorized. This past weekend, I revamped last year's cover and updated the inside pages and put together this year's notebooks. I am very pleased with the results.

The first page of the notebook is a lesson and practice contract. This week, after I greet each student and hand over the assignment book, I will review the terms of the contract, which includes my expectations about conduct at lessons and practice at home. Then I ask each student to make a realistic commitment to practice a minimum number of minutes each day a specific number of days per week. These numbers vary from student to student but once the page is signed there is little room for excuses for not meeting the established goal. It takes the responsibility for practice off me and places it right where it belongs: on the student.

I also put together music theory folders, a vehicle for transporting weekly music theory assignments to and from lessons, and made thirty sets of music note flash cards for those students who haven't yet made it into the "minute club" - being able to name and play all 24 treble and bass clef line and space notes in one minute or less.

Yes, all this printing, binding, and cutting takes time. But it is time well spent. It gets the academic year off to an organized, intentional start, with goal setting a team effort. Students are empowered for success one practice session at a time.

I will be happy to share my assignment notebook pages (Word documents) and music note flash cards  (PDF file) with any of my readers who might be interested in adapting them for use in their own music studios. Just leave a comment at the end of this post and include your email address. Questions? Leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. Ideas? Please share them here as well. There is so much we can learn from each other!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fish Taco Friday

I'm changing things up a bit. Beginning next week, I will blog about music on Mondays and writing on Wednesdays. Fridays, however, I might write about anything.

Including fish tacos.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting my brother and his wife at their new digs in Dunedin, Florida. We crammed as much as we could into the four days I spent there: two beaches, five movies, and too many great restaurants and cute shops to count.

And it was at the Clear Sky Draught House I had the best fish tacos of my life (so far).

Here they are.

Salsa verde, shredded cabbage, cotija cheese on top of perfectly seasoned flaky fish served with a side of chips and salsa and jalapenos. They were, to quote Baby Bear, just right.

I also had a couple of their house brew Rowlock IPA - smooth with a citrus, hoppy finish. it was a perfect pairing.

* * *

School starts here next week, and I will resume full-time teaching and daily piano practice on Monday. But I intend to make time for walking, writing, jewelry making, and so many other things that bring balance to my life and joy to my heart.

Like fish tacos.

And I look forward to sharing my experiences right here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Failing Better

Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
~ Samuel Beckett

I failed.

Despite my best efforts, I fell far short of my goal of completing the first draft of a novel during PaNoWriWe. I didn't even come close to writing 50,000 words; as of Monday night, my total word count was only 7,056.

The good news? I AM WRITING AGAIN.

And I have about convinced myself that maybe I can find a way to make writing a part of my daily routine. Even after school starts again and I resume full-time music teaching piano practice.

Because while I like to think that I don't waste time, if I am brutally honest with myself I can admit that I do: five minutes here checking blog stats and fifteen minutes there scrolling through the news feed on Facebook and ten minutes somewhere else looking at jewelry ideas on Pinterest, well, right there is thirty minutes that might arguably be better spent writing.

And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, if I want to write a book - I mean if I really, truly want to write a book, then I need to make writing a higher priority.

Although my story has already taken some twists and turns, I haven't strayed so far from my note card scene outline that it isn't keeping me on track. So what if I were to designate a particular time slot each and every day to writing? Schedule it like I would a piano student, set a timer, pick up where I left off the day before, and write as fast as I can for thirty minutes? Perhaps set a weekly word count goal - say 2500 words - and make up the difference on Saturday and Sunday?

This just might work.

If you're skeptical, I can't say I blame you. If you've been reading this blog any length of time you know I have failed to meet my goals countless times before.

But I remain optimistic. Because maybe this time I have come up with the plan that will get me where I want to go.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Making Beeswax Candles

Who doesn't love the soft glow of a burning candle? But did you know that most candles you buy are made from petroleum based wax and release toxins into the air when burned? And did you know that some candle wicks contain lead which is also released into the air at potentially dangerous levels? Not only that, the artificial colors and scents that many candles contain can trigger allergic reactions in some people. And there is a laundry list of other toxic chemicals that is often present in paraffin and released through burning.


A little bit of research convinced me that unscented beeswax candles are the best alternative. When I stumbled upon this blog post I decided to try making my own candles using beeswax, palm oil, canning jars, and cotton square-braided wicking. Check out the article for lots of good information about the health benefits of beeswax candles, a list of ingredients and supplies, and detailed instructions.

I prepared my jars and wicks, melted beeswax and palm oil, and poured the sweet-smelling mixture into the jars. Here are my finished candles.

It was messy business - next time, for example, I will use a dedicated (or disposable) container to melt the beeswax and palm oil because it took FOREVER to clean the wax out of my glass measuring cup - but I think the results were well worth the effort! Decorated with ribbon or twine and tiny charms, these would make lovely gifts or party favors. This was my first time making candles but it definitely won't be my last!