Sunday, June 18, 2017

Progress Report


The past three weeks have been a frenzied blur of piano teaching, ensemble rehearsals, and student piano recitals - THREE of them. The last one took place on June 10th; the following Monday and Tuesday, I taught my last day of regular lessons and an exhausting day of make-up lessons. By the time all that was over, I was ready for a long winter's nap. Except it isn't winter, and my to-do list is about ninety miles long.

Although I have always had low blood pressure, about six months ago it started creeping up. Stress seems to be the culprit behind that and, since stress is my constant companion, my then-primary care physician put me on blood pressure medication. A couple of weeks ago, concerned with the numbers still being a bit higher than they should be, a new doctor switched me to a different prescription. For whatever reason - additional stress? the change in medication? - by Tuesday evening, my blood pressure topped out at 186/112, and I made a return visit to the physician's office Wednesday morning. She tweaked my prescription and sent me home under orders to get some rest.

I didn't do much that afternoon, alternately sleeping and reading and knitting and, thankfully, the numbers started coming down on Thursday. The past three days I have had nothing but normal and high-normal readings and I am feeling much better. This is a very good thing. Because I have a CD to finish!

Since I last posted, I have finished five more solo piano compositions, for a total of thirteen, and have transcribed them all into MuseScore (music notation software). Three more pieces are "well begun," although I think the last one will go on my next album. 15 pieces seems like a good number for a CD, I think.

I printed out all the scores (48 pages of music so far!), hole punched them and put them in a binder, and used my rudimentary graphics skills to design a cover (of sorts - see the photo above) to slip into the clear sleeve on the front of the binder. It ALMOST looks like a real songbook! For now, I am content to have all the notes down on paper; I will go back and add details, tempo markings and dynamics and slurs and such later. My intention is to finish the last two pieces and get them transcribed and added to the collection this week. That will give me just a little more than a month to polish up all the pieces and get them ready for my recording session the first weekend of August.

And that's just the beginning. There is a LOT of work that goes into the production of a CD, still more that goes into sales and promotion, but worrying about all that remains to be done creates nothing but stress and stress wreaks havoc on my blood pressure. So instead I am trying to remain focused simply on what needs to be done NEXT. So far, so good!

Summer lessons start tomorrow but with only twelve students on my summer schedule (compared with sixty during the regular school year) I should be able to find time to make steady progress with my solo piano music - AND make preparations for a long-anticipated trip to Europe in July. But more about that later! Right now I'm headed downstairs to finish another solo piano piece!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Briskly Venturing


Keep not standing fixed and rooted. Briskly venture, briskly roam.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I chose "venture" as my word for 2017 although I had no idea at the time what it might come to mean. Sure, I love to travel and hoped to add an "adventure" or two to my list. But on January 1st, 2017 was a completely blank slate.

Not any more.

One day in early March, I was out walking in my neighborhood, soaking up the sights of spring flowers, the sounds of bird calls, and the sweet, fresh scents that are a part of springtime in my little corner of the world. Happy to my core, I began to hum, rather tunelessly at first - but then the tune became a real melody, one that I found myself repeating, over and over. "I actually like this," I thought (with surprise); I longed to take it to the piano. But I keep a busy schedule; I had allowed myself a margin of less than thirty minutes between the end of my walk and the beginning of my teaching day, barely enough time to take a shower and get dressed. I knew there wouldn't be time to jot down the notes, and knew just as well that there was no way they would still be in my head by the time my last student left for home. So I pulled out my phone, found the voice memo app, sang the short melody into it, and went about the rest of my day.

Later in the week, as I sat at the piano practicing music for an upcoming concert, I remembered my little melody. I played it back to myself, matched the sounds on the keyboard and came up with a pleasing chordal accompaniment. Crunched for time as always, I made a recording of these few measures, then went back to practicing. 

Finally, on March 15th, I dedicated a morning to finishing my composition. It took me just a couple of hours to come up with a contrasting middle section and a pleasing conclusion. I scribbled the music onto manuscript paper and made a recording of the entire piece. I decided to call it "Monterey Morning," as it reminded me of a pleasant day I spent in the coastal city of Monterey, California several years ago.

And just like that, a composer was born. A mere ten weeks later, I have finished eight more solo piano compositions, all inspired by memories from vacations, and have three more in various stages of completion. I have purchased music notation software and am learning how to transcribe my own work. And I have booked a recording session in Sedona, Arizona the first weekend of August with one of the best engineers the business. I have formed an LLC and chosen a name for my record label as well as my first album. If all goes according to plan, my first CD will be ready to release before the end of the year.

It's almost surreal.

Because I have always put such strict limits on myself, defined myself so narrowly. Over the years, I have been asked many times why I don't compose or record. "I don't have an original bone in my body," I have answered, believing it. When called upon to improvise, I have resisted. "Just give me the score and let me read it," I have said, preferring the safety of playing someone else's music to the risk of failure creating my own. Although I have been an enthusiastic supporter of many solo piano composing and performing friends, I never thought I would BE one. 

Maybe if you hang around with creative people long enough, it starts to rub off.

Of course there is a part of me that is worried about what others will think about my music, that I'm not "good enough" to record an album or play in a concert or publish my work. There is no doubt I will have critics. But I'm not going to let that stop me. Maybe, just maybe, I will have fans, too.

And the teacher in me is hoping this will inspire some of my students. I intend to publish simplified versions of each of my compositions in addition to the music as it will appear in my recordings. Maybe some of my students will want to play my pieces. Even better, maybe some of them will decide to create music of their own. As a result of my experience, I will be in a better position to facilitate that. I find that thought very exciting.

At the time when many of my peers are looking forward retirement, I am embarking on an entirely new facet of my career. By letting go of who I thought I was, I'm becoming more the person I am capable of being. 

It's a grand venture, to be sure.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

TRADD STREET MYSTERIES by Karen White


Today I will be reviewing three volumes from Karen White's best selling Tradd Street Mysteries series. Read all the way to the end and find out how you can win the entire five-book series!

* * * * * * * 


Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty novels, including Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and the coauthor of The Forgotten Room with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig.


I have read many of Karen's women's fiction novels, but her latest release, The Guests on South Battery, is the fifth installment of the Tradd Street Mysteries.

From the publisher:
The Guests on South Battery picks up on the picturesque streets of Charleston after Melanie has given birth to twins, and is married to the love of her life, Jack Trenholm. Melanie’s maternity leave has reached its end and she is less than thrilled to return to work, especially when she's awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end, and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for over a year are about to invade her life once more.

With her extended maternity leave at its end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she’s awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for more than a year are about to invade her life once more. 

But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell hers as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission. 

Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can’t deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to show themselves to her again. One is shrouded from sight, but appears whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in Melanie’s backyard on Tradd Street. 

Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried....

I don't typically read a lot of mysteries, much less paranormal mysteries, but I loved this book! Great setting, great characters, and a great story - this book has it all! I will admit that I wish I had read the books in order. As I made my way through The Guests on South Battery, there were several occasions in which I had to "fill in the blanks" because I was not aware of the past event being referred to in a specific situation. And as there is a cliffhanger or two at the end of the story, I decided I had best prepare myself for future installments.

So now I have I reread the first two books of the series, The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street. The House on Tradd Street provides the set-up for the entire series. We meet Charleston realtor Melanie and best-selling writer Jack and discover how their relationship began and how Melanie became the owner of the decrepit mansion on Tradd Street. We also meet her best friend, Sophia, an expert in historic home preservation, as well as her father. Both she and her father were abandoned by her mother thirty-five years prior. While Melanie does't remember her mother well, one thing the two of them have in common is their ability to see dead people.

But in the second book, The Girl on Legare Street, Melanie's mother, Ginnette Prioleau Middleton, returns to Charleston wanting to protect her daughter after receiving an ominous premonition.
While Melanie never wanted to see her mother again, Jack convinces her otherwise and the two women take tentative steps towards rebuilding their relationship. Together, Melanie and Ginnette buy back their old home on Legare Street. With their combined psychic abilities of course they aren't surprised to unearth some ghosts. But what they find is a vengeful dark spirit whose strength has been growing for decades. Many long-buried secrets must be unearthed to beat this demon and save what's left of Melanie's family.

Next on my list is Book 3, The Strangers on Montagu Street, and Book 4, Return to Tradd Street. Then I might read The Guests on South Battery one more time, just to be certain I didn't miss anything. After that, I guess I'll just have to sit tight and wait patiently for Book 6.

* * * * * * * 

And now, about that giveaway! To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment at the end of this post. For additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (click HERE), "like" my Facebook fan page (click HERE), friend me on Goodreads (click HERE), or follow me on Instagram (click HERE). Leave an additional comment for each additional entry. At midnight on Friday, one lucky winner will be chosen by a random number generator to receive the ENTIRE Tradd Street Mysteries series! Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I will know how to contact you should your name be selected. Good luck!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

TRAVELING LIGHT by Lynne Branard


From the publisher:

This novel was inspired by real-life events: when the author was working at a hospice agency, an unclaimed box of ashes—with her agency’s business card attached—was discovered in a storage facility. Branard became intrigued by how the remains of someone could get lost—and how the discovery could be the perfect catalyst for a life change.

In TRAVELING LIGHT, Alissa Wells is the one who becomes the surprise new owner of remains—Roger Hart’s, to be exact—after she bids on an abandoned storage unit. She decides that returning the ashes of a dead man might be the first step on her way to a new life. So she packs up her three-legged dog and starts driving from North Carolina to New Mexico. 

But when a waitress named Blossom hitches a ride with her, Al has to get used to letting someone else take the wheel. Posting about their road trip on Facebook, complete with photos of Roger at every stop, Blossom opens Al’s eyes to the road in front of her—and how sometimes the best things in life are the ones you never see coming.

I started this book late on a Saturday night. When I couldn't hold my eyes open any longer, I stopped reading just long enough to get a few hours of sleep. As soon as I woke up, I made a pot of coffee, poured myself a cup, and didn't stop reading again until I reached the end.

Alissa's mother died when she was just five years old, and she has basically been living by a script ever since: first, as caregiver to her sister and her father, and then as a journalist, helping her dad run their small-town newspaper. But the discovery of the box of ashes prompts her to embark on her greatest adventure, a long and life-changing road trip. I absolutely fell in love with Alissa and all the friends she made on her journey. I lived vicariously through their many adventures; I laughed and I cried. And I was inspired by these words:

I realize that most people die exactly the same way they live. Angry people die angry. Broken people die broken. Lonely people die lonely. Burdened people die burdened...Don't forget, live how you want to die.

Now I can't stop pondering the meaning of "traveling light." And I am encouraged not only to begin letting go of some of the things in my own life that tend to weigh me down, but also to choose my traveling companions very wisely.

According to her website, the work of Lynne Branard (who also writes as Lynne Hinton and Jackie Lynn) has been compared to that of great writers like Eudora Welty, Rebecca Wells, and Jan Karon. And the journal Publishers Weekly says, "Hinton has a knack in her novels for tapping into a woman’s longings for lifelong, authentic, messy friendships." This is certainly true of Traveling Light. Five enthusiastic stars! Very highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING by Deanna Raybourn


FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Though a lepidopterist by trade, Veronica Speedwell has been up to much more than chasing after rare specimens of butterflies. Continuing on after the exhilarating adventures of A Curious Beginning, it’s difficult to imagine how the spunky and spirited Victorian-era sleuth could find herself caught up in even more thrilling and dangerous exploits. But young Miss Speedwell is not one to disappoint. 

After weeks of chasing down clues leading to her mysterious past, being on the run for her life, and having quite literally run off to join a traveling circus, cooling her heels in a relatively calm London already has Veronica itching for her next invigorating jaunt. Happily, just such an opportunity soon arrives at her doorstep in the form of an invitation to the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment dedicated to celebrating society’s most intrepid and brilliant women.

Shortly after arriving at the club, Veronica is introduced to Lady Sundridge who implores her to undertake a seemingly impossible task. Miles Ramsforth, one of society’s well-known patrons of the arts, has been convicted of a brutal murder that Lady Sundridge is certain he did not commit. With little time left to discover the true killer’s identity, Veronica is faced with a race against time before Miles is set to hang for the crime. However, Lady Sundridge is not exactly what she seems either—a revelation that only serves as the first of many that Veronica must make in order to solve the case.

Once again Veronica joins forces with her natural historian colleague, Stoker—her frequently uncouth, though ruggedly handsome companion—as they set off to unravel this dark mystery that becomes increasingly intricate with each clue they unearth.

Although I don't read a lot of mysteries, I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Speedwell, lepidopterist, is smart, accomplished, and sassy; Stoker, taxidermist, is intelligent, handsome and roguish. Both naturally inquisitive and completely fearless, they use the same methods employed in their scientific research to solve human mysteries. Together, they are a dynamic and unstoppable mystery solving team.

But the relationship between Speedwell and Stoker is the most fascinating aspect of the book. They have a great rapport; their banter is both witty and engaging. Clearly there is a mutual attraction and Raybourn does a great job of building sexual tension between the two characters although the romance is developing very slowly. I have not yet read A Curious Beginning and although I would like to know more about Speedwell and Stoker and how they met, no previous experience is necessary to understand and enjoy this installment. However, I am definitely looking forward reading about their future adventures and deepening relationship in the next volume of the series.

Five enthusiastic stars! Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Welcome, 2017!

Like many folks, I spent much of the day Saturday in reflection. I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore, exactly, but January 31st seems like a good time to reflect on what is working and what isn't working in my daily processes. So I reviewed the goals I set for 2016, kicked myself for the areas in which I fell short and congratulated myself for the areas in which I exceeded. Although I am overall pleased with the turns my life has taken, my music leaves me with little time for much of anything else and the three-legged stool that is my life (Asberry School of Music/The Wishing Box/Pam Asberry author) has grown quite wobbly. Yes, teaching and playing the piano are going quite well and jewelry sales are enough to keep me in supplies. But in the past year I blogged infrequently and novel writing came to a virtual standstill. I plan to repair that in 2017. I also set myself some fitness goals for the New Year. While diet and exercise don't pay the bills, I must remain healthy in order to do the work that does. Then I revamped my Amazing Life List, aka Pam's Bucket List, removing items accomplished or no longer relevant and adding a few new ones. 

And my word for the year? It's VENTURE. More about that another day.

* * *


Number 37 on my Amazing Life List is "Knit a sky scarf." Although I'm not much more than a beginner - rectangles are my specialty - I enjoy knitting and am always on the lookout for something new to try using my limited skill set. When I came across the Sky Scarf on Pinterest, I decided that would be a great project for 2017. I put the kit on my wish list at Amazon; when Santa didn't bring it, I ordered it for myself. 


The kit includes five skeins of lace weight wool yarn and a special tag. I added a pair of size 3 knitting needles (the tiniest I have ever worked with) and double rainbow add-on (surely I will see a rainbow or two in the next twelve months!) The premise is simple: every day, you knit a stripe that matches the colors of the sky. At the end of the year, you have a five-foot scarf. There is even a Sky Scarf group on Ravelry. Literally hundreds of women have knitted/are knitting sky scarves. I am delighted to join their ranks!

Above is a picture of yesterday's sky so I cast on with two shades of gray. I won't be changing colors today as the heavy cloud cover has lingered. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?


How did you wrap up 2016? What are your goals for the New Year?


Monday, December 26, 2016

Italian Tortellini Soup

I've been away from the blog too long. But my fall semester was a busy one, filled with music students and hours of piano practice and a number of performances and hours of research and a presentation. More about all that another time.

And before I knew it, November was drawing to a close. I was sick with a nasty cold the week of Thanksgiving, but, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed the plans and preparations, the shopping and baking, the crafting and cooking that accompany the Christmas season. I can hardly believe that another twenty-fifth of December has come and gone, but I have happy memories of time spent with family, lovely gifts that I will enjoy for years to come, and hundreds of pictures to remind me of the details.
* * *
I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but both my mom and dad (from Mt. Carmel, Illinois) and my brother and his wife (from Dunedin, Florida) arrived simultaneously at my house at approximately 6:10PM on Friday, December 23rd. Less than an hour later, we were all seated around my dining room table noshing on steaming bowls of tortellini soup with sides of garlic bread. My sister-in-law asked me to share the recipe, a blending of a couple I found on Pinterest. I thought you might enjoy it too. Here goes.

ITALIAN TORTELLINI SOUP

INGREDIENTS:
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 heaping tablespoon jarred minced garlic or about 6 garlic cloves, minced
3 cans (14 1/2-ounce) chicken broth
1 can tomatoes (14 1/2-ounce) undrained
2 small fresh carrots ,sliced thinly
1 package baby spinach
1 1/2 - 2 cups fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash crushed red pepper flakes
Grated parmesan cheese

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Brown ground beef; set aside.
2. Sauté onion and carrot in 1 teaspoon olive oil until onion is translucent and carrot is tender.
3. Place the chicken broth, tomatoes, browned ground beef, sautéed onion and carrots, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and tortellini in a dutch oven; bring to a boil. Boil about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down and add the spinach. Cook 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove from heat; serve in bowls topped with grated parmesan cheese.