Monday, October 26, 2009

Piano Duets and Jingle Bells

On the fourth Saturday of April each year, my local piano teacher's organization hosts a Piano Ensemble Concert, a gala event featuring five grand pianos on a stage with student duet teams at each piano. Not only do participants learn to follow a conductor; research has shown that students who are involved in instrumental ensembles show improved musical understanding compared to those who do not. Students who are members of an ensemble tend to develop increased motivation towards their personal music study, as well. Bonus!

At our October meeting, on the fourth Wednesday of the month, teacher duet teams preview the music selections for the rest of the teachers, to acquaint them with the pieces in order to facilitate music selections for their students. Traditionally, my longtime friend Tim Wheeler and I present the Teacher Piece and the Advanced Pieces; this year is no exception. So this morning, I went to Tim's piano teaching/recording studio, Double Sharp Music (click here), for a rehearsal. We spent a very pleasant hour and a half catching up and practicing our three pieces. I love making music with Tim and I am looking forward to performing on Wednesday morning.

In other music news, my students and I have been busy selecting their pieces for NFMC Federated Festival on February 20, 2010. Also, we just started working on Christmas music. I have three holiday concerts scheduled at area assisted living centers the second week of December, and I want everybody to be well prepared to play one or two selections. We will conclude our concerts with a sing-along. The residents really look forward to these events. Of course, they enjoy the holiday music, but most of all, I think, they enjoy interacting with the children.

I had a wonderful experience with one of my students last week. She is the youngest of three; her two older siblings also take piano lessons with me, so most of her lesson books are hand-me-downs. But somehow she ended up with a brand-new Christmas book, and the first song she wanted to learn to play was, of course, "Jingle Bells." I helped her find her hand position; we surveyed the music and prepared to play; and then she went for it. As she found the notes, and began to hear the tune, her face lit up. It was a look of pure joy and satisfaction. She was so obviously happy and proud to be playing a song she could recognize. And I felt privileged to be a part of of that.

I have seen that happen a thousand times, but it is a rush EVERY TIME. The day I am no longer excited by hearing a beginner play "Jingle Bells" is the day I will stop teaching piano. And you can substitute "Fur Elise" by Beethoven or "Turkish March" by Mozart--or any of the dozens of other "war horses" that piano teachers are required to teach over and over again--for "Jingle Bells." Because I remember the thrill it was for me the first time *I* learned to play those pieces. I don't want to deny that thrill to any of my students.

I am truly blessed to be able to make a living sharing one of the joys of my life with other people. I can only hope my enthusiasm is contagious.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Week-End Update

What a wonderful, restful, inspirational, motivational weekend it was!

I slept until 10:30 yesterday morning, then I put on one of my favorite outfits (brown dress, brown tights, slouchy brown suede boots) and drove to Alpharetta to meet my sister-in-law for a girls' afternoon out. We had Mexican food at Frontera for lunch, then visited the Bead Bayou and the North Point JoAnn's and Michael's and bought a few things we needed and lots of things we wanted and we had so much fun. I got home late, but not too late to take Nathan to Subway for the club sandwich he was craving and to make a Kroger run. Now we won't starve this week.

I got up bright and early this morning so I could be at the first Atlanta region NaNoWriMo kick-off party at 10:00 this morning. I had to drive 45 miles to get there, but it was worth it! I met some really cool people, and left even more determined than when I arrived. As I explained to my fellow participants, when I set a goal for myself, I do whatever it takes to achieve it. If I say I'm gonna write 50,000 words during the month of November, I WILL WRITE 50,000 WORDS DURING THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER!!

Next, I picked up son Josh, who turned 22 yesterday. He, Nathan and I celebrated his birthday at the Lenox Grill in Buckhead.

Afterwards, we did a bit of shopping. Josh found a winter coat, and Nathan found a groovy long-sleeved shirt and a studded leather belt. I tried on 45,679 items of clothing at Banana Republic but left empty-handed. I despise what middle age is doing to my body! I've been walking two miles a day; tomorrow, I'm going to walk at least 20!

Finally, I came home, practiced piano (I have a rehearsal tomorrow morning and a performance Wednesday morning; more about that another time) and spent a very frustrating hour or so on the phone before chilling with Nathan and Desperate Housewives. Ah.

My house is a mess and the laundry is threatening to take over the world and tomorrow is Monday. I hate that I will be starting the week out so far behind.

But it was a great weekend. And the next thing I know, it will be Friday again. So, on second thought, I'm going to stop with the complaining and show some gratitude.

For a sister-in-law who's more like a sister. For dining out. For shopping. For writing groups. For fabulous sons.

And for old boyfriends who tell you exactly who they are.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Did It!

My online novel writing class concluded with a 6000 word assignment, due yesterday at midnight, and I made my deadline! Granted, I had two weeks to complete the task. But as of yesterday morning, I had only 3000 words on paper. Still, between helping Nathan with his algebra homework, walking two miles, and teaching nine piano students, I cranked out the remaining 3000 words. I am proud of myself!

As a reward, I ordered myself a NaNoWriMo hoodie. What is NaNoWriMo? This quote is from the website: "National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30." I signed up a couple of weeks ago; since then, I have learned that my brother, Eric, who wears many hats, including this one,

and my friend, Stephanie, of Red Clay Diaries fame, have also made the commitment. I find it fascinating that none of us knew what the others were doing--cue the theme from The Twilight Zone--and I am delighted I'm not in it alone. If any of you decide to participate, my username is pamasberry. Please add me as your friend!

Anyway, I am going to follow the rules to the letter, meaning I will be starting a new novel from scratch on November 1st--wearing my new hoodie, of course! That leaves me with just a few more days to work on my current project, which I will return to on December 1st, just days before my online Advanced Novel Writing class (by invitation only!) is scheduled to begin. Woo hoo!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Red Scarf Project

I have spent the past several hours knitting. And ripping out. And knitting.

It's been a difficult day. I won't get into the reasons why. But it was therapeutic for me to focus on the Red Scarf Project I discussed in yesterday's blog post. I started my scarf using yarn leftover from one I knitted for Nathan last year. But as I experimented with various patterns, it became apparent to me that I didn't have enough leftover to meet the guidelines for the Red Scarf Project--the finished product must be 5 to 8 inches wide and 6 feet long. Also, I was losing my mind over the fact that my yarn kept catching on a rough place on the tip of one of my knitting needles--purchased at Wally World a looong time ago, before I knew any better, for the first scarf I ever knitted. I tried smoothing the spot with a fingernail file (don't laugh, guys reading this blog), but I only made the problem worse.

So, I made a Michael's run. I had to get out of the house anyway, for those reasons I don't want to discuss. I bought a brand-spanking new pair of Clover size 10 knitting needles and 3 skeins of Patons Shetland Chunky Tweeds yarn in Deep Red.

Then I came home and knitted several inches of a couple of patterns before I finally settled on this one. I cast on 24 stitches, then for Row 1 K3, P3 and for Row 2 K 1, P1. Repeat Rows 1 and 2 for six feet. I am about halfway through my first skein of yarn and this is what I have so far.

Knitting has really helped take my mind off my sorrows. That, and the movie Duplicity. And five episodes of What Not To Wear. And three episodes of Oprah. And two glasses of chianti. And a bowl of butter pecan ice cream.

I'm proud of myself.

Now, I'm off to bed. And looking forward to the start of a new week tomorrow.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Weather, It's A-Changin'

This week has flown by. For the most part, it was business as usual. The steady stream of piano students. The everyday chores. A couple more twitches in the death throes of my previous relationship.

But the weather, it's a-changin'.

It hasn't stopped raining. For the past several weeks, heavy rains in the metro Atlanta area have caused school closings, mudslides, and closed roads. People have lost their homes and lost their lives.

But now, to add insult to injury, it's turning cold. Some folks welcome this. I do not. During the summer months, I keep my thermostat set at 80 degrees. Not because I am cheap. On the contrary. I have been told I have a "God-given gift for spending money." Rather, I keep my thermostat set at 80 degrees because I LIKE 80 degrees.

So last night, before I settled in with Nathan to watch the season premiere of Ugly Betty, I was forced to bundle up in fleece pants, a sweatshirt, and two pairs of socks. Because it was only 70 degrees in my house.

But it gets worse. I did acknowledge that it was cold and damp outside during the ten seconds it took me to run from my car into the restaurant and back last night (Nathan and I had Italian for dinner prior to Ugly Betty). Still, so that I could maintain my denial of the obvious trend, I did not check the weekend forecast. So when I woke up at 9:30 this morning, it came as a complete surprise that I was unable to crawl out from under the covers because of the chill in my bedroom. I grabbed my laptop and learned that it was only 45 degrees outside. By then, the indoor thermostat read 61 degrees. Time to turn on the heat.

Now it's a toasty 68 degrees in here. Ah. I guess the days of tank tops and capris and flip flops are past. Where did I put the turtlenecks and cords?

* * *

I have decided to distract myself from all this unpleasantness with plans for the winter holidays.

(1) I have three holiday concerts scheduled for my students at area assisted living centers during the second week of December, so we are already hard at work on Christmas/Hanukkah music. I am thinking of putting Christmas decorations up in the studio and waiting room to build anticipation. Like all the retail establishments have already done.

(2) I had booked a cruise for the boys and me during Christmas week, but I cancelled it. The bottom line is my final payment was due and I didn't have the cash to pay for it. Since I cancelled before the deadline, my deposit was fully refunded, and I used that windfall to buy some new toys for the family. More about that a future blog post. But the point is that we will be home for Christmas. And I am really looking forward to it. I am going to get a fresh cut tree and bake cookies and write cards and do it up right. We have cruised the past several Decembers, and I love cruising, but I also love Christmas. So although it would have been lovely to spend Christmas in Cozumel, it will also be lovely to spend it at home.

(3) Since I enjoy making gifts, I am planning a few special projects for friends and family. I can't really talk about them here, since all the recipients read my blog. But I can talk about a couple of charity events I am going to make gifts for. Maybe some of you will want to join me.

***One is the Red Scarf Project. Each year, thousands of people donate handmade (knit or crochet) scarves to Orphan Foundation of America; these scarves are included in Valentine's Day packages given to college-bound foster children across America. If any of you would like to participate, I will be happy to mail your creation along with mine. The deadline is December 15th. To learn more, click here.

***The other is the Warming Families project. Sponsored by Lands End, the goal is to create 25,000 hats for homeless people of all ages. I am going to knit mine using the FeelGood Beanie pattern, designed by Vickie Howell (click here) and will leave the finished product with Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club (click here), when I go to her book signing in Decatur on November 4th. I will be glad to take yours with me, as well. To find out more, visit the Warming Families website (click here).

* * *

In the meantime, I have been working on a Magic Scarf, (click here for the pattern). Mine is made from an acrylic/wool blend worsted weight yarn in a faded denim print.

I discovered this on Laurie Perry's blog. Laurie is also known as "Crazy Aunt Purl" and is the author of one of my favorite books of all time, Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair (click here for a description). Last week, she announced that her second book, Home is Where the Wine Is, will be released just before Valentine's Day (click here). I have already pre-ordered my copy at

Feel free to post a comment here, and let the rest of us know what you are doing to stay warm and/or prepare for the holidays!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Writing

"Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire, then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer--and if so, why?"--Bennett Cerf

My answers are yes, and I don't know.

* * *

I came home from the Moonlight & Magnolias Conference inspired and confident. Then I had to complete the second 3000 words of my novel for my online writing class and submit them before midnight on Thursday. I haven't received my instructor's evaluation yet, but my classmates have been pretty tough on me. The thing is, they're right. And I'm feeling really frustrated.

Writing has always come easily to me. But my experience is in writing nonfiction. I aced every school assignment I ever did. I can crank out a five-paragraph essay, or a research paper, on any topic, and it will be organized and thorough. In tenth grade, my biology teacher told me that a paper I wrote based on a science project was the best writing he had ever seen by a high school student. My master's thesis was a snap. Because if I am writing about a subject I know well, like music education, my first draft is nearly perfect. Revision? What's that?

But now I am trying to tell a STORY. Which is coming from my IMAGINATION. It's an entirely different game.

"Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."--Gene Fowler

* * *

I am a working single parent, and it is hard to make time for writing. And when the going gets rough, it's easy to get sidetracked.

"Being a good writer is 3 percent talent and 97 percent not being distracted by the internet."--Anonymous

Of course, it's not just the internet that's distracting. Life itself is distracting. And as my faithful readers know, my life has been one dramatic roller coaster ride these past few months. But maybe that will prove helpful to my writing down the road.

"Everything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And later on you can use it in some story."--Tapani Bagge

The thing is, I've been talking about writing a book for almost ten years. Naturally, I wish I had started working on it ten years ago. But as my fiftieth birthday approached, I realized that I could easily let ANOTHER ten years go by. I made this my maxim.

"The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn't write."--Unknown

I signed up for an online fiction writing class in March, and got to work. I learned about setting, character, point of view, dialogue versus descriptive writing, how to write a scene, how to combine scenes to tell a story. It was wonderful. I have always been an avid reader, and I can discern a great book from a mediocre one, but before I took that class, I might not have been able to tell you WHY. Now that I better understand the elements of fiction, I want to reread all my favorites. I will appreciate them even more now.

* * *

However, I felt so frustrated by my less than stellar performance in my own writing last week that I briefly considered throwing in the towel. After all, I already have a couple of full-time jobs. I don't really need anything else to do--certainly not something capable of causing so much pain. And the writing presents many challenges--developing complex, sympathetic characters, writing realistic dialogue that moves the story forward, creating conflict that will keep readers turning the pages. Then I stumbled upon this quote.

"First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about."--Bernard Malamud

And I decided what I need to do is just get this story on paper, as quickly as possible. After it is finished, I can rearrange and cut and clarify.

Towards that end, I spent this afternoon working on a very low-tech project. I got a three-ring binder, printed out all the work I have done on my novel so far, and put it in the binder. I also printed character profile templates (12 pages each!) for my four main characters, and I have started filling them in. That will help me to define exactly who they are upfront, and to be more consistent as I write about them. And whereas I have been working from a very sketchy plot summary, now I am putting together a detailed outline, determining what is going to happen in every scene of every chapter from the beginning to the end. I may change my mind about some of this as I go along. But I think part of the reason I am having trouble building momentum right now is that I really don't know where I am headed. I understand there are people who sit down in front of a blank screen and write a book from start to finish with no outline whatsoever. The story tells itself. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

I'm going to finish this project tomorrow. So that when Monday morning rolls around, and it's time to write, I will know exactly where I need to start.

* * *

"No one is asking, let alone demanding, that you write. The world is not waiting with bated breath for your article or book. Whether or not you get a single word on paper, the sun will rise, the earth will spink the universe will expand. Writing is forever and always a choice--YOUR choice."--Beth Mende Conny

I'm not going to give up. I choose to write.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Last night, we went to see the bands Muse and U2 at the Georgia Dome. What a show!

This was part of U2's 360 degree tour. I'm not even going to try to describe the stage. But if you click on the link, you will see how everything was set up, although you can't really see how HUGE it was, and the lights came through it and flashed one it, and how it morphed throughout the show. I have never seen anything like it. It was unbelievably cool.

The acoustics weren't great. I'm no sound expert, but something just wasn't right. The vocals and much of the outstanding guitar work were drowned out by the drums and the bass. Still, the overall experience was amazing.

But the highlight of the evening--for me, at least--was the opening act, a British band called Muse. I distinctly remember the first time I heard them on the radio. I was tootling down the road, listening to the old 99X, when the song "Butterflies and Hurricanes" came on. I nearly wrecked my car when the piano solo started. It's about three and a half minutes into the link. If you watch the whole thing, you will see that the soloist, Matthew Bellamy, is also the lead singer and a guitarist. I am head over heels in love with this man. And what's a twenty-year age difference when we're talking about true love?

If you are a fan of Muse and/or U2 and have a chance to catch this tour, I highly recommend it!

Monday, October 5, 2009

You didn't know you need this--but you do!!

I made brownies today. Not just any brownies, mind you. They were Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Brownies. And I baked them in my Baker's Edge Nonstick Edge Brownie Pan.

I don't recall exactly where I first heard about this marvelous invention. I'm just thankful that I did. Because I'm one of those people who will fight for a corner brownie. The combination of a moist, tender center and a crunchy, chewy edge is, in my opinion, chocolate perfection. But with this pan, there is nothing to fight about, because every single brownie has two chewy edges. And there is something magical about the design. The insides cook through, though the edges do not burn; the brownies do not stick, and clean-up is a snap. I bought my pan last December and have used it many times, but it still looks like it is brand-new. It came with recipes, but I haven't tried them yet because I have had such good luck with the 13 by 9 family size mixes.

I highly recommend that you treat yourself and all your chocolate-loving friends to one of these pans. In the meantime, I'm going to help myself to another brownie!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Moonlight & Magnolias Conference

I just got back from my first Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, an annual event sponsored by Georgia Romance Writers, the local chapter of Romance Writers of America. It was everything I hoped it would be, and so much more.

It all started for me on Friday morning, with a continental breakfast, cold reads followed by editor/agent panel discussion, a pitch workshop (how to develop a 50 word or less high-concept "elevator pitch" of your manuscript) with author Faye Hughes, lunch and learn panels, and a three-hour workshop titled "16 Archetypes of Heroes and Heroines" with author Tami Cowden. Next was cocktail hour with author Dianna Love, who gave a very inspirational speech, followed by a two-hour workshop on using storyboards to develop plot presented by bloggers from Petit Fours & Hot Tamales.

There were workshops all day Saturday; it was almost impossible to decide which ones to attend. In the morning, I ended up at "The Scoop: Using Television's Techniques for a Top-Notch Novel" by Emmy-winning Boston television personality and best-selling author Hank Phillippi Ryan, "The Balancing Act of the First Chapter" with Christie Craig and Faye Hughes, and "No Matter How Busy You are You Can Find Time to Write" by Kelly Stone.

Next was a fabulous luncheon featuring keynote speaker and wildly popular paranormal author Sherrilyn Kenyon. I have been to many professional conferences over the years, and Sherrilyn's speech was the best keynote address I have ever heard. It was her testimony of success despite apparently hopeless odds; it literally brought tears to my eyes. She received a much-deserved standing ovation at the end; I had to fight the urge to rush onstage and hug her. And she gave every person in the room--there must have been two or three hundred of us--a copy of her latest book, Bad Moon Rising. I have never read a paranormal novel, but I can't wait to try this one.

In the afternoon, I learned about "Getting Conflict on Every Page" with Molly O'Keefe and "Finding Your Funny Bone" with Wendy Wax and Karen Kendall. There was a book signing from 4-5:30, and I bought a couple of books on writing and a hilarious-sounding novel called The Accidental Bestseller by Wendy Wax and had them autographed. Then I checked into my room and got dolled up for dinner.

The theme was "Dark, Bad, Fun" and costumes were optional. (Being a newbie, I chose a basic little black dress. If I had it to do over again, I might go with my Elvira costume. And my black wig.) Dinner was a New Orleans buffet, followed by the Maggie Award Presentations (categories are historical, single title, paranormal/fantasy, inspirational, and contemporary series romance, both published and unpublished) and dancing. I had a blast doing the electric slide and the YMCA with all my new friends.

Indeed, EVERYONE was incredible--the best-selling authors, who donated so generously of their time to speak and lead workshops and who went out of their way to say hello to the lowly likes of me, to seriously ask "What kind of books do you write?" and to offer heartfelt advice and encouragement; the volunteers from GRW who spent months organizing this event and making it truly valuable and meaningful; and all the "unpublished authors," in the same boat I am, who were warm and friendly and helpful. There were door prizes and raffles; I came home with a huge bagful of yummy-looking books and other goodies, and a wealth of information I will be drawing from for months and years to come.

The conference ended this morning with a two and a half hour workshop presented by Dianna Love and Mary Buckham, offering guidance on writing a book proposal. Their book Break Into Fiction, which I purchased at the book signing, is going to be very helpful as I continue working on my current project. In general, I feel that I am now MUCH better equipped to complete the task of writing my book. I have a much clearer understanding of the process, a renewed commitment to making time to write, and many resources I can turn to if I get stuck.

I am looking forward to organizing my notes, reading my new books--and, most important, getting the first draft of my novel down on paper. Right now, that's Priority #1.