Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whisperings Solo Piano Concert

I first became acquainted with composer and pianist David Nevue and his work in early 2005, when I read an interview with him in a California piano teacher's newsletter. I learned that he enjoys working with piano students, occasionally doing hands-on interpretive workshops with them. He lives far away, in Eugene, Oregon, so it seemed like a long-shot, but I decided to ask him if he might like to come to Atlanta sometime, and hear some of my wonderful students perform his music. To my surprise and delight, he was open to the possibility. We quickly laid the groundwork, and made plans for him to travel to Atlanta. That September, he did an afternoon workshop for a group of my students, and an evening concert at Piano Works in Duluth. Both were very successful.

So we ran with it. For September 2006, David organized a full-fledged Whisperings Solo Piano Concert, adding artists Wayne Gratz, Michael Dulin and Greg Maroney. The house was full. By the fall of 2007, David had a large enough following in the area to plan TWO Whisperings events. Joining him that year were Wayne Gratz, Michael Dulin, Greg Maroney, Stanton Lanier, and Grammy-nominated composer and pianist David Lanz. These six artists sold out both Friday and Saturday nights at Piano Works. And last September, David did a Whisperings concert with Joseph Akins.

In conjunction with each concert, David did a workshop for ten or twelve of my students. Let me tell you, these workshops meant A LOT to these kids. What a unique opportunity--to learn a beautiful piece of music and play it FOR THE COMPOSER, and to receive praise, encouragement, and advice on ways to improve--especially how to be more expressive. I love teaching this stye of music, which some call "New Age," although David Nevue prefers the label "neoclassical," and David Lanz jokingly refers to as "heavy mellow." So it really bothers me that so many of my peers do not consider this to be "real music." I find it to be perfect for teaching; it contains all the elements of classical style, and all my students, both children and adults, ENJOY practicing it. What is wrong with that?

This fall, David booked a three-week concert tour in the southeast; unfortunately, his travel schedule did not allow him time to do another student workshop. And he has outgrown Piano Works, which seats approximately 120. So last night, it was my pleasure and privilege to attend yet another Whisperings Solo Piano Concert at a larger venue, the beautiful Roswell Cultural Arts Center in Roswell, Georgia, featuring pianists (from left to right) Stanton Lanier, David Nevue, David Lanz and Joseph Akins.

It was a wonderful evening. The music was uplifting, soothing, and inspirational, with a generous sprinkling of comedy and plenty of musical surprises. I laughed; I cried. I was royally entertained--and deeply moved. I can't remember when I have enjoyed myself more at a musical event.

Afterwards, my friend William and Nathan and I had the privilege of going out for a bite with the artists.

The legendary David Lanz and I share a moment.

The four artists pose with Joseph's wife Unita Akins and me.

It was a magical evening. I will be glowing with stardust for a long time to come.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Question of Motivation

It's been quite a week here in metro Atlanta, with heavy rain and flooding on Monday and Tuesday, and local schools closed on account of them. Nine people died in the floods, and several friends of mine sustained damage to their property. Also, many of us have succumbed to the flu, including Nathan, who missed two additional days of school as a result. Hopefully by Monday morning, things will be getting back to "normal" for all of us.

I spent some time last week-end organizing my jewelry workspace. I am quite pleased with the results.

All the essentials are there. In the back, from left to right, you can see my beads, my tools, my Ott lamp, and my music. In front, you can see more tools, my phone, and my laptop. Also, you can see my new bulletin board, where I will post ideas. (I have plenty of ideas; they're just not on the bulletin board yet.) And underneath the table, where you can't see, I have a couple of stacks of plastic bins storing more beads and supplies. This is going to function well, I think.

Sunday, I put together some more seed beed bracelets. I have 15 ready to sell now. They range in size from 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches. I even made one for myself.


I worked for most of the afternoon and into the evening. I got lost in what I was doing. It was very therapeutic. But by the time I was finished, my back was killing me. I realized the metal folding chair I had been sitting in just wasn't appropriate for long hours spent hunched over a work table.

So yesterday I went to Office Max and spent $39 on a task chair. I know $39 isn't alot. But, honestly, I found this one to be more comfortable and supportive than others that cost twice as much. I brought the chair home, and while I started dinner, Nathan began the process of putting it together. But he got stuck attempting to attach the spine to the back support. There were two screws involved. He could get one side fastened but not the other. Or vice versa. I gave it a try. Same results. We knew it SHOULD work. But it didn't.

We took a break for dinner. We tried again. Between the two of us, we spent a good hour or more trying to get these *%$# screws in. Nathan suggested I take the chair back. And it seemed like that was going to be my only option. But then a little voice in my head whispered, "If _____ were here," (substitute the name of any man who has ever been a part of my life), "HE would be able to get this job done." I knew it was true. And it really bothered me.

So I asked Nathan to set the kitchen timer for fifteen minutes. And I told him that if I wasn't successful within that time frame, I would return the chair. I put on my reading glasses, went into the bathroom, where the light was better, and appealed to the universe. And within five minutes, I HAD IT! Nathan was astounded. "How did you do that?" he asked. "It was a question of motivation." I replied.

By the time the kitchen timer went off, the entire chair was assembled. This is what it looks like.


This is the part that was so challenging.


I know what you're saying: "That doesn't look so hard!"

Trust me, it was.

I have a relatively quiet week-end planned, so I am hoping to spend at least a few hours beading. I want to finish a couple of old projects, and I have supplies to start a couple of new ones. I also want to practice my wire wrapping skills. I took a class called "Creative Wire Findings" at my favorite local bead shop last week, On the Rocks. These are the shapes we did in class.

SO much fun!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Brunswick Stew

I was invited to go to a birthday party last night. But Nathan woke up Saturday morning with flu symptoms, and he was so sick all week-end I didn't feel comfortable leaving him home alone. So about 6:30 yesterday, the boys and I feasted on the dinner rolls I was supposed to take to the party and a pot of Brunswick stew (an old family recipe--thanks, Mom!!) I had started earlier in the week.



It was good for my spirits. We have been eating catch-as-catch-can ever since Casey and Nathan started school and I resumed my full-time teaching schedule mid-August, so it was a treat for us to sit down together and share a hot, nutritious meal. Nathan didn't eat much, but his fever was down at the time, so he was at least a little bit hungry. And I was glad to have something wholesome to offer him.

Here are the recipes.

EASY DINNER ROLLS

1 cup warm water
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 cups unbleached flour

Combine the warm water and yeast in a large bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in butter, sugar, eggs and salt; beat in flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough is too stiff to mix. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or up to 4 days. Grease a 13 X 9 pan. Turn chilled dough onto a lightly floured board. Knead in remaining flour until dough is no longer sticky. Divide dough into 24 equal-size pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth round ball; place balls in even rows in the prepared pan. Cover and let dough balls rise until double, about 1 hour. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Brush warm rolls with melted butter, if desired.

BRUNSWICK STEW

1 3-pound broiler-fryer
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small onion, quartered
7 cups water
20 ounces frozen baby lima beans (2 packages)
20 ounces frozen whole kernel corn (2 packages)
1 cup onion, chopped
56 ounces diced tomatoes (2 28-ounce cans), undrained
16 ounces diced tomatoes, undrained
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt
1 to 2 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper
10 saltine crackers, crumbled (I use Ritz crackers)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

Combine chicken, celery, onion and 5 cups water in large stock pot; bring to a boil. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Remove chicken, celery and onion from broth, reserving broth in stock pot; discard celery and onion. Cool chicken; skin, bone and coarsely chop meat Add chicken, lima beans and remaining ingredients, except crackers, to broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, about 4 1/2 hours or until desired consistency, stirring often. Add remaining water as needed. Add cracker crumbs and cook an additional 15 minutes.

NOTES: I use the smaller quantities of black and red pepper and the stew is still quite zippy. I like the burn, but if you don't like spicy food, you might want to scale back on the pepper. Also, since this recipe makes a huge pot of stew, I freeze the leftovers for later.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Finding Balance

I hit bottom last week. It snuck up on me. I told myself was doing well. Moving forward, taking charge of my life. Making plans, working hard. Keeping busy.

Too busy. Because Wednesday night, when I was too tired to move, and too anxious to sleep, my thoughts became quite muddled. I give up. It doesn't matter what I do or don't do. I am tired of working so hard and feeling so much pain. I was lonely and afraid.

Long story short, the good news is I woke up the next morning. But I had to face the fact that I'm not okay. I have given myself some very good advice in previous blog posts. But many things are easier said than done.

A long time ago, I read a book by Richard Swenson called Margin. He defined margin as "the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits," and explained the difference between overload and margin. "Overload is not having time to finish the book you are reading on stress. Margin is having time to read it twice. Overload is fatigue. Margin is energy. Overload is red ink. Margin is back ink. Overload is hurry. Margin is calm. Overload is anxiety. Margin is security. Overload is the disease of our time. Margin is the cure." Clearly, I am in a state of overload. I have no margin. What can I do to correct that?

First, I need to be more realistic about what I can accomplish in any given day. Although it is important for me to have a plan in order to accomplish the long-term goals I have set for myself on top of meeting my job and family responsibilities, I also need time to think and dream and stumble and discover and go with the flow. So I must allow for that in my daily schedule. So that I won't feel guilty and call myself lazy if I decide to spend an hour knitting and watching a rerun of "What Not To Wear." Or doing absolutely nothing.

Also, according to Dr. Swenson, of the four areas in which we need margin - emotional energy, physical energy, time and finances - emotional energy is the most important. I need to examine all four of them, but right now, my emotional energy is all but used up. So why do I keep squandering what little there is left? Talking to brick walls and driving down the same dead-end roads? Instead, I must focus on family and friends that feed my spirit, engage in activities that do the same, and say no to the everybody and everything else. And MEAN it.

It isn't easy, finding balance in the wake of disaster. But I am getting there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

One Week Later

It has been a little over a week since I realized it was time to make a u-turn with my life, and I am confident in this decision. Still, the past few days have been challenging. I haven't slept well; I have had a hard time focusing on anything besides my piano students (those kids keep me in the moment!), and I cry at the drop of a hat. I haven't been able to maintain my self-imposed daily schedule; there have been a couple of nights I didn't even brush my teeth before I went to bed. But I am cutting myself some slack in these areas, at least for now.

I am trying to be kind to myself in other ways, too. Friday, for example, I took my car to the local Auto Spa for a wash and wax. If it's true that the state of your environment--your home or your car--is a reflection of your state of mind, then my mind has been in a sorry state, indeed. In my defense, I have made lot of progress inside and outside the house, but for some reason I hadn't been able to bring myself to deal with the car. Finally, I forced myself to empty the interior of all the trash and clutter that had accumulated, then I left the rest to the professionals. My little red Honda Accord looks--and feels--great now. Also on Friday, I went to New York Nails and used a gift certificate I received for Mother's Day--that was FOUR MONTHS ago!--for a mani/pedi. I paid extra to get the spa pedicure; the extra pampering (which included a hot stone foot massage, something I had not previously experienced but now must have on a regular basis) was worth every penny. After that, I met my sister-in-law, SeDonna, for a late lunch. We went to our favorite Mexican restaurant, Del Rio; we shared chips and two kinds of salsa and and girl talk. Then I ordered a shrimp quesadilla and guacamole salad and ate every bite. And Donna gave me a late birthday present--a beautiful sterling silver pearl and crystal beaded necklace she made for me (matching earrings are in progress). At the end of the day, I felt like a queen. I needed that.

And I am practicing another kind of self-care, one I didn't realize I was neglecting. Last week-end, I purchased a couple of items that wound up being unsatisfactory. One was a front door alarm that was supposed to have a "chime" feature, but the "chime" sounded more like a foghorn. And every time it went off, poor Karma went running with his tail tucked between his legs to hide under my bed--which kind of defeated the purpose of having a door alarm, because Karma is an amazing watch dog, except when he is hiding under the bed. The other was a cell phone with a touchy key lock feature. It would tell me to "Press Unlock" and then "Press Okay"--which I had to do multiple times before it would finally unlock. I wrestled for days with the decision whether or not to return these items. I hate standing in line. I hate confrontation. There's really nothing WRONG with this door alarm, I just don't like the way it sounds, and it was only ten bucks. Maybe I should just keep this phone as a back-up; it's not really defective, and I hate going to Wal-Mart. Then it occurred to me that this is just another way I often don't stick up for myself. The merchandise in question was a waste of my hard-earned cash; I deserve better. So I gathered the packaging and the receipts, mustered my resolve, and went first to Home Depot and then to Wal-Mart. Both experiences were identical. I said, "I want to return this." The clerk asked, "Is there anything wrong with it?" I replied, "No, but..." and told my story. To which the clerk responded, "Okay," filled out the return forms, and cheerfully refunded my purchase price. I know it sounds easy, and it was--but it wasn't. I am hoping it will be easier next time.

This afternoon I am going to finish the laundry and give the house a deep cleaning. So that my home, like my car, will reflect the state of mind I am striving for. Peaceful and orderly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Things I Now Understand

My blog post on Friday night generated a LOT of response--numerous public comments, in addition to several private e-mails and facebook messages. Thanks to EVERYONE for your support. These are the thoughts I am left with.

(1) I am NOT alone. I am surrounded by generous, encouraging friends and a loving, supportive family. I need to celebrate these people. Make more time for them. Focus on what I HAVE instead of what I DON'T have.

(2) I have A LOT. Three amazing children. A great dog. A thriving business. A roof over my head and clothes to wear and food to eat.

(3) It is time to let go of the relationships/behaviors that AREN'T working for me and focus on the relationships/behaviors that ARE working for me. (I'm getting there.) Because it is obvious that there is a lot more on the plus side than there is on the minus side.

(4) I must take better care of myself. I tend to push myself too hard, to the brink of exhaustion. Then I self-medicate, which ultimately hurts more than it helps. One piece of advice I received on facebook was this: "As the flight attendants say, when the oxygen masks come down, put your own mask on before attempting to help those around you." Makes perfect sense: I'm no good to anyone if I don't have my own act together.

(5) I need to reflect on what's gone wrong on my previous romantic relationships so that I don't keep making the same mistakes. It seems that I gravitate towards two kinds of people: abusers and hangers-on. I have to trust that if there's somebody out there who's right for me, I'll find him. Maybe I'll end up alone. But that doesn't mean I'm going to be lonely. (See Thought #1.)

I admit it: I'm grieving right now. But there's a big, wonderful world out there. And I want to explore every nook and cranny.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Things I Do Not Understand

1. While heading out for a walk with a friend, I found a kitten. Happily, the kitten was still there when we returned from our walk. Piano students were on the way, so I couldn't keep the kitten in that moment. But I have longed for a cat ever since I had to have Celestine euthanized almost six years ago. So, before my friend left for home, I made a request of him. I said, "I love this kitty. I want to keep him forever. But right now I have no supplies, and I have to work. So please take him home with you so that I can buy kitten chow/a litter box/figure out how to manage Casey's allergies. But make sure your children (BIG kids--ages 17, 15, and 12) understand that this is MY kitten. I will pay for everything. And *I* get to name him. I just need some time." The part I do not understand: Now, I am ready to bring the kitten home. But his children are not willing to part with him--a mere week later. My friend supports them in this. And they all take issue with the name I have chosen for him.

2. I took in three children. I gave up my student waiting room and bathroom for two of them; Nathan shared his tiny room with the other. I bought towels and dishes and flatware and tablecloths and made things as comfortable as I could in preparation for their arrival. Then I fed them, clothed them, sheltered them, taught them how to knit, and introduced them to my hairdresser. I gave them allowance and piano lessons and birthday dinners in nice restaurants and concert tickets and a trip to Six Flags. I gave them everything they needed and most of what they wanted. I gave them everything I had. I did the very best I could. The part I do not understand: They hate me. But they cannot explain why.

3. I loved a man. I provided a home for him and his children and his dog; I shared my closet and my bathroom and my bed with him. I took his dog to the vet and got her shots and a rabies tag and treatment for Lyme disease; I had my tuner take care of his piano. I shopped for glasses and clothes for him, introduced him to my friends, and bought him concert tickets for his birthday. I loved him and supported him in looking for a job and encouraged him in pursuing his passion for stand-up comedy. I gave him everything he needed and most of what he wanted. I gave him everything I had. I did the very best I could. The part I do not understand: He is gone. He refuses to take my side with his children--even when they are clearly wrong. Disrespectful and unfair. And now he wonders if we can be just friends.

He is gone and they are gone (and my boys are gone for the holiday week-end). For the most part, I enjoy my own company. But, like most of you, my preference is not to be alone. But here I find myself. Alone.

I do not understand.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Banana Bread


BANANA BREAD

Perfect every time!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 X 5-inch pan.

In a large bowl, combine:
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2-3 bananas)
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk

In a separate bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Then stir dry ingredients and 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts) into banana mixture.

Turn into prepared pan. Bake for one hour, or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes; allow to finish cooling on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I am a juggler.

Not literally. But things are happening so fast I don't have time to write about them.

Josh has strep throat. Fortunately, he went to the doctor and is taking antibiotics and is on the mend. Casey is also sick and stayed home from classes today. Nathan doesn't feel well, either, but he went to school anyway.

Several of my piano students have been sick, too. I am insisting that everyone use antibacterial gel at the beginning of their lessons, and then I wipe down the piano keys at the end.

Otherwise, my students seem happier than they have ever been. I am working with a great group of children and adults, enthusiastic and motivated, and everyone seems to really like the music they are playing right now. Because of this, they are willing to tolerate the scales and chords and corresponding music theory I am gently forcing on them. Last week, when I introduced this material, I proclaimed that if all my students at the mid-elementary level and above cannot identify all twelve major key signatures--and play their corresponding scales--by the end of the year, I am going to retire as a piano teacher and get a job at Wal-Mart or McDonald's. My hope was that this would motivate everyone to insure my future as their instructor. I realize now, though, that there are a couple of people out there who view this as an opportunity to end the "torture" they face every week. The war is raging.

Seriously, though, so far, so good. And the online lessons are going well. I am working with a family who used to be neighbors but now live in Kansas City. We are having our weekly lessons via Skype. I am delighted to be able "see" them once again.

I am doing a pretty good job of meeting the daily goals I set for myself this new academic year. I haven't been getting up as early as I had planned, but I'm not getting to bed as early, either, and a girl can't burn her candle at BOTH ends for long. Besides, rising at 7AM isn't exactly sleeping in. One thing I should have put on the original schedule is algebra. Nathan is really struggling with eighth grade algebra, and since public school doesn't provide for individualized instruction, I have no choice but to help him with his homework. That hour we are spending together every morning (and we typically spend another hour every night) is the time I had scheduled for piano practice. The best laid plans of mice and men. Eventually, I hope I will be able to do it ALL, but in the meantime I am taking care of what's most important, and trying not to beat myself up too hard.

Because I am really doing a darn good job of prioritizing. Writing my "morning pages." Exercising. Taking care of the house. Doing a bit of cooking and baking. This morning I took advantage of the unseasonably cool weather we are having here in metro Atlanta and turned on the oven and baked two loaves of banana bread. It was delicious--arguably, the best banana bread I have ever made. I have three bananas left, just enough for another loaf. Tomorrow morning, I will bake it, take a picture, and post the recipe.

Most exciting, I am really working on my novel. I turned in my outline last Wednesday and, now that I have decided the basic structure for the story, I can hardly wait to start writing every morning. My goal is to complete 1000 words--approximately two pages, requiring approximately two hours--every day, five days a week. Right now, my word count for this week is only 2300; I had a bit of a personal crisis to deal with this morning, and it put me behind. That's reality. I'm sure there will be other interruptions as time goes by. So whatever I am unable to finish during the week, I will make up over the week-end. I am determined.

Finally, I found a kitten--or, more accurately, a kitten found me. His name is Panzer. Here is Panzer getting acquainted with my dog, Karma.

Unfortunately, Casey is severely allergic to cats, so until I figure out how to manage that situation, Panzer is staying elsewhere. But I am going to bring him home just as soon as I can. I miss my kitty!