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.





Wednesday, October 19, 2016

GOOD TASTE by Jane Green


From the back cover:
For New York Times bestselling author Jane Green, food is enjoyable because of the people surrounding it and the pleasures of hosting and nourishing those she cares about, body and soul. In her first cookbook, Good Taste, Jane shares tips on entertaining, ideas for making any gathering a cozy yet classy affair, and some of her favorite dishes, ranging from tempting hors d'oeuvres like Sweet Corn and Chili Soup, to mouthwatering one-pot mains like Slow-Braised Onion Chicken, to sinfully satisfying desserts like Warm Chocolate and Banana Cake.

This book is Jane's perfect recipe for making a wonderful life complete friends, loving family, and moments filled with good food, good times, and, of course, Good Taste.

Not only is Jane Green a New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels, she is also a classically trained chef. So I jumped at the opportunity to read and review her beautiful new cookbook. I was not disappointed. Each recipe is accompanied by a story about its origin and a sumptuous photograph. It is conversational in style and great reading apart from being a great additional to my cookbook library. The day it arrived, I read it from cover to cover and decided to try this recipe first: Ginger and Honey Chicken with Soy.



Admittedly, my chicken looks nothing like the photograph in Good Taste. Those chicken breasts were garnished with sesame seeds and cilantro (not mentioned in the recipe), and there was no evidence of the "large onion, sliced." But our chicken, served up with generous portions of white rice and roasted broccoli, was tender, juicy and delicious; this recipe is definitely going into the monthly rotation. What next? Perhaps the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies...

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.                                                                           

Friday, September 16, 2016

HIS SMALL TOWN PRINCESS by Carol Burnside


Synopsis:

J.T. Baxter is having a very bad year. As if adjusting to widower status and caring for two sons, weren’t enough, he has a landscaping business to keep afloat with a loan coming due. The last thing he needs is the town princess waltzing into his life with a business proposal he can’t afford to refuse.

Cassandra Bing feels adrift after her father’s death, a nasty broken engagement and enduring a job she loathes. She’s searching for her niche, something that would’ve made her dad proud and will bring her fulfillment. But gardening is a hot, dirty business, and soon she’s wishing she’d made a different sort of proposition to the sexy dad.

As attraction escalates between J.T. and Cass, tensions grow in a house where secrets fester. Can her presence begin to heal the Baxter household, or will their tender feelings become a casualty of the impending emotional storm?

If you are a fan of sexy romances against a backdrop of family and community, you will love His Small Town Princess, the third in the Sweetwater Springs series of stand-alone books by author Carol Burnside. This is a truly satisfying read, touching on the issues of infidelity, grief, combining families, caring for aging parents, and abusive relationships. Hero and heroine J.T. and Cass, along with all the supporting characters, are sympathetic and believable. Almost instantly swept up in the story, I read the entire book in one setting. Available TODAY on Amazon (click here). Five 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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                                           

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cleaning Out My Closet

In polite society always dress for the life you desire; fate often follows fashion. 
~ Violet Grey

I finally did it. I cleaned out my closet and dresser drawers and purged them of every item I haven't worn in the past year or longer. I was ruthless. Here are my discards.

Six large garbage bags stuffed to the gills.
Mostly, these six bags contain garments I haven't been able to wear since circa 2007, when menopause reared its ugly head. Suddenly, I was no longer able to wear all the beautiful size zero and size two garments I had collected. Ever since, I have been hoping against hope to get back into all those teeny tiny dresses, skirts, pants and tops. Finally, I have admitted defeat.

So many memories. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars spent. A couple of the lovely dresses I got rid of still had price tags hanging from them. But that was almost ten years ago - ten years! - and it is time to let go. Styles have changed. My body has changed.

I have changed.

Now I am a woman "of a certain age" and I am ready to dress the part. No more mini skirts, skinny jeans, or low-cut necklines. No more sweaters with pills or sale items that seemed like a good idea at the time.

All that said, I still haven't given up on the notion of losing ten or fifteen pounds. Although my weight is considered "normal", at least according to the BMI charts - and my doctors have no problem with it - I know I would look and feel better if I weighed a few pounds less. Meanwhile, I am going to buy myself some nice clothes that fit my body now, including a new winter coat and a beautiful pair of leather boots. Obviously, I need to do some shopping.

For the time being, this is what my closet looks like.

Dresses and shoes all lined up in a row. I have yet to deal with the clutter on the upper shelf. 
Two denim jackets, a lightweight vest and jacket, and a few tops and bottoms.
In the process of sorting through my wardrobe I dealt with a few regrets and shed a few tears. But now I am ready to move on. On to the next chapter of my life. With the intention of dressing as well as I can while I travel.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Piano Teacher

Twenty years ago, my life was very different. I was married and a home schooling mom to my three children. I took care of our home, ground wheat berries and baked all our bread from scratch, sewed clothes, made quilts, and dabbled in various crafts. I was an active member of my local home schooling support group, wrote articles about home schooling, and gave seminars to encourage other home school teachers. One article I wrote, along with a picture of my sweet family, even appeared in the column A Day in the Life in Mary Pride's Homeschooling Today magazine.

Now I am divorced and my children are grown. Although I still have my wheat grinder and heavy duty mixer, I don't remember the last time I used them. But I am still making things, teaching, writing articles about the work I do, and giving seminars to encourage others. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So here is A Day in the Life of a Piano Teacher, an account of my activities on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.



8:30-8:50 - Wake up, catch up on social media via iPhone
8:50-9:00 - Get up, start coffee, take out dog
9:00-9:30 - Write morning pages
9:30-9:40 - Scramble two eggs, top with sriracha, call it breakfast
9:40-10:55 - Make four pairs of earrings, take pictures, post on social media
10:55-11:00 - Change from pajamas into exercise wear
11:00-12:00 - Walk three miles
12:00-12:15 - Cool down, add three pairs of earrings to listings in Etsy shop
12:15-12:30 -  Listen to son (aka RockStar) practice a speech for his Public Speaking class at UNG (due tomorrow)
12:30-1:00 - Shower, dress, heat up a turkey burrito leftover from last week, call it lunch
1:00-2:30 - Practice piano, read through some more music by the composer Zdenek Fibich, about whose life and music I am preparing a presentation
2:30-2:45 - Take out dog, bring in mail, fill water bottle
2:45 - 5:45 - Teach piano lessons
5:45-5:46 - Restroom break
5:46-9:00 - Teach piano lessons
9:00 - 9:15 - Take out dog, order pizza
9:15 - 9:45 - Listen to son practice revised speech for his Public Speaking class
9:45 - 10:45 - Eat pizza, drink a glass of wine wine, catch up on our days
10:45-11:00 - Run to Kroger, buy more wine
11:00-12:00 - Drink more wine, write blog post about day

I guess I like keeping busy! But I firmly believe that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do and I wouldn't trade lives with anyone. I am satisfied with everything I accomplished today and look forward to all that Wednesday will bring!

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.

Yuck!

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!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Where Does Your Tuition Money Go?


The first day of school is right around the corner and I am in the midst of preparation for the new academic year in my studio, Asberry School of Music. Study upon study has demonstrated the positive impact musical training has on brain development and academic success as well as emotional and behavioral growth, not to mention the sheer joy music making itself brings. But occasionally a parent asks me this question: exactly what do my tuition dollars pay for?

Piano teaching is my passion and my full-time career. I earned my Master of Music degree in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and have been teaching piano privately since 1979. I keep up my own practice, perform regularly, and am a frequent adjudicator, writer and speaker. So in part, monthly tuition pays for my knowledge, experience and expertise.

But there’s so much more. Statistics suggest that for every hour enrolled in piano lessons, students are actually investing at least two hours of the teacher’s time. I spend countless hours on behalf of my students outside of lessons, including but not limited to such things as:

Planning curriculum and acquiring music for each student.
Scheduling lessons, planning students’ repertoire, communicating with parents (emails, phone calls, text messages, studio newsletter, studio website, Facebook page), planning and physically preparing for recitals and festivals, adjudicating area festivals, attending local and state music meetings and seminars.
Attending meetings, workshops and conventions to continually improve my teaching skills.
Performing organizational tasks involved with planning festivals, recitals, competitions, auditions, and other performance events.
Attending festivals, recitals, competitions, auditions and other performance events.
Belonging to and volunteering many hours to music organizations: Gwinnett County Music Teachers Association, Decatur Music Teachers Association, Georgia Music Teachers Association, Music Teachers National Association, and the National Federation of Music Clubs. Teachers must be active members of these groups for their students to participate in the festivals, competitions, and auditions.

So what exactly does monthly tuition pay for?

My time spent with student in lessons, performance classes and rehearsals, as well as time spent at recitals, festivals, and competitions
My time spent on behalf of my students outside of lessons, as detailed above.
Business expenses such as recital expenses, gifts and awards, certificates, repairs and maintenance of the piano(s) and studio, software, incentive programs and prizes, professional membership dues and journals, teacher expenses incurred in festivals and competitions, materials, postage, and normal operating expenses any small business incurs (i.e. telephone, internet, electricity, copies, etc.)
Continuing education such as conferences, conventions and workshops to help keep me current on methods and techniques of teaching and playing,  attendance at concerts and other musical events that cost money to attend.
Going to the music store or purchasing music online, incurring travel expenses or shipping charges that are not passed on to the student when billing for books.
Property taxes, self-employment taxes, health insurance, business insurance, retirement; since I am self-employed, I have no company to assist with these and do not have the benefit of sick days, paid vacations, disability insurance, etc.

It is clear that monthly tuition payments cover much more than the actual one-on-one time I spend with children at lessons each week. Each student registered at Asberry School of Music is scheduled to receive 36 lessons per academic year. For ease in billing and budgeting, tuition is prorated equally over 11 months, August through June, for all activities that occur throughout the entire academic year, not only for individual lessons.

The investment parents are making in music lessons today will provide lasting benefits throughout theirchildren’s lives and is one of the best investments they can make in their children's futures. I trust that my own students' parents consider their tuition dollars money well spent and am very grateful for the trust they place in me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

PaNoWriWe

Keep these concepts in mind: You've failed many times, although you don't remember. You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim. . . . R. H. Macy failed 7 times before his store in New York caught on. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. Don't worry about failure. My suggestion to each of you: Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try.
~ Sherman Finesilver

My faithful dog Karma will be by my side every step of the way.
I just spent a very pleasant hour or so going over my note cards and the few pages I managed to complete of the first draft of the Christmas novel I started last November. Last Wednesday, I declared July 23rd-25th PaNoWriWe, or Pam's Novel Writing Weekend, and the closer it gets, the more excited I become.

I am feeling much better by now, fully recovered from the strep I was diagnosed with upon my return from Dallas, although I did have a bit of a setback Sunday night when I was waylaid by some intestinal virus that is apparently going around where I live. About an hour and a half after going to bed I woke up with some some of the worst stomach cramps I have ever experienced; shortly afterwards, I became violently ill and was up most of the rest of the night, finally sleeping fitfully for another hour and a half or so. When my alarm went off at 7:00 the last thing I wanted to do was get up but I was committed to teaching at a summer music camp this week and when I say I'm going to do a thing, well, I do it. So I dragged myself out of bed, took a shower, made myself a breakfast of dry toast and ginger ale (which, unfortunately, came right back up), and headed off to work.

Bad things don't happen to writers. It's all material.
~ Garrison Keillor

Other than the fact that I crashed on the floor of my classroom during my hour-long lunch break I navigated through the day reasonably successfully and enjoyed my two small classes of piano students very much. Mid-afternoon, I nibbled on a handful of soda crackers and managed to keep them down; at the conclusion of camp, I came straight home, made a hearty dinner for my son and me, ate my fill, and went to bed at 7PM. Twelve hours later, when my alarm went off at its usual time, I was feeling like my usual self again. Tonight after I got home from camp I decided it was time to curl up with my laptop and make plans for the weekend.

I started by reading the first fifteen pages of Christmas at Ticklebelly Hill (working title - can you say "southern fiction?"). At first, I was disturbed by huge gaps in the storyline, then I remembered I didn't actually start at the beginning and write chronologically. Last October, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I outlined the story from beginning to end describing individual scenes on note cards with the intention of writing the scenes as inspiration struck placing them in the manuscript in note card order. Ah, better! Once I figured that out, although there were a few things that made me cringe, my thoughts generally ran along the lines of "Did I really write this?" and "Wow, that's actually pretty good!" - which is way better than the alternative.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
~ A. A. Milne

In addition to the note card scene outline, I found a couple of pages of character sketches with names and descriptions of all the main characters in the story as well as about five typewritten pages of backstory. All of will help me keep straight who my characters people are, where they come from, and what makes them tick. I wish I hadn't thrown away all my old magazines after I finished my last vision board; a collage with pictures of my characters, story settings, and other visual clues might prove very helpful as I get back to the actual writing. On the other hand, time is running short; I guess I will be just fine without all that.

Now, about the actual writing. My goal is to have a 50,000 word rough draft completed during the 72 hours between midnight Friday and midnight Monday. I have 50 scene cards drafted, so assuming each scene is approximately a thousand words, roughing out all these scenes will bring me to my goal. And since I have nearly 5,000 words written already, just 15,000 words each day will get the novel finished. That's a thousand words an hour, fifteen hours each day. That still leaves me with an hour per day for food and restroom breaks, and eight hours each night to sleep.

I think I can.

Be careful or you'll end up in my novel.
~ Unknown

Although my eventual goal is an 80,000 word final draft, polished and ready for submission to enthusiastic agents and editors (thinking positive here), the revision will necessarily take place more slowly. Even in the midst of my regularly scheduled life as pianist and teacher, perhaps I can make time to revise a scene a day or (more likely) dedicate a chunk of time each weekend, perhaps a few hours every Sunday afternoon, to revision.

I don't know how this all will end. Worst case scenario, I will spend a long weekend drafting a novel that no one besides myself will ever read. On the other hand, this could be the start of something big.

Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and focus on what could go right.
~ Unknown

Monday, July 18, 2016

Crafting with Capiz Shells

Last week, during one of my frequent forays to my local craft store, I picked up a bag of Capiz shells. I brought them home, dumped them out, and started playing.

18" necklace and matching earrings.
As I fastened Capiz shells to a length of copper chain, I began to wonder just where these shells actually come from. So after this project was completed, I turned to the internet to get some answers.

A Capiz shell is the protective shell of a type of mollusk. This species of oysters,  Placuna placenta, is found in southeast Asia (particularly the Phillipines) and also along the coasts of India, the Gulf of Aden, the Malay Peninsula and in China. In fact, the name "Capiz" comes from a province in the Visayas region of the Philippines where these mollusks thrive. Windowpane oysters are cultivated in some areas as well. These mollusks to inhabit shallow and sandy sea water up to a depth of more than 300 feet and subsist on plankton, which they filter from the sea by letting the current pass through their shells.

Placuna placenta.
The windowpane oyster has been used for thousands of years as a natural substitute for glass because of its unique combination of durability and translucence. The Chinese especially were known for outfitting their domiciles with the Asian creature's exoskeleton. A pair of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the shells to find out what made them so strong, despite the fact they they are almost entirely from brittle calcite. Their findings suggest these mollusks evolved a nanostructure allowing light to pass through nearly unobstructed while also isolating any any penetration damage at the atomic level, thus preventing cracking. Such a trait proves useful against predators; further research might help with the improvement of synthetic materials such as armor.

Today, Capiz shells primarily used for decorative items such as window panes, lighting fixtures and kitchen utensils. And jewelry, of course! They are are also used as a component for manufacturing products such as shellac, glue, soldering lead and paint. The meat from farmed Capiz shells, with its high protein content, is used as an ingredient in poultry and prawn feeds.

Available at Pottery Barn. I need this for my kitchen.
The world's largest consumer of Capiz shells include the United States, Japan and several European countries. The shells are rated according to its size and quality with shells reaching more 75 millimeters in diameter considered as first class and anything lower than 60 millimeters in diameter considered as fourth class.

Cleaned capiz shell ready for processing.
My curiosity fed, I went back to my craft room with a new appreciation for these lustrous shells. Three pairs of earrings later, I felt I had done them justice.

Turquoise seed beads, copper and Capiz shells.
Copper Capiz shell chandeliers.
Shoulder grazers. Almost 4" long!
All of these new pieces, along with many others, are for sale in my Etsy shop. Click HERE to see my current stock. I add new items frequently, so I hope you will visit often!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Living My Dream

If it's challenging you, testing you, and pushing you, it's helping you become more of who you were meant to be.
~ Mandy Hale

The last quarter of this past academic year was a whirlwind of musical activity.

It started with an April performance of the For Now Chamber Players based at University of North Georgia, Gainesville. I played my toy piano along with two other toy pianists and a saxophonist in a number of contemporary compositions written just for us AND did my own personal rendition of John Cage's 4' 33". That was arguably the longest four and a half minutes of my life. I don't have any photos or videos from the concert but I do have this.


Also in April I played a concert with the Redeemer Piano Ensemble of Atlanta, celebrating 50 years under the baton of conductor Mary Hinely. That might have been the most fun I've ever had performing, solo or otherwise. Here's to our next 50 years together! 


April concluded with Gwinnett County Music Teachers Association's Ensemble Extravaganza Concert, in which piano duet and trio teams competed for awards. I was the local chairperson for this event, which for obvious reasons is near and dear to my heart. Here is a photo of two of my own talented students performing their duet in the concert.


Over Mother's Day weekend, I played both piano and clarinet (clearly not at the same time) with the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra under the baton of Dr. Thomas Wubbenhorst and was a featured pianist in what might have the first ever performance of Percy Grainger Children's March using two pianos and a wind ensemble. I will post a link if I ever get the video edited.


In June, my piano students presented their annual spring recitals - three in all - performing solos, duets and concerti, and composer-pianist Cory Lavine made a special guest appearance at one of them.


After that, I was off to Dallas, Texas for the Texas Music Teachers Association at the Hyatt Regency Hotel


where I attended informative workshops with teachers from all over the country and had the privilege of presenting my own workshop Taking Care of the Teacher.


I took advantage of a photo op with our keynote speaker Ingrid Clarfield


and even managed to get out of the hotel my last afternoon in Texas for a bite of Tex-Mex


and a tour of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, where I learned much about the life, death and legacy of Present John F. Kennedy.


Then I took the elevator to the top of Reunion Tower and sipped a glass of wine while watching the sunset.


Yes, the last quarter of my academic year was a busy one, with many long hours spent teaching, practicing, rehearsing, performing, and traveling. I look back on those three months with a great deal of pride and satisfaction. My students worked hard and made great strides on their individual musical journeys; I set myself some significant musical goals and I accomplished each and every one of them. None of it was easy but it was all worth it.

I have even bigger plans for the months ahead, including a spring concert with my new piano duo partner, future performances with the Redeemer Ensemble and the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra and the For Now Chamber Players, and continued work with the sixty or so piano students who visit my studio each week. My days are hectic and fulfilling, exhausting and exhilarating, challenging and ultimately rewarding beyond measure. I am living the dream that began in me when I was seven years old. And I don't take a single moment of it for granted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Thinking Out Loud

The day before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea.
~ Peter Diamandis


I have a crazy idea. As a matter of fact, it's so crazy that it just might work.

I wear many hats in my daily life. I am a musician and a teacher, a jewelry designer and seamstress, a flowerpot gardener and a baker, a mother and a sister and a daughter. And that's just for starters.

I am also a writer - although last year when my piano studio exploded, my dream of being a traditionally published author of fiction (preferably of the New York Times Bestseller variety) was brutally shoved to the back burner and placed on a very, very low simmer.

Now don't get me wrong; this professional explosion has generally been a very good thing. I am teaching and playing like never before, closer than ever to living the life I always imagined for myself. But whereas common sense suggests I should just be content with what I have, the truth is I love writing too. And I have missed it.

I've even taken little stabs at it. For example, last October I drafted an outline for a Christmas novel that was to be my NaNoWriMo project. Unfortunately, November is an insanely busy month for me as a teacher; last November, I presented at the Georgia Music Teachers Association state conference, my students participated in a local competition, and I performed my first concert with the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra, playing both the piano and the clarinet. Finding two or three hours a day to write during that those weeks turned out to be completely unrealistic. I started strong and gave it my absolute best shot. But about three weeks in, with less than five thousand words under my belt, I finally admitted defeat.

However, I still believe in that story; I still want to finish it. And recently my thoughts have wandered again and again to The Wishing Box, the very first book I ever wrote. Badly flawed as it is - it was my very first attempt at fiction writing, after all - it is still the book of my heart, although now when think about it, the characters are fifteen or twenty years older than they were before, and they are sharing different tales with me. I am itching to get them all down on paper.

I've read about a million books and articles and blog posts about how to write a novel in as little as fifteen minutes a day. But getting up fifteen or thirty or sixty minutes earlier and writing before my teaching day begins just doesn't work for me, especially now that I teach before school every morning. Neither does trying to write after my last student leaves at nine o'clock at night, when I am both ravenously hungry and physically and mentally exhausted. In between, I am busy keeping up with paperwork and doing my own music practice and attending meetings and rehearsals and doing a thousand other necessary things. I'm not making excuses here. I've literally made myself ill by overdoing in general.

There's one thing I do know about myself though: I have done some of my best work when I was up against a deadline, locked in my bedroom wearing pajamas with an abundant supply of coffee and dark chocolate and biscotti, completely immersed in a project until it was done. I have completed term papers, professional presentations, and magazine articles under just that kind of duress. So what if I were to set aside a long weekend - three days, perhaps - and spend it doing nothing besides crank out the first draft of a novel?

I know I am capable of writing as many as fifteen thousand words a day. I have done it before, a few years ago at the bitter end of NaNoWriMo when I was absolutely determined to cross the fifty thousand word mark or die trying. I had already purchased my winner's t-shirt; I felt I had no choice but to earn the right to wear it. Of course, that first draft was pretty awful, as most first drafts are. But, as they say, you can't edit a blank page. And even though I am unable to do much actual writing in fifteen or thirty or sixty minute blocks of time, perhaps revision could be accomplished in smaller chunks.

So here's my plan. I hereby declare July 23rd-25th PaNoWriWe (Pam's Novel Writing Weekend) and dedicate those three days to finishing the Christmas novel I started last November. If all goes well, I can imagine PaNoWriWe becoming a part of the natural rhythm of my life. Perhaps I could draft a novel every summer, when my teaching load is a bit lighter than it is when school is in session. Then I will just have to figure out a way to find time to revise, even if it's just a couple of hours every Sunday afternoon.

I won't know unless I try.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Health and Restoration

Self-care is the easiest thing to toss aside when the mundane aspects of daily life take over. Compared to everything we have to do and everywhere we have to be, attending to ourselves occurs as frivolous, indulgent, and irresponsible. And, Sisters, there are consequences.
~ Regena Thomashauer


Over the past twelve months, I have developed a number of health issues. On top of the hypothyroidism (under control with medication), I've been plagued with colds and intestinal bugs, migraines and exzema, diagnosed with high blood pressure and strep . Currently I am on my second round of antibiotics and cough syrup in what I hope will beat the latest strep infection. Obviously, the nature of my job makes me vulnerable. As a piano teacher, I spend eight to ten hours every weekday with children of all ages and am exposed to all the illnesses they bring home with them from school. And clearly my immune system has been compromised by battle with repeated infections. But that's not all. Poor eating habits, insufficient rest and inconsistent exercise have taken their toll as well.

I'm ready to make some changes. I'm not looking for a quick fix, but my birthday is five weeks from today, and I would like to begin my the next year of my life weighing a few pounds less and feeling a whole lot better. It's time to get serious about establishing some sound habits.

Moving forward, taking care of my health is going to be my number one priority. Diet, exercise and rest are the obvious places to start. Based on past successes and a bit of research, here's the plan: no coffee past noon; no alcohol; no unrefined carbs or sugar; emphasis on protein, healthy fat, and low-carb veggies; one "cheat meal" per week; resume daily walking habit; be more consistent about taking my physician-recommended supplements (fish oil, Vitamin D, lysine, probiotics); floss every night; no electronics past 9, light out 10:30; up at 6:30 (although I will have to tweak this  after school starts again).

But there are other, less direct steps I can take that will contribute to my overall well-being. Practice piano FIRST, spend less time on social media and more time doing all the things that make my spirit soar (writing, making things, cooking, baking); listen to more music; take a bubble bath every Sunday afternoon; get a pedicure every two weeks; cuddle with my dog.

And while I'm at it, I will work on letting go of the past, doing a better job of keeping in touch with the people I love, making some new friends.

There is so much ugliness in the world outside; even those I hold nearest and dearest cannot seem to agree where the solutions lie. Like many, I feel overwhelmed, confused, nearly helpless. But one thing I can do - TODAY -  is take steps to restore myself. Moving forward, I will do what I can to affect change one habit, one kindness, one person, one day at a time.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Meet Cory Lavine!

On March 1st, Enlightened Piano Radio announced its top three nominees in six solo piano categories, each of whom is guaranteed a spot to perform in to perform in the 2016 Enlightened Piano Radio Awards Concert on board the Carnival cruise ship Triumph (October 6-10, 2016). To my surprise and delight, several artist friends of mine were among the nominees. Curious to find out more about the journeys that led them to receive this honor, I decided to ask them some questions and am delighted to share their answers with you. 

Today I would like to introduce you to Cory Lavine, whose album Out of the Blue earned him a nomination for New Artist of 2016.


Pam: When you first started writing music, at what point did you realize you wanted to be a composer?
CoryThere is something about composing I have always liked. According to my piano teacher, when I first started piano lessons at age nine I was able to put melodies together. When I was about 16 years old I decided wanted to become a composer. I started getting into synthesizers, drum machines, and the like. I also started getting into computer sequencing and notation.  My first computer was a Commodore 64! Whether composing was something that came to me naturally, the equipment, or a combination of both, I loved it back then and still love it today!

Pam: What or who were your early influences?
Cory: Some of my early musical influences were classical piano and rock 'n' roll. When I hit my teenage years rock n’ roll started getting more and more of my attention. It was around this time I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life: I told my piano teacher I wanted to stop taking lessons as my creativity and influences were starting to take me into a different direction. To say the least, this was an emotional time for both of us.
During my sophomore year in school, there was a rock band called The Edge who performed at my high school in upstate New York. My school was small with a graduating class of about 115.  So having a band come all the way from Florida to perform in our school was a HUGE deal! They were with a company called Young American Showcase who did anti-alcohol/drug abuse assembly programs using Top 40 rock 'n' roll music. At that time, YAS had four other bands touring across the country, each band averaging twelve shows a week for ten months straight. When I first saw them perform, I said to myself, “I want to do that!” They even talked about auditions!  However, graduating from high school was a prerequisite for joining the company, as was being a Christian.  So over the next two years I focused on practicing hard, getting good grades, and graduating. And in 1990 my goal became a reality. I was selected from a national candidate pool to play keyboards with a band called Free Fare. 

Pam: Where do you get your ideas come from?
Cory: Good question! Sometimes I wish I knew; believe me, I could create a lot more music that way! Most of my ideas, though, come from within. I start with the simple things I love to do such as listening to music by other artists, going for walks, reading books, and talking to people. All of these put me in a better frame of mind for inspiration - and maybe, just maybe, some music might come out as a result of it.

Pam: What do you usually start with when composing a new piece?
Cory: Most of the time, I just sit down and start playing the piano and let my emotions guide my hands to whatever keys they fall on. Sometimes the piece is in a major key; other times it might be minor. It all depends on my mood! I start like that. Sometimes I'll just start with the right hand and then add the left, and other times vice versa. That might sound simple but for me it's not always the case. 

Pam: How do you compose?  Are you sitting at a piano?  Do you work at a computer or using manuscript paper and a pencil?
Cory: When I compose, I’m sitting down at my keyboard and my Mac. I have a Yamaha Motif XS8, an full-size weighted keyboard. I play directly from the Motif into Sibelius, which is a notation program. The main thing was making sure the sheet music matched up to the recorded version! This was a little tricky due to the fact that the album was recorded in 2013 and I didn't begin transcribing the sheet music until a year or so later. It took some time at first and I did use a pencil to mark up the music when I printed it out. I like having the music laid out in front of me when I am working. I also discovered early on the wisdom of using a laser printer as opposed to an ink jet printer, especially with printing out 51 pages of music to be corrected - many pages more than once! That's a lot of black ink and cartridges. It adds up!

Pam: What are your biggest challenges as a composer?  
Cory: For me, one of my biggest challenges as a composer is finding ways to translate an idea or an emotion into music. Major key or minor key? Slow or fast? Loud or soft? Sometimes it’s best not to be dwelling too long on these decisions because they can take away from - or in some cases totally block - the inspiration and creative process. Again, I usually just jump right in and start playing. Remembering to hit “Record” on the keyboard or recording it on the computer is important as I want to make sure I capture that first burst of inspiration right then and there.  It is frustrating when I forget. Fortunately, I did hit "Record" for a few songs that didn’t make it onto my first album.  By capturing those ideas, now I have a starting point for my next project.  However, it might be a  little challenging going back to those ideas after months or years and trying to recreate them.  What was I thinking or how was I feeling when those ideas first came through? It remains to be seen whether or not I will be able to expand upon on those earlier ideas or not.

PamDo you find inspiration from other composers?  Which ones?
Cory: I do find inspiration from other composers. Back in 2009, I met David Nevue, David Lanz, Joseph Akins, and Philip Wesley for the first time. They performed in the Sound Kitchen, a prominent studio here in Nashville. I had never seen them nor had heard of them or their music before. However, after hearing their performances up close and personal, I began thinking “I can do this! I can do this!” As a result, I not only received the inspiration I needed to get back to composing music after 25 years as well as the inspiration and motivation to build a website, release an album, and create a songbook as well. Seeing concerts in person or streamed live on the internet are great ways to be inspired. It’s very, very powerful. Definitely check it out!

Pam: Are there any non musical influences that are important to your music?
Cory: Sure, Pam. This kind of goes back to your earlier questions about where my ideas some from. I love the outdoors and going for walks. This helps not only to clear my mind, but it also helps when it comes to sitting down and composing. People also play an important part in my music.  I’ve always enjoyed meeting people. After spending time talking with them and exchanging stories, I often take something away from the exchange that I can later use in my music.  For instance, my singles Give Thanks, Child’s Wish, Andante, and Little Dance were all a result of personal interactions.

Pam: What do you say when asked to describe your music?
Cory: "If you take the music of Jim Brickman and George Winston, put it into a blender, and hit Blend, then you’ll have Cory Lavine.”  If you like soothing, soft solo piano music, then my music might be what just you are looking for. It will help you to relax and may even put you to sleep.
Speaking of which, one of my classmates from high school purchased my album and told me her three-year old daughter might be my youngest fan! When she goes down for her nap, the only thing she wants to listen to is my album.  Her mother can’t believe it and just laughs! 

Pam: So you think about your listeners when you’re composing?
Cory: I do. When I’m composing, I think a lot about my audience. Will people be simply listening to my music or will they be interested in performing it also? Regardless, I believe creating music that has feeling and emotion is of the utmost performance. If I can't move MYSELF to do that, then I am not going to move my listeners either. It’s that simple. My song Child’s Wish was probably one of my most emotional pieces I connected with off my album. With this song, as with all of my pieces, I tried to immerse myself in the music - not to allow myself to become distracted. In this piece, I wanted to be true to the young girl and to the family I was writing the song about, and to be true for those who would be listening to it. I teared up not only after meeting the family but also when it came to composing the piece. It all boils down to honesty and expression. If I can focus on that as the end result, then hopefully my listeners will take away much more than just the experience of listening to (or playing) a piece of music. They’ll have a song that they can really connect with as well.

Pam: What is the piece of music you are most proud of?
Cory: Wow, this is a tough one.  I might have to say Out of the Blue. The way this song came about and the way I got back into my music after so many years is just short of a miracle! This song really ties together everything about my faith, life, and my music. I believe it represents the best of me as an artist and also those who played a part in my journey. 
This song was so far removed from anything else on the album that I wasn't sure at first if I was even going to use it. But after thinking long and hard about how everything came to be in both my life and in my music not only did it make it onto the album, but eventually it became the title track.

Pam: What are you working on now?
Cory: Right now, Pam, I’m working on getting my music out there. This past Saturday, April 16th, I played my album at a wedding here in Tennessee. A local bride-to-be discovered my music through her fiance’s mother. As a result, both wanted me to play at her wedding. This was the second time since its release in September that my music has been featured in a wedding. The first time was at a wedding in Wisconsin.                                                                                                                                                                                            
Pam: Anything else?
Cory: Sure, a couple of things. First don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be whatever it is you want to be in life. You have to believe in yourself. Sometimes it’s going to be two steps forwards and four steps back. When that happens, you pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and keep moving towards your goal. Period.  Perseverance is key. Second, I believe you need to be passionate about whatever it is you want to achieve in life. That passion and drive will get you through anything or anyone that’s standing in the way of you and your dreams. And sometimes, that one thing or person holding you back may be yourself. There will be setbacks and times when you feel like giving up.  But as long as you believe in yourself and remain passionate about your goals and dreams, there is nothing that can stand in the way of you achieving them. 

Recently, Steve and Chrissie Sheppard of United Kingdom based One World Music Radio did three audio segments on the debut release of my album. The first segment was the Album Show which goes into detail about each of the songs off the album; the songs are played in their entirety. The second segment was the Featured Artist, in which Chrissie interviews me via Skype. Last, Steve did an Album Review. This is about 7:25 long, and a great way for new fans and listeners to get a preview of what my debut release is all about. For the month of March, my album debuted at #3 on their One World Music Radio Top 100!!  For the month of April, I found out Tuesday I dropped three places to #6.  With the help of your readers and mine, listening to those different audio segments, we can send my album Out of the Blue up the charts to the #1 spot!  And I am the Artist of the Month for April!  Hopefully this time next month I will be able report back to let you know "we" made it to #1! All of these audio segments can be found here on MixCloud or at my Blog page.

If your readers, Pam would like to learn more about this, my music, or about myself, they can visit my website, Cory Lavine. On my Blog page, for instance, your readers can get more information about my music along with the stories and comments from my fans. The About page reveals more of my personal story. And finally, to keep up to date with all the latest developments surrounding my music, you can sign up for my monthly newsletterIn-tune.  I would love to hear from your readers.

For one’s “Streaming” pleasure, my music can be found online at Whisperings Solo Piano Radio, Enlightened Piano Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Solo Piano, and others.

In closing, I would like to thank you so much, Pam, for the honor and opportunity of sharing a little bit about my life’s journey and music with you and your readers. It’s been fun.

Cory Lavine
Pianist & Composer
Nashville, TN. 

* * *

Thank YOU, Cory, for sharing so deeply of yourself - not only in this interview, but also in your willingness to host a GIVEAWAY! That's right - one lucky reader will receive your choice of a copy of Cory's CD or sheet music book Out of the Blue. All you have to do to be entered in the drawing is leave a comment mentioning your preference for winning a CD or a book of sheet music. The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on Sunday, May 1, 2016. For a second chance to win, leave a question or comment at Cory's blog, where this interview also appears. Good luck!