Category Archives: Articles

9 Books I Can’t Wait to Read

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TBR

My name is Andrea and I’m a bookaholic. I have between one and two hundred books in this house waiting to be read, and I try very hard to restrain myself from buying more until I finish reading at least some, but somehow I accidentally acquire more and more. I usually have five books in progress at any given time.

I have several TBR (to be read) piles in the hall closet. I keep opening the closet and peeking at them, because I just can’t wait to start these:

  • The Library of Afro Curiosities: 100-Word Stories by Ran Walker. I recently wrote three flash fiction stories for a contest, and discovered that I like the form. I read that Ran Walker is a master.
  • Rezzies Revolt by Carlos and Crystal Acosta. This is the first book in the GeriAntics series by a husband and wife team who are members of a critique group I recently joined. It’s about the residents of an active independent living community of senior citizens and their adventures. I’ve read snippets of book three (their current manuscript in the works) and it’s hilarious.
  • Something to Live Up To: Selected Poems by Benny Andersen, translated by Michael Goldman. I recently read a wonderful article about Michael Goldman and his work, particularly with the Danish national treasure, Benny Andersen.
  • Going Rogue: Rise and Shine Twenty-Nine by Janet Evanovich. The Stephanie Plum series is my guilty pleasure. I’ve read the twenty-eight previous volumes.
  • Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura. I love Fujimura’s young adult novels. This one is an ice-skating romance.
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve read three others of her novels and loved them all. This one is about a colonist on the moon.
  • The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and I’ve loved almost of all them.
  • Carravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon. A biography of the great and tragic late-Renaissance painter.
  • Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life by Twyla Tharp. The dancer and choreography explains how and why movement is a huge part of aging well.

Don’t these books sound fabulous? And I know there are many more in my collection that will also enrapture me. So many books, so little time!

Now it’s your turn. What’s in your TBR pile? Share in the comments below.

Solitude in Nature

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I’ve written before about hiking in South Mountain Park. It’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve been there, and I miss it very much. Truth be told, I just started taking walks again the beginning of October—it’s just been much too hot around here. Also, between being wary about Covid and needing to help my husband, I just haven’t gotten out much. But I’ve started venturing out a little as of the middle of September.

Moving your body is a good thing at any age; staying active as you get older is especially important. Besides being wonderful exercise for the body and the brain, hiking also has benefits for emotional and mental health. Walking and hiking have a meditative element to them. As you stride, you notice what is around you. You are present in the moment. But you can also let your mind work on your problems—or forget your problems entirely.

Ideally, you should have a companion with you when you hike. But I’ve also hiked by myself. I wouldn’t recommend hiking an unfamiliar trail on your own, but I’ve done exactly that. There is something to be said for being alone in the wilderness.

When I first took up hiking, everything was new to me. I did a little online reading about the trails in the park. I bought some hiking boots and was delighted to find out I was more sure-footed in them than I had been in sneakers. I bought a trekking pole and found it to be very helpful for maintaining balance when forced to make large steps or walking on rocky surfaces (be sure to keep the pole in front of you).

When you’re on your own, you’re forced to be self-sufficient and make your own judgment calls. In most parks, you’re required to stay on the trails. But sometimes you can’t quite tell where the trail is. If the trail gets steep, you may have no clue where to put your feet. Hiking alone tests your mettle.

My very first hike in South Mountain Park, I went by myself. I was having a great time walking at my own pace. I hardly saw another person, and I was all right with that. After half an hour, I reached the top of a hill, and then I couldn’t tell where the trail went from there. So I turned around, feeling maybe it was time to head back. But from the top of the hill, I literally could not figure out how to get down. It looked way steeper going down than it had looked going up, and I could not identify what path I had taken to get where I was.

While I was standing there wondering what to do, an older couple crested the hill from the other direction and began making their way down without any of the hesitancy I was feeling. I watched where they stepped and followed them. They stopped as if they were waiting for me, but I said, “No, go on ahead—I don’t want to slow you down.” I actually caught up to them a while later where the ground was more level.

Maybe a year later I took a trail that was new to me, that a hiking website has designated as “easy” (warning—an “easy” label does not mean that a fairly new hiker will find it easy). It was the most challenging trail I’d ever been on. Lots of up and down, lots of very rocky sections. I approached a section that I knew intersected with a much easier trail that I was familiar with, but the easy trail was a good thirty feet below, and the three possible ways down the ridge were all very steep. I had seen other hikers pass me and drop of out sight, but I had no idea which way they had gone. When I looked down one path, I saw a woman hanging by her hands. I walked away because I didn’t want to make her nervous.

I walked from one path to another, and couldn’t figure out how to traverse them. While I was trying to decide, other hikers came up those paths, but I was too far from them to see how they did it. I considered turning back, but it had taken me one and a half hours to get to where I was; I know the easy path was only half an hour from the trailhead. I had to go forward. After a good twenty minutes of considering my options, I picked the least harrowing path of the three. I sat on the edge, dangled my legs, and carefully skootched myself off, about a six-foot drop. I didn’t kill myself! That was my scariest hiking experience, but it energized me to get past it all by myself.

What am I trying to say? That being by myself in the wilderness helps center me. I’m awed by my surroundings. I’m gratified that I can be resourceful when I have to be. I feel closer to God, closer to the earth, unhurried, undistracted.

The Pivot

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Computer and mouse

2014 was a momentous year for me, though not in a happy way. In May, 2014, I resigned from my second teaching career, which had given me joy and purpose for the first five years, and frustration and stress for the final three years. I kept hoping that things would improve, but instead, they just got bleaker.

As relieved as I was to no longer be teaching, I felt like I’d lost my identity; I’d failed—I’d given up on teaching. If I wasn’t a teacher, who was I? Although I’d heard that who you are isn’t the same as what you do, I just didn’t know how to define myself anymore.

Besides, I really wanted meaningful work and a regular paycheck. Over the next year I sent out 100 applications for employment; I made the short list for three positions, but I never landed one.

I was really disappointed, but I returned to my critique group and slowly started writing again. I had always said I’d go back to writing when I retired; I just hadn’t realized I was already retired.

In 2015 Jeff Goins released his book The Art of Work. I was already familiar with his writing; in fact, his 500-word Challenge jumpstarted my return to writing. The Art of Work made me feel comfortable with this next act of my life. The turning point for me was Chapter 5, titled “Pivot Points: Why failure is your friend.” Goins posits that each failure, whether it’s a dream that just doesn’t come to fruition or the loss of a job, is an opportunity to change direction, pivot, try something new. Many times we stick with what we’re doing, even if it’s no longer rewarding, because we’re hoping things will change, or because we’ve already invested so much time in it. We end up not trying something different until we’re forced into it—by failure. Without failure, we might never find that thing we were born to do.

Another chapter I found interesting was Chapter 2, “Accidental Apprenticeships.” When I was teaching, I was required to do other things that weren’t directly involved in working in the classroom. Each teacher was expected to maintain a personal page on the school website, which was to be the place parents could refer to when they wanted to know what their children were learning in your classroom. All of us went through training to learn how to design our webpages.

Also, teachers “volunteer” to do all sorts of things unrelated to teaching but important to the running of the school, things for which there is no funding. Teachers have “morning duty” and “dismissal duty” and “lunch duty” and “playground duty.” They sit on committees; they raise funds. For the last three years of my teaching career, I ran the Yearbook Club. With a bunch of fifth and sixth grade helpers, I put together the school yearbook. It took a lot of (unpaid) time, but it was also an artistic and creative outlet for me, laying out yearbook pages on the photography company’s software.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the tech skills I was learning were an excellent preparation for something I never expected to do—blogging. While teaching, I was unintentionally doing an apprenticeship for something else. Those myriad hours were not wasted.

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned. But that’s okay. It might initially feel like a failure, but don’t forget: it’s an opportunity to pivot to something that could be a better fit for you. Go for it!

Skills in Score Preparation

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One thing I found while I was decluttering my office was a short paper I wrote in grad school for the course Skills in Score Preparation. I was a music education major. The scores in question were pieces of music, especially multi-instrument or multi-voice pieces for orchestra or ensembles or choruses; the score contains all the parts for each individual instrument and/or voice. The conductor or teacher would need to carefully study all parts of the piece before beginning to rehearse or teach the piece. The conductor/teacher would want to mark the score to remind himself of important points to cover; for example, entrances that would need his cueing, or changes in time signature or key signature.

Skills in Score Preparation was by far the most memorable, interesting, and helpful class I took during my Masters program at Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey). I’ve forgotten the professor’s name, but he was passionate about good conducting and helping us to become better conductors. He was everything you’d want a professor to be: wise, skillful, an excellent communicator, kind, and encouraging.

I wrote the paper in the fall of 1975. I typed it on a typewriter on onionskin paper. The assignment was to list the steps I would take to prepare a score I might use in my career (in my case, in an elementary music classroom). I’m posting it here just in case it might be useful to one of the musicians who follow ARHtistic License.

Steps in Score Preparation:

How to Prepare a Score

for Study in the General Music Class or for Performance by the Chorus

  1. Background Information: by whom, when, and why was the piece composed; what are the characteristics of the composer, the period, and of other pieces of music used for the same purpose; how does this piece adhere to or depart from these general characteristics; what is the meaning of the lyrics, if any; how does the music express the lyrics
  2. Harmonic Analysis: is the harmonic structure predominantly diatonic, modal, atonal, homophonic, polyphonic, monophonic; does a particular chord have a function other than the obvious one; identify key changes and reasons for them
  3. Form: identify major and subordinate themes; examine thematic development; determine pattern formed by themes
  4. Interpretation: determine phrasing, emphasis, dynamics, tempi, other diacritical markings
  5. Musical Elements: glean for terminology which might be unfamiliar to students; check for difficult melodic passages, entrances and harmonies which may require extra attention to master; look for exemplary passages which could be used to illustrate particular musical concepts being studied [After each item in the paper, the professor wrote encouraging comments, like v good, yes, and also good. After this item, the professor wrote the suggestion sustain unusual chords for memory work.]
  6. Fresh Viewpoints: listen to different recordings while following score to hear different interpretations, bring to light aspects that might have been overlooked; read album jackets, books, and articles for additional information

On the cover sheet of my paper, the professor wrote quite comprehensive work, which makes me happy even after 47 years.

More Thoughts on Decluttering

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My desk

Saturday I posted about my six-week mission to make room in my study for the quilting machine that is coming the day after tomorrow. (More about that soon.) I can’t believe I still have more to say about the process of tidying.

One of the side benefits of decluttering is finding things that have long been lost. My poor desk was so buried in stuff that when I cleaned it off I found SIX pairs of reading glasses that I have been missing.

In various bookshelves, drawers, and boxes I found I had duplicates of seven books. Some were books I frequently reread and was frustrated that I couldn’t find so I bought another copy. (I thought I’d lent them out to friends who thoughtlessly neglected to return them. Sorry I assumed the worst of y’all.) Others were books I knew I wanted to read but forgot that I had already bought because I couldn’t see them anywhere. Oh well. Excess copies have since been donated to the Little Free Library or to Goodwill.

Another book I finally found was Hal Leonard Ukulele Method and Chord Book that I bought when I was still teaching, because I had a bunch of ukuleles in my classroom and thought it would be fun to teach my students to play them—but I never got around to learning. More than a year ago, my daughter gave me a ukulele and I just could not find that book though I tried really hard a number of times.

I also found my Bible journal that I have been looking for diligently for months.

And my sandpaper block, which I use to clean off my tortillons. The craft stores don’t sell single ones (you have to buy an assortment of art tools), and I always forget when I go to the art store.

I also found a short paper I wrote in grad school, which I realize would make a great blog post. That will appear soon.

When I started my blogging break, my friend, blogger Gwen Lanning (aka Textile Ranger), encouraged me by saying “. . . think of all the new blogging ideas you will get as you sort all your stuff.” And she’s right. I have ideas for two more blog posts: about pivots; and about the meditative quality of walking in nature. So yes, Gwen, you were so right.

If you are putting off a major overhaul of a room or a closet, I advise you to give yourself a break from other obligations (Delegate like a boss! Or just give something up temporarily.) and just forge ahead. It may take longer than you think, or you may surprise yourself and complete it in a day or two. But either way, when you’re done, your quality of life will be improved. It’s worth the effort.

Adventures in Decluttering

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During my recent six-week blogging break, I managed to free up a little more than nine feet of wall space in my study, just barely enough room to squeeze in a long arm quilting machine on an eight-foot frame and a few inches to spare on each side.

At the beginning of my sabbatical, one wall of my study looked like this:

Part of my messy study
Before.

There were about eleven cartons of stuff that I needed to find another location for. I made two trips to Goodwill with trunk-loads of stuff to donate; I also gave a stack of books to the neighborhood Little Free Library (and more books also went to Goodwill). I sent two needlepoints that my mother-in-law made to my brother-in-law. I gave a chest of drawers to my middle daughter Erin for baby clothes (oh, I haven’t told you: she is expecting twins, our very first grandchildren!), but first I had to find places for all the things in the dresser. (A lot went to Goodwill.) Then, with my son Matt’s help, I moved the bookcase that you can see at the right edge of the Before picture above to the spot where the chest used to be.

I replaced two two-drawer file cabinets with two four-drawer file cabinets so I would have more space to store all the paper documents I feel compelled to save and that were living in banker’s boxes.

When I’d done all that, I still had eight boxes of books and other things that I couldn’t bear to part with. But guess what—I discovered that one of our hall closets, where we keep light bulbs, was actually stuffed with boxes of things that our two older daughters had stored there when they graduated from college—sixteen and twenty-one years ago. So I asked them if they wanted that stuff, or if I could dispose of them. They both said to chuck them. Some stuff I couldn’t part with. I kept Carly’s Harvard sweatshirt that she wore in high school—it’s oversized, so it fits me. And Erin was happy to take some of Carly’s mint-condition plush toys for her babies-to-be. I still have a box and a bag of their stuff to bring to Goodwill, maybe tomorrow.

I had carefully measured the dimensions of the room and made a scale drawing on graph paper, noting the locations of the windows, the closet, and the doors. Then I cut out carefully-measured scale representations of the furniture and arranged it so that everything fit. There was just enough room along one wall for my desk and the two file cabinets. Unfortunately, when I measured, I failed to account for the molding at the bottom of the wall, and when Matt came over to help me move the desk, we discovered we were ¼ inch short of space.

Now that wall of the study looks like this:

My desk
Now.

And I have to confess that the only reason it looks this tidy is because I still have four cartons of stuff stacked in the hallway that need to go back in or on the desk.

The remaining file cabinet is in an undesirable spot; it ruins the symmetry of the window wall. Ideally, there should be just one bookshelf on each side of the window. Instead, the file cabinet is also on one side, and a CD tower is also on the other. Oh well. And I still have some art canvases, a drum, a guitar, a ukulele, a music stand, a vacuum cleaner, and some other stuff scattered around the room that I’m hoping to find a better arrangement for by the time my new machine is delivered next Thursday. If all goes well, I’ll post another photo next Saturday.

Blogging Break

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If you read my blog post from yesterday, you know that I am seriously considering a big change in my life—buying a quilting machine. But before I can do that, I need to clear space in my little study, which is crammed full of things I love but have no other place for.

Part of my messy study
If only this were the worst part of my room. Unfortunately, it’s not. I won’t show you my desk.

Alas, this is a big task, one that has been on my to-do list for years. My original plan was to clear space for my domestic machine, which I always have to set up on my kitchen table and then put away a couple of hours later. I told myself that in just 15 minutes a day, I would get this room whittled down in no time.

But, no, the study is so much of a disaster that the improvement after 15 minutes is invisible. I can’t do this job in small intervals.

I really need to devote big blocks of time on a daily basis.

Which means I’ve got to use my writing and blogging time.

So, until this job is done, I won’t be writing any new stuff.

I do have a few little posts scheduled in the near and far future. I am pinning this post to the top of the page as a reminder that I’m taking a break, so if you’re on my home page, scroll below this post to see if anything new pops up. Or better yet, subscribe to get an email every time a new post appears.

I don’t know if I’ll have space for the new machine and the old. I’ll have to wait and see.

And I don’t know whether this project will take two weeks (please please), two months, or until the end of the year or longer. But when it’s done, I’ll be back.

Édouard Manet             

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Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet was born in France in 1832. His father intended for him to have a naval career, but when he twice failed the entrance exam to the naval academy, he was permitted to pursue his love of art instead. He studied under Thomas Couture and copied the Old Masters in the Louvre. He became a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism, though he fell more into the Modernist school.

From 1853 to 1856, he traveled extensively through Europe, and was influenced by the works of Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya. In 1856 he opened his own studio. Many of his works were displayed in the Paris Salon. His early painting The Spanish Singer caused a sensation. Even though we might consider it very realistic, his brush strokes were looser and less meticulous than previously fashionable.

The Spanish Singer, Manet
The Spanish Singer, Manet

In 1862, Manet’s father, Auguste, died, and in 1863, he married Suzanne Leenhoff, a piano teacher who his father had hired to teach Édouard and his younger brother. (Suzanne was also likely the father’s mistress. She gave birth to a son, Leon, in 1852. Leon’s father may have been Auguste or even Édouard.) Both Suzanne and Leon modeled for Manet.

Boy Carrying a Sword, 1861, Manet
Boy Carrying a Sword, 1861, Manet. Leon Leenhoff was the model for this painting.

In 1863, The Luncheon on the Grass was rejected by the Salon; the portrayal of a nude woman dining with fully clothed men was deemed inappropriate (even though it was inspired by works of the Old Masters). However, the Salon des Refusés (started by Emperor Napoleon III as an option when the Paris Salon that year rejected 2,783 of the offered 5,000 works) was delighted to exhibit it.

Luncheon on the Grass, Manet
Luncheon on the Grass, Manet

In 1865 the Paris Salon accepted Manet’s Olympia, a nude based on Titian’s Venus of Urbino; but unlike Venus, Olympia is a prostitute, not a goddess. She caused quite a scandal at the Salon.

Edouard Manet - Olympia
Olympia, Manet

As controversial as these two early masterpieces were, they marked the start of modern art and also sparked the beginnings of the Impressionist movement.

Édouard Manet - Still Life, Lilac Bouquet, 1883
Still Life, Lilac Bouquet, 1883, Manet

Manet had many friends among the Impressionists, notably Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot. Even so, he resisted placing his work in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because his style really wasn’t all that impressionistic, and also because he preferred the Paris Salon, which the Impressionists eschewed.

The Railway, 1873, Manet
The Railway, 1873, Manet

Manet was one of the first nineteenth century painters to paint scenes of daily contemporary life. He painted many portraits, some landscapes and still lives, military battles and political scenes. His work includes 430 oil paintings, 79 pastels, and 400 drawings and works on paper. He died in 1883.

Boating, Manet
Boating, Manet
Chez la pére Lathuille, 1879, Manet
Chez la pére Lathuille, 1879, Manet. I love the intimacy of this painting, the intensity of the man’s gaze. (I think the woman is Joan Kusack; the man may be John Belushi–just kidding!)
House in Rueil, 1882, Manet
House in Rueil, 1882, Manet
Young Flautist, 1866, Manet
Young Flautist, 1866. Do you think this fellow could also have been Leon?

I’d Rather Be Dancing Norwegian Folk Dances

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Norway is known for Vikings, fjords, and long winters, but also for its beautiful dances, which often involve a lot of twirling.

I don’t know the name of this dance, but the children are performing at the Oslo Museum in a celebration on St. Han’s Day:

Gudbrandsdals Mazurka:

Hallingdans (highlights the male’s skills and is sometimes danced as a male solo):

Hamborgar:

Hans og Hånån:

Hardangervals:

Reinlender (the Norwegian equivalent of a Schottische):

Sandsvaerril (adorable; a lot of flirting potential in this dance):

Tølastep:

Wengurka (the translation is “the Hungarian,” but the dance probably originated in Poland; this is the Norwegian version):

Quilting Frustration

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Sheep quilt

I finally finished a baptism quilt (we Lutherans baptize infants) that I think I may have started at the beginning of the pandemic. There are several reasons why it took me so long. In between, I made two lap quilts for my sister-in-law and I pieced a bed quilt for my son. Also, I disappointed myself with my fabric choices for the sheep block (but not enough to remake it). The pastel pink gingham I picked for the sheep’s body doesn’t show up well against the white background. (That block, by the way, is from Lori Holt’s Farm Girl Vintage book. It’s a favorite of our quilt ministry.)

Sheep quilt

I thought this might be the time to learn free motion quilting–I could quilt fleecy-looking swirls over the pink gingham with brighter pink thread. Problem solved.

Sigh. Some people have a long learning curve. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’d read that it was a good idea to try out your design with paper and pencil before trying to stitch it. So I spent several practice sessions drawing swirls. I was dissatisfied with my results.

Swirls

Maybe I could try stippling.

Stipple

My stippling drawing was okay, so I started practicing stitching with scraps of fabric and batting. I don’t have a long-arm, but I know lots of people do beautiful quilting on ordinary sewing machines. I have a 30-year-old Pfaff Tiptronic 6270, which has been excellent for piecing and for in-the-ditch quilting. I am very good at straight stitching. I can sew garments that involve curves.

Stippling
Stippling practice

Stippling is another matter. You need to be able to think ahead, to visualize how you want your stitches to meander. I don’t have that skill set. I spent a couple months’ worth of Saturday mornings working on my stippling. I can’t tell you how many bobbins I wound–they get used up really fast when you do free-motion practice. I never got the hang of it. I think part of the problem was I’d slow down, and then my stitches would get too large. I eventually used up all the fabric I didn’t mind wasting and all my scraps of batting. Did I really want to cut into my good yardage? No. But I read that felt squares are good for FMQ practice. Folded in half, they have bulk similar to cotton plus batting.

I decided to try random loop-de-loops. Maybe they wouldn’t be so hard to control. Alternate looping to the right and to the left. I practiced for a while, determined to make it work.

FMQ practice

And then my sewing machine threw a hissy fit. It made my top thread form a massive tangle on the underside of my fabric.

Now I know how to handle this. Usually, underside tangles are caused by one of four things: a bent needle; dust, lint, or thread fragments in the bobbin carriage; inferior thread; or lack of lubrication. So, I removed the throat plate and cleaned and oiled the machine and changed out the needle and the thread. Multiple times. But as soon as I started practicing my quilting again, tangleation! Maybe my machine needed repair. But I just had it serviced in January! It should be good for a couple of years.

Maybe it’s time to retire my Pfaff. 30 years is a good life. For the heck of it, I did some straight sewing. No problem.

I tried FMQ again, problem again!

I gave up on the idea of quilting that sheep and just left the outline quilted. Then I bound it, buried my thread ends, and pronounced the quilt done.

Baptism quilt

Now it’s your turn–help! I’ve decided that if I want to take my quilting to the next level, I need a long arm. I’m going to research what’s out there–and I have no idea how to begin. I know I don’t have room for one of those huge frames with the computerized machine. So, quilters, what machines do you use? What do you like about them? What would your dream machine be, and why?