Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer - what's the plan?

Many people had their summer goals and plans in place several weeks ago. Actually, I did too. But today I feel like summer is really beginning.

Last week my husband, daughter and I, along with much of our extended family, made our yearly trip to the Twin Cities for my mother's birthday. This year she turned 95, a milestone requiring more than the average visit with a cake and visits to her favorite restaurants. So we planned a small party. We reserved a room at her assisted living place, invited some extra relatives and friends, and got two cakes. It was a lively party with lots of conversations. My brother, sister and I got to talk with cousins we hadn't seen in quite a few years and were reminded of what a nice family we have. My mom had a lovely time and did not not get exhausted.

We're now back in Illinois after 4 days in Minnesota. With no other trips on the horizon, it's time to actually do something about those goals.

The big one: writing. The other summer goals -- cleaning, organizing, updating some curriculum -- will all fall into place. Writing, though, is like the dark hill up ahead of you. You see it vaguely. Maybe it's even shrouded in fog. How will you approach it? Will you approach it? Is there a feeling of trepidation? For all of my thinking about my plan, there's still a lot of mystery involved. Will I be able to accomplish this goal?

I've been thinking about this project for a long time. Every year when my students research and write a report about some topic related to the American Revolution, I am struck by the lack of biographies about some interesting people of that time. Or sometimes I find that the biographies, in my opinion, don't fit the bill. So after mulling this over and considering the biographies I wish existed, I picked a person to research and write a biography of -- Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Highlights of her life include horticulture (experimenting and discovering how to grow indigo in South Carolina, thus creating the first really profitable crop for that colony), running three plantations at age 17, and raising two sons who were important in the American Revolution. She was obviously not what we think of as the typical colonial lady.

The challenges are finding enough information about her, as well as about Antigua, where she was born, in the 18th century. Another challenge will be writing an interesting biography for middle grade readers. And of course the ever-present challenge of sitting down and doing the work!

Time to take the plunge.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Perceptions, youth, and humor

My friends all know that when I'm not teaching I am likely to be playing my horn in some community group. Besides getting to play some pretty great music I have loved meeting people I would not have known otherwise.

A couple months ago one of my horn-playing friends from a community orchestra asked if I wanted to play Mahler's Symphony #2 in another community orchestra. What a great opportunity, I thought! I have never played any Mahler in concert. Gustav Mahler was a giant of the early 20th century, composing 9 symphonies, plus many songs and other works. He was also a top conductor. His symphonies are all large works, usually calling for many extra players beyond the usual symphony roster. So to get a chance to play any Mahler symphony was awesome.

A standard symphony calls for 4 horns. Some early symphonies call for only two. Mahler 2 calls for 8 horns on stage and 4 off-stage! It also calls for extra trumpets, woodwinds, and a full chorus. I am playing one of the off-stage parts, though it turns out that we start off-stage, then go on stage to play for a bit, then back off-stage, then on stage to end the symphony. We've had one rehearsal and it is so much fun!

My Slice of Life today, though, is about perceptions, surprises, and finally, humor, while rehearsing Mahler. I had met one of the other off-stage horn players earlier this year while we were both playing a concert with a different community orchestra. She is a young woman getting started in her music career after graduating college. She is charming, friendly, and a good colleague. Before our first rehearsal of the off-stage players last week, we were chatting with another of the horn players, who neither of us knew. He was very friendly and asked me what I do when I'm not playing horn.

"I teach 4th grade," I said. We chatted about my school and the university where he is teaching.

A bit later my young hornist friend said to me, "Wow, I didn't know you were still working!" Ouch! Yes, I am the oldest off-stage horn player, though not the oldest of all the hornists. I didn't think I looked so old, but many people are retiring younger these days, I said to myself. In the end I decided it was a funny story to share with friends also in my age range. My friends winced a little and chuckled.

Then... a former student and her mother stopped by my school to visit. After chatting and catching up, the mom said to me, "Let us know when you're retiring. We want to come to the party."

Really, I'm not that old. I have at least a few more years in me!