Friday, April 29, 2011

Notes from a Cello Recital

My husband gave a cello recital last night at the university where he teaches. I brought the kids, of course, because 1) it’s dad, and 2) taking them is in some ways simpler than hiring a babysitter. Not to mention the part about it being a good experience. I grew up with musician parents, myself, so this kind of thing seems normal to me. You go to concerts from an early age.

I am thankful to say that their concert-attending skills are improving. All three stayed pretty quiet during the whole performance. In fact, when Daddy came out, everybody got very excited and still. We all exchanged big, beaming smiles and head-nods. That’s Daddy! Yes, it is! Youngest sat at the very edge of her seat, her back perfectly straight, and listened with rapt attention. Everybody was quiet and alert and attentive. For three minutes. Then all three children proceeded to educate me in the ways you can entertain yourself during a concert without making any noise:

• You can bounce in your seat. Quietly, of course.
• You can motion to Mom that you are dying of thirst and have a sore throat and want a drink of water.
• You can trace the veins on Mom’s arm until she gets so ticklish she can’t stand it.
• You can motion to Mom not to fall asleep when in fact she is reading the program notes in her lap.
• You can try to find a comfortable position in which to fall asleep.
• You can play with Mom’s wedding ring.
• You can peek behind you at college students and make faces at them.
• You can come up with numerous arm-flourishes. Slow and dreamy for quiet moments, fast and dramatic for exciting ones.
• You can have a contest with your sister to see who can be the most cuddly with Mom’s arm.
• You can conduct.
• You can leap up and play air violin during a particularly exuberant passage of Prokofiev. (I keep my hand on one child’s seat in anticipation of moments like this, to keep it from folding up noisily.)
• You can try to get Mom’s hand off your seat because it annoys you.
• You can sit in Mom’s lap.
• You can stretch yourself out in Mom’s lap so that she can no longer support your head comfortably.

We had a lovely time. We were all very proud of Daddy. And nobody melted down until we got to the parking lot. I have to say, though, I wonder about my own capacity to sit and focus for a concert or lecture. When the kids are grown and gone, what will I do with myself? It doesn’t seem possible any more to simply sit and listen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Honor of National Poetry Month...

Some books about poets. Mostly picture books, but a few for older readers, as well:

Call Me MarianneCall Me Marianne by Jen Bryant, pictures by David A. Johnson, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2006
A boy goes to the zoo and meets poet Marianne Moore. While they observe the animals, she tells him what it is a poet does, and encourages him to try writing poetry himself. A fictional story that is true in its details about a real poet.

Cool Melons - Turn To Frogs!: The Life And Poems Of IssaCool Melons—Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa story and haiku translations by Matthew Gollub, illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone, calligraphy by Keiko Smith, Lee & Low Books, Inc., 1998
The life story of Japanese haiku poet, Issa, accompanied by thirty of his poems. In a life marked with sorrow and loss, Issa finds solace in nature and poetry. His ability to see and share eventually makes him one of Japan’s most famous poets. The author’s notes in the back of this book offer more information about Issa’s poetry, calligraphy, and the art of haiku.

The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. SeussThe Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull, paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Random House, 2004
How Ted Geisel discovered that the awkward, fun-loving boy who loved to doodle and write and fool around had something wonderful to share with the world just by being himself.

Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet by Penelope Niven, with poems and prose by Carl Sandburg, illustrated by Marc Nadel, Harcourt Inc., 2003
Sandburg was a dreamer, a traveler, a soldier in the Spanish-American war, a newspaper journalist, a gatherer or folk songs, a family man, a poet, writer and historian. This book presents his life to children in categories, covering the wide variety of jobs he had and things he did. Each two-page spread is devoted to a category, with biographical information on one side and an illustration and piece of Sandburg’s poetry or prose on the other side. The carefully-researched watercolor and ink illustrations are full of his personal possessions and images from his home.

The Dreamer (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers)The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sís, Scholastic Press, 2010
A touching, beautifully-written, fictionalized account of Pablo Neruda as a child. Neftali is full of dreams and words, even though his father, , even though his father, who doesn’t understand, wants to drive it all out of him. An ALA Notable Children's Book. 

Emily Dickinson's Letters to the WorldEmily Dickinson’s Letters to the World story and pictures by Jeanette Winter, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002
This little book provides a colorful and inviting introduction to Emily Dickinson’s poems. It begins with a brief introduction to her life told from the perspective of her sister, Lavinia, as she goes through Emily’s things after her death and discovers her sister’s poems. “This is my letter to the World” serves as an opening to the main body of the book, a gathering of twenty one of Emily’s poems (or parts of them, in some cases). Bright illustrations surround each poem, complimenting the language nicely.

Jazz Age Poet: A Story about Langston Hughes (Creative Minds Biography)Jazz Age Poet: A Story about Langston Hughes (A Creative Minds Biography) by Veda Boyd Jones, illustrations by Barbara Kiwak, Millbrook Press, 2006

Mr. Ferlinghetti's PoemMr. Ferlinghetti’s Poem story and woodcuts by David Frampton, original poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2006
A brief introduction to the poet is followed by the text of his poem, “Fortune has its cookies to give out,” accompanied by David Frampton’s vibrant woodcut illustrations. The Artist’s Note at the back of the book gives more detailed background about both the author and the context of the poem.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008
This is a wonderful introduction to a man who found peace in writing poetry, even while he maintained a career as a family doctor for forty-plus years. It covers his childhood, the development of his personal style of writing, his friendships with Ezra Pound, H. D. and Charles DeMuth and his busy years of working as a doctor in Rutherford, New Jersey. Melissa Sweet’s collage-illustrations are rich with snippets of poetry, watercolor paintings and pieces of old books, and augment Jen Bryant’s text beautifully.

Words Of Promise: A Story About James Weldon Johnson (Creative Minds Biographies)Words of Promise: A Story about James Weldon Johnson (A Creative Minds Biography)

Monday, April 25, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Periwinkle
2. Cerise
3. Cerulean
4. Jade
5. Vermillion
6. Gold
7. Indigo
8. Lime
9. Thistle
10. Ruby

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Morning Workout

I freely admit our days are not perfectly-ordered, always-peaceful, never-complaining, hooked-on-learning days. I can’t tell you how many days there are that are ready-to-give-up, disgusted-at-the-sound-of my-own-voice, worn-out, convinced-I’m-a-fake days.

But there are moments scattered throughout when learning is work is joy, and they carry me a long, long way. The workout this beginning reader book gave Youngest left me a little speechless:

A lot can happen in eight pages.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Behind the Scenes

Some interesting things happen behind the scenes while I am teaching. It’s an interesting thing, being at home, and realizing that all sorts of stuff is happening in the rest of the house while I’m in the front room working with bow holds and shoulder pads and ringing tone. Not that their grandma doesn’t do a great job watching them—she keeps things under control. But recently it seems like a regular part of the evening on a teaching day involves some sort of interesting “reveal.”

Yesterday I discovered that Oldest created computer files for his sisters. For their writing. He already had his own, so now four of us have Very Important Things on this computer, and when it crashes, four of us will be inconsolable. Do I want everybody to have their own files on this computer for their writing? Not exactly. I would be very happy if they would just use the journals they have, or the notebooks I got them, or even if they would stuff loose papers full of writing in the already-overstuffed drawers they have for schoolwork.

But last night everybody was glowing about their writing. I guess I’ve modeled that well. It makes me wonder what the house would look like if I modeled regular floor-scrubbing. Youngest, in fact, did end up making her own loose-leaf notebook to go along with her computer file. She carried it around with great love and many flourishes, informing me that it contained her “most famous words.” And she volunteered to pray at dinner, thanking God not only for the food and the wonderful, wonderful day, but also “for changing my mind about my brother.”

Good bow technique requires a loose grip. This is one of the things I am working on with my violin students. Very often our instinct is to hold the bow tighter in order to maintain control, when really what we need to do is loosen up and allow the bow to do what it was made to do. That’s always been a challenge for me, personally—guiding my bow with a gentle, relaxed hand—but it is essential if you want to have any sort of advanced technique. And so, another lesson from my imaginary file, “Things I learned in violin that I need to apply better to parenting in particular and life in general.”

Still, I think I want my own computer.

Monday, April 18, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Dreaming over a bowl of strawberry ice cream
2. Hearing someone else’s story
3. Cool water when you’re thirsty
4. A roomful of people, silent for a story
5. Muffins baking
6. A heart-to-heart with an eight year-old
7. Getting lost in the music
8. Digging in the dirt
9. Whiffs of lilac
10. Friends who both sharpen and soften you

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Friday, April 15, 2011


The redbuds in our yard are about to bloom. Last year was the first year I was really aware of them, knew them as trees with a name. It was our first spring in a new house, and a happy surprise to discover that these small, slightly twisted silhouettes held so much latent grace. I love that about new places—discovering with each season all the treasures each one has to offer.

Last spring while the redbuds were blooming, my grandma was dying. It was precisely this weekend—the weekend of the Children’s Literature Festival at our local university, the weekend of our final symphony concert of the season, the weekend of some of my favorite things—that my sister called me early Sunday morning. “Grammy is giving up.” All weekend, knowing that she was in the hospital, I had considered this possibility. I lay in bed and cried for what was coming. Within a few hours we were driving to Lincoln. We had a reunion of sorts in the hospital; cousins, aunts, and uncles gathered around her bed while she acknowledged that yes, she knew it was possible to treat this, but she was ready to go.

We made more trips back and forth. All around us everything was coming to life. There were flowers in my grandma’s apartment and flowers outside her window. In the middle of everything we had time to say goodbye, time to sit with her, time to talk, time to sing, time to cry. Time was at once suspended and moving forward, and I can honestly say that there was beauty all around us and we saw it along with the hurt.

This is my favorite part of spring—when the buds have not fully opened and the greens are all new, when everything is about to burst but hasn’t yet. There was a spring a few years ago, in another city, when a cold snap hit just as everything was getting ready to open. We lived for what seemed like a week, maybe two, in a state of suspension, in the state of delicacy just before blooming. There have been springs I missed that moment entirely, but that year I got to revel in it. I took it as a personal gift, even though I knew it wasn’t about me at all.

This year I am watching spring and thinking of my grandma. Last year we lived in a state of suspension. This year everything seems to be moving on pace. I hope, though, that I am changed. I can live so myopically. It was so clear what was important, sitting with my grandma, her telling me that I was doing the important things--that I was surrounded by them, in fact. Hourly, though, I easily forget that I am in the middle of time, in the midst of loved ones. So I keep trying to stay awake to the reminders, keep trying to take hold of the moments when time is suspended, even as it marches on.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gourmet Breakfast

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll:
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

           --Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 11, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Sunlight through rain
2. Shrub lined with opening buds and glistening raindrops
3. Receiving a dandelion bouquet
4. Dirty feet
5. A gift of multi-colored eggs
6. Proud robin singing
7. Branches dancing
8. Wind through the house
9. Trees dusted green
10. Half a morning devoted to reading

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?