Sweet William and some John Hartford.

There’s folks building homes as sweet as can be
They’re leveling their yards and planting their trees
But my little hut, I’ll just let it be
Lord Jesus is building a mansion for me

Mansions for Me, Bill Monroe

Joe has been planting trees and fruit brambles (does thornless also mean bramble-less?) and I finally have my garden planted. It was hot and dry and now it is cool and rainy. Maybe a false start to summer, but I am happy to be reminded I don’t get to be in charge of any of it. My little hut, I’ll just let it be…

My garden dirt is so happy though! I’ve never in my life had more crumbly, beautiful dirt. Between the topsoil last year on our no-till, cardboard beds, and the lovely compost from our wildflower nursery neighbors, it is excellent. I made a bunch of mounds to start melon seeds on and I’ll transplant the seedlings to the fence if they come out strong.

I tried to switch up the hugelkultur beds—if it had tomatoes last year, I moved in carrots and lettuce instead. Cabbage is with the onions; broccoli is minding its own business. I had done some lasagna method layering back in the fall with newspaper and straw and then I fluffed it all up last month. It didn’t break down completely but all the seeds I’ve tossed on top seem to quickly root and sprout up.

Over in the topsoil/compost area the beans look happy (they always do in the beginning) and I’ve got more hot peppers than I know what to do with—I think I was suckered in by the writing on the back of the package, pairs wonderfully with couscous! Dang you, Baker Creek heirloom seed marketing team.
I even planted corn for Joe in the best part of the garden—love is sacrifice, no? We will see how it grows.

May garden! Notice the cardboard along the edges.

I am stuffing bits of cardboard along the edge of my fencing to smother the weeds that want to join the fun. If I can just keep ahead of the weeds!

Last year I sprinkled a wild flower mix between the corn and sunflowers because we were going to set up our beehive by the garden. (This was idealistic, Colorado thinking at its best. Who in their right Midwest mind sprinkles glorified weeds in their vegetable garden?! In the mountains, it made sense.) Well, we ended up with the bees by the back barn but now the second year perennial flowers are popping up. I’ve got Sweet William and Siberian wallflowers and daisies—only one variety is worth keeping.

Sweet William. Before they bloomed I had no idea what they were because they have a really neat green tuft like a paintbrush!

I am so tickled to be out of school for summer. I was working my tail off and getting discouraged with the politics and educational misnomers. It is a breath of fresh air to make food and wash dishes and weed the garden. I stay up late and watch NBA finals with Jubal and read books out loud on the porch (Henry and Beezus).
Luke is channeling his inner John Hartford. Jubal is giving guitar lessons. FC turns on the Korg and will play all day if I don’t holler at him to turn it off. Gretty has been picking out Boil That Cabbage Down on her tiny fiddle. And if they do all the music and their chores I let them play Minecraft and Star Wars on the PS4. Maybe. (Ha.)

Ah, May!

Fancy that—tulips and Maypole dances!

I’m following in my mother’s footsteps and picking up freebies of every sort from school as the year winds down and retiring teachers are clearing their rooms. I happened on some great versions of classics, one of the series being a graphic novel Sherlock Holmes.

So naturally GK—the six year old—has been reading mysteries on the sofa before bedtime. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Stone Soup at school in music class—I hand out percussion instruments and as ingredients are added to the soup in the story, I let students punctuate each vegetable with a beat on the drum, a scrape of the guiro, ding on the triangle, etc.—including sound effects. I had the kids purr, “oooh, fancy!” in a British accent each time I said the line, “Soup from a pot? Fancy that!”

Anyway, I laughed when at home one night while folding clothes, GK casually mentioned that “in Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock says, ‘Watson, I fancy we may employ ourselves better at home.’ What does ‘fancy’ mean?”
I feel like we have the most hilarious and entertaining crossover conversations in this house.

I’m seeing all my new tulip varieties pop up. The double late and ruffled parrot tulips are gorgeous and the slender yonina are elegant but I love the fringed orange tulips better. Even though the stems are almost too short for cutting, there is not a more stunning color. Look at me turning into a flower lady! I promised a friend I wouldn’t get old prematurely by falling for roses or irises (those being, in my mind, old lady flowers. It will happen, I am sure. Just not pre-40).

The kids at school can’t believe they’re even real, they keep coming up to the desk to touch and smell them.

I didn’t add columbine to the jars I gave to teachers because they are just too fragile. But I love having a prolific columbine plant just down the steps from the porch. It’s my little Colorado memento.

Monday I explained the tradition of May Day and the May pole and May Day baskets. I showed the students a clip of the dance from the opera La Fille Mal Gardee. I tied some tulle ribbon to the top of my old North Pole sign (worked perfect!), took a deep breath, and crossed my fingers it wouldn’t be a total disaster. For preschool and kindergarten, I just had kids skip in the same direction while I played music. For the middle grades we tried a bit of weaving but it was still almost too complicated for them to grasp. Only my sixth graders really got the hang of it (boys in and under to the left then over to the left while girls did the opposite moves to the right).

I was so proud! I daily feel like it is down to the wire planning sixth grade stuff and then I just have to go with my best idea and hope they don’t act like it’s completely dumb. Usually I preface sixth grade activities with, “I tried this with my younger kids and they didn’t really get it, so I was thinking we should try it…” At least it justifies me in case they hate it and think it super lame—hey, I can blame it on the little kids!

Six and a half days left in the whole school year! We’re going to play music Jeopardy! (This is Mrs. Stegner’s favorite ice cream flavor. What is cookies and cream?) and make a Venn diagram of theremin music versus synthesizer. (Beach boys will make an appearance!)

I cannot wait.

C.O.M.P. Music: Jaunty Biggelo!

We made it to the mushroom hunting party a little late—last week would have been perfect! The morels we found today were a bit aged and frost-burnt from our cooler weather. Joe says there’ll be another go-round and not to worry. They were still delicious. (I love how other-worldly they look, like little woodland aliens.)

Last week was my busiest—between some minor sickness, moderating after-school high school quiz bowl matches (turns out I’ve found my calling?!*) and concerts—we wrapped up on Saturday with a huge performance with Luke leading the way at a composition contest. You can watch here, beginning at around the nine minute mark. He won some money for himself and for his school—so fun!

We knew we’d have to accompany him for the performance because he’d added several elements. I didn’t know Saturday morning that I’d be the numero uno kazoo, ha! I think when he saw his reflection in the shiny Steinway he lost a little multi-tasking courage. Anyway, it went well and we all got to bow the bow of serious musicians.

Three of the kids entered the competition. We submitted their pieces back in the winter and crossed our fingers. GK had done a little acapella ditty and Jube did a four part guitar piece. Foy had toyed with entering a song but it kept getting hilariously more intense and literal (words like “burn it to the ground,” bahaha!) and he was half worried about the deadline, half totally cracked up at his attempts so I told him to table it for next year. Since then he’s been practicing piano non-stop. I’m sure he will give it a go again.

I wasn’t surprised Luke won because they’d really wanted a creative approach (“think about using non-traditional instrumentation, i.e. Orff, boomwhackers, etc.”) Luke just did what they asked. The hardest part was coming up with a title, which we did at the dinner table.

Saturday felt so lucky to just get to participate and see the other amazing composers. Some kids had submitted annotated pieces that were performed by college staff and students. Big band, jazz, horn ensembles, marimbas, cabaret-style with piano, some comedic pieces with props…it was wonderful. I recommend watching all three concerts on YouTube. (Except for the electronica weird stuff. 😉 Everything I really love—creative, brilliant, musical kiddos. The kids who were there were well-deserving. I’m just so grateful there things like this exist for young people.

Thanks to Foy’s mad guiro skills, Jubal on BWs and GK on second kazoo!

*The previous weekend I moderated our district quiz bowl meet and somehow did well enough to get invited back to moderate again at the next level of competition. All those years of reading aloud are paying off!

Kodaly and how taunting helps kids sightread.

Over the long weekend I took a couple kids to the library’s used book sale. This is the first I’ve attempted, and I went for two reasons: I could get as many books as I wanted with my teaching ID and the middle boys are getting ready for a knowledge bowl tournament. It was a long, cold, dreary weather weekend and we had nothing better to do than study up. (Postscript: the kids each snagged medals, gold and silver. A success!)

Whenever I get weary of public school ways, I am consoled by the fact we read incessantly. I hope it covers a multitude. Our street smarts are definitely tuned up at public school but our k-bowl chops are home nursing books. Lu has been obsessed with Robinson Crusoe lately so I’ve had my eye out for other old goodies. He is strong where Jubal is not. They are really two halves to the same coin. Jubal memorizes the necessary trivia words (Pequod—Queequeg—Melville) but Lu internalizes the story. If you ask Lu for a brief synopsis of any book he will drone on about details till you politely distract him with a bag of potato chips. If anyone doubts, just mention the gae bolga or how he feels about Swiss Family Robinson novel versus the movie.
(Foy’s expertise is more in the mental math department and general war trivia. This doesn’t make for as good of a story.)

Anyway, I came across a Kodaly book and nabbed it because, though my music teaching days are short, I still am only sprinkle-immersed in this Hungarian-born approach to learning music.
I have tooled around on the Holy Names university folk song list but I didn’t completely understand where it came from or why it applies to anything elementary.

But the idea overall came, as I learned, from the pre-kinder work in Hungary in the early to mid 1900s. If educators could give children a brain inventory of hundreds of familiar folk tunes, they would be able to more easily transition to reading and sight reading music. Solfège—the idea of assigning a tone to a note (movable or non movable) would be accessible to kids who already chanted sing-song on the playground or jumped and clapped to rhythms.

The example that stuck out to me from this book was this:
Johnny is a sis-sy!

Also note: I am bigger than you are!

Ha! Right up my Kod-“alley” (can’t and won’t apologize). The method behind this music teaching madness is so basic, but the foundation relies on the simplest of refrains.
I’m not sure if the next music teacher will continue on with this sight reading training, but it’s been fun to watch the kiddos at school go from begrudgingly singing anything to playing solfège copycat games and singing in rounds. My first graders are especially great at it and are pretty good at hand signals, too.

March flowers: daffodils and grape hyacinth. There isn’t a happier pair.

I pulled out my big tub of dahlia tubers to see how they overwintered in the basement. Half had rotted; the other half were dry and peachy. I’d covered them with dry oak leaves and newspaper. I was pleasantly surprised they did ok overall. I’ve stuck the good tubers in some soil to see if I can get them to sprout early.

Some choppy thoughts—I look forward to the day when my brain isn’t overbooked and can wander more freely. We have a short Easter spring break and then one month left till school is out!

Leprechaun Habitats and Learning.

Last week as I led the kindergartners onto the stage for the first time, I expected them to be a little awestruck by the lights, the risers, the microphones. It was just a little rehearsal to get comfortable with the auditorium (and to learn the valuable lesson of not getting too close to the front of the stage).
I didn’t expect for a handful of them to gasp and offer, “it’s just like Papageno!”

They really loved that Mozart unit. We really went into the weeds when we studied it, lots of little rabbit trails over to Ben Franklin and his glass armonica and all the contemporary issues of the day; lice, hygiene, clean water, etc. We touched on Requiem and child prodigies, but we sank our teeth into the opera. It was Grieg, and now we have moved on to Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf) and Sant Saens (did I spell it right? Carnival of Animals). Dipping our toes here and there.

This is what makes me saddest about public school, if I’m being honest. Even the squirrelly kids are curious and have the desire, when little, to learn and love learning—that tangible, soak it up stuff. But we wean them right off of it by offering the tantalizing tablets and laptops and brain-chemistry-altering “tailored” education by way of standardized, computerized testing and diagnostics.

And then a whole new problem is created where a kid has an attention span of 0.4 seconds and must be “positively reinforced” by gaming tokens or cat stacking and insipid “brain breaks.” My six year old came home and told me they watch ASMR videos on YouTube to relax before they’re dismissed to the buses or car rider line. Are you kidding me?
No wonder classroom management is a joke and kids are ruder than ever. They’re used to calling the shots and are completely surprised when an adult erects boundaries, corrects them, or expects them to do anything that requires stamina or effort.

I do think the year I’ve spent teaching has been valuable to the students. Co-workers are asking why I am leaving and it makes me sad. I love the teaching part. In fact, to think I’ve gone to the work of meeting and making relationships with this many kids, let alone getting them to sing comfortably, simply by starting a song off (in the beginning they looked at me as if I had a third eyeball)—this is something I don’t want to shrivel up and die. But I cannot continue to teach at the level I’d like when the standards for behavior (parents included here) and the curricular approach are so opposed to what is natural.

Teachers who want to teach from their own fountain cannot follow the rules of school these days. We have to paint with a wider brush. We of the “painting” variety need time to plan and create and come up with our own flavor of passionate teaching.
Another way of saying this is: kids hate testing and aren’t learning better (I reckon it’s actually worse) by one-to-one devices.
Now that I’ve seen it from the inside and have the advantage of not being absolutely dependent on the job—I feel obligated to cross the bridge between teacher to administration and parent.

With the help (very little, come to think of it) of some sixth graders I made a leprechaun habitat/puppet stage for the little grades.

But first—St. Patrick’s Day! Ha. The kindergartners and first graders sang three songs (a One Bottle Pop/Fish and Chips/Don’t Chuck Your Muck round, Lucky Leprechaun, and All I Really Need—a Raffi classic) last Wednesday for a mini-concert during the day. I had no idea how difficult risers were to put up and take down. I’m already regretting I said I’d do another concert in April. But if we pull it off it will be epic. It’s a rain-themed bunch of songs and I’m hoping some high schoolers can accompany us for the CCR song.

High winds sent the trampoline into the woods. I think it’ll be our last tramp. We are lucky it got hurt before it hurt one of us. Many unsafe wrestling matches over the last seven years. RIP!

We are waiting out a freezing spell on Honey Creek. Flowers are covered; peas and beets and poppy seeds are at the mercy of the Creator. I’m not worried because it’s doubtful they germinated before the cold set in. We did get some seeds in the plastic trays. GK potted some flowers and tomatoes and put them in a recycled croissant container for a little bedroom greenhouse. I’m trying to force some ranunculus inside in a pot along with some allium and tulips just for kicks. The ranunculus love it; the other two are reluctant.

I love those packages that urge me to get a head start and sprout them inside 6-8 weeks before last frost. Even though I’m not the most faithful of indoor sowing and watering . It’s still nice to see something pop up.

At This Rate.

The girl had an inspiration. “Would Mrs. Kumlien like the very first fish I ever caught?”
“You should keep it for yourself,” Kumlien said, admiring the big, gleaming bass.
“But my mother would know I have been fishing.”
“Of course, how stupid of me,” the Professor said. “Yes, it would make Margretta very happy. We’ll eat the flesh of your fine fish. But I will skin it so carefully that I can mount it for you, Inga.”
“You mean it will look alive? All glistening like this forever?”
“Forever,” Professor Kumlien promised. “Absolutely forever.”
He had spent the morning mounting two passenger pigeons for Robbie. Now he would spend the rest of the day mounting Inga’s black bass. At this rate he would never lay up for himself treasures upon earth, but many were the treasures he would lay up for himself in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

The Wolfling,
Sterling North

We’ve made it to March. March! I do not care to bemoan Mondays or any season in particular, but it sure feels good to have only two full months of school left on the horizon.

I know the feeling of at this rate and never laying up treasure here upon the earth. It’s not that I even want the treasure, but I do like a clean(er) house and a tidy garden, and I’ve been trading it in for choir practices and running furiously. Maybe “running furiously” is overkill, but my work days are unrelenting and I’m not getting home with much oomph left to cook supper and do house stuff. I love teaching; let me say it again, but I also love being a mom and that second job is finite, with an approaching deadline.
(Here I feel the pull to defend myself, because it has been pointed out to me that to even have the option to not teach is out of reach for some folk, as if I just happened upon the good luck to not need an income. Which—I’d like to point out, for a long time we scraped by on one income and I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it taught us a million good lessons we would’ve never otherwise learned. One car, no cellphones, chopping and stacking wood for our winter heat, dinners of hot rolls and baked potatoes and stringy meat we could afford. Love, sacrifice, hope, dependency, generosity, long-suffering, kindness…yes, I recommend. God does bless those folk with all the blessings in the heavenlies)

On teaching: sometimes I feel the pinch of what I could do with my time to be more effective but it is too costly to fix myself in that direction. I have to really lean in and examine if I’m doing it to impress or please people or if I’m doing it just to be a decent, not lazy person. Heaven knows I’m not getting paid anymore for working harder. I can follow the state standards and draw up a perfect pacing guide AND have monthly performances AND afternoon/weekend choirs AND visit the nursing homes…and I can bust my tail doing it all.
We could busy ourselves to the point of not enjoying anything, and I know we are at the cusp.

Still, I really want the kids at school to have an excellent experience in music class and walk away with more than just a memory of some teacher forcing them to sing when they didn’t want to sing. (I’m a realist—this is exactly what the kids remember about the last qualified music teacher they had.) I enjoy being creative and working with the medium of children, even if they are doggone fickle and sometimes have terrible attitudes and self-control.

I’m slowly tricking the fifth graders (all of them) into singing an actual 2-part choral piece and I had no inkling this might happen. I just shrugged and tossed them each a piece of “Rattlin’ Bog” and said something evasive about how kids should have the experience of examining a real piece of music…maybe we should try to read it and see if we could follow it through to the end?
I can’t believe I have them tricked into doing exactly what I want! We’ve come a long way since Dona Nobis Pacem.
Next thing you know I’ve scheduled a concert for April.

Fourth grade recorders are back out because I signed up for MusicPlay Online and discovered the magic of experienced recorder teachers. Step one, teach B A G and have them “practice” by holding long notes for ten to twenty counts on each, thus wearing out the students before they annoy you with random tooting throughout the class.
I’ve also been explained the difference between Baroque and German recorders and successfully avoided F and explained why to the kids (different style recorders finger it differently).
I don’t have to print out music—all of the resources are already there. Highly recommend MusicPlay! We’re already playing DCBAGE in waltzes and 4/4 time. Watch out 5th grade band, we are coming in hot.

Sixth graders are still a random box of surprises. They are pretty poor music readers, so I’ve come up with a few games to examine rhythms and copy them (without making it feel like kindergarten clap alongs). My best idea lately has been to split them into small group and hand out cards with a rhythm which they have to translate into spoken words. Four sixteenth notes followed by a quarter note, rest, and paired eighth notes would be “peanutbutter-toast—sh—grape-juice” and so on. Once the small group can clap and say their measure, I assign a point and give them a new card to work on. Jolly Ranchers for the winners!

Their progress is behind even the fourth graders because they start out with such a poor learning attitude. I have to slowly win them over to my side. It is (eye-roll) ridiculous but sixth graders are consumed with the is-this-cool/this-can’t-be-cool riddle. This from large children with mullets. I know.
I do try and support their tender little misunderstanding souls by giving them the pick of the litter fun stuff when I can swing it.


We are on the cusp of spring. I am watching the two littlest play on the trampoline. It is incredible to see a little girl in a faux pink fur coat, rolling and tackling her big brother. If I weren’t a touch grossed out by girls competing in the sport of wrestling, I would give her a fair shot. She is as spicy as they come and not even one bit afraid of getting hurt.

We are past the one hundredth day of school. There have been high school basketball games and pep band and elementary after school choir practice. The middle boys are practicing for an upcoming knowledge bowl competition. I got to moderate my first high school quad, which is as nerdy and fun as it sounds.

I have put in my resignation as music teacher. It makes me sad because I love it so much and I’m getting better every single day. But it’s added too much to my plate (understatement) and I am truly under qualified for the position. If I stayed, the administration would eventually (and rightfully) require me to pass a music test. They need to go ahead and find someone who is trained for the spot. Two years have gone by now without a qualified music teacher. If I stay they would continue to be happy and unaware…I guess I’m trying to be responsible and force things to come to a head for the benefit of our students.

I started some ranunculus in the basement in January. Last year was such a ranunculus flop because I just soaked the corms and plopped them in the ground, basically setting them up to rot. Who knew it took such a gentle touch?
One of the kids remarked that as delicate as the process is, and if they can’t regenerate naturally, ranunculus ought to have died out a long time ago. I think I agree.
My Successful Gardening book doesn’t even list ranunculus as a corm, but a tuber. So I’m pretty much in the dark here…

As were my little corm friends. I soaked them and stuck them in a shallow tray of soil and popped them in the basement. After two and a half weeks, about half of them had sprouted or grown tender little roots. A quarter of them were moldy. Another quarter were dried out.

I planted the sprouted corms and covered them with the heavy black landscape material. Then I re-soaked the dry ones and patted them back into the dirt tray. Since then, a few more have sprouted. I didn’t even bother putting the trays back in the basement, but left them in the front entryway in full sun. They have done fine—I think it’s more important they just get a head start in cold, but not frozen, simulated ground.

Can you tell I love the pioneer style of figuring out plants instead of using science? Ha.

Snow day and Second Semester Expectations.

I was just about to get the kids up for the day when I plugged in my phone and saw school was cancelled for snow.
Yesterday a kindergarten teacher dropped her kids off at my classroom and mentioned in passing that we ought to be singing Let it Snow.
“Why?” I asked. The weather was springy and beautiful.
“Because there’s a chance we could get some and I really need a day off,” she laughed.
I told her I’d pray about it.

And look! Turns out I needed a day off, too.

The Colorado kids have been working on a snow fort all day. Four inches of wet packing snow go a long way in raising their spirits. I hear whispers of wishes that they could go skiing. But sledding, building stuff, and après-snow-activities hot chocolate and reading makes for a great Thursday.

Those days of locating mittens, hats, boots, and putting a thousand layers on little screamers are blissfully in my past. Everyone can find their own warm stuff, and everyone can take it off. I remember having hot flashes (I was always pregnant or nursing a baby) while dealing with snotty-noses, kids pooping inside layers of snow bunting. Bending over a big belly, about to burn up from stress-induced heat of wailing children. They wanted out; they wanted back in; they were tired; they fell in too-deep snow. They got snow inside their boot; their socks were suddenly wet. One was halfway down the mountain, another was inside crying, looking for a mitten. One was hungry. No one was ever ready all at the same time to go out. And it was worse convincing Jubal he needed to come back inside. Every outdoor adventure ended in wailing and gnashing of teeth. Such was my experience with little boys in snow.

It was not fun and it was not funny. I was so glad to get off that dang mountain.

Maybe I should’ve held on longer and waited for these days when everyone can manage themselves a little. But I’m not sorry we are having a wonderful snow day in the Midwest today (with the perfect amount of energy-burning and resting—no pressure to spend thousands of dollars on season ski passes and gear).

I got most of my tulips and the narcissus in the ground this week. I put some ranunculus in a tray to sprout in my basement. Last year when I tried ranunculus, they rotted in the ground. I had never planted corms before and didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve had such great luck with bulbs and tubers since our climate is so season-driven, but when it comes to dried corms and roots, I am at the mercy of whatever Google research pops up.

It’s an experiment every season!

Second semester at school is, likewise, experimental. I came back with every intention to do bucket drumming with the oldest grades. After a couple days of this, I remember I’m an idiot to think drumming on anything is anything but a headache?!
I also had the brilliant idea of putting on a square dance with 2nd and 3rd graders for Valentine’s Day. It is on the schedule, so say prayers.

I want my days to be productive and at the same time feel like they are flying by, but the thing I’ve learned is the importance of allocating my energy in these efforts.

First of all, I only have an hour a day to plan all my activities (duly noted that I very well could spend hours after school worrying about all the ins and outs, and I choose not to because I have a very full life at home)—if I wanted to give each grade equal planning time, it would work out to be 7.5 minutes for each level. Our school schedule is such that sometimes I will have three days in a row of the very same class before I even see the other classes in the grade—this means I have to remember who has done what so I can repeat the same lessons with each class and no one lags behind or gets too far ahead.

I don’t think I set myself up to fail except for the fact that I had no framework or music education training at all whatsoever. I had to just jump in the cold, cold water and start swimming at some point. I have to, on occasion, teach myself various things, like how to finger notes on the recorder and the difference between Mozart and Beethoven, but these are small compared to time/energy management and dealing with hoards of expectant children.

It is entirely unfeasible (infeasible?) to pull out and put away instruments for each 30 or 40 minute period. I thought I was going to do a ton of ukulele work, but I can either tune ukes every morning or plan something reasonable and non-string-instrument-related for my 9 classes. (It takes a good 20 minutes for students to tune their own ukuleles, and they fall out of tune within several minutes of strumming.)

This is fine and I accept it; I just have learned I cannot let myself become stressed over my circumstances. Instead, I have to lower expectations and give myself space to do a reasonable amount of work instead of trying to entertain the masses like some circus clown.

An example: if 4th grade recorders sucks it out of you (and, boy, does it ever), then lay off the bucket drumming during the other periods, and vice-versa. Right now I’ve got my 4th graders doing a unit on bluegrass and more recent, local music history while I let the 5th and 6th graders do drumming.
Grades 2 and 3 square dance (lots of me yelling out instructions and explaining allemonde and do si do to very loud, bouncy, excited children) while the lower grades work on less energy-sucking activities, like memorizing songs and reading folk stories.

This is the only way I can manage as many classes as I have with the expectations that they will perform at some point during each semester.

Praying that every music teacher gets at least one good snow day this January!

Fever Pitch, post Christmas Sing-Along

Winter chased us right home from school on Wednesday and we settled right in to our long winter’s nap. The cold was bitter and the wind howled around our stone farmhouse. We snuggled on the couch and read books and watched movies and ate yummy food and baked tiny things (and scraped their tiny tops off upon removal) in the new Easy Bake oven. Just the right kind of Christmas.

I don’t know what I’d have done if I had to get up that last Thursday morning and face another half day of school.
Now, tell me what other job does a person hold that feels so doggone perilous? My Christmas spirit was at a fever pitch (upon research, “fever pitch” is sometimes defined as “a degree of abnormal excitement that usually develops rapidly among a number of people and sometimes leads to impulsive violence.” Um, accurate.)

Sewed these little characters for hours and I’m sure they’re probably under the sofa by now, gathering dust.

The irony is that I’m a person who can get on happily for days, weeks! Without any background noise. I love music, but I adore silence. I would be a great truck driver or artist. I enjoy reading legal documents and weird research papers. But here I am playing and singing Christmas music for eight hours straight, trying not to lose my marbles as I try to explain why students cannot play jumbie jams or blow constantly through their recorders every single time they come into my music room. Every time I get xylophones or bells out, my head rings for the next two hours. The car ride home from school MUST BE SILENT or I will flip my ever-loving lid.

The students delivered their Christmas Sing-Along Wednesday before the end of school (you can watch it here). Joe tells me that from his audience viewpoint, parents were pleased, so I am pleased. I realize there are professionals who do bigger and better and more all the time, but then I remember they are professionals. I am happy to remind myself that I am not. I’m also happy to remind the school I am not a professional, for which they pish and posh me.
Later, when I was talking with Joe about it and he was husbandly-proud of me, I started feeling angry. Not angry for giving me a compliment, but because my goal wasn’t to fake being an amazing music teacher—it was to expose the lack of music education the school was offering and inspire the administration to not settle for less-than-qualified staff.

I tried to explain to him how students deserve way more than my silly scarf-dances-choreographed-to-Raffi material. This is because I was looking into elementary district choir and realizing how advanced the two-part, foreign language sheet music is in comparison to my silly listen-to-the-Muppets-recording-and-try-to-replicate.
It’s ridiculous how advanced some of my students could be by now but since we are a country school where the administration doesn’t put a high value on music education, many will never get to experience that level of accomplishment. Of course, who are you going to hire to do this job for $32k?
Somebody’s mom, that’s who. Let’s call it provisional and let the constituents know in a calm, off-the-cuff email that we have a handful of “not highly qualified” staff at our school. Never have I been more insulted and flattered at the same time. I’m in high demand.

This is definitely why the job is good for me and the two weeks off for holiday break is bad…I start to think and my thinking gets me fired up.

I wish I could teach a choir, but it’s kind of like wishing I could paint a mural on the barn or weld my own yard ornaments. I’d need the tools, training, and practice. And maybe some talent in that particular area. And also some rhythm, music-wise (I am getting a little better in this area but not great).

That is a long-winded whine, but it helps me to write it out and hopefully keep positive. There is a lot I can do, it just is more in the drama department (if I have the courage to figure out the auditorium and lights, camera, action). I have my sights set on May and I can’t wait to try and get a couple Spring plays together. I need to focus less on the academics and more on the creative side…I guess I just need to be who I am and not be who I’m not.
Plus the kids love it when I bring in dried arrangements of milkweed and explain how the pods burst open and seeds fly away. They love it when we make masks or projects or do Christmas carol mad-libs or figure out a hand clap rhythm to Peer Gynt. They love playing my lame Charades on the auditorium stage. They love me, and we have good discussions about non-music things that are, hopefully, working on their character. Music teaching is just the genre of learning.

Oh, Honey Creek! I have loved being home, walking the woods, breathing the air, pretending cattails are magic wands—when it wasn’t bitter cold. The Midwest is richer, weather-wise, than where we lived out west. There is a seriousness to it. You must heed its warnings or heatstroke or frostbite will claim souls. In Colorado we laughed as we dug the cars out of four feet of snow. We stripped down to t-shirts and mud boots and sweated in the snowy sunshine.
I miss it, but I am much at home here.

Raffi: a pacing guide for elementary Christmas spirit

It has been an odd week of traveling and sickness coupled with all the usual Christmas duties.
I still am not quite sure how people have more than one job… I started and finished Hannah Coulter this week for my bedtime reading, and it seems, in Wendell Berry’s world of fiction, that an entire life can be lived quite fruitfully on several acres and nothing more doing than maintaining the farm and a couple kids. Berry doesn’t even ever once mention trips to Branson or sinus infections and earaches.

I already agreed with this sort of lifestyle—the stay on the farm one—so I must be living more than one life’s worth right now. The Christmas spirit isn’t exactly wearing on me but I am feeling some Christmas spirit fatigue. It’s a good thing I love Raffi—that’s all I can say. Burl Ives, though pleasant, has a certain je ne sais quoi that feels irritating after a few go-rounds of Holly Jolly Christmas. Come to think of it, 99% of Christmas albums begin to grate after so long. I can only imagine working at a department store from October 31st until Christmas. But I guess no one is forcing you to sing along while you stock the shelves.

In elementary music room purgatory we force participants to sing and march and play to holiday tunes non-stop, mostly because I am unprepared and possibly unqualified to hand out worksheets. I have an ever-present fear of not being fun and engaging, I suppose. I never liked the music theory book that accompanied my childhood piano lessons. I dreaded the homework part, never quite memorizing the lines and spaces and key signatures. I’m afraid of worksheets that are just busy-work and I don’t think there’s enough time in the world to grade them. I wish I had more discipline. Maybe this is why I can’t convince myself I’m the permanent person for the job.

Raffi—dear Raffi! The timeless song-singer and beloved Egyptian Canadian from my childhood. We’ve brought egg shakers and rhythm sticks and square dancing to the party. If he only knew the revival we’ve brought to his 1982 Christmas album forty years hence. I’ve found a thousand ways to incorporate all the songs into my every day doings, so much so that I’m contemplating making videos to document if it isn’t copyright infringement. It’ll be one of those to-dos on my get-to-eventually list.

Another thing that breaks up the Christmas music—ahem, monotony—are some fun activities I’ve found by perusing a YouTube channel made by one Mr. Delgaudio. He has taken some old poems and songs and worked them into arrangements and games with some Orff instrumentation. Favorites right now Hej, Tomtegubbar and Mincemeat Pie. It feels right to hang onto the shirttails of a real music teacher when I am fresh out of ideas.

The kids performed on stage last weekend. It wasn’t the best time because one was on medicine, one needed to be, and another was just beginning to come down with something. We didn’t even practice Jingle Bells until right before the show, so our singers were unprepared and in the wrong key, but FC and GK thought it was amazing fun to be on stage with the brothers. And Jubal got to play his Bela Fleck-Jerry Douglas tune on dobro, which was beautiful.
Each time we do something new, we gain experience. We meet the neatest people, luthiers, musicians, other families. Plus, there were some amazing youth groups on stage which blew us all away and makes the kids want to up their ante each year.