Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Music and Love


If you have never played ukulele with 200 ukulele players, then you are really missing out! (At least in my opinion!) This past weekend, Carolyn and I attended Ukulele camp officially called Mighty Uke Day which, of course, lasted for more than a day! These ukulele camps or festivals turn into reunions for uke players as well as playing for hours and hours!

We are fortunate to live in an area where we can attend many uke festivals since Michigan is a great uke capital of the country. With our bags packed early on Friday, we hit the road on a sunny day to get to camp to register early. As we arrived in Lansing there were so many old friends and new friends to connect with for these short few days. Nametags, lunch, check in to our hotel and back for our first workshop.

Carolyn and I have been teachers forever, and so we know how to be good students…well pretty good students. We took our seats, tuned our ukes and waited for the lovely workshop to begin. However, it seemed as if everyone came out of hiding (finally!) as a hundred players came to that particular workshop. We kept moving our chairs closer and closer together. Finally, everyone was seated, and it sounded as if we were all in a huge band with all the tuning and the ukes in place. The first workshop was hard, by the way! We stumbled through it, taking notes, practicing and then at the end of the first workshop knew that we had already had a great brain workout!

By late afternoon, we could barely zip our uke bags back up as we scurried to dinner to get back in time for the night concert. It is completely amazing to me how fabulously talented are the folks in the uke world. As I told Adam, I will never, ever be that kind of player, but listening to the concert is overwhelming. How can one small ukulele make all of those sounds? Rock band. Classical. Country western. Jazz. Blues. All of those genres were expertly played on the ukulele to a huge crowd of happy listeners.

You would think the evening would be over at 10:30, but oh no. Following the concert, we all headed back to the hotel and filled the lobby with a uke jam until well past midnight. I think the Marriott will never be the same; although they did greet each guest with a small ukulele token attached to our keys! The jam was again so crowded as player after player came into the lobby. The songs were put up on a big screen and we just played our hearts out until one-by-one folks called it a night!

The next day was no exception as we were transported back into our musical world. Again, workshops, networking and a late-night jam session.

By Sunday morning we were packing the car to head home. With a notebook full of notes and a tired uke, we made our way back as the conversation was as colorful as the music we played all weekend. Carolyn is much more a musician than I am, yet I love playing and thinking I am a musician! (I guess we can think we can do anything, and why not?) Research shows that we need “structural and functional brain reorganization beyond the developmental maturation period as an intrinsic property of the human central nervous system.” (Professor Bogdan Draganski, consultant in neurology at the University Hospital in Switzerland.) In layman terms, learning and playing music helps with an aging brain, and let’s face it, everyone has an aging brain! Ukuleles are so reasonable to purchase. They are not expensive, unless you want them to be, and you can have a great time no matter how much you pay. You don’t know how to play? Oh well, you are in luck, our ukulele group, The Steuben Strummers meets the second Monday of every month at the Angola Carnegie Library. Don’t be shy! We welcome you into our group. As I always say bike riding on long trails and playing the uke are definitely Zen moments for me!

Arriving home, I unpacked until Aaron and Rachel stopped by with a dozen pastel roses and an invitation to dinner. Of course, I would never turn that down! I did hear from my other boys and the grandchildren as well, so the weekend ended with a flourish of love.

Music and love…anything better?

Monday, April 29, 2024

Farewell, Mom.


Mom and Dad with the six kids!! I am the one with the long hair!

I love a houseful of folks. I love looking down the hallway at night and seeing the doors closed with a small bit of light creeping out from under the doors. This has always been the case for me, but this weekend it is different. Yes, my rooms are all full, but the visiting folks are not wandering travelers. No, this time the house is full of beloved brothers and sisters coming from all parts of the country. These brothers and sisters have come from Denver and Houston with my own sons from Charleston and St. Pete. Cousins have appeared from Tennessee, and one flew in from Italy.

This is not just any weekend, but today we celebrate my mom. As I sit here writing, I hear rumblings of my family waking up to open windows with birdsong and small chatting. Since my house is old, floors creak and the doors rattle so I always know who is moving about in the upstairs. As I sit here writing, my niece Claire takes a quick trip to Tom’s for donuts because they must have donuts from the donut capital of the world. The big coffee pot is full, and cups are ready to grab.

Last night we celebrated with a picnic in my backyard. My kitchen was full of food as we all gathered in a circle to send up a prayer of thanksgiving for my mom and my dad and family. We then scattered to tables in the backyard as each one became reacquainted with family. We all live quite far away so these times are precious to us. The conversations simply didn’t stop, and the stories flowed like wine. As it grew dark, I wanted to bring out a lantern or light the campfire, but I did not. I was afraid the spell would be broken as we sat in a circle and told story after story. The stars lit up our night sky as we still sat laughing, talking, getting to know one another all over again.

The service for my mom is today in Fort Wayne. My piper friend, Mark, will be there to do the honors with the bagpipes to the ancient songs we all know so well. My mom lived a lovely life of 94 years. She had two great loves and spent the last ten years living in England with her second love. I always told her how fortunate she was to have two loves in her life. My mom was beautiful and sprightly and the mother of six. She was born on Halloween day in 1929. I was always a little jealous of her Halloween birthday! We always celebrated with dumping out our candy bags and letting her choose. My brother Jack remembers we were not allowed to go trick-or-treating until the cake was cut.

She taught us money management at a young age as she would place cash in envelopes. When the money was gone, then that was that. I still put money in envelopes and ear mark them for different categories even though we pay bills online now, I still find money in envelopes. My mom was organized and ran our house smoothly when we were kids.

She and my dad were high school sweethearts. They met on a hayride on her 16th birthday and were married when they were 18. My dad always said he fell in love with her when they were walking under the streetlamps in Fort Wayne. He said the snow was softly falling and he looked at her with snow all around and fell in love with her. Later on, when they lived in Texas, my mom was working in the garden. Her white hair glistened in the afternoon sun. My dad looked over at her and then at me, and he said, “Isn’t she beautiful?” And she was.

Death takes us all one by one. I think sometimes we forget about that as we go about our lives filling them up with all kinds of activities. I know I do. However, I am always conscious of the fact that we are mortal. Living our lives full of love is the best remedy and then, as Mary Oliver once said, “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”


Farewell, Mom

Monday, April 15, 2024

Thank you.


The Trine University Theatre Company on closing night of
The Matchmaker.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder!


It’s Monday morning, and I am sitting in the empty auditorium at the T. Furth Center for the Performing Arts. Or, should I say, my home away from home. So many thoughts occupy my mind right now and by the time you read this on Tuesday morning lots of events will have happened. Was the eclipse perfect? (I think it will be with this gorgeous weather!) Will Purdue win the championship tonight? Will another rehearsal for tech week be as scattered as last night? I hope not!

This eclipse has definitely taken over our lives. I love that we are so excited about this event, and for me, probably the last one I shall see. I have memories of watching the eclipse in school. Of course, school was not canceled nor was there all this hype! (Hello, social media!) We made our little boxes with the pinholes so we could watch during the school hours. The teachers were constantly saying, don’t look at the sun, don’t look at the sun. I still don’t know how those boxes worked, but indeed they did! A few years ago, I watched the eclipse at Pokagon with a group of folks. This year I am heading out to the new property of Aaron and Rachel. Yes, they bought a little farmette or something like that. They have been looking for land with a pond, and they found it. Last night was their first night in their new house. I sent a note wishing them a lovely, romantic evening! Rachel wrote back, laughingly, that it won’t be that romantic since both boys were there too. Jonah came home to spend the first night with the family. I love that they have found a dream, even though Cindy (Rachel’s mom) and I will miss them living just a few blocks away. They are now eleven minutes away.

Basketball has taken over this state as well. I think it all started with the Trine championship and we just keep moving forward. Now I am not a Purdue graduate, but I am a Hoosier through and through, so go Purdue. By the time you read this, we will have the answer to that also!

Now, back to the show. I always write a column in the quiet of the theatre. The lights are on, but no one is here by the stage except me. As I look around, I am a bit overwhelmed at the work still to do…more props brought in, more sets to work on, more costumes to complete. Yet, as I sit here, it is perfect, absolutely perfect.

Directing theatre at Trine has been a dream come true for me. I love the students. I love my job. This semester I have a new assistant director, Lydia Roop. Lydia is a senior at Trine and is definitely not new to the theatre, just to directing. She has not been able to participate in any of my shows, but before the semester started, she said she might audition. As I was looking for a new assistant, I approached her and within 24 hours, I had a new assistant by my side. She was a bit timid at first, but after a couple of weeks, she found her own voice and has been a tremendous help to me. I have a new stage manager this semester too so there has been a lot of changing of the guards!

What is the magic that is on this stage? As I sit here, I am thinking about the other three shows I have directed. All have been different, and all have showcased these marvelous Trine students. The stage echoes with their footsteps, their voices, their laughter. Sometimes in rehearsal, we all laugh so hard and long that I think we won’t get back to work, but we do. Theatre, like band or orchestra or any of the arts, brings young people together. I love watching the friendships take place within the theatre. The star of “The Matchmaker” is a young lady who transferred from Marquette University to Trine. When she arrived here, she didn’t know anyone and was not involved in anything. She decided it might be fun to audition for the show and to see what would happen! I will tell you what happened, she got the lead role. Wait til you see her!

Today the eclipse will be a memory, Purdue will have won or lost, and our show will go on this weekend. See you there!

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Trine University presents community workshop!


In 1938, while Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning show, “Our Town,” was playing on Broadway, another one of his shows opened. That show was the “Merchant of Yonkers” which only ran for 39 performances and then was canceled. This was a bit of a blow for Wilder as “Our Town” was quickly becoming America’s favorite show on Broadway. (To this day, it is the most performed play in high schools around the country.)

Both shows were written when Wilder was 41 and they were very different plays. “Our Town” focuses on the fragility of life while the “Merchant of Yonkers” was more of a romantic comedy. After the show closed, he set it aside and went on to other plays, other essays and his teaching abilities. Wilder was a 1920 graduate of Yale University with a skill of the written word.

It was almost twenty years later he re-wrote the “Merchant of Venice” giving a larger voice to the matchmaker, Dolly Levi. He added her monologue and worked on the other dialogues for the other cast members. It opened back up on December 5, 1955. Later it was turned into the musical we all grew up with, “Hello Dolly,” starring Carol Channing. “The Matchmaker” is a completely delightful romantic comedy taking place in the 1880’s. It is still being performed in schools today.

The Trine University Theatre will be sharing this performance with the public April 11, 12, and 13. We can’t wait! In the meantime, the wonderful cast including our Drama Department is hosting a workshop for middle-school and high school students on Wednesday of this week.

Several weeks ago, one of my very favorite senior actors, Sean Carpenter, came to me with an idea. He had been mulling it around a bit and briefly mentioned it to me, but now he was serious and very interested about hosting this workshop. I love listening to my students, and I love listening to my cast members. Their ideas on the show and other events are something I do take seriously. I gave him the green light to put together this workshop, and he has done an outstanding job. We met with our dean, Darrin Wilcox, who loved the idea and gave us the go ahead to make this happen. Ryan Long put together a great flyer and we sent out packets to the local schools and other folks. Unfortunately, spring break hit in the middle of our recruiting campaign, so I thought another plug would help our local theatre kids.

Trine is not a university based on the arts, and yet, we have the most outstanding students in our photography, music and theatre programs. These kids work in all those departments because they absolutely love it! The workshop we have put together showcases many facets of theatre that would be of great interest to our local kids. On Wednesday, April 3rd, from 4:00 to 8:00, we are welcoming these students to the Furth Center. They will have the chance to tour the facility, spend time on the stage with our actors in workshops on character development, blocking, costume design, tech (sound and lighting) and Q and A with the actors. Supper is on us! Then they will get a bare bones rehearsal following the supper. When I say bare bones, I mean we are still not using many props and no staging or furniture has been added. That all comes during our tech week starting on Sunday.

There is absolutely no charge for this event. We want your kids, grandkids, and students to come and share their own love or curiosity of theatre, especially at the University level. Students do need to register to attend, however! If you send me an email, I will send you the form, and they can bring it on Wednesday. Maybe there are young people who might be interested in theatre but have never had much exposure to this art form. If that is the case, this is also for them!

I really applaud my theatre group for putting this all together. It is a lot of work, especially the week before we open, but they are absolutely delighted to offer this workshop! I know I would have loved doing this when I was in high school. Send me your questions, your interest and I will send the information so that your young person can explore this opportunity. Maybe someday, we will do this for all the curious grown-ups.

Until Wednesday, the stage awaits you!

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Mom's Last Full Moon...


I came out of rehearsal last night, and the full Worm Moon of March actually took my breath away. It was so gorgeous rising above us in a sphere of peach colored light. I stood in the Furth parking lot for the longest time just watching and thinking. Of course, you know how much I love the full moon and spend hours gazing and writing about the moon. This one was different though. As I stood watching, my thoughts went to my parents. First to my dad who loved the moon even more than I do. When he visited us on the farm, he would sit out on our porch swing and watch the sun go down over Doc’s fields and the moon rise in our own woods. He always sang, “I see the moon, and the moon sees me.” That song I sing over and over to my grandchildren.  Secondly, my thoughts went to my mom. My mom lies dying in hospice, and this will be her last full moon with us.

I guess we all know the time will come to say good-bye to our parents. My dad left us fourteen years ago and now my mom is ready to make her own journey. I sit with my sister, Jessie, and watch the changes. Since I didn’t grow up here, most of you never met my parents. My dad, as you do know from this column, was a theatre guy. We played the piano together, shared our love of theatre, watched the moon, and memorized poetry. My mom was the complete opposite. She was a glamorous mother. She had more beauty in her than in her four daughters combined. We marveled at the way she dressed, and in her beauty. I was a bit different from my mom. I am more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. She was always hoping I would cut my hair or get married or get a normal job.

Most of you are familiar with her love stories. After my dad died, the six of us took turns taking her places, sharing our lives with her. I took her to Ocracoke with me. She had a great time visiting with Philip, helping out with his brother’s wedding. Kathy was along for the journey, and we all loved introducing her to the Ocracoke way of life. She loved it there She even participated in Hands Across the Sand with us. The rest of the brothers and sisters took her to different locations. My sister, Jessie, took her on a cruise for her Halloween birthday from Boston to Nova Scotia. It was there she met Dick, the new love of her life. Dick lost his wife several years earlier, and decided he needed to do something for himself, so he booked the same cruise. Of course, he fell in love with her at once. Who didn’t? After the cruise, he went to Houston to visit her and then she went to England to visit him. A year later they were married outside of London. I flew to her wedding to stand up with her. They were happy. They spent half of the year in England and then the winter months in North Palm Beach.

Two years ago, Dick became sick and one beautiful spring day, he died. My mom was just lost without him. Jessie drove down and picked her up even though she protested thinking she should be going back to England. It has been hard watching my mom mourn the loss of two lovely men who both loved her dearly. Now it is time to join them.

In hospice, my mom reaches for them…or so we think. The nurses think it is interesting that she reaches high even while sleeping. Does she see them? Or her parents? Or her lovely brother, my Uncle Dean? I guess we do not have answers for that. I do know this. My mom is strong and is a fighter. She has defied the laws of hospice until now. Jessie said to me, “She will not go quietly into the night.” My dad’s love of poetry still creeps into our lives as she quoted Dylan Thomas.

I watched the moon slide across the town last night. Over the courthouse, over the countryside, over sleeping babies, over those cozily watching basketball in their homes.

My mom’s last full moon.

“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Congratulations Trine!!


My first glimpse of our monument decked in Trine blue took my breath away. I was coming home from the Thursday night game with Aaron and Rachel and the boys and there it was all in blue. Of all the colors we put on the monument, I do think this is my very favorite!

I don’t usually write much about sports unless it is about our boys, Jonah and Graham, but this is different. Basketball fever took hold of this town last weekend in a way no one thought possible. Not Trine. Not the community. Not the coliseum in Fort Wayne. Not even the sports commentators. What happened this weekend, and the weeks preceding, gave rise to the Cinderella story.

The success of Trine’s NCAA Division III win this weekend, if it were written on a playbill, would have a list of thank you’s so long you would need to add pages to complete the list! Of course, the players and the coaches were beyond terrific. These players and coaches forfeited spring break and every other activity that came along to prepare for the games. In all of that, the players still had to complete their course work while spending every other free moment practicing, perfecting, performing so the trophy could come home.

The list of thank you notes goes to bus drivers, and ticket takers, and the school administration who had to work out every detail as it was always changing as the status of the wins continued. A very big thank you goes out to the community who came together to support Trine’s team and the school in general. Folks who never attend sporting events were in the stands clapping and cheering their hearts out. A record attendance was set as 4,546 folks attended the championship game. We supported the team with their send off around the circle on Wednesday and again when they returned on Saturday night with all the bells and whistles from our local police department. Thank you, Mayor Martin, for making sure this happened! As I stood on the curb filming the return, I couldn’t help but notice how many folks dotted the circle waiting in the cold wind for our team to return. We sure made a lot of noise as they made their way around the circle three times before heading back to campus so the team could celebrate with their classmates. I stayed and chatted with the Witmer’s. We chatted about Trine and this place we call home. We said farewell as folks sauntered back to warm cars to meander home. I stood a few moments longer to just let the moment of the win and the night and the blue monument make a lasting impression.

I have been thinking a lot about what binds a community, especially one like ours. I am talking about our county as well with all the surrounding small towns. How did we get here to this little corner of the world. Some of my Airbnb guests actually call us Mayberry. I love it when they do that. Other comments include, “How did we miss this town? We never knew it existed.” Once when Mayor Hickman was in office, I asked him what we could do to promote our town. He didn’t miss a beat when he told me to just be friendly to the newcomers and, of course, participate in the town.

He was right. There are so many ways to participate in a community, but in a small community it is even more important. We all need to step up to volunteer for boards or obligations or run for office. We all need to make sure we shop local, attend movies, watch sporting events, and support our local theatre. We do this already. The world is a big place, but keeping our small towns afloat in love and generosity will keep up going day by day.

To the boys and the coaches of Trine University, we take off our hats and raise our glasses to congratulate you. Thank you for working so hard to bring the trophy home. Thank you for sharing that with our community and thank you for acknowledging the community in your win. We played right along beside you every step of the way.

T. C. Steele, plein air painter of the early 1900’s, took his hat off to the beauty of the world every morning. Let’s do the same.

I take my hat off to the Trine basketball team.


Music and Love

  If you have never played ukulele with 200 ukulele players, then you are really missing out! (At least in my opinion!) This past weekend, C...