And They Danced

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I’ve been remiss in blogging this month. There have been many blog worthy topics, but before I can write about them, other activities claim my attention. Still, I don’t want to let November slip away with writing a few lines about the Ohio Star Ball Collegiate Challenge in Columbus, Ohio the weekend before Thanksgiving.

In early October we attended our first collegiate ballroom competition at the University of Illinois, and were impressed by the dancers, but we were wowed by the level of competition we witnessed in Columbus. Participants came to Columbus from all over the U.S.

Our neighbor’s daughter, Sydney and her partner Nick were two of the dancers representing Indiana University. We went to cheer them on, but in the process we’ve grown attached to some of the other IU dancers, too.

In the morning, the “newcomers” took the floor, and we were thrilled to see their increased confidence and skill. How many people, when thinking about club sports, conjure up images of ballroom dancers? I know I didn’t. But watching these young men and women I grew to appreciate their hours and hours of practice, travel to competitions, and the projects they undertake to raise money in support of their club. Watching them on the floor and off, I was impressed by their camaraderie, the pleasure they take in dancing, and their support of each other, no matter how many hours they must sit on bleachers waiting for their friends to dance.

I love these images of colorful gowns and movement as the dancers glide across the floor appearing as light as air. But I also enjoy the faster paced dances. In the dance pictured below, I felt like I had time traveled back to the 1920s.

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One of my favorite dances was not even part of the competition. While the judges deliberated, the announcer invited everyone to the floor for a straight-legged Samba. I kept my seat since I don’t know how to Samba, let alone doing it with straight legs.

Sydney’s dance partner (Nick, #388) danced with  another tall young man and took third place with their amazing moves.

By this time in the afternoon, some of the dancers had changed from their fancy costumes to sweats, jeans, and flannel shirts, but it didn’t stop them from taking the floor. And as the image of the little girl in the brown dress testifies, this dance had no age limit.

There’s something about listening to music and watching ballroom dancing that lifts the spirits. We left the convention center walking a little lighter, with melodies dancing in our heads. Thanks to all of these young people for sharing their love of dance with us!

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Posted in Dance and dancing, Indiana University, Uncategorized

Making History

Early voting began this week in Indiana, and today Deb and I took our friend Nancy, 90 years young, to cast her ballot. She’s elated to have lived long enough to see a woman running for President on a major political party ticket.There was a sense of excitement in the polling place as a steady stream of citizens stepped into voting booths.

Lately, I’ve been feeling discouraged by the ugliness of this presidential election cycle. I combat it by turning off the television and filling my life with good books, music, performances, and exercise. When I walk around town, attend musical performances, exercise, or simply stand outside talking with my neighbors, I am reminded that there is so much goodness in the world. We cannot allow partisan politics to cast a shadow this goodness. We are better than that.

My mother was born the year American women received the right to vote. I remember hearing her  mother, my grandmother, describe the sense of excitement and responsibility she experienced the first time she stepped into a voting booth. She took voting very seriously, and never missed an election from that day forward. I thought of her today as I carefully read through the names of candidates and marked my choices.

Eighty four years passed from the ratification of the Constitution until the first woman (Victoria Woodhull) ran for President on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872. At that time, women lacked the right to vote. It would take  until the ratification  of the 19th Amendment in 1920, before women could make their voices heard in the polling place.  Another sixty-four years passed before a woman (Geraldine Ferraro) was nominated to run for vice president on a major political party ticket. Now, thirty-two years later, a woman (Hillary Clinton) is running for President representing a major political party. Whether you are a Democrat,  Republican, or Independent, this is indeed a historic moment.

 

Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, friendship

Put on your Dance Shoes

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Often, when I mention to young people that I watch Dancing with the Stars, they reply” Oh, my grandparents like it, too.” Am I to assume elegant dancing is only of interest to older people? Wrong! After all, Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez is only 16, and a clear favorite in this DWTS season’s competition for the mirror ball trophy. And then there’s collegiate ballroom dancing.

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Last weekend we drove to the University of Illinois to watch our neighbor’s daughter compete in the Illini Dancesport Invitational. We arrived before 9 a.m., to get a front-row seat, and remained riveted there most of the day watching dozens of young people compete in the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Jive, Paso Doble, Samba, Viennese Waltz, and more. Teams from Michigan State, the University of Illinois, Indiana University, the University of Chicago, Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan, Valparaiso University and several private dance clubs filled the floor.  dsc05712

Newcomers (first-time competitors) took the floor early in the day, nervous and focusing on their feet and the count. Some of them had only been dancing for four weeks!  Their costumes were simple, black trousers and white shirts for the men, leotard tops and full skirts for the women. It was fun watching them relax into the recorded music as the day progressed.

Each round of competition began with a large number of couples taking the floor. At times, dancers collided with each other, and the dance floor resembled a bumper car ride at the county fair. As eliminations occurred, it became easier to appreciate each couple’s kicks, flicks, and rhythm. People in the audience called out what seemed like random numbers, but then I learned they were encouraging their favorite teams.

As in any sport, participants must have a special attire. The Newcomers dressed in plainer clothing, but as dancers advance through the ranks of Bronze, Silver, and Gold categories, their costumes acquire more bling. They wear special shoes, sequins in their hair, and their make-up and jewelry are perfect.dsc05707When there are not enough male dancers to go around, females compete as couples. One of the IU dancers competed with her male partner, then put a black vest over her ball gown and danced with a female partner. As someone with two left feet, I’m in awe of her ability to lead and follow.

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I’ve been playing waltzes on my French horn, learning  how to place the accent on the first beat of each measure. As I watched dancers glide around the room, rising and falling to the beat of a waltz, I had an epiphany–the dancers represented notes on my page of music, rising and falling in unison.

And  how did my neighbor’s daughter dance? Beautifully!  I know I’m biased, but she did leave the competition with 7 first place ribbons and several seconds. I’m inspired to put on my dancing shoes. How about you?

Posted in Dance and dancing, Indiana University

Brighten the Corner Where You Live

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Our local newspaper publishes a column of volunteer opportunities. In the past, I’ve volunteered for a variety of things, including picking up shot put balls for a track and field event (I found myself wishing the participants didn’t take so many practice shots!). Recently, I saw a notice inviting knitters and crocheters to participate in a fund raiser for Middle Way House (a shelter for women and children fleeing violence at home). I emailed the coordinator immediately.

As I soon learned, the project involved knitting blankets for trees around the town square. Some might call it “yarn bombing” or “guerilla knitting” but the idea of a tree blanket sounds more peaceful and loving, in keeping with Middle Way House’s philosophy. Local businesses and organizations sponsor a tree, and then volunteers design its blanket.

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My knitting partner, Kathy, and I volunteered for a tree co-sponsored by the Irish Lion and Crazy Horse restaurants. The tree in front of their restaurants is too small, so we were given a larger one in front of J. L. Waters, across from the court house. For her half, Kathy knitted beautiful Irish cables, while I made crazy-colored squares. We stretched our blanket around the tree, which was about 72 inches in circumference, and stitched it together. Our blanket is 7 feet long, topped by two “sleeves” wrapped around the branches. We hope they help hold it up, especially when the yarn gets wet during a storm.

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You can see the sleeves in this picture,as well as the Irish flag Kathy knitted. Many thanks to Deb for the use of her truck and ladder, and for stitching together the taller portion of our tree blanket. It does take a village!

On Friday, there will be a special yarn-cutting ceremony, and members of the public can vote for their favorite trees ($1 per vote, with the proceeds going to Middle Way House).

More tree blankets will appear in the next few days.  (In case you are wondering, we’ve been assured that the blankets do not harm the trees.)

I have to confess, I enjoyed this project much more than toting shot put balls at the track and field event. It was great fun working with the other knitters and crocheters, the project supports a worthy cause, and it’s fun to decorate a tree. I’m already planning my next project, but it’s a surprise…stay tuned.

Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, Knitting, Volunteer Activities | 1 Comment

Road trip: Indiana Dunes and Kalamazoo

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Our trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore had been in the works for months, so rain did not keep us from hitting the road last Friday. Despite many years of living in Indiana, I had never visited Michigan City or the Dunes, and I expected to see miles and miles of sand, trees, and water. But first…

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Driving through heavy rain on a busy interstate filled with semi-trucks is not much fun, so we left I-69 for U.S. 421. Despite the rain, it proved to be a much more enjoyable route past fields of ripe milo, cattle, and cornfields. My favorite sign, in front of a church: “The second coming will be here soon–hopefully before the election.” At a much-needed rest stop, Deb refueled with a hot dog and we enjoyed watching this ambitious little boy cleaning windshields.

After obtaining my National Parks pass at the visitor center, we proceeded to Indiana Dunes State Park and the lakeshore. It wasn’t raining at the moment, so after a bite of lunch, we  we walked along the shore, then climbed up the dunes on the steeper, waterfront side. It’s amazing to see how much vegetation can grow from sand.After reaching the top, I was thankful to find this picturesque path down to the parking lot and pavilion. Can you imagine what the pavilion must have been like in the 1920s?

Next, we drove past several houses from the 1933 World’s Fair Century of Progress exhibition. After the fair, someone purchased and relocated them to the Dunes. Think how futuristic they must have looked in the 1930s! Most of them have held up quite well, except for the octagon house, currently being restored. They’re privately occupied now.

I must confess my first impression of Michigan City was not positive because of the nuclear power plant spewing smoke into the sky. I can’t imagine living at its base, like some of the houses we passed. Continuing on, we drove south of town to our motel, then set out in search of the lighthouse.

By mid-afternoon, we had sunshine and blue skies  for our walk along the Michigan City beachfront.

A little bird kept us entertained as we walked beneath the catwalk (a local historic landmark dating to 1904) to the lighthouse. There was a nip in the air due to the breeze, and we could see the Dunes to the west.

I resisted the urge to take photos of all the delicious food we sampled on this trip. Instead, I preserved memories of the music–we took the flute and French horn along and found places to practice along the way, from parking lots to our friends’ home in Kalamazoo. We enjoyed the Celtic music jam with Trish and Yolande, and had a mountain and hammer dulcimer jam of our own. Fun!

To celebrate back-to-back birthdays, the four of us shared this delicious piece of orange chocolate flourless cake. Isn’t it funny how no one ever wants to take the last bite???

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After a great Monday morning bike ride, a visit to an orchard, a walking tour of downtown Kalamazoo, a movie, and best of all, good times with our friends, it was time to head home. Much to my delight, our back roads took us through northern Indiana’s Amish country (Shipshewana, Millersburg, etc). There’s something about rich farm ground, beautiful horses, and livestock that soothes my soul. What a perfect birthday outing!

Posted in Amish, Dulcimer music and groups, French horn, music, State Parks, Travel | 2 Comments

Searching for our roots

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Last week my brother and I traveled to Kansas for our Uncle’s memorial service. My mother, a native of Kansas, moved to Ohio at the end of World War II with my father, her soldier husband. The letters she wrote her parents every Sunday testify to her deep homesickness, a yearning for the rolling plains and the sense of connection she had to the land of her birth. She filled my childhood with stories about riding a twenty-two-year-old mare named Black Beauty over dirt roads to a one-room school filled with boys in bib overalls and only one other girl.

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Mom is on the left.

When we made this trip in 2007, we had our mother along as a guide. This time we had to rely on our memories as we searched for graves in cemeteries and the house our great-grandfather built in Riley. We can no longer go to the farm where she grew up because it’s now part of Fort Riley, home to Big Red One, but with help from relatives and friends, we located the road to my grandparents’ farm. It’s one and one-half miles in the distance on the left hand side of the first picture, probably on the other side of the tree line.

Rumor has it that foundation stones still stand to mark the location of the house and barn, possibly the silo, but we could not explore for ourselves because access is prohibited. Understandably, the army does not want civilians getting in the way of tank maneuvers and shooting.

Even though the land is long gone, memories persist of our great grandfather, Frank Harrison, who wanted to build his future in America.

Frank Harrison b 1859His parents in London did not want him to embark on this venture alone so they asked his brother Charles to leave his job and accompany him. Frank and Charles learned to till the soil by apprenticing themselves to a farmer, and then each took 80 acres of land in Madison Township, Riley County.

Frank’s future father-in-law had a pasture on the east side of his farm, and sent his  cattle there to graze during the summer. One of his sons stayed in a small house on the property, and his sister, Hattie, to keep house for him. That is how Frank Harrison met his future wife, Hattie Baxter, the woman my brother and I knew as Grandma II.

Great Grandpa died in 1923, leaving Grandma II to live four more decades on her own. Never one to remain idle, she spent her time as a midwife and caring for invalids. And she did handworkDSC05339. A prolific needleworker, Grandma crocheted doilies, quilted, made embroidered tablecloths and did much more.  I was delighted when cousin Bruce, now 91, brought a box of her handmade items to the luncheon held after our uncle’s memorial service. I’ve always joked that I inherited my love of needlework from her.

Even though I grew up in Ohio, our family’s Kansas roots are deep. You feel a connection to the land when driving across the rolling countryside, when you see cattle grazing in the Flint hills, and when you visit with friends and family. My mother, uncle, and their ancestors may be gone, but their stories endure as long as we are here to share them.

Posted in crafts, family, family history, Kansas, Travel | 4 Comments

(Re)learning the French horn–an update

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It’s been two months since I picked up the French horn after a 44-year hiatus. I wish I could report that dulcet tones now fill the house, but it’s taking time to retrain my mouth to have the proper embouchure. At least I can report some progress.

My first note, a middle C, came with relative ease. D, E, F, and G followed. But why did the horn crack when I tried to play an A, or burble when I continued up to C. My horn instructor, an earnest doctoral student from the Jacobs School of Music at I.U., suggested I might have a psychological block. I thought it was hard to play higher notes, therefore it was. He advised listening to horn concertos so I could hear how the horn should sound. I followed his advice, filling my head with beautiful music–on the CD player in the kitchen, on my ipod, and in the car. Then I picked up the horn to play.  My scales sounded too bright, too loud. If I played quieter, the notes bobbled in an out.

After five weeks of  instruction, my teacher left for a month. At our last lesson, we made a discovery–its easier for me to play low notes. In addition to telling me to work on my tone, he told me to practice pieces written in that range. Fortunately, my Essential Elements for Horn, Book 2 arrived in the mail soon after, and I found myself playing such tunes as Anchors Away and the Finale from New World Symphony.

Encouraged by my success, I sorted through piano music–a hymnal, Rogers and Hamerstein musicals, a simplified version of music from Mary Poppins.  What fun to play the melodies of familiar tunes!  After almost a month of this, I’m still struggling to place my mouth on the mouthpiece correctly, but I keep trying, and when I get it right, it’s music to my ears. My latest delight is being able to play a horn-piano duet with Deb, Romanze from Concerto No. 3, by Mozart. If a few measures in a row sound good, I am ecstatic!

When I left high school all those years ago, I never imagined playing the French horn again. Relearning an instrument at this stage of life is such a satisfying challenge. Practicing isn’t the burden I remember it to be when I was a teenager, and I’m not as sensitive about my deficiencies. I already know how to read music and keep timing. And experts tell us learning an instrument is good for the brain. Best of all, I don’t feel the pressure of my band director pointing his baton at me when I play a wrong note.

Music is such a positive force in one’s life, especially at times like this when I find myself turning off the television to avoid hearing hateful political rhetoric and tragic news of more shootings. I don’t know where to begin solving the problems in our world, but I  know we can make it a better place by starting with ourselves, as we play music, make art, write literature, cheer children at Little League games, greet neighbors on the street, and spend time with friends over a good meal.

As far as my horn is concerned, I’m not ready for a concert yet. But stay tuned!

 

Posted in Aging, French horn, music