Reflections on Favorites from 2021

As a compulsive planner, I always approach a New Year with high hopes, empty notebooks for making lists, and oodles of ideas and plans to pursue. As I pulled out my trusty “Idea Notebook” to start brainstorming, I couldn’t help but peruse all of my well-intentioned plans from days gone by. Some accomplished; many still waiting for their moment of opportunity. I’m reminded often of the proverb: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” It’s exhilarating to make fresh plans and dream about the year ahead, but it’s reassuring to know that there is One wiser than me who is ultimately orchestrating each day of my life. In light of that, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the past year and share some favorites – both in relation to piano teaching and other aspects of my life (because most of us do actually have lives outside of our studios, right? !). In roughly chronological order…

Blitz Books have been the absolute perfect resource for one of my high school students who wants to play engaging music, but is still struggling with fluent reading skills. The 3-level approach that incorporates rote learning along with identifying patterns and systematically working toward more challenging renditions of the same piece is a genius approach!

My son Levi married a wonderful girl this year, and we were delighted to have a gorgeous day for their outdoor wedding in June. What a journey these past eight years have been! We’ve had our share of challenges as a family since God brought us all together, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

While Levi and Christina enjoyed their honeymoon, my husband and I jetted off to Costa Rica with our other son Daniel for a belated graduation trip (since an exciting trip in 2020 would have amounted to an outing to the grocery store without a mask…). The adrenaline-inducing waterfall and cliff-jumping tour was a highlight for all of us!

What could be more exciting than ten energetic souls squeezed into the studio for a week of Piano Expeditions piano camp?! Whether we were traveling to Russia on our inflatable globes, learning about the symphony with three inquisitive mice, tossing water balloons in the front yard, improvising at the piano, or practicing our important technique movements, these little people and I (and my high school assistant) were having a blast! This has quickly become a summer favorite for all of us.

As soon as the weather starts to warm up, I’m itching to be outside working in the yard, tilling up the soil, preparing the beds for planting. I’ve been a wanna-be gardener for a long time and I still fail more often than I succeed, but I continue to learn each year and am hopeful that one day I’ll have a glorious garden to show for all my efforts. Seedlings that I purchase from local nurseries historically do the best, but I’m starting to see better results from seeds. I grew a patch of sunflowers with seeds purchased from Botanical Interests and they grew tall and vibrant. Julian has made a hobby of snapping flower photos, so he captured a number of beauties this year in our garden! And if you get just the right angle you can manage to avoid including bug and disease infested blemishes in the shot…

The much-acclaimed new theology book Gentle and Low by Dane Ortlund was the reading of choice for a ladies book club that I meet with in the summer. More than any other book in recent years, this gave me a new appreciation for the merciful heart of God toward us. Even when we screw up and shame tempts us to hide from God, the truths in this book remind us that God is for us and welcomes us to come to Him. (If you’re interested, you can visit my Goodreads page for a complete list of books I’ve read along with ratings and reviews.)

The Balanced Life – I’ve mentioned this before and have to include it again because it is such a huge part of my overall commitment to wellness. The handy calendar in the app is pre-populated each day with a 15-30 minute workout video that I can easily do from the comfort of my house (sometimes from a mat on the floor in my studio!) to consistently incorporate strengthening and stretching into my day.

I hate to confess it, but even though I have a library full of interesting-sounding podcasts that I’ve subscribed to, I have been hard-pressed to find ones that I enjoy enough to listen to regularly. This is largely due to the fact that I am much more of a visual learner than an auditory one, so I’m much more inclined to grab a book than stick in a pair of air pods. However, there has been one exception to this! Perhaps because it is a seasonal podcast that releases an episode only once per week; or perhaps because one of the episodes featured my husband; or perhaps because the storytelling is so captivating and inspiring…whatever the reason, I love listening to the Compelled podcast and make sure I don’t miss an episode!

The ArrangeMe platform has motivated me to clean up a few of my piano arrangements that I could never make available before due to copyright restrictions. It’s also exciting to know that there’s a way to easily publish arrangements of pop or other copyrighted music in the future as I create piano solos or duets for my students.

This may be the most random mention of all, but a surprising star in the kitchen this year has been a vegetarian recipe that I learned about from a friend in our church small group. We are not vegetarians and I have no intention of becoming a vegetarian, but this dish is so hearty and tasty that you would never know there’s not a bit of meat in it. Even more, my husband and some of our most carnivorous friends have raved about this meal when I’ve made it, never suspecting that it was stuffed with lentils and tomatoes! Without further ado…you’ll want to add the Southwest Lentil and Brown Rice Casserole to your menu as soon as possible. One key to the deliciousness, though, I think, is to use this recipe for Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce. You can make jars of it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge to use when needed. It’s the best!

Reincubate Camo App – Since I’ve continued to teach mostly in-studio, I’ve been a bit behind the curve on adapting some of the newer technologies available for teaching online virtual piano lessons. However, with one out-of-town student I decided to start exploring some options for setting up a better system that would incorporate a second camera. Truth be told, I actually asked my techy husband to help me research some ideas and by the following day he had equipment ordered and a setup configured! I was thrilled that he discovered this Reincubate Camo app that enabled me to use my iPhone as a second camera, thus capitalizing on its quality video and audio. It’s been a fabulous accompaniment to the online piano lessons I teach using the Muzie.live platform!

The Precipice Trail at Acadia National Park is awesome! Winding up the face of the cliff overlooking the Maine Coast, the trail supplies iron hand rails and ladders to keep hikers from plunging to their death below. Sound dramatic? It is! But well worth it. We made this trek one afternoon toward the end of our New England Fall Foliage road trip and it was one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip! (If you’re interested, you can read more of our travel adventures at our travel blog Hammock in the Woods.)

A local church hosts a Winterfest Arts and Crafts Fair at the beginning of December and they open up the sanctuary (and their beautiful grand piano!) for musical performances throughout the day. Teachers can reserve a time slot and then fill it up with students and/or themselves playing music for the occasion. Some of the music wafts into the hallways, and the sanctuary doors remain open for shoppers to stop in and rest while relishing the musical strains. It’s one of my favorite opportunities for students because it’s a very low pressure performance setting and they can select and prepare a handful of pieces to share during their allotted time. Those who participate love it and always want to return each year!

Our daughter Heidi surprised her siblings by showing up for our family dinner the day after Christmas. Exclamations of “What the heck?!” and tears streaming down one face were satisfactory evidence that the surprise element was a success! It was fun to have everyone together for a few days while I was on break from teaching. They attempted to recreate a picture of the four of them from a few years ago. Turns out it’s a little harder to fit under the Christmas tree when you’re 20 than when you’re 6!

If you have any favorites from the year, I’d love to hear about them. Thanks to all of you for your continued support and encouragement with Music Matters Blog! I’m looking forward to a New Year of continued learning, growth, teaching, and sharing together as music educators who are devoted to inspiration creativity!


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