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Big changes in 2014

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Early last month, the last of my grandparents passed away. I have been extremely fortunate to know all of my grandparents well into my adulthood. I feel so lucky to have known them as people, and I feel their presence in my life in interesting ways as I get older. Grandpa Mackey, the last to pass away, was an incredibly kind and patient man. He could talk to anyone, and could make anyone feel comfortable. He and my grandmother would get to know the life stories of the waitresses in their favorite restaurants, and were very active in their church. Grandpa served in WWII, and later worked in sales at GE. 

In recent years, as it got harder and harder to have a true phone conversation with Grandpa, our conversations became rather one sided. However, he would always end our talks by saying that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my life. This would usually make me cry. I knew he was having a harder and harder time enjoying his own life- his wife and friends had passed away, he wasn’t able to taste food well, wasn’t able to drive, and he wasn’t able to enjoy so many other tasks that had been important to him. It also made me think about my own life, and was I truly enjoying it to the fullest? What would Grandpa be doing if he were in my shoes?
For eleven years I had been teaching music at Southern Illinois University. In some ways, it was a dream job. Tenure, decent pay, a cushy schedule, opportunities to travel and play. But it was also in a small town, far from city life (which I had always enjoyed) and a plane ride away from any member of my family. I enjoyed the work, but found the hours after work harder and harder to fill with things that were important to me.
This summer marked not only my 40th birthday, but also could have been spent preparing a dossier to apply for Full Professor. When I looked around at where I was living, and thought about yet another year lecturing about Organum and Basso Continuo, I decided it was time to go. While quitting a job in other fields is not so unusual, people don’t quit tenured professor jobs very often. This is because they are incredibly hard to get, and getting harder. But I really didn’t want it anymore, especially not living where I was living. I found myself thinking often about my maternal grandmother, who left her job teaching in a one room schoolhouse in rural Minnesota to join the army during WWII. In that context, quitting didn’t seem crazy at all.
Luna sees the Pacific

Luna sees the Pacific

So in June, I left. I packed up my house and my dog, and headed west to the Los Angeles area. My brother and his family live here, and his sons (my nephews) are 5 and 2. Getting to see them many times a week is such a blessing. They are hysterical, and have fallen in love with my dog Luna. I also have witnessed the 2 year old progress from calling me “Choo choo train” to “Aunt Melissa” (it often becomes A-Lissa, but who cares?) I also live on the side of the San Gabriel mountains, which is a lovely change from flat Illinois. My walks with Luna are much more challenging, and the view is incredible on my commute down the mountain.
my hillside backyard

my hillside backyard

I did not have a job lined up when I got here, and that was stressful. But after a few months, I have found work that I find interesting and enjoyable. I teach music lessons at a local music school for 6-12 year olds, which is a big change from college lessons. I teach SAT prep and coach college application essay writing at a school for mostly Korean students. (FYI- 18-year-olds do NOT enjoy describing “the world they come from.”) But my most substantial job is at the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM), where I work as an “Educational Assistant.” (That was a tricky interview to dress for.) This means I spend time in the tutoring center helping students write and edit papers, help with math homework, and occasionally pretend to know something about accounting, business, or textiles. Their students are from all over the world, and it is not unusual for me to be talking to someone from China one hour, and Ethopia the next. The people in my department are smart and funny, and I am really enjoying my days there. They have hired me as adjunct faculty for next quarter, I’ll be teaching English Composition. (For those of you who attended MSM with me as an undergrad, please stop laughing!) It is also cool to work in DTLA (downtown Los Angeles), which is undergoing a real Renaissance, and is almost unrecognizable from when I was here last in 2003. FIDM, as you might imagine, is a beautifully designed campus. The computer lab includes a “pool” where you can sit with your laptop in a lounge chair, or get in the blue vinyl padded pool for a nap. There are glass cases in the hallways displaying beautiful garments and jewelry. It’s a wonderful working environment, and everyone has been so welcoming to me.
Logan loves selfies

Logan loves selfies

So while it’s only been six months, I feel pretty confident in saying that it was a good decision to move west. Luna and I enjoy our mosquito-free mornings on the patio, even in December, and monthly trips to the ocean. I have really been enjoying working with such a wide array of students on a wide array of topics. I’ve been so touched that some friends from St. Louis found a way to include me via Facetime in one of my favorite activities, our regular Cards Against Humanity game. I found a new pottery studio, with another great teacher named Tom! And spending time with my nephews (and being able to help out their parents) has made me so incredibly happy.
Building LEGOS with Lex

Building LEGOS with Lex

So while I will miss my grandfather and the rest of my grandparents deeply, their presence has been felt strongly in my life this year. I am entering 2015 with a real sense of optimism and adventure. I look forward to whatever challenges and opportunities the future brings. I hope that you and your loved ones are feeling the same, and that 2015 is full of love, surprises, and opportunities for you too. To quote Grandpa Mackey, “I hope that you are enjoying your life.”


Program Notes to Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Beethoven’s Septet is an interesting piece that offers a new twist on the Classical tradition of Serenades and Divertimenti. While those two forms tended to be fun, light, party background music composed by Haydn, Mozart and others, the Septet tends towards a more symphonic style, with a bit more weight and craftsmanship. And while Serenades tend to be for ensembles of 4-6 strings, or wind octets, Beethoven’s Septet is scored for one each of seven different instruments: violin, viola, cello, bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. So, in what becomes a hallmark of Beethoven’s music, he is keeping just enough of the traditions of the day to make the audience comfortable and stirring them up a bit to make them more his own.


According to a footnote in Maynard Solomon’s great biography Beethoven, the first performance of the Septet happened in Jahn’s Restaurant in December of 1799. This seems like an extremely appropriate venue for such enjoyable music. The official premiere is considered by most to be at the marathon concert in April of 1800 (where he also premiered his First Symphony and many other works) in the more formal Vienna Burgtheater. It was a huge success from its first performance, proving to be one of the most popular things that Beethoven ever composed. His friend Schuppanzigh, a well-known violinist in Vienna, loved to play it and kept programming it on concerts for the next 25 years or so. Beethoven hated that the Septet was so popular, as he saw it as rather old-fashioned. There is a story that an audience member once complimented him on it, and he replied, “Mozart wrote the Septet!” (Beethoven didn’t always have the best manners.) Some say that the Septet was Haydn’s favorite Beethoven composition. In yet another example of its popularity, when Beethoven’s manuscripts were being auctioned off after his death, the Septet fetched a much higher price than his Missa Solemnis.


The format of the Septet is what links it to the Serenades and Divertimenti. It is in six movements:


Adagio-Allegro con Brio

Adagio cantabile


Theme and Variations


Andante con moto alla Marcia-Presto


While the layout looks very similar to Divertimenti by Mozart or Haydn, the music has some beautifully crafted development sections, a fun Scherzo that highlights the horn, and a charming theme and variations. Since Beethoven waited until rather late in his life to start composing symphonies (Mozart began at 8, Beethoven at 29) many see the Septet as a warm-up to prepare him for the larger symphonic works that he is so famous for today. All that being said, it is easy to imagine a crowd at Jahn’s enjoying their beer and schnitzel while listening to this lovely work by a great master.

St. Louis Restaurants

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Here’s a list of restaurants I’ve been enjoying in St. Louis this summer:


Pi is always awesome, thick crust, not too heavy, good ingredients, several locations. The CWE location even has good breakfast pizza (think quiche in their cornmeal crust- yum!)

The Good Pie on Olive is VERY good, stone oven pizza. They have buffalo mozzarella too.

And finally PW Pizza is also excellent, and that’s a big compliment from a former east coaster like myself.

Not Pizza

MILAGRO, MILAGRO, MILAGRO- best Mexican food, hands down. No arguments allowed. They also have wonderful Sunday brunch- maybe the best breakfast potatoes in St. Louis. (which is sad to say for all the breakfast restaurants)

Sushi- Miso on Meramec for more upscale, Cafe Mochi for more everyday good stuff. Try the pink cocktail.

Benton Park Cafe has excellent Ultimate Eggs Benedict and good breakfast potatoes. I can’t quite get myself past that part of the menu, although I’m guessing there are other good things on it.

BBQ- this is a category with lots of good options in this town. I am partial to Bogart’s- mostly because I can walk there. I am also looking forward to the opening of Capitalist Pig. Recently had a lovely first meal at The Shaved Duck- smoky meatloaf and BBQ cheese fries!

Spanish Tapas- Modesto is very good. You must order the Cauliflower- even if you don’t normally like that vegetable.

Italian- Stellina makes me so happy! Their menu changes with the season and what’s fresh, so it’s always a new experience. Their pastas are really exceptional. Last time I had Agnolotti with carrot and marscapone filling, topped with pea shoots and a light herb butter. It was like spring on a plate!

Dressel’s- Lamb burger is SOOO yummy. The sweet chutney and goat cheese with the rich lamb is really first class. They have other good things on their menu too, but I rarely can get myself to order them.

The Cupcakery- has amazing chocolate cake.

Any others to add? I’m sure I’m leaving some good places out, but a girl can only eat so much.


Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

(On August 7, the people of Missouri voted 83% in favor of an amendment that included language saying that students did not have to participate in school assignments that conflicted with their religious beliefs. This post is in response.)

Last night, God came to me in a dream! He wanted me to start my own religion. There clearly aren’t enough of them, and He thinks that the children of Missouri especially need Him now. Here’s what He told me about Imbecilism:

Video games and movies are clearly more important than gaining knowledge. If He wanted you to be smart, He’d have made you that way.

Physical fitness, team sports, exercise, eating healthy foods, and other behaviors that are aimed toward living a longer and healthier life are bad for you. He has decided how long you’ll live, how you look, what the quality of your life will be. You should only run when chased by a predator. Trying to be thin, fast, strong, healthy or attractive to others is a futile pursuit, and you shall not engage in it. If He didn’t want you to eat Doritos, He wouldn’t have made them so tasty.

Math, especially any higher form of math that might help you figure out a tip, do your taxes, keep your business afloat, or balance your checkbook; is bad. You shall not spend time trying to learn how to manipulate numbers, as it might make you more capable than your fellow man, or God himself, and that is bad.

Logic, reason, analysis, and critical thinking are the tools of the devil. They are largely used by highly paid professionals like doctors, lawyers and professors. God wants you to take everything you hear at face value and not question. It makes His job much easier.

And lastly, be good to your fellow man! You should give all your money to politicians and religious figures who tell you things you like to hear. Remember, God loves you exactly how you are, don’t go changing or improving yourself.

So if YOU would like to join me in worshipping God in this important new way, please join! For a mere $50 I will send you a certificate of membership in Imbecilism and a copy of its manifesto. (Especially useful in classrooms in Missouri.)

Dogs at play

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Here are some home videos I’ve taken of dogs at play: (Click the title to play video)

Tiger and Luna

Loki and Luna

Pottery Pics

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

A few of my favorite pieces…

Life lessons learned (and re-learned) from art and ceramics classes or Sabbatical Report Part 2

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

It’s important to know how and when to Let Go.

When centering a ball of clay on the wheel, sudden movements can throw things off pretty badly.

A little Perspective goes a long way.

In visual art, good perspective is the difference between a flat, unrealistic scene or an image of depth and nuance.

The $20 brush really is Better than the $5 brush.

I’m not exactly sure what the real life parallel is to this, but I find it reassuring!

A task with a clear Endpoint is truly satisfying.

I’ll be working on the f***ing Mozart Bassoon Concerto for the rest of my life, but when I’m done with a bowl, it’s done! And then I can eat ice cream out of it.

Starting from a well-Centered position makes everything go smoother.

(Although something that is ever-so-slightly off center is usually more interesting. (Golden Mean)) Being mentally and physically centered helps enormously.

Modify your Expectations to conform to the results.

While it’s a good idea to have a goal in mind when you start, you may get dragged in another direction. That can be a very good thing.

Hedge your bets, make a second lid or handle.

It’s highly likely that something will break or not fit, just make another. It’s no big deal.

Sometimes the only way to know it just to Try it.

Just because it looks good in a sample doesn’t mean it will work in your piece. Just hold your nose, jump in, and try it.

Contrast is interesting.

Colors, textures, shapes, and forms are all worth juxtaposing and contrasting. It’s just more interesting!

Having some Rules or guidelines is easier than unlimited possibilities.

Just ask Schoenberg.

Don’t get too Attached.

Things break, water spills, wind blows. Get over it.

Quit while you’re ahead.

If it looks good, stop.

Antique Mall restraint

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Things I wanted to buy, but DID NOT, at the antique mall today:

Suitcase full of slides and movie film from the late 1950’s. $35

Crate full of paper piano rolls. $10

Gorgeous wood cabinet housing Victrola record player, with records, and immaculate condition label of the dog listening to the records. $175

Old radio in wooden cabinet. Tag claimed was still working on AM. Funky dial and buttons. $170

I should stop going there.