Category Archives: Travel

Thanksgivings of yore

I found myself thinking on feast day this week of Thanksgiving past.

My first real recollections of Thanksgiving are at Aunt Esther’s home in Columbia.  Uncle John would have been alive then, back in the 1970s.  The Carter crew would pile into the station wagon or the van and make the day-trip to Columbia.  This was always a pitch-in affair, although Aunt Esther did the most of the cooking. G-ma Blocher (my mom’s mom, and Aunt Esther’s sister) would be there, of course.  So would an interchangeable cast of Aunt Esther’s nieces and nephews (my mom’s generation) and their children (my generation).  I recall that the Musgraves were usually in attendance, and it seems that Paul Gutshall’s family was too.

I hated stuffing.  Just couldn’t stand it.  And then somewhere around 18, my taste buds found salvation.  I realized that I liked sage!  And thus began a love affairs with cornbread or bread stuffing that has lasted to this day.  None of oyster stuffing for me.  Give me sage and cornbread stuffing, with loads onion and celery, and I’m happy.

Stuffing also figures into one of my deep regrets with my own mother.  Her brother, my Uncle Edwin, and his wife Mary were up for Thanksgiving.  I was home from college.  And Mom was prepping Thanksgiving dinner.  I found out there was no stuffing on the menu, and I recall going on and on about that.  So did Uncle Edwin.  So Mary, to my mother’s pique, made cornbread and put together stuffing.  Mom said something along the lines of “my meal isn’t good enough for you.”  And I was instantly chagrined.

I don’t know that I ever made amends for that, as we never mentioned it again.

When my parents took off for Argentina, Thanksgiving was suddenly at G-ma’s home in Adrian.  Uncle John had died in 1984, and Aunt Esther was no longer doing Thanksgiving.  By 1990, though, I was having Thanksgiving with Jerry and Jeannie Young and their family in Independence, and later in Oak Grove.  They were second family to me for many years until I moved away after doctoral studies.  My sisters and I all fended for ourselves — Karen with her husband, Beth away in Brazil for two years, and then with G-ma.

My more recent tradition has been to host a friends Thanksgiving.  In Muncie, that was always with music faculty colleagues who weren’t traveling and would otherwise have been alone.  These pitch-in affairs lasted all day and into the evening, with loads of booze and way too much food.

Here in Saint Louis, that tradition has extended to inviting students from Webster to join me — kids in my voice studio or a class that I’m teaching.  They seem to appreciate a decent home-cooked meal at a real dining room table.  And sometimes a friend or three stops by as well for the meal.

Notable Thanksgivings away include one in Vienna earlier this decade, and of course 2008 when I was just back from Seattle, closed my new home the day before Thanksgiving, and then moved that same weekend.  (The day itself was with my colleague Glen Bauer and his late husband Tim, at their flat in the Central West End.)

Last year I was in NYC for Thanksgiving; the year before, with my family for the last holiday gathering with my father before he died.

Cheese grits are a fixture at Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is the holiday that moves me the most.  It’s this ‘autumn’ thing I have going on.  This year, Thanksgiving is colored by the death of my mentor and friend and former boss, and the huge void in this world that his death leaves.  But the day (as I write on Thursday) will be with people I love, and all will be well.

Photos from Thanksgivings past:

NASM 2019

I am in Chicago as Webster University’s voting representative to the annual meeting of National Association of Schools of Music.

The meeting is always the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, and we are often in warmer climates, but Chicago is the place this year.  I arrived early to take in some of my favorite places at the Art Institute of Chicago, and to catch a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert.

Around the conference sessions, I’ve also had hotel-room time to finish some projects and write plenty of emails.  I’m feeling a bit more caught-up at the office.

One of the joys of these conferences is seeing friends and colleagues from around the nation.  Hallway conversations turn into meals or drinks.  Quick hugs turn into lingering conversations.  And all is right with the world.

Another joy?  Food!

I dined on Chicago-style pizza, AKA ‘heart attack in a deep dish,’ on Sunday evening, at Lou Malnati’s around the corner on State Street. The buttery crust was heaven.

Afterward, walking back to the hotel, I was asked by four nice men hanging around street corner “Are you stuffed, ’cause I’m really hungry”.  I gladly handed over my box with the last two chunks of pizza, and in fact had left the pizza joint with that box, hoping to run into someone who looked like a meal would be a nice thing.  I demurred, though, at buying the same man a 40-oz. beer in the corner 7-11.


The Hilton Chicago has a huge gingerbread display in the elevator lobby on the main floor:


The conference’s plenary sessions always feel a bit like an old Soviet five-year meeting, with dutiful approvals of pre-ordained decisions.

But there’s some fun too, like asking the question “Which of these photos best represents music theory meetings at a conference like this?”.

This was a rolling photo display on a meeting room call board . . . .


Finally, an obligatory selfie from Sunday morning:

I think I had on the only pink shirt in a room of 800 people.

Chicago afternoon

I arrived yesterday, dropped my bags at the hotel, and immediately set out for the Art Institute of Chicago.

I made my way quickly to the stunning and magnificent collection of Impressionism, spending some decent time with Renoir and Monet, and of course Georges.

And I’ve never visited the small Islamic collection at the Art Institute, so I spent some time there.

And then the Chagall windows.  These amazing Chagall windows:

My leg was talking to me — well, screaming at me — so I walked back to the hotel and took a two-hour nap.

Amtrak 302

6.34 a.m. Friday, aboard Amtrak 302, Saint Louis to Chicago.

We are at the Saint Louis station, about to depart.

Walking into the intermodal transportation hub on 15th Street this morning, I was struck by the rare sight of an extended Amish family in very conservative attire: kapps and bonnets for the women, full black in multiple layers for everyone.  In all my years of traveling, I have never seen this conservative a group of Amish people.

A stock photo, but a good idea of the appearance.

One younger couple had a young daughter, whose shoes looked like something my grandmother would have worn in 1910 at the same age.

They were speaking what I’m guessing is Pennsylvania German.

All in all, fascinating!


En route now to Chicago.  A gray day outdoors.  I’ve already ordered eggs Benedict and gotten laughed at by the dining car attendant.  We are off to a good start.

Please keep checking back through the morning? I’ll be adding notes occasionally.


7.55 a.m.

The trees are bare, and a carpet of brown leaves covers the densely wooded landscape outside my window.  We are traveling through pastoral countryside.  Little streams meander.  An occasional house pops up, briefly, before the the hibernating trees appear again outside the window.


I keep seeing a 10-year challenge on Facebook.  I’ll play along.


I’m thinking of my step-mother today.  She has moved from her home in Lee’s Summit to a memory-care facility.  This weekend, the belongings of a lifetime are being sold at an estate sale. The house she shared with my father will soon be sold too.

While their house was never ‘home’ for me, this means that any sense of a family home is no longer, for me and my sisters.  My home is, of course, wherever I make it.  And home for more than a decade now has been my little abode in Saint Louis.  But my father’s belongings, and many of my mother’s, were in that house on 3rd Street Terrace in Lee’s Summit.  That tangible place is no longer.

I feel quite comfortable at my youngest sister’s house (my parents moved to that house in 1979), but it’s never been my home, since I was away at college when they moved.  Beth and Robert have been in that house for more than 20 years now.  It’s familiar and comfortable. But that’s not the same.

I’m OK with this.  It’s all part of aging and nearing 60 years old, soon enough.  But the loss of home is an odd and at times startling feeling nonetheless.


I had to take a selfie.  Couldn’t help myself.


I came up with a drinking game yesterday, or even a party game.

Put everyone in a circle. Give everyone a sheet of paper and a writing utensil.

Prompt: look to the person on your left, and write down five possible passwords they might use on the computer.

Could be fun!


Two hours after departing now. 8.40 a.m.

We are finally at Springfield, which would take less than 90 minutes by car.  But I couldn’t write about a password guessing game were I in a car….


10 a.m.  Normal, Illinois

I was a finalist for a job here 12 years ago right now.  I’m glad I took the Webster gig instead!


10.30 a.m.  Pontiac, Illinois

I’m fading.  The alarm sang* at 5.10 a.m. today.  I’ve been up for a while.  And I’ve been working for four hours on the train.  The email inbox is reduced. The weekly blast to students is finished and slated to publish.  I’ve been through numerous pieces of paper in my shoulder bag.

Time for a nap?

*my morning alarm music on weekdays is the Choir of Gloucester Cathedral singing Herbert Howell’s setting of the “Magnificat” that he wrote for that very cathedral. I wake up weekdays to “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  It’s not a bad way to wake up.


I didn’t get my nap.

Now 20 minutes outside of Union Station.

Last two weeks

I am missing three shows, but this is the loot from the last two weeks.

Missing: Lightning Thief, Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Big Apple Circus.

What a two weeks! Two operas at the Met. Circa from Australia as part of the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center. John Williams with the SLSO. My own voice student heading Brighton Beach Memoirs. And all these musicals, both in NYC and in STL . . . .

Fall Break NYC: heading home

I’m in the Centurion Lounge at Laguardia.  Peace and silence surrounds on a Sunday morning, which is apparently a very quiet time at LGA.  I shan’t complain.

Rain is coming down outdoors.  I can see the seagulls flapping about on the taxiways, and the expanse of Flushing Bay and the East River just beyond.  All is gray.  This is the right day to be leaving New York City.

But what an exceptional week this been.

I started my Fall Break with a meal with Jeff Allison, my beloved former student, now an Ensign in the US Navy, and in medical school.  That I evening I saw another now-former student, Jacob Flekier, in Brighton Beach Memoirs at New Jewish Theatre.  He and I shared a valedictory (benedictory?) dinner and some singing the next evening.  This brilliant and talented young man is poised to do some great things, and I am one proud teacher.

Monday was a full day at the office, then some fun singing with the increasingly crisp-sounding Variety Children’s Chorus. I had lunch with a college sophomore who is a delightful student, and a mentor to others.

Then NYC.  I packed in the activity this trip: two visits to the Metropolitan Opera, two Broadway shows, one Off-Broadway show, one developmental reading of a new show, two circus performances, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a visit to the Grolier Club, a visit to the Morgan Library.  Several fine meals.  Numerous subway rides, and a few bus rides.  So much walking.  Meals with dear friends, colleagues, former students who are now part of the fabric of my life.  And some time with my German friendship family student from Webster.

New shoes and luggage and some fun socks were the extent of my shopping.

The God-winks this trip were numerous.  Jessica Hentoff happened to be in town at the same time, thus the circus visits.  Malte Hansen happened to be in town, thus the German student time.  Spencer Jones and family were in town for the 29-hour-workshop of Corner of Bitter and Sweet, thus the breakfast with them and the industry reading.  Manon was in its final performances at the Met, and my cheering and braying was carried worldwide yesterday.  The weather has been perfect.  Autumn in Manhattan is a treat.

And as always, I’m ready to be home.