Category Archives: Travel

Heart attack

It’s a click-bait header, I know . . . .

But I had a heart attack on a plate yesterday morning.

When in England, I love fried bread at breakfast. Look it up. It’s on the breakfast buffet at any swank hotel.

Here in the States, I make fried bread about once a year. It’s so easy and so fast and so yummy and so heart-killing. (Don’t ask me what the frying agent was.)

I’m watching loads of BBC stuff on the streaming services late in the evening, and Monday evening I found myself craving fried bread.

With homemade bread in the fridge, and bacon and eggs always at hand, I indulged.

So there it is. And there it was. And call my cardiologist.

#TBT: places

As travel restrictions mount, I’m thinking of all the wonderful and meaningful places I’ve traveled since 1994, and the important cultural and personal relationships that were the focus of these trips.

A lifetime of memories lives in these photos:

2019 holiday letter

December 2019

Dear friends and family around the world:

The Christmas tree is decorated.  Candles are lit.  The house is increasingly scented with the warm spices of the holiday season.

And while all is not well in the world, all is calm here on Lawn Place.

I began the year on sabbatical, and now end the year in a frantic rush to finish a major accreditation report at the office.  The private studio has exploded in a lovely and fulfilling way.  My circus composing is going well. And I am loving working with the Variety kids.  Fulfilling is indeed the watchword.

As I near 60 years old, I’ve made some decisions about what the next few years are going to entail.  More on this as it unfolds and becomes real.  The great news here is that I’m figuring out how my contributions to my profession and community are maturing, strengthening, and broadening, and that makes me very happy indeed.

Virginia the Landlady, JC, Dean Peter Sargent

So changes are coming, and are present as well.  Peter Sargent retired in July after being the only fine arts dean Webster has ever had, and I now have a new boss.  Sadly, Peter died just a few weeks ago.  His death has left me in a well of grief for a father-figure and mentor I loved deeply.

One of the realizations this year: my life is enriched by a web of acquaintances of various degrees of closeness, without whom life would be infinitely less interesting and connected.  The New York Times earlier this year posted an article about how people with a robust group of acquaintances are generally happier.  Circus Harmony and Variety has helped me fill some of these gaps.  The brief conversations with parents of my private students add to connection as well.  And I’m grateful!


Travel this year included not one but two trips to Morocco. I enjoyed the first trip so much I grabbed my friend Kevin and went back again a few months later.  I’ve had some Chicago time, two trips to Washington, D.C., several NYC trips, and a bit of time in Lee’s Summit.

We are all getting a bit older.  My sisters and I are all in our 50s.  Karen is a grandmother twice-over now.  Beth has only one of her three children still in public schools.  JoAnne, our father’s widow, is now in a care center, and her home (the one she shared with Pop until his death) is now on the sales block.  Change is a constant.

With my sisters.

I’ve taken numerous cooking classes this year.  Sourdough bread has been a favorite, with a starter I’ve somehow kept alive.  A cooking class in Tangier was a delight too.

The Variety Chorus finished our Spring season with a performance with Sting in April! And my circus music was hit in January.

I’ve seen a TON of shows this year!

And this summer I said ‘see you later’ to three much-loved students:

Students fill my life with joy!

I had two incredible meals this year, one in Tangier, the other at a Cuban place in DC:

And finally, some of the circus kids have become my adopted family here in Saint Louis.  The Bailey brothers helped me celebrate my birthday this year, and their family has become a fixed point for me.

This holiday season is a time of darkness and expectation, light and hope.  May the light be victorious, and may we all enjoy blessings during this season.

Jeff

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.