Sunday, June 29, 2014

Music Camp 2014

Of the three years in which I've been on staff at The Salvation Army's Indiana Music Camp, I would have to say that this year was my all-time favorite. I'm so glad I was able to verbalize my hesitations (because of the overwhelming number of assignments in past years, I just wasn't sure I wanted to go again) and resolve that issue (I only had three assignments - Jr. Vocal leader, instrumental solo contest judge and newspaper elective assistant, so it was stress-free and enjoyable). I know the campers benefited from our instruction, but I also came away with so many blessings from our time together.

I was able to accompany two friends, who were both in key leadership/planning positions for the encampment, a day in advance to assist with set up. Campers began arriving on Saturday between one and three and the junior vocal students headed to the faculty lounge for their placement audition with me. It isn't really an audition, because they will be placed by age in my group, but at least it gives me a chance to check out a few things like whether or not they can read music or if they can carry a tune. Sadly, none of them could read music and only a handful could carry a tune. Having been there before with this group, I still was hopeful that we would be able to whip our two songs in shape by the final concert a week later.

I was asked to be in a small skit for the introductory meeting Saturday night. I played a creepy forest creature who stole horses and tried to trip up three travelers by playing a similar tune to the Master's tune. Sunday night, the campers enjoyed a water carnival and I was so grateful that I wasn't expected to suit up and join the kids in the pool. Shwew! The missions night was tremendously effective as the special guests illustrated for the kids the common ailments which often kill children in other countries, the deprivations they have to survive, and the differences in resources available for individuals depending on the country of their birth. The lesson was clear with a powerful challenge to pray, give, and go.

On Tuesday evening the kids had a Minute-to-Win-It kind of game night. I was in charge of a game where the kids had to place a tongue depressor in their mouth and balance as many dice on it as they could. Wednesday was a hectic night as the solos raced past with barely enough time to think about what constructive comments could be made and how to rate the solos on the various elements like tone quality, intonation, technique, and stage presence. I discovered afterwards that I graded every soloist far lower than the other judges did, but since I was consistently lower it all averaged out to determine the first, second, and third place winners in the instrumental categories (brass, piano, percussion). It was challenging, but still an enjoyable experience. Thursday evening the kids put on an Indiana's Got Talent show (lots of plays on songs from Frozen) and Friday evening the Faculty Band performed a few numbers for the special guest's musical presentation.

This year's director really streamlined things to make the week less stressful. We didn't have daily Faculty Band rehearsals, but rather only rehearsed one time and only performed in the Friday evening performance night. We didn't require the band students to take a vocal class and the vocal students to take a rhythm class, so that was one less instructor responsibility. Plus, when we taught theory, it was all together in the dining hall with one instructor per table for checking and assistance while the students worked through small theory packets. (Boy, I should have brushed up on my theory before I went.)

Once again, I had a wonderful time fellowshipping with the rest of the faculty. We were a smaller group, and thus more connected. They provided three special evening treats following the meeting, Call to the Cross, and faculty devotions. (Call to the Cross is a time when the campers received a devotional from one of the officers on the faculty. I provided assistance for a few of the little skits she presented during these times, but they were always enjoyable and low-key.) On Monday night, we were served pizza. On Wednesday, a small group of us went to Steak-and-Shake for a wonderful time of fellowship which left us arriving back at camp past midnight (thus, opening the door for several of us to come down with the respiratory cold being passed around the campers - yippee). And on Friday night, the divisional commander's wife presented us with homemade brownies and an ice cream sundae bar.

Several interesting things happened during the week of camp. First of all, when my boys called to tell me about their trip with Daddy to Holiday World, they informed me that they had gotten lost from him for a short time. Had I been there instead of hearing about it after-the-fact, I would have been having a heart attack. Then there was the morning when my neighbors on either side of my room informed me that I had woken them at 3 in the morning singing, quite loudly I should add, the catchiest of the two songs my campers were working on. Apparently, I'm a sleep-singer! Finally, during our last rehearsal, one of the campers suddenly fell to the floor and had a seizure. Thankfully, the camp staffers (college age kids who were assigned to assist me) were quick to respond (the nurse was there within a few minutes) and once she came to, the girl ended up being fine.

I think my greatest success for the week took place during the Jr. Vocal performance at the final concert of the encampment. My kids (a group of 17 campers) really nailed both songs. They had been speeding up in several parts and not staying with the music, but for the final performance all eyes were on me and every single kid did the motions (several of the campers were none too cooperative when it came to doing the motions during rehearsals). As we were singing, I began to realize something really cool. At the first placement audition, one of my campers named Tatum, was too shy to even sing a single note for me. During the week, I had selected one soloist for the second number, "The Building Song," and opened up for auditions for the second solo. Of the seven kids who wanted the second solo, only Tatum and Courtney were solid on the pitches, but Courtney had already performed in Wednesday night's solo competition, so I made an executive decision and gave the part to Tatum. This once shy girl, overcame her fear and gave a really strong performance when her time came. I suppose, in like manner, I rose to the occasion. I was feeling insecure about my abilities to lead the junior choir, but we ended up really shining! It was a wonderful, challenging but refreshing, week away from home and my boys were all really glad to see me when I returned (always a nice feeling).

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review: Museum of Thieves

In Museum of Thieves, the reader is introduced to the unusual city of Jewel, where the children are chained to adults until they are old enough for their Separation Day, when their cords are snipped off. The oppression is made more severe by the spiteful mannerisms of the Blessed Guardians. Goldie Roth is in punishment chains because of her impatience. Therefore, it is no surprise when she grabs the scissors, snips her cord and bolts after learning that her Separation Day is being cancelled because evil is afoot. Goldie flees to the safest place she can find, the Museum of Dent. The museum is a strange place with shifting walls and passageways. It is said that only thieves can manage to navigate the museum and Goldie has the knack. But the Blessed Guardians are determined to find her and begin trying to nail down the walls.

The concept was interesting, but just didn't rope me in. I'd say it was a better than fair read, but far from engrossing. It is apparently the first in a series. I'm not interested enough to seek out the next book in the series, City of Fears.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Book Review: The Dressmaker

Another unabridged production by Books On Tape, Kate Alcott's The Dressmaker, presents a gripping story of lives changed by circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. I was swept into the tale from the very first chapter. The author did a fine job of weaving fiction with fact and creating an engaging story.

Tess Collins is determined to find a way to be recognized for her abilities as a seamstress. She is unwilling to remain in the servant position where she is forced to clean toilets, fend off the advances of the privileged son of her employer, and create lovely dresses without pay for her services. Thus, she quits one morning with the desperate hope of landing passage on the departing ship, The Titanic. She cannot believe her luck when she finagles a position working for the admirable dress designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. Despite being hired as a maid, she is convinced she can prove her worth in time.

The sinking of the Titanic occurs quite early in the novel and the majority of the novel addresses the tragic events of the aftermath of the sinking. The Duff Gordons find themselves on Lifeboat One with only ten other individuals, most of them crewmen. Even though the boat is capable of holding 40 or 50 individuals, Lady Lucile urges the crewmen not to go back for survivors. Tess is torn between her loyalty to Lady Duff Gordon and her budding love for one of the sailors in Lifeboat One who felt they should have made more of an effort to save others. In the midst of this struggle, she also begins to develop feelings for the affluent businessman Jack Bremerton.

With a feisty female reporter striving to break the news of an elitist couple's selfish actions, a senator hoping to get down to the truth of what happened, and the indomitable "Unsinkable Molly Brown" weighing in her opinions, Tess must struggle to decide who she will believe. Tess is a likeable, strong main character with gumption and guts. Her supporting characters are equally interesting and varied. I felt the story moved at a good pace and kept my interest throughout. Although I think it would be highly unlikely for even a talented servant girl to end up being mentored by someone in Lady Duff Gordon's station in such a class-driven society, it was worth suspending my disbelief to devour the story Kate Alcott tells.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: What a Son Needs from His Mom

Published by Bethany House Publishers, Cheri Fuller's, What a Son Needs from His Mom, is a quick and easy Christian parenting read. With chapters on encouraging, building confidence, developing character, overcoming fears, managing emotions, nurturing faith, and staying connected, this little book reminds parents of the very special importance of the bond between mothers and their sons. Who we are, in relation to our boys, plays a large role in who they will become. Of course, every mother wants her son to flourish and succeed. This book is a gentle reminder of the elements we should focus on to nurture the very best from our male offspring.

I can't say that I learned anything new from this book. She references many of the books about raising boys which I've already read. Still, if you are passionate about being a positive influence in your sons' lives, then you will always welcome more insights into how to best go about growing them into the young men you desire to see them become. Given that it is such a simple read, it can't hurt to give it a whirl. I think I'd be even more interested in a title listed at the back of the book, What Your Son Isn't Telling You, by Michael Ross and Susie Shellenberger, offering "a rare glimpse into the secret lives of teen boys."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: Shopaholic & Baby

If anyone can get me chuckling over a book, it's Sophie Kinsella. This book was a delight. It has been quite a while since I've read the previous books in her Shopaholic series, but the character of Becky Bloomwood was clearly still as dynamic and hilarious as ever.  I read it while the boys were at open swim at the high school and while Sean was at his daily one hour basketball camp this week. I didn't mind breaking into stifled giggles while in a room full of other people because the book was just too funny to restrain myself.

Becky Bloomwood Brandon is expecting and couldn't be happier, that is until she discovers news of the "It-obstetrician" to the stars, whom she just must have. Despite her husband's objections, she schedules an appointment to meet with Dr. Venetia Carter. Somehow Luke no longer drags his heels when they meet and he realizes she is a former girlfriend. Although, Luke and Venetia are quite chummy as they reunite, Becky cannot decide whether she has cause to worry or not.

She manages to get herself in and out of typical Becky Bloomwood fixes with finesse and humor (like bribing the owner of a home she wants with a pair of coveted boots, purchasing way too many prams, accidentally leading people to believe she's had her infant stolen from the pram and then accidentally leading people to believe she's gone into labor when she hasn't). She ends up hiring a private detective to follow her husband, then calls off the surveillance when she is convinced she has made the wrong move (also discovering that they followed the wrong man - her husband's business partner). Over and over again, her ability to shop her way into better spirits shines through.

I laughed out loud too many times to count. For example, I loved it when she flippantly told her horrid mother-in-law that they were considering the names Armageddon for a boy and Pomegranate for a girl. Ha! I'm now anxious to secure the next book in the series, Mini Shopaholic. I can't wait for further humor and light-hearted fun.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Preparing for Music Camp

Once again, this year I'll be on the faculty at The Salvation Army Indiana Division's annual music camp. I always feel humbled by their request for my participation because I don't really feel like I am naturally a great leader for the youth singing group. Having sat under some great leadership, I know how far I fall from the mark. The singers I will work with will be beginners at best. Plus, my biggest dilemma is that I never know what to have them sing.  To be honest, there's never been a great deal of selection available at my disposal. I sometimes feel like they are asking me to weave gold out of straw.

When I went in to look over the materials this year, I discovered that several split-track Cd's which were available in the past are no longer there (perhaps they were returned to the individual corps - churches - they came from). In fact, there was nothing with accompaniment and I'm not a pianist and have no pianist for an assistant (merely a camp staffer - probably a teenager at that). I began to feel really terrified.

The camp director gave me a few demo Cd's from Brentwood-Benson Music, but soon I discovered they were only demos and did not include the split-track Cd for accompaniment purposes. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the first two songs for a musical called "Here for the Gold." They are quite upbeat and have melodies which are infectious and fun. So, I have requested the purchase (too expensive and wishing the company would make downloads of the individual songs for a reduced price from the package deal, since we are not actually performing the entire musical, just using two selections). Now, my stress is the worry that the music will not arrive in time for the camp.

Still, I am beginning to feel excited about the prospect of camp. I was hesitant to participate again because I felt stretched so thin in the past two years (with somewhere around 7 or 8 assignments for the week), but I was happy to learn that, with new leadership, they are streamlining some things and cutting out some others, which will mean far fewer assignments and more of a chance to relax and enjoy the week. The staff is smaller but I already feel a sense of kinship with the individuals selected.

I located my son's pretend microphone (something I had wanted to have the students take turns using for fun and to get them to feel more comfortable singing in front of others) and am bringing an old coffee container for students to take turns practicing keeping rhythm. I will spend a fair amount of time reviewing the wonderful videos on You Tube by Kathie Hill (who does a remarkable job of illustrating techniques for teaching kids to sing). Hopefully, the closer the date gets, the more prepared I will feel for the task before me. Plus, I genuinely hope that the students have fun and make great memories.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review: Chestnut Street

I am a big fan of Maeve Binchy and was saddened to learn of her death several years ago. Thus, I was excited to hear that a new manuscript had been found among her papers after her death. These were apparently stories which Binchy wrote from time to time and tucked away in a drawer for further revision at a later date. The stories are linked by the location of Chestnut Street in Dublin, but the characters themselves don't share connections at all. Each chapter reads as a short story, some more involved than others.

While the book received many stellar reviews on Amazon, I tend to think it is best to view these stories for what they are ... unfinished works, intended to be further refined and edited. If you've never read a Binchy book, certainly don't start with this one. Give one of her many novels a try first. But, if you are a devoted fan of her works, then you will find enough of Binchy's trademark storytelling ability and interesting characters to make the read worthwhile.

I tend to agree with Daneet Steffens, who reviewed this book for The Boston Globe. He writes, "What’s missing here is some of the overarching structure of Binchy’s storytelling magic to more strongly draw all of these fragments and tales together. That said, quite a few of the stories contain it in miniature, and there are plenty of instances of spot-on dialogue that capture Binchy’s characterizations honestly and humorously, reflecting an appreciation for others and an unyielding appreciation for the carnival of life." Binchy was a skilled writer and even her works not yet intended for public consumption are better fare than some other authors can offer up.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: Lemon Meringue Pie Murder

Lemon Meringue Pie Murder is book four in the Hannah Swensen mystery series. I have been enjoying the books, although I do prefer to listen to them rather than reading them myself, for some reason. Plus, this time there was a recipe I felt I absolutely must jot down. It was for low-calorie pancakes using cottage cheese in the batter. Sounds interesting. I'll have to try it sometime.

This time around the murder didn't occur right at the beginning of the book. There was some build-up to the actual event and then a slightly lengthy process to get to the bottom of it (although I doubt it was any longer than any of the other mysteries in the series - just felt a bit long). Hannah is intrigued to learn that one of her two love interests, Norman Rhodes, is buying a house and is going to tear it down to rebuild it using the plans that they collaborated on for a house designing contest. Does this mean he is going to pop the question? Who knows? Before she can linger on that thought too much, the previous owner of the house turns up dead in the basement. Much to her surprise, Detective Mike Kingston, her other love-interest, doesn't even try to stop her from joining in on the investigation.

Although the plot was a bit harder to follow (seemed to meander too much and require an awful lot of willful suspension of disbelief), it was still a decent mystery and the strings were all tied up in the end. I think I have as much fun following Hannah's life story as it progresses through the books as I do following the clues for each mystery. Of course, the fun recipes are always a plus, too. If you're ever wanting a cozy, light-hearted, easy-reading mystery series, look no further than Joanne Fluke's murder mystery series.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Amazing Finger Paintings

Just happened upon another fascinating artist, Iris Scott. She paints using her fingertips. Here are my two favorites from the ones shown on this article on the TwistedSifter website:

Or you can visit her own website at