Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in Estes Park

Wanting to avoid anything involving the words AIRPORT, DELAY, STORM, or FLIGHT CANCELED this year, I decided to stay in Colorado for Christmas. I'll travel back to Wisconsin during my off-track time in February.

I traveled up to Estes Park with the Herrell Family, where Ann's parents own a home along a lovely, babbling brook. Literally. Their home is about a mile from the YMCA camp in Estes Park, about 2 hours north west of Castle Rock. It's GORGEOUS there - picturesque and beautiful. What a busy, bustling week it was! Between all the families that were there (Ann's brother + family, Ann's sister + family, etc.), we took over 800 pictures throughout the week. I will be posting every single picture below.

Ok, not ALL the pictures, just the highlights! ENJOY!

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I adore the view of the mountains!
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All the kids in their matching pajamas on Christmas Day.
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Note: I was NOT the one who hit the tree this year. All is well...
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Aren't we crafty!? Kate and I at the YMCA, painting up a storm!
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Here's the plate, after it was fired in the kiln. Dang!
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The munchkins with their mustaches!
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Happy Lucy, Happy Brenda.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Smores in a Jar

Oh, MY was this a scrumptious treat to make over break! YUM! I received this recipe in a jar from two of my students (and their über-creative mama) as a Christmas gift.

Anyone who knows my affinity for marshmallow Peeps understands how much restraint it took for me to actually follow the recipe, and not immediately inhale these delicious pieces of marshmallow joy!

The dry mixture looked colorful and full of holiday cheer!

The wet mixture looked rather, um...disturbing - no cheer!
Note: If you actually FOLLOW the order of ingredients, you won't mix everything together, as I did, and your Smores in a Jar will be just fine! HA!

The finished product...unreal! The brown sugar and graham crackers formed a semi-solid crust on the bottom, while the chocolate melted to ooey-gooey goodness. The long-awaited marshmallows stretched as proper marshmallows do, and I ate the marvelous mixture (well, part of it!) before I could take an 'after' picture!

Here's the entire recipe, from table to tummy!

Layer the following in a 1 quart jar:
---1 sleeve of graham crackers, crushed to crumbs
---1/3 cup brown sugar
---1 1/2 cup mini marshmallows (or sliced, holiday Peeps)
---1 cup milk chocolate chips or Red/Green M & M's

On the attached, gift/directions card:
---Pour contents of jar into a greased 9 x 9 pan
---Melt 1/2 cup butter, add 1 teaspoon vanilla
---Pour over dry ingredients, mixing well

Bake at 350° F. for 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I was asked to give the Benediction at my Commencement ceremony - anyone who knows me understands that Benediction and Brenda are rarely used in the same sentence! Opening? Sure. Entertainment? You bet. Religious dismissal? Not usually! :o) Even so, I was honored to be asked, and took the assignment very seriously. I was given a 60 second time limit, and some general guidelines (basically the same steps we give our beginning writers about including a salutation, body, conclusion, etc.).

As a speaker, I was invited to gather and prepare with the other dignitaries - the faculty and staff members, the President of Regis, the deans of schools - all dressed in their magnificent robes and regalia. The sheer amount of education gathered in those 2 rooms! They were all so welcoming and down to earth - they put the four of us at ease, and were incredibly encouraging. Dr. Marie Friedemann was especially helpful, giving us those last minute details and helping us look our best before we processed on stage. I am going to miss this faculty!

In addition to the 806 graduates and their families at Saturday's ceremony, the Governor and First Lady of Colorado (Bill and Jeannie Ritter) were in attendance, too! My brother was in town, and Ann and Kim snuck in near the end. There were a lot of people in that ballroom!

The Provost said it was the first Commencement ever with live music from the podium (I sang the 2 lines of text near the end). The faculty was highly complimentary, too. They said they "knew I had a special sparkle in my eye and that they just didn't know the sparkle would come out through my voice!" Here's the text of my Benediction:

Dear Heavenly Father,

As we gather today to celebrate this academic milestone, let us recognize that we have not been alone on this journey.

Indeed, there were many people at our side, first and foremost being our family and friends, who gave us their support, their advice, and their love.

Secondly, Regis University, an institute where learners do indeed become leaders, where instructors create opportunities for our success, and where peers provide encouragement and inspiration.

Lastly, Lord, we thank and remember Your presence on our path. We pray that You continue to grant us courage to fulfill our callings, peace in times of struggle, and strength that we will invest both our education and knowledge into worthy causes.

I leave you now with the words of Meredith Willson:

"May your troubles all be small ones, and your fortunes ten times ten. May the good Lord bless and keep you till we meet again."

In Your holy name,


I have made it to December 14th! The amount of things I've had to do in the last 6 weeks has been UNREAL, and I can finally take a deep breath AND exhale! Whew! I've had an exciting time with Track Concerts (see previous post), Choir Concerts, Brad's visit and then Commencement this past weekend. Crazy amazing!
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All of my second graders, dancing their little hearts out!
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Back on the slopes - a whole day without falling down!
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Brad and his F-14 Tomcat - Top Gun, anyone!?
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Monday, December 8, 2008


You know how you start by clicking on ONE website, and an hour later, you find yourself on a completely different topic, not really able to trace your path!? Well, welcome to geoGreeting: you can type in a sentence, and each letter is a building somewhere in the world, viewed from above using Google Maps. Is that not awesome?! A geography lesson built right in! Here's where my letters can be found throughout the world:

B - Maspalomas, Canary Islands
R - Gary, IN
E - Chicago, IL
N - Tucson, AZ
D - Moscow, Russia (lake)
A - Bangkok, Thailand

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bless their Hearts

Two down, two to go. My B Trackers, 182 kids in grades 1 - 6, had their Track Concert last week. After exhausting teaching sessions, and lots of reminders, the blessed children SHOWED UP! There were over 170 kids AND their families at our evening concert - bless their hearts! The concert was 2 hours after dismissal, and the temperature was less than 15 degrees that night - and they still came back! I had know idea who was going to show up, as I hadn't been able to collect information on attending families. If I would have sent anything home that made the evening concert seem even remotely optional, I know some kids would have capitalized on that! Yet, they came!

These concerts are a total combination of organization...and letting go. The sheer amount of kids could have been overwhelming. Thankfully, I'm used to dealing with large groups of kids, and my kids are so great to quickly respond to me when I need their attention. When one groups was done, they'd bow, leave the stage, and the other group would stand up, and get into place. It felt like there was constant motion!

The energy in the gym was PALPABLE! First graders were ready to explode, while second graders had the deer in the headlights look. My 3rd graders were just plain nervous, while the 4th graders were super confident. 5th graders wouldn't stop talking, and just about every 6th grader was in attendance! It was amazing to see how many people we were able to fit into our gym! I thought the CHOIR concerts were full - HA! My kids had so many family members present to support them! How exciting!

While the concert itself did go amazingly smooth, there were a couple of absolutely crazy moments. I still laugh out loud remembering them:
  • Flying Shoes: a 5th grader lost their SHOE in the middle of their dance number - it FLEW across the stage
  • I'm Here: a late 3rd grader runs ONTO the stage during the 4th grade set, loudly declaring "I'm here, Ms. G!"
  • I'm Not Here: some of my shy first graders were literally trying to hide behind each other on stage - darling!
  • Zoom: regardless of how slowly I set and re-set the tempo, my 5th graders set a land-speed record on the xylophones
  • Maggie: a 3 year old sibling I've know since her conception, joined the first graders on stage, ready to perform, THEN ended up joining me at the piano, calm and quiet as can be! Fearless!
  • Take a Bow: apparently, this phrase must have been a code for my 3rd graders, because as soon as I said it, they all fled from the stage!
Two down, two to go. I get to do it all over again this week Wednesday, with my C Track kids (172 of them). My brother, Bradley, arrives Wednesday morning, so he'll be here in town for both the afternoon and evening concerts! I can't wait!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I See a Pattern

Brenda wakes up to find her little red car buried underneath the cold, wet snow.

Brenda braves the cold, wet snow to clean off her little red car.

enda turns around to find her little red car buried underneath the cold, wet, and totally relentless snow.

Brenda braves the...oh, FORGET IT, and has decided not to clean off her no longer cute car again until tomorrow morning. BRR and GRR.

A New Home

As I sat in the back pew of Bethany Lutheran Church on the eve before Thanksgiving Day, I found myself most thankful for my new church home.

I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the services at my former church. I've been wrestling with whether or not I should start looking for a new church for over two years. I was so sad that I couldn't look forward to Sunday mornings anymore. I even joined the Sunday School team in hopes that maybe I'd find a new reason to commit to this particular church.

I enjoy a traditional church service. One where there is a litany to be followed, hymns to be sung, and a message from the Bible to be delivered. I look to the leaders at my church to provide this kind of experience, and quite honestly, it just wasn't happening. The sanctuary was just another room in the building, parents were allowing children to run around and talk throughout the worship service, the drum beat was rather obnoxious during the Gloria Patri, the pulpit was just another place to pass along an get the point.

I know it seems like these objections are such a paradox to who I am - I love children and I love music. You'd think that I would enjoy their presence in the service. The problem was, these issues were beginning to be distractions, and taking me away from the real purpose of being part of a church community - God.

I grew up in a church that provided a traditional service, and once a year we would travel to an exciting retreat spot, where we would have a more contemporary worship experience. Lights, projectors, guitars - it really was exciting! Each year, I looked forward to this rather public re-commitment to my faith.Along with these yearly treks came the appreciation for my more solemn, reverent weekly services. Being a musician, I enjoyed a quiet service, without the stigma of a performance, without the bells and whistles. I'm not a person who easily reflects or relaxes into deep thought (I know, big surprise), so I always welcomed the chance to quietly focus.

I can also appreciate the power of a more contemporary service, and the people it helps bring closer to God. I can't deny that the contemporary church services are full of families, and I am happy that they can find a faith experience that fits their needs. What I finally realized is that I needed an experience that fit MY needs, and that this was something I could do something about. Changing jobs or careers is much more difficult than changing church congregations, no matter how strong the ties are. I couldn't let my guilt over leaving good people overshadow a decision that was ultimately in my hands.

This has been an intensely personal journey - one where I needed to find my own path and still listen to God at the same time. That's hard for one very independent Brenda. :)

I'm so happy to say that I have found a wonderful new congregation. One where at 8:00 am, the doors of the Sanctuary are closed, and the worship experience begins. There is reverence, there is respect, there is peace. The pews rattle with the power of the organ. There is a definite devotion to quality music. The message directly relates to the Scriptures.

So, I am very thankful for my new church home, and I've only just begun to explore this church and congregation!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Total Glass-Hole

Rarr. Just when I think I'm back on track (I'm feeling healthy again, ready for the next concert series, etc.), I encounter the world's largest pile of broken glass on the road. You know, the pile that looks bigger than your car, but is probably only as big as your hand.
There it was, shining in the sunlight, taunting my tires. Thankfully, I knew better than to swerve to avoid the pile, as I would have taken out the car next to me. Oh, no - the glittering glass wasn't in THEIR lane. They drove safely on by, "Baby on Board" sign waving as they maneuvered on down the road. Best wishes.
Meanwhile, only 1 minute from home, my perfectly fine rings of rubber drove directly over the lustrous lump of doom, crackling and hissing upon direct contact. Rarr. I quickly drove into my parking lot, found a spacious section where I could swap out my injured tire for a tire meant for pygmies, and got to work.
Nine - yes, nine - minutes later, my car looked like a three-legged dog with a strange-looking eye patch, and I was back in business. I'm sure my garage will have plenty of openings to make my tire good as new. Thank goodness it's not a holiday week or anything... Glass-hole.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The 16th of the Month

Today, it occurred to me that I'll only be in my twenties for 3 more months. Not that I mind moving to my thirties - the date just reminded me of this random fact.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gingerbread and Iron Butts

Robin, Wren, and more SUGAR than 2 children should EVER have access to: we worked forever on this Gingerbread House. Note to self: there is not enough frosting in the world to get a pre-frosted roof piece to stay in place. I was contemplating super-glue... If you decide to create a gingerbread house for yourself or family, be prepared - the entire process of making the house is an absolute MESS. The girls had a blast, however, which was the whole point! Yum!

Mom and the Giant Tree: She's the tiny little figure at the bottom of the picture. She made my dad pull over alongside a road near Door County, WI to take this amazing picture. Autumn in Wisconsin is always beautiful! Later that day, they visited my Grandmother's brother, who revealed that I had decided to move to Colorado (and had told them all about it before telling my own parents). Whoops. Apparently, really good memories can be found on my dad's side of the family!

Dad has an Iron Butt: That's the fancy name of an association that is dedicated to the sport of safe, long-distance endurance riding on a motorcycle! He's holding a certificate that certifies that he rode a total of 1,035 miles in less than 24 hours, starting in Sheboygan, WI continuing on through Minnesota, South Dakota, and ending in Wyoming. Sweet!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

WOOHOO! President Obama!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

In Repose

"I write that Andréa remains with us in spirit, but his body is finished with living on Earth. He passed away this morning, All Souls’ Day, at 11:05, with family surrounding the bed ..." PC

In Repose...
temporary rest from activity, excitement or exertion
• the rest given by sleep
• a state of peace

May Andréa find eternal peace, while Penelope finds peace within her soul.

Painting by Andréa Cecchini

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Colorful Colorado

Here are some pictures from a restful weekend in Estes Park, CO.
Ann and I at Lake Lily
And by restful, I mean scaling the walls of a chapel...St. Malo
Ann's Dad caught this ice in running water by the Chapel
Another picture captured by Ann's Dad - beautiful!

Twist and Shout

Ah, the annual tie-dying of the shirts. Our school colors are tie dye (ok, that's more of a style than an actual color), and we are wearing tie-dye shirts at a big, city-wide concert coming up in November. Wanting to give my kids the opportunity to own a tie dye t-shirt without breaking the bank, I actually make the shirts myself in my home. I charge them $7, which is way less than what the normal school spirit wear would cost.

First, I take the color orders from the kids. They choose any kind of combination of orange, blue, and purple. Most kids choose all three colors. This year, I made over 60 shirts. The entire process completely takes over my home, as seen in this picture. The shirts are so white and clean before I start!

I learned the hard way last year that unless you put on super-protective gloves for the entire process, your hands will turn purple and become very raw. (You also cannot touch your face, or you will have have red, irritated skin. Forgot that one. Ouch.) I had a nice pair of YELLOW gloves, but I tore a hole in them on the first day. Consequently, the fingers on my right hand are purple, and I was forced to purchase these PINK gloves in order to save my remaining digits.

After the shirts have soaked in a really nasty chemical bath, you ring them out like there is no tomorrow. Next, you put the shirt face down on a clean surface and twist. This seems like a really simple step, but those dang sleeves always get in the way. The swirled shirt pictured here is an example of a perfect roll. It was my 57th shirt....about time!

Here is one batch of swirled shirts, ready to be blasted with color. It's so hard to squirt dark dye onto white shirts. Goes against everything I know about clean clothes. I squirt the color into 1 quadrant of the shirt, making sure it is really saturated. Extremely technical term: dripping.

Ah, the after picture. Once the shirts soak over night in a plastic bag, I wash them twice to get rid of any excess dye. They are dried, folded, and put into clean plastic bags, and are ready to give to the kiddos. I love seeing the shirts all over the school, as the kids wear them often. They don't have any specific markings that say 'choir' or our school name, so they can wear them for any occasion.

2 Days. 62 shirts. And I thought I was on vacation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

At a Loss for Words

I'm desperately trying not to jump in a car, and drive to Eau Claire, WI. My dear friend and former piano professora has begun at-home hospice care for her husband. We speak to each other weekly, mostly by phone, sometimes by e-mail. I know that there is absolutely nothing that I can say or do - the distance from CO to WI is achingly far.

She seems focused on her task at hand - enjoying the time she has left with her husband, making him as comfortable as possible, and prioritizing what does and does not have to be done right now. Family members have volunteered to assist her in caretaking, which is a relief. Still, you can hear the hurt in her voice, and it absolutely tears me up. I'm guessing the woman is all of 5 feet tall (at the most), yet carries herself like a woman twice her height. Where she draws her inner-strength, I'll never know - she has always been an amazing rock. Her love and adoration for her husband is evident, and my heart breaks to think of her angst.
This woman has made an indelible mark on my life, my music, my heart. Her influence shaped the teacher I am today, and the musician I continually aspire to be. I write these thoughts to spread a sense of warmth and comfort to her family, as all I can really offer right now is hope, support, prayer, and love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Not exactly what you want to hear from the nurse who is holding the flu shot needle that is protruding from your arm.

"Oops?! What exactly you mean by Oops!?" I ask, as the needle is withdrawn from my arm, and the blood begins to drip from my now-forming wound.

"Well..." the nurse says, as I turn away from the long line of my students who are watching their brave teacher get a flu shot before them. "I think that's going to leave a bruise."

A bruise. A lump. A puncture wound. An incapacitated left arm.

I deflated the nurse's tires as I left the parking lot. I feel much better.

Monday, September 29, 2008

An Abundance of Thanks

I have a lot to be grateful for today:
  • My pastor made it through quadruple bypass surgery, and is on the mend,
  • I was able to use my fabulous, frequent flyer miles for a WI trip in January, thank goodne$$,
  • I was given beautiful flowers and candy by a darling student, in thanks for "keeping my mom and I safe in the crosswalk each morning", and
  • I've been asked to give the Benediction at my Masters Commencement Ceremony at Regis University in December! Amen!
Woohoo! Now THAT is a great Monday!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just Keep Swimming

I think now would be a good time to tell a delightful story from my childhood. Why? Because I believe I have fully redeemed myself by keeping my 2 Betas alive and well. Four weeks and counting, thank you.

Once upon a time, there were 2 friends named Brenda and Kim. After a fun over-night sleepover, Kim's mom bids the girls adieu, tells Brenda to head on home, and leaves for her job. Brenda, not wanting to leave quite yet, goes downstairs to see Kim's magical, tropical fish. (Technically, they were her stepdad's fish, but I digress).

Brenda, always wanting to be the helpful little smurf, decided to 'assist' Kim by feeding the fish. Taking the entire fish food bucket - yes, bucket - into her hands, she proceeds to slowly pour the flakes into the large, perfectly-cleaned, temperature-appropriate, tropical aquarium. Now, the aquarium was the stepdad's pride and joy, and was filled with tens of pretty, shiny, expensive tropical fish. Fish that are fed by one person and one person only: the stepdad. Children, especially with names that rhyme with "enda", are not allowed near this aquarium.

Unfortunately, (wait for it), the bucket did not release the fish flakes one by one, as Brenda had hoped. Oh, no...they POURED into the aquarium like a child on a Slip-n Slide. A nice, steady stream of fish flakes. Many, many fish flakes.

Kim, having watched helper Brenda from the sidelines, proceeds to move directly to Panic Mode, screaming at her less-than-helpful friend. She runs upstairs to get a kitchen strainer, in the hopes of rescuing the many, and might I add once again, expensive, tropical fish, from their sure-fire death. Brenda, who has an innate ability to begin laughing upon impending doom, stands to the side, giggling. Not very helpful.

Having not found much success with the strainer, Kim calls her mother, who rushes home. Not very happy to have found Brenda still present, Kim's mother tries in vain to rescue the expensive tropical fish. Having realized her husband will be very angry, she turns her wrath on Brenda, yelling and screaming at the still-giggling blond. Fearing for her life, Brenda bolts upstairs, out the front door, and runs down the block. Kim's mother runs after Brenda, gets into her car, and chases the fugitive through the streets of the neighborhood.

Being a fast little delinquent, Brenda runs until she is out of breath, stopping only to see how close the KimMomMobile is. Knowing she cannot outrun the ever-nearing V8 engine, Brenda spies her escape in a large, evergreen tree. She dives under the large, pointy, scratchy branches of the tree, and army-crawls it to the trunk in the center. Kim's mom parks the car, and starts yelling at the now-unreachable girl. Even at a young age, it occurs to Brenda that Kim's mom must look like a total goon, yelling and screaming at a tree.

Long story, story long...Brenda was banned from Kim's home for 2 years, no evergreen trees were harmed in the telling of this story, and 13 tropical fish now rest in peace.