Trials and Whoas

It was by accident that I discovered the horses in my Music classroom.

I hold my Elementary School Music classes in the Assembly Room. Covid-19 has put tight restrictions on my teaching, since we are a school that intends to stay live, five days a week, as long as possible. I face a sea of masks. We don’t sing. None of my hands-on games can be used this year. I don’t want to spend time cleaning chairs so students sit on the floor. Lots of rhythm work this year! New technology, and remote students to pull into my classes.

I like to get the wiggles out during Music class so for my preschool through fourth grade students I find some activity for them to do that makes this listen attentively and move their body in response. One day I asked my littles to go to the side of the room and untie their horses. In reply to my question, they told what color their horses were, which was educational for me. Blacks and bays next to pinks and rainbows.

I told then they needed to guide their horses as I gave drum cues. Quarter note = walk. eighth notes = trot. Switch to 6/8 and quarter-and-eighth became canter, while three eighths signified a gallop. Sometimes I would stop the drum and call, “Whoa!”. If they kept moving, I said, “Hold your horses!” (Private joke for me, har har. Sometimes I crack me up.) For older students I throw in some rhythm patterns as cues for some horses, such as when my drum calls “Black and white, black and white!” or “Rainbow horses run the track.”

I suspect at least half of my kids watch a lot of YouTube. They have the attention span of Doug –squirrel!– and the sensibilities of junior high socialites. These are too cool to show enthusiasm. The other half can sit still and actually want to hear me. So I get such a kick out of watching them all play at riding. They are imaginative, playful. And I just might be indulging in a little role-playing myself as I pretend to be a knowledgeable horse-trainer.

I will be frank with you, O reader of Letters from Heart’s Content. I am not doing so well with teaching this year. I can’t begin to express how frustrated I am by all the limitations I face. No singing. No touching games. I can’t see the faces of my students. Who is speaking to me? I can’t read lips to pick a voice out of the ambient noise. The best part of the day is when I go outside and rip that thing off, gulping down crisp air. Such a small thing, such a wide delight.

[One day as the third-fourth class was coming in I saw a new student. Students have been flowing into our school, particularly in K-6. I touched her shoulder and gave her a warm-but-masked smile and asked her name. The kids laughed and she looked at me oddly. No, it was a student I have known for four years! However, the class assured me kindly, it was understandable because she had new glasses and had straightened her hair. What shocked me then is that I asked her to remove her mask for a moment so I could see her face and realized it was a lot more mature than I remembered it. My students are growing up under those cloth masks and when they finally take them off they won’t be the young’uns I remember.]

I have days of work ahead of me as I pull together the virtual concert I have been working on since early October. I have to learn how to use the programs Audacity and Da Vinci Resolve so I can marry soundtrack and video for each class performance. If I can pull this off, we all get to “attend” the concert from the comfort of our couches on a dark December night, watching on YouTube. I hope. I would love your prayers for success in this project.

I have often thought of you, my readers, most of whom are known to me personally. We stand on distant shores and how wide the divide! I know you have hauntingly similar stories: family you won’t see at the most important holidays of the year; a sharply reduced social life; movie scenes that make you feel uncomfortable because those people aren’t social-distancing; economic challenges; favorite stores that have closed the doors forever; and now– a shortage of aluminum foil!!!

I hope you are counting the pleasures and finding a cornucopia of reasons to give thanks.

God bless.

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For my friends–a virtual visit

We can’t do much visiting in person but I often think of you, friends who are living nearby but as remote as the moon. I have made videos for you, to share a view from my bubble. Today I post one of them.

I am perfectly content to be at home this summer. No week-long graduate course at a college, no travel, few visits. I recognize in myself a tension when I go out in public and feel a strong desire to stay home. After 9/11 we Americans collectively were drawn to comforting things right through the Christmas season, and this feels similar. It relieves some anxiety for me, so I’m going with it. A good time for hygge!

Last winter I saw a need to bring more light into the dining room, where we spend so much time. It is an interior room and dreary. So, I made it a project for this summer: to paint it, the parlor, and the entryway/stairway, and to get a better ceiling light over the table.

Because a picture is worth a page of blogging, I give you this tour:

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Not Going There; Staying Here

I admit it: at the beginning of this “new normal” I found a lot to enjoy. I had five people I particularly like sheltered in this castle, spring was coming on, no commute, meals got better because we were being creative, game night with adult children, and lots of amazing online content being generated by talented people stuck at home. Those were amazing days as the news items kept blowing us out of the water and we had a sense of being survivors. It was all so hygge: warm family life inside while a storm raged out there.

But I am so done with that topic and this is the last you will hear on the subject. I won’t even mention the name. Moving on.

If I were teaching I would only see my garden in the golden hour, home after a long day with a tired brain. I would be doing garden work on the weekends. Only then would I be able to sit quietly on a bench in the embrace of the cedar. But when I am not conducting video classes or prepping I have been able to putter in the garden every day (when it is not snowing *eyeroll*).

I have created a garden park! And I like to think it is a visual expression of my soul. Paths for journey, benches for meditation, profuse blossoms for joyous celebration, but also quite a bit of wild unpredictability.


Every year I expand it. There are four seating areas. I have three benches out in the sun and rain, and one under a shelter so I can even sit out there in the damp. (I have to walk through a roof drip line to get there, but pish–it is nothing.)

For Mother’s Day my men expanded a tiny stone patio I have with two huge flat rocks, so I can have a fire pit out there.



I imagine I’ll cook on it some evenings but mostly it is a gathering spot in the dusk for us to sit together and bide a wee. Robbo and I are going to pick one out on Friday. He laughs about an unnecessary luxury since we have a burn pile/cooking pit down in the back field, but wait till he enjoys that snapping fire pushing back the chill night air, sparks flying lazily into the twilight to meet the stars. Not to mention venison stew. Apple crisp in a Dutch oven. Garlic rolls.

Can you guess who made this little path?















Chipmunks! Straight to the door where I scatter sunflower seed. I have many happy chipmunk families. I enjoy their busy lives played out before me. I have a feeling I’ll be paying for it in garden damage.

This garden becomes a place for me to get perspective on all the challenges coming through my computer screens. It pulls me outside where pushy spring winds caress my face. And more than all the others, it provides ephemeral beauty that seems to come straight from heaven’s fields, a taste of home.

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Songs for Isolation Singalong

  1. Yellow Submarine. We are traveling in our own ship, and so are our neighbors.
  2. My Favorite Things from Sound of Music. This song was about hygge and we didn’t know it!
  3. Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” I don’t care where I go as long as I get out!
  4. We Shall Overcome
  5. Free at Last
  6. America, America (and any other patriotic song)
  7. Edelweiss “…bless my homeland forever.”
  8. I Would Walk 500 Miles “…to get back home to you.”
  9. God Moves in a Mysterious Way.
    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
    The clouds you so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.
  10. His Eye is on the Sparrow
    • “Let not your heart be troubled,”
      his tender word I hear,
      and resting on his goodness,
      I lose my doubts and fears…
  11.  Tomorrow from Annie.
  12. Somewhere Over the Rainbow

That’s what I came up with. Please add suggestions in the Comments.

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If you don’t know the work of British comedian John Finnemore, you have a brilliant opportunity to get to know him on our extended break! His best work so far is undoubtedly his radio program Cabin Pressure. In it, he plays the daffy Arthur Schappey, steward on his mother’s charter airplane. He is broadcasting every third day while locked up in COVID isolation, and his show is called Cabin Fever.

Toward the end of this episode he plays a game I introduce to you: combining book titles to tell a story.

Without further ado, my entries in the game:








I capture a castle. A river runs through it.








What’s a smart woman like you doing at home? Getting things done!








Let’s have a tea party at the foot of the rainbow!










Quiet! The forces of matter echo in celebration.











The great Turkey Walk around the world in 80 days.










Paradise lost the secret garden.

What if Ella enchanted the lord of the flies?









The witch of Blackbird Pond and the life-changing magic of tidying up.










Mrs. Pollifax pursued the mystery of Capital.

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Day 19. Random Observations

Toilet paper hoarding makes perfect sense. That tissue marks the thin line between the civilized and the primitive. We can suffer a lot of deprivation but that is one line we do not want to cross.

Preppers? You win.

The book The Three-Day Effect by Florence Williams explains how three days in the outdoors resets your brain. Our memory of recent events fades after 72 hours. Turns out three days even in a dusty house does the same. The classroom seems like a distant world to me, a dream I once had. It isn’t the first time someone’s life has turned an irreversible bend overnight. Getting married was that for me, since I moved far away and left behind everything. Still, it amazes me that the world I knew changed so quickly.

The Cuomo brothers are killing it.  Their brother banter is among the best entertainment to come out of this mess.

“Some have greatness thrust upon ’em…” Oh, I wish we had a Winston Churchill leading the nation in this hour. Some state governors have risen to meet the heroic need of the day. It is embarrassing, not to say appalling, to see how some in high places have not. Yay, Dr. Fauci! Yay, Surgeon General! Yay, Vermont governor and team!

Filled out the FAFSA for youngest son today. Impossible to answer without caveat:

  • How many dependents will you have for more than half of July 2020-June 2021? (Dunno; I have two that might be sticking around.)
  • How much do you have in cash in your accounts right now? (Will this be anything like what it will be next school year?)

Spring is helping with sanity. Daffodils will begin blooming this week. I can wear a sweater outside. The weather isn’t trying to kill us. What if we lived in Australia??!!

My daughter just came out of the closet today. She told us there is this fellow she has been seeing and it could be serious. Finally! Just one thing–she may be moving to a Scandinavian country.

Two Zoom meetings seems to be the max we can hold at one time before we get kicked off. We’re going to need a schedule.

Okay, that’s all for this Sunday. Back to work tomorrow. I wish you health and six degrees between you and any COVID casualties.

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Day 18. Family time: we paint

First we had a meeting to talk about what to do if we get the pestilence. Who should we call? Do you have enough in your checking account to cover bills that will come in? What is your quarantine room if you get it and which is the quarantine-dedicated bathroom? Pack a go-bag in case you have to go to the hospital. Write down your critical passwords and keep them in a safe place for us in case we absolutely need them.

Then on to brighter things. Each person was randomly assigned a square indicating color and shape for a painting. “Paint something that fits this pattern,” I said. They saw these:














The pencil marks were not part of the original.

And here is what came of it.

Robbo’s and John’s:










Abraham’s, representing Fibonacci’s spiral, and an unused road on which grass is growing:






























Let me ‘splain. The top one is a bedroom with a yellow and green quilt. Against the back wall is a mirror in which is reflected a creepy female figure. We were listening to the Dresden Files, Book 7, an atmospheric book with wizards and vampires in Chicago.

The second is the view of someone imprisoned inside with a view of the unattainable outdoors.

The third is what it is.

This is what I had painted the day before, a nine-patch representation of the log cabin quilt block. It is upside down.









And here it is all together! They will be hung on a wall in this order.







And I am going to find a better photo storage app than Google Photos! So much color was lost in translation.

That was fun. A refreshing break from school online and worries about the coronavirus.

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Day 17. The church in isolation

My husband and I started meeting with another two couples for a fellowship group every other week. We had only met twice before the coronavirus changed the rules. One fellow is deeply disturbed that the governor of our state can forbid the church from gathering. He asked that we discuss it.

As we compared the ban under which we live and the outright persecution of countries such as China, we could easily see that while totalitarian states ban the proliferation of unwelcome ideas, this ban just seeks to stop a virus. And thanks to digital technology, we can meet in one another’s home via video. We can dial into the teaching of knowledgeable and compassionate pastors through their live, at-home broadcasts. We can keep informed of our church family’s needs.

But then we talked about how frustrating it is not to be able to help people in person. Social distancing leaves many people vulnerable, as they can’t get to the store, or deal with a fallen tree, or provide for their child while they have to work. This dynamic young man felt frustrated by his forced inactivity.

And something interesting happened: we discovered little services we each were providing that work within the limitations but bridge the moat to other families. The pastor in our group streams live on Facebook and is reaching people who would never go into a church. They deliver food boxes from schools to families that can use them. The hard-working fellow stuck at home is doing errands for his neighbors who can’t get out. Robbo helped a neighbor with a shed roofing issue. I write a daily blog. (Does this count?)

On Saturday when I take a walk I’ll be delivering a letter to my neighbors. We live on a gravel road outside of town and have six or seven houses on a three-quarter mile stretch. It is embarrassing to admit, but we have had very little contact with any of them over the last twenty years. It is time to break the silence.

Knowing they won’t be comfortable with a visit to the door, I am affixing the letter to the mailbox with a magnet. (Did you know the space in a mailbox belongs to the U.S. Government and it may not be used for personal deliveries?) It offers my email and suggests I collect theirs into one group so we can communicate safely about day-to-day issues. I would like to know that they each have everything they need and that there is a way of keeping current. Most are alone at home. What if one gets sick? Who makes sure they get the intervention they need? These are the questions I have when I walk by their silent homes in the early morning.

Reader, have opportunities for service opened up to you? Have any ideas you can share in the comments?

Northerners, can you imagine how dreadful this isolation would be if it were November? We’d be falling into the cold, dark winter with nothing to look forward to but months of hardship. What kind of Christmas would we look forward to? No shopping, no traveling, no concerts. But here we are in April–every day is a little longer, the light a little stronger, and daffodils are pushing up from the thawing ground.

So many blessings in all this. These are terrible circumstances, and our real suffering may be ahead of us, but I can’t ignore the light beams punching through the dark clouds.

It reminds me of the third and fourth verses of this hymn. It begins with a widely ridiculed first line but those who are intimately acquainted with God’s ways and character have experienced the truth of it.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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Day 16. Pshaw, Cuterie

If you make a meal of many little dishes and if adorable family members all gathered around it, you have, let’s say, a ‘cuterie’. Pshaw, you can’t help but smile at these pictures of the family hamming it up. My night to provide the meal; I put out a charcuterie.

Finally got to use the jar of fig jam I had on hand. I also put out a little can of Deviled Ham. (Believe it or not, Mom, I can remember encountering it for the first time in the kitchen on Warner Hill Road, at about seven years old. You explained what it was. That, and your penchant for moistening sandwich bread with butter instead of mayonnaise, demonstrated your roots still drew nourishment from your English ancestry.)

Slipped in the squid, too.

Tomorrow, I am going to take a break from thinking about my music classes. I am really struggling with the work needed to get a virtual choir going, since I would need to create files for individual parts for my somewhat inexperienced singers (some could sight-read anything but most need to learn aurally.)

I’m going to listen to St. Matthew’s Passion in its entirety and spend time at the easel.

I’ve invited the household to a mystery painting activity on Saturday. Sent an ecard to get their attention and whet the appetite. I have some work to do tomorrow to get ready for it.

They are going to paint one or more of these nine frames, using a rough outline I give.

Lewis Lavoie, a Candian artist, created a rough shape-and-color outline of an ark, and cut it into small squares to give to other artists. Their task was to paint a 12″ x 12″ tile using these values and incorporating an animal of the world. They had no idea of the final image. In the aggregate, it is a joyous celebration of the diversity of God’s creation. They gathered all the images in a booklet, out of which we cut every one and glued them onto a sheet of plywood.

Here is a closeup of one area. Can you imagine the plain square the artists were given, indicating hue and geometry?

I couldn’t find the conceptual original (it is out there; I have seen it) but I found this one of another project:










I found it here

As keeper of the home, that is my contribution to social sanity this week.

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Day 15. National Poetry Month

I was looking forward to sharing poetry with my secondary school music students this year. While my Classical Conversations students were used to conversation sloshing across all subject boundaries, my Music students are only now getting used to it. (I remember once connecting Mozart’s lifetime with a local colonial period event on the Connecticut River. They looked at me as though I had forgotten who I was. Good times.)

Looks like I’ll have to get creative about sharing poetry with them via Google Classroom. But how hard can it be? It is not like I have to listen to their groans. The good thing is if I share frequently, eventually one lands. One hits home and expresses what they feel or think.

At one time I collected several Magnetic Poetry boxes. I eventually organized them by word function. Here are the verb (bottom half, alphabetical), to be verbs, personal pronouns, and nouns sorted in categories.























Here are more pronouns, prepositions, adjectives, conjunctions, odd nouns, and suffixes.

And this? This is what you get when you give a Math Major a marker. He’s thinking about something, not sure what, but it looks wicked smart. (Pam, you may remember him doing the same during lunchtime at Classical Conversations.) It dawned on me today I do not have my future retirement plan in my youngest after all. Not if he becomes an academe.

That is where I left room for assembling materpieces. (Pieces assembled by the mater, of course.)

So, my first COVID poetry:















No seriously, here is one for us. Camille, I am still not tired of this one.

God’s Grandeur
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

–> For all this darkness we’re living, there does exist something new and redeeming in it. Slice along the withered bark and the green sapwood glistens. God has not abandoned us.

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