the days of miracle and wonder

Hi Sisters.
The semester is ending for me soon (feel free to be jealous of collegiate schedules for a minute) but that prospect is just not promising much relief at the moment. I’m only taking two classes, so only a few things will drop out of my schedule, and the need to accomplish things in research is unrelenting. Turns out you don’t get a PhD for just showing up and going to class for somewhere between 5 and 100 years. You actually have to DO A THING and contribute to the field in some way and write a thesis. A thesis full of exciting new results! Le sigh. These things have been discouraging lately.

But I’m having a Paul Simon-influenced day, and that’s comforting. I put on an encouraging morning playlist from Spotify while I was getting ready for work this morning, something with a peppy title like “Wake Up Happy!” or “Good Morning Vibes!” or “You Aren’t a Total Failure, I Swear!”, and it included the song “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”. This immediately made me think of that episode of the Muppet show where Paul Simon is a guest and makes a “50 ways to love your lever” joke. I can’t find a clip of that specific moment, but please enjoy this performance (which references the joke!):

So, that was a good start to the day. I listened to “Graceland” on my way back to the library tonight.

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Oh, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

The car ahead of me on this drive had a wonky left blinker; it was hyper-blinking, way too fast.  Abby, remember when the alternator in the Corsica died when we were moving you back into college housing one August? There was the hyper-blinking first, when everything seemed fine, and then the gauges started flailing around, and then the radio died, and then the power steering, and the car itself. Dad was following in the van, but all the seats were out so it could hold your life’s possessions, so Aunt Barb came and picked us up on the side of the highway. I think the sky was the same sort of grumbly gray as it is here today, vaguely ominous and unsettled without being actually threatening.

There’s no point to this story (or this post! haha! fooled you!) besides to say that the blinker on that truck made me think about that ridiculous day, and all the moves we’ve made together, and the way we manage to show up – in any and every sense, both figurative and literal –  to share in each other’s lives, and to say that Paul Simon reminding me that there’s a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland was enough for today.

Jess (but you can call me Al)

PS Paul Simon is playing in Lincoln in May! I’m thinking of starting a scholarship fund to afford a ticket. Anybody want to chip in?!


Hot Cross Buns

Hey sisters,

Did you learn to play the recorder in elementary school?


As an elementary music teacher, I am tasked with the job of preparing my students to be active participants in music for the rest of their lives. My goal (stolen from the amazing Dr. John Feierabend) is to make them tuneful, beatful, and artful. I am also responsible for preparing them to be successful in middle school music, whether they choose band, choir, or orchestra. Though it pains me to say so, there is one instrument that really drives all of these concepts home…


It’s a brilliant educational tool- a historical woodwind instrument is affordable, durable, and able to reinforce articulation, rhythm and note reading, breath support, and practice habits.

But have you ever listened to 25 beginning recorder players? (Sara, I imagine you listen to significantly more new violinists, which must be a very similar experience.)

I think teaching the soprano recorder is like eating your vegetables or paying the bills… it’s not always enjoyable, but it’s important. I just hope my ears will forgive me.

One a penny, two a penny,


Our Anchor of Hope

Hey sisters-

I’m gonna get opinionated up in here.

Hail to our alma mater,
Hail to our varsity,
Steadfast as the anchor ever in our loyalty.
Hail to the orange and blue,
Firm may our motto be:
Spera in Deo,
Hope, our varsity.

Homosexuality wasn’t exactly on my radar as a teenager. If someone had asked me for an opinion, I probably would have used that *super helpful* line about loving the sinner and hating the sin. I don’t recall it being much of a topic either at home or at church. I know there was one lesbian couple at church, and I know that Bud, our pastor, believed strongly in a culture of love and welcoming. He led very strongly by example.

College is where I began regularly interacting with people who openly failed to adhere to my original understanding of sexuality. I encountered this diversity both in faculty and fellow students. Again, if pressed, I probably would have said that I was against homosexual relationships, but I also failed to see any ‘evil’ in these friends and teachers.

Then, religion class happened. This is where one might expect it to all go south: in religion class at my conservative Christian college, I learned that “God hates gays,” right?

Except I didn’t.

In Religion 200-something, Professor H. led us through an exploration of all of the biblical texts generally used to condemn homosexuality. Turns out you can just as easily (or even more easily) read Sodom and Gomorrah as a condemnation of rape, not homosexuality. And Leviticus? I mean, come on. If the rest of Leviticus is out of date, so is Leviticus 18:22. Don’t you dare tell me that being gay is a sin if you’re okay with tattoos, polyester, and shrimp.

I left that conversation convinced that the Bible doesn’t actually say anything definitively. And in the absence of a clear biblical directive on homosexuality, “love thy neighbor” wins out.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
-John 15:12

My views have broadened since then. I have moved from “well I guess I shouldn’t judge” to openly and proudly supporting LGBTQ rights in all their forms and strive to be a strong ally. I consider myself a feminist, I believe #blacklivesmatter, and I recognize that whole cultures should not be stereotyped down into costumes or mascots.

So why exactly is this on my mind today? Well, because there seems to be some unrest at our alma mater, alumni (1)Hope College. The rumors are swirling that Pres. John Knapp could be ousted. A recent email confirmed that the firing/forced resignation part has truth to it, but uncertainty still surrounds the reasons why Knapp would be forced out. Students, faculty, and alumni seem to think it has something to do with his commitment to inclusion and diversity, which- at least when it comes to homosexuality- stands contrary to the official stance of the Reformed Church in America. Hope College did me proud when they extended benefits to same-sex partners of staff and faculty, but it seems Knapp may have ruffled some feathers among trustees.

The push toward greater inclusion is one of the many hallmarks of President Knapp’s tenure thus far. Yet, while it is a great start that spouses of gay employees will receive benefits, it doesn’t hold much weight on an institutional level if the college still does not recognize marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman, does not recognize pro-LGBT groups on campus, and seemingly will not promote openly gay faculty. There is much work to be done in this area, and I believe that President Knapp is the perfect person to drive this charge internally and by engaging the community. Moreover, Hope has a unique position in Holland, a city that has actively blocked protecting sexual orientation under its anti-discrimination policy. Now is the time for Hope to take its rightful place as the city on a hill and set an example for how we should treat one another with the dignity and respect that our historical Christian values mandate.
-Andrew Bredow, Hope College Class of 2006
An Open Letter to My Fellow Alumni and The Board of Hope College

I am proud of the students and faculty of Hope today. I am proud of President Knapp. I am thankful for the time I spent there and for the diverse group of people I learned from. I agree with Andrew- it’s time for Hope to take its place as the city on the hill.

Let’s go Hope,



Links in this post:

Oh well.

Dear sisters,

First off, Abby – courtesy of your post, I am now singing “duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh” in my head. Second, I don’t think I achieved the peak nerd level of going to a camp about Titanic, but maybe one of those after school “gifted and talented” (whatever that means) things? I do definitely own a book all about it, and I remember at some point going through a phase where I was haunted at night by a picture in that book of a pair of shoes on the bottom of the sea. Fun fact: Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on my birthday. I just got all the good things.

In other news… Do you guys remember that time I graduated from high school? (Not to be confused with the time Jess graduated, when they ran out of diploma covers. Or the time Abby graduated, which apparently was not uniquely memorable. #middlechildproblems #westillloveyou!) Do you remember Mr. Gandolfi, and his “oh well” speech, which we mocked mercilessly? Well, I’ll be darned if that speech hasn’t turned out to be incredibly wise. Case in point: the upcoming week. It’s a Holland Symphony concert week, plus Aaron’s soccer coaching, plus a few other random commitments, which means that we will pretty much be going insane and surviving on caffeine and adrenaline from now until Saturday at 10 pm. (No joke – on our family calendar for this week, on Sunday I just wrote “SLEEP”. I’m hoping we can get some grandparents to keep the children occupied, because 2-year-olds and infants do not understand the concept of a Netflix and nap day. Or if they did, we’d have to watch Clifford all day.) Perhaps it’s just this delicious hard cider talking, but I believe the key to success this week is just having incredibly low standards. Sort of an “oh well” approach, if you will. Did we make it to the end of the week with all family members still alive? Excellent. Call it a win. Never mind that we’ve been surviving on school hot lunch and takeout, our children are probably in tears because they miss their parents, and our house looks like it’s been hit by several natural disasters. Are we still here? Good. The week was a success.

See you on the flipside…


Rainy Days, Shipwrecks, and Birthdays

Hey sisters,

It’s raining in Montana today. Well, in Helena at least. It’s a big state. Rainy days have this way of washing away all the extra gunk for me… and I hadn’t fully realized how much I was carrying until today’s rain helped clear some of it out. What a busy time the spring is, for teachers, for everyone.

Today, on this glorious rainy day, I’m also thinking of you, Sara. Happy birthday to you! One of my first graders proudly told me about the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking (April 14, 1912, of course) and it made me think of how much energy you invested in learning about that poor unsinkable ship’s history and legacy. I remember a series of videos in elementary school that focused on the ALVIN exploration of the Titanic wreckage… or was it more than just videos? Did you go to a camp or something? I certainly know that you are the person who taught me that it’s cool for girls to be interested in math and science. On your birthday, I’m overwhelmingly thankful for the smart girl trail that you blazed for your sisters to follow.

I’m not sure there’s a point in all this… maybe that some days we feel unsinkable, and some days we’re totally sunk… and some days all it takes is a little rain to feel refreshed.

Not going down with the ship,


Not my time

Inspired by this essay

Would it be too cliché to start this post with the “there is a time for everything” scripture? Probably. How’s this:


This is what I try to tell myself whenever I’m lamenting the way things used to be, or how things could be, if only I would try harder, sleep less, drink more coffee, etc.

For example, learning new organ repertoire is not exactly my strong suit at the moment. Back in the day, when I was young (ha!) and single, I would spend 10-15 hours, often more, practicing and preparing for a new service. I would learn primarily new music, with maybe 1-2 pieces per service that were something I’d previously played. I’d use the organ’s recording system to record myself playing, and then I’d walk out into the sanctuary to critique my registrations and tempos. I’d struggle to make the modulation just how I wanted it, and I’d obsess over having the anthem registrations just right. Now? Well, let’s just say that my preparation habits are drastically different. Every piece I choose is something I’ve played before. I can’t remember the last time I changed the registrations I use for introit, modulation, and hymns. My total preparation time is usually in the neighborhood of 3 hours. And I’m ok with that. At least most of the time.

I can prepare in less time because I’m a more experienced organist than I was 10 years ago, when I started playing for LaGrave. I’m reaping the benefits of the time I spent learning new repertoire. Most of the hymns are ones I’ve played before. I’ve learned how to be confident without running through everything 10 million times. (Not to say that I don’t still FAIL. Because life and anxiety.)

But sometimes I get frustrated. I know that I could play more difficult music, or learn new music, if only I would spend more time. I want to reaffirm my abilities to myself, to know that I’m not a washed-up old organist just recycling the same 10 pieces over and over again. Which is why I have to remind myself that this is just not the season of life for learning new music. It will be again some day, but now is not that time. Not when there are two little girls at home who need their mama. Not when family time is so precious and so hard to come by during the busy school year. Not when I need every last scrap of sleep I can get in order to survive these long, hectic days.

Just gotta remember that there will be another time… Some day.