How Wonderful is Pandora?

vinylrecordThe Pandora Music Station/App/Radio-like product is one of my new favorite things. I’ve been listening to it for a couple years now, but I’ve used it really for background sounds to set a mood. Maybe because it’s Spring Break and it’s snowing (grrr) and I’m waiting for the carpet cleaner, I’ve been checking out the genre stations. While you can’t select individual songs, you can certainly get close. Here are some random observations from this afternoon:

  • I miss Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach.
  • How much fun Ferrante & Teicher must have had playing The Theme from Exodus.
  • Are there any optimistic songs written today that are as excited about the future as Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In?
  • Whenever I go to the ShowTunes station, Phantom of the Opera is ALWAYS playing.
  • They have music stations to go along with the cuisine you’re cooking.
  • When you set up a station to listen to a specific artist – you will never hear that artist on it.
  • They need a button that will prevent most of James Taylor and all of Pink Floyd from EVER being played on my selected stations.

Emptying My Bucket List

OK, I can cross this off now.

OK, I can cross this off now.

A bucket list is important in shaping what we strive for and reminds us of the variety of experiences that we might lose sight of as we go through the routine of daily life. We get excited when we find something we want to add to it and savor the ability to cross an item off as accomplished. I realized recently that my bucket list needed emptying.

It came innocently enough. Now, don’t sneer, but I have been a Barry Manilow fan since college. He did write some songs that resonated with me at the time. And mostly they cheered me up. Bandstand, It’s a Miracle, even the one with his jingles (Advertising major, remember). Although, if I never hear Copacabana again, that would be fine. Seeing Barry in a live performance was one of those items my bucket carried. So it’s his last concert tour and he’s stopping in my city. My last chance to see him and cross this off my list.

I decided it’s not important to me now.

I am starting my Shelf List.

A Shelf List is for the time in your life when you gasp at your upcoming birthday and have no idea how time passed so quickly. A Shelf List is a way to get things off the wish list and focus on what’s important to get done. Not so much to experience or learn as to share, create, contribute. A time to realize that while it may be still possible to learn to tap dance, is it still a worthy pursuit?

Mr. Manilow is going on my shelf, along with running for a political office, and owning a vast collection of cute shoes. Things I no longer care about or realize it’s too late to really do anything with. Am I really going to read/re-read those books? Does anyone really care what’s on my feet?

Am I passionate about it? Will it help someone? Everything else goes up on the shelf and out of the way. I’ll leave those things for someone else to do.

The View From Here

IMG_0558It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving and I am avoiding stores. Shopping is stressful enough, and as a perpetually overstimulated introvert, I savor a day to recharge at home. It’s morning and still dark. I have the little white twinkle lights on because they make me smile and think of the millions of the same twinkle lights in the trees along Michigan Avenue. Living in an apartment again – and love it. The kitchen is perfect. The layout feels spacious. Possessions have been trimmed to the favorites. It’s quiet and peaceful here. As I look around, every item has a story. Drinking my Starbucks Morning Joe coffee, comfy in my favorite chair, I’m thankful for all I have and for everything, and everyone that have brought me to this place.

The rest of my day will be planning the next three weeks of classes until Christmas Break. I am teaching U.S History and World History high school classes this semester for a dear friend who had back surgery. (I told him it’s a good thing he teaches history because if he taught algebra, he’d be on his own!) It is a challenge that is taking almost all my waking hours and all my brain capacity. It is good. It is good to be challenged and learning everyday. Every night I’m up working until I stumble – really, stumble into bed. Every morning I’m up before my alarm goes off at 5am, ready for another day.

The one where I try to sum up my 2013

This was the year I regained my senses (at least sight and hearing), became a Catholic, and reconnected with high school classmates that I have not seen in 39 years.

That about sums it up.

The forbidden Wild Cheetos tree, the fruit of which, inspires Steelcase designers

The forbidden Wild Cheetos tree, the fruit of which, inspires Steelcase designers

Ok, if you insist, here are some details. First, the senses thing. The world had very quickly become dark and blurry in 2012. I went to see my new eye doctor (a BCHS grad) and had cataract surgery on both eyes before February. What an amazing procedure – but, I hate to think about the first person who had it, “You’re doing WHAT to my eyeball?”  I also developed some hearing problems that I didn’t take care of right away because I kinda liked having the world be not so loud. But, fixed that in the last couple weeks. I realized that I am more distracted by sounds than sights – hence, the beagle running through the house is OK, but his barking/howling bothers me.

 

Beagles, as a species, would be extinct if they weren't so cute.

Beagles, as a species, would be extinct if they weren’t so cute.

Second, it took a year for me to become an official Catholic, and I have so much more to learn. I love the Mass and have found comfort and power in the Rosary. I have met amazing people on my journey – Father Mel, Rhonda, Dan and Betty, Gene, and my sponsor, Linda (a BCHS classmate). I find that I love Ordinary Time. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I also appreciate vanilla ice cream, plain bagels with plain cream cheese, black coffee, plain chicken and rice, unflavored potato chips, simple dark chocolate. Ordinary – no frills.

And……I'm in!

And……I’m in!

Now, when I’m asked about my time on staff at an Evangelical megachurch, I can respond, “Well, I’m Catholic now,” and leave it at that. (It was the staff retreats at St. Mary’s Seminary that got me started if you want to know, not the shaming or the pressure to reinvent Christianity every week.)

Third, in a project that went way beyond what I had imagined, I started hunting down and meeting with members of my high school graduating class. I thought, with our 40th reunion looming, and with my returning from Chicago after several decades, what a great excuse to reconnect. Not everyone is on Facebook and not everyone has email.

It's good to have friends/classmates in high places.

It’s good to have friends/classmates in high places.

I found and talked to about 35 so far, out of a class of 109 graduates. We’ve had two small get-togethers and I started a newsletter. I’ve also been so impressed with the changes in my little hometown that I’ve been researching and writing about it (see my blog at www.cynthiahoppe.com).

The summer went by way too fast and I got too few walks on my beach.

Not my beach. Saugatuck, where we go when being around people is OK.

Not my beach. Saugatuck, where we go when being around people is OK.

I am discovering other county parks in the area (thanks to Bob, a BCHS classmate). And stay tuned (for those of you who know me at all, you better sit down) – as I start as a substitute teacher (there is, of course, a story). Yeah, just gonna drop that one there and wish you all a great 2014.

 

Mighty Fine Arts

When I was in high school, if the marching band could play “Rock Around the Clock” and not bump into each other – it was a good day. As the assistant director of the school play my junior and senior year (there was only one play a year) we had to do “something funny” or no one (parents, community) would come. Forget anything involving singing, dancing, crying, etc. I should not complain. If we didn’t put on “Harvey” my senior year, I wouldn’t have met my husband, I don’t think a teen crush on the asst. director could have prompted him to try out for, say, “Oklahoma”.

Jazz Drummer Ali Jackson working with BCHS students. Photo: Marc Townley

Jazz Drummer Ali Jackson working with BCHS students. Photo: Marc Townley

 

Recently, I went to Byron Center High School’s “Artastic”, billed as “A Holiday Celebration of the Arts in our School!” Let me toss out some statistics gleaned from the program. First – it was well over two hours of amazing art: singing, musicians in groups and solos, and videos. There were two acts; the first had 20 performance pieces and the second had 21. While there was overlap, here are the number of members in the performing groups:
BCHS Orchestra – 42
BCHS Wind Ensemble – 71
BCHS Jazz Lab – 27
BCHS Symphonic Band – 80
BCHS Jazz Band – 18
BCHS Jazz Orchestra – 24
Women’s Chorus – 27
Concert Choir – 36
Vocal Expressions -22
Advanced Jazz Combo – 5
Sixteen Strings – 4
BCHS String Quartet – 4
Brass Quintet – 6
BCHS Theatre – 4
BCHS Audio/Visual – 6

That’s 376 positions – probably over 300 kids! In 1974 terms – everyone in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Then there was no “jazz”, there were no strings, there was certainly no “theatre”. We had a “play” and had a small marching band that occasionally performed sitting on folding chairs in the gymnasium.

One thing that struck me about these kids was how well they performed as a group, especially in formation or in unison. In the 70s, we were all individuals and we were like trying to herd the proverbial cats – we did nothing in unison. Being good at anything other than sports was scorned – it wasn’t cool. These kids I saw at Artastic had great technical skills, and also the very important life skills of being a team, supporting each other, acknowledging a solo performance, time management, and the discipline of daily practice. When there was a solo or another group performing, the others on stage where quiet and focused on the performers. I saw no fidgeting – and I was looking for it because it was remarkable for its absence. I wonder if it’s too late for me to learn.

Growing Carefully

Last Monday night I went to another Byron Township Board meeting. Yes, I know, I should just get Cable. This promised to be well-attended with heated discussions. The Board was to approve, or not, the rezoning application for Tanger Outlet Mall that would officially move Byron Center out of the “rural” classification. The meeting started at 7pm with a packed room and a group of men in business suits representing Tanger. The regular Call To Order and Approval of the Minutes led to New Business.

The group representing Tanger gave a presentation explaining what had been discussed at the Planning meeting and how the mall would be situated at 84th Street and US 131 (one mile from where I grew up and about a quarter mile from my elementary school). I expected huge pushback when it came to the public hearing part. Most people were for it – it would bring jobs -just so no fast food places came with it, if Alles Drive could be made a cul-de-sac, and if it would bring in lots of tax revenue. Everyone was very polite and had obviously taken much time to gather their thoughts. Then the Byron Township lawyer stated that just that afternoon he had received petitions from two businesses on properties next to the proposed mall site and there had to be a settlement procedure before the board could vote on anything, so tabled.

Now it’s about 8pm. All the Tanger people and interested parties leave. Still a pretty full room. The next item is a rezoning application to build apartments. Now comes the real passion. Interesting dynamics here. For the mall discussion, the people who came and spoke for or against the mall had all lived here forever. The apartment discussion was different. Now the apartments (gated community with pool, pet spa, granite counters and stainless steel appliances) would be 256 units (studio, 1,2,3,and 4 bedrooms) on a plot of land bordered by Byron Center Avenue, M6, a hospital and a church. Oh, and a recently built, lovely single family home development: VanSingel Farms.

Perhaps I should mention that one of the Board members is John VanSingel. A little history. John’s father was President of Byron Center State Bank when I was in school. It was the only bank in town and funded many of the town’s activities. John has been very successful on his own and has contributed much to the direction, growth, and success of Byron Center. VanSingel Farms is the poster child of the wealth and stability that has taken Byron from the thrifty, conservative, farm village of my youth to the thrifty, conservative, prestigious town that I have returned to.

The Springs group presents their vision for the site. This is valuable land now – certainly wasn’t before M6 and the hospitals were built. Byron is a single family detached house place. “Owning” your house and a “good place to raise kids” are two of the highest values here. Renting and raising kids – not so much.

There were two arguments against building the Springs Apartment Complex. The first: is this the best use of the land, tax-wise? Would business/professional offices be better for taxes and for developing an area that recently was all farm land? Second: renters are scum, their kids will break our schools, and they will strain our police and fire department resources. Shall I go on? They have no “values”, have no interest in what they vote for, pay no taxes, and in months it will be subsidized housing and Byron Center will have become “Kentwood” – which apparently is the code word for “trashy renters destroying any town they inhabit and possibly bringing on the Apocalypse”.

One after another, they got up to speak out against the proposed apartment development. They stated their name and address (VanSingel Farms) and then noted that they had recently (some just a few months ago) moved here from Kentwood or other parts of the country and came to have a nice house in a nice area with good schools and while they just got here and were nice, well, renters would destroy property values, traffic patterns, school excellence, and would generally need tax dollars that these homeowners would have to pay.

As a renter for most of my life, I was shocked at how my housing choice branded me a drag on the community. I know many renters who have made positive contributions to society. Some have stayed renters and some have advanced to the desired mortgage situation. Another phenomena that not many understand in this area is that not everyone marries and not everyone has children -ever. In my years in Chicago, a minority of my friends/colleagues were married. Of those married, only a few had children, either by choice or circumstance.  (Here, I don’t know anyone that didn’t marry and/or have children.)  People moved around – around the city, to different states. It was easier to follow career paths and opportunities without a house to buy/sell/maintain. There are two hospitals in walking distance (except you’d have to walk across a highway) of the proposed apartments. Sounds perfect for medical staff that are training or on a rotation of a couple months or years. They probably don’t have kids, are professionals that are working more than 8 hour days and don’t know if they will be staying beyond their term.

After the public had spoken, the Township lawyer spoke again. And once again, this time a sort of bureaucratic glitch, the vote could not be taken and had to be tabled.

It’s now 9pm. I have to leave, because dogs must be let out and teenager accounted for. There are still six items of business that I would have liked to stayed for. Pretty much everyone else left, too. They have dogs and kids to put to bed. I don’t know how much longer the meeting went but I have sat through some or their sewer discussions and they might still be there.

My October – in brief.

It’s November 1st, and grey and rainy. Where did October go?

It started with a great birthday/reunion on October 4th.

Me and our teacher - now State Rep. Hooker.

Me and our teacher – now State Rep. Hooker.

Had some great sunrises.

One of the many beautiful sunrises this month.

One of the many beautiful sunrises this month.

Got distracted by this dog several thousand times.

Don't be fooled by the cute face! He has a never-ending need for walks, treats, and belly-rubs.

Don’t be fooled by the cute face! He has a never-ending need for walks, treats, and belly-rubs.

Spent way more time on a piece for Byron Center Life than I planned. But, learned a lot.

BCHS Marching Band and Color Guard

BCHS Marching Band and Color Guard

A regular practice.

A regular practice.

Made a last minute visit to Florida to help my stepmother.

My bedroom at Casa Ginny - 15 stories above the ocean.

My bedroom at Casa Ginny – 15 stories above the ocean.

The pool I never got to use.

The pool I never got to use.

Atlantic sunrise.

Atlantic sunrise.

Got to see my brother.

My 6'5" baby brother.

My 6’5″ baby brother.

The 1965 Corvair that took me to the airport.

The 1965 Corvair that took me to the airport.

And now am preparing to officially become Catholic tomorrow.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew window.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew window.

It was a good October.