Thanks

So, I’m sure you’ve noticed a huge gap in posts. I mean, of course you have, because you’re a regular reader and you love my wit, and you can’t WAIT until you see a new post from me!

Kind of like how I am with The Hermitage, Dreams + Jeans, and Fine Art Tips.

A lot has been going on. I have been taking 17 credit hours this semester, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve worked so hard and been so happy in that work. I’m telling you right now: If you’ve been in a slump, or maybe want to advance in your career but lack of a degree is holding you back; GO TO SCHOOL, even if it’s just one class at a time.

journey

There’s nothing that will revive you more than feeding your brain. It’s the perfect time in the economy, too. Things are starting to bounce back, but it’s slow going and business is still slow enough that if you wanted to, you could squeeze in a morning or evening class. Some of them are scheduled to only meet once a week, if that’s all you can commit. There are loads of scholarships available, and enrollment is down, so they WANT you to go to school.

But assuming you can afford one class per semester – maybe two – what would you take? What has always piqued your interest? Ancient Egypt? Art History 101- Prehistoric to the Gothic, or World History to 1500.

king tut

What have you always wondered more about? How to really use Excel, so you can go up a paygrade at work? CIS 105 or Excel Level I.

Or, have you always wondered why rocks look like this? Take Geology 101! I liked it so much I took 102 as well.

sandstone

Why don’t you do something for you? You’ve always wanted to try painting. Remember how much you loved watching Bob Ross? I recommend taking Color Theory first. It’s been a challenge, but a good one!

Think about it.

Besides school, we’ve had a few birthdays

IMG_5997

IMG_6667 - Version 2

and lost our two best friends :(

Butter (aka Best Dog in the World) was 13, and Pepper (2nd Best Dog in the World) was 12. They passed away within a month of each other.

butter and pepper

Our new girl, Juniper, was a birthday surprise, and missed meeting Pepper by two days, but kept Butter company for the last month. She’s adorable, and smart, and keeps us all on our toes.

Juniper

The horses have gotten hairy. They got a post-Halloween treat.

horses eating pumpkin

Keira is still for sale. It’s strange, I think she must be waiting for the perfect home. I’ve had several people interested in her, and a few offers, but they all fell through for various reasons. All she needs is time and attention. She’s super smart and sweet, and responds well to training (see video on her page). I’m so surprised she hasn’t sold yet, because she’s pretty close to perfect. But that’s just my opinion ;)

keira

I gave my first class lecture

lecture ARH101

and we’ve had some rain.

IMG_7123
my Land Art installation, titled “Direction”

Coming up, I’ve got a post on a popular author, a round-up of my projects for the semester, an out-of-town writing conference (so exciting!), and after Christmas, I get to go visit my family. Please continue to keep my sister-in-law and our parents in your thoughts. This is our first holiday without John, and he is greatly missed.

john & chris

Here and now, it’s holiday time in the desert, cool and crisp in the morning, sunny in the afternoon.

I’m thankful for it all – my family, our health & home, the opportunities we have.

And to you, for taking the time to visit.

smiley face, rocks

Much love,

Heidi

If you’d like to do more online browsing, please stop by my friends’ sites:

Pb Crazy

r. mccormack writes

taysteele.com

strategicbongo

TracyJoyCreative

And So It Goes

This has been the most difficult post to write. Which is probably why it has taken me so long to attempt it. I guess maybe I thought if I didn’t acknowledge it, it wouldn’t be true.

My brother died.

This post is for him.

♡

These are things that my brother loved:

  • my sister-in-law
  • music
  • laughing
  • beer
  • cigars
  • basset hounds
  • his car
  • guitars
  • correct grammar
  • really good music
  • Neal Peart
  • going to his weekend property
  • the album Asia by Asia

 “The Heat of the Moment” has a distinct drum rhythm, and when John was learning (rather, teaching himself) how to play drums, he would start that LP over and over at the very beginning, put on his headphones, and drum out the beat on the one practice snare drum that he had gotten for Christmas two years before, when my parents were still married, and probably hoped that all those years of paying for a rental trombone wouldn’t be washed away by a shiny new drum. It replaced the beat-up square of leftover carpet that he’d been using up until then. Actually I think the drum was a gift from my Grandpa. Which makes sense because it was just the type of gift my grandpa would give – something to impress everyone else. Something that was a little expensive, and something that was close to the kid’s heart but his parents were on the fence about, so you bought it for him and instantly became the hero.

I’m assuming the trombone was either rented, or a loaner from the school; we wouldn’t have been able to afford a new one. I imagine he was probably allowed to buy a used horn a after a few years of sticking with it, and starting the drums would have to be a side project. He would go on to play trombone in the school band all the way to graduation (and later in college, majoring in trombone), filling in on the drums here and there for practicing in the bandroom, and starting a garage band on the weekend with his buddies. (What’s up, Northern Lites?) As a senior, he actually got to march with the drums.

Anyway, the snare drum had to have a towel stuffed in it to mute the sound of the drumming, because if there’s any noise that gets annoying after a while, it’s a sixteen year old boy teaching himself to play the drums by playing the first two minutes of an 80’s schlock-rock band over and over and over and over.

BOOM – boomboom – TAH! BOOM – boomboom – TAH!

Drummers, you know what I’m talking about.

Asia was was right after my parents got divorced, and me, my brother and my mom had all moved into the apartment above my soon-to-be stepdad’s photography studio. I guess I was the only one who just thought it was incredibly convenient and not involving any other sort of coincidence that there just happened to be an attic apartment for rent in the 3-story Victorian home on Main Street that housed a studio, office darkroom, and private residence of the man who would marry my mother less than a year later. But things tend to go over my head.

I don’t think anything EVER went over John’s head, which meant he had put 2+2 together, and realized why we lived in the same house with this man, and just what was going on when work ran into the evening hours. Which explains why he was so pissed off all the time, and pounding on that drum as if it had just committed some sort of offense.

Which is why music saved my brother.

I honestly have no idea what kind of person John would have become had it not been for the saving grace of Music.

It was his confidant, his confessor, his therapist, his “safe place.”

He hadn’t had the easiest life. When we were very young, he had some tough experiences, which for the sake of good manners will remain private for now. But nevertheless, at the time these things were happening to John, publicly he had to put on a good face, be the happy kid; the good son. And when he had time to himself, the only thing that kept him from acting out his rage destructively, was music.

Before Asia – before the divorce and during everything that led up to it – Our parents’ records – The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins soundtracks (our mom used to sing us to sleep with “Stay Awake,” and evey chore was accompanied by “A Spoonful of Sugar”), John Denver An Evening With John Denver and Neil Diamond Hot August Night; there was the Big Band Era – Glen Miller, Buddy Rich and Benny Goodman; 70’s rock – The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix; 80’s everything – Journey, Michael Jackson, Rush (of course), and Billy Joel. We borrowed the Billy Joel LP, Glass Houses from the library so many times we had to buy it.

In addition to playing First Chair Trombone, John added a cymbal and base drum to his set and moved it to the basement, and wasn’t allowed to play too late into the night. But during the day, if you were within a quarter mile of our house, you would say, there goes that Giovannoni kid again on those drums.

I remember one time, being in the attic bedroom, singing along to Pat Benatar, and hearing John practicing down in the basement, there was some type of military fly-over, and I heard my first actual Sonic Boom. I thought John had just hit the drums really hard.

So as the family split apart, more pieces got added to the drum set as he saved his money: a cymbal high-hat, a tom-tom drum, some type of smaller drum that I don’t even remember the name of, and so on. Then we moved away. From our familiar small town to a bigger, busier, medium-sized city. The high school population was triple that of our home town, and in an area not far from the projects. He lasted one day at that school, then decided living in my dad’s 2 bedroom, one bath rental apartment in the country and going to high school with his friends was a much better idea. So he moved back with our dad, and I stayed with my mom and stepdad. I considered the whole moving thing kind of an adventure, and besides, if I was going to be a Movie Star, I had to get out of that small town.

The next summer, the three of us, my mom, stepdad and me, moved to Arizona. I would go home to the Midwest at Christmas and on summer vacation to see my dad and John, and my “wicked stepmother”—which is what we jokingly call my awesome, amazing stepmother, who pretty much everyone agrees was a gift from God. At Christmas, we would go to all of my Italian family’s houses for dinner. There would be lots of eating, lots of loud talking and laughing and drinking and smoking and laughing. And kids running around being noisy, and music playing. And probably some yelling in there, too.

I would show off my latest stupid 80s haircut, and—as my cousin Brad never fails to remind me—wore a pair of white Van’s on which I had painted the proclamation FEED THE WORLD. I also sported some wicked eye makeup. More than any 15 year old has a right to wear. But hey, I was breaking out. I was finding myself.

John wore his signature Levi’s, white Oxford button down, leather loafers, a sport coat, and an Alex P. Keaton-inspired necktie. He was gorgeous, but didn’t think so. He’d be at the ancient upright piano in my grandmother’s basement, and since it was the only musical instrument around, he sat there, on the bench, tinkering with the keys, playing around, finding the notes he was looking for—and that’s how he started to teach himself to play the piano. Sometimes my cousin Nathan would sit with him, and talk while my brother played, since they were of the same away-from-the-noisy-crowd disposition. His defense was to either separate himself, or be the most obnoxious one in the room. Having a guitar meant he could be part of the action, but still have something to hide behind.

But I really didn’t see much of John on my visits home. We had different friends, and the older sibling seldom welcomes the younger sibling into their group of friends. Especially guy/girl variances. When your best buddies want to date your sister, you tend to want to keep your sister as far away from them as possible. So we didn’t do a lot of stuff together. Besides, I was too busy hanging out with my own friends in between family outings. My friend Tracy and I were pretty much joined at the hip. I’m still looking for the scar that shows we were somehow surgically separated.

And the places John would be? Practicing songs with his band, Northern Lites; or hanging out in the choir room at school. Our choir teacher, Mrs. Keene, band director, Mr. Cerveny, and John’s piano teacher, Mrs, Schiller, were the human counterparts to his music therapy. They each took equal parts in saving my brother from himself. The choir room, that ancient basement sanctuary, where John would be joking around with his friends or flirting with his girlfriend as she sat at the piano. The girl that he broke up with a year later when she went to Minnesota for school, and kept in touch with over all the years and after they each had a string of relationships, and each a failed marriage. The girl, who after all of that, 25 years later, would become his wife, Chris. Yeah, that girl. The one who always knew him, who understood him, and who had his heart.

And in that 25 year span, he went to college, dropped out of college, tried a move to Arizona—which was cool, because we got to hang out together—but ultimately decided AZ was not the place for him, packed up his drums in the ’69 Caddy and drove all the way back home to Illinois. And I went to college, dropped out of college, moved to Chicago, failed miserably, moved back to AZ, went back to college, met my husband, dropped out of college again, and got married and started raising a family of smelly boys who idolized their smelly uncle.

In that time, John and his then-girlfriend, Carol, began an adventure that neither of them would believe would become what is is today, 18 years later: the award-winning landmark of downtown Palatine, The Music Room.

He had gone back to school, attending nights first at Harper College, then went on to Elmhurst College. During that time, he traveled to Europe with the jazz band. Switzerland, Ireland, Malta, Italy and probably a few more spots. He received his degree in Music Education at age 35 (and is hugely responsible for inspiring me to go back to school to pursue my own degree now – in Art Education – at age 43.)

Though their romantic relationship ended, John and Carol’s friendship and business partnership only continued to grow. They built The Music Room into not only a space for retail and rental instruments, but a gathering place for musicians to both teach and learn. They have also given back to the community with their Gear Shift donation program for used instruments.

But The Music Room was so much more than John’s business or job; it was his life. (Second only to his love for my sister-in-law Chris, and the time they spent together at their weekend place, going to local spots for dinner, or just having quiet time at home or with family.) And it shows in the hundreds of comments we have received from former students, their parents, and patrons of John’s, as well as members and friends of the band he formed, The Big Cluster Big Band, and former band mates of Simply Vintage.

Who could guess that one day you’d get a call, something about a brain tumor, and fourteen months later you are saying goodbye.*

And here I am suddenly an only child, in a spinning haze of life going on regardless of the fact that my brother is gone. Going to class, filling up with gas, shopping for groceries, watching TV, taking a shower, having dinner, feeding my horses, checking one kid’s homework, and the other kid’s college plans, making lunch for my husband, all the day-in day-out stuff that I always did.

Only now it’s this weird reality. I have more sympathy cards on my kitchen cabinets than I had Christmas cards this year. People I haven’t heard from in years, reaching out to me with folded-paper hugs. It’s so bizarre. So wonderful and sad at once.

And maybe it’s taken me so long to write this because in all the business of everyday life, even with the cards and phone calls, even with the times that the realization has knocked me sideways, it really hasn’t hit me until now.

We didn’t  have the perfect relationship (who does?). We didn’t talk everyday, or even every month. But the thing about me and my brother was that we didn’t need to. We just got each other. In a way that not even my parents, my husband, my kids, even my best friends – John understood me, and I him. That’s the biggest thing I will miss. The one person who knew me better than anyone else, is not here anymore.

Not here, perhaps, but not gone. He was sitting on my shoulder the whole first week of classes, cheering me on. He’s with my sister-in-law, watching over her and trying to help her feel like she’s not alone. He and my grandpa are puffing away on cigars, keeping an eye on our parents. He’s with his buddies, calling them all a bunch of no-good shitheads. He’s with his nieces and nephews hopefully making sure they don’t get into too much trouble, but probably snickering when they do. And he’s definitely at the store, his baby for the past umpteen years.

It’s just…selfish, I know, but I just wish he was still here.

love you, brother.

Things I’ve learned over the past year:

Laughter is the best medicine.

True love won’t let time or space get in its way.

Never underestimate the power of being nice to people.

Forgiveness is hard.

Oncology doctors and ICU nurses are in a class by themselves.

Frampton Comes Alive is an album that should be listened to all the way through, over good food, with people you love.

A year goes by way too fast.

This was played for John at his Celebration of Life. I couldn’t think of a better song:

More about John here, here, and here. And on YouTube here and here.

*also: I just want to say Kudos to Valerie Harper and thank her for being so open, brave and honest about her recent diagnosis. Hopefully by bringing more attention to brain cancer, scientists and doctors will be able to come up with more effective treatments for this brutal disease.

Thanks, as always, for reading. xoxo heidi.

For information or to donate to the John Giovannoni Memorial Scholarship Fund, click here.

please feel free to leave a comment below.

Foggy morning, December

We finally had a good soaking rain. It has been over 3 months since we had any precipitation, and the whole place – the house, the yard, the whole city for that matter, had been covered in layers of dry gritty dust. There was a lifeless pallor over everything, keeping the color and vitality of the desert hidden from view.

While everyone in the rest of the country gets hammered by storms, here’s us:

Not that I’m asking for a hurricane (my heart goes out to everyone affected by Sandy), but a few drops here and there would be nice. Below is a lovely photo of what we Phoenicians call “the brown cloud,” caused by ozone: “Ozone is an invisible gas created when other pollutants in the air – such as those created by combustion- are heated by the sun.” Just another day for us:

And then I’m sure this doesn’t help the dust situation – summer dust storms known as Haboobs. (Yes that really is what they are called, and yes, they really do look this big and freaky)

So when we hear we are getting rain after almost 4 months, we kinda freak out. All the weather people have their sleeves rolled up, the maps are flashing all over the place, and weather is the LEAD STORY.

before the storm

What is just an average storm in any other part of the country is an event for us. I mean, it didn’t just rain…it rained for two whole days!! 

I loved it.

Sat in my jammies drinking coffee all Saturday morning, then actually got my rain jacket out of the closet (yes, it had DUST on it!), and went out Christmas shopping.

In the rain!

It was kind of exciting. Everyone had jackets and/or hats, and some even had this fancy type of nylon water shield that they would hold over head. You see them a lot in British shows.

But the cool this was, everyone was in a good mood. And mellow. No grumpiness, obnoxious yapping or complaining…just cool, you know? The rainy day vibe.

The horses loved it, too. They stood out there, just soaking it in, and getting good and muddy.

And then I woke up Sunday morning, to

FOG.

um…mom?
isn’t it time for breakfast?
over there. see? the hay?
look at those ear tips. she might be a vulcan.
talk about my ears, will you? hmph.
(there’s a foreshortening exercise for you art students)
no, seriously, where’s breakfast?
see? I told you! breakfast time!
umm nom nom nom….
mud? what mud? I don’t know what you’re talking about…nom nom nom
of course these two have to see what’s going on
what did you find, Butter?
her ears don’t work so well anymore, but her nose is juuust fine… :)

then I almost tripped over this…when you have boys, this is the kind of thing you find in your yard
and when you kneel down to take a picture of a baseball, your labs take the opportunity to climb all over you.

Let’s see what else we can find around the ol’ place…

I’m trying hard to keep my own fresh herbs

the lemons are getting more lemony. they look like limes until they begin to ripen.
this eucalyptus tree has to be over 50 years old. it’s HUGE.
looking up

ah, the challenges of living with taxidermy
this is what happens to the street in front of our house after two days of rain
this lady doesn’t want to splash her fancy schmancy car.
wuss.
the fog is already starting to burn off. I knew it wouldn’t last long.
but it’s nice while it lasted
back inside…
back to the blog, and baking christmas cookies.

Thanks for hanging out with me on my foggy desert morning! I hope you are enjoying some crisp fresh air, wherever you are.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today I was listening to a discussion on NPR about retail businesses being open on Thanksgiving day, and how right or wrong that decision may be. One of the things I love about public radio is the fact that they support open debate over many topics, with views from both sides.

One person was saying that hey, it’s a business decision, it’s part of the economy, it’s the way things are going now, with such a competitive retail market – stores having to compete with online retailers, yada yada yada.

Another was saying yes, but what is it doing to our society when we can’t even have ONE DAY where folks can take time off and spend with their families?

The response to that was, well, what about all the people NOT in retail who have to work anyways? Police, firefighters, hospital workers, etc. Add to that the fact that many retail workers were jumping at the chance to work the holiday, for the extra pay. Who are we to say they shouldn’t work if they want to?

Then a comment from a caller came in, so angry and vehemently AGAINST the idea that anyone should work on this holiday, and that it just makes everyone look like greedy slobs, having to make money, or needing to go out shopping for that amazing deal only offered at midnight turkey madness. And how embarrassed she was to call herself an American, and lots of other vicious spewing.

To which I say:

Can’t we all just get along?

Personally, I think part of the problem with society today (yeah, I’m going there) is that everyone is looking to blame somebody else for everything that has gone wrong in their life, in the country, the world, you name it. The Conservatives blame the Liberals; the Muslims blame the Jews; the Christians blame the Atheists; the Blacks blame the Whites, who blame Everybody Else – and vice, vice, vice, vice versa.

DUDE.

JUST BE NICE TO PEOPLE.

I’m so sick of it. It’s like a bunch of kids on the playground, all pointing their fingers at each other:

He did it!

No, HE did!

She did it first!

Maybe it’s having a brother with a tumor in his head that puts it all into perspective. The Jews, Blacks, Conservatives, Muslims – nobody put that tumor there. Not even God. It just is, and it sucks. It sucks that he has to go through a week of heavy-duty physical therapy just to be able to remember how to put his pants on or tie his shoes. It sucks that his wife is so worried and stressed out that she had to be hospitalized as well.

So when I hear people bitching about how horrible it is to want to work or shop on Thanksgiving, or, Christians telling people they will “go to hell” if they don’t believe in Creationism or have an abortion, or Hamas bombing Gaza because of WHATEVER IT HAPPENED A THOUSAND YEARS AGO. Just fucking love thy neighbor and get over it.

So tomorrow, break bread, even if it’s with people who irritate you or done you wrong or stole your boyfriend. Just be Thankful you have someone to break bread with. Be Thankful that you have bread to break. Be Thankful that you have the ability to read this, and computer access. Be Thankful that your house didn’t get washed into the ocean. Be Thankful that you can sit around the table with those you love. Even if you less-than-love some of them.

And be Thankful that you don’t have a tumor in your head.

And if you do have a tumor in your head, I love you. I’m sending you a big hug.

And be nice.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Back to the Mountains – a picture post

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, first of all, THANK YOU!! :) and second of all, you’ll be glad to hear about a place familiar to us; our favorite spot in the beautiful White Mountains of eastern Arizona. This is where you first heard of it. Here’s the follow-up from last year where you see our lovely tree burned to the ground.

In celebration of quitting my job, the last hurrah before school started, and my husband having 3 days off, we headed back to the our favorite spot for a cool break from the 115° heat. Here are some AAaaaahhhh moments:

setting up camp
Aspens and fresh air
afternoon storms building over the lake
cuddling
Butter and Pepper
my son’s friend got his first rabbit, and found an elk antler
chillin like a villain
we happened upon some unlucky trout who had a taste for Powerbait
the catch of the day (click for full image)
rain coming in from the east
the guys go on a hike, and see a coyote. he was hunting rabbits, too.
pretty pink flowers of some sort
The skeleton of our once beautiful Ponderosa Pine giant
this is what it looked like before lest year’s fire
we had a great time, relaxed, and enjoyed the best of eastern AZ

 …and then my battery died.

The nice thing to know is that the area is bouncing back nicely. Fire kills forests, but in the ashes come new life. Grass is growing thick, and our camp spot had the biggest surge of baby Aspens that we’ve seen since we’ve been coming here. The wildlife will feed on the fresh new growth, and the whole cycle will begin again.

Thanks for coming along with us, and I hope each of you has a chance to get out and enjoy a nice weekend with your family.

Take care!

Heidi

Little Stinker

Yesterday, our first son turned one
He went to work with Dad
(yes, that is an Elmo clip-on tie)
Then we had two boys, and we went camping.
Yesterday, our boys had a first day of school
He caught a big fish,
went on vacation,
went to the beach
got his first elk.
Yesterday, he wore his first tux
shot a self portrait,
went on his first trip alone, and made a life-long friend
Took a goofy picture
took a Senior picture,
And then this young man who was a baby just yesterday,
Graduated high school.

How is this possible?
Isn’t there some sort of rule that they’re supposed to stay little forever?
And cuddle in your lap and ask for a story?
Something having to do with the time/space continuum?
The flux capacitor?
Peter Pan? Neverland?
Where’s pixie dust when you need it?
And then,
the following week,
my baby called in the middle of the night
(2:00 AM)
and said,
“Put Dad on.”
And we went to go get him, and this is what we saw:
That’s his truck.
On its side.
That’s the mailbox he hit.
See all those lights in the background?
That’s about six cop cars.
There wasn’t anything else going on.
But one of those friendly officers calculated that my son was driving about 9.7 mph,
when he veered up onto the curb while trying to swat away a moth.
#$%@ing moths.
He and his friend were fine, thank goodness.
He went to the neighbor’s house the next day to fix the mailbox.
The mailbox is going to be OK.
The truck?
We’re working on it…
Little stinker.
***

Only the Good Die Young

Last week, while we were still in the happy afterglow of new life, my husband’s family suffered a tragic loss. A cousin he and his siblings had been close to in childhood passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

There have been a few subjects mulling around in my brain for my next blog post, but after an event like this, they all seemed inconsequential. I felt the need to honor this woman’s life, if but for a moment. I can’t say I knew her well; her family is located in another state, and visits with them were infrequent. We didn’t have any sort of relationship beyond annual family gatherings and the exchange of Christmas cards. But she was the type of person instantly liked by anyone who met her. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. We shared the same name, and the lighthearted joke when we were introduced was that I was the “other” Heidi.

Heidi greeted everyone with a warm smile, a warm hug, and when she asked “How are you doing?” she meant it. One of the most genuine and unpretentious people you’d have the pleasure of knowing. My husband has great memories of growing up and spending time with her and her sister, and his siblings, all hanging out as cousins.

For many years, she taught school and enjoyed every minute of it. One of those rarities – someone who actually loved her work, and it showed in the more than 2,000 visitors who came to show their respects at her wake and service.

Her greatest treasure was her family, especially her kids. A devoted daughter, sister, wife, and most importantly, a mother of two, an undetected health issue took her from this world earlier than any would have imagined. She will be greatly missed.

Please keep her family in your prayers, and hug your own.