‘Honoring Miss Pietsch’ or how a composer helped me get my house in order, featuring 1886 wallpaper


Composer Edna Frida Pietsch stands in front of her house in 1904, insert is Pietsch at 8, in 1902. The awnings are in the attic, although they’re pretty worn out. (Photo from Wisconsin Women: a gifted heritage©1982, a project of the Wisconsin State Division AAUW

If anyone with a social media presence wants to see their blog stats tank, here’s my advice:

  1. Quit Facebook.

Even though my blog is my gift to me, a place where I write what I want to in order to loosen myself up to write better and more freely and not about how many readers and followers I have, I will freely cop to being a little sad at how dramatically my readership disappeared when I parted ways with Zuckerberg & Co.

But, I’m over it now. (Okay, maybe I am. Or maybe I’m just lying to myself.)

In the meantime, I have made excellent use of the time between blog posts to do something I have not been able to do since moving into my current house. With a little push from the house’s longest resident, Edna Frida Pietsch, and a lot of help from a couple of neighbors, my house has turned into a place I want to hang out in instead of run away from.

Well, the first floor, at least. Which is a lot, given that the first floor includes a kitchen, living room, parlor, dining room and a couple of porches. All presentable, all beautiful.

The parlor – and music room

What brought on this miracle?

Two things, actually. One was our neighborhood’s annual home tour. Sweetheart and I live just outside a historic district that has hosted a home tour for the past 28 years. When he lived here with Then-wife, they were asked multiple times to open the house up for the tour, but didn’t.

I’d done the tour before. My previous house was inside the neighborhood boundaries, and there was nothing  wrong with it that a cash infusion of roughly $250,000 wouldn’t have addressed nicely. It was 2005’s “house-in-progress.”

The tour prep process resulted in a lovely, tranquil and neat first floor that stayed lovely, tranquil and neat for six months. Then, a car accident rendered me unable to do much of anything involving cleaning up after people who messed up faster behind me.

Still, it was a valuable lesson. I learned I could create and maintain order – something I had not had the chance to know about myself prior.

In the ensuing years, my decision to live in what could diplomatically be described as a pigsty was informed by my priority list.

When Sweetheart bought his house back after By-Then-Ex-wife put it up for sale, I was working full-time and in graduate school. That overlapped with helping Mom move across six states into an assisted living high-rise and then to a nursing home. Good grades, keeping my job and caring for my mother took precedence over housekeeping.

Still, the process of organizing Mom’s house while she was still there to ensure maximum safety and efficiency while she lived independently, then breaking it apart twice more for her moves showed me I had somehow mastered the art of hanging on to the right stuff without hanging on to all of it – or even too much.

There are people for whom housekeeping and clutter-repelling comes naturally. Sweetheart and I are not among them.

So, for almost 10 years, I lived in this house and whenever I had the time to look around, mostly wanted to cry and run away because there seemed no way to get it under control.

Graduating from library school in 2014 freed up time, but by then Mom was in the nursing home. My free time went there until she died.

Then, it was March of 2018, and all I had was a job. No Mom. No school. Just an upcoming neighborhood home tour focused on the arts.

And Edna Frida Pietsch, the neo-classical composer whose father and grandfather built our house. Pietsch spent either all of her life here or lived here from the time she was five – in 1899 – until she died in 1982.  She taught theory and composition at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for 35 years and composed solo, chamber and symphonic works.

A cassette recording of Edna Frida Pietch’s “String Quartet in D Major”

Given that, there was no question that her house had to be on the tour. So, thanks to a pair of Sallys – the tour chair and the volunteer chair – we cleaned, and scrubbed, and excavated. (Good people going through rough times –intimate partner violence survivors and people living with brain disorders – will make good use of what we don’t need and won’t miss.)

I took a trip to Madison’s Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin, where Pietch’s manuscripts and recordings are housed. Library Director Jeanette Casey and her staff were wonderfully helpful. After I left, they digitized some of her music so I’d have recordings to play on Tour Day.




Pietsch’s portrait hangs in the Art, Music and Recreation room of The Milwaukee Public Library. Librarians there let me scan reference copies of her music. And an anthology of Wisconsin women published by the American Association of University Women featured a section on Pietsch and photo of the house from 1904.

Edna Frida Pietsch, painted by Joan Beringer Pripps

Hands in Harmony, a local piano studio, provided three hours of live music from teachers and students, including some works by Pietsch. The house looked fabulous.

The morning of the tour, I was putting the finishing touches on a display board. An empty board was laying on the dining room table.

“Can I use this?”

Sweetheart was cocking his head at the display board, his arms wrapped around a worn-looking cardboard box he’d brought from some cluttery corner of the attic or basement.

He began laying chunks of dusty plaster on the cardboard, arranging them in lines. Some broke apart as he lifted them from the box.

Chunks of dusty plaster

“Um….what are these?”

Which is how I found out about the second chimney sprouting a leak, causing a dining room wall to buckle. Sweetheart and Then-wife had to remove the plaster and replace it. Underneath the molding, they found the 1886 wallpaper. He’d boxed and kept it, along with a sample of the old-school jute-lined linoleum that had been under the carpet when they’d redone the floors.

The 1886 wallpaper

We gently wiped the wallpaper with damp cloths. The plaster dust vanished, revealing a floral pattern in deep burgundy, with various shades of pink, almost silver, and gold. I thought – not for the first time – of how lucky I am to have a life partner like Sweetheart.

Two post-election vignettes: ‘Hamilton’ cast makes most of ‘Carpe Diem’ moment; Ephemeral display lets librarian do the same

This morning, I woke up to the Facebook village and Twittesphere going nuts over what happened when Vice-President Elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton” last night.

My first thought was “Geez! If I’d known becoming vice president would have helped me get ‘Hamilton’ tickets, I would have applied for the job.”

But who am I kidding? There’s no question that my political leanings, vagina  and average looks would have completely disqualified me from consideration.

On a more serious note, there were a couple of FB posts calling what the cast did “rude and out of line.”

My question, voiced to those posters, was this: When would they have been able to have that kind of access and opportunity to be heard? And that doesn’t just go for the cast of “Hamilton,” who, once the makeup and costumes are off, are just ordinary working Joes and Janes like the rest of us.

Their 90-second address, delivered by Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, was a respectfully-delivered request. He spoke to the fear and anxiety many people are feeling about their well-being and that of people they love and care about. He refused to let the audience boo Mr. Pence.

It was a heartfelt speech, a request for reassurance in a situation where it is becoming increasingly apparent that reassurance is needed.

From all I’m seeing, the Trump/Pence administration is going to do everything it can to limit access to anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they believe in or want to do. This includes the press, which they seem to want to keep in the dark as much as possible. That scares the you-know-what out of a lot of us.

So Friday was a singular chance to be heard, and the cast seized its moment.

I’ve been seizing display space at the library, and, because of it was able, yesterday, to seize my own “be heard” moment.

The morning after the election, I cleared out my “He said/She said” display. This (below) is what I put in its place.

My post-election display. Someone has already taken out the cat book (replaced with another cat book). I borrowed “Comfort Food” last weekend  and made maple glazed baked beans for Book Group. The book next to it is a recipe book for making cocktails. My fabulous manager, Amelia, helped round up books for the display – Cats, Canada and Jamaica were her finds.


Then, this past Wednesday, one of my favorite recent reads, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” received the National Book Award. So Thursday, I made a display. It was an Oprah’s Book Club picture, so I didn’t think she’d mind me borrowing this 2004 shot of her looking extremely happy (she was giving away cars). On Friday, a woman came in looking for the book. I felt just like Oprah when I handed it to her. I also seized the opportunity to recommend “Underground Airlines” by Ben Winters and “The Sellout,” by Paul Beatty, which just won the Man Booker Prize.


I hope that woman likes the book and comes back for the others, but even if she doesn’t, seizing a moment to share something valuable is a valuable thing to do.

So go out there and seize your chance to be heard. In the face of uncertainty, a little love and reassurance  (in many forms, including between the covers of a good book) can go a long way.

Kudos to the “Hamilton” crew for showing us how to do it with grace and dignity.

Exporting the ‘Revolution’ reunion (1): Remarkable cluelessness and how to be in two places at once

Welcome to the first of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions. Given that it involved the event itself (a two-parter that included an afternoon and evening/dinner segment), a 1,500 mile sister road trip in which no eyeballs were scratched out, and many stops along the way (about which more when it is time, which it is not yet), it is worthy of more than a single post.

Revolution Reunion Post 1

Back in January, I wrote about co-chairing an upcoming summer reunion of my high school performing arts department. We were getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original theater piece we wrote – from scratch – to commemorate the US Bicentennial.

We were dumb high school kids who had no clue we were doing anything remarkable. And we were way too dumb to understand or appreciate that the teachers who’d decided a bunch of dumb high school kids could write and perform an original theater piece were several notches above remarkable.

Unusual, yes. That much we knew.

Returning to school after dinner on a weekly basis to hang around in the orchestra room wasn’t something friends in other high schools were doing. But it felt perfectly normal, once we got there on Wednesday nights, to noodle around inventing songs and grabbing classmates, or Mr. Hebert, when we hit on something we thought was interesting enough to share.

Meanwhile, over in the choir room, other students were singing melodies to Mr. Hanosh, who’d write them down and send them over to Mr. Hebert. Downstairs in the theater, they were writing narrative pieces with Mr. Barone, who taught English and ran the theater program. Once there were actual songs, Mrs. Schmidt, the dance teacher, began collaborating with her students on choreography.

The final result was this:

The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.
The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.
Program - page 2
Program – page 2
Program - Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a
Program – Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a “frill” to read this. Trust me, there is at least one future post on this topic.
Act 1
Act 1
Act 2
Act 2
The soloists and dancers
The soloists and dancers
The orchestra roster
The orchestra (I’m in here)
The choral roster - it goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.
The choral roster goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.
The rest of the choristers' names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think.....
The rest of the choristers’ names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think…..

Fast forward 39 years. “Revolution” might have seemed too far back to be visible in anyone’s rear-view mirror. But that line about objects being closer than they appear? Turns out, at least in this case, to have been spot-on.

As a Facebook newbie in 2014, Bob (formerly known as Mr. Barone) posted the idea of an event where we could come together, drink some wine and listen to the music together. Another classmate started a reunion group and within a day, membership exceeded 200. Bob’s reunion idea had sprouted legs, and the race was on.

The core planning committee (John and Jeannie and I) came together in August of 2014, and followed a process that closely mirrored the one used to create the original piece (minus the teacher-written Project Search Grant that funded the 1975 production). We all lived in different time zones, so we met over Skype and JoinMe.

This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but this is an actually committee meeting shot from January. And yes, I was in bed.
This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but it was taken during an actual committee meeting in January. And yes, that is me in bed (bottom).

This is, in part, what I wrote back in January when I thought (and wrote) that the best part of the reunion had already happened.

“I don’t remember when I last spent more time laughing with other people while getting real work accomplished. The three of us haven’t interacted in any meaningful way since high school. So it has been a joy to discover how much we still like each other, how compatible we are as a work team and how closely aligned our ideas and expectations are for the reunion.”

It turned out that that best part was the preamble to a whole lot more best parts.

By the time my sister and I arrived at Player’s Theater, other Committee members (we expanded our planning group based on evolving needs, at which point we’d reach out to other classmates based on their skill sets and proximity – and I’d also done my best to drag my sister into the planning process early on – she attended a couple of meetings and was a setup star) were hard at work. Jessica, who designed the reunion T-shirt based on Michael’s original logo design, was putting tape on the back of posters decorated with the reunion logo. Jeannie was setting up the screen and projector she’d borrowed from the library where she works, and John was setting up small round tables.

The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago.
The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago. You can see the original design on the program cover above.

I plopped myself down at one end of a table and continued working on the reunion playlist after having emptied the portfolio of memorabilia I’d hauled along – newspaper articles, two two-album cast recordings – one of the original production and one of the piece we’d done the year before (“Truth of Truths”), both signed on the inside, of course, by castmates and teachers.

Debby (my sister, who graduated a year behind me and played violin in the orchestra) still had her T-shirts from both performances. Everyone else had their memorabilia, but Debby was the only one with two T-shirts. She took Jessica’s posters and the loose news stories and pictures and started setting up displays around the room.

One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!
One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!

Bob showed up with a box. He began hanging banners and posters from other high school productions, and the drama group banner.

He hauled in a display board with newspaper clippings.

Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.
Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.

Before it was all over, Suzi had stopped by to say hello, (she’d done all the heavy lifting for the Saturday dinner that followed the afternoon event) and two Michaels – one the original logo designer and the other a sax player who’d become a high school music teacher. We’d tapped the latter Mike to co-emcee the formal part of the Saturday program along with Patty, because they both became high school music educators. But his band was playing a wedding they’d booked more than a year prior, so Patty was doing a solo act.

Revolution Setup Crew
The Revolution Reunion Setup Crew! (Photo credit: Audrey Pavone)

Mike was so crushed about having to miss the Saturday event that he made the four-hour round-trip drive from Binghamton to help out with setting up. It was so amazing to see him, and to catch up on everything we’d been doing since we last saw each other….sometime in, oooh….the mid 1970s.

As we were leaving Player’s to head over to Gerber’s for what turned out to be a fabulous dinner, he walked over to his car, lifted the tailgate, reached in and grabbed something. Then he walked over and started handing us each copies of his jazz combo’s recent CD.

“You just made the playlist!” I said, “Which means you’ll be here tomorrow!”