Dear Friends & Family,

It’s that time again: the unveiling of my annual holiday epistle! You will find the usual clickable links (underlined) to lots of photos and videos. If not online, you won’t see the photos or videos and, consequently, will miss the best part! Best get thee to a computer (or iPad or iPhone) and visit my web site at http://saxchick.net. Just click on the Holiday Newsletter graphic (like the one above). It will remain online until next December, when it will be replaced with a new holiday letter.

The new year brought a taste of culture as I attended the immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Madison. Though I was fully aware of the hype and commercialization of the project I appreciated the concept and allowed myself to get lost in the experience. An unexpected bonus was 75% off prices in the gift shop! I bought an awesome jigsaw puzzle and a beautiful coloring book with full color renditions of Van Gogh’s paintings for reference and informative narratives for each one. I took some pics, as usual, to relive the experience later.

Miss Kitty wasted no time in taking over my house! As long as she sits on my lap and purrs I am willing to put up with most anything. She really took a liking to the Christmas tree and enjoyed taking naps under it. Yes, she did also enjoy the ornaments and regularly batted a few of them off. She thinks the house is her playground and everything in it is her toy! She has also made herself comfortable on my jigsaw puzzle workspace. I’m thinking about changing her name from Miss Kitty to Miss Behavin’. Her formal name is Cinder Ella Fitzgerald.

I have been having great fun with a new Artificial lntelligence art program called DALL-E 2 (now DALL-E3), which I saw featured on CBS Sunday Morning in January. The app takes its cue from what the user types in, such as “aliens find a saxophone in a field a la Gustav Klimt”. It is fascinating to see the results, even though some of them are quite absurd…as AI has no real understanding of the things typed. Still, its concept of the style of any given artist can be quite impressive. The artists may not entirely agree. When news of my new addiction spread (via Facebook posts of my AI creations) I was asked to write an article about it for a Wisconsin artists’ publication called “Contour Notes” (Summer - Fall 2023, page 5).

Speaking of addictions, I have a few more new ones: Wordle and Connections – the popular New York Times word games online. They have become part of my daily morning ritual to keep the neurons firing. I continue my longtime routine of beginning each day with a crossword puzzle from my Mensa crossword-a-day calendar, which I keep conveniently located in my favorite bathroom. My niece gave me one for Christmas many several ago and I found it so perfect (not too easy, not too difficult) that I get a new one every year.

A more recent addiction is carving avocado pits! I started this new hobby when an artist friend and I were carving outside on a beautiful summer day. She forgot to bring the wood she had planned to carve so I brought out two giant avocado pits I had saved (for no particular reason). I really loved the sensation of carving into that firm but workable texture. The seeds are dicots so the carving blank is half of the pit: dome-shaped with a flat bottom. From there I went a little crazy carving everything from A to Z (literally: I carved at least one thing for each letter of the alphabet)! After carving my way through the alphabet I started carving Christmas ornaments (trees, wreaths, turtles, bunnies, snare drums…anything I could poke a little eye pin into and add a ribbon to hang it. Lately I’ve been carving leaves, mostly ginkgo and Eastern redbud, and have turned them into pins, pendants, and earrings. I have had a loyal group of avocado-loving friends who supplied me with the carving media: avocado pits. Recently I received a big shipment of pits from an old U.S Army Field Band comrade (thank you, Jatana) so now I should be set for the winter. I also just realized that I could get them from our local Mexican restaurant, Los Amigos…so I should have an endless supply!

 I began working at the Red Door Gallery (a local art gallery and shop here in Richland Center) this year…on a volunteer basis. I have always enjoyed volunteer work and I really enjoy playing artist and shopkeeper!

I continue to teach a handful of dedicated students (saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet) and am content to concentrate on a special few. I am not looking for new students but most likely will not be able to resist if an eager new prospect should inquire. I still maintain the lawn sax that I mowed into my front lawn more than twenty years ago. I have modified it a bit over the years but it is essentially the same sculpture I created for one of our early saxophone camps.

Our Aunt Marion, the last remaining member of our mother’s family of eight siblings, turned 100 on July17th of this year!  A large group of family member celebrated with her at her residence in Dixon, Illinois. She is still mobile and sharp as a tack! We also gathered together for family holiday celebrations, where I force everyone to pose for group selfies. Here is a little photo album of our tribe.

I continued my obsession with photographing the beautiful birds and other wildlife that come to visit here. Most birds are camera shy and are not very accommodating at posing for me. I try to lure them in with peanuts but the birds are so quick (and my camera and I are so slow) that it is a challenge to capture good photos. Still, I keep at it and occasionally get lucky.

I planted a garden again this year. The landscape cloth I laid down last year proved to be quite a hindrance but I decided to work with it for one more season. I planted some fun vegetables this year…including some new and unusual bean, squash, and eggplant varieties.  I started them indoors on my kitchen table on Valentine’s Day, trying out some new seed-starting equipment. I knew Miss Kitty would consider the plants to be toys for her so I ordered containers with high lids to cover the seedlings and also heating mats to encourage germination. I eventually moved all the seedlings out to the shop, where most of them died. So much for that big experiment! Except for beans, sugar snap peas. and hard-to-find squash I’m sticking with plants I can find at the local garden centers. In the fall I pulled up all the landscape cloth/weed barrier that I worked so hard to put down! I’m hoping for a better garden next year, now that nutrients can find their way into the soil again.

Since we had almost no rain all spring and summer, I didn’t expect much from my fruit trees. They surprised me, though, with apples, peaches, and plums in abundance! I even got a dozen or so Asian pears (my favorite) from a new tree I had just planted in the spring! I enjoy sharing the bounty with my friends (both dear and deer).

This year my carpet mural production consisted of nothing! Though I have seven beautiful frames ready to fill, I am waiting for inspiration and brilliant ideas to design them.  I displayed one of my murals (completed at the end of 2022) at Madison’s Overture Center Playhouse Gallery for a three-month Spring exhibit with the theme of Democracy. I had seven new frames made for any carpet murals I might create. I think The seven murals I am committed to creating may be my last, as the price of good wood for frames has become exorbitant and it is increasingly difficult to find the necessary carpet samples. It is also increasingly difficult for me to crawl around on the floor to do the actual work of cutting and assembling the carpet pieces.

My concert buddy Shirley and I attended our usual series of MSO (Madison Symphony Orchestra) concerts, taking turns with the driving. It’s likely that neither of us would go if we had to drive alone to every concert but having a good friend to share the driving, dining, and conversation makes it an enjoyable experience and we both enjoy keeping up our exposure to excellent live music. Through the year we heard works by Schubert, Bartok, Rachmaninoff, Mahler, Britten, Saint-Saens, Brahms, Price, Orff, Copland, Gershwin, Adams, Hanson, Bernstein, Shostakovich, Brahms, Mozart, Schumann, and Dawson. The fitting May finale to the season featured Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”. Tenor Justin Kroll delivered a magnificently agonizing roasting swan! Later I learned the alternate words to “O Fortuna” (Go for tuna; Bring more tuna)!

On our annual jaunt to Fireside Theater in May my dear friend Bea and I saw the musical, “Grumpy Old Men”. What a hoot that was! Next spring we’re going to see “Nunsense” - no doubt another knee-slapper!

Beginning in July and ending in November gal pals and I attended several plays at American Player Theater. We saw Shakespeare’s ”The Merry Wives of Windsor”, Wilder’s “Our Town”, Ives’ “The Liar”, Chekhov’s “Anton’s Shorts”, and Auburn’s “Proof”. Though the actors are always superb, extremely hot weather made a couple of the plays a challenge for old broads in the audience who are already hot enough!

I enjoyed several operas with good friends Janet and Bea. We began the year with two short operas: Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” and Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins”. This winter program is always a more modern opera and the venue is the Capitol Theatre, the old Oscar Mayer Theatre beautifully refurbished and contained within the Overture Center. The lead songstress (Rehanna Thelwell) in both operas was marvelous! The Bernstein piece afforded her many opportunities to strut her stuff. The music in the Weill work was lighthearted and fun, with beautiful clarinet work by the MSO’s principal, JJ Koh. I snapped some unauthorized pics of a few of my favorite sins in the Weill opera.

The Spring opera was Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”. Unfortunately, I don’t remember anything about it…except that unforgettable overture! In the Fall we saw Puccini’s “Tosca”, where we were treated to Michelle Johnson’s vocal and acting talent, along with the amazing and powerful tenor, Limmie Pulliam.

As if I didn’t have enough concerts and plays to attend…I subscribed to a series of three musical theatre productions by Four Seasons Theatre. Performances are at Madison’s Overture Center in a charming little playhouse. The first production, an evening of Rogers and Hammerstein, was actually in the Capitol Theater since it featured a full orchestra. The December musical, Rothstein’s “All is Calm”, told the true story (in acapella form) of the 1914 World War I Christmas truce. It was beautiful and powerful, poignant and thought-provoking.

We actually do have an excellent concert series right here in Richland Center, just down the hill from my house! This year I enjoyed harpist Johanna Weinholts, pianist Christopher Taylor, and the Midwest Choral Artists. There are actually six concerts in the series but I had a scheduling conflict with a few of them.

 In December our Community Players of Southwest Wisconsin staged a grand production of “Elf”, the musical. It is wonderful and a great relief that (so far) we are still able to use the charming Coppertop Theater now that the University of Wisconsin-Richland campus is defunct. It has played an integral role in bring our community (and beyond) to cultural events here in Richland Center.

Also in December, I attended a production of “Bright Star”, a musical written by Steve Martin (yes, the comedian and banjo picker extraordinaire) and Edie Brickell. It took place in Spring Green, a wonderful little artsy community 25 miles east of me, in the American Players’ Touchstone Theatre. The story is based on a true event as the authors imagined it might have played out. The most extraordinary thing about it was that it was a high school production, with talent in abundance! An excellent saxophone student of mine played a big role in it and, as expected, was marvelous! A live pit orchestra (with banjo, of course) was an added bonus. I am continually impressed by this small town that supports the arts and delivers amazing results!

Our saxophone quartet, Burlap Sax, was on hiatus most of this year. Our tenor saxophone player was dealing with a serious medical condition so we put everything on hold pending his recovery. We resumed playing in November, just in time to schedule what has become our annual Christmas program at Walmart. Well, this is just not our year: wed had to cancel our Walmart gig due to another illness in our group! So, after the next pretty snowfall, we’ll get together for a holiday photo anyway. Stay tuned.

As always, I wish each of you a holiday season filled with people who appreciate and adore you, music that stirs your soul, pets that love you unconditionally, food that’s worth the calories, and health good enough to enjoy it all!

A joyous and prosperous new year to you all!


Carol Kramer &  Miss Kitty