Friday, May 31, 2013

Remember When....

I love thinking about exciting experiences I have had throughout my life. It's fun to recall the good times I've had. So many of them are associated with friends and family and often resulted in some outlandish story that I never thought I would find myself in.

What I am horrible about is remembering WHEN things occurred. I was reminded of this fact earlier this week when I was having a conversation with a friend via text message. She and I have made two trips to New York City together. The first trip was with a couple of other friends who were attending a wedding in the area; the second was a crazy trip with just the two of us. We were trying to recall when we went. I was at a total loss!

I could tell you things that happened on each trip. The first trip's highlights included seeing Bernadette Peters in the revival of Gypsy (which places the trip in either 2003 or 2004) and the "nickel tour" of NYC while the guys were at the wedding. This was the trip I first saw Lady Liberty, the NYC Library, and Ground Zero.  The second trip was a welcome introduction to some places not necessarily on the beaten path. I experienced Hogs and Heifers in the Meat Packing District, did some shopping in Soho, and ate my way around the city. (The profiteroles at Balthazar Restaurant and the Symphony of Dessert from Fred's Madison Avenue inside Barney's are still wonderful memories.) Even though I didn't get to see a performance, walking along the fountain of Lincoln Center was a moment I'll never forget. I'm still waiting on a return trip to see a live performance in this important venue....all in due time, I'm sure.

All of this reminiscing has me itching to travel again! I know I just got home from vacation, but I'm ready for a slightly more cultural outing. When I have the time to travel, all of the major performance venues seem to be on break as well. I'm definitely looking forward to visiting Chicago at the end of the summer, but there may be a trip before that. I hear Santa Fe is beautiful at the moment....and the city's music festival is coming up in July and August. Hmmmm..........

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again!

My family and I returned from vacation yesterday and dutifully had to get back to our respective jobs today. Why is it so hard to get going again after a season of rest? Personally, I was very blessed today since I didn't have to go to any of the "offices", but got to work from home.

What's hardest to believe is that school jumps right back into session on Monday morning! That means I've put my syllabus together, decided what new things I want to try out in this abbreviated session, and begun to get things ready to go for a new group of students. After the challenging group I faced in the spring term, I am definitely hoping for a better experience for all in the summer session.

Since I'm still in vacation mode, I knew immediately that I was going to need some help being productive today. That means I pulled out the legal pad and created a manageable to-do list and got to work marking things off. I've not had to go at it too hard today, but I've managed to mark several important things off. There are still a few things on the list as the day is winding down, but I'm hoping to put them all to bed before going to bed myself. That way I can start tomorrow with a fresh list and move forward! Now I just have to remember to put things like "go to the gym" on the list.....

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Safety from the Storm

Like most Americans, I have watched with anguish the tragedy that hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma this week. Like many, I found myself asking why there weren't safe areas for our children. After all, Oklahoma is in the center of tornado alley. We know these storms are coming eventually. We know they can be devastating. We know that the safest place to be in order to survive a tornado is below ground in a storm bunker. Despite all that we know, people still die.

As I watched NBC Nightly News on Tuesday evening, I watched a report on this very issue. Most houses in this area (the delta of Arkansas included) do not have basements because of the clay in the soil. The soil composition would lead to lots of flooding and mold in traditional basements. To install a small secure room (either above or below ground) can cost $3,000-$5,000. Many families in the Midwest struggle just to make ends meet; the expense of a storm shelter is not an option.

I was hopeful to learn that many of the newly constructed schools include safe rooms that are able to withstand the high velocity winds associated with these storms. In order to add a sufficient safe room to an existing school will cost the district around $1 million. Even though there may be assistance from federal and state agencies, the money is simply not there.

Obviously there is not an easy solution to the situation. I don't have the answer. Neither do our government officials. Even though there is not an obvious answer, I think it's time that we as a nation begin to ask the tough questions that lead to a solution. Our citizens on both coasts are generally equipped with structures that can withstand hurricane force winds and earthquakes. Those living in the interior sections of the nation deserve and want the same level of security.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cleaning Out the Clutter

I suppose it's time to confess.....I hate cleaning! I don't like to live in filth either, but I cannot stand cleaning. Although my disorganization takes over in places like my bedroom, my lack of cleaning is most evident in my car -- also known as my office on wheels.

Since I spend so much time in my car you would think I would be more determined to keep it clean. The issue is not dealing with the trash....I don't mind picking up the mess and throwing stuff away. The problem is all of the other stuff:  books, musical scores, CDs, and sundry other things that are important. Once I clean them out of my car, I have to figure out WHERE IN THE WORLD to put them in my parents' house. Inevitably, I add these items to a growing stack already in the house and have to call that organization. (Contrary to popular opinion, I can generally find whatever I need in these stacks as long as no one decides to begin moving things around in an effort to helpfully "clean up!" I still have nightmares over such a "helpful hand" while writing my dissertation....I'm still trying to get over the stress that was created by lumping all of my papers into a single stack!)

My family is going on vacation in a few days and my car will be making the trip. Since my parents will both be in the car for an extended period of time with me, I knew that some housekeeping was necessary -- for their sakes as well as mine! Imagine my surprise when I looked under the passenger's seat and discovered three books that had been wedged underneath for several months. Now I know why I could never manage to find a clean Tupperware cup in the kitchen too....they were all in my car! The mess really wasn't that bad (I was shocked!) and I didn't have to figure out where too many things were going to reside. But it got me to often do we avoid cleaning out the clutter of our lives because we don't want to deal with the mess that will be uncovered?

I've been doing a lot of emotional unpacking lately. I've been taking the time to deal with issues related to anger, hurt feelings, and sadness by "pulling out the junk" and daring to look at the root. It's not been a fun process and it's not been pretty. I've discovered some things that I didn't even realize I was harboring. Honestly, it's been rather painful. I've had to come face to face with betrayal, disappointment, and pain that I had pushed into the deepest corners of my being. Why push all of these emotions down so deep? I didn't know where to put the feelings without creating a visible mess in my life. Just as I don't want to deal with figuring out where to put the stuff that emerges from my car when I clean it out, I didn't want to have to address things in my life that I didn't have a clear shelf to put them on. When I finally realized that these stuffed emotions were beginning to push other good things out of my life, I knew it was time to clean house.

I can't tackle everything in a single sweep and expect to succeed. The cleaning is a slow process and it takes a lot of work. So I'm allowing myself to dive into one corner at a time, look at the trash, throw out what's unneeded, and store what I may need in the future. Then I rest and reflect on the progress I made in that area before moving to the next. Somehow I don't think the emotional cleaning process ever actually comes to an end, but it gets easier once I begin to maintain areas that have already been cleared of debris. Thankfully, I'm not doing this alone. My loving Heavenly Father enters the darkest corners with me, sits with me through the tears of frustration, shame, and anger, and then helps me find restoration and peace in life as I clear out the clutter that has accumulated.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Matter of Perspective

I've been thinking about perspective a lot lately. I'm gearing up for some travel this summer and plan to visit museums in most places I'll be visiting. I've been flipping through some art books to get my eyes ready for the beauty I'll see. I'm always struck by the powerful way the artists use perspective in order to convey meaning to their audience.

I was reminded of a story I recently heard about a woman who loved to garden. Carefully she planned for planting, pruning, and watering her prized flowers. One vine she was especially excited about was advertised to bear vibrant red flowers as it trailed its way along a fence. Throughout the growing season, the woman delicately cared for the vine and was encouraged as she saw the first red bud appear along her wooden fence.

Days turned into weeks and months. The vine did not deliver any additional flowers for the woman to enjoy. As the summer grew to a close, a neighbor witnessed the woman sharpening her hoe and moving for the vine that ran along the fence. Frantically, the neighbor asked why she was planning to remove the vine. She told the nosy neighbor of the hours she had spent tending the vine in hopes of having beautiful flowers. Despite her best efforts, the vine had only given her a single bloom and was clearly not worth the effort required. She was simply going to chop it down once and for all.

Silently, the neighbor took the weary gardener by the hand and led her around the wooden fence to his property. The gardener's frustration melted into awe as she saw the multitude of crimson flowers blanketing the old wooden fence. The view was breath taking! The neighbor stood quietly next to the mesmerized gardener before breaking the silence:  "It's all a matter of perspective, I suppose."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could experience such vivid reminders that our work is not fruitless? We work so hard and it seems as though things never change, circumstances never improve, and our efforts seem to mean nothing to those around. With just the slightest change in perspective, we can begin to see things as others do. That's when we begin to understand that what seems pointless to us is bringing life, love, and value to another.

We all need a change of perspective from time to time. Sometimes the shifted point of view reveals that what we observed for ourselves was correct. Thankfully, there are other times that reveal true beauty that we had missed. Are you willing to walk around the fence and have a look from a fresh perspective? You might be surprised what you find there!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Another Semester is in the Books

It's official! With the publication of this post, my last final of the semester has been administered and I only need to turn in grades in order to collect my last paycheck of the term at MSCC. I enjoy teaching, but this semester has been tough for many reasons. Needless to say, I'm ready to see the spring 2013 term of teaching in my rear view mirror!

The semester started with a blanket of snow. Here in Arkansas, when the sky spits any of the white stuff -- regardless of the amount -- people become stupid! They forget how to drive and dash for the market as if we are going to be trapped in our homes for 40 days and nights! Since we don't know how to handle the cold stuff, school was cancelled before we even got started. That's a tough situation to be in....behind schedule before you begin!

Around the same time, I was working very hard with the students at Union University to present the semester's first opera as part of the Benjamin Britten centennial celebration. I knew this was going to be a tough time, so I built calendars carefully to allow for the rehearsals and performances. What I didn't account for was the Union Plague that hit members of the cast during production week. I was blessed not to be hit with the nasty stomach virus, but I didn't feel well at all.  Classes were cancelled University wide while everyone tried to get back to health and the campus was scrubbed from floor to ceiling.

By late February, everything seemed to be back on track. Maybe I should say ALMOST everything was back on track. The most important part of my classroom was waffling -- the students. Each spring semester, I have concurrent students from area high schools enroll in my music appreciation course. Most classes have been very successful and a great experience. This year's batch of students did not fit that model. I found myself questioning why they were there. Finally I diagnosed the problem: intense senior-itis. These kids didn't understand why they had to come to my class on "senior skip days" or why my class was so hard! I listened to the whining, but quickly became immune.

The semester rolled on at Union as well and I was involved with two very successful student recitals as well as a trip to the regional NATS competition in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Once I played the last of these major events, I began to relax a little. I knew I only had to play a few scenes for opera workshop, a couple of departmental recitals, and student boards before the semester was over. Just when I thought everything was a-okay, I found myself fighting the stomach bug that had plagued the Union students earlier in the term. After a "rough" and restless night, I drove to Union (like the good collaborative pianist should) to play on the afternoon's departmental recital. I had felt nauseous during the entire drive, but thought things would be okay. I WAS WRONG! I stepped into the hall when a wave of sickness hit me and I thought I was going to pass out.....after making a massive mess in the hall! After a visit to the restroom to calm my stomach, I went to the music office and was able to get colleagues to play for my students. I certainly didn't want to be on stage at the moment. I feared the real show would not have been the beauty of the students' singing!

As the semester continued to wind down, I repeatedly found myself approached by students asking for extra credit work or to turn in assignments they had neglected earlier in the term. I think I heard every excuse in the book, but my favorite was from a high school senior who told me her scholarship for the fall was dependent upon her grade point average this semester. While I felt sorry for her, I did not feel as though her reasons for missing the assignments afforded her any extension. I guess I've just turned into a mean professor in my old age. Syllabi are distributed at the beginning of the course with all assignments listed with their corresponding due dates. Follow the syllabus, do the work, and come to'll do just fine in my class! That's all it takes!

This has been a semester for the history books....and that's definitely where I'm planning to place it as soon as I can! Now I'm heading home to grade the final exams and post the scores so I can get on to a much needed vacation.....until summer term begins in a few weeks.  I'm just hoping for more focused students in that term!