Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Time for Accountability - 2014 Resolutions Recap

On this final day of 2014, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the New Year's Resolutions I made on January 1, 2014 and see how I fared. I'll examine each goal individually and let you know how things went.

Become actively involved in a strong Christian fellowship of believers. It took me a while to finally settle down, but I'm happy to say that I did. After much internal debate (and dealing with childhood feelings about "church membership"), I joined First Baptist Church of Marion, Arkansas in the fall. It was around the same time that I began to get involved in the music department of the church and once again use my talents to exalt my God. I've had a few failed attempts at joining a Sunday School class and haven't dared to enter the children's ministry yet, but those issues are definitely on my radar and things that I plan to do in 2015. I am so thankful to sit under the anointed preaching that comes weekly with practical application for my daily life.

Increase my total reading activity. This has become an annual resolution for me. This year, I fell short though. In 2013, I read a total of 46 books.  Due to lots of doctors' appointments and stressful times during the summer and early fall, the 2014 total peaked at 21. I'm not going to make any more excuses.....it happened. Now it's time to get back on that horse and get back to reading again!

Take control of my health - emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Let's call this a 2/3 success. I feel as though I am in a better place emotionally and spiritually than I have been in a very long time. Much of that is due to my involvement with First Marion. My physical health could definitely use some attention. I continue to have no time for workouts -- much to my chagrin -- and cancelled my gym membership in 2014. I don't have a plan of action for this even though I know it's something that I need to get a handle on.

Memorize 2 major works for solo piano. I don't know what I was thinking when I made this resolution! I was so busy learning collaborative works that I had very little time to practice any solo repertoire.

Improve the consistency and quality of my blogging - especially on Collaborations. This is another failed resolution. While I am happy with the quality of work that I put out this year, the consistency declined on all my blogs in 2014. Once again, the summer of medical visits was when things began to fall apart. I'm in the process of putting blog topics on a calendar to see if I can get back to a regular blogging routine in 2015. We'll just have to see how things go, I suppose.

Consistently schedule activities that will bring rejuvenation and relaxation. I'm not really sure how I feel about my progress in this area. I think I was handling life better in the early parts of the year and taking care of me. My attention shifted from me to Dad during the heart surgery and now I'm finding it difficult to take control of my life again since the Geriatrics have gotten back into the habit of relying solely on me for many things. I don't know that there is a solution to this problem until I am able to move away from Crawfordsville.

As you can see, 2014 has been a year of successes and failures for me personally. I'm hoping for more successes in 2015 as I'm sure you are. Here's to putting the mistakes of 2014 behind us and moving into the New Year with hope and confidence that brighter days are ahead.

Happy New Year!
Kennith

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hits and Misses (December 21-27)

On this final Monday morning of 2014, it's time to take a look back at the week that was.....

HITS
  • The week got off to a good start with a successful offertory on Sunday morning at First Marion. I played an arrangement of Rejoice Greatly for trumpet and piano. I was a little nervous since I had pieced it together in a matter of days, but things went well. It's always nice when you get complimented on your playing throughout the week that follows, too.
  • Christmas was a special day with family as we got to exchange some exciting gifts with each other. 
  • On Christmas Day, Jacqs and I decided to take on a book challenge in 2015. The plan is to read a book together each month.  We'll alternate who chooses each month's selection and the goal is to each choose three classics and three modern works. I picked January's selection.....Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. What was I thinking?
  • I have been blessed with a few days of restful sleep now that the holidays are over and I don't have pressing responsibilities that have to have my immediate attention.
  • I'm enjoying reading Professional Piano Teaching by Jeanine Jacobson right now. It's basically a pedagogy textbook with emphasis on the teaching of elementary students. I'm working through it rather methodically so I can glean as much information as possible.
  • It's surprising, but I haven't had a working CD player at home for several years now. Since I'm rarely home, it hasn't been too big of an issue. On Saturday, I decided to correct that issue though. It's not the machine that I ultimately plan to keep, but it will suffice for the moment.
MISSES
  • It has been a challenging week with the return of issues related to my neck and shoulder injury. I can never predict when the pain will appear, but it certainly effects everything I try to do.
  • Every year, I order a Christmas ham from Holiday Ham and Turkey in Memphis. I have to place a special order due to Mom's allergy to honey. By now I should be used to it, but EVERY YEAR I have to wait for nearly 20 minutes while a ham is prepared without the glaze. This year, I was told that my unglazed ham had been given to someone else. What I'm wondering is if you happened to just give away a pre-ordered unglazed ham, DON'T YOU THINK YOU MIGHT NEED TO REPLACE IT?!?!?!!?!?!?! It's frustrating....but I'm over it now.
  • On Christmas morning, my lovely mother came to my room at 7:30am to make sure
    everything was okay. I assured her I was fine and turned over to go back to sleep. At 8am, she returned to find out if I was ready to open Christmas gifts since she had just heard me up playing the piano (I guess I'm so good now that I'm playing in my sleep from the comfort of my bed!). I knew that the rest of the family was not scheduled to arrive until late that morning, so we were in no rush. Needless to say, I rolled out of bed, opened my single package (which I had selected) and tried to go back to sleep on the couch. The geriatrics are losing it, folks!
  • Nothing is more frustrating than heading out to the stores to find that the item you need is not in stock!
  • I'm still fighting this sinus/chest crud and feeling rather crummy. I was especially thrilled to receive an email telling me that the pharmacy was out of the decongestant the doctor had prescribed. When I called Walgreen's to find out what my options were, I was shocked to hear the voice on the other end explain that there had been a mistake......and they could fill the prescription since I clearly intended to pick it up. SMH! Huh?
There you have it.  I hope you all have a great ending to your year and enjoy the beginning of 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hits and Misses (December 14-20)

Here's a look back at the week that was....

HITS
  • On Sunday, I returned to Abundant Grace in Collierville to play a couple of Christmas solos for the congregation there. It was nice to play some solo arrangements again and to see friends, but I definitely missed being at home with the folks at First Marion.
  • I am continuing to enjoy my Christmas holiday by watching every Christmas movie I can get my hands on. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that I actually watched the re-broadcast of The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood on NBC. I didn't have high hopes for this performance the first time around; I have to admit that it wasn't as bad as I expected. It wasn't terribly good....but it was awful either.
  • After visiting the dentist on Thursday, I stopped by Garibaldi's Pizza in Germantown. They have my favorite BBQ pizza in the area, but there's not a convenient location to visit with any frequency. So I hit them up when I can.
  • I was surprised (and blessed) to receive an unexpected Christmas gift in the mail late this week. The gift has already been put to good use and it's nice to know that I am thought of by people outside of my family in this holiday season.
MISSES
  • Just as I suspected.....I have struggled with the end of a sinus infection this week as well as bronchitis. Even though I got to the doctor before the chest congestion got too bad, it's still taking a toll on me. My chest is tight and any sort of physical activity is very taxing. Christmas shopping with Mom was a challenge as was preparing for Sunday morning services at First Marion.
  • While headed to the doctor on Monday, things went from bad to worse. As I was pulling out of the driveway, Dad was pulling in and failed to see my tail lights. We had a minor fender bender on our property; thankfully there was minimal damage -- my driver's side tail light had to be replaced -- and neither of us was traveling fast enough to jerk either car around too much.
  • Getting an appointment with my dentist is insanely difficult. Once you get an appointment, you don't cancel unless you're dead! Even though I didn't feel like sitting in the chair, I headed in for my regular check up on Thursday. Things weren't bad once I got there -- I didn't have to cough as much as I had feared -- but getting to the office was another story. Why the state of Arkansas in her great wisdom decides to do road work on both bridges into Tennessee at the same time is beyond me!
  • All in all, I've had a bit of a bah humbug! attitude of late. I don't feel well, so that's not helping. I also feel as though I'm stuck dealing with a lot of things without any help from others that I think should. So I find myself having to do more when I'm needing to rest. It puts me in a bad mood and I've spent much of the week dreaming about life after the holidays are over.
There you have it. In observance of the Christmas holidays, I will not be posting for the rest of the week. As we celebrate the blessing of Christ's coming with our family and friends, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

~Kennith

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Year in Review - My Reading Life

As many of you know, I greatly enjoy reading books of all types. I provide short reviews and reflections on the books that I have read on another of my blogs - Reading for Me. Even though I am not thrilled with the number of books I have read in 2014 (a paltry 20 works at the time of writing), I have taken a few minutes to reflect and generated a list of my top 5 reads of the year.

  1. The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (published 1971)
  2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014)
  3. The Bastard by John Jakes (1974)
  4. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (2013)
  5. The Shelf by Phyllis Rose (2014)
As expected, the list is dominated by fiction. The Shelf is the only memoir to make the list. I tend to prefer contemporary fiction, so I was surprised to see that two of the top three selections were published in the early 1970s.

I'm always looking for recommendations. What was your favorite read of 2014? Please leave your suggestion in the comment section of this blog post.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Year in Review - Music

As I continue my look back over the year 2014, I am pleased to see that the year has been a very busy one for me as a musician. It also helps to explain why I am so tired!

Let's start with the year in the classroom. This year, I taught 8 sections of my music classes at the post-secondary level. I continued teaching music appreciation at MSCC in West Memphis with two classes each semester. The Spring brought a new challenge in the form of a hybrid course -- students completed half of the material in a brick-and-mortar setting with me. The rest of each week's work was done through online units. I was busy developing the online material and attempting to overcome the technological challenges the students encountered. In the fall, MSCC decided to attempt the music appreciation course as an online class. The stress of Dad's health issues combined with the demands of creating this course did not result in a smooth semester at all.

At Union, I taught two sections of class piano each semester. The spring semester went fairly smoothly as I continued to find my way through this new course. The fall brought a new challenge as I faced a piano lab with 9 students enrolled in a single session (the largest class I've ever experienced). Through trial and error, I learned a lot and have begun to develop my own approach to this challenging class.

While we're talking about Union, let's begin to discuss the year of playing. My position as a staff pianist accounts for the majority of my playing during the year. In 2014, I accompanied 33 half-hour weekly lessons over the course of the year (14 in the spring and 19 in the fall). In addition to these lessons, I also served as principle pianist for the department's Opera Workshop -- which featured selections from musical theater in the spring and the first act of Mozart's Magic Flute in the fall. I started to come up with a grand total of hours spent at the piano for lessons, rehearsals, and auditions, but then I came to my senses.....I was afraid the number would send me into shock!

A major part of the responsibility of a staff pianist is providing accompaniment for student degree recitals. I certainly played my fair share of recitals this year - a total of 13 recitals (7 of these were 30 minute recitals; the remaining 6 were hour long. Don't be fooled though....several of the shorter recitals included some of the most challenging music of the year!) All of this year's recitals were vocal and really quite enjoyable to prepare. The only challenges I faced were a week in the spring semester that included 4 recitals in a span of 6 days and the difficulty of balancing the students' needs for rehearsals with the music department's budgetary limitations.

While that accounts for the majority of my work at Union this year, there were still other opportunities to make music with faculty and students there in the fall semester.
  • I accompanied the Men's Chorus at the Fall Choral Concert.
  • I learned and performed Eric Whitacre's insanely difficult Ghost Train with the Symphonic Band.
  • Dr. Stanley Warren and I presented a community recital called "An American Songbook."
  • Union will present its first joint venture between the music and theater departments in the spring of 2015. I was invited to play the three days of auditions as well as callbacks for Into the Woods this semester.
  • I joined Union students at UT Martin for the 2014 Tennessee State NATS competition.
The rest of the year's performances and professional appearances were quite varied. Each proved to be enjoyable and memorable in their own way.
  • Piano Adjudicator for Mississippi Valley State University's piano festival.
  • Accompanist for Germantown High School's spring choral concerts.
  • Musical Director of Delta Art's high school cabaret production.
  • Volunteer Church Musician at First Marion. This year, I began playing for weekly choir rehearsals in the fall. I also began to work in the rotation of playing piano for Sunday morning services. December found me at the keyboard in the pit orchestra for the church's Christmas production.
  • Private piano teacher at Bartlett Music Academy.
I definitely have a very full life and enjoy the opportunity to make music on a regular basis. Now I'm looking forward to the musical adventures that 2015 has in store!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hits and Misses (December 7-13)

Here's a look back at the week that was.....

HITS
  • All of Sunday and Monday evening were devoted to the final performances of the Christmas production at First Marion. I was thrilled to be a part of a great show and really had a good time. Still, I'm glad this event only comes around once a year.
  • Another semester is over! I submitted grades to MSCC on Monday morning. On Tuesday, I
    traveled back to Jackson to give my last piano final and play for instrumental boards. Wednesday morning, I submitted grades for Class Piano III at Union and officially started my Christmas holiday.
  • Now that I'm on holiday, I have been able to devote my attention to a ton of reading! I had a great experience whipping through a Brad Thor novel. At the moment, I'm reading a piece of Christmas fluff as well as a biography of the composer Felix Mendelssohn. To balance things out, I have also started reading a book intended for piano teachers.
  • Why the interest in piano pedagogy again? On Saturday, I began teaching private piano lessons at Bartlett Music Academy. My friends, Bobby and Melissa, recently added the Academy to their portfolio. When they asked me to join the teaching faculty, I was a bit hesitant at first because of my already busy schedule. They were very understanding and were willing to work with my availability. On Saturday morning, I had my first lessons with two brothers. The kids were great and BMA's new Young-Chang piano is a wonderful addition. I left the studio with a smile on my face and enjoyed getting home to make notes and begin planning for our next session after Christmas.  If you know anyone looking for quality music instruction in the Memphis area, feel free to contact me for information about BMA.
  • Since school is out, I made it out to do a little Christmas shopping. I headed over to Dinstuhl's chocolates for a few treats as well as a fruitcake for Dad.  After grabbing a few other gifts (I have to keep a few secrets, y'all!), I headed home and got things wrapped while the Geriatrics were out for a few hours. I'm definitely not done, but I have at least made a dent in my shopping list!
  • Saturday was full of laughter as I enjoyed some humorous texts with three of my Malibu friends. Sometimes you just need a good laugh to make it through the day.
MISSES
  • After a lot of playing this week, my hands are more achy than normal. I continue to sleep in wrist braces each night and have been wearing them more throughout the day as the week has progressed. As much as I don't want to think about it, I have a sneaky feeling that a season of piano rest (no playing at all) is in my future for a little while.
  • In addition to my hands, I'm just feeling rather yucky all around. After teaching on Saturday, I headed over to the mall to see a friend. While walking the mall, I noticed that I was becoming more easily winded than normal. As I write this post, I've developed a cough that is producing occasional phlegm. "Dr. Freeman's" self-diagnosis is that the sinus infection I pushed through (and self-medicated) at the end of the semester has settled into my chest and turned into bronchitis. After dealing with chest congestion for many years, I'm normally a pretty good predictor of the condition. I plan to call the doctor first thing Monday morning to hopefully nip this in the bud before it explodes on me.
There you have it!  Have a great week everybody.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Year in Review - Blogging

I enjoy writing. I find it relaxing and a great way to work through things that are on my mind. A few years ago, I discovered the power of blogging. I never kept a personal journal consistently because I knew that I was the only one who would ever read the entries. I suppose that's what I enjoy most about blogging -- the opportunity to share my thoughts with people around the world.

As part of my personal reflection on 2014, I find it interesting to consider my year as a blogger. I have maintained (to varying degrees) three blogs actively. Livin' Life is the blog that you are reading now and contains my personal thoughts as well as my weekly updates into the "Hits and Misses" of my world. Additionally, I attempt to maintain a professional presence through Collaborations and share my thoughts about books I've read on Reading for Me. (I'll reflect on the year as a reader in a separate post next week.)

The numbers always seem to clearly tell the tale, so let's look at a few statistics:
  • Livin' Life featured 102 posts (including this one) so far in 2014.
    • Of these 102 posts, 40 of them were installments of my "Hits and Misses" series. I also find it interesting that these posts are some of the most popular among my friends and family.
  • Collaborations was neglected this year. I only made 16 posts there.
  • Reading for Me also experienced a decline in posts this year with only 19 posts.
  • THAT BRINGS THE GRAND TOTAL OF POSTS TO 137 POSTS as of December 12!
As a celebration of my year of blogging, I've decided to go back and find my FIVE FAVORITE POSTS of 2014. Some were humorous; others were passionate and highly emotional. Did your favorite Livin' Life posts make my list? I'd love to hear what you considered my best writing in the last 12 months. Share your comments below.

Without further ado, here are my selections for my top 5 posts of 2014:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Year in Review - Life in General

One of the things I really enjoy about the month of December is that it provides the opportunity for me to slow down from my normal routine and reflect on what has happened in the past 12 months. As I reflect on 2014, two major themes seemed to dominate my life this year:  travel and health care.  Here's a brief look back at the year of simply living life that was....

January began this theme of health issues as I was finally able to see a doctor as an insured patient. As a result of my general wellness exam, we discovered that both my blood pressure and cholesterol were high. I began a drug regime. Thankfully, January also had some good memories as I made a last minute trip to Malibu for a little downtime. Relaxing in a hammock while overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a trip to see the sea otters at the Los Angeles Zoo with Jeff were highlights of this trip.

As February began, the new school semester was in full swing at both MSCC and Union. Little did we know that life as we knew it would forever change. One of our Union music students, Olivia Greenlee, was tragically murdered by her boyfriend who then transported her body to Union's campus in an attempt to present Olivia's death as a suicide. Now -- some 10 months later -- the department continues to feel the effects of Olivia's departure as we hear music that reminds us of her and watch the murder trial begin to unfold. It was also around this time that the Memphis area was hit with an enormous ice storm that resulted in a commute of 1 1/2 hours from Crawfordsville to West Memphis -- a distance of 13 miles! Needless to say, I didn't make it to Jackson for a few days.

March and April was marked by a typically heavy schedule of teaching and performing. What made the spring of 2014 unusual was the unexplained appearance of severe headaches. I visited my general physician, as well as ENTs, neurologists, optometrists, and psychologists to find out what was going on. The headaches were treated as migraines although they did not display the necessary characteristics to be classified as the classic headaches.

May brought a short break for me, so I knew that I needed to escape for a little while. I made a quick trip to Eureka Springs all by my lonesome and had a wonderful time! Just before leaving, Dad visited an audiologist and began the process of acquiring hearing aids. My family had no idea that this single doctor's appointment would take us on a roller coaster ride that would color the rest of the year.

In early June, I learned that my summer session of music appreciation would be cancelled due to low enrollment. I was thrilled to learn that I would have a summer to rest; then I realized that I would also have no income for the summer. The stress was compounded as I carted Dad from one doctor to another. The ENT lead to a check up with the sleep center. The sleep center heard a heart murmur and suggested a echo cardiogram. 

July, August, and September were essentially filled with the realization that Dad had major blockages in his arteries and would require triple bypass surgery. I'm thankful to say that Dad has made a full recovery after a couple of scary moments in the hospital. Of course, my family is always going to find time for travel when we can. Before dealing with the cardiologist in July, the geriatric patients and I took a much needed vacation to Lake Conroe, just north of Houston. While we waited for test results in mid-August, I headed to Pigeon Forge to make plans for another fall getaway with the geriatrics. (Needless to say, those plans will just have to wait for a little while.)

October continued our focus on Dad's recovery. I made arrangements for hospital beds and home health care while monitoring the number of visitors that arrived. Sometimes I felt like the gatekeeper that no one wanted to tangle with!

The last trip of the year came in early November as I made an unexpected trip back to Malibu. I needed to do a little work while I was there, but the real reason for the trip is that several of my friends were very aware of the stress I had lived through with Dad's health crisis and wanted to provide a chance for me to get away and allow others to take care of me. I am truly indebted to this group of men for their generosity, kindness, and concern for me.

In December, I played in the orchestra for the Christmas production at First Marion. It was thrilling to be involved without being in charge of a holiday presentation. Now that I have finally settled on making First Marion my church home and joined that body of believers this year, it's been an adventure learning how to become involved in a church where so few people know me and what talents I have to offer.

What a year it has been! On Friday, I'll continue reviewing 2014 as I take a look back at the year as a blogger.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hits and Misses (November 30-December 6)

It's time to take a look back at the week that was.....

HITS
  • Finals are over! Well....for the most part, anyway. I still have to administer one more piano exam, but things are winding down and grades are almost ready to be turned in. It's been an exceptional week of performances as well. The last departmental recital featured a strong performance of the Saint-Saens violin concerto and the week ended with successful voice boards at Union. 
  • Since the semester is almost over, I'm getting to learn new music in preparation for spring recitals. I'm most excited about some of the violin repertoire I'll be learning -- featuring works by Brahms and Bartok. 
  • This week has been tech week for the Christmas production at First Marion. As a result, I've gotten to meet some new people. It's been wonderful to talk to other performers who share a common goal.
  • I received an unexpected gift this week as well. These surprise presents are always sure to put a smile on the face of whoever receives them. Just remembering how great the token of appreciation made me feel makes me want to do the same for someone else.
MISSES
  • Tech week of any show is never easy. This year was a bit different for me since I was enduring the challenges without being in a position to fix anything. It was tough at times to keep my mouth shut and allow the directors over me to do their jobs. (I smiled to myself as I remembered the many times over the years that I have appreciated when casts and choirs have simply let me direct my vision. It was a privilege to return that favor to others this time....even if I did have to bite my tongue occasionally.)
  • On Saturday, I made a quick stop for dinner at Macaroni Grill. I'm not sure why, but the food quality was not good! The restaurant has overhauled the entire menu and the results were not impressive to me. I won't be returning for quite some time.
  • Now that the craziness of school is settling down, it's necessary to return to a to-do list. The list is massive and includes several projects that I have simply put off. Some of them are pressing; others are merely things that need to get done. I found that not going through the weekly process of writing things down resulted in pushing EVERYTHING out of sight (and out of mind). Now it's time to get the real work done again.
There you have it. Tune in later this week for the first of several Year-in-Review posts....featuring the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Getting into the Holiday Spirit

December is finally here! That means it's time to get into the holiday spirit and let the Christmas party get under way! How do I get my Christmas spirit started? My personal sound track changes to Christmas music and I watch as many Christmas movies as I possibly can. Because I want to help any of you would-be Scrooges to get in the holiday mood (yeah, I'm talkin' to you!), here are a couple of this year's new finds that I think you might enjoy.

As far as music goes, I was pleasantly surprised by David Phelps's Christmas album, O Holy Night. As part of the Gaither Gospel Series, I was impressed with the variety of music presented. As always, Phelps's voice is impressive in the upper register. Personally, I don't enjoy the renditions of "Blue Christmas" (because I hate the song) and "Ave Maria" (because I'm a purist when it comes to my Schubert). However, there are several tracks that are quite enjoyable -- most notably the title track -- and speaks to the true meaning of the season.

My movie viewing this year has not included the classics yet. (I have to admit that I have never seen It's a Wonderful Life and fully intend to rectify that issue this season.) My mother has turned me into a Hallmark Channel "Countdown to Christmas" junkie. It truly is an addiction....and I may need an intervention. I started watching the holiday movies on Halloween night and have been going ever since. If you're not a fan of the Hallmark Channel, let me point you to a few of the best new offerings they have provided so far this year.  One Starry Christmas, Christmas Under Wraps, and Angels and Ornaments have been my favorites so far. (I've heard amazing things about North Pole as well, but I've not caught an airing of the film yet.) Of the older films that the network is also airing this season, I highly recommend Angels Sing (with Connie Britton and Harry Connick, Jr.) and Christmas with Holly.

My advice to you is simply this....do whatever it takes to put yourself in the spirit of Christmas. It's important that we be reminded of the importance of giving and receiving, love, joy, and peace as we celebrate the Perfect Gift that God sent that we might have the hope of joy and peace because of the love of Jesus.

Merry Christmas!
Kennith

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hits and Misses (November 23 - 29)

I'm returning from my unplanned blogging break. Here's a look back at the week that was....

HITS
  • It was wonderful to have a week off from the majority of my responsibilities. I was able to take a break from the normal routine and catch up on some television. In the process, I also caught up on some paperwork I had been avoiding and got to enjoy some quality time with my family in the process.
  • Thanksgiving week always marks the beginning of holiday cooking in the Geriatric Ward. This year saw more successes than bombs, too! Once again, we made our pumpkin spice cookies with chocolate chips. (These cookies will always make me think of my family in Malibu.....thanks for letting me steal the recipe, Hammy!) We added a few new recipes to our repertoire as well.  The homemade cranberry sauce and snicker doodle cake were huge hits! I'm still working on the amazing hot chocolate we made on Thanksgiving afternoon (which reheats well too).
  • Thanksgiving also means that we get to decorate for Christmas! The tree went up on Thanksgiving morning and the rest of the living room is almost completed. Now I move to the kitchen and dining room. I really do love this season of the year and enjoy getting to decorate my home when I have plenty of time to do it.
  • Since I didn't find myself sitting at the piano for voice lessons, I enjoyed getting in some solo practice this week. It has been a joy to work through some problem passages in my Mozart sonata again and to begin learning a new Faure nocturne. I am tentatively planning a recital for the fall semester. We'll see how preparations go in the coming months, but I'm enjoying playing the solo repertoire again.
  • To round out my week of vacation, I treated myself to a trip to the movies. I really enjoyed seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I on Saturday afternoon. Somehow I tend to forget how relaxing it is to spend a few hours in a dark theater with complete strangers while I get transported to another world. I definitely need to allow more time for this in my regular routine.
MISSES
  • I am playing keyboards in the Christmas musical at First Marion this year. It's the first year that
    I have been involved with the production (or the church's music department, for that matter). Imagine my embarrassment when I got the phone call on Sunday afternoon asking if I was coming to rehearsal! I had written the wrong time in my calendar and was going to be an hour late. Thankfully everyone understood it was a simple mistake and we were still able to get everything accomplished without wasting everyone's time. I'm just thankful that these types of things happen very rarely for me (and that I didn't get a ticket while DASHING to the rehearsal).
  • Wednesday was a frustrating day for me. I had a long list of things that simply had to get accomplished -- errands for Thanksgiving dinner and work-related responsibilities. I knew that these things had to get done or else I would be working on Friday instead of relaxing (and shopping). When my mother assumed my schedule was clear since I didn't have to go to school, I was more than a little irate. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't handle the situation very well. My actions were without excuse, but it still doesn't make it any better that I was put in the situation in the first place. I'll just chalk it up to another difficult issue for adult children living with and caring for their geriatrics.
  • Even though I rested this week and took care of myself, I am still sick. It looks as though I'm going to just push through the next 10 days to finish out the semester. If I'm still stuffy and wheezy by then, I suppose I'll finally break down and visit the doctor.
There you have it. Hope you all have a great first week of December as you celebrate the birth of our Savior!
~Kennith

Friday, November 28, 2014

What a Mess

Happy day after Thanksgiving! I am still stuffed from all the good food consumed around the family table yesterday. While I had a blast preparing and cooking the food, I DESPISE cleaning up the mess (which is why I rarely do that job!). On Wednesday evening, the kitchen looked like a disaster area.

I behave in the kitchen very much like my mother. After all, she's the one who taught me everything I know about cooking. When we bake together, we have several recipes going at once. All of the ingredients are scattered around and counter space is cluttered with various mixing bowls, whisks, and measuring cups. We acknowledge that it is best to clean up as you go along, but our modus operandi tends to be one of piling things in the sink with the intention of cleaning them later. Before very long, every dish in the kitchen cabinets has made its way to the sink! It's really a mess that no one wants to deal with.

Somehow, Mom convinced my family that the one who cooks doesn't do the cleaning! That job is left for the eaters. That means on most evenings, you'll find me in the kitchen with Mom preparing dinner. Afterwards, Pop makes his way to the kitchen and begins cleaning up our mess. It's funny to hear him complain constantly about how every pan in the kitchen ends up in the sink when we cook. Even though he "complains" a bit, we know that he doesn't mind contributing....as long as the food is good!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hits and Misses (November 16-22)

Here's a look back at the week that was......

HITS
  • Opera Workshop was my final performance of the semester! I'm done! I had a blast with all of the playing though. The card scene from Carmen and the first act of The Magic Flute were great successes....even though I didn't play as well as I could have, thanks in part to my annual bout with a sinus infection.
  • After Tuesday night's performance, I was part of a semester celebration with some of the seniors I have worked with this term. It was a lot of fun to laugh together while we shared stories and continued making memories. I'm truly blessed to be a part of these students' lives and thankful that I have made some cherished friendships with them.
  • One of the best parts of my job is getting to explore new music. This week, I began work on a composition by one of the students at Union. It's refreshing to explore creative music that is thoughtfully prepared. Thank you, Joey Moore, for letting me be part of the work's premiere.
  • Since the Thanksgiving holidays are just around the corner, Saturday was the perfect lazy day. It included lots of television, naps, and a bit of casual reading on the couch. Saturday was just the start to the long vacation that I needed!
MISSES
  • This year's sinus infection simply will not let go. On the plus side, it hasn't completely knocked me off of my feet. It has effected every aspect of my world though and resulted in the cancellation of some non-essential rehearsals.
  • As much as I love learning new music, I despise dealing with inferior scores. This week included the performance of a new work on recital. Sadly, the piece was not much more than a simple lead sheet. The rhythms indicated in the vocal line were not always followed. Late last week, we had to make the decision to simply cut the final section of the piece because it wasn't lining up. In order to present new music, all of the pieces simply MUST be correctly in place on the page.
  • I have never hated teaching a course as much as I have despised my online class this semester. The students are frustrated. I'm frustrated. I could care less if they actually learn anything...I just want the experience to be over! What's been the problem? It was bad timing for me to attempt a new experience with Dad's health crisis this semester. I have found the technological support to be lacking. The fix to the online community has generated more bugs that are being exposed as the course progresses. Since I'm on campus only once each week, there are no opportunities to effectively communicate with support staff -- especially since I have to physically be present in order to get anything done. Lesson learned....I'll gladly attempt an online class again when I'm in a full-time position, but not before.
 Have a wonderful week! Take the time to count your blessings this week as you enjoy the turkey with your friends and family. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Buffets

My family knows that I despise eating at a buffet or cafeteria. Potluck dinners can be just as difficult for me. I find the food often becomes stale and unappetizing. My mind imagines the hands that have touched the serving utensils. I start to wonder when those hands were last washed. The scenario just goes downhill from there.

Imagine my surprise when I recently found myself visiting a buffet while traveling alone. I had heard about The Old Country Store in Jackson, Tennessee, and decided to check it out. I knew they were known for their breakfast buffet, but planned to order from the menu. Was I in for a shock when I learned there was NO menu from which to order!

Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the breakfast buffet was actually quite satisfying. The biscuits were extremely light and fluffy, a perfect complement to the sausage gravy. The fried chicken was pretty good as well, but just not what I was expecting for breakfast. Luckily, I did not discover the pastry bar until the end of my meal. The blueberry bread was AH-MAH-ZING!!! A serving of that alone was worth the price of the buffet.

I haven't changed my mind about buffets, but I have discovered that it is possible to enjoy them occasionally. It's all a matter of atmosphere and my mindset at the moment.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hits and Misses (November 9-15)

Once again, here's a look back at the week that was....

HITS
  • This week had two more successful concerts. I survived my ride on the Ghost Train on Tuesday night, despite feeling less than wonderful. Friday night saw a wonderful senior recital with Hillarie Henderson. I especially enjoyed getting to perform "Ain't It a Pretty Night" from Susannah.
  • The week also featured several opportunities to have honest conversations that were long overdue.  Nothing too stressful here, but some observations that needed to be shared. I was happy to be able to get some things off of my chest and that they were received in the spirit they were given.
  • On Saturday, my family celebrated Dad's 78th birthday together. It was a simple dinner at Olive Garden that was made more special because of Dad's great recovery from his heart surgery. The only thing that might have made the evening more perfect was if we felt a bit better.
  • It looks as though some future opportunities are heading my way that might make my life a little easier. Final details haven't been worked out, so I'm not at a point that I can share specifics yet. It looks as though I will get to increase the number of piano students I am currently teaching....and that's a good thing.
MISSES
  • I have been sick much of the week. What began as jet lag on Monday turned into a nasty stomach virus on Tuesday. As the week progressed, I began to experience sinus problems that have simply sapped me of my energy. The only thing I want to do right now is crawl in bed and sleep for a few days!
  • Winter weather made an early appearance in the Memphis area this week. On Thursday, I
    crawled out of bed to learn that the interstate was icy and almost impassable. I don't enjoy driving in any type of precipitation, but I definitely don't like snow and ice.  I'm just hoping that the fact that the first storm came through in early November doesn't mean that we are going to have a rough winter around here.
  • I get really irritated when other people's lack of preparation negatively impacts me. I tend to be patient when students are slow to get music to me. When it gets close to performance time, however, my patience wanes. When my patience is gone, tactfulness is replaced by blunt truth. Your feelings might get hurt, but you need to know that your lack of preparation is effecting me.
  • I hate when people find it necessary to make derogatory remarks that are hurtful and mean spirited. An anonymous person left a comment on a recent blog post that was prejudicial and cruel. While I welcome open conversation about issues and will permit comments that present a different point of view from my own, I will not allow anyone to use Livin' Life as a means of spreading hate and rage. Thankfully, I was advised to moderate all comments on my blog long ago to protect against just such things. I am happy to say that I was the only one who saw the posted comment and have since removed it from the site.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Common Sense

As the results of the recent mid-term elections rolled in, I shook my head as people began to question the common sense of voters. "I can't believe the amendment was passed. I thought our voters had more common sense." Why is it that the intellect and rationality of others are always called into question by the Left when things do not go according to their plans? Why do liberals think they are the exclusive owners of "common sense?"

I will be the first to admit that there are conservatives who do not always make choices based in thoughtful consideration of the issues. However, there are also liberals that are guilty of the same thing! Can we not just accept the fact that differing opinions and interpretations of facts can lead to opposing views that are clearly reasoned?

Many conservatives are accused of being small-minded or irrational because they are influenced by a strong moral code that is grounded in a personal faith. This does not mean that I am ignoring the facts. It means I am considering the facts from the perspective of my convictions. My faith does not mean that I am living in the past; I suggest that I am choosing a way of life that has proven itself stable for centuries.

I don't ask you to agree with my politics. I do ask you to respect my right to freely express my thoughts without fear of attack. Despite our personal politics, I believe that most voters are pursuing the same goal -- making our world a better place. When we keep the goal as the main objective, I think we can find our commonalities and work together. That leads to the best possible outcome.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hits and Misses (November 2 - 8)

After a fairly busy week and a touch of illness, I'm finally getting back to a regular blogging routine. Here's a look back at the week that was....

HITS

  • It's always a joy to get to reconnect with friends in Southern California! I was honored to meet some new people, laugh and cry with some dear friends, and simply be with those that I treasure. It's so nice to know that time and distance truly has no effect on the strength of our friendships.
  • Union's Day of Remembrance came early in the week and meant that I was able to get a little rest before the trip out west. I definitely needed it since I had to pack for so many different situations.
  • Every trip is always measured by the food. This week included a trip to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. I think there's a southern cook associated with the restaurant...the fried chicken was quite good!


MISSES

  • I simply do not enjoy dealing with stressful events. It's especially difficult when the conflict is between friends. These situations rarely have a clear resolution that doesn't end in someone getting hurt.
  • I love my sleep. It's so important. Even though I love seeing friends, sleeping in the floor is becoming more challenging with each passing year. The negative aspects of the sleeping conditions are always overshadowed by the thrill of being with those I love though.
  • Arriving at the airport less than an hour before departure is not a situation I like. Sometimes it's necessary. Other times, it is the result of poor planning. Either way, me running through the airport simply hoping I'll make my flight is not something I enjoy.
  • Saying goodbye is never easy. Even though I know that I will get back to L.A., the situation will never be quite the same. People will move away. Things just don't stay the same. I suppose this is what always makes it so difficult to return home when my heart longs to be in the ocean air. I know the only way that the situation will change, however, is if I begin to take steps to make it happen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Harvest Time

Leaves are turning beautiful shades of yellow and red. The air is crisp and cool. Crops are being brought in at a rapid pace in an attempt to avoid Winter's first freeze. All signs suggest it is harvest time in the South.

Harvest does not just happen. It is a labor intensive process that consumes the farmer's year. The ground is prepared and the seed is sown. For what feels like an eternity, there is no visible sign of life. Then the first sprout of green appears. The farmer patiently waits for the plant to mature, vigilantly protecting the seedling from destructive forces. A watchful eye is kept on the sky while praying for the perfect balance of sun and rain.

Once a healthy plant appears, the waiting process continues. It takes time for the crop to yield its fruit. The farmer patiently observes the field's development, waiting for the perfect opportunity to harvest the best crop. If the farmer attempts to harvest too soon, the fruits of his months of labor have not reached their full potential. Conversely, if harvest is delayed too long, a bountiful crop will be lost and cannot be recovered.

Doesn't that sound like our lives? No wonder Scripture is filled with allusions to farming and harvest. The principle applies to our vocation, parenting, and spirituality. We would all benefit from becoming students of the soil.

Some crops require more growing time than others. It becomes difficult to patiently wait while other farmers joyfully go to the fields to harvest their crops. The same is true in life. It can be challenging to watch others experiencing fulfillment and success while you remain in the growth process. Whatever stage of the farming process your life is currently in, take hope. As sure as the sun rises, harvest time will eventually be yours. Don't get in too big of a hurry and try to rush the harvest. The patient farmer that carefully watches for the prime harvest season will reap the greatest yield.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 26 - November 1)

Here's my weekly look back at the week that was.

HITS
  • Sunday got off to a good start. I enjoyed playing for the morning service at First Marion and followed that with a successful presentation of the high school cabaret production.
  • Music for the rest of the week was thrilling as well. Another recital hearing was successful (despite our surprise at singing both arias). Accompanying the men's choir at the Fall choral concert went better than expected. 
  • Despite my slow movements by the end of the week, it was great to spend an hour on the phone with a friend on Friday night. We were productive and also just got to be silly for a bit -- definitely a change of pace! I can't wait for lots more fun when I'm visiting LA this week.
MISSES
  • There's nothing quite like playing for a worship service when you realize that the worship leader is not in the same key that you are in! Yep, it happened. Yep, it was the most frightening 20 seconds I've experienced in a while. Yep, we recovered and made it through without too much disruption to the overall service.
  • I know I'm getting older. I don't need my body to remind me of that on a regular basis. However, my body decided to re-enforce that message on Thursday night when I twisted my back on my way to the stage for the choral concert. I didn't notice it until after I had played (thankfully!), but quickly knew that I was going to have to lie down for a while. I'm not sure exactly what I did, but I do know that it forced me to slow down a bit for the rest of the week.
  • My online class has become the bane of my existence at the moment. I think they only permitted absolute idiots to enroll in the class. My frustration continues as the process of getting material uploaded to the course is a multi-level endeavor. I mean, come on! Heaven and Earth were created in only 7 days! This process is ridiculous. At this point, I'm simply trying to get through so I can claim to have taught the material....effectiveness of instruction is secondary.
  • It was a quiet Halloween here in Crawfordsville. Even though I didn't want to really mess with the goblins this year, I did miss seeing the costumes. I suppose I can't have my cake and eat it too.....so I may have to consider this a hit instead......
There you have it. Be good and don't forget to be thankful this November!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Candy

Tonight is the night children will don costumes and begin their annual quest for sweet treasure. I'm really not a fan of Halloween, but I do love seeing the creative costumes. The best (or worst?) part is that my family begins preparing weeks in advance by stockpiling candy.

For as long as I can remember, my Dad has been known as the "Candy Man." Whenever he goes to church, kids of all ages find him, knowing that he has a sugary treat for them. As soon as October arrives, Dad begins looking for the most exciting bag of candy to share with the young revelers who will knock on the door on October 31.

Because of Dad's health issues this year, Dad settled for a simple bag of treats. Of course, my family didn't wait until Halloween to start enjoying the confections! For some reason, I opted for a different candy this year. Instead of reaching for a wafer drenched in chocolate, I grabbed a box of Milk Duds from the sack.

And that was the beginning of the end! Those little nuggets of chocolate-covered caramel are addicting! I feel like I need to find a meeting of CEA -- Candy Eaters Anonymous -- in order to deal with my problem. But I think I'll wait until Halloween is over, unless the little yellow boxes of yummy-ness disappear into my tummy first!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If I Had Another Career...

I absolutely love my job! It is thrilling to make music on a daily basis in various styles and settings. I didn't always plan on being a pianist. As a child, I thought I would be a teacher. I'm luck that I get to live out my childhood dream of teaching as well as continuing to develop my own skills as a performer and musician.

While commuting to a morning rehearsal last weekend, I began to wonder what I might be doing if I hadn't found my way to music. What careers do I think I would have liked to try?

What I quickly realized is that I have developed multiple interests and skills throughout my life. I narrowed the list to four careers I think I might have enjoyed exploring.

Since I like to read and write so much, work as an editor would be fun. I'm fascinated by the process of raising questions that help an author find focus, clarifying their message. Along the same lines, my joy in helping others became the best person they can be makes me consider work as a counselor. I have experienced a bit of peer counseling while serving in ministry. I enjoyed seeing people consider new options that led to changes. My frustrations in ministry were often associated with people continuing down destructive paths.

I have become a planner and organizer in recent years. I have gotten to plan several vacations for my family and really enjoyed doing it. Since I value rest and relaxation so much, work as a travel agent might have been a good fit. I would probably spend the majority of my income visiting destinations of all sorts in the name of job-related research!

My mother has instilled a love of experimenting in the kitchen. I've also developed quite a sweet tooth. Why not become a pastry chef? There would only be a few downsides -- the fact that I would only be able to wear pants with elastic waistbands and that I would have to wash the dishes more frequently!

Even though these careers seem as though they would be fun at first, I think I will stick to my life as a musician as long as I am physically (and financially) able. After all, it is the work that I was created for, so nothing else could ever be as fulfilling!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 19-25)

Another busy week is in the books! Here's a look back at the week that was....

HITS
  • The week began with getting to attend church with both of my parents for the first time since Dad's triple bypass. Rather than making the commute to Collierville, Dad decided to join me at First Marion last week. It was such a sweet day of worship as a family that I especially enjoyed. After church, the siblings joined us in Crawfordsville for lunch together.
  • It's been a FULL week of music making that has mostly been successful. The highlight of the week was an outstanding senior voice recital by Lauren Harris on Friday night that featured the John Carter Cantata. I'm glad I got to perform this difficult work with Lauren, but very happy that I don't have to rehearse it any more at the moment! (Waaaayyyyy too many notes!) I've also enjoyed rehearsing with a couple of instrumental students for upcoming performances and had a quick rehearsal with the men's choir at Union this week. Lots of good music in the works that will be performed this week.
  • On Wednesday, I attended my first rehearsal with the praise band at Marion First. It has been nearly 15 months since I played in an ensemble in a worship setting. I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive stepping back into this type of situation again, but I really enjoyed myself. It's a wonderful feeling to have the opportunity to use my talents as an act of worship without having the stress and responsibility that had been associated with playing in the past. 
  • Friday afternoon saw a very "interesting" opera rehearsal at Union. There's nothing quite like seeing a grinning Dr. Warren wearing a dragon's head to cut through the tension and give us some much needed laughter. 
  • The week ended with a very nice dinner at Bosco's on Saturday night. The food was great, but the company was what really made the meal special. There was lively, invigorating conversation and plenty of laughter as old friends dreamed together again. We'll just have to wait and see what exciting things come about because of this dinner in the coming months.
MISSES
  • I've been reminded this week how dissatisfied I am with my position in West Memphis. After 6 years, it is becoming clear that circumstances are never going to change and I will continue to be frustrated. I'm actively looking for opportunities that would allow me to let this position go once and for all.
  • While playing Lauren's recital on Saturday night, I was reminded of why I prefer a long piano bench to an artist's bench in collaborative performance. The second movement of Carter's Cantata required lots of movement from one region of the keyboard to another. In rehearsal, I was able to reposition my body easily in order to have the easiest access to the notes needed. In the recital, I was sitting on a tiny artist's bench that didn't allow for much shifting of positions. I was so afraid that I was going to fall off into the floor in the middle of the piece.
  • Saturday was an incredibly busy day. I left Jackson and drove straight to First Marion for a Christmas musical rehearsal. As soon as we broke for lunch, I exited and headed over to the dress rehearsal for the high school cabaret. The high school students and I ran that program twice before heading to Bosco's with a quick stop at the library. Even though it was a productive day and everything went well, I was worn out by the time I finally hit the bed that night.
  • When you're surrounded by good conductors all week in both academia and church work, it becomes extremely challenging when you find you have to work with a weaker conductor. What I find is that the better conductors do less talking and more rehearsing. If words are needed to explain a concept to an ensemble, it's often because the message wasn't communicated clearly through the baton.
  • Just as frustrating is watching a hard-working student perform less than their best as a result of poor coaching. In these situations, I find myself wondering if the student isn't aware of the poor instruction they are receiving or if they simply don't care. It's a tough balancing act.....and I'm still trying to decide whether I should speak up or remain silent. 
There you have it! Hope you have a great week ahead.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Purple Daisies.....for Domestic Violence Awareness

I have struggled with writing this post. Let me warn you from the beginning -- this is not going to be pretty. It is important though. Because of that, I refuse to edit myself or attempt to wrap things up in a neat package.

Last week, I participated in a Facebook activity to replace the negativity often found there with images of beautiful flowers. Gerber daisies were chosen as my flower. The next post on my news feed was a purple ribbon, honoring the many women and children in our country who are victims of domestic violence. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I decided to combine the activities into a single post. Domestic violence has become a personal issue for my family in the last few years. My purple daisy bouquet is for my sister.

In 2009, my sister came forward with the awful truth that she had been the victim of domestic abuse for five years at the hands of her husband who she was now divorcing. In addition to the physical and emotional abuse Carlene suffered, her pain was heightened as she realized that the emotional abuse was also impacting her two young daughters.

The details of Carlene's ordeal is hers to tell. Truthfully, I'm confident that I only know a portion of the horror and suffering she endured at the hands of the monster she married. What I CAN address are my personal feelings as a family member who also had to deal with the repercussions of the violence she endured.

ANGER!!!! That one word sums up so much of my feelings. I was furious that a man professing Christianity could inflict the bruises that I photographed along my sister's back and arms. I despised that my nieces had witnessed the violence and lived in constant fear. I fumed as I learned that this arrogant idiot of wasted air attempted to convince people that my sister had inflicted the injuries on herself!

My anger turned to rage as my family had to take significant steps to ensure our personal safety as well as that of Carlene and the girls. The jerk's abuse continued as he called my mother at work, appeared at our various places of employment, and ultimately began living in the same apartment complex that Carlene settled in in order to continue contact and dominating her life.

As I heard the responses from some in the church to my sister's situation, I was floored. "You made a commitment for life and need to stay in the marriage and try to work things out."  "Jesus said to turn the other cheek."  "He's just going through a hard time. Things will get better eventually." I wondered which of these "insightful" people would have offered the same advice if they were living in constant fear. I definitely began to understand why so many victims say that they don't feel safe confiding in the faith community; with responses like the ones Carlene heard, no one would find comfort or safety there.

Even though my sister gained her freedom from her personal hell over five years ago, I still experience frustration that continues to stem from the abusive relationship. I despise watching my sister struggle financially to make ends meet because the A-hole has failed to pay child support as ordered by the court for at least four years. That leads to other frustrations with Tennessee Child Welfare for not monitoring the situation closely as well as with Carlene for not pressing the issue more. I nearly blow a gasket every time I hear my nieces complain about having to visit the man who provided the sperm that produced them (I'm sorry....he doesn't deserve to even be referred to as a biological father, in my opinion!); it would appear to a rational person that failure to fulfill a responsibility outlined in the divorce decree (e.g. monthly child support payments) would result in the loss of parental rights and visitation.

When I get incredibly frustrated and upset at the situation that my family finds itself in simply because one man could not appropriately manage his temper, I find myself fantasizing. I fantasize about the day that the state of Tennessee finally notices that child support has not been paid. I dream about the abuser finally spending time behind bars. I wonder what the reception for him will be as other inmates learn of the pain that was inflicted on a woman and innocent children at his hands. I'm not stupid enough to fantasize about inflicting the pain on the idiot myself.....but I wouldn't mind being a casual observer either!

As you can see, I have no use for this man that I consider the scum of the earth. He didn't just inflict pain on random people; he violently abused those I love. He made their home a prison. That caused me pain as well. No one should ever have to suffer at the hands of someone who promised "to love, honor, and cherish" them. Sounds like a big lie to me....

So don't placate me with terms about how I need to find forgiveness. I really don't want to hear it. All I want is to display these purple daisies as a sign to those who might be dealing with abuse in their own life that they are not alone and that there are some of us who refuse to remain silent any longer. It's time for the shame many of these victims face to come to an end and for us to place the guilt where it belongs....firmly on the shoulders of the abuser!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Silencing the Critic Within

On Thursday evening, October 16, 2014, I had the distinct pleasure to participate in an outstanding student recital. Featuring works by Poulenc, Ives, Bellini, and Massenet, the performance was the culmination of a semester of thorough preparation. I felt very confident in my preparation as I walked on stage.

I also felt very tired. The week had been packed with all sorts of activities. As the start of the concert drew near, I began to feel that the week was catching up to me. I was depending on my solid preparatory work to carry me through the difficult program ahead. Thankfully, the recital was well-received and the audience was moved by the music.

As we exited the stage following the opening set -- Poulenc's Tel jour, telle nuit -- I found myself hearing the voice of my inner critic. I knew that I had played the cycle much better than what I had just presented. I was struggling to maintain focus. I was certain that I had disappointed my fellow performer and colleagues. In that moment, I knew how important it was to stay in the present moment and silence the inner critic. But his negativity was so LOUD and persistent!

I don't think my experience is unique. Regardless of what you do, it is easy to allow harsh criticism to rise up within you. Criticism can be a catalyst for improvement when properly handled. Criticism can also be crippling! One of our biggest challenges can be learning how to objectively listen to criticism and how to silence the inner critic when necessary.

Silencing your inner critic is an extremely personal process. Through trial and error, we individually learn the tools we can use to cause the negativity to stop. When I begin to criticize myself in an unproductive way, I intentionally look for things that were successful and think about them. I then remind myself that my worth -- as neither a musician nor a human -- is determined solely by my performance. Perhaps most importantly, I think about why the activity matters to me so much and challenge myself to enjoy the process since rehashing what is already done will not change the past at all.

Thursday's performance was far from perfect, but it was much more successful as I chose to enjoy the music-making instead of punishing myself for past sins. Whether you are performing on a concert stage, in a classroom, or in an office building, my hope for you is the same -- may you continue to live in the moment, enjoying your passionate pursuit as you diligently silence the accusing voice of your harsh inner critic!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 12-18)

What a WILD and crazy week it has been. I hesitate to take a look back for fear that it might repeat itself....but here goes!

HITS
  • I had a blast playing auditions for Union University's upcoming production of Into the Woods this week. I played a lot of music, observed some outstanding auditions, and sat in on the casting process. I'm really excited about the high level of talent that will be involved in this first joint effort between the music and theater departments this Spring. Now I know how I'll spend my Christmas break!
  • With all of the auditions and since I didn't have to teach in West Memphis because of Fall Break (can I get an Amen?), I was able to stay in Jackson through Wednesday. OMG! I felt like a different man when I didn't have to make the extra trip back home. I hope that one day I'll be able to shift my entire life to Jackson if I'm going to continue to play in the city. My productivity and the quality of my playing would skyrocket.
  • Now that October is here, I've been missing my friends in southern California. It has almost always worked out that I have been able to return for a visit every fall. This year, things just weren't going to be possible due to Dad's health crisis earlier and the expenses involved with that. This week, I learned that the trip will be occurring after all! Some friends wanted to express their love and help me get there. I don't know how to explain my feelings.....I'm overwhelmed, honored, humbled, and speechless. More than anything, I truly feel the love! I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that everything works out for this short trip to the left coast.
  • More recitals and recital hearings took place this week. Thursday night was a wonderful performance experience that I am honored to have taken part in. My favorite memory of the week came at the end of the hearing earlier that afternoon though. The student walked out of the room calmly, but as soon as he hit the threshold of the recital hall the entire mood changed! Trevor sprinted out of view of the faculty and leaped with elated joy that things had gone so well. It was awesome to physically see the weight and pressure lifted from his shoulders.
  • To round out a fairly good week, Dad had his check-up with the cardiologist on Friday and got a glowing report. While all the restrictions have not yet been lifted (we think we're waiting on the end of cardiac rehab for that), we don't return to the cardiologist until January, 2015. What a relief!
MISSES
  • During Thursday night's recital, I struggled with my inner critic for the first time in a long time. I think it had a lot to do with my general fatigue after a long week. I'll be sharing some of my thoughts about this experience in Wednesday's post.
  • On Sunday afternoon, I arrived at church for a scheduled rehearsal. Little did I know that the rehearsal had been cancelled and I didn't get the memo. Since I've been in the leadership position before, I totally understand how things like this can happen and know that it was unintentional. Still, it made me a little shaky going into an already busy week.
  • I am not a fan of the high school cabaret I was drafted for. A rehearsal was scheduled for Friday afternoon that caused me to rush from the doctor's appointment to make sure I was on time. You KNOW how I felt when I left after 75 minutes and NONE of the scheduled singers showed up for their appointment. The only good thing about this show is that it will be performed next weekend and I won't have to deal with it anymore!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Power of Pocket Dialing

While having lunch this week, I got a text message from a friend telling me that I had pocket dialed her earlier in the day. I laughed and could only imagine what she had heard at the moment I had called. (Thankfully it was nothing embarrassing!)

Once the day's work was done, I knew that a "real" call was in order. Despite the 5 hour difference, we were finally able to connect. Our two hour conversation picked up as though we had just talked yesterday! That's the sign of a true friendship. At the end of the call, I was encouraged and knew that I had answered some important questions honestly. 

When we first met nearly 20 years ago, who would have imagined that this girl from Honolulu would have such a lasting impact on my life? Love you, TV! Now we really have to plan another trip for some eyeball-to-eyeball laughter and fun.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 5-11)

Here's a look back at the week that was.

HITS
  • The week got off to a great start with Liz Vaughn's recital. The program featured songs by Schumann and Barber. It was a great experience playing for a dedicated student who learned the music well in advance of the recital, allowing us ample time to polish. The performance was a joy to be involved with.
  • On Wednesday evening, I returned to choir rehearsal at First Marion. Minutes before rehearsal was to begin, I was asked to play piano. I had a lot of fun getting back to a supporting role in ministry that I have always enjoyed. Even if the music wouldn't stay on the rack at first and we had a moment of laughter together as I tried to stand at the piano in order to keep the rehearsal going, it felt good to be part of a group with a common goal. 
  • Fall break came at the perfect time. My hands and mind needed some rest. I only wish that I was able to totally relax instead of grading papers and recording lectures.
MISSES
  • This week saw an extremely long lecture for my night class. Because of complications at the beginning of the semester that resulted in uncertainty about the class actually making or not, I've been running behind all term. Tuesday night was the night that I finally had to pay the piper and cover a ton of material in a few short hours. I think the students understood the majority of the material, but I went home with a sore throat and immediately collapsed into my bed.
  • It's always frustrating when financial issues cut into the amount of rehearsal that is permitted for an upcoming performance. Even though I understand the logic, it's still frustrating. It's one of the challenges we face as musicians -- do we only do what we're paid for or do we do what is necessary in order to ensure performances of the highest quality.
  • Dad's hearing aids have continued to be problematic. For the second time in just over six weeks, the hearing devices are back at the manufacturer for repairs and/or replacement. I'm just ready for things to get back to normal so life can move ahead for a little while without major difficulties.

There you have it. Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Choices We Make

Every day is filled with choices to be made. Some are quite routine and appear insignificant at the time. Other decisions have lasting impact that will be felt for years to come. Whether we realize it or not, every choice we make results in a consequence. A poorly chosen outfit may result in being chilly all day. Decisions related to project planning and scheduling can significantly effect our productivity.

What factors contribute to the decision-making process? We hope that we have carefully weighed the situation from all perspectives, and made a decision that will be beneficial to everyone involved while aligning with our moral code. Unfortunately, not every decision is made wisely. Here are a few factors that have led me to make unwise decisions at times.

  • Snap decisions. Rarely do I know immediately what the best choice is. Decisions require thought. If I have not allowed adequate time to consider the decision -- or if I procrastinate due to fear -- the probability of missing an important factor in the process is significantly higher.
  • Peer pressure. Sometimes we know that others expect us to make a certain decision. In order to please others, we can make a choice that appears right to them and makes us miserable in the long run. For people-pleasers like me, this is a potential pitfall I have to constantly guard against.
  • Failing to ask for advice. Other people have journeyed this road before. Their wisdom can provide valuable insight. There is a fine line here, however. It is important that we hear their wise advice without falling prey to the people-pleasing trap mentioned above. Additionally, as a person of faith, I find it imperative to ask for divine wisdom on a daily basis. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that God has a plan for our lives. Our greatest joy comes when we make decisions that align with the Father's perfect plan for our lives.
What other factors inhibit you from making wise decisions? What steps do you take to avoid the trap that you are now aware of? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hits and Misses (September 28 - October 4)

Here's a look back at the week that was.

HITS
  • I had a great time playing my first rehearsal of the Christmas production at First Marion on Sunday. I've finally made the step to get involved in the music ministry of the church instead of just sitting on the sidelines. I'm looking forward to the months ahead.
  • It's been a successful week at Union as well. Another recital hearing went very well. That only leaves three more to play this term as well as the performances. Thankfully, only one more hearing has really tough music to master.
  • The laughter has been rolling in the music lounge this week. As one student reminded me, "what happens in the lounge stays in the lounge." Laughter is such a stress reliever in the middle of a busy day.
  • Before driving up to UT Martin on Friday, I had a productive dress rehearsal for Monday night's recital with Liz Vaughn. We've worked hard to prepare this music and I'm looking forward to getting to share it with the music department.
MISSES
  • This has been the week of sassy students who just don't seem to understand exactly why they are in school. I've had more than my share of tough conversations with several of them. Those are never pleasant, but always necessary.
  • Every time I participate in a NATS competition, I leave shaking my head. I don't understand how the judges in their "wisdom" selected certain voices to proceed to the finals given the other performances I heard. The comment sheets are becoming a contest between the judges to see who can be stranger than everyone else! "Let your eye see into the aural space." What in the world does that even mean?  I suppose the upside is that I make a little money; the downside is that students begin to question their progress because of some strange (and sometimes downright rude) comments.
  • On Thursday afternoon, I drove through the pouring rain to conduct a musical rehearsal for the high school showcase I was drafted into agreed to play. Imagine my surprise when I received a call ON THE WAY TO THE REHEARSAL to tell me that the piano was unavailable. Instead, in their wisdom, Delta Arts had secured a 4-octave keyboard for my use. What am I supposed to do with that? Teach a 3-year-old a nursery rhyme? If I had been informed of this earlier in the week, the rehearsal would have been cancelled so no one's time (especially mine!) would not have been wasted. The more I work in these situations, the more I understand why I continue to lose respect for DA. I'm fairly certain this will be my last venture with this group.
  • Nothing is worse than realizing that you have forgotten the password to an important site. I've searched all of my files, but there's no hint to be found. When I tried to change the password, I was denied access because I didn't correctly answer the security question. Here's where it gets really funny....when I tried to log in again using the security question, the site informed me that no question had been created for this user! I'm locked out and have to face the fact that I won't be making my deadline. C'est la vie!
There you have it. Hope you have a great week ahead.

Friday, October 3, 2014

I Hate Crowds!

I hate crowds! It's not that I don't like people or that I'm insecure. I just don't like the feeling that there is not sufficient room between me and my neighbor. If I have to plot a path to navigate the room, you will probably find me stationed along a wall with as few people around as possible. Some find it surprising since I love being in the city. Crowds of people that are moving are something entirely different for me; it's when I find myself in a large group of people in a confined space that I begin to feel uncomfortable.

This has always been a struggle when singing in choirs. Inevitably, my conductors have placed me near the center of the tenor section. If I'm in the center of the back row, I'm fine. There's still a way of escape if needed. More often than not, I have people on all sides though. When standing without the aid of chairs defining personal space, I start to feel a little weak in the knees. I count myself lucky that I have not taken a tumble in one of these scenarios yet.

I even struggle with tight spaces in my home. When the entire Freeman clan gathers for lunch, there are normally ten people around the table. After lunch, everyone crowds into the living room. I find myself escaping to other areas of the house throughout the event to simply breathe. Sometimes my family has mistaken my exit as a sign that they have upset me by something they have said; the reality is that I'm trying to regain control of an uncomfortable situation.

Sometimes visits last longer than just an afternoon and can stretch into days at a time. That's just part of family life, I suppose. Even though I truly love my family, these extended visits are very stressful for me. It feels as though the only place I can find some quiet time is in the bathroom. (My small bathroom tends to trigger another of my phobias in these escape scenes - claustrophobia. Now you know just how messed up I really am!) I feel that I've won a small victory when I haven't flipped out during one of these extended visits. I hate to admit it, but I always breathe a sigh of relief every time my living situation returns to normal with just me and the geriatric patients.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

As my family continues to come to grips with Dad's recovery from bypass surgery, we are very conscious of our diet at the moment. We are eating low fat foods as much as possible. We're aware of our sugar intake. We are hyper-aware of sodium levels. With all of these concerns, cooking has been challenging for Mom.

One of the doctor's final instructions to Dad before leaving the hospital was to "watch the salt." As the first week at home progressed, comments were made regularly at dinner about the food's blandness. I felt sorry for Mom who was doing the best she could, but I couldn't figure out what was going on. We had scheduled recipes that were low in sodium that we had prepared many times before to rave reviews. I was now a man on a mission.

My first thought was that the spices had gone bad and lost their potency. A quick Internet search explained that the spice's smell was the best way to determine if it was still good. I shared this information with Mom and then began smelling spice bottles in the kitchen. The aromas were amazing! This clearly was not the problem.

Once the house had quieted a bit, I had the chance to sit down and talk to Mom and Dad about their first week home. As we talked, we discovered some things that needed improvement and some areas that were concerning for each of us. The conversation moved to the week's food and Mom's questions about what was happening. It felt as though a light bulb illuminated over my head, and I asked Mom a simple question: "Are you still adding salt to the recipes as directed?" When she said that she was not, I knew we had discovered the meals' problem.

We talked about the difference between the ideas of "watching the salt" and "eliminating all salt." The doctor did not say that Dad could not have salt; Dad was told to make sure he did not use too much salt. It was fun to watch Mom's eyes light up with understanding. Now she is cooking with salt in a reasonable manner and making Mrs. Dash's Table Blend available for additional seasoning by the individual.

What a difference a little salt made! Saturday evening was the first meal of the week that Mom resumed her use of salt; the results were AMAZING! While eating dinner, my mind raced to the saying of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men." (HCSB) After a week of eating food prepared without the added flavor of salt, Jesus' words took on brand new meaning....and the scripture's challenge became clearer in my mind.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hits and Misses (September 21-27)

Here's my weekly glimpse back at the week that was.

HITS
  • It's always great fun to hear from friends that they are actually reading my blog posts. I just enjoy knowing that something I have written brought a smile.
  • After missing my chiropractor appointment at the end of last week, it was great to get back to see the doctor and continue dealing with my pain. What a blessing!
  • For several years, I have been driving to Collierville to get my hair cut. I loved the stylists there, but now that I'm not working in the area, I rarely find myself headed to that part of the city. This week, I tried a new salon much closer to home and was very pleased with the outcome. So I guess I've officially become a client of Joseph's Salon and Day Spa in Marion, Arkansas
  • This week saw the first of the semester's recital hearings that I will be involved in at Union. After experiencing some vocal issues late last week, the student sang beautifully on the departmental recital and was clearly prepared for the hearing. Two pieces were selected by the faculty, and they immediately commented that they were looking forward to hearing the entire program. That was truly the easiest recital hearing I've ever been involved with!
 MISSES
  • Even though I love making music, sometimes I hate long rehearsals. I especially struggle with them at the end of the week. I made it through without showing my bad attitude TOO clearly.
  • My brother and sister-in-law were staying with us this week to help with Dad's transition home from the hospital. It was a comfort to have them around, but it also made for a very crowded living space. I'm not fond of being in tight spaces at all, but we make the best of it for the common good sometimes.
  • I have had my fill of divas this week. It's hard enough to deal with a diva who also has the professional chops to support her demanding tone. When a student who has limited experience takes on the diva attitude though, that's when my claws come out too! Don't whine to me about how busy you are or that you can't simply get everything done......just do it! And then realize that you are only a diva in your own mind; the rest of us know that you are merely annoying. Can I get an Amen? Yeah, that's what I though.
There you have it. Have a great beginning to Pumpkin Month, y'all!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Transformed!

The church I am attending (Marion First Baptist) is in the process of being transformed. Through a series of eight sermons, the congregation is exploring how God wants to transform our health spiritually, physically, financially, relationally, emotionally, and vocationally. (There is another area that I am not recalling at the moment.) The sermon series uses Romans 12:1-2 as its key verse.

In the sermon on spiritual health, the following statement was made: "What we think influences how we feel. What we feel influences how we act." What a powerful concept! If we want change in our lives, it is not an issue of will-power or an emotional event. True change begins in the mind. We first have to change the way we think.

To illustrate this point, Dr. Hallmark had us look at the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. In this familiar story we see a great change in the son's thinking. In verse 12, the son is most concerned about what is due him. His first words are "Give me!" By verse 19, the proof of his transformation is clear. "Give me" has been replaced with "make me." Rather than focusing on what he can get, the son seeks to find out how he can serve his father as an act of love for the forgiveness he had received.

This was the first time I had ever considered this parable in this light. I have to admit that it brought some conviction. I've enjoyed sitting in congregations for nearly a year with a "give me" attitude. I wanted to enjoy the services without making any type of commitment. I was being a free-loader.

That's no way to live a spiritually healthy life. For a season, I was experiencing some much needed healing and restoration. That season has passed, but I had gotten comfortable in my "give me" mentality. I wasn't necessarily saying "no"; I just wasn't permitting anyone to be aware of the abilities I had to offer.

Now I'm finding myself praying "make me" again. Show me how I can serve. Place me in the body as it pleases You, Lord. The proverbial pew has become too comfortable, so it's time to get up and get my hands involved in ministry again.

There has already been a little guilt to deal with. I've been unable to assist with some projects due to schedule conflicts, previous commitments, and Dad's health issues. Saying "no" is never easy for me. I immediately heard the accusing voice declaring that people are going to think I'm all talk and no commitment. I refuse to believe that to be the case. I won't allow unfounded guilt to steal my "make me" attitude. After all, I'm pursuing transformation one step at a time. It's past time for this caterpillar to break out of his cocoon and fly!