Monday, March 30, 2015

Hits and Misses (March 22-28)

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

  • Monday evening saw the completion of another voice recital for this semester. I have to admit, I was fretting over this one a bit. In the end, it all turned out okay for the most part.
  • By Wednesday, I had given the last of my midterm exams and the majority of my singers were headed out of town for choir tour. That meant that I got a few days with no work or playing. What a blessing! I was able to devote some time to rest and reading.
  • I finished reading the March installment of the Jacqs Reading Project late this week. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the writing of Joyce Carol Oates.....and Carthage made a huge impression on me. I'll be sharing more about the book on Reading for Me very soon.
  • After a late night of rehearsing on Friday, I was thankful to have lots of piano lesson cancellations on Saturday. I love teaching, but this week it proved to be a welcome break.
  • Even though I'm thankful for the breaks that come in the middle of the semester, it's not ideal when the two schools are out different weeks! Last week was break at MSCC;  Union's spring holiday is this week. I'm not complaining too much since it will result in a few extra days of down time before the insanity of April hits, but I would love to have a single week of mind-numbing relaxation. I suppose that will come when May finally arrives.
  • My wrist guards finally gave up the ghost this week. Replacing them was costly and takes some time getting used to the feeling of the new ones. I don't like change when it comes to my comfort.
  • Carthage - p. 482 of 482 - COMPLETE!  (342 pages this week)
  • Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching by William Brown - p. 34 of 282
 There you have it! I hope you have a great week as we together recall the sacrifice our Savior made for each of us as we lead up to the joyous celebration of Easter.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hits and Misses (March 15-21)

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

  • Another recital is history! I wasn't sure we were going to pull this one off....mainly because I was sick most of the week.....but we made it and made it look pretty classy! Now I need to get through tonight's performance and I'll be sitting pretty for a few weeks.
  • It's a boy! The excitement is mounting as we make plans for the arrival of Baby Brauer. I can't wait to go shopping!!! (Shane and Jacqs, can I put in a request for a bookshelf in the nursery? I'm heading to Barnes and Noble.)
  • The geriatric ward finally entered the digital age this week. Our television receivers were finally updated. (Maybe it's better to say that our provider mandated the upgrade). This makes the HITS list because I can finally enjoy the convenience of having a DVR. It's the simple things, folks.
  • It has been a rough week in the Geriatric Ward. I felt poorly Sunday afternoon and woke up Monday morning with a full blown sinus infection. By the time I got to see a doctor on Tuesday, it had turned into an upper respiratory infection and I felt worse than I have felt in many years. After taking three days off work (YIKES!), I finally managed to get back into some form of my usual routine. Now Mom is sick, but we think we got her help before things became too bad.
  • Since I was sick, I had to miss the piano teacher conference that I had been looking forward to for several months. I knew it was the right decision, but I was still toying with the idea of venturing out anyway as late as Friday morning. Hindsight is 20/20.....I was exhausted after the recital that evening. Attending the conference would have been a really bad idea.
  • Carthage - p. 140 of 482 (65 pages this week)
  • As you can see, I have a LOT of reading to do in the next week and a half! Jacqs has already informed me that we're reading Great Expectations in April.
This week is Spring Break at one of my jobs. Since I've been sick (and gotten behind in some work), I've decided to take a break from blogging this week as well. I'll return on Monday, March 30 with the next installment of Hits and Misses.

Friday, March 20, 2015

College Search Tips

All over the country, many high school juniors are beginning their college search. This year, one of my nieces is getting the ball rolling. College has been a major part of my life. I truly believe that my school choices shaped the man I have become because of the people I met there, the opportunities I had, and the academic excellence I encountered at both institutions. As I have reflected on my own college search, I have thought about the parts of the process that were most challenging and the insight I wish someone had shared with me.

  • Relax and enjoy the experience! This is a major decision that you want to consider carefully...but it's also an exciting time. You are choosing a school to attend. It's the first major decision you have gotten to make as a young adult. Enjoy the process and don't let the decision overwhelm you. You have all the tools you need to make a wise choice.
  • Choose a field of study instead of a career path. Statistics suggest that a large proportion of college graduates will not major in the field that they will ultimate establish as their career path. The undergraduate experience is largely about learning how to process information. Find a major that interests you because you will be devoting a lot of time to the study of this field in the coming years. As you move through your college studies, you will be introduced to career paths in your discipline that you may have never realized were an option. Follow your interests now and trust that your career path will make itself clear in time. You don't have to have your entire future mapped out before beginning enjoy the experience of learning.
  • Figure out what things are important to you in a college. If possible, begin thinking about these issues before you really dive into the college search. It is important to learn those aspects of higher education that you value. This can be a challenging process as you will have input from your parents, teachers, and other well-meaning people. Listen carefully to their input and counsel, but remember that the final decision is yours alone. What types of questions should you ask yourself? Here are a few that I had to answer that will hopefully get you started. Is it important to attend a Christian school or do you just need to have a strong church nearby? Do you want to study in a bustling city or a quiet college town? Do you prefer a large state school with lots of social activities or a small campus that feels more like a family? There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions...but answering these types of questions will help you narrow down your college selections.
  • Reputation matters! Some people are going to try to convince you that the only thing that matters is that you ultimately receive a degree. They are going to tell you that graduating from an inexpensive school is just as good as one of the Big Ten schools. Here's the truth.....THEY ARE LYING!!! THE REPUTATION OF THE SCHOOL THAT YOU ATTEND IS IMMENSELY IMPORTANT! Here's why....the name of your college will follow you for the rest of your life on every resume you submit. Think about this hypothetical situation....if you are suffering a life-threatening illness, do you want to be treated by a doctor that graduated from Detroit City College or Johns Hopkins University? See???? As much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, the school's reputation effects how we are perceived. Once you have a good idea about the field that you plan to study, do some research on the reputation of that program at various schools as well as the schools' reputations as a whole. A good place to start is the U.S. News and World Reports college report cards and information easily found on the Internet.
  • Dare to dream! There will be plenty of naysayers during your college search. 
      • "Why are you considering THAT school?"
      • "You'll never get accepted THERE!"
      • "That place is only for rich kids."
      • "You'll never make it that far from home."
    • I heard every one of these negative comments from some of the people closest to me while I was settling on my college choice. It was painful to hear their negativity and filled me with self-doubt. Thankfully, I had a wise mother who told me I'd never know what I could accomplish until I applied!
    • I recommend applying to multiple schools. One should be an absolute dream....if tuition was not a factor and I can manage to get admitted, this is where I would like to attend. This is the school that you are not even sure you can get into.....your grades and test scores might be just above the bottom threshold. Even though it probably won't work out, take the risk to apply......because THINGS MIGHT WORK OUT SO YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO ATTEND YOUR DREAM SCHOOL!
    • Then apply to several reputable schools that are competitive and respected for which you qualify. Lastly, apply to a safe bet....a place where you are confident that you will probably be admitted and can be perfectly content spending a few years.
    • Above all, DON'T JUST SETTLE FOR WHAT YOU KNOW IS POSSIBLE; dare to shoot for the stars! Who knows? You may find that the stars are suddenly within your grasp!!!
    • Before moving on, let me say a brief word about money and the college search. Schools offer financial assistance of all types for a plethora of reasons. You may qualify for some of those institutional funds....but they will only be offered after you are admitted! In addition, there are federally funded loans and grants that allow students to attend college now and repay the loans once they have a job. Is it ideal to go into debt for a college education? That's a question only you can answer. I propose that student loans should be viewed as an investment in your future. If you are admitted to a prestigious college -- especially if it is your dream school -- you may find loan payments a very feasible consideration for your life.
  • Realize that your college years are a time to expand your horizons. Never again will life give you the opportunity to do so many things in a safe environment for so little expense. Have you always wanted to live in another state? Have you dreamed of studying overseas for a year? If so, look for schools that allow that dream to become a reality. It will be less expensive now than at any other time. Do you want to learn a little bit about a lot of topics? A liberal arts college might be the perfect match for you. Whatever has always been on your "I really want to...." list, look for a school that gives you the opportunity to do just that!
Selecting the perfect school is a difficult process. It will involve lots of research and consideration on your part. It will not be easy....but the rewards will continue to pay dividends for a lifetime! If you were to ask my advice, I would always suggest that you consider becoming a "Wave of Malibu!" But I also know that was the right decision for me.....Now it's time for you to begin your adventure of finding the perfect school for your college career.

Enjoy the search!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Stress of Financial Insecurity

Most people reading my blog know that I have been in the job hunt for several years now. I've been fortunate enough to live with my parents while I pursue a full-time position. Piecing together several part-time positions has allowed me to pay the bills (most of the time) while doing the work that I love. Still, I have become an expert on the stress that comes from financial insecurity.

One of the most trying aspects for those in my circumstance is the constant uncertainty. Part-time positions can change without warning. Income that was essential to your survival can be severely slashed -- or completely wiped out -- and there is nothing you can do about it. Since there is no job security for the part-timer, there is the constant pressure to accept every opportunity to earn a little income that comes your way. Sometimes these "jobs" add to the stress. Because the employer knows you are desperate, they also know that you will work for much less than you deserve. This results in your hard work being under-compensated and leads to abusive working environments that you must endure because your checkbook demands it.

As the challenges of financial uncertainty continue, everything becomes a major hurdle in life. Sickness -- even something as simple as a sinus infection -- can send the monthly budget into a tailspin. A major illness will often be ignored because we don't want to deal with the stress of figuring out how we will pay for the treatment. Let's not even begin to think about issues related to car or house repairs. A broken appliance or a brake replacement requires significant sacrifice. The only problem is that sacrifices are already being made in other areas. The next cut will have to come from an area that is truly a necessity. "Have you ever tried to get blood out of a turnip?"

If the financial struggle lingers, it becomes easy to find yourself in self-doubt. What's wrong with me that I can't get a job? Am I wrong to pursue my dreams? At what point do I give up my dream and settle for a desk job as a pencil pusher? Will this ever end? Will I ever know what stability and self-reliance is? It's easy to see that people in similar situations can easily find themselves spiraling into the depths of depression because of the apparent hopelessness of their situation. (While I don't consider myself currently depressed, I have dealt with the disease in the past and am constantly on alert for its reappearance in my life.)

Thankfully, the situation is not entirely hopeless. I don't know when I'll find a job that gives me security. I don't know what the future will demand in regards to my career choice. In spite of everything I don't know about my financial situation, I do know this one thing -- my Heavenly Father cares for me and has promised to take care of my needs. I may not see how my needs are going to be met and I may not understand why I have to face this challenging time, but I know that He can be trusted to keep His promises. Right now, the only thing I have is to base my hope solidly on these words of Jesus:
Don't worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: they don't sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? . . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don't worry about tomorrow... (Matthew 6:25-27; 33-34, HCSB)
So here I am.....trusting and waiting.....

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hits and Misses (March 8-14)

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

  • I had a great time playing for the AMDA auditions in Memphis on Sunday morning. The entire process was very low key and easy money for me. Even though I didn't hear a ton of exciting talent from those auditioning, I did get to meet some neat people from the New York campus. I hope that I get to work these auditions again in the future.
  • Two more recital hearings were completed this week. There were some shocking moments as we listened to the repertoire that was requested. Even though we were caught off guard on a couple of things, everyone now I shift my focus to the performances coming up this weekend.
  • On Monday evening, I had a very long phone call with my friend who also happens to be one of my bosses. We laughed together while brainstorming for upcoming events. It was a lot of fun and definitely very needed.
  • Saturday was an easy day of teaching piano lessons. Six lessons were scheduled....but because of Spring Break in Shelby County Schools, only three students showed up. Since I'm paid whether the student shows or not, I got in some personal practice and went on my merry way.
  • Three simple words.....Nothing Bundt Cakes! I sampled the Chocolate Chocolate Chip earlier in the week and brought home a Red Velvet on Saturday night. YUMMY.....but beware, the cream cheese icing is very rich and very addictive!!!!!
  • I despise Daylight Savings Time!!!! I said I can move on.....maybe.......
  • I've had a couple of really long days this week. When three of them stacked up on top of each other, I found myself really tired by the end of the week. Twelve hours at the piano bench is just a little too long on a regular basis.
  • It's never easy to say goodbye to friends. On Thursday, I played the funeral service for Lucy Beck. The service was well attended and a fitting tribute to a very special lady.
  • With my busy life, any disruption to my routine causes me to get behind in my weekly schedule. It happens from time to time....and I don't resent the things that reeked havoc on my schedule.....but it has made for a tough week since there weren't opportunities to catch up on things.

  • Crazyladies - p. 367 of 367 - COMPLETE! (67 pages this week)
  • Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates - p. 75 of 482 (75 pages this week)
 There you have it! Hope you have a great week ahead.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rain, Rain, Go Away

On this dreary Friday morning, I'm finding it very difficult to get anything done. It's raining and I just want to put my feet up and rest. I'm tired. The sound of the gentle rain is inducing sleep.

Rain brings life to dry, dusty earth. Rain clears the air of its pollution. Rain refreshes and revives the thirsty plants. Today, I need to experience some clearing, refreshing and reviving in my own world. So rather than wishing the rain away, I'm going to embrace it....and enjoy the cleansing rain.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Diet Center

This year, I have set a goal for myself to lose ten pounds. I know that it's possible and that there are plenty of ways to do it. I decided to get some help and joined The Diet Center to see if I could have a little more success. Here is the brief story of my experience with the program.

When I was first introduced to the Diet Center, I thought this was going to be the easiest program ever! Basically, you are to eat 3 meal replacements daily in the form of either a bar or a shake. At least 64 ounces of water are consumed daily along with fiber tablets and supplements. The day ends with a sensible dinner.

For the first week, life was great! The program was manageable. The water I was consuming was flushing my system and I experienced rapid weight loss. Then life returned to normal and I found that I wasn't getting the promised results. The meal replacements were bland and unsatisfying. (This is not to say that I was hungry while eating the bars; I just grew to hate them.) I was lucky to lose a pound each week. It was rather disappointing to put myself through the program's expense and frustration without seeing consistent results.

I also found the weigh ins annoying. I didn't object to visiting the center twice each week to step on the scale and replenish my supply of bars, supplements, and shakes. I grew to detest the sugary sweet ladies that worked there who could turn into a nagging monster on a dime. I became frustrated as it became clear that false statements were made about the program's ability to work in light of my personal relationship with food (since I am a picky eater who refuses to eat veggies). It became rather evident to me that I had gotten taken in by a well-played sales pitch. I don't know if the science the Diet Center proclaims actually supports their claims or not. I really don't care. I just know that the program was a joke for me personally.

I know that the solution to weight loss for me is eating sensibly and getting back to the gym. The reality is that my current lifestyle does not include the luxury of free time. But now I know that the Diet Center is clearly not the way for me to go.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hits and Misses (March 1-7)

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

  • The beginning of the week was quite good for me as a pianist. On Monday, I played the read through for Into the Woods and didn't die! It's a show I've loved for a long time and I'm thankful that I'm getting the opportunity to play it again. On Tuesday evening, the first voice recital of the semester went really well. I was happy with my playing and look forward to reviewing the recording in a few weeks. (That's not normally something I do, but I have to update my recordings for job applications.)
  • One of the highlights of the week came as a result of a phone conversation with a family member in Michigan. This teen that I've not actually met in person is the daughter of one of my cousins. We've spoken by phone a couple of times to offer some help with school work. I'm always pleased with how well-mannered she is.....a quality that I don't often see in many students her age. It's a joy to help her.......and I'm looking forward to making a trip north to reconnect with family I haven't seen in far too long.
  • It's that season again......GIRL SCOUT COOKIES ARE HERE! I limited myself to one box of Tagalongs this year. That box is nearly gone (after a brief 2 days in the kitchen) and I am already having withdrawals. If these cookies were available year round, I'm certain that I would be a much poorer man than I am.
  • I continue to enjoy watching my piano students progress. A few of them have finally made the connection that consistent practice will lead to tangible results. Even if it doesn't last forever, that's a victory I will gladly take.
  • I'm sick of winter weather! Jack Frost needs to take a hike back to the North Pole and leave Arkansas until at least December. I'm definitely suffering from a bad case of cabin fever.
  • It always catches me by surprise just how sore my body is the morning after a recital. This week's program was demanding and took its toll. I forgot to take it easy this weekend and tweaked my back when grabbing an upright piano to move. I'm sure the piano didn't end up in the position that was hoped for.....but at that moment, I really didn't care where it was staying in the middle of the room.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior really doesn't go over very well with me. If you need me to do something, don't leave me a note implying a change is needed.....especially when you're asking me to do something that PROBABLY falls under your job responsibilities! Even if I "comply," you won't like the results and will get the message pretty quickly. (See? Passive-aggressive behavior works both ways.)
  • I was told on Tuesday that a parent wanted to reserve a space in my teaching schedule on Saturday. I approved the slot (since it would result in a gap in my day) and moved things a bit to accommodate the new lesson. Imagine my feelings when this flaky parent failed to show up at the agreed time and had not registered for the slot. Lesson learned......I won't be holding slots for you any more until money is in hand. If you wait too long and I've scheduled other commitments, that will just be too bad.
  • Crazyladies - p. 300 of 367 (129 pages this week)
  • Cole Porter - p. 150 or 397 (6 pages this week)
  • I know I have to get back to the biography, but I need to finish the novel quickly so I can get started on March's book that Jacqs and I are reading together:  Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Tragedy of Unfinished Projects

I despise tasks that linger much longer than they should. While the task is large, it is not insurmountable. Why does the project remain unfinished? Often, the job was begun without adequate planning and preparation. Rather than investing the time to adequately prepare, we dive into the middle of the task on a whim. When the magnitude of the task is realized, our motivation and energy for the project is the victim. Because we didn't plan ahead, the inevitable obstacle arises and we have no idea how to continue to be productive.

The project stagnantly sits as a daily reminder. It's a reminder of our failure. We are reminded of the frustration that led us to jump into the project head first. We begin to consider the other areas of our life that leave us unsatisfied because we are not happy with the situation. Still, the unfinished project remains and continues to taunt us.

Why can't we find the motivation to finish the task? Over time, we begin to feel powerless against the job because we have convinced ourselves that the project is too large. We can find ourselves feeling helpless because the project was begun by someone else. If we make a move toward completing "their" task, we fear that we will send messages about their inadequacies and complacency. At our core, we feel guilty that we are disturbed by the messiness of our lives.....and so we determine that we have no right to alleviate the mess and finish the project. Instead, we continue to live in a perpetual state of frustration.

What do we do? First, we need to determine if the project that has gone unfinished is worth completing. It's perfectly fine to decide that a project that you began is no longer important to you. When you let the project go, you also let go of the guilt that is associated with the fact that it hasn't been finished. Once you know you want to finish the task, begin by making a plan. The plan should include manageable steps that will keep the overwhelming feelings at bay. Determine an ending date for the task, and work backwards from that date. This helps you decide what pieces of the puzzle need to be completed when. Now that you have a plan, get to work....and give yourself permission to revise the overall plan as needed. After all, now that you have developed a plan of action, you are the author and have taken ownership of the project. Recognize when frustration and guilt arrive and proactively decide what needs to be done. It may be a slow process, but the reward comes when the long avoided task becomes a successful accomplishment.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Friday Night Lights

I was introduced to Friday Night Lights late last year. I had seen the movie, but I failed to watch the television series because I made the false assumption that it was mainly about football....and since I'm not a fan of the game, I thought I would pass. During a season of boredom (which do occur occasionally!), I noticed that the show featured Connie Britton, one of my favorite actresses, so I decided to take a chance and start the series on Netflix. I quickly discovered that this series (which aired from 2006-2011) was about much more than just football.

  • It's all about family and the power of community! At the heart of the show are the struggles and triumphs of Eric Taylor and his young family who find themselves in a small Texas town that is crazy about football. The theme is further explored through broken families, families of various races, and the idea that a team and community can become a family when they pursue a common goal.
  • Adversity is an obvious issue for a sports team. As players learned to deal with the challenges on the field, the series showed how these same principles applied to their daily lives. Coach Taylor became a man highly respected by his players who was often sought out for his advice.
  • Pride is a powerful motivator! As the Dillon Panthers get their first taste of victory in a long time, the pride they experience motivates them to work harder to achieve greater success. 
  • The expectations of others do not have to limit us! No one expected the team to compete for the Texas State Championship. If the young men had listened to the opinions of others, they would have never achieved anything. Instead, Coach Taylor instills in them a concept that will become the battle cry repeated throughout the entire series: "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
 Whether you are a football fan or not, I encourage you to take a chance and watch the first season of Friday Night Lights. You will be inspired, encouraged, and challenged to pursue your dreams regardless of the obstacles you face. I think this would be a great show for parents to watch with their pre-teens and teens as it would provide opportunities for powerful discussions about life's challenges in a family-friendly setting.

Friday Night Lights is available on Netflix.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Hits and Misses (February 22-28)

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

  • The week got off to a great start when I heard from a voice from the past. I got a text message from a college friend who I've not been in touch with since he left Malibu. It was great to catch up quickly (since that is all our busy lives will allow at the moment) and to re-establish contact. Modern technology is great!
  • Monday's musical rehearsal for the upcoming production of Into the Woods was a lot of fun. There's nothing quite as enjoyable as laughing with other artists while getting some work done. I'm hoping that our first read-through this evening is just as enjoyable.
  • I was happy to accept another playing opportunity to pad my checking account. I'll be playing auditions for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy's auditions in Memphis next weekend. I always love getting back to my roots with musical theater as often as I can.
  • After wrestling with "L'hiver a cesse" from La bonne chanson most of the week, I'm glad to report that I have finally conquered my Faure and that I'm actually looking forward to getting to perform the piece on March 3.
  • The week came to an end with some really good piano lessons with my students. As a teacher, I love seeing the joy on my students' faces when they begin to see things coming together and start to enjoy the process of making music. I never really thought I would enjoy teaching private students, but I'm finding that I like it a lot....and I'm actually pretty good at it.
  • It's never fun to get answers that I wasn't hoping for. It's a fact of life, but I still don't have to like it.
  • Because of last week's inclement weather, it was a really busy week, but wasn't entirely productive. I spent lots of time waiting for lessons and rehearsals.....but it wasn't enough time to devote to other tasks that needed to be done. 
  • I'm glad we didn't get more icy weather this week, but I was a little disappointed that we missed the actual snow here at home that others saw just south of Memphis. I didn't need another day without school, but I would have liked to have seen the fluffy white stuff.
  • Now that the busy week is over, my body is feeling the effects. Put simply, I'm exhausted! Here's hoping this week returns to a somewhat normal routine.

With all of the craziness of the week, I didn't get much reading done.
  • Crazyladies of Pearl Street - p. 171 of 367 (69 pages this week)
  • Cole Porter - p. 144 of 397 (26 pages this week)
  • This week, Jacqs and I will begin our March selection in our reading challenge. March is my month to make the stay tuned to find out what we've decided to read.