Posted in Uncategorized

Relying on Other Disciplines

So, I have this recital coming up, quickly, and I’ve found that I’ve become more tense everywhere, which obviously adversely affects my flute playing and, well, everything. Believe me, I found that it really could permeate every aspect of my day. I have been focusing intently on staying relaxed through my playing, even taking tiny breaks fairly often to soften my muscles and regroup mentally. That process is good, but it’s really only part of the solution, I’ve discovered. I noticed that even though my face consistently stayed relaxed and ready to play, my arms and especially my fingers ached and hurt after only a few hours of practice. By my third or fourth day in a row of taking a lot of ibuprofen (nuprophen in the UK, if I remember correctly) I thought to myself that something is definitely wrong here.

I messaged my friend Lynne ( ) who is a skilled Andover Educator ( ) and talented flutist. She recommended some positions for me that allowed me to relax my spine, which, in turn, relaxed my entire body and mind. I’ve not had to take any medication today for pain, and practicing was fun and felt easy. Since my conversation with her a few days ago, I’ve also added yoga back into my routine and have started running on a more regular basis — not just on Saturdays after the farmers market with the promise of blueberry and dark chocolate pancakes at the end!

In order to be a more well-rounded musician, or parent, or anything, we need to rely on other disciplines to help keep us focused, balanced, and grounded. Even lying flat on the floor with our knees up for 5-10 minutes a few times a day helps a great deal and is a fabulous place to start. I certainly know how busy we can get trying to juggle work, parenting, etc., but we can only do our best when our bodies and minds are at their best. I use several means to make me the best flutist and parent I can be: I run to keep up my stamina and improve my lung function for playing; I now lie flat on the floor a few times a day to allow my spine to lengthen and spinal fluid to reposition; I’ve added yoga back in for concentration and body control; I pray a lot; and I use “mental practice” (imagining myself playing a particularly hard passage) to help with my flute playing. I know without all of these different disciplines working together I would consistently be run-down, frantic, and feeling out of control. I’m certainly not saying that every day is perfect — it’s not! — but I can have more good days and more healthy days when I take the time to do the above for my body, mind, and, in turn, for my flute playing and FAMILY.

A huge thank you to Lynne for reminding me of the importance of the above! ( )

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Just Entering Motherhood (for real)

I have three children ages 6, nearly 5, and 2 1/2, and I feel like I’m only just now entering motherhood, like, for real. I’ve been at this for 6 years, have given and taken all kinds of parenting advice, have read a whole host of books and research on parenting and childhood development, and I’ve managed 3 children born within 3 years and 10 months of each other. I would think I would have felt like a mother by now. Well, yes, but mostly no. I have suddenly been thrown into being a manager as well as being a parent, and it has taken me a bit by surprise. I’m sure I’ve heard other parents talk about this “managerial” aspect of parenting multiple school-aged children, but I must have tuned it out or something. Wow, it’s a real thing!

Everyday by 7:45 a.m. I’ve worked out, showered, fed three children, eaten, packed three snacks and two lunches, hurried two of the kids out the door for school, and hopefully have the dishes finished. Whew! By 1:00 p.m., most days, I’ve practiced flute 3 hours, made snacks for two, taken care of odds-and-ends around the house and have lunch made and eaten for two, and dishes finished….again. Before I leave to pick up the kids from school, I use the rest of the 2 hours for laundry or grocery shopping, cleaning, and toddler play/learn time (we’re working on colors and sight words). At 3:00 I pick the kids up from school, and then we’re really “off to the races”: snacks, homework, piano practice for my daughter, continue laundry, cook and eat dinner, run kids to tumbling class, piano lessons, or [soon-to-start] mid-week catechism depending on the day; oh, and I teach flute lessons in there, too. Then it’s time for bedtime routine, prayers, silent reading, then lights out. Every.Single.Day.

While folding clothes after dinner tonight I found myself surprisingly feeling like a manager, even considering making lists of what needs to be done and when, and as a result, like I was just entering motherhood for the first time: completely blown away by the enormity of having children. As the shock wore off and the last pair of socks were folded, I realized that I nearly forgot to help my daughter with her piano practice today! She had had so much homework, that I let her play until dinner, then it was time for a bath, and piano practice nearly fell by the wayside. Yeah, maybe making lists is a good idea….

Never would I have thought that 6 years in to being a mother I would only just realize what an undertaking this is. Yes, I’ve known how massive of a job it is — I have, after all, nursed 3 babies around the clock, changed more diapers than I can count, and have been sleep-deprived more than I care to think about — but it’s this managerial side to parenting that is really making this real for me, and, man am I blown away! Thinking on all this I realize how happy I am that I came to this particular realization, so now I have a new approach to handling my new, much busier, daily routine. I’ve been a little wide-eyed and flustered since the beginning of school, but that was before I understood that I need to be a manager, as well as a mother, wife, daughter, (cook, laundromat, cleaner, etc., etc.) and flutist.

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I’ve Been Spoiled! Back to the Basics.

So, my second child started school, full-time, a few weeks ago. I now have two children in school, and it’s just my happy toddler and me at home for 6 [mostly] quiet hours. Heaven! Don’t get me wrong; I love my children so very much, but when the older two get bored they get loud and cranky and start arguments just to start arguments. That doesn’t make for good and focused practicing. I started to get frustrated today, but then I stepped back, and thought: Well, that’s what my blog is supposed to be about, right? How do I balance having 3 children at home and a performing career. What have I been telling my readers who pop on my site? Wow, have I been spoiled these past few weeks — so much so that I forgot how I used to manage it 7 days a week for the 13 or so hours per day they are awake.

I found that separation worked incredibly well today. My toddler doesn’t understand sharing quite yet. He’s only two years old, and the reasoning part of the brain hasn’t been fully developed yet (at least, that’s what I remember reading). We’re working on it, but it’s obviously going to take a bit of time. My four year old, who fully understands sharing but doesn’t like it, has a fairly hot temper and will explode at smallest look my toddler gives him and his toys. They broke into a lot of arguing and yelling over toys almost first thing this morning (I think I had exactly one note out of my flute). I explained to my four year old why his hoarding of the toy cars was wrong, and when he wouldn’t hand just one over to the toddler after my second or third request, he got a time-out then sent downstairs. That worked really well for about an hour. I have a baby gate at the top of the stairs, so they were definitely separated. I had to repeat the process after lunch when the toddler kept wrecking my four year old’s block building. Again, it worked incredibly well.

Another trick that worked well today, when they got tired of being in one part of the house or the other, was an educational video (again, PBS Kids Video ). They forgot all about being upset over whatever and focused on a couple of spelling/reading shows. The video was the one thing today that the 2 boys could handle together, but I’ll take it.

I think the lesson for me (and maybe for other parents) here is to try completely separating the children if they can’t manage to get along together — I mean, be honest, we all need a little break sometimes — and to try other diversions once the separation fails. I had to learn today to be patient, do my job as a parent, and find a solution (or at least a temporary fix) to problems that came up so I could do my job as a flutist. I’ve really been on my own, completely, this week, and I think that’s what has made this particular weekend so challenging for me, but taking a step back to analyze the actual problem so I could make some attempt at fixing it helped us all this time.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Forgetting to Have Fun

Yesterday I felt miserable. I woke up feeling bad and had little energy. Having a recital coming up, however, I had to practice. My practice was unfocused and hardly goal-driven. I took several tiny breaks to pop online and view Facebook and the News, which didn’t help my lack of concentration. And while I scored nearly 4 hours of practice, it was practically unproductive (except for a few shining moments), and I ended up injuring my right hand in two places: my thumb and pinky. What a dumb thing. That night it was clear that I had succumbed to my children’s cold they so graciously shared with me and the rest of their school. Yuck.

After a great night’s sleep, surprisingly, I woke up with a sore throat, aching ears, and even less energy. Great. Well, at least I’ve been taking Zicam (zinc), so, I thought, maybe after I get the older two kids off to school and I get a nice, hot cup of coffee and another dose of Zicam, I’ll feel better. Thankfully, that was the case. I started practicing with my happy toddler watching Super Why (a fun learn-to-read 25-minute series [he’s known his alphabet for months] ), but everything felt, well, not right, like I was working too hard. I did get some productive time in, but knowing that I needed to take it easy on my right hand, I took a very long break after about 1 1/2 hours of practice. What a great decision! I had eaten a good snack, took my recital dress to get altered, had a filling, delicious lunch, and with some renewed energy (and even more Zicam), I sounded great and playing felt easy again. Then it suddenly dawned on me, I was forgetting to have fun and that practicing and the recital itself should be fun — musically satisfying, of course, but fun. With my newly enlightened mindset, practicing was once again enjoyable. I didn’t stress out about missed notes, and even though I had to stop and run an emergency second pair of eyeglasses to my husband, I could pick right up where I left off and happily continue my work. I had a great practice session. Gotta remember to have fun! What a difference!

“With every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find that fun and, snap, the job’s a game!” — Mary Poppins

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Practicing

Cutting Out that Awful Noise in My Head

So, I just finished practicing a little over 3 hours (with a break for snacks for my youngest and me in between). I feel like I accomplished a lot: new phrases memorized, a few more technical “acrobatics” ironed out, and some nice, new phrasing discovered. However, I also spent the majority of that time with panicked, negative commentary running nearly constantly through my head. Normally, I’m a very optimistic person, and when I goof or some aspect of a piece just stubbornly won’t get “fixed” I just shrug my shoulders and tell myself, “next time.” Not today. No, today was, “Is this ever going to go right?”, “Oh no, this could really crash and burn”, “Yikes! How did that happen??”, “What’s wrong with my sound? Oh, yeah, I need to relax and raise my head.” “Stop slouching.” “You’re too tired.” “I wonder if I can do this.” The list goes on. I finished my allotted time by doing some long tones, triple piano, in the highest register — this helps build muscle quickly. When I finished that I decided I should blow some loud low register notes to loosen my lips a little and to keep from getting too tight later on today. Well, I discovered a few things: my sound is always so much better when I’m relaxing and consciously trying to relax (as opposed to trying to play that wickedly hard run just one more time); the noise, the negative commentary, disappeared completely because I knew I was almost finished and could now eat lunch; I enjoyed myself suddenly and was enjoying the nice “buzz” (resonance) coming from my flute with my freshly relaxed embrochure and mindset.

Tomorrow, or maybe even later today just before my student comes, I’m going to experiment with playing with that final relaxation and gentle mindset that I finished playing with this morning. Perhaps, those challenging runs and phrases will feel a lot more easy if I go into them with ease and confidence instead of with a bunch of noise in my head. I think it’s a good exercise for everyone, not just musicians, to approach life with a relaxed mindset than with anxiety and trepidation. I’m not going to allow myself to fall into that downward spiral of negativity while I’m playing again. It’s just a way to set myself up for failure, when I could otherwise set myself up for success. I can do this!

Posted in Uncategorized

Weekend Wickedness

I love the weekend…mostly. The “me” time that happens on Saturday mornings is so necessary and relaxing, the endless pancakes coming off the griddle greeted by smiling faces, and that freedom from schedules and the daily grind all make the weekend so wonderful! Unfortunately, sometimes, the weekend can almost be more stressful for a performing musician gearing up for a recital (like I am doing now) or a week of rehearsals and concerts (fast approaching). Yes, it’s necessary for everyone to step back and take a break from life’s work or even one’s passion, but reality seems to dictate what actually needs to get done: notes learned, passages memorized, stamina strengthened. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens with daily, routine work — hard work. Even as I write this, that nagging voice in the back of my head is saying, “yes, but you need to allow your muscles time to rebuild and repair after the work.” Suddenly, I relax and acknowledge that I’m not a machine. As soon as the relaxation sets in, my other nagging voice pipes up, “you had better get on that flute or you are going to forget how to play that darn thing!” I feel a headache setting in.

Yes, I do love the weekend, but I find myself during my busy time craving the productive practice time that I get during the week. (I’m so weird! Who wishes for the weekend to end?!?!) Don’t get me wrong; I do take advantage of the weekend to spend a little extra time with my children and family. I need it. We all need it! But, I hate those voices chiming in about what I “should” be doing. This reminds me of a saying from one of my friends: don’t “should” on yourself. So perhaps the lesson here is to be happy doing whatever you are doing in that particular moment. Be in the moment. Yes, I have to practice — that is the reality — but enjoying being in the moment free of nagging voices is so much more healthy and productive than getting through that phrase just one more time.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Oh, That Wonderful “Me” Time!

I probably don’t need to go into the importance of having a specified day or time for some “me” time each week, but I’m going to do it, anyway. I didn’t use to have a set day or time set aside for just me; I let it happen when it happens. Well, after weeks of not having any time for myself I would explode and desperately cry to my husband about how I need a time-out NOW and would just take one, leaving him behind, unexpectedly, to handle the chaos that has amassed in our wake. After feeling relieved from my few hours’ break, the cycle would start all over again. Rinse, repeat. This is not only unfair to my husband and children, it’s really unfair to me, as well.

Over the last few months I have set aside Saturday mornings for myself. I run a few miles, go to the farmers market, run any other errands, and come home feeling free and light, ready to take on the next 6 1/2 days. Because we know this is going to happen each week, my husband is a little more prepared for it (at least, I don’t get that exasperated look anymore!), and I feel better about leaving and returning. I am so much more relaxed and comfortable knowing I have a time just for me, and this, of course, affects how I am as a mother: happy mommy translates to better parenting.

Date night is another type of “me” time that is equally important. I wish this was something we could do every week, personally, but we at least get one to two times per month just to ourselves. I mentioned in a previous post about how vital it is to one’s happiness to build and strengthen relationships, and this is one way of doing just that. It’s time set aside for you and your significant other to focus on your relationship and build that special bond we all need.

So, do take the time to find a relative or a friend you trust and can count on to help you with your children each week, and find some time for just yourself. I know how stressful it can be to leave your children with someone else, but it really is better for everyone for you to focus on you. It can help make you a more relaxed and focused person which in turn will make you a better parent. Take the time to do it!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Relying on Balance

Some days are such a struggle. Today is one of those days. I’ve settled on a date for an unaccompanied recital, so I start to feel the crunch (I hate that!), and it seems like my children’s behavior is worse, instantly. I really wrestle with wanting to play and have fun non-stop with my children over their summer break, but I also have the need and desire to work on my flute playing. While orchestra is out over the summer, this feels like my only chance to either focus on technical issues I want to improve or concentrate on flute repertoire and prepare a recital. My children, however, get restless, start going a little crazy, then their behavior spirals downward, and I feel like I’ve lost control of everything. It’s such an inner conflict for me some days: I love them so much and want to give them an incredible childhood, but I can’t let my flute playing go to waste either; I constantly want to improve.  My natural tendency for impatience often gets the better of me, and I want both things at the same time, and I want it done NOW.  I think balance is the solution here. Two more hours of practice, then play time, yes? The house chores can wait.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

“We All Need Somebody to Lean On”

I have discovered over the last few years how important it is to have a strong support system in life. As much as I like to think that I am Super Woman, and as much as I like for others to think that I am Super Woman, the truth is that I’m not….well, not entirely. I do manage a house, a husband, three children, a small-but-ongoing performing career, students, and all the cooking, but these things don’t happen on their own. Yes, most of the time I am on my own. My husband often works long days, especially during the academic year, and I do prefer to be the one teaching my children and managing the bulk of our affairs here. However, I’m only human, and like any other person, I have bad days. I have days when, for some random reason, it all feels too hard or too overwhelming. The last few days are an excellent example. I had missed out on 3-4 nights of sleep because I was trying to manage my allergies with Claritin-D (the D part is a ridiculous amount of sudafed), and it was simply keeping me awake at night. By day 5, when our kitchen sink had decided to leak, I was overwhelmed. I called my in-laws to take the children overnight so I could deal with our water emergency. Stuff like this has happened several times, and I couldn’t do it without this strong support. My parents still work outside the home, but they are still another source of strong support. We can go over and hang out at their house and sort of “get away,” our kids can play in their big backyard, and it’s always a good time. I need that.

No matter what you do in life or who you are, it’s so important to have that strong support structure. It’s worth taking the time to develop strong friendships, family relationships, faith-based relationships, and so on. Yes, we are all busy, but we are also humans — imperfect humans with basic needs of love and support. I feel like I am a better mother, wife, and musician because I have these relationships to hang on to when times get a little rough or even when times are great, which is so much more fun to celebrate with others! Maybe I’m not Super Woman, but I am certainly at my best with the love and support of my friends and family (even my friends on the other side of the ocean)! I need you all, and we all need each other.