Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

The 4 Ways I Keep Myself Balanced

Between teaching at a university, playing in an orchestra, taking on freelance work, blogging, and being the mother of three active children, life gets a little hectic. And by “a little” I mean a lot. (Did I mention I am trying to continue building my French fluency, as well??) I love everything that I do, so I certainly don’t want to give anything up, but that means that I have to be on top of my time and organization. So, how DO I juggle it make it work? Here are the 4 ways I keep myself balanced and focused.

1. Prioritize. I set morning, afternoon, and evening goals for myself. My mornings that I don’t teach are almost always exclusively set aside for working out and practicing. It’s all that I do. I avoid setting appointments for this time block. It is sacred space and jealously guarded for that particular purpose. My afternoons are slated for grocery shopping (if needed), laundry, blogging, and/or cleaning. If I can arrange it the night before, I do try to use the grocery store’s pick-up service, where they will do the shopping for you. I definitely recommend this! It’s such a time-saver. If I don’t have rehearsals or a concert, my evenings are devoted to family: either taxiing kids around, making dinner, having special time, you name it. Prioritize your blocks of time, and stick to it!

2. Do your work in small chunks of time. Occasionally, life will throw you some wrenches in your plan. Your kids are home sick, or school has been cancelled due to weather, or you are called away unavoidably. Whatever the issue, stay calm and stay flexible. When I find I’m suddenly home with kids during the school day, I try to work in small chunks of time, grabbing 30-minute practice sessions here and there as I am able. It does interfere with my “block scheduling” as described above, but I find that it is much more efficacious to stay flexible and do work as I can manage it, while still being available to my children at home. Children are much more agreeable to their parents working in small batches of time, as opposed to all day, if they know their needs are going to be met sooner rather than much later. It works well for everyone.

3. Manage your time well. This seems an obvious one, right? Let me explain. On the days I am home (not teaching at the university) I decide what I am better able to accomplish while the children are at school, and what items are still manageable when they are home. For example, if I need to run errands, be on the computer for a while, practice, — work that needs my attention to be absolutely on the task at-hand — I work hard to finish those while the children are at school. Other tasks like laundry, dishes, a quick check at email, and the like, where I can have my attention diverted for a bit to help with the children if needed, those I save for after the children return home from school. I want to make sure they know that I am always available, and they can have my attention immediately if necessary, but I am realistic enough to know that they don’t want me hovering over them constantly and can continue with whatever I was doing previously.

4. Meditate. I can’t stress this one enough. Find time to meditate. Lately I have switched to meditating at night, which has greatly helped my sleep (I have blogged about it earlier), but there are definitely merits to meditating during the day. Meditating greatly reduces stress and anxiety, as it helps to put space between your mind and your day-to-day worries. It helps you to focus on the here-and-now and puts your body at ease. This is great for helping you to stay balanced and focused during your day. The more you practice mediation, the easier it gets to calm your mind and ease your body, so you can continue on with your day in a more relaxed and focused way.

This is just a small snapshot of how I stay balanced and focused as a busy working mom. Yes, my house may not always be perfectly tidy. Quite the contrary at times!! There is no hiding the fact that I have three busy and active kids running around. But, to me, an overly tidy house is not what is always important. Maintaining my professional level of playing, raising good kids in a loving and nurturing way, and keeping my relationship with my family and work healthy are important to me. I hope I have given you, my lovely readers, some good ideas to help you find that balance that works for you. What are some things you do to stay balanced? I want to hear about it!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Practicing

How Meditation Helped Me To Chase Out the Demons Today

I’ve written a few blogs on why I meditate, as well as a great meditation app that I use. I appreciate the practice of meditation more and more each time I end my session and head to bed (read here about why I switched to meditating at night). With a clear head and a fully relaxed, tranquil body, I get to sleep faster and sleep more soundly than I have for years, and I’m so grateful for it!

Today, I was reminded why meditation can help so much with practicing (or whatever your line of work inside or outside the home may be). I started practicing my long tones like I do every morning, but it was a little rough. I had worked out using my favorite HIIT workout YouTube video and then followed that up with some upper body work (whew!), so I was pretty fatigued by the time I had my shower and started practicing. I didn’t think much of it once I took a little break and got some almond butter and some tea in me. But then while I was practicing technique work and still struggling a bit, those destructive inner thoughts started spiraling around in my head. Usually, I don’t even let those thoughts enter, but they found their way in.  It was really hard to concentrate, as you can imagine. And even while I was attempting to chase them away, it didn’t work. I was nearly in tears – oh, how those thoughts are so destructive! But, then it dawned on me: I am not in the “here and now”; I’m in a nonsense land that doesn’t even exist! After I realized what was happening, I was able to stop completely, lower my flute, take a few deep, calming breaths, and clear my head. It felt easy and wonderful – all thought leaving my head like clouds drifting away, and I was free to be me and start fresh again.

I am convinced that it gets easier and easier to clear my head the more I practice meditation. It’s absolutely vital in stressful situations (like a performance) to be able to put myself in the “here and now” and focus on what I need to do and be my best.

So, when you have days where you are fatigued or your body is tired and you inadvertently let those nasty (and probably untrue) thoughts pervade your mind, you can stop, breathe, and let them float away. Start meditating tonight, and practice clearing your mind, chase the demons away, and put yourself back into alignment with your true self.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Practicing, Working Parent

Working from Home: Is it easier or actually harder?

On the days I’m not teaching at Indiana Wesleyan University, I love working from home! I can be here to help get the kids out the door for school. I can workout. And, best of all, I can wear what I want, be comfortable, and not have to worry about make-up and my unruly, crazy hair. I love it! I leisurely begin my practicing with long tones and get my creative juices going by thinking about tone color and all of the different shading possibilities. After that, maybe I move on to my orchestral work or etudes, pieces, or whatever I wish. I take my time, and I feel relaxed.

The problem with being home while I’m working, is that I get almost “too relaxed” or unfocused, and I let the distractions of being in the house enter my mind. I suddenly notice that the kids’s toothpaste is all over their sink. Gross. I remember that my daughter will have no clean uniform skirts if I don’t do laundry today. The carpet needs attention. Ewwww, why is the kitchen floor sticky?! Yeah, you get me. It’s not exactly a distraction-free environment, is it? I almost let it get to me today, too. So, that’s the paradox of working from home, right? I find it easier to concentrate and focus at school or in a concert hall, but every other aspect of working is so much easier and relaxed at home.

So, how do I deal with all of these distractions and not let them blow my focus and energy? I put them off entirely … until the time is right. I try to maintain a daily schedule at home, and that does help a lot. I usually do not allow myself to do housework until my practicing is finished. Yes, the toothpaste is still all over the children’s sink. Yes, the carpet still desperately needs a visit with the vacuum cleaner. However, I know that these things can wait until it is in my schedule to take care of them, and knowing that can allow me to set those distractions aside and focus on my work. I’m not saying it’s always easy for me: like today, I caved in and started laundry early, which ate into my practice time a tiny bit. Some days it actually helps me to swap blocks of my schedule. So, if there’s something that is going to nag at me relentlessly until I get it taken care of, I’ll just deal with it first, and then carry on with my work. The trick for me is to make sure that during my work time, that’s what I’m focused on, and during my blogging or cleaning time, that’s what I’m focused on. I have to shut the door on everything else until it’s the right time. It takes will power some days, for sure, but I always thank myself in the end.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

How I Work at Home When the Kids are Home

Working at home while the children are in the house can be a monumental challenge. I’m not gonna lie: they are my hardest days, and any parent that has tried this knows exactly what I’m talking about. The kids are off school today for Labor Day, so it’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s a [literal] mess — I had 2 sets of blanket tents and empty fruit and cereal bowls covering my dining area just one hour ago, and laundry is piling up! The blanket tents and loud zombie playing are super fun, but with concerts starting back up, I still have to practice. And of course, then there are the inevitable arguments breaking out and all the other small “fires” (so to speak) to put out. Put it all together, and it’s very difficult to work and can leave you frazzled. It’s so easy to want to give up.

Lately, I have found the best way to handle this is to do the work in chunks: work a bit, then play, work a bit, then play. I definitely allow screen time during my work time, which does help immensely, but since I limit them to 2 hours per day it’s not enough time to get my practicing finished. So, we’ve had to experiment a lot to find a workable solution for everyone, or something that the children will at least tolerate for me. For some parents, working quite early in the morning and after the kids have gone to bed is a good solution for them. Since I’m a musician, I can’t exactly get away with that on my flute, but I have left my quieter work for when they are in bed. In the past, I have tried to do all of my practicing in the morning, leaving my afternoons free to play with my kids, but I still found myself drifting towards working in chunks anyway. Another thing that has worked well is when I’m lucky enough to have my husband home at the same time (sadly, not today), one of us can be with the children while the other one works, and then we’ll switch off. I have tried many different ways of squeezing in work while they are home.

I don’t believe that there is a solution that works perfectly well every single time. Something that may work one day doesn’t work at all the next. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something goes wrong. I get it. I think the key is being flexible enough to allow change to happen without disrupting our work entirely. Yes, this takes quite a bit patience and ingenuity to work around major disruptions, but developing this fluidity can save you a lot of frustration and may make you more productive overall. (Just for the record, it took me 3 chunks of time to get this blog written!)

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Mindfulness – It’s not just the latest buzzword!

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A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!

My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.

After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.

As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!

Posted in Practicing

Fun practice!

So, I found a special moment this evening when the three children were playing happily (and mostly separately), and I could squeeze in an extra 45 minutes of blissful uninterrupted practice. It’s rare, but I took it with gusto! I played the heart and soul out of the Franck Sonata and Ian Clarke’s Great Train Race. I played like no one was watching but that I had something to prove, something to really say. It was amazing! I was performing for no one but me, and that’s all I cared about at that moment. Every time I walk on stage, I will have this memory with me and perform, really perform, if for no one else but for myself. (Though, I know my audience will enjoy it, too.) My advice today to busy musician mommies is find 45 minutes or even 30 to perform for yourself and love, really love, what you are doing. Life with music is so good!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Busy, busy!

The last few months have brought so much work for me that I’ve neglected my site for a bit. Apologies! It’s been exciting, though! I served as the Chair of the 2015 Indianapolis Flute Fest, where we hosted the fabulous Jasmine Choi (www.jasminechoi.com). I even played for her the week before Flute Fest!!! She’s such a wonderful coach! Then, I had the honor of playing in the Hilbert Circle Theatre for a wonderful woman, Susan Kitterman, who is retiring in May as the director of the New World Youth Symphony Orchestra, where I played piccolo in 1995-1996. I also got the opportunity to be a part of the Butler University Arts Fest, playing the music of Rogers and Hammerstein and sharing the stage with the Butler Ballet (second only to Julliard!). Of course, I had my regular orchestral work in-and-amongst the other work. It was hard work and a little overwhelming at times, while juggling three small children, but it was worth every effort!

My toddler decided just before the Flute Fest that he was ready to potty-train. Yikes! I wasn’t ready, but if he was ready, then I had to be. It was a little frustrating at times, but once I took a breath and got comfortable with stopping every 20 minutes or so to put him on the toilet, it got easier. Once he developed awareness of actually urinating, then it got significantly easier. I think that that is a large part of the process: creating awareness. Toddlers are busy and want to go, go, go. They are so busy playing that they likely don’t even realize that they are urinating (pooping is another story — they are quite aware of that!). Once we both could recognize the signs of needing to go, then it’s just a matter of making it to the toilet. Sometimes he would fight it quite a bit. In the early stages of potty training, you really can’t push it too much, or you’ll turn your child off of it. However, once they are quite accustomed to using the toilet, you really do need to insist that they go and use it. As my husband, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, likes to tell me, “potty-training is not a linear progression,” meaning, it’s often two steps forward and one step back. Keeping that in mind helps significantly, too.

I learned so much about self-discipline, patience, and the importance of exercise and relaxation techniques during this incredible time. Because I had 3-to-4 shows worth of music at any given time, I really did have to pace myself and stagger learning each show. I had to trust myself that I could still play successfully without playing every single note every day, which is completely impossible when children are involved. I learned to be patient with the learning process of my own work and with a potty-training toddler. This is where the exercise and relaxation techniques really come into play and help out. (see previous posts). It has been a learning process for me on so many levels, and that is what makes being a musician and a mommy so rewarding and enriching for me! Now I’m on to preparing for another possible recital. The excitement just never stops!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Practicing

Run (or maybe any cardio), then Practice. Immediately.

This post is really a supplement to two previous posts, and I’m excited to share some more discoveries!

I tried my experiment, again, of running then practicing to give myself another go at learning from it. I ran 1.5 miles (2.4km) — not a lot, but enough — then picked my flute up. I didn’t get quite the massive sound that I remember from the first time (or maybe it has grown in my imagination!), but I learned something a little new: while the intake of air did improve from my everyday practice, it was the out-breath that was affected the most by the running. It was fluid, uninhibited, uninterrupted, everything that an out-breath should be. You get your lungs working hard, yet efficiently with running, then blowing through a flute is much easier work because your lungs are really working for you. They take in more air deeply and fluidly as your body is desperate for the oxygen, they then release that air in the same manner. Perfect. Obviously, we probably can’t do this exercise every single time we practice, but even just learning from the experience once or twice can have huge implications for how we proceed with our practicing thereafter.

Happy jogging, readers!

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 Health and Fitness, Practicing

A Little Experiment

I love to run. I try to run 2-3 miles at least 2-4 times per week. It helps me maintain my energy level, my optimism, my weight, and it even keeps my body’s chemistry in balance. Musically speaking, running improves my stamina, my phrase lengths, and my confidence. Running makes me a better person and a better flutist. I love it!

A few weeks ago, I took a break from practicing, tied up my running shoes, and told my husband I’ll be back in 25 minutes. I had a fantastic run! The air was just right. The temperature was just right. The birds were singing. And when I returned home, my “runner’s high” (endorphins, etc.) was about as high as it could get. After some nice stretches and a glass of water, a thought occurred to me: let’s try to practice right away. So, I ran upstairs, picked my flute back up and, BAM!, biggest sound of my life, amazing full-of-life phrases, and an almost aggressive (but still beautiful) style. I was on top of the world.

After only about a half hour, when I thought I was going to pass out, I put my flute away and starting thinking about what just happened. Well, for starters, I had all of that positive energy still surging through me from my “runner’s high” (it’s a real thing). Second, my heart was still working a little harder than normal, but my lungs were still feeling uninhibited and huge, and sucking in every last bit of air in the room with every breath. Lastly, after pounding pavement for nearly 30 minutes, I was still feeling quite athletic and applied (transferred?) that bit of power and motivation toward my flute. So, combine those three elements, and you become a pretty amazing, powerful flutist.

My goal is to remember how all of this felt and put it to work every time I put my flute to my mouth. I mean, what a sound!!! I want to play like that all the time (musically appropriate, of course). I will probably run this experiment a few more times to help remind myself. Not only did it give me unlimited confidence and a huge golden tone, but it was thrilling for me. I loved what I was doing beyond all measure. I want that every time I play!