The City and the Sea


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I'm reading Emily Freeman's A Million Little Ways right now - so many good words and such a fresh perspective on life and living and grace and art. Created in the image of God, we are called to serve and give and create in a multitude of ways - ways that reflect His glory. The journey to discovering these callings is a personal one and as I read Emily's account of her story, I see pieces of my own journey.

"My life is the city but my soul is the sea."

These words practically jumped off the page when I read them.

We've all had those moments when life feels adventurous and exciting. We thrive on the hustle and bustle of those around us and we feel as if we're on top of the world. Life is big and grand like the intimidating lines and finely-crafted architectural detail of the early skyscrapers, built a century ago and still standing majestically along Main Street. There in the distance - our name in lights.

And then there are those days when we want to hide. When we drive to a place where no one will find us because stepping into the warm rays of sunlight that hit our front steps and facing the world seems too much to bear. Instead of attention and a desire to be noticed, to be known, we long for security, for peace, for stillness. Our souls long for refreshment and solitude.

Rochester is a mid-size city.

We say it's just the right size for us: lots of arts and culture; small restaurants with a cozy, neighborhood feel; and you can get anywhere in about 20 minutes. I've grown used to the refrigerated delivery trucks parked outside on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the street sweeper, the beeping of the bus as it pauses mid-route at the stop around the corner. There's something comforting about it all - life being lived around you, people coming and going, a sense of community.

But then there are those moments when city life stops for a moment. There's a lull in the traffic on East Avenue. The only other person out walking is far in the distance. The only sounds are those of the birds happily chirping in the nearby crabapple and the wind gently nudging its branches.

I love these moments.

Instinctively, I take in a deep breath. I notice the pool blue sky, the white petals of the dogwood falling along my path, the fluffy peonies larger than the size of my hand. And then I remember that though my life is the city much of the time, my soul is the sea.

Sweet November


IMG_2179 Sweet November, that wonderful season of preparation, thanksgiving, and rest before the holiday hustle and bustle.   The nights get cooler, the days get shorter, and we wait for glimpses of those first few snowflakes of winter (well, some of us do). But with the rush of the end of the semester, a full teaching schedule, and a few other projects to manage, the rosy glow of my ideal November fades a little.  I admit, this is usually the time of year when I put my head down, do what I need to do each week, and look forward to a fresh, new year when I can take a breath and hit "restart" on goals, plans, and living in general.  I get burnt out on my goals.  I get tired of my routine.  I lose focus.

But this weekend, I took some time to sit still, to be still, and I realized - life is too short to live with your head down.  There are so many things to enjoy in the moment (like the brilliant yellow trees, glowing in the sunlight outside my window right now).  Sometimes I find myself so wrapped up in my to-do list that it doesn't seem like there is time to anything but what is absolutely essential.  Does that ever happen to you?  This weekend, I was reminded (partly from reading this post) that we're given enough time for everything that matters.  It comes down to how we manage our time and the priorities we set.

What really matters?  Here are few things that came to mind:

1. Making time for that passing conversation with someone in the hall 2. Offering a word of encouragement to someone who is feeling overwhelmed 3. Baking cookies to give away to others 4. Making the people in my life a priority and being fully present 5. Going the extra mile with kindness and grace

This is how I want to live my days this holiday season.  This is how I want to spend my time: focusing on what matters.  The rest will fall into place, as it always does.  What will you make happen this month?

Moving Day + Learning to Unplug

We did it!  Earlier this week, we packed up everything we own, fit it into a 17' U-Haul, and made the trip from MA to upstate NY.  I am so grateful for the nice weather and the help of good friends on both ends.  It is no easy task moving my over-sized dresser up and down the stairs!  We have been working nonstop these past few days trying to get settled and get things unpacked.  Here's a sneak peek of our new place - y'all, it's awesome!!

It's times like these that I am especially grateful for a slower work schedule in the summer months.  This is my time to recharge, balance my priorities, and unplug from things for a little while.

Last week, I wrote this post over on my personal blog.  Learning to unplug and disconnect from the world for a bit means I can focus on the things (and the people) in front of me.  I don't need to check my email every hour.  I don't need to sit on my computer all morning jumping back and forth between Facebook, my website, and my placement exam notes (though, studying is important!).  I don't need to read every tweet that pops up in my feed.  There are more important things.  Moving makes unplugging a little easier, it's true.  I haven't turned my computer on since Saturday!  I think I've sent three emails since the weekend.  I check my phone every few hours for missed calls/messages and any new emails; otherwise, it's in another room so I can work free from distractions.

There will always be emails to send, accounts to check, and articles to read.  For me, the greatest thing about making a conscious effort to unplug is the renewed focus I have when I choose to plug back in.  Now, that time I take to sit in front of a computer screen has purpose.  I have specific things I want to get done so I can get back to the things in life that really matter.  Like evening walks to get frozen custard.  And unwinding time with SD on the rooftop before dinner.  And morning trips to the farmer's market.

Disconnect to reconnect.  Choose what matters.

Real Rest

Life is a balancing act – work and play, go time and sleep, time with others and time alone, etc.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to rest.  You know, really rest.

Sundays mornings are busy for us.  After warming up, double-checking all of my music, rehearsing with the choir, playing a service, saying hello to folks afterward, and putting everything away, I am ready to rest.  However, most of the time, I spend a few hours perusing Facebook, catching up on TV shows, checking Pinterest, and relishing the time to sit quietly at home.  After a little time passes, guess what?  I still feel just as ready for rest as I did when I started.  How can this be?  None of these things are really restful.  They pass the time, they’re fairly mindless, and I can sit quietly by myself while doing them but I’m fooling myself by thinking that I’m resting.

Here’s why: Real rest requires spending time on the right things – things that fill me up, inspire me, refresh me.  Less TV, more books.  Less Facebook, more time with SD.  Less time spent surfing Pinterest, more time spent seeking true inspiration.  Less time on the couch, more time outside.

Real rest is essential.  Make those moments count.

Image Credit: personal

So Good

"Be so good they can't ignore you." - Steve Martin This is the kind of reminder I needed this morning.

Right now, I’m sitting at home with my cup of hot chocolate/coffee with seven different tabs open in Firefox and I admit that I just spent the last 30 minutes jumping from one thing to another: posting, saving files, responding to emails, proofing, downloading, linking, etc.  Then, I read this quote (again).  Be so good they can’t ignore you.  Be that good.  Is the work I did in the last half an hour really that good?  It didn’t have my full attention.  It wasn’t that careful.  It was reactionary rather than thoughtful.

Let’s reset.

1. Choose the things that are most important for today. 2. Structure the day so that each task gets your full attention. 3. Eliminate distractions. 4. Do your best work.

Be that good.

May: Getting Organized

For me, the beginning of the month is usually a good time to evaluate my priorities and make a plan for action.  So without further ado, here's what's going on in May:

WCMW.  Four concerts, ten guest artists, four weeks.  Steve and I are so excited about this year's series of events - everything kicks off this Saturday night!  Of course, being that it's Thursday, we're still madly working through our to-do list.  Program books are being printed this morning, concert reception food will be prepped Saturday morning, and we'll welcome our first guest artists (coming down from Brattleboro) Saturday afternoon!  Join us for an evening of sultry, fiery jazz tunes if you're in the neighborhood and stay tuned for updates on the blog throughout the month!

Finals.  This has been one long semester.  I may be more excited about finals than my students!  For my lecture class (28 students), the final is a 10-page paper (I know, what was I thinking?).  For my class piano students (13 between two sections), the final is a jury demonstrating major scales, solo repertoire, accompanying repertoire, harmonization, transposition, and improvisation.  As of today, there are just two more teaching days and juries left to go!  Come on, summer!

Concert/Recital Preparation.  This weekend, I'm organizing a student recital for the community music lesson program at Fitchburg State University.  That will mark the end of the term for the six private students I've had this spring.  Next month, Steve and I are planning a joint recital for our teaching studios in Westminster which means our lessons this month are focused on choosing repertoire, polishing, and preparing for performance.

The Sanctuary Choir (my adult choir at church, pictured above) will be presenting a Sunday afternoon program of music early next month.  Last month, I chose the repertoire and we spent part of one rehearsal voting for our favorites.  Now that I have a program of anthems and a narrator on deck, I need to put everything in order and write the narration!

Balance and adventure.  The last few months have been crazy.  In January, I had to let go of planning way ahead and embrace the "sink or float" mentality, taking things one week (and in some cases, one day) at a time.  That recital in two weeks?  I can't think about that until I've gotten through the recital this week.  That webinar we're doing next month?  I can't work on that PowerPoint until I'm done with my slides for class next week.  As hard as this has been for me to get used to it's reconfirmed to me the necessity of balancing my priorities.  The big things on my calendar this spring were all priorities... just not all at the same time.

Additionally, while these things are important, there is something to be said for living a life of adventure.  Things change.  Be open.  Sometimes, spending the evening talking with SD is more important than finishing that blog post for tomorrow.  Sometimes, Sunday afternoon naps are more important than catching up on emails.  Sometimes, taking time for a walk is more important than grading papers.  Those other things will get done.  In that moment, choose what matters.  Choose the people you love.  Choose the things that fire you up.  Choose the things that inspire you.  As things wind down this month and next, I want to continue to challenge myself to live a life of balance and adventure.

Previously: April: Getting Organized March: Getting Organized

Image Credit: Samirah Evans, personal, Steve Collar, personal

A Girl with Many Hats

As a musician, teacher, director, self-starter, etc., etc., I wear many hats. While I am certainly grateful for so many opportunities to work in music, it can be challenging to juggle multiple to-do lists, lesson plans, and professional responsibilities in a given week.  One of my goals for 2012 is balance: setting boundaries, giving my full attention to one thing at a time, and handling the day-to-day craziness with grace.  I am still working on this (read: Have you met me?  I am the QUEEN of multi-tasking!)  What I’ve learned, however is that trying to manage everything all at once can be is overwhelming and leaves me feeling under-prepared and very unbalanced.

Taking things one at a time, focusing on the task before me, making effective decisions, and moving forward one step at a time (rather than getting carried away) leaves me feeling much more in control, balanced, and empowered to do great things.

On a weekly basis, I am a piano teacher, a choir director, an adjunct professor, a pianist and organist, an artistic director, and a web designer (my latest self-taught venture).  This is not a 9-5 job.  Each requires 100% of me – my time, my energy, my creativity, my attention.  Confession: It is impossible for me to be all of these things at once.

My days are far from cookie cutter – things will always come up that distract me and vie for my attention.  The key (I’m learning) is to segment my time the best I can and to make choices that prepare for and support success.  Success does not mean being superwoman and doing the work of 10 men four days a week.  Instead, success means achieving that equilibrium of balance, control, and accomplishment… and learning to wear one hat at a time.


"Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication." - Leonardo da Vinci In my class’ study of American Transcendentalism last week, I got to remind them of Henry Thoreau’s famous quote: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  You see, simplicity really is the ultimate form of sophistication, as the quote above states.  That’s why the impromptu “vacation” we took on Wednesday night, though as simple as could be, was better than ever.

“I think you need a vacation,” Steve said to me as we walked in the door.  I dropped my book bag and stack of papers to grade and kicked off my shoes.  “That sounds GREAT,” I said.  “What do you have in mind?”  A little while later, I was in my pajamas and we were sharing take-out pizza and watching a movie we picked up from the library.  It was perfect.

Sometimes, simplicity is all that you need.

Finding Joy

Count it all joyAll of it. That's quite the challenge, don't you think?  I find myself asking for compromise: "Can't I just pick a few really good things to be joyful about?"  Of course, I know the answer.  There is joy to be found all along the journey, not just at the scenic overlooks.  Your job is to seek it.  Seek joy.

I used to think joy meant turning into Pollyanna, determined to turn everything in life into a positive.  No, joy is deeper than that.  Joy is the bigger picture.  You can't soak it up as you run by onto the next thing in your day.  Stop.  Stand still.  Take a deep breath.

  • Joy is not dwelling on the things that went wrong but celebrating what went right.
  • Joy is accepting the imperfect with grace.
  • Joy is greater than anger and frustration.
  • Joy is spontaneous.  And contagious.
  • Joy is all around you.

Standing still in the midst of a world traveling a mile a minute, I think to myself, "There, you found it."  This is joy - larger than life and much larger than the little things that keep me spinning in circles day in and day out.  A wise friend reminds me often, "The joy is in the journey" and friends, the journey is so much more than just the distance between here and there!  In the midst of those crazy, circle-spinning days, there's joy in teaching, there's joy in helping others, there's joy in making music, there's joy in homemade blueberry muffins (even if they are from a box), and there's joy in sharing this journey with a sweet, funny, selfless man.

Find a moment today to just stop, quiet your heart and mind, and count it all joy.

Setting Boundaries

This time last year, I started using TeuxDeux to keep track of my everyday and long-term to-dos. Though I really only use it when I'm at my computer, it helps me keep track of bill payments, emails, and those more involved to-dos that I don't want to include in my daily lists. For day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month planning, however, I hold on to the traditional pen and paper method. I need an agenda that lets me see the whole week at a time, that includes space in the margins for notes and reminders, and that's small enough for me to carry around on a daily basis. For all of these reasons and more I am loving my new Moleskine!

The vertical layout shows a week at a time with monthly views up front for reference. I like that it includes the hours for each day so I can easily keep track of lessons, classes, and meeting schedules. I spent part of yesterday filling in a few recurring things in preparation for the scheduling that will take place over the course of the next few weeks. Choir starts back this week, my Westminster studio starts back next week, classes at the college start the following week, and my Fitchburg studio begins the first week in February.

This semester, I have decided to set more personal boundaries on my time. I will be adhering to my work-from-home Friday rule and I am setting more boundaries for my teaching schedule in both studios. I have classes at the college on Mondays and Wednesdays this semester so my availability for my Fitchburg students will be limited to those days. Thursdays are choir days and I've found it's simply too hectic to shift gears to private lessons in the middle of the afternoon. This limits my Westminster studio availability to Tuesdays (a matter of rescheduling for three students). This schedule feels balanced and manageable when I have boundaries in place. However, it puts me in a difficult position. When I limit my availability, I run the risk of losing students.

For the past year, I've kept Monday evening students despite spending the entire day teaching at the college. I drive home, drop my things, change my clothes, and run back out to teach. I confess that I'm not the best teacher I can be on Mondays at 6 p.m. I never feel 100% up to it. I complain on the way out the door and I check my iPhone every 7 minutes to see how much more time is left in the lesson. It's not that I don't enjoy my Monday student(s) it's that I'm exhausted. I've been out teaching all day, I have quizzes to grade, and my mind is a million other places. Who does that benefit? No one. Why did I do this to myself on a weekly basis last year? Because I thought setting personal boundaries would affect enrollment. It might. But walking into a lesson with anything less than 100% readiness and attentiveness is not the right approach. It's not fair to me and it's not fair to my students.

This year, I want to make more decisions. It begins with balancing my work schedule, setting goals, and sticking to my personal boundaries.