Stronger: Lessons from a Virtual Choral Classroom

Don’t you teach SINGING?!?

I have been asked this question so many times during the last six months – mostly by well-meaning family and friends as we discuss how the pandemic is impacting our daily lives. The question is almost always voiced with significant emphasis on the last word, emphasizing disbelief that singing and choral music can exist in a virtual platform.

In March of 2020, as I pondered the prospect of teaching in a virtual platform, I had the same reaction. Yet, after nearly ten months of this reality, I find myself more optimistic. As I reflect on what have I learned through the experience of teaching choral music virtually, I recognize a few lessons that I will carry with me when we return to in-person music making.

1. Work the problem.

Initially, the idea of virtual singing was daunting, and it took me a few weeks to recognize that in-person teaching methods were not as effective in the virtual platform. What I needed was a completely new plan. I identified my immediate and long-term teaching goals, and then crafted a plan to achieve these goals with the resources and platforms that were available to me. This process pushed my imagination and creative thinking in new directions, and the resulting plan – very different from the structure of in-person rehearsals – has served me well in a virtual classroom.

2. Never stop developing your skills.

If someone had told me in late 2019 that within a year I would not only be able to define the meaning of Digital Audio Workstation, but would also be proficient in using one, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are: ringing in the New Year after completing several months of mostly virtual rehearsals and performances – and many of us are putting together these projects ourselves! Furthermore, I have gone from being a Zoom disaster (seriously) to feeling very confident in all of the aspects of the platform. I am by no means a tech genius, but I am learning and finding satisfaction in the growth of my skills. It’s quite possible that my 2019 self would not even recognize me today!

3. Take advantage of silver linings.

The virtual platform is not my ideal choral platform, and not a day goes by when I don’t think about how much I miss singing in person. That being said, it does offer some silver linings.  Most significantly, geography has ceased to be a barrier in the choral experience. I have been thrilled to experience virtual choral performances of friends, colleagues, and professional ensembles from all over the globe. I have also enjoyed meeting, and learning from, choral colleagues from different parts of the country. Conferences, workshops, collaborations, guest speakers, and clinicians are also among the opportunities that are simpler virtually, just by virtue of the fact that there are no geographical logistics to manage. I take every opportunity to make use of these silver linings, both in my choral classroom and in my own personal development.

4. Lean on the support of your community.

While I have always valued our choral community, in the last 10 months I have found it to be priceless. The collegiality, support, and encouragement demonstrated throughout this community has been inspirational: sharing of information and ideas; celebration of accomplishments; commiseration during times of frustration and struggle; and technical support for Zoom, DAW’s, and other platforms. There is always somewhere to get help. We are living through a deeply isolating period; yet, I have never felt as supported by our choral community as I do now.

We become stronger teachers every day through this experience. We’ve evolved and we continue to adapt. It is not the same, but I take comfort in the knowledge that choral music continues to grow and bloom.

Don’t you teach SINGING?!? Yes, I do. And, while the circumstances are not ideal, on the whole…we are doing really well.

One of those people

There is a meme going around social media about 2020 as a slide – one that starts with a gentle descent and then drops into a complete free fall. The chaos is real: over 100,000 deaths across the country from COVID 19 and climbing; yet another murder of a Black man, woman or child; economic destruction and staggering unemployment numbers; and having to remain physically distant from many of the people that we care about. It seems that we are living in a dumpster fire – every day a new crisis and absolutely no leadership from the Executive branch of our national government. 

So with the country in turmoil, it was jarring to watch someone place Trump 2020 signs and flags in their yard last week. Connor and I were walking by a local school when we saw a large flag being raised near the front door of the house across the street. Connor is only in sixth grade, but, like all of our youth, he feels the impact of these crises and grapples with the issues from a perspective of innocence and inexperience. We were quiet as we watched and then Connor asked, in a genuinely inquisitive tone, “I wonder what he thinks is going well?”

It’s a fair question. We are all wearing masks when we are out and about. It is unclear how the students will be able to return to school this fall without a vaccine. I couldn’t even hug my dad goodbye when he was visiting in early March because we didn’t want to risk him becoming ill. Many of the performing arts, a source of joy and beauty for so many of us, are unable to function for the foreseeable future. The environment is collapsing, racial tensions are through the roof, children are still in custody at our borders in deplorable conditions, and we are surrounded by fear, unrest, and uncertainty. And to cap off this list of grievances, our nation’s “leader” just unleashed pepper balls (tear gas) and flash bangs on peaceful protesters in order to have a photo taken of himself holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. Clearly he knows absolutely nothing of the contents found in that Bible. Nowhere in this list is there anything to celebrate. 

So…I just can’t fathom how someone would look around today and say of the current administration, “YES! I want YOU to continue to be my leader for the next four years!” and then proudly proclaim this fact with flags and signs in their yard. (Yes, I made sure to check today to see if the flag was still being displayed after the tear gas. It is.) It seems so unbelievably deaf to what is happening across the country. 

Nearly a week later, I confess that I’ve had difficulty moving beyond the flag. Seeing it so proudly displayed evokes a visceral response, and each time I see it I get worked up. My issue is not that this person doesn’t have the right to display it in their yard – it is, after all, their yard; but, that they would be so moved to display it at all is what baffles me. That flag stands for four more years of hate and destruction. It feels like another step closer to fascism, if we haven’t already arrived . How does someone not know that? (Readers, I have some ideas, but I am not diving into them here.)

Generally speaking I try to be positive, if for no other reason than to keep my immediate family positive during this nightmare; but, I feel something bitter beginning to settle deep within me and some days it is harder to hide. I am enraged that so many of our elected officials are immoral and incompetent.  I am angry at the people who put these leaders into office, either by voting for them, or just by not voting at all – including some people that I know and love. I write this last statement with a fair amount of shame as I know that this divisiveness is not what we as a community and country need right now. I am really trying to do better, but it helps me to be honest.  I also recognize that many people voted for these officials for compelling economic reasons, and were made promises that have long since been ignored. And, yes, I know that there were no perfect candidates in 2016. I wept after this man was elected into office – not so much because my candidate lost, but because I knew all of this mess was coming. God knows what is coming next. 

Thankfully the artistic work of two local youth lifted me out of my negative thoughts. I saw them at work yesterday, sprawled out on the sidewalk across the street and down the road from the flag. I didn’t think much of it at the time, other than it looked like the perfect way to enjoy the day. It was a beautiful afternoon and many of us were out and trying to sponge up the sunshine. I smiled at them as I passed, and they said hello. Had I known what they were up to, I would have said stopped to chat.

Today when Connor and I set out for our walk, we were greeted by a trail of beautiful mantras written in rainbow colored chalk. I took a few minutes to photograph some of their messages as a light rain was beginning to fall and it felt like it was important to document their thoughts. The trail began where I encountered the kids yesterday and extended – full of affirmations, swirls, squiggles, joy, and positivity – up to the yard with the flag. Maybe the direction and duration were purposeful, or maybe they were a happy accident. It doesn’t really matter. It was a reminder to me there are so many people who prove every day that love and kindness trump hate. I want to be one of those people. 

Something New

It seems fitting to choose an image of part of a chorale from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion for this post. One of my ensembles was engaged in a performance of this work in early April. Obviously, it was cancelled, but it was still devastating to lose the opportunity to perform such a magnificent choral work.

It’s been an unbelievably crummy news week (again), but I feel like I have turned a corner in my despair over the state of singing. So, I am here to share some good news with the world…or this blog, which really serves as a journal of things that I want to remember.

Tomorrow I am launching a pilot program with one of my ensembles as a means to try a new format and explore new ways to instill a love of music making in our young singers. It’s been a fair amount of work putting it together, but I am proud of my creativity and I am really grateful to all of the friends and colleagues who have shared so many wonderful ideas in the last 8 weeks.

Here is the news that I want to share: I’ve realized that I am EXCITED by the prospect of trying new things. It took me awhile to admit this fact because I feel a little guilty. Of course I would prefer to be working in a traditional ensemble setting; however, I am learning and growing in ways that I never imagined (frequent trips to the refrigerator excepting) and there is a whole world of possibilities available that I had never before considered.

It feels good to be moving forward and I know that I will continue to strive to be the best choral educator that I can be, regardless of the setting. The desire to create remains and will not be extinguished!

Provincetown: A Perfect Day

“Aww man! Bear Week is cancelled this year!”

This disastrous news came via text from my friend Meghan, and was the start of a stream of cancellations of things that I associate with summer. “Bear Week,” a celebration of large, hairy, and ruggedly masculine men, is one of a few themed celebrations that occur during the summer months in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

There is much to love about Provincetown. Located on the outermost point of Cape Cod, it boasts absolutely stunning beaches. Standing on the shore of Race Point Beach feels like standing on the edge of the world, and it is not uncommon to see a whale or two out in the violet blue water. Provincetown was the initial landing point for the Pilgrims in 1620 and where they signed the Mayflower Contract before settling in Plymouth. Artists –  vital to the fabric of Provincetown since the late 19th century –  thrive in all mediums and genres.  The downtown area of Provincetown is packed with restaurants (Anthony Bourdain worked there!), nightclubs, cabarets and a variety of specialty shops, all of which draw huge crowds during the summer months. My favorite thing about Provincetown, though, is that everyone is welcome. There is such an overwhelming feeling of joy in the community, and we love to be there.

While we don’t make it to Provincetown to experience all of the summer festivities, it was ominous to hear that one of the summer events (now all) had been cancelled altogether. My head understands why social distancing is imperative, but my heart has mourned the loss of so many experiences in the last 7 weeks. It’s tough to think about forgoing experiences that were to take place 7 weeks from now. And yet, that is what we must do.

It feels like it has been raining for weeks. A few days ago, as I set out to vent my frustration in a blog post, I stumbled upon an essay that I wrote last summer. “Essay” is probably too generous for this context. It’s really more of a list, or recipe, for a perfect day in Provincetown. The funny thing is that I wrote this essay for my blog in July of 2019, but never posted it because I couldn’t quite capture all of details exactly as I remembered them. In April 2020, the words convey the vibe that I feel in P’town and they are a balm to my spirit as we enter week 8 of social distancing. I love remembering the walk down Commercial Street, the hazy day, the smell of the salty air, and the pleasure of just being there – soaking it all into my being.

************************************************************************************************Visit Commercial Street in the afternoon. In previous excursions, we hit Commercial Street first thing in the morning and headed to one of the P’town beaches in the afternoon. Commercial Street runs parallel to the harbor and serves as the main artery for the town. It is home to most of the shops, restaurants, and clubs. Flags crisscross the small street. Cars are infrequent (and inconvenient), but the street and sidewalks are crowded with bikes and pedestrians. Exploring Commercial Street in the late afternoon, though, gave us a much different experience. The crowds had abated – probably off enjoying the beach! I also noticed people enjoying conversations and beverages on their porches, in their yards, or on the decks and patios of the numerous restaurants. (Also, I think that I saw two different customers take their dogs into Seaman’s Bank. Is that a thing?) Street performers provided a soundtrack for our walking tour, and even the sun contributed to the relaxed vibe as it slowly made its way down to the horizon.

Enjoy a cup of nitro cold brewed coffee from Joe. I’ve never had carbonated coffee before, but I loved the cup that we got at Joe Coffee (https://www.joecoffeeptown.com/). Jerry thought I was a little too giddy about this coffee, but the barista was really nice and the shop was so cool. Also…the coffee was really good.

Notice that Zoë Lewis is everywhere! Seriously, she is everywhere. Zoë Lewis is a singer/songwriter based in Provincetown and she is a Cape TREASURE. We first encountered her when she opened for the Indigo Girls in Provincetown Town Hall in May of 2017 (Maybe 2018. The years are blurring together.) Zoë has a lovely voice and is a terrific storyteller. We enjoyed her performance immensely and have since been to see her performances at Herring Cove Beach and First Night Chatham. On our stroll down Commercial Street, I pointed out one of the many flyers about her performances and said to the family, “Hey, look! It’s Zoë!” Just ahead of me I saw Aidan waving to someone, and when I turned around, there was Zoë herself waving at Aidan! It was a pretty cool, small world, only-in-P’town kind of moment. (NOTE: these days you can catch Zoë each week on Facebook Live performances! The link to her website and schedule is here: https://zoelewis.com/home)

Have dinner at The Canteen. Enjoy your meal with the sand under your feet as you look out into the harbor. Ponder important topics such as how DOES a bus driver close the door when they leave the bus and how do they open the bus door when they want to get back on? It was a delicious meal with a gorgeous view and exciting conversation!

Get ice cream and walk the pier. We disagree on whether the ice cream or the walk is the best part, but we all agree that we can’t go by the whale without taking a picture. Also, at some point, I am going to realize that no matter how many napkins we get at the ice cream store, Connor will always end up wearing most of his ice cream on his face. I really don’t get it, but after almost 12 years of being his mom, I feel that it is time to recognize it as a fact.

Walk through areas that you have not been before and take note of all the things that you want to do next time! We were on route to an evening performance and ended up all the way down on the opposite end of Commercial Street from where we usually hang out. How did I not know that there was an art museum here?!? There are more galleries down this way, too, along with some really beautiful homes.

Catch a show at the Provincetown Theater. What a gem, and it’s open year-round! We enjoyed a fabulous performance of Sweeney Todd in the small, intimate performing space. The performers were phenomenal, and the setting makes it feels as though you are involved in the show. In fact, we were so close to the action that the violently explosive diction of one of the actors sent me scrambling for my sweater for fear I was going to get sprayed. (It certainly added an extra layer of drama to the show!)

Miss your some of your favorite P’town experiences, but start making a list of all things that you want to do on your next visit. I missed going through the Pilgrim Monument museum. (I am the nerd who looks at all the of exhibits and READS all of the information, no matter how many times I have been there before.) I missed the view from the top of the Pilgrim Monument, and, strangely, I missed the complaining on the climb to the top. Enjoying the view at Race Point Beach and the sunset at Herring Cove Beach are also on my to-do list next time. And one of these days I will get myself to one of the hiking tours of the Province Lands at the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Enjoy the state of happiness and pay it forward. People are happy in Provincetown and I can’t help but notice the general state of politeness and kindness from everyone. The community and energy are infectious. Move over, Disney! My children think Provincetown is the happiest place on earth. I always leave happy and refreshed, if not a little regretful that we have to leave.

Spend time with your favorite people in the world in a place where all people are valued and cherished. It’s the best.

We took several pictures here and Connor is making a face in all of them.

The New “Normal”

Indiana loves all of the extra walks these days, but he needs more nap time to recover.

Despite its lonely implications, I find social distancing to be surprisingly loud. With four of us in the house (five if you count Indy), and everyone trying to juggle work, school, music practice, activities, and trying to keep up some social connections – most of which take place via some sort of online platform, there is always noise in the house. (Note: My family would add that I am contributing greatly to the noise because I’ve watched six operas in the last week, which I have loved, but which have NOT been well received by my housemates.)

It’s hard to find quiet these days, and I know I am not the only one who misses it. Both Jerry and I have been looking at different spots in the house to use as additional living space. Jerry wants to put a table out on the front porch so that it can be used as a workspace, while I’ve been eyeing an unused part of a closet with just enough room for me, my laptop, and my thoughts. Everyone jumps at the chance to take Indiana for a walk in the conservation land behind our house, but even that space seems crowded because we have had so much rain.  Poor Indy, who has never had so many walks in his life, seems eager to find a space away from us so that he can snooze in peace.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy having everyone around. It really is a gift to have this time together, even though the context for it is horrendous. My issue is that the constant activity and sound make it hard for me to find a routine of my own, which I need to maintain some degree of sanity. I also find it hard to maintain concentration in any number of tasks. I’ll be just on the verge of grasping a great idea, when suddenly, “Hey, Mom! What’s for dinner?” (It’s only 10 a.m.) And just like that…the idea is gone.

For the most part our family is enjoying one another’s company, and this fact helps distract me from my fear of what is happening as COVID-19 continues to spread. The loss of life and severity of the illness is terrifying in itself, but it is also frightening to watch as systems break down and the economy teeters on the edge of collapse. Fear is palpable everywhere you turn. We are making the best of the situation and trying to do our part to slow the spread of the virus. We keep busy (ish) and try to keep our immediate life experience light and fun while we wait for things to return to some degree of normalcy.

One of the strangest parts of this social distancing process is that life seemed to come to a complete stop before resuming in this new, strangely separated form. As a family, we’ve gone from being grossly over-scheduled to trying to keep up some semblance of schedule and productivity. Since coming to a complete stop, I find myself thoughtful about what “normal” will look like going forward. This crisis feels like such a defining moment and I don’t imagine that we, as a society, can simply go back to life as normal after it finally ends. It will certainly take time for health and finances to recover and there will be any number of other ramifications left in the virus’ wake.

Yet, this experience has underscored to me, as it has with most people, that there are things in my life that I truly cherish – things that I don’t want to be without.  There are also some things about my old “normal” that I don’t miss or that I would like to reevaluate. I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page with this quote from popular life coach Dave Hollis: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”  Dangling preposition aside, this quote sums up exactly what I am feeling. Life is a gift. How will my choices reflect my values and priorities going forward? 

Stay tuned, readers. I may not have the concentration capacity to get it all sorted out in one day, but I feel my chances of thinking though some of these ideas in the next month are pretty good. I might be working in the guest room closet, though. 

Thank you

I had no idea what kind of picture to post with this essay, so here is Indiana – kinda lookin’ like he is laughing!

I made a complete idiot out of myself while I was out to dinner with my friend Danica and a few other people at a convention in Kansas City. We were crammed into a large, U -shaped booth along with our coats and bags. When it was time to leave I pulled myself out of the booth and dropped the napkin I had forgotten to take out of my lap. As I moved to pick it up I heard Danica say something like, “Oh…no…wait!” Bending over nearly straight legs with my rear end in the air, I retrieved the napkin and stood back up. Only then did I discover that there was a man directly behind me trying to get to his table.

What makes this scenario particularly cringe worthy is that this man was in a wheelchair, which, according to Danica, allowed him an up close and personal view of my backside.  It’s a comfort to know that I was wearing nice pants; however, as I bent over my shirt came up to reveal some skin, which certainly added to the tackiness of the situation. I think that I apologized (I HOPE that I apologized!), but I was startled to find someone that close to me when I had been in such a ridiculous pose. I mean…what were the chances that I would accidentally stick my rear end directly in someone’s face?!?

I saw Danica swallowing a laugh as the gentleman moved toward his table. We made our way outside in fits of laughter from the horror and hilarity of the scene, and I found it really hard to stop. Every time I thought I had myself together, one or both of us would erupt into laughter all over again.

Despite it being such an embarrassing moment, I knew that I would document this story in my blog. It’s one thing to find humor in daily life, but it is another thing to be able to laugh at yourself because of your imperfections. I am glad that I have the resiliency and self-awareness to recognize that I am not perfect and that I will make mistakes!  Sometimes these mistakes will make me look like a complete ass, as I clearly demonstrated in Kansas City, but they always keep me from taking myself too seriously.

My incident in Kansas City reminded me of the time when, as a self-conscious newlywed, I accidentally stuck my finger up Jerry’s nose. It was the middle of the night and I was awakened by a noise outside. As I lifted my arms above me to stretch, I somehow managed to stick my index finger neatly into Jerry’s right nostril. To this day I don’t know how I managed it, and again…what were the chances?!? It must have been so strange to be awoken to a finger in the nose, but all things considered, Jerry was pretty gracious about it. Out of the darkness I heard, “Uh…thank you.” We laughed about it for hours and are still laughing about it twenty-two years later.

A couple of weeks later after my dinner with Danica I was waiting in line at a Starbucks and there was a young woman in a wheelchair in front of me.  The sight of her chair triggered my memory from Kansas City and I immediately blushed with the shame from what I had since been referring to as “Bottoms Up.” My discomfort released itself in the form of a giggle, which I tried to stifle. Yet, before I knew it, I was shaking with laughter. There is no doubt that I looked like a lunatic to anyone who saw me standing by myself and laughing out loud at nothing in particular. Well, a lunatic I may be, but I am thankful for laughter and for the ability to laugh at myself. It gets me through life’s little blips and gives me the courage to try again.

You do You, Boo

My brother resigned from his job about two years ago and was fortunate enough to be in a financial position that allowed him to take a year off. I’ve never known Jonathan not to have a crazy work schedule, so it was refreshing to hear that he was embracing the year as a time to travel, reconnect with friends, and embark on new adventures. Among these new adventures was a complete overhaul of his health, which included clean eating, intermittent fasting, and Peleton. As a result of these changes, Jonathan looks and feels fantastic.

“Live your best damn life.”

I had never heard of Peleton until Jonathan described his workouts, but the ability to take spinning classes in the convenience of your own home sounded awesome. Now that we have taken the Peleton plunge, I can attest that it is, indeed, awesome.  Peleton is much more fun than I ever imagined and it is kicking my butt in ways that I was not expecting. In fact, as I write this blog post, I have yet to be able to make it much beyond a 30-minute spin class and I struggle to keep up with the suggested cadence and resistance recommended throughout the rides. (Side note: I am still running three days a week, so Peleton is my workout on my off days.)

“One, two. One, two. One, two.”

There are so many things that I love about Peleton, such as the variety in spin classes, the music, the plethora of non-spinning workouts, and the convenience; however, my favorite thing about Peleton is Cody Rigsby. I’ve tried out several instructors and enjoyed them all, but Cody is my favorite and I find myself going to his classes on a regular basis. In addition to offering a terrific workout, he is engaging, unapologetically himself, and absolutely hilarious. Per his Peleton bio, Codystrives to be the best version of himself while inspiring Members to be the same. Cody reminds everyone in his class to push themselves, but have a good time doing it, because we all need to have a little more fun.

I would say that this description of his spinning philosophy is spot on. A former professional dancer, Cody has a penchant for the pop genre, particularly that of the 90’s and early 2000’s. His passion for Britney Spears would be somewhat worrisome were it not for the fact that his already solid workout becomes further energized during her tunes. (Madonna’s songs, too.) His motto, when we play Britney, we f*ck sh!t up, sends me scrambling to lower the resistance dial as soon as I see that a Britney Spears song is next on the playlist.

“You’ve done harder things than ride to Bieber.”  

On my rides with Cody, I vacillate between gasping for breath because of the workout, to laughing hysterically over something he said, which is always unfiltered. This morning I cracked up when he told all the riders to go get some water and adjust your wig. One never really knows what Cody might say on any given ride and there are numerous YouTube videos out there with collections of his quotes and pre-ride musings. Clearly, I am not the only one who is a fan!

Yet, behind the flamboyance, life “advice,” and hilarity that comprises Cody’s schtick, there is sincere encouragement for all the riders to do, and be, their personal best. He is clear that personal best is not keeping up with the fastest pace on the leaderboard, which is a relief, given that I am not even remotely close. Rather, personal best means defining your own benchmarks for success and making the ride your own.  It’s 30 minutes out of a 24 hour day that you have for YOU. All of the instructors have similar wishes and advice for their classes, but Cody’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious. It feels like I am hanging out with a friend, whose affirmations and constant stream of You go, Boo! get me through the uphills of life. 

“Grab water. Grab a towel. Get your life together.”

While I’ve only been tackling hills on Peleton for a month,  I’ve been slowly working my way up a big hill, metaphorically speaking, for several months. I tried to muscle my way to the top, but recently came to the decision – mid-ride – that I needed to make a change. As such, I have given notice that at the conclusion of this season I am not planning to return as the Music Director of the women’s chorus that I conduct. In the back of my mind I’ve known that a change was on the horizon for some time, but I didn’t give voice to the reality until last month. Our family’s morning routine changed significantly last fall as both kids started new schools and the cadence of the new schedule suddenly left me breathless. Despite attempts to troubleshoot the problems, I still struggle to manage a 5:30 a.m. wake-up time after falling asleep at midnight (or later) at the end of a very full Monday. Tuesdays have become a recovery day rather than a day when I can be a productive member of the family and fulfill professional obligations.

“If Britney can get through 2007, you can get up this hill!” 

This move feels unusual in my field because I am not leaving to take another position. Instead, my decision, largely rooted in exhaustion, is the latest in a series of life choices that fall under the umbrella of “self care.” I am leaving this position to invest a little more time in myself, my family, and other pursuits. I recognize that some of my music colleagues will not understand my reasoning for giving up this position. In acknowledging this fact I confront what has always been my biggest uphill challenge: letting go of my concern for what other people think of me. I know that this decision is what is best for me and for my family at this time, and, really, that is all that matters. My ride is my own and belongs to no one else. (I feel certain that Cody would have some choice, albeit colorful, phrases to add here!)

“Do not compromise who you are and what you came to achieve.”

My goal for the rest of this semester is to savor each moment of the rehearsals that I have remaining with my chorus, whose members have been my friends for the last five years. I’ll miss making music with people that I have come to love, but I am delighted about the prospect of new adventures…and certainly an earlier bedtime on Mondays. 

“You do you, Boo.”

One of many collections of Cody’s comments and musings. Warning: colorful language and ridiculous topics abound!

A Very Cheeky Artist

Ah, winter break! A time to relax and recharge. A time to reconnect with family and friends, clean out a few drawers, and catch up on some sleep. And if you are in the Kane family, it’s a chance to uncover a true artistic masterpiece, courtesy of a family board game night.

We love playing board games. We laugh, yell, trash-talk, argue, and heckle. We talk. We work together. We learn new things, and we make some fabulous memories. Furthermore, board games require that we engage with each other. Electronics are not involved, nor are they allowed. Personally, I think that the world would be a better place if more people played board games, but that is another blog post.

During the winter holiday, we gathered around the dining table to play Seven Wonders, a really cool game where participants compete to build ancient civilizations. As we neared the completion of the first round of cards in the game (there are three rounds total), Aidan absently flipped over her score sheet to find that someone had drawn a huge butt emitting what looks like a sizable cloud of gas. To say that she was startled would be an understatement, and the game froze as we all took turns examining the unexpected artwork, which was quickly named “The Butt.”

Just as an unattributed painting sparks curiosity among art historians over its origins, “The Butt” was a real conversation piece over the rest of the evening and into the next day. Jerry’s memory revealed that we had not played Seven Wonders since July, when our nephews were visiting from Georgia. Could one of them be the mysterious artist? Jerry texted his brother to inquire (jokingly) if one of the boys wanted to claim the drawing; but Parker and Cooper immediately pointed to Connor as the artist.

Though Connor’s response to this charge was that he “didn’t draw that butt” because he “would have drawn a much better one,” deeper investigation yielded witness testimony and further evidence in support of Connor as artist.  Key to the findings was Connor’s score sheet from July, which contained similar drawings that seem to be indicative of the artist’s hand.  Aidan provided further testimony in her recollection that not only was Connor responsible for creating ”The Butt,” he was also egged on because I laughed at him. (I have no recollection of these events). Clinching the revelation of Connor as artist should have been his accidental confession of his work; however, those of us who know Connor will recall that he named his own butt cheeks years ago. (I don’t even know what to say about that.)  Reading from left to right, they are Todd and Whad, respectively. It doesn’t seem like much of a leap to think that someone who names his cheeks probably doodles them, too.

“The Butt” will be on display in the Kane refrigerator collection through the month of January.

Slow and Steady

Once upon a time I was a runner. I would run 3-4 miles a few days a week and was an annual participant in Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race. I also ran a few half marathons. Even in the sweltering Georgia heat, I loved running.

Fast forward through two kids, two degrees, several jobs, and a new state of residence with a different climate, and I wasn’t really a runner anymore. I would run on the treadmill at the gym, but that experience wasn’t as satisfying as the freedom of running outside. Instead, I had become the exhausted mom who didn’t feel like she had any time for herself, much less the chance to pursue a fitness goal.

Enter the “Couch to 5k”, a training program designed to prepare beginning runners to run a 5k race in 9-10 weeks. I embarked on my “Couch to 5k” journey in June of 2018, but instead of the three-month timeline it took me sixteen months.  There are a few reasons for the extended training schedule, including my work schedule and the weather; however, the main reason is that I listened to my body for cues as to when it was ready to increase speed or duration. As I result, I haven’t had a single injury and, short of one shocking wardrobe malfunction, I’ve really enjoyed the process. (You can read about said wardrobe malfunction here: https://thekibbler.wordpress.com/2019/01/23/an-uncluttered-booty/)

I am happy to share the news that I just ran my first 5K race in decades and it was an absolute blast. Baypath Humane Society sponsors an annual 5k run called Paws and Claws at Hopkinton State Park and it seemed like a great fit for me. The run took place on an absolutely gorgeous fall morning and I was genuinely excited to get out and run. The other added benefit of this race is that it is dog friendly, so there were a plethora of four-legged friends running, too! The starting line was filled with a cacophony of barking along with tunes from a local DJ. Energy was in the air and I was so glad to be there.

After such a long training period, I am pleased to note that running has become a habit. It feels strange when I go more than two days without running and I find myself eagerly anticipating my next run.  Throughout this process I have been reminding myself not to compare my accomplishments to those of others. I have friends who run longer stretches on a regular basis, but I still take pride in my journey. It has taken commitment and discipline to keep working toward a 5k for so long. Even if I don’t have a “great” run, I nearly always feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when I complete them. I was so excited at the Paws and Claws run that I texted pictures of each mile marker to Aidan, as if to say, “Look! I really am running!”

Most importantly, though, running is my time for me.  On a recent visit to the beach, Connor asked Jerry, “Why do you come to the beach if you don’t go in the water?” Jerry replied, “I like to sit and watch the waves and think great thoughts.” I like that response, and at the time it struck me as one of the reasons that I like running so much. It allows me to sort out all of the chaos that seems to accumulate so quickly in my brain. I’m strangely relaxed – even if I am sweating and sucking wind, and it’s my chance to think, dream, aspire, and think great thoughts.

During this morning’s race, I was listening to Dear Evan Hansen and pondering how far I have come in 16 months. In the last stretch of the race I emerged from the trees, only slightly cursing the hill leading up to this turn, and made my way across the reservoir. I took in the beautiful foliage, the mirrored surface of the water, and marveled that Amazon music knew that it was the perfect time for me to hear Ben Platt singing For Forever. I crossed the finish line to enthusiastic cheers and applause and discovered that I ran my quickest pace per mile to date. YAY, me!

I didn’t have the fastest time of all of the runners, but in thinking about Aesop’s proverb, I consider myself a winner all the same. Slow and steady wins the race, and I am already looking forward to my next time out.

The Zombie at Breakfast

I took the summer off and did very little work other than house and family maintenance. After a busy academic and work year, my mind and body needed a chance to rest and to heal. I read books – actually read books, not listened via audible. I napped in a hammock. I played board games with the family. I went running and I worked out at the gym. I even played Dungeons and Dragons with my son and I was the Dungeon Master (this event probably deserves its own blog post).  I went to the beach as often as possible just to breathe the sea air and I took long walks with Indiana. It was a glorious summer.

In the midst of such enjoyable forms of self-care, I also did something very hard: I broke up with coffee. I gave it up cold turkey, albeit reluctantly, at the beginning of August, and spent the next two months learning to live life in a whole new way. Despite the headaches and bad mood, several ongoing health issues cleared up right away and I began to sleep better than I had in months.  Sleeping better helped my bad mood, and before long the headache disappeared, too. By mid-August, I felt perfectly pleasant – WITHOUT coffee. (I fully expect a comment from Jerry Kane about this statement.)

And then real life came crashing down around my ears.

School resumed with new – and often brutal – schedules to juggle. Aidan’s bus arrives at 6:15 a.m. (YES. 6:15 a.m.), and Connor leaves at 6:45 a.m. every day for band rehearsals. At the same time, extracurricular activities extend later into the evening for both kids, often as late as 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. It was apparent that we needed to provide a little parental support in order to give the kids, both of whom LOVE going to bed early, a little extra time to sleep.

So, we are up at 5:30 a.m. each day. I make breakfast and I throw together some lunches (NOTE: Yes, the kids could prepare their lunches the night before; however, Connor would just throw in a bag of chips, a cookie, and call it a day). Jerry gets the kids to the bus or rehearsal. We are making it work. 

Or at least Jerry is making it work. I gave up coffee and I feel like the walking dead.

On Monday nights I don’t get home from rehearsal until nearly 11:00 p.m., so by the time I wind down and go to bed it’s close to midnight. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesdays feeling hungover, which isn’t fair because I didn’t drink any alcohol. I’m just tired, which is exactly where I was in June, when I WAS drinking coffee.

I don’t know if there is a solution. As I write this post it is Tuesday, and I’m exhausted from not enough sleep. Yet, I am on deck to drive the musical carpool kids home at roughly 10:30 p.m.

 So that I can get home at 11:00 p.m. and be in bed by 11:30 p.m.

 To get up at 5:30 a.m.

 I am a hamster going around and around the wheel.

I broke down and poured myself the leftovers from Jerry’s morning pot of coffee. I heated it up in the microwave and took a sip from the steaming mug.  It tasted absolutely awful and I didn’t drink it. In some sort of sick, twisted, exhaustion induced lunacy…I realize that I don’t want to drink it. Even as a zombie, I am better without coffee.

I am still tired, but I will make it long enough to drive the carpool home. ABBA might be involved.