New Year, Still Hard to come up with Titles

Happy New Year! I had a wonderful Christmas visiting my family in Phoenix, and then I proceeded to come home and be sick with a terrible cold/flu thing for nearly a week. I suppose I should be glad I was already on vacation because I didn’t have to cancel anything (except a quartet rehearsal) but it wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the week.

That’s okay though. It’s been really cold and being sick gave me an excellent excuse to stay inside, mostly in bed. And it reminded me that we aren’t as in charge as we think, and that health really is the most important thing. I plan to work harder this year on maximizing my health, both physical AND mental. This past year I didn’t eat as well or exercise as much as I could have, and I definitely spent more time being anxious and stressed than was good for me, so I’m going to focus on those things.

I’m getting ready for teaching next week, and doing a few things to prepare for the semester ahead. This spring should be a bit easier than the fall, plus I get to ease in. In the fall I returned from a 2 week vacation and had to work nearly a month straight, with loads of gigs in addition to all my students. This spring semester I don’t have so many gigs right off the bat so I can focus on practicing (lots of fun music to learn!), teaching and scheduling my Wash U students, which is always an adventure. I’m already well into my viola challenge of #100daysofpractice on Instagram, but I’m also hard at work learning some wonderful repertoire for the quartet this semester (we have several fun concerts scheduled) and I’ve found myself involved in piano trio/sonata concert as well, so I’ve got a lot of great performances and chamber music lined up. Orchestrally I’m heading to Illinois for two weeks this spring and playing some things in town, doing an opera, and doing a few broadway shows at the Fox. (Sorry, this post is kind of a brain dump, then again, not sorry, that’s how it always is here!)

So, a few pictures from Christmas:

We did quite a few fun activities in Phoenix. We went to an event at the Desert Botanical Gardens called the Luminarias, where the place was lit up with luminaries and you could wander around listening to various live music groups. I liked the mariachi band best.

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We went to the Museum of Musical Instruments, where I had never been before. It was fascinating, and I’d love to go back with Louie sometime. There was an overwhelming amount of information, but it was really neat to see all the different instruments.

The octobass is VERY large, so I also took a picture of a miniature violin. Nice contrast!

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We had a wonderful time just hanging out, eating good food, opening gifts as well. My niece Athena is in the “stick out your tongue” phase of photo taking, but I thought my parents (especially my dad, who has really perfected that look, as it was present in nearly a dozen photos, where the rest of us ranged from crazed with eyes open too wide/shut to somewhat fairly normal) and sister Leslie looked good in this picture!

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On the last full day of my visit, we took a day trip to Sedona. We hiked a little around Bell Rock, took a tour of the Palatki Heritage Site, and then headed to Jerome for a short visit too. It was a full day, and then afterwards nearly all of us got sick! Traveler’s notes: National Parks passes are useful for visiting Sedona as otherwise you have to pay for a Red Rocks pass for the day. And the Palatki site is only accessible via approximately 7 miles of dirt road, which is fun in a Prius C!

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That’s my aunt Connie on the right, Mom on the left. They are sisters. Oh, and an interesting side effect of wearing a Go St Louis shirt while in Sedona—numerous people from St Louis talked to me. I guess we are a friendly people!

In any case, it was a nice trip, always fun to see my niece especially (she changes the most) and of course great to see family. Louie and I did our separate things with the plan to come back to St Louis and celebrate New Year’s Eve together—we DID do that, but since I was really sick it ended up being lots of tissues, cold medicine, Netflix, and a real struggle to stay up past midnight. I did, but we decided to save the champagne in the fridge until later. (Perhaps today, as Louie is taking the GRE this morning and might want to celebrate after!)

Goals for the new year, just to sort of solidify them. (Then again, saying sort of solidify isn’t very solid.) Be able to roll with the punches. Focus on stress relief and health. Be a good friend, but don’t worry about how many friends I have Smile

Christmas Eve Eve

I was visiting my maternal grandparents, and I remember being in the front seat of the car with my grandpa. It was one of those large cars with a bench seat in the front, and we’d fight over who got to sit in the middle of the front. He leaned towards me with a twinkle in his eye and told me that today, December 23rd, was Christmas Eve Eve.

I’m sure he wasn’t the first to think of it, but that’s one of the memories I have of him. You know how memory works. It’s a collection of flash moments. Feelings. Images.

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I feel like I spend adulthood alternating between trying to recreate the magical Christmas memories I have alternating with giving up and doing nothing. This year I went all in on décor, and the truth is: I’ve loved it. I didn’t do any real baking though, and I miss my Christmas cookie parties I threw for a few years. Maybe next year I should do more baking, and keep the decorating. I’ve also been listening to Christmas music pretty often, and I did some fun shopping. I used Etsy quite a bit, with mixed results: the products have been wonderful, but I’ve had an issue getting one thing. I think it’ll be sorted out, but not before Monday.

In any case, this has been a good Christmas season so far. It’s been a challenging year in many ways, but it’s been overall a positive year for me. I definitely feel like my social life has been missing, and that’s something I should work on in the future, but overall things have been really good. At least when I try to ignore the direction our country is going and pretend that everything is fine in that sense, which, to be fair, isn’t easy.

(The Jewel Box at Forest Park. We went on a walk this morning with a friend and her dog…which might mean I’m just worrying about things.)

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How do busy people maintain friendships? Or should I not worry about it too much and just do what I can when I can? I have friends to talk to about big issues and I am happy in my romantic relationship. I just don’t really have many friends who invite me to just hang out, or have dinner on a random night, or do something like see a movie, and I suppose a lot of that is because I don’t generally have time to do any of those things…so maybe I just need to relax and accept how life is right now.  I always enjoy hanging out when people when I do, and I have many wonderful colleagues that I chat with when I see them, and maybe that’s enough for now? I’ve never been good at maintaining a large number of friendships at once, probably because I’m not a huge fan of large group activities. Sigh. I’m sure I’m not special in this regard, am I?

One more workday and then two days off! Tomorrow I am playing a variety of Christmas Eve services, and then I fly to Phoenix to spend a few days with family. I’ll be back for the New Year and then will continue to be on vacation for a bit. It’ll be nice to relax.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Two more teaching days until vacation!

I am apparently a mean teacher for making my students come until Friday, but that’s the best way I found to then take two whole weeks off. And, hey, everybody agreed! I don’t actually think I’m mean, because violin lessons are pretty fun, and I have chocolate to give out.

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I love this time of year. All the decorations, the anticipation, the candy and baked goods…I also love holiday music, and all that goes with it.

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I have been feeling tired and overwhelmed more often than I’d like this semester. I know I’ve been working a lot, but it’s what I both need and want to do. It’s hard, because other things go by the wayside. Friendships are a bit harder to keep up on, unless it’s friends I also work with, and household tasks are hard as well. This week I’ve been relaxing on the practicing front and finishing up at my colleges (I’m DONE with the semester on both of those jobs) so I have a bit more time for other things. I’ve also been wrapping gifts, finishing my shopping, and getting ready to go out of town next week.

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I’ve been contemplating growing old and my mortality as well. Not to be THAT guy…my extended family has had a tough time as we lost my uncle Sam in August and my uncle Gordon recently. My heart goes out to my aunts and cousins and everybody, and I’ve been thinking quite a lot about life goals and future goals and aging and all of that. I don’t have answers, but I do have a lot of thoughts, and want to make sure that I’m doing what I want to do with my life and not simply going through the motions and doing what other people think is best. (And I’m sad, it comes in flashes, even if I pretend I’m not.)

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It’s hard, because I haven’t made that a huge priority. I often do what comes up, I do what people want me to do, or what’s expected. And while none of those things are bad, I haven’t asked myself lately, what exactly do I want? I read an article recently where the author was asking musicians to outline their 20 year career plans…and then you work backward from there. I’ve been spending a little time thinking about where I want to be in 20 years, and I haven’t solidified anything. There’s a bit of “being afraid” to dream, but there’s mostly, not being sure where this freelance/teaching thing GOES because I never expected it to turn into my full time career, even though all the decisions I made were heading that way.

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The thing is, I’m quite good at this. I enjoy juggling my schedule, and I like the mild uncertainty—it occasionally stresses me out, but mostly I like the different things I do, I like feeling like I’m spread out so no one thing is that important and I like putting it all together and planning.

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I just need a few more hours in the day. I have students on my waiting list that I need to squeeze in, and there are always more concerts and shows to play! I’m working on getting better at the viola too, and thinking after the holidays I’m going to start a #100daysofpractice with it to really push myself.

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But until then! I’m taking it easy after Christmas Eve, for two weeks. I won’t actually go that whole time without working as I’ll have some scheduling to do, and some practicing, but mostly it will be relaxing downtime, oh, and maybe doing some home projects. I want to declutter the kitchen a bit and clean up some other spaces, and do some planning for spring teaching stuff that got squeezed out (festival, recital?). Perhaps my real 20 year plan is to figure out how to keep this going for 20 years, and then retire. (Here’s a link to the article I mentioned, which actually goes into some good specifics, and makes me think that really I also ought to write me, as that’s another thing I both enjoy and am relatively good at!)

If I don’t talk to you again beforehand, Merry Christmas to you, if you celebrate! If not, Happy Holidays to you, and Happy whatever you celebrate, and Happy New Year, and all of that! And maybe I’ll pop in again soon…

End of Vacation

Okay, so technically my vacation ended yesterday morning, when I went back to work. But I had off this afternoon and evening and I ran errands (target-Christmas décor, toiletries, etc), did some baking (morning glory muffins and pumpkin bread), some meal prep for the week ahead (pasta, quinoa), laundry, and oh…now I’m exhausted just reading about it all. I should have been like, reading and relaxing. Maybe I can do that next!

Tomorrow starts a two week stretch of what is looking to be somehow the busiest two weeks of the year. Let’s take my normal teaching schedule, stop it at 6:30 but move some people earlier, and then add a Broadway show every night and four on the weekend, plus two church services. And voila, you have a ridiculous schedule, BUT one that I’m really looking forward to. I had a blast playing a Broadway show last year, and I’m excited to be in the pit for the King and I. After that it’s only one more really busy week, one week finishing up, and then…TWO weeks of vacation. Two glorious weeks.

But my house looks awesome. I’m thrilled I got the place decorated for Christmas this year.

Thanksgiving went well. My two pies were a giant success, and I wish I could eat pie every day. Yes, my crusts are ugly. If I made pie more often I’m sure I’d be better at them, but I have enough problems with my weight!

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Everybody seemed to love both pies though. Should I share the recipes? Is anybody reading?

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Thanksgiving plate and a terrible picture of the table…

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We went for a walk in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day—over to Forest Park and by the ice rink, where there was a giant snow pile.

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Christmas decorations. I finally decorated with a tree for the first time since my divorce. I’d always had a tree since I graduated from school, but then the first year on my own I didn’t bother, and then Louie had never done one, so he didn’t care at all…and a few years went by. This year I got in the holiday spirit early with a Messiah gig and I said, you know what, I’m doing it. I got a new artificial tree (I actually love them, plus since I’m traveling over the actual holiday it’s just way easier to deal with) and found all my ornament and decoration boxes, and boom! The tree arrived Wed, and then I woke up Friday morning and decorated it, and now we (and all my students!) will enjoy it all month long.

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It’s weird…for the first while after my divorce I felt like nothing in life was quite real or permanent, but now I feel grounded, like I know where my life is going, and I’m happy with it, and I’m busy working and loving it, and I have so much Christmas stuff happening, and I’m just really in the right mood. I feel happiest when I’m on the busier side, even though I cherish downtime…and being so busy just feels more festive somehow. It’s also been challenging working through everything with Louie and making our holiday traditions work together, and all of that baggage that comes with dating somebody who already had decades of life without you. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth it, and I’m so thankful for him. And though he doesn’t care as much about the tree, he thinks it’s fun and he sees that it brings me joy.

We’re giving this guy back tonight sometime. It’s been fun having an extra dog around.

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Both are named Louie.

So there you have it, some serious thoughts, some fun thoughts. Oh, and I did this yesterday…so much fun!

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It’s weird, being a freelance musician. You want to talk about work, but sometimes it feels weird or awkward. ESPECIALLY on social media, because you don’t want to be bragging or making people jealous, but I like to share what my life is like. So many people look down on freelance musicians, teachers, musicians in general, and I sometimes let that bother me, but the truth is, I kind of love what I do. My students are generally awesome people (and often hilarious), I work with other great musicians (especially with the quartet, but across the board), and I get to do all kinds of different things in my day to day life. It’s a struggle sometimes, the schedule, the sheer amount of things to do, keeping track of expenses and deductions and accounts, keeping up on practicing, BUT it’s worth it overall.  At least I try to convince myself of that Winking smile

Happy Thanksgiving

I’m in between making pies right now—chocolate bourbon pecan is in the oven, and then I’ll make the old fashioned cream.

I’d offered to bring pie to Thanksgiving dinner at Louie’s mom’s, mostly because I love pie. I figured since Louie’s brother is vegan I’d try to make a vegan thing too, and picked out an amazing looking pumpkin cheesecake. I finished teaching last night around  6 and started working on it, because it was a bit involved—lots of food processing and blending of cashews, pecans, tofu, etc. We even made the marble effect, and then starting baking it. I’m not sure if my oven is a little cool—I usually think it is, but then I worry, so I didn’t turn it up. It seemed to need more time in the oven, so I kept checking it every 5 minutes, and gently jiggling it to check texture. I took it out another time…and somehow the bottom of the pan popped up and the whole thing fell out onto the oven door…

After quite a lot of tears and self loathing, Louie helped me clean it up, we tried a little bit (verdict, might have been better if cooked all the way) and then decided that one less dessert on Thanksgiving was okay.

So that’s how my vacation is going so far! I have today and tomorrow off work, and I swear I’m not going to answer work emails (the good thing is that on holidays you get less, but the bad thing is that I was already behind so there are a few burning holes in my email inbox), practice (except I agreed to play a gig Sunday morning that has two rather challenging pieces, somehow!) or even think about work (ha!, that was a joke).

Here’s a few snippets from the past week:

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Had a really good quartet concert—played Mendelssohn and Onslow and it was great. The venue was really nice too, and we’re hoping to play again there (a local church, Bethel Lutheran).

I also had a few students play in the SLAMTA (music teacher’s association) playathon at the Galleria Mall. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the kids had a great time and I always enjoy activities that build community and encourage practicing.

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I got a review published in the American Music Teacher! And we are dogsitting for my friend Jen’s dog Louie. He’s a hilarious little guy, who was afraid to go downstairs, though last night he finally did, which was awesome. It’s important to know my kitchen is downstairs, and that’s where the dogs are fed, so we had to carry him down the stairs many times, and he hated this. (Never mind that when he got there he got food, he still hated it and was terrified.)

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And yesterday we took both dogs on a little hike at Forest 44 Conservation area. It isn’t a terribly scenic place to hike but it’s easy to get to, not too crowded, and you still get into the woods and get fresh air away from the city, so it’s a favorite of ours.

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So: coming up, playing for Mannheim Steamroller, playing two weeks of the King and I at the Fox Theatre, various Christmas gigs, lessons, juries, end of semester grading (I actually have papers to grade for one job!) and then it’ll be Christmas vacation. I’ll have two actual weeks off, well, almost, from December 25 to January 7, no work at all other than some practice, likely. That doesn’t count as work, even though it is, somehow.

I’d better check on my pie. Right now my dessert making is 0 for 1. Hoping to make it 2 for 3 by noon.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating with your friends and family and loved ones, and I hope some of those categories overlap.

Mid November

I had a nice trip to visit April in Atlanta—three days off work (some of you call that a weekend—I had worked for 60 straight days before that)…and it wasn’t enough. I’m back at it, and I’m exhausted! I am really looking forward to Thanksgiving break, during which I’ll get two entire days off!

Yes, I’m working too hard. But the good news is I’m finally seeing an increase in the bank balance, and I’m really trying to save. I did a little more shopping this fall than last year—mostly updating my “black” wardrobe, with a few other fun items, but I’m feeling better about my financial future than I did a few years ago. Maybe my taxes will go up, maybe I’ll never see any social security (even though I pay into it every quarter, at a higher rate than you do, unless you are also self employed), maybe the world will end in fire, but other than being exhausted and occasionally making totally boneheaded moves like having to email one student three times to get it right…and even then having the email be pretty confusing…life is okay.

I had a few realizations today. One: I spent many adult years feeling lonely. I don’t anymore, even though I wish I had a few more close friends. I feel like I know where I belong, and I have enough meaningful relationships and my romantic partner understands me. Two: I don’t recall what’s it’s like to be bored or have too much time on my hands. I know it’s only November and in August we took 2 weeks off to travel…but that too was scheduled…maybe I really need to figure out a time to focus on self-care (that’s the hot topic, right?) and be able to relax.

Or I just need to make sure I’m eating right, finding time to exercise, sleep, and maintain some relationships well enough. And then the rest is just how it is. This is 39.

thoughts about violin, teaching, running, life.