Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Northshore (Half) Marathon Recap

Just a quick recap of our event on Saturday.  We dropped the kids off at our friend's place on the way to Duluth.  They were thrilled to see their buddies.  I was grateful to my friend for playing Auntie for an entire day.  Hobbes wasn't too happy to let Julie help him with things, including night-time visits when he woke up crying, or in the morning.  He wanted Mom, not Julie, to get him out of bed.  He also didn't want to pee in her toilet.  What a weird thing.  He had an accident and locked himself in her bathroom because he was so upset about it.  He told her, "I will pee in my mom's potty."  She told him he needed to pee in her toilet or he needed to wear a diaper, which was the perfect threat to get him to relax enough to pee in someone else's toilet with someone else helping him.  So weird.

Besides that, Spiff and I had a great time.  We drove to Duluth, picked up our race packets, and checked out the inline skating expo.  Spiff was thrilled to be in a building where there were actual speed skating vendors.  It's such an obscure sport that we only know of one actual store with a business space and store hours (happens to be in SLC) where they sell inline skating supplies.  Otherwise, purchases need to be made online.  Pretty neat to be where the birds of his feathers could flock.

We also happened upon a fantastic Neopolitan Pizza Place where we ate dinner.  That pizza was heavenly.

My half marathon was okay.  Not my best.  Not my favorite, either.  This event was an inline skating event, and they happened to tack on a running 10K and half marathon.  There were only about 100 people running the half, which is the smallest event I have participated in.  It was difficult for me to not be competitive in such a small group.  I wanted to be able to run faster than I was able, and I started out too fast.  My first 6 miles were great (8:30 miles), and then I ran out of energy and dragged myself through the last 7 miles (9:30-10:00 miles).  It was supported like a skating event.  Water stops were fewer and further between.  The course was beautiful, running right down the shoreline of Lake Superior into downtown Duluth, but it was a straight, almost flat run, and not the most interesting one I have ever done.

So, even though I had a good time of 1:58, it is hard for me to feel good about it because I didn't finish strong.  Next time, I will train differently.  I apparently care a whole lot more about speed and strength than I thought I did.

The best part of my race was being able to recover all by myself afterwards.  I walked back to the hotel, got myself a vanilla steamer, took an ice bath and shower, cleaned up and checked out without having to worry about the kids or anyone else's schedule.  Heaven.

Spiff had a GREAT time doing his first inline marathon.  He skated a great race, all 26 miles.  He felt good and finished strong, despite the strong headwind.  He finished in 1:47 (faster than I have ever run a half marathon, by the way), which was 7th place in the open division.  He had a lot of fun, and he wants to do it again next year.

I loved watching the speed skaters come in at the finish line, which was right in the harbor.  It was beautiful (I saw a huge ore ship come in under the draw bridge, and there was also a sailing regata going on the harbor), and a ton of fun.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Like a Weed

Before Gunner's Tonsillectomy, the nurse at the hospital told me that I needed to take him home that day and measure him.  She warned me that after he healed, he would start sleeping better, and then he would grow.  Well, I didn't measure him, but I have noticed that he is growing.  It's insane!  I swear that I can almost see it happening, that he is bigger today than he was yesterday.  He is growing out of his clothes like crazy.  He's growing, and he's getting more mature.  I'm sure that the Tonsils haven't helped with the second one, but it's neat to see him hit milestones as he inches towards the big Five.

Here are some examples:
Since we didn't have tons of toys to play with today, I got out some other forms of entertainment for the kids, including some puzzles and games we haven't played with in quite a while.  I was seriously impressed at Gunner's ability to do puzzles that he couldn't do all by himself six months ago.

Also, Gunner and I sat and played an entire game of Lightening McQueen Bingo.  And it was fun.  Actually fun!  He all the sudden understands about taking turns and working towards little goals.  He never got upset, and he didn't end the game by throwing a little tantrum and storming away in a huff like he often has.  He even said, "I'm really enjoying myself."  I'm thrilled!  I love playing games, and I'm seeing a whole world of entertainment possibilities open up to me as my boy grows up a little.

Now a couple of funny stories:

I took the boys to Storytime at the library, and Gunner was hilarious to watch while the librarian read book.  He was so into it.  He loved the stories.  He was one of those kids to loudly answer all of her questions.  I sat there happy that he was enjoying it.

At one point, we were reading a story about a naughty little dog who makes bad choices, like deciding to eat all of the cake, or chasing the cat.  After getting caught and getting into trouble, the little dog was faced with another difficult choice.  The librarian asked, "What will George do?!"

Gunner yelled out, "He will change his attitude!!!"


After library storytime, I took the kids to a local toy store to play with their free train tables.  That toy store was having their own storytime, and it was packed with people when we walked in the door.

Gunner took one look at all the kids and parents and exclaimed, "Holy Mackerel!!!"

Also, I sort of love it when my kids make other people giggle.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Two Sides of the Bed

My children confuse me.  Some days are so awesome.  There are days when they are such joys to be around.  They have finally reached ages that they can play together, and those good days are so much fun.  They follow each other around making the other one giggle.  They can't be more than two feet away from each other.  They still fight, but sometimes not so much on good days.

And then there are horrible days.  Days when they are whiny, rude, obstinate, bored, discontent with everything we do, and they fight all day long.  On those days, nothing I do seems to help, and I eventually lose all will to live...or at least all motivation to continue trying to help them.  I have no idea why some days are so good, and others so so so bad.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason.

Yesterday was one of those bad days.  They argued with random kids at the park.  They complained about being at the grocery store.  They misbehaved in the bath and then laughed at me when I got upset at them.  I sent them to their room to re-shelf a pile of books while I straightened up their toy room.  They briefly decided to happily work together on a project which entailed piling up ALL of their belongings onto the built-in desktop in the playroom.  Every toy, dress-up, blanket, stuffed animal...all things in one giant pile of stuff.

Then the obvious next step was the destruction of that pile, which led to toys flying everywhere.  Everywhere!!!

I stood there looking at that mess...at the toys that I had just barely put away in their away spots.  And I could not bring myself to put any of it back where it belonged.  I gathered it all up and took it all away. 

I took all of their toys away.

The new rule is that they can have their toys, one bin at a time, and they must clean them up before getting anything else out.  They seem completely fine with it.  For this one first day, I have loved it, and my house is relatively clean.  I don't know how long I'll do this, but for now, I'm happy not to have piles and piles of little toys dumped all over my house.

Today was also a Good day.  Today, they were pleasant, played well together, played well with other kids (mostly), shared toys, and were content to be at home and play with the one bin of cars and planes they asked for. 

I wish I could figure out what triggers a good one and what triggers a bad one.  Maybe I need to be checking what side of the bed they get out of each day.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Little Update

I ran the Rochester Half Marathon a couple weeks ago, and it was very fun.  It was a small event, only about 300 people, but well-run with plenty of support.  The weather was beautiful, and I ran with my friend, who finished her first half.  It's such a great achievement!  Her husband and kids met her at the finish line, and I was so happy to see them absolutely beaming at her!  It wasn't a PR or anything remotely fast, but it is always a good confirmation to me to know that I can run the distance.  I'm looking forward to The Northshore Half on Saturday!

So, it turn out that I do have some resources available to me.  I took a choral conducting class while in grad school.  The class was for complete beginners, and I didn't learn much, but I did get some helpful little books on choral conducting which I pulled out to remind myself about the things a good choral conductor does.  I have been skipping over warm-ups because we don't have enough time to learn our songs.  But warm-ups are vital to so many aspects of choral singing, and I have vowed to do them, even though it always ends up taking up at least 10 minutes.

I met with my choir yesterday and did a few warm-ups, during which I discovered that there are few choir members who are quite tone deaf.  Not matching pitch at. all.  It's hard for me to remember that people don't know how to do that.  Probably like how people who speak French (Spiff & Mhana) don't understand how a person like me doesn't naturally internalize it when it is being spoken.  I'm not quite sure what to do with that, other than to continue doing warm-ups and to continue teaching.

The whole thing is very tricky with our limited time, very diverse age differences, and varying levels of talent and musical ability.  But I did decide that I need to get back to the drawing board as far as the Christmas program is concerned.  I need easier songs.  Like I have mentioned, easy/pretty/enjoyable arrangements are not easy to come by.

Speaking of arrangements, what are you favorite composers/arrangers who offer free online sheet music for ward choirs?  And what do we all think of Sister DeFord?

Friday, September 06, 2013

Paste One On

I had a conversation the other day with a very nice woman at church.  She told me about how she raised three musical children.  Music was very important to her, and it sounded like she was extremely disciplined while her kids were young and taking music lessons.  They had a strict schedule, starting at 6:30 in the morning, where they did a 30-minute rotation on three separate instruments, rotating at the end of each 30-min interval.  I was very impressed and my inner piano teacher was doing a standing ovation at the thought of three serious students whose mother so thoroughly supported their lessons.

She told me that the most important thing to her was that they loved their lessons.  She said that the interviewed countless piano teachers, and eventually went with the one who said to her, "If I can't make your kids love the piano within a month, I won't teach them."  (That's not a promise I have ever heard any music teacher make to any student.)

She continued to describe the lessons with this woman who would teach the kids strictly by showing them how to play something.  The watched what she did, and followed along, learning by rote.  She didn't put paper in front of them until after they had learned something by heart to show them that what they were playing looked like "this".  In this way, her children were playing things that were very advance for their level because she had simply shown them how to do it, rather than making them learn the notes.

At this point, my inner piano teacher's insides were beginning to squirm.

She continued again saying that the teacher told them, "If there is anything you don't like about the music you're playing, feel free to change it at will."

That's when I pulled out my very best Smile-and-Nod.  My inner piano teacher was silently screaming and running away! 

I sat there smiling, but I wanted to say, "You and your kids were getting Hosed!!!  That isn't teaching!  That is permissive.  It's something that more closely resembles giving a grade of Crocodiles for Spelling.  Of course those kids loved their piano lessons.  They could do anything they wanted and get off Scott free!  What a waste of time and money!"

I wanted to ask her how in the world she was okay with that, but I didn't.  Apparently, my outer smile-and-nodder is much nicer than my inner piano teacher.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

More Choir

So, here's another choir subject:  Christmas Choir Music

I am working on putting together the Christmas Sacrament Meeting Program.  I really need to get the choir working on the songs, but I'm having some issues choosing music.  I loved the program I put together last year.  I didn't have my choir last December, so I put together four separate musical numbers to be performed during sacrament, interspersed with three short testimonies/talks.  I thought it was a lovely program, filled with great music and speakers.  The only downside for me was that it required a whole lot of outside rehearsal time for me.  Not entirely un-doable, but tricky and time-consuming.

Since I have the choir this year, I'd like to use them.  Personally, I love the Christmas hymns and most carols, and so I try to stick with that when I'm choosing music for my choir.  I want everyone to have the Christmas Carol Singing experience.  I have been in choirs that have done very non-traditional and unknown Christmas music, and I have left feeling unsatisfied.  Granted, that was a secular college choir, not church.  But I would also like to stay far away from Joe Blow's Sappy Original Christmas Compositions that are so prevalent while I look through the music filed away in the stake choir library.  Those tend to leave me with the same kind of unsatisfied feelings, only worse because I don't like the songs.  That's another discussion topic for another day.

I have sort of decided that I would like my choir to do two songs on the Christmas program this year.  At the moment, it feels like it will be too much to ask of them, considering the things we discussed in my last post.  But also, I am having an extremely difficult time finding good/beautiful arrangements that are easy enough to be accessible for them!  Preferably, I'd like SAB arrangements, and there are very few of those.  I feel like my current options are either a) bad songs/arrangements, or b) nice arrangements, but too hard so it won't end up sounding good.   It's very frustrating.

My questions:
If you are to sing in a church choir, and you are to participate in the Christmas Sacrament Meeting program, what do you prefer to sing?  

What types Christmas Programs have you enjoyed in past years?  (This is keeping in mind that I'm not going to do a whole big program with narration of the Christmas story.  Not my style.)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


I am serving as the Music Chair and Choir Director in our ward.  I was called to be the Music Chair just after moving into the ward a year ago, and had a really hard time diving in and scheduling musical numbers for sacrament meeting when I didn't know anyone, much less their musical talents and abilities.  I have since become more acquainted with people, and I have a bit of a system with scheduling, and I have been able to iron out some of the initial kinks I found when just starting in the calling.

I volunteered for the Choir Director position because it seemed easier than finding someone else to fill the job.  After doing both for a while now, I have realized that the two jobs are quite complementary, and I like being able to control the musical number schedule and change it at will.  I like the behind-the-scenes aspect of the music chair, and being in charge of choir has been good for me.  It's nice to have a creative outlet.

The down sides of the choir job are the normal obvious ones.  I am working with amateur musicians.  I don't have enough time to rehearse them in our short sessions.  There is not a whole lot of great hymn arrangements that are beautiful and accessible to a choir of limited experience.  My accompanist has very little experience accompanying a choir, and she doesn't sightread.

With all of that, the very hardest thing for me is dragging my kids along to choir rehearsal while Spiff is at work.  It's super stressful having them running amok while I am leading 25 people in a rehearsal.  The choir members say they don't mind, and I am grateful for that, but it is stressful for me nonetheless.

I am very aware of how lucky I am in my choir.  I have ward members who support the choir.  I have people who come!!!  Anyone who has been in a ward choir before can relate to how important and amazing this small fact is.  I have not done any huge recruiting.  I haven't held any lasagna dinners.  I haven't baked cookies. I haven't called everyone on the ward list.  But I have 20-30 people who come to choir on a regular basis.  I am so blessed.

On the other hand, most of these people have little to no musical experience.  I am slowly learning the truth of this statement.  I have a tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to musical knowledge, and it is difficult for me to take the ten steps back that I need to take and give them actual musical instruction.  I have two people just this last Sunday who requested that I do more teaching.  A quote from one guy, "Somewhere along the way, someone taught you the tricks to make you sound good when you sing.  I'd like you to teach us those tricks."

It's very true.  I had excellent choir directors in high school and college.  Some of the best in the business.  My college choir director was amazing.  He could take a bunch of kids with limited talent and turn them into a fabulous instrument.  He always taught singing tricks, starting with a daily warm-up that would directly relate to the technique of a section of a piece he wanted to work on that day.  He was constantly tweaking the sound and shaping it to the exact sound he was looking for.  He was so very talented at teaching choir.

My problem is that I don't know how to do what he did.  I am a choral singer, not a choir director.  I am a piano teacher and accompanist.  I have observed my teachers, I have learned some things from them, but I never took an effective choral conducting class, and my choral directing experience and vocal teaching experiences are very limited.  It has been over ten years since I have been in a great choir.  It is so hard for me to remember the things he taught me, much less be able to pass them on to the people I am responsible for now.

I know that I musical knowledge far surpasses anyone in the room.  I know I have things to contribute.  I have previously felt like I am making a pleasant experience for people.  I feel like they can tell they are learning and improving, and that they can hear when they sound good.  I feel like they must be enjoying something about my style because they keep coming back.

But now I feel inadequate.  How do I step back and start with technical basics for those who honestly don't know anything about music in our very limited time frame, while giving the rest of the choir an interesting experience they will enjoy?  Do I just assume that no one there knows anything about singing and music?!  Do I continue to give them the benefit of the doubt?  How do I channel my inner choral director (my inner Scott Anderson) when I have done nothing but be with my babies for the past five years?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

From a 2-year-old perspective

The boys and I Skyped with Spiff while he was on call Sunday evening.  Gunner especially enjoyed seeing Daddy at work, and he was very interested in the call room.  He asked Spiff to give us a virtual tour several times.  "Dad, can you show me your bed again?  What's that on the desk?  Oh, it's a computer!  What's under the desk?  Will you show me your bed again?"

What could possibly be more exciting than a call room?  Apparently nothing.  It is so very cool to see part of Daddy's work environment.

Hobbes, on the other hand, was a bit more skeptical of the whole situation.  He chatted with Spiff a little, and then quietly observed for a while before saying to me, "I don't like that Daddy one."

And then, "Daddy, get out of Mommy's IPad!"

It still cracks me up.

I guess an ipad-to-ipad video call would be hard thing for a 2-year-old to understand.  He is used to youtube videos, and videos we take of the family from various cameras, but he's not so used to such an interactive version of a video.