Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trying To Solve Things With Other Things

I washed the cord on the Kitchen-Aid mixer. 
Classic Series 4.5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer

I seriously went there.  I used a little knife to clean around the handles on the fridge and the stove.  I got on the floor and pried the gunk out around the baseboards in the kitchen. I did all the laundry.  I hyper-focused on cleaning for one whole day, and it was surprisingly satisfying.

I also have been contemplating yet another career.  

(Did anybody else notice that every sentence thus far has started with "I"? I'm annoying myself.  DAMN! I did it again! Ack!)

This has been a challenging several months, because I'm (apparently) trying to work through some (apparently) deeply-hidden opinions of myself by changing myself/what I do and seeing how I felt at each step.  The time I felt like I prioritized myself most (and valued myself) was when I was a student.  I always had a good reason to stop everything and focus on my own self and my education and development. It was glorious and satisfying. The feeling of deep, sustained focus was one that I value above many, many others. 

Perhaps that is what I need. A place and time to need to focus.

Teaching no longer requires that of me most of the time.  It's gotten too easy, too repetitive, too "Drop your jaw. Deep air. It's a C#!" I can't sink into that blissful space in my head where I find my center and I am poised there, weightless. Playing hasn't done that lately, because I have been distracted by the terrible condition of my flute (which, fabulously, is being taken care of at FluteWorld as I type this). When I am distracted, I have to think. Like, with the words part of my brain.  I think too much with that part already.

Who knew that FOCUS was (probably) what I have been looking for?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Doing The Work Of Angels

Recently, I met with a mentor massage therapist woman who is one of the most grounded individuals I've ever encountered.  She lives a completely different life than I do, in that she does not have the same reference points as I do.

I have kids, and am a teacher to kids, so my words and actions are being watched by them (and their parents), and I try to keep things PG.  She does not.

I'm into the modern world of TV, Netflix, cell phones, Facebook, blogging, etc.  She does not even own a TV, and just recently figured out how to text.  She's pretty bad at it.

She finds it easy to believe in many things that I can't yet bring myself to entertain, such as plant spirit healing, all kids of alternative and holistic therapies, lots of 'crunchy' hippie-ish stuff.

However difficult I find some of that stuff to believe, I can't dismiss the experiences I've had, and so I have to try to understand.

For instance, I've had the experience of being in a near-hypnosis state during a massage (giving one), and suddenly notice that I'm experiencing a thought or an emotion that was utterly out of the blue and not me-like at all, then the client will say or do something that reveals that the thought or emotion I had been feeling had been theirs.  Was I just picking up subtle clues from their still, quiet body?  How?  I have no idea.

So, getting to the title of this post, I was recently working on a lovely woman who was a new client for me.  She was holding lots and lots of tension in her upper back (which is typical for most folks), but as I worked and became more relaxed myself, I started thinking about children.  Toddlers.  And cold houses.  And fear.

Then the client shifted and started talking. She is a social worker of some variety, and she works with families with children from birth to age 3, and one family in her care had recently revealed to her that they had lost the heat in their house, and the mother was afraid to tell people for fear they would take her children.  So she was keeping them all in the living room around the fireplace, bundled in blankets.

This client had immediately begun to make phone calls, and within a day, they had their heat restored, had a social worker visit the house to make sure everything was ok with the kids, and they had been given vouchers for a local food pantry. But she was running that scenario over in her mind, being disturbed.

As I put hot stones onto her back, I found my mind repeating "you do the work of angels" to her (silently).  She gradually relaxed enough that she fell asleep, and woke refreshed and relaxed and feeling cared-for.

So, how do you explain that?  Is it magic?  Psycho...something?  Telekewhatever?  Does it matter?  Maybe not, but this stuff weirds me out sometimes. And other times, it seems as normal as anything else in my everyday life.

What do you think, though?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Making Kids Cry When They Do Well. It's a peculiar talent I have.

Today, I judged middle school Solo and Ensemble contest.  This is a very different thing than judging High School (which I did last week), because some of these kids are absolute beginners, and even if they're not, they're on that cusp between childhood and adolescence.  Emotions are volatile, feelings are tender, and parents are very protective.  I had to give a couple of 3s (ratings go from 1 as best to 5 as ridiculously bad), but they understood why they earned those ratings.  BUT... the two kids who CRIED were kids who got 1s.

One kid cried after I told her that her duet was the very first "All-1" performance of the day (there are several sub categories that we give scores to).  They were beginners (flute and clarinet), best friends, and adorable.  They were dressed alike, and they came into the room with absolute confidence.  It was obvious they had rehearsed everything, including how they would set up the stands, how they'd tune, and how they'd stop and start the piece.  It was more prepared than some of the adult performances I've seen.

They played two little pieces (I think one was from "Water Music," and the other was a little march).  The pieces were in two different keys and time signatures, and they did each one perfectly.  They communicated non-verbally with each other before, during, and after each piece.

But most significantly, they played with a depth of understanding of each other's parts, so when one made a misstep, the other quickly accommodated. I was floored.

I gave them comments verbally as well as written, and they were polite and receptive. After I'd released them, they waited in the hallway for their score, as they all do.  This time, I wanted to deliver the score personally (I usually had the room assistant do that, since I was busy writing comments or preparing for the next entrant) because it was early afternoon, and they were the very first entry to have "Straight-A's" if you will.

I popped out into the hall and saw them clinging to each other's hands, with their parents hovering nervously nearby.  "Girls, I wanted to let you know that you got a Gold Medal!" They jumped up and down and screeched and hugged, but I touched one lightly on the shoulder and continued, "Also, you were the very first entrant of the day -- and keep in mind, I've been judging new entries every 6 minutes since 8:00 this morning -- you're the first to get ALL 1's on the score sheet.  This is significant, and I thought you'd enjoy the rest of your weekend if you knew that."

Surprisingly, the little blonde flute player's face crumpled and she buried her face in her mom's coat and sobbed.  "What did I do? Is she ok?" I worried.
The mom laughed, "I think she's just a little overexcited," and patted the girl's head. The clarinet player girl came around and hugged her from the back, and laughed and teased her until she came up, rubbing tears off her very pink cheeks, and she looked shyly up at me and smiled a bit.


There was a young boy who was dressed stiffly in a white dress shirt, black dress pants, and very shiny shoes.  He tuned very calmly, almost with bravado, to the piano.
Again, it was pretty clear that he was in his first or second year of playing, but he handled his solo with aplomb until the very end.  About four measures from the end, he tripped up a little and got separated from the piano part for maybe 4 or 5 beats, but they got back together by the last measure.
As he played his final note, I saw his eyes fill with tears.  He quickly turned away, laying his flute on a desk by his mom.  I approached him, telling him to grab his flute because I'd like to help him with a few fingerings.  He moaned to his mom, "But I screwed uuuuup!" He was shaking.

I told him that missing notes occasionally is common and no big deal, and I proceeded to tell him all the things I liked about his performance, hoping he'd pull it together and be able to improve a few things.  He did, for the most part, and I was able to get him to acknowledge that many, if not most, parts of his piece were very good. I showed him a few alternate fingerings to simplify a few spots, and then congratulated him and released him.

I thought he'd be happy after that, but he began to cry -- sobbing cries -- and saying, "I can't believe it! It was bad! I got so upset!"  I was busy writing my comments (which were almost all positive), and scored the sheet.  he got a 1 (top score), because the small problem at the end did not come close to outweighing the good in the performance.

Since he wasn't letting his mom console him much, I decided to share a story with him.

"Several -- maybe many -- years ago, I was playing for a world-famous flutist at a very high-level flute class.  We'd play a piece in front of the teacher and ALL of the students in the group, so at least 20 people.  Well, as I played, I was getting overwhelmed by being near him, and having him paying close attention to me, and I started to shake.  I kept it in control and kept playing, but my shaking became obvious to anyone looking at me, which was everybody.  Bart (Barthold Kuijken, for you flutists out there) smiled at me when I finished and put his hand over his heart and walked to me.  He beamed kindness at me and said, "That feeling you're having... it's because you are a human person who is aware that something special is happening. That's a good thing. If you don't feel that way, you're not paying attention. Sometimes, if we're not expecting it, it can feel like we're nervous or sick or scared, but it's really just humanness. So LET YOURSELF feel that.  Realize that we all hope to -- need to have moments where we actually notice that something special is happening to us.
Next time, you'll be able to anticipate it, and it'll feel better.  Someday, it will feel wonderful. And then, you will want to feel that way more and more."

So, I said to the boy, "You're just a human person, aware that something special happened, and you just didn't see it coming. Some kids shake, others cry, some throw up (and I'm glad you didn't go with that option), some laugh, some get chatty. Let yourself feel it right now. Because that way, next time you'll see it coming, and it'll feel better."

And guess what?

He felt better, and his mom was happy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polly Purebread? Katie Kcheerful? Whatever.

Oh, good grief.  What a way to begin the year.

On Christmas day, my husband got sick.  Waaay sick. With a fever bouncing up to 103F. The next day, I got sick. My fever only got up to 101F.

We were at my parents' house, and my kids were there and fortunately they did not get sick.  But of course, my father did.  And my brother, who spent Christmas day with us but was driving to Iowa with his wife, came down with it too and had to turn around and go back home.

So on the 27th (I think -- I may have lost a day in there somewhere), I drove us home from Chicago to Michigan.  That was a very long four hours, I'm telling you. My husband and I stayed sick for several days, but he was far worse.  I'm terribly lucky that my kids were self-sufficient enough to find themselves meals (I had staggered to the grocery store when we got home and stocked up on frozen meals, canned soups, and other easy-to-assemble stuff).

A few days later, I started to come out from my haze, and it was New Year's Eve.  Also known as "the day before my husband's birthday."  Fortunately, somewhere in my fevered haze, I had ordered several gifts for him, taking advantage of after-Christmas sales online. I dashed out (dashed is probably an ambitious term for my speed, now that I think of it) and picked up a bunch of gourmet cupcakes, some take-out awesome tacos, and wrapping paper. My husband went to bed early because his fever popped back up to 102, and so my kids and I stayed up to watch the festivities in New York. It was pretty sweet, actually.

The next day was my husband's birthday AND the Rose Bowl.  Our school was playing in the Rose Bowl, and we know lots and lots of people who were in the marching band and teaching the band, so it was great fun to watch the parade and keep our eyes peeled for folks we know.

Eventually, we gave K his birthday presents and his cupcakes, and settled in to eat ordered-in pizza and watch the Rose Bowl game. It was a fabulous game, which our school WON!

But the bliss was not to last.  Two days later, I had to go to our local college where I teach; I was on the committee to choose a new faculty member, and we had to meet some of the candidates. I drove our adorable little 2-year-old car out there (a mere 1.5 miles away) in the cold weather, and had a nice time interviewing our candidates.  HOWEVER.
I went to go home, and naturally, my car wouldn't start.  Even when the security folks at the college came out to jump start it, nada.  I called a tow truck and waited.  Waited.  Waited.  Pretty soon (45 minutes or so) I was a shivering idiot, so I abandoned the car (and my purse, sigh) and walked to a building across the street and waited another 45 minutes. Naturally, my phone was low on charge, and I hadn't brought a charger.
The tow people were going to call me if they couldn't get to me (roads were pretty snowy), so I really needed to know if they had called.  I thought that possibly my car might charge my phone even if it wouldn't start, so I bundled up and walked back to the car.  In the process of turning the key to turn on the electricity, I accidentally went too far, and voila, the car started.
Quickly, before the damned thing decided to die on me, I drove to the dealership. Naturally, I didn't have the phone number of the tow company (I had been forwarded through my auto insurance office), so I had no way to let them know I had started my car. Guilt.

I got to the dealership, and turned off the car.  Then I face-palmed, because I tried to start it to move it further into the dealership's garage and I didn't start.
Of course.

I tossed them the keys and let them deal with it. Fortunately, my husband (who was still sick) was able to come pick me up and bring me home.

The next morning, of course, I had to go to work until about 2.  On the way home, I got a call from my husband.  Our house was full of a light grey smoke.  Naturally.  It was frigid cold out, and I had our only functioning car. I hurried home, and was appalled when I walked in.  There was a haze that smelled of burning rubber filling the house.  We had to go pick up our car, because they were going to close soon; we were lucky because it was only a totally dead battery. Do we take our dogs with us?  Is it our furnace? Is the house on fire somewhere we can't see?

I left the back sliding door open a foot in case the dogs needed to escape (a cheery thought, right?), and called a furnace repair person.  While we waited for the furnace tech to call us back, we piled the kids into the car and went to get the other car, hoping our home would be there when we got back.

By the time I got the car and returned, K was happy to say that the haze had mostly cleared out, and that the furnace was running ok again. I talked on the phone to the tech and told him our story.  He asked if we had heat, and I said that we did.  It was a very cold day, and he said he had a few homes without heat, and so he could come by if we absolutely needed him, but that he'd rather prioritize the people who were getting cold.

So we spent the evening watching the snow begin to fall, listening to the furnace, and worrying.  I slept in the living room, sniffing periodically. It was a long night. Early the next morning, my nose woke me up. There was a very light haze, but a fairly strong smell. I ran to the basement with my flashlight, only to see nothing out of the ordinary.  However, my husband noticed that the furnace was no longer turning on.  He checked and saw it had blown a fuse; when he replaced it, it promptly blew again. Ok.  This is getting serious.

By now, the neighborhood had about 16 inches of snow. Possibly up to 20, not counting drifts.  Snow plows never get to our street. The famed "polar vortex" was beginning to affect us, and the temperatures were dropping below zero.  Great.  No furnace, and no easy way to get to us.

I called the furnace guy back, and told the secretary our story.  She said that if we weren't plowed, she didn't know if he'd be able to get to us, but he'd try. She said they'd call us back soon.  OK then. Progress.  We pulled out our space heaters and an electric blanket, lit a fire, and put on robes over our clothes. We've got this.

After an hour or so, we got the call. "Jeremy, the technician, is stuck down the block from you. We're sending out another truck to try to pull him out."

Jeez.  I peeked out and saw him a half block away, shoveling out around his truck. By the time my husband and I got in our boots, coats, hats, and all the layers we could shove on, two neighbors were already out there, shoveling and pushing.
We joined in the fun, and within 10 minutes, we had him in front of our house.  Granted, he was stuck in a drift in front of our house, but he was at least here.

I invited him in while K and our neighbors (and our/their kids) grabbed shovels and started the process of digging him out again.

He diagnosed our furnace as having a bad case of "it's REALLY REALLY OLD" and also the blower motor was shot.  Sadly, he did not have an appropriate replacement motor in his truck and would have to drive (eep!) to the warehouse and get it.  Fortunately, our amazing dig-out team had cleared the way, and he was able to trundle down the snowy street to pick up the miracle part that would solve our problems.

Within an hour, he was back and working in the basement.  Of course, since it was such an old furnace, it was BACKWARDS from most he's worked on, and he had to take it all apart and reverse it after he'd gotten it all finished because he realized it was blowing the air backwards.  Sigh.

That poor guy got a nice tip, I'll tell you.

Just over $500 later, we were the proud owners of a new motor thingy, and when the sun set and the temperature dropped to 30 below zero, I realized it was a very very well-spent chunk of change.

So now, my car works.  My furnace works.  My husband is better. I am better. My father is almost better, and my brother, while still sick (he's an over-achiever), is on the road to better.  My kids are fine. My dogs are fine.

School has been cancelled (even the university) for two days, and the kids have another day off tomorrow. We've got enough food to keep us happy, and we have power.  It's amazing how well it's all going, given what could have been.

I don't quite know how to feel about all of this.  Normally, I think that I'd be angry that so much went wrong. I don't feel angry this time.  Just grateful, because it could have been SO much worse.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mandatory Retrospective: 2013

Holy crap, what a year.

I mean, What. A. Year.  (in the parlance of the age)

But really, it was a biggie.  So many ups and downs, and so many things that have been long-awaited finally arrived. Some arrived with a BOOM, some trickled in, some snuck in mostly unnoticed.

For me, I finished school for Massage Therapy.  It was a year-long program that was really freaking intense, and I finished in August with a 4.0.  I've never had a 4.0 before, and it was a novel and somewhat unsettling experience.  I was motivated by fear of failure; I was afraid that if I gave myself an inch, I'd fail by a mile.  Any time I found myself not completely understanding a concept, I would be online, researching through the Mayo Clinic's website or getting onto Harvard School of Medicine's databases until I knew everything I could. In retrospect, I may have gone a trifle overboard, but after training to be a classical flutist and doing auditions, the only preparation I know how to do is the massively overachieving kind.

Just before I finished massage school, I took my state certification exam and well, I over-prepared again and blasted about 200 points over the "pass" level.  I'm actually pretty proud of that one.  Immediately upon passing, I applied for my state license, which I got as soon as I finally graduated and sent in my certificate.

I had picked up a couple small jobs at salons, but they were not yielding many clients, so within a week of getting my license in hand, I had arranged three interviews with chiropractors.  I got offered the first one and I accepted, so I had a really great job (for me, anyway) two weeks out of school.

I'm still teaching flute privately Tuesdays and Thursdays (afternoons and evenings) and all day Fridays, and working at the chiro all day Mondays and Wednesdays, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and Saturday mornings. Yes, it's busy.  Very, very busy, but it'll settle out sometime.

My husband (he who shall not be blogged about) got a tremendous honor this year and a long-awaited achievement. I'm very proud and relieved.

My kids started a new school which we have yet to decide if it was a good or poor decision.  It looked great 'on paper' but we're having some settling-in pains.

So all in all, a big year for our little clan.  I am hoping that this next year, without all the pressure and pent-up worry and anticipation, things have a chance to bloom fully and lush.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tales From the (Massage) Table: Pregnant Lady

I've given several pre-natal massages (massaging pregnant ladies), but this week's was even more special than usual.

She's about, oh, 6 months pregnant.  She was perfectly healthy, not her first pregnancy; a young beautiful woman, just having the usual lower back discomfort typical in this part of pregnancy.

Not actual client, FYI.

Whenever I begin a massage, I stand for a moment, hands either hovering just above or lightly touching my client's back or head, taking the measure of the day.  Is she stressed? Angry? Sad? Tired? Hurting? Joyous? Relaxed?

She was calm, receptive, and happy.  So happy.  As I loosened tight muscles and mobilized overworked joints, I felt her energy.  It was ... pregnant.  Full. Brimming.

It was like looking at a rich, thick blue fabric, but when you get close, you see the tiny pink pinstripes worked into it.  Multi-layered.  And she was so beautiful.  It was more than just a pretty face, although she would be considered lovely in any situation.  But her skin was so full, so curved. She said it would be ok for me to gently massage her belly, so I did, first mentally asking permission.  Hello, Baby.  I'm helping Mama feel nice.  Sleep well, Baby.

She slept through much of the massage, and upon emerging from the room after the massage, stretched luxuriously and smiled sleepily.

I think she'll be back.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why I Don't Take More Showers

I used to be the "can't live without a shower each and every morning" kind of girl.  Now, I'm lucky if it's every other day.  (Except in the summer time when it's all hot and I sweat.  Then I take lots of showers. Don't hate.)  There's a good reason.

The house can be SILENT -- husband w/headphones on, doing work, kids in rooms reading or whatnot, dogs sleeping.  I think, "This is it.  The moment when I can hop in for my 4-minute shower and get in and out and clean and then get on with my day."

Then. I hear "Mama?" and the door opens.  Then I hear the flapping of little boy feet on the bathroom tile.  Then I hear dog toenails clacking. Then pretty soon, I hear my daughter asking, "What's going on? Why are you in the bathroom, Simon?" Then I start telling everybody to please leave me alone for the 3.7 seconds it takes me to rinse my hair.
Then HUSBAND senses a disturbance in the Force, and comes to see what's up.  And now, in our tiny bathroom, we have two elementary school kids, two confused dogs, and my husband.  And now I can't even get OUT of the shower because there's no damned room.

Finally, I shoo them all out with the threat that I'm actually going to just get out of the shower wet and naked, and if they want that seared into their brains, that's their own problem.  They finally leave.

And I reach for it, only to find they have somehow, for some mysterious reason, taken the towel.

*End Scene*