A Brass Band Tempts the Do-It-All in Me

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Last night I watched the Dallas Brass perform and it threw me back to my high school band days. My teenage trumpet player forced me out on a Friday night because his junior high band was performing with this group.

I sat in the Puyallup High School auditorium thinking I had robbed someone by paying only 10 dollars to see these gentlemen perform. They rarely sat down, cracked jokes, had fabulous solos and, by the time they finished playing, the stiff group of parents who turned up just to support our kids were clapping, hooting, hollering and some were even swing dancing in the aisles. Midway through their program the junior high bands and then the high school went up to play with them. The brass had composed music especially for the young musicians and are promoting a program where the local school bands play in nursing homes. Afterwards I heard one mom talk of how she wanted to start singing again. My friend and I are going to  see if we can connect her with the Jet City Chorus, a local women’s a Capella group.

The Dallas Brass also played the William Tell Overture — a song I still have memorized from the days of marching around a stadium at night with frozen cold fingers in gloves with the fingers cut out so the pads of my fingers would cover the clarinet’s holes.

When I was in high school I thought I could do everything, and I frequently did. I went to school, took challenging classes, went to springboard diving practice afterwards, squeezed in some homework and dinner on the school grounds because I didn’t have the time to go home, and then did marching band practice. I know at one point I also held a part time job in an optometrist’s office, calling to remind people they needed their eyes examined. I can’t remember if I did this on the same nights as the swimming and band. That time of my life is (not surprisingly) a bit of a blur.

A part of me felt accomplished for doing all of this. A much larger chunk of me felt exhausted. I’m not sure I would let my own son keep this schedule, but I don’ t remember my parents saying anything except: “Wow. You must be tired.”

Eventually I figured out that this was nuts all on my own. I did nothing well — my schoolwork, diving, and music sputtered. I started to say no. I said no to others when they asked me to do things but mostly no to myself when I wanted to do it all. Life got better.

I won’t say I don’ t still suffer from do-it-all-ism. But I have recovered and watch carefully for symptoms.

The summer of 2013 was the opposite of those high school years. I had time to putter around.

This summer I got an extra stretch of time off from my teaching job. Our college is moving from an early September start date to an end of September start date to get in line with the rest of the community/technical college system which meant I had from the end of July to September 10th off.

I filled those hours with writing, potty training, camping, day trips, house projects, getting kiddos ready for school in September and even a short sabbatical I wrote about earlier. But none of it had structure. For the most part no one expected me anywhere and my activities were what I wanted when I wanted to do them.

My writing output increased at the beginning of August with the oodles of free time, but then the words dwindled as my days of free form made me feel listless. Some of this may be because I wasn’t completely off. Some of it is because I have a 3 year old to run me ragged. We both needed to get back into a solid groove that I know stay at home mothers must be able to create on their own.

After my loosely formed days of summer, I spent this past week in teacher in-service training. For the most part I liked it though I’m feeling nervous about getting myself together for next week with increased teaching hours and paper grading. Already I’ve struggled to keep my words going with the shorter morning hours for punching at the keyboard or scribbling across the page.

I’m now teetering on the brink of the swamped high school days and hoping to keep grounded. And wouldn’t you know it — those Dallas Brass guys made me want to start playing in the community band again or at least in church. Much of my life seems a swing between too busy and not enough structure. I can’t imagine anyone else has it all figured out, and I’m betting others can relate.  It seems no magic number of hours for work and rest exists. So much depends on what kind of person you are and, even if you figure it out for one period of time in your life, it is likely to change as your days move along. I monitor myself to keep focused on the joys that matter most to me. That sometimes means I need to leave some of my passions in order to dial into the most meaningful activities. Often music has moved to the seat behind.

But Lordy. That guy playing the opening clarinet solo to Rhapsody in Blue on his piccolo trumpet was enough to tempt me to crack open my case and put the licorice stick back together again. I’ll not sound anything like him, but I’d have a bit of fun trying. Sign me up with the other mom who was inspired to squeeze a bit of music into our days.

Clarinet - Exhibition Feb 1989

Solo contest in 1989 (nothing at all like Rhapsody in Blue!)

Marching Band

We may well have been playing the William Tell Overture here. I’m in that formation with white pants and hard plastic shoes.

The Beauty in Plan B

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Every month I get together with a group of writers called Our Spirited Pens. Martha, a member of our group, has been telling us for some time about her talented daughter-in-law who writes and illustrates children’s books. We were thrilled this past month when Lorie Ann Grover said she’d come to speak to our little group at the church where we meet.

I looked her up and felt extra wowed that she started a blog that I admire called readergirlz full of local writers I have met at book signings and who have written books I’ve loved.

Even as I got excited about meeting Lorie Ann in person, Martha warned me that Lorie Ann was having a flare up of Lupus. There was a good chance she would not be able to attend our meeting even though she did want to and would make every effort.

So I started preparing for her visit, announcing her in  church and putting out her books while I also tapped my forehead on my fingers, trying to come up with a backup plan. As I walked toward Wright’s Park and the Seymour Conservatory  on a lunch break, I kept asking myself what I could do that would be new and different for the group should Lorie Ann not be able to come. In an answer to my prayer, I remembered the videos I had just watched on TED the other day. Isabelle Allende, I thought, just as I passed the leafless trees and opened the doors to the conservatory full of fragrant flowers in the heated greenhouse. Her video on her writing from passion and the causes she believed would likely inspire us all.

And as I thought about Allende, it occurred to me that I would also include a small project for us in answer to Allende’s descriptions of the plight of many women around the globe. Melody Ross with the Brave Girls Club had just been to the Philippines on a mission with Full Circle Exchange to help young women escape and rise above sex trafficking. My small little writing group could make truth cards to send to Melody’s cause or to others they knew needed extra messages of hope and encouragement.

Thinking about this plan, I knew that, as much as I wanted Lorie Ann to come, my backup plan would also bring us inspiration.

As it turned out Lorie Ann could not come. She tried valiantly. Martha told me she had dressed but could not get up off the chair to make it out the door.

Our group watched Allende and then made cards for Lorie Ann and others in our lives. Since then, I have watched the idea of creating cards spread from our meeting to others. One person decided to write a card to a friend who had lost her husband to cancer. Another person wrote a book of cards for his father, also struggling with the loss of his spouse. My friend Ruth has told other groups about the cards and created a box she can use to collect beautiful pictures and store the card kit for when she needs it.

I still hope to meet Lorie Ann and wish like anything that she did not have to struggle with illness. I don’t for a moment think that the Divine struck her down just so I could pass on the good word of truth cards. But it amazes me what blessings can come from a heartfelt prayer in the face of our troubles – even the relatively insignificant trouble of what to do with a writing group meeting when the agenda must change.

If you’d like to make your own, here is a link to the truth card information and free kits. And if you’d like to make a difference for those young women in the Philippines, Melody is now raising money for the Dahlia House, a place where the young ladies can feel safe and rebuild their lives. A donation to the cause would be a lovely way to celebrate the sometimes forgotten International Women’s Day that just passed on March 8th.