Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

Christmas Day, 2011
I am going to try something different this year. I am not making any New Year's resolutions.

I can't even bear to look at the lists - yes, that's PLURAL - I made last year. Because my three-cornered stool - music, writing, and jewelry making - is holding up reasonably well in spite of everything I didn't accomplish.

WRITING: I achieved PRO status in Romance Writers of America, attended two professional writing conferences, completed The Wishing Box, and entered the Maggies.

MUSIC: I taught my students well, gave a presentation at the state music teacher's conference, performed in four piano recitals, and I'm playing the clarinet (again) and the mandolin (sort of).

JEWELRY MAKING: I made 31 sales in my Etsy store, learned new beading and jewelry-making techniques that are taking my work in new directions, and raised $929 for Beading To Beat Autism.

Looking back, though, I believe this was in spite of and not because of the detailed to-do lists I wrote for myself every morning. Because during the month of December, when I tossed the lists aside and went where life led me every day, I was arguably more productive and definitely less stressed than I had been all year.  Let me explain.

One of the reasons I home schooled my children for so many years was so that we could immerse ourselves in learning. Rather than adhere to an arbitrary schedule - reading from 9-10, math from 10-11, science from 11-12, etc. - we followed our own path. We might spend the entire morning on a nature walk, journaling our discoveries, then cuddle up on the sofa after lunch with a read-aloud and classical music. The next day, we might hit the art museum for a field trip, go out to lunch with friends, and then do a whole weeks' worth of math problems after we got home. That kind of lifestyle might drive some people crazy but it worked well for us, and by the conclusion of each academic year, we always ended up where we needed to be.

I think that's why this month ran so smoothly for me. Yes, I have to show up for my piano students at a specific time every day, and I need to put the hours in if I am ever going to find the success I crave as a writer. But everything else is gravy. And if the daily schedule says it's time to work on French and I am in the middle of a difficult passage of my Mozart piano concerto - well, the truth is I am likely to stop practicing, pull out my laptop, and check out what's going on with my friends on Facebook. That's Resistance, and I've got to find better ways of combatting it. I'm not a lazy bum, so I need to stop treating myself like I am, with the time clock and battering ram. Instead, I must trust myself as a creative individual and learn to follow the leadings of my heart on a daily basis.

That said, I do want to develop better daily routines so that my house will stay cleaner and more orderly and I will be healthier and more fit. Toward those ends, I am officially a FlyBaby - you should see my shiny sink! - and I am renewing my commitment to daily exercise - first thing every morning - and starting the year with a 21-day cleanse. I am convinced that if I can be faithful in these small things, big results will follow.

Also, I plan to follow Hollis Gillespie's advice. In her recent newsletter, she listed Fall In Love as one of the top five most common - and stupidest - New Year's Resolutions. "Really?" she asked. "With another abusive, sex-addicted heartless narcissist?" (Hey, has she been reading my blog?) "How about you take a year off from falling in love this year and spend that time writing your book."

How about it, indeed?

How are you planning herald the arrival of 2012?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Day After Christmas

Congratulations to KATHY MERKEL for being selected as the winner of Joseph Akins' CD A Piano Christmas. And thanks to everyone who participated in the Thankful for the Holidays Blog Hop.

I am having a wonderful holiday, throughly enjoying all the bounty of the season - gifts, food, family and friends. And I have a belated Christmas gift for you, my readers: a sample of my fiction writing! Click HERE to read Chapter 6 of The Undercover Librarian, this year's Petit Fours and Hot Tamales group novel. Leave a comment at the end of my post there for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card. Leave a comment at the end of this post for another chance to win. And if you want to start at the very beginning of the story, click HERE.

I hope you will have as much fun reading and we did writing. I am looking forward to your feedback!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas To All

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
~ Joseph Campbell

In some ways, I have enjoyed this holiday season more than any other. 

I have beaded and baked. I have wire wrapped and stamped and dapped. I have written cards and gone to the mall and wrapped gifts and spent time with my boys. I have listened to my students play "Jingle Bells" and tickled the ivories myself and watched all of my favorite Christmas movies. I am looking forward to driving to southern Illinois on Christmas Day and spending the holidays with my parents and my brother and his wife and two of my three children.

A person shouldn't ask for more. So I'm not going to. I am going to revel in what I have - today, right this minute. Naturally, I'm looking ahead the New Year - to resolve or not to resolve? - and what I hope it brings to me. But there is one thing know for sure. In the past few weeks, I have let go of my to-do lists and expectations, and I have been happier - and more productive - than I have ever been before. I can't help but believe that a better life than I could have ever imagined for myself is just a heartbeat away.

I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do What (Only) You Can

Today did not go as expected.

My house is out of control; in my effort to reclaim it, I started deep cleaning the kitchen this morning. But then my 15yo decided he wanted pancakes for breakfast, so I made pancakes and caught up with him while he ate; he has been very scarce since school ended last Friday. I kept trying to return to my chores, but he didn't want me to leave.

So I stayed.

Also, my journaling has been very spotty this month. I was well on my way to catching up when my 24yo stopped by for a visit. I kept trying to return to my writing, but my son had a lot to talk about, from camera equipment to what to buy Grandpa for Christmas.

So we talked.

After he left, I decided I would spend the rest of the day organizing my craft supplies. But then I got a call from a local person needing some jewelry for a last-minute Christmas gift, necessitating a trip to my local bead shop, which happens to be going out of business on Friday. It took some time to say good-bye.

Long story short? I am on my way to getting my beading supplies organized - the sewing, knitting and scrapbooking supplies will have to wait - and I will pick up my journal where I left off tomorrow. But today I took care of the most important things. Like Danielle LaPorte says:

You can only do what ONLY YOU can do.
Do that.
The universe will configure around your very best efforts.

Besides, it's my Christmas vacation.

What is it that only you can do? Can you show up in the moment and let everything else go?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ghosts Of Christmas Past

Josh and Casey
There have been times I have wished that I had spent less money on toys and put more money into college accounts. But right this minute I am happy about every penny I blew to make my children's Christmas wishes come true. Because now they are young adults with grown-up problems and there isn't a darn thing I can do to make any of them go away. At least we have our memories.

Nope. I don't regret a single moment I spent with my boys reading holiday stories, baking Christmas cookies, or doing holiday crafts.  As a matter of fact, I would give a million bucks to have just one of those days back.

Josh, Casey and Nathan, you will not understand the depth of my love for each of you until you have children of your own. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and every good thing in 2012.

And always.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Magic of Christmas

 A storefront on Grand Cayman Island.
Yesterday I bid a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the last of my weekly piano students and kicked my holiday preparations into high gear. I ran out and picked up a few supplies, then stayed up into the wee hours baking cookies and making a couple of gifts. Today I baked more snickerdoodles, put together a batch of peanut butter cookie dough, and wrapped and boxed presents for out of town friends and family. Then I hauled everything to the post office and waited patiently in line until it was my turn. Next time, I'm going to wear a sign saying, "There is nothing liquid, fragile, perishable or hazardous in any of these packages." I bet that poor postal service employee wishes he had a nickel for every time he has asked that question.

I also mailed an envelope filled with checks to Beading To Beat Autism - $919 worth, in fact. Thanks to everyone who participated in this project - to my team who helped me create and sell 300 bracelets, and to everyone who supported us by purchasing our finished products. We believed we could, and we did!

I was hoping I would have the energy to write cards tonight - I actually remembered to buy holiday stamps while I was at the post office - but I don't. I made a pot of chili for dinner and wrote a book review that I was supposed to turn in two weeks ago and I am about used up at this point. I haven't slept much the past two nights and I have been fighting a headache all day. So I probably ought to pay attention to the gentle whisperings of my body, pleading with me go to to bed early for a change.

Because once those cards are in the mail and the house is back in some semblance of order - I'm sure it's been this messy before, but I can't remember when - I am looking forward to being visited by that "Christmas feeling." It's hard to describe it with words, but it's a quiet joy that settles over me for a few fleeting moments every December. I never know when it's going to hit; I might be curled up on the living room sofa reading a holiday book, playing Christmas music on the piano, taking a pan of ginger snaps out of the oven, or stirring grated nutmeg into a glass of eggnog with a peppermint stick. It's one of the best feelings there is, but as soon as I try to hold onto it, it vanishes. Maybe that's part of the magic.

Santa Claus, flying reindeer, snowmen that come to life, snow on December 24th. It just wouldn't be Christmas without the magic. What makes it magical for you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Operation Christmas Tree

Not a creature was stirring...
Our holiday preparations started last Friday, when I dragged Nathan with me to Home Depot to help purchase a fresh cut Christmas tree. The nice folks there bagged our selection and tied it to the top of my car, leaving us with the simple task of carrying it into the house and securing it into our stand, purchased for 75 per cent off at the after-Christmas sales last year.

I kept the tree watered all weekend, hoping to decorate it on Sunday. But somehow the days slipped away from me and I wasn't able to find a moment to put the lights and the star on until this morning.

Tonight after I finished teaching Nathan and I finally got around to hanging the ornaments. So many memories!

Seattle Space Needle. Thanks, Cindy B!
Josh and Casey. I miss those days.
One of our Christmas Craft Day projects from our homeschooling years.
A tag from a Christmas gift I received from one of my very first piano students back in Peoria, Illinois.
An ornament given to me by a piano student just today. Thank you, Hope!
A souvenir from a cruise vacation. Nathan and I agree that this is one of our favorites.
A gift from my dorm-mate. Thanks you, Robbin!
Nathan pointed out that 1979 was a long time ago. I guess it was, but in some ways it really doesn't seem like it.
A beaded ornament created by one of my oldest and dearest friends. She has given my children and me ornaments for Christmas as long as I have known her. Thanks, Cindy J! 
I hope that next year I will be able to see my way clear to spring for a 7-8' tree, because we have so many ornaments there wasn't room to hang them all. Rather than drive ourselves crazy, we stopped even though the second box was only half unpacked. I think you will agree we made the right decision.

I have purchased a few small gifts and made greeting cards, but that is the extent of my holiday preparations otherwise, and quite a departure from the extravagances of years past. But just because I have always done something is not enough reason to continue; as my circumstances change, so does my concept of what is most important. And as I seek to let go of perfectionism in other areas of my life, I am letting go if it here. This year, I choose to focus, one at a time, simply on those activities that bring me comfort and joy. Today, it was the Christmas tree. It's not going to make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but it makes me happy every time I walk by and inhale its woodsy scent and see all the treasures hanging from its boughs. 

Is there anything you can let go of in order to have more time and energy for the most important things?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Something had to give...

It's hard to explain, but something inside me has changed since I returned from my cruise vacation. For the first time since I broke my engagement two years ago, I truly feel like myself again.

I have always maintained that it takes a minimum of two years to recover from the end of a serious relationship, and I have experienced nothing but heartbreak every time I break my self-imposed "two-year rule." So as far as I am concerned, everything that has happened since said broken engagement has been rebound relationships.


And while I'm at it, I am breaking loose from a couple of other ties that have been binding me: Between Birthdays and Writers Li.P.P. There is little to explain, except when something you have created no longer serves you, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to let it go.

At the same time, though, I find myself approaching the New Year with a curious pessimism. While it has been arguably the best December on record so far, filled with lunches and dinners and parties with girlfriends and writer friends and family, all that is behind me now and I am left with long days of soul searching ahead. About my shortcomings as a parent. About my future as a writer. About whether or not I dare to even dream about a romantic relationship with a guy. About the twelve days of Christmas and whether or not I am going to waste another minute of my life making New Year's resolutions that don't get kept.

Because I'm tired of feeling like a failure. I'm healthy and I have big dreams. I'm still hopeful that I'll find a man who can appreciate me and keep up with me; maybe I won't. Regardless, I'm not holding my breath. I'm going to keep seeking my path as a writer and enjoy every precious moment spent with friends and family members. I have much to be thankful for, including each of you who stands by my side every day.

Maybe tomorrow I'll find the strength to put the lights on the Christmas tree.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going with the seasonal flow

I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
~ Jimmy Dean

Recently, I blogged about my intention to treat my writing like a part-time job. But since I've gotten back from my Thanksgiving vacation, my second job has been beading. I have put in countless hours over the past ten days or so and it has been very satisfying.

First, I had two more beading sessions with my Beading To Beat Autism volunteers. I am happy to report that all 300 of our bracelets are completed and most of them are sold. I hope to wrap up that project this week.

Then my hairdresser invited me to set up a table and sell my jewelry in her shop on Saturday, so I spent every spare moment last week creating a few last-minute items to sell.

It was so much fun I am thinking I would like try renting space at a real craft show or two next year. I enjoy maintaining my Etsy site but when I actually get to interact with my customers it's even better.

I also tried my hand at beaded silverware; I was really pleased with my first attempt.

Although I didn't have time to do anything else before Saturday, I plan to buy an assortment of large serving pieces plates and spreaders and put together some coordinating sets to list in my shop in the next few days.

Anyway, by the time Saturday was over, my house looked like a craft shop had exploded inside it. There were beads and supplies scattered upstairs and downstairs; the kitchen and bathrooms had been sorely neglected, too. I worked all yesterday morning and this morning cleaning up after everybody; by now the main living areas of the house are in reasonably good shape, although everything still needs a good scrubbing. Tomorrow I will tackle my bedroom; I haven't even unpacked the suitcase I took on my cruise Thanksgiving week. Sigh.

But that suitcase has waited patiently for me while I seized so many precious moments--to support a charitable organization with my piano students, to try my hand at a new beading technique, to promote my jewelry design business--and to attend a card making workshop Saturday night

and a tree-trimming party with friends on Sunday evening. And if another opportunity presents itself tomorrow, I have no doubt that suitcase will still be there on Wednesday.

Sometimes you just need to throw the daily schedule out the window, let the dishes pile up, and go where life leads you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So THAT'S what Christmas is all about...

Go ahead and hate me, but I love that local radio station that plays nothing but holiday music between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Anyway, I was listening a couple of mornings ago, and the deejays were entertaining a burning question from a caller. Apparently, this woman had a neighbor with a yard full of Christmas decorations; she said the bright lights were keeping her from sleeping at night, and she was wondering if it would be okay to ask the neighbors to douse the lights.

Every single caller who responded called this woman a "Scrooge" or a "Grinch" and said something along the lines of "seeing the children's faces light up when they see those shiny lights, well, that's what Christmas is all about." One caller even offered to go to K-Mart and buy MORE lights and inflatables to enhance the offending neighbor's display, just to teach the whiner a lesson.

Aren't most children in bed by, say, ten or ten-thirty at night? And just call me silly, but *I* thought the meaning of Christmas had something to do with a virgin birth and "peace on earth, goodwill towards men." I am all for shiny lights and outlandish displays, but is keeping my neighbor awake at night promoting peace or generating goodwill?

What do you think?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thankful for the Holidays Blog Hop

Reviews By Molly and Romancing the Book are hosting the first ever Thankful for the Holidays Blog Hop, and I couldn't resist joining the fun! I am giving away a signed copy of Joseph Akins' wonderful holiday CD, A Piano Christmas. To enter, simply follow my blog and leave your name and email address in a comment at the end of this post. Then click HERE for links to other participating blogs and more chances to win great prizes. This contest will run December 1-25; I will select the winner on Christmas Day using a random number generator. Happy holiday blog hopping, and good luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm a loser, baby

At least where NaNoWriMo is concerned. I fell far short of my goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days; I managed to eke out only 15,006. Which makes me, officially, a loser.

Except 15,006 words averages out to 500 words a day for the month, which is actually fairly respectable, specially if you consider everything else I had on my plate. Presenting at the state music teacher's conference. Beading To Beat Autism. Going on a cruise.

Next year, I will sign up for NaNoWriMo again; this year, I'm going to give myself an attagirl for effort. I am certain that I wouldn't have written as many words as I did if not for the challenge. And I'm still writing; I even submitted two queries yesterday, one including a requested partial. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Congratulations to all the 2012 winners! Declare yourselves in a comment so we can celebrate with you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wobble, Baby

Carnival Inspiration
My Thanksgiving cruise started as all great cruises always do, with a sail-away party on the pool deck

complete with a steel drum band

and a bon voyage cocktail crowned by a cheerful paper umbrella.

For the first time ever, we had a window in our cabin. What a treat!

The food was fabulous. We tried some new dishes, like these alligator fritters

and feasted on all our favorites, like this lobster tail during formal night dinner.

The ship docked on Monday in Grand Cayman and on Tuesday Cozumel. I wanted to swim with dolphins and parasail and go shopping but my budget wouldn't allow any of that. Instead, we wasted away in Margaritaville in Grand Cayman

and on the beach in Cozumel.

Playa Mia 
And when we couldn't take any more sunshine, we sought shelter at Senor Frog's.

We made some new friends

He stole Nathan's sunglasses!
Mary Beth and Tony, who shared our table at dinner.
but this was the closest I came to holiday romance.

This dude was fine for a day, but he was no Jack Sparrow.
I'm not big on the Las Vegas style shows and comedy acts, but I danced at every available opportunity--at the sail away party, at the midnight Mexican buffet, and in the disco--doing all my favorites: the electric slide, the Cupid shuffle, the cha-cha slide. I even learned something new.

If I ever get married again, we are SO doing the wobble at the reception.

* * *

I have had some amazing cruise experiences over the years. I have gone behind the scenes with staff members, done some thrilling shore excursions, brought home beautiful jewelry, pottery and artwork. Once I even fell in love with and eventually became engaged to a stranger I danced with at a deck party. I wouldn't have missed any of that. But the boring truth is that  this was the most restful, relaxing cruise I have ever been on. I whiled away many happy hours simply simply lying by the pool, reading and dozing. Somehow, it was enough to relax deeply and bring nothing home but memories, to simply BE on a cruise. I think there is a powerful lesson there. 

And you know what else I learned? I may wobble but I won't fall down.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Low-Cost Christmas Gifts

No, I haven't decorated my house yet.
This photo is from last year.
I haven't forgotten my promise to share my cruise travelogue with you. But I have been slammed since I got home, with invoices to send, bills to pay, suitcases to unpack, bracelets to bead, and blog posts to write. Monday, for example, I will be at Writers Li.P.P. (click HERE) with low-cost Christmas gift ideas. Please stop by and share some tips of your own. So check back on Tuesday for the tale of a fateful trip.

Just call me Gilligan.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 7: Home At Last

Carnival Inspiration
This was officially the weirdest Thanksgiving of my life. But it would be just plain wrong to complain about a day that started on board a cruise ship. Even if it was the last day of our vacation.

We docked in Tampa before dawn, disembarked the ship and sped through customs, caught our shuttle back to the car, and were on the road headed north by 9AM. My son and I shared the driving; we stopped twice for gas and twice for food but made it home in record time. All in all, it was a delightful cruise; I will share more details later. But right this minute, I cannot tell you how thankful I am to be home, stretched out on my bed with my computer on my lap and my dog curled up beside me.

Whether you enjoyed a traditional holiday or did something out of the ordinary, I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving with the people you love the most.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 6: My Past

Today I am reflecting upon people and events from the past and how they made me who I am today.

My maternal grandmother who gave me my first piano encouraged me to perform in church and sewed pretty dresses for me. My paternal grandmother who taught me how to piece quilts and took me on my first train ride and made every day a holiday. My younger brothers, Jim and Greg, who fought and scrapped with me and kept me humble when I was a kids but became some of my best friends after we reached adulthood. I lost them all much too soon.

There were cherished teachers who encouraged my love of music in general and piano in particular; I remember all their names and how each influenced me in his or her unique way. There were other teachers, too, who taught me how to read and write and do math and appreciate science and history. There were friends who supported me through the angst of high school, the ups and downs of college, the challenges of married life and the heartbreak of divorce. And there were lovers who shared their energy, their essence with me - deeply passionate relationships that, like my marriage, ended in failure and disappointment.

Lessons learned. Better luck next time.

Each person who has crossed my path is a thread of color in the tapestry of my life. There can be no regret because, without any one of them, the entire outcome would be different. And so I give thanks for all of you, past and present, living and dead. And look forward to the jewel tones and metallic fibers that are waiting for me right around the corner.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 5: My Stuff

Two or three times a year, I go on a rampage to rid my world of clutter. I go through drawers and closets and the contents of the garage and pack boxes and bags with unwanted items and haul them off to Goodwill.

But mostly I am thankful for my creature comforts and material possessions. I am blessed to own many things I dearly love or would be hard-pressed to live without. My piano. My sewing machine. My laptop. My iPhone. My Kindle. My camera. My daughter's ring. My grandmother's dining room furniture. Artwork created by my children. Craft supplies. Books and music and CD's. My car. The pendant carved from a coconut shell purchased at the beach in Costa Rica. I could go on and on.

This Thanksgiving, I renew my commitment to simplifying my life so that I can more fully appreciate that which remains.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 4: My Job

I started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old. I enjoyed it very much and quickly decided that  I would become a piano teacher myself when I grew up. Fast forward to 1982: I earned a master's degree in piano performance and piano pedagogy and established my first home studio in Peoria, Illinois; I also taught eight years in Raleigh, North Carolina. I took some time off after moving to Atlanta; my ex traveled a lot, our children were small, and I began home schooling. But after my divorce in 2001, I went back to my first love and I haven't looked back since.

I never intended for piano teaching to support a family and being self-employed has its drawbacks. But the fact is this career allowed me to stay home with my children and produce an income while doing what I do best: sharing the joy of music with others.

I am thankful for all my students - present, past and future - and for their wonderful families who entrusted their music education to me.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 3: My Friends

My friends are my estate.
~ Emily Dickinson

What I lack in possessions, I make up for in friends. I do not use the word lightly - I understand the difference between a mere acquaintance and a true friend - and I am blessed to have many loving friends in my life. Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with friends from elementary school, high school and college; when we chat on the phone, it's as if the years have completely melted away. Also, I have stayed in touch with a handful of people from my married years and forged many new friendships since my divorce: through home schooling, piano teaching, professional affiliations, personal pursuits, and even online, with fellow writers and bloggers.

Regardless of where they come from, my friends share in my joys, offer shoulders to cry on, lift me up when I am down, and encourage me in my dreams. Romantic love may elude me forever, but I could not survive without my friends.

You know who you are. I am thankful for each and every one of you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 2: My Family

I give thanks every day for my family: my mom, my dad, my brother, his wife, my three sons, my niece and my nephew. Like all families, we have our ups and downs, and sometimes I think we have experienced more than our share of sorrow, but it is the happy times I choose to recall, and there have been many. I could write a book about it. Maybe I will.

Mom, Dad, Eric, SeDonna, Josh, Casey, Nathan, Cassie and Greggy, I love you with all the love a heart can hold. Thank you for loving me, too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving, Day 1: Thanksgiving Vacation

Tonight I am in Tampa, Florida, looking forward to boarding a cruise ship tomorrow and spending the next five days sailing to Cozumel and Grand Cayman. It was either book a cruise or lose the $400 I had sitting in my account with the cruise line due to canceling my spring break cruise when I couldn't come up with the final payment. And this one was surprisingly affordable, mostly because it returns to port on Thanksgiving Day, when most people would rather join their loved ones for a feast than spend eight hours sitting in the car.

Resolved: no more vacations or extraneous spending of any kind until my credit cards are paid off and I have some money in the bank. As a self-employed single mom, my financial situation is precarious, and I've got to be more creative about finding ways to earn and save money.

But tonight I'm going to lay my worries aside and give thanks for this lovely hotel room and the opportunity to spend some quality time in the sun with my fifteen year old son. I reject fear. I claim joy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Overwhelmed? Not this girl.

I think "overwhelmed" might have been one of the most overused words in this blog to date. Goodness knows I have reason to feel that way much of the time. Take this month, for instance. In addition to my regularly scheduled life of single parenting and piano teaching, I spoke at the GMTA conference and committed to making and selling 300 bracelets in 30 days and writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. Not only that, there are two books I have promised author friends to review, and I'm leaving for vacation tomorrow.

It's enough to make a sane person crazy.

But then I read Danielle LaPorte's blog post, strike "overwhelmed" from your vocabulary," and it changed my entire outlook. The combination of her words, "you've got what it takes to meet life with more giving" and ridding my life of toxic relationships has catapulted me into a new phase of productivity.

Like my blog partner Lindy Chaffin Start, I am unstoppable.

Check back tomorrow for the first of my seven days of Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beading To Beat Autism

On Friday I blogged at Between Birthdays about my first beading session in support of Beading To Beat Autism, high school student Michala Rigga's organization attempting to raise $300 million to build an autism research and treatment center in Louisville, Kentucky. There were only three of us then, but I had another gathering on Sunday: four moms and three daughters plus me, for a total of eight bracelet makers.

I am hosting yet another work session tomorrow from 10-1, with more to follow. I need all the help I can get, because I have committed to making and selling 300 bracelets in 30 days! We have a long way to go, so I hope you will join me in this effort. Even if you live far away and cannot come and bead with us, you can help by buying bracelets. Each one is handcrafted and unique and comes packaged in a ziplock bag with a full color trifold insert explaining the details of the project.

The suggested donation is only $3 per bracelet. 6", 7", and 8" lengths available and we will do our best to honor your color preferences, or let us choose a design for you. These make great party favors, stocking stuffers, and holiday gifts for teens and teachers. Checks should be made payable to Beading To Beat Autism; all proceeds will go directly to the organization. Please leave a comment if you would like to place an order and we will work out the details. Thank you in advance for your support!

The Official Start of the Holiday Season

I typically wait until the day after Thanksgiving to begin listening to holiday music. But last night my friend, pianist and composer Joseph Akins, came all the way from Murfreesboro, Tennessee to present a concert in one of my student's homes in which he debuted his brand-new album, A Piano Christmas. So how could I resist?

From start to finish, the program was delightful; there was something for everyone, everything from I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town to O Holy Night and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. Sure, you've heard all these songs before, but you haven't REALLY heard them until you've heard Joseph play them. With his rich musical background incorporating a variety of musical styles - classical, jazz, pop, country and new age - he brings something unique and refreshing to each of these traditional pieces, and to every selection on the album. It is hard to choose just one favorite, but mine might be Angels We Have Heard On High. I can hardly wait for that one to be released in sheet music form!

We enjoyed a potluck supper prior to the concert; it was an altogether delightful evening of food, fellowship and some of the best Christmas music ever. Treat yourself to a copy of A Piano Christmas. It might just become your new seasonal favorite!

Unita Akins, Joseph Akins, and Pam Asberry

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is It Me?

This blog post is for mature audiences only.

Is it me? Is it like I have a beacon that only dogs and men with severe emotional problems can hear?
~"Monica Geller" (on Friends)

I caught only a few episodes of Friends but boy, oh boy, can I relate to that quote.

I haven't talked much about my love life lately. Honestly? There hasn't been much to talk about. For the most part, I have been teaching piano and making music of various kinds and reading and writing and blogging and keeping the home fires burning. I refuse to go back online to meet men; I went on a couple of dates with a friend of a friend but felt no real connection, and judging by the fact that he hasn't called me since our second rendezvous, he had the same experience.

I am generally okay with this. Yes, I still dream of meeting Mr. Right and living happily ever after. I will even admit to moments of downright despair. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for anything or anyone. And I have stopped asking myself what is wrong with me. There is NOTHING wrong with me. I have a rich and rewarding life, filled with creative work and caring friends and close family ties.

Take this morning, for example. I woke up early, went to my primary care physician for some routine blood work, came home and had some breakfast, then settled in at my laptop to work on my novel. As a result of being out of town three days for the GMTA Conference and under the weather on Monday, I am several thousand words behind on my NaNoWriMo project. But by 10:00, I was in the zone. Despite my best-laid plans, my characters have taken on lives of their own; I am compelled to keep writing so I can find out what happens next.

I typed furiously for an hour, then made the mistake of taking a break to check email. And there it was: a message from the one I loved. It was just a few words and an audio clip.

Of him having sex with another woman.

Maybe he just wanted to get me on the phone. If that was the case, it worked. Once I stopped shaking - and sobbing - I called him. His explanation?  He hoped it would make me jealous so I would take him back.

Guess again.

And do you remember me mentioning the guy who left me at a club, leaving me to walk several miles home in the middle of the night? He has crawled back out from beneath the rock he has been hiding under, calling me and texting me several times a day, convinced that we are meant to be together, begging me to give him one more chance to prove his devotion to me. Won't I just go out to dinner with him on Friday night?

I will never be that hungry.

There was a time in my life when all this would have made me crazy. But I'm not the crazy one; THEY are. They are balloons full of hot air; today, I opened up my hands and let them go, without even bothering to watch them fade into oblivion.

Because I said goodbye a long time ago.

Monday, November 7, 2011

2011 Georgia Music Teachers Association State Conference

I made a new friend in Columbus.
I was really hoping to get a blog post up before midnight but that just didn't happen. I did, however, blog on Between Birthdays about all the new things I tried at the Georgia Music Teachers Association State Conference in Columbus, Georgia over the weekend (click HERE) and I put a post in the queue for Writers Li.P.P. that just went live (click HERE). And I went to the gym and spent 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, then came home and added 1,628 words to my NaNoWriMo project, bringing my total so far up to 5,004 words. Now I am beyond tired and my eyes feel like sandpaper but I am determined to write something here anyway because the words are tugging at me and begging to be shared.

The conference was wonderful. I was inspired in so many ways. By our keynote speaker, Dennis Alexander, who truly understands what children are capable of, musically speaking, and offered us tools to help bring it out of them.

Dennis Alexander & Pam Asberry
By all the wonderful students who performed. By MTNA President Ben Caton, who reminded us that teaching is a high calling, and that there are many rewards that money cannot buy. And by all my dedicated colleagues who care so much about our profession that they carved time out of busy teaching schedules to attend a state music teachers conference.

I was blessed with the opportunity to give something back at this event; my workshop proposal, Teaching the Transfer Student, was accepted by the powers that be, and I presented it at 1:00 on Thursday. A bit star-struck when Dennis Alexander himself introduced himself just before I was scheduled to begin, I forgot all about him and everyone else as I began speaking about this topic that is near and dear to my heart and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experience, and hope that I provided others with a tidbit or two that they will be able to use in their own piano studios.

Pam Asberry, Teaching the Transfer Student
Another magical moment happened at the Friday night banquet when my own local chapter, Gwinnett County Music Teachers Association, received the Local Association of the Year Award.

Indeed, this experience brought me back to my roots. I have always felt that teaching music was my destiny, and even though I never intended this profession to support a family, I am convinced now more than ever that I should not abandon it just because I am experiencing financial difficulties at the moment, or because those who are less qualified or competent seem to be achieving greater success. I must continue to look for ways to balance my passions and my hobbies and combine them so that they won't make me crazy in terms of the effort they require or the revenues they generate. Somehow, the teaching and the performing and the writing and the jewelry making will work together and make me a living.

And a life.