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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011: So Far, So Good

It took everything I had. But today I exceeded my word count goal of 1667 words (by 11). And I made a batch of brownies. Then I put on a pretty dress and taught ten piano students.

Now I am too tired to say much of anything. As a matter of fact, I think I should go to bed before I get my second wind. Because when that happens, I can stay up all night. And sometimes do.

But I wanted to share that I am totally psyched about this project. As I explained on Between Birthdays yesterday, I have discovered that I am a "plotter," not a "pantser." With the aid of my Goal, Motivation and Conflict charts and the bare bones outline I scribbled late last night (I intend to flesh it out more later), I think I might be doing my best writing to date.

And now I'm off to dreamland. What about you? Are you a plotter are a pantser? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, did you meet your Day 1 goals?