Posted in about me, audience participation, ebb & flow, gratitude, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation

The sun is setting on 2020

It’s easy to see the bad parts of 2020. They’re on the news, they’re in articles, they’re in memes, they’re showing up in expected and unexpected places in our lives.

For the overwhelming majority of us, there were good parts to 2020 as well, even if some of them are double-edged.

For example, both of my fifth grade classes were fantastic—the first time that’s happened since I’ve been in this position. The other edge is that our year got cut short. But the third quarter was still part of 2020 (we all seem to be starting 2020 in March…), and teaching those kids was great.

Even though school was a mess, they were great sixth graders this year.

It seems to me that in some homes, there is a lot of complaining, a lot of gossiping, a lot of seeing negative, expecting to be cheated, swindled, taken advantage of, stolen from. Try to raise ourselves by making others lower.

Other homes are more loving, seeing the good in people, reliving the best parts of their days with each other. (This is not to say that they ignore bad things—that’s just as toxic as focusing on them—just that they don’t marinate.)

My house growing up was definitely negative. Good things spoken of others were few and far between, and every compliment had an asterisk. Most commentary was degrading and judgmental.

And so to some extent, this became my outlook. Judge, put down, roll eyes, cluck tongue. Be aware of our superiority to them.

Little pieces of how this is dysfunctional came into my consciousness over time, and today, I am happy to say that much of the time, I see positivity in many things, I can wonder what in people’s story leads them to where they are, I can give benefit of the doubt.

I am certainly not saintly and still have more negative undercurrent than I’d like, but it’s much better, and I’m much happier. I actively work to make my household one that sees the good.

My life is better with this shift.

Experience combined with introspection have also given me the solid knowledge that challenges are opportunities to grow, and that life-upending challenges are both the hardest and have the biggest payout. Sure, occasionally you win $1,000,000 on the nickel slots, but not often enough to make it a financial plan.

Enter pandemic.

I’ve been frustrated for nine months that we, culturally, are smashing our heads against the proverbial wall, trying to make things as close to “normal” as possible, missing so many opportunities to redesign the systems, to redesign our lives for the better instead of for the “have to.” Especially when our cultural “normal” wasn’t all that great to start with.

So tell me: what was good in 2020? Whether a result of pandemic or not. I’ll go first.

The Kid and I got to spend way more time together than is normally available. We did projects together, learned new things together, ran together, and still had time to do our own things off in our own corners.

Friends who don’t live nearby were part of game night, along with the usual crew. We’re really restricted on what we can play online (do you have any suggestions?), but we always had a good time.

I learned so many new technologies! (Definitely double-edged.) I got to figure out ways to try to engage with kids through the computer.

I took the opportunity to teach bucket drumming. It was so much fun (and so much work to figure out) and something I wouldn’t have done if not for necessity.

Through a weekly Zoom call, I got to talk with a small group of friends every week. It was more than I would have gotten to talk with these lovely ladies in regular real life.

I participated in The Creative’s Workshop, which was truly an amazing experience. I met people from all over the world, got to see other’s work, got feedback on my own work, made friends.

Related but deserving of its own paragraph: I wrote a book. Beginning the process of editing now. It’s been in my head for at least a decade, and now it’s out.

We had a pool put in, just in time for the record number of 110-degree days and 100-degree days. The joy of The Kid—both in watching it be built and in using it—was infectious.

Taking the same walk around the neighborhood and up the canal most days in the spring, I got to see the duck families born and grow.

That’s off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more, but this is a good start.

So tell me—what was good for you in 2020?

And then tell me—what’s good for you today?

Leave a comment, send me an email. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. What’s good? There’s no avoiding what’s bad—but is marinating in the bad really where you want to live?

Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 27Dec20

It turns out, yesterday was Sunday, so I’m posting a day late, but I have photos! And I want to share! And it’s winter break, so today is kinda like Sunday anyway.

I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers … and didn’t think to pull out the Nikon. (The last couple of weeks have used a lot of bandwidth…) When many but not all of them had wilted, I pulled out the few that still looked good and put them in a smaller vase.

I had the opportunity to do a photoshoot with an adorable boy. We were hoping there wouldn’t be people around so we could shoot without a mask, and indeed, there was not a person to be seen.

For Christmas, I got a set of extension tubes for Sir Nikolas Cameron. Those allow me to take macro (very close-up) shots without a dedicated lens. I’m so excited! Now I can capture super-small details. I’ve brought it out twice, and I have much room to improve, but this is a lot of fun!

To give you an idea of the zoom factor, here are two close-up shots of the tumbleweed tree in Chandler. (Not the exact same shot twice.) One is with the regular (18-55mm) lens. The other is with all three tubes on the larger (70-200mm) lens.

Cool, right? Harder to maneuver the camera and to focus, and I really need to use a tripod (which I didn’t, but I will). I also like in that first photo that you can see the real color of the tumbleweed and the painted color.

Tree bark, flower, dog nose, dog eye.

Bolt on a sliding board, Christmas light on a white pole, Santa decoration on our tree.

There will be more of these! Many more! But not today.

Have a good week! Enjoy the last days of 2020. Seriously. Why not?

Posted in mindset

My photography journey 13Dec20

Exciting news: we adopted two dogs! They were double-or-nothing, pair-bonded chihuahua mixes, weighing a total of 13 pounds.

They’re the bulk of The Kid’s Christmas presents, and “excited” is a drastic understatement. They’re skittish, though (reasonably), and they’re just starting to tolerate him. Learning curve for everyone.

We couldn’t agree on names for them (Scooby and Scrappy? Titan and Io?) so we kept the names they already had. Meet Bernie and GusGus.

The dog acquisition was such an exciting afternoon that it eclipsed his Zoom with a SpaceX engineer that morning. He had all of his drawings of rockets ready to show her, along with a list of questions to ask.

They talked for a full hour! It was generous of her to give him time, and he was a very happy boy.

Finally, I had the opportunity to take a few family photos. So photogenic! Makes my job easy.

And I’m still messing with Photoshop just a little when I have time and brain space. It’s fun to take photos that are meh and make them into something more interesting, like this one and the lead photo.

My priority is still getting the best photos I can straight out of the camera. But messing with them afterwards is fun.

Have a great week!

Posted in about me, connections, ebb & flow

A hundred concerts

In a normal year, my social media feed would be full of posts from music teacher friends and parents of music students. It’s concert season.

Band, orchestra, choir, drama, and others. Schools, churches, and others. Cute little ones, well-refined older ones, the ones in between who have neither the charm of the littles nor the skill of the bigs.

Those are my students. The ones in between. I love them.

A winter concert for beginning band—at least when I’m running it—is 20 to 30 minutes, enough music to show off what the students have accomplished, solos from students who are capable and willing, and whatever else we come up with that year. Students make the majority of announcements—parents are there to see kids, not me—and audience members have the what and why of a good audience in their program. 

I use my “teacher look” on the audience if they’re noisy while my students are performing.

The announcements and program are in both English and Spanish. I tell students they’re nervous about performing on their instruments, and I’m nervous about addressing their parents in Spanish, and no matter who messes up, we’re all going to be OK.

In my career, I’ve organized and executed almost 100 concerts. At this point, most of them blur together. Especially when there are two or three in one week.

While any given concert might be my 75th or my 90th or my centennial, the December concert is still the first for the fifth graders. I offer my excitement to them accordingly and we prepare both music and mindset for the stage.

I don’t remember my first concert, but I still have my music and the program from it. 

The only elementary concert I actually remember is from the year we played Sweet Caroline

My grandmother—my dad’s mom—was my biggest fan. She was also a huge fan of Neil Diamond, and I was excited to be playing a song that she would love.

Being 11 years old, I didn’t consider that the elementary band version might not be the most exciting performance she could attend of Sweet Caroline, and she didn’t say a thing about it.

My grandmom—Mom-mom—came to every performance I had through all of elementary school, middle school, and high school. She didn’t drive, so she recruited someone to pick her up for each one. As a musician herself, she would always give me a little bit more feedback than “good job.” Always enough for me to feel like it was the best performance ever.

Mom-mom was the only relative who supported my decision to go to college for music education. I was supposed to be a genetic engineer or an accountant.

When I graduated from college, she gave me a gift: a scrapbook of all of the programs from all of those concerts. She had saved them all.

The following Christmas, just a week after my first concerts as a band teacher, she said to me quietly, off to the side, “Good for you for doing what you wanted to do.”

My social media feed in 2020 (or, perhaps, 2019) of winter concerts is downstream from that first concert in 1984, of everyone’s first concert. My feed is full of concerts that have parents or grandparents or neighbors who might enjoy better-polished music but wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else that evening.

Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 6Dec20

I had the opportunity to take a few shots of a beautiful family this week.

Mom reached out and asked if I could take their Christmas card photo. Sure! (I’m not including that one here.)

We were about to walk through the grass to the spot where we were going to set up when the sprinklers turned on! Good thing we weren’t a few minutes early! The sun and shadows were a little funky in the spot we ended up using, but they turned out well.

These two are my favorites from the shoot.

First, just the girls:

Then, knowing them a bit, I asked for their best badass face, and they did not disappoint:

That’s all for the moment! Have a great week!