Friday, September 28, 2012

Blessings and Burdens

Well, today I prayed, out of my utter exhaustion, that I would have one student not show up (at the college, I still get paid for that!) and that my paycheck would be enough to get our bills taken care of (we have a LOT built up from a month of earning less).

And both things were delivered, exactly as requested. That never happens, and seems to me like a sympathetic nod from God. I'll take it. I then realized that I had overbilled the college by quite a bit--putting all of the mileage from the whole term on one paycheck! But I will remedy that at the next paycheck.

My big crusty oozy rash is still burning. I am not sure if I've ever felt this disgusting.

Oh yeah, the blog. Ok, well I've been amazed lately at the blessings of my life. I guess I am in a wave of "this is amazing!" "How did I not realize how happy I am?" and other such things. So much so that when I saw three posts on facebook of my peers singing in various operas, I did not feel a twinge of failure. I just thought about my own joys. I feel like what I do is important, and people need me, and I love my husband and daughter so much, and I BETTER notice how marvelous all those things feel together.

My A1C (basically my blood sugar average) is 6.1. It's the lowest it's EVER been. SO I guess I have even more to feel thankful for.

I love when a student makes, for the first time, an incredible sound, and you realize that what you've believed they are capable of IS actually possible. You might not hear it again, for a while, but you knew it was there. And maybe you can coax it out again. They are vulnerable to you--and hopeful. And if you're scolding they will feel it, and if you say (as I did today) "Good God, I almost jumped out of my seat that was so beautiful" they feel it. I can't tell you how good it feels to make my living doing that. How lucky I am!

But when I said it, I was exhausted. I was praying for cancellation. The rash on my arms was like a rug burn it hurt so bad, and we had $1.25 in our bank account before we got paid. I don't think blessings come without burdens. The world is full of them. We live here. We have them.

I have decided to drive 4 students to the NATS competition to compete. I am not singing in this competition--weird!!! I am a teacher, an old lady, a judge! But I read once that if you cannot alter your 18 year old life dreams, you are not in store for a ton of happiness. And the older I get, the more I think that's God's honest truth. Ideology is Awesome. So is ambition. But neither one will ever bring me peace.

The house is a mess. I feel incredibly fat and itchy. The dogs smell. I have only enough moola to pay bills. But I have all of that. Thank you God. Thank you, thank you thank you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Itchy Lady

I have the rash again. Contact Dermatitis? Meaning I've touched, whatever this damn thing is, again? It always affects my face first, and this time my arms, my wrists. It seems that I stuck my hands in I grabbed a big pile of poison ivy? WHAAA?

In the second week of August I did a round of prednisone. That helped. Of course, my blood sugars went wonky and my mood did too.

I'm pausing occasionally as I write this to rip at my arms with my nails. I'm avoiding my face....the skin which I consider to be an "attribute" is dry (partially from the cotton swabs of rubbing alcohol I have let burn on my skin to kill the itching), of course, inexplicably without anything it has been so dry that the skin is peeling. My face is's red, and subtly bumpy, and my eyes look sunken.

And I am so so so miserable.

And SHHHHHHHH, I'm pregnant. 4 1/2 weeks. So I can't take any more prednisone. And I'm kind of afraid of the stuff they say it's OK to take.

I am not telling students, coworkers, friends, or the facebook world. Just my little quiet blogland and close family. I am looking forward to a baby this time. A summer baby. I'm ready to finish this family before I hit the big 40. My symptoms are O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M-I-N-G, and I tested positive about a week before women normally do. Very positive! So I'm feeling good about this one, too. Last time the first few weeeks were easy. This time I'm sick as a dog, wanting to vomit all day, weirdly sleepy, weepy, achey, I have to pee all the's all constant. And my blood sugars are a runaway train going 50 miles an hour towards a bigger insulin dose.

And I'm itchy.

But symptoms of pregnancy are the only good symptoms. You know? You WANT to have symptoms of a good thing. I think :)

Today Baby S and I went to a local apple orchard. AHHH, what a gorgeous time! Fall weather, apple picking, GOATS! We shared an apple and an apple cider donut sitting on a porch, and walked for a while, and barely fought, until the end when she randomly asked me why I do mean things to her. A question I occasionally ask her when she's being a jerk. Perhaps I should lay off that question.

I am hoping that two children I can still have those beautiful days. I fear the special relationship between the two of us somehow being diluted. But I also look forward to more love. It's addicting really.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Change is Good, Yes?

I was thinking today about how I used to get my hair done. In NYC, I went to a very stylish, fit, gay man from Jamaica whose business was in a very hip area of Brooklyn. I paid $120 and the cut and highlights included his delightful personality and usually a cappuccino.

Now, I really enjoy getting my hair cuts done by an older white woman named Peggy who lives in the country. Her hours are unpredictable, sometimes her dad (who is struggling with dementia) or her grandchildren are hanging around in her no-frills barber shop. She only takes cash ($17) and she has a great haircut, but smells like cigarette smoke when she leans over you.

I enjoy both experiences. I felt I looked better after the Brooklyn hairdo--but that included a lot more work...colors, cuts, styles, etc.

I believe in change. I find after a life of a lot of gypsy living, I can adjust. I can go anywhere, I can eat whatever insane or boring foods you want me to, and I can spend .75 or $5.00 on a cup of coffee and blame it on the area.

I find something different now. As my priorities change, I don't want to be without the people I love anymore. Now, each place is defined (or redefined) by who comes with me. And I welcome the expansion of this love. I have just realized this week that I am happier than I've ever been. Not richer, not prettier, not singing more, and certainly not getting any younger. But I have companionship, and a child who is exciting to be around. I understand these nests that everyone seemed so afraid to leave for all of my gypsy life, when I (inside my head) called that boring.

I think everyone thinks the life they choose is ....somehow empirically the best. THe gypsies among us look upon the family life as boring and unchallenging, but occasionally feel jealous of the sense of belonging. Those who become couples earlier, who have families and choose a life that is all about that side, think the other side is constantly lonely, and crazy for running around. And all of that is true, ha! But I wouldn't give my gypsy life any fewer days if I had the option, and my little loving nook here in Iowa is exactly where i feel I belong.

I just heard the 3 year old yelling for me, so loudly that it sounded like her vocal chords were splitting. I walked in to her telling me that her Dr. Seuss DVD had stopped, and she needed more milk. I said, "can you say please for all of that stuff?" and she replied, "please for all of that stuff, mom".

See? Perfect.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Things That Break My Heart

I guess when I think of Jesus, I often think of how his heart was broken. Pretty much all of the gospels, the things he said, the things he did, involve this beautiful, open form of empathy. He saw brokenness, he felt it himself, he healed, changed, challenged, touched people with the intent to bridge the broken.

And so when I think of being Christ-like, this is what I picture. You simply cannot look at something like, let's say, abortion (this is not a blog about abortion) and not see the broken girl, the way that decision must suck, must hurt, must be a sign of how broken we are. You must feel the pain of their walk through the door to have "that" procedure. You cannot look at divorce without feeling, intensely, that two people are about to lose their right arm forever. That they will have to go through the tough road of single parenthood. You cannot be Christ-like, in my opinion, without this growing in you. And I'm not sure it has anything to do with YOU trying to feel it. I think the more you look at Jesus, whether you want to or not, you start becoming more of that person.

This is one hard thing about elections. Lately it seems these terms are bandied about...marriage, abortion, unemployment, etc. And no one has the blood of it. Everyone is trying to say that politics can somehow take that blood off of our hands, but these issues are bigger to me. THey are signs of a broken world. Everyone expected Jesus to become a powerful lawmaker, to overthrow an unfair government, to lead to battle, to kill, to capture, to change. But the way he changes is so different from that.

WHen I read something oversimplified, or cruel, or a statement that hurts, I have such trouble getting to sleep. I have to manually turn off the faucet, and decide that these problems will somehow resolve without me. That things will keep turning, and battles must be chosen.

And somehow as I write this, I miss my broken friend Dari, who died a few years ago. She was pouring out with love, but always running. She wanted to go to the ocean, or live on a farm, or run up a mountain. It was wonderful, but it wasn't adventure, it was a chase. When I held her, when I hugged her, I could always feel her brokenness. I begged her at times, to leave the things that held her down. But mostly I felt the pain of the results of those things. I knew we were drawn to each other in that way, but partly because I couldn't help but love that part of her.

I ask that God somehow continue to make me a bleeding heart.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ballerinas and NPR

I'm enjoying the commute. I have made the joke a few times that the commute is actually pretty nice when you have a 3 year old. This joke KILLS in rooms full of moms, but in a mixed crowd, I think they're confused. The truth is, for 90 minutes I just drive and look at farmland and dream of all the things I still want to do with life, and then think of how sad it is that some people get food poisoning from eating a bad melon, or cheese, and die. And then I get depressed. But it's still easier than the 3 year old!

Last week Baby S started ballet and tap. This sounds much more formal than six 3-4 year olds walking in a line and pretending to be a butterfly to the tune of "zippity do da". I am not sure I've ever seen her so excited to do something. When she gave me a hard time before the class, I could threaten her with not going and she would burst into tears! I couldn't believe the investment. Before class, she stood in the waiting room whispering to me, "I'm so excited!" and then once in the class, she hung on the teacher's every word. She did everything asked.

THe waiting room started filling with students from the next class, their moms, their siblings, etc, and soon it felt like an airport in a developing country. It was horrible, hot and I wanted to badly to go sit in my car. But instead I pressed my nose up against the glass and watched her try to alternate legs and smile ear to ear.

I have mixed feelings about my daily listening to NPR. My favorite part of it is the personal interest stories. I get to hear amazingly beautiful stories about people overcoming things, about heroicism that you never get to hear about! I really do like the tones, the interviews, the stuff I learn. RIght now, there's a lot of talk about politics from a non-partisan perspective. My favorite part about this is that it's finally politics I agree with. It says sometimes this side is right, sometimes the other, and it makes so much more sense to me than hearing the ridiculous war of the two sides!

But NPR is also depressing right now. Economics in the US (and internationally) right now is a lot of depressing stories, and stories which no change in the government would actually help. I hear stories of families failing, and of no hope in those who didn't get a great start....those who are rich are back to doing well (we knew that would happen) but those who have never worn a white collar, ouch. I heard a story today that no matter what changes we made, even if EVERYTHING went perfectly, mathematically our country will not be able to get unemployment back where it was. In this story they said there is no possibility, because after what happened, there have been new limits set in our economy. And I wanted to just hang my head and cry a little for the million families still out of work.

I suppose the only comforting thought is that this state is everywhere (this state of downturn). But I don't know if that gives any hope. I turn the knob until I hear the story of an autistic guy who writes with his mouth and just graduated from Harvard. And then I feel better.

Now I just want to think about ballerinas again!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Lie of Small Town America

Toddlers are tough. But one thing I really find always helps with dealing with my toddler is a little walk. So we take them often. After all, a nice little walk with the dogs, the fresh air, etc, is a good thing in many ways.

I used to walk all the time in NYC. Walking was, in fact, both a necessity and pastime. I walked in other cities, too. I am a walker. I can evaluate cities by their sidewalks and their walkability. My new home, Cedar Rapids, does not rank high. In order to really walk you have to go to "designated walking areas". Walking is more about something that city taxes go to, not part of the culture. When I take Baby S for a walk, I usually don't see anyone else. Occasionally, in my suburban neighborhood, I see other people walking dogs, but that's about it.

TOday, for the third time since I started taking local walks, my toddler lost her steam. She started crying, and I desperately tried to find a way home faster as she cried and tried to lay down on the ground. And for the third time, someone yelled at me for trying to cut through their private property. (i.e., in between two houses).

So I'm pretty angry. Because all 3 times I made a plea --"I have an exhausted 2 year old, and I just live a block from here" apparently falls on heartless ears when it comes to protecting one's grass? Yup. My favorite answer to this is, "but if we let you we'd have to let everyone"....when I haven't seen ANYONE on a walk in 30 minutes. Or in 2 months. What is this crowd you're expecting?

In fact, what makes me especially angry is that since I've moved to middle America, I keep encountering this "me, mine, mine" attitude. Everywhere. This area which is supposed to be neighborly? is an area I'm afraid to take a walk in.

People drive in a way that endangers me, and when I walk on their grass, they yell. Mostly older women, if that matters. But I think it's the area. I'm tired of giving any credence to this idea that if we allow people to make more choices they will take care of each other. I've never seen it. What I miss is NYC, and the strangely selfless help I got often....the person who crossed boundaries of personal space to help me on the subway, and the kids who came to deliver my keys when I dropped them outside of my apartment. I miss that. I don't find it here. I don't find people who let me go in front of them in line. I don't get doors held open. I just don't know when I'll be in an area again where personal (and property) space isn't foremost in the attitude of my neighbors.

I would easily trade the stuff of NYC...throwing trash on the street, or men trying to flash me, or even the long lines, for knowing that someone who has probably no knowledge of the world thinks they should shove me off of their lawn and vote not to have sidewalks.

Right now I want to egg their houses. I'll be honest. All I can think about is the satisfaction I'd feel by destroying their property if they had to make me feel like a criminal for walking my daughter home. I want to distribute fliers. But I know that at the end they feel like they did the "right thing."

And that is the lie of small town America.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Human Voice

What a wonderful week. I'm happy to say my first blog in September is after a week of enjoying the teaching of 43 voice students (way way too many, and yes, I will burn out if I try to keep that up), the birthday of my beautiful 3 year old, and a lot of days of enjoying my life here in Iowa. Life just feels pretty sweet right now.

I am a bit thinner (I'll take it for now, after all of these visitors) but wish I were more so. And I am getting over a rash that has been all over my face, hips, legs, feet and one elbow. It's awful--itchy, red, swollen, blotchy. Today is the last day of the prednizone dose I was given and it is still bad. B L E C H. I get it every August. It's contact related, so I touch SOMETHING every August. WHAT? It's driving me crazy. But I know in a week or two it'll be gone. At least, judging by other years.

As 3 year old birthdays go, it was not too bad. Baby S was the only one to sustain an injury, when she fell off a chair. We ended up getting a pool for $50 that was perfect for a group of under 7 year old children, and though it was as freezing as pools get, kids continued to climb in with blue lips and shivering limbs. It was, after all, 85-90 degrees out, so why not?

I have found my favorite part of teaching new students is the curiosity in hearing what someone's voice will sound like. I miss that about watching more auditions, and doing master classes and such. You kind of play a silent game of guessing what voice will come out of a person. Sometimes it is insanely shocking. I teach a 15 year old girl, tall and skinny with big blue eyes and a shy expression. When she opens her mouth it is the loudest voice I've ever heard on a high schooler. I have no idea how she is creating that much sound. This week I met an 18 year old woman, short, with a round face, who has competed as a tenor. She gave me her range as TOPPING OUT at a middle C--the note I usually start female vocal exercises on. And sometimes it's exactly what I think it's going to be. The guy with a huge angular head and low speaking voice? Bass. At least I can occasionally guess.

I am still amazed at the growth in my students. I probably shouldn't say that. I should probably just be confident. But the truth is, voice teaching involves making students imagine things, giving them confidence, redefining things, and then when those don't work....trying to do all that a different way. So when a student changes, I am amazed. It rarely happens overnight. It's as slow as counselling. But there are results, and I cherish those.

A year ago I started teaching a 17 year old who seemed socially unusual. He couldn't start the lesson 5 minutes early. He got mad at me (a lot) in lessons, and his pitch was so bad that we would spend whole lessons just desperately trying to match pitches. I was just told by a choir teacher that he is now the leader of his choir. It is not a hugely advanced choir--but he is a LEADER! His pitch is fantastic...and that makes me want to cry.

You know, when you are 18, you use terms like "Broadway Star". You say things like, "Someday I'll be famous, someday I'll sing at the MET" and those things feel like destinations. But they are moments. THe older you get, the more you realize that all these things are wonderful, fleeting MOMENTS in your life. You become a broadway star for 20 minutes, and no one hires you for two years. You become a broadway star and then spend the rest of your life trying to be a bigger one! You try to recapture the first feeling of success over and over. I've watched this so many times.

At some point, you realize this is a whole lifetime, without a moment to be wasted. Life is short. 3rd birthdays fly by. I am still good with goals--I think it's important. But I believe if I don't see all these little things as successes I will completely miss the point.