Friday, September 30, 2011

Life Lessons From a Piano Mom

I have scheduled a Christmas piano recital for my sixteen piano students-- four of them being my own little darlings.  I gave out the recital songs about 3 weeks ago and everyone is in the thick of learning fairly challenging songs.  The recital isn't until the beginning of December, but the first weeks of learning a song are just as important as the last couple weeks of polishing the song.
Back in August I got out all my Christmas music, plus a few new books, and took quite some time to find the right song for each student.  One that would definitely challenge them, but not overwhelm them.  Something they would have to work at, but that was in the realm of what they could do.  There were several factors that I took into consideration, but one thing mattered more than anything else.


Piano is on my mind a lot as I teach all these lessons each week and make sure that my own people get their practicing done each day.  And like any good sports fanatic, I think there are some lessons I've learned that can apply to many areas of life.  So here goes.

1.  True talent does exist, but it doesn't matter.
I have taught kids to whom reading the notes and moving their fingers correctly is a real challenge.  And I have taught kids who breeze through the first few weeks of lessons-- it is easy for them.  So I do not doubt that some are more naturally talented with music than others.  But whether it is easy or not, the kids who practice diligently (5 or 6 times a week) are the ones who improve.  Talent can only carry you for about 2 months, after that it's kind of a waste.

2.  Nothing is fun until you are good at it.  I don't mean you have to be an expert, but you have to achieve a certain proficiency before you can enjoy it.  If you quit while it is still really hard, you don't really know if you like it or not.

3.  Consistency is a gift.  The best thing for a child learning to play the piano is for a parent to provide such consistency in requiring practicing that it doesn't even occur to them to fight it.  They are happier in the long run and the short run if they know what is expected of them.  If getting out of practicing is not even an option they can more easily focus their attention on getting the job done rather than thinking of ways to get out of it. 

4.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Playing the piano is a skill that requires practice.  There is no way to learn to play the piano without doing it and doing it frequently.  When a student is beginning a new song I sometimes will assign them the whole song, but more often it will just be a smaller section.  And I tell them to GO SLOW.  "Take your time and make sure you learn it correctly.  When you have it all learned you can go as fast your little fingers can fly.  But until you can do it right, you go slow!" 

5.  What once was hard will become easy.  To me, this is the miracle of piano.  You start a new song that you cannot play.  But as you continue to work on it and train you fingers what to do, sooner than you would have expected, you can now play what days ago you could not.  Miraculous!  You don't have to perform that hard song perfectly the first time you see it.  Work at it and you'll be able to.   

6.  You're not fooling anybody.   I took piano lessons for many years from a numerous host of teachers.  I practiced 1, 2, or 3 times a week and was miserable at my lessons.  I now see that I wasn't the only one miserable at my lessons.  It's not much fun for the teacher when the student doesn't practice because it means you just do a practice session together rather than a lesson.  It's a wonder my parents stuck with piano lessons in the face of my slow progress.  I would show up and try my hardest at my lessons and hope that somehow my teacher would think that I really was giving it my all.  I never realized that I wasn't fooling anyone.  On the contrary, my teachers knew exactly what kind of practicing I was putting in.  

7.   We're all in this together.  The piano bench can be a hard and lonely place, especially if you are a little person.  I teach a few younger children (5-7 year-olds) and I truly enjoy working with the younger kids.  I believe there is value in starting the piano at a young age.  However, for it to be a positive, successful experience, the parents need to sit down with their little person every single time they practice.  Elinor is 8 and is just now beginning to practice by herself, sometimes. 

8.  True learning is a solitary affair.  For young children, company in practice is comforting and necessary.  That is wonderful, to a certain point.  But real learning requires a great deal of concentration and focus.  You may need a guide to point you in the right direction, but no one can walk the path for you. Group think is completely worthless on the piano bench.  You just need to buckle down and put in the time and the effort.     

9.  You reap what you sow.  It is impressive to see a youngster sit down and play a beautiful, flawless piece.  But that 1 to 5 minute performance took hours and hours and hours of practice.  You will get rewards based upon where you put your energies.  Don't expect to have what someone else  has if you don't want to do what they do.

10.  The thinking about it is almost always worse than just doing it.  More than once I have dragged one of my own kicking and screaming children to the piano bench with the command to "PRACTICE NOW!"  There have been tears and declarations of how mean I am and questions as to why I torment my own children.  And then, miraculously, not ten minutes later the child is calmly playing a beautiful piece of music and speaking aloud the words, "Sometimes I think I don't want to practice, but once I start doing it I actually enjoy it."

 These are my life lessons from a piano mom.  I suppose they are basically all variations on a theme of 'practice'.   It has been a great blessing for me to teach so many kids piano lessons.  I have learned so much from them and I enjoy each young person with so many personalities and different learning styles.  It is a thrill for me to try to figure out how their minds work and what motivates them.  Thank you to my students and their families!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where I've Been

I looked at my blog today and realized I haven't written since Sunday!  I know it's not that long, but I enjoy writing and find it very theraputic, so why haven't I written this week?  Here is what I've been up to instead of blogging:

To begin with there is soccer, football and dance.  Lots and lots of soccer, football, and dance.  Not for myself, mind you.  So much in fact that I don't wish to discuss soccer, football and dance anymore.  Except to say that my children are losing most of their games, but since I don't care--- I don't care.

Next, I usually blog at night after the kids have gone to bed, but we are reading aloud a great book right now, The Giver.  We have been staying up too late to read and then I'm ready for bed with no thought or energy left to blog.

I am just about done nursing George (yippee!) and so there is now space in my mind and schedule to focus some energy on getting into better shape.  Now, this goes against my policy of never announcing publicly that I am going to try to lose weight.  Because then everyone knows and watches to see if you are getting thinner or if in fact you just lack discipline and will power.  Now I'm not in junior high anymore and I know no one is actually looking at me, but still.  I want to lose weight.  There.  I said it.  In the future, please don't ask me how it is going.  The results (if there are any) will be clearly manifest.  And if there are no results, I would rather you didn't remind me of it.

But the point of that whole last paragraph is that I have been doing some extra exercise in the evenings in addition to my morning walking.  It's not just the time that extra exercise takes, but the mental state of mind I must maintain to actually execute it.  I haven't been thinking much about my blog, because I've been focusing my thoughts on how, when, and what I'm going to do for my exercise.

And last, but not least, I have been watching a show in the evenings.  I've mentioned it before, but it is a BBC miniseries called Lark Rise to Candleford that we get on DVD from Netflix.  What can I say?  I love it.  It is charming.  It is clean as a whistle.  It is delightful.  It has beautiful people in it who speak with beautiful accents.  There are love stories and I am way too attached to the characters. One particular story line is very upsetting to me (in a painfully dramatic, first love kind of way) and I cannot get it out of my mind.  I thought about it all during my piano lessons today.

The best part---Abe will watch it with me!!  And he is upstairs right now waiting to watch it with me!!  OH JOY!!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011


A good friend recently introduced me to Zumba.  It is a fitness craze, that at its most basic, is aerobic dancing to Latin music.  There is a lot of hip action and shaking of parts that I usually try to keep from flopping about.  It is a lot of fun and energizing and, most importantly, it doesn't feel like torturous boring exercise.  I become a dancer-- and a South American, hip shaking, hottie.

At least that is how I feel.

But apparently, it is very much NOT how I look.  My children are horrified to see me doing Zumba.  Bethany pointed out that my body really wasn't made to do Zumba. Rude.
It is so disturbing to Clark that he cannot be anywhere near me.  I'm pretty sure no 12 year old boy wants to see his mother dancing the salsa, but he keeps saying, "Mom, you really don't  have to do this.  You don't need Zumba in your life."

Yes, I do need Zumba in my life.  Do you see what I do all day, every day?  Oh, yes, I do need Zumba.  Can you give me that?  Can you give me a half an hour here and there to shake my thing and imagine?

Oh, and by the way, children, you should stay away from me or you might see how much fun I'm having and you won't be able to stop yourself and you'll have to join in too.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tis the Season

I packed a big bag of water bottles and snacks and we headed off to the soccer fields early this morning for back to back to back games for Elinor, Cannon, and Faith.  Meanwhile, Abe and Clark headed off to Clark's football game.  Tis the season for fall sports!

I think there should be a child psychology study done based solely on observations from a Pre-K soccer game.  What does the young players behavior on the soccer field predict about their future relationships and jobs and such.
Cannon really liked being close by and talking to and touching his coaches.  He's a pretty communicative,  touchy, affectionate little guy, but I didn't realize just how much he likes to be close to people.  And not so much the other kids, but the adults.
He likes his coaches.
But I guess he's not the only one who likes the coaches.  Cannon is sitting in his lap.  It's not just his own coaches that Cannon liked talking to-- he was happy to talk to the other team's coach and the refs as well.  Funny boy.  It did shed some light on his behavior at home, in that for so long he has been so demanding of me and my attention.  It's not just my imagination, he really does have a high need for interaction.
But this little one certainly doesn't require much, but she gives out a lot of love!  She is surprisingly quick and agile on the field.
 Georgie is so happy to be out in the sunshine eating his goldfish.  

The soccer season is quite short-- less than one month from beginning to end.  But that means 2 games per child per week.  That equates to six soccer games per week-- 24 soccer games in 4 weeks.  That is more soccer than I really care to sit through in a month, but it's only one month and I can do anything for a month.  
And there are some darling benefits.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Elinor and I are working hard to understand one another this school year.  She is not a fighter, and so if she doesn't want to do something she rarely takes an oppositional stance.  There is no arguing, no yelling or crying.  She simply and silently goes and does something else.  She goes in slow motion and when under duress suddenly must go use the bathroom.  Consequently it is taking her many hours to get her school work done.

But eventually I will track her down and insist that she sit down (and stay put) and do her school work.  She has been more elusive than usual this week, so she had a bit of school work to catch up on today.  It was an exercise in patience for both of us.

 Which brings me to my top five "favorite" techniques my people use to express their frustration with me and let me know that I am causing them discomfort.  How dare I?  

1.  The eye-roll.  Classic.  
2.  The long, deep sigh. 
3.  A seeming lack of ability to sit up straight and instead turning into noodle body or noodle fingers.
4.  Sudden and severe hearing loss.  Is it possible that they really didn't hear me?  NO, it is not.
5.  Silly playing, teasing, tickling, poking and wrestling with a sibling while they are suppose to be focusing on school work.

And I can understand where they are coming from.  I know school work is not the most enjoyable thing to do.  I am really trying to instill the idea that if you focus and get your work done first, then you can more fully enjoy your play time later.  But sometimes they get past me and something like this is the result.  Clark created this "Rough Rider".  The rider is tied in with ropes and the laundry basket works like a helmet.

And then the Rough Rider is pushed at top speed across the bumpy lawn.  That is fun--
And I wonder why they keep escaping outside.  As much as I don't love the cold weather of Winter, it is easier to keep track of the kiddos.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let's Play

"What do you think, coach?  Yeah, I think we can take the green team."

Cannon had his first soccer game this week.  It was hilarious-- just as we expected.  Is it ridiculous for a three year old to play soccer?  Do I even need to ask that question?

Of course it is ridiculous!!!  But since Bethany is dancing 3 days a week and Clark has football 4 days a week and Elinor and Faith are both playing soccer--- I figured we were already going to be out and about every evening.  Why not let the little guy play?  After all, he's got more energy to burn than the rest of the kids combined!  
And he was so darn cute-- with his pants tied really really tight so they wouldn't fall off. 
Elinor's team has two big changes this year-- it is girls only and they play on a full size field.  "No wonder I was so tired!"
We did our younger kids' book club this week.  We read Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling.  It is a biography of Harriet Tubman.  We don't usually read biographies, but it was a great read.   And there were lots of great ideas for games.
Did you know Harriet Tubman served in the Northern army during the Civil War?  We had army crawl races.  Here are the girls.
The final race with the winners from the boys' and girls' races.  Pretty good action shot, huh?
 And a variation on the game of tag is always good.  This one was slaves and patrollers which is very akin to cops and robbers. 
A yard full of happy children running around and playing makes me very happy.  It is such a refreshing alternative to... say... a house full of cranky, crying, fighting children.
Not that we ever have any of those at our house.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Worth It

Last Wednesday I was rushing around the house packing my bag for a trip to St. George with our book club friends.

And I wasn't very happy.

There was a lot of work to do to get ready.  I thought to myself, "Why am I doubling my workload, just so I can leave the comforts and convenience of home for three days so that I can come home to double my workload when I get home to get life back to normal?"

Once we were all ready to go on Thursday I was quite tired and thinking-- is this worth it?  Why do we even bother to have fun?  It is so much work!  Then the car wouldn't start because the battery was dead.  The trip was not getting off to a good start.

But then we got there.   And I forgot the stress and hassle of getting to that point.  Any work it took to prepare for the the time we spent this weekend was COMPLETELY worth it!

We had such a marvelous time doing such a variety of activities.  I'm going to put up a whole bunch of pictures so that in the future when I am dreading getting my family ready for a trip I can refer to this post to remind myself THAT IT IS WORTH THE WORK for the opportunity for my family to build such wonderful memories.
There was so much swimming.  There was an indoor pool and an outdoor pool at the house we stayed at.  Swimming in the morning, afternoon, evening.  A lot of clothing and towels strewn about, but no matter.  No need to wash or comb anybody's hair.
The weather was beautiful-- very warm but not too hot.
LIZARD HUNTING for hours on end.  
They probably caught more than thirty.  Most of them were released back into the wild.  But not all of them.  Lucky us.
They hoped to catch the "big one", and they got close, but they just caught the tail and the rest of the lizard got away.
MORNING YOGA with our professional yoga instructor.
Loving the DOMESTIC MEN doing the cooking, baby care, and dishes.
The PING-PONG tournament.  I love ping-pong and I don't want to brag or anything... but I'm pretty good.  Or at least I thought I was, and yet I got beat a lot.  But it was really fun.  I think I need more ping-pong in my life. 
FOOSBALL was fun, but not as fun as ping-pong.  But, come on-- does it really take any skill to be good at foosball?
One of our families moved to San Diego last year and the daughter missed out on celebrating birthdays with friends, so we had a group BIRTHDAY PARTY.
RENAISSANCE DANCING.  Fun for old and young!
FAITH and A.
I'd like to introduce you to my future son-in-law. 
They were dance partners. 
ZUMBA in the morning with our professional Zumba instructor.  Note to self:  get some Zumba DVDs from the library this week.
PUTTING on the green.
An adventure through a SLOT CANYON.
Cannon was the littlest adventurer.
REPELLING.  Abe and I aren't very big outdoorsy/adventure parents.  So we were very grateful to have friends share the opportunity with our kids.
He was cute and snuggly all weekend.  And since I didn't have laundry, dishes, cooking, etc-- I got to snuggy with him a lot.
Time for FRIENDS who have played together since they were 3 and 4 years old.
And looking forward to wonderful relationships in the future!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Make Way For Ducklings

Do you know the children's book, Make Way For Ducklings?  Mrs. Mallard has 8 ducklings and she teaches them everything they need to know about being ducks.  She proudly waddles along through the streets of Boston as her fine feathered offspring dutifully follow behind.

We drove to St. George yesterday for a retreat with our book club friends (more on that later).  We made a couple of stops at gas stations for leg stretching and potty breaks.  I felt very much like Mrs. Mallard as I led my brood of well behaved little darlings through the aisles of the gas station convenience store to the back to find the restrooms. 

The trip got off to a very slow start yesterday.  We planned to leave at 1:00, and as you may know, when we plan to leave on a trip at 1:00--- it is possible that we might not get off until 1:15, but it will be with a great deal of shame that we didn't leave at 1:00.  If nothing else, we are punctual. 

As all 8 of us were strapped in our seats and ready to go, Abe tried to turn the key and... nothing.
Dead battery from leaving the car doors open so much.  We attempted a jump start with Abe's car and still nothing.  Blah.  Long story short, we called a guy to come fiddle with the battery and jump it with a magical box.  Hooray!  Three hours later we were on the road for a very uneventful drive down to play with our friends. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Fun Stuff of Homeschool

Last week we had our first Kids' Book Club for the 2011-2012 school year.  We have two book groups this year--- the 8-11 year old group and the 12 and up group.  The older group is the first Tuesday of the month and the younger is the third Tuesday.  The younger group will function very much like it has for the past two years, and will contain many of the younger siblings of the original group.  The older group will be heavier on the book discussion, but still have some fun as well.  Also the older kids will take turns leading the discussion and planning the games.  I've become quite attached to these kids and am so happy to have a few newbies joining us this year.

We read Across Five Aprils, a historical fiction about a farm boy in Southern Illinois during the Civil War.  We always read the book club books aloud and Clark and I really enjoyed it.  I think it was a little above the girls, but I purposely picked books that would be a bit more challenging for the older kids.  Clark was in charge of planning the game and a rousing game of capture the flag seemed the obvious choice.  They used the whole yard-- front and back and of course the teams were the North and the South.  Generals were chosen to head up the teams' strategies.
  The Rebs.  A formidable opponent.  Even though the boy in the white shirt is obviously the only one who knows how to stand at attention for a photograph.  He better know--his older brother is in the military.
The Union soldiers.  We had the numbers, but we we definitely lacked the speed of our countrymen to the South.  I don't know what overcame me when I requested if there was a spot for me to play as well.  What was I thinking?  It was really fun, but I am embarrassed to say that I was super sore for the next three days.  I tried some very gutsy maneuvers, got caught every time and went to jail more than anyone else.  And then when I was guarding our flag it was stolen and the South won the war.  Oops.  I guess I won't be invited to participate again.  Besides, I did trash talk some of the kids.
Another fun thing the girls are doing this year is "Lady Bug Dinner Club".  It is so simple, but I think it will be a wonderful thing for Bethany and Elinor.  We just got a few of our home school friends together for a once a month dinner club.  There are 8 girls in the club, but a couple are missing in this picture.  The idea is for each girl to have a turn planning and preparing a yummy dinner and hosting a dinner for her friends.  It's just once a month and the great thing is that it won't take much work for the moms to do-- just a dinner once a year and then the girls get to rotate around to the other houses for the rest of the year.  After dinner the girls can stay and play games for a while. 

I love activities that are simple, but are very useful in many areas-- this covers learning to cook, hosting a dinner party, practicing good manners, time spent with mom planning and preparing the meal, and fun time with good friends.  That is my kind of activity.
Bethany was our first host and she prepared turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy.  Why start small?
For a few years now I have had groups of kids playing over at my house.  Sometimes they have been all boy groups.  Much of the time they have been mixed--boys and girls-- because Clark and Bethany are so close in age (only 20 months).  But I haven't had too many times with just girls.  And let me just say that it was D-E-L-I-G-H-T-F-U-L!!!!!  Talk about cooperative, nurturing play.  As I washed the dishes I looked out the kitchen window and I loved watching the older girls grab the hands of the younger ones and run off together.  They played the same games as the boys--capture the flag, cops and robbers and such, but with a very different end goal.  For the boys it is ALL about winning and every man for himself.  The girls were so darling as they whispered to each other their plans and screamed with excitement.  They were having so much fun it made me wish I could go out and play with them.  But then I remembered I was almost incapacitated after the last game of capture the flag.  I decided to just wash my dishes. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later

Yesterday Sandy City unveiled the "Hope Rising Memorial" in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.   We didn't have much time yesterday but we felt it was important to take the kids to see it and to see the Healing Field.
I knew that there was one flag for each person who died in the attacks, but I hadn't realized there would be tags on many of the flags with details about each person.  It was very moving.  I wish we had taken more time to wander through the field.
This weekend we had Clark and Bethany watch a you-tube video about 9/11.  I had not realized that they had never seen footage of the towers being hit and fallen.  Perhaps that was a good thing since they were so young.  The only real connection Clark had was a children's picture book about a Frenchman who walked on a high wire between the two towers back in the 1970's.  It was time for a little more detail.

Ten years ago on 9/11 our little family was in a hotel room in Orlando, FL.  We woke up turned on the TV and the first tower had been hit.  It was so sad.  What had happened?  Then the second plane hit and it was shocking.  What was going on?  When the Pentagon was hit I felt real fear.  We were away from home and the country was being attacked.  Were we in a war?  Where would it end?  What else would be hit?   They grounded all the planes in the country.  When would we be able to go home?  I wanted to just rent a car and drive home rather than waiting to be able to fly home.  I was scared to fly. We went to eat at an Olive Garden the night of 9/11.  The entire restaurant was hushed.  People solemnly whispered, asking who had done this to us? 

After several extra days stranded in Florida, I was so happy to finally come home to Utah.  I admit I felt much safer here, protected by the Wasatch Mountains than I did on the East coast.  I was grateful to see my family and my neighbors and ward members.  There are several reasons that I don't particularly like traveling.  I know much of it has to do with my stage of life with lots of little people and lack of extra cash for such activities.  But I wonder if some of my travel anxieties stem from September 11th?

As we've watched some 9/11 special memorials on TV this weekend and heard stories of many of the heroes of the day, I am so impressed by the efforts and sacrifice of so many.  There is much bad in the world, but there is more good.  So many who did what needed to be done.
Today I think how thankful I am for my country and my family and my friends.  I will think of the gratitude I have for so many who daily put their lives on the line so that I can enjoy these blessings.