Sunday, June 22, 2014

Running on Empty . . .

It's been a little crazy around here for the last month or so . . .

My first piping competition was May 17th and you read how much fun that was  :-) 

The second competition was May 25 at the Alma, Michigan games.  I had to play both my marches there - and they were both train wrecks.  Again.  And it was hot.  Really hot.  And I had to play for the same judge I flamed out in front of the week before at Springfield.  (Pretty sure he thinks I'm talentless.  Oh well.)  I made a couple of mistakes on my Piobaireachd, but placed fourth in my grade, so was really happy for that, and the judge's comments were really encouraging. 

Once again - mistakes in my tunes were my main downfall - and that all comes back to memorization. 

The next two weekends were taken up with African violet-related events.  First, the national convention, which was held in Nashville this year, and then the next weekend, the Illinois state show, which was held in Urbana.  That event marked the last of my responsibilities with IAVS.  I stepped down as newsletter editor in November of last year, and now am no longer the vice president of the organization.  It's best for me - I really needed a break there.

Then I went to piping school this last week.  The Midwest Pipe Band Association sponsored a school.  Ken "The Captain" Eller was the piping instructor and Doug Stronach was the drumming instructor. I suppose it wasn't the best for the Association because the enrollment was low, but it was wonderful for the students because there were only three pipers and three drummers.  It was amazing - pretty much like getting private tuition for the whole week from Ken Eller. Wow! 

I can't believe how fast the week went.  Interestingly enough, I was the most advanced piper, which is quite a switch for me.  I learned so much from Ken - and interestingly enough, a lot of it was stuff I knew from my teacher, Ian, but hadn't been able to internalize yet for whatever reason.  It clearly seems to make a difference to have in-person face time with your instructor.  I'm looking forward to some of that in July when I attend Ian's school, Piping in Paradise.

I was very tired by the end of the week, and it didn't help that I tripped on Tuesday, going into the parking structure on campus and fell over.  I thought my hand (my dominant hand) was broken - it hurt so terribly, but thankfully it was only a sprain and I'm left with this horrible bruise.  I was still able to compete on Saturday, and it only hurts when I move it a certain way - so I'm not moving it that way  :-D

And speaking of competing yesterday  - I played both my marches the best I have ever played them!  Yay me!!  I can say with confidence that they were NOT train wrecks this time, and my score sheets moved up in level from one to two, so that made me really happy and was a great accomplishment!!

My Piobaireachd has gone pretty well all three times.  Best the first time, in Springfield, where I medalled in 2nd place, but I placed fourth in Alma (made some mistakes I didn't make in Springfield  :-S), and 6th on Saturday at the Chicago Games.  I think I might have placed a little higher on Saturday, except that I lost both my tenor drones.  I have no idea why and will have to ask Ian about it.  I heard the middle tenor pop part way through the Ground, and then the outside tenor went at the First Variation.  I panicked, but I kept playing.  I didn't know if there was a way to get them to cut back in - I tried easing up on the bag, but that was going to cause another problem, so I just kept going with only my bass drone.  If you quit, you're marked as "BD" which means "broke down," and I didn't want to do that - you're supposed to just plow through however you can if something goes wrong, so I did.  I didn't expect to get anything after that, so was quite thrilled to place 6th, bruised hand, no tenors, and all  :-D

It was nice to feel like I am finally making some progress with these marches  :-) 

Today was a total recovery day - in my jams and curled up in the sunroom most of the day - I really felt like I was on empty, that's for sure.  But I'll be ready to go back to work tomorrow and get back into the rhythm of my regular life.  Food-wise, that will be a relief.  We ate in the college cafeteria this past week, and when you're at the Highland Games, it's pretty much the law that you have to eat some Scottish junk food and drink a beer and a cider or two  :-D   Let's just say that the food choices this week were not ideal and I didn't make the best ones . . . My focus for the rest of the summer is getting smaller again.  I can no longer blame the extra pounds on what my friend, Linda the Chicken Lady called the "Soul-Sucking" Winter that we had.  The chill has lingered far into the spring.  And speaking of Linda the Chicken Lady, I'm sure going to miss her when she moves to California later this year.

Alrighty then, time to look for something for a late dinner, and figure out what my Monday is going to look like.  This recovery day went a long way toward recharging my running on empty body :-)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Like a Room Without a Roof . . .

Yesterday was my first competition as a solo piper.  I competed in the lowest solo grade, which is Grade 4, for both light music and Piobaireachd.  That's pronounced p-brock.  I don't know why it has so many letters to just say p-brock. :-D

Light music - Piobaireachd - What's the difference?  Well, light music is what you probably think of when you think of pipe bands and parades.  Piobaireachd is long and involved and entails multiple variations on a ground (or theme).

For Grade 4 for light music, you get to play a 2/4 March, a 6/8 March and in one competition a Slow Aire.  And for Piobaireachd, you play only the ground and first variation.

My first Highland Games as a competitor was in Springfield, Illinois on May 17, 2014, and I played my Piobaireachd (MacKenzie of Applecross Salute) and my 2/4 March (Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque).

It was unseasonably cold in Springfield yesterday.  I mean it was 38 degrees in the morning when I played.  It warmed up to the high 50s/low 60s later in the day, but whenever the sun ducked behind the clouds, it was COLD.  I have to say that I was grateful, however, because sweating in five pounds of wool will most likely be the norm for the rest of the summer.

I was all alone - which was a little bit daunting.  I tuned and retuned, and then just before I played my Piobaireachd, I frantically tuned again.  My pipes are generally pretty good at staying in tune - once they lock in, they pretty much stay there, but I've never played outside in the cold before, and there were pipers everywhere, playing every tune imaginable - it was hard to hear and hard to concentrate.  My reed was squealing and I don't know how that happens!  Guess I will be talking with my instructor on Tuesday about it - because I don't even know what I could have done to correct it.

At any rate, I do know how to tune my pipes, which is a very good thing, because you know, contrary to popular belief, you DO tune them.  I have had to learn to do it myself this last year, because my teacher, Ian, is in Southern California, and FaceTime is not the same as in person in this instance.  When I was playing in SoCal, I relied on him for tuning.  Not anymore.  I know how to do it myself, even if it takes me a few tries.  I looked around for someone who might be able to help me, but everyone was busy with their own students and band members, so I did the best I could and hoped for the best  :-)

First up was P-brock - I thought it went pretty well.  I was nervous, though, because for weeks I had been playing the opening line of the ground incorrectly.  I had practiced it to death this past week, but I was still nervous about it.  I made a couple of small errors, but overall, I thought it went pretty well.  The judge spoke to me after and pointed out a couple of areas where I can improve.  He was really nice and he said that I had done a very good job with what he said is a very challenging tune for Grade 4.

Then, almost immediately, it was time for my 2/4 March.  Two words:

Train. Wreck.

And I mean a nasty train wreck.  Things went south in the third part - and completely pear-shaped on the repeat of the third part.  You would have thought I had never played it before.  It was bad.  Really bad.  I was glad my teacher was not there.  And glad this judge didn't ask me who my teacher was.

So - I chalked it up to experience.  It was my first time, after all, and the fact that it was about 38 degrees didn't help me.  I'm working this week on trying to figure out what went wrong so I can fix it for this coming weekend, at the Alma Highland Games.

I went back to the car and got my foldy chair, and went off in search of my friend, Paula (of Knitting Pipeline fame - a great audio podcast!!), and her band, Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums, from Peoria, Illinois.  Great pipers and great people - I had a wonderful afternoon with them, and it was so great to finally meet Paula in person, as I have listened to her podcast for awhile now.  They really adopted me and I had such fun hanging out with them all day!  Seriously, they could not have been more welcoming and friendly.  It was so nice to not feel completely alone  :-) 

Here I am with Paula and Kevin (he's the announcer of Paula's podcast!)

See that red ribbon around my neck?  :-)  

Around lunch time I went to find out the results and get my two judging sheets so I would have the judges' comments.  No surprise on the 2/4 March, but I was absolutely thrilled to take second place in Grade 4 Piobaireachd ==:-O

The traditional piping attire is not particularly flattering to my body shape, but I can tell you that mine was not the largest posterior in plaid yesterday (which I have to confess was quite a relief to me).

I was really hoping that the judge from my 2/4 March would have seen me walking around with my ribbon so he would know that I'm a better piper than I presented to him  :-D

It was an all around excellent day, except that OMG ghillie brogues are the most uncomfortable shoes ever.  From now, on, I'm making sure to have my tennis shoes with me for after competition.  I don't care how stupid it looks - my feet were really sore this morning, giving me visions of plantar fasciitis again.  Yeah, no - that's not happening here again, so tennies it is after competion!

So many times in the last month I have seriously questioned why I decided to compete - and so many times I wondered if perhaps I had made a serious mistake.  I was worried about embarrassing myself, and my teacher.  But, I survived and I proved to myself that I can do this.  I can make mistakes and keep moving forward.  How huge is that?!  Really huge.  I mean, am I the only person who when she fails at simething has walked away?  Well, I flamed out pretty royally yesterday on my 2/4 March, but I kept going.  I kept telling myself, "find a note, A., just find a note and pick it back up."  I didn't break down -I kept going even though it wasn't pretty, and you know, I have to give myself props for that.

When I started piping again seriously last May, I knew that I was playing again because I truly love piping.  There is such joy in it for me - I can get lost for hours on my practice chanter for heaven's sake  :-D  I wanted to be a better than adequate piper, and I knew that competing was the best way to do that - to have goals to work toward.  So, after this first competition, I feel like I can really say that yes, I am a piper - and I'm well on the road to better than adequate.  Yay, Me!

New experiences - new friends - really, a very wonderful and happy day, and yeah, I pretty much feel like a room without a roof  :-)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Memory . . .

One of the projects I've had on the back burner forever, is that of scanning old family photos.  For some reason, today seemed to be the day to start . . . When my mom died, she had probably 10 boxes of photos.  Some are labeled, some are not.  The scanner is crabby and I'm really thinking about getting a new one because probably only one out of every 10 scanned properly - and the rest were cut off somehow.  Bothersome.

At any rate, as I was getting started sorting things into decades (which is pretty much all I can really do - some have dates, some do not), I found an airline ticket jacket.  I wondered what trip it had been from, and as I opened it up, I realized that my mom had kept this:

You might want to click on it to biggify, and when you do, you'll see that this was my mom's ticket from Boston to D.C., on September 11th.

Yes, that September 11th.

I was living in Southern California at the time, and I remember that the phone rang quite early, and  my then husband came toward my office with phone in hand calling to me to go downstairs right away and turn on the telly.  I was halfway down the stairs, and called back up to him, "what channel?" and he said, "it doesn't matter."

We watched the second tower fall.  It didn't look real.  My ex-husband was a visual effects artist in the television industry, and scenes like what we were witnessing were very much like the types of scenes he created digitally.  But seeing the tower fall was real - right before our eyes. 

As the story became clearer, I realized that my mom was flying from Boston that morning - heading to Washington, D.C.  Hers was not one of the highjacked flights, but even so, I was frantic.  My ex-husband was on the phone with United airlines - I don't know how he even managed to get a human being to talk to, but he was able to find out that my mom's flight had not taken off.  But that was all they would tell him.  I didn't know if my mom had boarded and was on the plane.  I was afraid that maybe she and the rest of the passengers on that flight were being held hostage on the ground.  She was traveling with a friend, and I started calling the numbers and leaving messages.  It was hours before she finally called me, from Wooster, Massachusetts, where her friend's sister lived.

She had checked in at the airport, checked her bag, and made her way to the gate - and by the time she got to the gate, the terrorist attacks had happened.  She was turned away at the gate and never boarded her flight.  She said it took a long time to get out of the airport - I don't remember if she got her luggage that day or not - I think not.

She was grounded in Massachusetts and she wanted desperately to get back to Chicago.  She couldn't get a train or a rental car, and after a few days - rather than waiting any longer - she took a Greyhound bus home.  It wasn't a good trip, and my cousin's dad was supposed to pick her up, but he missed her somehow.  I got a call - at work - from the Chicago Police Department that they had my mom there.  She was walking around at the front of the bus station - which is not in a great area - and finally saw two police officers.  She went up to them, announced that her nephew was a Chicago Police Officer, and would they please take her to the main police station.  They did.  And called me.  I don't remember anymore how I managed to get that straightened out when I was all the way across the country, but I did.

I was surprised that she kept this ticket - she kept the Expedia paperwork, too.  There's a note on it that says "Cancelled    9-11-01    $362.58    Deborah." 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A New Day . . .

Even as I have let things go, I still find myself running to catch up. 

I feel like I'm stuck in a time warp - a Groundhog Day loop of getting it all right for a day and then watching it all come crashing down, only to start over again.  I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing.  It's a bit irritating, but it is kind of nice to get the chance - over and over - to get it right.

Get what right?  Get food right.  Get practice right.  I fight so hard to be perfect when I know that it is pretty much completely counter-productive to any form of success.  And still, I fight for it over and over . . . and then I slide down the slope - I skip a practice when I know I have less than a month before I compete, or I eat something not best for me, or too much of something else because, you know, it's a celebratory occasion . . . Really?   Really?

And then, finding myself like Sisyphus, at the bottom of the hill, I start again.  You would think I would have it all figured out by midlife, wouldn't you?  Um . . . yeah, no.  And so, every day, I work to be gentle with myself, and I work to listen to my body, and I work to create an atmosphere of success and openness where I can flourish. 

And as I am working my way back up the hill, I wonder if other people struggle the way I do . . .

Do they have to catalog every bite that goes in to their mouth?  Every step they take?  Do they have to practice constantly to get errant fingers to cooperate?  Do they have to start over every effing day?  And what if they do?  Their story is not mine.  And so I work to stop comparing myself to others . . . I mean, really, it's neverending, this business of letting go. 

I read somewhere once that if we took everyone's troubles and struggles out and put them in a basket for all to choose, that we would each still choose our own - because, you know, the devil you know is always better than the one you don't.  I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life thus far - and I have been good at many things, successful at many things far beyond what I could have ever dreamed.  That I have been struggling with two things I'm not quite as good at, is really no surprise - the surprise is that I chose these things.  In the past, I was never willing to fail the requisite number of times to succeed - and so I chose only things I was good at - things that came easily to me.

That I'm struggling so mightily now seems important somehow - that wherever I get and whatever progress I make is somehow sweeter because I am having to fight mightily for it.  And in the grand scheme of things, is it really that devastating that I have a the same spare tire (very common in middle age when our bodies often change shape) around my middle that my mom had?  And if I never get out of Grade 4 as a piper, will the Universe collapse?  No, certainly not  :-)

Time marches on - and these things are only important to me - they have no greater impact outside my sphere of existence.  And truth be told, I'm sure most would find them petty concerns - and yet, they are mine and are important to me.  But even as I struggle, I am grateful for every day, because I believe I will have many days to come to get it all "right."  Many days, where others may not . . . and yet, tomorrow is promised to no one, so I had best get cracking here - it is, after all, a new day.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let It Go . . .

I have often bitten off more than I can chew . . .

I have continued to downsize not only in my home, but also where and how I expend my energy and time.  For seven years I have been nominally "in charge" of what we call Church Lady Knitting.  It's not like it's a big job, but it's time for me to step down and for someone else to step up.  I have a hard time with stuff like this, even when I know it's the right thing to do.

I was thinking this morning about all the things I have let go in the past six months or so . . . In November I stepped down as the newsletter editor for the Illinois African Violet Society.  In December, I stopped regular production on my podcast, All About African Violets.  At the end of December the Year of Stash Socks group that I co-moderated on Ravelry retired.  Now I have given up Church Lady Knitting, and in early June, I will step down as VP of the Illinois violet society.

I also gave up - about a month ago - being strictly ovo-pescetarian.  While it was exactly what I needed for my health, over the long term it became unsustainable for me.  The fact that we had the most brutal winter since I was a kid, certainly didn't help.  But I got the go-ahead to add meat back in once a week.  I don't always have some every week (I didn't last week), but I really like it when I have it.  I still follow the "rules" of the Strict Program for Three Months, but I get to have meat now.  So - pretty much now we're talking about the Mediterranean Diet, which really makes everything a whole lot easier in my life.

 I'm going to let another thing go - Project Zero.  I originally planned for it to just be the last three months of the year, and although it continues on Ravelry, I have realized that here on the blog, it's really not where I want to be directing my energy.  I continue to finish up knitting projects as I can - but spinning has taken a back seat since last July and Tour de Fleece.  It's not gone forever, just resting for now. Many of the remaining goals on my reserve list pertain to spinning.  They will get done - just not anytime soon  :-)

So - all this letting go . . .

Clearly I am still being led to open myself up for whatever is coming next.  I still have no true idea of what it is, but it looks more and more like it's piping.  I continue to spend nearly all of my available time practicing.  In fact, when I'm not working I think I'm either practicing, thinking about practicing, writing about practicing, listening over and over to the MP3s of my teacher playing my competition tunes, or dreaming about practicing.  In for a penny, in for a pound - this morning, when I woke up at 3 a.m. to pee, I realized I was running my 2/4 march in my head.  :-D   OMG Seriously!

Nearly all my Highland gear has arrived.  I have a few more things to  do - like change out my drone cords and personalize my pipe case (there will be a million just like it at every Highland Games this summer), but I think I'm in the groove now.  Another piper friend turned me on to a book called The Musician's Way.  So far, it's awesome, awesome, awesome and it's really helping me.

I love piping.  I always have.  This last year is the first time I have ever had any desire to compete - I'm holding on for the ride and seeing where it takes me.  I'm focused on what I need to accomplish in the next 6 1/2 weeks, and I'm letting go of all that might hold me back . . .   

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Small World, Isn't It?

On Saturday I had a friend over and we had a really enjoyable afternoon.  There's nothing particularly noteworthy about having a friend over . . . but there is an interesting story to this particular visit.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a handwritten note in the mail.  Well, I love getting personal mail - who doesn't?!  However, this was addressed to me using my first name - which I have not used for more than 30 years.  Anyone who knows me well enough to send me a hand-written note knows that.

I looked at the return address but did not recognize the name - but the address was on my block.

Curiouser and curiouser . . .

I opened it up and it said that if I was the same person who had lived on a certain street in a certain town back in the day, I should please call the writer because I would be surprised to know who my neighbor on the corner is!

Well, I was that person who lived on that street in that town - the note was from D, a childhood friend!  She and her sister and I were thick as thieves when we were kids - until I moved away to California in one of my mom's semi-regular moves.

What a wonderful afternoon we had catching up - sharing old photos and memories, and finding our footing toward friendship again - this time as adults in mid-life.  It really was a wonderful afternoon - and how crazy is it that - once again - we live two houses away from each other.   :-)

In other news of the weekend, I managed to finish my kilt hose (which is important because I'm going to have to wear them next month  :-) ), so finally a finished object to share!

The pattern is Shrimpie's Kilthose.  The yarn is Neighborhood Fiber Co's Studio Worsted (which is awesome yarn).  I probably could have gone one more 8-row pattern repeat on each leg, but they are OK  :-)

The laundry is done and it's time to hit the hay - here's a memory from Gypsy  :-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Must have a Screw Loose . . .

As the piping competition season draws ever closer, I have begun to wonder if I have lost what little mind I have left.  A crisis of conscious, as it were.  I mean, really - I'm starting to question what made me think I could memorize these three pipe tunes.  For a woman who used to memorize pages and pages of script, and countless musical numbers, the fact that I am struggling mightily to memorize these tunes is disturbing.  At least one of them I have been working on since last May . . .

I have spent an obscene amount of money on the highland attire I have to wear to compete, and some of it has to be custom made.  That I put on about 15 pounds over the brutal winter is NOT a good thing and must be remedied as quickly as possible.  I'm on that, though, so I'm not worried there.

And on top of everything else, my pipes are not really cooperating right now, which makes everything pretty tough.

I have a phenomenal teacher.  He pushes me to accomplish stuff I think sometimes that I cannot do.  And right now, I'm not sure I can memorize these tunes . . . this from the woman who has always believed she could do anything if she tried hard enough.  Well, in my heart of hearts I do still believe that, but man - at this juncture, with seven weeks to go until the first competition, I am a little panicked.  I really have my work cut out for me. . .

If anyone would care to help me set this intention and affirm my success, I would be grateful:  I memorize pipe tunes easily, quickly and accurately.