Saturday, August 6, 2011

Supporting local festivals

I live in a community where summertime means some great festivals. There are many people who work tirelessly to present events for all citizens and visitors to enjoy. I'm lucky enough to be behind the scenes for one festival, and to be connected to other organizations that present other festivals.

In the past couple of days I've read many tweets and a few blogs that give tips for enjoying festivals on a budget. While these are good tips, I can only hope that people are still aware that the price of beer and food are part of the revenue that makes free concerts possible. Many local vendors contribute their time and food to introduce their service to new customers. Some of the food vendors are also local non-profit organizations that use the revenue from these festivals to provide the services our community needs. These festivals take a lot of dedication and sacrifice by all who are behind the scenes.

If people need to stay on a budget, I can only hope they still consider contributing a small amount of money to the festivals. It truly makes a difference to the balance of things.

There is no such thing as a free party.

#51 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Hocus Pocus -- Focus!

One week to vacation. After tending to new email, I spent most of the day categorizing tasks lists I'm trying to remember from various notes I've recovered, and some I've lost in the the summer shuffle. It's an overwhelming activity, because by the end of two hours, I've collected, reorganized and imagined new tasks to an unreasonable level. Again.

I fight for clarity in my tasks so that I end up choosing the right activities in the right sequence. I fight this feeling of needing to do more than I should have to. I fight for balance between work and family and myself. I fight the sense of urgency to win favor from others. Ultimately, I fight fatigue.

This isn't a new situation. I know I've written about this before. I keep hoping that if I write about it, I will find clarity of purpose.

Today was a pretty bad day mixed with extreme dizziness. Of course this episode comes the day after I cancel an EMG test because I've been feeling better. This is not a good time for me to have this thing; whatever it is. There's too much going on - and I need to be working.

I've got to pull it together. I've got this task list, see? I've got things to do for my family. I'm supposed to be finding time to exercise and eat healthy. I'm not supposed to be spending the precious hours of the day nursing myself.

But a girl's gotta dream, right? At least that's what I got accomplished today.

#50 of 90in90 in LUBlogTribe

Friday, August 5, 2011

Environmental Sounds

If you grow up in a city, you accept traffic noise as part of life. Go to the country for a weekend, and the quiet is unsettling. Same is true in reverse. I grew up in a quiet part of a mid-sized town. First time I slept in New York City, my hotel room was too close to the street.

My home town (Kenosha, Wisconsin) is right on the west side of Lake Michigan. My childhood home was one block away from the lake shore, and less than a mile away from a lighthouse in the harbor. I could see the red flashing light through my bedroom window. The low vibrating hum of the fog horn as vivid to my memory as the photographs in my scrapbooks.

When I moved to Bethlehem, I was encouraged to learn about the Bethlehem Steel plant. I've read a few books on the company, seen hundreds of historic photographs of the blast furnaces and plant workers, watched a couple of documentary films, and heard musical pieces written in homage to the legacy of the people who worked in the Steel.

Tonight, there was a ceremony celebrating a new $250,000 sculptural installation near the former Steel blast furnaces. One minute prior to the inaugural lighting, there was a planned sound of the steam ship whistle that was sounded to announce shift changes at the plant for many years. The former steam ship whistle was taken from the French Luxury liner SS Normandie when it caught fire and sank in the New York Harbor in 1942 while being recommissioned as a troop ship.

The shift changing whistle had to be loud enough to cut through the noise of the production and layers of protective gear for those closest to the heat. That sound should have deafened all of those standing close to the blast furnaces tonight. I was hoping the speaker system would be good enough to replicate not only the sound, but the vibrations of that historic piece of life in Bethlehem. Thinking on it now, it's probably better that the real thing wasn't there. It would have really hurt to be that close.

I hope the soon to be built Visitors Center on the SteelStacks site will have this recording on a some signage with a button to push for the sound. I think a little interactive piece will keep the memory alive in some small way.

But what the recording will not be able to capture is the vibrations in your bones, and the lingering echo of the sound over distance. Splashing against South Mountain, or hanging heavy in summertime humidity, sound gets in you and around you. I would love to see the reaction of some old retired steelworkers as they hear this recording. I'll bet their faces would flood with memory at the tone.

I know mine does every time I go back to the Flicker link above. And my mind immediately floods with other sounds, smells, visions and feelings of my youth. Amazing what a simple sound can trigger.

#49 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My take on town-gown

I work in an elite, private four-year research institution. I'm an arts administrator who has many webs of responsibilities, all toward encouraging folks to develop their own relationship with art, culture and their personal creative process. In order to do that, I connect to the experiences on campus and in the local community. There is no boundary of campus map that limits the connections I see; only driven by the experiences that I believe will communicate between people. As much as I preach, I practice.

When I was a college student, I went to a small liberal arts college with a music conservatory. The school didn't offer summer courses, but after my sophomore year, I decided to stay on campus to earn as much money as I could working on the grounds crew in the day and tending bar at night. I took daily 20 mile bike rides to a nearby state park when I needed to take a break from practicing. The time I spent at Pat's Tap was when I started to make friends with some of the "townies." I think I surprised a few of them with my interest in having conversation with them. I love conversation, especially when I might learn a new perspective about an issue I don't quite understand.

The townies told me a lot about Appleton. They showed me where Harry Houdini and Senator McCarthy were buried. I went to fish boils, I rode my bike around many neighborhoods, willing to get lost and find my way back to campus. Most of the conversations were about nothing important; sports, politics, music, beer. I taught a lot of music appreciation every time someone asked me what instrument I played. It got to where I carried a picture of it in my wallet. You don't often see bassoons.

It was so nice to not talk with my classmates at the conservatory for a while. Musicians can be so insular; and we whine to each other about the long hours and the critical minutia of music theory or counterpoint.

It was in these moments when I learned about relating to people NOT like me, that I felt at home.

Jump back to the present. I get to see the same awakening for some students every year. I think the community forgets that the students never age, but we do. Each year, we have a new group of students who have yet to realize that the community is a place full of wonder and opportunity to find themselves in unfamiliar environments. But it takes a bit of maturity, adventure, and risk to break out of a structured life of classes, clubs, and dormitories. When students rent in apartments near campus; they are still in the structure. Adventures into town are more on a dare. Maybe their posse is going to see what mischief happens in the local pub scene. They are insular. But some are ready to be independent of that structure.

Some students find internships with local organizations or businesses. The begin to interact with people outside of classroom or dorms. The simple conversations of where they are from, their majors, their professors, can easily turn into chats about life in the community; where are the best places to eat, to go on a first date, to escape campus stress... This is where civic engagement takes on a personal meaning for students. This civic engagement can lead to great things for the students; their own value of community.

The university still makes a huge effort to introduce students to the community; to encourage them to become regular customers of local businesses, to experience local culture. But we also need to be patient with the students. When they are ready, they will venture out. Or not. It's still up to them. I only hope they do, as much as I hope they learn how to drink responsibly, eat healthfully, sleep, wash their hands, and learn that the world is not about them.

As I get older, I hear myself starting to sound like the cranky old lady next door. I just hope that I continue to remember the courage it took me to start talking to townies the summer before my 3rd year in college.

#48 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

But I don't want to...

It's August. The last month of summer. The month of cramming in the rest of the summer 2011 bucket list or forever hold the ideas in disappointment. The kids have had a decent summer. Their computer program gave them some chances to see friends and get their geek on. We've had plenty of trips to the pool and various adventures around the Lehigh Valley. I must say, our parks are outstanding.

On the down side, the heat waves chased us inside for a little too much TV. We know they've reached the "too much TV" point when they can recite commercials verbatim. A few years ago, I thought my daughter was brilliant at memorizing lines. "I should get her some auditions in New York." I knew it was only brilliant marketing. The really challenging commercials are the amusement parks. The kids don't yet know how hard a day at the amusement park is on us- in multiple ways. As we are trying to stay on a budget, one day at an amusement park can kill it. They'd be crushed if they were't tall enough for all the rides. Let's not even talk about the damage the amusement park food would do to my digestive system. I keep telling them I didn't get to a Six Flags until I was 12. Four years from now is a half their life time in the future; inconceivable.

One of the many great things about my kids is that they accept my decisions even when they don't like it. They might pout for a minute, but they move on quickly when I tell them, "no." I'm not sure how much longer they will tolerate being dragged to some of my activities. When I have a babysitter who really engages with them, they are in heaven. I'm grateful for the people who come into my kids' lives; teachers, sitters, coaches, relatives and any adult who talks to them (not at them).

Another thing that has luckily happened with my kids is that they go to bed when we tell them. Bedtime routine, even in the summer, isn't a fight. I think it's because when they were babies, they had to learn to self soothe very early. I simply couldn't let them both fall asleep on my shoulder at the same time.

If I could only give myself the gift of going to sleep when I should. Sleep is a gift. Sleep is better than chocolate, good Irish Whiskey, or even sex. Sleep is when I'm not stressing about work, the kids, my husband, the car, the dog, the house, the garbage, the groceries, the laundry, my mother, my mother in law, my siblings, Steve's siblings, the yard, our neighbors, our friends past and present, my wardrobe,.... - it's where I let it all go. I have great dreams. Sometimes I like it when the alarm goes off in the middle of a vivid dream. I shut off the alarm to go back and finish the dream, not caring what responsibility I have to address at the time I set for waking.

What I can't figure out is why I withhold the sleep I love when there is no cost, no risk, and no benefit for not sleeping. I desire to wake at 6am in order to get in a 45 minute walk/run before Steve goes to work. I know I'm best on 7.5-8 hours of sleep. Logically, that means going to bed at 10 in order to fall asleep by 10:30. So why don't I do that?

Because I'm still a petulant child who doesn't want to go to bed - I don't want to miss the fun the grown ups are having. Perhaps part of growing older and wiser is reclaiming sleep as a need and not a punishment.

One can only hope.

#47 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Monday, August 1, 2011

Family Pets

I don't recall any time in my life I have been without a pet. The first pet I remember was a cat given by a family friend when I was very young. It was a black kitten. Dad named him "Schwartz." He may have been holding onto some of the German culture he absorbed when he was stationed in Frankfurt during his army days, before he married my mom.

I nearly killed the kitten when I stuffed him into a small suitcase to keep him safe. By the time Mom had figured out where the cat was, he had ripped apart the inside of the case in futile attempts to get out. He suffered years of similar abuse by us. He was an outdoor cat, so he learned how to exit the home to avoid getting dressed up like one of my dolls. Food and warmth always led him home.

Schwartz lived a long life. We eventually had to put him down when he began to loose urinary control. Not sure how old he was then, but I think the family had him more than 15 years. I remember my brother Kevin was the one who ended up taking him to the vet for the final deed. Maybe it was because he had his driver's license. I remember him feeling bad about it. I was kind of stunned that my brother had those kind of feelings then.

[At this point, Mom, you are allowed to clarify information in the comments. I'm not afraid of a little "red ink." You are nowhere near the school teacher your Aunt Mary was. I just can't imagine correcting her own daughter's letters and sending them back with red ink! - .... ]

When I was first able to have my own pets, I got a black kitten and named him "Detroit." The next cat after him was another black cat named "Harley." These cats traveled to all of my graduate programs. After Detroit was gone, it took a while before I added another. For the first time, I wanted a new color. I adopted a white 5 point Siamese rescue kitten and named her "Porsche."

I've been a cat person all my life. When I was a kid I really wanted a dog. My mom would often push off the idea; knowing that she already had too much to handle when I was begging.

A few posts back, I described the first and only dog my family ever had, Smedley. This was the dog that was hired to be our alarm system. Smedley was the dog Mom wanted her to be. Not sure how long she lived; thinking Mom had to put her down when she got too old or sick to be comfortable. My husband doesn't remember meeting her; but he did hear about her. I'm trying to put the dog's time in line with other life events. But as I age, parts of my life are starting to blur.

Two years ago, our kids started begging for a dog; right on cue with all 6 year olds. We started out researching local rescue places. Found a possible puppy on "" The post said "serious inquiries only." I emailed the contact with some general questions. Before I knew it, the rescuer was coming to my house with the entire litter. She knew she was dealing with a push over. Poor Steve was at work and could do nothing about it. She knew she wouldn't be leaving with all the puppies if she was bringing them all to a house with two 6 year olds. She played us. On June 17, 2009 we became official dog owners.

We've had the typical dog training issues, and the typical stories of dogs and kids. He's just a dog; but he keeps me coming home when I would otherwise stay out, mostly dragging the kids with me. He gets me out of bed to walk/run in the morning - except Saturdays. He eats my daughter's hair ties. He steals food left within reach. He eats used napkins because they smell like people food. When he sleeps hard, he lays on his back with all four paws in the air. He chases the cat for entertainment. He lets us put funny hats on him. He tears apart the furniture. He keeps me grounded when I pick up his poop; giving me that look that is a cross between an apology and an expectation when I'm fussing with the plastic bag. Whether I work at home or at my office, he's always under my feet. He is my protector.

On this morning's run, I took a spill. I lost my grip on his leash, but he stayed by me until I got up. He's on his way to being a good dog. Maybe in a couple of years, he'll be mellow enough to take on vacation. 

Sorry Buddy, not this year. We'll find you a nice doggie hotel to stay in while we're battling porcupines in Canada.

#46 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Half Way

When this whole 90 blog posts in 90 days started, I jumped in hoping that the exercise would vet a few floating thoughts that clog my mind and sometimes make it hard for me to focus on the moment in front of my face, or tasks I need to get done. I also thought that the schedule would force me to write - a skill I need to polish. (If you've been following, it's obvious) The daily assignment is to write about anything. There were days when I thought that I would have no problem coming up with things to write about. Other days when I've had too much to say, writing words failed me. I turned to stories. Or I profile people. Thank goodness I'm old enough to have a few tales and know interesting people.

There are a few topics that I simply won't share. I hear this voice in my head saying, "No matter how much something impacts your life, if it's not just about you. Think about what writing might do to someone else." I read memoirs or biographies for pleasure. I find knowing intimate details about other people or reflections of others' lives compelling. Some of the stories I read make me wonder what the subject would have thought about being in print for my eyes to see. I won't jeopardize my relationship with my husband, or some of my family members with personal issues. If I'm still writing when I'm 70, I may air out some skeletons. Only if I think the airing will help the reader (my kids) understand why I am/was so nuts.

Maybe it's that I follow the hesitation rule of social media: if it gives you pause - pause. This mostly pertains to writing about work. As much as my work defines who I am, I won't jeopardize my relationship with an institution, colleagues or my network. I've simply worked too hard building trust to smash it on something as trivial as a personal blog.

As I face the other half of the challenge, I'm still wondering if I'll find something worth reading later. If you are reading this blog - thanks. It means a lot to me that you would give your time. I appreciate your patience and support.

In 45 days, I've gotten to the point where I can't sleep if I haven't blogged. Mostly because I know others in the Tribe are struggling to stay on the challenge; and mostly because there are two others that remain faithful to daily posting. I'm hoping that I can last longer than one writer, who is going to have a major life event in the next month. Maybe there will be a day that he will not blog. And woe be the day that happens - he'll never hear the end of it. The other writer is the most disciplined person I have ever met. I know he's going to see this to the end.

Moving forward, the half way mark has given me confidence to start another X in X days assignment. I'm ready to take on one more challenge to see if I can stick to it - and adapt a new habit.

I'm publicly declaring a 30 work outs in 30 days. Real exercise. Walking the dog for 30 minutes without breaking a sweat doesn't count. Driving the dog to the dog park doesn't count, unless I'm running the perimeter of the fence while he's chasing other dogs. I might even run some hills after he's spent. I've gathered a bunch of "try this at home" exercise routines and I'm making a chart. I'll mix it up, but I'll schedule the work outs and I'll have the kids mark off whether I did it or not. This chart will also be the leverage I use to encourage them to get back into daily practicing.

I've let them take the summer easy with music lessons. I'm not really a Tiger Mom - but making them stick to something is part of parenting. I want them to understand perseverance, and rewards from doing something even when they don't want to do it. They both have some natural ability. But they also both need to work at it. If school isn't going to challenge them (their Iowa test scores were in a very high range of achievement), playing a musical instrument will. I've told them that they can't quit playing their instrument until they graduate from high school. They have great teachers - this is not torture. I do let them go to the bathroom in the middle of a practice session. But I know when they're stalling. I want them to know that I won't accept BS - and at 8 years old, they are already starting to shovel a little. Playing an instrument is not about musical achievement. It's about concentration, critical listening and figuring out what they need to do to improve without someone else telling them what's wrong. They get great rewards when they play well. There's lots of casual recitals at their teacher's studio; plenty of chances to take center stage, lots of hugs and encouragement from teachers, older students and other musicians.

I have my mom to thank for not letting me quit things I started. She made me see my obligations through until my quitting wasn't going to let someone else down. She also warned me about taking on too much - and knew that I was going to have to learn limitations the hard way. I'm the kind of person who usually says, "Watch me" when someone says, "You can't do that." I've got to learn how to be more selective in the challenges I take on. Maybe I'll figure that out. Maybe I'll keep burning the candle at both ends and hope that I'm made out of super long lasting wax.

I recognize my own BS. And my friends know when I'm full of it, too. This blog challenge has made me a little bit less of a BS-er. I'm sticking to this until Sept 14th. Then I'm buying myself a suit. Wouldn't it be nice if the suit were fitted to a smaller size?

I think this personal discipline is getting dangerous. Who knows what's next? Maybe an empty inbox!

#45 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe
I want to personally thank Jeremy, Todd, Ashley, Donald, Liz, Mike, Karl, and Sarah for doing this with me. I also want to thank the folks from Twitter and Facebook who see my posts and link over to the blog. Comments or not, my stats tell me folks are reading. Most especially, I want to thank my mom for reading this. She's not on twitter - just barely on Facebook. But she stops by the blog every day because I don't call her enough. I can only imagine how exhausting I must have been as a child. Thanks for putting up with me.