Living with SAD

Most of you probably know what SAD is, or at least have heard of it – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It’s a sort of depression that is seasonal, and if affects different people in different ways.  I haven’t updated my blog in a long time, because I have come to really value my privacy and personal life.  Although I enjoy sharing my life with people I am close to, I realized with this blog I couldn’t control who did and didn’t read it.  But this is a subject that I feel is too important not to share with everyone.

I love winter…sort of.  I love Christmas, I love skiing, I love snow.  I live in northern Vermont, so I willingly signed up for a large dose of winter every year!  However, I don’t love darkness.  And with darkness comes this winter time depression.  Before I got married to my wonderful husband, I had a decent handle on it.  I did preventative things and was able to push past the tough days until spring came again.  But this year, as a result of not preparing myself properly, moving even farther north with less daylight, having a very stressful new teaching job not to mention constant graduate courses, and not having friends close by made this winter a very hard one indeed.

It took me a few months to articulate what was happening to me.  In general this has been a hard year with regards to my career (but that’s another story), so for a while I just thought I was stressed and overworked.  But then I identified what emotion I was actually feeling: sadness.

Being married meant I had to share with Devin how I was feeling every day this winter, and to reflect on my emotions.  When I was single, I could just hunker down with a book and push down the sadness.  Now I had to face the depression head on, every day.  I think it’s a healthier way to handle emotions in general, rather than bottling everything up.  Still, it was challenging to find a place of healing and acceptance as sadness hit me full force.

Many days it was hard to get out of bed.  I cried at least twice a week, sometimes without knowing why.  I felt like I was drowning in self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling sadness.  I was often exhausted and felt like there was no end in sight.  My motivation was GONE – completely.  I would get angry at myself for feeling like this.  I would say to myself, “You are married to a wonderful man, your family is supportive, your students love you, you have a great church, so just feel better!  You’re 24, healthy, and strong!  What is wrong with you?”  But I couldn’t just be happy, no matter how hard I willed myself to be.  I was very hard on myself, and this depression affected every part of my life.

Teaching was especially challenging.  For those that don’t know, teaching music to 5-14 year olds requires, among many things, an intense amount of emotional commitment and energy.  I know that I probably didn’t do the most amazing teaching this winter, but I faked my way through it.  Usually I love being active and on my feet and singing my heart out, but teaching this winter was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Unfortunately, I felt completely spent when I got home every day, which led to the immense amount of tears that Devin patiently wiped away every time. I felt so loved when Devin looked at me one day and said, “You are doing enough.”  He has accepted every part of me, and helped me accept myself.  He has been completely wonderful and supportive of me every step of the way, shouldering enormous responsibility and maturity while I was in this depression.  He selflessly took on my half of the chores around the house, cooking (a task we normally share), running errands, and practically forced me into my coat and shoes to do a lap outside around the neighborhood as often as he could.

There were some beautiful moments where I felt like myself.  Devin and I would act silly and I found myself laughing, I would find joy in spending time with friends, or I would get a sudden burst of energy to do my schoolwork.  These moments encouraged me and helped me recognize that I would not be this version of myself forever.  Then, slowly but surely, the days lengthened and my spirits lifted.

Looking back, as spring is just starting to be felt in the [slightly] warmer air and the days are so gloriously long, I know there are things I should have done earlier in the winter to prepare myself for what I knew would happen.  I only feel like I’ve become myself again in the last few weeks, and some days are still hard.  But now I can finally see past winter – I can see flowers (in my imagination – there’s still a foot of snow outside), I can envision bike rides and runs, and I can plan my future garden.  Here’s what helps me get through winter…

  1. I have a special light that helps treat SAD – Devin calls it “Happy.”  He would say to me, “Okay, time for you to go sit in front of Happy for a few minutes!”  I should have started sitting in front of it earlier in the winter, but once I regularly began doing so every day I could my spirits lifting.
  2. Taking a Vitamin D supplement – it’s like sunshine in a pill form.
  3. Short walks during my lunch break at school whenever possible.  Skiing on the weekends also helped significantly.
  4. Yoga is my newfound love.  I’ve done yoga occasionally over the years, but never consistently.  I recently committed to doing a 30 day yoga challenge with a teacher on Youtube.  It’s been incredible and empowering.
  5. Getting enough sleep is also a huge one for me – when I don’t sleep enough, everything is impossible.  In the winter, even 8 hours a night was not enough.  9 or 10 is more adequate, but rarely possible with my busy life.
  6. Being supported from my friends, family, and husband.  They’re amazing.
  7. Reading my Bible and spending time with God made (and still makes) each day bearable.  Finding those few minutes of quiet time really helped get me through the winter as well.  Recently I have been dwelling upon a passage in Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls…”  This passage has helped me realize my winter weariness was and is not my fault, and I can find comfort in Jesus.

I guess I’m writing this to be more committed to doing these things when next winter rolls around to keep myself accountable, and also to educate you about SAD and depression in general.  I wouldn’t label myself as someone who is depressed, and yet here I am, declaring myself to have gone through horrible depression this winter.  I hope this blog post helps lessen labels and breaks down stereotypes about depression.  It’s such a real, raw, and scary disease that I don’t wish upon anyone.

I would say it’s probable that you or someone close to you has dealt with depression before, so I also hope that my words provide hope.  Thankfully, I’ve never had thoughts of suicide and I’ve decided that SAD is something I’m committed to treating without a prescription, but there are many people who are affected to an ever greater degree than I am.  If that’s you, please know: you are not alone.  Please reach out to get support, whether it’s to a loved one or a medical expert.  There is nothing wrong with you – a fact that I am still learning to accept about myself.

We live in a world where it’s so easy to judge others and make quick assumptions when we don’t know the fully story.  Instead, we should be spreading love and lifting each other up.  The more we understand depression and fully love those who suffer from it, the more we can erase the stigma that comes with it and help people overcome it.

So let’s commit to that, to fully support one another and love fiercely.  If you want to find me, I’ll be out enjoying the sunshine.  Be well, my friends.


Hipster In Vermont

I haven’t posted a blog entry in a long time because I realized that I enjoy telling people about my life in person more than I do typing about it and reading their comments!  I love sharing my experiences with friends and family, but I’ve had a few conversations that have been cut short because the other person says, “Oh, yeah, I read about it in your blog.”  Real life is so much better than a blog.

However, I am really happy about a lot of great things right now and I can’t help but share!  Plus, I won’t be home in Pennsylvania until Thanksgiving so I know by then I’ll have more to share with my long distance loved ones and this is just an update until I can share the full details of my sweet Vermont life.  🙂  So let’s get to it.

When I moved to Vermont, I thought that it would be a temporary thing to get some experience and to try something totally new for a year.  But the longer I live here, the less I want to leave.  I don’t want to be preemptive about it, but…I think I may have found my forever home.  I got incredibly lucky with my first job, where I live, and how the lifestyle of those around me suits me perfectly.

I’m about to finish week three of school year number two!  It’s flown by, and it’s been wonderful so far.  I liked last year immensely, but year two is a whole different level of enjoyment.  There is always more to improve upon and learn, but I feel so much more confident now.  I know the schools, the students, and the way things work at each school.  I am a better teacher and I teach things more effectively and efficiently.  I’ve reused some of my material from last year, and I teach it so much quicker the second time around!  Which means I can cram even more instruction into my 40 minute periods, which is awesome.  I’m also much quicker at planning than last year.  For almost 100% of the time, my home life is at home and my school life is at school.  My lesson plans no longer come with me everywhere!  I do spend some very long days at school, but once I leave the time is mine!

In addition, I just enjoy it more.  I still can’t believe I get paid to do this incredible position.  I know many music educators who struggle with difficult administration, lack of support from the community, and have to teach other things besides music.  I have not one but two amazing principals, communities that encourage and support the arts, and my job is made up entirely of musical instruction, plus recess duty twice a week and a weekly staff meeting.  And that’s it!  It’s not a perfect job (no classroom, no A/C during this incredibly warm September, travel between 2 schools) but I think it’s about as perfect as it gets.  I love having fun learning and growing alongside my students.

Here’s a bulletin board I created at one of my schools.

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Today was especially great.  At one of my schools I’ve been fortunate enough to start a band and chorus program.  Today was the first day of band lessons – the very first time many of them have ever played a wind or percussion instrument.  It is such a joy to be able to give these kids more music in their lives, and to see their enthusiasm for learning!  I was so proud of all the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders today.  Out of 31 kids in those grades, 19 of them have decided to join band.  For a starter band at a teeny tiny school I think that’s pretty amazing.  I only hope that I will be the best instructor I can be!  My other school also has 19 kids in band, which is a jump in growth from last year.

Chorus is becoming one of my favorite things to teach, which is one of the most surprising things to me.  I thought when I started this job that chorus would be the most difficult and my least favorite parts.  But it’s wonderful!  I certainly have learned so much in the past year about how to run an effective chorus, and I love that the kids are learning with me.  Today for example, day number two of this brand new ensemble, the kids are already singing in two part rounds reasonably well, and doing a three part partner song with motions!  And I can tell they’re having fun, even if they won’t admit it sometimes.  In addition to a musical production at each school, I hope to take students in band and chorus to perform in nursing homes and other community locations this year.

Over the past few months, I’ve really been embracing a minimalist kind of life.  I’ve simplified my wardrobe considerably in particular.  I have always worn bright colors and interesting articles of clothing, but now I mainly stick to basic black!  Instead, I spend much more time doing my hair and wearing funky jewelry.

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I absolutely love my growing black wardrobe.  I’ve worn the same 4 dresses to school since it started, and I plan on continuing this trend as long as possible.  Now, granted, I do work at 2 different schools so it appears that I am rotating my clothes every two weeks.   But I’m not!  I spend exactly zero minutes deciding what to wear now.  I’ve come to realize that it’s important to have fewer pieces of clothing that fit really well instead of a huge arsenal of fabric that never gets completely used.  As long as I’m neat and clean, no one truly cares what I wear anyways.  The kids only notice my cool necklaces!

Another minimalistic choice that I follow is the number of belongings I have.  I’ve never been one to have a lot of physical stuff, but now I am constantly looking for how I can live well on less.  I think this idea is partly from the fact that I live in 300 square feet and I just can’t fit too much stuff in my apartment!  I always have a growing bag of Goodwill things to drop off.  It’s so freeing knowing that I don’t need that much, and that I’m completely happy with so little.  And even though I’m actually moving soon, I’m very proud of my tiny space.

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This evening I got to participate in a very fun event.  Over the summer, I volunteered at Hildene, Abraham Lincoln’s son’s home here in Manchester.  I helped give house tours, harvesting veggies in the garden, and worked on the goat farm.  Tonight there was a fancy dinner recognizing all the volunteers.  The meal was entirely local, and it was wonderful to catch up with friends I made over the summer while working there.

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The volunteer coordinator at Hildene is a special person to me.  She has been such a positive influence in my life and has encouraged me in many ways.  When I initially met Paula, we had a great conversation about many things, including one of the towns where I work.  She mentioned her daughter and her family were thinking about moving to the area, and I told her all the great things I’ve experienced while working in the school in the past year.  So she passed along this information to her daughter, and they moved here!  I love that in some way, I may have helped sway a family’s decision to come to a wonderful community.

Paula’s granddaughter became a new kindergarten student at my school.  Paula told me tonight that when asked, her granddaughter said her favorite thing about school was music class!  It fills my heart with so much joy when I hear things like this.  More than musical concepts and standards, I want to create a nurturing, loving environment where kids can be free to express themselves in a creative way and view things in a more beautiful way because they have music in their lives.

At each table at the dinner tonight, there was a small bouquet of flowers in a glass jar created by a volunteer group of women who create bouquets for the Hildene house twice a week.  Whoever had a sticker on their chair got to keep the bouquet – it was me!  Not only are the flowers gorgeous, one of my favorite things is a glass jar.  I know, I know.  Go ahead, call me a hipster Vermonter.  I take it as a compliment.

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Open Doors

Hello, reader.  I have a lot of great things to share.  Currently, I am in Pennsylvania!  Schools in New England have a one week break in February – isn’t that the most wonderful thing ever? – I spent half of it in North Carolina and will spend the remainder of it here.

My older brother Andrew and his girlfriend Madie live in North Carolina, and my parents and I went to visit them.  It was great seeing both of them, and to enjoy slightly warmer temperatures for a few days.  Our first day there was the warmest – the high was 55 degrees!  But unfortunately the rest of the time was chilly.  Not Vermont cold, but cold enough we couldn’t go window shopping in the cute downtown area of New Bern.  Apparently there were some dangerously cold temperatures in the north, so I’m grateful we avoided that.  However, I’m sad we didn’t get a 70 degree day like it had been the week before!

These pictures were from our warmest day, when we did get to take advantage of the weather and do some outdoor exploring.

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(I’m holding a rooster Beanie Baby in my hand that I bought at an antique place.  I’ve been on the hunt for certain stuffed animals to use at school for a first grade unit on the Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens.  Each of his short pieces represents an animal, and the music has qualities that sound like the animal.  We’ve been doing instruments of the orchestra recently, and this is a fun way to review some instruments and transition on to some new ideas. I just acquired the final animals today so I am all set to teach it next week!)

Onto to the events of now.  Good things about today.

1. Coconut oil

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I’ve been using this magical stuff a lot recently.  I know it seems like the latest health trend, but coconut oil is truly awesome.  I use it as a makeup remover, in my homemade toothpaste, and more.  Unfortunately, the small grocery store I go in Manchester doesn’t sell coconut oil.  I’m sure I could get it at the natural food stores, but I don’t want to pay a ridiculous amount.  But today I was able to get it at Giant for a decent price!  Good thing too, because my previous stash was running low.

2. My pup!

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My parents left Button with some friends of ours while we were in NC.  This morning we picked her up and now I reunited with my old friend!  She was all snuggles and tail wags when we retrieved her.  I missed my pup!

3. Training Run

I am running a half marathon in June, and my training has begun!  It’s been very, very cold in Vermont lately and it’s also difficult to run outside because the sidewalks are constantly covered in snow and ice.  However, I had a nice 2 mile run this afternoon!  It was great not feeling like I was moving backwards, as often is the case when I’m trying to run on fresh, uncleared snow.  It was only 2 miles, but I felt good and it’s one baby step towards that 13.1!

4. Summer Plans

I’ve been intentionally planning on doing nothing this summer.  After my annual 2.5 week tour with the National Guard, my plans didn’t extend further than reading, tending to my herb garden, and seeing how long I could go without driving my car by biking or walking everywhere in town.

However, my late motto fits perfectly here: if God keeps opening doors, I’m going to keep stepping through them.  And God has opened a door for me.  I’m talking that first step!

There’s an organization called WWOOF – Willing Workers On Organic Farms.  There’s WWOOF in the United States, and also many worldwide.  Check the USA WWOOF site at!

Let me backtrack.  I was researching about buying a CSA share this summer, which if you don’t know, means receiving weekly produce from a local farm.  There’s a farm in Manchester that does CSA shares, and I was on their website searching for some information.  I stumbled across this WWOOF thing on their page.  I did some research about it, and it looks like an incredible thing to be a part of.  Basically, you volunteer to work on a farm for a time frame with anything that needs to be done.  You get free housing and food during your time there.

So I paid the $40 to join the organization, and contacted this farm about working there this summer.  They already e-mailed me back and asked me to come visit!  Each farm is different, as far as the time commitment of a WWOOFer, lodging, work hours, etc.  I looked at several farms in the USA, but I decided I wanted to start local.  After all, I might hate it.  At least if I hate it I could go home during my time off until my commitment was over.

But I don’t think I’ll hate it at all.  I think I’ll love it!  I have no idea how long I would be able to commit to working, but I’m thinking between 2-6 weeks.  I know there will be so much to learn.  This particular farm is known for its organic vegetables, but also for its homemade bread and other organic produce like eggs and canned goods.  I know a lot of basic gardening skills, but nothing on the scale of a multiple acre farm!  It would be such a great learning opportunity, and a fun way to get outside and meet new people.  I am really excited about this!  It’ll be so different from anything I’ve ever done.  And if I really love it, I think it would be a great tradition to start going to a WWOOF farm every summer during school breaks, stateside and abroad.  Stay tuned for updates on my WWOOF adventure!

5. Apartment

So far in Vermont, I’ve been renting a house with a roommate.  It’s been really great (shout-out to Merrill if you’re reading this!), but our lease is up in a few months.  I started searching around, and decided to get an apartment of my own.  I’m so excited!  I’ve never lived anywhere by myself before, so this will be new for me.  This apartment is teeny tiny, but it goes along with my growing mindfulness about being less wasteful and reducing my carbon footprint.

The living/dining/bedroom area is one, not-so-big room.  There’s also a narrow kitchen and bathroom, both perfectly adequate for one person.  Probably the best part about this place is my own covered porch and open deck area!  Neither are huge, but I already have big plans for my pallet herb garden, and turning the porch into a sewing room during the warm months.

One of the reasons I’m so excited is that currently I don’t own a whole lot of my own furniture.  I have a desk and dresser that both belonged to my great grandmother and that my mom refinished for me.  I love them.  But I don’t even own a bed, a couch, or even a vacuum cleaner!  So I’ve been planning very carefully how I want my new apartment to look.  With such a small space, it’s important I plan out my furniture and color scheme with immense care.  I already have a color palette in mind but I won’t share it yet.

I have a few leads on furniture that I want.  My goal is to buy everything secondhand.  Although it’s tempting to just go buy a bookshelf, a painting, and a couple armchairs from IKEA, I am sticking to my less wasteful lifestyle and finding these things on Craigslist. If I find something I like but in the wrong color, I have the skills to make it something I love by painting it or reupholstering it with my sewing skills.

Besides, I want furniture that is of good quality.  If I buy something secondhand, the condition I get it in is probably the way it will be forever – gently used but sturdy and lifelong.  Sometimes, things look so beautiful in the catalog or on in the store, but they are poorly made and begin to fall apart quickly – much like a lot of the clothing we buy today.  Plus, why put more plastic, styrofoam, and other un-recyclable packing products in the garbage from buying something new when I can get the same thing without creating any of this waste?  I know buying secondhand is not for everybody, but it’s definitely for me.  It saves me money, makes me feel good knowing I helped someone clear out their extra clutter, and helps the planet a tiny little bit.


I hope all my talk about less waste, DIY everything stuff doesn’t bother you, because these kinds of posts are not going to go away.  More and more I am realizing the importance of how much waste we create, and how easily we could make small changes to prevent filling the landfills.

Here’s just one example: instead of a plastic hand pump soap dispenser for washing hands, I asked my mom to find me a secondhand soap dish.  She found me a beautiful ceramic white one for $0.97.  I have a ton of local bar soap that has no packaging from the farmer’s market that I use now instead in the bathroom.  It’s the little things that add up to big things!

I read Lauren Singer’s blog often,  In two years, she’s generated 1 mason jar worth of trash!  She offers so many alternative ideas to creating waste with personal care, cooking/grocery shopping, traveling, and more.  Check it out if you have a minute!  I really enjoy reading it because she’s the same age as me.  She’s environmentally conscious, yet stylish and successful.  Who says being a hippie is bad? 🙂

Goals for the rest of the evening: watch the news, snuggle with Button, and browse Craigslist for the perfect armchair.  Stay warm everyone!  Spring will be here before we know it.

“I’ll look back on this and smile because it was life and I decided to live it.”

Winter Blues

Around this time every winter, I start to feel a little sad.  The short, dark days and the cold just make me want to hibernate!  That was my main concern with moving to Vermont – that I would hate the winter.  I’ve been okay up until about a week ago.  I got a sun light to use every morning, I’ve been making sure I exercise outdoors as much as possible, and I’ve been keeping busy with sewing and reading, but it’s not quite enough.  I still can’t shake the desire to curl up with a blanket and watch Friends (which, by the way, I’ve recently discovered is an amazing show) all day.

But I got out of my rut today!  I finally have newfound energy to lesson plan, teach, and live.  I had such a good day, and I’m glad this week will be off to such a positive start.  Here’s what happened:

I went cross country skiing for the first time!

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There’s a town near me called Peru, and they have a place for cross country skiing.  Every year, there’s a fundraiser for people who need help paying for heat.  It’s called “Ski for Heat.”  I was on a team with about 8 people and we were able to raise over $1000!  We spent the last month raising the money, then we skied today along with the other teams.  We all had a great time!  Everyone was of varying levels of ability but it was fun to participate together.

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I received instruction on the basics of cross country, and off we went all afternoon!  There were many different trails of varying levels of difficulty and length.  

I felt clumsy for the first half hour or so, but then I improved quickly!  The most challenging part for me was going uphill, which I learned is called “herringbone.”  You have to angle your skis outward in a kind of duck walk, dig the insides of your skis into the snow, and lean forward to make it up a slope.  But after a few tries it was much easier!  I started off doing only green trails, but I gave a blue trail a shot at the end and loved it!  It’s something I definitely want to do again.  I think I even want to buy my own pair of cross country skis!  It was such a great workout and it was wonderful being outdoors.  The trails were beautiful and the snow was great for gliding.

That was part one of my awesome day.  Part two involves music!

I joined a community group recently.  It’s called the Sage City Orchestra, and we rehearse at Bennington College, which is about a 25 minute drive from me.  It’s a very mature group for only being a non-audition community ensemble.  At our concert next week we’re playing Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony and a C.P.E. Bach Harpsichord Concerto!  Not only is it a pleasure playing with other musicians – I’ve missed it so much since college – but it’s a great way to keep up my playing skills.  With teaching I don’t practice nearly as often as I’d like, but playing with this group keeps me in musical shape.

We worked on the finale of the Beethoven this evening.  The only word I can think of to describe it is epic!  I sit right in front of the French horns, and there was this part they nailed at the end and it gave me goosebumps!  I recently did a little Beethoven unit with my younger students, which they loved.  Just as they were, I’m amazed that Beethoven’s music is just so excellent and timeless to be appreciated today.  What a great thing to be a part of!

So I think I kicked my case of winter blues for now!  I’m sure it will creep back up on me soon, but now I know what works to keep it away.  I think I need to carve out another day to go skiing again!

I can’t believe how quickly time is passing.  It’s almost February!  I am hoping the days continue to pass quickly.  This past week, I was house sitting for a friend.  I looked after her dog and cat and got to stay in her adorable little house!  When I’m ready to buy a house, I want one just like this.  It was nice to switch up my schedule a bit and do something different.

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My sewing projects recently include a t-shirt quilt for a friend (this will be quilt number 4!) and a yoga bag.  When I was in PA over Christmas, Ali came to my house for a few days and she helped me with this little creation for her yoga mat.  (P.S. The reason we look exhausted is because this is right after we both got back from Chicago!  It was an incredible trip but we both needed sleep!)

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I am constantly getting e-mails from strangers asking me to make them t shirt quilts!  I’m not taking on any extra projects until the summer, but it’s nice to know the interest is there!  I could start my own side business.

Other recent news is what I’ve been doing at school.  January has been bucket drumming month!

photo 2 (3)I’ve done it with grades 3-6 at both schools and all classes have responded positively to it!  We’ve been able to learn so much with something so simple.  We’ve worked on rhythm reading, playing in 2 parts, dynamics, and other musical symbols.  It’s something I definitely want to do again, but I think it’s time to move on to some other general music things for now.  My creativity has been running low recently, but hopefully I’ll be able to generate some lessons relating to Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, and other upcoming events.

I’m still taking teaching one week at a time.  Some days are good, some days are tough.  And with my case of winter blues, teaching has been a challenge for me recently.  It is hard getting my energy levels up to be excited and passionate about what I’m teaching but hopefully I’m still doing a good job!  When things are tough, I just keep telling myself, “This will be so much easier next year.”  It’s amazing to think how much I’ve improved and grown just since the beginning of the school year!

I think that’s all I will say now.  Stay tuned on how the rest of my winter turns out!

Earn Less, Live More

When I was at basic training a year and a half ago, my flight had a lot of trouble getting along, and getting things done quickly.  The whole idea of it is pretty ridiculous, that you shove 55 girls from all over the country into small living quarters with no privacy for 9 weeks, and expect them to work together to accomplish things.  Well, we did accomplish things, by week 9!  But there were many patches along the way that were just really hard.  Many times we would have “come to Jesus” type talks where we’d all sit in the dayroom and we would talk about how to improve our teamwork skills.  (A dayroom is like a common room where we weren’t allowed to sit on the furniture.  The floors were very hard and yet, I had a few solid 20 minute naps while sitting up cross-legged pretending to study from a 400 page book we were tested on at the end of basic training.  Naps, of course, were also prohibited.)

So we had these talks that usually went nowhere, but there’s a girl I remember who used to say, “Okay.  Real talk, ladies.  Real talk.”  And she would just say what was on everyone’s mind in the simplest, most honest way possible.  It was effective and and we all listened to her.

That being said, this blog post is going to be “real talk.”  It’s about how I work part-time as a music teacher, but that it’s probably the most amazing position to have ever.    Seriously.  Not convinced?  Well, read on, my friends.

As an elementary music teacher, I teach Monday and Wednesday at one school, and Friday at another school.  So Tuesdays and Thursdays are my days “off.”  I use the word off in quotes because I do a lot of preparation for school on those days.  I have yet to have a completely free day, but it’s okay.  I’d rather be sitting at home in my sweatpants and drinking tea while writing lesson plans than at school!  Sometimes I substitute teach on those days, sometimes I don’t.  I have 4 piano students currently that I give weekly lessons to.  I have the Air Force National Guard once a month.

So it’s kind of a hodge-podge bunch of things that help me make my living, but I love it this way.  I am never bored.  I don’t earn a lot, but it’s more than enough for one person to live off of.  I am careful and I budget what I make and I usually only shop at thrift stores now, but it totally works for me.  Through the school district I work for, I even get health benefits and a 403(b) plan!  So I’m even saving small amounts for retirement doing the part-time teaching gig.  (Go Vermont education!)

I love playing my flute.  I don’t get to play as much as I want to, but I can count on the Guard once a month to allow me to focus on playing.  It’s why I joined the National Guard band in the first place, and it’s served its purpose exactly.

I love teaching private lessons.  It’s so awesome getting to work with students one on one and seeing them improve week to week and get to know them and their families well.

I love teaching in a school setting.  And with the job I have, I teach band, chorus, and general music so I get to do it all there!  I can remember thinking so many times when I was student teaching and applying for jobs that I had NO idea what specialty I wanted to teach because I liked it all.  Well, I am currently doing it all!  And have I mentioned the vacation time?  Two whole weeks off at Christmas, one week off in February, and another one in April, not to mention the entire summer.  Being a teacher in New England is fabulous.

I even love subbing, especially when it’s for older students.  I enjoy teaching elementary and I feel very competent doing it, but there’s something about those middle and high schoolers that is just so great.  I recently subbed for a seventh and eighth grade English/History class, and it was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had teaching.  Those kids are so funny.

This weird combination of jobs adds up to about 30 hours per week, not counting subbing or the extra time I spend creating lessons plans off the clock.  So that’s the amazing part about working part-time: the jobs themselves.  Now for the next part of this blog, the “live more” part from the title!  Some of this may sound like a brag fest.  Well, it is.  I am bragging because I am loving life and thankful for the many blessings I have.

I am relaxed.  I am not stressed.  I have time to recharge after a long day of teaching.  I have time for hobbies.  Don’t those all sound like such wonderful things?? They truly are.  It is such a blessing to have time to do things and appreciate life happening.  I am able to live it, instead of watching it pass by in a blur.

I get a lot of sleep.  Usually 8-9 hours a night.  I can remember so many times during college and student teaching having to stay up late working on lesson plans, papers, and tossing and turning over some event happening the next day.  But now?  I cherish those hours to sleep because it allows my body to recover and power up for the next day.  Instead of feeling exhausted, burned out, and on edge, I wake up every day feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.  If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I am not able to function as well.  I get cranky a lot faster, and everything seems harder.  I will never be apologetic about how much sleep I get.  I tell people that I sleep this much every night and they say, “How do you do that?  I barely get 5 a night.”

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that it was a competition to see who can be more stressed out and exhausted every waking moment.  Sorry that you need 18 cups of coffee daily to function.  Not sorry that I feel great every day.  I seriously feel like I am adding years onto my life because of how well I feel.  Those old days of feeling totally frazzled because I’m running on empty are over.

In addition to having lots of time to sleep every night, I am able to keep up with my hobbies, music and non-music related.  For music-related hobbies, I’m a part of a samba group that meets twice a month to jam for our own pure enjoyment.  That same group of people is forming a drum circle which I’ve also joined that will meet weekly.  It’s all djembe (African) drumming which just brings me back to Jamaica every time I play.  There’s a local orchestra that gives several concerts a year, and I’ll be joining them for their winter concert in February.  They play great literature!  This concert will include Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.  I can say with certainty that if I was teaching full time I would have no time or energy to join ensembles like these.  I also have some up and coming accompanying gigs!  And accompanying is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and is usually a paid thing.  I’m so grateful for my piano skills.  I can’t express enough how beneficial all those years of lessons were.

My non-music hobbies are plentiful as well.  I have started sewing regularly again!  My parents recently gave me a housewarming gift of an old-fashioned sewing table with a lid that opens.  I love sitting down and working on a project a few times a week.  I am reading again, a lot.  I have always loved to read, even from a very young age.  But starting around high school, my book reading was reserved for my off time during the summer and winter breaks because I was too busy for it during the school year.  But now, I have the time to read for an hour or two most evenings.  Last night, I just finished The Lovely Bones by Alice Seebold, which was both a beautiful and sad book.  I love going to the brand new library up the hill every week and eating up some great literature.

I also am writing more!  I started keeping a journal in about kindergarten (it was mostly pictures of Franklin the turtle and Eeyore back then), and I wrote faithfully for years and years.  But when I got to college, my desire to write completely left me.  I think it might be because whatever I would normally have written down, I ended up telling my parents when I called home every week, and I didn’t want to share things in detail twice.  I had kind of gotten back into writing when I began this blog last year but now I am beginning to write again, for me.

And by the way, my blog is one year old this month!  It’s been such a fun thing to do.

Another thing I’m doing is yoga.  There’s a class at the library that I just joined, and it’s great!  It’s easy and relaxing yoga called Prana.  As the weather is getting colder, I’m looking for ways to stay fit during the winter months.  I’m not running much now – I am going to do another half marathon in early June, and I’ll start my training for that in February.  So I’m taking the winter off to do my yoga and a lot of walking until that training time begins.  Plus, I get such a workout teaching!  I am constantly moving around, dancing with the kids, and forever moving instruments to and from their storage areas to use.

Working part-time allows me to be good at my job, and also good at being a person.  Sometimes in music education those two things feel mutually exclusive.  I felt like that during parts of student teaching, when I woke up tired, came home exhausted, went to sleep after scarfing down a tv dinner and writing lesson plans, and starting all over again.  In college, I often felt like music education defined me.  That if people asked me to tell them about myself, I would say, “Well, I’m studying music education.”  And that’s about all I had to share. But now, I have lots to share about my very full and satisfying life.

I bet some of my family and friends thought I was crazy for taking a part-time job in the middle of nowhere, Vermont, but it was in God’s plan to put me here and give me a wonderful start to my adult years.

I am really happy here.

Have I convinced you yet?  Will you agree that a part-time gig sounds wonderful and fulfilling?  It truly is.

A Typical Day

I thought I would share what a typical day of teaching K-6 music is like for me.  This might give you a hint: it’s only 6:20 and I’m already freshly showered and in bed writing this!  Teaching elementary music is not for the faint of heart, and it’s challenged me in many ways.  The “honeymoon” period of teaching has passed.  Some things about teaching get easier (like cranking out solid lesson plans every week and all the kids’ names) but some things get harder (like keeping up energy levels, being constantly creative in lesson planning, and preparing for a winter concert).  I hope you enjoy getting a sneak peak into my Wednesday today.  Although I also teach band and chorus, Wednesdays are my all-general music days.

6:07: Alarm goes off.

7:15 Arrive at school

7:15-8:20 Set up/prep for the day.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my own classroom at one of the schools I teach at.  I have a closet, pictured here:photo (1)

It’s impossibly small, and bursting with things I know I’ll never use.  When I have some ample time, I’m planning on deep cleaning it and chucking all the stuff that’s just taking up space.

To set up for my classes, I have to grab everything I need from this closet and set it up in the multi-purpose room.  That usually means about making 6-8 trips since I always forget something and the little cart I use isn’t big enough!  Sometimes I get kids to help me, but today I just did it myself because I had a lot of bulky and heavy stuff.  It’s kind of a workout…I usually like doing it, but sometimes, like today, it’s super annoying.

It is NOT easy teaching in the gym.  The school is so small that it doesn’t really have hallways.  The classrooms are kind of off the gym in little pods with “my” room being in the center.  Meaning everyone has to travel through my room to get anywhere else in the school.  It’s pretty distracting for the kids when they’re in class, let me tell you!  I’m working with my principal and custodian on getting some curtains or dividers to create a specific music space where distractions wouldn’t happen.

8:20-9:05 Sixth Grade Music

In sixth grade today (and in all classes), we practiced singing “America the Beautiful” which will be sung on Monday during the all-school assembly for Veteran’s Day.  I’m actually going to be away that day, so I recorded myself playing the accompaniment on the piano, and wrote the words on huge paper.  This is old school teaching, people.  Ideally, I’d love a smartboard or even a projector, but I don’t have either.

In addition, we’re working on a percussion accompaniment to one of the songs the chorus is singing. They’re singing “Sing Noel,” which is the English version of Siyahamba, the African carol.  There’s maracas, claves, djembes, and tubanos in this accompaniment, and we spent a few minutes getting into a groove and giving everyone a chance to play all the instruments.

The majority of the period was spent working on a new unit on composition.  We’ve been practicing reading notes on the staff (to prep for getting ukuleles soon!) and rhythm patterns the past few weeks, and the students are putting those skills to good use by creating their own music.  This was a relaxed part of the day because it was more student-led and I could wander to different parts of the gym and help groups out.  They wrote rhythm patterns last time, and today they checked them and practiced them on a percussion instrument of their choice.  I gave some of them staff paper to start notating their final product, and in a few weeks we will perform them for each other.  Students are required to do one composition on their own, but can do extra group projects if they so desire.

I’ve struggled to reach the older kids, especially because some of them are at the “I’m too cool for elementary school” point.  But this composition thing is really getting them excited!  They’re asking good questions and coming up with some pretty creative stuff.

9:10-9:55 Second Grade Music

This class is my largest out of anyone, a total of 19 kids.  That’s a lot of second graders to look after!  We’ve been studying melody with using instruments, our bodies to show high and low, and the notes mi-sol-la.  There are several songs that I’ve taught, including one called Rico’s Pizza that they really like.  It goes like this:

Rico’s pizza restaurant 

Any pizza that you want

All our pies have extra cheese

May I take your order please?

What size? _________  What toppings? _________ What crust? __________

Thank you for your order!

This song is only made up of mi-sol-la pitches, and each student sings back their answers to me one by one.  It’s a great way to asses individual singing and hear their silly answers.  Today, I got s’more, pretzels, and peas as answers!  Most kids usually answer with “extra large” for the pizza size question.  🙂

We also prepped for the Veteran’s Day assembly, and worked on reading simplified music notation on a 3 note staff.  I wrote on the little white board I have today, but next week the kids are going to get these awesome tools:

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They’re felt squares with sticky felt notes!  I took a trip to Joann Fabrics recently and created these earlier this week.  The five line staff I’ll use with the older kids, but the 3 line staff works great for second grade.  I can’t wait to use them next music class!  I think it will help the kids physically feel and move the mi and sol to where they go on the staff.

10:00-10:40 First Grade Music

This was amazing class today!!  They’re normally very good, but today they were especially awesome!  At the start of each class with first grade and kindergarten, we sing two songs: “Hello, Hello” and “Hickety Pickety.”  Both get the kids singing as a group and individually and moving around.  I’ve found it’s really good to have that routine before jumping into the day’s activities!

And since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen a lot of improvement with the individual singing!  “Hickety Pickety” is a song that has each child sing “My name is ______” and we go around one by one.  Some kids were really shy about singing their name at first, but now that they’re realizing it’s an expectation I have of them every class, they’re getting really comfortable with it!  It’s so cool to see their improvement.  I love these little people.

We did a few other songs, including one that was originally called “Paw Paw Patch” but I’ve modified it to be called “Pumpkin Patch” to match the fall season.  Once they learned the words, we played some percussion instruments to the steady beat and we also learned a simple square dance!  They had so much fun with this, and did much better with it than my third grade class, who I had done the song and dance with last week.

Almost every time a first grader sees me in the morning prepping, they’ll ask me one of two questions: “Do we have music today?”  “What are we doing in music class today?”  If it’s the former and I answer in the affirmative, they say, “Yes!!” and scamper away to eat their breakfast.  If it’s the latter, I always say, “You’ll see!”  (I’d love to talk with them more but I’ve got so much to do in the morning and once those kids start talking, it’s hard to get them to stop!)  They always smile and walk away excited for 10 o’clock.  Today was no exception!  It’s so wonderful to get that kind of reaction from my students.  I love that they’re excited for music class!

10:45-11:15 Kindergarten Music

This is another of my classes that are just so excited about coming to music class!  I walked into their room today to pick them up, and two kids ran over right away to give me hugs before getting in line!  Today we didn’t get as much done as usual because we had a lock-down drill.  Some of the kids got a little nervous about sitting in the dark, but they did such a good job of being quiet and following directions.  Go kindergarten!

We did “Hickety Pickety” and “Hello, Hello” like usual, and we learned a new song called “Andy Pandy” that focuses on high notes and low notes.  Also, we did the game “Doggie, Doggie” to do more individual singing assessment and high/low notes.  I have some awesome singers in this class who are not afraid of singing out!  They are fearless and so enthusiastic.  We also did a modified version of “Pumpkin Patch” without the full dance.  There’s a line in the song that says “Where oh where is my friend ______.” They love it when I use their names!  So cute.  On their way back to class, one of little boys told me, “I LOVE YOU!”  which is becoming a regular habit for him to do.  It’s so nice to be appreciated!

11:30-12:00 “Free” Period

This is the 3-6 grade recess time, and it’s usually a time for me to collect myself and answer e-mails since I don’t have recess duty this day.  However, many of my fourth grade band students have been asking to come in to do extra practice time, and how can I turn down requests like this??  So I scarfed down my lunch while simultaneously checking my e-mail and circulating among the two clarinets, flute, and percussion player that wanted to come in.  During the two days a week that I work at this school, I don’t have a prep period either day anymore.  Because of how many band students I have (they all get small group lessons) and the kids who have been requesting extra lessons at recess, I teach non-stop the entire day.  It’s such a good problem to have, but it’s tough going at that pace for 8+ hours!

12:00-12:30 Lunch

I used my official lunch break to take 10 minutes leaning against a brick wall outside and take a few deep breaths, then setting up my area for the afternoon classes.  I also talked with the custodian for a few minutes about staging for the winter concert.  He’s been so helpful with anything I need!

12:40-1:25 Fifth Grade Music

This is another one of my challenging classes to find things that engage them.  Today, I discovered something that did!  We did our Veteran’s Day prep, then worked on the Sing Noel percussion parts.  I am planning on choosing the best students from fifth and sixth grade to play in the concert.  We were getting a pretty good groove!

Then, we did a fun activity that was kind of an experiment, but turned out really well!  We played boomwackers to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”!  Even the boys were so into it, singing the whole thing.

FIrst, I wrote a C major scale, which they are familiar with, and played it on the piano.  Then I made each note into a triad and played what that sounded like.  I circled the 3 chords that are used in the song, G, Am, and C and played those.  I created this visual for them to use:


Before we got to the song, we did a few warm-ups using boomwackers like following my tempos using a C major chord and echoing my rhythm patterns.  Once I was sure everyone knew the guidelines and the idea of the activity, I split the class into 3 groups and gave them their appropriate color boomwacker.  We practiced without the music first, then I played the song while I pointed to the chord.  They loved it!  I talked about how hundreds of pop songs use these 3 chords – they were skeptical! I know there’s a not a lot of musical substance to doing something like this, but they were singing (which is a struggle to get them to do most of the time) and it pulled them in to how great music class can be.  I hope that I can just sneak musical concepts into activities like this, even simple things like singing and keeping a steady beat, and they won’t even realize it because they’re having so much fun.

“Shake It Off” works perfectly for this activity because I only have diatonic boomwackers.  So only the notes in a C major scale – no F#s or any other flats that come up often in chords.  Many pop songs can be transposed to be played using the 3 chords I mentioned, but then you can’t play the recording as the kids are performing.  So I’m going to search for some more songs that they’ll know/like in a simple key for future activities.

1:30-2:20 Fourth Grade Music (I’m not really sure why fourth grade gets 50 minutes and the other classes only get 45 or 40.  It just happened that way…)

We did Veteran’s Day, the boomwacker activity, and also some work with recorder today.  I created an accompaniment for recorder to be used at the holiday concert, so we’re getting ready for that.  They were doing a good job today!  Again, they’re a challenging class for various reasons but I was proud of them.  Some of them thought “Shake It Off” was a “girl” song and wanted a “boy” song.  I had to be stern with them about not complaining because it doesn’t get much more fun than this!  Threatening to take away their instrument always makes kids shape up and focused again!

2:20-2:40 Pack Up

Everything goes back in the music closet!  Today, I got two fourth graders to help put everything away.  Thank goodness kids love to help do stuff.  The school day ends at 2:35.

2:40-3:00 Meeting

I met with the librarian, who is our tech guru, about using the district’s online system for ordering school supplies, or in my case, ukuleles!  I got the approval from my principal to purchase 10, so I just have to put the order in.

3:00-5:30 After School Program

As you probably know, I don’t teach music full-time.  I supplement it with substitute teaching and the after school program.  I work with a student one on one.  That’s all I can really say about it.  After a really full day of teaching and being on the go, it’s tough to go right into something else!

5:45 Arrive Home


And that’s pretty much it!  It’s an intense day.  But it’s so, so fun.  Seriously, I get to chill with little kids all day and get pumped up to Taylor Swift while getting paid.  It’s not very much but I don’t care.  I didn’t exactly go into this profession for the paycheck!  I love teaching what I want to teach and creating my own style and curriculum.

I’m battling away a cold right now, so it’s times like right now where I’m so grateful I have tomorrow off.(Besides the after school program and teaching piano lessons in the evening.)  I definitely am not bored teaching music 3 days a week!  And even though tomorrow will mostly be spent writing e-mails and lesson plans for next week, I am so grateful to have the down time.  I subbed at another school in the district on Tuesday for seventh and eighth grade, so I’m ready for a break tomorrow to get rid of this cold!

Subbing was really, really fun.  I love working with older kids too.  They were so funny and helpful, and they thought I was super cool because I played instrumental music while they were doing silent reading for part of their class.  Like I said, it’s so nice being appreciated!

How awesome is it that I’ve found a profession I love?  I get excited when I think about the next teaching day or the improvement I’ve seen in my students.

Not once since I’ve moved to Vermont have I regretted it.  How has it already been almost three months since I’ve moved here?

Special shout-out goes to my longtime friend and former roommate, Caitlyn!  It’s her 21st birthday today!  Happy birthday lovely!

Maybe you should all go listen to Taylor Swift to get you pumped up about something you love.  🙂

“autumn flowing”

Hello, internet!  It’s Saturday evening and I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was a busy week!  But it, and the weeks preceding it, have been full of so much good stuff that I have no room to complain.  I have lots of pictures and events to share!

This blog is in two parts: teaching and non-teaching things.

1. Teaching.

Here’s a photo of some ideas that one of my 3rd grade classes came up with.  We listened to Vivaldi’s Autumn at the start of October, and these are their descriptions.  The top half is what they thought before I told them the name/idea of the piece, and the bottom half is what they came up with after I revealed the name.  I loved their creativity!

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I’ve had some tough teaching days this past month (mostly due to behavior problems at one of my schools), but I’ve also had a few really good teaching days.  This week was especially awesome.  The instrument rentals for the new band kids arrived, and they were ecstatic at being able to have their instruments.  In addition, on Friday I just had absolutely wonderful classes.  The kids were creative, respectful, musical, engaged, and genuinely excited about music.  One of the kids in my 5th/6th grade class (yes, it’s a combined class and their total number is 11!) told me, “This was the best music class ever.”  That might have been partly because we had just done 5 minutes of freeze dance to their favorite music to finish out the class, but I appreciate it nevertheless!

Disclaimer: This was the first time I have done a freeze dance because they don’t really have music educational value, but I felt like they deserved this one.  Plus, dance, no matter what kind, is a form of musical expression!  So that’s how I’m justifying what we did.  And the first 40 minutes of class were devoted to Jamaican and African drumming, folk singing, and understanding culture/history through music, so it was a very musically dense lesson in addition to the freeze dancing!  Soon, we’re going to do freeze dance to “Thriller” before Halloween.  I.  Can’t.  Wait.

They’re such good kids.  I walked out of school that day with a smile on my face, that’s for sure.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to my principal that Mr. Goodbar was my favorite Hershey’s mini in those bags of assorted chocolates.  And the next week, I arrived to check my mailbox and found this:

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It’s the little things like this that make each day here such a blessing!  She is a wonderful principal.

I was a substitute teacher for the first time this past week.  As you probably know, I only teach music 3 days a week plus an after school program and private lessons.  I’ve gotten on the sub lists for my schools, and my schedule finally allowed me to say yes to a sub job!  I filled in for the 4th grade teacher.  It was a pretty good day.  I think substitutes deserve way more credit than they get!  I found it challenging in a general elementary class.  I’ll definitely do it again though.  It’s great experience and extra income.

This isn’t exactly teaching-related, but it has to do with two coworkers that have been so kind to me.  My car is having issues.  Basically, I can smell gasoline from the inside and I think my gas tank needs to be replaced.  It’s unsafe to drive, which puts me in a difficult position, especially since I was planning on driving to the annual VMEA conference over an hour away on Monday. I was pretty stressed out about this problem earlier today, but now it’s completely resolved itself.  I’ve got an appointment to get the car looked at, I have a ride to the conference with another music teacher, and one of my coworkers is lending me her extra car until mine gets fixed.  I was practically in tears when Chris called me to tell me she’d come pick me up so I can get her car.  I have met some very giving people in Vermont, that’s for certain.

Just this morning, I was stressing out about dealing with my car in a still fairly foreign area.  I was all worried about getting to the conference, because I had to get there since I already got approval from my school to get this professional development credit.  I would’ve had to somehow call off the substitute coming in for me on Monday, and then figure out how to get to work that day and the next 3 days until my car’s appointment.  It was a pretty complicated mess, but in the 8 hours since then, one piece of the puzzle has fallen into place one after another.  Now everything has been resolved.  It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend the majority of my Saturday morning figuring out, but it’s taken care of and I know I have people looking out for me.

God is definitely presenting me with challenges living in Vermont.  There are many things that aren’t easy, like being a first year teacher, being a first year Vermont resident, dealing with unforseen car problems, and making friends in a new town.

But I need to learn to trust him more.  He has showered me with some many blessings despite the hurdles I have to overcome.  He knows me so much better than I know myself.

2. Non-teaching

At the end of September, I did this yoga day to raise money for an organization called Women for Women.  It was fantastic!  I got to meet a bunch of wonderful women in the area, as well as relax through yoga, dance, a foot massage, and a vegetarian lunch.  Here’s a photo of all the people who attended:

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Sometimes yoga is a little too “out there” and new age-y for me, but this day was just the right amount.  We did a little chanting and meditation which was new for me, but I liked it.  I used that time to pray and think.  We got tons of free goodies like local soap, chocolate, and lotion.  I also won a door prize – it’s an all-day pass to the Equinox Spa in Manchester!  They have tons of yoga, pilates, zumba, and spin classes.  I plan on using it on some Saturday when I have nothing to do (ha) when it’s cold outside!

Another activity that I’ve been getting involved with is a samba group!  Samba is like a Brazilian marching band basically.  All very unique sounding percussion instruments combined with South American rhythms makes for a very cool ensemble.  It’s the closet thing I’ll get to marching band around here!  We’re performing in an upcoming Halloween parade!  We all wear black with skeletons painted on, and face paint and colored ribbons on our drums.  It’s a big deal in Rutland, the city in which it’s taking place.  The people who are in the group are like a big family, and they have welcomed me with open arms!  I need to create my costume still.  That’s a project I’m starting tomorrow.  Here’s a picture of the studio where we rehearse.  The man who leads the group is a freelance percussionist and teacher who has this amazing, drum-tastic room:

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Yesterday was a busy day.  I went for a 6 a.m. run with two other friends, taught all day, helped with the after school program like usual, and then drove to Troy, New York for a concert by Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, bassist and mandolin, respectively.  It was superb!  I would like to purchase one of their albums. Their concert hall is like a smaller version of Heinz Hall.  I was wayyy up in the top section, and my only complaint is that the seats were plain wooden rows of discomfort!  I guess that’s what I get for the cheapest ticket price!  I would definitely like to go back for another concert there.  It was a great end to that Friday.

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Here’s a picture of the street the music hall was on.  Troy is more of a city than Manchester is.  It was a nice change from what I’m used to seeing now. It was beautiful all lit up:

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Okay, time to brag about Vermont’s beauty.  It’s incredibly scenic here.  Still not tired of the mountains and the clouds and the sky and the trees, never will be.  In the words of Walt Whitman,

As consequent from store of summer rains,

Or wayward rivulets in autumn flowing,

Or many a herb-lined brook’s reticulations,

Or subterranean sea-rills making for the sea,

Songs of continued years I sing.

Ever upon this stage,

Is acted God’s calm annual drama,

Gorgeous processions, songs of birds,

Sunrise that fullest feeds and freshens most the soul…

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Another reason why today got increasingly better is my new wardrobe!  A friend who I have gotten to know through running had a clothing swap at her house today.  I had such a good time with the women there, and I got some great new stuff.  I was like a kid in a candy store with all those clothes!  There were maybe 8 people there, and we produced this huge amount of clothes to give away/donate.  You can’t even see all of it in the photo!  There was an entire rack of dresses and a table of accessories not shown.

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A clothing swap is such a good idea!  To meet people, and to clear out your closet (only to put more back in it).  I would definitely like to host one in the future.

Go look up the song “Love, Love, Love” by the Mountain Goats.  You won’t regret it!

That’s all for now.  I’m off to put in my fourth load of laundry for the day.  (No, I didn’t get that much clothing at the swap.  I have to wash what I did get in addition to my own stuff that has been building up for a while now!)

I hope you enjoyed reading about my life!  I always appreciate your kind notes and compliments about this blog.

Life in the Green Mountain State

I am celebrating my 26th day living in Vermont!  Every day I learn something or discover a new place that I love.

Today, for example.  I walked to Northshire Bookstore, which is less than a mile from I live.  A mile.  Can you believe I’m this lucky?  It’s an adorable little bookshop near one of the roundabouts in the main part of town.  (Just a side note: roundabouts make so much more sense than stoplights.  Seriously, they’re amazing.)  I spent over an hour browsing and enjoying the atmosphere.  There’s also a coffee shop connected to the store, which makes it even better.  I got a book about being eco-friendly, like how to make your own laundry detergent and other ways to help be more green in everyday life.  It’s a big deal here in Vermont!

I recently completed my third week of teaching at my two elementary schools.  In some ways, every day gets easier, but in other ways it gets more difficult.  I finally have learned almost all the teachers’ and students’ names and I am more efficient at lesson planning and teaching to the needs of each class.  However, now band has started at one school and there’s a lot of work involved in getting rental instruments for kids, fixing the pesky clarinet whose bridge key is bent, talking to parents about costs, coordinating small group lessons with the classroom teachers, typing up practice sheets, updating my website page, and more.  It’s a lot of work!  Some days are tough – really, really draining.  I come home with a hoarse voice, a gigantic to-do list, tired feet, no food in the house, and very little money in my bank account.. But you know what?

I love those tiny humans.  I love music.  I love teaching.  Some days I walk out of school on such a high that I can’t help but smile and sing along to the radio the whole way home.  Those moments and days make up for all the tough ones.  Each day of teaching is unique and challenging in its own way.  It’s awesome.

Here’s pictures from both schools:

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2014-09-20 19.43.51My parents were visiting for the past 4 days, so I showed them the schools and some other places in the area.  It was great to have them here!  Now that all 3 of their kids have left home, hopefully they’ll have time in their schedules to visit us often (although mine is the farthest).

Speaking of visiting, I drove to Pennsylvania for my first drill weekend last weekend.  It was very tiring, but the traveling was fine.  Vamping up my energy level on Monday morning after this weekend was hard, but I survived.  It was so nice going to a familiar place where I didn’t have to concentrate on what anyone’s name was or use my GPS to get everywhere within a 10 mile radius of where I was staying!  My true introvert-ism shines through some teaching days because talking to so many new people exhausts me, but this weekend was great because it kind of recharged me talking to friends and familiar faces.  Here’s a shot of the sky as I was driving to PA.  I know, I know, I’m a terrible person for using my phone while driving.  I survived.  Lately, I have been obsessed with clouds!

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One exciting thing that happened a few days ago was that I became the official owner of my 1997 Volvo!  I drove it for most of college, but now it’s actually mine.  I have my Vermont plates and driver’s license!  I love this car.  It have more than 185,000 miles on it but it still runs like a champ, and is like a tank in winter.  It’ll be just fine for this coming winter.

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This past week was especially fun at one of my schools.  We had the “Junkman” visit and perform for us!  Don is basically a one-man Stomp performer who travels all over the place to do gigs like the one he did for Sunderland.  The kids LOVED it. Each grade had their own junk-playing class after an all-school assembly where he gave a short concert.  As a result, I am brainstorming ways on how the fifth and sixth graders can include our own composed junk piece on the holiday concert!  They did such a good job with playing rhythm patterns on their own junk, and they asked so many insightful questions.  I know you’re not supposed to have favorites as a teacher, but my 5/6 class is especially fantastic.  They are so musical and not afraid of doing anything in music class.  They’re a joy to teach.

(Just a little disclaimer, I had permission to take and use photos from our junk classes!)  You can see in this picture on the left Don’s set up where he uses 100% recycled materials to make music.  He did a great job with the kids.  I especially loved an exercise where 4 kids kept a beat on an upturned bucket with rubber band covered sticks to deaden the sound, and he and another student would take turns soloing on another louder, more metallic sounding bucket.  The students got really into it.  I loved seeing them be expressive and creative with music!  I’m working on getting him to visit the kids at Currier!

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Can I just say that it’s awesome to be loved as a teacher?  I see students everywhere (including a barn sale today, a restaurant this past week, and at church last Sunday), and in school and elsewhere, the kids are always waving at me and saying hi and coming up to give me hugs or to help me move instruments out of the closet to the music area.  I am doing my best to give them a well-rounded musical experience as possible.  I try to take notes after each lesson to remember what went well and what I could change for next time.  I’m sure I’m going to be such a better teacher after I’ve done it for one whole year but so far things are going pretty well!  I make mistakes every day, but kids are forgiving!  And the next class I teach a little bit better.

It’s beginning to get cold here!  I had frost on my windshield yesterday morning!  During the days it’s warm, but at night and early morning it’s very chilly.  I wore my first scarf and pair of boots of the season this week!  I had an especially good run yesterday at a nearby park (also within walking distance of where I live) when there was no humidity, a slight breeze, and the perfect amount of sunshine left in the afternoon.  It was perfect.

I’m trying to get involved in community events to meet people and socialize.  Next week, I am doing a yoga day at a studio in town whose proceeds benefit an organization called Women for Women, and I was recently invited to help lead Girls on the Run at school.  It’s a club in the spring that’s like an elementary version of cross country.  I’ve been to 2 different churches, and I’d like to try out a couple more in the coming weeks.  There’s also a house being built through Habitat for Humanity in a neighboring town soon, and I’m going to sign up to volunteer to help.  I also have 4 piano students and have met really nice families through that already.  And I’m playing with a samba group tomorrow!  I was invited by a fellow teacher at school who is also a musician.  So I’m definitely keeping busy!  I love having two mornings a week where I’m not at school, because it allows me to get everything done I need to and still have time to do this kind of stuff.

It’s a good life.  Have a great week, my friends.

Change of Plans!

My life has changed drastically in the past week and a half!  I am now living in an adorable New England town, about to start teaching music in two elementary schools!  Honestly, I was planning on explaining how this entire thing came about, but I am totally worn out with sharing how I got hired, found a place to live, etc.  So you’ll just get to read about my adventure now that I’m here!  Which, in my opinion, is much more exciting anyways.  I know that in my last post I was all okay with subbing and was making the most of it, but I am so glad everything worked out the way it did!  This is way better than subbing.

First of all, my new home!  I am living in southern Vermont, smack dab in between the two schools I will be teaching at.  It’s almost exactly fifteen minutes north to one school, and another fifteen minutes south to the other.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful place to live.  I thought Pennsylvania has gorgeous, lush mountains, but the ones here are even better.  A picture can’t even do them justice so I’m not going to bother at the moment.  You have to be here to truly appreciate them.  (So come visit me!)  Frankly, I get quite distracted when I’m driving places because I’m too busy looking at the mountains that make me feel like an absolute dwarf.  Oops.  It’s a good thing there’s not too much traffic here!

I am renting part of a lovely little house, and it’s very close to the center of town.  There’s plenty of places to walk, run, and bike – my kind of place!  It’s actually quite a touristy area, with lots of people coming to shop and stay at the many bed and breakfasts that populate the area.  I can already tell I’m going to love it here.  I never thought that I’d want to live in Vermont, but now that I’m here I never want to leave!  This is a picture of my street with a beautiful sunset.  The mountains look small, but not when you’re standing in front of them!

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Speaking of leaving, I will have to once a month for National Guard stuff, but it’s only a little over 5 hours to the base.  When people find out I’ve moved here, they’re all saying, “Vermont?!  It’s so far away!”  But really it’s not.  It’s not any farther than going to the coast for vacation, or moving to Virginia to Pennsylvania.  But because not many people I know have been up this way, so it’s this strange, unknown, and frigid place.  Well, hopefully by my living here, my friends and family will learn a thing or two about Vermont!  I’m certainly learning a ton, and now I want everyone I know to have a vacation here.  And no, it’s not cold here…not yet at least!  I’m sure it will be, but from what I’ve heard from people, it isn’t that bad.  My principals told me the kids go outside every day for recess, almost every day of the year unless it’s absolutely far below freezing. 

I think it just stays cold here longer than in PA, that’s all.  Definitely manageable.  Another note about the upcoming cold weather: Every Wednesday during the winter months in VT public schools (and maybe private too), the schools shut down after lunch and the kids go skiing!  How awesome is that??  Guess that means I’ll be learning how!  I’ve gone snowboarding a few times, but never skiing.  I can’t wait to learn!

The two schools I’m working at are quite small.  And by that I mean very, very small.  There’s less than 100 students at each elementary school – only one class and teacher for each grade, and fifth/sixth grade are actually combined into one class.  I’m very excited to be working at small schools.  They are both very self-sufficient and the small numbers allow for more flexibility with scheduling and activities.  Here’s a picture of one of the schools.  When I asked about safety in the area, the principal told me seeing bears on the property was the biggest issue!  Bears!

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It’s adorable and I can’t wait to start!  My first day is this Wednesday.

It’s been such an adventure moving here.  I came up less than a week ago, not knowing a single soul besides the two principals who interviewed me.  My closest acquaintances are almost 3 hours away.  There’s been some frustrating parts to it, of course, like paperwork.  Dreaded paperwork!  Insurance, finding the grocery store, getting a new bank account, lesson planning with very limited resources, and having to do all of this on my own is pretty exhausting.  But my parents have been helping me work my way through the paperwork and any other questions I have about anything.  By the way, they are now empty-nesters as my younger brother just left for college!  I don’t know how they’ll deal with not having any kids at home!

It’s a good thing I’m rather independent and like doing things on my own, because moving to a new place is kind of lonely at first.  I’m sure I’ll make good friends, but it might take some time.  It’s not like college where there’s an organic place to meet other people with the same interests and age as me.  Instead, I’m going to have to join local groups and volunteer and just involved with the community.  I’m fine with going places on my own, but it will be nice to do things with friends.  For example, church.  I went to a church this past week by myself, and it was very nice, but it will be great to establish myself with a group of like-minded people once I decide on a church.  I’m going to try out a few before I make my decision.  After the church service, I went to an outdoor garlic and herb festival that happens annually this time of year!  Here’s a snapshot of some of the vendors:

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It would have been another place I’d loved to go with some friends, but again, I was okay with going by myself.  I talked to a lot of interesting people as I sampled local cheeses, garlic, fudge, pesto, and other delicious Vermont and New York products.  There was a live band playing and tons of people, so I was able to do one of my favorite things: people watch.  It’s fun just observing others and watching the world happen sometimes.  There were stalls selling alpaca products, fresh honey, woodworking, jewelry, and much more.  It was a great way to spend my Sunday afternoon, but next time I’m bringing a friend!

One of the first things I did here was locate the library and get a card, so the rest of my weekend has been spent reading and relaxing.  There are still things I need to do before Wednesday, but nothing is open today so I can’t go to the bank, print my lesson plans, etc.  It’ll all get done eventually.  I know it might be tough at first, because I’m jumping into the school year a little late with very limited knowledge about the students and what their level of musical knowledge is.  But I think after a week or two I’ll have a lot more figured out!

I have a little secret to share.  It’s something I wasn’t really proud of and didn’t like to tell people, but it’s turning out to be the biggest blessing of this whole experience.  And if you’ve made it this far in my post, you probably care about me and won’t think any less of me. 

Here it is: I’m only working part-time.  I will be teaching music three days a week, and that’s it.  At first, I was sad it wasn’t a full-time position, but then I read some articles and did some thinking, and I realized I don’t need or want full-time!  I am completely happy with the amount of work I have.  First of all, it’ll allow me ample time to lesson plan and get all the things I need to do as a first-year teacher, without feeling completely and totally overwhelmed.  Second of all, I can still do those things I wanted to do when I thought I was going to substitute teach!  I will still have time to run, to cook, to play music, to sew, to keep in touch with friends, everything.  Yes, I won’t make much money, but honestly, it’s not like I decided to be a music teacher for the paycheck.  I’m doing this because I love teaching and I love music.  With careful planning, the numbers will work out fine.  And, I do have a supplemental job helping with the after-school program every afternoon, which will give me more experience working with kids and teaching (and more money).

So it’s really a complete win-win situation.  I have plenty of time in my life to be full-time and I’m sure I will want to be at some point.  But for the next year (or however long I decide to stay) I’m loving the idea of part-time work.  I know it’s not as noble or as wonderful-sounding as full-time teaching, and I’m sure there are some people who think I shouldn’t have accepted the position, but I know in my heart it was the right thing to do.  It hasn’t been smooth-sailing the entire way, but not once have I regretted my decision to do this. 

I am capable of supporting myself, serving God, and getting to do what I love most in one wonderful package, all the while having a hugely grand adventure in a place I’ve never been before.  It takes a lot of guts and bravery to do what I did, and I’m really proud of myself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my new life!  I’ll leave you with a pretty picture of the clouds from a few days ago.  They’re stunning.  Stay tuned for more Vermont adventures.  🙂

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Future Plans

It looks like I’ll be substitute teaching in the foreseeable future. Don’t feel sorry for me or wonder why I don’t have a job, because I am actually really okay with subbing! Here’s what happened in my job search saga…

Let me tell you, I worked really hard to get a full-time job. I applied for over 40 positions in 8 states, and I had 5 interviews. I actually had calls about 7 opportunities, but I was turned down for those before the interview was scheduled because I didn’t have the proper certification for that state and because of my Guard commitment (which is discrimination, yes, I know). My interviews kept getting better and better, and I felt more confident after each one. Yes, I’m disappointed I didn’t get chosen for any of them, but I know I could not have interviewed or taught sample lessons any better. I did my best, but I realized my best just wasn’t right for any of those positions.

Which was heartbreaking. After my last “sorry, you impressed us very much and you’re very qualified but it was very competitive” phone call last week, I was sad for a long time. I questioned a lot about my teaching ability, my content knowledge, and everything that I’ve worked towards the past 4 years. It’s been really tough on my pride, especially – I have always worked hard and have been proud of what I’ve accomplished as a music teacher. Being denied from jobs made me feel unworthy and unwanted.

I could keep applying for jobs – I know there are still jobs out there – but I am making the conscious decision to stop applying, at least for a month or two. I am sending in my sub apps this week, and I feel very at peace with my decision. God is telling me to wait for my dream job, and wait I shall.

I actually made a list of all the reasons why I should sub for a few months. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation or need anyone’s approval because it’s my life and my decision, but I want to share anyways. I started this blog to keep track of my teaching adventures, and this decision to substitute teach is part of that journey. So here goes:

1. I will have free time.

It sounds selfish, right? Well, it totally is. Because the last 4 years of my life I have given up hobbies, sleep, time with friends, and much more. Which is okay! That’s the nature of getting a music education degree. And I know that being busy is the nature of being a music teacher, and I knew that going into this field. I’m okay with sacrificing things, but I’d like to take a couple months and not do that. I really just want to slow down for a bit and enjoy life.

I can’t wait to work on a few projects that have been stewing in my mind – sewing things, a vertical herb garden, performing in pit orchestras, and more. I have a long time to be a full-time music teacher and I know it’s what I ultimately want to do, but I’m accepting the idea of just…pausing my career. I will still gain experience by substitute teaching, but I will be able to devote more time to just being young and energetic and doing stuff that I want to do.

2. I can go back to Jamaica.

I’ve been invited back to teach music in Jamaica again! How cool, right? Except all the dates for the 2015 trips would have conflicted with a new teaching schedule/my Guard commitments. But with subbing, I can create my own schedule! So I’m thinking of going in January or March! It would be to a different part of Jamaica that I haven’t been to yet. Again, I’d still be gaining teaching experience doing this.

3. I can run another half-marathon.

One of the best things I did last fall was run my first half marathon in Annapolis, MD. I trained for it with my pal Rachel, and we had such a great time doing it. There’s a race at the end of October in Gettysburg that I’d like to do. I know with a new job, it would be very tough finding adequate time to exercise and train. But with my flexible subbing schedule, I can fit in long runs when I need to!

4. I can still visit IUP.

I’m not saying I will go back every weekend (no one wants to be THAT guy). But I will be able to be at Homecoming and other significant events. Since many of my friends in college were younger than me because I transferred, many of my friends are still there! I think it’s tougher to stay in touch with friends after graduation, but there are definitely people at school I don’t want to lose contact with. So visiting a couple times this year will allow those connections to stay strong.

5. I will save money.

I’ll be staying with my parents who have graciously allowed me to live with them for a while. (For a small fee!) We’re in the process of making the lower level of our house like an apartment, for me and any future person that they may rent it to. One of the greatest things they ever did was help me graduate college debt-free. Thanks to their savings and my hard work with the Guard and other jobs, I don’t have any loans! It’s so freeing and allows me further flexibility in my life when I do land that dream job. I’ll save up anything I make from subbing, and I don’t have to spend a whole lot of it now on loan payments, expensive rent, a car, etc.

6. I can get more involved at my home church.

Between Guard, traveling, and college events, my church attendance has been pretty awful the last year or two. Although I do have a personal relationship with God and I spend time in my Bible and in prayer, I think it’s important to worship with other believers. There’s a young adult study going on at my church that I would love to join. I’m sure many of the people there are going through the same things I am!

7. I can volunteer more.

Volunteering is something that’s really been on my heart lately. Especially ever since I went to Jamaica, I’m trying hard to think of how I can help those around me. I’ve donated tons of my belongings to various organizations, and I’m collecting toys for kids in Jamaica. (so if you have any Beanie Babies or small stuffed animals, send them my way!)

I’m considering volunteering at my local library again. It’s something I did in high school and really enjoyed. There’s also this program called Bike and Build that I REALLY want to do. It’s basically a cross country bicycle trip involving building homes along the way. It’s not until next summer, but there is a lot of planning and training that would go into it in the coming months.

I would also like to keep helping the marching band I’m working with right now. I’ve gotten really attached to the kids after just a few weeks. They’re so funny and full of life. It makes me so happy to see them determined and succeed at their tasks. Also, the show music is incredible – it’s the kind of music that I absolutely love and I never get tired of it. Just today at band camp we were working in a woodwind sectional on the ballad, and I was getting goosebumps during rehearsal. The music is so well-crafted and orchestrated, and the kids are doing such a great job of bringing the notes on the page alive. There’s this saxophone line that comes out of the texture, and it’s just gorgeous. They were nailing it today with intonation and tone. Wow. Sorry, getting a little off track here.

There’s just a lot of cool stuff out there. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people, especially if it involves physical labor which may sound weird. But I like to use the healthy body and mind I’ve been blessed with. If there’s one thing I know how to do well, it’s how to work hard!

That’s the gist of my list as to why it’s good to sub for a while. It’s not forever, and I know I’ll get my job when the time is right.

I am nothing but thrilled for my friends and colleagues who have gotten teaching jobs or are headed to grad school. So happy for you guys! You’re already amazing teachers and people, and you’re going to change people’s lives. I know I will too, but it’ll just happen a little differently.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me during this wordy, intense post! Life isn’t turning out exactly the way I planned, but I’m sure whatever happens will be even better. Have a great Wednesday everyone!