practice = joy

Piano Practice

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My son began taking piano lessons at our local community center almost exactly a year ago. Students were allowed to practice on the baby grand in the center’s common room whenever it was available but Gray was shy about showing up unannounced, so at first, I accompanied him.

I sat on the carpet nearby, masking my emotions by keeping my nose in a book. Gray practiced the opening measures of an untitled etude written by the 18th century Italian composer Antonio Diabelli. I was amazed that after only a single lesson, he was playing with both hands. The air was filled with notes; my heart was filled with joy.

Moderato

 

clarinetistAs for me…

When I was in elementary school, I was a clarinetist. Staying after for band practice on Tuesdays was the highlight of my week. I loved playing music, but there was no music program at my high school. My pursuit of music evaporated, along with my clarinet and everything that I had learned.

As an adult I grew to love classical guitar and even took lessons for a while, but my small artist hands—already overworked by constant drawing—couldn’t assume the guitar’s requisite chord positions. The practice hurt my hands. Having strong, flexible, long fingers would have made things easier, but there was also the issue of my brain, which was not cooperating at all. Despite a lot of very real effort, learning to read and play music again seemed impossible. I gave up and moved on. At least I had tried!

An Amazing Surprise

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A few days ago my son offered to give me a piano lesson. After the guitar debacle I had no hope of actually learning to play, but Gray is fifteen! Any shared activity that he suggests is welcome. I sat down with him at his keyboard, his battered copy of the Diabelli etude propped on the music stand. Hearing the opening run of notes took me back to that day in the community center.

Because I’d heard Gray stumble through the same notes at the start of his practice, my own blunders were not discouraging. The fumbles sounded familiar, even beautiful. Right. And despite actual pain in my brain (I feared an aneurism), there was no pain at all in my hands. At the end of an hour-long lesson I had learned to play four measures. With both hands! Today in my third lesson with Gray, we’ll have made it to the end of the piece. Astounding.

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Gray’s piano practice is one of the inspirations for this blog. After only one year of practice, he is becoming quite the pianist. Watching him learn to play the piano reminded me of the joys and benefits of learning, and also showed me that a little practice every day is effective.

Days dissolve into years whether we are learning and acquiring new skills or not… so why not spend a few minutes every day so that, in a year’s time, you’ll have a new skill? Trust me, after you push through the initial agony of shaking the cobwebs off your brain, it gets easier. And the benefits are staggering.

In her recent TED talk, Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, suggests learning as an effective way to prevent Alheimer’s Disease (click here for the talk). We should always be learning, to keep our brains healthy, young and supple.

How would your life be different a year from now if you spent a little time every day to learn how to _________________?

 

practice = joy

Parlez-vous français?

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I have missed speaking French ever since graduating from high school.

At the time I thought I was fluent; decades later, I wonder if that was an optimistic assumption. Still, by the end of an exchange trip to la belle France I was able to understand everything I heard, and for the most part could adequately communicate.

A rigorous college schedule prohibited study of le français, and life beyond school did a great job of killing off mon vocabulaire. Zut! It’s a terrible shame because I loved everything about speaking French—the accent, the romance, the sheer thrill of being bilingual. It was fun and made me feel good about myself. Why did I ever let it go? Why, why, why?

More importantly, is there any way to get it back?

Grammar Girl to the Rescue

avatar-full-bodyI’m always looking for stuff to listen to while I work. Recently I added the Grammar Girl podcast to my playlist. If you love words (and I bet you do, if you’re reading this blog), you should give Grammar Girl a try. Besides enjoying Mignon Fogarty’s “Quick and Dirty” grammar tips—délicieux!—you’ll also hear a promotion from her very special sponsor: Babbel.com.

Babbel.com

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 9.13.35 AMUsing the promo code from Grammar Girl, I signed up for six months of Babbel.com’s on-line French lessons. It cost around $25US, which is half price. The segments are super short and—I cannot stress this enough—they are an absolute balm to my soul. The affect is astounding.

Babbel.com offers courses in many different languages. For professional reasons, it would have been easier for me to justify spending time and money to learn to speak Spanish or Italian. I hope to give both of those a try some day, but for now I decided to indulge myself. Pursuing mon amor perdu, my lost love, le français, is adding joy to my life and clarity to my mind.

True to the purpose of this blog, I will practice daily. If five minutes of French with mon croissant et café in the morning isn’t a key to happiness, I don’t know what is!

Click here to check out Babbel.com.

 

 

practice = joy

Minigolf Tournament at Lilliputt

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Today I played in my first-ever minigolf tournament. In fact, I joined the official New Zealand minigolf tour!

My fifteen-year-old son Gray participated today as well. A work schedule conflict prevented my husband Fred from joining us, which was tough on him. Fred, a PGA teaching pro, is the driving force behind our family’s minigolf participation. He and Gray joined the tour several months ago and have already played in two events.

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Gray had a terrific tournament. The two of us played the final of four rounds together, so I got to witness his big moment, which happened directly below the gorilla (a signature resident of Lilliputt Mini Golf’s Safari course) in the photo above. Usually everyone’s ball snakes its way through the tunnel and arrives safely near the hole, but Gray’s ball took a weird bounce and stalled in the middle of the tunnel. He had to climb in and get creative. Somehow he wrangled his lanky 6-foot frame behind his ball. And somehow he used his putter (mallet-style?) to boot the ball onto the green… and directly into the hole! It was awesome.

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Gray posted admirable scores. As for me, well… somebody had to come in last place! 🙂 Still, I had an amazing time. I spent a gorgeous day outside with my son and a group of wonderful people, I got to try out not only my mad new putting skills, and I enjoyed some silly predicaments of my very own.

practice = joy

Intro to Minigolf

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My husband Fred is a PGA teaching pro. He is a gifted instructor, and golf’s “short game” (a.k.a. chipping and putting) is his forte. Click here to see his awesome website.

Fred and I have been married for 22 years, and in all of that time, I have never learned to play golf. My few attempts were thwarted by my demanding schedule. Being a working mom sapped my strength. Who has time to pursue a sport which requires countless hours of practice before you can ever dream of playing? And then, takes half a day to play? Not me!

However. Minigolf.

Minigolf is not only fun, it is gaining respect as a serious sport. The rest of my family recently got involved in a local Minigolf tour. (Yes, that’s right: tour.)  Usually I would be happy that my husband and teenage son found a shared activity that didn’t involve me, because I work at home and that’s difficult to do when they are around. But that was the old me. The new me is going to join them. I have my putter, my coach, and my first tournament lined up.