Monthly Archives: January 2017

When Hard Work Shows Up

I’ve often written on this blog about doing our work, doing our practice, taking small steps, one after the other. Our small, consistent efforts accumulate over time. Eventually we can see the difference.

In 2015 I began learning Beethoven’s sonata, opus 109. Since then I’ve learned and memorized both the first and second movements. I was hoping to skip the third movement (a theme with six variations) because I believed it was beyond my ability. The theme is simple, lovely, and slow, but variation VI has pages of trills in one hand while the other hand plays “thousands” of thirty-second notes. In my opinion, such music is best left to professional pianists. But Dr. B believes in learning an entire piece of music, so I had my assignment.

I delayed starting on it for several days. I felt defeated even before I began. Finally I began my feeble attempts to play the notes at a snail’s pace. After a few weeks of  work, I said to Dr. B, “I need help! I just don’t know how to play this.” He patiently explained techniques and practice methods, and explained the fine details of the tough spots.

During the few years I’ve been Dr. B’s student I’ve learned his practice techniques work. So I continued to work according to his suggestions.

After practicing variation #6 week after week, I finally began to see the possibility of actually playing it myself. Something  had clicked. Something had changed. A few hints of real music came from my piano, sounds that were more than a jumble of notes haltingly played. With a bit of progress, I felt encouraged to work even harder.

At my last lesson Dr. B and I worked for an hour and a half on Beethoven’s theme and variations. Page by page I played, he commented, then I played again, trying to incorporate his suggestions. After I played variation #6, the dreaded impossible variation, he said, “You’ve really improved! Good work!”

I was thrilled that my weeks of hard work had actually showed up at my lesson. My “home playing” and my “lesson playing” were the same. That doesn’t always happen — but that day it did.

He knows, and I know, I still have a long way to go. We both know I will continue to work hard and eventually I will get there. What was once impossible is now possible.

I write about music because it’s what I know best. What’s true of learning new music and the discipline is practice, works for anything else you want to accomplish.

Show up. Do your work. And keep doing your work. And then work some more.

Claim the results when they show up in your life.

Until next Tuesday . . .


Too Little Time

This week I’ve been reading Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books 2000 – 2016 by Ursula K. Le Guin — a collection of talks, essays, book introductions and book reviews. Le Guin has published more than sixty books, including fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and poetry.

I kept making notes as I read — jotting down books I’d like to read based on her introductions and reviews. My list of eighteen spilled onto a second piece of notepaper.

In the middle of my reading, I thought, “So many books, so little time.” Her recommendations have extended my reading list.

Time — it’s always our dilemma. We have more to do than we seem to have hours in the day, or days in the week. And the years, too, slip by before we’re ready.

NEWS FLASH: each of us — every human being — has exactly twenty-fours every day. No one has more; no one has less.

So why are we complaining? We didn’t get short-changed; we’ve not been cheated.

The number of hours is not the problem. How we fill those twenty-four hours is a matter of personal choice.

If you’re running, running, running with no way to ever catch up, here are some things you might consider:

  • What do you say is important to you? Are you engaged in that, whatever it might be?
  • What do you wish you could do, but can’t because of insufficient time?
  • What are the time wasters in your day? Try keeping a log to see where your time goes. For example
    • searching for lost items
    • TV
    • computer games
    • recreational shopping
    • doing things for others that they could do for themselves
    • email, phone calls, web-surfing, texting
  • What “nice but not necessary” items do you do every day? Check your “shoulds and oughts” for clues.
  • What things can you stop doing?

How we use our time is about personal choice. Yes, we have jobs and we have families and we need sleep. I’m not suggesting we give them up. However, they don’t require all of our time.

So, beyond family, job, and sleep, how would you like to spend the limited time left? No “yes, buts . . .” allowed as you ponder your priorities and dreams. “Yes, but . . .” is merely an excuse for being trapped with a too-full schedule.

You can make changes. You can choose to give up your time-wasters. You can say no to requests to serve on committees, to do volunteer work, to  take on things you’d rather not do.

It’s your choice.

Change is best done in small steps. Like New Year’s resolutions, total life reform is doomed to failure, usually within the first week, because radical change is difficult to sustain. Try making a small change, one that is easily accomplished, and guaranteed to be successful. Once it’s in place, you can make another small change. The cumulative effect of consistent small changes is phenomenal over time.

Cases in point: (1) Intentionally reading twenty pages daily increased the books I read every year. (2) Intentionally washing dirty dishes after each use prevents a major kitchen cleanup later. (3) Putting tools away after project completion guarantees you can find them later. (4) An end-of-day house walk-through to restore order makes the next morning easier.

Small changes can create time for other things.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Never Too Old To Learn

A few months back, I became the owner of an iPhone — not that I wanted one, but circumstances required it. I loved my old flip phone; phone calls were easy. I was not a happy iPhone owner. I struggled to accept calls; initiating calls was even more complicated. And there were no resident young ones to show me how to use this thing. Frustration was my constant companion.

I peppered other users with questions. Little by little, my phone skills and comfort level increased. But it was still more complicated than my flip phone — all I wanted and needed to do was make calls.

Eventually I tried the calendar function, though I kept my paper calendar just in case. Once I learned to view more than one day at a time, I was happy. I haven’t looked at my paper calendar in months — and didn’t replace it in January.

In preparation for my month-long December trip I read James Clear’s blog on ultralight travel and discovered a portable keyboard for my iPhone. As a writer he says he can do most of his work on his phone. “If he can, surely I can,” I thought. I checked for a similar keyboard both locally and on-line. My new nearly-full-size keyboard (with stand) arrived the day before my departure. With less than 10 minutes required for set-up, I was in business. Folded up, it’s the size of my phone.

Left my lap top at home.

That same week I remembered I had GPS on my phone so I spent an evening checking out its functionality.

Left my Garmin at home.

I checked out the book feature and downloaded a couple of books.

Left my Kindle at home.

At flight check-in I chose to receive my boarding passes on my phone. I showed my phone to the security guard. “This is the first time I’ve done this,” I said. “You’re doing great,” he replied, and showed me exactly how to position my phone on his reader.

No more paper boarding passes to keep up with.

Once on the trip my sister-in-law showed me how to take photos, how to zoom, and how to send. “You’ll be amazed at the picture quality,” she said.

Could have left my camera at home.

Over dinner with my daughter, son-in-law and cousin we got to talking about Siri. I knew about Siri but had never used her. We discovered I needed to change a couple of settings to enable her.

Siri is now part of my life.

Six new things I learned in very short order — all of which made my travel life incredibly easy. I was and continue to be amazed at everything I can now do on my phone. And yes, I am now a happy owner. I know I’ve only scratched the surface. I learn best on a need-to-know basis, so I know I will learn more phone things in the future.

I tell you all of this to say:

  • don’t be afraid of new electronics
  • ask for help
  • tackle one thing at a time; patience is a good thing
  • learn in your own time

If I can learn, you can too.

Until next Tuesday . . .




The Measure of Success

On New Year’s Eve a small group of us gathered for a movie. Afterward we poured champagne and readied ourselves to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Either the cameras didn’t dwell on the ball drop or I looked at the wrong thing but I sort of missed it. The ball-drop felt like a non-event compared to other years I remember. Once home I unwound a bit and hit the bed by 2:00.

During my December travels I had given significant thought to how I wanted to begin my new year. My choice was  to be in my church on Sunday morning, January 1, 2017. I had missed it during my travels so it seemed a fitting place for my restart.

Didn’t happen. I slept through two alarms.

As Caroline Myss says, “Intention without action is useless.” My intentions for January 1 were good, but I failed to act.

All that day I felt like I had arrived late into the new year — like I got to the party just as everyone was leaving.  I couldn’t go back and try it again, hoping to get it right this time. Just as there was no replay so I could really see the ball drop in all its brilliance, I couldn’t have a replay on my morning.

Nothing to do but forgive myself for my lack of action, set my personal disappointment aside, and begin from the moment at hand.

Lest I dwelt too long on missed moments, I decided to look back at part of 2016’s  plan: read one book a week. That’s been my intention for several years — and there’s been regular action in that direction. Though I hadn’t kept count during the year, I suspected I had fallen short of my goal.

I finished my last book of 2016 on December 31. You can see my list here. Because I’m a numbers geek, and because I like to measure progress, I have book-reading data to share:


2012       18

2013       20                          11%

2014       25                           25%

2015       29                           16%

2016       36                           24%

No, I didn’t reach my goal but I was better than last year and only 16 books short of the magic 52. Several times during the year I thought, “If I read shorter books, I could easily meet my goal.” But that felt like cheating. I chose books that were of interest to me, no matter their length, and threw in an occasional classic just for good measure. I will continue to do so in 2017.

The cool thing about checking the numbers is that I can readily see I read twice as many books in 2016 as I did in 2012, when I began tracking. I’ve congratulated myself for steady improvement. That’s all I ever want — steady improvement.

Progress on the journey is my measure of success — not the attainment of a goal.

The point of all of this is to prompt a few questions:

  • What direction are you headed in 2017?
  • What actions or steps will you take in that direction?
  • How will you measure your progress?

Show up — set your intention.

Do the work — take action.

Claim your progress — celebrate your success.

Until next Tuesday . . .




Scentual Power

Displaying IMG_0173.JPGI was driving north along the Oregon Coast on a cold winter’s sunny day. The mountains and ocean were as good as the last time I was here, and the time before that, and the time before that. And all the times before this particular morning. The times that began in my childhood. Snow capped mountains on my right, rugged ocean on my left, and funky little towns dotting my drive.

I pulled into a scenic overlook to savor the ocean and the cliffs and the crashing waves. Photos prove my presence. Beyond the stunning view, it was the scent of Oregon that hit me. The crisp salt air. The woodsy smell of pine and fir. The smoke of home fires burning, making grey curls in the air. Trucks piled high with logs. Distant sawmills shaping those logs and spewing sawdust.

The familiarity of aroma is one of our most powerful memories.

The scent of jasmine transports me instantly to India, though it’s been more than 50 years since I was there. I see the saris, sit at my Indian family’s supper table, taste the chapattis and tea all over again, and see the early morning sun rise over the Ganges river.

A certain perfume is the end-of-the-school-day hug of my first grade teacher, with her chunky-heeled lace-up shoes and her netted grey hair and lingering chalk dust on her navy dress.

As a child, it was the smell of rain and wood and sawdust and smoky fires that meant we had left the desert and were nearing Grandma’s house and Sunbeam Bread and orange soda and cereal in individual boxes and Christmas tree glasses and the aroma of Price Albert tobacco in Grandpa’s pipe.

Certain soaps and lotions become the baby days of my now-grown children and bath time and bedtime and reading books.

I’ve written earlier about my disappointments in returning to familiar places and finding them drastically changed. However, scents keep our actual memories in tact. They serve as powerful reminders of other times and places but leave our images as they’ve always been.

Pay attention — beyond the sights and sounds. Let the aromas and frangrances transport you to places you’ve been or experiences you’ve had or people you’ve known or moments you will always cherish.

It’s almost being there.

Until next Tuesday . . .