Monday, July 30, 2012

My Wedding Planning: Engagement Photo Shoot

Because I'm newly married and had SO much fun planning my wedding, and because brides can't get enough wedding inspiration (I know because I was constantly scouring the web for ideas!) I thought I'd start a series of posts on my wedding planning. Today is a great day to begin because today, July 30, my husband and I have been married for exactly 7 months! Our wedding was on December 30, 2011, and it could not have been more perfect.

First of all, being engaged is a really beautiful time in a woman's life, I think, so my personal advice to all brides-to-be is not to rush the engagement period. We had a year and a half between the proposal and the wedding and this time allowed us to fully soak up all of the love and excitement that surrounded us as we, and our friends and families, prepared for our special day.

One incredibly fun thing we did about 4 months after my husband proposed was an engagement photo shoot. At first I didn't think that engagement photos were really in the cards for us--my husband and I were still long-distance at that point and figuring out when and where and how to take them was tricky. I was also a little bit skeptical about engagement photos, to be honest, because a lot of the ones I'd seen seemed very trendy and had the tendency to look a bit too orchestrated.

But we got lucky--one of my husband's classmates in flight school at the time mentioned casually one day that his wife was a photographer. So I looked her up online and saw that she was very talented, and had just the style I liked. Over the phone, I explained that I wanted our photos to look as natural as possible--that I wasn't in love with photos staged in front of trees or lakes or fields, and I was hoping instead for photos that were sort of vintage, quirky but timeless, and rustic.

I suggested we start at the Army Aviation Museum on post to take some photos in front of the helicopter my husband flies (as I said, quirky!) because I thought it would just be so fun. Don't be afraid to do something different with your engagement photos!

After being told by the museum security guard to please leave (he didn't like that we'd adjusted the rope around the helicopter...oops), our photographer, Jennifer, took us to a few spots she'd found for us. The first place was a large parking lot with two huge storage crates sitting off to one side. I think she saw that we looked wary, and said, "Just trust me." So we did, and these photos are exactly what I was hoping for. I just adore them. They look vintage and urban (quite a feat to pull off in Southern Alabama), and I love the rusty, earthy look of the crates on either side of us. She completely understood the vision I had in my mind.

Our last spot was another brilliant pick by Jennifer. She brought us into the tiny town of Enterprise, Alabama, and walked us over to a beautiful wall she'd found. It was painted a pale blue, had a fun stucco sort of texture to it, and there were two darker blue windows perched up on the second story. I love these photos. For some of these, Jennifer told us just to "play," and I really like that she captured the relaxed playfulness in our faces.

As you can see, we decided not to do any outfit changes during the day. Changing outfits along with the scenery is something a lot of couples do in their engagement shoots, but it didn't feel like us. I'm not even sure I could have gotten my husband to change if I tried! But more importantly, it just felt more natural this way, less fussy.

We're so glad we have these photos documenting this special, special period in our lives. We used these photos as part of our "save-the-dates," for a Christmas card/engagement announcement, and on our wedding website. It was a fun chance to celebrate our engagement, laugh and have fun in front of the camera, and practice for that oh-so-important photo shoot that is the wedding day!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sharing a Bit of Beauty

I came across this photo on Pinterest a few weeks ago and I thought I'd share it because I think it's absolutely stunning. To me, this image is the epitome of grace, elegance, femininity, beauty. It's just so lovely. I would hang this on my wall in a heartbeat. I'm sure my little brother, who is an exceptional photographer, would have more to say about this image and how it's put together and why it works. All I have to say is that I think it's so beautiful and I hope you do too. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Discovering Joy in Teaching

When you are a classical musician, teaching comes with the territory. This is true for many reasons. From a personal and practical perspective, it just makes sense for me to make teaching a part of my life. It is difficult and competitive to piece together performing opportunities and to make a living that way, there is always a high demand for well-trained piano teachers, and teaching is perhaps the most reliable way of putting into practice the skills I've spent years studying and mastering. Passing on those skills to eager (or sometimes not so eager) students is a natural extension of being a performing artist.

But there are deeper reasons too. Teaching is a tradition that has been valued and handed down for as long as classical music has been around. The very best performers and composers were also teachers. Haydn taught Beethoven, Beethoven taught Czerny, Czerny taught Liszt. Musicians who have been lucky enough to receive good training can often trace their "lineage" back to these great composers by finding out who taught their teacher, and who taught their teacher's teacher.

Perhaps most importantly, a one-on-one mentorship is simply the way musicians learn. It's not possible to learn to play an instrument well in a classroom or group setting. Playing classical music is a craft, and it requires those intense, weekly, hour-long lessons of instruction with a "master" to acquire the proper technique, to understand how to play in different musical styles, and to be guided in developing one's expressive and interpretive musical voice. Just as I've had mentors that have trained me, I can be a mentor to young pianists, and so it goes.

It took me a long time before I began to appreciate the opportunity to teach piano lessons. I first started teaching in high school, I taught lessons through college and graduate school, and now I am teaching private lessons for the first time as a non-student. I've come to believe that while teaching is arguably the most straightforward and logical thing to do with my training, it is also one of the most generous things I can do. Teaching enables me to pass on knowledge while also trying to excite passion and creativity in my students.

And I've also learned that my students can teach me just as I teach them. I had one student who started taking piano lessons at the age of 19, realized that music was his calling, and began to practice and study doggedly so that he could catch up. He is enrolling in a conservatory this fall. I had a student who practiced scales so much (unbeknownst to me) that she gave herself tendonitis (not a pretty story--she had to take a lot of time off because of her injury--but it is still a testament to her determination to excel). Another student could sight-read music better than I or any of my fellow graduate students could, yet he had a mental block when it came to really mastering or polishing a piece of music. He came to me saying he wanted "to learn how to learn." A current student of mine is a former Marine in his forties who, according to his wife, is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He hadn't taken a single lesson before his wife bought him a keyboard as an anniversary gift and I began giving him lessons. Learning an instrument as an adult is about ten times harder than learning as a child, but he has serious goals for himself that I'm sure he will reach.

These students have really stretched and challenged me, and given me the unexpected pleasure of learning alongside them in every lesson.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thrift Shop Find: Vintage Tin Planter

I stopped by a nearby thrift shop a few days ago and just as I was about to leave, this vintage tin planter caught my eye. It needed a good scrub but it is well-made and has an earthy, rustic look to it. I love the designs in the metal, its rusty patina, and the handles on either end.  It's a great size too (and only cost me ten dollars!) and I've discovered so many uses for it already.

Arrange fresh or dried flowers in it for a romantic, cottage-y look

Use it for holding scarves or other delicate things on top of a dresser 
(those are our engagement photos in the background)

Place rolled-up fresh, white hand towels in it to give your bathroom some character

Perch on a shelf and use as stylish storage for bath and shower items

I love finding beautiful, old things and giving them a second life! How would you use this tin planter?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wine Dinner at our Favorite Local Restaurant

My husband and I are in for a very special treat this Thursday evening--a prix fixe wine dinner at our favorite local restaurant. These are held once every few months and we have heard they are a blast--delicious food and wine and socializing with new people. The restaurant emailed the menu--to tantalize us I presume--and I thought I'd post it because, to me, it reads like poetry. 

We love The Rawls restaurant for several reasons. My husband is a soldier in the Army and is currently stationed in Southern Alabama. I moved here with him several months ago after finishing graduate school in New York City. He is also an NYC transplant--he worked there for 2 years before heading South to flight school--and the difference between New York and Ft. Rucker, Alabama could not be more stark! That's not to say we don't like it here. The slower pace feels refreshing after two and a half years in the city, the Army community is wonderful, and of course it's been a blessing for my husband to receive such excellent and competitive training.

But it is true that our options for enjoying a gourmet meal at a restaurant are limited. I don't want to say we're food snobs, but we certainly do love good food! And as you can probably tell from the above menu, The Rawls does not let us down. The chef makes it a priority to cook with local, fresh ingredients, and is always changing the menu to reflect the season. He also is not afraid to experiment with more unusual foods (like plantains!) and is creative in the flavors he combines. 

The last time we ate here was for my birthday, and we happened to see the chef walk out of the kitchen to chat with the people at a nearby table (he's very friendly) and my husband waved him over to compliment him on our delicious meal. We started chatting, and it turns out he worked for three years at one of the very top restaurants in New York before moving South. As a girl who had moved out of the city a mere few weeks earlier and was already missing it, this discovery made me feel a little less nostalgic somehow. We had our own piece of New York cuisine (one of my favorite things about the city) right here in Alabama--and for half the price!

It was also fun to learn that Chef Schleusner moved down to Alabama, an unlikely place for a gourmet chef, specifically to raise his family. He himself grew up here and told us that he believes this is such a wholesome environment for raising children, and he wouldn't want to do it anywhere else. I find that very admirable. He put his family first, his career second, and good things happened. I thought it was precious when he told us that his 3-year old daughter picked the blackberries that were in my cobbler!

Not to mention that the historic hotel the restaurant calls home reminds us of where we held our wedding reception. Combine all of these things, and we are probably The Rawls' most loyal fans. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

More Holy than Happy

While I was engaged to my husband, I read several books on marriage that made a big impression on me. In addition to planning our wedding, I felt that it was important to also spend some serious time thinking about and preparing for our marriage itself. I've been wisely taught by my parents that marriage is difficult--that its rewards are enormous, but that it takes hard work and patience. I had about a year and a half between the time we got engaged and our wedding day, and I spent a lot of hours in that time reading and thinking and praying about how to become the wife I want to be.

One book that resonated deeply with me was Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage.  I was completely in awe of his brave and bold conclusion, which is that marriage is designed more to make us holy than to make us happy. In other words, marriage gives us an opportunity to serve another human being, day in and day out, forever. Marriage provides daily, hourly, opportunities for forgiveness, humility, patience, kindness, self-sacrifice--qualities which, when put into practice, make us better Christians in addition to better spouses.

Now, obviously Thomas is not claiming that happiness is not desirable, or that holy marriages are not also happy marriages. Absolutely not. He is simply ordering things differently. If a marriage is mostly about the two people being happy then the results can be (and often are) tragic. Happiness can be a vague and fleeting emotion. The moment things become difficult happiness starts to feel far off, and if happiness is the goal in marriage, then why stay when times are hard?

But if both spouses instead aim for holiness--praying for each other when going through difficult times, choosing to be patient instead of critical when one spouse is having a bad day, being vulnerable to each other, forgiving even when it seems undeserved--then the marriage will be rewarding, fruitful, charitable, and committed, even when things become tough.

This book taught me that the most wonderful way to be a husband or a wife is to let the love you show your spouse be a reflection of God's love. Not easy! But an opportunity not to be passed up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Woman with Passion

Two of the leading women in today's world of technology and innovation are Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo. These are very impressive, successful women who are at the forefront of their industry and have proven themselves to be real leaders.

Something that Sheryl Sandberg has become known for is her advocacy for more women in higher places, in leadership positions, in seats of power. She has spoken to many audiences and posed questions like: Why aren't more women in these kinds of positions? If women make up 50% of the population, why are there so few women at the top?

In a recent interview, Marissa Mayer said something that I think is a perfect response (though it wasn't directed toward Sandberg) to this kind of thinking. In answering questions in various interviews about the role of women in her kind of work, she has said, "I actually think it's the wrong question. It's a question that hangs us up and causes the progress to be slower." And in another instance, "If you can find something that you're really passionate about, whether you're a man or a woman comes a lot less into play. Passion is a gender-neutralizing force." She says there is a need for more excellent computer scientists, male and female.

I happen to think that Mayer is exactly right. Instead of talking about how, as a woman, she made it to the top, she directed her response toward the passion that got her there. Rather than crusading with the message that we need more women in this field, she says that we need more passionate and committed people in this field.

To be fair, one of Sandberg's main conclusions is that, she believes, women of my generation are holding themselves back and they are not ambitious enough and they need to fight harder to stay in the workforce and move up that ladder. In other words, like Mayer, she is pining for more passion too (she just specifies that it needs to come from women, in particular).

But is a lack of ambition and passion in women indeed the "problem," if there is one? Can we assume that for every male executive there is a female out there who wants that job and would take that job if she were offered it? Do the majority of women desire the kind of high-powered careers of Mayer and Sandberg?

I see a fallacy in Sandberg's suggestions. I think that Sandberg is mistaken in thinking that the reason more women don't have the kind of high-profile and time-guzzling career she has is because of a lack of ambition instead of, perhaps, a desire to start a family and stay out of an office job for a while. I think she's mistaken in thinking that women are pulling out of the promotion pool because they aren't motivated enough, rather than, say, they have an urge to be home more with their children. I think she's mistaken in assuming that because 50% of our population is women, 50% of our nation's leaders should naturally be women. She doesn't consider that maybe the women who aren't in these positions simply have a different calling in life. Perhaps running a small local business, freelance writing from a home office, painting in a shared art studio, teaching at a university, being a wife, raising children.

There are surely plenty of women who do want the lifestyle of Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, and with the right amount of drive, they will get there. But it's wrong to suggest that a young woman working at a big company who becomes pregnant and begins exploring other options so she can spend day in and day out with her newborn is lacking in passion. It's wrong to suggest that the woman who tries to continue her career from home because she wants to homeschool her child is not ambitious enough. These are the kinds of things that take many women out of places like Google and Yahoo and into different phases of their lives. Those women should be supported for choosing to follow their passion for family, not scolded for not having enough passion for their career.

Naturally Creamy Salad Dressing

In the summer, we love to eat fresh salads made with wholesome farmer's market vegetables. Sometimes with arugula, sometimes baby spinach, sometimes just a mix of tomatoes and leftover corn on the cob (cut off the cob) and basil. The dressing I always use is olive oil and balsamic vinegar, high quality versions of each, and a good amount of salt and pepper. It's the most healthful, fresh-tasting  dressing, and I've gotten many compliments on how lovely it tastes when serving to family and friends. Which is astounding, because it really is so simple!

As delicious as this oil and vinegar, salt and pepper dressing it, sometimes I crave a dressing a bit more creamy. Who doesn't? One way to go would be to make a homemade ranch dressing or a creamy blue dressing. But I've discovered a little trick that allows me to stick with the simplicity and freshness and healthiness of my oil and vinegar dressing but that also serves that craving for creaminess--avocado! I've been noticing that when I dice an avocado and add it to the mix of greens and vegetables and start tossing it with my oil and vinegar, the salad takes on an instantly smooth and silky quality because of the texture and the healthy fats in the avocado. You could even go so far as to mash up some avocado into a dish, and whisk in the oil and vinegar before tossing it into the salad. This might be a good option for those (crazy, if you ask me!) people out there who are averse to chunks of avocado in their salad, but would still like to experiment with a creamy salad dressing that is good for you!

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Dream for a Built-in Piano

I've been thinking about this wonderful dilemma I have--which is that I'm blessed to have two pianos in my life! I really am a lucky girl. One is a late 19th century Steinway baby grand that my parents bought for me when I started to become serious about the piano, around age 10 I'd say. A few months ago we had it restored, so it's feeling and sounding better than ever. We may even go one step farther and send it to the Steinway factory in New York to have them perform their own Steinway-certified surgery on it, which would turn it into an essentially brand new instrument worth double what it's worth now.

My second piano is also a Steinway and it's a 1936 upright, with ivory keys, and it has an art deco look to it that I love. I bought this instrument right after graduating from college and before moving into my tiny New York City apartment that I lived in through grad school. You should have seen that piano going up three flights of narrow pre-war apartment stairs, lifted over the banisters like a feather by four very strong piano movers. This piano was a blessing to me (though I can't say it was always a blessing for the neighbors!) as I made my way through grad school, often practicing on it 4-5 hours a day on the days I was practicing at home instead of at school.

So now, I have these two pianos, my loyal friends. I don't have them both with me right now, but my husband and I are planning to buy a house soon and when we have the room, I'll have them both. The baby grand will be the main instrument I practice and teach on, and I hope to have a room that is devoted to the piano and my books, a little music studio. But the other piano is dear to me too and is a special and beautiful instrument, and it has that lovely art deco look to it that makes it a piece of art in and of itself.

I saw the above photo on Houzz a few weeks ago and it inspired me. I'm thinking it would be so lovely to embed our upright piano into a little nook like this, perhaps nestled between two built-in bookshelves. The way this piano is built right into the home suggests that it is a piece of art, a permanent fixture, but it is still play-able and use-able. I just love this idea and hope that our future home has a little perfect spot in it, just for this.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Handmade Coasters

A few weeks ago I realized how important coasters are. That sounds ridiculous, I know. I had just found a lovely coffee table at an antique store, hand-painted a muted sage color and perfectly distressed. But when I brought my coffee or ice water to the couch to do some reading, I realized that my new find would be useless for holding drinks until I found some coasters to protect it from water rings. But hey, I still did not break one of my favorite rules of home decorating--"Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful"--because it certainly is pretty.

After looking around at a few places for cute coasters, I stumbled on a make-your-own-coasters idea I found via Pinterest. It was so fun and easy, and inexpensive, too. Here's what to do. Go to the hardware store and buy several individual bathroom tiles, available for usually 20 to 30 cents each. I bought two black tiles, two cream tiles, and two mocha-colored tiles, because I love neutrals and think they are classy and go with everything. But the store I was in also had fun royal blue tiles, patterned tiles, and textured tiles, if you wanted to make jazzier coasters.

The only other items needed are glue and a few sheets of cork board to prevent the tile from scratching or moving around on the table. Simply cut the cork to the right size, glue and let set under a heavy book for a few hours. And there you go! Simple, beautiful, handmade coasters that you can be proud of.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Wonderful Place To Be

I was talking with a new friend yesterday who is a talented musician and is desperate to find a way to make a living doing what he loves.  He someday wants to have a family and wants to provide for them, and his fear is that a life in music might affect his ability to do that properly.

And I feel for him. Being a musician is nothing like being an accountant or an architect. There is no paved road to follow (beyond schooling, anyway) and few clear options other than to work very, very hard.

So I felt some camaraderie talking with him about the struggles associated with choosing to do music over something else. But I also felt extremely grateful to be who I am. I’ve never felt that kind of pressure between choosing to be a pianist and choosing something else out of a sense of responsibility to make a steady, stable living. My family has always been wonderful and supportive and they helped me to get through college and graduate school, but obviously I could not rely on them once I had my degree. So why was I able to go to school for music and not worry every single night about how I would eat or pay for rent while trying to navigate the very competitive and difficult waters of being a classical pianist?

Because I married a man who, just by choosing me, has given me the freedom to do what I love. I married a man who I know will support me and our children, who wants to encourage me in my art and who has never made me feel badly that we don’t have two regular, full-time incomes.

This is not to say that either of us have zero expectations for me when it comes to me making a living, however small, through music. I already have several students and hope to get more, and I absolutely plan to contribute to our family income through my teaching and hopefully, eventually, through performance opportunities once we are more settled.

More importantly though, I feel a big responsibility to “use” what I’ve studied so intensively, which is the way my dear teacher and mentor put it in our last lesson together. I feel that I am obligated to use the skills I’ve obtained and the gifts I’ve been given in a way that brings joy to me and others.

And that is a wonderful place to be in. For my primary goal in doing what I do to be fulfillment and not money, beauty and not financial stability, joy for myself and others.

Who I Am

I was thinking it might be a good idea to share a little bit about who I am and what kinds of things I'd like to write about.

I am trained as a classical pianist—I have a Bachelors and a Masters degree in piano performance—and teaching and playing music is such a big and joyful part of my life. I’ve taught both adults and children, spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in practice rooms, and battled my quite reserved inner self each time I’ve stepped on stage to perform.

I love to cook and last summer, I co-authored a locavore cookbook with my father, who did most of the writing, and little brother, who took the photos. More on that as we near the pub date in November!

Some of my fun, lighter fancies are: scouring thrift shops and antique stores for great finds; all kinds of design and decorating; DIY crafts; and all sorts of nesting (did I mention that I’m a newlywed?).

I’d like to write about some of my values: my views that the feminist movement got some things right but a lot of things wrong, and that my generation of women is paying for it; my thoughts on love and relationships in this day and age; my love of novels and books and how they teach us; and some reflecting on modern womanhood.

And I'd like to write about what runs through every vein of my body and the things that I consider to be my lifeblood: my faith as a serious Christian; my humble philosophies on marriage (many of them borrowed from people much more wise than I) and my own marriage; and the deep-rooted desire I’ve had ever since I can remember to have babies and to nurture and love them with everything I have.

So there we are. If cooking and classical piano and marriage aren’t your thing, hold tight! Maybe next time I’ll write about a DIY art project that will leave your walls thankful and your friends swooning.

Here I Am

My husband is making me sit down to write. Which somehow sounds bad, or wrong, like his hand is forcing mine. But I love him for it, and for all of the other times he’s nudged me toward something good but a little unknown.

I love to write, and have done a fair amount of it. But I think what is more important to me right now than my enjoyment of writing is the fact that I have ideas swirling around in my head that make the most sense when they are organized into words. Words that (hopefully) flow into each other and sound beautiful together (I’ve always thought that good writing, no matter what the genre, is poetic and even musical) but that ultimately give meaning to the jumble of thoughts and opinions I have going on in me.

Because of my too-conscientious spirit, and my impulse to plan and plan some more (which has thankfully been diminishing since I became an Army wife) I’ve been resisting starting a blog. I was worried that all the things I wanted to write about did not fall under one tidy category, yet I did not want to start a blog about one single topic. I feel that I have something to say about a lot of things but don’t those things all have to link together somehow, like a college term paper?

Well, that’s the beauty of a blog. It’s supposed to be free and creative. And compelling and organized too, but I guess I’ve reached the conclusion that a blog should reflect the individual mind and heart behind it, and that its posts do not necessarily need to fit into a neat and tidy package.

As my dad, a writer, has always said to me, “Writing is something you just have to do. Find something worth writing about, and then write about it well.” This is what this blog is about. Finding things in life that I think are beautiful, or truthful, or quirky or inspiring, and doing my best to write about them well.

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