Making My Own Music

A musician by avocation, from the time I was a young child I was usually involved in some kind of music making. I’ve always loved to sing, and I can remember singing to my mother when I was quite small. At my grade school, weekly music classes the teacher played the piano as we sang British folk songs and music from Gilbert and Sullivan, typed and collected into a loose leaf notebook. Later the same teacher gave me private piano lessons. These ended after two years for two reasons: I found the practice songs to be boring and my mother, an amateur musician and child prodigy on the violin, disliked my fumbling attempts at learning the piano. She didn’t even like it when I played around on the piano keys, making my own music for myself. She would scold me for “making noise” as she called what I thought of as music.

Later I sang in various choruses at various schools and then in my church choir. To my delight one year my then husband bought me a guitar for my birthday. I began teaching myself to play. There followed a number of years playing and singing in coffee house, at hootenannies, and then professionally for parties and special occasions. I even volunteered at the local hospital, playing for the patients every week or so. My mother seemed pleased that I was following in the family musical tradition. Encouraged by her, and a poet by inclination I began to write my own songs. The melodies were simple, reminiscent of the many folk songs and hymns I had sung over the years.

Although I enjoyed playing the guitar, from the time I was a young child the idea of playing the harp had attracted me. However the many strings of the large harps looked difficult compared to the guitar and surely transporting one would be a nightmare. Then I injured my shoulder and because of the position required for me to play it, had to retire my guitar. After reading many articles on the importance of keeping the older brain alive, and disliking the recommended suggestion to do crossword puzzles, I decided to try a smaller folk harp. Searching the internet I discovered a lap harp with a playable nineteen strings and purchased it from the maker along with a book to learn from.

I spent a respectable amount of time teaching myself the initial songs and techniques. As I advanced, the lessons became increasingly difficult. I realized I was losing interest in playing. I felt frustrated and began to neglect my harp, even allowing it to get out of tune. My mother’s former diatribes from the days I used to play on the piano rather than practice my lessons had come back to haunt me. Then one day I realized I didn’t have to play actual songs, I could do ass I liked. I could just enjoy myself, making musical sounds; I could play for fun. I began to do that. Spontaneous tunes emerged in my head and then from my fingers. Now playing my harp has become a treat and the music I make from my heart has become a daily joy.

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The Importance of Self Care

Teddy Bear 2

As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert

Christmas Expectations

kathys-christmas-wreathsI remember one Christmas my parents gave me four or five board games. The difficulty was, I had no one to play them with. My parents didn’t play children’s games; we lived in the country and there were no kids in the neighborhood; and my schoolmates lived in other towns. Gas being dear—this was during WW II–people did not drive their children around for play dates. My usual Christmas presents were clothing or things I needed. Great Aunt Alice gave strange presents—one year she gave me a wood burning kit that was difficult for me to figure out how to use. I looked forward to stocking presents; they were more fun. Best of all was when I got old enough to play Santa along with my parents and participate in filling their stockings.

I had a small book of the poem by Clement Moore that I always enjoyed rereading at Christmas. Eventually I knew most of the poem by heart. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” These verses have given us all an image of Santa and how he does things that has remained with us through many generations. We expect that he will wear a red suit, come down the chimney, arrive on a sleigh with reindeer, and so on. Cookies and carrots for the reindeer are part of our expectations for his Christmas Eve visit. Presents under the tree on Christmas morning are another. Does Santa always wear a red suit? Or can Santa dress in ordinary clothes?

“Santa Claus is coming to town,” as the song goes, and, some warn you’d better be good or else. “He’s making a list,” as the song goes. There used to be talk of Santa leaving a lump of coal or something else that is undesirable in the stocking of children who were not good enough to deserve toys. One of the original Santas—St. Nicholas, provided dowries for young ladies who otherwise would not have been able to get married. Some cultures used to include a kind of negative Santa called Black Pete, who tagged along to punish or otherwise be unkind to those whose bad behavior merited it. Must gifts be a reward or can they simply be a sign or love from the giver?

The advertisements on television create enormous expectations. The shining allure of the latest toy or newest communication device creates desires that may lead to major dismay if they are not forthcoming. What may be lost in the light of all these expectations is the unexpected, unadvertised gifts that this time can bring: the peace of loving hearts gathered together and the good will that comes from sharing. The opportunity to participate in the love and merriment that is part of the holidays is the real blessing, the actual present to be gained at this time. Those who are too focused on their expectations may well miss out on this, the real gift of this season.

Tasha Halpert