Tom and I have been talking about moving a lot these last few months. With applications and interviews for fellowship positions occurring, we’ve been forced to face the future. We love so many things about living in Seattle, but different training opportunities for Tom and a lower cost of living are forcing us to look else where. The thought of relocating is always followed by a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love novelty, and the thought of exploring a new city/area excites me. There are things about Seattle that I wish were different (namely the lack of sunshine for much of the year.) So the thought of living some place sunnier thrills me. But when I move past the niceties of those changes, and face the other realities I’m brought to tears by all I will miss when we move from here: dear friends, a wonderful  church family, and frequent visits to and from my parents and younger sisters. Then there is the home we’ve built here- the slide and fort out back, the raspberry plot that is finally producing abundantly, my perennial beds that are finally filling out, an organized home where everything has its place. All theses things take years to establish and the thought of starting again. . .

Already thoughts of what to take and what to leave have kept me up at night. Do we just sell it all and start afresh? We’d save thousands in moving expenses. But then, would we find ourselves in a new place, with a whole host of things to acquire? Or do we bring along the things we’ve come to enjoy, making the transition less severe? The minimalist side of me gets giddy with the thought of lightning our load considerably, but the practical side knows that much of the things we have, we use, and re-acquiring them would be burdensome.

Then I’ll stay up late looking at housing options in the places we’re considering, which throws open a whole new list of questions. How big of a house do we really need? Do our kids really need their own bedrooms? What length of commute is ideal? How much should we spend on a house? Would we be okay living in a townhouse without a yard? Do we have it in us to renovate another house? Maybe we’d love living in a track neighborhood with a neighborhood pool and playground. Or maybe I want to homestead.  I’ll try to explore each option in my head, predicting ramifications, and puzzling over how each choice would effect our family.

Whenever it gets too daunting, I’ll project myself 30 years. Life will be  more interesting to look back on if we mix it up every several years. Experiencing a new part of the country, with a different culture, and different demands will change us, and shape us in new ways. We’ll be able to relate and connect with a larger group of people. We’ll have a wider range of experiences. We’ll be more complex and hopefully interesting. We’ll widen our sphere of influence.

At these moments of decision and change, I’m ever more grateful for the gift of the spirit that blesses us with peace.


Vocal Cross training

I’ve taken voice lessons from elite college and conservatory professors for a decade, and yet for the most part I was never taught to use my chest voice. I was certainly never encouraged to bring my chest voice up. The emphasis was always on mixing. This weekend I attended a NATS conference on Vocal Cross Training and it was HUGELY insightful, and humbling. While I have always considered my training to have been elite, it became glaringly clear this weekend that while I may have had an elite education, that education was severely limited in some regards. At the conference the speakers placed great emphasis on the importance of isolating the vocal registers- allowing the singer to be fully aware and in control of all colors of the voice so that their artistic and technical choices can be more expansive. Of course! How have I rejected, even feared my low for so long? Because I’m a rule follower- and I was taught that the chest wasn’t to be used, except for extreme low notes where blending was no longer possible. I wanted permission, and it wasn’t granted. (Heaven forbid I experiment on my own!) It’s shocking to me now, after hearing what I heard yesterday, that I was never coached through the process of register isolation.  Yesterday, I watched singers stand up in masterclass and belt one piece and then followed it up immediately with a classical aria. That would have been heresy at the conservatories I attended. It’s a brave new world, folks!

It was a wonderful conference with excellent speakers (Norman Spivey, Kari Ragan, etc). I learned so much, and I’m excited to try out the exercises/methodologies I was introduced to on myself and my students. I also met some wonderful new friends. I truly love teaching voice, I’m passionate about singing. I find the increasingly diverse approach to repertoire and styling within the vocal academy refreshing, though unnerving. I’m a conservative at heart, and the conservatory training is comfortable. But, I can rest on my laurels no longer, I have much to learn, and most of it will come with experimentation. Here’s goes. Time to let down my hair, open my throat and let it all out.

Equality in parenting

My sister-in-law sent this article around our family a few days ago. I have many thoughts about it, but haven’t had a chance to share them. I’ll do so here.

This article may be true for many couples. But I’m not sure it can be accurately said of mine. I think my husband’s job very likely meets if not rivals mine in stress and intensity. Interestingly, we are both in service occupations, and caring for people is difficult. Both of us have been thrown into jobs with little direction, and on site teaching. Both are required to do tasks we’ve never done before. Both of our actions poise potentially life threatening consequences.  Okay, maybe my job doesn’t qualify for that statement, but I’ll admit to constant worry about the long term consequences of my actions. Both of us deal with sleep deprivation- he, more so these days. Both are forced to multitask. So, as Ms. Senior says, “Its about the perception of equality.” At least when comparing careers, for me, we are equal- if not, he wins out on the more stressful, less-desirable front. Granted, I have only two children, and they are both perhaps on the “easy” side. And Tom is in the most intense year of what is already a grueling residency. I may have to revisit this article in, ahem, six years.

That being said the article did confirm that I am not alone on two fronts:

I loved this description of an emotion I feel often:

“Being compelled to divide and subdivide your time doesn’t just compromise your productivity and lead to garden-variety discombobulation. It also creates a feeling of urgency—a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there’s always a pot somewhere that’s about to boil over.”

And to go along with it, the final kicker:

“They found that while leisure time went a long way toward relaxing fathers, it did far less to subdue anxiety in mothers. So what, you may ask, did calm the mothers?

Simple: Seeing their husbands make a bigger effort to reduce the pandemonium in the house.”

I’ll admit to feeling both comforted and annoyed by the realization that I’m not alone in wishing my hubs would assert himself more in the maintenance of the house. (He’s fabulous about caring for the kids! He always puts the boys to bed if he’s home.) When I let my negative brain kick in I started to feel the “Uh! Men!” slur arise. Which I quickly released, because I believe polarization is damaging. (Did you read the Pope’s speech?) But I was reminded of the many times when I’ve tried to suppress (usually unsuccessfully) frustration when Tom requested his day off be a “fun family day.” His desire for relaxation is always justified, and his intent to connect meaningfully with our boys is admirable. But more often than not I feel overwhelmed by the mounting list of tasks that our home requires. And the thought of once again tackling them all single handedly, almost brings me to tears. Wait, who am I kidding, I always have six hands tackling these tasks. Oh, that’s the problem! Somehow research proving that I am not alone in finding “relaxation” less than relaxing made me feel less like an uptight nag, and more of a normal woman. (Though logically I can appreciate this strength of men. Letting things go, relaxing.)

All this being said, there was a day or two there where these thoughts simmered and made me a little angsty. And then this happened, because, well, I married a saint: Tom called to say he was going to come home early. He could listen to his lecture at the library. I suggested he watch it from home, while the boys were doing their quiet time so I could run errands, etc. He watched his lecture, took the boys to Tae Kwan Do, and to my greatest delight made sure that Scotland attended to his chore of picking up the basement, and then made dinner. You better believe that that night as we watched “Cinderella” as a family (fabulous movie, if you haven’t seen the new one.) I was as relaxed and as present as could be. It was one of those idealic family evenings. The love was plentiful, and I did my best to etch it in my memory forever.

What made for the success? Two things. First, I was clear about my needs and expectations. “How about you come home so I can run out alone.” and “Scotland has to complete three things before he can watch a movie: 1, 2, 3.” And second, Tom was sensitive enough to catch my sincerity when I said “I’m feeling overwhelmed;” and willing enough to respond- not only by caring for the boys for the rest of the afternoon, but also by taking care of of the pressing household tasks. I’ll say it again, I married a saint.

Congrats, Dr. Foutz

mydocI rarely think of my husband as a doctor. He’s a year in and it still surprises me when he comes home in scrubs. And yet as I write this post, and think about how he spends those long 80 hour work weeks, I feel so proud. Tom completed his first year of Residency. He is officially a “senior” now. To start it off he is working his first 24 hr shift today. My thoughts have been with him all day. I love this man. I’m so proud of him. Despite his long stressful weeks he comes home happy, ready to play with his boys, and listen, listen, listen to me.

I rarely talk about Tom’s life on the blog. He works the long hours, while the boys and I play at home. I wish I knew more about his life, so I could write about it from time to time. Perhaps, it’s my turn to start listening more.

I saw a card on Tom’s side of the desk this morning, I haven’t asked his permission but I wanted to share a bit of what it says:

“Tom, I just wanted to express my gratitude for your timeless and selfless efforts. . . Your kind, giving nature and professionalism are reminders of the type of physician we all want to be. Your patients are blessed to have you and so are we!”

Congrats on the completion of your first year, babe. The boys and I are so proud of you, Dr. Dad.


Always wanted voice lessons? Now’s your chance!

I’m starting up my singing studio again. (I’ve been on long hiatus since we moved here- being pregnant, having a new child, etc.) If you hear of anyone who is interested in voice/singing lessons please feel free to give them my contact information. (  That being said, if you are interested, I’d love to give you a sample lesson, share my credentials, talk shop! It would be a lovely summer hobby to take up- somebody’s got to sing “The hills are alive” with all this green around!

Skype lessons? Why not! People are doing them!


Making the most of it

Tom is required to get four days off a month- that is not in addition to weekends. And he’s just been meeting his requirement the last few months. Scotter wakes up nearly every morning, asking for his Dad only to cry when I tell him, that I’m sorry, he’s at work. You can’t imagine a more excited reunion than they share nearly every night. Tom must feel like a super hero. (And he kind of is.) Despite his long hours, and short sleep he comes home happy and cheerful- eager to wrestle, run, and follow whatever other game Scotland constructs. When Tom puts him to bed they do “talking” where Tom will lie on the floor next to Scotter’s bed and they’ll just chat for 15 minutes. Usually the conversation centers around dragons or dinosaurs.

Scotter’s first movie theater experience- the Crest Theater in Shoreline.

We try to make the most of his few days off. It’s a hard balance, because my “honey-do” list grows longer by the week, and yet our time with Tom is so limited that we usually scrape the list, and head off for fun adventures. Last week, Tom was able to get off early enough so we could take Scotland to experience the movie theater for the first time. We have a $3 theater a few minutes from us, and Monster’s University was the ticket. Tom spent his lunch allowance on “treats” and we popped a bag of popcorn that we brought with us. Sitting on his booster seat, eating endless gummy bears, yogurt covered pretzels and popcorn, his eyes intent his brows focused, Scotland was in heaven. As is our tradition at home, he chatted and asked questions- to our discomfort. Fortunately, the theater was full of kids, so he wasn’t the only one. He went into the show calling the monsters, dragons, and he’s kept it up ever since. He told me the other day, “The dragons had to learn how to be scary, Mom.” I’m afraid this kid has his father’s love of film.

Yesterday, Tom got off extra early and surprised us by arriving home at 4:00! He suggested- let’s go out! After a bit of quick web research we headed off to try a food truck in Ballard, El Camion, and then took the tacos and burritos to Kelly’s Park to enjoy as we gushed at the Seattle skyline most people would recognize from postcards- where the Space Needle looks like it’s in the center of town. (In reality it’s quite a ways from downtown.) We ended off the night by walking around Ballard’s historic district, marveling at all the posh restaurants and shops, laughing at Scotland’s observations, and finally nearly jumping out of our skins as the town bell rang loudly in our ears while we were standing in the bell tower. It was a perfect night, one that left us all warm with familial emotion.

(Tom just arrived home at a few minutes to 9:00, Scotter went to bed an hour ago, but hearing the garage door he just came to the top of the stairs beckoning sweetly “Daddy! Daddy!)

I’ve had friends who have thrilled at their positions as “Doctor’s wives.” I can’t say I’ve ever shared the sentiment. I’m glad that Tom has a job that he loves, glad that he comes home most days feeling like he’s really made a difference in people’s lives. But I can’t help envying my friends who’s husbands are home at 5:30 every day, who’s schedules are regular, and who get to enjoy their weekends together. That being said, I can bear testiment to the statement “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” While Scotter may be the only one who literally jumps up and down when Tom arrives, I typically feel similarly. Tom is my best friends, and I really miss the endless hours we once spent together.

That being said- he’s home! So, I’m off!

Recognizing accomplishment

I’ve been feeling a bit down on myself lately. I guess I just haven’t felt like my list of accomplishments has been very admirable. My sister Adee pointed out, that I should stop calling myself “lazy,” when I visited a few weeks ago. And yet, that’s how I’ve been feeling. Too often, it seems I’ve chosen an early night or a nap over a project. Too often my response has been, “Well, I can just do that tomorrow.” When I’ve looked over the last few months it seems like I’ve been spinning my wheels. Going no where. 

And then, yesterday, I had this epiphany! As the jars of bottled grape juice exceeded 20 and my excitement at the Sundays of decadent drinking flashed before me. I realized: I’m learning a new skill. I’m educating myself. Even if I choose to never can again, this fall has been a lovely study in food preservation. I’ve learned a bit more about drying, freezing, and canning. I’ve discovered some new recipes and savored some old. As I took the jars down to my pantry I suddenly felt a wave of pride at my accomplishment. Before me stood:

26 quarts (qts) of grape juice

4 pints (pts) of pizza sauce

2 qts pickled peppers

1 pt jalapenos

2 quarts of spaghetti sauce

2 quarts of Arrabbiata sauce

1 qt whole tomatoes

1 pt tomato sauce (seeds and skins strained!)

8 qts salsa

28 pts of jam: nectarine, plum (butter and jam), blackberry, rhubarb, pear-ginger and raspberry

7 pts hot pepper sauce

1 qt tomatillo sauce (uncanned)

(And then I thought, and my Mom has the other half!)

Harvesting by the wagon-full!

I list this not for any recognition or pat on the back, but rather to encourage myself to take a step back and say “Way to go, Kjirst, you rock!” Sure, I’ll probably not bring up canning when one of Tom’s fellow interns asks “So, what do you do?” Or when I’m confronted with how I’m utilizing my degree. But, you know what, who cares! I believe in continued education and who’s to say there’s a heirarchy in what one ought to learn. I post this to acknowledge that I’m struggling to define my priorities, to determine how I want to spend my time, and who I want to become. I didn’t start canning this year because I wanted to win the domesticity award. In fact, I think that’s exactly why only yesterday I saw the accomplishment in what I was doing. I started to can, because I recognized in it a way to save money, while feeding my family delicious healthy food. And because I couldn’t bear to see so much of my parents garden going to waste- while I spent hard earned money on those very food items every week! 

Was canning the best way to spend so many hours this past fall? I’m still grabbling with that, but in the meantime I’ve decided to acknowledge that it was a good way to spend those hours. Sure I’ve learned to put up food, but I’ve also had some beautiful bonding moments with my mother “Look at this pepper, Kjirsti, isn’t it beautiful!” I’ve had time to ponder on the symbolism of the true vine, as I’ve noted that it was the grapes that had become separated from their vine that had quickly spoiled. I’ve had a chance to marvel at the beauty of the earth, of vegetables and fruits. I’ve taught my son the origin of pears, grapes, brussel sprouts, squash, potatoes, raspberrries, tomatillos, and the list goes on and on. He’s harvested alongside me. I’ve smiled as I’ve watched him gazing intently into the hole created while removing potatoes at the life teaming within, shouting every few minutes. “Mom, look!” 

Mine is a strange time in life, one of immense flexibility. I am accountable to no one but myself, and my God. May I live each day to please Him, is my humble prayer. 

Soaking up Cleveland

My emotions have been strange these past weeks. I tend to be quick to cry- be I happy, sad, or angry. I just have over-active tear ducts. That being said, they’ve been particularly refined these past weeks. I had my final student voice recital Friday- no tears. I cried my eyes out a few years ago at a similar recital because I was just so proud of my students. (Looking back I realize I was pregnant, so maybe that was hormone induced.) Regardless, no tears Friday. But then when I drove down a favorite street of mine a few days ago I teared up thinking I would never see it again. I cried when I finished my last nursery music session today, but there were no tears when I said final farewells to two adopted Grandma’s here. I teared up as Scotland and I described all the things in his room tonight, and I realized the room I toiled over while pregnant, the room we brought him home to, would soon be gone. As I’ve driven around, I’ve felt like a sponge, trying to take in every site and smell so I can cherish it forever. 

I don’t ever want to forget Cleveland streets that look like this in spring time- a gorgeous water-color in pastels.

It kills me to have to leave behind the magnolia tree that Tom gave me as a gift at my final undergraduate voice recital. It was one of those times when I felt his love so overwhelmingly. He knew of my love of the huge magnolia trees around Oberlin, and so, instead of a bouquet of flowers- he bought me a tree. Only a man with his sensitivity and thoughtfulness would have known how thrilled that would make me. This is the first tree I’ve ever owned, and I’m leaving it.

I’m not sure how to say good bye to all the wonderful friends I’ve made here. Mostly, I don’t want to. I keep thinking if I just don’t say goodbye, I won’t have to close our friendship and we can go on being friends- just from afar. And yet, I want to let people know how much they’ve meant to me, how I’ve appreciated their examples- often viewed from afar. I think I finally understand Christmas cards. I’ve got a whole raft of people I want to keep in contact with, I’m already creating an address list!

Mable Williams

As I write this I’m realizing, it’s the “things” that I’ve cried about most- the comfort of Scotland’s nursery, the awe-inspiring height of the trees on Attelboro; but I’ll always retain the love I feel for Mable and Myrtle, the sweet memories I have with my students, and the friendships I’ve made. I needn’t cry over those relationships- because they will last. 

Katie Thomas- a student, a friend

Blogging- stepping it up

Every few months I get this overwhelming urge to blog more seriously. It started yesterday and now at 3:00 AM I find myself jazzed and unable to sleep. I must write.

Last night, Tom helped me install Google Adsense and VigLink. During nap hours and late into the night I poured over articles about increasing blog traffic, SEO, and the importance of social networking.

 Natural doubts and questions arise everytime I consider blogging seriously. The skeptic inside me says: What do you have to offer that a thousand other bloggers aren’t already providing? Is this really a good use of your time? Your blog is too broad you need to find more of a niche. You’ll likely expell alot of energy upfront then life will happen and you’ll fizzle out. 

That may all be true, but the fact is, right now this really excites me- why turn down an opportunity for enthusiasm? 

So we’ll see where this goes. I’ve decided to make our site open to Google’s searching fingers. As you may notice I’ve added a few ads. I’m hoping this increased attention will propel me to blog better and more thoughtfully. 

Whenever these love affairs for blogging arise they spin around to the same question- Why blog? I explored the topic here, here and here. Each time the answer is slightly different. Today, I’m feeling a desire to expand my stakes, to enlarge my sphere of influence, to go into the world and serve. 

It’s comments like this one from a college buddy that make me think I can do that through blogging:

“I loved your birthday blog post at the end. It was very inspiring, as I feel like I am going through the same stress with almost the same life events. Thanks for the positive words!” 

So, join me on this journey! Feel free to comment, click on links, or simply read silently. I’d love your feedback along the way, what do you like, what would you like to read more of, what drives you crazy? Because, really, this blog is for you!

“The Naked Voice”

Stephen Smith promotes a wholistic approach to voice. The title of his book “The Naked Voice” suggests that only when one bears ones voice in complete honesty and integrity, stripped of pretense and characterization, can one reach the pinnicale of singing- moving the listener. There are moments as a teacher when a student truly exposes themselves. These are the moments when chills run down your spine, and tears run down your face. I had one such moment last week.

I started teaching Molly (name changed) three years ago. At that time her tone was nasal, and she frequently sang off-pitch. Due to her tendency to belt her range was nearly non-exsistent. I enjoyed teaching her because of her sweet playful personality, but I worried she held little vocal ability. But my mother’s words kept repeating in my head: “You’re only as good as your worst student.” Challenged, I determined to help her overcome her vocal inabilities. When I started teaching Molly she was oblivious to her vocal weaknesses. Confident she auditioned for the top choir, when she didn’t make it, she was devastated and her niave confidence was dashed. She went from singing soulfully (though untunefully), to hardly making any sound. Her breath suffered and she couldn’t make it through the line. Fast forward two years. Molly and I have become good friends. After two years of slowly building back her confidence, I finally faced her this year and said: “Molly, let me make an observation. You tell me if it’s true. You had an experience that made you doubt your ability to sing, and ever since you’ve been too embarrassed to really ‘sing out.'” She nodded yes. “Well, Molly, it’s time to rise above that. I’m here to tell you that your voice is beautiful, that your tone is lovely, and that you should feel confident to sing out, loud!” She shrugged her shoulders but couldn’t help smiling. I asked her to try, for me, to let it all out, to open up and bear her soul through song. Our trust strong, she went for it and the sound was gorgeous. She immediately recognized it and nearly teared up, as did I. It was a vocal break through, but more importantly an emotional break through. 

Smith speaks of the integral link between one’s voice (speaking and singing) and one’s self-esteem. Often our voices change in accordance with our environments. We shed accents, we deepen our voices, we tighten our voices often subconciously. 

In my vocal pedagogy class the teacher emphasized that our role was not as psychologists but teachers of singing. It bothered me then, but after reading Smith’s book it sounds even more eronous. Being unwilling to delve into insecurities and self-misperceptions is like a doctor not being willing to talk about nutrition and exercise with an obese patient. Drugs alone can’t solve the problem, neither can vocal tricks bandage excess tension due to self doubt, or stress. 

Maybe I put too much leverage on my impact on my students, but I really feel that singing lessons can be an a beautiful alternative to counselling. Just as a counselor strips things down to truth, when one sings the goal is to strip the voice down to the nude so that the true color and tone can emerge without tension or artifice. This isn’t a new idea. Many a movie has been made about the music teacher who enters the inner-city school and changes lives. I guess it’s just a new approach for me as a teacher. I like the idea of having a group of students that are there for psychological reasons. Of course, I’m not a trained pyschologist, but I think I have a nack for helping others feel good about themselves. And what more do most of us need?

(Does it sound totally crazy to pursue a connection with school counsellors, encouraging them to suggest voice lessons to students lacking in confidence, suffering from a poor self image, or even dealing with high levels of stress?)