What you learn from music, besides music…

This is a cry for help. This is outrage, incredulity and shame.

Last week our school board announced a $3.6 million dollar budget cut. It was no surprise that music is again on the cutting block. It was a shock that foreign language and football also were. Even more shocking was that our superintendent has announced that this is a done deal. Non-negotiable cutting of fourth grade orchestra and seventh grade general music, all seventh grade languages, the complete phasing out of German language classes. Seventh grade football eliminated as a school-sponsored sport.

Apparently the board had studied the numbers, crunched them, and decided this was the best way to proceed. No significant cuts were made to six-figure salaries in the administrative office. No parental input was sought. Ironically the board adopted a diversity policy last year, intended to protect low-income groups in our district,  but these cuts directly impact families that can’t pay for musical instruments or private lessons. These families can’t afford private language lessons for their kids to help them be competitive when it comes to college-entry exams and AP tests. Yet, our superintendent has announced that this decision is irrevocable and even hired an attorney last year to “deal with parents.”

The parent of one of my students asked me to articulate why I thought the music cuts were detrimental to our district. Immediately I thought of all the research that makes it very clear that starting an instrument or a foreign language at an early age is important.

Un a recent study published in the British newspaper “The Guardian,” Wang, the author of the study, notes “ that musical training that started before the age of seven appeared to thicken areas of the brain involved in language skills and executive function, which is a person’s ability to plan and carry out tasks.” (Read the whole article here: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/12/music-lessons-early-childhood-brain-performance).

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What the article continues to note is the impact on the brain’s development, how learning an instrument can actually improve cognitive skills beyond musical knowledge. These changes to the brain improve performance in all areas of reasoning.

In my own experience, music teaches all of my students many important life skills. Almost none of my young cellists will become professional performing musicians. A few will become music teachers in public schools. Most will go into life with the appreciation of a wonderful art that brings beauty and meaning to our lives. Through a musical kaleidoscope, my cello students learn many talents. Through hours of practice and performance on the cello and sometimes multiple instruments, they are discovering how to:

1. Be independent. Music is not like a sport, or even my son’s ballet lessons, where the participants receive daily feedback from a coach or teacher. Music teaches students to be autonomous; they practice independently (most parents feel unqualified to help) and always have to count rhythms when playing in a group.

2. Solve problems. In our lessons, my students learn to first identify an issue, then choose how to fix it. As a teacher it is my responsibility to arm them with a bag of tools to fix something that is not working, or to steer them towards a solution. If they don’t use this process, they are probably just repeating their errors over and over again. I remind them that they need to as analytical as a doctor, who wouldn’t prescribe aspirin for every patient that walks in the door without asking a few questions.

3. Reap the rewards of hard work. There is a great satisfaction in chipping away at a skill and finally mastering it. In music this often culminates as a concert, similar to a presentation by a research team or a finished product for a commercial business. Musicians know this does not come easily, but only after hours of hard preparation.

4. Be patient. Music students learn that hastiness or cutting corners won’t get you far. Sometimes I have to remind my students that a week without practice will make the next lesson feel like they are trying to give a book report when they haven’t read the book. At all. You can’t bluff or hide behind your instrument. However, in due time, your hard work will pay off if you practice slowly and patiently. Like the Ents in J. R. R. Tolkein’s novels, it never pays to be hasty.

5. Forgive yourself, brush yourself off, and try again. Not unlike an athlete that does not perform well in a race, musicians have to learn to deal with failure in a performance. Nerves, lack of preparation or a lack of focus can make even the best musician in the world have a bad day. I remind my students that often the audience has no clue that you’ve made an error, and the best approach is to keep your poker face on and focus on the ride ahead. The more we create opportunities to perform, and the more hours that are spent in the practice room guarantee better performing conditions.

Kwasi Enin recently became social media phenomenon and  a national celebrity after being accepted to all eight Ivy-league Universities. His application essay was recently released and Enin largely attributes music to his intellectual curiosity and abilities. ‘The self-guided journey known as music in my life excites my mind every day. My heart sings every day because the journey is already wonderful. Although I hope that my future career is in medicine, I love that I still have much to learn about and from the world of music.’ 


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2595449/College-application-essay-written-Long-Island-student-got-Ivy-League-school-released.html#ixzz2ysl6Wm2r 

 

Let’s not cut programs that can’t exist or be equitable without public funding. Let’s keep music and foreign language in the schools . Let’s raise a generation that understands and can make meaningful connections to culture and the world at large. Let’s teach our children to teach themselves, and to delight in that process.

Posted in Cello, Parenting, teaching cello | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Let it go

Ballet Boy knows that if he creeps up behind me before I’ve had breakfast in the morning and sings, “Mama, do you want to build a snowman?” in a whiny voice, I will cringe. Along with many American parents, I was subjected to the Grammy award-winning newest Disney movie, “Frozen.”

What a movie to see in the middle of Iowa’s most depressing, cold, longest, grayest, iciest winter in my memory.

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This Disney movie has been very popular, not only with the Disney princess crowd that is revelling in finding strong, independent, less Princess-y characters, but also with high schoolers that love to belt out the Demi Lovato version of “Let it Go,” the title song that won Broadway singer Idina Menzel instant fame at the Oscar’s when Travolta murdered her name.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go

Why does this movie give me the heebie-jeebies? Why do I cover my ears when Ballet Boy belts it out, even if it has a fresh perspective sung by an unconventional boy? Because it pretends to have a feminist theme. It pretends to empower women when it is yet another Disney model of what femininity in the 21st c should be. The only good messages that should come home with young girls is 1)don’t marry the first guy you meet and 2) find your inner strength and embrace it.

But you don’t have to transform into a princess with cleavage and a slit up your dress to do this. You don’t have to be rescued by a good guy and your sister. You can actually do these things on your own.

This weekend the Brewmaster and I are surviving our first dance competition with Ballet Boy. He’s always been on the artistic side of things, just sticking to ballet, but this weekend he is joining his dance school’s team on the road to the Bravo competition. His musical theater production of Aladdin won overall champion in their division yesterday, but we also watched many acts that were not quite so tasteful. I was wary of the whole dance mom image after Ballet Boy subjected me to one episode of the raunchy reality tv show, and I was not disappointed when a couple of women behind me yelled, “Work it girl! Sparkle baby!” as their little eight year olds gyrated on stage. When a dad yelled, “Work it!” to his daughter, I was even less comfortable last night. What does this teach these girls about how to express themselves? A great message if they want to work a pole later.

I was proud of the Brewmaster from refraining from his version of the parental heckling, even though it was tempting. We knew Ballet Boy would never speak to us again if we yelled “Twerk it Boy” when he came out in his harem pants and Fez to impersonate the youthful Aladdin.

How about teaching these young women and girls to be strong? independent? unique? That spray tans and glitter are not the only way to success? I’m already anticipating the versions of “Frozen” that will be hitting the stage in next year’s competitions. Help. Me.

On a more personal note, this winter has been a reflective time for me. I’m not good at letting go. I get caught up in trying to change other people. Change students that don’t care, who don’t make an effort. Change local administrators of my orchestra that are making some poor management choices. Force loved ones to make the decisions or take the actions that I would.

It seems I’ve learned my lesson enough times that I should know by now. You can’t modify others, you can only change the way you react to their behavior. Or walk away. My perfectionism and high self-motivation do not always let me do this. I need find my inner strengths, tap into my needs and inner voices, and fly away.

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You won’t find me slitting my dress, wearing heels or applying make-up to do this. I’ll be tying my running shoes, putting on my Boudreaux’s before climbing on my bike, or breathing deep breaths in the pool.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

 

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Practically Perfect

The Winter Olympics are a good reminder of how hard it is to accept defeat.

In my life, things aren’t measured as much as wins and losses as good days and bad days. Bad days are when I fail to achieve perfection. 

Guess what? Yes, there are few good days as perfection is practically impossible. In music, I hate to miss notes, or miss an entry. My next performance is with Orchestra Iowa, performing Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphony. It’s a massive, very difficult work; a musical equivalent to a marathon. I was moved up to first stand for this concert which is a big responsibility. I am a leader, and if I mess up, others might behind me.

This is a hard chair for a perfectionist to sit in. If I didn’t strive for perfection, however, I might stop caring.Image

In Mary Poppins the Musical there is a song called “Practically Perfect.” Anyone who has seen the Disney movie knows that Mary Poppins has attitude. She thinks she is the best and only possible nanny.Image

I was not born with that attitude. I’ve had to cultivate it. To me, people who are cocky or too sure of themselves are repulsive. Where is the middle ground? I always try not to compare myself with others.

Yet I race. I compete for jobs with others in music. It’s impossible to not do so. 

Perhaps the difference is being humble when you fail. We all do, you know. It’s picking yourself up, brushing yourself off and setting new goals. Today I finally took a peek at last week’s triathlon results. I was afraid of being last in my age category. Guess what? I was last. But there were only four of us, and the other women were super-fast.  First place female in my age group biked at 26 mph for 10 mins. I was shocked to see that I actually came in second on the swim leg! This was after only doing a little over 19 laps in 10 mins and feeling like I was clinging to the side of the pool a few times to get a deep breath. I might of been third, but the woman I beat on the swim/bike ran at 10 mph…that’s under 6 min/mile pace!

Looking at the results I let my anxiety and perfectionism go. I know I may NEVER run 10 mph for 10 minutes with my bum ankle. I may be able to catch up with the others on the bike leg, however, if I keep pushing. I definitely can swim faster if I actually train and don’t have a virus. Looking at how fast the others were in the 40-49 women category, I decided that I just want to strive to be like them. I feel like less of a failure than I did mentally last week after the race when my knee was hurting and I just couldn’t push through to run faster.

The Brewmaster has shown that he loves every bit of me, even the parts I have trouble accepting. This is the first time in years that I feel like someone else takes me for all I am. It makes it easier to embrace my faults and weaknesses, even though I realize that needs to come from me, not him.

But I  also have strengths. I can dig into those, cultivate them, and give life my best effort. In music, and Mahler, I can also just practice like crazy where my weaknesses are, enjoy having a big sound and very musical phrases, and let a few missed notes fly by. They will happen since I am not Robocellist. 

I am practically perfect. And I like myself that way.Image

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Falling from Grace

My son has asked me to blog about Grace.

Where do I begin? Grace has been my pseudonym from childhood into adulthood. At risk of sounding slightly schizo, I will try and explain my nickname.

Why Grace? Because I’m not graceful. Sarcasm lives. My brothers called me klutzy, but my dad called me Grace. Especially when I would try to pour him coffee in the morning and my hand would be shaking. Coffee would spill and the whole family would be in stitches.

Recently my sister shared a story from when my grandparents were babysitting us when we were little. I guess she was waiting with Grandpa in the car for me to come out of my cello lesson and she called me clumsy. My grandfather defended me indignantly, but then I came out and tripped, cello in hand. They had a good laugh. I never knew, until this Thanksgiving. But I’m not surprised.

Fortunately I have a pretty good sense of humor. So good that I even warn my friends about Grace. One friend has decided that I have these “accidents” which can range from sheer forgetfulness to major catastrophes because my focus is on more important things. What, I wonder? I would like to believe that. Another friend suggested that my house is messy because it is more important for me to have coffee and listen to a friend, or get to the gym, than to clean. That could be true. And my brain never does really shut off, so maybe I am thinking about something REALLY important when I run into a door frame or trip over a rug.

Ballet Boy has gained a second nickname, Graceson. For someone so elegant and fluid on stage, he sure is capable of running into things and falling at home. My running buddy, aka Candy Ass, is Gracefriend, as she has her moments (but LOTS less than me). The Brewmaster is now Graceman, as I’ve come to realize that he has his catastrophic moments, too. This happens to smart people that are working several jobs and burning a candle at both ends. So, we are one whole family of Graceful and Graceless people, depending on where and how we happen to be interacting.

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I need one for every day of the week

Gracemom fell and broke her wrist, or rather both wrist bones, this winter. It was a terrible fall on Iowa ice, and she had a long operation to try and put it back together again. While at the doctor recently, they asked her if she was dizzy or fell like falling that day. I wanted to scream, “Yes, I do!” but I was not the patient. Then, I saw these awesome bracelets. I wanted one so badly that I will admit to stealing one when the medical team left the room. 

Today I completed my first triathlon of 2014. I did not feel one bit graceful. I felt klunky, wheezy and old. I felt more than a little out of place with all of the trim, athletic people there. I met a few people from my endurance club. One was friendly, two were a bit stand-offish and downright competitive. I’ve been sick with a sore throat and stuffy nose all week and gave a new meaning to the term tapering. Adding to the mix more training to become a supervisor for my “side job” as a Pearson music education scorer and playing a concert set that was 62 miles away in winter driving conditions has made it a stressful week.

This morning I woke up feeling crummy. I had a concert Saturday night and had to drive back to play this afternoon, and I was fairly stressed about when my start time would be. It was an indoor Sprint–10 minutes in the pool, 10 minutes on a bike and 10 on the Dreadmill. I was really dreading the Dreadmill because it makes me dizzy (think Grace on a moving target) and the pool because I hadn’t swum enough this winter. I was happy about the bike until I realized we were on a very foreign model that I hadn’t used before…no MPH, no Watts…just RPM and distance traveled.photo (30)

I fixed some reasonable goals, I thought. Swim 500 in 10, bike 3 miles in 10 and run one mile or more…I wanted to run sub-10 min/mile pace. I’ve done this many times training, but just not after going full out on the other stuff.

My lungs were not cooperating. Viral-induced asthma was making me gasp for air. I tried using the inhaler that I keep in my swim bag before jumping in and chunks of something very nasty went down my throat. I was still wondering what moldy substance I’d consumed when I started swimming. I did do 19×25+4 yds…just a little under what I was hoping. Not bad considering how absolutely little I’ve been in the pool lately.

The bike was fun once I got it adjusted. The seat was very hard to adjust and we only had 2 minutes to get it all just right. I think I got it on the high side because of what I felt on the run, and it was also a stab in the dark for the resistance which was just a knob with no visible calibrations. I worked to stay as close to 100 rpms as I could while pushing the resistance up, and got closer to 3.6, way over my goal. I’m used to keeping an eye on my MPH and Watts, and there was no clock to know how much time I had left. Ironcelloman who was cheering me on before his wave left gave me some updates and got me water; I am very thankful for those!

The walk up the stairs was painful. The lactic acid had built up in my thighs and was not coming down. I was happy that the Brewmaster was at my side and offered to carry my bag full of crap as I felt wobbly in a Grace kind of way.

As soon as I got the treadmill up to speed I knew it was not going to be a good day. I started at 5.9 mph thinking I would do negative splits and try for something close to a 9 min/mile pace average. That was not to be: when I tried to run I got a sharp right knee pain. That’s right, not my ankle, my knee. This may have been due to a bad adjustment on the bike since I have never felt this running before. I almost just stopped, but I had to see if I could “run through” the pain. I slowed down and after a while it didn’t hurt as badly, but was a nagging pain in the back ground. In spite of drinking lots of water, I felt nauseous and dizzy, and had to slow down at intervals more than I wanted to. Mentally, i couldn’t carry it and felt disappointed.

The Brewmaster noted right away that I never got an even cadence running. Being the musician he is, he saw that I didn’t have a steady “8th note” clip. I explained my pain and told him I was kind of gimpy the whole “run” which ended up being a jog. I made it to .96 miles, but of course I was hoping for faster.

I don’t regret doing the triathlon. I’m very proud to have finished and played a concert in the same day. Few people would undertake such an insane challenge and I learned a lot about sprinting vs. training for longer distances today. It’s truly hard to go full out 3x in a row in different gaits, and my whole body is complaining tonight.

Mostly, I’m working through mental pain. I don’t feel like a failure. I didn’t quit, and given my training, it wasn’t bad. I just wanted to do better, and I know I will do better. My endurance club, including the woman that said, “Oh, you’re in my age category, we’ll be competing,” cleaned up the podium. I am proud of them as they are very hard-working, dedicated, athletes, and for the most part humble and supportive. I don’t quite feel like one of them yet, or may never, but I will continue to race myself and want to be better. Part of this includes self-forgiveness, a discipline which I am not so good at.

Grace allows me to laugh at some of my weaknesses. She will be with me tonight as I rub my muscles and laugh to myself about my gimpy right leg and my first failed flip turn (I ended up sideways). Self-humor is different than self-deprecation, and so hard to tap into when you are in a hard place.

Tonight I will fall into bed, dreaming of Grace and my next triathlon. Grace will be there to make me laugh and Gracefriends will be there to support and cheer me on.falling_girl_02

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Making room

Forgive me blog, for I have sinned. Again. I have been out of touch.

Believe me, I have written this entry many times in my head. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

After coming back from France, things began to fall in place with the Brewmaster. That is his name because he owns a wonderful brewery, in addition to being a kick ass trumpet player in some of the symphonies I play in. Things felt so natural that one day I cleared out half my closet. I took all my spring and summer clothes to the basement and bought some things so my sweetie could have a place better than a laundry basket to store his stuff.

When I saw the Brewmaster’s face I realized that it was a big step. There has been no one since my divorce eight years ago who was closet-worthy.Image

Loving someone requires making room: shoving some of your own baggage aside to accept another’s. It’s so worth it, yet it requires a degree of letting go that is not easy. Divorce can be a very painful life event, and having a child in the middle means you are never fully free of those emotions or that person entirely. It took a long time for me to be in the right place to make room for someone to be in my life and heart again. But there is nothing like the feeling of getting a hug after a long day and knowing that someone else was waiting for one of those, too.

Other elements of being in love also require making room. Some of my girlfriends worried that I wouldn’t have time for Ladies’ Night anymore. After reassuring them that the Brewmaster valued his brass player gatherings (and I really don’t want any details of what goes on there) and was fully supportive of my friendships outside our relationship, they have realized that I will continue to make room for them. And he supplies craft beer for our gatherings!

Ballet Boy has been so busy that he may have even forgotten he has a mom, but I’m still making room for him. I value our catch up time at breakfast (when the Brewmaster is often snoring away as he is NOT an “up and attem’” kind of guy) or snacks when I hear about what is happening in my son’s current production or at school. Tonight I am looking forward to seeing him wear a big tummy as the body of the Chesire Cat in Alice and Wonderland. I couldn’t be prouder that after braving a massive snowstorm to help him get to summer auditions in Chicago last weekend, we have already heard that he got into the Houston Ballet Summer intensive. Most of my day has been spent filing for financial aid to be able to afford such a  prestigious program. Ballet Boy may not see how I make room for him every day, but I do.

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Van Houzen Brewing hits the gym

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Post gym sweaty t shirt op. The Professor taught some of those young ‘uns a lesson today on the bike!

Making room for exercise has been more challenging. I have made it several times a week to the gym but it is always tricky negotiating parenting, carpooling, performing, teaching and quality time with the Brewmaster. He supports my exercise addiction and has already promised to be support crew for the triathlons I’m doing this spring. In return, I wore his Brewery t-shirt to the gym today to advertise a little. I figure that it wouldn’t hurt considering it’s the gym of the biggest drinking school in the country. I wasn’t surprised to see a young guy lifting weights sporting a “Keg Lifting Championship” t shirt. I’m sure the Brewmaster could take him on that one.

Tomorrow I am going to my first beer fest: the Iowa City Brr Fest. After that we are going to my annual endurance club party. I’m pretty certain the Brewmaster will be as out of his element there as this gluten-free mama will be at the Brr fest, but making room for our respective passions is important. Besides, who likes beer more than a room full of triathletes? It’s guaranteed advertising!

Making room for forgiveness. This is way more complicated than getting to the gym, or sporting my amazing kid, or hanging out with fabulous friends. This takes self-discipline, patience and lots and lots of love. In general I think I am good at this. This morning I failed with Brewmaster a little. I even gave him the cold shoulder. That is not okay, because he has been incredibly supportive, helpful and loving. He didn’t even blink an eye when I dumped tea bags all over the kitchen today and almost spilled chocolate milk all over his loan papers the other day. He is always there, unquestioning, accepting of my 46 year old wrinkles and cellulite. I need to learn a lesson or two from him, and certainly not open my mouth before I’ve had my morning caffeine. I will  keep trying to do better on this one, as I push my own baggage out of the way and hope he will still love me.

Here’s to making room. To being in love. To being a mom, a friend, and a companion to the love of my life. Bring it on!

Posted in Parenting, relationships, Triathlons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s not whether you win or lose…

…It’s how you play the game. This was always mildly annoying when my parents would quote this to me, attempting to quell my stinging tears when my brothers had beaten me at Monopoly (which as a mother I’ve redubbed Monotony as I find it too close to real-life problems). I wanted to be the winner, at all costs.

It’s that time of year, when everyone is posting their New Year’s Resolutions. It always seems like a great time to come clean, to let other people know what your weaknesses are. To admit you have weaknesses that need improvement.

But what happens three months down the line, when you are still struggling with those ten extra pounds, with procrastination, with being impatient with your kids?

You feel like a failure. You give up as you have not somehow magically stuck to your resolution.Image

There has been a popular viral blog post on Facebook this month about the virtues of NOT being goal-driven. At first I didn’t even want to approach this concept, as I am very goal-driven as an athlete and a musician. If I don’t have a race, or a time, or a concert or a difficult passage of music to tackle, then I feel lost. I get lazy.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/12/consider-not-setting-goals-in/

There are merits to this argument that is circulating, however. Focus on the process, not the end result.

Really? Truly. If you don’t enjoy the process, or focusing on an effort, you may be disappointed if you don’t achieve a singular result. Being open to several outcomes is more fruitful than one single outcome, or goal. For instance, you might not lose 10 pounds, but you might adopt a healthier relationship with food by identifying when you start to eat; is it during some sort of emotional vacuum, or through boredom, or when you are just plain thirsty for a glass of water?

So this year I am going to embrace the new order and focus on several methods of being that I want to adopt. Goals do go hand in hand with these, but mostly I want to enjoy practicing my cello again. I’ve been burnt out on this as I only see practicing as a way of learning music for work. I want to discover the joy of making my cello hum with a good tone, interpret new music I haven’t explored, and work on intonation. Just for myself. It may pay off come concert-time, but I don’t want to JUST have that in mind.

Ditto for exercise: I want to enjoy long runs. I want to find my rhythm in the pool again and enjoy that meditative state where I forget to count laps. I want to ride my bike outside this spring and revel in gorgeous rolling Iowa hills. And I want to share all of this with friends.

This may pay off; I may end up completing an Olympic Triathlon like I’ve dreamed of for the past few years. I may play a solo cello recital in the spring or audition for a job interview for a full-time job. But mostly I want to bask in the moment, savoring each challenge that comes up. 

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Happy New Year to all of you! Enjoy the path to happiness.

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Vive la Piscine!

I made it to France.

Ballet Boy and I had our trip shortened by a massive snow/ice storm in Iowa. It sounds petulant to say we were not disappointed, because who wouldn’t like a trip to France paid for by their ex? But a few days at home with my new love and to get organized didn’t go unappreciated. To make my end of semester drama even more complicated, a few days before Christmas my mother slipped and broke both bones in her left arm, resulting in a complicated surgery to put her back together again.

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Veal sausage with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

We flew out on Christmas Day and spent most of the day in the Frankfurt airport. We both had never been to Germany and I tried to draw on two years of private German lessons from seventh grade. Needless to say, I was limited to “Danke” and “Guten Tag.” We had fun, though. I had a sausage, because when in Frankfort, eat a Frankfurter, right?

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View from my friend Annemarie’s wonderfully situated apartment

Marseille was sunny and beautiful on Day One, in spite of some high winds at landing that were causing 4 meter high waves in the Mediterranean Sea that made our landing kind of pukey. DayTwo has been rainy and cold. I hibernated…basically I slept 7 hours, tried to drag myself out of bed to run in the 40+ weather, and promptly fell back asleep until noon. Annemarie (an American friend I grew up with who has now been an ex-patriot most of her life) suggested a trip to the beautiful new pool in Cassis.

I dug out my goggles and swim cap, and then realized I’d forgotten my swim suit. Ugh! This was okay as I really wanted to go to Decathlon, a huge sporting goods store. I got a suit for 24 euros as well as some nice sportswear. I love massive sporting goods stores that are cheap!

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Shoe area at Cassis pool

We hit the pool, which includes a huge fun pool for kids and lap swimming. To get in, you leave your shoes after going through a turn style. Annemarie could see me turning green at the idea of leaving my $140 Saucony’s there, so I picked them up and carried them into the locker room.

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The white clasp at the bottom that I totally missed.

The locker room was coed, with separate changing stalls. You go in one side of the stall and come out the other. I could not for the life of me figure out how to lock it, so 60+ Frenchman walked in on me with bare boobs. He swore at me, of course, because I was too stupid to lock the door. When I came out Annemarie’s 10 year old patiently showed me that there was a lock system at the bottom of the door.

When I got to the lap swimming area I stood and tried to see a method to the madness. Some people appeared to be swimming in circles, some didn’t. I got into a lane next to someone who looked like he swam quite a bit and we circled. I was coughing up a lung since it has been a while and my left arm felt tight, but eventually I found a rhythm and started getting my flip turns. Around then he left and two French ladies jumped in. One was swimming on her back in front of the other, kind of helping her swim. They were all over the place, but didn’t appear to be circling so I finally decided they were splitting the lane. Bam…I ran smack into the back paddler. I apologized profusely and then asked if she wanted to split or circle. She said split, her companion circle, but we finally decided splitting would work better. I was coming back down my lane when I saw an itty bitty French girl breast stroking towards me. That did it; I had done 17 x 50 meter at that point and decided to go join Annemarie and Niels in the super warm kiddy pool.

Although I love the way there are no street shoes in the locker room and didn’t mind the coed showers (everyone stayed dressed, folks, don’t get too excited), I do constantly wonder how the French do well on any team sport as they are extremely bordelique (all for themselves/disorganized). I was super happy to get a swim in and feel totally relaxed.

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almost all goat cheese, a lactose intolerant heaven!

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three varieties of artichokes

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Deer, lamb, pheasant and other rare game at the butcher…

So far I have bought French undies (conveniently didn’t pack enough and now can throw away some of my granny undies at home), French face cream and shampoo, two sport tops, running socks, and am eyeing the chocolate aisle at the supermarket and waiting for it to go on sale Jan.2. I had a great day helping Annemarie shop for goodies at the local butcher and green grocer. Enjoy the food porn!1545844_10151883948821025_2058263770_n

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