Monday, November 19, 2018

The Road...The Journey

I'm probably the luckiest person in the world in terms beautiful places to live. My home before was a lake house. I loved it. My home now is a horse farm in the beautiful Kentucky Bluegrass. It is the most wonderful place you can imagine. Every morning I wake up to all sorts of "horse" events....mares teaching their little ones to run and take care of themselves, horses just "horsing around," horses that are just standing as if to say, "I know I'm gorgeous. Take a look." They eat, and eat, and eat, but they really do seem to enjoy their day and their "community." Just the other  morning, when one of the horses was returned to the pasture, they all came running to see the new ask him to join them in their community for the day. It sort of sounds like a choir, huh? A new person comes in, and we want to have our students greet them and bring them into the group. "Be one of us. We need you in this group."

The thing I like best about the place where I live is the road on the farm that leads to the exit. It is long and winding, and believe it or not...I get to think about life as I drive out "into the world." I love it. I see beauty all around me...particularly in the fall. The leaves are actually gone now, but I won't forget the beauty of fall. I won't forget that journey every least until that big wind came along and "did its thing."

Horses are so much like students in our choirs...if they get bored, they start doing "other things" to occupy their time. It is really being "off task," but...what is the task of a thoroughbred anyway? You stand there and look beautiful, and sometimes you just live in a beautiful place all of your life. Some thoroughbreds are sold to become race horses, but the focus of this place is primarily to bring horses into the world as foals, then sell them to someone who will develop the potential. There are 60 or so new foals brought into the world annually. To see a horse foaling is a beautiful thing...and it's an education as well.

Do I ride? No. At this point in my life, I'm afraid that would be a poor choice for me (traction, body cast, etc.). My job? I feed the horses peppermints. Yes...I'm the "Peppermint Waitress." They love their peppermints. Apples and carrots are good, too, but they love peppermints. They gently eat them from my hand, and they patiently wait on "their turn." The wait is nothing compared to the sweet taste of peppermint. And...they never know if they are going to get them. Sometimes yes...sometimes no.

At times I wonder, "Do horses worry about their fate on the farm?" Do they worry that they might be separated eventually from their friends and foals? The journey of their lives is determined by trusted caregivers on the farm, and eventually, no matter the fate, everyone seems to adjust. However, there is a "journey of the unknown" for the horses, and they aren't totally sure about how it is going to turn out. I wonder if they worry...

All of this sort of sounds like life, huh? There is a road to follow, a journey of life that no one really can determine in its purest state...not even the participant. There are some "detours" that come in the form of diagnoses, change of location, loss of friends, etc. The journey gets bumpy at times. It is a path that some would argue might be "predestined." No matter the source or development, we try to follow the path "assigned" to us with grace, dignity, and with an understanding that someone out there is overseeing the process to see that we are okay. It is an awesome realization.

Sometimes the road is winding...

Sometimes it is a distant goal...

But it's always there, beckoning us to travel on...with grace.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Choral Director Tammy Benton is So Much Fun!!

Tammy and Me in Her "Workshop"

On a recent visit to Texas, I visited Tammy Benton, choral director extraordinaire at Midway Middle School...probably the most FUN person I've ever met in the entire world. Tammy can find fun or create her own in every situation imaginable. Everyone has a great time around Tammy, and......she LOVES her job!  As her husband told me, "You have created a monster." Her time commitment to her job is truly amazing...hours, and hours, and hours...daily.

Tammy makes us all feel younger, more energized, and we join in her fun times. In my secondary methods class at Baylor University, trust me, I only thought I was in control. The "Spirit of Tammy" spread quickly throughout the classroom, and pretty soon, I had lots of Tammys (of course she was the ring-leader). I was hanging on by my fingernails. I provided mere suggestions...they "took the class." As a person who wanted to be in control of her classroom, this was a "stretch" for me, but I really got used to it over the semester, and truly enjoyed it.

I love this photo of Tammy. It reminds me of the day I was visiting a school to  supervise her in student teaching, and she was trying desparately to get the students to sing an "Ooo" vowel correctly, so Tammy came up with a word that provided a marvelous "Ooo" vowel for the students to emulate. HOWEVER, I heard her say, "Give me a wonderful, round "Ooo" vowel....just like the "Ooo" in "Coors." that moment, I choked...and thought, "I did not just hear that. I think I heard that, but I am wrong. I did not just hear that." I immediately began thinking of other places where I might enjoy working. Luckily, Tammy caught herself, saying, "Oops...that's not a good one"...then she pulled another "Ooo" word from her vocabulary. Lucky us. Gayle Box, the supervising teacher, smiled, we got on with it. My BP was elevated only 40 points by then.

Tammy and Me - Creative Angle, Huh? This photo says it all...

Tammy is a fantastic choral director for any group, but it is my opinion that her strength is in teaching middle school boys. Did you hear me? Middle School Boys! People run and hide from middle school boys in the choral profession. They don't want to deal with them, but Tammy loves them...totally loves them! And...because they know she loves them....they flock to her in multitudes, wanting to sing in her choir....and they sing...beautifully. Tammy had a great foundation for loving these boys and understanding their "boyishness." Her husband Gary was an All-American baseball player, a baseball coach (now AD) for decades, and she has been around guys, guys, guys. She also has a son, so she knows the mentality of every age...she has lived it! The boys in her choir don't try to "pull" anything. She's "been there, done that," and she knows what's going on at the moment and coming next. I think she has 140 or so of them in the program. They are everywhere, in droves, and the high school choral directors love her for it, I'm sure. She takes them all sorts of places....they perform at National and Regional ACDA Conventions, TMEA Conventions, the White House, baseball games (National Anthem)....this is not a group of students afraid to perform! They live for it! And...their parents are just fine with all the opportunities their children experience in choral music. WOW!!!

Me, Tammy, and Gary

Thankfully, Tammy has some help these days from an assistant (Zack Owens) and a marvelous student teacher from Baylor (Heather Boswell). They are both "in there" with Tammy, working with all of her students (and please know her girls' choirs are wonderful and huge as well), trying to teach young singers the fundamentals of choral music, so that they are always singing. They all do a wonderful job...working together.

Heather, Zack, Tammy, Me

At this point, you need to know that Tammy is a fabulous person, always looking beyond herself to others who might benefit from a kind word, and caring gesture, and total goodness. While I was there, she also took it upon herself to jump through the processes to see that Earlene Rentz Online Publications was added to the Midway School District's vendor list. Totally unexpected! Thank you!

The "family" of choral music is a fairly small family. In the afternoon, Heather Boswell and I began talking, and we both eventually realized that her middle school choir had been one of the choirs performing in a very special concert I conducted at Hurst United Methodist Church (TX) several years ago (thanks, Greg Shapley)! WOW!! Such a small, small world. Heather remembered the piece they sang (The Turtle Dove), and we both had "a moment" remembering a very special evening. All good...all good.

Tammy has "been there" in my best and worst moments of life. When I walked into my husband's memorial service in 2017, I looked over, and saw the most beautiful bouquet of white roses imaginable. Tammy and Gary Benton had sent them to me, and I immediately was filled with the knowledge that I was not alone and was being uplifted by precioius friends near and far. It was a moving experience for me. I was strengthened to continue through that tough hour of saying "farewell." the way...a little explanation as to how I was able to visit Tammy in her school a couple of weeks ago... another friend who had scheduled fun times for us in Waco fell ill in the worst way for 3-4 days, with a very contagious virus. When I called Tammy, she said, "You can't stay in that! I'm coming to get you!" Okay....that's a true friend (and no...I never got ill with the "stuff," but we had a plan to quarantine me, should that have happened)). Someone who puts my well-being and wellness ahead of her own and that of her household, is definitely someone who borders on sainthood (Okay...maybe a "stretch"...but it is still true).

I just love Tammy and Gary Benton. They have created an incredible partnership in their lives and with their son Taylor (I just received a "thank you" card from him today for a little gift). There are good and right things going on in that family, and amidst every facet of their lives, Tammy never loses sight of this one fact: Life is to be enjoyed with others! And...I have never seen anyone in my entire life who jumps in, makes it happen, and spreads the joy more than my friend and colleague Tammy Benton. 

Tammy, I am so proud of you and the marvelous professional you have become. The person you have become is equally impressive as well. You are an inspiration to all of us, and I wish you only the most tremendous things in life. You deserve them, Dear Heart, because you have created them.

I'm still hanging on by my fingernails!!