Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Worship Conference 2017: Singing a New Tune


Ever since I first started singing harmony in church, I've considered myself an alto. My mother enjoys singing harmony in the hymn singing at church, so I simply picked it up from her. Thanks to her, I became very adept at sight-reading in high school and took a course in college (it was called Sight Singing and Ear Training) to get even better.

While at Martin Luther College, I also took voice lessons for a semester. It was to fulfill a requirement, but it ended up stretching me because I'd never done that kind of vocal work before. It's so different from singing in a choir!

My teacher, Jodi, listened to me sing and gave me a ton of helpful things to do with my body and my breathing to get me to sing at my best. But she also revealed to me something very surprising: I am not a natural alto!

This shouldn't have surprised me, to be honest. My mother and sister both are sopranos and have a very wide vocal range. I just figured I was the opposite of them, because I'm always the opposite of them. Even in my high school and college choirs I was selected to the second alto voice (the lowest vocal position a girl could be) and I got very good at singing low parts.

Jodi informed me that I was a mezzo soprano. If you know your Italian, mezzo means "medium." So while I couldn't hit the insanely high notes, I could get pretty high. I'd just honestly never tried!

In college I just internally scoffed at her suggestion of switching vocal voices. I was an alto, that was the cool part, and that's all there was to it!

Fast forward to real-life...

I have now been the choir director of several groups - senior and junior choirs, small groups, trios, and duos. I have found that while a piano is very helpful, the best way to teach a section is to hear it sung from the actual instrument for which it's intended.

Because of that, I have found myself singing all four parts as I lead choir practices. Sometimes I jump around between parts in the middle of a song. (Though I make sure they know it so they don't get confused.) And if I know that a certain section is struggling, I will take on their part when we perform - and yes, I've even sung bass for a song. (Not very well.)

I have done three Festival Choirs at the WELS Worship Conference, and each time I sang the voice part in which I was most comfortable: second alto. However, this time around I decided to go on a different path. So I selected the second soprano voice part.

Why would I do this? Several reasons: First, I am interested in a change of pace. Second, my mother and I often practice together, and I figured it might be a good idea to learn the same part instead of learning my part and hers. Third, I've never sung soprano as the member of a choir before! If I have the chance, why not take it?

It will provide a good set of challenges. More often than not, the pieces I will be singing have four lines of music. After almost twenty years of reading the second line of notes, I need to condition myself to read the top line.

While I know my voice can hit those high notes, but can it hit the high notes during an entire concert? And how many times am I going to accidentally enter with the altos?

I have two weeks to get my ducks in order before this concert shakes out. I have confidence that I can do it. And I know one thing for sure: I'm going to have a lot of fun being a faux-soprano!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mastering All the Travel Tips

When going on a major vacation, it is important to go in with as much travel knowledge as possible. I have followed that advice to the letter when going on my many Walt Disney World vacations! Because I glean as many tips as I can, my vacations are full and fun.

Going overseas is an entirely different matter. I can't use many of my Disney tips and tricks when touring a major European city. I need to get an entirely new set of trips that are centered on the places where I'm about to go.

I am not a world-traveling rookie; I have been to Mexico, China, and the Czech Republic before. In all of those trips, there were things that I know could have been done better had I done a little studying beforehand.

So what are the most important tips I've been seeing, and which ones am I going to try to follow? Read on:

Use Public Transportation

I did a mini-trip to Chicago back in January, and I bought a Ventra 1-day card to use on Chicago buses and trains. I was anticipating a cold day where I would want to avoid being outside too much. Instead, the weather was in the 60s and the sun shone brightly! I ended up barely using the bus. 

That was for a 1-day trip. I will be spending quite a few days in London proper, so an Oyster card is going to be a very important purchase. It will allow me to use the Underground and the bus system all around central London for a low fee. 

Unlike Europe, the United States doesn't use a whole lot of public transportation. I am going to have to get very wise very quickly so I don't look like a dumb American when trying to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the big city!

Phone - Unlock? Buy One There? SIM Card?

A big headache I am still trying to solve is how my phone should be used. I know for sure that I need to keep up communication with my friends and family on a daily basis (otherwise how am I going to keep updating this blog?). But I also don't want to spend an insane amount of money purchasing a travel plan with my phone provider in the US. 

I have looked at many, many, many articles and videos from travel bloggers, each with his or her own opinion. Some recommend switching to T-Mobile, where the international plan is very reasonable. Some say to unlock a phone and purchase a SIM card at a local pharmacy. All of them make sure you don't think your data from the US will carry over.

The one suggestion I seem to think will work best for my shorter, country-hopping trip is to take my phone and work with wifi. Many of the places I will be have wifi access, so I can still stay connected.

The nice thing about working with only wifi is that it keeps me off my phone. So many people go through life staring at a screen, and if I'm forced to limit myself, I can really enjoy the things around me! I can still post stuff but I don't have to constantly be texting, calling, and checking social media.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles

I will be flying several non-American airlines, and that is something I'm very excited to do. I usually fly on budget airlines like Southwest or Frontier, and I'm ready to upgrade a little bit in my global excursion. What's this about USB ports by every seat? The dinner is included with the flight? I get how many channels without swiping a credit card?

I am going to be taking the train all over the place, too. Train travel isn't popular in the US, but in Europe it's very commonplace. I'll be able to go through the Chunnel thanks to high speed rail travel!

And while I won't be driving, I'll have family and friends that will be taking me around in their vehicles. I have no desire to drive - even on the Autobahn! I'll just be busy trying to figure out some of the awesome signage that is on the roads.

Luggage

I think this is my biggest challenge. Since I will be hopping from place to place, I need to keep my luggage to the minimum. Instead of a rolling suitcase, I went with a lightweight backpack. There is no extra weight due to wheels and frame, so while I can fit a decent amount of stuff inside, it won't already be heavy thanks to those additional items.

Best of all? This backpack is a carry-on size! If I can fit everything into it, I won't have to check a bag and can just get off the plane, go through customs, and be on my way.

Of course, to achieve this, I really need to cut down. I'm someone who tends to pack for every scenario (What if there's a blizzard?!), and I just have to be more casual. I can buy toiletries at a local supermarket, and I can wash my clothes to wear again on the trip. Wear colors that can be worn over and over, but matched with other accessories. As my aunt says, "Black is best!"

Embracing Tourism

I can recall in my first trips out of the country how terrified I was. I spent most of the free time in Mexico on the Martin Luther College Choir tour in my hotel room. My apartment in China was freezing, but I bundled up and hunkered down because I like my alone time, and if I wasn't visiting a major tourist attraction, I didn't want to be anywhere else. 

Mexico was a short trip, and China was long, but this European vacation is right in the middle. It will allow me to get out and be adventurous while at the same time taking a few moments here and there to decompress. I like where I will be spending the night, but I will need to get out and find my meals. Those adventures in ethnic cooking will undoubtedly lead to others! (Other adventures, I mean...and other ethnic cooking, I'm sure.)

It's definitely a mental thing. I need to convince myself now, before I leave, that I am going to get out and love stuff. I did that when I went to the Czech Republic in 2011 and had the most amazing experience. I've done that on travels to Chicago and San Francisco. I want to channel that energy every time!



Have you ever been overseas? Do you have any tips to share? Please comment and let me know. (Especially if you have any advice on the phone thing!)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Summer Crazy is About to Begin

It's January. There are approximately five months until summer break. I look at my summer and go, "I have so much free time! Let me fill this in with a few fun things."

It's May. There's two weeks until summer break. I look at my summer and go, "I have zero free time! Why did I plan so much stuff?!"

Every summer seems to go like that for me and a lot of people I know. We start making plans, finalizing trips, scheduling conferences, slotting in work time, and suddenly there's no free time left. Every weekday or weekend has a party, a vacation, or a commitment.

Crazy!

This summer is no different for me. I thought I had some time between the end of school and the 2017 WELS Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts (AKA Worship Conference). In reality, there's barely a week in between.

After that I have another single week before I'm off to Europe, hitting Great Britain, Germany, and the Czech Republic. I'm visiting tourist sites, visiting family, and visiting a church where I helped them start their annual Vacation Bible School six years ago.

Along with all of that stuff, I still have plenty of schoolwork to keep me busy during the summer months. I'll have faculty meetings, classroom cleanings, general organization, and lots of music planning that will fill up any free time I have at home!

Crazy!

Summer Busy is different from School Busy, that's for sure.

If you aren't aware, I made a New Year's Resolution in 2017 saying that I would be writing every day. Even in the craziness of this summer, I can't let that be an excuse not to write - especially since I have been so diligent for almost five whole months!

I will be writing posts about my busy summer and my crazy vacations and I am inviting you to join me! It promises not only to be informative, but fun and a little bit quirky.

After all, this summer promises to be crazy!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The 5Kx3 Challenge Week 3: Titan Trot

Introduction Article

Week 1: Seminary Scurry

Week 2: Run for the Buds

This week marked the final run in my challenge, and it was a great one. The weather was finally perfect: 60 degrees and partly cloudy with minimal wind. It was a huge contrast to the previous two weekends, which were full of rain, clouds, and that blasted wind! I was so glad to see it gone this time.

"Put the Gun Down" by ZZ Ward

Since the weather was great, I could wear shorts and a t-shirt and be comfortable. It was my last time wearing the shoes I bought three years ago; Brooks Addiction 11. I just purchased Addiction 12 and I'm ready to break them in!

I had suspected for a while that my knee pain was because I'd worn down my shoes and they weren't giving me the proper comfort. But it might have just been because I'd been overtraining. I only was running four times a week, but it was too much.

"Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant

This week, however, I took it down quite a bit. I ran only two miles on Monday - mostly because I had to play organ that evening and needed time to get ready. I ran again on Wednesday, but it was pretty light because I was joining the school's running group for their final run of the season (which happened to end at the local Dairy Queen). Even though they had all beaten me handily the Saturday before, they weren't competing this time, and a couple of them were more walking instead of running. We went almost four miles but since I was corralling the kids at the end I had to walk when they walked.

On Thursday I decided to hike instead of walk. I got my exercise, but I didn't exert myself. On Friday I spent a lot of time on my feet, but I tried to keep off them in the evening.

"The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats

I made it to the high school where the Titan Trot was being held, and once again I was pretty early. I picked up my stuff and dropped it off in the car. They didn't have a baggie - they just had the bib (no chip timing) and a t-shirt. I liked that, because most of the stuff I get in baggies I just toss anyway.

They had a kids' race at 9am which circulated the grounds. I think there were only nine or ten kids that did the race. The majority of the runners showed up after the kids' race, but even then I'd guess that there were only about fifty of us. I knew a few families from school that were running and walking together.

"Gangnam Style" by Psy

I decided to start a different run-walk pattern this week in order to speed my time up. Instead of doing 1-minute run, 1-minute walk, I would do a 2-minute run, 1-minute walk, which is what I had done in the Disneyland races and the Bolder-Boulder. I hadn't done any recent training in the 2-and-1, but I knew I could do it.

I didn't have any trouble starting slowly this time because there were so few runners. Between the lack of runners, the lovely weather, and the very easy course (barely any hills), I was doing great!

"Raise Your Glass" by P!nk

We ran around the high school and entered a housing development area. We were on the road for this, but the road wasn't closed so a few cars passed us as we ran. I am not a fan of cars on the road during a race. Either close a lane or close the whole road, please, especially with kids doing the race, too.

We crossed a small trail that took us to another, more well-established subdivision. We ran out, did a loop, and returned to the trail. Only one fork in the road was not marked, but luckily I was running near the principal of the high school and he knew the correct route.

"Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr.

Suddenly we were crossing the trail again and were ending the race! I could hardly believe it. After two races that ended with rough climbs, this one was nothing at all.

I ended up finishing in 35:35, almost two minutes faster than my times in the previous two races. I was very pumped to finish strongly.

"Clark Gable" by The Postal Service

But there wasn't a whole lot at the finish line, unfortunately. A couple of high school kids were marking the times for people crossing the finish line, but there wasn't any cheering or encouraging. Everyone crossed the finish line in relative silence. There was a table of water, but there were only a few runners milling around. Most finished and then immediately took off.

I made sure to get a hot dog and chips from inside the building at the finish line and talk to the families from my school before I returned to my car and took off. I found it hard to believe that my first 5K of the trifecta would be the largest, but it was!

"Immigrant Song" by Led Zepplin

I was pleased with the progress I made in my 5K challenge. It wasn't very fun training so hard during the weeks, but I enjoyed the three races in which I competed. Plus I ended up with a PR in my final race!

When is my next race? Well, just wait a few weeks to find out...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The 5Kx3 Challenge Week 2: Run for the Buds

"You're Welcome" by Dwayne Johnson

After last week's cold, windy race in Mequon, I was hoping for a nice, sunny race in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Alas, when the day began, it was sunny, but it also brought a heavy dose of wind off of Lake Michigan. So while it looked like a beautiful day while we were inside, going outside meant having to deal with that disgusting wind.

I did a much better job dressing, even with the windy weather. I wore capri pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved shirt, and my blue hooded jacket. I was going to take the jacket off for the race, but that was before I stepped outside. Then the jacket stayed.

"Light and Day" by the Polyphonic Spree

My mother surprised me the day before by coming to an event at my school, and she said she was going to stick around for my race! We drove over to St. Joseph and arrived about an hour before the race began. I thought that this race was going to be very popular, and they only had one parking area available that was close to the starting line.

Speaking of parking, it was shown to the runners via a document that was emailed to us and was also on their website. But as much as I looked on the email and the website, the start time of the races was nowhere to be found! While they mentioned that early packet pickup was at the local gym, they didn't mention where day-of packet pickup was found. A lot of important information was missing.

"I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers

When we got there, I was shocked to see that barely anyone was there! This was going to be the same route as the Blossomtime Festival Parade which was later that day, and there were vendors setting up, but that was about it.

Where were the runners? The parking lot we used only had a few cars in it when we arrived, and we got prime parking. The packet pickup was a couple of tables by the starting line. I was a bit confused.

"The Forest Battle" by John Williams

Turns out the race, which used to draw many runners, only attracted about 200 runners and walkers for the 10K and 5K races this year. I'm sure the fact that it was so windy and chilly didn't help people that were going to sign up on the day of the race.

They released the 10K runners at 10:15, and before the 5K runners left they had the local gym lead some warmups nearby. I appreciated the stretching, since I'm not very good at making sure to get my body ready for a race.

"I Love It" by Icona Pop

Since the race was so small, it was impossible to hide in the crowd and make sure that the kids from my school didn't see me till the end of the race. So I just did the opposite - I gathered with the group.

Everyone gathered at the start, and I did my usual get-in-the-group-then-turn-around-and-take-ten-steps-back-because-I'm-slow routine. And then we were off!

"Shut Up and Dance" by Walk The Moon

It was an incredibly easy course. We did about a tenth of a mile on a terrible road in St. Joseph, turned the corner, and went over the bridge into Benton Harbor. Then we were on a straight road through two roundabouts, turned around, and did it all the way back! Out of all the courses I've done, this was the most boring. We were just running the course of the Blossomtime Parade, which means we had to be on a straight course with minimal turns to accommodate the floats. But it was still pretty boring.

When I was closing in on the mile mark, the fastest runners were already passing me on their way to the homestretch. Geez, people are fast. It did allow me to cheer on everyone on the school team as they passed me, which I enjoyed a lot! They cheered me on, too.

"I Wish" by Skee-Lo

There was one water stop - but if you're thinking about what I just wrote, there were two water stops: one on the way out and the same one as we went back. These were the smallest water cups I'd ever used in a race - they were basically the disposable ones you'd find in the bathroom. Again, the trash cans were too close - I wish I could chug my water, but I can't.

The bridge was a pretty easy jaunt because we came upon it on a decline. But that meant that as we came back to the finish, the bridge was a pretty nasty climb. Not only was the bridge unpleasant, the decline had turned into an incline, and it was a terrible incline!

"Galvanize" by The Chemical Brothers

I finally made it back up the hill, but as we turned the corner to the finish we were met by a headwind coming right off of Lake Michigan. The weather was chilly, and the wind was downright cold.

But it was only about 0.2 miles experiencing this discomfort, and the sight of the finish line helped me endure. I ended tired but happy.

"Moon Watcher" by High Contrast

The postrace area was the prerace area that now had food on the tables instead of registration packets. I had a banana and caught a bear mascot from Bigby Coffee that was handing out free hot chocolate samples. They also had medals out that they were handing out to the top three finishers in each age bracket.

They announced the top three, and I was sticking around just to be with the school group and watch some of them receive their medals for their age group. And right before my age group was announced, I thought about leaving. Well, until I heard my name and third place!

"Minneapolis" by Underworld

This was very confusing for me. I got up there, accepted my medal, and pretty quickly figured out why: there were very few women in my age group that ran the race. As a matter of fact, the two ladies that finished in front of me were only a minute or two ahead of me. I was relieved to see that they weren't fifteen minutes ahead of me or something like that.

The run was average, but it had its perks. While I was expecting a bigger race, I enjoyed the group of people that I got to be with. It was slightly warmer than the Seminary Scurry, so I can only hope that we're ending up with a beautiful, sunny day this coming weekend for the Titan Trot!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The 5Kx3 Challenge Week 1: The Seminary Scurry

My running playlist for the Seminary Scurry is labeled in bold. These make great songs with which to work out!

"I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers

After running in beautiful weather here in Michigan on Monday and Tuesday, the conditions worsened over the end of the week. By Saturday in Wisconsin, the weather dawned cold, crisp, and windy. 

I think I would have been fine if the weather had been cold, but it was the biting wind that really made me nervous. As a result, my planned running gear changed. I wore capris leggings, yoga pants, a turtleneck long-sleeved tech shirt, my long sleeve lightweight hoodie, and a workout jacket with hood. I also packed my ski hat, because I'm a wuss. 

"Silhouette" by KANA-BOON

I've heard that you should plan your running clothes based on temperatures 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. But on the morning of the race I end up scoffing that notion and wearing an extra layer. This time around it was that jacket.

My morning breakfast was a bit different from a normal run. I usually go with crunchy peanut butter toast, but this time I had a bacon-egg sandwich. I didn't even realize that my normal routine was different until I started eating the thing!

"Scherzo for X-Wings" by John Williams

I arrived on campus of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary at 9 when the race was at 10:15. My brother was working the event and said there were about 250 preregistered racers. This was the smallest run I've ever done so far! (And even then, it might be beaten in two weeks. Stay tuned.)

Inside our registration bags was a very nice t-shirt (not meant for running), several promotional materials for WLS, race instructions, the bib (with chip timer) and safety pins, and a map of the course. I immediately took it to my car because that's just a habit of mine, but most people were putting all their stuff on tables in the gym or in a corner area. 

"Left Hand Free" by alt-J

We hung out in the gymnasium and watched racers come in to register. There was one school running group that drove up from Milwaukee, and I hope that is inspiring for other schools in the area to do the same. It's such a nice campus!

The kids' race was at 10, and it was just a 1/2 mile run around the main campus area. It didn't take long for the kids to come around the bend and finish the race. The age range was elementary school kids all the way down to a kid that couldn't have been older than 3! 

"The Martyr" by Yasuharu Takanashi

The main 5K started in one of the parking lots. They had several photographers, someone doing a Facebook Live post, and even a drone doing a flyover. In no time at all, we were off!

In my run-walk method it is hardest to slow down for that first walk because everyone is still energetic and going maybe a bit too fast. But I did - at least until they came along with a camera that was doing Facebook Live, and then I was running again!

"I Love It" by Icona Pop

We did a loop around the campus and wandered through the professor's neighborhood before turning into a Mequon residential area. I was thinking we'd be weaving through streets for the rest of the non-campus time, but I forgot that the Ozaukee Interurban Trail goes right through town. It was a very nice flat route which was great as we went through Mile 2. 

It was this time where I was regretting wearing that third layer. Sometimes it was nice, like when the wind was going at my face. But most of the time, I just wanted to rip the jacket off and leave it behind. 

"Hero's Come Back!!" by Junichi Sakamoto

Unfortunately, there was only one sticky part to the route: the entrance back up to the Seminary. It's quite a hill. But the students know this problem, so they fill the driveway up with chalk messages. It was the first time I'd been rooted on in the Greek language!

We went around the campus one more time before ending under the arch. The rain stayed away, and the weather didn't get truly gross until after they'd served lunch in the gymnasium. 

"Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

I thought that the lunch was going to be hot dogs and chips but it ended up being pulled pork - pork, which my brother made sure to mention, that was smoked for 12 hours the night before and then pulled apart by the Seminarians. They also had bananas, granola bars, chips, and Gatorade. 

The biggest negative of the day was the weather. Otherwise, the day was a nice way to get together at the Seminary and enjoy the lovely campus and surrounding area!

Next race: Saturday's Run for the Buds