Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Idol Confessions

Okay, I give up. You all know I'm an American Idol junkie, so I might as well give in and blog it, baby!

You know you're an A.I. junkie if:

1. Your four-year-old son says, "Why does Simon Cowell always wear the same thing?"
2. Your seven-year-old son speeds through his homework with the hope of seeing his favorite singer (diehard Adam fan from day one) before he goes to bed.
3. You reschedule your favorite activities just so you can watch A.I. live with your kids.
4. You have your name on the waiting list for tickets to see it live ...... again!

Check, check, check and check.

So here's my rundown for tonight, A.I. style. A.I. meaning American Idol, not Artificial Intelligence, which seems fitting since there isn't much intelligence involved in this kind of blogging. Perfect for today.

Boring. Forgettable. It was just a'ight for me. Vocals were fine but the song was a bad choice. Not good enough to keep him in this competition for long.

A better song than last week. Back to the old Megan sound that is so distinctive and unique. I kept waiting for a "moment" but there was a lot of the same. A cool track to just chill out to, but not a good track to garner votes... and a few sort of shrill, painful moments.

Light years better than Anoop or Megan, with a very enjoyable, solid performance. Lots of heart and soul... ups and downs... Very enjoyable. I can see myself downloading this one on iTunes and listening to without cringing.

Solid, but actually kind of boring to me. Still much better than the first two... just not all that memorable. The outfit was crazy.

Funky hairdo. Very 80s funk. His song choice was slightly different than usual, but not different enough to really show a different side of him. Another solid performance but he still isn't a real competitor.

A bit grittier than previous performances--did the gritty voice work? A bit rough at the beginning, but I was feeling it by the end. He sings with a lot of passion, which I always love. He'll pull it together next week. If he gets voted off instead of one of the first two, that would be a crime.

When she started, I was somewhat apathetic about the song, but she really kicked it up a notch halfway through and put some life into it. I just can't get excited about Lil but she is definitely talented. (Cutest kids ever... I want a hug like that!)

Courtesy of Joseph this time: "Hmm. I like his song choice, but why does his hair look like that? It was pretty good. Whoa, you can see the band's shadows!" I was totally not feeling it. Way too much screeching and funk for my taste. Missed the mark, in my opinion. Not as frightening as a couple weeks ago, though. Still destined to be a favorite of most people, since this is Adam, who can do no wrong.

Okay, I have to admit that Kris is my Adam. By which I mean: he can do no wrong for me. My favorite. I loved this performance. I'll be dialing in and checkin' the iTunes page.

This night was just kind of a'ight all around, with a few bright spots. It'll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. Who were your favorites?

Friday, March 20, 2009

More movie magic

I can't help myself. It's two parts horrible, one part hilarious and one part pure awesome. Come on, you still haven't tried it?

What do you get when you mix nerdy characters, weird accents and the world's worst script? Probably something like this:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Check out my mad movie makin' skillzz. Courtesy of xtra normal.

What classic movie should I do next?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Theology

Weakening the Weak
Is it just my house, or do other people have Bathroom Books, too? You know what I mean, I hope. It's that book that sits on the back of the toilet and gets read one or two pages at a time. Since I haven't been blessed with the (seemingly) male talent for spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom, I've been getting through my current book, "The Millionaire Next Door," rather slowly.

This week I was reading a few pages about the children of millionaires. It discusses the propensity of successful parents to give too much to their children, enabling excessive spending habits and laziness. It also discusses the differences between the personalities of the children and how that affects their own success later in life. The conclusion it draws is:
The role of enlightened parents is to strengthen the weak. ... [One father] was determined that his children would not have to work so hard and have to face the risk of "doing on their own." But the willingess and ability to work hard, take risks, and sacrifice were the qualities that made him a successful and affluent business owner. Somehow, like many of his peers, he forgot how he became wealthy. Many parents say there is nothing wrong with providing [economic] outpatient care. This is true, perhaps, if the recipients are already well disciplined...
The authors claim that successful parents often fall into the trap of "strengthening the strong" and "weakening the weak." The conclusion drawn by the authors' research? "The more dollars adult children receive, the fewer dollars they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more."

Three different personalities
Of course no parent wants to weaken the strong, but how do they set about strengthening the weak? I've been thinking about this a lot in regard to my children this week. At the twins' annual checkup, I told our pediatrician that Elijah has a "decided helplessness" that is causing frequent and prolonged temper tantrums. A few minutes later, Elijah said he was thirsty, so our doctor decided to see how Elijah handled this.

What would I have done? Gotten Elijah a drink of water. (Read as: weakening the weak.) The conversation between Elijah and his pediatrician went something like this:

Elijah: I'm thirsty.
Doctor: Okay.
Elijah: Want a drink of water.
Doctor: Is there anywhere around here where you could get water?
Elijah (looking around): The sink.
Doctor: Okay.
Elijah: Need something to put water in.
Doctor: There are some cups in the middle drawer over there.
Elijah (hesitating): Umm...
Doctor: Right there. The middle one.
Elijah (after getting a cup): I can't reach the water.
Doctor: Okay. What can you do?
Elijah: Stand on something.
Doctor: Okay. Is there anything in here you can stand on?
Elijah: The stool!
Doctor: Okay.
Elijah: I want a drink.
Doctor: Okay.
Elijah: Move the stool.
Doctor: You can move the stool.
Elijah: I want a drink.
Doctor: Okay.

Elijah stood there helplessly for quite a while, with Thomas standing next to him impatiently with his own cup. Thomas would have grabbed the cup, gone over to the stool, gotten onto it and helped himself to a cup of water. Elijah stood there helplessly, waiting for somebody to move the stool and put him on it. So we went on with the appointment, talking about other things. Every once in a while, Elijah would insert some comment about wanting to get on the stool or wanting a drink. Every time, our good pediatrician smiled at him and said, "Okay." 

This was a great example to me of how to validate Elijah's need while allowing him to solve problems on his own. Eventually Elijah figured out that nobody was going to do this for him, so he climbed up onto the stool and got himself a drink of water. Problem solved. Problem solved by Elijah. Excellent. 

I've been trying to use this approach with Elijah since then and had good results and somewhat fewer temper tantrums. If he expresses a desire for something, I smile and say, "Okay!" Then I allow him to suggest a solution or I ask him what a solution would be. I hope I'm strengthening him and teaching him to recognize his own strength.

Thomas is a polar opposite. He is markedly solitary and independent, and has been from the moment he was born. He requires little and demands very little. He sits in the background peacefully while everybody fusses over Elijah's neediness. 

I've made a mental note that Thomas still needs attention and affection, even if he doesn't demand it. When he is offered affection, he is the sweetest, most attentive child in the world. On Friday evening, I went in to check on him after he was asleep. I leaned down next to him, kissed his forehead and stroked his hair. In his sleep, he turned to me and put both of his arms around my neck. He pulled me (more forcefully than I would expect from a sleeping child) close to him and I laid my head on his pillow and felt my love for this child growing. Nobody is an island.

What about Joseph? Strong? Weak? Of course, no human should be classified in such absolute terms, but still... I thought about it this morning. I listened to him screaming at his dad, taking charge of his brothers and dealing with situations the best way he could. A mixed bag of appropriateness, but certainly not weak. I thought about when he was born and how he rarely complained when he was poked and prodded in the NICU. He just laid there with tubes and monitors all over his body without complaining.

Those first few days, I remember looking at him and feeling humbled by his strength. I would have been raising heck if I'd had all that stuff connected to me. I had no idea then that this child would be a force to be reckoned with. As one of his teachers once remarked to me, "That child just marches to his own beat, doesn't he?" The challenge with Joseph is helping him to channel all of his strength and energy in positive ways.

The theology of weakness and strength
As I pondered my kids' individual weaknesses and strengths this morning, I contemplated my religious views on the matter. There are a couple important concepts that shape my attitudes as a parent and as a human:

1. God will not give us challenges that we cannot succeed at.
There is a passage in the Book of Mormon that says, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."

What kind of parent would set a child up for failure? Everything needs to be taught line upon line, precept on precept. I have certainly cried to God at times, asking why he would put me in the way of temptations or challenges that seemed too difficult to bear. I have pleaded with him to take the burdens away. 

Then one day, I saw things in a different light. I realized that each challenge that God gives me, that I feel too weak for, is a compliment. He thinks I am strong, when I think I am weak. He knows my strength and is determined to push me to a higher place than I would push myself to. He shows me my strength by His faith in me.

2. God gives us weaknesses, but also gives us strength.
It is through weakness that we discover strength. This is part of the plan for life. Another passage in the Book of Mormon reads, "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble. And my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

It is through the humble acknowledgement of weakness that I am pushed into deliberate self-improvement. It requires effort. It requires time and it means I have to push outside of my comfort zone, but it is worth it. I'm talking about spiritual weaknesses here, but I can't help but think about my love of music. 

As I've written before, I have always been very touched by beautiful music. In high school, I would attend my friends' singing concerts and sit in the back of the auditorium quietly crying. They had a gift to create something beautiful--something that touched my heart deeply--and I could never give that gift to myself. I loved music but had exactly zero aptitude for singing. If ever there was a weakness... you'll have to trust me, this was a weakness.

I was 20 years old when I first took a few voice lessons, determined to find the gift of music within myself. Every single lesson I attended required enormous courage. My teacher would visibly cringe and verbally assault me, but we persevered. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore. It was just too far outside my comfort zone, so I stopped. Several years later, I missed having music in my life, so I mustered my courage and found a new voice teacher. She was kind, encouraging and, most importantly, extremely PATIENT with me!

I still find considerable fault with my singing, but I know that I have taken something weak and made it a strength. I am proud of my progress, even if I am still not proficient. I am proud because I did something that I didn't think I could ever do. And every time I sing for other people, I feel my comfort zone slowly expanding and I find new strength within myself.

The moral of the story is...
Weakness comes naturally in life. Imperfection comes naturally in life. Everybody has their own cocktail of weaknesses and strengths. When I think about my own cocktail, I know I'd be the consummate hypocrite to look down on others. 

Another important point of my theology is the belief that the atonement of Christ enabled him to experience the whole spectrum of weakness, pain and temptation possible. That makes him uniquely qualified to judge the human race. Nobody else who lives on this earth--nobody--can act the part of The Judge. To look down on others with a proud attitude is not only an offense to other humans, but it is an offense to God. It is the worst form of pride to think that we are equal to His understanding and ability to judge. 

This is the basic tenet of my own understanding of charity: the knowledge that I can never experience or fully understand another person's temptations and sorrows. And I cannot guess at the hidden strength that God is waiting to pull out of other people.

What does this mean for me, as a parent? I need to guide my children a little at time to discover the strength that lies within them. I need to enable others around me to discover their own strength. When they feel weak, I can tell them it's "okay" to feel that way, and then help them to move on and solve problems for themselves. I can encourage them to step outside their comfort zone, which will require me to step outside of my own anxiously hovering comfort zone, too. I can't guess how they might rise to a challenge or fall to temptation, but I can show them that I have faith in them even when they stumble.

And I can lead by example, being confident myself and laughing at my own  mistakes instead of brooding and feeling helpless or hopeless. We will hold each other by the hand, not pushing or pulling, but encouraging each other onward.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

NATS Report

Tear-stained cheeks and blank, frightened stares--these are not the typical faces in this University hallway. The students performing in the annual competition for the National Association of Teachers of Singing range from the greenest beginners to seasoned music majors. 

For the less experienced and younger singers, this competition is not only the culmination of months of preparation and anxiety, but also a defining moment. They need to know: Am I good enough? They are no longer singing for their bathroom echo or for the teacher who encourages them weekly. They are singing for the best of the best: NATS members who may be professional singers or university-level vocal coaches.

After sleepless nights and hours poring over their music, students agonize over each forgotten word or off-pitch note. To perform less than your best feels like a failure of its own, whether you make the cut for the next round or not. Trust me. I ought to know.

Despite my traumatic loss of confidence last year, I decided it had been a wonderful experience preparing and memorizing and really trying to get songs just right. So I pulled myself back up and did it all over again--with a few caveats. I didn't want to compete. I just wanted to be able to prepare and enjoy the experience. So I entered the competition as a non-competitor and chose a different division. The "legit" division is for broadway songs, sung in the classical (as opposed to belt) style. This fit me perfectly.

As I entered the room where I was competing, I tried to swallow my nerves and remember that breathing is a prerequisite to singing. And fainting is generally frowned upon. So I smiled and said hello to the judges, asking where my friends could sit to watch. I handed them my papers and said, "Oh, I forgot to mark the top part, but if you could please mark non-competitive, that would be great."

One of the judges, a somewhat serious-looking man with a British accent, asked why I was entering non-competitively. I told him and the other judge, a beautiful, petite blonde without a British accent, that I had frozen in the finals last year and decided to just enjoy the experience this time. He got a puzzled look on his face and interrupted me. "I'm sorry, but I just don't understand. You made it to the finals last year. And this year you're not even competing?"

"Yes?" I answered. He wasn't satisfied. The judges asked what I had sung last year and said they recognized me a little. (Dang.) So I sang a measure or two of "Everywhere I Look" for them. The female judge said, "But that is good. You can sing. That was good." I thanked her and started to feel a bit pressured--but flattered. I told them, "I think I can sing pretty well. I tell people I can sing. I just can't perform."

So I sang. I didn't forget my lyrics. I didn't freeze. I also didn't nail it like I wanted to. The emotion for Memory was okay, but not spectacular. Some of the notes were a bit weak and I got a bit harsh or squeaky in places. Nothing traumatic, though, and it went well.

When I finished, the woman looked at me and said, "You realize you just performed, right? I don't mean you sang. I mean you performed." The other judge said, "What you just did with Memory, you can do with other songs. You can take that emotion and put it into other songs and really touch people's hearts. Don't think about you performing. Think about your gift touching other people." This was perhaps the highest compliment I could imagine. Then he said, "I'm going to make you promise that you'll come back and do this again next year and compete."

Luckily for him and unfortunately for me, I am a rather non-confrontational person and easily flattered, so I agreed. They encouraged me to really seek out performance opportunities during the next year so that I could become more comfortable with singing in front of other people. They suggested I find low-pressure places like rest homes, where people will clap and be thrilled no matter how nervous I am. 

When I saw one of the judges in a hallway today, she said to me, "We're going to hold you to your promise." I told her she's pretty much my favorite person in the world for being so kind to me about my singing. :)

Another very flattering moment was when somebody asked sheepishly if she could come listen to me perform. She had heard me sing at the recital on Monday and liked it enough that she wanted to hear me sing again. This is a far cry from the reaction I used to get: "Do you have to sing so LOUDLY?" or "Maybe you can sing in the other room, because you're just so LOUD."

As I sat down to listen to the finals today, I was surprised that I wasn't feeling comfortably smug that I didn't have to perform on that stage again. No. I was feeling sad--sad that I didn't take myself more seriously and go for it. As I listened to the others in my division, I realized that I could have been very stiff competition. I think the audience would have loved my rendition of Memory. But I'll never know.

What I do know is that my husband took seriously the challenge I threw at him a year ago after humiliating defeat: "Next year, I want to see you up there on that stage making a fool of yourself." He was there. He competed in the division that I was in last year. He made it through the first round. He made it through the semi-finals. And then there he was on the stage, right where I had been. Just him, some bright lights and a grand piano.

He did great and won 2nd place in his division. Our voice teacher said she was proud to tell people that he was her student. And the serious-looking Brit who ended up being my hero for giving me a vote of confidence (and a kick in the behind) leaned over to my voice teacher and said, "I would have given him first place."

That pretty well makes today close to perfect. What will I sing next year? I'm thinking, "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "On My Own" ... but there's no rush to decide. I just need to breathe deeply and take myself more seriously.

Friday, March 06, 2009


My sister shared this fragment of a poem with me today. It is from "Transcendental Etude" by Adrienne Rich:

But there come times—perhaps this is one of them 
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires.

This expresses perfectly my life at this moment. Now is one of those times.

Pulling back from the rhythms I've moved so thoughtlessly to feels impossible. I don't feel strong enough to take myself more seriously and make more deliberate choices in my life. I can feel myself drifting mindlessly, though, and it's time I lift my head and look for a safe harbor.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Comfort Zone = Gone

This entry is dedicated to my friend, Kazzy, who has been encouraging me to be more brave with my singing. Thanks for your faith, Kazzy!

I've said it all before so I'll spare you the details. There was a recital tonight that I was supposed to sing at. All day, I felt like crud (err, technically, "scared to death") and didn't want to sing. Might have something to do with the way I totally slaughtered my songs last Saturday and couldn't for the life of me remember the lyrics.

So I told Josh to go perform his songs and I'd stay home with the boys. He didn't like this plan. He called a babysitter and dragged me reluctantly along. The idea behind this recital is to give us all a chance to perform our songs before our competition on Friday. When we approached the recital, my heart was racing so fast that I wasn't sure I'd be able to breathe enough to sing at all. I tried to calm myself and apparently succeeded by the time it was my turn to sing.

Here are some of the nicest things people wrote down on the feedback cards:

* "You have a wonderful, large voice. Your voice is very expressive."
* "Beautiful nice clear voice that projects well."
* "So great! I almost got emotional. You're my favorite!!"
* "Very beautiful job - loved it. Great thoughtfulness."
* "Amazing theatricals"
* "I like your expression. It pulls you into the song."
* "Lovely voice! Relax & smile! You're awesome!"

So, after my nerves put me through the wringer and I barely had enough guts to show up, the singing was a very positive experience. Amazing theatricals? That's freakin' awesome because I honestly can't act to save my life. It made my day.

So, I decided to finally swallow my pride and throw all semblance of self respect out the window by posting my singing here on the blog. A few caveats. If you believe the comments above, you will expect more than you're going to get. Trust me. We're all beginners at these recitals, so I'm being compared to other beginners. Period. 

Caveat #2: I actually did sound way awesomer than this recording. Live music has a certain resonance and richness that can't be picked up by a built-in microphone on a $500 laptop that is sitting all the way across a huge room from the performance. I'm just sayin' -- go easy on me. You know how the camera adds 15 pounds? In this case, the microphone adds a few shrill and offkey moments and little harsh twists that are less noticeable when I sing live. Man I hate those shrill, jerky little tweaks of the voice.

Anyway, here it is, folks: "Memory" from CATS. Juliana style.

9 Flavors of Friendship

Best friends come in all sorts of emotional shapes and sizes. Sometimes only one person will do in an emergency. Some friends can fill many different roles. Here are a few types of best friends that I have observed:

1. The "Call me any day, any time when you're in a pinch" friend
I may not see them often. I may not remember how many kids they have or even where they are living right now. But we have a shared past and I just know that they will drop everything if I need them. It's the kind of friendship that may seem more casual but can revive within minutes.

2. The "I will always take your side and defend you" friend
They have total faith in me and will get angry when I am hurt, even if they can see that it's also partially my fault. They don't need to berate me or criticize me. They just shore me up.

3. The "Sure, why not?" friend
This is the friend who will be with you through all your crazy ideas. 

"Hey, Alysa," I asked one day. "Want to go to California today?" She replied, "Maybe just as far as Vegas." I agreed. But we ended up in California anyway. On a whim. Our parents were not amused.

"Hey, Craig. Let's go drive around Utah Lake and skip class." He would always reply, "Well, I really ought to be in class in a couple hours..... but okay!"

Man I miss those two! Life is so dull when you don't have the "Sure, why not?" friend around. Nobody to get out and do random things with. Like sticking processed cheese on Glen's forehead. Or talking about the benefits of various prime numbers on the bus, loudly, because we thought it was funny to see the hot chicks give us looks of disgust. Or carrying around a broken mother board and trying (successfully) to look helpless in the Computer Science building. (Geeks coming to the rescue are really so adorable, even if their inner Superhero was brought on by two wily, techno-savvy tricksters.)

4. The "No time has passed" friend
Here I have to give a nod to my friends in Arizona, Josh and Carolyn. Those two helped carry me through a fairly crazy period of life. We see each other every five years or so, but it's like we've been BFFs forevuh. Nothing is taboo with these people. We can admit or discuss anything and know that we won't be judged or criticized.

5. The "Quiet, Strong Support" friend
These friends are sometimes a bit of a yawner in the drama arena of life, but they are the ones we really depend on much of the time. Their opinion matters and we trust them in a crisis.

6. The "Everyday" friend
The person we walk with, talk with, go to movies with, laugh with and share all the details of our personal lives. I have to admit I don't really have any of these, which makes me kind of sad! It seems like everyone else in my neighborhood is this kind of friend with each other. At book club, they shoot out rapidfire questions to each other that totally baffle me: "Did X get her tooth problem resolved?" "Is X's step-daughter-in-law still sick?" "Can you believe that movie yesterday?!?" I try to look down and not be pathetic that I'm the only one in the room who is apparently not in the loop! 

7. The "I wish I were like you!" friend
I don't know if other people have friends like this. I have some friends in my life that I just admire so much that it hurts. I just think the world of them. I probably keep them up a pedestal that's way too high, but I don't think I let it show. 

8. The "convenient" friend
I don't think I have any of these friends, nor would I want to, because it's more of a leech type of friendship. This is the kind of friend that you love to have because they're popular or rich or throw great parties or get you great tickets. I would hate to have somebody desire my friendship for those reasons (although I think I'm safe for now:)

9. The "snarky" friend
They say it like it is. They drive you insane and make you want to strangle them, but for some reason, you trust them. Their opinion matters the most because you know they'll never give you crap. They'll speak it like it is. They're the Simons of your life. Love it, hate it, they are what they are.

Okay, that's it for now. What did I miss? What are your favorite kinds of friends?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Best Friends

"Best friends." What does that mean to you?

I've thought about friendship a lot lately as I've enjoyed a blossoming new friendship, memories of friends far away and the friendship of my children. What makes somebody a friend? Here are some things that have contributed to my feeling that somebody is a friend:

Shared past -- whether good or bad, shared experiences really cement somebody into my psyche and make me feel "close" to them. Even people with whom I have had bitter disagreements are closer to being my "friends" than complete strangers--simply because we have a shared past. This reminds me of the old idea that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. So cynical... but so wise.

Similarities -- there are some people that can feel like your best friends within ten minutes because of a similar interest, hobby, religious belief or even personality trait.

Proximity -- people that live nearby, sit next to you in class, or even stand by you on the subway every morning. For some reason, proximity aids and adds to a feeling of friendship.

* Family connection -- We can hate 'em but we still love 'em. That's the way family is.

* Work connection -- really just an extension of the first three

* Friend of a friend -- You tell your sister that you're visiting New Hampshire and she says, "Oh! You have to visit the X family!" Before you know it, you tell everyone you're visiting "friends" in New Hampshire without realizing these people are total strangers.

* Emotional intimacy -- You stayed up way too late after a movie, talking about how your parents are just like the parents in the film and your boyfriend back in high school was way hotter than the lead. You giggle together and before you know it, you're talking about your bra size and methods of birth control without thinking it's odd in the slightest.

* Physical intimacy  -- I'm not talking about THAT kind of physical intimacy, although it certainly qualifies. I'm talking about the person who gave you a hug when you cried, held your hand on the steep climb, or put their arm on your shoulder when you were feeling scared.

There are others, I'm sure, but I'm getting worn out from all the typing. Time to move on. Looking at the above list, there are two that really stand out as the most important factors of friendship to me: a shared history and emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy can be established within minutes, in my experience, and can be totally separate from a shared history. When the two unite, it is a sweet, beautiful thing.

What do you think are the ingredients of friendship? Tomorrow I'll post about different kinds of best friends. :)