"The trick to playing second fiddle is to play it like second Stradivarius." ~ Robert Brault

My friend shared a clip yesterday.  The diminutive violinist seen here is Soo-Been Lee, competing in the final round of the Menuhin Competition.  The ten-day music festival was held last week in Beijing and features 42 outstanding violinists from around the world.  These competitors are all under the age of 22.  

The amazing thing about this performance is not that Soo-Been Lee is 11 years old; it’s that she came in 2nd place.  I think she’s incomparable.  I wonder what she thinks?  

A dramatic example chosen to prove a point.  About comparing.  It’s easy to see what you’re not.  Can you turn down the volume on your inner critic and take comfort in knowing that you’re perfect right where you are? 


A friend posted this yesterday morning on Facebook and it's so perfect I just had to share.  This lovely lady is  one of the most positive people I've ever known which makes her call to action all the more fascinating.   I've spent years working on the lessons of change.  Most of the time I approach change with great reluctance and even resentment.  "Why am I always the one who has to change?"--that's my usual wail.  But this note got me thinking that making little changes in myself has a positive ripple effect that impacts my work, my environment and my relationships.  This is really all about forgiveness and that starts in my own heart.  I've committed to join Listen In and Think Positive!

Here's the post:

"Woke up this morning feeling like starting my own little grassroots movement for the month of March 2012. I invite you to join me to Listen In and Think Positive! for the entire month of March. Ever wonder how many thoughts floating around in your oh so active mind are positive? How many are negative? I invite you to join me this entire month in taking a second to take notice - to track those pesky little thoughts and to make a change - Listen In and Think Positive!

Is there a person in your life that whenever they walk towards you down the hall they just always ruffle your feathers? Stop and listen in - think about one thing about that person you appreciate and are grateful for, and smile:-) Feeling overwhelmed with your life? Stop and listen in - think about one thing about yourself that you are intensely grateful for, and smile:-) Is there a person close to you who is getting you down? Stop and listen in - think about one piece of information that person has shared with you that you are grateful for and possibly even treasure, and smile:-) Is the bus late again, or traffic at a standstill? Stop and listen in - look up, don't think, just look at the nature around you and share some gratitude for the intense beauty in the world, and smile:-) 

LIKE if you commit to joining Listen In and Think Positive! for the month of March 2012:-)"

Lovely, isn't it?  Pass it on!

A new year.  It’s a symbolic clean slate.  The chance to start fresh.  My husband gave me the most perfect
new year’s gift-- an empty desk just for me—in a clean, well lit, warm art space.  And with it, a chance to get back to back to being genuine.  I’m a goal-setter so new year’s resolutions come naturally to me.  I started thinking about resolutions at the Winter Solstice and realized I had left some of the most important parts of me behind.  My resolution this year is to be true to myself.  

How did I stray so far off course? It just so happens I’m also an adapter.  I have a mutable personality and that’s why, when my new husband and his sons moved into my house three years ago, I decided to make a big 
change.  So grateful that they were joining me in house I loved, I was eager to show my willingness to adapt.  Bear in mind my home was already overflowing.  My space was brimming.  It was stuffed with stuff.  I was hanging on tight to my childhood memories, my half of the detritus from a 20-year-marriage, and assorted boxes full of my children’s memories.  Did I mention that I’m a collector? 

Optimistically we shoehorned our new family into this space the best we could.  I spent weeks prior to our wedding day weeding through my art supplies.  The plan was to turn half of my basement art area into a bedroom.  It seemed logical to sacrifice some paper and paints to make three guys feel welcome.  I attacked my mission with zeal.  Meanwhile, my husband had the loathsome task of cramming all of his belongings into the remaining cracks and crevices.  

Enter the desk.  While I was occupied with giving up my cache of art supplies a crippling scenario was taking place in the sunroom.  After three moves and zero time or energy to organize papers, my husband had no choice but stack every important and seemingly important paper on a desk in the sunroom.   He had too much to handle.  Filing was risky.  Sorting was agonizing.  The fear of losing essential papers was paralyzing.   What's worse is the torture was apparent.  While the basement door could be shut, the desk in the sunroom was always in plain sight, groaning with the weight.  We were trapped.  I gave up part of my identity and his was lost somewhere in piles of papers.

The first year was really tough for all kinds of reasons.  After a year my stepsons moved on but me and my husband remained in "desk limbo."  What used to be a basement art haven became invisible.  My dusty drafting table was stacked with forgotten materials.  And the piles grew in the sunroom.  Turning opposite of true north, I gave my drafting table to my younger stepson.  Oddly enough, that might have been just the wake up call I needed.   Soon after, I dug out my art journal and went back to play.  

This past summer I asked to have the sunroom desk in exchange for a space in the basement.  Thus began a series of lessons that probably will be discussed in more detail on other days in other articles.  I had to confront my communications demons; it was not a pretty picture.  One day I figured out how to use my words and a lightbulb switched on above both our heads.  Suffice it to say it’s been a 3-year-long learning experience that was an effective teaching tool on so many levels.  

The happy news is the gift.  We came to a mutual agreement that has left us both happy, true to ourselves and most important, with usable space each of us to fill however we choose.  To my utter surprise and delight I looked into the sunroom yesterday and saw a completely empty desk.  And now, at the start of a new year I have a gleaming new art table just waiting for me to play.  I wonder if he knows his gift wasn't just a clean desk for me; it was a clean slate for us. Thanks to you, my darling! 

Midwinter.  The day we say goodbye to darkness and welcome the light.  The solstices and equinoxes signal new seasons.  These seasonal transitions are the perfect times to set personal intentions.  But no transition is more potent than the Winter Solstice.  The symbolism of light's triumph over darkness has resonated with mankind throughout the ages.

This poem , The Bleak Midwinter was written in 1872 by Christina Rossetti.   It was first used as a hymn in the English Hymnal of 1906, where it appeared with a tune composed by Gustav Holst, "Cranham," written for this poem.

The Winter Solstice falls on December 22nd this year, the day the sun is the lowest in the southern sky.  The exact time is 05:30 GMT.  Solstice celebrations have been among the most important festivals since ancient times.   The days grew shorter and shorter until the Solstice when the sun began to rise again.   The light brings hope and the promise of plenty.

"The most exciting thing in Orkney, perhaps in Scotland, is going to happen this afternoon at sunset, in few other places even in Orkney can you see the wide hemisphere of sky in all its plenitude.

The winter sun just hangs over the ridge of the Coolags. Its setting will seal the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. At this season the sun is a pale wick between two gulfs of darkness. Surely there could be no darker place in the be-wintered world than the interior of Maeshowe.

One of the light rays is caught in this stone web of death. Through the long corridor it has found its way; it splashes the far wall of the chamber. The illumination lasts a few minutes, then is quenched

Winter after winter I never cease to wonder at the way primitive man arranged, in hewn stone, such powerful symbolism."The poet George Mackay Brown on midwinter at Maeshowe.

A 4700 year old structure built so that the passageway points directly towards sunset on the Winter Solstice. 

This day brings renewal and with it, an opportunity to renew ourselves.  The transition from dark to light is the perfect time to examine motivations and goals.  What changes can we make so that our lives will run more smoothly?  This is the ideal time for resolutions.   

It's transition time.  Back from a week of camping after finishing the summer opera season I'm trying to get back into some kind of routine.  Oh, if only I could remember my routine.  Practice.  Exercise.  Cook.  Schedule students.  Add 9 months of rehearsals and concerts to my Planner.  Ah yes, it's coming back to me now.  The school year reads like the back of a shampoo bottle--lather, rinse, repeat.  Unfortunately my current lack of momentum makes a routine seem hopeless.  So even though getting back to a regular daily schedule is at the top of my priority list it's also dead last in my consciousness.  I need an Inside Out Makeover  more than ever.  Which brings me to the next article in this series…..

#4 Attitude

Are you confident?  Do you know someone who is?  That's the first thing I notice in another.  How they carry themselves.  How they interact.  How do they do it?  Confidence is my Achilles Heel.  And I envy those who possess it.  After struggling with a lack of self-confidence for half a lifetime I have finally discovered the magic formula.  It requires effort but the rewards are plenty.  It doesn't require money or study; it does require….. acting.  Just a few subtle, internal changes can make you seem self-assured.

Walk with purpose.  A confident stride goes a long way towards boosting your self-esteem.  And it's best done in heels.  Not only will they see you coming; they'll hear you too.  YouLookFab's post, "Why High Heels are Fabulous,"  points out that increased height, shapely calves and the all-around girliness of high heels can make you look and feel fabulous.

This spring I was surprised to discover I had lost enough weight to wear a favorite pair of shorts.  I dressed them up with a cute top and  high-heeled sandals and headed for the market.  I felt so pleased with my spring outfit and sassy heels that I strutted into that store like I owned the place.  At the entry a fellow shopper pulled down his sunglasses to take a second look.  At checkout, a clerk half my age flirted with me.  I could hardly believe the effect of my purposeful stride.  I left the store with a wry smile and renewed confidence. 

Posture.  I'm not going to tell you to stand up straight.  Your mother already did.  What I will share is a tip I learned from public speaking.  In order to stand with an air of confidence you should first rise to a standing position, stop and take a moment to pull yourself up to your full height, take a breath, straighten your shoulders and then walk.  This process may feel like it takes an eternity.  Time is on your side.  It may feel quite uncomfortable at first.  As if all eyes are on you.  Well, they are, but in a good way.  Trust me.  You will rise to any public occasion while exuding confidence and composure.

Focus on your positives.  We all have good points and bad points.  Why draw unnecessary attention to your negatives?  Anna Quindlen wrote a hilarious article on this subject that has stuck with me through the years.  "Putting Up a Good Front" describes a woman who looks supremely confident and pulled together on the outside yet is hanging by a thread on the inside.  She's me.  And she's Everywoman.  Read it and see yourself.  Then the next time you leave the house with the hem of your skirt held in place by staples you'll laugh.

Confidence isn't a mask that hides imperfection's shame.  It's knowing you can "act" self assured while realizing you're human.  It's having the courage to get out there and strut your stuff. 


I've been too busy playing opera to write.  I really should be heading to the shower so we can play an afternoon Carmen.  Instead, I'm making time to write just for fun.  All because of a darling bit of fluff.

I don't even know what category to choose for this post.  I bought it at the opera gift shop so it's a bit like music.  But it's also inspiring my muse so maybe it's even more like creativity.  It's a little bit like a makeover so it fits well in Courageous Communication.  P.S. to Inside Out Makeover.

No matter the category, I just have to share.  A colleague told me about these headpieces a couple of weeks ago.  I finally made it to the gift shop earlier this week to see for myself.  I tried one on and was instantly transformed!  So cute!  But where would I wear it?  Later in the pit, I excitedly shared my find.  A friend suggested I might have to create opportunities for wearing something that made me so happy.  That was all I needed to hear.  Last night I returned with money in hand. 

Fascinators!  Recently in the public eye due to a beautiful and stylish Duchess, these are ethereal confections for your head.  Set at a jaunty angle they add charm and whimsy.  All tulle and feathers and lace--try one on and you won't be able to stop smiling. 

An opera house employee had just arrived last night with fresh stock of hair accessories--the seventh of the season!  There were piles of fascinators.  So many that it was hard to choose.  But then, they are all so darling you really can't go wrong.  My husband was with me when I shopped.  I asked if he liked them.  He said he liked how much they make me smile.  

#3 Power Wear

Third in a series on giving yourself an Inside-Out Makeover, this step encourages you to find your special power garment and wear it to radiate confidence and authority.

I didn't notice my new attitude until this spring.  Just like the previous year, my husband gave me a shoe shopping trip for my birthday.   This time it was easy to choose.  I'd heard so much about the barefoot running shoes Vibrum Five Fingers, I couldn't wait to try them.  It was love at first step.  I felt powerful and I felt free.  In touch with nature I relished feeling the earth beneath my feet.  Athletic and strong I was ready for challenge.  Pliant and vulnerable I quickly adapted to the varied terrain.
Last year's gift was another story.  I had barely celebrated my birthday when Mom's health took a turn for the worse and she died 5 days later.  It was weeks before I was in the mood to shop for birthday shoes.  But when I finally did, I made an interesting choice.  I picked tough chick shoes.  Black patent, strappy, towering heels covered in studs.  Don't mess with me shoes.  Armor for my feet.  Although what I was really trying to protect was my heart.
Last year:  warrior.  This year:  road warrior.  Anyone who knows me is familiar with my love of shoes.  But I was still surprised to see my confidence (or lack of) so obviously demonstrated in my footwear.  And that got me thinking about power wear.

Wonder Woman has her unbreakable bracelets.  My kids had blankies.  There are days when we all could use an extra measure of self-confidence.  Your power garment makes you feel invincible and keeps you safe.  It's an item of clothing that makes you feel your best.  It can be a signature item or your own little secret.  It might be a special gift or a cherished heirloom.  It's significance is your symbol of bravura.   Whether it's your treasured earrings, those fabulous boots or even the most delicious perfume I'll bet you already know your power wear.  Put it on the next time you need a boost.  Better yet, wear it every day.  

(While researching this post I stumbled on the groovy theme from pop star show "Thank Your Lucky Stars" written by Peter Knight and the Nightriders.  It's too good not to share.  And I think I just found my new personal theme music.) 

#2 Accept Compliments and Give Thanks

Second in a series on giving yourself an Inside-Out Makeover,  this step asks for awareness and acknowledgement. 

It's easy as pie for me to be my own worst critic.  I've had years of practice.  In Accepting Myself I wondered how lovely I'd feel if I saw myself through my husband's eyes.  Your spouses, coworkers and friends are constantly sending positive feedback.  Listen carefully to your reaction.   Rather than disagreeing, stand a little taller and say, "thank you."  Believe them!  They love you.

And while you're at it, be grateful.   Because your gaze is directed outward you may find this simpler than accepting compliments.  Just take notice of the lovely things that happen each day.  I like to note the smallest details; it makes the big picture much rosier.  All that really matters is you will be sending more gratitude into the air.  And that's good for all of us.

Then add these moments to your memory banks.  Remember the good things about you.  Remember the good things that happen each day.  Allow them to become a part of you.  You have the power to change your wiring.  Rhonda Britten in Fearless Living asks us to spend time each night before bed making a list of compliments and gratitudes.  Imagine a special book filled with wonderful thoughts about you!  Putting the words  in writing makes them even more powerful.   


Last month I talked about two aspects of body image.  In accepting myself, I wrestled with maintaining a positive self image in spite of life's ups and downs.   Adorning myself dealt with boosting self-esteem with head-to-toe makeovers.  Ultimately, self-acceptance comes from within.  This series details  my checklist for an inside-out makeover.

#1.  Get strong.

First on my list is strength.  In my experience, getting strong is the most important thing I can do to shape my attitude.  Somehow a set of strong, competent muscles has an amazing effect on my psyche.  As if a sturdy internal framework fortifies my very spirit.  I'm talking about more than a daily walk.  My suggestion is good old fashioned variations of crunches or planks, tricep extensions and lunges.  Fancy equipment and gym memberships are not required.  Start slow and be consistent.  You will feel so empowered by your progress!

The first time I remember using strength to bolster my spirit was 2007.  My younger child was a senior and I felt terrified by the inevitable empty nest.  I decided to enter the Danskin Women's Triathlon.  It was an athletic goal beyond anything I'd ever done but why not set my sights high?  Indeed.  I hadn't run in a couple of years.  It had been 10 years since I'd been on my bike.  And not only had I never learned the crawl, it had been 20 years since I'd done anything in a pool besides float.  Other than these minor obstacles I figured I'd be good.  It certainly took my mind off losing my baby.  In return for pushing my limits I gained an awareness of my own strength that will last my lifetime.

My mother was an amazing example of strength.  She took Jazzercize classes 3 days a week for 20 years;  on alternate days, 50-minute power walks.  Sinewy and fiercely strong, she could take on any challenge.  That her amazing strength outlasted her failing mind is a testament to maintaining a strong body.   Her will remained powerful to the end.

I wish I had remembered my own advice earlier this month when I injured my foot.  Although I'm happy for the rest and the space I created, adding a little yoga to my routine might be a good balance next time I'm in that situation.  Running for the first time yesterday reminded me how good it feels to use my body.  And today, each step brings a painful, yet welcome reminder of my personal strength.

We got away last week.  It was a wonderful, welcome campout although slightly different than our typical active vacations.   Due to my foot injury, hiking was not an option.  Afraid to stop moving I wondered, "What will it be like to camp for fours days with no hiking?"  Pre-departure I anticipated boredom, frustration and weight-gain and had a really bad attitude.  Knowing this was our only opportunity to recharge, I decided to pack as many journaling supplies as I could and optimistically envisioned hours of time to play. 

I packed a quilted, fabric journal that I made during an Artfest retreat.  The smaller size fit nicely in my tackle box along with the rest of my journaling kit.  I hadn't used this journal for more than 10 years.  When I made it my creative life was focused on art.   Due to a car accident I hadn't played my viola for nearly 3 years.  Depressed, suffering and living in a musical void I longed for happier times.  In the first dozen pages of my journal  I sketched dreams of health and happiness and musical goals.  And then I put it away for a decade.   A funny thing happened during that wait.  I stumbled across my journal last year, opened it and was astonished to see my dreams on paper.  As I turned each page I was more and more amazed--my dreams had all come true! 

It seems like this is a magic journal.  But I think every journal is magical.  Fill one with your dreams and watch them come true.  Work through your challenges.  Sketch your hopes.  Doodle your fantasies.  Then watch them come to life.  Like Harold and the Purple Crayon, you may be surprised and delighted by what comes out of your pen!

I just read What it Is by Lynda Barry and fell in love.  Read this book!  It is a fascinating creative journey; a "how to write" manual in journal form.  She journals her artistic journey beginning with childhood.  We see the dreaming, the questions the self-doubt and eventual confidence played out in her journal.  We see her become an artist.  During our trip I practiced one of her ideas, "keep your pen moving."  I sat under a tree to draw.  I drew all afternoon.  I refrained from judging my pages; I just drew.   It felt good.  I experimented with new styles and techniques and had a ball.  Barry talks about children's art, "when kids draw they make sound effects or start talking out a story that seems to be happening live."  The adult version of this is doodling.  "Doodles can be called mindless drawing.  It's one of the last places drawing still exists in a person who gave up on art long ago.  A place where one line can still follow another without plan." 

It turned out to be one of our better camping trips.  My take away from this vacation was I didn't have to be in constant motion.  It was enough for my pen to be in motion.  The last morning of our trip I remarked to my husband, "I've been so content and placid on this trip.   I think it's because of all the journaling."  His reply?  "Don't stop."

Do you journal?  If so, share your thoughts.  If not, head over to Creative Playground to find out more.