Tips for Retirees on Managing Stress During the Coming Winter Celebrations

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. – Etty Hillesum http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/05/holiday-stress-quotes-the-11-best_n_791925.html

snowman-1383597It used to be that the coming winter recess of seven or more days off from full-time public school music teaching mostly meant catching up on much-needed sleep, tackling a few of those deferred household chores, performing or conducting a couple holiday concerts, visiting family and friends, and “pigging out” at a few gigantic holiday feasts.

Now that we are retired, one could argue that “every day is a vacation” and our lives are always “a bed of roses.”

However, holiday stress is a real problem for full-time workers and pensioners alike. No matter the setting or stage of your life, it is something that needs to be addressed!

According to Alexandra Ossola (Popular Science) at http://www.popsci.com/why-are-families-particularly-stressful-during-holidays, “It may have more to do with your expectations than the annual meltdown over the turkey.” She comments, “For most people, colourful-festival-muffins-1317770family gatherings during the holidays are rarely stress-free… Sometimes these situations are small, unpleasant blips in otherwise enjoyable celebrations. But for some, the feelings go deeper—many people dread the holidays, becoming stressed or anxious in the weeks leading up to a family get-together.”

She concludes with research from Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Oakland University. “We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be perfect, and our conversations will be respectful. But when our realities don’t match that, we get frustrated,”

xmas-tree-1360371So, here is some timely advice to bring down your anxiety levels and cope with the changing season.

First up, the American Heart Association advocates being “heart-healthy” in all dealings with holiday stress at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/FightStressWithHealthyHabits/Holiday-Stress-Try-These-5-Tips-for-a-Heart-Healthy-Holiday-Season_UCM_433252_Article.jsp#.

  1. Think ahead and carefully outline a consistent “30 minutes of physical activity per day.”
  2. Avoid the perils of party foods (overeating of high-fat, sugary, or salty treats).
  3. Stay active… but not too active (enjoy the added exercise, but don’t overbook yourself).
  4. Layout a plan for January and beyond.

Several ideas for handling your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or New Year galas come from WebMD at http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/quick-tips-reducing-holiday-stress-get-started.

  1. bag-1-1443662Know your spending limit (set a budget and stick to it).
  2. Retirement usually means being on a fixed income. Share gifts that are meaningful and personal, but not necessarily extravagant or expensive.
  3. Organize your appointments and to-do lists.
  4. Share the responsibility (you don’t have to do everything yourself).
  5. Learn to say “no!”
  6. Be realistic. “Try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you.”

To avoid the predictable “serious conversation alert” or a downturn of the mood at any family gathering, Talya Stone urges the infusion of humor to lessen your holiday stress at http://stress.lovetoknow.com/Humor_for_Holiday_Stress.

  1. reindeer-1-1419910Tell jokes, like “Why do reindeer stop for coffee on their Christmas run? Because they’re Santa’s star bucks.” A whole collection of quick one-liners are available at her website, which she says are guaranteed to add humor to your holiday and de-stress awkward episodes.
  2. Avoid becoming Scrooge. Don’t take yourself so seriously! Laugh at your own foibles and boo-boos!
  3. Create happy memories and find laughter in every day
  4. Watch humorous movies of “side-splitting moments fueled by mistakes, failures, and blunders, allowing you to laugh in the face of any holiday stress.” Suggestions by Stone include A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Santa Clause, Jingle All the Way, Bad Santa, and my personal favorite Home Alone.
  5. Organize a harmless holiday prank to help diffuse some of the stress that comes with being so preoccupied during the holiday season. How many times can you gift-wrap a small present in progressively larger boxes? Stone gives other examples.
  6. Don’t forget to bring the games! Several inter-generational ideas for entertainment are Christmas Bingo, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, and Snowball Toss, but almost anything can increase the “festiveness” of every festivity.

christmas_hornIf your stress is made worse mostly due to the transition of a recent retirement, there are numerous resources to help you through this “significant life passage.” First of all, you should know it is not unusual to feel this way. In his book, The Retiring Mind, Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne estimates that “50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress.” Now all we have to do is learn how to deal with this change… sounds easy?

Dr. Amit Sood, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, writes “This a time of enormous change. You are leaving your job and friendships with colleagues and finding new things to do.” Sood recommends many christmas-stocking-1443217stress-reduction strategies: “Realize that your brain’s reward center likes variety, so give yourself a variety of experiences.”

He adds, “Let your best friends not be the TV, refrigerator or couch. Let your best friends be real people, books and sports shoes.”

“Treat your first year in retirement as if you are ‘interning’ to give yourself time to readjust and set new expectations,” he concludes. “Find meaning in new passions, including possibly using your work skills in a new job or volunteer work.”

For retired music teachers on this subject, I have written other blogs (see the link “Retirement Resources” at the right), and there are additional materials at the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. Please explore these numerous links/books/articles.

Finally, always prolific, The Huffington Post offers a couple dozen articles on the subject of “Holiday Stress Management,” everything from financial advice to mediation to dealing with a difficult person at family visit or party. Go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/holiday-stress-management/.

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From my family to yours – best wishes for the attainment of all of the “R’s” during the coming season – a refreshing, restful, reawakening, reviewing, recreating, reviving, rejuvenating, replenishing, and re-invigorating New Year!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

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Planning the “Perfect” Professional Portfolio

Prospective Music Teachers: Here’s How to Create an Online Employment Profile/Dossier

“In short, creating a portfolio involves reflection, collection, selection, and connection.”

Read more at: http://langwitches.org/blog/2009/07/17/digital-teaching-portfolios/

To quote Cheryl Frazes Hill in “A Portfolio Model for Music Educators” in Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (September 2008), pp. 61-72, “The portfolio used in education is an organized collection of artifacts (examples of works) documenting a person’s skill and growth in an educational program and a career.”

First, you need to do your homework – a comprehensive collection of “all the good stuff!” To support this, number 7 in the MajorMusic.com blog of “Seven Things Music Education Majors Can Do to Make Themselves More Employable” is “Keep an updated list of your skills, relevant experiences, and training.” (Peruse the whole article at http://majoringinmusic.com/7-things-music-education-majors-can-do-make-themselves-more-employable-2/).

I have always suggested to my college-bound students that they reserve a spot on their computer’s desktop, a file (appropriately) named “ME,” and place in it a bulleted document with chronological descriptions and dates of special achievements, awards, and appointments. From time to time, more updates of “good news” should be added. In addition, archive (drag into the folder) accompanying scans/pictures of all music programs, congratulatory letters, certificates of achievements, newspaper clippings, etc. In college, this should be expanded to include documentation and anecdotes/stories/reflections about music and music education field experiences, accomplishments, and especially any problems identified and problems solved. All of this is perfect fodder for future interviews… Do you have “what it takes” to be a professional music teacher?” In your opinion, what makes you qualified (“a good fit”) to be hired for a position in our institution?”

According to The EDU Edge at http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/, the following “must-haves” and “should-haves” (paraphrased) should be incorporated into your portfolio:

  1. Educational philosophy
  2. Résumé or Curriculum Vitae
  3. Letters of recommendation
  4. Artifacts of student work
  5. Classroom observation documents/evaluations
  6. Statement about class management theory (discipline) and the steps that you would take inside your classroom to create a safe and orderly environment
  7. Letters from parents commending the work you did with their children
  8. Pictures (A direct quote The EDU Edge: “We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures. Pictures bring it together for committee members and verify the reality that you are meant to work with children. For this reason we recommend photos or newspaper articles of you: teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in adviser roles, with your students at musical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.”)

To this list, I would add a copy of college transcripts, Praxis® exam results, teaching certificate(s), samples of student assessments/rubrics, and excerpts (short videos) of you performing on your major instrument/voice, solo and chamber recitals, piano accompanying, playing in college ensembles, and especially teaching in as many settings as possible: small and large group instrumental (band and strings), choral ensembles, elementary classroom lessons, extracurricular activities like marching band and musical, private lessons, etc.

An excellent overview on this subject is from “our number one professional music teachers’ association” – the National Association for Music Education (NAfME): http://www.nafme.org/do-i-need-a-digital-teaching-portfolio/.

In “Showcase Your Skills with an Electronic Teaching Portfolio,” Gretchen Schaefer shares ideas and instructions for creating an e-portfolio using Google Sites. (See http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/6437?style=print.)

Carol Francis offers “Sixty Clean and Simple Examples of Portfolio Design” for WordPress users at http://www.onextrapixel.com/2013/01/23/60-clean-and-simple-examples-of-portfolio-design/.

It is worth downloading “ePortfolios in Music Teacher Education” by Vicki Lind from Innovate: Journal of Online Education at http://nsuworks.nova.edu/innovate/vol3/iss3/4/.

Numerous college and universities across the country have their own requirements and recommendations in the development of online credentials. Take a look at the Penn State University School of Music site “Undergraduate e-Portfolios” at http://music.psu.edu/musiced/e-portfolio.html. Another excellent outline is provided by the University of Texas at San Antonio at http://music.utsa.edu/docs/DevelopingPortfolio.pdf. Finally, Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching site offers good models and information on “Teaching Portfolios” at https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-portfolios/.

In conclusion, take some time to examine the sample teaching portfolios (below) for more insights on design, style, and content. I also recommend you read my blogs on other subjects of “marketing professionalism” (click on the category link to the right of this article).

Good luck! PKF

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” – Charles Caleb Colton

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

It’s Time to “Dust Off Your Chops!”

Music Teacher Retirees: Participate in a Community Band or Orchestra!

violin-in-detail-2-1418385
(Reprinted from the Fall 2015 PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association)

“Music lasts a lifetime!”

“Music makes me ____!”

“Make time for music!”

“Music touches lives!”

“Music is basic!”

band-musicians-1423023More than titles of PMEA/NAfME/MENC conferences or past themes of Music in Our Schools’ month, these concepts bring us back to the roots of why we became musicians and music teachers in the first place.

When a music educator retires, among the many joys and fruits of his/her career-long investment in labor is a sudden life-style change – the glorious transformation of being set free from those things you no longer want nor need to do (routine day-to-day drudgery, paperwork, etc.) and embarking on new journeys to explore and embrace revised personal goals – hopefully including a renewed refocus on making your own music!

Besides being personally fulfilling and simply “fun,” regular sessions of making music are good for you! Citing numerous sources in her Association for Concert Bands (ACB) President’s Message “Enriching Lives Through Music” in The Journal of the Association of Concert Bands (Vol. 31 No. 2 June 2012 – see http://www.acbands.org/shellenberger-letters), PMEA Retired Member and ACB Past President Judy Shellenberger spotlights the importance of singing or playing music at any age, and its effect on “our brain’s system of neural pathways that improve our general measure of intelligence and longevity.” According to the Society for Neuroscience, one example of this is that “learning to play a musical instrument refines the entire neurological system. It demands precise movement of muscle groups and combinations of physical processes such as breathing, fingerings and articulations all at the same time.”

flute-player-1506263-1920x1440Additional quotes from Shellenberger’s letter include a contribution from Dr. Katrina McFerran, Melbourne Conservatory of Music, reminding us of the value of creative expression and ensemble participation in our lives. “Making music allows you to put your real self out there and be heard. Group music making is truly empowering and should be an essential part of the human experience,” she said. “For those performing in community bands, making music has a stronger relationship to health than listening does, and performing enables us to make stronger social connections.”

Shellenberger goes on to say, “In order to function optimally, we need to nourish our brains with nutritious food.” In his book, Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel, and Think Younger Every Day, Dr. Daniel Amen states, “We must exercise and challenge our brains. Doing crossword puzzles are great but not enough, we need to stimulate our memories.” Shellenberger concludes with the essential justification that “new music challenges our brains. Every time we learn a new rhythm pattern, we challenge our brain and when we memorize the passage, it increases our brain circuitry to a higher level.”

celloman-in-pause-1420972The late June Hinckley, former MENC President, lamented the tragedy when people fail to make music a vital component of life beyond the school years. In her April 2000 article “Music for a Lifetime” in MENC Teaching Music, Ms. Hinckley affirmed her view that music is a life-skill worth nurturing. She said, “I believe we need to be as concerned about community music programs as we are about school music, and to work with leaders to help them understand the vital role each plays in the cultural, social, and aesthetic fabric of our towns and cities as well as in our preschools and K-12 institutions. If music is basic, then it is basic to life’s many ages and stages, before, during, and after school for toddlers, school-age youngsters, and adults.” And retired members!

So, which pretext do you use to “put off” joining a community instrumental ensemble? The top ten “lame” excuses for not participating in a community band or orchestra may be:

  1. I haven’t played for years.
  2. My spouse’s “honey-do” list is too long.
  3. I can’t find my instrument.
  4. I turned my clarinet into a lamp.
  5. My dog howls at me when I play.
  6. I’m too busy! My calendar is full.
  7. I have arthritis, or the pressure is changing, so my shoulder, wrist, leg, arm (or whatever) hurts.
  8. I need new reeds… strings… drum sticks… some valve oil.
  9. I haven’t practiced all week (or month).
  10. There are no opportunities to perform in my area.

jazz-musician-1313572-1279x974Retirees, hopefully a few of these are not nostalgic – bringing back memories of the justifications for not practicing you may have heard from your own music students!

For some of us, the biggest obstacles of re-awakening our love of music and seeking hands-on experience playing in a band and orchestra are overcoming a little inertia, avoiding the blind acceptance of (bad) habits, and not being resigned to the myth that “our busy days and nights won’t allow us enough time” or that “we just have not played lately and feel very rusty!”

What is it about amateur music making that seems to be so intimating? Why do so some people think they have to be a virtuoso or “perfectly prepared” before participating in an ensemble? A few groups like the Community Band South (based in Upper St. Clair, Pittsburgh) generally have a “no student instrumentalists” membership policy. (With their hours of in-school rehearsals every week, most high school players have “major chops” and can usually play circles around “the seniors!”) Did you know there is a group in PA called RTO, which literally means “Really Terrible Orchestra?” (But, before you jump to any conclusions, better ask the members how they sound today.) Finally, does anyone remember Portsmouth Sinfonia, the “spoof” ensemble whose members earned recognition performing (badly) on non-major instruments?

old-band-young-fan-1502738The first big step about getting involved in a community band or orchestra is simply going out and doing it. Dive in! Remember how much FUN it was to surround yourself with like-minded and motivated musicians, all “making connections,” “coming together” and collaborating in an “ensemble,” exploring and interpreting new music and the classic band and orchestra masterworks, and regularly learning new skills of technique and expression on an instrument?

To facilitate finding an ensemble in Pennsylvania, please go to the PMEA website, click on “focus areas” and “retired members.” See http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. This directory of PA community bands and orchestras will be updated (new groups added) from time to time. (Please clarinet-shots-1412621-1599x1066send any corrections or additions to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.) Another excellent resource (especially for contact information) is a link posted on the Association for Concert Bands website: http://www.community-music.info/.

Happy trails, retired members, and enjoy the resurgence of your renewed personal music making!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox