Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday Treasures - Weariness

What a month. When our bookings didn't quite fill out our schedule next year as we hoped, we decided to hit the phones and grab as many more as we could, just like we do any other bookings. I've noticed that about 50-60% of the moderate to larger RV parks book nearly everything at the showcases, and a few even get many on their schedule 2 years out. Out of the rest, some will call you after they sit down with their notes, and some don't bother with the showcase at all, just getting acts as they are suggested by folks. We're targeting the rest right now, and it means calling all the parks, finding out who books, then trying to reach that person to see which category they fall into - basically, if they're booking still and interested in talking to us.

January is booking time. We are late for some city festivals, fairs, and other places that have already booked though, but libraries, RV parks for summer, and RV parks for next winter are all in full throttle right now and we have to somehow hit them through 17 or 18 states all at once. After we finish with the Rio Grande Valley, we move on to Florida and try to line up Christmas shows, RV parks through the mid-west and east coast, and book retirement communities and hopefully some churches from north Texas to Colorado, then through to Indiana and Ohio. There will be contracts then to mail, and paperwork to follow up. Then I get to do taxes.

While all this busy work is going on, we are just really getting moving on our new winter show, with performances sometimes multiple times a week, and new music still needing a bit of polish.

Today I put an end to most of that business to be a housewife for a day. Laundry was out of control, there was no food in the house, and the kids were about to dress in togas made from sheets and gnaw on the tires. I was busy, busy, busy, but somehow, while I focused on the mundane work, business got done. Michael added a couple more shows to the calendar, and lined up a few things simply through answered emails, and I can stop feeling guilty for a moment that my children do not have healthy snack options and food.

There are times when I look back at the time in my life when I was "just a housewife", instead of taking a break from other things to do some typical housewifey things, back when my days were full of meal plans, cleaning, and schooling. I was pretty good at the first one at times, terrible at the second one, and mostly gave up on the third, thankful that unschoolers actually have a good point about children having a natural desire to learn, with or without fancy curriculum. Now and then the drudgery would get me down, but I was always happy when I was in the middle of a sewing project or other side project.

That seems a lifetime away now. I am a business woman running a band, bookings, music arranging, practice, finances, costumes, promotion, etc. The cleaning often gets moved to a supervisor roll, with children and teens doing much of the work, Michael helps with the meals, does most of the searching for playing opportunities, bus maintenance, and schools Sean, though we still stink at formal schooling. Even so, I am still the default supervisor for everything that needs doing, the one who has more cooking experience, and knowledge about best food choices for various family dietary needs, curriculum choices filed in the back of my head, and I like to handle laundry myself. I'm also the only one who can ever find anything and inherited an organizing gene to get all that stuff into the small refrigerator, or find a place for that one additional item.

Right now I'm very overwhelmed with so much on the plate to balance, but in the end, this is exactly where I am supposed to be. I'm in my element. No time to feel sorry for myself, though there is time to get weary and sometimes I drop the ball on a few things I intended to do but lost track of, especially the mommy things, like reading stories. Even so, for me, the work I do with the band is somehow more meaningful because it's more... personalized, perhaps?

I always believed homeschooling was best for my children, but I hadn't learned that I did not have to be perfect at it. I always believed an organized home was far more pleasant, but couldn't get it together and learned to settle for "mostly functional". By allowing less than perfect in these areas, I gradually was able to move forward on to other things in my life, and break out of the cookie-cutter housewife role society has placed on us. God created women with so many talents, and families of so very many dynamics, I think it's a shame to try to be carbon copies of some unnecessary ideal. Please do not understand me. One doesn't need to sacrifice a firm belief that priorities are and always should be your home and children by simply acknowledging that the gifts one woman brings to her family may look drastically different than the gifts another brings. On the contrary, such a realization opens up a world of things a family can accomplish together when they break the mold. I am forever grateful to God for dragging me away from a self-serving career in Opera, forcing me to turn my attention to my home. His plan was for this life I now have with my family. So, don't misunderstand me there. I'm not talking about selfish pursuits trumping family, but individual talents enhancing it.

I only miss the sewing. Someday I really want to sew again. I fear I'll not manage to sew as much for Mary as she grows, but I saved many of the dresses I made for the twins. Perhaps someday there will be granddaughters who need some cute dresses?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Musings - Less is More and Star Trek

RGV show #2 down, 21 to go, not including the RGV Music Festival. (Update: down by 4 now - this was written a few days ago.)

It's obvious my children do not suffer from even an ounce of anxiety when we have to face new areas with only half-polished music, especially the younger two. In fact,  if there is one thing I must teach that boy child is the concept of "less is more". He LOVES to mess with the audience. Let Sean near a microphone and he's home. 


He doesn't know when to quit though. One chuckle from the audience and he upstages everyone until the break, when I have to pull him aside and tell him he's going to far again and to back off before Katie hits him with the banjo, or worse, Alex knocks him out with a painfully directed, burning evil eye. He says sorry, as sincerely as he can muster, then he goes and hangs out with whomever is at the door coordinating the event and gives them our life story in the most socially awkward way possible.

Aaaannnddd... we repeat it at the next show with a whole bunch of new people to experiment on, to see what weird behavior gets a chuckle without getting him into trouble with Mom. 

After all of this I think to myself, I just have to hang out and play a mediocre mandolin the rest of my life if I can get that boy to stick around. In a few years he'll gladly take the show.

Here in the valley there are a LOT of family bands performing. I really wonder sometimes what the family dynamics are like behind the stage. You get these goofy ideas in your head that they must be perfect to be so good. Do the siblings squabble? Or do they speak lovingly to one another, encouraging each other along the way? Yeah, probably not. What about school? Do they sit and do a well-thought out curriculum to get them into an ivy league school, or do they try to throw in a bit of math or grammar here and there in hopes that something sticks enough that they don't embarrass their parents?

The picture on the left does not relate to this post. Just thought it was cute.  She made a fluffy snake from a fluffy pipe cleaner, complete with google eyes.

Then there is media. We were watching Star Trek: Next Generation the other day, because we're closet Trekkies. Of course, we can't just watch it anymore. We pick it apart. The first generation is easier, because of William Shatner's girdles, or tin foil miniskirts worn by the alien women who flirt with him. However, to the sophisticated sarcasmer (one skilled in sarcasm) you can certainly enjoy Stark Trek: NG in a whole new way, especially with your 18yo daughters. Are other Christian family bands willing to ever let a show like Star Trek cross over their TVs? Do they even have TVs? Perhaps they sit around in the evenings, after a good practice, followed by a Bible study, then read one of the classics?

Does it help to know that my favorite way to watch is with a bit of sarcasm, and the occasional verbal eye-roll, and to pick apart the fallacious thinking of the worldview, even while enjoying the interesting plot lines and unique characters? I mean, honestly, what's with the "we've evooooolved beyond the need for money; every child is a scholar; we have a ship's counselor now who helps us with our feeeeelings, so we no longer have any nuts running around the universe." No more sin. No more guilt. Oh, no more greed either. They've gotten over their childish need for religion, because they have science to figure out everything. It's an atheistic utopia! Squeeel!  Now we have brilliant Wesley Crusher to save the day, empathetic Troi to solve our problems, and Warf to show how our evolved human understanding is so powerful that it even works on aliens! Even barbaric aliens! You know, kind of like Texans. Ok, Picard is cool, and so is Data. However, the twins are always sing "Reading Rainbow" when Geordi comes on the screen. Not sure what to make of that.

Directly related, in a very strange way, is the fact that Katie studies logic for fun. Seriously, she devours books on logic in a way where I have to almost drag her away from them to pay attention to the rest of life. She has a field day with wordviews that are walking contradictions, and Ravi Zacharias, skilled in picking apart worldviews, is one of her favorite speakers ever. So, far from being annoyed when her mother makes remarks, it enhances the whole Star Trek experience. (That's my story, I'm sticking to it.)

I know, I know. To a true Trekkie, I'm doing it wrong, but I kind of think this sort of thing goes further in some weird, warped way, in helping them learn to interact with today's word and popular thinking. I don't do it with Doctor Who... much. Doctor Who doesn't take itself so seriously so I don't have to. Doctor Who knows how to do science fiction without getting just plain silly.

Sigh, sigh, and double sigh. So, we've concluded from this Star Trek rabbit trail that I watch Star Trek wrong. I have also concluded that, world view studies aside, I am probably doing the whole media thing wrong by not just watching Lawrence Welk reruns, or perhaps just turning it off and reading a classic novel with my older daughters, after vigorous classical studies with my younger two, filling their young minds with Latin, poetry, and Bach. If we all just did that, we'd live in a Christian utopia with no more sin, guilt, or greed to have to deal with, right? I can't do it though. I tried and I felt so very... someone else, but not me. I need something to snark at, I suppose, and that's as good a target as anything.

I bet there is another family band out there that watches Doctor Who and Star Trek. Betcha.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Musings - Cheese and Glitter

The bus is out of food and I don't feel like going to the store. It's cold, I'm a wimp, and I am stalling with a Monday Musing.

Wait. That first sentence needs revising. The bus does not require food. We require food in the bus, but it is cold outside - South Texas style cold. That means very wet, humid, and chilly, and I know that is far different from Colorado cold right now, thank you, having spent the previous 40 winters there, but I will remind you all that I am a wimp.

Yesterday we survived our first winter show in the Rio Grande Valley. It was a near thing, as mentioned in the previous grumpy post, but we decided to debut our new after-intermission-levity medley. We only had one big hiccup when Sean couldn't get his mask on before he started playing the Lone Ranger, dropped it, readjusted, it wasn't on straight and his playing suffered for lack of sight. Chords were dropped here and there, but over all it went far better than it probably should have!

Of course, right now it still has that "cheesy high school show choir" feel about it, (no offense to high school choirs - I was in the cheesiest of them all once), and it's not quite to "professional level performers", which is where it needs to be if we expect people to pay to see it. And let's face it, we expect people to pay. We have to smooth that out, fix the wonky chords, and figure out how to get a Lone Ranger mask on Sean's face in 10 seconds flat before we lose the momentum.

So here we are on a Monday, having survived last week, which was a doozy. Bookings didn't go as we hoped at the showcase, which means more work for us to make sure we have enough on our schedule next winter. I got to thinking about why that was and I think it was a combination of things. First, we came right after 2 very good family bands, so people looking for a family band already headed to book them before we even got up on stage. Next, we were right before lunch, and as research has shown, people don't look at you as kindly when they're hungry. I remember reading about a study where judges were far more likely to grant parole after being fed, and closer to lunch or dinner, they almost never did. Timing is everything and it wasn't on our side this year. Not a big deal, the booking season isn't over.

Anyway, after lunch, we sat there looking pathetic when hardly anyone came to our table to book us, hoping that we'd pick up more before the end of the day... when a very pink band got on stage. (Meaning, they were dressed in pink, except the boy, who wore black.) We played good stuff, but we didn't do our glitz and pretty-shiny stuff, like Orange Blossom, or our patriotic hat-tip. Big mistake, especially when you are on right before lunch. The pink band yodeled, did some tap and swing dancing, dueling banjos, then they pulled out the big guns on patriotism, complete with some Lee Greenwood and a waving flag. They had a line out the door with people wanting to book them. Shoot. I wanted to book them and I don't run an RV park.

We were doomed.

I wanted to get up on stage and tell the activity directors, "Wait! We can do dueling banjos, we sing America the Beautiful, and I bet we can wave a flag too! You probably don't want to see us tap dance, but the attempt would probably be hilarious!" No good. The job was done. We learned something though. I am certain, had our after-intermission-levity medley been ready, we could have salvaged the whole thing, even before lunch, but it wasn't to be. I will never again do a showcase without Orange Blossom Special, America the Beautiful, and I am trying to figure out how to teach Mary to dance and yodel. Cheesy, yes, but the little kids think it's fun, and Alex puts up with it as long as she gets a cut in pay when we can, and a chance to sing the good stuff sometimes. Katie, as usual, doesn't particularly care either way. Seriously though, we are entertainers, and as long as none of this compromises our moral convictions, give the audience what they want. True artists who stand their ground and refuse to compromise by playing to the audience better have a day job.

I like doing the glitter and cheese ball routines, to be honest. Life is serious enough. Let's just have some fun when we can and make people smile, shall we? However, next time let's do it after breakfast but before the pink band.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Snapshots - The Grumpy Version

It's after 10pm and we are just now finishing dinner. This is thankfully not a usual habit. Normally the kids prefer to eat between 6 and 7, but life got away from us tonight. I blame the Broncos. They  delayed our preferred practice time, then went into overtime, so we weren't able to get our act together to get dinner and practice finished at a decent hour.

Dinner was started late, in part, because the bus is messy and I asked some unnamed children to please clean the electric skillet and take out the trash so I can find a little corner to throw the chicken on to cook. Then I went back to burning promotional DVDs.

30+ minutes later... no cleaned skillet. I looked at the clock and realized how long it takes to cook the chicken and how late it already was and finally got up and went to start the first of many verbal snappings for the evening. They hopped to it and came in... to sort of clean up while looking to see what silly show Mary was watching. Finally the chicken got in the skillet but it took forever to cook, the Broncos were still in overtime, and by the time they finished we looked at the clock again and realized we had to practice now or risk not being able to use the club house.

We're in the final staging of our new medley we've been working on for the parks down here. It's really not ready for prime time, but tomorrow is our first show and if we don't get out and do it eventually, it'll never happen and it's too cute to just let go. However, the little club house here is next to living quarters of someone who likes to lock it up and a decent hour and probably wouldn't appreciate blasting music to try to sleep to.

The preferred practice time is early afternoon, when brains are still functioning, but again, the Broncos were playing so it was skipped. I put the lid on the chicken, turned it off, and stuffed a hard boiled egg down the kids. Off we went to practice.

Everyone was tired, hungry, and in NO mood to go over some cute piece of entertaining fluff. We have new costume hats that came in today and we were working on how to get them on and off Sean's head, including a mask that must be placed in a way for him to still see his fiddle. Then there are those awful chords that slip the mind when you're tired and hungry.

It went terribly. We got partway through and one song we missed probably half of the chords, so I wanted to go through that song again. Alex's arm was tired, and that started a long discussion on whether or not we should just throw out the new set list for tomorrow and do the same old thing, which isn't so bad because this audience never heard our same old thing. I'd like to say it was a pleasant and calm discussion, but it was mostly grumpy, which takes up more time than pleasant conversations, delaying food and sleep even longer.

After some discussion we agreed to just plug through, then tomorrow I'd sneak some chords for the one song onto the stage where they won't be noticed. I figure, we'll joke about the fact that we'll be running into one another and dropping things, make this part of the entertainment, laugh it off, and the audience may like it anyway, or even perhaps especially because of the mistakes.

We went back to the bus, reheated the chicken, and now we are watching old X-Men cartoons on Netflix.  Mary is going to bed soon and I'm going to watch old Star Trek reruns while I burn more DVDs.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Musings - I'm Famous



It’s another Manic Monday, or time for a Monday Musings. As I write, we are driving from Rockport to the Rio Grande Valley, where we will spend the remainder of our winter, playing for RV parks. Although Rockport is probably our favorite South Texas town, it was time to leave. We were getting stares in Walmart, and people were stopping us in H.E.B., all recognizing us from the shows we’ve played. It was only a matter of time before the Paparazzi show up and start stalking our bus and we get on the cover of “Stars Without Makeup!” *Shudder*

We had a nice time this weekend at the Rockport Gospel Festival, even though the western gal in me still doesn’t really “get” Southern Gospel. Believe it or not, this was my first time at a festival where they had a lot of Southern Gospel. You don't find it much in Colorado. 

They got us and liked us, so it was great! The twins took a break from manning our CD table (which was tiny and pathetic compared to the big, flashy tables with a ton of CDs and merchandise sold by the Southern Gospel groups - obviously others out there get it), to head to the Dairy Queen across the parking lot. Most of the people at the Dairy Queen were from the festival audience, so the twins found a corner to hide so they could eat their ice cream in peace. They said it was awkward because people kept coming up and talking to them and telling them they were great. Ha! 

Only in Texas. Texas loves us and we love Texas. Such enthusiastic people! We go to Colorado and we get these looks like, "You do whaaat? With your kids? On purpose? Huh? I don't get it." Of course, we go to Arkansas or Missouri and get looks like, "Oh, great. Another family band. Whatever." See, in Texas you're cool, but not over-done.

So, now that we get a little teeny-tiny feeling of being recognized wherever we go, what do we think? I think it’s fun (not sure the twins do) as long as we can leave town and be nobodies again. My worst nightmare would be to  have nowhere to go to just enjoy ourselves. I don’t think I want to be famous. I do, however, like to eat and when you are an entertainer it sure does help when people like you and come to see you, but I’ll leave the mega fame to people like Honey Boo Boo. 

Celebrity gossip magazines and TV shows usually threaten to make my head explode if I am forced to view more than 10 seconds of the content, but I think I feel a bit sorry for some of the people followed around constantly, without privacy. I’m pretty convinced that, for me at least, all that celebrity money is definitely not worth it. Just keep my bus moving, my instrument strings changed, food in our bellies, and some clothes on my sprouts who keep sprouting up, and I’m good. I happen to love performing and entertaining, and I think at least some of those media stars (Honey Boo Boo aside), probably love their craft, not just the fame and money. I hope it’s worth it to lose anything resembling a private life for the craft. If they lose it for money and fame, I have no sympathy. 

Not that I’ll ever have to find out if being able to fully surround yourself in a craft you love is worth that loss. Family bluegrass bands are usually a sure way to ensure you’ll never find that out! You’ve made it big as a family bluegrass band if you ever buy a pair of shoes from anything but a thrift shop or a Walmart sale. That’s my goal, you know, to get important enough to see what that feels like. As I said, after that, I’m good. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saturday Snapshots

Now is the time when I get to just bounce around. No theme, just life.

Yesterday afternoon I took the twins to see Les Miserables, leaving the younger two with their dad for a moment of escape. It's been raining and chilly for days, topped off by the colds-that-never-end. (Praise God, they are finally letting up all around, however.) This means hyper, bored children who have not had sufficient release of energy in quite some time.

An unnamed little girl in the bus is bouncing off the walls, and since there isn't a playground at this park, she has taken to climbing me and her dad. Literally. She stands at the corner of a bench in the bus and sort of leaps on us when we walk by. We tell her to stop. She says she's sorry, bouncing away, then does it again 10 minutes later because she has lost all sense of self control and has the attention span of a goldfish these days.

An unnamed young male child is writing a book report, or I should say rewriting a failed book report, and I'm pretty sure he believes a massive root canal would be far less painful. His older sisters are in charge of his writing, both because they take a perverse pleasure in bossing him around, and because writing is their passion. It would be a win/win, except for the fact that us parents are still in charge of enforcing the actual sit-down-and-write part, between spasms of dramatic outburst over how much he HATES WRITING.

Really? We didn't know that! We would never have our poor little bunny do something he hates. I'm so glad he let us know so we would stop such unpleasantries. Yeahh...

So, off I escaped to Les Miserables to spend two hours and forty minutes enjoying fabulously composed music sung by mediocre singing big names. Except Anne Hathaway. She was simply amazing. I thought I wouldn't like to see Ella Enchanted in such a role, but that was a stunning performance.

Overall, I did love the movie, but I'm a singing snob when it comes to such productions. I have seen Les Mis on stage, owned the soundtrack, watched the live reunion, sang the karaoke songs... Russell Crowe simply did not deliver and had no business playing Javert. Hugh Jackman gets a pass as Jean Valjean because he's Wolverine and I'll never see him as anything else, so I'll let his occasional poor intonation go. (Russell Crowe may have been Maximus in Gladiator, but since it's rated R and I don't watch rated R movies, he doesn't get points for that.)

Side note: As one who doesn't watch rated R movies, the "Master of the House" scene could have been watered down a bit and the point still made, even though it is a trashy song representing trashy people, but I suppose it is Hollywood. Their job is the lowest common denominator. I admit, Fantine's made a bit more sense. It's pivotal.

We returned home to pizza and the hyper ones. Around that time I start getting text messages from someone whose phone number I didn't recognize, asking us whether or not we'd be playing at an event next weekend. I responded while Michael googled the phone number. The texter mentioned how we were amazing and how he saw us last year. Ding-ding. Ok, we found a hit on google, put two and two together and we think we figured out who it was. Our fuzzy memory had a slight recollection of a young man who loved our music, raved about us, and we think he may have had a thing for twin #1, certain one of her songs was going to make it really big someday. Ok, maybe he didn't have a thing for her, (Michael and I are pretty sure he did), but even if he didn't, never let go of a good opportunity to torture your teenager.

To confirm, I ask who this is in my next text, and the phone rings. Same number. I ignore it, but make a noise about said twin's "fan" is calling. She gets bug eyed tries to escape the bus to go hide in the van. Phone rings again and I give the phone to Michael and tell him he's the dad and he has to answer all young men calling. Michael refuses. I call him a wimp ('cause I'm pathetic at the respectful wife thing), and I tell the girls that I suppose I'll have to be the one cleaning the gun when young men come to call, because their dad won't even answer the phone. It goes to messages. Message left. Text returned. With Netflix blasting and getting ready to leave for Walmart, I wasn't going to talk on the phone anyway, but it was fun for a bit of teenage torture. 


I still remember the guy at a homeschool event where we played who Alex said "really loved her guitar!" Uh... I don't think it was the guitar he liked. Their cluelessness stuns me. Naturally, I brought that up during the teenage torture session. Of course, he was initially fascinated by the banjo, but since the banjo player wouldn't talk to him (she's the twin who doesn't talk unless it's to boss her brother around), he found himself adoring that awesome blueridge guitar. Katie took that as a moment to gloat to her sister about her superior method for discouraging unwanted attention. 

Neither have any interest in romance, though we have told them we would like them to grow up eventually and notice someone besides the guys in the novels they write. Grandchildren would be appreciated eventually. They look at us like we're the weird ones for thinking they should someday learn to speak to guys, let alone care about that icky thing called romance. Eh. At least we don't have to worry about them falling in love and leaving the band anytime soon. Perhaps in another time they would be old maids by now, but thankfully at this point in history they are looked at as young with plenty of time.

Mary is already having to be reigned in over dazzling dreams of looking pretty for this or that boy. Michael is rather horrified. She's never to have eyes for anyone but her daddy, I suppose. Or at least not until she's 72.

We decided we better practice before we left for Walmart, tired voices and all, but we have gospel music to refresh after all that Christmas music. Concentration stunk and the dramatic book report writer was plucking on the strings of his fiddle during a part of a song where he wasn't supposed to be playing. I took my mandolin pick and tapped him on the head. I got an "ow" in return, and a comment about how I was "picking" on him.  He lamented that he doesn't have a pick to pick on me back, only a fiddle bow. I told him he could go all "Texas String-Saw Massacre" and started laughing when I was supposed to be singing, because I'm a really bad influence. Michael gave me a look, kept on singing and playing. I had to stop for a minute to get a drink and snicker at how very funny I was, even though no one got the joke except Michael, whom I had to scold for not backing up his wife by laughing at her really lame joke. He apologized and agreed it was his duty. Somehow we did manage to get through the practice session after a discussion about bad grade B horror movies from the 70s.

Yes, we're always like this.