Category Archives: Life

My Reflux Mystery Solved: A Singer with SIBO

**This article is not meant to provide medical advice. 

Please see your doctor for medical treatment.**

As a professional singer I can say that one of the most frequently discussed topics amidst my singer friends is something many of us suffer from:  Reflux.  Not only can it be uncomfortable and even painful, but it can cause a lot of issues with the voice.  When stomach acid and vapors makes their way up your throat, it can lead to huskiness, hoarseness and even complete loss of voice.

Like many singers, I have struggled for much of my adult life with reflux.  Once particularly bad period of reflux even led me to develop vocal fold nodules, which I describe in my blog post “I had nodules, and this is what I learned.”

Whenever I have a flare up, I use a reflux protocol that I have developed over the years that includes taking several supplements, including DGL, aloe vera juice, papaya enzymes and probiotics, plus dietary changing like cutting back on coffee, acidic foods and high fat foods.  When it gets really bad, I will even pop a couple of antacids just to calm it down.   This protocol has been effective for me for years, usually eliminating the reflux in a few days or a week at the most.

In June of 2018, I woke up with reflux that just wouldn’t go away.  After four weeks of my usual remedies, I was absolutely miserable:  my throat was raw, I had a terrible lump in my throat sensation (globus) and I had heartburn nearly 24/7.  My speaking voice was totally hoarse and singing was almost impossible.  The reflux was making it difficult to sleep and I was experiencing some of the worst anxiety of my life.

An endoscopy performed by my Gastroenterologist showed I had a pretty substantial hiatal hernia.  He sent me home with a prescription for a PPI (Protein Pump Inhibitor – a drug often used to treat reflux) and told me not to eat spicy foods.

I then went to my Laryngologist who performed a video stroboscopy to have a look at my vocal folds, which were quite inflamed.  My throat was quite red and I had a lot of mucus around my vocal folds.  Knowing that I didn’t want to take PPIs, he sent me home with an H2 blocker and advised me go on a reflux diet for a few weeks (no coffee, spicy or acidic foods).  More weeks went by and I had no relief.  I had eliminated all the usual triggers from my diet, was taking all the medication and I was getting sicker.

I went to two other Gastroenterologists, one of whom told me that I would never get better: that I would always have reflux and need to be on PPIs for the rest of my life.  Since PPIs can cause long-term health issues, I was unwilling to go down this road unless it had to be this way.

       So many things didn’t add up for me:  What caused the reflux?  How did I get a hiatal hernia?  Could there be something else going on?

Around that time I started working with Sara Kahn, a registered dietician who focuses on functional nutrition and is well known for her work with people suffering with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  In my work with her, I learned about a condition I have never even heard of:  SIBO.

SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and occurs when bacteria from your large intestine migrate into your small intestine.  The small intestine, where most of the absorption of nutrients occurs, is located between your stomach and your large intestine (colon) and is meant to be almost sterile of bacteria.  When the bacteria overgrow in the small intestine, they digest your food and release gas into your system.  This can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and even malabsorption of nutrients.  SIBO is present in 80% of people with IBS and can show up with people with autoimmune issues.

SIBO is still a relatively new diagnosis and a lot of medical practitioners don’t know about it, which can make it very difficult to address.  To test for SIBO, you do a Lactulose Breath test.  After a partial fast for 24 hours, you blow air into a a test tube, drink a lactulose solution and then blow air into 9 more test tubes every 15 minutes.  I sent in the testing kit and two weeks later I had my diagnosis: my hydrogen levels were very high and my methane levels were astronomical.  I had SIBO.

         SIBO can be caused by poor diet, digestion issues, a stomach virus, food poisoning or anatomical issues like adhesions.  We think that mine may have been caused by the 5 courses of antibiotics I had to take in 2018 for a series of strep infections I got.  I had no idea that this could do so much damage to my system and I thought that taking probiotics would keep my system in check.  Turns out, the antibiotics killed the strep and also knocked out most of the good bacteria in my system, leaving a perfect place for bacteria to overgrow.  (Ironically, the treatment for SIBO is often antibiotics.)

Sara Kahn says:

        We specialize in IBS and SIBO so most of our clients have one these or some sort of         digestive condition.   I can talk about the symptoms and the diagnoses we see…

         Many of our clients present with gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation (or both).  Some will have acid reflux, in addition to these symptoms.  Some clients have been diagnosed with IBS but with further investigation and testing, learn that they have SIBO or other forms of dysbiosis (unbalanced gut bacteria).  And some clients have already been diagnosed with SIBO when they start working with us.  In both cases, we use diet, supplements and lifestyle changes to help improve digestive function and reduce symptoms.  

The first step was to address my diet, first with the Fast Tract Diet and finally with the Low FODMAP diet, both which limit fermentable carbohydrates that encourage the growth of bacteria in the gut.  Sara gave me great guidance as I completely overhauled what I ate and she recommended several supplements to support better gut function.

I then found an excellent Chinese medicine doctor named Dr. Beth Hooper. who specializes in treating people with SIBO.  Her expertise in treating SIBO came from her young daughter’s diagnosis.

Dr. Hooper says:

SIBO occurs when commensal bacteria from the large intestine migrates to the small intestine.  While the large intestine is colonated with many bacteria, the small intestine is meant to be relatively bacteria free.  When bacteria finds its way into the small intestine, where there is an endless source of food, it can rapidly overgrow causing many unpleasant symptoms.  For many people that overgrowth produces hydrogen gasses, disrupts digestion, impairs nutrient absorption and causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and exhaustion.  For others, the overgrowth produces both hydrogen and methane gases.  This also disrupts digestion, impairs nutrient absorption and causes abdominal pain, but it also causes severe constipation, acid reflux and burping.  In both cases SIBO will cause gastritis, damaging the lining of the small intestine.  This damaged lining or leaky gut allows larger molecules of food to enter the bloodstream and can trigger food sensitivities and possibly even trigger autoimmune diseases.

Modern medicine treats SIBO with antibiotics.  This is a double edged sword as the antibiotics will clear up the bacterial overgrowth, but at the expense of bacterial diversity in the gut microbiome.  In Chinese Medicine we use a range of herbs with antibacterial properties that help heal the gut lining and preserve its microbiome.

Dr. Hooper put me on a course of herbal antimicrobials like allicin and berberine, which kill off the overgrowth.  She also got me on a regiment of additional supplements which helped to build up my stomach acid and aid in motility.  She treated me with acupuncture and helped me make some significant lifestyle changes.  I needed to work on sleeping better, reducing the mammoth stress I was under and moving my body in a more deliberate way.

Within a couple of weeks I felt so much better.  The globus sensation went away, as did the 24/7 heartburn.  My motility improved, the bloating went away and I no longer had mucus in my throat all the time.  Most importantly, my voice was clear and singing felt and sounded good again.   

Like magic, my hiatal hernia went away too, as confirmed by an endoscopy I had about six months later.  It turns out the bloating and pressure in my abdomen had pushed up so hard that it popped my hiatus up, causing a lack of closure in the valve.  Once the pressure in my gut was reduced, it allowed my stomach to be guided back into the right place.

Once my system calmed down, I was able to finally feel healthy and well again.  I ended up having a few more SIBO flareup, which caused Dr. Hooper to recommend I be tested for food allergies and sensitivities.  In those tests, I discovered a list of foods that were possible triggers to my system.  I felt an immediate difference.

This experience with SIBO, as horrible as it was, really helped me put the focus back on my health.  I have lost over 20 pounds, my skin is clear, I have tons of energy, my immune system has improved and so have my moods.  This health crisis gave me a huge wake up call to listen to my body and be proactive about taking care of it.  I walk 2-5 miles every day, do yoga, meditate and I have taken HUGE steps towards managing my stress.  As the mom to an 8 year old, who runs a business and has a performing career, it is not always easy to squeeze in self-care, but now I prioritize it every day.  I also know how to eat right to fuel my body and if I have a set back, I know how to handle it.

The biggest takeaway for me from all of this, was to take my health into my own hands.  I refused to accept that I would have to accept reflux as a daily part of my life.  I strongly recommend any fellow reflux-sufferers to investigate what might be the root cause.  It is worth taking care of your health.

My incredible practitioners:

Dr. Beth Hooper:  http://www.bethhooperhealth.com

Sara Kahn, MS, CNS, CDN:  https://sarakahnnutrition.com

Additional reading on SIBO:

From Johns Hopkins Medicine: Click here.

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information: Click here.

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected Homeschooler

Covid-19 has made an unprecedented change in our lives. For those of us who are parenting during this difficult time, we have also had the immense task of juggling childcare and remote learning to deal with.

Our family, like many families, had a terrible time with distance learning. Getting a list of assignments every morning and having to navigate across different online platforms was a total nightmare for us. Our son would see a mammoth list of tasks and his anxiety would kick in and the whining and arguing would ensue. I would try to manage all of the tasks, but it was difficult for me to understand the context of the work that he was doing so that I could establish what was most important for him to work on. There were a lot of arguments and tears and it just didn’t feel like he was learning anything.

With so much uncertainty and schools all over the US and Canada rushing to figure out how to manage education, there are a great many of us who are looking for alternatives to save our sanity and make living through a pandemic more bearable for our kiddos.

One of those alternatives is homeschooling, which is a very misunderstood option. I have spent the last three months researching homeschooling and my family has made the decision to homeschool our third grader for the 2020-2021 school year. It took a tremendous amount of work to research how homeschooling works and how to make it work for our family. In this article, I wanted to share my findings to hopefully help your family make the right decision.

Remote Learning vs. Homeschooling

The first thing to understand is that remote learning is not homeschooling. Remote or distance learning is when your child is enrolled in a school and they send you assignments and host classes on an online platform. Remote learning means that someone else is preparing and administering the curriculum and lessons. I know many of us felt like we were homeschooling, but what we were actually doing was helping with distance learning.

True homeschooling means that the learning is happening independent of a school or institution. The parent(s) are the teacher(s) and choose the curriculum for their child and administer it any way that they like. Homeschooling families can choose how, when and where they school their children, which can vary widely depending on the children’s needs and the family’s schedule. Homeschooling has a lot of flexibility and freedom, as long as families follow their state or provinces homeschooling regulations. (I cover state regulations later in this post).

How to Get Started

If you have decided to homeschool your child this year, then you will need to have a close look at the homeschool regulations in your state. I have seen people posting about forming “pods” with other families and hiring a tutor to teach them, but in a lot of states (including NY) this is actually considered an independent school and subject to licensing. In many states, a parent must be responsible for a certain percentage of their child’s instruction in order to be compliant with homeschool regulations. There are also a lot of other guidelines, including how many hours and days of instruction your child must receive. If you don’t follow those guidelines, you could be charged with truancy and get into hot water with the state.

Once you have checked your state’s guidelines, you have to send a Letter of Intent to the homeschooling department of your area. You will have to include your child’s name, date of birth and what school they attended. You can send the Letter of Intent at any time, but it is recommended to take care of it before school officially starts.

Once you have submitted your Letter of Intent, then your child is officially a homeschooler! If you child is on an IEP or requires special services like speech or OT, they should still be eligible to get these services, but you’ll have to look into how to schedule that. My son’s school therapist told me that our family still has access to mental health or counselling services, since he technically works for the community and not the school. If you child needs services, you will want to make sure you have those support mechanisms in place, before you withdraw them.

After your Letter of Intent has been submitted you will need to start preparing your IHIP (Individual Homeschool Instruction Plan). This varies by state, but it basically outlines what you are going to cover and with what materials. You have to make sure that you are going to have the right number of school days and hours (in NY it is 180 days of school and 990 hours total). You also have to make sure you are covering the correct subjects, especially if you plan to send your child back to regular school once the pandemic is over.

Understanding Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been around for generations and there are several main philosophies that are worth getting to know.

Classical Education means that there is a strong emphasis on understanding language in a very deep way. There is a strong emphasis on grammar, spelling and reading skills, studying major literature and learning history.

School At Home often means that you purchase a packaged curriculum that you teach your child. This can be a great choice for people who don’t have the time or aren’t comfortable researching separate curricula.

The Charlotte Mason school of thought centers around learning through literature. Charlotte Mason influenced curricula usually includes long book lists and children are encouraged to spend a lot of their day outdoors.

Unschooling is another philosophy and probably the biggest leap for families who are used to sending their children to a brick-and-mortar school. Unschoolers believe that children should be encouraged to follow their interests and that the world is their school. This means that math is practiced at the grocery store, science is learned in the kitchen and that rather than forcing children to learn certain subjects, they should be encouraged to explore where their minds take them.

As an educator, it was important for me to make this year of homeschooling as effective and enjoyable for our son (and me!) as possible. I reached out to a few lifelong homeschooling friends who recommended several books that I strongly suggest you read before going any further.

The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

All of the homeschoolers I know told me to read this book first. The book was written by veteran homeschooling mom Susan Wise Bauer and her daughter Jessie Wise and takes you through the philosophy of homeschooling your child(ren) in a rigorous way. They are both proponets of the Classical Education philosophy, which is an academically rigorous approach where children are exposed to classic literature and learn spelling, grammar and language in a very thorough manner. The book is full of an incredible amount of information and step-by-step instructions, plus lists of their recommendations for curriculum. I found it an amazing introduction to the concept of homeschooling and gave me a great starting place when I went researching homeschooling.

To learn more about Classical Education and check out The Well Trained mind curriculum check out https://welltrainedmind.com/?v=7516fd43adaa

The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart

Julie Bogart is a writer and homeschooling mother and has a wonderful homeschool writing curriculum called Brave Writer. Bogart takes a very different approach to homeschooling than Bauer and Wise, and while she is not strictly an “unschooler”, she definitely borrows from that philosophy. She writes that her first priority as a homeschooling mother was having a good relationship with her children. She shares her experience educating her children, while exploring the world and leaving a lot of room for her children to lead the way. She also has a wonderful homeschooling podcast called The Brave Writer, where she discusses all things homeschooling and has a lot of great guests on.

For more information about Julie Bogart, go to https://bravewriter.com

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross

This book was recommended to me on several homeschooling Facebook groups, even though it is not specifically about homeschooling. Payne and Ross discuss modern parenting and how if we want our children to thrive, we need to simplify their lives. This is not just about decluttering “stuff” a la Marie Kondo, but actually dives deeper into how crowded and hectic the lives of children are and how by simplifying our lives, we actually help them to succeed. This book helped me to think through our family’s lifestyle and philosophy and how we could simplify our lives to make homeschooling work.

Choosing the Right Curriculum

So now we are on to the absolute hardest part about homeschooling: sourcing the curriculum. This was by far the most involved step on our homeschooling journey and one that I continue to second guess myself about. This section is intended to give my fellow “Unexpected Homeschoolers” a few suggestions on how to consider choosing a curriculum.

What Your Child Needs

The great thing about homeschooling is that you can tailor learning to suit what your child needs. As long as you are covering the subjects, you can work on it in any way that works for your child. Weeks of remote learning gave me a picture of my child’s learning that I had never seen before. I discovered that he gets easily frustrated in math and that he has a really hard time working on a computer without being distracted. I already knew he was a great reader, but I discovered that he was also an excellent speller. All of this information helped me to choose curriculum for him.

Most curriculum companies allow you a sampling of lessons, or even placement tests to determine what level or book would best suit your child. Even though your child may be in 2nd grade, they might actually be reading at a 4th grade level, while their math skills are at a 1st grade level. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you can tailor your work to suit what your child actually needs, so if they need extra math help you can give it to them.

Secular Education

It is important to be aware that a lot of curricula out there is Christian. Many of these Christian programs put their faith and Bible study into everything (including math!), so if your family wants a secular education, you should look carefully before you buy. Some curriculum companies hide religion in their materials, so you might not discover it until you are already working in it.

My family is committed to a secular education that focuses on social justice, so we wanted to avoid teaching our son whitewashed accounts of history and materials that reinforce gender stereotypes and marginalize people of color. If that is a priority for your family, I strongly recommend you check out Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers. This is an organization that makes wonderful recommendations on secular resources for homeschoolers and takes a lot of time to review material to make sure it fits a strict standard. I joined their Facebook Group and it was a lifeline for me!

Style of Instruction

Next, you will want to decide what method of education works best for your child. Does your child do well independently or do they need a lot of support? Does your child do well learning on a computer or do they do better away from screens? Would they benefit from a bit of both? Does your child do better with workbooks or are they hands on learners? Think carefully about the answers and remember that if you have different children, then these answers will be different.

Now, think about what you as their parent will be able to do. Will you feel comfortable working through a book with your child, or would you benefit from having some of the work being taught online? Are there subjects that you would prefer to outsource?

Answering these questions will give you a better sense of what direction will be right for your family.

Can you work and homeschool?

The answer is: yes. There are several Facebook groups full of working parents who are also homeschooling and they have found great solutions for how to educate their children while they work full time. Some families teach their children early in the morning, in the evenings or on the weekends. Some parents take turns teaching their children throughout the day, trading off tasks and topics. Some families put together activity baskets that children can work independently on while their parents are working.

Remember that the success of some of these methods has to do with the age and disposition of your child(ren). Older children don’t need nearly as much supervision as younger children and may be able to complete tasks on their own while you work. Younger children need a lot more supervision, but depending on your work and family life, you may be able to juggle both.

I have been at this for several months now and I can say that it can be challenging but it is doable. I am a musician and music teacher and I run my own business. I teach 15-20 students per week and I have my own online teaching business that requires I do a lot of marketing and content creation. My husband has a full-time job from 8-5 weekdays, which means I do the bulk of the homeschooling work. Our 8-year-old son has learned how to entertain himself while we are working. He plays Legos, reads a lot and is able to complete some school tasks like handwriting, math workbooks and educational apps like IXL. We also allow a certain amount of “productive” screen time during the day, where he can code on Scratch, build worlds in Minecraft and watch documentaries on Disney+.

Homeschooling Life: Two Months In

We started transitioning to homeschooling at the end of May, while school was still in session. Each week, I would phase in new homeschool work while we phased out the work from public school. By the middle of June we were only doing homeschool and I started to notice huge changes in our home. Our son was no longer grouchy and stressed out and he no longer pushed back about doing schoolwork. It seemed as though while he hated me “enforcing” the work of his schoolteacher, he was totally open to listening to me when I WAS the teacher.

As homeschoolers, you are no longer beholden to the school calendar. We decided to start third grade the week after July 4th. I figured that since we are still in quarantine and he wouldn’t be attending camp or traveling as a family, that we may as well start school now. Starting early means that we will get a head start on the year, which means we can take longer breaks during the year, and make some space to travel in the spring, if the travel bans are lifted. Since all the museums and zoos are closed, we will have lots of time to go to them when they do open again, and if we have our schoolwork taken care of that will afford us a lot more flexibility come the spring.

We also made the amazing revelation that homeschooling takes much less time than traditional schooling. Most kids go to school for 6-8 hours a day, but homeschooling an elementary aged child takes less than three hours. Using some of the principles of homeschooling, a lot of everyday activities count as “school.” Our bike ride or beach swim is PE, folding laundry and making French toast is Home Ec and watching documentaries and tending to our garden is science. My son was shocked when I told him we had just had a full day of school…without him knowing! We played Scrabble (spelling) and he kept score (math), he folded two loads of laundry (Home Ec), he wrote postcards to his friends (writing and printing practice), he played Minecraft (STEM) and build robots with his Dad (more STEM!).

Our son is 100% on board with homeschooling, so much that I am concerned that he may never want to go back to brick and mortar school. He loves spending time with me and having me spend my positive energy on him. He is a lot more engaged in his work, because we are tailoring it for his interests. There is a lot less busywork, because we only linger on work that he really needs to do. If he has a hard time with an assignment, he can take as much time as he wants to finish it and we can review problem areas as many times as he needs to achieve mastery. He also has a lot of free time during the day to do what he wants, which has made him a much more relaxed and contented kid.

As for me, it has been a massive adjustment in so many ways. I have really had to work on my expectations of him and to learn to be patient and take more cues from him. I have had to learn to go with the flow, and to pick my battles. Due to the pandemic, a large portion of my professional work was already put on hold, so my usual schedule of performances and travel are gone for at least the next year. I am self-employed, so I am able to schedule my teaching around times that work best for my son and I try to squeeze in little blasts of work when I can. I also have a great husband, who does more than his fair share of housework and family management, so that I am not forced to do it all. I have had to edit a lot out of my life, but luckily the pandemic did most of the work for me. I have to be very careful about how I use my time, managing self care and sleep so that I can make it through the day and not be completely drained.

My son and I have good days and bad days, but this has been a positive experience for us. I know that he has benefitted from my commitment to homeschool. His math has improved, he is enjoying his work and his handwriting is way better. The stress of not knowing how this year is going to work out has lifted. We are no longer waiting for the governor or the mayor to make announcements. We don’t have to worry about figuring out how to use a bunch of platforms. We are already quietly schooling at home.

What I have enjoyed about this, is my own learning. I am Canadian-born, so I’m excited to finally learn US History in a more thorough way. I have always been terrible at math but learning alongside my son has shown me that math wasn’t my problem: the way I was taught was. I am enjoying reading book after book with my son and am finally diving into all the books that I’ve been wanting to read. Since June, we have read all the Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins books, have started working through the Chronicles of Narnia (I never read them!) and have read young readers adaptations of classic literature like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Moby Dick.

It has been a relief to be rid of the go-go-go life of drop offs and pick-ups and frantically trying to get everything done. Our lives have slowed down significantly, which is mostly thanks to Covid-19. Taking control of our son’s schooling has helped all of us to feel productive and make use of this unprecedented time. My only worry is that my son and I are going to like homeschooling so much that he never goes back to public school! But, I think I will just try and make it through this year…

Here are a few of the resources my family is using:

We are doing supplementary classes online at Outschool: Use this link to get a $20 credit towards your first course

Math:
Beast Academy – a rigorous math program whose textbook teaches in comic book form!
Critical Thinking – We use the Logic book and the Science textbooks, which are terrific workbooks.
IXL – a great app for enrichment activities
We also use flashcards, manipulatives, games and workbooks that I purchased at Amazon.

Language Arts:
Writing With Ease and First Language Lessons – created by the author of The Well Trained Mind, these are thorough language textbooks with workbooks centered around the Classical Education philosophy.
All About Spelling – a fantastic hands-on spelling program that teaches spelling rules in a fun way.

Science:
For Science, we are doing unit studies using materials purchased at Teachers Pay Teachers. And a variety of other resources, including raising a garden, going on nature hikes and bird watching.

United States History:
Woke Homeschooling’s Oh Freedom! Curriculum. (secular edition) – this is a fantastic curriculum that teaches US History in a totally non-whitewashed way. The book list consists of texts such as Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States and novels written from the point of view of Indigenous and African American children.

We have also taken amazing classes at Outschool on the lives of important US figures.

Geography:
For Geography we are doing Unit Studies using materials purchased at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Music:
Private piano lessons (with me!), singing in a chorus

Physical education:
Weekly karate classes, swimming, biking, hiking and sports and games.

Home Ec:
Learning to cook, clean the house and actively participate as a family member.

Additional Resources

Here is the website to check out if you plan to homeschool in New York State.
http://www.p12.nysed.gov/part100/pages/10010.html#a

If you want to know the Common Core standards for your child’s grade:
http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/

This is a download if you want to check out a full list of what might be required in your child’s grade. I downloaded the one for 3rd Grade and am using it as a checklist throughout the year.
https://www.coreknowledge.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/CKFSequence_Rev.pdf

Video: What is your why? Strategies for Success

It is easy to get bogged down with lists of things you have to do, but before that you need to identify your “why”. Why do you want to learn piano? Leave your comments below…

Want to know more about my work?  Check out my suite of unique online  piano courses  –     Piano and Voice With Brenda. Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are raving about this work!

On Getting S**t Done: Advice from the Trenches

            I have had several friends and colleagues tell me that they are amazed by my ability to juggle so many different balls at the same time.  I take is as a huge compliment and also am quick to point out that for the past several years I have been doing a lot of personal work trying to get myself to be able to function this way.  Thanks to the myriad of changes during the Covid-19 Pandemic, I find myself juggling even more balls than ever before.  (I’m guessing you are having the same experience?!?!). This blog post is written to show you exactly what I did to make my life more productive.

I am naturally a messy and disorganized person (just ask my Dad or my college roommates).  My disorganization has often been a source of frustration and has held me back in a lot of aspects in my life.  Now that I’m a mom, I basically had no choice but to get my bananas together so I could actually get something done in my life.

HOW DID I DO THIS?!?!?!

  1. Everybody contributes.  I’m lucky to have a great partner in my husband who is willing and able to do whatever needs to be done.  It took us time to figure out a balance that works, especially because he has a crazy job, but we did and it means that I’m not stuck in overwhelm getting everything done.   Our 7 year old also has a role to play in upkeep.  We have taught him to tidy his room, tidy    up after himself, he sets and clears the table and loads the dishwasher, in addition to putting his own laundry away.  It took a lot of work to teach him how to do it, but his help means I’m not doing every damn thing.
  2.  Simplifying and Minimizing.  Over the past several years, I have made it my mission to simplify every aspect of my life.  I have consumed a great many books, podcasts and blogs about minimalism, which have completely changed my life.  We have gotten rid of so much stuff, from clothes to toys and books.  I even did a huge overhaul of my studio space, getting rid of mountains of sheet music, paper and over 200 music books. (Check out my blog post on The Paperless Studio for more insight on how I did that!). I have simplified meals by choosing more straight forward dinners, which also simplifies our grocery shopping.  Our schedules are more simple too, as we are careful not to say yes to everything.  We do miss birthday parties and even the odd school or (gasp!) family event, but we do it so that we can enjoy our lives and focus on the things we really want to accomplish.
  3. Deciding what I want to do and only doing that.  My time is so limited and it has taken me until now to realize that I can’t possibly do everything I want to do.  This means that I prioritize my time to save my sanity.   A few times a year I make a master list of everything I want to accomplish, which are broken into categories like performance, teaching, online course and family.  On this list I brainstorm and dream.   Every month or two I take a look at this list and decide how much I can tackle.  If I have a lot of performances or a recording session, I prioritize practicing.  If I have a lot of open time, I may take one a larger project like creating additional material for my online course Piano Skills for Singers.
  4. Batching work.  I try to organize tasks that that I do a bunch of the same things at the same time.  If I’m going to edit and post performance videos, it makes way more sense for me to do a bunch of them at one time.  By the time I’ve remembered how to use the editing softward and have gotten the branding right, I may as well tackle 10 of them.  This also works great if I’m entering songs into Finale, sending emails to promotors for gigs or even writing blog posts. I try to choose a block of time when no one’s around (sometimes at 5am!!) and bang a bunch of similar tasks out in one sitting.
  5. Throw money at the problem.  When things get particularly busy or I’m in the middle of a lot of work, I sometimes just throw some money at the problem.  No time to do laundry?  I can send out a huge bag of it for $30.  No time to cook?  Time to pick up a rotisserie chicken or a damn pizza.  House is a mess?  Time to call a cleaning service.  My family isn’t super spendy, so if we do this now and then it’s not going to destroy us financially.
  6. Avoid procrastination.  Motherhood has taught me that I no longer have the luxury of procrastination.  My kid is in school from 8:40 until 3pm and if I don’t get done what I need to do then, it’s NEVER going to happen.  I have managed to (mostly) overcome time sucks like social media use and rampant email checking, mostly by going cold turkey.  Procrastinating is no longer a luxury I can afford, and somehow everything seems to get done.
  7. Letting it go.  Sometimes you have to make like Elsa and “Let it Go.”  (Cue eye rolling from my kid).  Some days all Hell breaks loose and getting things done just isn’t in the cards.  Take a break, say some bad words and move on.  Tomorrow is another day.

Hopefully this list helps you.  I work at all of this on a daily basis, trying to balance and juggle my family life while also trying to stay productive in my work life.

What do YOU do to get s#%t done??

My Teaching Philosophy and wish for you.

This video is pulled directly from my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment, which was released in December 2019.  This is the final video, where I wrap up what we learned and also shared some insight about my teaching philosophy and motivation behind creating these courses.

Want to learn more about my amazing suite of online courses?  Check out THIS LINK!

Take the OMG out of DIY

I know I’m not alone when I say that there are a lot of things in business and life that I have zero affinity for.  I’m not a tech person, my administrative skills are so-so at best and I am not a naturally organized person.  At the start of last year, I made a big list of a bunch of dream projects that I have been wanting to tackle for a long time and I realized that there was one thing separating me from achieving them:  they would all require skills I don’t have.

I considered my options.   I could either:

1.  hire someone to do them or 2. Figure it out on my own.

Not having thousands of dollars at my disposal, I had no choice but to take the “figure it out” route.

Somehow in the last 18 months, I have managed to tackle several impossible-it-will-never-ever-happen tasks in a pretty successful way.  I learned how to record video and audio, how to edit multicamera videos, resulting in a successful online course and dozens of videos posted on my YouTube channel.  I also managed to do all of my own publicity and radio distribution for a new album, which got 10x more press and radio interest then my last album, which I paid a professional publicist thousands of dollars to promote.

Now I’m not bragging (well, maybe just a little…), I’m just trying to promote the idea that if I can do it, literally anyone else on Earth can.  It took some serious elbow grease, and some swearing at the computer and vowing never to take on a project like this again, but even though they felt totally undoable, these projects actually got done.  I’m going to share a few tips on how you too can tackle some of your dream projects in a DIY fashion.

  1. Figure out what skills and equipment you need. 

In order to tackle promoting my new album, I needed to gain some administrative skills that I didn’t have.  I learned that in order to send mass emails, you needed something called a “mail merge”.  For my video work, I researched which cameras and software would be effective and easy to use for my purposes.

  1. Ask for help.

Do you have a friend who is an expert at a skill you lack?  Ask them for tips on how to get started.  My friend Jan is an admin wiz and she was super helpful in answering a few questions about how to get started creating and Excel spreadsheet.

  1. Give yourself lots of time.

You’ll need time to get comfortable as you work through these new skills and you will make a lot of mistakes along the way.  Don’t give yourself a too-tight deadline, as it will take some time to use these new skills.

  1. Take an online course.

As I was getting my mind around learning how to do my own publicity, I heard of a fantastic online course called JazzFuel.  Taught by one of the top jazz managers in Europe, I learned step-by-step to prepare and execute this huge project.  It was time and money well spent!

  1. Don’t forget YouTube.

You can pretty much learn anything on YouTube as there are video tutorials for pretty much any topic under the sun.  I taught myself the video editing software Final Cut Pro using a variety of YouTube videos.

  1. Take notes as you go.

I have kept elaborate records of each step of my DIY learning, from which YouTube links I used, to step-by-step directions on how to do everything from setting up the audio on a video shoot to how to print mailing labels.  I keep all of this in a file on my computer called “How to do things” and saves me hours of time.  You can also make notes on what worked and what didn’t work, so you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes for the next project.

As we move into a new year (and new decade), everyone is starting to think about what is on the horizon.  Consider what you would be able to achieve if you weren’t hindered by the skills that you lack.  What would you accomplish if you could DIY?

Get Your Studio Ready For Fall

We’re in the middle of summer here in the US and yet we’re already seeing signs of fall.  Back to school sales are in full swing in every store everywhere. Now that I’ve had a little time to rest and work on a few projects, I’m starting to look ahead to the fall.  I have never been a natural organizer, but I know that being organized makes a huge difference in my mental state and helps me to run my business better.  Here is a massive list of tasks that will help you get ready for fall.  Choose the ones that you think will make your life easier this fall.  A little bit of preparation now will make your transition a thousand times easier!

  1. Go through your email and delete any saved emails from last semester and any students who are no longer in your studio. Archive any important ones.
  2. Clean out your teaching binder removing any notes or music from past students. File or delete unmarked sheet music.  Do the same with your files if you use a tablet instead of a binder.
  3. Go through your bookshelf.  Sort and organize all of your books, removing any books that you no longer use.
  4. Collect all receipts and statements from the current year and file them. (You will be happy you did this come tax time!)
  5. Do a deep clean of your computer and the cloud, deleting duplicate and old files. Do a full backup of your computer system to an external hard drive.
  6. Start files for new students and prepare materials that they might need.
  7. Check your current roster. Has everyone been assigned a lesson slot?  Are payments up to date?
  8. Check your fall schedule for any conflicts. Are there any holes in the schedule that you can fill?  Are any of your days too busy?  Do you have enough time off?
  9. Compare your fall calendar with your child’s school calendar and your family calendar.Are there any overlaps that you can correct now?
  10. Do an inventory of your music and supplies.Order books, copy manuscript paper, purchase hand sanitizer, straws and office supplies as needed.
  11. Get your piano tuned. (!!!!)
  12. Do a deep clean of the studio. Vacuum under the piano, clean your computer screen and keyboard, wash the windows, take everything off your bookshelves and dust under everything.
  13. Set your goals and intentions for the fall term.What did you learn from last semester? What goals do you have for you teaching, your business, your students and your own professional development.
  14. Make space in your calendar for exercise, breaks, family time and your own musical development. (Schedule it now before you get too busy!)
  15. Set some studio-wide goals for your students.More theory, stretching, practice journals, etc.
  16. Relax and enjoy the rest of the summer. You’re ready for fall!

How are YOU getting ready for the fall semester?

Summer Reading List (and my new favorite app!)

One of my goals for 2019 has been to devote more of my time to reading.  This goes along with my digital detox, where I have chosen to spend less time mindlessly scrolling and bingewatching, and finally tackle the massive list of books I’ve been wanting to get through.  I have always been a huge reader (an old boyfriend once looked at my bookshelves and said, “Have you read any of these?”  The answer – all of them)

How am I keeping up this pace?  I am tackling my bookshelf one book at a time, and I have recently become obsessed with the Libby app.  The Libby app is a direct line to read e-books from the public library.  You can borrow and place holds on books and read them on your e-reader.  I replaced the Facebook app on my phone with the Libby app and now whenever I’m waiting in line, taking the bus or sitting at the park while my son runs around, I can read instead of mindlessly scrolling.

(I also snagged 2 free months on Kindle Unlimited, which means I have another place to score the books I need for free.  Yippy!)

My 7 year old son is a voracious reader and keeping him in books was costing us a holy fortune.  So, I downloaded the Libby and Amazon Kindle app and he is able to search and download the books that he likes.  This had made travelling a lot easier, since we no longer need a suitcase just for his reading material. (If only there were an app that covered Legos!). My husband has also upped his reading game, and is now reading some of the books that I have finished.  If this keeps up, we’ll have to cancel cable!

Just for fun, I have posted the list of books that I plan to read this summer, noting which ones I have already read.  I will be adding to this constantly all summer. Long live the Libby app!

Personal Improvement

Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown

The Confidence Code – Katty Kay

The Year of Less – Joshua Becker

How Children Succeed – Paul Tough

Your Money or Your Life – Vicki Robin

Grit – Angela Duckworth

What If This Were Enough? – Heather Havrilesky

Shrill – Lindy West

The Year of Less – Cait Flanders

How To Break Up With Your Phone – Catherine Price

Business

Eat That Frog! – Brian Tracy

Do It Marketing – David Newman

The One Week Marketing Plan- Mark Satterfield

30-Minute Social Media Marketing – Susan Gunelius

Off The Clock! – Laura Vanderkam

168 Hours – Laura Vanderkam

Juliet’s School of Possibilities – Laura Vanderkam

Biography

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Born A Crime – Trevor Noah

Daily Rituals – Women at Work

Q – The Autobiography of Quincy Jones

Good Things Happen Slowly – Fred Hersch

Fiction

Little Bee – Chris Cleave

Educated – Tara Westover

The Perfect Nanny – Leila Slimani

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh

Non Fiction

Gut – Giulia Enders

Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Big Announcement – On Changing Direction

You may have read my recent posts on both my artist Facebook page and the Facebook page for my course Piano Skills for Singers.  If  you missed it, here it is…

As I’m sure you’re all aware, I have been extremely active as a private studio teacher here in NYC. I have been very privileged to have taught over 15 years, and have served hundreds of students one-on-one. It has been an absolute joy and has consumed most of my time.

Effective immediately I have decided to take a mini sabbatical from private teaching. (If you are a current private student, this doesn’t affect you!). I will still be maintaining a small number of private students, but I am reducing the number by about 70%.

Continue reading

VIDEO: Singers and Voice Teachers – Protect Your Ears!

As singers and voice teachers, we spend a lot of time listening to sound, a lot of which can be loud. In this video I address the topic of hearing care as it relates to singing and teaching singing, but this is a good start for anyone in the music industry (band directors – I mean you too!).  Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment below.

Did you enjoy this content?  Check out my entire suite of online courses HERE!