Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sensibility Aside - Joining the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra

About four years ago I decided I'd like to play the mandolin. So I purchased a nice, inexpensive mandolin from Homestead Pickin' Parlor in Richfield and started taking lessons with fabulous musician, Karen Mueller.

I played steadily for over a year then upgraded to a beautiful Michael Kelly "F" style mandolin. It's a beautiful instrument and I loved playing it - but then I was in two Northfield Arts Guild musicals in a row. With rehearsals and life I pretty much stopped playing and my Michael Kelly sat in its case for a long, long, time
My mandolin - the Legacy Dragonfly Flame. Picture from the Michael Kelly website.
It's a shame to let a beautiful instrument sit so I started thinking about ways to get myself playing again. There are lessons and jam sessions I could attend and, of course, I could be self motivated and just play at home. But each of those options presented challenges - among them lack of funds for frequent lessons, schedule conflicts with the jam sessions and the simply fact that I'm not great at self-motivation.

So I decided to join the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra.

This decision was really not sensible. I pretty much hadn't played in two years and wasn't very good to begin with. I'm not even a fan of classical mandolin music (though it's growing on me) and classical music comprises about 85% of the MMO's play list.

I knew that joining the MMO was a silly idea. But I knew that if I joined I would have structure and motivation and would start playing regularly again. So I contacted Lon, the director, who invited me to join them for a rehearsal just before Christmas.

I was completely and totally overwhelmed at that first rehearsal. The music the group plays is challenging. Very challenging. And there's a lot of challenging music to play - about twenty songs, some of them three pages long!  I stumbled through the first rehearsal as best I could. I did not do well. A month after starting to play again I still don't play very well at rehearsals but I keep working at the music and play along the best I can. I have so much to learn and a long way to go before I come close to mastering even one piece of music.

But guess what? I may be overwhelmed but I also feel completely and totally welcomed by the members of the group (especially by Cindy who sits next to me in the back row of the Mandolin I section). I feel like it matters if I show up or not - so I show up every Monday. The members assure me that I will figure out the music - so I keep practicing. And last week they took an official MMO publicity picture and I'm in it - I see that as a good sign that they aren't going to kick me out :)
Publicity shot of the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra - 2012. Photo MMO
I'm glad I threw sensibility aside and joined the MMO. My beautiful Michael Kelly is getting out of its case on a regular basis now. My playing skills are improving rapidly. I'm having fun making music and spending time with neat people.

You know, sometimes sensible is overrated and silly is the way to go. Try it sometime.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mingling at the Magazine Mingle

Wednesday night I attended the Minnesota Magazine & Publishing Association "Magazine Mingle" event at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I've attended this event several times now. It's grown and changed over the years but the one thing that has stayed the same is that writers, editors, photographers and publishers get a chance to get out for an evening, enjoy some snacks, look at dozens of sample magazine and spend time networking.

Networking can be kind of scary - going up and talking to strangers and all - but at the Mingle everyone is pretty much in the same boat, everyone there wants to make connections. So the night is spent striking up conversations with strangers, handing out business cards, and, hopefully, making connections that will somehow benefit you or the people you meet.

At the event I enjoyed visiting with well-known travel, science and nature journalist, Greg Breining. Greg has written several books, among them Paddle North: Canoeing the Boundary Waters-Quetico Wilderness and A Hard-Water World: Ice Fishing and Why We Do It. I've taken a couple of writing classes from Greg and he's kind enough to give me advice when I email him with writing-related questions. He even sent me an email when he noticed my travel piece on Cannon Falls in the Star Tribune. That's pretty cool!

Other than Greg I chatted at length with a woman who is launching a Twin Cities outdoors magazine and a couple of guys from a car magazine, Rat Rod, who happen to know a Northfield artist that I know (it's a small world, isn't it?), Nick Sinclair.

I met a few other people, too, and had a good time networking. But the best part of the evening was spending time with two of my favorite writers, Joy Riggs and Christine Bernier Lienke, both of Northfield. Not only did we attend the Magazine Mingle together, we rewarded our night of networking by going out for dinner afterwards at the very cool downtown wine bar and restaurant, Spill the Wine. We didn't spill any wine that evening (and if we did, I wouldn't tell) but the night out was great fun and a good reminder of what a little networking can do.

Because, you see, I actually met Joy and Chris through networking - if I recall correctly I knew Joy was a writer and introduced myself to her at a Northfield Youth Choirs event. I was so scared to just walk up to her and say "Hi, I'm Myrna and I'm a writer and I know you are a writer too and do you want to have coffee sometime? Because I'd really like to connect to other writers in town." But that's what I did. Well, that's not exactly what I said but it's probably very close. And through Joy I met Chris and we, along with another writer friend, Amy Boxrud who is now the editor of Viking Magazine, started meeting for writers' coffees. And from meeting over work we all ended up being friends.

Yeah, networking can pay off big time. It can help you with your career and sometimes you get friends out of the deal. So take a chance and introduce yourself to someone. It may feel awkward or seem scary but you never know where one "hello" will take you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snowshoe Adventure

Last winter during the month of January I did a 30 Days of Snowshoeing challenge and snowshoed every single day of the month. Such a challenge would have been impossible for me this year. We've had a strange winter with almost no snow. I'm okay with a mild winter but I have missed snowshoeing and have only been out on my snowshoes once this winter - that is until today.
A snowshoe scene from last January
Last night and earlier today it snowed enough that we could actually get out and snowshoe in it. The kids were off of school so they headed outside with me this morning and, along with Rocket our wonder dog, we trekked around the neighborhood on our snowshoes.

One thing I like about doing stuff with my kids is that they remind me of the little wonders of life. Today they decided we should stop walking, stand still then call the dog to us and listen. Why? Because the snow had a thin icy crust on top and Rose and Ryan noticed that it sounded really cool when Rocket ran through the snow.
Ryan, Rose and Rocket
I wish I could describe how Rocket's little paws sounded when they broke through the snow. Or somehow convey how wonderful the near silence sounded when we, dog included, stood still in our winter wonderland. I took a couple of pictures but they still don't really show the fun we had. Of how the kids and I raced each other on our snowshoes. Of Rocket's legs and face covered with little clumps of snow. Of how the cold felt. Of how the wind blew.
Here we are - Ready for a snowshoe adventure
Suffice it to say our little snowshoe trek was wonderful. So thanks Rose and Ryan for joining me on a little snowshoe adventure today. For asking me to stand still with you so we could hear Rocket prance though the snow.