Are you burned out? Take this test to find out.

In 1998, I started my first teaching job with passion, dedication, love and joy. I gave my all to my students, but I neglected myself and – I’m ashamed to say – at times my family. I became extremely burned out. When I left that school for another in 2005, I promised myself I would never let that happen again! I set boundaries, I took better care of my health, I left for home at the end of the school day.

As my own kids grew, I found myself starting a marching band and devoting more and more time to my work. I didn’t mind. My responsibilities at home had changed, I had more time, and I saw what a difference marching band was making in my students’ lives. I had overcome the possibility of burnout!

WRONG!!!

I succumbed again. It wasn’t quite as bad as the first time, but this time I didn’t recognize the signs until I heard a presentation by Dr. Frank Tracz of Kansas State. He shared the burnout link with us that you will find below.

I left my position for a new one teaching middle school with no marching band. Sometimes – not always – one must leave a position to regain balance. That’s a whole blog post of it’s own.

Are you burned out? Take this Burnout Self Test from the good people at Mind Tools to find out. If the results come out positive, make the changes necessary to prevent burnout. You’ll be glad you did.

I Have the Best Job in the World

Guest post by band teacher Christian Sarazen…I know it will inspire you like it inspired me!

“I have the best job in the world,” Mr. Andrews said after a successful rehearsal at Ben Lippen School one afternoon. It was my senior year, and that was the moment I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life. I told him, “Well, if you have the best job in the world, then I want it!”

I went on to get a degree and moved overseas to start a band program at an international school. But my first year teaching would be Mr. Andrew’s last. Midway through the year he was diagnosed with brain cancer and given months to live. His final concert was an emotional one, as anyone can imagine.

I was too far away to be there, but I wrote a song for my band and performed it in his honor that same Spring.

The band program at Ben Lippen did not continue after Mr. Andrews passed, (about 7 years ago now) and the band room has been the “Large Group Instructional” room since then. Until this year.

Last fall, I was hired by Ben Lippen to re-start the program and we just had our first spring Concert tonight. The highlight was our performance of that same song I composed in his honor my first year teaching.

So Mr. Andrews, here I am. I’m trying to fill your shoes. Thanks for giving me my first trombone lesson, for noticing me, valuing me, encouraging me to stick with it, inviting me hang out in your office with the cool kids, and letting me bring my cassette player in to record our songs all the time 🙂

Most days band directing is banging my head on the floor. But not every day. Tonight was a night that made me feel like I have the “best job in the world”. I have your job now, but I’ll ever be working my way toward being a director like you. Thank you for everything.

My Earliest Memories

Here’s a post about some of my earliest memories. Don’t forget to register for the Forgive & Live Workshop here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2027225010884730/

Earliest Memories

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

-Sigmund Freud

This is a picture of my grandfather, my mom’s father. He passed away before I had a chance to meet him. My mom speaks very highly of him.

Most children don’t remember much from their earliest years. My oldest son Josh surprised me once by telling me something he remembers when he was under three years old. I had been gone for three months for Army training. When I returned, we all went out to Taco Bell to celebrate. He remembers that.

Most of my early memories are good. I played outside a lot. I peed on the trees in our backyard despite my mom’s insistence not to. Hey, little boys play, and they don’t think about peeing until they have to go REALLY bad, and the trees were so convenient. At least I didn’t pee in the heating vent like at least one of my sons did!

I remember watching Bob Barker on The Price is Right (and then watching him three decades later…it hasn’t seemed right since he retired). I had a best friend next door named Manny. I got my first bike.

There was a neighborhood convenience store that my friends and I walked to often. The proprietor was a very friendly man. If we sang a song for him, he would give us each a piece of small, football-shaped chocolate. It seems like such a small thing, but he is one of the many people in my life who was a positive influence, just by his kindness and character.

I remember being fearful of my father. I sometimes witnessed the abuse he delivered to my mom, and I was afraid of him. As far as I remember, he never laid a hand on me. I can only remember two interactions with him. I asked him how the turn signal turned off in the car. He had my sister and I convinced that he was magic. On another occasion, we went fishing with my older brother. It was cold and my feet hurt terribly, but I was too afraid to tell my father. I tried fishing later in life but just never grew to love it like many men I know. I know there must have been other interactions, but these are the only two I remember.

My mom tells the story of when my father sat me on his lap and asked me if I loved him, and I answered “No, because you hurt Mommy.” My father said that Santa Claus wouldn’t bring me anything and I answered that I was fine with that. Then he sat my sister on his lap and asked the same thing. She answered the same as me until he told her Santa wouldn’t bring her anything, and then sis said, “I love you, Daddy.”

I always thought she should have been an actress.

excerpt from “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested.” Available on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Forgive-story-being-mo…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

The Day I Stole my Mom’s Identity

Two years ago, my mom suffered a debilitating stroke. I was the one tasked with handling her affairs. I sold her condo, packed away many of her things and found a place where she would live after her rehab. It was a daunting and exhausting task!

Little tasks that should have been simple and easy to handle became complex because of how afraid people are. For example, I called to cancel my mom’s cable tv subscription. Here is how the conversation went…

CC=Cable company . ME=me, good-looking Italian boy

(20 minutes on hold)
(finally!)
CC: Hi, Always Broken cable company…how may I help?

ME: Hi, this is James Divine. I’m handling my mom’s affairs. She recently had a stroke, has moved out of her condo, and now I need to cancel her cable service.

CC: Can you please give me her name, last 20 addresses, as well as the date when she has sacrificed each of her children?

ME: Sure, here it is
(3,200 account numbers and birthdates later)

CC: I’m sorry, we will need to speak directly to her. You are not authorized on her account to make changes.

ME: I realize that, but she almost died and is in rehab. She’s not well enough to talk.
(at this point I’m starting to get frustrated….there are 100 more urgent things I need to get done for my mom)

CC: I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.

ME: Can I speak to your manager please?

CC: I’m sorry, we don’t have a manager. I’m located remotely on an ice cap near the south pole, in exile and forced to work a job I hate, but it pays the bills.

ME: Surely you have faced this situation before and have a procedure to deal with it.

CC: I’m sorry, I’m not able to help you with your request. Would you like to be transferred to our north pole office?

ME: No thanks. I’d rather eat a plate of raw maggots then listen to more on hold music.

CC: Would you like me to transfer you to our maggot department?

ME: I thought that’s who I was talking to.

I hung up the phone. I was really frustrated. Since I was also handling her bills, I thought “Maybe I just won’t pay the bill” but I knew in the long term that would end up hurting my mom. I decided to try a different approach…

(20 minutes on hold)
(finally!)
CC: Hi, Always Broken cable company…how may I help?

ME: Hi, I’d like to cancel my cable service.

CC: Can you please give me your name, last 20 addresses, as well as the date when you sacrificed each of your children?

ME: Sure, my name is Rita C. and the account info you need is 1846dhfdku467253745be759403934565h3nyru5u5rhfyuj4m4neuemtn5ueiuwju666

CC: Is this really Rita C?

ME: Yes.

CC: Sorry you will be leaving us. Thank you. I have closed your account.

I didn’t disguise my voice or anything! It was so easy that it was a little scary. I think the reason it worked is that I had the secret number…  1846dhfdku467253745be759403934565h3nyru5u5rhfyuj4m4neuemtn5ueiuwju666

I don’t recommend stealing your mom’s identity, but drastic circumstance call for drastic measures. As soon as I post this article, I will be moving. I expect the FBI to knock down my door at any moment.

***James is a teacher, musician, speaker and author in Colorado Springs. He wrote the book A Stroke of Bad Luck: A Survival Guide for When Someone You Know has a Stroke. Purchase it immediately on amazon:

 

Wait Until You See What His Mom Gave Him for Breakfast

Jill was cleaning her son Billy’s room, putting ALL the clothes in the hamper because – if you’ve had a boy, you know their clean and dirty clothes comingle. They know what to wear after giving it the sniff test. She tossed the pizza boxes from under the bed into the trash. She found the five missing forks and two plates from her grandmother’s china collection there too, as well as a dead banana and some dried up mud. But what she found next appalled her.

Hadn’t she and Dan raised Billy with good morals? Didn’t they go to church each week? Dan made sure to spend quality and quantity time each week with all three of his kids. Dan and Billy even took a church camping trip in the mountains of Colorado where the dads led the sons through what it meant to be a man of God and how to remain sexually pure. The trip included fishing and hunting. Both Dan and Billy described it as the most impressionable week of their life. So when Jill found the girlie magazines, she was shocked, embarrassed and surprised. What would she do?

Jill threw the magazines in the trash, but didn’t mention anything to Billy. Billy noticed they were missing and wondered what would happen to him. Was his dad waiting for the right moment to wring his neck? Would he face years of restriction? Would his car be taken away? He didn’t want that to happen. He had a date with his girlfriend.

That weekend, Jill called everyone to dinner. The house had smelled of fried chicken for the last hour or so. Jill knew how to make fried chicken. She got the recipe from her grandmother, who used real bacon drippings for the frying. Billy came to supper with anticipation. Jill brought everyone their plate and set it down lovingly in front of them. She had made a special plate for Billy. Instead of getting ready to devour his food, Billy almost barfed.

Where was the delicious fried chicken? Why had his mom, who SUPPOSEDLY loved him, placed a nice heaping platter of egg shells, bacon drippings, carrot peel, potato peel, the dead banana from his room and the sweepings from the kitchen floor, in front of his face.

“Mom, why are you giving me trash to eat?” He asked.

“I figured since you were feeding your mind that sort of garbage, you would also want to feed it to your body.” She replied.

When you put pornography, gossip, and impure thoughts into your brain, it’s like eating egg shells for breakfast. What kind of gross things are going into your mind? What can you replace it with now?

(Although this story is fictional, it is based off a real mom I read about who did this with her son. It cured him of his desire to view pornography).

I Wasn’t Always This Way

I wasn’t always this way!

People look at me – 51, getting better looking each year, married to my high school sweetheart, parent of four, grandparent of 3, successful band teacher, author, speaker, musician – and they think “Wow, James is so confident and sure of himself. Life has been good to him. I wish my life was like that.”

I wasn’t always this way!

I struggled, really struggled with self-esteem for many years. I know it was related to having an abusive father, being molested and all the damage that did to my psyche. I ALWAYS felt like I had to be dating someone, and my self-esteem plummeted when a girl would break up with me. I would beg her to come back, to give me another chance, to tell me where I failed. By the way, this is the worst thing to do. I should have said, “OK…I was thinking the same thing.”

My friend Amy – after hearing about the umpteenth time of a girl breaking up with me and how sad and lonely I was – she was one of those people who got to the point quickly – confronted me about why I felt like I needed to be dating someone all the time. I don’t think she even realized the impact of her words. It caused me to think. It caused me to change my behavior. I decided to stop being worried about finding the right person. Maybe I needed to focus on me, on becoming a better person! Becoming more Christ-like.

The interesting thing is that when I did that, that’s when I found my soul-mate, my life-long lover, my best friend. I started dating Susan soon after that talk with Amy. I knew in about a week that Susan was probably the one. (By the way guys, after a week is not the time to mention this, even if you know deep in your soul).

Even after I started my adult life, got married, joined the Army band and was a successful husband, dad and musician, my self-esteem was still rock bottom.

I wasn’t always this way!

You see, I am the typical people pleaser. At first glance, a people pleaser seems to be a really nice person. Everyone can count on them. Need cookies baked, call a people pleaser. Need someone on a committee, call a people pleaser. People pleasers can’t say no. Ultimately for me, this desire to please grew out of a fear of rejection, which had its roots in not being close to my father due to his abuse of my mom. I felt that those close to me might reject me if I didn’t do everything they wanted.

Although I started killing off the roots of what caused me to be a people pleaser, I didn’t totally sever the roots until I went to Next Level Life in 2015. What is it? Two intense days of physical, emotional and spiritual counseling. In the course of the two days, you uncover your roots – patterns and behaviors that have contributed to how you act or react to things – and sever a lot of those roots (the bad roots). I learned to leave those people pleasing tendencies behind.

I wasn’t always this way!

So when you see me – successful, self-assured, confident, willing to disagree, making sure I have my priorities straight – I want you to realize it wasn’t always like this. It is a journey, a process, sometimes hard work that takes you from one point to another. I had the same doubts you have. I had the same struggles you have. I had the same lack of self-esteem as you have.

I overcame and

Now I am this way (but I wasn’t always this way)

And I like that I’m this way…the only one I truly have to please is God

And He’s pleased with me because He is making me into His image

 

By taking care of me first, it has given me more time

By focusing on my mission and calling, it has made me a better person

And believe it or not, I love others more than I ever have

 

So don’t look at me and say, “I wish”

But look at me and say, “If he could do it, with God’s help I can too.”

 

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

You make my life rich.

* James is first and foremost a son of the King. He is also a teacher, musician, speaker and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.  Find out more about Next Level Life at www.chrislocurto.com

Choosing Quality Band Literature

Choosing Quality Band Literature

Here are a few things I have learned about selecting music for wind band…

Ability Level of the Ensemble You Direct: 

A piece of music may be the greatest creation ever made, but if it is too difficult for the students to play, they will become discouraged. I often made the mistake of selecting literature that was too difficult in the early years of my career. Does this mean that there should never be a piece in the folder that is beyond students’ reach? No, there should always be something that we are looking at that would be a stretch for our group. Musicians have never “arrived.” We are always working and striving for better things.

My students still say things like “This is too easy.” I have learned to explain to them that – yes, their individual part is easy, and each person may feel that way about their part, but when we put it all together it isn’t musical yet. It’s hard to make music when one is struggling with the technique. There is good quality music available at all levels. At some levels it will take more digging to find the quality stuff, but it’s there. You might use a resource like the Teaching Music Through Performance series.

Instrumentation: 

This is a difficult one. If you don’t have an oboe/English horn player, it will be difficult to do a piece like Russian Christmas Music. It can be done – and as a professional sax player I have played the oboe and English horn cues in that song – but it just isn’t the same. Likewise if you have no trumpet players or few low brass players, there are simply some things you cannot perform.

I want to thank one of my mentors, Joe Brice, for helping me in my teaching in this area. He came to clinic my band and said “You need another tuba.” Of course I agreed but stated that I couldn’t do anything. Joe answered with a detailed, thoughtful answer that represented his 50+ years of experience. He said, “Did you ask anybody?” At that point I wanted to slap my head in a big “Duh; why didn’t I think of that” moment. I asked and convinced three students to switch over.

My point is that – although instrumentation (or lack of it) can be difficult, we really need to take a long term approach to it. Ask your students if anyone wants to switch, especially if – like me – you have a ton of flute players and less of others. Some of those who switch will become awesome; some of them will go back to their original instrument. That’s ok! Explain to the students why it is important that some of them switch for the good of the band.

Rehearsal Time: 

We are involved in the field of music education. Sometimes I think we forget that…I know I have…especially as we rush to prepare for a concert, festival or competition. A director of a professional symphony may be able to prepare difficult pieces with just 2-3 rehearsals. However, our job is not only directing, but educating. As I have gained more experience, I have realized that the educating part of the job is much more important and has more lasting effects.

I think it is better to do one or two high quality pieces and play them extremely well than to perform 4-5 pieces and not have really learned anything in the process. It is important to dig deep into the music, the history and even some analysis of the songs being performed. So often we are so busy with the need to get through the music that we forget to instruct students about the music.

Select Quality Literature: 

Now we arrive at probably the greatest challenge in selecting music. How do we define quality? For me, the definition has changed a lot over the course of my teaching. There are many pieces I regret having wasted money on in my early years of teaching. I know quality when I hear it, but I don’t always recognize lack of quality (if that even makes sense). There is quality literature at every level. There is junk at every level.

Here is my definition of quality music…

Quality music moves me emotionally. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, not a cover your ears and run out of the room uncomfortable, but uncomfortable in the sense that my thinking is challenged. It is expressive. It is melodic. Although it may contain repeating motifs, it is not the same two measure repeating motif for 120 measures.

Now do you feel qualified to determine whether music is of quality or not? Me neither. We need something more. Frank Battisti in his book The Winds of Change says that many directors have stopped attending concerts and listening and studying great music. We must expose ourselves to great music so we can know when we hear it. Battisti likens it to a wine connoisseur whose tastes improve as he becomes exposed to more wine. I liken it to a little kid who thinks a fast food burger is the greatest thing on earth, until she matures and realizes that there are burgers ten times better than the fast food variety.

I encourage you to listen to great music, attend your state conference and listen to the groups selected to perform, and when you go to contest, schedule some time to listen and observe other groups. As Battisti states, your taste level will be elevated. You will become better equipped to know when you hear poor quality music.

I will end with a quote from Battisti, “We are what we consume! If one wants to become an artist conductor/teacher – one must consume great Art.”

***James has been a performer and educator for over 30 years, teaching band and orchestra at every level from 4th-12th grade. He also hosts the music ed podcast, delivers keynote speeches using music, and has written several books on music and life in general. His latest work is an online course, 40 Ways to Make Money as a Musician, which is available at https://www.udemy.com/40makemoney/.

 

Advice for Churches on Hiring a Worship Leader

Why you might look at part rather than full time

In a former life, when I was in traveling music ministry full time, the church’s music pastor was often the one who would pick me up, take me to dinner, etc. Because I was an out-of-towner, they often felt comfortable sharing their discouragements with me. These were people who had what I considered a dream worship leader job. More than half of them were dissatisfied with their position. When I asked why, the answer was that they really enjoyed leading practice and leading worship, but that was only about 20% of their workweek.

On the other hand, I would say that nearly 100% of those who were ministering part time were happy with what they were doing. They had other jobs, sometimes in music, but got to spend all their time at church doing what they love. You can often get a really high quality part-time person for $1,000-$1200 a month. You can also get a music student or someone just starting out for just a couple of hundred a month.

Is a worship video really a good determination of how well someone will do

I see ads all the time in my local area for churches looking for a worship leader. Many of the ads request a video of the applicant leading worship. That may not be the best thing to ask of an applicant.

You probably have many musically qualified people near you. Almost any music teacher would be qualified to lead worship, but if they have never done it, they may not have a good video. In my opinion, having a teacher’s heart and the ability to lead is more important than how well one can play an instrument. As a band teacher, I could lead a worship team really well. If you saw a video of me leading worship, you might think I was an untrained person. Look at the whole picture and not just the video.

How important is it for a worship leader to be able to play an instrument

That depends. What other talent do you have in the church? A good leader can draw out the best from that talent. A good worship leader may be able to use their voice well, but can’t play a lick on guitar. There are also alternatives that churches – especially small ones – might use. For 99 cents, you can download a background track of most worship songs. Some pianos have a feature where the leader only needs to play the chord changes; the piano/synthesizer adds a drum, bass and guitar.

Don’t compare yourself to other churches

This is a danger that many churches face – and many musicians too. Seek to do the best you can. Seek improvement. But don’t worry if you are not where the church across town is at. Keep striving and improving.

***James has been in the music business since 1985. Using music and story-telling, he shares his story of being molested and his journey to forgiveness and redemption. See video and hear music at www.jamesdivine.net.

11 Ways to Lose (and Keep) a Band Student

11 Ways To Lose (and Keep) A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 16 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details.

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them.

A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.

4 Steps to Being a Better Band Director Using the Acronym BAND

4 Tips To Be A Better Band Director using the acronym BAND

There are four key areas that – if you focus on these and make them a priority – they can help you be a better band director. None of them have anything to do with music, but the word “BAND” does fall nicely into place to help you remember them.

B-Bread

Watch what you eat! When life gets busy, it can be very easy to grab something to go. I once was 30 pounds heavier than I am right now, all due to poor eating choices and failure to plan. Plan ahead what you are going to eat. Buy some healthy snacks. Keep them in a fridge at work, in your glove compartment, wherever. Pack a healthy lunch. Watch the pizza. I once ate 8 slices at a football game and regretted it for the next day and a half. I could do that when I was 18, but I’m in my 40s now.

A-Activity

Move your body. Exercise is important, not only to your physical self, but your emotional and mental health too. Pick something you like. Jogging, hiking, swimming, biking, walking. Put more ing in your life. You should strive for a minimum of 20-30 minutes 4-5x a week. It will lengthen your career and leave you feeling like you have more energy. Warning: When I was 30 pounds heavier and first embarked on exercising and eating better, I initially felt worse. This is normal.

N-Night

Get plenty of sleep. The amount is different for each person. I need 7 hours a night, so I try to make sure I get that at least 6 nights a week. Try napping. The floor of my office becomes a 10 minute nap area during marching season. Students have posted hundreds of pictures of me sleeping on the bus on a trip.

D-Diversion

Have a life outside of band. I heard of a band director who does not allow himself to read anything unless it is something that will help his band. I think this is unhealthy. Take up a hobby. It might even be music related, but not be something you need to do for a living. I had to quit giving lessons for the most part because I felt like my day was never ending, but I perform, record and compose simply because I like to and it’s an outlet for me. I also hike, bike and meet with friends (and spend time with my family of course).

When life gets off track and you’re not sure what to do, think B.A.N.D.

The Story Project – Funny stories of growing up Italian

On April 1 at 6:00 pm, the story I shared at The Story Project in March aired on KRCC at 6pm. This is my recording of that.

I share funny stories of growing up Italian, including:

  • How garlic permeates everything when you’re Italian
  • Why I speak SO LOUDLY
  • The uncle who inspired me to get into music
  • The secret to a successful marriage
  • Why I was terrified of the wooden spoon my mom used to cook with
  • Funny stories of the language barrier

Deutschland – The experience of a lifetime

In 1996, I was in the Army Band stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. After ten years in the Army, I was planning on getting out when I suddenly found myself with orders for Heidelberg, Germany! It was so tempting to stay in so we could go. There were many reasons why I decided to turn down the orders, get out of the Army and stay in Colorado. However, the dream to visit Germany never died! This dream was finally fulfilled for me and my beautiful wife Susan in December 2017.


(you can tell this is before we leave because we look rested, cheerful and young)

 


(our plane on the tarmac at DIA…it’s big!)

Germany is magical in December. There are Christmas markets everywhere. We saw our first one after we recovered our luggage and exited the München airport, right there in the courtyard. This is what went through our heads…

Go to the Christmas market…

Must get to our hotel…

Go to the Christmas market…

Long train ride to our hotel…

Go to the Christmas market…

It’s getting late…

The need to find our way to our hotel won out over the desire to visit the market, but only because we knew there would be many more to see.

We got a little lost trying to find the trains, but so many locals were willing to help. The train was easy to find and board. We enjoyed watching the countryside slowly give way to the city until we reached our stop, Marienplatz, just two stops away from the main station in München (Munich to you Americans).

As we exited the station, THIS IS WHAT WE SAW!

(München’s famous Gothic cathedral)

A very impressive site. I don’t think I could ever tire of looking at it. It’s not just architecture, but a work of art (“art”-itecture maybe).

Our guide book said the hotel was just a 5 minute walk from the station. We got lost! I don’t know if it was the flood of people (a huge Christmas market was right there on the plaza), our tiredness, or the lack of signs, but we couldn’t seem to find our way. Even when we asked for help, nobody seemed to be able to help us. They were from out of town too! We finally found a nice policeman who pointed us in the right direction. We found Pension am Jakobsplatz, our hotel for three nights. Kristoff welcomed us, gave us our keys and offered many helpful tips and suggestions after he inquired as to what we would like to do. Our room was very small, but cozy, comfortable, just a 2 minute walk to major attractions and shopping and within a 30-45 minute walk of anything we would want to see or do in the city. We didn’t come to Germany to hang out in our room anyway.


(our cozy room at Pension am Jakobsplatz – a pension is sort of like a bed and breakfast)


(out exploring after we dumped our bags…Christmas market)

You may think I’m crazy, but I love to get out for an early morning jog wherever I am at. Big cities have a different atmosphere in the morning. Much quieter. Slower paced. And I love how the morning light makes the scenery and architecture different. Plus, even though I had been up for many hours traveling, my body still woke up at 2:00 am due to jet lag. I read a bit, snoozed some, but finally got out of bed and went for a run. I knew I would be eating a lot. I had a goal to lose weight on the trip (it didn’t happen, but I kept the weight gain to just four pounds).

Here are some of the scenes I saw.


(the cathedral in early morning light)


(the entrance to the courtyard of the cathedral)


(part of an old section of the palace…looks almost Roman to me)


(the English Gardens; love it when cities include natural beauty that has been set-aside for people to enjoy)


(the Palace)

You’ve heard the song, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.”

I heard them on a Sunday in Münich, and they were loud! Maybe we can get more people to go to church in the US if we had bells like this.

After Susan woke up, we spent the rest of that day exploring the great city of Münich. We walked everywhere, probably walked 10 miles that day. Spent some time touring the Palace and also went to a couple of art museums. Admission on Sundays is only 1 Euro.

 

 

Susan took way more pictures than me. I’ll tell you a secret. We make a great team! This is just one example in our own life, but she takes a lot of pictures and misses the real thing happening sometimes. I take less pictures and capture the moment in my brain. But when we are reminiscing about past memories, she is able to whip out hundreds of beautiful pictures that jog my memory. We are a team. King Solomon said “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” God + Susan and James is our cord of three strands!

There were many street musicians throughout Münich, despite the temperature hovering slightly over freezing. I even saw a street pianist. He was smart enough to be under cover. It reminded me of my favorite pianist, who is kind to all she encounters.

The following day, we went south and toured Neuschwanstein Castle. It was beautiful! The views were tremendous. I think I prefer the indoor plumbing we have today, and also central heat and hot showers, but I would stay at the castle for a week if they let me.


(the main castle)


(we took a carriage ride DOWN; we would have taken it up but there was a long line)


(this item enrobed in red that I found was the most beautiful of anything at the site)


(a view of the castle from the “summer cottage” below)

After returning to our hotel late that night, we took the train the next day to Heidelberg! Can you believe I turned down orders to come here in 1996? God rarely speaks to people in a loud voice.

“JAMES”

“Who’s there?”

“JAMES”

“Who is that?”

“JAMES…THIS IS GOD SPEAKING. DON’T GO TO HEIDELBERG.”

No, it’s more like we know something only 80%, and God expects us to use our reasoning, and then the last 20% is on faith. I call it the 80/20 rule. And that’s how we felt about turning down Heidelberg. It sometimes seemed we had made the wrong decision, but when you look at it with 22 years hindsight, it was definitely the right decision.

We were so excited to see the room we got for just $125. It was an entire apartment with a bedroom, living room and kitchen. We wished we were staying for a few more days. Here are some pictures of the apartment and the view from the apartment.

A short, one hour walk and we made it to Heidelberg Castle

The hike up stole our breath, and then so did the view from the top.

And of course, I had to get out the next morning for a run while my wife caught up on her sleep. I sometimes wish I could sleep in, but my body always says “no.” Plus, I liked to visit the Bäckerein in Germany; I was determined not to gain weight. Here’s the castle shrouded in fog the next morning.

I also jogged by Heidelberg University, which is a hodgepodge of buildings situated on the hill overlooking the water. Did not get any good pictures as it was still dark. HU is the oldest university in Germany, established in 1386.

The river seems loud in the morning!

Back on the train, next stop Cologne.

This was our view when we stepped outside the train station!

Our first night we went out exploring…

Went to the Lindt Chocolate Factory

And saw even more street musicians…

Perhaps I could make a living as a musician if I lived in Germany, or maybe that would just be in December! I wouldn’t mind spending every December in Germany.

The next morning we toured the inside of the cathedral. It was cold. It was beautiful. Some 700+ years later it’s still not complete. The original architect left plenty of plans to keep adding to it. Talk about a vision for the future. Here are some pictures from inside.

Afterwards we went to the famous lover’s bridge, where couples pledge their undying love to each other by clasping a lock onto the bridge. They say the German government had to take some of the locks off due to the weight. Some looked like they had been there a long time. We considered adding our own lock, but the locks sold locally were about 50 euros so we decided our true heart-felt commitment was more important than any symbol that might represent it 🙂

We also visited my uncle Giorgio who is living there, my cousin Pepe and his beautiful wife Carla, who is from South America. We communicated with a combination of English, broken English, Italian, broken Italian, Spanish, broken Spanish and very limited German. It was so much fun. I wish I could see them all more often. For some reason I lost those photos.

We got to spend several days with Jill’s family, including Christmas day. Jill is a German exchange student who was with us the 2015-2016 school year. She became like our daughter. Her family was so nice to us! Jill, we love you and your family! And we miss you!

Jill and her family in front of their house in Ubach-Palenberg

 

Jill’s school

 

Another picture of Jill’s school

 

School again. I love visiting schools – especially old ones with cool architecture. Many US schools look like prisons!

The following day, Jill’s family took us to the town of Aachen, which is about 30-45 minutes from their home. The town is known for the university of the same name and also hot springs. Jill’s family hired an English speaking tour guide to take us around. It was fun and informative.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent visiting with Jill’s family, including her sweet grandmother. Her grandmother made a ton of cookies, which I was really enjoying. At the end of Christmas dinner, there were still a lot of cookies left. Since her grandmother noticed how much I liked them, she bagged up ALL of them for me to take with me! Reminds me of my Italian mama.

After the holidays, we spent one more day touring a very quaint touristy, very old town. Susan was as tall as some of the doorways. And we got to meet Jill’s boyfriend Dean. He’s a very nice young man whose grandfather is American.

The next day it was back on the train to head to Münich, where we would be flying back home. It is hard to make out, but we passed so many castles while in the train and snapped some pictures. When we arrived in Münich it was the first time we had seen the sun in ten days! We spent a little more time exploring close to our hotel. The markets had closed, so there were a lot less of the crowds.

I had a super great time, but what made it fantastic is that I got to spend it with my best friend and soul mate, Susan Divine. We get to go to Germany again this summer to hopefully see our first grandson (already have three granddaughters) born to our daughter. Not sure if we will get to tour much, but it’s really about the people more than anything else. We met so many kind people in Germany and will carry those memories with us forever. It was so nice to see some members of my family and to get to spend Christmas with Jill and her family. We loved every minute of the experience!