Jeanne Backofen Craig

I'm a wife, mother, pianist, and runner living in Central Virginia.
You can learn more about me at wecraig.org/jeanne.
My videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Homers!

I write a lot of blogs about the struggle to push onward and try my best in all things.  It's hard to do when failure is one of the possible outcomes.  Who relishes the idea of putting in hard work, only to have a disappointing result?  Of course, we know the victory is in the preparation, in building our skills and/or changing our lives, but still, the specter of possible failure looms over us.

I performed in the semi-final round of the Boston International Piano Competition.  If anybody watched, I want to thank you for your support.  I got many lovely comments on Facebook and in messages, and I can tell my performance made you happy.  That's the most important thing for me - to make you happy, and I especially need to remember that right now.

The reason is... the reality is... I did not play well at all.  Please don't think I'm putting down your perception of my performance, because unless you're a trained pianist yourself, you might not know when anyone playing virtuoso repertoire has a bad day.  The music itself is very impressive.

However, I was in a judged situation.  I knew as soon as I had finished that I wasn't going to advance.

My daughter was in the audience, and of course SHE knew how I typically play and she knew I was upset even before we reunited in the hall (where I confess I cried a little bit.)  I felt I had let down my audience, my family, and my teachers.

All evening, I pondered the nervousness I feel in the hours leading up to a performance and onstage.  Those hours are not fun.  They can be downright torturous.  Fortunately, most of the time, I manage to deliver a good - or at least a decent - performance that I can be proud of, and just like with childbirth, as soon as it's over, I instantly forget all the bad feelings.

But that good result did not happen yesterday, and the bad feelings, coupled with the feeling of failure, linger.  I awoke in the wee hours of the morning and this quote by Homer Simpson came to my mind:


Well, that's pretty tempting, actually.  Would the world miss me if I never played in public again?  Probably not.

However, I realize two things:

1.  I have to remember that by practicing and learning new music to share with people, I'm adding something of beauty and value to my tiny part of the world.

2.  I have to try to focus on how my performance made the audience feel instead of how it made ME feel.

I have to look to another, wiser Homer for inspiration.


Adversity and failure are realities of life.  May we all continue to persevere to achieve our goals and share our talents with the world around us.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Why Am I Doing This to Myself?

This morning I ran the fourth race in my running club's local summer race series.  It's a very hilly 5K.  Brutal.  Here's the elevation chart, taken from my RunKeeper.  Notice it starts AND finishes uphill.  Does that count as "uphill both ways?"  Ha ha.

My main goal with this series has been to run my very best each time.  I want to feel like I pushed myself.

It was already 70 degrees at the start of the race and it was very humid.  That, coupled with the hills, made it - well - not the most pleasant of conditions.

I'll spare you the details of the race, but by mile 2, I was not feeling all that great.  I kept thinking, "Why am I doing this to myself?"  I thought about slowing down or even walking, since it's not like I was doing it to get an award or praise.

Then I realized why I was doing it.  I was doing it to prove to myself that I have the strength to keep pushing, even when I want to quit.  I knew that if I did quit, I'd get sympathy and understanding - after all, it's not like I *have* to attain my goal.  However, I thought about how much better it would feel if I could just continue pushing for that last 1.1 mile and be able to report that I did it; that I gave it my all.

The final hill of the race, I was so tired.  With the finish line in sight, a younger woman trotted by me at a sprightly pace.  I said, "Good job!" and she responded, "Thanks!  You, too!"  I couldn't help chuckling inwardly at the thought of what my good job probably looked like at that point.  I was anything but sprightly.  Just before the finish line, I mustered up what little energy I had left and crossed with a little bit of pep in my step.  Goal achieved.

I ended up being the 7th female finisher, the 2nd female master (over age 40), and I won my age group (45-49).  My official time was 24:33, or a 7:55 pace.  I can't remember the last time I ran under an 8:00 mile in a race, so I am physically continuing to improve with each race in the series.

I'm also continuing to improve, mentally.  Conditions were very tough today, and it was tempting to bag it and coast in, comfortably.

However, life isn't always comfortable.  Sometimes we have no choice but to get through something the best we can.  By training our minds as well as our bodies, we can fall back on that mental strength to persevere through whatever comes our way.

Here I am with my friend who won her age group, too!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Inconvenience, Reflection, Realization

A few nights ago, my husband went to take his bedtime shower.  He had just gotten wet when the water cut off.  (Fortunately, he hadn't soaped up yet.)

Troubleshooting in the basement revealed that there was power going to the well pump.  Unfortunately, this meant the problem was with the well pump itself, 400 feet in the ground.  It's not something we can fix, and since it was 9:00 at night, there was no one to call until the morning.

We've lived in the rural countryside for our 25 years of marriage.  For the first 10 years or so, losing power (and thus, water) was something that happened on a fairly regular basis.  Often we'd be among the last to get power back.  You know when you hear on the news, "Appalachian Power says 200 customers are still without power"?  Well, that would always be us.  Since we camped fairly regularly, we'd break out the camping stove and the grill, fill some coolers with ice, buy water, and make do.  Twice, we went without power for 7 days.

So, losing only water, while an inconvenience, does not seem so bad.  My daughter and I went to Kroger and bought a gallon of water for each bathroom and 2 gallons for the kitchen.  We bought a case of bottled water as well.



That night and for most of the next day, we carefully rationed out those gallons of water every time we washed our hands or brushed our teeth.  We'd pour out just enough of the water to get our hands or toothbrush wet, scrub, and then rinse with only what we needed.  My son put a little water in the sink basin for shaving.  In case you're wondering about flushing, we have a hot tub.  We got a big bucket and scooped water out every time a toilet - um - *needed* flushing.  We took our showers at the gym a mile up the road.

Fortunately for us, the plumber came out in the mid-afternoon.  He installed a new well pump, and by 4 PM, we had running water again.  All in all, we were only without running water about 19 hours, and for 7-8 of those hours, we were asleep.  So I'd say it amounted to about 12 hours of inconvenience.

Inconvenience can be an opportunity for reflection.  As I carefully used those gallons of water, I realized how much I take clean, running water for granted, and how much I use on a daily basis.  You don't realize how little water you really need until you don't have it.

We can all give examples of times we've had to do without one thing or another.  This fall, I'll be undergoing some changes in my professional life that will leave me with a lot less TIME.  Because of this, I am now keenly aware of just how much free time I currently have.  This is time that I use to run errands for my family, cook, clean, practice piano, and exercise.

I suppose a person doesn't really *need* all the free time I currently enjoy.  It's nice to have, but I won't have this luxury anymore.  I'll have to make do with my new schedule and prioritize.  I got to thinking:  How much time do I really need to do certain things?  I will most likely have 2 hours of free time a day for piano and exercise, and that really should be enough.

We really don't need *that* much time to do something good for ourselves every day.  I think sometimes the biggest challenge is keeping our minds on the goals we have for our mind, body, and spirit.

Just like being without water for a day reminded me to re-evaluate how I use that resource, let us all take a step back from time to time and evaluate how we use our precious time.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sharing Our Talents

Saturday, my husband and I assisted at a funeral Mass and burial.  I was the pianist & vocalist, and he, as an ordained deacon, gave the sermon and later performed the graveside service.

My husband doesn't assist at every funeral, but he did this one because years ago, he worked with the deceased.  He was a young engineer just out of college, and this man (21 years our senior) was well-established in the field.  He was a hard-working engineer:  responsible, dependable, and a mentor to the younger ones.  Therefore, my husband chose to preach on the parable of the talents - where the first servant took his five talents and doubled them, earning his master's praise.

I'm sure when he met this man 26 years ago, he could never have imagined he'd be preaching at his funeral, offering words of comfort to this family, and ultimately placing the man's cremains in his final resting place.

As I watched my husband do all this, I realized that in these 26 years together, he has taken his own talents and shared them many times over.  By doing so, he has enriched not only the lives of everyone he touches, but his own life as well.  It's not always easy or convenient to nurture and share your talent.  We might not even realize we have them to share, but we do.

It occurred to me on Sunday night that sharing our talents can have a direct impact on our health and fitness.  First of all - physically - when I spend time developing my talent, I'm not bored and fighting the mindless snacking urge.  Second - mentally - when I share my talent and serve others, it feels good.  Third - spiritually - these are the gifts that God gave me.  Someday I want to hear him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Now it is 6:30 AM.  Before I go to work, I'm going to post my blog, and get out there and run.  I hope my thoughts this morning inspire someone else to also make the most of their day and their talents.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Inspiration from Rashad Jennings

If you are an NFL or Dancing with the Stars fan, you probably know who Rashad Jennings is.  He is an NFL running back, most recently playing for the NY Giants.  Then a couple of weeks ago, he won the mirrorball trophy on Dancing with the Stars.  He was absolutely terrific.

Some of you may know that Rashad is from Forest, Virginia.  This is where I live, and I was Rashad's elementary school music teacher from grades 2 through 4.


I wish I could take credit for his dancing ability ("I taught him to sway in time to Row, Row, Row Your Boat!!") but I really can't.  However, I can say that he was a fine boy who always worked hard in music class to play those Orff instruments the best he could.  He was quite good.

I would never have guessed that the little boy sitting on the floor of my music classroom would become a celebrity.  I bet he could not have guessed, either.  If you read his story, you will see his secret to success is his faith, his work ethic, and his kind and generous heart.

At the end of the last NFL season, he was unfortunately let go by the Giants.  He could have despaired and moped around, but he didn't.  He decided to take a risk and try something brand new.  Ballroom dancing.  And on television in front of millions of people.  The result was that America fell in love with Rashad Jennings.  Now he can serve as an inspiration to even more people than he did before.

It's good to get out of our comfort zone and try something new or even a little scary.  Lets look to Rashad's example and believe in ourselves.  We can bring joy and serve people we would never have met before.  

Let's explore our own potential and reach for the stars!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Whoever Thought to Do THAT?

My daughter and her best friend brought home some Oreos from the store today, but they weren't regular old Oreos.  They were "Fireworks" Oreos.  Someone got the idea to mix generic "Pop Rocks" candies into the creamy white filling.  They were interesting and tasted good, although I think I still prefer good old Double-Stuf.

This got me to thinking about how many times I've thought, "Whoever thought of doing THAT?"

Here are a few others that immediately come to mind:

Lobster.  I always say it must have been a very hungry person who took a look at that creature and thought, "I wonder what THAT tastes like!"

Snow Downhill Mountain Biking.  Every time I see this extreme sport, I wonder how it evolved.  Was a mountain biker no longer challenged by plain, steep trails or slopes?

Ribbon Acrobatics.  I love watching these incredible athletes/artists as much as anyone.  Still, who got the idea "let's tie a ribbon really high up there and tie the other end to me and I'll see what I can do!"

Chili/Dark Chocolate bars (yummy, BTW)
Hot sauce or ketchup on scrambled eggs  (I now always eat my eggs with hot sauce!)
Freestyle skiing (This I will never do)
American Ninja Warrior  (Nor this)

We also see all kinds of examples of "whatever made someone think to do that" that didn't turn out so well.  The pictures and videos go viral and people get a big laugh out of them (although it's never funny if someone got seriously hurt.)

It would never have occurred to me to put Pop Rocks into Oreo stuffing.  My lack of vision may be the reason I am not an entrepreneur or a multi-millionaire.  (However, it could also be one reason I am still alive.)

Have you ever wondered what made someone think to do a particular thing?  Please share, if you like!

May we all make good food and exercise choices today, whether conventional, unusual, or extreme.  (No Firework Oreos or Ribbon Acrobatics are in my plan today.)


Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Champions Don't Have Time to Procrastinate"

It's 3 PM and I'm sitting in line at the DMV waiting to register the car we just bought last night.  I work in town so I actually came around lunchtime first, on my lunch hour.  The line just to get a number was 8 people out the door!  I've been in crowded DMVs before, but that was a first.

Then I remembered it's the last day of the month.  I bet a lot of people have waited until the last minute to renew their tags and their licenses.  So I headed back to work.  After work, I came back to see what it was like.  At least now the line to get my number at the information window was only about 6 people long, and all inside the building.

So here I sit, waiting for my number to be called, pondering the phenomenon of procrastination.

I guess it's a form of denial.  "If I pretend this doesn't need to happen, maybe it will go away."

I'd say that most of the time, whatever it is doesn't just magically go away.

(My number was called here, and I finished the rest of my blog today - the morning after.)

I'm pretty good at not procrastinating when it comes to my responsibilities, but I'm not always the greatest about non-critical things - like weeding the garden.  If I'm tired, it's easy to dismiss it and say, "I'll get to it later."

However, when I do get to those things later, often they're even harder to deal with than if I had just done it in the first place.  The weeds didn't stop growing while I rested and pretended they weren't there.

It's the same with our health.  When we're tired, it's easy to just grab fast food or skip a workout, figuring we'll get back on track later.   But of course, the decision to procrastinate only makes things harder for us in the long run.

On that note, I suppose I better put on my running clothes and get out the door, even though it would be much more cozy to curl up here on the sofa with my laptop and a cup of coffee.  Whatever your plan for the day, just do it!  Spark on, everyone.