6 Craft Supplies for the Music Room

Happy New Year!

Many things will change in this new year, but one thing for certain that will not is my love of craft stores, craft supplies, and crafting!

While I do find it difficult to find time to craft as a hobby, I have found ways to incorporate crafting into my teaching.

1. Popsicle sticks. Before you begin, clarify that you did not eat a bunch of popsicles to acquire them.
• I made myself a Busted game, which helps students practice rhythms and earn points. If you have a marker, a tall container like an oatmeal container, and a bunch of popsicle sticks (colored or not), you can make this game. It’s a great music station.
• Put them in a jar with numbers or symbols on the bottom, then have students draw as a way to assign groups. Include a special symbol for a lucky student who gets to chose their own group.
• Make a differentiated rhythm or melody activity by taking advantage of their double-sidedness.
• I made Solfege Texting Sticks! Print out the template, cut out, glue to sticks, and color in the solfege. A great accompaniment for the Curwen hand signs.

2. Pom-poms. There lovable balls of fluff are great in Music class.
• Another way to assign groups: put them in a container, and students who draw the same color are in a group together. Just make sure they’re all the same size.
• Drawing melodic shape. Play or sing a simple melody and have them draw the shape of the melody with one pom-pom for each note, placing them higher or lower depending on what they hear.
• Color-code your solfege and have students practice singing the colors or mapping what they hear you sing or play.
• Diagramming form. You need a bunch for this, as I figured out the hard way with students reaching for the right color pom-pom and ending up with the puffballs whizzing around the air. Not only do you need a bunch, you need many of the same color. I had my third graders diagram the form of “Trepak” using different colors to represent different parts. Of course, there need to be enough of each color so that students can complete the lineup.
• Writing the rhythm they hear. Use single pom-poms for ta, double (meaning two touching) for ti-ti, and color code rests- or make up a system for yourself.

3. Yarn. Still working on how else to use this one.
• Another way to draw shape, but more versatile than pom-poms. Students can lay their yarn out on the floor in swirls, lines, zig-zags, and so on to represent the shape and character of a melody.
• I would not advise using yarn for Recorder Karate or Olympics, as yarn frays, gets caught on clothing, you need to keep retying it, and you end up with a ton of it for each colored belt. Instead, I’d say go with…

4. Loom bands!
• They come in bulk and a load of colors. Plus, just secure it on the foot joint of the recorder, and it’s done. No tying and (almost) no fiddling.

5. Dowels and electrical tape. Taping sticks is surprisingly therapeutic.
• 12″ dowels (buy longer ones and cut them into smaller sizes) make for great bucket drum sticks, rhythm sticks, and another object to pass besides shakers. I love shakers, but my older students enjoy sticks too because you can click them together. More noise! Wrap them securely with electrical tape, and rewrap any that break. I’ve rewrapped a few broken sticks and they’ve held up once bandaged.

6. Cups. Just plain old Dollar Store cups.
• Cup routines are great for learning form, and kids get creative with them. Pass them, tap on them, stack them, tilt them, fly them through the air. One of my favorite routines is this one to the Nutcracker March. I do a slightly modified version, but grades 3-8 love this. Take videos and show them later to talk about the importance of teamwork and coordination in music.

7. Buckets. Are these craft items? Let’s say yes.
• Buying 5-gallon buckets for my classroom was one of the best purchases my school made for me. Bucket drumming in a hit (ha…) with grades 6-8. David Birrow has a great youtube channel and book with numerous resources for lesson planning.


Craft supplies are great manipulatives for music students. One of my goals this school year is “Talk less, do more,” and I feel that using these things creatively in my classroom has been great in getting students engaged, moving, and thinking.

What craft items have you found helpful in your music room?

Crafting a Course Description for Middle School Ensembles

With school starting up again in two weeks, I’m back at revising my course descriptions for middle school Band and Chorus.

Course descriptions for grades 5-8? Do they really need one, or care?

A few things point me to yes, yes, and yes. One, I’ve read so much literature on the importance of outlining your policies and procedures in writing, especially for parents and teachers; I trust those experienced teachers’ advice. Two, I experienced a few setbacks last year that could have been more thoroughly and swiftly resolved by referencing a CD. And three, I think students do need them and can be encouraged to care more about music with a well-written but succinct CD.

An ensemble director knows that good CD is a problem resolver and an answer key. It should offer a set of outcomes for all reasonable situations. It should be informative for new students and their families. And it should be an irrefutable reference for when there are conflicts, which there undoubtedly will be.

On top of that, the document should be succinct and easy to read. Since CDs should be general (i.e. not instrument-specific), I make it part of a series of handouts including a grading policy, a detailed materials list (for each instrument), a participation contract, and vocabulary lists. Beginning Band students receive more literature about renting, etc.

A good course description needs a statement of purpose for the course, a materials list, a solid grading policy, a list of expectations, an attendance policy, a concert/event policy, and a description of homework, if there is any. Have you answered the same questions over and over from colleagues and families? Put those in you CD too. It should be clear and informative… but succinct and easy to read.

That’s an art. I’ve had trouble paring down carefully worded statements, which say exactly what I want them to but are not so easily accessible to both students and their families. I want accessibility. I want to incentivize students to read them, and parents to understand them without needing much if any clarification. That is to everyone’s advantage. When I don’t need to answer questions resulting from my own lack of clarity, and when students/families read the documents, we are all on the same page and ensembles can run more smoothly.

But the final point I made above are probably the most elusive. How does a course description encourage students to care more about music?

This is where I’ve added two special categories: what I look for from students, and things it’s okay to do in ensemble.

I want students to be successful and comfortable in my classroom. I want them to feel valued and supported. I want them to try their best and make progress, not always achieve perfection.

Sometimes I get the feeling that students don’t know that their teachers want this for them. There’s so much pressure regarding testing and data-driven instruction. Students become more stressed as they get older and think their high school grades set their immutable course for the future. It doesn’t help much for adults to tell them this isn’t true, at least it hasn’t for me. Stress to do well is a valid feeling, and in the moment it can consume you. Saying it won’t matter in a year or in five years is not helpful in the moment.

So for me, it’s important to communicate my desires for students- verbally (which can be done any time), but also in writing (it can be referenced, re-read, and shown to families).


Special category 1: “What does Mrs. Mauro look for in Band/Chorus?”

This is different from expectations, which I call “What to expect in Band” and puts more onus on the students. This category talks about what I value and what the essence of the ensemble truly is. My description says, “I look for progress, dedication to meeting a goal, and a positive attitude about learning, and a willingness to take healthy musical risks. Show what you have worked on and the progress you have made. Come to lessons with new questions. Learn from your mistakes. At our concerts everyone should play their best even if it’s not perfect.”

I say “progress you have made” instead of “minutes you have practice.” I ask them to come with new questions, because no matter how many times teachers say there’s no such thing as a dumb question, there will be some students who are still afraid to ask a question (so encourage them to do that too!). I admit that mistakes will be made. In general, I am very upfront about how Band can be a struggle at first. This isn’t to deter anyone; it’s to help them see they’re all in the same boat and that anything worth doing is probably not going to be easy.


Special category #2: “It’s okay if…”

This relates back to my spiel about stress. I want students to know, explicitly, that it’s okay if X, Y, and Z happen. It’s okay to sometimes forget your instrument. It’s okay to feel afraid singing in front of peers. It’s okay to not meet the weekly performance goal all the time. I will still support your musicality, and you are still important. This is emphasized by verbal reiteration of these phrases.


I used to think that remarks like “You’re important” and “You can do it” were sugary. Did they really make a difference? Now, I think yes they do. Explicitly saying these can help a child internalize the message. It can help shape the language others use in your classroom. You set a great example by speaking positively in a human-centered way, praising process over results. Rather than inflate a child’s ego, this is hopefully going to help them look into the future with the attitude that their contribution matters.





Sarah’s picks: Marriage songs!

Today marks the THREE DAY countdown until my wedding! So I thought I’d do a post about some of my favorite songs about marriage and weddings. Throughout our engagement, I’ve been reminded of just how many there are.

But this isn’t just a list or a bunch of analytical reviews or a recommended playlist. I’ll give you the links, a description, plus a hypothetical (or in some cases quite realistic) scenario in which I’d be singing the song relevant to my own experiences planning my wedding.


SONG: Overture from The Marriage of Figaro – This is technically not a song, but as a classical musician I felt the need to put this one on the list. Mozart is one of my favorite composers, and this overture perfectly captures the comedic elements of his opera buffa from 1786. Let’s not also forget that this music accompanied the brilliantly executed scene from Frasier where Niles (David Hyde Pierce) valiantly attempted, but failed, to prepare a perfect Valentine’s Day date.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: Similar to Niles, I’d probably be running around my apartment trying to multitask and complete 67 projects at once: crafting, spreadsheet editing, itinerary making, packing, organizing, making calls, reviewing the budget… and of course, at that last task I’d promptly faint and remain collapsed on the floor until my fiance found me.


SONG: I’m Getting Married in the Morning – From one of my favorite musicals, My Fair Lady, Alfred P. Doolittle is having one last hurrah before entering into the institution of marriage and becoming, to his regret, a respectable gentleman.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: In all honesty, I will probably sing this the night before the wedding and dance around like Stanley Holloway, except I do not expect to repeatedly fall over into collections of giggling British wenches. Instead, I will probably be repeating the final line of the chorus (“For God’s sake, get me to the church on time!) to my parents/wedding party with as much fervor as Holloway has twinkle in eyes.


SONG: Wedding Bell Blues – As much as I love the 5th Dimension, this song does not have the same meaning to me as it did 10+ years ago when I was, in fact, dating a guy named Bill. The Glee version is more my style now.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: I’d probably be rewriting it with my fiance’s name and attempting to rhyme it more eloquently than Glee did my rhyming Will with… will. And then singing it full force at our reception with my wedding party as my backup singers a la Coach Sue and Coach Beiste.


SONG: Getting Married Today – Company by Stephen Sondheim is a terrific show that exemplifies why I think he’s the greatest Broadway lyricist. Of course, the character singing is having a panic attack and explaining, at 100 mph, why everyone should just go home because she’s not getting married today.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: I’ve had this soliloquy memorized for years, except for the very end when she rattles off the numbers of dinner plates and candle holders and butter knives, which I can never remember. So it’s a great song to sing to practice my diction, which will come in handy as I recite my vows. Also, I can go around singing the title line whenever I want, because it will be true until the 17th! I love it when movie lines and song lyrics align with my life like that.


SONG: Single Ladies – This one’s just fun, even if it’s not 100% applicable here.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: Obviously this would make a fantastic addition to the “getting ready” playlist. I’ll need something energizing and catchy that morning since we’ll be getting ready at 5am!


SONG: Chapel of Love – Literally, we will be going to a chapel and expressing our love. Perfect fit.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: Besides what I said above, this one is perfect for me to sing with my sister, as we can and do harmonize spontaneously wherever we are.

SONG: Helpless – From Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. Duh.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: She says “I do,” I’m saying “I do.” Phillipa Soo has that perfect excitement in her voice that I hope to have as I recite our vows and respond to our declaration of intent. But knowing myself, my voice will probably be shaking and squeaky, so I’ll just have to sing this later to my HUSBAND!


SONG: Love and Marriage – A dopey little ditty sung by a suave crooner. This will most definitely not be played by our reception.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: Maybe a lip sync and a funny dance that emphasizes the ridiculous oompahs?


SONG: Kiss Me – Another Sondheim song, this time from Sweeney Todd. The perfect romantic musical.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: “Tis Friday, virtually Sunday.” Yup. That’s going to be me on Friday when I’m realizing that I need to be ready NOW. This is another anxiety-filled song about marriage (Sondheim never married…hmm…is there a message there?), but it’s the cherry-picked lines about “married on Sunday” and “by his side” on Sunday that I will be humming that morning.


SONG: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria/Wedding Processional – A partner piece with the nun’s song about Maria’s feistiness combined with her wedding processional.

THE SARAH CONNECTION: It’s really more about the movie scene here. I shall also be walking down a long aisle, and I will hope to channel Julie Andrews’ grace and confidence.


SONG: Wedding Dance from Fiddler on the Roof – Another that is not technically a song, but Anatevka sure knows how to dance and celebrate!

THE SARAH CONNECTION: True story: I was one of the bottle dancers in a local production of Fiddler in 2013. But I will not be reprising the role at my own wedding. I have insisted on some ethnic Polish music instead, as I’ve got a few family members who will want to polka. A tribute to my mother’s heritage, I will be sure to drag my husband to the floor for some heel-toe action.



How can we adapt the Practice Log for the 21st century?

I remember my little practice booklet from elementary school. It was a small, stapled, square booklet. I remember logging my daily minutes spent practicing my clarinet. And getting my parent’s signature. And showing my log to my Band director, Mrs. Ned. Practicing helped me get better at playing, and it still does.

Now I am the Band Director. And for two years, I’ve been assigning Practice Logs. They are the same format as mine from the 90s: boxes for daily minutes (aim for 60-80 a week), space for a parent’s signature, due at the lesson. Then I convert the number to a grade and put it in gradebook.

There was never any question of whether I’d assign Practice Logs. That’s what I knew, and that’s what Band directors did. Logs were tangible assignments necessary for improvement in performance, especially in beginning players. They could be graded easily based on how many minutes students completed, and they helped build good habits. I even incentivized my students to do their Logs by giving them raffle tickets every time they turned one in on time, then held prize drawings every semester.

But this year there was a sharp dip in submission rates across all grades. While I was generally satisfied with progress in performance, it seemed odd that they’d do all the work without documenting it for credit. It negatively affected their grades, and it didn’t earn them tickets.

Now I have a dilemma. I want my students to succeed, and I want to motivate them to practice. But I also want to establish high standards. It’s hard to put these aspect together without fearing losing students due to the amount of work that needs to be done to produce quality music that is both fun and educational.

I did a lot of thinking during the last few months of school. I spoke to colleagues, my principal, and even my advanced Band students. Finally, I came to a solution that I plan to implement in the fall…

Get. Rid. Of. The. Practice Logs!

Instead of Practice Logs, next year my students will be sent home with specific tasks to practice (whether an articulation style, a rhythm sheet, or a short piece). These tasks will be tested (either during lessons or in a public performance) periodically and often. I will not ask them to document minutes spent practicing, but I may ask them to track their progress.

I decided that 60 minutes a week was arbitrary. What one student accomplishes in 60 minutes may take another student 30, or 90. Setting an objective goal with a strict deadline and a formal assessment will keep students focused on producing music instead of watching the clock.

I also decided that waiting over 5 months between capstone assessments was inappropriate (Winter Concert in December, Spring Concert in June). While seasonal concerts are traditional, what other teacher would space out formal assessments like this? My students were losing sight of their goal by the time the Spring Concert came around. The music wasn’t exciting to them anymore, so it plateaued at “good” when I knew they were capable of “excellent.” More frequent public performances- like classroom visits, before assemblies, over the loudspeaker at the morning announcements, in the lobby for holidays- would reinforce their ultimate goal, expand their repertoire, and make the Band program more visible.

Finally, I feel that this new method will help students with time management, goal setting, and perseverance. Giving students a chance to reflect on their work and their growth will be an investment in their learning habits for the long term. Setting goals and tracking progress in terms of audible changes and not number of minutes is so much more relevant than submitting Logs. Don’t get me wrong- practice needs to happen. It just needs to be better aligned with the ultimate goal of Band and with the values we wish to inspire in our students.


Teaching to a concert, or concerts as a way of teaching?

I have the wonderful charge as a Music teacher of putting on two concerts a year. After reading various literature regarding performance and educational purpose, I made a connection to a certain issue plaguing many other teachers today.

How much is concert preparation similar to teaching to a test?

Let’s back up first…

I read a quote last year in a comments section of a post on a music teachers Facebook page that stuck with me. The commenter said that performances should take place only if there was educational justification; students are not school spirit groups and their job is not to entertain an audience.

I’m sure that schools don’t think of music teachers as producers and students as entertainers. But in my experiences over the past 18 years as a student and then a teacher, I find that there is a certain expectation that the music presented will be recognizable or at least pleasant on a surface-level. This comes mainly from students, who want to sing songs they know from the radio and balk at the thought of learning something new because “they don’t know it.” Additionally, when I was a music student in concerts of my own, I knew that parents and family commented about how long the concert was, or how strange the music was. My own family members were some of them!

Length and relevance are things to consider as a music teacher programming a concert. But so is educational purpose, which I feel might only be readily apparent to the teacher and the students who have been working for months on the repertoire. They’ve had the time to dissect it, to mold it, to learn from it. But the only thing their parents see is the final result. By the nature of concert preparation and arts in general, it’s difficult to see progress with only that one performance. You see the final painting, not the time that went into it. You see the musical, not the scene-by-scene rehearsals. You read the novel, not the numerous drafts and revisions. It reminds me of that iceberg poster…

Still, I understand where this desire for familiarity and pleasure comes from. Sitting through a seemingly never-ending concert is tedious, especially when I don’t know the works. And I’m sure that from a parent’s perspective, they want to see their children having fun, participating, and being a positive member of a team. They’re not going to walk away commenting on improved intonation or breath control. But the solution is not for teachers to eliminate great composers and arrangers for the sake of others’ immediate enjoyment or appreciation or even to program a certain grade simply because they teach that grade.

In other words, music teachers shouldn’t construct concerts primarily around nonmusical justifications or expectations. Performances must be educationally justified. Every group performing must be able to demonstrate an age-appropriate yet skilled performance in a facet they’re working on in class, as long as it can translate to a concert setting. 

This means that if grade 3 has been working on rhythm for an entire unit, that’s something that should be programmed. It’s relevant, it’s skillful, and it’s fun for the performers and the audience. But if grade 5 is not doing a performance unit, they should not learn a song or a drum routine for the sake of being in the concert.

Still, I think with some creativity, there’s a lot that could translate to a concert setting, even if it’s not performance based, such as a short movie students created or a description of the instrument families or brief explanations of vocabulary

Music teachers shouldn’t be teaching to a concert, similar to how other subject area teachers shouldn’t be teaching to a test. When instructional time is spent preparing students for a finite performance rather than a learning experience with applications and opportunities for growth beyond the performance, it limits the time they can spend being creative, asking higher-level questions, realizing their full potential.

Concerts are ways of teaching- teaching about goal-setting and follow through, teaching about musical styles, about teamwork, about self-expression… I could go on and on. The things students learn from preparation and performance are vast and diverse.

Should most students get the opportunity to perform at a concert? Yes. Performing is one of the four artistic processes outlined in the National Standards. But the other four- Creating, Responding, and Connecting- may not be so readily translatable to a concert setting. Good curriculum mapping, teacher collaboration, and creativity can help foster a learning environment where a concert is a natural extension of what students are already learning.

The suggestions and details about ideal concerts in this post may already be a reality for a lot of music teachers, and that’s great! This post, like most of my others, is meant to encourage conversations about the value of arts in education and society.

I’m reminded of a platform of mine, which I still stand by. Music, though an aural art, is not always about performance. Performance is not at the top of the musical pyramid- it stands on equal footing with the other process that help performance come to fruition, and every one of those is just as valid as the others.


Favorites: Music education articles

I’m part of several professional teaching groups on Facebook, and they’ve been so helpful in exposing me to a variety of methods, activities, and resources that I have integrated into my classroom. When it’s hard to get out and observe colleagues, doing some research within these groups is another great option for finding new ideas and techniques (although observation gives you particular exposure that words and explanations cannot).

Also posted on these groups are numerous articles about our field. Thanks to the “save” feature Facebook introduced, I’ve collected and read so many articles even in the past few months. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites here for your reference!

Stop “Defending” Music Education, by Peter Greene.

Why I love it: He articulates how music is inherently valuable, not simply because it can help with test scores, an oft-used defense of music education.

Great quote: “Music does not need to make excuses for itself.” Agree!

What Percentage of Students are “Meant” to be Playing a Musical Instrument in School?, by Tony Mazzocchi 

Why I love it: He argues that schools create a dearth of desire by their lack of proper support structures for music, such as appropriate scheduling and beginning the Band program earlier than 5th grade.

Great quote: “Our communities must declare that creativity is as the heart of education.  Local school systems can have an open dialogue about how all students are born creative… Learning to be creative is not an extra-curricular or a “special” activity; education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.”

“Are We Really Teaching Students to be Creative When We Teach the Arts in Schools?”, by Tony Mazzocchi.

Why I love it: He reminded me that the arts, but performance in particular, are more than just reading what’s on the page.

Great quote: “Our education system is obsessed with preparing students for something that happens later in their lives; often overlooking our children’s needs and opportunities today… A broad curriculum rich in the arts increases the chance of our children experiencing an enriched life today in order for them to think creatively about life tomorrow.”

“The Difference Between Praise and Feedback,” by Anya Kamenetz

Why I love it: For a long time I’ve thought that the words we use around young people can have profound effects, perhaps greater that we realize. (Think about how often our default conversation starter with girls is a comment on their outfit, their hair… how they look. What do you think that instills in a young, impressionable mind? [Side note: fantastic article about that here.]) Teachers need to use appropriate praise and feedback to encourage a growth mindset, which encourages children to value effort and strategy over what they perceive as innate talent (fixed mindset).

Great quote: “… [R]einforcing effort contributes to children’s beliefs that they can get better at things if they try, the vaunted ‘growth mindset.’ But praising traits feeds the belief that talent is fixed, which makes kids less willing to take on new challenges that might expose them as less naturally able.”

“7 Easy Things Parents Can Do Right Now to Extend their Child’s Musical Life,” by Tony Mazzocchi

Why I love it: It’s a great article to share with parents or post on a teacher website- it’s not finger-wagging, it’s encouraging. Parents can’t help their kids with music if they don’t know how to help. This strengthens the relationships between school/teacher, student, and family.

Great quote: “A successful musical life is developed one day at a time with small successes.” (Replace ‘musical’ with whatever you want- it still works!)


What are some of your favorite articles? Feel free to comment with some of your own!

*Originally miscredited

That’s one major item off my bucket list!

This was the summer I finally did something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time.

I went to Europe for two weeks… by myself!

I’d been to Europe twice previously: once when I was 12, and once when I was 22. After that latter trip to Italy, I was really bitten by the travel bug. I would read all the travel columns in the paper, research off-the-beaten-path destinations, and have dreams of being abroad. So I told myself that once I got a job, I’d do a trip. I’m not sure if I’d always envisioned it as a solo journey, but as my planning got more intense and things began falling into place, it became an exclusively Sarah trip.

Besides my family, I have travel guru Rick Steves to thank most. I bought his books (for months, I could not get my nose out of Europe Through the Back Door 2014), I watched his videos, I read his columns… this is the guy to follow if you are planning anything Europe-related. In fact, I had almost as much fun planning my trip as I did actually traveling!

My trip included London, Paris, and Salzburg. Of these places, I’d only ever been to London, and that was 15 years ago; but I remember having such a ball in that city, I had to go back. (Plus they speak English and many of the museums and attractions are free, so it was a great place to start.) I speak embarrassingly little French and German for a music major, but I got along fine everywhere I went.

That isn’t to say it was a dream-come-true all the time. Being alone in big and new cities for two weeks was sometimes scary, lonely, and boring. There are so many pros to traveling solo, like following your own schedule and saving money, but so many things I saw I wished I could have shared with someone else.

Still, part of the reason I went was to embrace being alone and see what I would learn from it. Here’s what didn’t happen:

  1. I didn’t become much if any more assertive. There were several opportunities when I could have spoken up about it being my turn next in line, or about paying my dinner bill, or asking people to take my picture. Sometimes I did these things, sometimes I didn’t. Now I can get fed up with people just like anyone else. Once in Salzburg, I was getting so frustrated at my waitress for seemingly having forgotten about me that I almost just left some money and took off. But I wanted the other staff members to know that I was angry, so I walked into the restaurant (I had been eating outside) and asked a random waiter for my bill. My own waitress was sitting down eating lunch, and, with her mouth full and completely nonchalantly, she told him where I was sitting so he could collect it for me. (Turns out you do have to flag waiters down in Europe… but you aren’t expected to tip!) So, yes, when things start getting absurd, I speak up about them. But I’m still much more likely to exercise patience. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
  2. I didn’t really meet other travelers. Here and there I met a few people- I can think of five off the top of my head, and two of them didn’t even share their names. By and large, I seemed to be the only person around who was traveling alone. Now I know that was almost certainly not true. If I had been hosteling, I probably would have met dozens of people. But I wasn’t. I was airbnb-ing. I knew my hosts and that’s basically it. This probably also has something to do with me being a more reserved person. I wasn’t about to head to bars or restaurants late at night in any city. I wasn’t there for the social scene. But everything I read about how easy it was to find other people traveling didn’t seem to be true in my case.
  3. I didn’t feel fundamentally different after I came home. I did feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway for a few days, and I know that sounds ridiculous since our situations were nothing alike, but my trip seemed so, so long that coming back was such a shock- a good shock, but a shock. I remember ordering lunch at McDonald’s at South Station in Boston and being so relieved at not having to ask, “English?” My apartment seemed so normal, and I loved that. But I didn’t feel like a changed person. Maybe I should. Lots of people who knew I was going were so thrilled and impressed at my endeavor. I think that’s because my personality doesn’t scream Adventurer/Solo-Traveler/Backpacker. But I am the kind of person who knows deep down when something just has to be for me. And Europe had to be. And it was. I teared up upon seeing some of the sights I had been craving for years. I kept telling myself, “You’re here!” And I really did enjoy myself. But I don’t feel that different.

That’s what didn’t happen. Here’s what did happen:

  1. I traveled twice across the Atlantic alone. I don’t like flying. I wouldn’t say I hate it, but I’d rather not fly if I don’t have to.
  2. I spoke five different languages at some point: English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German. I also gave a few people the silent treatment, which is the universal language for “Leave me alone!”.
  3. I traveled with one backpack and a small drawstring Mount Holyoke day bag. My mother, who was in North Carolina while I was in Europe, was stressing about fitting all her stuff in one bag for a five day trip. I told her she could absolutely do it.
  4. I lost a bit of weight. That’s what happens when you walk miles and miles a day and eat grab-and-go food.
  5. I learned to care less about what I looked like. I guess that’s kind of a big deal, actually. In the mornings, it came down to, “Would you rather spend more time on your hair and makeup, or go see the Tower of London? Which are you going to care about more in the long run?”. I didn’t roam the cities looking like a slob, but I didn’t let other people’s expectations of me dictate how I spent my time.
  6. I tried escargot! Contrary to Mary-Kate Olsen in It Takes Two, it did not taste like a balloon. It was rather good.
  7. I went to concerts! I attended a string concert in London, an organ concert in Paris, and a piano concert in Salzburg. They were beautiful.
  8. I sang Feed the Birds on the steps of St. Paul’s and didn’t care if other people heard me.
  9. I stood in the room where Mozart was born and tried to inhale in genius.
  10. I also jumped around and sang like Fraulein Maria in Salzburg while a kind person took my picture. Who cares?!
  11. I hoisted myself onto a lion in Trafalgar Square and barely made it up, but I had to recreate a picture of my grandfather during the war and there was no way I was not getting up there.
  12. I navigated via bus, bike, and train with minimal confusion.
  13. I finished Harry Potter 7 and Memoirs of a Geisha, read A Great and Terrible Beauty, and began David and Goliath and Yes, Please. Good sensory memories!
  14. I also took a bunch of short videos of me with famous attractions in the manner of Forrest Gump.

I said I would do it, and I did it. I’m proud of myself and I’ve got a bunch of great memories and pictures (including selfies galore- no shame!).

That’s one major item off my bucket list!

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