By Paula O’Kray
Living by yourself has some great moments, but it also means everything is up to you. You get to clean the toilets, you get to do the vacuuming, you get to do the laundry, you get to do the dishes.
Even when you don’t want to.
It gets a little tiring at times. Sometimes you just don’t want to do any of it, and you just want to have some fun regardless of all the work there is to do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do have fun on occasion. I enjoy making art, I enjoy crocheting, listening to music and dancing, being out in nature, and just goofing around with the dog.
But sometimes that’s just not enough.
Sometimes you have to really break out and try something brand new. Sometimes you have to be brave enough to be terrible at something you’ve not done before. Sometimes you just have to change your routine and explore a new hobby that may bring you some refreshingly new enjoyment in your life.
I have been toying with the idea of picking up the ukulele, and I visited a music store last fall to ask a lot of questions. Not knowing anything about them, I would just end up choosing the prettiest one, so I thought it would be good to just find out a little bit about what features make a good ukulele.
I learned quite a bit on that very first visit. I learned that ukuleles come in different sizes. I learned that every size makes a slightly different sound. I learned that ukuleles can be made from different kinds of materials.
Then the sales rep mentioned that there was a particular ukulele on the rack that was made in Slovenia, and I knew that was the one I was just going to have to get.
I do have a lot of Polish and German background, but I also have some Slovenian on my father’s side, and I thought it would be neat to get an instrument that would connect me to that part of my ancestry.
Besides, it was the most beautiful ukulele on the rack. I thought I would treat myself and purchase it without a whole lot of concern over the price. After all, this was something I really wanted to do, something I really wanted to learn, and why the heck not?
But I didn’t buy the ukulele that day.
I was in the process of purchasing and moving to my new home, so I put the idea on the back burner for a bit. Then in January, I found ukulele lessons being offered nearby, and I knew it was time.
I contacted the instructor and asked a few questions. She gave me quite a bit of information about the class and how to choose a good ukulele. Then I went back to the store and bought that beautiful instrument I had fallen in love with.
I named her Stella.
Stella came with a beautiful case that had backpack straps as well as a handle and a sweet little pocket to hold ukulele-related items. I imagined myself hiking through the woods with my ukulele on my back, finding a sweet spot in the sun to pull it out and play a few tunes near a bubbling stream.
I had played a guitar back in grade school. It was my sister’s, but I don’t remember her ever playing it. The girls at school would play guitar at Mass, and they would share their chords with the rest of us. I snuck my sister’s guitar into my room and taught myself how to play.
They weren’t all church songs. There was some John Denver thrown in there, too, and I could play pretty decent versions of “Take Me Home Country Roads” and “Annie’s Song.” As a kid, I spent a lot of time by myself in my bedroom, and playing guitar was a big part of that. I could entertain myself for hours.
Taking ukulele lessons reminded me a lot of those hours. A ukulele only has four strings, and I figured it would probably be a lot easier to play than the guitar I had. It also has such a sweet, fun sound that I knew it would be a good time, even if it turned out I wasn’t very good at it.
Seven weeks of classes went by quickly. We learned a lot in that short time, and I spent a lot of my practice time at home just goofing off with Stella.
A friend at my work also likes to play, and he strongly suggested that I not leave the ukulele in the carrying case—because it would get lonely.
That wasn’t hard to do. I actually found it hard to put Stella away. I loved to look at her, and looking at her made me want to pick her up and play. I didn’t want my beautiful Stella to get lonely, of course.
The dog wasn’t particularly thrilled about this. He seemed dismayed that here was yet another activity that was going to cut back on the amount of time I had available for belly rubs. I tried to make up for that by singing sweet songs to him, to no avail. Oh well, I tried.
I really enjoyed the progression of the classes. For me, it was fun, and I would practice chord changes on the steering wheel while I was driving for work. Plus, I would look up songs that I liked on YouTube and try to learn them and pick up different ways to strum.
Most songs that had only a few chords were easy to learn, although once in a while there would be a scary one thrown in, and I would try it anyway. Usually I would end up messing it up pretty good and just laughing it off.
Between the strumming and the singing, I was really having a good time and found myself rocking to the rhythms and feeling just ridiculously happy for quite some time.
This eventually led to the tips of the fingers on my left hand starting to tingle. I was told that was normal and just to keep playing.
Getting the ukulele turned out to be a great idea. Stella and I are having a great time together. I find when I’m frustrated with something that’s happened during the workday or when there’s a home improvement project that’s not going smoothly, Stella is there to cheer me up and pull me out of a funk.
I’ve signed up for a second set of classes and can’t wait to see what I’m going to learn next. I plan to spend a lot of time this summer hanging out in my hammock with the dog at my feet, strumming away on my sweet little Stella.
Stopping occasionally for those all-important belly rubs, of course!
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