Sister Lillian’s Five Year Plan

At the convent where I work, there’s a gift shop in the front entrance.

I pass by it every morning on my way up to my office. Usually they have one of the Sister’s watercolors on display in the entry.

One day it was this one…


Sister Lillian's fish

I rather liked it, so now it’s on my living room wall.

We don’t use our living room much. Outside of some plants and extra dining room chairs, it’s fairly empty.

Not liking to walk into a bare room – and not wanting to spend money on needless furniture – I decided to fill the walls with art. Whenever I see something I like, it’s added to the wall.

Last week I bought yet another watercolor from the gift shop…

Sister Lillian's dance

Both of these paintings were created by Sister Lillian Kroll.

Sister Lillian

She uses a walker and her vision isn’t that good anymore, but with a large magnifier and extra bright light, she still does her watercolor. The above “Dance of Joy” was her most recent.

Sister Lillian has a simple goal for her life: Every five years, she learns something new.

For instance, she was 80 when she learned how to watercolor. At 75 she took flute lessons, at 85 she learned German. I can’t remember what her other 5-year plans were. I know at some point she picked up the saxophone, another time she learned Physics.

Trust me, if you want to have an interesting conversation during lunch, sit next to Sister Lillian.

The more I considered this plan of hers, the more I liked it. Not merely for its health benefits — we’ve all seen articles on the need to keep our brain active — or even for the more practical reason of acquiring new skills.

The fact is, whenever I start learning something and I hit that frustrating point when it gets hard, I’m way too tempted to give up. A little voice inside me starts saying, “Why are you even doing this? You’ll never get it!”

But if I start out knowing it’s for five years, maybe I’ll be a little easier on myself. Maybe I’ll actually stick with it and see it through.

Worth a shot, don’t you think?

It just so happens that my last birthday quite conveniently ended on a ‘5.’ It also just so happens that right around the time of my last birthday, I started taking clarinet lessons.

It’s a long story.

In a nutshell: Sometime in my early 40s I had a chance to take music lessons for free. The man I met with felt I was well suited for a clarinet and so for about four or five months, he gave me lessons.

It was fun and I enjoyed it, though at times it could be terribly frustrating (and squeaky). Then the lessons ended and I started working full-time and… well… life got busy.

Only I didn’t return the clarinet. We kept making the rental payments until at last I owned it. And there it sat on a closet shelf collecting dust.

I came *thisclose* to getting rid of it when we moved here because it seemed so silly to keep it. And yet…

Fast forward to now.

The convent has a music school. They offer lessons on strings and all band instruments, and now after work every Monday, I meet with Kevin. My clarinet teacher.

Will I keep it up for five years?

I can’t say for sure. What I will say is that by just allowing myself five years, the pressure is off. I can enjoy the process and cut myself some slack when I hit those frustrating times. I can just have fun with it.

So thank you for the motivation, Sister Lillian. I hope you have many five-year plans ahead of you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice…


36 thoughts on “Sister Lillian’s Five Year Plan

  1. Great post! Good luck with the clarinet. I’m sure you’ll totally rock it after five years.

    Sister Lillian sounds like an awesome lady. I would love to get to talk to her. Thanks to introducing her to your readers. Tell her she is an inspiration to us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Sister Lillian is a real inspiration. There’s no reason we can’t follow her lead.
      And thanks for the encouragement on my lesson. Not sure how much I’ll rock it, but maybe a little jazz would be nice! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love jazz! Maybe you’ll post some recordings of your playing when you feel comfortable doing so.

        As for Sister Lillian, perhaps you should convince her to start a blog. I’m sure she has some fascinating stories and a lot of insight into human nature.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. A few of these Sisters do blog – they’re the younger ones and still active “in the field.” Two of them work at the border.
          You’re right, Sister Lillian would have a lot to share but she’s far too humble to admit it.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. This Sunday I’m playing third clarinet in a little trio, and though it’s a terribly easy part, I’m a little nervous. Also, since my husband plays trumpet, we’ve found a few duets that we play together just for fun.
      All this is to say, I’m in complete agreement! It’s one thing to play by yourself, it’s a whole other ball game to play with others. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this! I played the clarinet from about 6th grade through high school. Didn’t pick it up again once I graduated. Just like the French I learned in high school, I could not easily pick it up again. I am very much about continuing education. I love this notion of learning something new every 5 years. I’ve just got so many things I want to learn, if I did this, I’d probably shoot for once every year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Initially I thought the same thing – there’s way too much I want to learn! Then once I got going, I saw the beauty of this method. The point isn’t simple to learn but to come to a degree of proficiency, possibly even mastery. I’ve been taking lessons for about… five months now? And only recently felt comfortable enough to play third clarinet in a little trio. And it’s not like I’m ruling out learning other things for the next four plus years, it’s just this is where my focus is.
      I remember you saying something about the clarinet in one of your posts! When are these similarities going to end?!


  3. I taught myself to play French Horn when I was 25. I had played trumpet in jr high, trying to transition to French Horn in high school. Being unaware that they were keyed differently (Bb trumpet, F Horn), I could never find my notes so dropped out of band in response to a cranky music teacher that constantly shamed me for what appeared to be ineptitude. So when I decided to take on the instrument as an adult, through a horn playing friend, I discovered that it wasn’t my fault. It’s been 38 years and I am still learning and experiencing the joy of new music every season in orchestras, wind groups and horn choirs. I applaud you for resurrecting your clarinet.

    By the way, music is a very central part of our family now that may not have been had I not learned as an adult. Practice time at our house involved me in one room with my horn, my son in another with his trumpet, and my daughter in her room with her violin. My son is a talented jazz trumpet player and my daughter is a professional musician, composing and performing solo and with a her group (Sunny and the Whiskey Machine). She just self produced her second album. We’re going to a release party in western Colorado over the Thanksgiving weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I longed to play an instrument – ANY instrument – when I was a kid. Begged my parents even, but they said no — claiming they had to pester my older sisters to practice so much and they weren’t going through that again. And I always felt kind of sorry for myself over that. Lately I’ve been thinking it’s better this way. I’m pursuing something on my terms, accountable to no one but myself, and I’m doing it for the sheer joy of it.

      My husband and I made sure our kids had lessons too. I think music will always be a part of their lives, in one way or another. Definitely more enjoyable that way, right?

      Hey, I looked up your daughter’s group — such a unique sound, and I mean that in the best sense! Have a great time at the release party!


  4. Brilliant and inspiring, Christi. I am so impressed that you are pursuing the clarinet. Sister Lillian is a very cool lady. My birthday next April ends in a zero. Between now and then, I want to come up with my own 5-year skill challenge. Our community college has a good adult education program with lots of options. Maybe I can learn a new language, take up a new sport, or find some other interesting or creative endeavor?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s exciting to think of all the possibilities, isn’t it? Especially if you have a good community college system, and you travel enough that a new language could be quite useful.
      By the way, I recently read something that said just the attempt to learn a new language is good for the brain, regardless of whether you actually learn it or not. So let that inspire you as you reach your birthday-ending-in-a-zero. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kind of reminds me of my working days. Technology changes so fast I used to figure I had to reinvent myself every five years. Keeping that philosophy in retirement or in avocations sounds like a good way to buff up the old brain cells. So keep practicing that clarinet, and before you know it you’ll really be able to toot your own horn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’ve been tooting regularly Dave. And squawking and squeaking and sometimes barking, kind of like a Chihuahua that was stepped on.
      Speaking of technology, you reminded me of my husband’s grandfather. When he was in his 60s he took a correspondence course in television repair. He had no intention of ever repairing TVs, he only did it because he wanted to learn how they worked. He lived until he was nearly 100 and his mind was as sharp as ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. She sounds wonderful. I wish I could start and finish that many projects and maybe I can if I tried. but trying can seem so times. I enjoy the slowness that writing can be along with the quickness also. I know this doesn’t make sense. jc


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