In Tune with a Good Life

Heart KC

By Peggy Bair

Laura Chalk, She’s Jazz Fine

Telling an introvert artist to stay at home during a pandemic is like the story of Briar Rabbit “Oh PLEASE – Don’t throw me in the briar bush!”

So when Leavenworth resident Laura Chalk had to pull back on working two jobs, she quickly drew from her experience. Her deep roots in the Heartland over the years with careers in advertising, real estate and public relations by day and jazz singer by night only meant she had to slow down in some ways – but step up the creative ways.

Working from home wasn’t a problem for Chalk. “I worked predominantly from home for the 10 years I was in advertising sales, and so have successfully done it before. I keep regular office hours and focus on my work during the day,” she said. “I’m an introvert so don’t mind being alone, and never get bored because I keep myself busy. But, I do miss the people I was used to seeing every day.”

Laura’s journey to Leavenworth had, for many years as she raised her children, been rooted in Overland Park – but also involved a passion for visiting the little town of Weston, MO.

After her youngest child entered college a couple of years ago, she decided that she would go house-hunting there.

But when Leavenworth, KS came up in the home search also, an adorable little historic home with a white picket fence popped up in the search. She was hooked on the charm of the place with its view of the lazy Missouri river below the bluff.

Laura Chalk and her morky, Mitzvah recently in Leavenworth, KS ©2020 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

She bought it. “I love the home so much. It is a peaceful retreat,” Chalk said.

A stay-at-home mom for 15 years, Chalk said that when her youngest was six, she got a job as an advertising account executive for 10 years, then as a public relations manager for another Kansas City-based company and also has her Missouri and Kansas Real Estate licenses. Currently, she said, she’s an account executive at Canon Solutions America, Inc. She also was working as a part-time sales consultant at CarMax of Kansas City – but was recently furloughed due to COVID-19.

Formerly she drove to Canon’s Overland Park office five days a week and worked evenings and weekends at CarMax.

“It was a very full schedule,” said Chalk. “Thankfully, I am now able to work my full-time job from home. Our Kansas City Canon team has a daily virtual meeting via Microsoft Teams, and our regional office is putting on regular virtual training.” Meetings with clients and prospects are via phone calls and Microsoft Teams meetings.

“Being forced to slow down has actually been wonderful. I have my evenings and weekends back – at least for awhile,” said Chalk. “I no longer need my dog sitter since I’m working from home. Before COVID-19, I was on the go so much that I didn’t keep much food in the house. Now my kitchen is fully stocked and I’m cooking again.”

Laura Chalk enjoyed a quiet evening with Mitzvah, her morky at her home in Leavenworth, KS. ©2020 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

Like most people, Chalk had plans for 2020 that were derailed in March – so things have had to change.

“I had planned on working the two jobs for the rest of 2020,” Chalk said. “The second job was to pay my daughter’s college tuition. Since I’ve been furloughed from my second job, there is no guarantee that they will need me in the future. It all depends on how our economy recovers over the next months and years.”

“I have decided to invest my extra time into things I’m interested in and see what happens. I am re-imagining how to make extra income. I have begun learning Python, a coding language, and am getting back to creating art. I just ordered some new oil paints and other art supplies and am waiting for them to arrive,” she said.

Chalk sang with the school choir and theater when she was young and with her church when she was older, but, made a step out into jazz when she was 30 by joining in some jam sessions in Lenexa after choir rehearsals on Wednesday nights. “It was the first time I did anything I loved just for me,” she recalled.

She fell in love with Brazilian jazz and Bossa Nova sound, Joao Gilberto as well as a love for singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae.

“I just fell in love with that music. So, gentle. It’s soothing, beautiful melody and poetry – exquisite,” she said. “Poets write the lyrics. It’s poetry.”

Português poetry: which was not a language Laura knew but would have to learn to sing the songs she loved so much. It would take strenuous practice.

“It was very tedious but I wanted to get it right,” So she listened to the songs. “I would just sit and listen over and over and over again until I could visualize what I was supposed to do. It was challenging and gratifying,” Laura said.

Apparently, she said, her hard work paid off since one night when she was singing down on the Plaza, a group of people came up ot her excitedly speaking Portuguese. “They thought I was from Brazil and I thought ‘Oh, that’s a nice compliment!'”

Laura Chalk at 424 Lounge where she has performed in her town of Leavenworth, KS. contributed photo
Laura Chalk performing at 424 Lounge in Leavenworth, KS contributed photo

Chalk said that staying in touch with family has also taken creativity since the stay-at-home orders went into effect for all the members of her family.

Matt Chalk, Laura’s oldest son, is an artist, musician, poet and chef in Paris. He plays saxophone professionally and was booked more many dates in Europe before the shut downs in France. Contributed photos.

Her son, Matt Chalk is an accomplished saxophonist and chef living in Paris, where he has been in a lockdown for weeks. Matt is also an artist and sells his paintings there. “He has been spending his time making music and poetry,” his mom said.

Mitchell is the next oldest son who works full time at a school for autistic children. “He’s very tech savvy,” Laura said. “He spends his time building programs for them and doing administrative tasks right now. “He loves the children and loves helping out that school,” she said. Mitchell is also a student at Penn Valley Community College. He has worked for two non-profit organizations now. “He just loves that.”

Laura Chalk with son Mitchell and daughter Emma Grace who are both college students. Contributed photo.

Emma Grace is Laura’s daughter, a junior at Kansas University studying to be an art teacher. She loves all forms of art but especially pottery. Emma was on spring break in Manhattan, KS, when the stay-at-home order happened – and school didn’t resume until two weeks instead of one week. “They were all trying to figure out how to do this online,” Laura said. Her daughter and roommates bunkered in together at their joint residence. Laura said they even stayed for Easter. “They all got dressed up and had brunch with mimosas.”

“The kids inspire me,” Chalk said. “I was one of those parents with a lot of creativity, reading and free time to be outside and enjoy – a lot of time to be creative and think and enjoy,” which she credits for the creativity of her children.

“I miss my family but I want everybody to be healthy and safe,” Laura said. “We’ve done phone calls and video chats with 5 o’clock here and midnight there – we make it work. That makes us all feel not so distant and not so alone. We cherish one another – we’ve always been close – we’ve always gotten along. I don’t feel that has lessened whatsoever through all this. We are taking it in stride. We’re all upbeat.”

Now, Chalk said, being accustomed to a fast-paced life, she still finds herself looking to fill up her time. But she thinks that this slowdown may be a good time to take stock. She gets up at 5:30 in the morning to write for a couple of hours before starting work. Her six-year-old Morky, Mitzvah, is always at her side.

For exercise, Chalk said she noticed she had become more sedentary in the past few weeks.

“I recently got so tired of sitting all day that I fashioned a makeshift standing desk by stacking two tables,” she said. “One of the best things about working at CarMax is that it’s easy to get thousands of steps in a day. Now, I have to think about getting out and going for a walk. Now that the weather is getting nicer, I’m out in the yard more.”

Making a standing work station helped Chalk keep more physically active rather than staying seated long periods of time while working from home. contributed photo.

Staying mentally healthy is something Chalk finds easier with some handy solutions:

“It’s important to stay informed, but I try not to get sucked into watching or reading too much news as it can get overwhelming and depressing,” she said. “I like listening to soft music, being in nature, turning my attention to a hobby or a good book, keeping in regular prayer, daily giving thanks for blessings, appreciating the beauty of creation, and keeping in contact with loved ones.

I’ve been taking time to enjoy the sunrise and sunset. It’s important to stay mindful and cultivate peace. It also doesn’t hurt to do something a little silly. Several weeks ago, I temporarily dyed my hair pink,” she said.

Laura’s musings for the future may entering into her writings as she considers options for the world in the future.

I wonder how this pandemic will change our culture and way of life moving forward, Laura wrote.”I think it serves as a wake-up call for us all.

It’s easy to get lulled into a way of life that we think will always be there for us. Now, we have an opportunity to re-imagine our world and lives, consider what has been working, what needs fixing, and what is important.

I hope that more people will realize how delicate life can truly be and how we are interdependent. Each of our thoughts and actions have a ripple effect.

Are we living in ways that can hurt or compromise others, ourselves or our environment? How can we adjust and live more consciously, equitably and gently? ~ Laura Chalk

Laura Chalk is a jazz artist who is taking the time to explore her love for drawing and painting again. Her trusty friend Mitzvah, is a constant companion at her home in Leavenworth, KS. “I love Leavenworth and feel grateful to be here,” Chalk said. ©2020 Peggy Bair/Heart KC