Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for the here and now.  For sun and sky.  Quiet instead of chaos.  Chores that don't seem a burden.  Family warm and comfortable as familiar stories, favorite sweaters, and pets napping in the November sun.

I am thankful for the people in this present place.  For pilgrims that journey to reconnect and reaffirm the importance of being a  friend, sustaining a family, building a community.  For all those who rise to the challenge of being a verb in this world, not just today, not just this weekend, but in daily affirmation.

I am thankful for traditions honored, newly created and mercifully ignored.  For parades and football and turkey and stuffing.  For hamburger Thanksgivings.  For naps before and after.  For pie, cheesecake, mousse and ice cream.  For adult tables and kid tables.  For folding chairs.  For empty couches.  For paper plates.  For Grandmother's china.  

I am thankful for photographs, stories, twitters, posts and statuses that mark this time.  For those we laugh about today, cringe at tomorrow, and count among our most prized possessions years from now.  Silent witnesses to the whos and whats and wheres of the day.  Able to speak only if we tell the stories.

I am thankful for today, grateful for yesterday, and hopeful for tomorrow.  For chapters written, a story in progress, and blank pages of endless possibilities.  For gathering friends around me more precious than gold.  For knowing where to turn in a storm.  For a family that loves to live and laugh and live some more.  For unsolicited advice and unconditional love.

For love, for family, for traditions and stories.
For yesterday, today and tomorrow.
For seeing and being and sustaining and building and honoring and sharing.
For the here and now.  Whatever it is.

There is good.  
It is good.


Friday, November 16, 2012

One-Minute Warning

It started innocently enough when I read this afternoon tweet:

Do you have 60 seconds?  Then you have all the time in the world 
to create one of these DIY centerpieces

Oh boy Oh boy Oh boy.

Now, I understand that a pictorial like this (I cannot in good faith call it an "article") from my crifty, crafty, handy, dandy 60-seconds-to-spare friends at Real Simple magazine is supposed to be uplifting and encouraging.  My response to this is supposed to be either "Wow!  Of course I have 60 spare seconds to make this beautiful centerpiece" or "Well, even though my strongpoint isn't home decorative arts and I still have nightmares about my high school ceramics class, if YOU say I can do it AND it's on the Internet, then surely it must be true!"

Unsurprisingly, their enthusiasm was entirely lost on me, because instead of inspiration, I took one look at that tweet and felt a one-two punch of guilt ganged up with a double-dog-dare-NOT-to-have-60-measley-seconds-to-make-this.   So, half curious, half annoyed and filled to the brim with delicious sarcasm, I thought, for your sake, I would go take a look.


 60 Second All The Time In The World DIY Centerpiece Number 1
Their title:  "Natural"
My title:  "Leaves and Crap"

I am fairly certain I can beat the 60-second clock on this one, if you ignore the "tip" that says "Make sure the stems aren't all the same length. The arrangement should mimic the natural, free-flowing form of the leaves themselves."  Now, I have neither the time nor the inclination to measure the stems of dead foliage (and how could you with the clock running?) but if you stand outside in 50 mph winds, the leaves will magically come right at to you, natural and free-flowing, ready or not.  Real Simple tells me to use a galvanized tub or any opaque container that hides the stems.  I can only assume that a neon orange Home Depot "Homer" Bucket or Yellow Kitty Litter pail counts.

60 Second All The Time In The World DIY Centerpiece Number 2
Their title:  "Glowing"
My title:  "FIRE!"

The good news here is that I have large stashes of candles.  The bad news here is that they are in my basement, and that factoid alone is going to put some serious hurt into the 60-second rule.  The tips says, " Make sure no candles of the same height sit side by side."  I have to say, Real Simple is REAL PICKY about how big and tall things are and are not.  Even if I DO find the candles in my basement (and honestly, I think Jesus has better things to do than help me on this one), how will I ever get them arranged in a shallow platter, tray, bowl, or pan with no candles of the same height sitting side by side in under sixty seconds?  And what about lighting all these suckers?  Sixty seconds is unfair expectations here, Real Simple.  Way to make me feel like a slacker.

60 Second All The Time In The World DIY Centerpieces Numbers 3 and 4
Their titles:  "Sunlit" (above) and "Fruitful" (below)
My title:  "WHATEVER" (both) 

Already I've saved time by crafting a one-title-fits-all for these arrangements of kitchen crap.  The tip for "Sunlit" teaches me "Juxtaposing large, smooth, shiny objects (lemons) with smaller, textured ones (nuts) creates a compelling composition."  "Fruitful" implores me to use fruit with similar hues and "any white bowl with a sensuous line." Among my many, many problems here:  Although I may or may not have a lemon at home, I know I don't have twelve.  Hazelnuts are a no-go, and sadly I've used up all my leaves and crap in an earlier arrangement.  I could juxtapose large, smooth, shiny sticks of butter with smaller, textured hot and spicy peanuts, but I'm not sure how compelling it would be.  As for the bottom centerpiece, I'm totally at a loss.  Do fruits have their colors done?  Bowls with a sensuous line?  All mine are rated G.  Would a decidedly non-sensual Peter Rabbit cereal bowl filled with fruity pebbles suffice? Could I have a 60-second therapy session if I fail?

60 Second All The Time In The World DIY Centerpiece Number 5
  Their title:  "Bountiful"
My title: "No way in hell am I buying 8-dozen carnations at $7.99 a pop"

Problem solved with 51 seconds to spare.
Thanks, Real Simple!  I guess you were right!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Riches of Deficit Living

Deficit (n.) - Inadequacy or insufficiency
                   - A deficiency or impairment in mental or physical functioning.
                   - An unfavorable condition or position; a disadvantage
                   - The amount by which a sum of money falls short of the required amount

Welcome to my world.  I would say that I am queen of this kingdom and ruler over all, but ruling anything or anybody requires far too much time and effort.  So whether you're just visiting or here for the long haul, you're on your own.

I really began living life in the deficit during college.  I wasn't planning for it to last long, but a full schedule of  classes combined with multiple part-time jobs (not to mention additional gigs whenever I could get them) quickly proved that life in the deficit was the new norm.  My days were filled with early morning practice, classes and work.  My nights were a round-robin of work (different work)  rehearsals or concerts.  Weekends were a mixed bag of any and all of the above.  If it sounds insane, let me assure you, it was.  But somehow between the sleep deprivation, the exams, the research papers, the drop-the-needle cram sessions (a reference few will understand), the lessons and incessant criticisms that are part-and-parcel of a performing arts education, the midnight work shifts that seemed to last an eternity and the unseemingly unanswerable question when will this madness end?  there was a great deal of happiness.  There was music.  There was singing.  There was art.  There was learning.  There was acing that drop-the-needle final exam.  There was embracing the criticism and hammering away at the technique to finally achieve a breakthrough.  And there was an unlimited supply of free popcorn as we waited for Bruce Willis to triumph yet again in Die Hard as Beethoven's 9th Symphony blasted moviegoers out of their seats into the night.  The days and weeks and months were like burning a candle at both ends with a flamethrower.  It was life in the deficit, and still, it was good.

Time marched on, and eventually a wedding, a baby and a divorce were added to the the mix.  I traded research papers and exams for diapers and day care.  I added jobs and subtracted jobs, but never made enormous gains in either the sleep or financial department.  There was always enough to get by, but sometimes not by much.  It was a difficult and worrisome time, and somehow it seemed busier than ever.  There were problems with day care, toddler germs, and a preschooler that came with an encyclopedia's worth of challenges but no instruction book.  We dealt with the elementary school bullying, a scarily advanced sense of music, and life with a too-smart-for-her-own-good pint-sized drama queen who, early on, possessed an astonishing lack of coping skills, thus requiring us to hold daily briefings outlining "the plan" lest we risk total meltdown.  And despite it all, there was a great deal of happiness.  There was music.  There was singing.  There was art.  There was learning.  There were bedtime stories that became 4-year old impromptu operatic extravaganzas.  There were car rides with the same ten books on permanent rotation.  There were made-up songs with 97 verses...that rhymed.  There were living room recreations of Riverdance -- complete with a grand running entrance from the bedroom -- and evening performances of 'The Bottle Dance' from Fiddler on the Roof done in footy-pajamas.  There were days I didn't think I could do it, much less be everything to everybody.  It was life in the deficit, and somehow, with family and friends by my side, it was still good.

And now here we are.  We survived the trial of fire known as elementary school, middle school and high school.  We survived first dates, homecomings and proms. We managed to come out (not entirely unscathed, but still fighting) with college acceptances in hand, a graduation cap on our head, and excitement for the future.  My life in the deficit is as it ever was: too many jobs, not enough money, and never enough sleep.  I've also managed to discover some new fun worries that have joined my old favorites.  And believe me, it's still insane.  There are days I think I won't be able to do it.  But thirty years after I did the academically inspired deficit tango, I am now able to watch my daughter embrace college with more excitement and joy and dedication than I ever thought possible.  Because for her there is music.  And singing. And art.  And learning.  And embracing criticism and hammering away at technique.  There are victories, and yes, there are setbacks.  But week after week, instead of backing away from life in the deficit, it's as if she's recognized all the opportunities placed in front of her and all she can do is grin that slightly wicked grin and say, "Let's do that AGAIN!"

So when you ask us how we are, most likely we'll tell you we're tired.  We're overstretched.  We're anxiously awaiting a true day (or more!) to rest and regroup.  We know we do too much.  We know just how tired we are.  But know that underneath all that exhaustion, you can be assured that we are grateful for the joys we have had and the opportunities we've been given.  It's not just life, it's a good life.  Even when it's life in the deficit.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


It's been an extremely grueling election cycle and in its aftermath some are celebrating and others are mourning.  Unfortunately, an end to the election hasn't translated into an end to the arguments.  Today I have absolutely nothing profound to offer.  It just isn't the day.  Instead, I'll offer up a small but impassioned plea for the entire country to breathe deeply, take a bath and go to bed early.  Here are some animal pictures that might make you smile.  Maybe tomorrow we could all go out for ice cream.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Once Upon a Time

In my family there has always been one consistent barometer of happiness: singing.  When I was little I would sing everywhere at all times.  From patriotic serenades in the bathroom which I do NOT remember (without proof I'd like to chalk this up to family lore of the lying liars variety, except I don't think my mother would do such a thing) to my non-stop sibling-infuriating vocals during our frequent car trips to Detroit, singing was my thing.  Unsurprisingly, my daughter has always been the same.  If she was singing, she was happy.  If she was humming, she was happy.  If she wasn't, something was wrong.  Her singing was and still is a wonderful affirmation of her happiness.  No need to ask.

Even as adults today, both of us still cling to music like an emotional lifeboat.  When things go wrong, I might fire up Act II of Tosca -- because nobody was having a worse day than Tosca.  When things are going great, it's not unusual to hear Spongebob Squarepants howling, "It's the best day EVER!!" I allow it because I know it makes someone happy to annoy me with the vocal stylings of Mr. Pants.  And besides, who am I to argue when it's the best day EVER!?

Yesterday a couple of people asked me what story I might tell first.  I know I promised a slew of juicy tales, but today, as everyone knows, there is only one story, and it is going to play out through the day and well into the night.  If we're lucky, we'll know the ending Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.  If we're unlucky, we're not going to be partying like it's 1999.  More like, we're going to be litigating like it's 2000.

Like so many others, I am tired of this story.  I'm tired of the bickering, the misrepresentations, and the outright vile tone.  If it was a book I would have put it down a long time ago.  As it is already, I don't answer my phone or my front door, toss 90% of my mail sight-unseen, and watch very little TV.  For a story that is supposed to engage the entire country in thoughtful discussion, it has managed to turn me into an distrustful hermit.  Rip Van Winkle and a 20-year nap sounds pretty good to me right about now.

This is not to say, however, that I don't have an opinion on how this story should end.  I most definitely do.  I care greatly what happens and who gets to hold the picture book for the next four years.  I did my research and cast my ballot thoughtfully and hopefully for what I consider to be the best future for me, my family, my friends, my gender, my community, and my country.  And no, I'm not going to tell you how I voted.

As wonderfully open as our vast, messy, imperfect world of communication is, it has turned conversation into accusation and opinion into dogma.  It has turned respectful philosophical disagreements into acrimonious ravings.  The art of debate has long since been chipped away by sound bites and is now fueled by money and a dangerous desire for power at the expense and disenfranchisement of many.  Our great open electronic landscape has given great power to those who wish to hide, allowing misinformation and hatred to be hurled across the Internet by anonymous, vitriolic drones. This isn't the oral tradition I wanted passed down to the next generation.  This isn't the story I want to be a part of.  I don't even like the font.

If you knew me, or met me, I'd be happy to share my views and listen to yours.  I'm not only appreciative, but proud of those who have shared their thoughts calmly, honestly and rationally, without name-calling or rancor.  It's a wonderful trait that should be not only admired, but embraced immediately.  I like to think that if it was, we'd all feel so much better.  I know I would.

In the meantime, I'll be spending the majority of my day in my emotional lifeboat.  I'm going to surround myself with music and art and beauty.  I'm going teach and listen to my students sing of triumph and sorrow, of beauty, truth and joy.  I'm going to help them weave fantastic musical tales.  And then I'll drive home and sing my own songs of hope, love and angels. 

That's a story I can believe in.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Being There

It had occurred to me several times over the years that 2012 was going to be a caps lock, leaned-over bold BIG BIG YEAR with two major events, namely, a senior year in High School and a 50th birthday.  I knew it would be a year of stories fueled by drama and filled with heartache, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.  And that was just the birthday part. Sure enough, 2012 did not disappoint.  It was everything I expected and so much more.  This past year gave me enough writing material for an army of bloggers.  And life in 2012 wasn't just run-of-the-mill stories.  2012 was more like a Homeric epic, with Act I (High School) combining with Act II (College) to form some new layer of Dante's hell.  Needless to say, it was a crazy, busy time.

But there was no drama here.  Not on this page.  Here, to quote Elmer Fudd, it has been "vewwy vewwy quiet".  There has been no retelling of the epic sagas, no heartwarming tales, no humorous takes on the life of an 18 year old and no woeful half-century laments .  There hasn't even been a single bad joke, witty haiku, surreptitiously stolen Internet bauble or humorous picture.  Poor Abraham Lincoln has been sitting here since December 15, 2011 wondering if it was something he said.

What happened, and what I failed to factor into the whole notion of sharing the epic stories of 2012, was that I was very busy living those stories.  At the end of the day it wasn't possible to separate myself from life and examine what had been, what was now, or what might be next.  I didn't know the morals to the stories because the stories were ongoing, continuously unfolding one on top of the next.  It simply wasn't the time for meaningful commentary.  I didn't know what yet to say because I was too busy being a part of the story.

I was too busy being.

Today, as more and more people share more and more everything across more and more platforms, it seems odd and almost a little out of place to be quiet.  I'm okay with that.  I've missed the writing, and my poor page has seem pretty neglected and sad over the past year.  But I would have been sadder if I had neglected the most epic part of 2012.  Being There.  Being present. Living it.

And now, I have some stories to tell.
Thanks for waiting.