Hit the ground pausing.

August 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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In the years that I used to be a touring folksinger, I bonded intimately with the expression “hit the ground running.”  I would usually be working on several projects at once right up until we packed up the car to go, and then we would drive cross country for two days, or three, or even four, to our designated geographic region of the month.  Upon arrival, I often had only hours before entering the first concert venue to open the performing portion of the trip.  We always tried to fill as many days as we could with gigs, as down time is generally not too attractive during a tour.  After the last gig, we would turn around and start the trek home, and once home, I invariably had commitments almost right away.  It became a lifestyle.  I am married to a “do” kind of person, we are both self-employed, and there is always something begging for my time, and for his.

For the past year and a half much of my energy has revolved around all the steps toward Chloe going to college.  Each campus visit required an inventory of detailed planning:  flight, accommodations, and rental car reservations; schedule particulars, both on our end and those of the school; signing up for a campus tour, for which we encountered different hoops to jump through for each school; setting up a violin lesson with a professor; and often many more.  The application process provided a new and exhilarating ride to say the least.  Preparing for auditions involved providing support for Chloe’s musical efforts as well as all the travel logisitics.  And auditions themselves were nerve-racking for everyone in the generally vicinity.  (I wish you could measure the quality and quantity of energy circulating through a conservatory on audition day.)  Waiting for acceptance packets (or, in contrast, the dreaded rejection letters) to arrive in the mail was its own frontier to navigate.  Then the month-long big decision, which led us back to more campus visits (see earlier in this paragraph…)  And after that, the transition period between everything-being-about-getting-ready-for-college and Being There and Saying Good-bye.

Dan and I drove home as fast as we could.  Six hours the first day (we left campus at 4:30 in the afternoon, after the last parent session, entitled “Letting Go”), fourteen hours the second day, and four the third.  In one sense I followed my old protocol.  I had Sunday afternoon and evening to catch up on email, put my teaching schedule together and contact all my students, and respond to last minute fall-semester questions, not to mention catching up with Rachel after the days apart.  And on Monday I made announcements to three middle school classes, taught my first two violin classes and took Rachel to her lesson and orchestra rehearsal.  Busy, busy, busy.

On another level, I feel as if I am walking through a different kind of atmosphere from the one I left last week.  It feels thicker and heavier to walk through.  Breathing can be challenging for a moment here and there.  Time is ticking by in a new silence I had never noticed before.  I am passing through a threshold I had not expected to be encountering.  Raw is the best word to describe this new place.  I know it is also filled with promise.  The path that led to Chloe’s entrance into our family fold was one that multiplied the expansion of my universe exponentially, internally as well as externally.  So it should be no surprise to me that her first step of departure from this nest would send me gear-shifting into the next catapult.  I will not lie and tell you that I am eager.  But I am willing, and I am as ready as you can ever be, if only by virtue of the fact that I am able to put it into words for you this afternoon.  Thank you all for receiving it, and thereby standing witness for me.

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Minivans, rental cars and a two-by-four promise

August 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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Eight years ago this fall, we decided to buy a minivan. Dan and I were slightly horrified when we began to consider taking this drastic step, coming from decades of Subarus with only a couple of exceptions. Of course, Chloe being ten and Rachel six at the time, they were delirious with excitement at the prospect of a new car, even if it turned out to be a new old car. We knew we were facing at least ten, probably closer to twelve, more years of carpools and field trips, and we hoped at the time to have some family road trips ahead of us also. So we swallowed our pride, compromised our pre-parenthood-era values, started the tedious and mind numbing process of car shopping, and ended up with a Mazda MPV, getting a deal on a 2002 model at the end of that year. It’s beige, by the way. (Aren’t they all?) After we figured out how to find it in a parking lot, we became accustomed (or at least resigned) to our new identities as minivan owners.

The carpools and field trips turned out to be accurate predictions. The family road trips? Once a year we drive 70 miles to the south for a dance competition. Kidding aside, we have taken only two substantial trips in the minivan. Flying almost always ended up the preferred choice for two self-employed parents who missed out on too much income by taking the time to drive.

I do not know why, but when it came time to figure out how to get Chloe to college, we all pretty much assumed we would drive there. She will be taking a lot of living stuff, like bedding, towels, suitcases of clothes, jackets, boots, books, lamp, electric fan, wastebasket, etc. Plus she has her violin and her guitar. We figured we could ship most of it and fly, but there was something kind of – I don’t know – quintessential? – about taking to the highway to get to college. I figure if all three of us pictured it that way, it was probably meant to be. Rachel doesn’t really care either way, since she will be staying in town with a school friend.

Dan and I had planned to take the car in for an oil change and general road-trip check, thinking one week ahead would be about right. However, last weekend, as we were driving to my mother’s house for a farewell dinner, the “check engine” light came on. The car was driving fine, so we made it to our dinner and back home, and Dan took it to our mechanic, Gary, the next morning. It turned out to be the PCV valve. (That’s Positive Crankcase Ventilation, in case you care.) Commonplace, we were told, no big deal. And while they had the car there, they changed the oil and checked everything else, to their satisfaction. We had it home later in the day. Whew! We all expressed our relief that that had happened while we were still at home. Except I have to admit that it planted a teeny tiny little seed of discomfort in my mind, like a nagging itch. That night before I went to bed I sat down briefly at the computer and visited the Travelocity site, oh soooo casually. Rental cars, mostly. Also Amtrak, just to check. Dan took a little extra time to come to bed that night. When he came in he just mentioned that he found one really good deal on a Hertz full-size car. We agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to reserve it.

Two days later Rachel and I were on our way to the dentist when the “check engine” light came back on. (I hate that seemingly benign little symbol in the dashboard – in an anemic shade of orange, no less.) We phoned Dan, who made another appointment with Gary. This time it turned out to be an oxygen sensor. Rather than replace the part, Gary suggested we just clean out the fuel injectors. His car guys poured a special potion into the tank, instructed Dan to get a half-tank of gas, and then to fill it with gas when it got down to a quarter-tank. The “check engine” light was off when the car came back home. Gary said we will eventually have to have a new sensor put in, but that in the meantime there is nothing to worry about.

That evening, only to explore a little further, Dan and I returned to the Hertz website. We discovered that we could find an even better deal on a mid-size at another location in town. It began to sound very attractive to us to rent a car. This would save our van from the wear and tear. It would feel less risky to drive a newer car. Maybe the gas mileage would be better. Surely a mid-size or standard car would hold all of the stuff Chloe is hauling with her. And think how comfortable and quiet the trip would be! We basked in a newly found sense of security and well-being. We planned when we would pick it up and turn it back in. This could work!

To add the proverbial fuel to our fire (so to speak) that detestable little warning light came back on the next day. Trying to remain reasonable, Dan pointed out that we had only driven a little bit with the cleaner swimming in its warm bath of gasoline, and the fuel injectors were probably still a little clogged. And we talked about how once the little warning light comes on, it won’t go off unless the mechanic clears the car computer, even if the injectors are completely cleared out, and really, this is a minor problem. Creating an artificial deadline for ourselves, (probably just to be done with it) we sat down to make the official decision about the rental car. Chloe confessed that she loves our minivan and really, really wants to make the drive to college in it. We pointed out to each other that any car could break down on a road trip. Renting a newer car is no guarantee. The minivan is as comfortable to ride in as any car can be for a long trip, and it has both a cassette player and a CD player. And the clincher: Gary said the car is totally fine, we can take it on the highway with his blessing, AND if we do have any trouble on the road, I have his permission “to hit him upside the head with a two-by-four when we get home.” It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s pretty close to one. (Not that I like hitting people. Or that I could lift the two-by-four high enough to use it in such an untraditional manner. It’s just the intent of it that is supposed to reassure me, and I hear the heartfelt caring behind the words. After all, Gary has kids of his own. And he has an art gallery in the front of his car repair shop, for goodness sake.) And if Chloe wants to hold on to anything from home as long as she can, and all other things are declared equal, so be it. It was decided. The Mazda is going to college. And then Dan and I will drive it back home together. Together alone, but that’s another post.

The “check engine” light came on, stayed on for a day, and then went off all by itself.

Yesterday Dan went to the tire place to have the tires checked and rotated. It turned out the tread was just a little too thin. So several hours and 497 dollars later, our minivan now has a new set of “shoes”. Dinner was pretty late, as it was apparently very busy at the tire place. Maybe lots of other people are leaving for college next week, too. Though I would bet their PCV valves and oxygen sensors are just fine. Just saying.

On transition

August 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 4 Comments
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Chloe and Rachel are out for the evening, tie-dying and dining with friends, so it is quiet here. I have a violin lesson tomorrow morning and I want to get some more practice time in tonight, but thought I would write just a little bit first.

The weather was cooler this morning, giving us a hint of fall, bittersweet. I love the crisp air, the deepening colors of autumn, the new shade of blue in the sky, but with this prelude a little part of me begins to pull in, bracing for what’s to come. My acupuncturist speaks of this transition time as the fifth season, deserving of its own mark on the calendar. What would we call it? Threshold? Bridge?

Perhaps in truth every day is a transition. We awake with expectations of what it may bring, and are almost always surprised by something before we yield to the night. It is so easy to ride our time on the ship of complacency, believing that the details we enter on our digital daybooks are the important ones. When Chloe and Rachel were little, I was reminded of what really matters a hundred times each day, startled out of the mundane by those young and unconditioned voices. Now our teenagers look up at the family calendar to see what’s coming as often as they open their eyes to see what’s here.

As long as I can remember every August into September has carried the promise of something new. Even after I had graduated from college, I started something in the fall. I took classes in weaving, yoga, Pilates, Jewish history. I took on new students of my own, settling into a rhythm so different from that of the warm summer months. For years I prepared for and embarked on a fall tour, traversing both familiar and unfamiliar territory each time. A couple of times, Dan and I went backpacking in September, feeling even more keenly the chill of earlier sunsets.

Once our children began attending school, August held a new meaning for them. And through the years our family has navigated the path from relaxed breakfasts to rushed, from shorts to sweatshirts, from evenings of leisure to assignments and requirements, with mixed reviews. The older they grew, the more complicated the mire of gains and losses that came with this passage, with Dan’s and my feelings adding to the tangle.

This year we are all more careful and less sure. Every meal together is a little more poignant, every silence loaded. The floor of Chloe’s room is filling with boxes and packages. The contents of her closet grow a little leaner, as she selects what goes with her, what gets handed over to Rachel or me, what gets given away. We are all too, too busy, though maybe the distractions are at least a partial salvation. One week from tonight Rachel will be rehearsing with one orchestra or another (depending on this weekend’s audition results) and Chloe and I will be finishing the last of the packing.

I go up and down every day now, excited with the ripeness of possibility and promise one minute, devastated in the next by the visceral awareness of Chloe’s pending departure. As much as I detest the quiet in our home this evening, it is allowing me to breathe through this new brand of labor pains. I can hardly believe I will make it through the next contraction, but I do. And I make it through the next, and the next as well. It’s transition. ‘Tis the season.

Pans in the fire

August 14, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 3 Comments
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You should see my desk. Of course, that is just an expression, and I would be embarrassed if you even stole a glance at it, so please do not take that as an invitation. What I really mean is you are about to be submitted to a description – or maybe more like a sampling – of what lies literally before me. Between my sternum and the computer monitor: indicators of my pans in the fire.

  • The tailpiece from a bass viola da gamba. Almost three years ago I was putting new strings on my viola da gamba (a hand-me-down) for a concert, when I heard the most horrendous sound of something ripping. As I tightened the high D-string, the gut was pulling right through the wood of the tailpiece, along the grain. The harder I tried to bring the string up to pitch, the farther it tore, until I saw that it was going to continue to cut all the way through unless I reduced the tension, thereby de-tuning the string and rendering the viol unplayable. It made me sick to my stomach to look at it. Dan rigged a temporary fix by inserting a tiny bushing, but then when I tightened the string, the metal bushing shredded the string itself. We somehow finessed it just enough for me to get through the concert.

    I emailed the luthier, who emailed right back, instructing me to take the strings off and send him the tailpiece. He promised to either repair it (I hope not) or replace it (yes, please). Okay, now I had a new challenge. Even contemplating the task of taking it all apart made me as queasy as did the wound itself. So I cleverly put it back in its case and, with the exception of two or three feeble attempts to play the viol in spite of its ailment, I avoided the whole problem. This, I discovered, is a one hundred percent successful strategy, but only in terms of my nausea. So finally, finally, this afternoon I faced my demons (this one anyway) and took it to a local violin maker who removed the tailpiece and handed it to me, flaws and all. Which is how it came to be sitting on my desk. I promise I will be more prudent in emailing the luthier about my progress on this front, in hopes of speeding up the recovery of my poor viol. I’ll update you.

  • Various chord charts, lyrics and program notes. The actual inventory of this small pile: a bar mitzvah service program from September, 2007; one chord chart for an unidentified song; a small essay on prayer; lyrics to two songs, one identified and one not; the chords and lyrics and my concertina part for the final lines of the Beatles’ “And in the end, the love you take…” (as soon as I went to type that, the title of the song flew out of my head); a loose songsheet for a British folksong called “Dockside Cries” by someone whose initials are A.M.B.; lyrics to Lotus Dickey’s song arrangement of Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”; words to a beautiful song about Israel’s Lake Kineret that I taught at school six years ago; and the chord chart to “Stairway to Heaven” to which a friend adapted a Hebrew song.

    What are all of these pieces doing together? I have no idea. And the bigger surprise – even to me – is that one of my violin students brought them to me last week saying that somehow the pile had gone home with her after her lesson the week before. Not only am I utterly blank as to the roadmap for the journey of this little collection, I have no idea where they were before last week nor where I should return them now. However, I have faith that I will soon need at least one of these items, since they have materialized so magically and mysteriously. I will report back if I’m right. If I’m wrong, you can forget about this one.

  • A hand-sketched (two-sided page) chart of dates and who is available when. Our synagogue is in the process of welcoming a new rabbi, after over a year of searching. This is a joyous time, and simultaneously an opportunity to fill my calendar and many others. Last month I had one meeting with our executive director, the new rabbi, and two of my three fellow High Holidays music leaders, discussing how to be somewhat consistent with how we led last year’s services when we had no rabbi, how to introduce the rabbi to the services we have created over the past four decades, and also how to introduce the rabbi to the congregation-at-large at said services. Two days later I helped lead the services with one of my fellow music leaders and the new rabbi. The following weekend I compiled this chart of the responses of seven families to a query I had put out a week or two prior about when our group of families could perhaps have dinner and get acquainted with the new rabbi. Soon after that I met with the Shabbat services committee and the new rabbi to discuss how things look for weekly services. A few days later I had a one-on-one with the new rabbi to go through the music for several of the High Holidays prayers, just to make sure I’m singing them correctly (at my request), and a meeting with one of the religious education committees to talk with the new rabbi. The next day I “met” on the phone with the new rabbi to decide how the two of us would lead the Shabbat service for that week, and of course that Saturday we had the service itself. And finally, late last month I attended a larger meeting with the executive director, the new rabbi, and several individuals who put the High Holidays services together.

    After all these meetings, I can say I have met the new rabbi. However, my task was to pick a date for the other seven families in this group to get acquainted with her. After sending out one group email and carefully recording the responses, I emailed our top three dates to the woman in charge of “congregants meeting the new rabbi.” That email got lost in the shuffle, so after some days had passed, I sent another email, which in turn got handed over to a fellow committee member, who in turn called me and told me she would check those dates with the new rabbi. She did and called me back. None of our three picks would work.

    At my next meeting with the rabbi, I asked her directly which dates might work for her. (I do occasionally learn from past experiences.) She gave me four choices and I emailed those to the seven families concerned and charted the responses as they came to me over the course of the next week or so. The most popular choice could only accommodate four and one-half families.

    We have decided to wait until after the High Holidays and try again.

  • The brand new handbook for high school families at our school. Last year, a fellow mom and I established a new group, open to any parents from our high school. We met at her home on a school night every five or six weeks, and sat in a circle, sipping tea and eating munchies while chatting about topics that were brought up spontaneously by anyone in the circle. The purpose was simply to create a sense of community between us, and to share our experiences and mutual support as parents of teenagers. It turned out to be a very positive thing, and we are continuing it this year.

    Last week we met with the new high school coordinator, just to describe last year’s gatherings and to come to a mutual understanding of the role this group fills. It was a fruitful and gratifying meeting for us all, and toward the end I was given this new handbook. It looks great! Our high school is fairly young and we have been growing steadily in recent years, which creates a high need for clarification of things like expectations and policy. The booklet represents much progress in this area. I have only one problem, the title of which is I DO NOT HAVE A CHILD ENROLLED IN THE HIGH SCHOOL THIS YEAR. Just how nuts am I to have offered to help facilitate this group again for 2010-2011? I guess I will find out the answer to this perceptive and perhaps belated question.

  • CD and playlist. This is my desk. This is Chloe’s CD, a good-bye gift from one of her fellow graduating seniors. Her iTunes and my iTunes are both on my computer, so to enter things into her iPod means sitting at my desk. Do I need another reminder that she is leaving? I will not answer this question at this time.

  • A little teeny drawing of a cake, by Rachel. Rachel has a cake decorating business. She does not have her own computer, so she uses mine, which is great for many obvious reasons. The other day she received an order for an organic carrot cake, decorated with cream cheese frosting and “Happy Birthday Chad” on the top. Rachel does incredible work, almost always off the cuff (so to speak). Over the past few months of baking, there have been a few little bumps in the road, many of which could have been avoided had there been a master plan, including a detailed, measured drawing. This drawing is on a piece of paper that measures 2 ½” by 4 ¼”. The cake illustration itself is 1 ¼” wide. The finished product will be a two-layer nine-inch cake. While I am pleased that she followed some advice and drew an actual picture of this one, I am now aware of the need to prepare myself for a possible cake emergency sometime in the next three days. The cake is due Tuesday.
  • To do lists. Yes, plural. Why would I keep old lists? Partly because I am so worried I will forgot something IMPORTANT that failed to get checked off before I ran out of room and had to start on a new piece of paper. And partly because I occasionally lose my list and have to start another, and then the old one turns up again. And partly because they remind me of something. Like a souvenir. Pause. Oh. I CANNOT BELIEVE I JUST WROTE THAT!! WHY would I want a souvenir of the things I have not accomplished over the past several months?

This blog is so helpful for me! I am laughing so hard at myself right now, I can hardly see straight. Okay, I really get it. Do you know that most stove tops have only four burners? Maybe there is a reason you can only cook in four pots at a time.

Naming my blog: a (slight) retrospective

August 12, 2010 at 11:47 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 4 Comments
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I admit it, I do become obsessed when I’m searching for the perfect whatever.  Decades ago, when Dan and I were planning our wedding I got so wrapped up in the quest for the right dress, I still found myself gazing at silks and pale colors two and three years after the gown had been properly stored away.  Embarrassing, but true (and somehow freeing to say it out loud in public, after all these years – thanks for listening!)  So when I was trying to come up with a name for my blog, it was torture.  Here’s what I wrote while still in the throes of the final decision-making agony:   

So now it’s a name.  No, no more babies, no more dogs, unless you call this blog my newest child or pet.  But perhaps it would be helpful to review the last few name-selecting processes I have been through and survived to tell the tale.

  1. Chloe’s name.  When I was pregnant with Chloe, we chose no boy-names.  Holding on to the old fashioned mysteries, Dan and I had decided that even though the doctors and nurses and staff people could be informed of our baby’s gender through the miracles of science (I was 38, so they required amniocentesis) we wanted to wait until the moment all of our ancestors had had to wait for.  I’m not saying there were no male names that we liked.  There was Ian, Ewan, Matthew, Martin (except for what “Martin” means), and more that have been long forgotten, but none of them made it to the “possibles” list.  So we arrived at the hospital (with less than two hours to spare, but that’s another story) with four girl-names:   Emma, Laurel, Maureen, and Chloe.
  2. There was no question in my mind.  Chloe was my favorite, hands down, and I couldn’t understand why we would consider any other choice, but since I thought Dan wasn’t sure, it seemed the right thing to do.  And to clinch the list idea, we reached a milestone decision:  How could we really know who the baby was until he/she was born, and therefore, how could we pick a name ahead of time?  Even with my bias, it seemed obvious to us that you have to wait and see who you get. 

    So after she was cleaned off and we got to look at her, we had to walk through the process of ruling out three names.  One look told us she was not an Emma, and probably not a Maureen either.  (I had gone to nursery school with a Maureen, and it forever holds meaning for me as a sweet and adorable bright-eyed toddler.)  That left Laurel and Chloe.  The latter had come from the movie “The Big Chill”.  Chloe’s character is somewhat enigmatic, of a younger, seemingly more flakey and carefree generation from the rest of the cast, but in the end she turns the most troubled individual around and offers him a new chance for happiness and serenity.  I saw her as a caring and wise soul peppered with a sprightly cheer. 

    Was Dan really strongly considering “Laurel”?  I’ll never really know, but I do remember that I breathed a sigh of relief when he came around.  And our Chloe has turned out to be a caring and wise soul, without a doubt, with more than a touch of her own brand of chirpiness.  The irony is that years later Dan discovered that he has been saying his L-sound in the wrong part of his mouth all of his speaking life.  Instead of using the tip of his tongue he has always pulled the back of said tongue up toward his hard palate – a very difficult thing to do, but it’s how he interpreted it way back when.  So, poor thing, either of our top two would have proved a mouthful for him!  It’s okay, she’s worth it.

  3. Rachel’s name.  Another story, first of all because we knew she was a girl.  As it was our second time around, we decided we were no longer in need of a mystery and allowed the clinic to give us the complete report from the amnio.  Actually, she was so different in the womb, I had thought that perhaps she was a boy, and shared my thoughts with Dan and Chloe.  So we spent a few weeks of early pregnancy picturing the little quintessential family with one girl and one boy, and then got the news that our imagined portrait had a major flaw.  That was amazingly shocking!  We found ourselves reeling for awhile over that piece of news. 
  4. Soon Dan and I went to work collecting names again, and this time nothing took.  We spent months combing through name books from the library, my parents’ house, and our friends.  Nothing.  Or rather, each time something sounded good, there was a compelling argument against it.  We liked Gretchen, but as we watched Chloe learning how to write her name, we decided it was too many letters.  I liked Ruby, but Dan felt it was too old-fashioned.  Emma, Laurel and Maureen were not even considered.   

    A few months later, on the way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance after Rachel had been born on the living room floor (I’ll cover that one some other time) I suddenly remembered that we had no list of names, or perhaps more accurately, no names on our list.  Once Chloe was handed off to my parents and Dan caught up with me in the hospital room, we discussed the issue at hand.  Finally we came up with the name Margot.  My parents had been brought together by a folksinging Margot Mayo in New York, which added a nice dimension, and we liked the sound of the name.  During the night, as I lay there too overwhelmed to sleep, the name Rachel came to me.  We decided in the morning to give Chloe the choice. 

    Unbeknownst to us, Chloe had gone through her own process during the months prior, and had decided the best name for the new baby would be Diamond (taking off from Ruby – another gem?  I’ll never know.)  I can easily imagine the kind of appeal that name would hold for a four-year-old who is becoming a big sister.  What I cannot imagine is what went through her mind when Dan called her at my parents’ house and offered her our two options, which had to seem unquestionably inferior to her.  Luckily she was by nature quite agreeable, and since there was in her mind no contest between Margot (ugh) and Rachel (yay!) she came through.  Definitely a family process.

  5. The Folkaltones.  I think I still have all the sheets of scrap paper on which we brainstormed for just the right way to capture the essence of our trio.  We loved Tribe of Three, until we Googled it and found it was already taken.  It went from there, and every time we ran a search engine we found we were not as clever and unique as we had believed.  It was ego crushing, not to mention frustrating, and it was getting annoying that we had no name.  I honestly have no memory of how it happened, but we finally settled on the Trifolkals.  We liked the implication of 3-ness, the obvious folk reference, and we decided to capitalize on the “focal” aspect by giving our music the subtitle “visionary folk”.  Egos back, intact.
  6.  Until we had printed out business cards and had the graphics all ready for our debut CD and a friend of mine from Chicago mentioned that there was already a trio by that name.  I had even already even made the acquaintance of their songwriter/leader, Greg Trafidlo, at a conference.  That was close!  So we had to return to the drawing board.  We played around with all the ideas again and, happily, stumbled fairly quickly upon Folkaltones, which took.  We like it, but most people think we are the Folka (like polka) tones and that continues to drive us mildly nuts.  It’s better than a lawsuit (though Greg is way too nice to think of it.)

  7. Naming my song Adjustment, and then changing the name to Bouncing Back.  I wrote this song in 1979.  Dan and I had split up in September of that year, after two years of dating, and two months later the song pretty much wrote itself, the result of a wrenching time.  “Can I help it if I’m not bouncing back…” is how the song starts, and the refrain echoes it at the end of each verse.  So when it came time to give it a title, a poet friend of mine suggested I call it what it is.  To me it was about adjusting to being alone, separate from Dan, when I wanted to be with him.  Once I had performed it a few times, audience members started to request the song about bouncing back.  It isn’t about bouncing back, I would respond.  It’s about not bouncing back.  Aren’t you listening carefully to my lyrics?  (I didn’t say that last part out loud, it not being a good idea to criticize fans.)  It went on my first solo album as Adjustment and retained that title.
  8. Until three years ago, when I decided to re-release a compilation CD of songs from my first three records.  This was my chance to make any changes.  The pain having been eased during the past thirty years, it dawned on me that perhaps the song was about bouncing back after all.  Maybe I wrote it during the early phase, when progress on that front was slowest.  Maybe my fans had been right all that time.  So for the first time ever, I re-titled a song.

  9. Naming this blog.  I keep going back to the advice of my poet friend, call it what it is.  What is this blog about?  Based on past experience, I may not really know the answer to that question until around the year 2040, but in the meantime, I think it is about two main things.  One is walking through the process of letting go of my older daughter as she leaves for college.  The other is figuring out what on earth I am going to do with my own life now that most of it has revolved around being the mother of two daughters and I will only have one living here.  Those don’t sound like they are related, except that both of them involve me, and I do happen to be the one writing this blog.  And one is catapulting the necessity of figuring out the other (you can work out which is which for yourself.)
  10. The challenge is that it is difficult to encapsulate both of those in a four-word title, give or take a word.  I had first come up with “Notes from the nest” but it’s taken.  I contemplated how this nest is going to be half empty – “Half-empty nest”.  Already taken, but also it is seen as leaning toward the negative, which is not my desire.  So I brilliantly and optimistically went for “Half full nest” but it’s taken.  And I decided also that it kind of sounds more like the earlier years of child-raising (especially when you read the blogs at those sites.)

    So I have been brainstorming for days.  Partial list:  Face the Music, Cries at Weddings, So Far from the Nest, Musings from the Nest, Mom in Search of, Tune-up in the Nest, Mamatone, Take Your Vitamins, Whose Life Is It Anyway, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Love in the Translation, Tune-up for Mom, Losing my Marbles, Recomposing (maybe a little too close to “decomposing”), Lullabies for Mom, Apron strings and A-strings…

    Finally I stumbled upon Roots and Chords, which everyone in my house (at the time) liked.  I liked it too, but there was no sign from the universe to go ahead and grab it, except that it wasn’t already taken.  Up stepped my Great Doubting Mind:  If it isn’t already taken, maybe it’s not so good!  However, that kind of logic has a fatal flaw, which is that I will never ever get to post my site if I am seeking approval from an already existing title, SINCE I CAN’T HAVE THAT ONE.  Okay, breathe in, breathe out.  I finally just went to bed after that episode.  And this morning I jumped onto a new and different track:  Apron strings and metronomes.  Or Bach, Baez, and Bombeck.  I’m kind of liking that approach and have two hours in the car this afternoon to come up with more tries.

    Obviously, by the time you read this, the decision will have already been reached, since I will have chosen a title and posted my blog site.  OR you and I will be dead because waaaaaay too much time will be taken in making the decision.  As it is painful for me to imagine this being read at my funeral – or worse, used as my epitaph, I choose the first option.  I promise you will hear from me soon.

Back to August 12, 2010.  You can see where I ended up.  I think it turned out to be the best choice, just like all the others.

Homeschool for mom: an update

August 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 4 Comments
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In my first blog entry, I told how my family had come up with the idea of creating my own “university curriculum” since I was flirting with going back to school.  Since three weeks have passed since that post, I figured it was time for a progress report.

  • Violin lessons.  First and most importantly, I have found my violin teacher!  I had my first lesson last week.  I am happy to say that as much as I enjoyed getting acquainted with her over the phone, working with her in her studio was all the more wonderful.  I have been dutifully, and for the most part, eagerly, practicing all week on etudes (Kreutzer), scales (Flesch and just plain), exercises (double-stops), and one piece (Meditation from Thais).  It feels to me to be the perfect balance of challenge and manageability.  I am starting off with one lesson every other week, which seems to work well for my teacher as well.  And the bargain I have made with myself is my old standby – I will keep to my practice and lesson protocol imperfectly.  When I miss a day, fine, back to it tomorrow.  If we have to go an extra week or two between lessons, which will undoubtedly happen, I will have no trouble finding more to work on.

  • Composition lessons.  Not.  The husband of my teacher is a composer.  The night before my lesson I had listened to two of his compositions and liked them very much.  When my lesson was over, my teacher introduced me to her husband, and I asked him if he taught lessons in composing.  No, he doesn’t.  However, he went on, why don’t I just begin composing a piece on piano and violin and see how it goes?  Yikes!  This was a dive-right-in approach I had not expected!  And he was so pleasant and relaxed, almost innocent, about it, I found myself agreeing to try.  So…

  • Composing.  A few days ago I sat down and began to write.  It morphed instantly into a trio for two violins and cello.  I am very happy with the theme and the harmonies of the first section, of which I have written eight bars.  Well, seven and two-thirds.  It took me hours!  And I have no idea where to go from here, but then, I had had no notion of how to start until I did it.  It appears this will be a long-term project, and I promise to keep you posted.

  • Music theory school.  In the meantime, I have been tutoring a student in music theory to get her a little better prepared for her theory placement test when she arrives at her college, and Chloe has been going along for the ride.  It has been a great opportunity for me to review what I know and start to learn some more around the edges.  I have to say, it is quite dry to learn music theory from a book!  This is one discipline that is truly alive when using it, but utterly dead when on a printed page.  So I hope to find someone to work with this fall.  I know I will enjoy it far more in the company of another human being.

  • Writing my blog.  I am very excited to see that my list of subscribers and my readership in general are both on the increase!  Thank you all for sampling something along the way in the past three weeks, and for coming back for more!  Here’s the conundrum:  the more active in my home-university I become, the harder it is to keep up with the chronicles!  This is especially frustrating to me because I have been finding the writing to be a gratifying experience.  I’m pretty sure that once Dan and I return from getting Chloe settled at her college, and Rachel has settled back into her school rhythm, I will have a little more time to follow my own pursuits.  I look forward to that!

  • Sleeping.  Here on the home front we will be a little sleep deprived once school begins.  It is so very hard to get up over an hour earlier than we have been through the summer, and somehow so very easy to stay up just as late.  Darn.  Why is that?  Chloe, on the other hand, will have a class that starts at 8:00 only one day a week, and all the rest of the days she won’t start until 10:00 or later!  Hey!  I want to go to college!  Okay, that was kind of an in-house joke, just in case you didn’t pick up on it.

Dorm news, the nature of grieving, and a lesson in exponents

August 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 8 Comments
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Yesterday, after several tense weeks, Chloe finally received the email announcing her freshman roommate and her dorm assignment.  Now she has one more tangible piece of the year ahead that she can place in the puzzle before her.  Only somewhat tangible, however.  She found her roommate on Facebook and sent a message along with a friend request.  The latter was granted, but as of eighteen hours later, there is no return message.  Okay, the girl is apparently at Disneyland right now, and was up late last night.  We assume she friended Chloe on her iPhone and went to bed.  As Chloe pointed out, it’s simultaneously fun and creepy to fb-stalk someone.  But we were happy to see that she plays violin and also likes the Beatles and Jason Mraz, so it can’t be bad!  We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that Chloe will move closer to the top of her list after she leaves the Magic Kingdom.  And then they can talk about who will bring the mini-fridge and other domestic details.

For me the new degree of reality brings up a mass of tangled feelings and then the typical aftermath of thoughts, trying to sort it all out.  Last night Dan and I joined friends for dinner and Chloe stayed home and had friends over for dinner and a movie.  As we were seated in the Ethiopian restaurant, I had a sudden rush of awareness:  tonight we are here and Chloe is at home, but in a few weeks, when we return home from anywhere we go, she won’t be there.  After I rescued my stomach from the basement beneath my chair, I knew one thing for certain.  This is no different from any other kind of grieving.  There’s the over-the-top wallop of the loss itself, and then there’s the waves that hit you in any random moment, with no warning.  I haven’t even had the wallop yet.  These must be prelude-waves.

Before Chloe, I had a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage.  Dan and I were overcome with sorrow, and then, of course – what else can you do? – we began to carry on with our lives.  Two months after the miscarriage, I walked into the backstage dressing room of a concert hall and spontaneously burst into tears.  Until I set foot in the dressing room, it had not dawned on me that months beforehand, I had pictured myself doing that concert in a maternity dress.  Over the coming months, I came to understand that we walk through grief by mourning each micro-component of the whole.  Every moment, every face, every thread that is attached to what we lost has to be met and felt. 

It’s all around me.  Last week Dan and I went to see “The Kids Are All Right” which had received good reviews and didn’t look too heavy.  Little did we know that (and I don’t think it will ruin anything for any of you who have not seen it if I include this – but if you want to, you can skip this paragraph) the movie includes a main character who has recently graduated from high school and has only a few weeks left before she leaves for college.  The parting scene shows her arriving on campus, dumping her stuff in her dorm room, saying good-by to her family and watching them drive off without her.  Okay, was it really necessary for us to watch this right now? 

And a few nights later I was at a party where Chloe was to play background music with a friend.  I was chatting with another guest who is ahead of me by a few years.  As if to refresh my memory of the movie I already wished I hadn’t just seen, she described her own experience of driving her daughter across several states, helping her unload into her dorm room, and saying good-by.  “And then,” she continued, “I got into my car and began the drive home.  I must have sobbed for two solid hours!  And I was all alone.  Or wait – was my mother with me for that trip…?”  Oh great.  I hope I remember that Dan is driving home with me someday years from now, when I am telling my story to some fragile wisp, trembling before me.  Assuming we don’t have an accident, driving on the interstate while sobbing.  Perhaps we’ll stay on the side roads for the first part of the journey.

I know, I know, I know.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s wonderful.  Yes, it’s necessary – and right.  And I have lots to do in the seventeen days between now and our departure.  And there is nothing to fix.  There is no one dying.  Heaven knows, I am well aware of the difference between my 80-year-old father passing away a year ago and my 18-year-old daughter embarking on the next chapter of her life’s adventures.  And I am not alone.  Dan and Rachel are moving through it in their own ways.  I guess it’s also true to say that our family foursome is moving through it as a whole as well. 

I remember that after Chloe was born, I figured out that adding a baby to a couple doesn’t just make three.  It’s closer to exponential because you have to add the dynamics of all the relationships.  So to begin with there were three relationships:  Dan and his relationship with himself, my relationship with him, and my relationship with myself.  Adding Chloe gave us four more – hers with herself, that between each of us with her, and the threesome.  Adding Rachel gave us a myriad more, because it wasn’t just Rachel herself and Rachel with each of us.  There were now “the girls”, “the kids”, “the grown-ups”, etc.  Even though Chloe is not a “member” of each of those relationships, it affects all of them.

Everyone tells me that our relationships with Chloe will continue, but they will change, and I do believe that.  It helps me to remember that our family has ridden the shockwaves of past transitions, and it has always been for the better.  So yes, this is uncomfortable, and each of us has an occasional moment of squirming, flailing and/or writhing, but we are in it together, even as we are each negotiating an individual set of bumps and turns.  I feel mighty fortunate to have such a strong set-up.  In this moment, bolstered by what has just come clearer to me, I know we’ll all be okay.  What is it they say – the only constant is change?

Insurance cards, faulty memories, and the muse

August 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 3 Comments
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The mystery arose late last week.  We were approaching the deadline to submit health forms to the medical clinic at Chloe’s college.  In addition, we were asked to photocopy her insurance card and then fax all three pages to them.  When I was Chloe’s age I used to love to fill out forms, but let us just say that she does not take after me in that respect.  Simply put, there was procrastination – and not just on her part.  I have to admit to having evolved to the point where I do not relish them anymore either.  And Dan was busy with other things.  Finally, two days before the deadline and hours before Chloe was to leave for the weekend, we hunkered down and with my guidance, she completed the task.  I went to my wallet to pull out her insurance card, and discovered it was not in its designated slot. 

Surprisingly, and with startling synchronicity, I had just gone through the same kind of sequence with Rachel earlier that same day, and with the same results.  Rachel had been invited to join a school friend and her family on a road trip to the west coast, and we thought it would make sense to send her with at least a photocopy of her insurance card.  As you have now guessed, when I went to my wallet said card was not there.

Hmmm.

So we backtracked.  When was the last time I had seen either card?  It was the week prior, when Rachel had gone with a different friend for a three-day outing (she has been quite the social butterfly and traveler this summer) and the friend’s mother had suggested she take the card with her, just in case.  So I emailed said mother (I’ll call her Ursula) and asked her if she could return the card.

Ursula’s response appeared a little later:  “I never had her insurance card.”  What?  Dan and I remembered the conversation clearly.  I emailed back, telling her as much.  (Nicely.)  Later she emailed back, admitting that maybe she needed to check her purse again, and promised to get back to us afterward.

In the meantime, I was tracing our steps through recent weeks to remember when we had last used Chloe’s card.  That was also no problem to recall.  Two days before she and Rachel flew to Florida for a dance competition, I finally took her to the doctor to check out the two-plus-year-old pain in the ball of her foot, which turned out to be a stress fracture.  (Another story, perhaps a future post.)  She was new to that doctor’s clinic, so we had had to give her card at the front desk to allow the receptionist to photocopy it for their files.  Had it been returned to me?  I was pretty sure I remembered putting it back in my wallet.

As I reviewed the sequence of those days, I asked Chloe, “We didn’t send the insurance cards to Orlando with you and Rachel, did we?”  She was sure we had not bothered, and I agreed.  I had no memory whatsoever of handing them to anyone – either Chloe or their friends’ parents – as we met up with their fellow travelers at the airport.  The trip was only for two days, and she hadn’t wanted to be responsible for carrying them.  Dan concurred.

Another email from Ursula appeared:  “I was thinking.  Maybe the card looks like my insurance card and I missed seeing it.  I’ll get back to you after I check again.”

A little perplexed, I called the clinic where Chloe’s foot was examined and explained the nature of my plight to the woman at the front desk.  She was exceedingly sweet and very helpful.  We spent ten minutes on the phone while she checked through the pile of abandoned insurance cards tucked away in a special corner of her drawer.  Apparently this is not an unusual occurrence.  Not finding it there, she continued to chat pleasantly with me as she combed every possible nook and cranny that might hold an unclaimed card.  And when she failed to uncover it she was truly apologetic.  I left my phone number with her just in case and said good-by to my new friend.

Ursula’s update appeared on the screen:  “I searched my purse and didn’t find it.  Sorry.” 

Okay.

Dan ordered a new set of cards from our insurance company and we decided to wait another two days to fax Chloe’s health forms, just in case the old card turned up.  By this time, my mind resembled the ball on the green and white table. 

On one side of the net:  Ping!  “Am I going nuts?…”

Other side:  Pong!  “What a weird coincidence that both cards are missing at the same time…”

Ping!  “I could swear I remember giving the card to Ursula…”

Pong!  “I can’t believe we lost two cards in two different places in the same week…”

Chloe left for the weekend.  Dan and I joined my mother for dinner in a noisy restaurant on the edge of town.  We were waiting for Rachel’s call from some hotel in Las Vegas.  Yes, my 13-year-old was spending the night in a resort casino hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Dan’s phone was on digital roam and Rachel was taking forever to call. By my admittedly long-distance reckoning, they should have arrived at the hotel hours ago.  As we ordered and then dined, the image of the crash on I-15 was beginning to sketch itself in my mind.  And of course, they don’t have Rachel’s health insurance card so they won’t know who they are treating in the emergency room.  Assuming they are willing to treat her seeing as she has no card.  I kept all this to myself so as not to worry Dan and my mother.  Finally Dan’s phone rang.

Dan cupped his hands over his cell phone and his other ear.  It was clearly not Rachel on the other end.  At the end of a short conversation he chuckled lightly.  “Okay, thanks for letting us know!”  Probably not the ER.

It turns out Chloe’s cousin was aimlessly sifting through the contents of Chloe’s wallet sometime between dinner and the Shakespeare play.  Hidden way in the back, stuffed safely in the midst of various gift cards from graduation two months ago, were the wayward health insurance cards.

(Rachel finally called us at home much later.  They had indeed arrived hours before, but went swimming in the hotel pool before calling.) 

What I find the most fascinating about this story is how none of us could piece together a complete memory of actually taking the insurance cards out of my wallet and handing them to Chloe who then stuffed them into hers.  Dan and I remembered the conversation with Ursula, but not the upshot.  And Ursula in turn began to doubt not only her memory but even the tangible hands-on search through her purse.   Chloe and Dan and I could remember discussing whether to send the cards with Chloe, but not one of us had even a vague recall of the actual decision.  And the receptionist at the medical center, who had no reason to remember the details of Chloe’s card – for all I know she wasn’t even working the day we came in – was totally open to the possibility that it was floating around there somewhere.  It happens.

Dan is currently reading Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan.  From the little he has told me about it, it is the perfect companion to this episode, examining what we do and do not remember, and how we tweak our actual memories to fit our view of the present.  I plan to read it when he is done, as I find the implications staggering.  What does this tell us about eyewitnesses in a court case?  Just a few weeks ago Chloe’s senior class did a production of “Twelve Angry Men” (it included women, of course, but I just don’t like the ring of “Twelve Angry Jurors” so I’m holding to the old, though gender-biased, title) and I wondered all the way through it, Would I be able to remember anything clearly enough to testify under oath?  I don’t think so.  Even as I am telling all of this to you I am very likely committing errors in the sequence, timing, and what people said, felt, and did.  The gist is only as true as I can make it.*

And in the context of music, how well do I remember what my teachers told me to practice?  How accurate is my understanding of their appraisals of my musicianship and skills?  How well do I hear myself play?  One of my teachers demonstrated for me that, while playing out of tune with terrible tone sounds – not surprisingly – terrible, playing out of tune with gorgeous tone sounds amazingly tolerable, even passing for, well, playing in tune.  I’m obviously not campaigning for inaccurate pitch, but there is a kernel here that is immensely helpful to my paralyzingly perfectionistic self, and it goes something like the following.

Can I make a bargain with myself to practice all the ingredients – fingerings, shifting, articulation, phrasing, vibrato, dynamics, expression, etc. – and then let go of the belief that I need to micro-manage the performance?  Can I apply the perfectionism selectively and use it “mostly/only” during practice sessions?  In other words, if I do my homework long, hard, and well enough during the practicing and rehearsing, can’t I trust the muse to sprinkle a little magic on the stage the night of the concert?  Assuming one is a good musician, how much of the performance is “fact” and how much is “illusion”?  Is it really all about a million tiny details, or is the music greater than the sum of all its parts?  I really do know the answer to that question.

I can now see that I always relied on the magic of the muse throughout the decades of my folk career, and she always proved herself to be reliable.  So apparently I have piled all the perfectionism into the arena of classical music.  Perhaps the learning curve that lies before me (or am I already ascending?) is to tear down the wall between those two worlds.  I wonder who built the wall in the first place.

*With two disclaimers.  Number one is that Chloe claims she did not procrastinate.  She needed my help and I was busy, which is totally true.  Number two is that after Dan read the above, he reminded me that we actually photocopied his insurance card and Rachel took that with her to the west coast.  Here’s what’s perfect about this one:  I have no memory of it!

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