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Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Spirit of Music

“Youth is wasted on the young.” 

The quote sneaks into my brain once in awhile. I often want to concede to it. But I’ve decided not this week. I believe someone also said, “You’re only as old as you think you are.” That's the maxim I'm subscribing to right now…makes me a little more self-assured.

My husband and I had the pleasure of watching our daughter (and her cohorts) perform at the vocal small group contest for the first time last Saturday. While the pieces weren’t technically perfect, they were pretty darned good—especially for a group of freshman girls. What I found most inspiring was the pluck, the spirit of all these teens! Singing Spanish tra-la-la's to make you smile, or folksy ballads to make you weep. I mean, these kids really felt the music…as did I! There was no rote memorization or forced expressions. Just lovely melodies and harmonies. When that kind of music is made, joy abounds.

It brought back memories. Music was a much bigger part of my life once. Listening. Performing. Sharing. Somewhere between twenty-nine and forty-two, I started to shut off my radio. Playing piano in front of a crowd began to make me nervous. You could say I started thinking like an adult–and really worrying about stuff. 

Turning off the music allowed me to meditate in silence or increase my knowledge by listening to NPR. (Just like my mom!) And silence is healthy—once in awhile. No one would disagree that NPR is engaging and informative. But perhaps, just perhaps I can wander into another channel to grasp a piece of that spirited youth by finding the music once again.

I started playing piano more. Making Alex sing some Norah Jones or Coldplay with me. (She loves that.) And when I accompanied the children’s Mass this week, I enjoyed it for the first time in a long time. No, it wasn't "technically perfect", but I felt the music. I even caught myself smiling a few times. (Who doesn't smile during "This Little Light of Mine"?)

Sometimes, I think God uses our children to help us to find our spirit. Oh goodness. I don’t “think” that. I know He does. My gratitude to my Alex for your voice...and your musical spirit.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Dining Table

The other night my hubby was attempting to visit with me about one of the March Madness games. When I hesitated to respond as if I was clueless on the matter, he politely reminded me that we had been sitting in the living room watching the aforementioned game together.

"Oh, yeah," I explained myself. "Wasn't really watching though. I had to get caught up on some reading." This is completely true, btw. I have too much to read and too little time.

He chuckled at me.

"Why do you find that humorous?" I asked.

"I just don't understand why you think you need to fit four lifetimes into one."

I have a few plans. In no specific order, I'd like to

  • Understand economics at all levels (as do many others right now),
  • Master the art of business, 
  • Win a Pulitzer by writing a simple novel about universal compassion,
  • Raise remarkable children, and, of course,
  • Create the charm of a Pottery Barn store in my home.
Of all of those goals, the last one really baffles me. At so many levels. I can't even get the dining room table right–something that can really set the tone of a house. As soon as I come home from work, it's the first piece of furniture I see. And I can barely see it. Allow myself to explain:

While my centerpiece of faux grass spikes fearlessly on the distressed dining table as a part of my rustic motif, I'm distracted by...clutter. Shin guards aerate! Overstuffed school bags collapse instead of hang on the hooks that were specifically made for them by the entrance! Baseball gloves await to go back outside! Endless drawings and paper shout, "Hey, waste about thirty minutes shuffling through me!" And amazingly, someone actually found enough surface to eat. You see, someone didn't take their dirty glass or plate to the dishwasher. It had to to be a kid. Who else would be enticed to eat at this sticky table? Not Martha Stewart, that's for sure. She'd be downright appalled.

I always thought that by this time in my life my dining room table would like something like this: 

Yes, with that backdrop for scenery. Maybe even with a Sheep dog sleeping underneath. Instead I have this:
Oh wait. I see it. The cute kid sitting there. Man, I love that boy. And his messes. And his sister's messes. And his father's messes. Guess, my table is pretty dang awesome after all. Pottery Barn can have their uncluttered perfect table. I'll keep mine.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lessons in Piano

my dream piano
When I was a little girl, growing up in Kirkman, a lady of culture moved to our blue collar town. Not only had she formerly been a nun with a college education, but she taught piano lessons. Mrs. LaPorte. Next to my parents, she was one of my most influential figures from my childhood. What I didn't realize is how these piano lessons would stick with me for life. As a matter of fact, they practically...haunt me. Really.

I’m not really sure if I ever had a burning desire to take piano lessons. But when the idea was presented to me in the fourth grade, it certainly spurred my imagination. Me? A musician? Like Barbara Mandrell? Who’d a thought?

My piano teacher taught me to work hard and fostered a deep appreciation for, incredibly, classical music. I love most genres, actually, as long as I can find intricate melodies and harmonies. In high school, I accompanied various choirs and by my senior year, I won an elusive piano contest which had always been a little out of reach for me. Feeling fairly accomplished with my piano career, I was ready to retire the ebony and ivory for a college campus that was calling my name.

My band teacher had another idea. Already accepted to the U of Iowa, she drove me to Iowa City one day and had me audition for a piano scholarship. And despite having no intentions in majoring in music, I could hardly turn down the money. For my first year, at least. But I knew it wasn't really in my heart when I'd just stare at the walls in the practice room and wonder how much longer I should play around on the keys. I gave it up to pursue an English degree. Finally, a retirement from keyboarding was imminent.

Not quite. There was the tortuous wedding circuit. Once I finally extricated myself from that tour of duty, there was a need for accompanists at my kids' Catholic school. How could I not volunteer from that? I'm still doing it. But it has occurred to me that I NEED to retire, because this girl who majored in piano 25 years ago can't seem to discern a G sharp from a G natural or set a decent 3/4 tempo. It really makes me want to hurl when I screw up. That's a sign right? So, just as I was really, really considering the end of my piano career again, something else happened...

Our parish came into a need of accompanists. One organist has vertigo. Another (a young, super-talented musician) announced a move to Des Moines. That leaves us with one. And that a bit of a burden for her. Sigh.

Okay, if there is ever a sign not to give something up, this is it. I won't let my kids give up piano lessons. So, why should I give up playing?

Thank you, Mrs. LaPorte. I do miss you. While you taught me how to play piano, you also taught me much about sharing your gifts. Even if you are a little rusty.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Did I Win?

I had the date marked on my Outlook calendar. February 29th. The day the winner of the Writer's Digest Short Story contest would be notified. And I knew. I just knew this would be my year.

My entry simply seemed...brilliant. A bit poetic. And my plot twist? Fabulous. Certainly the judges weren't going to put me aside again! As a matter of fact, my wheels had already started spinning on a novel aspect of the story.

Why was I so certain that I had secured my long-awaited writing award? A couple of weeks ago, I started hearing a voice in my head. The voice kept saying, "You've already won!" Oh wow. An angel, an angel of scribblers, coming to whisper the early results to me. Finally, I was destined to win a writing contest.

Well, on the eve of Leap Day, I decided to pull that poignant piece I wrote a few months ago. (Already I was thinking about answering interview questions upon receipt of my prestigious prize. "Well, I was inspired by a story that my husband once told me..." "Oh, I use a very extensive editing process...") So I read my first sentence. I liked it. But then I read on. And the more I read, the more disheartened I became. It wasn't quite as poignant as I had hoped. It was really more...crappy-like. Almost laughable. I think I might've tried just a little too hard.

So when the next day came. I checked my home email several times. And guess what? Nothing. No notification from the Writer's Digest folks. Looks like they sort of agreed that maybe it wasn't my best work.

Hey! But what about that voice in my head? The one that keeps saying, "You've already won!" Come to think of it, it sounds an awful lot like my own, tinny voice. Nonetheless. I think, that in many ways, in my life, I have already won. Sometimes I forget to remember.

BTW, I've just added a new bullet point for me and my hubby's bucket list! Check these bookstores out...Not sure if hubby is on board to travel the world to visit them all, but he doth not haveth a choice.

The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World