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Monthly Archives: July 2012

We Do Tunes…

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We don’t pick out silver patterns together or make a ritual of attending fashion shows or church services. The parent/daughter bonds in my family don’t have to do with jewelry, sports, or religious events. We do tunes.

Yes, that’s right, three generations connect through music. And we’re all amateurs who usually mangle the original lyrics.

When I was young in the ‘50’s, my Dad sang while we did the dishes nightly. He washed; I dried. At the time, I didn’t think about it, just sang along with “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga choo choo?” and “Feuuuuuuuuudili-yaka-saki want some seafoooooood Maaaaamama.” The words didn’t make much sense, but sense didn’t have much to do with the ritual. We sang until the dishes were back in the cupboards and it was time to finish my homework. This was just something we did together every night without thinking about it. We sang.

In the morning, Dad bellowed “opera” while he shaved. He sang in Italian, and I mimicked the words. For years I sang “his “opera before hearing the Three Tenors sing on PBS. They sang different words. I immediately called Dad to find out if they were singing in a different dialect; he confessed that he made up his words and wondered what the real ones sounded like. I still like his best and continue to sing them, even though I’m probably saying something like “I fell in love with your armchair and the boats fly south.”

It’s no surprise that my husband and I sang unconventional lullabies to the girls when they were babies. “Rocky Raccoon” and “Sweet Baby James” ruled the house. They were well worn and part of our history. David and I met when the first James Taylor album was released. When he went out of his way to deliver a copy of the printed lyrics to my college mailbox, I knew it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship! More than forty years later, we hum those same songs together.

Frank Sinatra was also in our repertoire. His music was usually reserved for long car rides. “Lady is a Tramp”, I’ll Never Smile Again”, “I get a Kick Out of You” are just a few favorites. We knew most of the words, and mumbled the ones we weren’t sure of. Years later these same songs were on the playlist when my husband and two young daughters drove to the Cape every weekend. There was never a debate about which tape went into the deck when the car was packed. It was a ritual. Today we scramble to find a tape player for the girls to hear the “old Sinatra” tape—the one David recorded when Ron Della Chiesa broadcasted on Sinatra’s 70th birthday. They want to download it to their iPods.

As the girls became teenagers, I wondered if we’d continue to share tunes. For a while, when Christine Aguliera and In Synch were in vogue, I doubted it. Then our older daughter wanted to attend her first Pearl Jam concert. My going was not my choice; I lost a coin toss with David and as overprotective parents, we were not sending our first born to a huge venue with unknown drivers to meet her demise. Tsk Tsk…I had not heard Pearl Jam’s music, but had lots of preconceptions about what this experience would be like. Ignorance is bliss. I was all wrong.

My initiation to the world of Pearl Jam and live rock concerts was baptism by fire. At the then called “Tweeter Center”, uniformed staffers were everywhere. They checked out tickets six times before we were seated: P1 and P2 up front, to the right—right next to the speakers. The staffer next to my seat, a 40 something man, sported neon green earplugs. The monster sized speakers were literally inches away from us. So was the stage. My earrings shook from the vibration, so did everything else.

Pearl Jam played loudly. I truly couldn’t understand the words, but it didn’t matter. I liked the beat, the rhythm, the sound, and I remained interested–that was far more than what happened at PTA meetings. The sound of Eddie Vedder resonated throughout the night. It pulled me in. Bodies bounced and swayed and twitched. Arms were overhead. We were all captivated, even this 50 plus year old chubby outsider was mouthing the words she learned during the last 30 seconds.

A young man seated in front of my daughter asked if she’d like to sit on his shoulders. She politely declined—good choice or bad? What would she have done if I weren’t there? What would I have done if he asked me?

Several years have passed since that concert. We have gone to several others together. I am truly addicted to Vedder and his band. It’s a gift my daughter Kate has given to me. My then 14 year old, Molly, introduced me to the captivating wordsmithing and staccato rhythm of Regina Spektor’s song, “Consequence of Sounds”. Later she brought me to Elliott Smith’s music—something I never would have stumbled upon.

There is a primal lyrical soup that binds our three generations. Nonsense songs from the thirties link to Sinatra’s love songs to the Beatles’ and James Taylor’s ballads to Pearl Jam’s head banging, thought provoking music to Spektor’s and Smith’s magical merger of words and rhythm. Both girls continue to update my playlist with new goodies. It’s never ending and I love it.

When I visited my eighty-some year old dad who was silenced due to Alzheimer’s, we sang. His conversational word bank had been diminished to ten lonely words. However, when we sang, many more words were revived, and he could sing the words he said more than fifty years ago, quite happily and fluently. The ritual of music made it happen.

Knob Heaven

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One spot close to us in many ways is The Knob, in Quisset. It’s a five minute drive to a half hour meandering walk through forest and seacoast paths.  It’s quiet and peaceful, yet adventurous and exhilarating.

My Imaginary Rabbit Hole

What I love best are the unexpected surprises that pop up every few minutes: a bird singing, a bunch of Queen Ann’s lace and beach plums swinging in the breeze, the huge, strong rocks with jagged as well as worn down edges that trim the water’s edge. Trees and vines grow like lattice work, making a covered walkway with blue sky peaking through. There’s always something to catch the eye and inspire.

No Rock Jumping, this time.

We’ve been taking this “walk by the woods by the sea” for more than 25 years. Today we remembered the tree swing that both girls loved so much—it has been taken down and Mother Nature has taken over with vines and tall grass—beautiful, but you can’t swing on them. David mentioned how he often carried Molly on his shoulders when she was small; she had the best view of all. I remember my Dad taking this walk, loving it, even when he no longer remembered where he was going. And once we packed a lunch and spent the day at the beach, noticing lots of unusual sea glass that was just waiting for us on this often unvisited beach.

The Knob

Treasures, lots of treasures, are here. The end of this deliciously long, windy path is  “The Knob”. It’s a rocky protrusion into the bay, covered with flat stones and provides a 360 degree view of beauty. Today Buzzard’s Bay is dotted with boats, and the sky has absolutely perfectly shaped white, puffy clouds. The sea breezes are always a tad stronger up there, and the bay is a bit bluer. At the edge I sense the power and strength of what nature has wrought. I feel iddy bitty and such a small part of a big whole—and it feels good.

Knob View

Today’s visit is part of David’s birthday weekend celebrations. The Knob is his kind of place and our kind of celebration.  We’ll be back soon with a picnic dinner and a good bottle of wine to watch the sunset.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

He who does not like to be photographed…

Happy Birthday, Schotzi!!!

Paging: Summer Reading

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My summer reading has been all over the place thus far. I guess that happens quite naturally when one is retired. I’m not complaining… it’s a delightful ride with lots of unexpected twists and turns. My rule is that I agree to read the first thirty pages of a book, and if it doesn’t make my heart go “pitter patter,” I drop it like a bad boyfriend. That’s a really good rule to live by! I’m not creating a class syllabus, I’m reading for pure, unadulterated pleasure.

My non-fiction reading is focused on the Paleo diet and research on limiting processed foods and complex carbohydrates. It’s only interesting because this food plan seems to work for me. The writing is not notable, but the content is. This batch includes The Blood Sugar Solution (Mark Hyman), Well Fed (Melissa Joulwan), and It Starts with Food (Hartwig) All encourage clean, lean protein, lots of non-starchy veggies, healthy fats and determination. The results are less craziness about food and a very stable blood sugar level. I’ve learned a lot from each of these texts and think I’ve done enough reading about this topic; now I need to rediscover my elliptical. If I could read on the elliptical, I bet I’d exercise more often…maybe it’s time for audio books on my iPod.

Also, in the non-fiction category, there is something completely different for me: a book about the early phases of the war in Iraq. My reading about war is usually focused on newspapers or fiction written about war, until the latest title on my list. My childhood friend, Andrew Lubin, wrote Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Unit in Iraq. This book makes me feel like I’m on the battlefield along with Andy’s son and his unit of young Marines. It has given me a newly found appreciation of the training, sacrifice and courage these young men muster in the midst of chaos and the unknown. They rely on their extraordinary training and their strong sense of community with their fellow Marines to endure whatever comes their way. I could not put the book down; it not only gives a bird’s eye view of the frontlines but also loved ones back home coping and trying to figure out what is really happening while watching the news. I also learned, again, how inaccurate and incomplete much of the media account about war is. This book shows the exemplary relationship between father and son—it’s based on love and respect and is so admirable. Go buy this book.

My book group has a tradition of reading classic children’s novels for our July and August meetings. This provided an opportunity to re-read two old favorites: The Wind in the Willows (Grahame) and The Secret Garden (Burnett). Yes, of course, I loved them both—although I am the only member who liked The Wind in the Willows. Those who unknowingly read the abridged version were most unhappy with what was omitted. I was absorbed in the delightful camaraderie as well as observing how important decisions are made within this crew of characters. When to stay and when to go are two crucial life issues dealt with quite nicely. Oh, how I wanted to find a kid to read it to or to just read it aloud and hear the words. I enjoyed The Wind in the Willows and am thinking of moles, water rats, badgers and frogs differently than before I picked up this text. All good stuff! Next month it’s on to The Secret Garden.

This brings me back to the children’s books that we read our daughters years ago. I recently stumbled upon several huge boxes of their favorite titles that were neatly packed away in the attic. When I mentioned the book stash to the girls, they made it clear that these books need to be moved to the cape house and saved forever, maybe longer. Of course, I sat down and read through several while I was supposed to be packing. I got lost in these fun kids books and my memories: Good Night Moon. A Fly Went By, Angelina Ballerina, Where the Wild Things Are, anything by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky, and Gregory The Terrible Eater. That’s just a few of the early books; the chapter books will have to wait for another day or the packing will never get done.

Top on my list of self-selected reading is an advanced copy of In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin. The book will be published this October, and I really appreciate getting a galley copy. Helprin’s writing mesmerizes me and keeps me in his world for years. I first read Winter’s Tale years ago and still think about his main character, Peter Lake, and wonder what he’s doing now that the book is finished. Oh, wait, he’s a fictional character. Helprin’s characters live forever in my head, and I love it. I’m about 100 pages into this book and am already fretting that the end will come too soon… but the message is clear…this is another winner and you should read it.

My other choices in fiction are patiently waiting on the shelf for me. They include Tree of Codes (Foer), Great House (Krauss), and Swamplandia (Russell) Since we got rid of the television, there’s even more time for reading and thinking. Wish we did it sooner.

Several books about the state of college education are in my pile as well. At one point, I thought I’d write my own book about teaching college to this generation of students and what specific demands and issues are in play. Who knows if I’ll write the book, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other authors have to say and how they say it. These titles are Academically Adrift (Arum/Reksa), We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Keeling/Hersh) and Higher Education? (Hacker/Dreifus).

No, I won’t be reading Shades of Grey, not because I’m Puritanical, but because time is short and there are so many well written, creative, enlightening books waiting for me.

What are you reading now? Leave a comment!