Music Can Break Your Heart


Ah, today our past is right there in front of us.  We can’t escape it.

Today the images of our fashion faux pas are right there on Google Images. I can no longer deny that in 1978 the love of my life took me to the prom in a mint green tux because I told him that it matched his eyes.

There was a time, I’m sure, when people of my age could pretend that they never wore those outdated clothes or clunky shoes.

Not now, though. With the internet, we can find 1,000 awkward photos from our youth.

But the hardest part, for me, is the fact that YouTube has every single sappy, beautiful, compelling, heart wrenching song from my most tender years.

There was a time, long ago, when I sang in a small folk group at a weekly church basement “CoffeeHouse”.  Yes, I did think of myself as a young Joan Baez.  I did. We gathered in the church once a week to rehearse, the green grass outside the door smelling so sweet. And once a week, in the evening, we sang for a small audience. I remember sitting on the edge of a small stage, the lights bright on our faces.  I remember the sound of our harmonies.

I sang with my more talented friends, who played guitar as we performed.  I harmonized with them, working out our own special chords to “Suzanne” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”  I felt so incredibly accomplished as I made my voice blend with theirs.

I remember singing with my friends in their basements, too. Harmonizing to Crosby, Still and Nash. Who would do the lowest part? Me!!!! Let me!  We sounded amazing to ourselves as we hiked in the mountains, singing. Or as we sat in the cafeteria of our High School, singing.  We loved each other, so we made music that filled our hearts.

I remember those times.

So tonight, when I looked up an old song on YouTube, I ended up in tears. My whole musical youth, right there for me to relive and cherish.

Peter, Paul and Mary…..Joan Baez…..Judy Collins…..Crosby, Stills and Nash.

It was only a few weeks ago, wasn’t it, when I sang these songs with Cindy and Mo and Doris and Chris and John?  When our dear Steve tried and failed to hold the tune?

It was just the other day when Sue and I discovered “Where do you go to, my lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt. We were so sure that we were unique in our love of this sophisticated moving song.

It just happened. It was just the other day.  I’m sure of it.

Ah, how music can break your heart.

 

 

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Ah, Miss Ellie……


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Rockin’ her Daddy’s hat.

Way, way back, in the dawn of my history, when Paul and I were very young, we used to think about the upcoming weeks and tell ourselves, “I’m glad there is something to look forward to!”

Which means, of course, that there were times when we’d look at each other and think, “Ugh,  there is nothing to look forward to!”

I look back now, at my 22 year old self, and I think, “Are you kidding me? You’re twenty something, and you don’t think you have something to look forward to? You only have your ENTIRE LIFE, you idiot!”

But at 22, I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “What wonderful adventure is out there for me in the next week?”  I was young. I was foolish.  I didn’t really get it.

And then, at the wise old age of 29, I gave birth to my first child.  My wonderful, beautiful daughter Kate.  And everything changed in an instant.

Suddenly, I knew that I had “something to look forward to” for at least 20 years.  Every morning with my baby was a new beginning.  Every bath time was a treasure. Every meal an adventure.  I was enraptured, enamored, in love, entranced, enthralled.

Life was very, very good.

And then it went on.  Kate’s brothers were born, and the rhythm of my life was set.  I was a happy, busy Momma, and every passing week meant something new to look forward to. There were milestones and holidays and vacations and camping trips.  Birthdays and new schools and sports and plays and music.  Life was one big streak of “something to look forward to”.

And then they all grew up. And they moved away and started their own lives.

There suddenly wasn’t quite so much to look forward to, you know? Life was still happy and full, but the magical moments were gone.

And now, here I am, the full time day care provider for my little Ellie.  Now I am back to the days of making pancakes for someone who will light up with joy at the new taste. I am back to singing brand new songs, and reading exciting new books.

Tonight, when supper was over, I put our leftover coconut rice into a bowl.  I added an egg and some cream and cinnamon. I baked it for 20 minutes.  It smells fantastic.

I will go to bed tonight with something to look forward to.  I will give my beautiful Ellie a bowl of rice pudding for her breakfast tomorrow.

Life is a very beautiful thing.

Oh, Shenandoah


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A million or so years ago, my young husband and I took a drive down South.  We wanted to visit some college campuses, because we were looking for graduate schools.  We made some appointments, got into our old brown Toyota Corolla and headed South.

We stopped in New Jersey, on the very day of Bruce Springsteen’s 31st birthday.  We went on to Delaware, to Maryland, and then to Virginia.  We camped, in Shenandoah National Park, in a place called “Big Meadow”.

We were young, and open and ready for the world to show us what it had to offer.   Shenandoah showed us mountains, and fields and deer and music and a gentle beauty that we could not forget.

We went back there, of course.  We stayed in a cozy cottage for two, in the fall. We watched the sun set over those mountains. We walked at dawn in a dewy field filled with does and fawns.

And we returned, first with our little girl, showing her the rosy light of dawn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We brought her hiking, taught her to pick blueberries and raspberries in the wide, wild field.  We fed her pancakes and bacon in the homey restaurant of the Big Meadow Lodge on Skyline Drive.

We came back again, with her brothers. Camping on the edge of the Appalachian Trail, singing with the guitarist in the lodge, walking the wide meadow at sunset, hiking the beautiful trails.

And every time we’ve been there, every memory that our family has made there, has had a soundtrack that has run beneath it all.  The songs have changed as we have grown and changed. But one song has been there through it all.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you

Away, you rolling river.”

In a few days, my daughter will be married.  That little girl who I held on my hip as we watched the sunset on the Shenandoah Valley will bind her hand and her life to her love, and will become a married woman.

At some point during the celebration, she will stand and walk to her father, who will take her hand in his.  They will smile, and embrace, and dance together as they both think back on the history of all that they have shared.  The song will be “Shenandoah”, by Van Morrison.

Perfect.

Listen to this, and think of us: Shenandoah

Turn around…….


unnamedI am in that very strange, surreal space that descends upon parents when their babies are about to get married.

Two weeks from today, our oldest child, our only daughter, will be married.

She is an adult. A professional.  A strong, independent, capable woman.  She is more than ready to be married.

Wait, what? No she’s NOT!  For God’s sake, she was just born about a month ago! I can still remember every pain, every push, every ear infection, every diaper.   What do you mean she’s ready to get married?   No, no, no!!!! Every milestone in her life flashes before my eyes.   I see her playing “wedding” with our next door neighbor. I see her getting on the big yellow bus for the first time. I see her first date, her first job, her first day of college…….

She is marrying a great guy.  He is smart, lots of fun, and he clearly loves my daughter to pieces.

Hold it!  He’s a BABY!  Is he even old enough to shave? (OK, well he has an absolutely epic beard, but that was just a euphemism.) How can this boy be the future father of my future grandchildren?  What?!

The wedding is all planned, all ordered, all pretty much set to go.  Kate has her dress, I have mine. The food is ordered, the tent is ordered, the music is being organized.  Kate and Sam are all set for decorations, for rings, for flowers.  The wine is ready to go, sitting in its cases in my basement.  The kegs are on order.

Now all we have to do is wait.

And think, and ruminate, and dream that she is a baby again, held in my arms.  All we have to do is blink hard, admit that time has flown more quickly than we could ever have predicted.  Admit that this day is really, truly coming.  Our baby girl will be beautiful and radiant. She will walk with us toward her young man, and they will bind their hands and their lives together.

All we have to do is keep our eyes fixed firmly on the future, never acknowledging the pull of the past.

When she was very little, I would sing this song to Katie, and she would hold her hands on my cheeks as I cried.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?

Where are you going, my baby own?

Turn around and you’re tall,

Turn around and your grown.

Turn around and you’re a young wife

with babes of your own.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCh13Rsd-WU

How can this day be here?

New Lessons From an Old Dog


The culprit at work.

Oh, my aching back.

Sometimes we get our life lessons in really unexpected places, don’t you think?

Our old dog, Tucker, has been having back problems lately.  He takes an anti-inflammatory every day, but that upsets his stomach, so he has to eat some yogurt with probiotics.  He has pain pills, but we try not to give them to him very often, because they make him groggy and cranky.  He goes for acupuncture about once every two weeks.

Tucker is getting on in years.  His fur is getting gray. He sleeps a lot and he doesn’t show the same interest in chasing things that he used to show.

He is kind of like us.  Well, actually, he’s exactly like me, but that’s part of the story.

You see, I have begun to think of all of us, Paul, Tucker, Sadie and me, as a group of old folks.  Our backs hurt. We don’t hear as well as we used to, and our eyesight is troublesome.

I look at my old doggie, and I feel so sad that he is sore. I sit beside him on the couch, and I kiss his silky furry head and I say, “I love you, old boy.”  I bring him treats when his tummy seems off, and I carefully stir good Greek yogurt into his kibble every night.

Our children are all grown up now, and Tucker and Sadie have sort of become our babies. We make sure that there is cold water in their dishes every summer night, and we put one of those dishes in our bedroom now that Tuck’s fading eyesight has made him afraid to walk the length of the hall to the kitchen.

And herein lies the lesson.  We have started to think of ourselves as four old folks, living together.

The dogs, though, don’t seem to be on board with that interpretation.  Dogs don’t seem to sit around taking count of their various aches and pains.  And here is how I know.

Last night, the four of us went to sleep in our bedroom.  The humans were on our Posturepedic mattress, under our clean sheet.  The dogs were each on their special orthopedic dog beds, Sadie on my side, Tucker on Paul’s.  The water dishes and water bottles were filled and there were tissues nearby.  We all fell asleep together at around ten.

And then, at sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, Paul and I awoke to the sound of both dogs, growling softly.  As I came slowly awake, I could hear the distant chorus of a pack of coyotes, deep in the woods.  Both of our dogs rose up at the same time, and moved quickly down the hall, all thoughts of poor eyesight forgotten.  We lay awake, waiting to see what they would do, hearing the sound of their clicking paws on the floor. Suddenly, Tucker began to growl, and then he let our one sharp bark.  Before either of us could react, both dogs began to howl, in perfect harmony.  The eerie sound rose and fell, her higher notes winding around his deep, primitive howls.  They were singing in the night, not like aging pets, but like the wild animals that they still are, deep in their hearts.

I sat up, and I listened. We both told them sternly to “hush” and “lie down”, but in all honesty, I didn’t really mean it. I loved the scary sound of the big, bold animals who live in my house.

In that dark, wild moment of the night, I was so happy that my old dogs were able to simply lift their heads and give a voice to the wildness that still resides so deep inside them.

I learned a lesson, don’t you think?

Einstein had it right


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Albert Einstein was a pretty smart guy, from what I hear.  He understood a lot of things that most people can’t even begin to grasp.

But he also understood some things that seem pretty obvious, even to a simpleton like me.  Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

I’ve been watching the news a lot lately, and I’m wondering if humans are basically insane.

I’ve noticed that throughout history there have been groups of people who feel oppressed by other groups of people.  When that happens, very often group A decides to murder large numbers of innocent civilians in an effort to get themselves more resources/power/freedom/land/oil/gold/trade rights/water rights.   I can’t think of a single time in history when the killing of babies and children and old ladies has resulted in an increase in any of these.

And every time group A decides that it’s a good idea to slaughter the children of group B, the inevitable result is that the people in group B decide to slaughter their innocents to make the point that they won’t stand for such barbarous behavior.

This crap has been going on, as far as I can tell, since the dawn of time.

Insanity.

For example, the Palestinian people desperately want a sovereign homeland where they can live in peace and prosperity.  A whole bunch of them have been blowing up and shooting and killing innocent Israelis in an effort to get that homeland.  Hey, folks! If it hasn’t worked in the past 60 years, why do you think it will suddenly work now?   Insanity.

And the Israelis have been bombing, shooting and blowing up whole villages of Palestinians, including women, children and old men, in order to retaliate for all of the violence.  Why? Because the Israelis desperately want peace, that’s why!

Yo’, dudes! If striking back harder than they hit you hasn’t bought you peace in the past sixty years, why do you think its going to give you peace now?   Insanity, pure and simple.

This lesson was true in Bosnia, in Ireland, in Nicaragua. Its still true in Syria, in Iraq, in Chechnya.

Einstein was a pretty smart guy. I bet he recognized the fact that humans are insane.  I bet that’s why he looks so sad in this photo.

Summer dilemma


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Its finally summer.  After a dark, cool, rainy spring, the weather is finally hot and humid. The woods are so thick with leaves that I can only see about ten feet when I peer in to make out what small creature is making all the ruckus in the undergrowth. The grass is lush and thick, and the gardens are thriving.  I can almost watch the pumpkin plants grow as they stretch out their long arms and embrace the soil.

After a long year of teaching, tutoring, learning new curriculum, handling student conflicts and parent worries, it is finally summer.  After hosting a bridal shower, teaching a summer drama camp, taking the dog for acupuncture and a physical and feeding friends and family, it is finally a time for a few quiet days on my own.

I woke up this morning with the empty day stretching out before me. A day when I could do pretty much anything I wanted to do.

So the first thing I did was make a list of chores to be completed.  I walked the dogs, mowed the grass and threw in a load of laundry.  I caught up with some mail and checked in with a couple of friends.

When everything was finished, I finally felt that I could open up a book or turn on bad TV.

And that made me wonder: why do I always feel like I have to “earn” my hours of free time?

Is this a leftover neurosis from my mommy days? I don’t know! But it makes me worry about what will happen to my mental health once I finally retire from teaching.  Will I become a compulsive drawer organizer when I’m faced with all that open time?  Will I start ironing my underwear and socks to make myself feel worthy of an afternoon nap? Or will I learn to embrace my inner slug and start enjoying the daily crossword puzzle?

I don’t know.  It makes me a little nervous just thinking about it!  I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how my life changes when the day comes for me to give up my daily routine.

For now, though, I’ll go fold the last load of clothes and see if I can find an episode of Long Island Medium on TV.

The swings


I did something yesterday that I probably haven’t done in 20 years.

And that still most likely puts me ahead of most people my age, who I would guess haven’t engaged in this particular activity for at least 40 years.

I went on the swings.

I was teaching a summer class this week.  Well, to tell the truth “class” might be a bit of a stretch, and “teaching” most definitely is hyperbole.

I was leading two groups of little kids in a camp class called “Drama Start to Finish”. During a break in our thespian endeavors, we went out on the playground.  One of the little ones asked me to push her on the swing, so I did.  Another asked me to swing with them, and for reasons that escape me at the moment, I agreed!

My butt barely fit into the plastic sling, and I had rivets digging into both thighs.  But for some odd reason, I didn’t really think about it.  I just leaned back and started to pump my legs.  The other three swings were filled with little girls, and the conversation between them swirled around me as I leaned into the smooth back and forth rhythm.  I pulled on the chains, feeling the tension in my shoulders.  I listened to the girls, chatting about movies and songs, but I knew that they didn’t need me to respond or comment or ask a question.  Their voices became a part of the background, mixing with the sound of the wind in my ears and the squeak of the chains above me.  I tilted my head as far back as it would go, amazed and thrilled by the perfect blue of the sky above me.

I could see the undersides of some of the leaves in the trees that line our playground.  The green was a paler, softer shade of the color that I usually see. I could see, if I really leaned far back, the bottoms of tender young pine cones in the white pines behind me, and one silver drop of sap, nearly ready to fall.

It made me wonder.

When did I stop swinging? When did I give up the giddy swoop of my dropping stomach as I reached the highest peak of my backward arc?  When did I stop fearing that I might somehow go “over the bar”, and hurl myself too far?

And I wondered not only “when”, but “why”. Why is it that adults stop wanting to hold onto those chains, pushing to see just how close we can come to flying?

I swung back and forth, as long as I could.  My head began to feel dizzy, and my lunch was no longer securely in its place inside my stomach.  My arms were a little bit achy, and my fingers were slightly numb.  I had been swinging for less than five minutes, not even a fifth of what my little students could accomplish with ease.

Still, I was feeling happy.  I had looked at the brightest summer sky. I had leaned myself back as far as my aging back could go, and I had noticed the beauty that is usually hidden by the maple leaves.  My arms would remember my adventures, and the dents in my legs would no doubt leave some bruises.  But I had no regrets.

It made me wonder what else I have forgotten since the last time that I really enjoyed recess!

What bucket?


This is the bucket where I keep my list.

This is the bucket where I keep my list.

 

Apparently, everybody is now supposed to have a “bucket list”.  I constantly hear people talking about theirs, and asking me about mine.

Let me just see if I understand this correctly.  As a happy, well-adjusted adult in the prime of life, I am supposed to create a list of things I’d like to accomplish and enjoy before I (ahem) “kick the bucket”.   Right?

OK.  I get the general idea.  Don’t just sit back and wait for adventure, blah-blah.  Grab for all the gusto, yada-yada.

I’m on board with all that.  Really!  I absolutely believe that we make our own happiness, and that we all need to live our lives fully and richly.  We need to pursue our dreams.

I get it!

But here’s what I just don’t get.

Why does everybody seem to think that every item on my “bucket list” is supposed to scare the hell out of me?  Why do all the lists I see involve things like ziplining in the Amazon forest, or jumping out of an airplane?  I’ve read some of those “bucket list” blogs and articles!

People are doing things like riding every roller coaster in the country!   Or break dancing in the middle of Central Park!

That kind of thing is not exactly me. You know? In fact, that kind of thing is the kind of thing that makes me run screaming into the night.

Sometimes an opportunity to do something dangerous exciting comes up in my life, and friends start chirping “bucket list”!  And I start shaking my head and backing out the door, saying “nope, uh-uh, no way, not me”.

And then I feel like a wimp.  Or worse, I feel like someone who doesn’t fully appreciate the richness of life.

But I do!

And I do have my own little “bucket list”. Its just that mine is….well…on the tame side.

Some time in my life, before I die, I want to live right on the beach. I want to walk the shore at dawn, when everything is silent and calm.  I want to sit on my deck and watch a full moon rise over the open sea.

Before I leave this life, I want to take my grandchildren to Disney. I want to ride on Dumbo the Elephant again, and spin in the teacups and eat ice cream at Epcot.  I want to watch the neon lights of the Main Street Parade while holding the hand of a toddler.

On my bucket list I have items like swimming in a lake with my dogs, off of any leashes. Things like growing a successful eggplant or singing the Hallelujah Chorus without looking at the music.

I know.  These things are a little simple, a little dull.

But my bucket list is peaceful.  And it is mine.

People may shake their heads and shrug their shoulders at me, but I don’t care.  My bucket is filled with activities that won’t cause me to kick it, and that’s what really counts!

This ol’ body


Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “Seriously?”

When I was twenty, I was sure that I would manage to be one of those women who age gracefully. You know, slender, fit, silver haired with long dangly earring, sipping a fine wine at a cafe in Rome.  I imagined my face to be serene and smooth, with just enough laugh lines to give me character.

I had a vivid imagination.

Reality is a little bit different, you see.  (sigh)

Of course, I still have the image of that beautiful older woman in my head. Which why I’m always sort of shocked to see the stocky, round faced lady with the bifocals standing there in pictures of me.

Sometimes I’m a little annoyed with my body.  How did it manage to get so creaky? Why do so many parts of it hurt these days?

And what’s with all the extra padding?

Sometimes I get frustrated when I wake up with a sore neck just from sleeping.

Or when my legs are aching from a half hour on the elliptical.  Or when I’d really like to go hiking with my husband, but I know my heart would palpitate me right off the mountainside.

Sometimes I don’t appreciate my body at all.  “I’ve been feeding you salad and kale shakes”, I tell it. “Shouldn’t you be a lot leaner and meaner by now?”   My body doesn’t usually answer me.  Frankly, I don’t think it hears as well as it used to.

At times like these, I think back on all that this body has done for me.  I make myself remember all the things I put it through in college.  I think back on all of the hikes and camping trips in the rain.  All the rocks and dirt I’ve made it haul around as I built my gardens.

I start to feel a little sheepish.

I begin to remember the times when my body acted like an absolute champ.  When it performed miracles.

I think about my three pregnancies, when I made that body incubate a real-live human and then give birth to it.  I remember labor and delivery when my clumsy, swelled-to-ridiculous-proportions body turned into an Olympic Champion and did what had to be done with precious little help from me.

I remember my body pregnant with one while chasing the other two around the house. I remember it staying up all night to rock a sick baby, then going grocery shopping in the morning.

So I pat it on its chubby little shoulder and tell it that I’m sorry.

I guess this body has earned its creaks and aches and padding.  I guess I should learn to appreciate it.

After all, I don’t imagine its going to get much more spry in the future!