I Miss You Already, Robin Williams

12 Aug

When I was ten years old, my greatest ambition was to have a pair of rainbow-striped suspenders, a la Mork, the alien who hailed from the planet Ork on my favorite TV show, Mork and Mindy. Yes, I’m serious. I remember going to the fabric store with my mother and she, bless her heart, inquired as to the availability of rainbow-striped elastic. I can’t remember why we didn’t buy any but I think it may have been because it was out of stock. So apparently there were several other kids running around town who, like me, wanted to be compared to the incomparable Robin Williams.

I have not seen all of his movies over the years, nor did I love every one that I did see, but every time that I happened to catch him being interviewed, I had to stop and watch because he never failed to make me laugh. He always amazed me with his quick wit and his hilarious comparisons. How his mind could fly from one thing to another and make it all uproariously funny! I envied his ability to think on his feet. I can think on my feet to a degree – I actually enjoyed extemporaneous speaking in speech class – but I’m not funny. I don’t have one iota of his ability to make people laugh.

Not many people do.

The truth is, Robin Williams could also make people cry. His movie What Dreams May Come is one of my favorite movies of all time. Perhaps “favorite” is not the right word. It’s too depressing to be a “favorite”. Maybe “most heart-wrenching” would be better. Or “most unforgettable”. Never has a movie made me think more about life, about death, about heaven and hell. About theology.

Is it trite to say that the world is diminished because of his loss? It is, trite or not. My heart hurts, thinking that even as he cracked us all up, he was hurting so desperately inside. I pray that I’ll give grace to the next person who irritates me – to the next and the next and the next ad infinitum – because I have no idea what is going on inside of them. Because, even if a person is smiling on the outside, on the inside they may be breaking apart.

Na-Nu, Na-Nu, Robin. I miss you.

I Keep Forgetting!

30 Apr

Okay, so I keep forgetting to post the link to my London story! I can’t post the actual story on here as it is owned by the Daily Globe.

So here you go: http://www.dglobe.com/content/london-calling-couple-spend-whirlwind-five-days-touring-city.

I hope you enjoy the read!

- Gretchen
white tower

I’m Alive!

1 Apr
The houses of parliament and Big Ben from across the Thames as we ate dinner.

The houses of parliament and Big Ben from across the Thames as we ate dinner.

Atop the London Eye - a sort of Ferris Wheel - looking down on the Thames.

Atop the London Eye – a sort of Ferris Wheel – looking down on the Thames.

I may be alive but I am not entirely awake, alert or enthusiastic. That’s what a whirlwind 5 days in London will do to you.

But, while I may not be terribly alert yet, I am definitely basking in the remembered glory of our trip. We had a marvelous time. Spent five hours in the Tower of London, a couple hours in Westminster Abbey, several hours in the British Museum and the National Gallery, one hour in a pod of the London Eye, and countless hours on the underground.

But that’s not all! We attended an Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral (amazing) and visited Paddington Station because Paddington Bear is a favorite in our family. We watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and ate at pubs and did a little shopping. We saw Wicked, survived crossing London Bridge, and I even got to relax and read a book for a little while in St. James’s Park with the pelicans.

The many birds of St. James's Park.

The many birds of St. James’s Park.

I will be writing about the whole trip for the newspaper so I will leave the main storytelling until then but I wanted to let you know I’m still around and that more will be forthcoming in a couple of weeks!

For now, a photo or two – albeit not fabulous ones – and an assurance that I am, indeed, alive.

PS – please read this entire post with a British accent. It will make things so much more interesting.

Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge.

Fish and Chips - of course!  Along with mushy peas.  My husband had Chicken Masala.

Fish and Chips – of course! Along with mushy peas. My husband had Chicken Masala.

Time Out

18 Feb

It’s a Tuesday. That means I need to post.

See the verb I used there? Need.

That’s because I’ve said from the start of this blog – 2.75 years ago – that I’d post every Tuesday. And I have.

Every single Tuesday for almost 3 years.

And suddenly I’m tired. Suddenly I’m irritated. Suddenly it’s an obligation. Suddenly I stopped feeling guilty about my terrible track record for visiting other people’s blogs and started feeling cross and resentful about it all.

I have needed the discipline of knowing that I had to post every week. But now the discipline feels less like self discipline and more like parental discipline…i.e.: punishment.

I am not quitting. I have tons of ideas and topics for future epiphanies! (Hmmm…planned epiphanies…no comment.)

But I need a break.

Mondays come along and I find myself thinking, “Shoot. What am I going to blog about tomorrow? What do I feel like posting? Bother.”

I don’t want this blog to be a bother.

I feel like this is controlling me.

I have less time to write my book because I need to write a post.

And the whole point of beginning the blog was to support the book. Not the other way around.

I am beyond thankful for what this blog has brought me. I have made virtual friends who have become real friends. I have been introduced to worlds and to people I knew nothing of and I have benefitted from that tremendously. I am so thankful for all of you – bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

Because of A Fine Day For an Epiphany I was asked to begin The View From My Window – my second blog over on a network supported by my local newspaper – and because of that blog I am now a for-real free-lance writer for my local newspaper and even have a monthly column with them.

In other words, I’m getting paid.

I LOVE THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED.

But that job, in turn, takes its own share of time – time that I do NOT resent because it’s paying off – but there, too, it means I have less time to write my book. Or books. The one that I can’t find an agent for because, in part, I have no time to look for one. And the other one that I’ve begun which will be more like this blog in tone/feel/topic.

In short, I need more time. And taking a break from this blog is going to help with that.

No, I am not quitting. And part of me feels like I’m copping out by posting less than once a week. But see, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my writing. And I don’t want to post less-than-perfect posts…which I’ve been doing lately. I did this in part to improve my writing…not just to throw stuff out there.

Also, I need to define my focus for this blog. And I think that getting this new book idea into shape will help with this.

I hate good byes. Or, even though this isn’t really good bye, I still hate to say, “See you later.”

But I just have to.

I am planning on taking the rest of February, all of March and possibly even April off.

Who knows, maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll say, I WAS CRAZY! I MUST BLOG! I don’t know.

I do know that in March I’ll be traveling to London for a week and that I will blog about that when I return.

So I won’t be gone entirely…just taking a break.

I am not sure how I’ll feel when I hit “publish” today. Relief? Regret? Sadness?

I don’t know.

I think I’ll just hit it now and see…

BANG! THUMP! TWEEK!

11 Feb

It’s ten o’clock in the morning on a frigid Monday and I’m being lulled by the dulcet tones of my piano tuner man, hard at work in the living room. Such a lovely melody.

BANG! THUMP! TWEEK! BANG! Any little boy would be reprimanded for playing so badly.

I remember the tuning our piano got when we lived in West Berlin. We had some family friends come for Christmas, and we asked him to bring his piano-tuning kit. They lived in Saudi Arabia so it wasn’t a terribly long trip or a big deal to bring his tools – at least I don’t think it was!

He began tuning on a Sunday afternoon. BANG! THUMP! TWEEK! BANG!

The telephone rang.

It was our downstairs neighbor. We lived in an apartment building that had four two-story apartments in it so we only had three neighbors…and the one below us was MAD.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling! (Actually it sounded more like “buzz”…German phones sounded different than American phones!)

“Hello?” said my mother.

“Do you have a child visiting?” the down-stairs neighbor asked in English.

“Yes,” Mom replied, puzzled.

“Well, could you please ask him to cease banging on the piano? It is rest time in Germany. Sunday afternoons are rest time. Please stop him from banging.”*

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Mom replied, amused but controlling her laughter. “The boy is not banging on the piano. It is being tuned by his father.”

There was a silence on the other end while our neighbor – an artistically-minded individual – recovered her embarrassment and said, “Entschuldigung. I am so sorry.”

“And I,” said my mother, “apologize for interrupting your rest time. We should have realized.”

“Yes,” said the woman. “You should have. But it is okay.”

She might not have actually said those exact words. But she implied them.

I can’t help but smile at the memory.

When I was a kid, back on Orcas Island, our piano tuner was blind. This amazed and impressed me. My tuner down in the living room tells me that is becoming more and more common.

Six or seven years ago I began praying for a free piano. I’ve always labored under the impression that God cares about every part of my life, so why not? I didn’t ask for a new piano. I didn’t ask for a good piano. I just wanted something that my daughter could take piano lessons with. Something that would get her through a few years and that I, too, could play on from time to time if I could remember anything of my seven years of servitude torture lessons.

Not too long after I began praying, I got a piano. Free. From a friend, who had gotten it from a friend, who had gotten it who-knows-where. It’s an old upright. About 100 years old. Has a few keys that stick, and the bottom few bass notes ring in a strange way from an imperfect “fix” at some point in its life.

I put it on an inside wall, ‘cause I remembered that I’d heard at some point that that’s where pianos ought to go. For 3 ½ years my daughter took lessons on that old piano. I played it a couple times. Should do so more. Every so often over the years my daughter would say, “Can you get the piano tuned, Mom?”

And I’d say, “Yeah, sure. I can arrange that.”

And then I’d promptly forget all about it.

Well, about a month ago she came up to me – a nice smile on her face – and she said, “Mom? I know what I want for my birthday.”

“Oh?” I asked her, not wanting to admit to the fact that her birthday was approaching and I had no clue what to get her. “What?”

“I want the piano to be tuned.”

HOW COULD I SAY NO TO THAT?!!!

So I texted her piano teacher and asked for the name of her tuner. I called him…and he came a few days later. HORRAY!

When my daughter got home from school that day her little sister, Boo, (who had been home sick so she knew it had been tuned) suggested that Meep sit down and practice piano right away. (In her mind she wasn’t giving away the secret, just nudging her sister toward discovery.)

Meep sat down to play. She played through her favorite piece. There were no fireworks, no bright-eyed epiphanies (I love that word) but she did seem to play a little more carefully…and, just maybe, a small smile played about her lips. Then Boo said, “It got tuned!”

And Meep’s face lit up like Santa Claus had come and she jumped up and said, “Thank you, Mom!” And then she practiced longer than she ever had before in her life.

Our tuner, a friendly and talkative gray-haired gentleman, told me that he doubted it had been tuned more than once or twice in its life. He said something like, “Normally each key has to be moved about 10 degrees [I don’t know if the term he used was “degrees”, but it was something like that] but this one had to be moved 50!” Obviously, even to a piano-term-dense novice like me, even if I don’t remember his terms, I do recognize that 50 is a lot more than 10!

So now Meep is happy and she’s playing the piano even more beautifully than before and, $75 dollars later, I’m feeling good about it, too.

*There was one other time that she called us on a Sunday afternoon during rest time. I was hanging a picture and pounding a nail into the wall. “Hello?” “Hello. Do you hear a banging?” “No,” I replied honestly, looking at the hammer in my hand. “I do not hear a banging right now.” She was a martinet. An extremely nice martinet…except during rest time.

Children Shine On Stage With the Missoula Children’s Theater

4 Feb

One year ago, my daughter did something which she had never been able to do before. We’d wanted to do it before…but something always got in the way – like vacation, or busyness…or my memory.

But then, last January, she finally was able to try out and was in the Missoula Children’s Theater’s production of Hansel and Gretel.

This year, she did it again, playing the role of Martha in MCT’s The Secret Garden here in Worthington at the Memorial Auditorium.

I cannot adequately explain how great this experience is for the kids!
DSC_1338
Here’s how it works, for those unfamiliar. Two staff members with MCT lead the production. They travel to different towns – both small and large – to put on these “residency weeks”. The interested kids show up on Monday after school. (Or, as in the case this year in Worthington, on Tuesday because on that Monday all schools across Minnesota were closed due to the extreme cold.) The kids audition and after a short dinner break, they begin rehearsals.

They continue to rehearse every day after school until 8:15 each night.

Then, on Friday and Saturday, they perform. (This year locally they only had one performance, on Saturday, again due to the lack of that Monday’s rehearsal time.)

Canadian Geese...complete with a Canadian vocabulary, eh?

Canadian Geese…complete with a Canadian vocabulary, eh?

The team comes complete with costumes, easy to manipulate and attractive sets, and all the scripts and teaching necessary for the kids to be successful. What emerges is a wonderful performance – funny, age-appropriate, cute-as-all-get-out. Kids from kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible.

It is a fabulous opportunity for kids to gain confidence through inter-personal skills, public speaking skills, and yes, even acting skills! It also gives them experience in theater and even in independence, giving each child a little shove towards self-discipline and self-awareness. They are encouraged through their team work and their personal achievements.

What garden is complete without flowers?

What garden is complete without flowers?

In a town our size, I think that pretty much everyone who auditions gets a part (in fact, they had to cut a few roles this year because there weren’t enough children), but that’s not always the case. However, auditions in and of themselves – even without success at the end – are learning experiences and can be good opportunities in learning how to handle disappointment. Kids need to learn that life doesn’t always give them what they want. The MCT website offers a little wisdom on how to handle the disappointment of a failed audition.

Sheep, foxes, squirrels, and, of course, a robin.

Sheep, foxes, squirrels, and, of course, a robin.

The Missoula Children’s Theater began the early 70’s. It is an international organization. They have around 75 people listed as Tour Staff, meaning that there are approximately 40 teams that travel around, winter and summer.

The Missoula Children’s Theater’s mission statement is,”The development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts.”

They go on to say this: “MCT…strives to use participation in the performing arts as a vehicle to develop the life skills (social skills, communication skills, self-discipline, a strong work ethic, an understanding of the team concept and self-esteem) necessary to answer the challenges of our time.”

In other words, whatever the skill-level of your child – whether used to performing or compete novices – they can and will grow through the MTC experience.

The humans in The Secret Garden.

The humans in The Secret Garden.

As a parent, it is a thrill to see five intense days culminate in a splendid performance. I encourage everyone, with or without kids in the cast, to attend the show at the end of the week – it’s a great way to encourage the young children of your acquaintance and to spend 60 or so minutes enjoying the fun of a live performance – complete with the happy unexpected joys of children on stage!

Many thanks to Missoula Children’s Theater for their recent visit to Worthington!

Born for the stage!

Born for the stage!

Sherlock: Masterpiece Theater’s Masterpiece

28 Jan

I love to read. No shock there to anyone who knows me. Yet somehow, in all my years of reading, I have never gotten around to reading anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Shame on me.

Even though I have never read any Holmes books, I am, like pretty much every other person in the English-speaking world, familiar with his stories. I have watched a few movies – including the newest version starring the Ironman himself, Robert Downey, Jr.

But it’s not that franchise that has inspired me today. It’s the version, simply titled Sherlock, starring Khan (of Star Trek Into Darkness fame), aka, Benedict Cumberbatch, that is currently in its third season, Sunday nights on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS.

Oy, Vey, how did I not know about this series prior to a month or so ago?

Back in early December, while ushering at the Downton Abbey premier in Worthington, Minnesota, I was talking to Les Heen, the General Manager at Pioneer Public Broadcasting. I hope he doesn’t mind me indirectly quoting him when I say that he asked me if I watched Sherlock. In fact, he mentioned the series twice.

I looked at him blankly. But I remembered that he’d asked because I felt, somehow, like I was missing out on something I really ought to know about.

Then, a couple of weeks later, low and behold, Sherlock showed up on PBS as they replayed season two in preparation for the next season, which began on January 19th. I saw it in the lineup and thought, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll record it.”

I put it on the next evening. My husband came home halfway through and sat down to watch as well.

We were hooked.

Within days, thanks to Netflix, we had watched all existent episodes and then watched some of them again as they came on TV. That’s the kind of show this is: the kind you can watch again and again because you see hidden things that you didn’t catch the first time.

What is it about this show? How is it that Khan and Bilbo make such a wonderful team? (Martin Freeman, the inestimable Bilbo of The Hobbit, plays Dr. Watson. Ironically, Cumberbatch is the voice of Smaug the dragon of the same movie – fun to think of Bilbo and Smaug being friends.)

The two of them play off each other superbly. You are irritated with Sherlock as Watson is irritated onscreen. You love him when he smiles ironically and shows those rare moments of caring. You love Watson, too, because he’s so sincere and vulnerable. You cringe when Moriarty scores a point and you flinch when Sherlock blunders along in his interpersonal relationships even as you smile when he floors you with his deductions.

It is, in short, a marvelous show. Intelligent, funny, and clever, it holds your attention and leaves you thirsting for more. And, I must say, part of its charm is that both my husband and I can watch and enjoy it equally together. There aren’t a whole lot of shows that can claim that.

And now, I really need to rectify a long-held wrong and go read the books. Because any books that have survived this long in history must be fabulous.

But first I need to make sure that my DVR is set to record the one remaining episode. Because my life will not be complete if I forget.

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