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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.

“Hang it All!”

14 Jan

I recently finished reading a book. It was a good book, well-written, kept me interested all the way through. But then I got to the last page. Only I didn’t realize it was the last page. I was reading on my Kindle and so there was no thickness of the remaining pages to clue me in. I knew from the “% read” at the bottom of the screen that I was nearly done. Knew too, that there was no Glossary or Tolkien-esque appendix that took up half of the book, but I assumed, as I pressed the “Next Page” button, that there would be an epilogue if not a short final chapter.

I read to the end of the page. I turned to the next. And the book was done. And I did what I have never done before. I shouted,

“You jerk!”

as if the author could hear me.

I am a person who likes her loose ends tied up. As a writer I keep a list of loose ends that I must not forget about. As a reader I do this too, only they’re mental lists and not separate files on my computer.

Loose ends Drive Me Bananas. And the loose ends in this book I read were HUGE.

I suppose you’re all dying to know what the book was. I debated telling you or not, but I guess I will because I’m not saying she is a bad writer, or that I disliked the book…I just HATED being left hanging!

I know, I know: it’s a writer’s prerogative. She or he can do whatever they like and if they like leaving their readers unfulfilled, well, fine. They have a right. For whatever reason, she wanted to leave the reader wondering, pondering, considering her book as we drive down the road to pick our children up from school. She wanted us to think. She wanted us to have lively discussions at book club – which I know we will! She wanted us to blog about it.

And so I say to Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, yes, you’ve made me think. You’ve made me consider Easter’s fate and the narrator’s future and the crotchety doctor’s wishes as I wash the dishes and fold the clothes and do other things that I’m too proper to write about.

And you’re driving me nuts.

So my question for you all is this: do you like loose ends that make you think? Or do you wish that all authors would tie their loose ends up in pretty bows that don’t stress you out and cause you to call them names when you reach the last page and discover THE END written in nasty, bold letters?

As my children like to ask, “Which would you rather?”

The Perfect Birthday

31 Dec

When it’s your birthday you shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t like…right? That, at least, is what I always thought when I was a kid. It was always a total rip off when I had to go to school on my birthday…especially if my birthday was the first day of school following Christmas break.

If I stuck with that philosophy now my day sure would be nice. See, I’m turning 44 this week so I’m thinking that I ought not to have to do any dishes on that day. Nor should I have to wash (or fold) any clothes. I won’t wear my heavy coat when I leave the house because I don’t like my heavy coat. Never mind that I’ll freeze to death. I won’t sneeze because I hate sneezing. I won’t throw up because I really, really hate throwing up. I won’t answer the phone because I don’t like telephones. I won’t sweep. I won’t dust. I won’t water my temperamental plant. I won’t eat anything I dislike. This includes coffee that gives me heartburn and anything that will add to my waist line. But I will drink weak but utterly delicious coffee and eat cake.

Magical cake that has no calories.
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I won’t exercise. I won’t run the microwave and the toaster at the same time, thereby avoiding the deep, dark basement when I pop the breaker. I won’t do that. I won’t. I won’t clean hair out of the drain or wipe toothpaste out of the sink. Heck, I’ll avoid the bathroom as much as possible because, let’s face it, it’s not my favorite room. This means I won’t have to wash my face and my skin will be perfect. And my hair. That, too.

And birthdays are all about favorites.

I’ll talk to all of my dear friends I’ve lost track of over the past 44 years. I’ll go and visit all my favorite places. But I won’t suffer from jet lag. I’ll have all the time in the world to write and I’ll be focused, creative, and edit-proof. I’ll also spend hours on end with my family and my children will never squabble or argue with me, nor will they make messes. Or if they do, they’ll clean them up.

My husband will bring me breakfast in bed after I’ve slept in until I wake up on my own. My bedroom will be toasty warm from the fire my husband will light in my magical fireplace that only appears on my birthday and never leaves a mess behind itself.
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I will luxuriate in a bubble-filled bath with water that never grows tepid because a magical fire-breathing dragon is keeping it heated from below. And he won’t poop or stink up the space beneath the house ‘cause I wouldn’t like that and my birthday is all about stuff I like.

I’ll eat chocolate and read a fabulous book and have soup and everything I cook will turn out perfectly and even prettier than the photo in the cookbook. I will find an agent and a publisher and be famous, all in one day. But with none of the obnoxious stuff about fame…’cause no one wants that.

And if I don’t want it, I won’t have to deal with it.

Because it’s my birthday.

And it’s supposed to be perfect.

Or, rather, it’s my birthday…and no matter what I do – or don’t do – it will be just fine. Because maybe our birthdays as adults aren’t quite as exciting as they were when we were kids…but still, it’s a birthday! And that, as they say, is far better than the alternative.

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Squirrel Mafia

26 Nov

Me: “There’s a squirrel in the birch tree right there.”

My husband: “It better run for its life.”

Me: “I bet it doesn’t know.”

My husband: “It will find out soon enough.”

Me: (A little guiltily) “I noticed all those black walnuts on the ground beneath the trees the other day and got to worrying about the squirrels. If they’re drawn by the scent.”

My husband: “But not enough to pick them up.”

Me: “What?”

My husband: “You didn’t worry enough to pick them up.”

Me: “Oh. No. Too much work.”

Black walnuts, anyone?

Black walnuts, anyone?

My husband: “You’d think that they’d spread the word. Avoid the place.”

Me: “They can’t spread the word. They’re all dead.”

My husband: “Don’t blame me.”

Me: “No. It’s the squirrel mafia.”

My husband: “Totally.”

Me: (Still watching the doomed squirrel.) “Poor guy.”

My husband: “I’m not too bothered by it, actually.”

Me: (Shouting) “RUN AWAY, LITTLE SQUIRREL! RUN AWAY!”

My husband: “He won’t.”

Me: “I know. I know.”

My husband: “Dead as a door nail.”

Me: “Deader. Doornails never were alive.”

My husband: “Remember the little paw?”

Me: “Lying on top of the dumpster. Like a mute warning.”

My husband: “Squirrels beware.”

Me: “It really was gross.”

My husband: “That’s the mafia for you. Probably a few of their victims are swimming with the fishes at the bottom of the stream.”

Me: “Swimming with the beavers, you mean. We don’t have any fishes in our stream.”

My husband: “Cement boots.”

Me: “Electrocuted, actually.”

My husband: “True. Brutally shocked at the top of the light pole.”

Me: “Fallen to the ground below. All stiff…”

My husband: “Next time the power goes out mysteriously in the middle of the day – no storm, no warning – you’ll know why.”

Me: “Yes. The squirrel mafia will have struck again.”

My husband: (Joining me at the window) “How many times has it happened?”

Me: “Twice. But there was that other squirrel – the one that did a weird dance in the middle of the road and was found dead in the yard the next day.”

My husband: “Yeah. Forgot about that one. I thought you thought it was rabies that time.”

Me: “Mafia-induced rabies, probably.”

We stood there, watching the innocent squirrel run down the tree trunk and head south.

My husband: “Looks like he’s heading into Iowa.”

Me: “Good thing. The mafia is less powerful there.”

My husband: “He’ll be back. All those nuts…just calling to him…”

Me: (Shouting and banging on the glass) “GOOD LUCK LITTLE SQUIRREL! AND DON’T COME BACK!!! Never, ever come back…”

My husband: “Squirrels aren’t known for their wisdom.”

Me: “Maybe I should put up warning signs.”

My husband: “Maybe you should just pick up the walnuts.”

The End

PS – Though the conversation may not have gone exactly like this, the details of the squirrel mafia are entirely true. It’s a bizarre fact that squirrels who come to our property die. And we don’t have anything to do with it. Any relation to actual events was completely on purpose. No animals were injured in the making of this post.

Bare walnut trees.

Bare walnut trees.

Mrs. Frankenstein at Your Service

19 Nov

I never wanted to be the bride of Frankenstein. But apparently the hair gods decreed that I should be.

Bother.

I am going gray at both of my temples and if I just put a little effort into it, together with my curly locks, I could easily be Mrs. Frankenstein on Halloween…if I wanted to be. Which I don’t.

I tried having my hair dyed. I got it done professionally by a great guy who is really good at what he does. I was satisfied. I went back six weeks later to get it touched up. I honestly could not complain about the results.

But my daughter did. She thought I looked weird. “It isn’t you, Mom.”

My husband could not be forced to take a side – he claims he didn’t even notice when it grew out and returned to the natural grayness I’d tried to hide.

Hiding the gray just isn't cutting it.  Nor is hiding behind a cupboard door.

Hiding the gray just isn’t cutting it. Nor is hiding behind a cupboard door.

The thing is – I liked it fine when it was colored. But I’m not sure I liked it enough to keep on doing it.

Hair – what a bother. I don’t mean to be glib, but I have always thought that if I ever have to lose my hair in some terrible manner – like through illness – I’d be okay with that. Yes, yes, I know that the reality of the moment might make me feel differently – and like I say, I don’t mean to be thoughtless of those who have lost their hair in some terrible way – but I just get so sick and tired of this hair thing sometimes and today is one of those times.

I have other hair issues too. You see, my youngest daughter, Boo, has been blessed – at least for now, who knows how long it will last? – with curly hair. As a result, since the day she was born – okay, well, a few months later when her hair starting growing in – people have stopped her in the grocery store, at the park, in the hallway at school, and said, “What beautiful curly hair you have.”

She smiles and says thank you.

And her older sister – who lights up the room with her smile – is left feeling like regular, straightish hair is less than wonderful. Less than ideal. Less than beautiful.

But she has hope for the future, for she, like I at her age, is getting curlier by the month. So now she thinks she’s pretty.

But she’s always been gorgeous.

It’s really rather frustrating.

I guess basically I have one request: please, please, please, don’t be the person in the aisle of the grocery store who compliments the curly-headed girls and ignores the sisters. It’s not fair and it’s damaging.

And also, please, please, please, don’t ever call me Mrs. Frankenstein.

Unless it’s Halloween and I’m dressed like her. ‘Cause then I’m asking for it.

But I’m never going to do that. I prefer The Sailboat King to Frankenstein. He talks a lot more fluently and his face isn’t green.

Life in My Neighborhood

12 Nov

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Of the five states and two countries I’ve lived in throughout my life, only one location has been deprived of noticeable seasonal changes, and I’m thankful I only lived there long enough to learn to sit up and eat solid foods. I’m sure that people living in Miami, as I did when I was born, get used to recognizing the seasons by what decorations are up in the stores, but I would miss the more obvious signs terribly if forced to give them up.

I would miss digging sweaters out of the depths of my closet, searching for matching snow boots, and wearing scarves as more than just accessories.

After the harvest.

After the harvest.

Here in southwest Minnesota the seasons can come in with a bang. I guess, if I had my druthers, I’d rather have the calmer, less brutal seasonal changes of Oregon or Washington than the IN YOUR FACE seasonal changes around here, but there is no denying that I get a lot of pleasure from watching the seasons through the palate of the farmer’s fields.

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In spring I love the daily changes in the fields, the minute corn and soybean plants beginning to poke their leaves above the soil, turning the brown earth into mint-green fields of promise. I adore spring, and all the more so since living through the Minnesota winters.

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But I also love watching the progress of harvest every autumn. I love seeing the combines sweeping back and forth across the fields. I especially love watching them at night when their headlights rise like the sun above the gentle folds and ridges of the countryside. Living as I do out in the country, it makes for an interesting time in the neighborhood – as opposed to the usual excitement of pheasants and feral cats.

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I thought I’d leave you today with a few photos of harvest in SW Minnesota. Some of these shots are from this year, and some from previous autumns. This is life in my neighborhood.

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A few years ago Boo was given in a ride in a combine as they harvested corn.  She was thrilled!

A few years ago Boo was given in a ride in a combine as they harvested corn. She was thrilled!

The view from inside the cab as we dumped corn from the combine into the gravity wagon.

The view from inside the cab as we dumped corn from the combine into the gravity wagon.

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Literally the view from my window...

Literally the view from my window…

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The Toothfairy is Going Broke

5 Nov

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This is it this week, folks. Unless I surprise you with a post later in the week. I suppose I could title this, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” – but the fact of the matter is, the toothfairy is going broke.

And she’s okay with that.

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