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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.”


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.


Anticipation? Or Instant Gratification?

10 Dec

When I was in 5th grade I was invited to a birthday party of a classmate who had newly moved to Orcas Island. This was all very well and good, but it meant one thing first and foremost: my parents did not know her parents.

But we did know one thing about them and her: She was named after an Indian Goddess and she lived at Polarity Institute.

Translation: she lived in a commune and was involved in a cult.

Or something close enough that it was very, very suspicious to my parents.

To this day I am amazed that my mother allowed me to go to the party. Not that Mom would have worried that I’d be sucked into some bizarre group, but it was all just so UNKNOWN…I mean, I never knew anyone else who ever visited the commune and I certainly never did so again – not because anything bad happened, the opportunity just never came up. As I recall, my friend had moved away by the 6th grade, anyway.

My visit there was less than spectacular. I remember we were only allowed into the common room. I don’t remember cake, games, or anything else. Pretty much we were just left alone to hang around. I vaguely remember seeing a tall tree-house kind of thing on top of a pole. Or maybe I just imagined that.

I do, however, remember this for sure: they owned a VCR.

This was amazing to me.

Never before had I known anyone with such a thing. I didn’t even know what it was, to be honest. I remember going home after the two allotted hours and telling my mom, “They have a machine and they can watch The Sound of Music ANY TIME THEY WANT!!!!!”

This was miracle indeed. To be able to watch such a splendid movie at any given moment!! To not have to wait until it came on television?!

Remember those days? The waiting? The anticipation? I remember waiting for the Charlie Brown Christmas Special to come on TV. I’d pray that we had nowhere to go that evening. I’d write it on my calendar. I’d practically camp out in front of our little black and white set – the screen was smaller than my laptop’s screen is now – and woe betide anyone, parent or sister, who wanted to change the channel. Not that we had many channels to choose from. We had three, in fact, and all were out of Canada.

Now, when ABC advertises that the Charlie Brown Christmas Special is coming on my kids could care less. Not because they don’t like the Charlie Brown Christmas Special – quite the contrary – but because we own it. On Blue Ray. Black and while TV? What’s that?!

I have to say, it’s a mixed blessing, being able to own things like the Charlie brown Christmas Special. The anticipation is completely gone. That excitement. That skip in my step as the hour approached when we’d be blessed with Linus’ wisdom. Yes, it’s lovely to be able to watch it at any time…but, somehow, it’s not the same.

Somehow the magic has gone.

I’ll always remember my trip to the commune with a smile if for no other reason than I cherish that magical moment, that awe, when I realized that the technology existed to watch a favorite movie at any moment I so desired.

Yes…magical…and yet I had no idea how magical anticipation could be as well.

PS – We own The Sound of Music, too. But I hardly ever watch it. Maybe I should set a time – like my birthday – could that add the magic back? We have a family tradition of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy every New Year’s weekend…and yes, we look forward to that as part of the festivities, so I suppose one can kind of manufacture that magic…with the added pleasure of being able to watch it any other time we so choose. The best of both worlds? Kinda of. But not quite…not quite…

The Toothfairy is Going Broke

5 Nov


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.

The Pick-Up Line. (No, that THAT kind of pick-up line….)

1 Oct

The people in front of me are energetically having a conversation. I suppose I could say, “Having an energetic conversation” but the emphasis for them seems to be on the waving arms and pointing fingers, so the emphasis for me must be on the energy. Thankfully the pointing doesn’t seem to be at each other and occasional laughter floats back to me on the afternoon breeze, so I don’t think that their energetic conversation is accusatory. Although it would make the day more interesting for me if it was.

That’s not very nice of me.

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I see a lot of things while waiting in line to pick up my daughter at the end of the school day. Yes, I’m one of those moms. The funny thing is, I usually have nothing but complaining to do about this line: the gaps left between cars, the parent who inches forward constantly, causing me to feel guilty if I don’t move my car and irritated that they didn’t just move all the way up to begin with.

But I live in a small town, so I’d better keep my mouth shut. Complaining is not attractive.

Of course, the fact that I live in a small town means that I often know the people in the line all around me.

That person in front of me is separated from her husband. Perhaps he’s who she and her friend are discussing with such energy. And the person at the back of the line who always waits until the last moment to leave her home to get her kid…she’s a person I’d like to know more but neither of us have time to make each other a priority.

Life is like that sometimes.

But I do, apparently, have time to pick up my children each day, from two different schools (next year it will be three) and taking about an hour of my life each day. It’s an hour they don’t have to spend on the bus (and if you remember your bus-riding years, perhaps you’ll understand). And it’s another hour I get to spend with them, asking about their day, sorting out their evening needs. Yes, there are times I wonder why I do it…but not many.

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I am writing these words – ok, not all of them, but most – on the back of my husband’s old business cards. I am not a writer who composes in her head as I drive, shower, take a walk, fall asleep. I have lost far too many perfectly crafted sentences to do that anymore. I refuse to even begin phrasing things. I mull over the concepts, but I do not compose. And yes, I keep pads of paper on my bedside table, in my purse, my car, my diaper bag.

Well, I did back in the day when such a thing was a permanent third appendage on my body. Now I’m past those diaper bag days and well into the soccer mom part of my life. Or rather, I would be if my children played soccer. They are, sadly, coordination-challenged, given the fact that their mother – an English major – and their father – an engineer – gave them thinking genes and not moving ones. But they’re good at both math and literature, so that’s at least something. I was always the kid whose GPA got messed up by PE. PE!! Oh, and art. I wasn’t too good at that, either.

The line is creeping forward and it’s time for me to put down these business cards and pay more attention to my driving.

Writing is a lot more fun.
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Tomato Bowling

10 Sep

A couple of years ago, round about this time of year, my daughter Meep came to me and said, “Mom! Look at this perfect bowling pin!”

She was holding a tomato. A yellow pear tomato. And she was right – it did look like a perfect bowling pin.

And so, what was the next logical step for a family to do but go tomato bowling?









Buckle Up! Summer’s Heading Out.

6 Aug

A friend asked me last week if I’d bought my kid’s school supplies yet. I stopped. Turned. And stared at her. “Umm, excuse me, but what did you say?”

“I was just wondering if you’d bought your school supplies yet,” she repeated, looking a little defensive. “I mean, they’re already being picked through….”

I walked away from that conversation feeling a little ill. How is it possible that summer is almost over and I need to buy school supplies already? I guess I was in denial.

But then I went and spent $150 on supplies and reality hit home.
But enough about that. I have to say that it’s been a great summer and a lot of the greatness is due to all the hard work that many, many willing adults put in to making a ton of great activities for my kids to participate in. Kids need summer activities. Yes, they need to relax and just hang out but they can’t do that for three solid months. If they did, they and I both would go insane.

And so we signed them up for a few things. Not as many as some years, mind you, but a few, well-chosen things. My oldest two did Summer Band at the middle school and they both loved it. I have never seen my daughter so excited about her band instrument, as she was able to begin playing a “Frumpet” because French Horns simply aren’t marching band instruments. Along with my son on his marching band tuba (read Susaphone), we had several marvelous duets in the evenings and loved every minute of it. Thanks so much to Mr. Anderson and all of the band teachers and helpers involved with that program.

A little Frumpet action.

A little Frumpet action.

My daughter also was able to participate in Summer Orchestra and she enjoyed that very much, remembering what it is like to pick up a viola after quite a few weeks of…I admit it…not doing so. The students were even were able to take a field trip to the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, which definitely is a place our whole family needs to check out, from the sounds of it. Thanks to Mrs. Loy for a great couple of weeks!

Most recently my two oldest kids enjoyed Kid’s College out at Minnesota West. For four days they experimented, learned, played, created, and soaked in the atmosphere of the college and many willing and capable instructors. Too bad it couldn’t be longer, says this mom!

Not his Susaphone, but you get the idea.

Not his Susaphone, but you get the idea.

Not to be forgotten, our youngest, too, had weekly fun at the Summer Library Program at the Nobles County Library, thanks to all the hard work of Jackie Van Horsen, the children’s librarian. Three Hershey’s kiss gnomes, a caterpillar, an ant, and something that I’m a little unclear as to what it is exactly – still grace our family room with their smiling faces. Her crafts are all smiling, according to her, because she was having a great time making them with her friends at the library.
Library gnomes.

Library gnomes.

There were other activities our kids did – and other activities they should have done (read swimming lessons) – and somehow, all of a sudden, summer is winding down and there is very little I can do about that. Okay, there’s nothing I can do about it, I just like to pretend that maybe there is.

One thing that was very different for us this summer was not being involved with the summer musical at the Memorial Auditorium here in Worthington, as we were for the past two summers. Instead, we were able to sit and RELAX in the audience and enjoy the hard work that the cast and crew of SHREK THE MUSICAL put in over the summer to entertain us all. I intimately understand how much effort it takes to put on such a show, and I appreciate their time and commitment so much. I can’t say that we didn’t miss doing a show a little bit, but mostly, we were just glad to have summer evenings at home. But yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m sure the stage will lure us back one of these summers, if not more than one.
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Summer has been lovely, but all good things must come to an end. School is important, and I guess I’m ready for it, at least as far as my kid’s supplies go. Mentally, though…I’m thinking I’d rather cuddle with my six year old a little longer, savor my coffee on the deck with a good book, watch the kids catch lightning bugs, and have just one more day to sleep in.

But this is my life, at least for a few more years. School supplies, alarm clocks, homework…. Someday I’ll miss all that, they tell me.

For now, I’ll buckle up for the ride.

Didn't catch him flashing, but here is a lightning all his non-glowing glory.

Didn’t catch him flashing, but here is a lightning bug…in all his non-glowing glory.

One got caught in Boo's hair!

One got caught in Boo’s hair!

Summer in Full Swing: Check

11 Jun

Kids off to summer band – check. Kids off to science camp – check. Girls off to Girl Scout camp – soon to be checked. Church camp and Bible camp – nearly checked. Children’s library reading time – checking all summer long. Swimming lessons – not yet checked. Cleaning the house – checking. Worst-ever sinus infection – check. Flowers, tomato plants and herbs bought – check. Planting said flowers, tomatoes and herbs – not yet checked.

Weekend away with the family – check. Longer vacation with the family – yet to be checked. NOT doing a community theater production this summer in order to actually have a summer – check. Removing ticks from the cat – check. Bird watching out my windows – checking each and every day with joy. Doctor appointments, dentist appointments, veterinary appointments – check.

Strawberry shortcake – checked several times. Iced coffee consumed by the gallon – checking daily. Grill used and appreciated – check. No time to write – check. Barely able to blog – check. Taking advantage of every moment possible to cuddle and read to kids – check. Reading a lot myself – check.

Getting verklempt every time my six year old reads to me with her newly-acquired fabulous reading skills – check, check, check.

Summer in full swing: check.

Ian tuba


Lucy meal

No Man – or Girl – is an Island

26 Mar

I have been struck anew, this past week, over the tenderheartedness of my two daughters. Though, to be sure, their emotions are shown in different ways.

Boo, age 6, was watching The Lion King the other day. She came up to me, scared, but dry-eyed, when Mufasa the king was thrown off the cliff to his death by his own brother, Scar. I held her, and together we weathered the injustice of the jungle out there.

The Lion King

But her indignation at Scar’s behavior was not done. Later, at the end of the movie, as Scar is trying to convince a young Simba that it is his, Simba’s fault, that Mufasa died, Boo suddenly shouted from her place on the couch. “Dummy head! Double Dummy head!”

That, to Boo, is high abuse indeed.

I must say, I loved that what came out of her mouth in that moment of unguarded behavior was something so benign…and yet so full of truth.

She knew, though perhaps could not articulate, that the “jungle out there” is, truly, the jungle we all live in every day.

I couldn’t help but think of our other daughter, now age 11, who behaved much the same way when she was Boo’s age.

She and I were watching A Little Princess, a nicely-done movie based on the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett.

A little princess

She was sick that day, as I recall. She liked the movie, followed it along, understood – for the most part – what was going on. But every so often she would turn to me and ask, “Why is that woman so mean? What did Sara do to deserve that?”

I suppose I said something about injustice in the world. About bad people. About things not always working out the way we wish.

But then came the end – the part where Miss Minchin lies and denies that the amnesiac man is Sara’s father. And our daughter stood up on the couch and cried, “NO! NO! He is her father!” And she cried and cried and cried and could not be consoled.

Her tender heart has not changed over the years. Just now, at age 11, she came upstairs in tears. It’s well after bedtime, but she’s caught up in her book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, and Beth, the sweet, kind sister, just died.

Little Women

“Why do we care so much about storybook characters?” she asked me through her tears.

Because we love them, my sweet girl. Because books have power to change our lives. Because you have a kind and gentle heart and when you cry over injustice and sorrow and sadness in the books you read, you are really crying over the things in this world you have not yet faced, but you know are real. You know they could happen, and you weep for those they have happened, and will happen, to. You weep for the imperfections of the world. You weep because you are not an island. You are a part of the continent, a piece of the main.*

Never send to know, my darling girl, for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee.

*John Donne, Meditation 17

Boo Who?

12 Feb


A sad – and yet, of course, happy – thing has happened and I must memorialize it.

I’m not quite sure how it happened. Nor am I certain that I fully believe it, but the calendar tells me that my youngest child, fondly known on this blog as Boo, is turning six years old this week. How can this be? How is it possible that she, born conveniently between snowstorms – one which kept us trapped at home for 3 days, less than a week after she was born – could be six? Somehow six sounds so much older than five. So much more grown up.

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I have before me my old copy of A. A. Milne’s book, Now We Are Six. It describes Boo’s opinions quite well. For example:

The End

When I was One, / I had just begun.
When I was Two, / I was nearly new.
When I was Three, / I was hardly Me.
When I was Four, / I was not much more.
When I was Five, / I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever. / So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.
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Or this one, titled Us Two

Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh, / There’s always Pooh and Me. / Whatever I do, he want to do, / “Where are you going today?” says Pooh: / “Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too. / Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he. / “Let’s go together,” says Pooh.

“Let’s look for dragons,” I said to Pooh. / “Yes, let’s,” said Pooh to Me. / We crossed the river and found a few – / “Yes, those are dragons all right,” said Pooh. / “As soon as I saw their beaks I knew. / That’s what they are,” said Pooh, said he. / “That’s what they are,” said Pooh.

“Let’s frighten the dragons,” I said to Pooh. / “That’s right,” said Pooh to Me. / “I’m not afraid,” I said to Pooh, / And I held his paw and I shouted “Shoo! / Silly old dragons!” – and off they flew. / “I wasn’t afraid, “said Pooh, said he, / “I’m never afraid with you.”

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh, / There’s always Pooh and Me. / “What would I do?” I said to Pooh, / “If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said: “True, / It isn’t much for One, but Two / can stick together, “ says Pooh, says he. / “That’s how it is, “ says Pooh.
Boo’s “Pooh” that sticks with her almost wherever she goes is called “Buddy”. Buddy is a crocheted baby blanket, bought for Boo by my Aunt Betsy. And Buddy is Boo’s best pal. Buddy is the background – or foreground – of almost every baby photo of Boo…and toddler photo…and pre-schooler photo…

The earliest recorded proof of the importance of less than two months old.

The earliest recorded proof of the importance of Buddy…at less than two months old.

Even Daddy likes Buddy.

Even Daddy likes Buddy.

We prepared Boo for kindergarten far in advance, by warning her that Buddy would not be allowed in school – at least, not out of her backpack. “He isn’t a student,” we said. “Though I know you wish he could sit beside you.”

“She,” Boo corrected us. “Buddy is a she.”

“Of course. I always forget.”

Luckily, Buddy travels well.  Makes for happier plane rides.

Luckily, Buddy travels well. Makes for happier plane rides.

Buddy likes the ferryboat.

Buddy likes the ferryboat.

The first days of kindergarten last fall, Buddy hung out in the backpack. That first week was great fun. Adrenaline was high. Excitement huge. Fear very low.

The second week, the adrenaline was lower, the excitement tinged by homesickness, the fears rising fast. Buddy-in-the-backpack wasn’t enough.

So we sent a piece of yarn in Boo’s pocket. Yarn felt like Buddy; could be fingered and caressed throughout the day. The yarn was an “Assistant Buddy” – that’s what Boo called it, not “substitute” but “Assistant”.

Sometimes Buddy makes a good wig.

Sometimes Buddy makes a good wig.

Buddy was irreplacable when Boo spent 4 days in the hospital when she was two.

Buddy was irreplacable when Boo spent 4 days in the hospital when she was two.

But soon all the pants (or dresses) with pockets were dirty and what now? Where does the yarn go when there is no pocket to hold it?

Around the neck, of course.

This lasted a few weeks and then, one morning, “assistant Buddy” was forgotten in the excitement of morning preparations.

And Boo survived the day just fine.

Halloween candy tastes better with Buddy.

Halloween candy tastes better with Buddy.

Now, several months down the road of maturity, Boo – and Buddy – have reached another milestone.

Buddy is beginning to unravel.

The blessed unraveling.

The blessed unraveling.

Quite badly.

The Sailboat King and I believe this is from God.

It was the final acceptance of our new rule that Buddy Must Stay in Bed All Day and Not be Dragged Around the House/into the Car/in the Backpack.

Note Buddy on the ground.

Note Buddy on the ground.

Buddy, being introduced to the new "tent" one Christmas Day.

Of course, another Assistant Buddy has arisen.


Lamby...found after much hunting, hiding on the rocking chair.  Lamby - as her predecesor Buddy - tends to wander off.

Lamby…found after much hunting, hiding on the rocking chair. Lamby – as her predecesor Buddy – tends to wander off.

Made of wool yarn and equally appealing in texture.

But far less grubby…for now at least.

And so our six year old progresses on her route to emancipation. One step at a time. And, as long as she’s got Buddy – or some approximation thereof – she can fight dragons with the best of them.

Just like Christopher Robin – “As clever as clever” – forever and ever.
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