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Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Past, Present and Power of Music

There's a family story about my mom and my aunt taking Grandma to see West Side Story when it came out in theaters. Grandma wasn't familiar with musicals, but she was a bit of a musician herself. Undoubtedly, it would be a treat. Some of you might recall that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts sees an opera for the first time. Richard Gere says, "People's reaction to opera is very dramatic; they either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don't, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul." The scene ends with Julia Roberts crying, absorbed in the music of the opera. Near the end of West Side Story, as my mother and aunt were crying their eyes out, and the notes of There's a Place for Us began, my grandmother turned in her seat and said, "Oh shit. They're gonna sing again."

I love that story. It's so indicative of my grandma, whom I adored. But I also love it because I believe in many ways my mother was much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. She hadn't been exposed to operas or musicals growing up, but when she did, it really became a part of her soul.

Believe it or not, growing up in Kirkman didn't allow many opportunities to experience fine culture. (We didn't even have MTV since cable hadn't come through yet.) But I was lucky. I had a mother who had sense of its importance, and as it turned out, a piano teacher who would decide to make Kirkman her residence. Mrs. Laporte would end up being an extraordinary influence in my life.

Not only did I learn scales and the importance of practice, but I learned the discipline of Bach and the vastness of Mozart. I learned Chopin was pronounced show-PAN', not choppin. I learned classical music was not just the background for cartoons, but a genre of complex and elevated emotion. I also came to understand how classical music was the origins for all the pop songs I had loved and still love.

The other day, on my way to work, XM's Symphony Hall featured the music of West Side Story. I laughed out loud, thinking about my grandma's experience with the musical. Then I listened. My heart became full, not only from the brilliance of the Leonard Bernstein, but from the gratitude I felt for my exposure to the fine arts.

I wanted to ensure my kids were given the opportunity to appreciate the arts, as I did. We've taken them to the Orpheum aplenty. Admittedly, the impact to Alex and Cole were decisively different. Before Alex left for college, she listened to The Nutcracker every night as she fell asleep. She once was appalled when she learned how many of my coworkers had never been to a musical. She now writes for the art desk for the Daily Iowan. Cole, on the other hand, still remembers having to sit through the second half of Fiddler on the Roof. Exposing Cole hasn't been all in vain though. I have caught him falling to sleep to some beautiful, unfamiliar classical music. It happened to be a soundtrack for Assassin's Creed. Nonetheless, beautiful. I think there's hope for him yet.

Music has the distinct quality of affecting people in their own unique way. Interestingly enough, a person's response to music, any kind of music (pop, classical, or country) also has the distinct quality of bringing them close to others who share the same taste. I feel very blessed to have a love of music that spans high-brow to grass-roots. It gives me a connection to others. Lots of others.

Tony and Maria. "Tonight. Tonight. It all begins..."

Monday, March 28, 2016


When I was seven-years-old, my parents sat me down the night before Easter to inform me there was no such thing as an Easter Bunny. I cried. I distinctly remember my sadness not stemming from the non-existence of the mythical hare. I was sad because I knew my dad was really just telling me I wasn't getting a gift basket the following Sunday. (They had forgotten to pick something up.) Through my blubbering, I managed to ask about the authenticity of Santa. Dad assured me that Santa would arrive next Christmas. Relief.

Easter should be esteemed as the most holy, reverent holidays for all Christians everywhere. It is, after all, what defines us as Christian. I can honestly confess (this is a confession), I haven't always embraced the spirit of the holiday for what it is–as you can guess from the story of my 7-year-old self.

As I grew older and presumably wiser, I looked forward to Easter for different reasons: to dress up my kids, decorate hard-boiled eggs, and pose as the Easter Bunny to warrant ridiculous portions of chocolate and jelly beans in the house. All of that was pretty fun. Yet, I skimmed over the true reason for the celebration.

Now I am forced to give up dressing up my kids for the holiday. I still buy them clothes, but my opinions are effectively moot. Alex would never talk to me again if I made her wear a flowery dress with a pink floppy hat. And if I attempted another sweater vest on Cole, he'd likely run away. Thus, they wear something cool and trendy that can and must be worn with dirty Converses or ratty Nikes.

Last week, I was nostalgic about the days of the egg hunts during our big family celebrations. Then it occurred to me! Those hunts were a pain in the ass. We mothers not only had to hide hundreds of eggs, but we had to find the well-hidden ones as well...and make sure all the kids got equal amounts. Neither of those two things ever happened.

So this Saturday, as we hosted family, I tried to determine how to resurrect the Easter of times past.  Then it occurred to me. Why? The youngest of the clan is now fourteen. The kids can dress themselves (most of the time) and they are quite adept at entertaining themselves.

Easter is resurrection, without the need of all the commercial antics and hoo-rah. No matter what traditions we do or not do, it's a time for all of us to be immensely happy. Because we are loved no matter what, through all of our sins and failings.

If you believe Jesus died for our sins, it really is the most wonderful time to meditate on what that really means to you. And perhaps some of you, like me, will conclude the best way to honor God for this gift is to follow His lead and show your love to others no matter what–and not necessarily with chocolate bunnies.
Look at those threads. More importantly, look at those smiles. #Loved.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

#My Best Friend

Get up. Go to work. Come home. Do laundry. Make dinner. Attend a kid's activity. Exercise. Read the paper. Go to bed. Repeat.

Sound familiar? There's probably a few more items on everyone's list. Meetings. Helping with homework. Church events. Fundraisers. More meetings. Writing books. Lots and lots of stuff.

With every minute of our schedules pre-determined, how do we possibly make time for those frivolous things like friendships and marriages?

I did it this week! I carved out quality time for friendship and my marriage. And the results so exceeded my expectations.

Not only did I have a shopping and spa day last week with one of my best friends in which we detoxed our skin with a mind-blowing facial which refashioned my hair in a Pee Wee Herman-style, but I also arranged for a couple's retreat with my husband this past weekend in Omaha. (Ironically, there was a marriage encounter happening at the hotel we stayed. We didn't attend the sessions.  I peeked at the guidebooks. Very depressing.)

Anyway, there were a few hiccups to our couple's weekend.

It sleeted. But the sun shined.

It was cold. But we found ourselves capable of speed walking.

Our bar waitress couldn't add. But we are both skilled at simple math. ($5 plus $6 DOES equals $11. Luckily, bar waitress was able to confirm with a calculator.)

The food at the fancy restaurant was not only cold, but it was tasteless as well. However, the lemon drop martinis (arguably the most important part of the meal) were spectacular.

The movie we rented in the room required technical help. But IT guy was so apologetic over our ten minute wait, he made sure we didn't get charged the $16 fee which subsidized for our room-service dessert.

Without the mishaps, I'm not sure we would've laughed as much. Maybe. But every experience seemed to promote our sense of togetherness. It was extremely liberating to ditch the to-do list and just talk and giggle at the circumstances–much like we did in the beginning of our courtship...BC...before children.

Not that we don't love spending time with our kids. We do. (We started planning our Kansas City family vacation on the way home.) But it seems like we forget who we are, as a couple, without our lovely kids. We made a pact. Twice a year. Couples retreat.

OMG. There goes my hair again on this couple's retreat weekend. Good fodder. Good, good fodder.
Next week I host Easter and amazingly, and uncharacteristically, I do not feel stressed about the upcoming event. I think it all has to do with the friends' day and the couple's retreat. My new recipe to deflate anxiety: Immerse myself in the present. Have real conversations. And laugh. Laugh lots more.

Petsmart now plays Queen's Your My Best Friend on their commercials. This also happens to be one of our wedding songs, which is kind of funny since pets find the tune meaningful as well. But I love it. I hear the song much more now. And every time the commercial comes on, I don't only see a cute cat or dog, I remember our wedding–and why we got married. It's nice. And funny.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Possibilities

I'm easily inspired.

We just returned from Washington DC–the 8th grade three-day killer trip in which kids, teachers, and chaperones tromped around the nation's capitol donning safety orange t-shirts with the imprint: "Always Walk Through Life as if You have Something New to Learn."

Rather than list every grand museum, memorial, and monument we visited, I thought I'd list  the various new careers I considered as we toured the amazing historic city.

  • Lawyer, eventually leading to a gig as a Supreme Court Justice. I hear there's an opening.
  • Investigative Journalist, to uncover provocative information like a Watergate scandal.
  • Astronaut, to emulate a sort of modern day Amelia Earhart.
  • Archeologist, to make a mammoth fossil contribution to a Smithsonian.
  • Politician, for obvious reasons. Like roaming the Library of Congress and pondering all of the profound quotes on the wall.

This happens to me a lot when I get away from every day life for a few days. After our first Disney visit, I was brainstorming ways to become a princess. Just kidding. But on the plane ride home from Orlando, I did start writing an animated fairy tale though. It was pretty bad. Like I said, I'm easily inspired. While it would seem I'm obsessed with exploring fantastical opportunities, I think when it comes right down to it, I like the idea of making a difference...having impact. And when I see some of the deeds of great men or women, I think to myself, "I want to do that!"

Hello President Obama!
Upon deeper reflection, we all make a difference in our own way. I'm a mother, wife, daughter, banker, manager, and most importantly a dabbling writer. Undoubtedly, I don't have the influence of a person who orates stuff like, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." But I have a sphere of influence. My family, friends, coworkers, and those ten people who read my blog and stories. Every day I have the power to make a positive impact. I don't know exactly what this is. But if I start the day intending to make a difference, I most certainly will. It doesn't have to be anything like drafting the Declaration of Independence. But who says a small gesture isn't as important as a grand one?

As I considered how the trip motivated me, I was excited to ask Cole if the trip inspired him to pursue any particular field of study. I'm pleased to announce his sights are set on Major League Soccer–a noble way to contribute to society. Apparently, he learned quite a bit in DC. Especially that pursuit of happiness thing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


On a balance sheet the difference between assets and liabilities is known as equity. In simple terms, it's the amount available once anything owed is deducted from from anything owned. It's what makes a balance sheet balance.

Equity. It's been on my mind lately–not the stuff on a financial statement–but the concept of equity in general. I'm not talking about equal pay, gender roles at home, or even the social injustices of the world. I'm interested in how different individuals perceive, or perhaps approach, fairness.

My husband and I share similar values and agree on most morality issues. (He's probably a bit more pro-capital punishment than I.) But we often take a different stance when it comes to quid pro quo. Case in point:

My husband is an excellent cook. (Meat seems to be his specialty. He's proven his ability to convert a vegan.) I think everyone in the house would prefer him to cook every night. However. He's pointed out several times how this isn't fair. He shouldn't have to cook most of the time. Valid point. So I contribute–mostly during harvest and planting seasons. Despite my lesser culinary talents, I don't have to worry about screwing up, because he's often auditing me. "Did you season that? How much of that did you add?"

But here's the difference between Doug and me. He's keeping a counter. "I cooked the last three meals. You're on to cook the next three. I cleaned the kitchen yesterday. You clean it the rest of the week." (ha ha) Now, I will admit that by the end of harvest season, I'm beyond ready for him to take over the kitchen. But for the most part, I don't keep score. I think I figured out why.

Doug grew up with four other siblings. Everything needed to be divided equally and no one was shown preference. Understandable and commendable. I, on the other hand, grew up as an only child. Sure, I was taught to share with my playmates, but I generally experienced a plethora of attention and received...well...lots of stuff. I know what many of you are saying right now, including my husband. "Oh! Spoiled brat!" But I disagree.

I watched my parents give me things, knowing how hard they worked. Most importantly, I sensed the joy when they gave. Maybe I sensed this from my mom a little more than my dad. Nonetheless, I sensed it. And what's more? I always felt the giving was unconditional. I might've been wrong. Maybe my parents are waiting for me to buy them a swimming pool. And I will. Soon. Because it would make me very happy to give.

Our pets seem to get equity. The cat is entitled to whatever he wants. And the dog just wants whatever the cat has. And they get along beautifully. Just like cats and dogs.

While there are obvious moral imperatives when it comes to the issue of equity ("All men are created equal"), I do believe it's important to understand perspective before judging if something or someone is fair or not. I would also argue if we all quit keeping counters, we might great peace within ourselves.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Just Listen to Music

When I was young, I was always perplexed when my mother shut off the car radio. I'd try to crank it up. She'd politely turn it down. Or off. I knew she loved music, so I didn't get it.

Now I do. As a music aficionado, I never saw myself choosing silence, or NPR, over melodies. But that's exactly what I've been doing! I'm not sure when it happened. It sort of snuck up on me. And while I have always been somewhat geek-ish (even before my mom days), I decided something this week. I have completely amped up my boring-factor. I need more music in my life.

It's intuitive to crave silence after a hectic day. And keeping current on the news is obligatory after a certain age–31, I think. Music slipped from my priority, which is nuts if you knew me when I was young. I had top five lists almost every week. Top five artists. Top five songs. Somewhere along the line, I stopped tracking my top five.

Not that I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to music. Lucky for me, I have a son who hijacks the radio to get his dose of Shawn Mendez or Drake. It keeps me hip. Along with the NPR, of course. And I could probably whip up a quick top five artists list in a pinch.

When I tread on my treadmill, I often watch The Office to get my twenty minutes of laughter. For the next ten minutes, I switch to I Heart Radio. I've been very faithful about keeping my cardio to 30 minutes max. But I'm thinking of increasing my music ratio, which means more exercise minutes. I know what you're thinking. More than 30 minutes of exercise? Crazy! I think I need it though. I've been rotating between Imagine Dragons and Coldplay radio–and with only ten minutes of airplay, I often fail to hear Clocks. A definite top five song.

Today I chose a rock workout station which began with Awolnation and ended with Journey. Diverse. And awesome. As I lip synched to Don't Stop Believin, I realized how much my soul needs music. I felt my pulse revving and my optimism edging up. Certainly working out contributed, but I happen to believe it was more about the music. After imagining myself on stage, belting out a duet with Steve Perry, I definitely felt happier and less distracted from all of the day's minutia. I don't even like Journey that much! I didn't think. Maybe I do.

I've been brainstorming New Year's Resolutions that don't involve eating better, losing weight, or getting organized. So here it is. It's a good one: Listen to more music–and absorb it completely.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Oyster Stew

When I was a kid, my mother always made oyster stew for Christmas Eve. I loved it! Of course, I never did eat the oysters. I only ate the peppery milk and butter broth—topped with approximately two cups of soup crackers. So this year when my mother said she was going to make the stew again for Christmas, I became nostalgically giddy. And I made a decision. I would try the oysters.

 Beyond feeding and caretaking, I always believed one of my responsibilities as a parent was to ensure a spectacular holiday for my kids...just like mine always were. Of course, this meant buying them too many gifts to open on Christmas Day—the theoretical climax. But beyond the plunder of wrapping paper, my intent has been to create traditions to forever stamp their hearts. I want them to remember the time we spent decorating the house. Or toasting with sparkling grape juice and sickening ourselves with gooey Rhodes rolls. Or rushing madly to take a picture in front of the tree before Mass. Or our annual retreat to the board game closet.

Few might agree the razzle of holidays tend to veil the true meaning of the season. Celebrations have evolved into lavish decorations, food marathons, and gifts designed to exceed expectation. The desire to buy more and do more has become practically instinctual this time of the year. But it doesn't have to be that way, as we all know. A few well-placed traditions, instead of a fiery hoverboard, is what really brings us true comfort.
When I bit into the oysters on Christmas Eve, I can’t say I had much reaction. They were fine. A little slimy. I didn’t mind them, because I mostly savored the milk and buttery broth–which reminded me of my happy childhood. And much like my opinion on the the oysters, it’s not the gifts that make Christmas. It’s the broth, or the traditions that surrounds us during this time. That’s the part I love most.

Happy New Year's everyone!