Thursday, November 26, 2009

The New Meme on the Block

A "Be Thankful" meme surfaced on Facebook at the beginning of November. Members were urged to "think of one thing you are thankful for and post it as your status [every day]". I tend to participate in the saner memes that I see, partly because I feel so alone here; when I participate in a self-revelatory meme, I feel less alone. I feel like I've allowed some anonymous person or some unnamed friend to know me a little better.

When I saw this thankfulness meme, I thought for a moment about participating, but didn't think I could find enough things to be thankful for to get me through the entire month of November.

Sometimes I feel like there are two points of light in my life (spending time with my grandchildren; singing in the CleveOrch Chorus) and everything else is bleakness. But I really do have other things that matter to me. Today is the appropriate day to elucidate these things.

So, on Thanksgiving, a day I always enjoy, I'll share with you the things in my life for which I'm thankful:
  • My grandchildren, and the fact that my son and daughter-in-law trust me to be their principal babysitter.

  • Making beautiful music with CleveOrch Chorus, and making friends there after moving away from all my Tucson friends twenty-one months ago.

  • My children. Tyler and Jaci let me know daily that they care for me. Scott has an enormous heart and is a good person. We're not in contact in the manner Tyler and I are, but we have a quiet bond that endures the absences.

  • My mother's health. At 96, she's in decent health. My brothers and sister-in-law and I have concerns about her, but we don't have to worry. Knock wood.

  • My brothers and sister-in-law, to whom I've become closer as we have had to join forces to figure out what to do with and about Mother. I always wanted our family to be close; as we age, we are achieving that closeness.

  • I have a job and can pay my bills. I am slowly digging out from the real estate fiasco of 2008. I trudge to Akron every day and keep my nose to the monitor to ensure my state of employment continues.

  • My old friends: Gail M., who's been a part of my life since 1957; Cheryl K. (PianoLady), who keeps me grounded and shares a Broadway weekend with me every October and who sends great cards on every holiday or change of season—she still writes letters and I cherish those letters; Gail R., who loves singing as much as I do and who is going to Ireland with me next year; Polly P., whose friendship endures despite her high-profile job and busy life; my Washington friends, who love singing and whose friendship I cherish because they knew John and understand my loss; my Tucson friends, who all taught me how to be courageous and come out of my natural introversion.

  • My new friends: friends and acquaintances of Tyler and Jaci's who have reached out to me and welcomed me since I moved to Youngstown; and Tani—Tani of the warm heart who opened her world to me and introduced me to all her friends after we met in the play area at the mall. My life is richer for knowing these people.

  • Arts. I am thankful for all the art forms I've been able to absorb over the years. I am happy to exercise this knowledge, and I am indebted to all the people who see my work and encourage me, who spur me on. As I look around my home at things I've sewn, knitted, quilted, and beaded, at tables to which I've applied glass in mosaic, at stained glass hangings, at pots I've thrown and boxes I've built from clay slabs, at lampwork beads I've turned over a torch—I am thankful for the ability to learn and absorb.

  • Words. I'm thankful for words and my ability to work with them and appreciate them.

  • Music. Even though I've placed it last on this list, it's first in my life. It makes my heart beat and gives me a connection to so many people. Music truly defines who I am.

My adoption has clouded my life for the entire 59 years. I consider my life to have been difficult, but when I feel sadness for that difficulty, I hear a story of a person who suffered real—physical, mental, financial, life-altering—difficulty, and I feel ashamed of being so focused on my insignificant difficulties.

John and I shared two years of our lives from mid-1988 to mid-1990. We had much happiness and much extreme sadness. He chose to listen to one who was whispering in his ear; when he made the decision to follow her pleas that he leave me, he felt guilty for hurting me. But he followed his heart rather than worrying about pleasing people, and I saluted that boldness. I had been encouraging him to listen to his own heart, and I had to honor his courage. We remained friends and I reassured him repeatedly that the happiness of our time together far outweighed the sadness. Eventually he realized the error of his ways, quietly opened the door and invited me in, and gave me the most outrageous joys of my life. I miss those joys, but how fortunate I was to have been able to experience them.

So while I may never be able to stop wishing abortion had been available in 1949, I will concede that the joys—my children, my grandchildren, my music, my friends—have been greater and more important that the pain and difficulties I've endured.

May your joys be greater than your pain, and may you have a lovely day of thanksgiving with your family and friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Needle in a Haystack

Finding time is, for me, like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

About six months ago, I came up with the idea of having a handcraft market at the office for all the employees and their spouses who "make things". The market will be held next Thursday, December 3, to help people get a jump on their holiday shopping. As a result, I've been spending every spare moment—for the past six months—sewing and knitting and trying to build up my inventory of handcrafted items for this market.

The result is that I feel I have no totally free, unscheduled time. Three weeks ago I spent the entire week taking care of my grandchildren. I scheduled a number of doctor's appointments for their schooltime, as getting from Akron to appointments in Youngstown is very difficult. When they went to bed, I went to bed. There was no free time. Two weeks ago I had two nights of rehearsal and babysat three nights so Tyler and Jaci could meet social commitments. There was no free time. Last week I had two nights of rehearsal and babysat every other night in the week. There was no free time.

I am not complaining. Let me say it again: I am not complaining. Don't interpret any of these words as complaints. They're just facts. I wouldn't trade my time with my grandchildren for all the free time in the world. Helping my son and DIL with my grandkids is my life.

But the result of this schedule is that I don't have a storeful of knitted/felted items and handcrafted jewelry to sell next week. Really, though, if only two or three items sell, it's okay. It will defray the materials costs for all the items I've made. And I'm thinking of taking the leftovers and opening an Etsy store.

(Jaci has taken studio space in the Ward Bakery Building, and we're working out the details of my sharing her space to create bags and jewelry that her wedding and lifestyle clients would like to own.)

I'm hopeful that this pattern of constant sewing and knitting and beading will continue. Well, maybe not constant. Ideally, I would find fifteen to thirty minutes each day, at a minimum, to work on projects. (Yeah, so I should also be finding fifteen to thirty minutes a day to exercise, and we all know how well that's going!)

I guess finding a needle in a haystack just requires discipline—constant and mindful discipline.

(The little bag in the photo on this post? It's felted wool. That means I knitted the bag to a size of about 10"x12", then put it in the washer with hot water and a little Woolite detergent. After thirty minutes the agitation had shrunk the wool and I had a darling little bag, about 5"x7". I sewed the buttons and beads on, and have decided this is my new favorite pattern.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A New Blog in the 'Sphere

There's a new blogger in the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley Blogosphere. His name is Boston, and he's eight years old. The apple has fallen right under the tree, and it's not a rotten apple!

He's been showing lots of interest lately in writing. How fun that he's taken that interest into cyberspace.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Love of Music

As I sat in rehearsal tonight, singing some beloved Christmas songs, including old favorites in lush new arrangements, I noticed something amazing. Every moment I wasn't singing, I was smiling. (Note that I didn't say I was smiling while I was singing. That's not such a good idea.)

I truly love singing with this chorus. I love it with every fiber of my being.

Work is particularly challenging right now, with a new release of our software slated to be released momentarily. There's tremendous pressure being placed on my colleague and me to get it done, get it done right, and get it done right now. There are very few moments throughout the day when I feel like smiling. And my drive is long and hard. I dread leaving the house every morning.

But I don't mind the drive to Cleveland before rehearsals. And I don't mind the three hours spent sitting in an uncomfortable chair. And I don't mind the drive home from 10:00 to 11:15, or later.

When I sit in that rehearsal hall, amid likeminded singers, accompanied by incredibly talented pianists, and led by a sensitive conductor, I am happy*happy*happy.

For those three hours of my life, all is right in my world.

MusicMonday Phrase of the Day

This is Monday, it's 11:15 p.m., and I've just arrived home after another Cleveland Orchestra Chorus rehearsal. Tonight you're to be gifted with another Pithy Porco Phrase.

The cast of the chorus Holiday concert rehearsals is large and assorted. We perform nine Holiday concerts (and two Messiahs), so the administration pulls together vast numbers of singers, in hopes that enough can survive the stress and typical sicknesses of the season to have a full chorus for every performance. In our Monday night rehearsals you will find the normal COChorus, plus those members of the summer Blossom Festival Chorus who want to sing with us, plus the CO Youth Chorus and the Cleveland State University Chorus.

That's a whole lot of bodies in one rehearsal hall. And yet when we sing, it sounds like only four voices. The blend, the togetherness, the synergy—it's truly awesome.

But the downside is that the choruses other than COC aren't used to singing with Maestro Porco. They're not in the habit of practicing the discipline we practice. Well, some are, and some aren't. But it must be frustrating to Maestro Porco to have to repeatedly request quiet so his requests and instructions can be heard.

Tonight, in a moment of frustration, he said, "Let's hear what silence sounds like." If I hadn't been trying so hard to be quiet, I would have laughed out loud. It struck me as the most perfect phrase, a phrase which could be translated, "Hush!"

The silence was wonderful. And I learned a new phrase I can and will use on my grandchildren!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All Notes Are Not Created Equal

If you've read more than, oh, five posts in this log, you are aware that I love making music. I passionately love making music.

I began playing piano by ear at three-and-a-half. I started accordion lessons at four, piano and theory at five, organ at seven, and auditioned for the church choir at eight. During the audition, the choir director discovered my perfect pitch. I consider myself a musician first and foremost, and piano is my primary instrument. Choral singing would be my second instrument, if choral singing can be defined as an instrument.

I don't love all genres of music, but I respect talent and perseverance. And once I am exposed to and begin learning a choral work, I am in love with it by the time we stand on stage behind the orchestra to perform the work.

As I'm learning, I love observing the director to see what inspired phrases he or she is going to use to make a point or teach a lesson in a manner that we will retain the information at least through performance, if not forever. Many singers will grab that inspired phrase out of the air and write it in their music. In fact, over fifteen years ago some singers in The Washington Chorus memorialized Robert Shafer's inspired phrases in "The Book of Bob". When he moved to City Choir of Washington two years ago, some singers were searching for a Book of Bob to again be able to quote those phrases.

Cleveland Orchestra Chorus has a total of four rehearsals with Maestro Porco to be able to learn all our holiday concert music. Some of the music is tried and true; some requires a lot of practice to get the notes down. We are charged with doing all that practice on our own, in order that rehearsals will go swiftly and smoothly.

Many singers sing the notes and the words without speaking them first, without stopping to think about the vocal inflection of that spoken phrase. Think about how you would speak "What sweeter music can we bring?", as opposed to singing "what sweet-er mus-ic can we bring", concentrating on making sure each note was held for its proper duration, at the notated volume. The tendency is to make the two syllables of sweet-er equal, to remove the natural inflection that comes when speaking "sweeter", accenting the first syllable. Portions of last Monday night's rehearsal were spent just speaking the words to pieces we were rehearsing, trying to hear what the natural speech patterns were. Our goal? To enable the audience to understand clearly every word we sing.

The inspired phrase that Maestro Porco used to help us remember? "All notes are not created equal." I grabbed that and wrote it in my music. Then our rehearsal notes arrived by e-mail this morning and, again, I saw "All notes are not created equal."

I must remember to speak it and hear it before turning it into music.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Everybody Needs a Buddy

There's something about cats and sewing rooms. The cat tends to get onto the sewing table and interfere as much as possible in the sewist's creative process. I found this great basket on Etsy and it seems to have directed Angel away from the table. Rudi was wayyy too big to curl up in it, but Angel has found his new go-to place.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sing A Song of Christmas

Tonight was the first chorus rehearsal for the Cleveland Orchestra's holiday concerts. There were approximately 230 singers (comprised of members of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Blossom Festival Chorus, and Cleveland Youth Orchestra Youth Chorus) at the rehearsal, plus conductor, assistant conductor, accompanist, and chorus manager. As one of the taller singers, I usually am seated on the back row. Tonight that was the 7th row! It's a long way across seven rows and through a line of bobbing heads to see the conductor's gesture!

The chorus members always receive our music prior to the first rehearsal, and are expected to have the music prepared and be ready to sing at rehearsal number one. There is never to be any sight-reading or fluffing of notes. Due to the sheer volume of music (ten or so songs times 233 singers for holiday concert, plus 65 singers for Messiah), some of us did not get our music ahead of time. Therefore, tonight's rehearsal did not proceed as smoothly as Maestro Porco would have preferred.

We only have four rehearsals to prepare this music before the first concert. If you count the number of pages in the songs we're singing and multiply it by the average number of black dots per page, that's a lot of ink we've got to sing in nine more hours of rehearsal.

Maestro Porco was troubled tonight as he looked around the chorus and noticed some people listening rather than singing, trying to get the music.

The quotable quote for tonight? "Rote learning is for the Peace Corps" (i.e. not for a top symphonic chorus). Translation: In the Peace Corps, you're trying to communicate with natives struggling with a foreign language and foreign concepts. You're an accomplished musician. Learn your music on your own before you walk through these rehearsal doors.

In a phrase? Be responsible!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rules, Rules and Nothing But Rules

(With apologies to Bernadette Peters and "Greens, Greens and Nothing but Greens" from "Into the Woods".)

I've been wanting to write about this all week, but I'm exhausted. The past two nights I've been asleep by 9:00 p.m. This full-time g'parenting is just exhausting. And please note that that statement is not a complaint—it is merely a statement of fact. I was able to pull this full-time duty when I was in my 20s and 30s. But, People, I'll be 60 in seven months, and this is hard damned work.)

The babes attend the local Montessori school. The administration there is very conscientious about the environment and healthful nutrition and the like. But, for my taste, they're a little too conscientious.

I've been having to pack the babes' lunch every day. The first day I tucked in some Hallowe'en fruit snacks that were left over from Saturday night. When Ridley got home, she told me, "That's fake fruit. You can't send that again."

Fake fruit? FAKE FRUIT?! The babes' mother does not purchase food that is not nutritious. She doesn't purchase fake food.

And, by the way, I know from fake fruit. My mother kept a bowl of wooden fruit that was brought as a gift from Honduras by a family friend. That's fake fruit.

And to remotely and figuratively slap my hand because I sent a decent snack that you deemed inappropriate. Do we maybe need to be a little less intense about some things?

Okay, I know you have precedents you have to uphold. And I'm just an agent of my grandchildren's parents. So I'll try harder next time.

But I reallllly don't like people telling me what to do. And I don't like the thought that you have deemed a perfectly decent snack to be "fake fruit."


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Makin' Up Stories

Instead of reading stories before bed, the babes and I frequently make up stories. One person will start, pausing where someone else is to add a word or take over the story line.

Last night I started a story about a boy with four cats and a dog. Ridley named the boy's father "Jim", and Boston named his mother "Rosa". The boy became "Sam", and the cats were "Sally", "Willie", "Sarah", and "Wally". Then I asked Ridley what breed of dog Sam had. She said, "a Chocolate Puff." Hmm, that's not a breed with which I'm familiar.

I asked her what a Chocolate Puff was. She said, "You know. A Chocolate Puff. Like Guide."

That would be a Chocolate Lab to the rest of us. The photo above? Guide, at nine weeks, when he moved in next door.

Jaci's Live Blog

Jaci, with the help of cameraman Tyler, is live-blogging from New Orleans. Her posts are must-see Internet. If you have never met Jaci, a single viewing of these videos will explain to you why everyone who knows her falls in love with her. Her personality just glows through these videos.

Go. Read. And keep checking back for more as the week progresses.

Day 1
Day 2

Did You Vote?

How nice that my life thsi week is including quiet post-8:30am mornings into which I can slip a conversation with an old friend or a pastry at Panera. Or voting without stress.

If you're a Mahoning County reader, please vote to keep the light on at our libraries.

Go vote—it's your right, your privilege, your obligation.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Grandma Report, Days 1 and 2

I have made it through two days as full-time grandma; it's 8:45 and I'm ready for sleep!

Yesterday began at 6:00 a.m., involved a PIT airport run at 8:30 a.m., an afternoon at the Akron zoo, and a dinner of fish sticks followed by a make-up-the-rules-as-you-go game of Pictionary.

This morning I was up at 6:00 to get my shower and be ready to go before the babes got up at 6:50. Unfortunately, I had a headache that started around 3:00 a.m. We got breakfast, clothes, practiced piano, put the dogs out, scraped frost off the windshield, and made it to school in time. My day continued with iced tea and the crossword at Panera, then my annual GYN appointment, a run into BB&B for a new shower curtain, a quick call to the office to try to solve a problem, picking the babes up from school, errands, more piano practicing, a cupcake-making session, more fish sticks, and a game of Life.

By the time I turned their light out at 8:15, I was totally ready to drop onto my bed. My head is still hurting, and I'm trying to stay awake long enough so I won't wake at 4:30 tomorrow morning. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, and snow showers for tomorrow night. As soon as this weather settles down, my head will stop hurting and I'll be a more long-suffering grandma.

There were a couple of high points to the day. One was seeing how low my blood pressure was at the doctor and realizing it was a result of the beta blocker. So: higher weight, but fewer headaches and lower blood pressure.

The other high point came at the end of our game of Life after dinner tonight. Boston said, "That was fun. I'd much rather do that than watch television." When is the last time you heard your 8yo say something like that? I was thrilled.

I feel privileged to pick them up from school and hear their conversations about their days. Boston talked about the boy who told him he hated him. Then he talked about the girl who told him she loved him and how nice that felt after the boy saying he hated him.

I feel grateful that my son and daughter-in-law trust me enough to allow me this privilege for a week.

I feel tired.

Several friends have asked how I'm managing work with this responsibility. I'm not. I took the whole week off—two-and-a-half days of vacation (all that's left for the year), and two-and-a-half days leave without pay. I can't imagine trying to balance work with everything that's required to manage these kids' lives.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Word of the Day

My grandchildren's vocabulary never ceases to amaze me. I'm spending the week with them, so am getting lots of amazing moments.

Today we stopped at Wendy's for lunch on the way to the Akron Zoo. Ridley, ever amazed at her own ability to tell jokes (funny is in the brain of the beholder, dontcha know?), asked me if I knew what the dummy's favorite restaurant was. When I gave up, she responded, "Denny's". Okay, so Denny's is the babes' favorite restaurant, and "dummy's" and "Denny's" sort of sound alike. Vaguely.

I told her I didn't find her joke funny. Boston then said, "It's awkward." I asked him what was awkward. He said, "Her joke." Awkward. Hmmm.

Then in the evening after finishing our dinner of fish sticks and applesauce (whew, I made it through day 1), they delved into their Hallowe'en baskets. Boston came up with some candy corn, which he loves. He was sorting through the eight-or-so kernels he chose for his dessert, and held up one misshapen kernel. "This is awkward," he observed.

There you go. The word of the day, from an eight-year-old's point of view. "Awkward." Can be applied to jokes or candy.

My Grandma Instincts tell me this week is going to yield lots of blog fodder!

Soul Custody

I'm nearing the end of "Olive Kitteridge" and, although I don't like the character Olive very much, I am loving Elizabeth Strout's writing.

In the chapter I listened to on Friday's evening commute, the teenaged girl's mother had left home when the child was very small to go to Hollywood to be an actress. The teenager wanted to find and get to know her mother. Her father, a minister, told her that would be impossible, as he had filed the papers and had sole custody. The girl, when she heard that, thought he had "soul custody."

I left my children when they were small, and although I believe I acted in their best interest, I agonize—to this day—about that decision and action. Reading about a mother who leaves her child(ren) is difficult for me. Reading about the gossip and disapproval of friends and neighbors is even more difficult. An outsider can never know what goes on inside the life of another.

"I loved you so much I gave you up." What a mixed message. How seemingly hypocritical.

I've been privy to an adoption discussion on Facebook over the past few days. Adoption is such a hot topic for me. In retrospect, I believe my struggles as a parent and my struggles in my many marriages were tightly connected to being adopted. How can a person who has never felt accepted or loved or "good enough" be a partner or a parent?

One of the contributors to the adoption discussion shared the fact that a friend who had just met her true love found out they were both adopted and it gave them a special bond. My marriage to John—his third, my fourth—was the perfect marriage for both of us. His mother had died when he was three and he spent the next five years in and out of foster homes and an orphanage. I always felt we were able to fill in the holes in each other's souls, and that's why the marriage was so successful.

The fewer holes one has in her soul, the easier it is to have custody of her own soul.

Wow, That's A Lot!

There are so many lessons that must be taught to children for them to successfully navigate the world. I attempted to teach one of those to Ridley yesterday.

She and I were sharing the bathroom as we were getting ready for the babes to go back home after a sleepover at Grandma's. Ridley is fascinated by the scale in my bathroom and hops on it every time she goes into my bathroom. Every time! She still doesn't grasp the difference, at 6, between height and weight, between measuring and weighing. Sometimes she'ls look at the scale readout and say, "Look how tall I am." We're working on that lesson, for one.

Yesterday she was so proud to be "almost 80". Then, as I weighed myself before getting in the shower, she looked over at the scale and said, "Wow, that's a lot!" Ooh, bad thing to say.

I have gone back on a beta blocker, after twenty-plus years, to stem my frequent headaches. It has been a tremendous success—I've had fewer headaches in the past couple of months than in any two month period in the past, oh, ten years. The downside to the beta blocker is that I've been piling on the pounds, no matter how careful I try to be with my diet.

On the great scale of life, if I have to choose between carrying some extra pounds or dealing with daily headaches, I guess I'll take the pounds. But that doesn't mean I'm not sensitive about the weight. So I told Ridley it was better to not comment on people's weight, that it was considered rude. She said okay, and smiled.

But in retrospect, I'm thinking maybe my weight isn't as bad as the scale has been indicating. This morning, for example, I got on the scale before my shower and it said 205.5. I may be heavy, but I'm nowhere near 200 pounds!

Maybe it's time for new batteries!