Thursday, December 31, 2009

Memories of New Years Past

Tonight is New Year's Eve, and I have the best dates any grandma could have—my 8- and 6-year-old sweeties. I've spent the day doing contract editing for Tyler, broken only to shovel the VeryLongSidewalk that borders my corner lot, and to write this post.

This year—as opposed to years past—I'm okay with having no romantic interest on New Year's Eve—or any other night this past year, for that matter. When I remember catastrophic dates of New Year's Eves in the past, I am grateful for the absolute lack of drama.

In that vein, I share with you my post of exactly two years ago, when I was anticipating leaving Tucson to rejoin my family in Youngstown. It ranks right up there as one of the worst NYEs in my life.

My best NYEs? When I was 19 or 20, Mike Painter (whom I would have married and loved all my life, had he asked) went to one of his Lambda Chi Alpha brother's apartments for a party. Everybody was drinking to beat the band, and we chose not to drink. We spent the evening laughing at everyone making total fools of themselves. The other? That would be 1988, when John and I had been living together for about four months. We hosted a theatre-and-dinner party at the elegant 1905 rowhouse on Lamont St., NW, where we were housesitting. I think the play we saw at Arena Stage was "Six Characters in Search of an Author", then the 15 of us went back to the house for an elegant seated dinner. We were having so much fun, it was a few minutes past midnight before we realized 1988 had gone. Those were the days!

What was your best or worst New Year's Eve?

No elegant dinner for me tonight. Just more precious time and memory-making with my two sweetest babies.

I wish you a memorable evening with those you love.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Who's Old? Who's Young?

I spent much of the day with Tyler and Jaci and the babes. Many conversations circled around tomorrow afternoon's scheduled departure of the babes and me to the mountains of North Carolina, where my mother, brothers, and sister-in-law await our arrival.

I called down there today to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and my older brother, Jerry, told me Mother had only packed one outfit for the entire five-day trip. This of a woman who loves to shop, who will buy new clothes when she has not an inch to spare in her closet. Daddy used to joke about her saying, "I spent $100 today but I don't know what I got" and patting the couch or bed around her, trying to find her packages. This was in 1960 when $100 was a far larger amount than it is today. Even last summer, when we met in the mountains, a side trip to Highlands found her coming home with a new blouse and a new sweater.

Tonight as we were doing some dinner tasks in Tyler and Jaci's kitchen, I said to the very-tall-for-six-and-a-half Ridley, "Uncle Jerry and Uncle Jim and Aunt Molly are going to be so surprised to see how tall you are." She looked at me and asked, "What's the name of your other friend who will be there?" I was stumped, as only family will be at the property. I said, "Who do you mean?" She replied, "You know. The one who can't hear." I looked at Tyler and then at Ridley. "Do you mean my mother? Grandmother?" She smiled, nodded, and called over her shoulder as she bounded back to the dining room, "Yeah, that's the one. I just couldn't remember her name."

Umm. She's your greatgrandmother. We call her "Grandmother."

Tyler, Jaci and I just cracked up. I was laughing so hard I had to wipe the tears from my eyes.

It's going to be a very interesting couple of days in the mountains. I think a lot of laughing will occur, and it may not all be "laughing with" someone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fun With the Cleveland Orchestra

Tonight the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus sang the last in a series of eight Christmas concerts. As old and venerable as the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus is, you've got to expect that there are some traditions. I found fun and giggles in observing these traditions.

The challenge is to push the fun as far as you can without diluting the audience members' experience. This might be the eighth time an orchestra musician has played or a singer has sung this repertoire, but it's the first time many of those audience members have set foot inside Severance Hall. Your goal, as a performer, is to make the most memorable musical experience possible for those audience members. Ideally, you'll convert casual first-time attendees into patrons and/or donors.

The first clue that this was the final performance was that several female orchestra members added a little seasonal bling to their attire, sporting a sparkly headband or a tinsel-wrapped ponytail. I noted one woman with small discreet green Christmas ornaments as earrings.

I can imagine Maestro Porco's heightened awareness, knowing—with each lift of his baton—that he could be surprised, and that he must be prepared so that the surprise wouldn't cause him to lose his concentration, his place in the music.

The first half of the concert proceeded with no surprises beyond the normal occasional missed note or inadvertent solo. (That's the beauty of live music, dontcha know? A CD plays the music the same every time, but a live concert is never the same twice!)

The chorus had the first joke in the second half, with expert planning from our assistant conductor and the chair of the chorus operating committee. When Santa came out and did his shtick with the Maestro, they concluded their stand-up routine with a duet performance on "Jingle Bells". They sing the verse, and the audience joins in on the chorus. At the conclusion of "What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight," the entire chorus shouted "Hey" and slung their right hands up into the air. Maestro Porco heard the ruckus in the chorus and turned to eye us, looking surprised and then laughing.

Our plan was for him to believe that would be the only joke played on him, so he could relax. But we weren't finished.

The next song was "The Twelve Days of Christmas", which historically is done with audience participation on the "five golden rings" phrase. The arrangement we do is a normal choral arrangement. The sopranos sing the first verse, more voices are added on the second, full harmony comes into play on the third, and so on. Maestro Porco led the sopranos on the opening, but at the phrase "a partridge in a pear tree", the basses suddenly boomed in. He turned to the sopranos for the second verse, and at "two turtle doves", he turned to the basses, but the tenors came in, followed by the basses on "a partridge in a pear tree". On the third verse, the Maestro had figured out our scheme, and looked straight at the altos for "three French hens". The sopranos sang "four calling birds", and we all went back to the arrangement, as written.

Ah, relaxation for the Maestro. The jokes were over. But, no! The orchestra had not been heard from.

The next piece was that fabulous arrangement of "Sleigh Ride" that gets jazzy on the second time through. The percussionist has a big clapper thing that consists of two flat pieces of wood he slaps together to make the sound of the whip in the air urging the team of horses on. When it came time for the clap of that clapper (I'm sure it has a better name, which my son, the percussionist, could tell me.), the Maestro turned to the percussionist, but the sound of the clap came from the other side of the stage. We looked, to find JoElla Jones, the orchestra's keyboard artist and our venerable accompanist, with a much smaller clapper, struggling to follow the percussion part and clap the clapper at the appropriate moment. It was a fun and memorable moment, and she continued to play that part through to the end. And when the audience applauded, Maestro Porco turned to JoElla and gave her a solo bow.

Holidays are hard for me. I always think they should include time with your beloved life partner, and I have none. But this year, I haven't missed that connection at all. I had many hours of making beautiful music with wonderful new friends in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and I'm heading into Christmas with a sense of deep gratitude for how full my life is.

May the music of the season bring you as much joy as it brings to me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Messiah Is Come

I'll make this quick. I've got to get up and out the door for another Cleveland performance, but I wanted to share with you the review in the Plain Dealer of our Thursday night performance.

There was one little blip in a missing cue to stand, which then affected the next chorus, as most of us were obsessing about the missed cue rather than obsessing about the notes we were singing.

<Professorial Hat On>
For the uninitiated, an explanation: the movements in the Messiah that are sung by the chorus are referred to as choruses, so the statement I just made means the next movement, not the next body of singers who sang. The solo movements are recitatives and airs.
<Professorial Hat Off>

As I posted on Facebook yesterday, "Why, after singing 6,974 black dots, is it the 4 you blew that you remember instead of the 6,970 you nailed?!"

Last night was the first of eight holiday concerts. The orchestra and chorus performed impeccably, and the audience loved it. I'll share one little bit of shtick between Porco and Santa, then I'll head for the shower.

Porco: "How 'bout them Browns?" (Or something about the Browns to Santa, with an accompanying roar from the audience. I guess the Browns are a local sports team. I KID! I KID! STOP YELLING AT ME!)

Santa: [Some funny response]

Porco: "Talking about sports, how about Tiger Woods? Is he still on your list?"

Santa: "Yeah, but it looks like I'm not on his."

This was followed by a rim shot from the percussion section.

By all accounts, the bits between Porco and Santa are hilarious, but from the last row on stage I can't hear clearly. Good thing I've got seven more concerts to concentrate on their words.

Enjoy your weekend. With three concerts in the next 36 hours, I'll sure be enjoying mine!

Photo Credit: Roger Mastroianni for the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fame or Notoriety?

If you're a TiVo/DVR kind of person, set your machine for the Today Show tomorrow, 12/10/09. Jaci will be interviewed in a segment about having one's iPhone or similar electronic device stolen.

Seems my kids are everywhere lately!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Man of My Life

Twenty-five years ago today my daddy died. He was 70 years old and a doctor beloved by all his patients.

Long-time readers know I don't have a great relationship with my mother. But I had a wonderful relationship with Daddy. I adored him, and he mirrored my feelings.

Where Mother tore me down and demeaned me, Daddy built me up and made me feel I had worth.

He was a small-town physician when Orlando was a relatively small town, long before the Mouse hit town. He left the house at 6:00 every morning to make rounds, eat breakfast at some small restaurant between the hospital and his office, and then see patients all day. Several days a week he performed general surgery. Operating room tasks were his favorite, and he told me once that, if he had it to do over again, he would specialize in surgery. For years he took obstetric patients, until tiring of the 2am calls. His day finished with the day's paperwork and more hospital rounds. He usually got home around 11:00 p.m., long after I was in bed.

I lived for Wednesday afternoons and Sundays, when he was off. On Wednesday evenings, the family would go to dinner at Howard Johnson's, where we could get a vegetable plate. I would order chocolate cake, saving the frosting for the last few bites. Daddy would inevitably reach his fork over and steal a little of my chocolate frosting.

Even to this day, Daddy is in my head, telling me I'm a good girl, telling me he's proud of me.

How lucky I was to have had him in my life.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Into the Car, Onto the Stage

It's hell week again, so I might not post over the next week.

Today we perform for alumni and friends of Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School. This is their 25th Annual Christmas Concert, where they rent Severance Hall and the orchestra and chorus, observe our rehearsal, enjoy an elegant dinner with tables throughout Severance, and then end the day with a concert. There will be so many people on stage for the rehearsal that we have to move onto the stage in shifts. I'm second shift. Much attention must be paid!

And I'm going into the busy day in a frazzled state of mind. I learned from the dermatologist yesterday that I have ringworm—there's one lovely round red itchy patch on my right forearm. Evidently Angel brought it with him from the shelter. He then gave it to Rudi. One of them generously gave it to me. I'm not happy. I have now spent over $500 on this little kitten I got from the shelter. I guess that'll teach me to do a good deed!

In reality, it's taught me to trust my instinct with shelters. When I walked into this shelter on Mahoning Avenue, the smell of feline urine was overwhelming. I started to turn and walk out, but the lure of the kittens was too great. There were other shelters I visited, but I brought the g'babes back here and let them fall in love with a kitten at this particular not-so-clean shelter. As a result I have a kitten whose diarrhea has continued for six weeks and who has brought the ringworm fungus into my home.

I haves washed all the linens in my bedroom. I've quarantined the cats to the dining room, kitchen and basement. My friend is coming over today while I'm in Cleveland to vacuum every piece of upholstery the cats might have lounged upon. And I'm keeping the g'babes away from these cats.

There are a few giggles to the story. I went to the compounding pharmacy, who didn't have the medication for the cats in stock. The pharmacist there told me it was a common medication, and that Walgreen's or Giant Eagle would have it. I went to the Walgreen's on Market and 224, where a delightful young pharmacy tech named Brandon helped me out. It turns out the medicine was about $120, but if I paid $20 to get a "W card" for one of the cats, I'd save $60 on that prescription. Net savings of $40.

The cats have to take the medicine until the fungus is gone, which will probably be four weeks. FOUR WEEKS! And, once mixed, the medicine is only good for two weeks. Yep. In two weeks I get to go back, get a "W card" for the other cat, and pay $80 again.

I am disgusted with this turn of events. I am disgusted with this shelter, putting infected cats out into the community. I am made myself for not following my instinct. This is a darling little cat, but money is money! I was going to put up a tree yesterday, but after hemorrhaging money at the dermatologist, the vet clinic, and Walgreen's (my medicine, with insurance, was $40), I'll defer the tree to next year.

I was supposed to have a sleepover with the babes last night, but babysat them at their house instead, then fell asleep on their couch until the parents came home. I got home at midnight and now must get up and clean.clean.clean until leaving for Cleveland.

So what comprises the rest of Hell Week? Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night Messiah rehearsals, Thursday night Messiah performance, Friday night Holiday performance (skipping the lavish office party at Cleveland's House of Blues), Saturday matinee Holiday concert, Saturday night Messiah, and Sunday matinee Holiday concert. Next week I'll have the first Monday night off in about three months, so I'll go to my knitting group. The weekend of the 19th is five more concerts, and then it's Christmas, and then I'll take the babes and go to the mountains to spend a few days with my mother, brothers, and sister-in-law.

Can you say, "Whew!"?

[I had a hard time deciding on an image for today's post. A picture of a ringworm patch? Yuck. A picture of the kitten who caused all this chaos? Not in love with the kitten right now. A picture of a person singing, or driving, or sleeping—all of which I'll either be doing a lot of or wishing for this week? Nothing cute enough. So you get an image of the place I'll be spending so much time: Cleveland's spectacular Severance Hall. Yes, I am a lucky singer.]

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cooking Up Traditions

I babysit my grands every Tuesday night so Jaci can go to her creative movement and Tyler can attend the Ulysses book group. I race from Akron back to Youngstown, pick up the babes, and head to a restaurant to dinner. We have a lovely time together. They catch me up on their schoolday and give me the scoop on all their friends. I get my Grandma Fix, and all is well.

Our restaurant norm is Denny's, but last night their choice was Bob Evan's. When we got out of the car at Bob Evan's, I realized my purse was missing. In my haste to get to Youngstown, I had left my purse—including all IDs, credit cards, and cash—at the office. Oops.

I told them we'd have to go home and have scrambled eggs for dinner, as I had no way to pay for dinner. They willingly and happily got back in the car and we headed to my house. Fortunately, I had been grocery shopping recently—Flash: I hate grocery shopping. My refrigerator was stocked sufficiently so I could sate their appetites with scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, toast, applesauce, yogurt, and these fabulous dark chocolate organic cookies that I found at Giant Eagle. Are you impressed?

When I took them back to their house to put them to bed, Boston looked at me and said, "We should eat at home every week." Then, his little brain cogs turning, he laid out a whole schedule of what nights we would go out, what nights we would eat in, what we'd have for dinner, what we'd have for breakfast on sleepover nights, and what nights we'd decide whether to go out or stay in.

They don't mind my lame cooking! They don't judge the quality of my kitchen efforts! They're perfectly happy with cuisine that Le Cordon Bleu or New England Culinary Institute or Julia Child would deem sub-edible!

You think I can find enough things to feed them that will come out of my kitchen in a format that won't cause them to gag?

More importantly, what was there in those moments at home around my dining table that grabbed his imagination and made him feel that environment was better than "Grand Slam with no pancakes" and "Oreo Sundae with no whipped cream" at Denny's?

Whatever caused this attitude adjustment, my credit card appreciates the relief it's going to feel.

Cooking? I'm equal to the challenge!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When You Care Enough to Send . . .

My older son's birthday is Saturday and I found the perfect card to send him.

TJ is not like anybody else. I've frequently said he lives on another planet and I'm not even sure which solar system it's in. I don't think he'd be insulted by that statement. I think he'd be proud.

I stood at the card counter and opened every card in the "Son" section. Mushy, smooshy, drivel. "Having a son like you …", "When you were little …", "Son, my heart …". Each one was a little softer and sappier than the previous one. There was nothing in any of these cards that described my son or our relationship.

Buying cards has been a problem my whole adult life. I refuse to send a card just to be sending a card. I want it to say what I'm feeling. And my feelings are complex.

I don't love my mother. I respect her. I try to be a good daughter to her. But the only times I feel any love for her are when I'm sick and wanting to be pampered. So to send a card that says, "You're the best mother in the world" just ain't gonna happen. She's not the best mother in the world. If they just made a card that said, "Thanks for trying so hard", I'd grab four and send one each year. (She's 96. She's not gonna remember!)

I've been known to be so tickled by cards I've read that I repeat the description and the text to friends. I think it was my buddy JW who said he never knew anyone to get such a charge out of the card aisle.

TJ's card? "Son, you're unique."