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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Drop That Ball

My final post of the year.
Tomorrow is the first day of a new year, a fresh start. Resolutions? Mostly the same as I have made before. Better posture. Take my vitamins. Make more art. Be good to those I love, and to strangers, too.
New Year’s Eve. Tonight takes me back to New Year’s Eve fourteen years ago. At midnight, as 1999 turned to 2000, Hubby and I became engaged. Quite a bit has changed since then but he still makes me laugh every day. He’s still my go-to dude when it comes to calamities big and small (and mine always seem big!). New Year’s Eve fourteen years ago involved a party, friends, and staying up past midnight to ring in the new year. This New Year’s Eve is almost identical. Oh, except that we have three wiggly little ones bouncing off the ceilings. And we’re not at a party (although it sounds as loud as one around here, and that’s just on a regular night). And I’m not wearing a cute outfit. And I probably won’t stay up until midnight. And I’m not in my 20s anymore. (Aw, shucks). Or my 30s anymore. (Breathe. Do not panic. Just breathe.) But otherwise it’s exactly the same.
A neighbor a few blocks away put up this festive message. They always decorate and I love their spirit.

No, I’m not among the throngs at Times Square, waiting for the ball to drop. But I’m ready for you, 2014. A fresh new year with lots of potential.

What will 2014 bring?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Thought I Could...I Thought I Could...

Me again. Back, 15 minutes later. Very happy to report that I did find the gift cards. How’s this for a crazy hiding place? They were with a stack of gifts I have yet to wrap. But they were hiding behind things and I really can’t say I remember putting them there. It is reassuring to know that I chose a logical spot. Not so reassuring to know that I couldn’t remember putting them there! Oh well. I’ll blame it on Christmas brain.

Now if only someone could tell me what I did with my sunglasses…

Now Where Did I Put That?

“Christmas brain”: A condition occurring when one has been highly busy in the pre-Christmas season, resulting in forgetfulness and general confusion. Although not a contagious condition passed by germs, it afflicts adults in December, occasionally leaking into the first week of January, due to exhaustion.

You know your Christmas brain is getting worse when you realize in the last hours of Christmas Eve that you cannot find two gifts you intend to give the following day. You’ve looked in the spots you think are likely. You look under piles of miscellaneous stuff. You decide not to panic. There’s plenty of time to find them. Three hours until bedtime. Plenty of time. You consider panicking just a little, since it’s been less than 24 hours since you bought these gifts. Instead, you try to take deep, calming breaths. You know they are in the house. (You choose not to dwell on the fact that this only slightly narrows the search.)

For weeks you’ve been extra, extra busy with Christmas stuff. You’ve been helping Santa. You’ve sent cards. You’ve written many to do lists, revised them, and written more. You’ve shopped, boosting the national economy. You’ve glued, sealed and taped. You’ve hidden gifts, and you always knew where they were. Until now. The missing presents are two gift cards, mere millimeters thick, and they could be hiding anywhere. Since you’ve looked in the two most obvious spots, you consider whether to look in unlikely spots. There’s no way you would have hidden gift cards in the toilet tank or the freezer, but in cases like this you consider looking in implausible spots such as those, because your Christmas brain may have led you to make strange choices. (You know a hiding place is good when you have successful hidden it from yourself.)

You admonish yourself for taking a blogging break when you should be hunting for hidden treasures. But after a moment’s consideration you nod to yourself, understanding that taking a soothing break will help you focus when you do resume the search.

You square your shoulders, and prepare to continue the hunt. If Santa can find his way through the snow, surely you can find two gift cards playing hide-and-seek. I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…

Through the Eyes of a Child

I want to share a darling drawing by our middle child, who loves art. It’s a religious scene, through the eyes of someone almost 7-years-old. Usually I don’t get into religion with people. I find it a very personal subject, not one up for public debate. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of religious speeches, nor am I interested in giving them. But this art work is so adorable, and captures a child’s innocence, so I will share it. As a side note, one of my favorite parts about kids’ art is that kids often don’t worry about the end result. They make art because they have a need to create. They aren’t worried about perspective, shading or realism, so the pure joy they have in creating shines through. They are spontaneous and passionate in the doing, rather than self-conscious about the final outcome.

I love the details: the animals, the angel, Mary's eyelashes. How cute to see the big gold trophy the king brings for the baby!

As a child I drew for hours each day, and it was my biggest love. These days I sometimes get lost in the doing but other times I’m too focused on whether the outcome will be realistic enough or _____ enough. This preoccupation takes away from the freedom to just do. When I see art by kids I see their bliss. The beauty of their art is in their freedom. I love their joy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Art of Fencing

A few nights ago I discovered a mural with lots of personality. It’s not far from where we live, but it’s on a street I rarely take and so this was the first time I’d seen it. I was delighted and made a note to circle back during daylight hours.
I’d noticed this property before. Well, in honesty, not the house itself. I couldn’t pick it out of a lineup. But they have a darling little vintage car that I had noticed before. When we drove by a few nights ago I saw that the car was still there and that someone had painted a mural to showcase it. Hurray!
A day or two later I returned to the scene and walked right up to the fence. I love that someone wanted to personalize their fence this way. The bright primary colors appeal to me. A real orange tree growing in the back yard is painted in the mural, which adds to the playful feel of the mural. The little yellow jewel of a car is depicted of the mural, which is charming. The car is a Metropolitan Nash and I’m not certain about the year but I’m making an educated guess of 1960 (based on photos of the 1960 Nash body style).


Finding surprises in my own neighborhood is such fun. My discovery this week brought together several things I like: vintage cars, murals, and personalizing your space. Fences can be quite mundane, so it really makes my day when I see one that doesn’t fade into the background but becomes a canvas that brightens the neighborhood. Fence makeover: now that’s an art form!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Is It A Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It's Super Pig!

"I'll pay full retail when pigs fly (in red suits)!"

Saturday, December 21, 2013

One Exhausted Elf

In case you’ve been in a turkey-induced nap since Thanksgiving, I’ll state the obvious: it’s Dec. 21. It’s the winter solstice and The Big Day is only 4 days away. Christmas. Perhaps I should be tackling the rest of my To Do list right now, rather than whipping up another blog post. But I’ve been a slave to the To Do list for a few weeks and I really need a blogging break.

The Winter Solstice: the shortest day of the year. This is unfortunate as this is the season when I need longer days, more daylight, and the energy of all of Santa’s elves to get my To Do list done. (The upside is that as of tomorrow, the days will be longer. The increase in the minutes of daylight won’t be very noticeable but I find comfort in knowing that there is potential for my brain to stay awake longer! I have a (possibly na├»ve) hope that this will make our school mornings more manageable. Let’s just say our mornings have gotten harder and more chaotic as the days have become shorter. The kids have not bounced out of bed before school, eyes wide open, limbs jumping into clothes. Mornings are frantic, no matter how much I prepare the night before by setting out clothes and making lunches. So maybe the slightly longer days starting tomorrow will make life easier around here. A girl can dream, right?

Part of our morning trouble is because of me. I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock a minimum of three times. Sometimes more. But life has been extra busy lately and I’m tired. I’ve been moonlighting as one of Santa’s elves. Sure, the elves are experts at preparing for Christmas but I suppose even they need a hand sometimes. Even they feel the time crunch when Thanksgiving is later than usual, as it was this year. The pre-Christmas season was condensed this year and elves (official as well as volunteer elves, like me) are feeling the pressure.

Part of surviving this busy season is taking breaks, even when you have too much to do. On my daily walks I enjoy looking around the neighborhood, seeing the different ways people decorate and personalize the season. Here are some of the ways our neighbors are showing their spirit:

These are Christmas cacti, which I think are beautiful:
Well, my break time is probably over. Back to Santa’s workshop I go. The head elf is depending on me to make 248 toy boats before midnight, and I’m a little behind. Don’t tell the big guy in red!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cecil Chimes In (Part 2 of 2)

I’m reminiscing about my next-door neighbor Cecil, and the friendship we had. I have some wind chimes that were Cecil’s, and when the breeze makes music with the chimes, I think of him.
Three years ago Cecil passed away. I knew it was coming as he was in his eighties and his health was declining. But I was still sad to hear the news. After Cecil passed on, I wrote a blog post about him. He was a kind neighbor for seven years, and I think of him when I see my Yucca plants, which were daughter plants of his Yucca trees.
Cecil was from Georgia, a place I associate with front porch chats and leisurely visits. Although Cecil didn’t have a front porch, he always welcomed visitors. I sat in his living room many times, chit-chatting while my babies crawled around on his floor. We talked about his growing up on a watermelon farm. Cecil moved to San Diego for the Navy and told me what the city was like half a century ago. We chatted about kids and friendship and life. He talked about his pet turtle that lived outdoors under the house. More than a few times Cecil said, “Oh, you just missed the turtle. He came out and got some sun for a while.” I believed that the pet was real but I wondered if I’d ever see him. Apparently turtles do not keep to a schedule, so a sighting is nearly as rare as running into the queen at the pharmacy. Finally, I spotted him one day. The turtle didn’t do any tricks for me, but I was glad to see him with my own eyes at last. I’d waited six or seven years!
Cecil was part of what I liked about our neighborhood. Like others on the block, he’d lived in his house since shortly after it was built in the mid-1950s. He became good friends with others who had lived on the block for decades. I found that so charming. I liked joining a neighborhood where people knew their neighbors well, and were friends.
When Cecil passed he left a house full of furniture and household items. His sons lived far away and I wondered if or when they would sort through the house. Probate issues took time to resolve and a few months passed. One day I was shocked to hear a loud crash as a truck delivered a metal dumpster into the driveway next door. A crew started to clear the house of belongings. It bothered me that the entire house was emptied so quickly and unceremoniously. They weren’t taking Cecil from me but it still felt uncomfortable to watch my friend’s belongings thrown into a dumpster, all signs of his time in that house erased.
Soon, more changes came. Investors walked down the driveway, examining the exterior. The house was stripped down to its studs. Concrete was poured, the house was expanded a few feet, and interior walls were reconfigured. I snuck in one day to make peace with the changes while there was still some evidence of Cecil’s having lived there. I’d only seen a few rooms of Cecil’s house before and in a room I hadn’t seen, I discovered the original wallpaper from Cecil’s sons’ room. I was touched that the original wallpaper remained so long after his sons outgrew the room. I took photos of the print, a playful design that made me feel I'd walked onto the 1950s set of Leave it to Beaver.


Just as quickly as work began next door, it stopped. For months, there was no activity. Finally, things started happening again. Stucco was applied, and new sod was laid in back. The remodel was complete. Although Cecil’s house had needed a lot of TLC, I was a bit sad to see so much change because it didn’t look like Cecil’s house anymore. But the newer version was well-maintained and no longer a fixer-upper. Another good facet of the change felt like a gift directly from Cecil: a friendly new neighbor moved in next door. She was easy to talk with, cheerful. If we had to lose Cecil, I felt our new neighbor was a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. It felt as though Cecil had chosen a terrific neighbor for us, and I’m grateful for that. I think a neighborhood should be a place where people feel a bond with those who live nearby. In our neighborhood, people become friends with one another. We borrow things and lend things. We look out for one another. Our “new” neighbor has been here for more than a year and a half now, and she is a great addition. By coincidence, our new neighbor’s name starts with “C,” as Cecil’s did. I like that serendipity.  

Who really knows whether Cecil guided our new neighbor to our street? Maybe it is coincidence, but I like to think Cecil had a hand in it. Maybe our new neighbor was simply attracted to this kind of neighborhood: one where people want connection, and are down-to-earth, where they walk their dogs and greet passers-by.

I feel fortunate that I have a kind neighbor next-door and before that, another great neighbor in Cecil. Change is sometimes hard but it can be a gift in disguise. Recently, there has been a lot of change on our street. In the last six months, six houses have sold. Our street only has 24 houses on it so you really notice that much change. I was sad to see elderly neighbors move to assisted living, and other families leave the area. But I’m trying to embrace the new, even if I miss what was. There is new life on our block. I’m making a point to welcome the new neighbors. Maybe I can be to the new neighbors who Cecil was to me.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Feared forty. Fretted.
Fortunately, found forty felicitous.
Feel feisty, fun, festive.
Feeling fortunate.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cecil Chimes In (Part 1 of 2)

(This week marks exactly three years since a coincidence of timing led to a beautiful moment. I wrote the story below three years ago, and then I couldn’t find where I saved it! These days I’m more organized about where I file my stories on the computer. But in retrospect, I like that I’m posting this piece three years after I wrote it. It gives me more perspective on the events that took place.)

Originally written in Dec. 2010:

Have you ever witnessed a coincidence that seemed too significant to write off as happenstance? Recently something happened that I’m still mulling over in an attempt to understand it.

It was my birthday and I was outside, hanging up the wind chimes that Hubby had given me. From next door I heard another set of wind chimes, not the subtle sound they make when a breeze barely moves them, but a loud sound. The house next door has sat empty for two months, so sounds from that property make me take notice. The chimes kept hitting one another, as though they were being moved by someone. It took me only a second to decide what to do. I walked next door and called through the screen at the front door. A man I didn’t know answered and I asked about the chimes. He said they were available, and I took them back to my place and hung them up.

Three months ago the man next door passed away. His name was Cecil, and he was in his eighties. He'd lived in his house for fifty years, and we were friends as well as neighbors. Recently there have been people cleaning out his house. I knew it had to happen, but it made me a bit sad to see his furniture thrown abruptly into a dumpster. As I stood at his door, looking into the bare living room, the emptiness was startling. The day before I’d thought of asking the crew if I could have a table from Cecil’s house. As an artist, I like painting furniture to make it unique, but after some thought I decided not to ask. I’m trying to downsize, and I also didn’t need an object in order to remember Cecil.

Today, as I took the trash out front, I ran into two of the men cleaning out Cecil’s house. We chatted a minute and they seemed friendly. Maybe that is what led me to go next door less than an hour later, when I heard those chimes. In that hour the two men had left or gone to lunch and someone else was working outside. I told him I’d heard the chimes and asked if he’d taken them down as part of the clean-up effort. He said yes, and I asked if I could have them.

I returned home with them, and installed them near my other sets of chimes. The sound they make is not like any of the other wind chimes I have. It’s a beautiful, high sound. There had been a stained-glass clipper ship at the top of Cecil’s chimes, but the ship had broken off of the chimes when they’d been thrown away. This didn’t bother me and the chimes still worked.

It seemed so significant to me that I heard Cecil’s chimes as I hung up the beautiful new chimes from my husband. I hadn’t been outdoors yet that day and I was only outside for three minutes as I hung my new chimes. It seems so amazing to me that Cecil’s old chimes were moved during that brief period of time when I was outside and could hear them. It may have been coincidence that led to my hearing and asking for those chimes. Or maybe it somehow was a birthday gift from Cecil. Either way, each time a breeze blows through our yard I smile. Hubby’s new chimes contrast with Cecil’s old ones and my other sets, each like a member of an orchestra making music together. Music is a gift, and friendship is a gift. As I hear Cecil’s chimes, I remember him and I feel his friendship still. I’m glad we were neighbors as well as friends.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Play. At Any Age!

Music heals. I’m hardly the first human being to draw this conclusion. But when you experience the healing first-hand, it feels like your own discovery. Last night I played piano for a little while. I hadn’t played much in the last few years, and it felt really good.

Even close friends reading this may be surprised to learn that I have a piano and that I know how to play a little. It doesn’t come into conversation much. Art is a bigger passion for me. But music has always been a piece of my history, too.

My dad’s father was a pianist, and his mom an organist. My mom and her sisters all played guitar at one point, and all of them sing. When I was a child I began piano lessons in first grade. I still remember my piano teacher, Mrs. Schaefer. We still have the books of piano songs she gave us, with her distinctive hand-written notes in pencil in the margin.

It’s been nearly thirty years since I stopped taking lessons. I took them for five years, and I’m trying to remember why I stopped. I guess I didn’t want to learn harder pieces! I’m so lucky that my parents saved the piano books from my single-digit years. There are pages of sheet music with notes I drew at age nine or ten: notes as round and full as balloons, the marks of a young child. I feel such nostalgia as I look at those notes. It’s an instant trip back in time.
I’m still marveling at how much peace I felt playing the piano last night. I lost myself in the music, and forgot about the birthday I’ve been dreading. The piano connects me to the child I was. Making music is something you can do at any age, and perhaps this is why I felt such peace as I sat with my hands on the keys. I’m feeling and looking a little older, which is hard to accept, but the piano doesn’t notice the laugh lines around my eyes or the gray hair stubbornly elbowing its way into my brown locks.

All year I’ve been struggling with a way to accept turning forty. Friends who are older say it’s no big deal, but while I appreciate their support, their reassurances didn’t show me how to accept something I have trouble accepting. (I suppose no one can provide a recipe for how to accept something. Acceptance is something that can’t be found by following a series of steps. There’s no one formula for accepting something hard. But still. I needed a guide!)

All year I’ve wondered how to accept this milestone and all it includes. In the last week or so I’ve become a little more accepting of it. And last night, as I sat down at the piano and tried playing a few songs, something came to me. Music could help me cross this bridge into my 40s.

Piano as the catalyst to a peaceful transition? This really took me by surprise. I thought I was supposed to accomplish certain tangible goals before forty. Forty became the deadline, and I felt pressure to accomplish things. I suppose it’s quite hard to feel peace about a milestone if you are spending time and energy trying to achieve things before the giant, ticking clock rings its ear-splitting alarm. So no, I didn’t feel anything close to peace as I eyed this looming day. I had no clue about how to make peace with it. It didn’t occur to me that peace might find me.

As I sat at the piano last night, slowly picking my way through a few songs, I felt good. Even when I hit incorrect notes. Even though I was slow. Even though the piano hasn’t been tuned in years.

To people who pick up an instrument every week or every day, like my musician friend Ed, it must seem strange that it took me so long to realize that music could ease this transition I’ve been dreading. To musical people, the power of music is obvious. The joy of music is clear. The healing ability of music is apparent every time they hit a note or strike a chord. For those of us who have been away from making music for a long time, rediscovering it is like falling in love again. It’s a surprise, an unexpected joy, to realize that music is an old friend who is just as easy to be with after years away.

Over the years, I occasionally sat at a piano, playing things I remembered. I learned violin and recorder in school, and I sang in choirs in high school and college. Music was still part of my life but it had been years since I sat at a piano regularly.

Years passed and I nearly forgot about my parents’ piano, tucked into an unused room at their house. I became a parent and free time for hobbies became a rare commodity. The first two years were all about survival! One day while visiting my friend Sue, I fiddled around on her piano a little bit and it struck me how good it felt to play. I decided to ask my parents if Hubby and I could have the piano, since no one used it. They said yes and we drove it from their city to ours. I played regularly for a while but soon I had another child, and another. The piano took a back seat to caring for babies, and I only sat down at the piano occasionally. I decided not to have it retuned unless I was playing it more than few times a year (which I wasn’t) so it remained untuned and unplayed. Maybe if I’d had it tuned I might have gone back to the piano sooner but who knows? Sometimes a break from something makes your return to it more meaningful.

I’m looking back at the last few months, wondering when and how the pieces of this puzzle came into place. Maybe Ed’s reconnection with music this year planted a seed in my brain. This year my dear friend Roxie mentioned how much playing the piano relaxes her. Another friend talked about her son’s piano lessons. These comments must have made a subliminal impact on me. I didn’t have one Eureka moment where I saw “music” written across the sky, a clear answer to my stress about turning forty. But these pieces must have come together over time. At the library a week ago I checked out a book of piano songs and I photocopied some of them a few days ago. I’m building a little collection of songs that make me happy, songs I want to teach myself to play. Maybe this collection of songs is the map I’ve been seeking all year, a guide to feeling peace with my new decade. I requested that my birthday-Christmas gift would be to get the piano tuned and I plan to play it often.

As I creative person, I am not shocked that making music calmed me down yesterday. But I was surprised at how much happiness it brought me. Scientists have studied how making art and making music promote good health. Doing art (even if we don’t finish a project) distracts us from our worries and it slows breathing and lowers blood pressure. I know all this to be true when I do art projects, but it amazed me how much making music calmed me yesterday. Relearning the piano is also a good challenge to give myself. I’ve forgotten some of what I learned so many years ago. I’ll be learning again, and that feels exciting.

I’m so lucky that I grew up in a family that valued creativity. I am so fortunate that my parents chose to pay for piano lessons instead of spending on the status symbols that some other grownups prioritized. I’m really grateful that my parents gave me the piano that I learned on. I’m thankful that I’ve found some peace through piano playing. A reunion with an old friend, music, is a wonderful way to start a new decade.