Monday, November 17, 2008

WHAT'S A SDEW?

K, so I teach 6 year olds in church every Sunday. 6 of them. And they are fabulous and crazy! Especially heavy on the crazy side today. More like WILD!
The twins kept sticking out their tongues and touching them to each other's, and Luke kept sliding his chair to the back of the room and then secretly escaping out the door. Bekah sobbed for a full hour and fifteen minutes because, in her own words, "Nobody cares about me." Drey flipped his suit coat over his head and huddled with Luke in the back of the room, stopping occasionally to act "reverent" so he might get chosen to pick a leaf off the Autumn Tree full of song titles.
Mason leaned over to me while we were singing and I was trying to comfort Bekah and said "What's a sdew?" "A stew?" I responded, "like...to eat?" "No, a SDEW! What's a SDEW?" I sat there trying to figure out where in the world that question came from when I realized we were singing the song "I Am A Child of God", wherein you will find the lyric..."teach me all that I must do....to live with Him someday." I pulled him in with my one free arm, the other being used to stroke Bekah's shoulder, and whispered, "It's MUST DO, buddy." "Oh," he said.
So then we got to class where I was going to teach about the Last Supper and we were going to pretend. Bekah was so upset I decided we all needed to just have a talk for a minute. So Bekah explained her feelings to the whole class, and Madi apologized for socking her in the tummy and Sophie said she was sorry for pulling the "hairs" out of her fake mink stoll, even though she said it was only just a few teeny little ones. And then I started to talk about bread and how there's a lot of times in scriptures where there is bread. I talked about the Jews and the unleavened bread of their escape from Egypt, and I told how Jewish people believed in the Hebrew religion like we believe in the Mormon religion and Sophie, one of the twins, said..."Madi HATES church". Madi, meanwhile, is over in the corner sliding the window open and shut, and I said, "Tell me about that Madi" and she said; "Yup, I HATE church!" "What is it that you don't like?" I asked. "It's TOO LONG!" (Tell me about it, I thought, you try reigning in six year olds for two hours) What I said was, "You know what,? It IS too long!" "Yeah", chimed in Soph, "It lasts the WHOLE DAY!" "You know," I said, "You are right. Church IS long! It's probably the wrong church, huh?" Mason looked at me in disbelief, almost shaking his head to clear his ears. After a half a minute I said "Actually, guys, it's not wrong. It's the right place to be on Sunday. And sometimes we do the hard things because they are the right things."
By the end of our lesson we had draped our heads like apostles. I had pretended to be Jesus and had washed their beautiful little feet, which fit perfectly in one of my pie tins. We had sung a hymn, just like the apostles had done with Jesus in the upper room. Bekah had filled my Bennion Pottery pitcher with water from the drinking fountain and we had broken bread and sipped water at our own pretend Last Supper. She whispered to me, "Can we do it (sniff) again?" But the halls were full of people and moms and dads were waiting outside for us to finish, so instead Madi said a prayer and this is what she said:
Heavenly Father. Thank you for church. And thank you that we could pretend. And please bless Bekah to feel not sad. And thank you for her, and for Mason, and Sophie , and Dreyden , and Luke . And mostly thank you for Jesus."

Now tell me, what better thing could a human being possibly do on a Sunday afternoon?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

IN FLANDERS FIELDS


Today's word of the day was: poppy

Our boy-grown-to-a-man John leaned his forearms down on the cold granite of our kitchen island and looked up. “It surprised them that I knew it.” In a flash not to be measured by time, I imagined him ten years ago, and I felt that tug inside, in the space between my heart and my belly button, where memories cinch themselves to me. I was not there with him then. He had crossed the wooded hill where I could not follow; nineteen years old, his hair cropped short and refusing to be trained to the side; over across the ocean, up the craggy shoreline, into the foggy streets of England and Wales, where he wore holes through the soles of his shoes in the name of Jesus Christ. It was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. On his lapel he pinned a blood red poppy, made of crepe paper. When people realized he was an American missionary, they quizzed him about the poppy.
Remembrance Day. Poppy Day. Armistice Day. Veteran’s Day here in America. Times had changed. The old men of the war to end all wars had left the round tin hats of their combat youth up in the attics of the stacks of townhomes lining the streets of England. Youngsters paid no attention any more. Even older people hardly cared. And certainly not an American boy. So they tried to trip him up, tossing their spent fags on the ground, twisting their shoes over the smoking butts. They lifted their heads like horses nodding and said “wha’s that on your lapel there?” The conversation would end up leading Johnny to these words:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Gram-of-the-poet’s-heart had paid him to memorize it when he was a boy. She paid all our kids to memorize great poems. “You must stand erect, look me in the eyes, recite the title, the author, and the complete poem. Say it like you mean it, and do not let the break in lines and the use of rhyme make it sing-songy. Say it like you mean it.” Those were the rules. Then she would give them five dollars. Every time thereafter they could earn a quarter for each recital. Gram the patriot, who bore her first child alone in her youth while her young husband fought in the second war-to-end-all-wars. She worked in Los Angeles with the other wives of soldiers, stopping regularly at the post office after work to see the listing of names of the dead. Every afternoon the ladies huddled together around the list, grateful on the days when no one recognized a name, frightened and mournful on the days they heard a gasp from the crowd. Then they cradled their sister-wives in their arms and let them sob. Gram says she no longer knew the man she had married when he came home. Casualties of war.
When Gram was a small girl, she says, she sat in her classroom in the little school in Blackfoot, Idaho on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, both of which honor veterans. She recalls the quivering voice of her teacher as she held a book of poetry against her chest and repeated the words. “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow…” Tears worked their way down the cheeks of the teacher she loved, dropping onto her chest as she read. There was no need for a book. She knew the poem by heart. Her husband had died in the First World War. Gram cannot hear the poem without feeling the little girl sorrow.
I feel the sorrow, too. I feel it and embrace it when I hear my boy speak, his shoulders back, the title and the author and the lilt in his voice, like he had left part of his own heart over in the streets of England and Wales. Today I will open the drawer of my jewelry box and retrieve the crepe paper poppy from the American Legion. I’ll pin it to my lapel. Though I have been spared, for no good reason, from the personal knowledge of war-loss, I know what it means.



Here's a link to the story of the writing of In Flanders Fields by Leiutenant Colonel John MaCrae: www.arlingtoncemetery.net/flanders.htm

Friday, November 7, 2008

Photobucket Album

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A BAG FULL OF LIFETIME

Today's word, generated by the internet's Random Word Generator Plus, was: LIFETIME.


I had my carry-on swung over my shoulder, and the flight had not been too long, so when our plane pulled up to the last gate in the terminal furthest from Baggage Claim, I planted my vision straight ahead and commanded my feet to engage. In the nearly 5 years since they were briefly paralyzed with GBS I have mourned the death of the child in me; the one who used to run up the street, take stairs one foot at a time, and kick her way through amber layers of crispy-downy autumn leaves. But the other day at the airport, for the first time in this many years, I actually felt my legs sort of move when my brain told them to move. It was so compelling I pushed harder and harder, never risking both feet being off the ground at once like when I used to run, but still! So when I arrived at the moving sidewalk I kept up the pace, stepping onto the fluid metal ribbon of floor with history behind me, knowing that it would not respond to my weight in any negative way; knowing that without breaking a sweat I would achieve my human objective with superhuman timing. Is it a comment on my simple life that such a thing gives me a rush? I just love those moving sidewalks. I feel light and able. I become conscious of the air against my cheeks, of the slight rise in energy exchange as I pass the people on solid ground. I whisper to my brain that this is heaven and in just 19...18…17…16 seconds we are going to hit the earth. I remember thinking once that this was going a bit too far, analyzing the moving sidewalk, and I reprimanded myself for making everything too symbolic. Take things at face value, I’d tell myself, and try to focus on what gate we were aiming for, or where all the kids were, or what time the flight was leaving. But this self talk always backfires on me and I am caught mid-thought when the sidewalk stops moving and I hit solid ground, and I cannot…CANNOT…not think about being born. “That was Heaven” I say as I lift my heavy legs and double my effort to cover the same ground with twice the work… “And this is birth!” Inevitably I imagine myself jumping from a swift moving cloud into my lump of flesh. My angel hands me a satchel of lifetime and reminds me to spend it well. Dipping my hand into the bag, I pull out an hour-sized chunk and rub it against my gown. I glance down and notice the shine. It’s a good one, with something magical coming up. Spreading my fingers out I hold the hour in my palm and watch it fizz away, leaving just a slight trace of purple smoke and the faint scent of baby sweat. The satchel, though lighter now, still swings from my side. I hardly ever notice it any more. I only ever think about it on the moving sidewalk, or when Anna Bella giggles and I know that the next time I see her her giggle will have changed. I look for everyone else’s satchels and they are invisible. Most people don’t even know they have them. But I am reminded of my handful of lifetime every time I go to the airport. It’s good I fly now and then.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

PET TRICKS

October 22, 2008 Today's Word of the Day is: pet tricks

Back when my mother was my sister and my husband was my brother, before dog spirits got dog bodies, I think I struck up a conversation with Sally. Sal, who would be our lethargic but cute Basset Hound when my other sisters and brother became my kids. If I don’t force the memory too hard I can find it, and I think it came out something like this:

Me: So you’re going to be a Basset Hound?
Sal: Guess so. How bout you?
Me: I’m going to be a girl and I’m going to be beautiful.
Sal: Well good luck with that.
Me: Hey, you wanna be my dog? I can fill out one of those silver request cards and see if you can get your goods when I get mine. I’ll be sure to take care and feed you and bathe you and play with you and you can do cool dog tricks. Wanna?

So I guess I must have submitted the request because sure enough Sally appeared under our Christmas tree one December morning via my sister, Libby and a pet store somewhere in Salt Lake City. Cute she was. Darling, even. All cleaned up with those sad brown eyes and those soft floppy ears. She curled up in Kate’s arms and was content. Then Kate went to school, and so did the other kids. Sal did not know how to be an indoor dog. And I did not know how to be an outdoor girl. And I did not know how to make her into an indoor dog. So I researched dogs, and dog training, and I found out that the Basset Hound is historically one of the hardest dogs to train, even if they have not spent the first year of their life in a kennel. So Sal and I had another conversation, after the kids left for school:

Me: Sorry about losing my temper.
Sal: Sorry about the puddle. And the mess. Can’t help myself.
Me: Yeah, I know. But you know what this means don’t you?
Sal: Uh. No.
Me: Well, it means you are an outside dog. We’ll build you the world’s largest and most expensive running grounds, with a nice iron fence around a big grassy space. And we’ll build a nice big dog house that has a door that leads right to the garage, which we will heat in the winter. But…well, I’m not sure how to put this…you sort of leave a trail of slime wherever you go, so about coming in the house…well, we’ll have to do our pet tricks outside. Hope you’re ok with that.
Sal: Whatever.

So for 13 years we watched Sal through the kitchen window, weaving her way through the yard, making tunnels with her low lying belly in the winter, curling into herself under the Hornbeam tree by the back gate in the summer. Gram fed her Cheez-Its every day, throwing them through the fence to her. Dave faithfully gave her ½ can of puppy chow when she got old, because that’s what the vet said to do. We scratched under her chin when we had enough time to go back in the house and scrub up. Or shower. When the back door was left open and she got in the house we played catch me if you can until she found the light and headed back outside. It took towels and warm soapy water to clean up the slobber mess. She would swing her head back and forth, her ears flapping like paddle balls, her jowls scraping the floor and her lips like a spigot leaving a trail of slimy drool. Good old Sal. Sally the Slobber Dog. Never, in all those 13 years, did she ever even once attempt to do a dog trick. Never even turned her head to see the stick that went flying. I’m not sure if it was real or if she was just playing dumb. “Sit” might as well be “stand on your hind legs and twirl” or “Just lay there Sal”. I think “Just lay there Sal” was the only command she ever followed. No pet tricks. Then again, I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain so well either. In spite of what appeared to be less than adequate care, Sal lived a good long life. Doc White said he had never seen a Basset Hound live as long. It was a mournful day when Sally went the way of all the earth.

Someday I’ll have another conversation with Sal.

Sal: Well, hey. So you’re back, too?
Me: Yeah.
Sal: How is everybody?
Me: Good. Maybe a little sad, but they’re all good. Hey, you look great! How do you feel?
Sal: Sheesh, so much better! Hey look what I can do.

At that moment Sally the Slobber Dog stands on her two very happy and healthy hind legs, reaches her paws up into Heaven’s Heaven, lifts one leg to the side and twirls just like a ballerina.

Me: Wow Sal! A pet trick! Who knew.

That’s when Sal lowers her paws to the ground, turns her hind quarters in toward her snout, lays her fluid sparkling head on the ground with her cheeks spreading out like a wedding dress and winks at me.

Sal: Yeah. Who knew.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

COUNTING BLESSINGS

8 - number of eggs in the batch of chocolate chip cookies I made last night

0 - number of cookies that are left

2 - wedding receptions we attended Friday night

24 - relatives who came to stay with Gram and Libby and us for one of the weddings

37 - number of Alaskans squished into our entry hall and living room for song sharing

8 - non-Alaskans in the same rooms (who knew both verses of the Idaho State song)

3 - am. the time we sang our last song

7 - am. the time the littlest kids woke up the next morning

25 - approximate number of rounds of speed scrabble played at the kitchen table

2 - number of rounds of speed scrabble that I won

1,867 - number of times we laughed in the last 4 days

19 - approximate number of hours we have slept the last 5 days

1 - fabulous family!

Happy Ever After, Rebecca and Rory. Thanks for facilitating a grand gathering and some great memories!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

PIGEON WHISPERER


We had to clean our overstuffed house to show it to an appraiser today so we can refinance with a lower interest rate. Anyone who knows me knows how thrilled I am to tidy up. Cleaning the family room and maybe the kitchen for dinner guests is one thing. But...every corner and closet of every room...well, you know. So I paced myself perfectly. It took four days of focused dirty work to get to this point; one o'clock this afternoon - the hour of no return. So I was down to scrubbing the master bathroom and the family room, which was not that bad (so I left it for last), then a final vacuum sweep of the first floor. Whew! I am tired just remembering it! Anyway, I'm in my pj's at 11:30 am (because I want to shower AFTER I get all sweaty cleaning, and I started at 5 am, when normal people are still wearing pjs) and I'm halfway through sorting through the stuff on the bathroom counter when I go out to the kitchen to put away some clean dishcloths. As I pass through the family room I hear the flutter of wings, a whoosh of air, and a crash bang against one of the bay windows by the kitchen table. Once again I am visited by a pigeon, which has made his/her way down the chimney, out the fireplace and into the house. Sheesh, Mr/Ms Pigeon, could you have found a better time to visit? I have encountered many a pigeon this way, as our house sits in a lovely hollow full of trees and our chimney is the highest point. I am quite sure these are adolescent pigeons because #1: they egg each other on to head for the chimney, like the high dive for us humans ..."Come on Bert, you chicken!" and they head up to that way high chimney (I realize it is not really THAT high for birds). Then they sit on the edge of the chimney cap and pull faces, or tuck their wings under their wing-pits and strut around the edge until they fall in. And #2: they must be adolescents because they cannot see beyond their own beaks!
Usually I can whisper the birds to head to the open deck door, one whisper at a time, my soft reassuring voice guiding them to go toward the BIG light. All pigeons, I know this from experience, have the natural instinct to GO TOWARD THE LIGHT. The only problem is the glass gets in the way. So this pigeon on this busy and stressful morning, is the most un-whisperable stubborn creature ever to leave its sooty wing marks on our ceiling! Feathers are flying, droppings are...well, dropping. I am edgy because I have timed this morning and this was not in the plan and the dang bird just keeps slamming into the windows! Finally I stop whispering and I start yelling, the same strategy I used to try on my own adolescents. Same results, too. I try boxes and blankets and broom sticks. The dang thing even sat on the top of the back deck door and refused to look down 1/2 and inch to see it could simply fly out to his/her own personal freedom. I would have mused about the symbolism of it all; the trapped creature, the perceived enemy who is actually just trying to help, the irony of eyes fixed on the light beyond the glass when the open air is only inches away. Instead I called Libby to complain. "I can come down after I go list this house, she said" but I did not need her to fix it, I just needed her to hear me complain.
Well, ok, I did need her to fix it. So I am chasing this bird around the house in my blue pj's and the clock is ticking and the bathroom is only half cleaned and in walks Libby, who is not into whispering herself! I slide the vacuum over the floors so fast it cannot possibly suck up anything while Lib works on the winged intruder. Finally, after hearing various crashes and slam bangs, Libby declares she has liberated the bird! She runs off to do her real estate work and I head back to the bathroom, my face red as a freshly steamed summer beet. I hide the stache of unattended bathroom counter items in a basket and cover them with a towel, turn on the shower, slip out of my pjs, and THE DOORBELL RINGS! The appraiser is early! By the time I get to her there is no hiding the fact that I have had to exert more energy than I ever do in purposeful exercise just to get the place in the state where all I have to say is "Oh dear, please excuse the mess. I've just been so busy." At least the bird was gone before she came.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Encore...or is that On Cor


K, so I am headed once again into the studio in half an hour to get the final mixes for the Saints on the Seas album done. For a LIVE show it's not too bad. Piecing 9 people's microphones, 11 instruments, journal readings and lively audience response into a palatable piece is a task indeed. Mark Stephenson is MUCH more patient than I. After ten hours in the studio yesterday (on 4 hours of sleep the night before) I was HAMMERED! Hard to listen clearly under such taxing personal conditions. But what a BLAST to be back in the studio!

Our ENCORE performance of Saints on the Seas is this Friday...like 2 days from now...Eeeek! Details:

Saints on the Seas - a Musical Journey of Faith

Friday, Sept 26, 2008

8:00 pm

Tickets $8 available at http://www.coriconnors.com/ or at the door

Jefferson Hall 2604 Jefferson Ave OGDEN UT


I love doing this show. I'm not sure if its that I love the stories of my ancestors, both by faith and by blood, or if it is that I get to play music with people I love. Probably both. Last night at midnight I was listening through our day's work and each voice just made me tingle: Johnny's wonderful vocal and guitar style on The Leaving of Liverpool (I love singing harmonies with my son!) Tom's great edgy rendition of Haul Away Joe and Gael's lively hammers bouncing off the strings of her dulcimer next to him; Carla standing right next to me and feeling in tune with her, musically and otherwise--she is truly a sister-friend. And that Dave Eskelsen--he's gentle and steady and strong...on guitar, in his voice, and really, in every other way! Then of course there is one of my favorite all-time-people, Mark Robinette, whose talent is exceeded only by his kindness and great humor! His daughter Maura is getting married today and Judge Dave gets to marry them! (and I get to sing!) I can't believe Maura is this old. And what a great companion she has!

Last night (very late) I was typing up things for the CD cover and I realized what a family affair this project is! I love to hear Dave's voice in the narration. It comforts me, and I don't even care what it is he is saying! And my sister Libby does all the video work and reads one entry on the CD because the entry (read by Gael in the show) had too much distortion in the microphone on the live show. And my niece-in-love Katie Riggs Hansen is the other narrator. Before Katie it was our Kate who read that part, but she had to go and move to Houston! And before Kate, it was our Sarah who read that part, but she had to go and move to Kansas City! Good thing we have a big family! I just love creating together with these people!

So now I'd better go gather my goods and head into the studio! AHOY!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WHERE WERE YOU?

9/11 September 11, 2008

It was morning and I had not yet showered and dressed. Late summer, with the peaches heavy in the trees and kids back in school. September always brings the relief of routine, a sort of emotional hunkering down. The flow of “back to school” having in my life only a tiny handful of years’ break between being a student and being the parent of students. I crave September like I crave the corn of August and the Manning’s harvest of early Alberta’s that I peel and chunk into fresh peach pie. I was savoring the taste of September; the independence, the freshness of being alone in the house while the kids were safe in their classrooms, the bedroom window left open to welcome crisp September morning air. Then the phone rang.
“Turn on your TV.” It was Libby, her voice a strange blend of anxious and sober. “What’s wrong?” Like a mounting wave I felt the rise of impending doom. I could sense it in her voice. Sometimes you know someone so well you can hear their message without their words. I found the remote at the side of the bed as I held the phone in my other hand.
“What channel?”
“Doesn’t matter.”
Smoke was rising from a tall building. “What is that?” I asked Libby, before I could comprehend what the newscasters were saying. A plane had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Smack into it, like it meant to do it. Plumes of fire and smoke evolved in the minutes that followed, and then, as if it were a show with average special effects, another plane flew into the other tower. “Did you see that? What happened? Is this real?” We agreed to just watch, and I hung up the phone.
The morning light that washes our bedroom window crossed over the top of the house and made its way to the back deck by the time the kids came home from school. I spent that time sitting on the side of my bed, ignoring hunger, neglecting the laundry, forgetting to shower, forgetting to dress. Charlie Gibson stayed with me all morning as I shifted from the side of the bed to the chair in the bedroom, to my knees at my bedside, to standing with fists at my hips, facing the TV screen head-on in disbelief.
I don’t really remember where I was when President Kennedy died. I was 5 years old. But I remember my mom made me quit doing cartwheels in the empty living room of our new house in Pittsburgh on the day of his funeral. She made me stop and watch our black and white console, not because she had any intense desire for me to remember what was happening, but because it just felt right to be still. On September 11, 2001 I knew, as I was living it, that this was a moment to be still. I wanted to find my children and pull them into me; to beckon my husband home from a trial in Denver. As it turned out they would not let him fly home. All planes were grounded. He recalls the desperate feeling of needing to be with us and not being allowed to get there. He finally found a rental car, a miracle indeed, and he welcomed a stranger to join him when the rentals were sold out. They drove through the night across the mountains.
That next spring I travelled with Kate’s Madrigals group to NYC for some performances. We visited Ground Zero the afternoon after one of their shows. Silently we passed the makeshift wooden walls that sheltered the place where cranes and workers sifted through the remains of the tragedy. Plywood walls were covered with home-made posters of the missing, the corners of the papers curled in around the staples that held them in place. Stuffed animals sunk into the creases between the ground planks and the walls, weathered and compressed by rain and dust, their fur all matted and fading. Flower vases tipped over against them, with brown stems bent and broken, stuck inside the glass. We filed through one by one, until we gathered at the apex. Our children put their arms around each other and began to sing. Softly. Reverently. “Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light. What so proudly we hailed in the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.” We wept like babies, we parents who were there huddled around the circle of our children. They sounded like angels.
This morning I pull the drawer of my jewelry chest open and dig through my disorganization. I can feel it by its shape, a metal rectangle with a tack on the back. I close my eyes for a moment, to remind myself and my God that I have not forgotten, then I pin my 9/11 Olympics pin on my lapel. Red white and blue, and the word “Remember”.
Some things we must not forget, not because we need to recall our anger at the enemy, or the feelings of helplessness that come with attack. What I must not forget is that I am part of a large and beautiful whole. Not just an American, though that matters to me very much. I remind myself that I am part of a family of souls who share this good earth, its good and its evil. I remind myself that what hurts or helps one of us hurts or helps all of us; that I may wish to be separate but I will never be alone. By divine nature we are connected, and I make the conscious choice to embrace that connectedness, not out of duty, but out of love.

(Where were you on Sept 11, 2001?

Here's a site for the NYC Memorial: http://www.tributewtc.org/index.php)


Saturday, August 30, 2008

OH, THERE IT IS!



Dave answered the impassioned pleadings of Reed Gardner and sacrificed his Saturday to accompany Reed to the BYU game. His one day off. I know, he supposedly has the weekend, but let's face it, Sunday is not a day off. It's just a day different. And it is certainly not a day of rest. His Sundays start at 6 am and he gets home at 4 pm. I'm not complaining, just sayin'. So here I am on Saturday with the day to myself. Did some laundry and tried to find the bridge to a song I have been writing for eight-hundred-fifty-seven years. Alas, no bridge today either. So I wandered out to the kitchen where I told myself I could watch TV if I cleaned. Some rerun of a law show had just started. I looked over at the counter next to the stove top. More like the mountain next to the stove top. Like a kid dipping her toe in the water I touched one piece of paper at the summit. Picked it up and held it, repeating the mantra: "Everything you do is something done! Everything you do is something done!" And at the same time I clamped my fingers tight on the paper until it found a permanent home somewhere. The waters tested, I dove straight in. Three reruns later I FOUND IT! My counter top! My pretty granite counter top! It was so lovely, and shiny (after a good polish) that I hovered over it and said Hi to myself. So what if it is just a little corner of a vast and neglected household! Hey, it's a start!

Monday, August 4, 2008

MUSING WITH MY FRIENDS


Last night my friends and I played the Layton Amphitheatre, this week's installment of the Davis Arts Council Sunday Summer Concert Series. Mark Robinette and Dave and Carla Eskelsen and I. We sang old tunes we haven't done for a while, like Get Back on That Pony and The Builder, along with current faves like Idaho Wind and Memoria and Pontiac Rocket. It was the perfect thing to do on a Sunday evening for me. I love making music! LOVE making it with my friends! And how lucky can a person be to have anyone want to listen? It was a good crowd. Heather Cragun came up to me, before we started, to tell me she told her kids they were going to see the live person singing the songs they danced to in their kitchen. So when we ended the show with Pontiac Rocket I looked over at the grassy knoll to the side of the stage and there was this darling little family with three little kids all dancing in and out of each other. I just can't believe I am so lucky! Sheesh! And then when we were done and went backstage one of my little Primary friends, Isabella came running back. "Izzy! " I said, "What are you doing here?!" She sort of tucked her chin into her chest and curled her fingers together. "Um, Cori Connors, ummm, could you start the concert over again now?" Gotta love it!
So the floor of my kitchen looks like the hull of a ship at the moment, all the trailings of a three night run of Saints on the Seas. Whew, that was another fabulous musical journey with the same friends, only even better because we had Johnny of my flesh and blood, and the Shults' and Dave and Katie and Elliott and Libby and Eric Robinette running the sound. All my favorite peoples in one show! OK, so some other favorites were missing, but it was a blast. We're working on mixing the album from that show in the next few months.
In less than two days we head out to Houston to take Kate's stuff to her. I am looking forward to not only seeing Kate, and if time permits a side jaunt to KC to see our little ones there, but I am very happy to think of having Dave all to myself...alone! Ooooh!

Monday, June 30, 2008

And the word of the day is...




... goat
Kate wants a goat. At least she used to. I suspect the part of her she left at home, with her old textbooks and comfy pajamas, still does. We thought about it for a while. Thought about how excited she might be on the morning of her birthday to wake up to a hairy chinned pygmy in the back yard. But we were not sure Sally the slobber dog would adjust. And we were not sure our yard would survive. But in my mind I see a little YouTube video of a winter afternoon, when the sun is washing over 16 inches of snow in the back yard. Sal, our faithfully apathetic Basset, has tunneled her path through the white jungle, as usual. Her low lying belly plows through the powder in what looks like a mini-luge. From overhead it must seem like there is an ant farm at 844 Emerald Oaks Court. Sally is trailed by the fleet footed wonder goat, who stirs up the smooth tunnel so that it becomes deeper and deeper each time they take a turn. I see Sal trying to butt heads with the goat, whom Kate would have given some random name like Floyd or something. In the summer Floyd runs in circles around Sal and confuses her, so she scrambles over to her dog house and tries to curl up under the tree as close to the trunk as possible so that there is no way Floyd can get through. She lays her chin on the ground, her paws under the flappy folds of her jowls, and raises her eyebrows, glancing at Floyd as he chomps on an old shoe. Her right eyebrow jumps up and lowers, as if to say “Whatever”, then she closes her weepy eyelids and starts to snore. Floyd, meanwhile, drops the shoe and sticks his scruffy silver head through the rungs of the fence and eats away a perfectly good newly blooming peony. Bye-bye, Floyd. I just cannot fathom the aromatic combination of Sally the Slobber Dog and Floyd the Crazy Pygmy Goat, anyway! (Though I guess I could live with it if I could have Kate back.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

MY SEESTER

We're a year apart in school. A house apart in Farmington. A few numbers apart in size. But, thank the Lord, we are not any more apart than that! From the time we were little Libby has been my compadre', partner in crime, confidant and best Barbie doll pretender. She straddled the opposite banister on the basement stairs when we were kids and hollered "giddy up" with me. She stirred the lentil beans from the food storage in the back room on Old Clairton Road, pretending to be college room mates making dinner when we were 8 and 9 years old. Ann Marie joined us. We dressed up in Mom's old designer garbs, all made on mom's old singer sewing machine. And even though any other normal third grader would grab the Red Gingham Dress for her own, she let me wear it. Happily. We once acquired a large cardboard box, perfectly sized for our imaginations. Our sister Sue was at the time working as a computer programmer in Pittsburgh. She brought home these long manila cards with chads punched out. This was in the early days of computers, when what fits in our palm now used to take a warehouse full of machine to process. We designed, traced, colored and sawed out slots with mom's best tomato cutting knife. One of us sat inside the box, playing the role of "computer" and the other fed those cards into one of the slots, asking a question. The computer wrote answers on the cards and returned them through another slot. And one time in 7th grade I won a school contest for best invention. Lib helped me display Pappy Parker's Powerful Pound Popping Machine. Someone skinny entered one side. Someone hefty entered the other. Libby was the skinny one. She weighed fifty-one pounds for four years. Lights flashed. Glottal noises were made, followed by whirring sounds. Finally both doors opened and two perfectly sized individuals exited the contraption. That was a good idea. I need to take myself and the rest of America over to Ethiopia and really figure out how to make it work now!


When Lib was 5 years old and I was in first grade she had a friend who lived down the street and was in love with her. I don't remember his name. He used to come to the front door and say "Can Limpy play?" She was just the best player. Still is. The other day I watched her walk around the car after putting Mom's wheelchair in the back. She was hot, and she limped slightly. I think that boy had a premonition. Her ankle hurt. Me...I let everyone know when my feet hurt. Lib...she just gets in the car. The day her foot removed itself from her leg I remember frantically demanding that Dave give her MY blessing. "You have to bless her that she will not lose circulation to her foot! You HAVE to do this!" I stood out in the cold at the edge of her driveway, shivering with fear, praying for faith. Curling my fingers into the rim of the ambulance window I pulled myself up to look inside. Shelley Young and Todd Richardson were the paramedics, both friends. Lib was on the max dose of morphine. Her foot dangled in its skin, hanging backwards from her ankle, stabilized by a pillow. David sat at her head. Todd bent over beside her, one hand on her head, one on a monitor. While Dave blessed her Todd went back and forth between closing his eyes and bowing his head to checking her vitals. There was no room in there for me. I stood in the cold and sobbed. The thought of losing her, of losing any part of her, kept scratching the outer core of my brain and I would not let it enter. There's a scene in Sense and Sensibility where Elinor kneels at the bedside of her gravely ill sister. "Marianne, try!" she whispers. ""You must try! I cannot do this without you!" I weep every time I watch this. I know that feeling. That love that goes deeper than time, where all of life's experience is doubled in its joy and sorrow because it is shared with someone who knows all of you. The good and the bad. Lib knows me inside and out. She knows me in ways that no one else knows me. And I am amazed that in spite of knowing me so well, she loves me so well.


I cannot imagine how, in all the universe of possibilities, someone as unlikely as I was given a Dave and a Libby...and the gospel. And this is just a part of the bounty! I have a mom, and more sisters, and brothers, and kids, and friends, and talents, and means. Pile them up and I have a Neuschvanstein castle of blessings jutting into the heavens! At the foundation, holding steady, are the man I love and married 31 years ago yesterday; and the girl who came to our house to stay 49 years ago today. Thank you Lord, I see my blessings!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LIBBY!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

MY KIDS' FRIENDS

A friend hears the song in
my heart and sings it to me
when my memory fails.--
Anonymous

I like my kids' friends. I like all of them. I know this is a rare statement for a parent to make, but it's true. I liked them when they piled salamanders in a bucket on my front porch; when they showed up at our house wearing our kids' clothes; when they made those wacky video movies on the back deck. I liked them when they imagined the front yard was a "restrot" and when they clustered around that little red wagon full of kittens and stared at me with those yearning eyes..."you HAVE to take one, or my mom will take them to the place that KILLS them!" I liked their night games; their bum wars on the trampoline; their ball games and sleep overs. I liked them when I thought my kids would be scarred for life because of their antics. Looking back, I think I liked them when I was pretty sure they were possessed. In the quiet of this room, with only the hum of the computer and the clicking of my fingers on the keyboard, I can conjure up the sound of laughter in the yard...the rustle of leaves on Halloween night...the escalating volume and rising pitch of a short lived argument when someone was not getting their turn. I hear balls bouncing and backboards ringing followed by someone shouting "H-O-R-S you're almost OUT!" The thunk of a ball getting sucked into the pocket of a newly oiled glove. The creak of the hinges of the fridge at midnight. The clanging of dishes. The hushed whispers of deepening voices as they sneak back into the basement at 3 am. The sound of glass breaking/ walls breaking/ guitars crushing. I liked them even then! Well, maybe I loved them then. Like may have taken a hike for just a moment those days. But it always returned.
I see Jenny in line at Costco, her baby kicking his legs in her shopping cart and her three-year-old darling tugging at her leg. "Tell Sarah I love her!" she says, "and John, too. I named my boy John, you know." I know she is a woman, but the feeling is for the junior high adolescent whose voice had that darling catch in it when she talked. I hear of my nephew's brother-in-law who crashed in Farmington Canyon last week and I recall the laughter in the basement of this home, the plans to gather up the sleds and saucers and give the new fallen snow a go. Ryan drove up that canyon to check it out, and he never returned. Those same boys lined up beside his casket in their brand new missionary suits and ties. Like, like Love, is not always happy.
I like my girls who are not of my flesh but are heart-born. The ones who made creative messes in the garage, in the basement, in the yard. I like that the girls of my flesh are also each other's friends, and that their sister-in-law fits so naturally and comfortably. There is just so much around our lives to like!
Come to think of it, along with liking my kids' friends, I also like my friends' kids. How lucky can I get?
I also like my kids' kids.
Oh...and I like my kids.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Comic Relief

OK, so a couple friends sent some comic relief to counteract the heavy post of a couple days ago. Thanks, guys!
Here ya go:


Courtesy of Bob Pegritz in Pittsburgh~
Q. What should you do if someone starts to sieze in your bathtub?


A. Throw in the laundry .


And here are two signs from Kate's beloved China, courtesy of engrish.com and Carrie Van Zant in Kansas City:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the LONE PIPER

Enough already. Enough. Enough, enough. There is just too much ground breaking going on. In the most literal sense. Winter over, soil soft, garden sprouting - let that be the reason for our dirt being turned. Not this. Enough!
Today we buried our ten-year-old neighbor boy, Ty Kammeyer. His mother, Rebecca, the sister I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with in the soprano section of our church choir, stood at the pulpit and comforted the masses of schoolchildren who sat in the congregation. She was amazing. I watched in my latest state of stunned stupor, wept out and worn out, curious about the motion of life in the humans who surround me. Death does weird things to one's thinking. I watched from my seat in the back as parents' arms wrapped around their grieving children and drew them in. One young girl up and to the left of me sat with friends and curled her arms around herself as her sweet plump lips quivered. Rebecca commented that she believed Ty was as surprised to find himself on the other side of the veil as she was to have him go there. His jump up to heaven was impetuous and sudden.
Monday we buried Lindsey. Spjute, we called her. In line for her viewing Sunday night we stood under two massive chandeliers and waited to greet her family and pay our respects. I imagined Spjute's spirit with a platinum Superman cape over her shoulders, sitting on the rim of one of those chandeliers and getting such a kick out of the crying crowd. Blubber-bums, she called us. She ran to heaven on an early Saturday morning. Felt that burst of speed overcome her and she darted out ahead of her mission companion in a forest in England. Must have seen some stairway to heaven and took it two steps at a time in a full out sprint. Never looked back. The autopsy indicated her body was perfectly healthy. She had run the Ogden Marathon a year ago Saturday. Still, for no apparent reason, she collapsed and died in an instant. I sang Memoria at her graveside. Annie, her friend from childhood, slipped over to me afterwards, laid her head against my chest and sobbed.

That same day we buried Mae Batty, the human smile who greeted faithful saints at the door to our chapel on Sunday mornings. She was a Matriarch, with a capital M, and her family must figure out how to close the large heavy door she left open when she went up.


Thursday I sang at the funeral services for 21 year old Ty Wilde, who died days earlier on his bullet bike. Bullet bikes are not allowed in heaven. Flaming young men curl their fingers tight around their handles and thrust them at the gate. The boys get in, but the bikes slide down to Hell where they belong.


Last week, after a recording session with producer/friend/engineer Mark Stephenson, the heart-whisper that sometimes fizzes up behind my neck told me to sit on Mark's couch and talk. "Help him find the words", it said. So he postponed his next session; sat at his piano and talked about his mother, about her safe and comfortable arms, her confidence in him, her tenderness toward him and his children. I have recorded three albums in the studio housed in Marks childhood home. I feel the memories hovering in the corners of the ceiling. Songs do not usually come fast for me. But before the night came on Mark had his song, and it was his mother,June. He sang it to June on Mother's Day. Days later his father Keith bent over and told June it was OK, she could go, and she drifted up there with Spjute and Ty and Ty and Mae. And Linda, who lived 5 houses away and whose breast cancer insisted she cross over before she could get her petunias planted.
I saw her children and grandchildren bent over her flowerbeds on Mother's Day, turning the soil in her memory. Pink and white and yellow blossoms are starting to appear.
Tonight, in the middle of the bridal shower I was hosting at our house, the phone rang. Our friend Eric told us Hank Wolfgang had been killed in a car accident this morning. Hank was supposed to play the organ at our funerals. When we were teenagers and Hank was in his twenties and newly baptized, he sat on one end of the pew in the Pittsburgh 2nd Ward and our mom sat on the other. We who sat between them could feel the bench shake when some random comment from the pulpit hit Mom and Hank's funny bones at the same time. I'm not sure if Hank is all the way in yet, or if he is checking out the grounds of heaven while his family tries to process the idea of him being there.

OK, so is this enough yet? Are we getting what we're supposed to get? I don't know. I watch the news and a fellow in China crouches against the side of a crumbled school house and rocks back and forth, back and forth, his hand cupped around his forehead, his mouth wide open and silent. I stop myself from comparing the level of suffering and sorrow. We cannot measure such things for each other. In the end it is just me and my God.

Monday, after everyone had left Lindsey's freshly dug grave, the grass attempted to return to its upright position. Against the silence two feet shuffled across the lawn, solitary and slow. They stopped at the side of her grave, and the shadow of a set of bagpipes swept across a pair of dew polished shoes. Young Daniel Eskelsen, mourning the loss of his friend, snapped his elbow against the bladder of his pipes; lifted the mouthpiece to his lips and gave Lindsey Amazing Grace there on the side of the hill. I imagine she liked that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

THE LONG WALK

So today I commit to pick up the study. Those who know my study know what a commitment that would be. So I go from the study to my bedroom closet to put something away, and in the process I am tempted, tempted, tempted to divert my attention. It's a long, long walk. So much between the study and the bedroom: the letter that needs to be mailed sitting on the foyer table; the bag of whatever-it-is that's been hunched over itself on the floor of the family room; my guitar leaning against the hearth; the pile of clean socks on my bed waiting for the right sunlight to match (navy blue and black are too close for the lamplight); everything screams at me..."Come on, do me now!" And that there is the crux of my daily dilemma. Focus. I have a focus problem. Thus I have a chaos problem. CHAOS - Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome. That's what people with my disorder call it. But I can't stand not to have anyone over. So there. And NO, I do not particularly love living in a mess, so if you are over and make one...clean it up please! It's hard enough for me to handle my own.
I keep thinking I will change. Like maybe that doozy of a fall I took in Kindergarten gave me some sort of organizational amnesia and I forgot how to do that kind of stuff. Keep thinking it will come back to me.
Alas.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

FLOW

Kate graduated from the University of Utah with two degrees; one in Linguistics and one in International Studies. She carried a minor in Chinese. She will move to Houston TX in a few weeks, where she has secured a position with Teach for America. She will be teaching English as a second language to underprivileged 4th - 8th graders for two years. In the meantime she will also be earning her Masters degree. Check out Teach for America's website, www.teachforamerica.org. Our pseudo-son, Jason Gardner made his way to New York through Teach for America. It is a wonderful and noble program and Kate is honored to be selected to be a part of it.

Today's Word of the Day is: flow.

May 6, 2008 Flow
Friday morning we wove our way through the asphalt veins of Salt Lake City, up toward the mountains like blood flows to the heart. Deep red blood. A steady stream of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, spouses and children and aunts and uncles; we lined up like platelets, like symbols in a DNA strand and jumped into the flow that pooled in the Huntsman Center at the U of U. We planted ourselves in a row of red seats just before the music started. Trumpets sounded and everyone stood. Over to the right of us a whole section was filled with robed youth, their square mortar board hats looking like a mass of black pixels on an HD screen. Among them was our Kate.
Against the music, with pomp and ceremony, a thin flow of knowledge slid across the wooden floor below us. Professors draped in robes of many colors; bright blue and deep royal purple, gold and crimson red. Some wore hats, caps flopped to the side of their heads in a slightly sacred manner. Layers of fabric, each one added upon in the order of bestowed degrees, the colors of their Alma Maters and various honors and fellowships. Cords dangling; arms striped with heavy velvet like the thick blue-lined school paper we learned to write our names on. I have been the parent in many of these ceremonies. This is our last child to earn her first college degree. There are robes hanging in the closet in our basement in all colors and sizes. Every time I come I am moved. Emotion rises up and spills and I am every time taken aback. I am allowed, for this little spot in time, to witness the representation of life-threads weaving across each other. In that flow of professors that cross the wooden floor; in the mass of black robed graduates sitting before them. I am touched by the exchange of knowledge that has consumed their lives for so long; daily; hourly; word by word. I am compelled to be still and inhale. Likely it is the convergence of many emotions that makes it so meaningful to me: the end of an era for our child; a moment of reflection on the last how-many years; the opening of a new doorway for someone we cherish. But it is as much the purity of this unique human experience of exchanging knowledge that makes me shiver with reverence. As one by one graduate’s names were called, we watched like angels looking over the edges of heaven.
Making their way back to their seats they passed their professors, lined up before them. Dipping out of line they reached out to each other with handshakes, with embraces, with salutes and bows and high-fives. Like the passing of a torch. Like the breaking of the bread. Like blood taken from one vein and poured into another which is lacking. Like rivers and streams all gather at the ocean. We stood there in our high-up seats and watched and wept.
We finally found Kate, lined up on the floor awaiting the calling of her name and the bestowal of her diploma. One of over 1,000. As I watched her and her classmates stream past the deans, I thought of the confetti blasters Mark Robinette created for the Clytie Adams ballet recitals and the 4th of July shows he produces. He loads handfuls of paper confetti into long white tubes and at the proper moment, on the exact downbeat of the designated measure of music, the confetti goes flying through the air. I imagined graduates, like confetti, floating all across the stage of the world and landing in new and exciting places. Kate? She will land 25 hours away by car. Too far for this mother-heart, but closer than Hong Kong, in more respects than just miles. She will take her diploma, still smelling of fresh ink, and file it in some drawer in her desk. She will take her equally fresh ability to learn and set it to work. And too, she will take her ancient tender heart and give it full out to the children of Houston, many of whom will not know what to do with tenderness. She will teach them, unawares, about the flow of love, hidden like Easter eggs under the words of the English language. She will become the vein. The flow of knowledge will come through her, past her very large and capable heart, and nourish the blood of a hungry, longing child. An honor, indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

PACKAGE

Today's Word of the Day was: package
When we stepped on the right side of the line in the big Deal or No Deal in Heaven; when we raised our hands and said we would follow the one born first; that's when we started the whole package thing. Since then pretty much everything has come in a package. First one was the fleshy one. It came all pink and red and squirmy and squealing and it was tied to the package that came before it, which was tied to the one before, and so on all the way back to mother Eve. That package we keep till we're done. It stretches and swells and shrinks and wrinkles. But it holds the goods whether we like it or not.
Most everything else around us is packaged as well, some of it painted and glittered and infused with aromas. Some of it covered in ugly. Some of it untouched and wrapped by God himself. Tonight I slipped the edge of a peeler under the skin of some organic carrots for my sister. Shaved the outer layer off and julienned little pieces with the blade of a well sharpened knife. Cooked them in their bright orange glory to tender and laid them on some fresh parsley, all deep deep green and lacy. Laid on a white dinner plate, it was so beautifully packaged it whispered "Nurture, nurture" as I carried it over to my sister. This same sister used to send we three little girls packages from her grown up world all the way across the country, in the salty foggy air of California. Little packages of treats and trinkets from the one who had clothed and cradled us while our mother worked in the potato fields or fried fries and mixed milkshakes at Mert's Drive-In. We left her standing on the tarmac at the airport when we moved to Pittsburgh and she stayed in Idaho to start college. I was 5. One day when I was maybe 10 and she had graduated and taken a job in the San Francisco Bay area, a box arrived with the shape of a diamond in the left hand corner. Inside were shiny little metal cans of nuts; almonds from California. Roasted and salted and flavored and yummy. It was my first taste of many first tastes she gave us. Packaged fresh and new to the tastebuds of a cluster of kids in southwestern PA. Sherry's packages at Christmas were wrapped in tidy little boxes with crisply tied bows. Even now, when I hold a package from her, there is a little electrical current that rises from the floor up through my feet, past my tummy and through my heart, straight into my head and up to heaven.
Grandma Connors was famous for her packages. Giant brown boxes left on the front porch by the mail lady, at least 6 times a year, one for each of our birthdays and one for Christmas. Inside each mother-package were other packages, sometimes more packages tied into those like the wooden dolls from Russia, layered into themselves. And, though the birthday child usually got the most, every other child received gifts as well. For a while there everyone got their own rolls of scotch tape and their own sets of magic markers, with art pads and scissors and spools of plastic boondoggle that would make 5,000 keychains if anyone was patient enough to use it all. Sarah received every single Babysitters Club book in those various Gramma Connors packages. John's first baseball cards. Kate's Trouble game and Annie's Fisher Price tape recorder. Grandma Connors wrapped her love and longing on her dining table, folding the edges to make clean lines, and embellished them with yards of colored ribbon. Sent little pieces of herself 2,000 miles to the west to her little ones. They received her gifts with giggles and shouts and clapping. Same way I imagine we received the news of the first package we would get, way back there in the heaven realm.
Look around. Just about everything is packaged. The down sewn into layers of fabric that warm my mother in her easy chair. The angel-white furry softness of Pi as she sleeps in her new doggy pen on the floor beside us. The shapely wooden body and long slender neck of my guitar leaning against the fireplace. Tomatoes on the sink. Wedding invitation on the counter with the name of someone I love scrolled across the envelope and other people I love embossed on the inner card. Time captured in the large black disc on the wall. All packaged. All aesthetic and so...so...oh, I don't know...so alive. Thanks, God.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dylan Pulitzes


Bob Dylan received the Pulitzer Prize yesterday. I've seen him live a few times, once with my brother John at Deer Valley here in Utah. We went early and sat right up front to get a good view and good sound, except that we ended up standing the whole time because everyone squeezed in front of us and raised their arms to the beat and all we could see were hairy armpits if we remained seated. The best, the very best, concert I've ever attended was under the trolley tracks in Pittsburgh PA with my son, the other John.

Bob Dylan
"Lay lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed." He sang with a twang, or something like it. The words slurred into each other like molasses on the kitchen counter, smooth and unsettling. I heard him through the paneled wall that divided our room from our brother's. Grumbling in Hi Fi. Haunting melodies I hummed while I walked to elementary school. His songs sat on my skin and tickled it. "Is that a real singer?", I used to think. That was before I realized that songs didn't just appear from heaven...that people had to create them.
Years later, the day after we buried my mother-in-law, my son and I went to see Bob Dylan in concert in Pittsburgh. Took our heavy hearts downtown to Station Square. The Pittsburgh Press had whispered the news to us on the living room couch. Back from the funeral home, painfully quiet. "Hey," I said, "Says here Bob Dylan is playing downtown this weekend." "Take John and go," Dave said. So we called and ordered up two tickets. Drove through that old familiar Pittsburgh traffic, parked under the trolley tracks and walked to the outdoor cafe with the stage up front. There were maybe 200 people there, and we could order a drink and some nibbles and watch him from the table if we wanted. We chose to get closer, right up front. So close we could see the thickening wrinkles in his skin, the wacky frizz in his hair. We could watch his fingers find the chords, see the shadow of his eyelashes when he really felt the music. He wore black. I've seen Bob Dylan three times in concert and he always wears black. Bob Dylan would probably look really dorky in chartreuse. Black for mourning. He took our pain and swirled it around in his cup and drank it with us. Drank it with us.
I hear Bob Dylan now and I am all at once the little sister, the mother, the writer, the daughter...and the leaves are mulching beneath my feet, and the air is sweet with new Spring growth, and Mom is clinking the dishes into the cupboard downstairs, and the crabapple in the front yard is just about to burst...my son is 14, long and skinny, and the walls of his room are covered with pictures of Bob Dylan while his music wafts out of his bedroom window and up into mine.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Word of the Day - WORD



BLOGGERS NOTE: a few writer-friends and I do a daily writing exercise (only it ends up not being daily because we are all LAZY) called Word Of The Day (WOTD). The first one to the computer in the morning sends out a word to the others and we all write on that word for around 10 minutes. I use two random word generators from the internet to find the words, usually nouns. Sometimes the word is just a jumping off place for us to practice our writing skills...ie, use strong imagery and include all our senses in the writing. Obviously, today's writing from me did not prove any skill in using all my senses. I need to work on that. But it did remind me what an insane thing songwriting is. So here in my newborn BLOG I will sometimes paste my Word Of The Day writing. Here goes today's piece. The word is WORD (seriously, that's what came up on the random word generator)

April 4, 2008 word
The word is hand. It’s at the end of the line in the song in a place that needs a rhyme. When I am that deep into the creation of a song it consumes my head, like thinking about food does when I am on a diet. I quit diets a long time ago because I don’t like myself when I’m on them. I keep thinking I’ll do the same with songwriting…just quit the process altogether…but I have so darn much I want to say, and that matters to me so much more than the way I look. Or feel, sadly. So I am doing the dishes, and the dang song I am working on is underscoring every thought. It even underscores the score to TV shows I watch. The melody in embryo bounces off the tile walls of our shower. It’s sifted in between the tiny light feather down in my pillow. Sits under my ears all night and makes itself known before I raise my head off the pillow in the morning. It accompanies my prayers. Songs in process are like the novels I keep myself from reading, because I cannot live my life and forget about them, so they are with me 24/7 until they are complete. I like songs. I just don’t love songwriting. Except for the 1 in 10 times after laboring through a thought and squeezing it into a crazy format that has certain meter and certain rhyme patterns and you have to make it sound fluid and not contrived…one in maybe 10 or even 20 ends up saying what I meant to say, and that can be pretty satisfying. I’ve written hundreds of songs and I can probably count on one hand, and one extra finger maybe, the songs I’ve written that really do it for me. We’re talking thousands of hours laboring over words. And music. Let’s see, adding up my royalties, which is pretty hard to do because my royalty checks have ranged between the thousands of dollars and the .03 dollars (Yes, I have received a royalty check for 3 cents) and I am an artist and not an accountant…hmmm, I probably have made just about .03 dollars an hour writing songs. Not that such things should be measured in dollars. I’m just saying.
So I am trying to find the appropriate thought for the place in the song I am writing that just happens to end with the right syllable landing on a rhyme to the word hand. Since I was a kid I’ve rhymed like this: …and…band…cand…dand…eand…fanned…gand…hand, oh that’s the word itself…ummmm, where was I…iand…jand…kand…land…mand…and so on until I hit the letter z. Then I start the two letter word starters…stand…shand…thand…planned. When the right word pops up I grab onto it and start thinking about what that word might have to do with what I am writing and I see if I can make it work and appear like I did not just go through the whole alphabet looking for a word that rhymed. I’ve tried songs without rhymes and very few of them work. Seriously, try singing your favorite songs and see if they do not have rhymes. So anyway, when I have exhausted my old method alphabet-in-the-head word search I go to the study and pull out my Clement Wood Rhyming Dictionary and work my way to the words that end with –and. As often as not I end up changing the line that has the word I am trying to rhyme because nothing fits the pattern and lets me say what I want to say. But at least I have Clement Wood on my side, laying those words out for me in one place.
Writing songs is like trying to be me and do the Rubik’s Cube. Some people can just wiz right through it, twisting and rolling and coming up with one color on each side. But I can’t. Sometimes I get close, like a side or two will be just perfect. But there is always some little green pixel amid the red, and when I try to change it, it also puts blue in the yellow. I don’t really know why I put myself through this. When I die my kids will sort through my stuff and one of them will take my scriptures, which should have much more tattered pages than they actually have. And one will take my journals, all smeary and hard to read. And one will take my Clement Wood Rhyming Dictionary, with its yellowed pages and somewhat ragged edges. They’re all just words, and they all meant something to me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Parker's Shoes


"You'd better get a picture of that", I said as we walked out John and Ash's front door tonight. Next to the door mat, splashed with dried mud and sandbox sand, one of them laying in it's side, were two little size 5 Van tenny runners. They are almost too small for him now. "Better grab that before it's gone", I thought, because tomorrow morning those will be size 9 baseball cleats with red dirt stuck between the spikes and your boy will be somewhere else more than he is home. Then tomorrow afternoon the shoes will be gone for good and you'll have to drive down the road, maybe even a far away drive down the road, just to get to a place where his shoes might have been. Not that this is bad. It's sweet in the end, to have the circle grow thicker around you, though the process can be painful. Big shoes lead to little shoes, which lead to bigger shoes, which lead to the heartbreak which lead to the heart swells. Like the merry go round ride on the playground. It's fun as long as it doesn't go too fast.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

His Honor, Big Dave


Dave just came in to kiss me goodnight. Soft lips and freshly brushed teeth. I like to kiss Dave. The morning he was sworn in as a new judge my sister Libby and I accompanied him to court. He was to be officially sworn-in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at 4:00 that afternoon, but they needed him to start hearing cases at 8:30 am, so like Romeo and Juliettes we snuck into the courtroom with Judge Dawson and a handful of bailiffs and cops and clerks and watched Dave raise his arm to the square. I have witnessed David raise his arm to the square many times, each of them at monumental moments in our lives. In sacred places - in public places. He lowers his head with his arm to the square and whispers promises. He stands head erect and swears to uphold the laws and ordinances of our fair city as councilman and mayor. He raised his strong young arm years ago when he was admitted to the PA bar. I was there for that. He raised his arm four times as he stood waist deep in pure, clean water and baptized our four children. Was there for that, too. He joins in the throng of raised hands each Sunday as we support each other in our religious responsibilities. Raises the sacrament cup to his lips with his right hand, the hand of oaths. And, come to think of it, I've shrunk sometimes into my shoulders as I've witnessed Big Dave (that's what the team called him) raise his arm up and make his way toward an umpire, "Hold up, Mister...you don't quite have your rules down pat with that call now, do ya?" He didn't really say that; just meant it. Tonight, at the grocery store when I forgot that I needed coconut for his Germans Chocolate Birthday cake, he raised his right arm and caught the mistossed bag I threw to him at the checkout. He is a good arm raiser, that Dave!
After Libby and I watched him take the judicial oath in January, his first day on the bench as Judge Connors, everyone shook his hand, then took their places and opened the doors to the "items" before him that morning. Lib and I stayed to watch. It took a couple hours. He was surprisingly calm and believable. And level headed. When all the cases had been heard and judgments were made and the courtroom was empty except for two clerks and his new bailiff, I asked for permission to approach the bench. He stood. We stood. I walked up to the bench and raised my head up as far as I could. He lowered his as far as he needed and I planted a good one on his Honor, the Judge.
Someone commented as we walked back to his new chambers, "Hey, did you know all that is taped for the record...on video?"
So let it be known.
Happy Birthday, Your Honor.