Thursday Thoughts

Maybe Outhouses Weren’t So Bad
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Well, our three-bathroom house is currently down to a one-bathroom house. After spending literally hours here yesterday, the plumber(s) finally located the area that is plugged up. Thankfully, we still have a working toilet, and even better, it happens to be the one in our bedroom. On the opposite end of the luck spectrum, we have company coming tonight, and whether or not we will have an additional bathroom for them to use is as yet uncertain. What is certain is that I could undoubtedly have thought of better ways to spend as much money as this will cost us! But as Bing Crosby crooned, “And when our bankroll is getting small, we’ll think about the time when we had none at all, and we’ll fall asleep counting our blessings.” Outlook on life according to the movie White Christmas.

Speaking of Blessings….
Our Vermont family arrived safely yesterday afternoon, and we spent some time with them yesterday evening. The plane ride was as good as it gets when you’re dealing with a 7-year-old and a VERY ACTIVE 4-year-old. But this happened…..

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Yes, it’s true. Joseph had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of the airplane. I’m pretty sure he didn’t help fly the thing. Nevertheless, that’s pretty exciting business when you’re 7. And, by the way, the thing to the pilot’s left looks like it would hold an iPad. I’m hoping like hell he/she doesn’t read while flying the plane!

Willa Cather Started Someplace
dagny-2016I liked to write from the time I was a small girl. I have mentioned the stories I would write when I was in third grade when I decided I wanted to be a writer. Last night as the grown-ups sat around talking after dinner, 10-year-old Dagny got her parents’ computer, and was quietly typing away at something. Finally, we asked her what she was doing. “Writing a story,” she told us. I of course had to take a look at what she wrote, and was seriously quite impressed. Her story was about two very good friends who were at odds with one another because one of the girls had sort of betrayed the other. I found that her story telling was interesting and her plotting was creative. She didn’t just tell a story from beginning to end, blah blah blah. She used flashback and moved the story along via her dialogue. I was so impressed that I asked her if she would write my blog for today. “I can tell you what I would write,” she told me. “I would say ‘Dagny is a wonderful girl and I love her very much. She is the best child out of the four.'” So there. Consider this her contribution.

Golobki

Last night, in honor of Heather being in town, her mother cooked for us all, making absolutely delicious Polish food. We had fresh and smoked kielbasa, stuffed cabbage rolls (golobki), and creamed cucumbers. My mother — who was 100 percent Polish — always said she learned to cook from her mother-in-law, who was 100 percent Swiss. But I remember eating all of those things that Cynthia cooked last night, so Mom learned Polish cooking somewhere. It tasted wonderful, and made me think about my mom.

Ciao.

Wonderful Life

As I have been madly crocheting this holiday season in preparation for gift-giving, I have watched all manner of Christmas movies. I have seen Miracle on 34th Street (the newer version), White Christmas (in which Rosemary Clooney makes being distraught an art form), Love, Actually (yes, yet again), A Christmas Story (which is now and will be forever more be my favorite Christmas movie), Holiday (in which Jack Black is an odd love interest for Kate Winslet), Last Holiday (there’s probably not another Christmas movie that leaves me feeling happier than this), and Holiday Inn (I could watch Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July solo dance a million times).

And Sunday, when I decided I couldn’t stomach watching the Broncos not have an offense any longer, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Shockingly, it was the first time I had ever seen this movie.

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Whaaaaaat?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie throughout my life. Really, how could I not have ever seen the ending where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are embracing and all of the people are dumping cashola on the table to save his butt and the bell rings, indicating that Clarence had finally gotten his wings? I feel comfortable not having indicated SPOILER ALERT because I’m pretty sure I’m the only living person of reading age who hadn’t seen the movie.

But I had never sat down and watched the entire film from beginning to end. I had never, in fact, seen the beginning of the movie, which of course sets the stage for the whole point of the film – that George Bailey had wanted and planned on a much more exciting life than the one he ended up having. That’s pretty important context to have known about for the ending to make any sense. But Christmas movies really don’t need to make sense. Is there any universe in which Jack Black would be a love interest for Kate Winslet except in a Christmas movie?

However, it’s true that hardly anyone’s life turns out exactly as planned, mostly because as of yet, we aren’t able to see into the future. What’s that old Yiddish adage? Man plans and God laughs. Ain’t it the truth? It’s interesting to think about how I would have imagined my life in 50 years if asked to predict when I was 10 years old. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would live in Denver, Colorado and have a second house in Mesa, Arizona. Since at that point I hadn’t been any further than Omaha, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have guessed that I would have been on two transatlantic cruises and seen such things as the Parthenon in Greece, the pyramids in Egypt, climbed to the top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, and sat on the grass at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

In fact, I would have been expecting and frankly, wanting, a life just like the life of ol’ George Bailey.

We all get caught up in the preparations for Christmas. I have awakened at 3:45 a.m. on a couple of recent mornings unable to go back to sleep because I’m mentally counting the gifts I have purchased so that I don’t make that fateful mistake of having one more present for one grandchild than I have for the rest. Did I remember to set aside enough cookies to share with the neighbors who faithfully keep an eye on our house while we’re in AZ? Will Bill’s gift arrive in time?

STOP! It’s Advent. The time for quiet reflection and preparation, not for the gifts that we are going to give or receive, but for the birth of the one who is sent to save us. Advent gets lost in the sea of Christmas frenzy. Like George Bailey, we need to remember to be grateful for what we have and for those who make our lives special.

The one thing that all of those Christmas movies have in common is that life is full of surprises, and it’s not what happens to us, but who we share our lives with and how we accept our life as it has played out.

Fur Elise

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Carter, Bec, and Kenzie perform at the piano.

I took piano lessons for somewhere in the neighborhood of five years. I think I started around the age of 7, and around the age of 12 I finally persuaded my mother that the money being spent was pure, unadulterated futility as I had absolutely no talent. Oh, I could pound out a song and even memorize a few twice a year for the requisite (and greatly dreaded) recitals, but my playing was nothing special.

Bec took lessons and so did Jen. Both had more talent than I, especially Bec (who actually majored in music for about a brief time when she first started college). Mom apparently took one look at my brother Dave and threw in the towel.

We had a big upright piano that lived in our little dining room in Columbus. Given the difference in our ages, Bec would probably have been nearing the end of her lessons when I began mine. I don’t recall having to share the piano for practicing. I do, however, remember practicing. One half hour each day, Monday through Friday. Mom set a timer and started the metronome and there were no exceptions. I hated every minute. Outdoors was calling as I slaughtered a Mozart minuet.

Bec and I took lessons from our second cousin, an older woman named Isabelle (she seemed ancient, but in hindsight, she was probably 40) who was unmarried. An old maid is how the world referred to her at that time. Isabelle had attended a greatly-respected music college in St. Louis, and was well educated and quite skilled. For the most part, we only learned serious music, mostly classical. I became grateful for that later in my life, but as a 7-year-old, I would have preferred more contemporary music. Jen, who took lessons from someone else (and I frankly can’t remember why) learned music that was much more fun.

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Kaiya, not dancing…..

The result of my five years of lessons is that I can now play Für Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven. The beauty of Für Elise is that it sounds really complicated but is actually quite easy to play. From the time Kaiya was able to walk, she danced to Für Elise as I played it on my piano. She’s 7, and still does.  Lots of twirling. “Please play my dance song,” she will say.

Given a bit of practice, I can pound out Silver Bells and White Christmas at Christmastime. Please understand, however, that I can only play any of this music because of muscle memory. Though I am able to read music, I would be hard pressed to sit down and play from a new piece of sheet music.

Despite this fact, I insisted that we buy a piano when we bought our house in Denver. There is a spot that I’m convinced was designed for a piano, as our spinet fits perfectly. My plan was that I was going to once again take lessons and become somewhat proficient. That was 23 years ago, and I can still only play Für Elise. However, if I ever talked about getting rid of it, three things would happen.

First, I would have to find something to fit in a space that screams PIANO;

Second, I would have to find a different place to put the pictures of my grandkids; and

Third, the grandkids – every last one of them – would pitch a fit because they all like to sit down and pound on the keys. Addie does more than pound because she has actually taken lessons. Kaiya yearns to play, and has memorized a couple of songs that have been taught to her by Addie. The piano desperately needs tuning because, well, pounding. But I don’t get it tuned because, well, pounding. Often there are orange Cheeto fingerprints on the piano keys.

singing carols

Silver bells, it’s Christmastime in the city…..

This past Christmas, Bill and Jen and I had dinner one night at Bec’s, and she sat down at the piano and played some Christmas music. She and her grands – Kenzie and Carter – had actually prepared a Christmas Concert as a surprise for their parents and they did a round 2 for us. Singing Christmas carols around the piano brought back such wonderful memories of Christmases past. My family never failed to sing at least one round of Silver Bells and Do You Hear What I Hear? around Christmastime.

One last thought about piano lessons. My cousin Bobbie also took lessons from Isabelle, and it was abundantly clear that she got the bulk of the piano playing talent in the family. Bobbie went on to also study at that same music college in St. Louis, and plays beautifully to this day. She can play more than Für Elise.

This post linked to the GRAND Social