Thursday, November 29, 2018

Beethoven Lives

Last summer, my son and daughter-in-law took my 2.5- year-old grandson Harlan to Chicago’s Grant Park to listen to whatever music was being performed. He could sit on the grass or dance. He danced.

Thanksgiving week we were playing around in his living room. My son casually picked out the beginning notes of “Ode to Joy” (4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony) on Harlan’s toy piano. Harlan, now three, was playing with his toy train but he perked up when he heard the melody.

Then, amazingly, he started singing – in German.

Both my son and I were astounded – that he recognized the melody, that he remembered the German words, and that he sang them pretty much on key.

Harlan’s mom is German and is teaching him that language along with English and a myriad other things. But still.

There are perhaps a hundred language variations of that particular section of Beethoven’s work. I believe that it is adapted so often, in so many contexts, because it may well be the most joyfully triumphant piece of music ever written.

But what could be more triumphant than a performance by a three-year-old boy in a Chicago living room? Beethoven lives.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Once Every 16 Years

For 16 years, ever since I brought him home from the Humane Society when he was two years old, I have avoided tripping over my cat, Herbie. 

Until yesterday. 

I was unloading groceries. When I turned to move some perishables into the refrigerator, I stumbled over his soft, not-so-adorable-at-that-moment form. 

I didn’t fall. Instead, I managed to land most of the perishables safely onto the counter. 

Except for the blueberries. When their little plastic box fell to the floor, it opened, and all the little blue globules flew out. 

Herbie the cat was delighted. Blueberries roll. Everywhere. The magnificent old feline batted them around for a few minutes before ambling off to one of his four favorite napping places. 

Except for the one I stepped on, the blueberries were quite neat and retrievable. And washable. 

And the cat, forgivable, especially when he snuggled, purring, next to me in bed that night. And still forgivable even when I found the small hairball on my bedroom rug this morning. 

Once every 16 years is okay.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

One Hummingbird Moth

I am fortunate to live where I can go up when I get down. And I was down. All that Friday afternoon and evening I barely slogged through agonizingly slow hours. I could not focus. Not read. Not watch television. Not write the letters and emails that needed writing. Not do basic chores. I was stuck in the muck of despond.

 It took me a while to get going on Saturday. But I knew that moving was essential. And going up the mountain imperative.

 I didn’t leave until almost midday so stopped and bought a sandwich at the Subway place where the man with perpetual verve works. (He always makes me smile.) I put the sandwich in my car and drove up through the canyon west of town --  the canyon that can do so much to restore my soul. There is a little restaurant where the road forks – one branch going into Estes Park, the other into Glen Haven (then on into Estes). I stopped there to see if it was still in business. (It was, but not for lunch.)

The Glen Haven road is less traveled so I took it. It had been more than a year but the curves and cliffs were familiar and comforting. Entering Glen Haven, I spotted the general store and pulled into the parking area at its side. My sandals were not suited for the gravel, but I managed to move my sandwich and water bottle and droopy self to a table in the shade of the store’s front porch. I ate, watching passersby and the birds playing in the pine tree across the street.

When I finished and went into the store, I bought some little things and a cup of ice cream. When I asked the flavors, the owner pointed to the sign on which the flavors were listed. When I asked the ingredients of ‘Rocky Road’ he said: chocolate, marshmallow and walnuts. He smiled when I said that sounded well balanced. And his smile made me smile.

Back out on the porch, I savored. Not just the ice cream, but also the flowers on the porch – in large sedentary pots and pots swinging above. Each was crammed with a rainbow of blossoms. It was then that I noticed the tiny creature hovering over the flowers – wings beating faster than my eyes could register. A hummingbird? The woman sitting next to me said yes but then changed her mind. She had never seen one with bumble bee stripes and, as we looked more closely, we saw that the two-inch creature did not have a beak but a proboscis, curling into the center of each blossom.

Others began to gather and comment and take pictures. They said it was a hummingbird moth. My camera was in the car, but I took no photographs. It was more fun to watch a half dozen tourists pointing smartphones and 35mm cameras at the tiny wonder. And it was a wonder (you can Google it if you’d like to see what it looks like).

The miracle was the shared awe that it invoked among us. It was enough to remind me how spectacular our world is.

I stood up and drove home. I was okay.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Family-Rich Weekend

Rarely, rarely, rarely have I had such a family-rich weekend/birthday. 

My grandson and his parents returned from camping to fill my house with energy and laughter. And they stayed for my birthday and even brought presents. 

Then my nephew and his family came – my grandniece and grandson delighting each other and all of the grown-ups. And they brought presents. 

Then my brother came and melded into us as if we had never separated. And he brought a present. 

And I received calls and/or texts from my older son and other nephew and my other grandniece. Plus lots of wonderful birthday cards. And Facebook notifications. 

The house is quieter now and everything is pretty much put back together. [Put-back-together houses are over-rated.] 

Some might worry that the house might feel a little empty and sad. But it doesn’t. All the laughter and love reverberated into the walls and floors and lodged permanently into my being. 

I am replete.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Continuing Education

On a recent morning, there was, miraculously, an amusing comic strip in my morning paper. [I always start with that section hoping to find a little humor amid the newsprint largely devoted to disasters of one kind or another.] 

In the strip in question, one lump of a man was commenting on the predicament of another lump of a man about to fall on a banana peel. He said: “For Ernie, learning from his mistakes is a form of continuing education.” 

For Mim too. When I learn. Too often, I repeat the same unproductive patterns. Too much television. Too many computer games. Too much to eat. Duh. 

Occasionally, I break out of what Thich Nhat Hahn calls ‘habit energy’ and revel in productivity and/or spontaneity. And it always feels terrific. I am energized by taking a detour up into the mountains or actually writing a new post for my blog. 

Sometimes ‘continuing education’ feels like tripping on a banana peel. But at least I am moving. And learning. 

You can learn a lot from the comics section.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


I have not memorized the ISBN numbers for either of my books. I needed to provide them to the proprietor of the great little store where my writers group is staging an event in a few days. I had a copy of Family Time in my study so that was easy. Oddly, I had no copies of my first book Tree Lines (A Memoir) upstairs.

So I went downstairs to my great cache of unsold books and found Tree Lines. I made the mistake of opening it. I read one chapter then grew curious about others (it’s not that I didn’t know what happened, it was just good stuff). 

About an hour later I realized that I still needed to take it upstairs and record its ISBN.

Before that, I felt I should drink the tea I had prepared to counter the allergic head congestion that is driving me crazy.

As I sat down to drink, I pulled out a section of the New York Times. Why I picked the business section, I don’t know. There was a fascinating article about a Navajo Nation proposal to buy Remington, one of this country’s largest gun manufacturers. The Navajo planned to shift Remington away from consumer sales and focus on police and defense contracts. The only guns they planned to sell to consumers were long guns used by hunters. As a bonus, the tribe intended to shift part of the manufacturing process to the reservation, providing needed employment. But the proposal was rejected.


I looked at the clock. It was time for lunch. I would record the ISBN later.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Last Straws

When I was a child and had spent most of a day doing things I should not have done, my mother’s patience would finally wear out. Exasperated, she would shout: “That’s the last straw!” And formidable retribution would engulf me and whatever messes I had made. 

There are so many messes in this country right now. So many things in jeopardy: national parks, women, public television, public schools, oceans, rivers, forests, unions, allies, national honor, even the air we breathe. 

But for many, separating immigrant children and parents was the last straw. 

 It was for me. I’ve signed dozens of online petitions. Voted carefully. And complained vocally. But, finally, this week I will participate in public demonstrations against our country’s abominable immigration laws. 

All of them. 

It is time for last straws – whatever yours might be. 

Recently I learned that plastic straws are a major source of pollution. Americans use 500,000,000 plastic straws (five hundred million!) every day. If this does not end, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. 

So now. Right now. It is time to acknowledge the last straws. 

In the policies of our country’s government. 

 And in our milkshakes.