Tuesday, July 28, 2015


This week I felt like I was having a short interlude that finally felt like summer. There are many things I like about summer, but I hadn't gotten to experience all of the essential (to me) parts until this week. I like the sunshine and the heat. It is so cold and gloomy for much of the winter in Chicago that sunny, hot days are a treasure. Until recently our summer in Chicago has been rain, rain, rain.

I also like having nothing to do! I like traveling, too, and accomplishing things, but having some days where I can read for hours, or do anything else I please are an important part of refueling for the school year.

On the other hand, I like being able to check some things off my to-do list. All those things that I never seem to have time or energy for during the school year - at least some of them can get done in the summer.

Because I had a chance to play in the orchestra for an opera this month, and I had to put in a lot of time on both rehearsals and practicing the difficult part at home, I hadn't yet experienced that summer restfulness. I loved doing the opera, but it certainly kept me occupied. We leave in a few days for a vacation in California, so this feels like a few days bookended by busyness. I read three books! I reorganized my spice cabinet! I continued going through my books and culling. I walked, I did yoga.

Remember when you were a kid and summer seemed to stretch on forever? Endless days playing outside, riding bikes, going swimming... Nowadays I see the end of summer looming as early as June. It's good to have some of those forever days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Heroic Dads and Mechanics

Yesterday my daughter Jamie left for a music festival on Madeline Island, which is in Lake Superior. We live in the Chicago area, so there are two ways to get to Madeline Island. One is to fly to Detroit, shuttle to the ferry and ferry across. The other is to drive all the way across Wisconsin, to the ferry, and ferry across. The ferry ride alone is an hour, and driving from our part of Illinois to the ferry is about eight hours. Everyone who has been there says this music festival is truly worth it.

So Jamie arranged to ride with three other attendees, all basically college-age kids. The driver came from Michigan, picked up Jamie and another girl in the Chicago area and the fourth musician from Madison Wisconsin. We were a bit unsettled when the young man from Michigan opened his hood for some reason before they drove away. A little more so when Jamie texted us that the car had 206,000 miles on it. So when she called us to say that the car had broken down in Phillips, Wisconsin, we were not entirely surprised.

But being stranded in a small town in Wisconsin is not a good thing when you are supposed to report to a music festival and you have to catch a ferry to get there. While the kids called the festival staff to see if they could send any help (no, they couldn't), my husband sprang into action at the computer. He called rental car companies to see if anyone would deliver a car to Phillips. He looked up motels in Phillips. And he searched for and called an auto repair shop. With that call, he hit the jackpot. As soon as he said, "My daughter and three other college students are driving to a music festival and their car broke down in Phillips...", the man on the other end said, "Where are they? Give me your daughter's phone number. We'll tow them in. If it's just a part we can probably fix before the shop closes in 45 minutes. Otherwise there's a motel right across the street."

And he did exactly that. He towed the car, found it was a fuse that the faulty A/C blew out, replaced the fuse and disconnected the A/C. (They're going north anyway, how hot can it be on an island in the middle of Lake Superior?) The kids got back on the road, caught the 8:00 ferry and today are presumably making music.

So if your car breaks down in Phillips, Wisconsin, look for Mike. He's our hero today, along with my husband!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Books, books, books

We are at the beginning stages of what has turned into a fairly major renovation. You know, you start by saying, "I'd like to repaint these three rooms," and then it morphs into ripping up the carpeting, replacing it with wood floors, picking new furniture, and now you need new drapes, too.

As part of this upcoming excitement, we need to get rid of stuff we don't need anymore. Old paperwork, extra computers, things we actually forgot that we had, and books.

I love books. Anyone who visits us knows right away that someone in our house loves books. We have two bookcases in our living room full of books, mostly mine, plus more books downstairs in the family room, and a few scattered piles of books begin read or soon to be read here and there. I have books that I have owned for decades, including some from my childhood, and books I bought this month. So cutting down on the number of books is a challenge.

It is perhaps ironic, but one of the biggest helps I have found in cutting back on "stuff" in general is a book! The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo is unlike any book I have read about decluttering, and I have read quite a few. Ms. Kondo is enormously popular in Japan, where she has a three-month-long waiting list for her services. The book has been on the best seller list here in the U.S. for weeks.

The big difference, I think, between her book and every other organization book, is that she has a much different approach to letting go of your belongings. You must touch everything individually, and if it gives you joy you keep it. If not, you thank it for its service and let it go. It sounds strange, but it works! No more, I'll keep the dress until I lose weight, or I haven't read or finished this book, I need to keep it. She relieves us of the guilt. It's okay to let the object go; it has served its purpose for me.

Though she says to take ALL your books and put them in a pile on the floor, she also says if you have too many books to do this, you can do it by category, which is what I decided to do. I started with cookbooks - I love to cook and I have an extensive collection. I culled and reorganized - I can actually find the book I want now! Today I tackled fiction.

It is hard parting with books. Some books I know I will never reread - okay, they can go. Some books I admit that I will never read - they should go find readers somewhere else. Some books I will reread, they will stay for sure. Then there's all the in-between books - I loved it, but I won't reread it; I really want to read, but will I actually get to it?; I worked hard to put together certain collections of authors, I think I should keep those.

My pile of fiction. The books in the bookcase are not fiction.


So I have ended up with a big box of fiction that needs to leave my house. What do you do with books? My son snatched up the Portable Dante and my daughter put dibs on all the James Joyce for her boyfriend. A few books are going to join my class library. (If it sounds like we are such a literary family, you should know that my biggest pile of books that are staying is mysteries!)

What about the rest? I could take them to a used book store, but I think I will instead donate most of them to Better World Books, an online used book store that donates to literacy projects around the world for every book they sell. They have drop boxes in many locations.

I have also had fun using Book Crossing, also an online organization. Book Crossing lets you register your books, put a sticker inside explaining that it is a Book Crossing book, then you leave a book in some public place for someone else to find. On the Book Crossing site, you leave the information about where you left the book. The finder is supposed to check in, saying that he/she found it. Best case, you can track your former book as it travels the world! In reality, I have not "caught" any books in the wild (as they say at Book Crossing) and only one of mine has been caught and journaled. I will probably pick a couple of books to "release to the wild," but an entire box is just too many.

One of my neighbors just started a Little Free Library, a small box containing donated books. You can take a book and leave a book. I left a book there over the weekend. My whole box would be too many for the little box.

Next step - putting the many books I'm keeping back on the shelf!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I'm playing in an opera this month!

This was quite unexpected. I play (french) horn in several community groups, none of which really does anything in the summer, so this was a nice surprise - and it even pays a bit!

The opera is "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by the British composer Benjamin Britten. He was a 20th century composer, though not an extreme, atonal composer. His music for this opera is atmospheric and gauzy for the enchanted forest and the fairies, romantic for the smitten couples, and peasant-like for the "thespians."

It's written for a very small orchestra. That means that everybody hears you. I'm playing 2nd horn, of two horns, but there's no blending into the background. At last week's rehearsal both of us horn players were sight reading the parts, but now we have a week to practice, so the conductor will be expecting more this week. We haven't heard much of the singers yet as we are rehearsing just the orchestra parts right now.

One of the surprises at the first rehearsal was how young the orchestra members are. I think I am probably about 30 years older than everyone else! I decided it's not a big deal. I'm just here to play. However, it got me thinking about the groups I regularly play in. Every group has it's own personality, I would say. The band I play in is predominantly school band directors. They are very serious about playing well and they all know a lot about band music and conducting. They are a happy, upbeat group and many go out after rehearsal to socialize. The orchestra I belong to is a typical community group. We are mostly adults, with a few high school students. The playing ability ranges from pretty rusty to practically professional, so overall playing is uneven. It's a friendly group, but lacks the cohesiveness that the band full of band directors has. This new opera orchestra is made up of 20-somethings, mostly, who are aiming for a career as performers. I don't sense a group dynamic yet, maybe because it is a pick-up group, but they are all friendly.

I am very happy to have this opportunity. It's been years since I played an opera. It's a challenge that has gotten me practicing new things. I'm excited to hear it with the singers and to see how they plan to stage it. Fun times!