Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Triumph of the smart phone

If you know me at all, you know that I am a dedicated and purposeful Luddite. I resist all new technology until I can no longer escape its snare. For years I clung to my old texting phone, which I considered to be all I needed because it had a little keyboard rather than the old phones which had buttons that you had to press multiple times to choose letters. I declared frequently (and annoyingly too, I am sure) that I refused to own a phone that was smarter than I. When I found out about Republic Wireless, I mulled over the possibility of switching to their service before I was forced by changing technology to make a choice. I liked their low low prices and choices of plans, because I didn't figure on suddenly becoming a constant user of my phone just because its capabilities had increased. 
I finally took the plunge, partly because I thought the camera on the phone might make up for the loss of my camera. And thus, because my phone is truly smarter than I am, I'm stuck with uploading photos from the phone to the blog, one by one, in a painfully slow fashion. Which causes much procrastination on my part.
So these photos are from our visit to Texas in April to see these lovely girls.
Scarlet really loves her papa.

London takes her art very seriously.

We went to the Perot Museum and London gathered groceries...

...and drove the delivery truck.

Scarlet was happy just hanging out with Papa some more.

And just because one can never get too many views of this sweet face.

I showed London how we could put Scarlet in the buggy and there was no end to the fun after that.

And here is London enjoying a drink of hot chocolate in her new Peter Rabbit cup.

We miss these kids.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A very round number

Love 'em or hate 'em, they still roll around every danged year, regular as clockwork, and they cannot be ignored, as much as we might try. I have been downplaying mine for a few years (Oh, I don't want a fuss, I have everything I need, it's no big deal) and most people seem happy to oblige. Jeff is usually out of town and it tends to be a normal day, except for a slightly unsettled feeling that I should be having a more outlandish time than usual, even though I'm not.

May is a month of birthdays in our family.
So is December, but that's mostly Bethany's fault for giving birth to three of her five children in that worst of birthday months. And my sons didn't help by marrying girls with December birthdays.
My sister and I have birthdays that are four days apart, and Tommy and Jeffrey's are both in May, as is London's. I've probably forgotten someone.  

My aunties in England have always been very faithful senders of thoughtful birthday cards. When I was a young girl, the cards often had my name in shiny letters on the front. When I was 21, I got a special card with a plastic silver key in it, which is an old English tradition. Several birthdays with nice round numbers have been remembered with cards bearing the appropriate numbers.
And this year is no different. These cards have been sitting on the TV cupboard for a few weeks now. The aunties always send cards by surface mail, being frugally minded, but I think they arrive in much less than the promised six weeks because we generally get Christmas cards several weeks before the day.

From Aunty Marg and Uncle Fred

I've been thinking lately of birthdays when I was young. I only remember one party with friends, and it was the month before we left England for New Zealand. Anne and I had a joint party, due to the previously mentioned proximity of our birthdays.  It was probably the most exciting event in my life up to that point. My friend Janet gave me two books from the Enid Blyton Malory Towers series. They went to New Zealand with me and I read them many times before they finally fell apart. 
I don't remember any other presents from that birthday. But I do remember how thrilling birthdays were in general, due to the simple fact that we got a few presents from our parents and our aunties and uncles. I still have some of the well-read classic books I received for birthdays and Christmases. And there were a couple of beloved dolls that almost survived to be loved by my daughters, but they didn't fare well being packed in a heavy trunk for a few years. As in, their faces caved in and their arms and legs fell off. Sad.
One year, when I was about thirteen, I got a briefcase for my piano music and a few other things for school and I was almost giddy with happiness. It didn't really take much to satisfy us because the acquisition of new things was a relatively rare event. Throw in a nice birthday dinner and cake made by Mum and we called it good spectacular.

From my cousin Lynne

The sheer joy of occasionally receiving a small new possession will never be realised by any of my grandchildren, and I think it's kind of sad. I'm not saying it as a criticism of anyone, it's just the way things are these days. Families have more disposable income, items are cheaper thanks to the invention of plastic and trade agreements, and commercials are ubiquitous. Moms have to be constantly vigilant to stay ahead of the clutter caused by the mostly disposable possessions of their children.
The discrepancy, of course, is no greater than between me and my parents. Their tales of receiving an orange in their Christmas stocking and the subsequent bliss as they ate it is a great contrast to my childhood of plenty of good food and every comfort I needed and wanted.

I guess the point of this post, if I could quit my rambling reminiscences, is that birthdays tend to be a bit full of angst for most of us as adults.
Kind of like Mother's Day.
We don't want to be seen as expecting a big amount of hoopla, because that would be needy and embarrassing, but the kid in us wants someone to throw us a party or take us out on the town to celebrate the fact that we exist. And usually it doesn't happen. Which is okay, because I would hate the pressure of trying to do that for everyone else in return, but I do think it's nice to have a big shindig once every decade or two. Like the surprise 40th Jeff and a friend threw for me twenty years ago. Crikey.

I threw myself a birthday lunch a couple of years ago and asked people to donate to MamaBaby Haiti instead of bringing a gift, if they were so inclined. It was genius. I got to enjoy the company of my friends and MBH was blessed. Nobody seemed to think it was weird or, if they did, they kept politely quiet.

Aunty Connie, rocking the personalized card concept

I once knew a mother who gave each of her many children a birthday week.
Now there are some kids who will have some serious expectations of birthdays for the rest of their lives! My kids felt lucky to get a birthday dinner with family. Parties with friends were limited to ages 5, 8, 12, and 16, with a surprise party around age 10. I am, I suppose, the birthday Grinch. To which fact my grown children will attest, because I am just as likely to forget to call them and their children on their birthdays as to remember, although I never forget to send presents.

So there you have it. My ruminations on birthdays.
What, you thought I would reveal a life-changing truth?
Nope. Still as angsty as ever.
But if you are wondering, I despise snacks that are made from seaweed or kale, so if you are thinking of commemorating my birthday with some kind of deliciousness, those are not it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

An unusual spring

It's a running joke with most of the USA that Oregonians have webbed feet from all the rain. While we have more rain than freezing temperatures in the winter, and spring is usually wet enough that we don't have to start watering the gardens until June, we actually have lots of sunny or partly sunny days all through the winter season. This winter was unusually rainy. I think we set some records, but it is a good thing because there was mucho snow in the mountains and hopefully some of the lakes that have been low will get filled up with the snow melt.
Our spring has also been rather astonishing. Last week and this week we have had several days in a row in the high 80's. I believe this has also been record-breaking. All of the spring flowers have sped through their days of prettiness and are now bundles of wilted leaves. Roses are blooming and everything is a most brilliant shade of green. I am enjoying it now, but am a little afraid of what the late summer will bring if everything blooms out ahead of schedule.
But enough of doom. Just for the record, let's take a walk around the garden and admire some of the beauty.
Coral bells are looking splendid and I am hoping for some hummingbird action very soon. I have been collecting huechera (pronounced hoo-keh-ra) plants for some time and now have a nice selection of varieties with different coloured leaves.

The shade bed always looks good at this time of year, but it is quite outstanding right now. Earlier, it had displays of snowdrops and hellebores. I'm not sure I have ever bought a hosta. I just filch them from friends. And while I did buy a few ferns, they keep throwing out babies and I keep transplanting them to other parts of the garden.

When I went to England about twenty years ago, I brought back (quite illegally I am sure) a packet of aubretia (rock cress) seeds. The little darlings have served me well, spreading and surviving in spite of summer hardships. They brighten up the late spring garden in several hues of purple.

After being without a greenhouse for the better part of two years, Jeff has almost finished the new one. I rather love it. It has been a labour of love, although I sometimes have to put a damper on the more grandiose plans that enter his head. There are tomato and lettuce seedlings growing in there right now. 

Lilies of the valley have come into their own this year, multiplying like rabbits. I adore them. The little bell-shaped flowers are completely adorable and the scent is delicious. My mum knew I loved Yardley's Lily of the Valley perfume and she kept me well supplied with it, so they always remind me of her. 

I have a love/hate relationship with aquilegia, commonly known as columbine. They are prone to much self-seeding and revert quickly to the wild variety, although this lot by the snowball tree have retained the double flower, for some reason.

And these in the front flower beds have reverted. I try to cut down the spent flower stems before they go to seed, or chaos quickly ensues.

And the snowball tree, which looks quite lovely right now but which annoys me most of the year. I keep threatening to chop it down. Well, Jeff would actually get to use his chain saw on it, which would make him a happy man.

Violets, one of my favourites, the first little start of which I actually filched from an acquaintance's pot. And no, I never confessed, so every time I look at them I feel a twinge of guilt. But it is now populating several spots in my shade area.

The rain is on its way back to our weather forecast, so who knows what the garden will look like in a few days, but I have enjoyed seeing everything in the full glory of the sunshine. Colours are brighter in the sun. 
And a note on the photos. I lost my camera at Six Flags of Texas last fall, but I just got a smart phone (I know, late to the tech party as usual) so these are camera pictures. The focus is a bit dim when it comes to close-ups, but I think it's not too bad overall. One of these days I must commit to a better camera, but I have to make too many decisions in my life lately and that one must wait for a while. 
Happy spring!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A brief musical history. Of me.

Sometimes, when I tell my piano students that I have been playing the piano for over fifty years, I wonder how that can be possible. I see astonishment, awe, and sometimes a complete lack of understanding in their eyes as they try to assimilate that fact. And it makes me laugh.

I began taking piano lessons at the age of eight, and I think it was just because Dad decided I should. I really wanted to be a ballerina and ride horses, but I took to the idea and it changed my life. Not in the way people use the phrase these days, like when they find a new cookie recipe or a new pair of shoes. It really did play a big role in how my life went from then on. Dad told me that if I learned to play the piano I would always be popular. I don't think he meant "popular" in the high school sense of the word, but that I would make friends through it, and that has certainly been true.

I don't remember my first piano teacher's name, but she was a nice elderly lady and I enjoyed my lessons and playing the piano at home. I was very excited when I got to the point that I was playing two notes at the same time and I distinctly remember asking Mum and Dad to come and watch me do it. 

I can picture her house and even the garden, as Dad must have done some bartering of plumbing work for piano lessons and he took Anne and me with him and we played in the garden while he worked. My teacher lived in Badsey, which was only three miles from our house in North Littleton. The piano/sitting room was the first door on the left as you entered through the front door and went down the hallway. The room was very cold in the winter and I am pretty sure my teacher must have had an electric heater going, but it didn't help much. For a long time I thought she had a gurgly stomach, but then one day I realised she had a hot water bottle on her lap!

I studied for the piano and theory exams of the Trinity College of Music and sat one exam of each every year. We used to have to drive to Cheltenham, which was about 20 miles away. I always got good marks in the exams but my knees used to shake something terrible when I sat the practical exams. It was just the examiner and me in a room together. I played my pieces and he sat and wrote comments and graded me. It was very scary. I always loved the theory exams, they were much less pressure and I just enjoyed my theory. I loved to play Strauss waltzes.

When we moved to New Zealand, Dad found me a new piano teacher. Her name was Dame Ella Hall and she had been a famous concert pianist in Europe in her heyday. When I knew her she was in her eighties and I think she had early dementia. She wouldn't remember anything from one week to the next and I quickly learned that if I forgot my list I could get away with anything. She was still a good teacher though! When I started high school at CCNZ, I began taking lesson from her daughter, Dolores Hall, who taught me for the next five years. She kind of doted on me and I got by with a minimal amount of practice. She always told me that I could play with feeling, unlike the students of the other teacher at the school. She was being a bit snotty. I enjoyed playing the piano during those years and learned to play hymns for seminary class and also played for school assemblies and choirs. I loved to play songs like The Entertainer and pop songs. When I practised classical songs at home, Dad would often yell out, Why don't you play something we all know? He bought Lily of Laguna for me to learn, as it was his favourite song. I still have the sheet music. It is very politically incorrect. Here it is if you want to sing along. 

Oh, well, that one only has the innocuous chorus. The original lyrics are here, if you want to scorch your eyeballs. It was written in 1898 by a British composer and was performed by blackface performers, who were very popular in England for many years. I remember watching them on the telly as a child. As time went by, the racist lyrics were stripped out of it until it became a mostly innocent love song. 

I started an organ class at school but quit after a few weeks, I don't remember why. But I was called to play the piano for Sacrament Meeting when I was about 17 and I did it happily. One day, a member of the Bishopric came up to me and said, Why don't you just play the organ today? So I did. I made a right mess of it because it takes such different technique and I hadn't played it for a while. Dad got up to speak and said something about not knowing that I could play the organ, and apparently I really couldn't. I was mortified, but it was his way of being funny. But from then on I became an organist too, although as the years went by I quit attempting to use the pedals and just made up for it by using plenty of 16' stops.

I kept taking exams until 6th form. I was supposed to take the last level but I hadn't really practised diligently and was unprepared at the end of the year. Luckily, I got appendicitis and was in the hospital when I was supposed to be sitting the exam, so I didn't have to take it. Saved by a faulty appendix! I also took music theory during all five years of high school. 

I continued to play for ward choirs and church and various other groups over the next few years. One of my missionary companions, Sister Barrott, also played the piano and we had a grand time playing duets together. I took lessons when I was pregnant with Jonnie and we spent some of our precious income on a used piano. I loved taking lessons from my teacher at Santa Ana College. I was taking a Music History class and the lessons came free with the programme. I felt like I learned a lot from that teacher, including how to play Chopin. He also commented to Jeff that I played with a lot of expression. After Jonnie was born I would take him to my lessons and the teacher would rock his little infant seat with his foot to keep him quiet.

I think back on all of the experiences I've had because of my ability to play the piano. I have played for weddings and funerals and even a party or two. I've accompanied many magnificent singers. I haven't been an exceptional piano player, not having the urge of a true artist, but I've managed to disguise the fact quite well for a long time! When I was working on my music therapy degree in my forties, I once again took lessons and this time I think I improved my talent more than all of the other times taking instruction. I loved the feeling of progression in my playing and played some pretty challenging music, as well as memorizing more than I had ever done before. 

I started teaching a few students over thirty years ago. I have been trying to remember all of the people that I have taught over the years and the list is up to about 130, but I am sure there are more. Some only stayed with me a few weeks, some for years. None of my students have become concert pianists, but I think most of them learned to appreciate music. I taught my four kids to play the piano, with varying degrees of success, and now my grandkids. I love to see how music is such an integral part of their lives. It has been a long and winding journey, always challenging and mostly satisfying. Some days I still find myself leaving the music room at the end of teaching and doing a primal scream in the kitchen, but those days are in the minority. I am a lucky woman.

It turns out my dad was right: my life has been greatly enriched by all of the people that I have known because of this one simple fact. 

I am a pianist.

My piano students after their piano recitals in May 2015.

Monday, January 4, 2016

That's all, she wrote

Monday was another gloomy day as we set off north for Eilean Donan castle. Jeff had been wanting to visit this castle for some time as it used to be owned by the McKenzie clan, from which I descend on the maternal side. I was like, ho hum, another castle, but you know how we play along with each other's whims, so I went along with good humour.
The roadside never failed to entertain. This little area was filled with imaginative cairns. I love serendipitous stuff like this. I always wonder who stopped and took the time to build them. 

And there it is. The pictures are not spectacular due to the lack of sunlight, but it is still an impressive sight. Eilean Donan means Island of Donan, and there have been fortified structures on this tiny piece of land since the 13th century. The size of the castle fluctuated over the centuries (for unknown reasons) and played its part in the Jacobite uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was finally destroyed by the British in 1719 when they were bombarding Spanish supporters of the Jacobites who were occupying the castle. The castle remained a ruin for almost 200 years until it was bought by Lt. Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap. He, along with his Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae, spent the next 20 years restoring the castle to its former glory, building it according to the surviving ground plan. 

The castle is still owned by the Macrae family, who have a clan gathering every year and also use it for family holidays. I am glad that we toured the castle, as it was full of interesting history and intriguing stories of the family. I wouldn't mind having this place for a family getaway, although the heating bills are probably pretty horrendous! The family seems to managing it rather well, as all of the tourism pays for the upkeep of the castle. 

This video came out a month or two ago. I was tickled when I recognised the castle and couldn't wait to show it to Jeff. 

This was our last planned stop in Scotland, so we wended our way back down to Glasgow in the afternoon. Our last airbnb night was in a very lovely flat in Dumbarton, hosted by a very voluble lady who seemed to think that conversation between host and guests was mandatory, so we complied, or at least Jeff did. I was tired. But she did feed us hot chocolate and some fancy biscuits, so there was that!
The next morning we headed off to a mall to buy some last-minute presents for grandchildren. We found just what we were looking for and then headed back to the airport to return the car. I was very curious how many miles we had driven. The total was 1,650, which doesn't count all the miles we drove with Lynne and Richard. Of course, I wasn't driving then, thankfully. Considering that the entire length of the island is only 600 miles from top to bottom, I think that was a lot of driving! I was just grateful that I hadn't killed or maimed us, because some of those roundabouts are really treacherous for the inexperienced. 
We felt very sad to leave Scotland and England and the people who are dear to us, but were excited to be going home, because look what happened when we were gone.

Little Scarlet Honor, grandchild number twelve, born to Sam and Charlie. And she is delicious.

Thank you for reading along with our adventures. I mostly blog for myself, but it does tickle me when people tell me they enjoy reading about our travels. And the best part is that as I write I get to relive it all over again.
Happy trails!

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Highlands

Sunday morning was very dismal indeed, weather-wise, but we had people to see and places to go, so off we went. First stop was a B & Q just the other side of Glasgow. It had occurred to me that if I picked up some anaglypta wallpaper to take home with us, it would completely solve the stupid-Susan-used-too-much-extra-glue-on-the-wallpaper dilemma in our bedroom. With five rolls of this wallpaper, which can be painted the colour of my desire, the ugly walls will be well hidden. And the pattern is just stripes, so no matching required. 

It was with great satisfaction that we continued our journey, which took us on this crazy road around Loch Lomond. A couple of times I thought we might die, I really did! Narrow and winding with nothing between us and the rocks on one side and the loch on the other. I was driving much slower than everyone else and had to pull over quite frequently to let cars go past, but I didn't care. Life is precious!

The day remained misty, which was unfortunate because things look so much prettier in the sunlight, but the scenery was still impressive.

The further north we went, the grander the scenery became, and once in a while the sun poked out its head. The mountains were awe-inspiring as they loomed over us. I was not expecting this.

We passed the Bridge of Orchy.

And many lochs.

In fact, we stopped so many times to take pictures that the four-hour drive took much longer. It seemed like every time we turned a corner there was another glorious vista just begging us to stop. We were definitely ruing our tight schedule.

We decided to pull into Glencoe, which is the site of a very famous battle. I think we were hungry, but there was no joy for us in Glencoe on that topic. But there was a street lined on both sides by very lovely houses, so we took a stroll down it before driving on.

On and on we drove, heading for our night in Fort William, which would only be a short drive from Eilean Donan Castle the next day.

The mountains became ever more rugged and impressive.

Every now and then, in the middle of these wild lands, we would see a lone house, and we wondered who was ferocious and wonderful enough to live there.

When we reached Loch Linnhe, the sun was doing its thing on the water. 
We pulled over.

Fort William is the second biggest town in the Highlands. It is surrounded by mountains and is so beautiful it almost hurts.

This was our most expensive night of the whole trip, partly due to my procrastinating the booking of the room, but I think also due to the fact that it is so remote that everything is more expensive. We stayed in a bed-and-breakfast owned by an old lady named Marie who had been running the place for several decades. I don't believe she had ever married and it is how she has earned her living all her life. She was a bit curmudgeonly, but in an endearing way. I asked if she minded my cooking our dinner in her kitchen and she was reluctant, but finally decided she could trust me not to take advantage of the situation. She sat in the kitchen and harassed me in a friendly sort of a way while I was cooking, and finally told me that one time she had allowed an Indian family to cook their dinner in her kitchen and they didn't finish until midnight and made a terrible mess, so ever since then she had banned it. So I guess I was lucky she took a liking to me!
Before dinner, we went for a walk down the river. Marie said it was a bit of a hike, but it was a skip in the park for us. Then she said because of her health she had rarely left the house in the last few years, so I guess it's all in your perspective.

The river was beautiful in the fading sun. There were several locks on it and they were all in the act of filling. We tried to figure out the mechanics of it all, but were not very successful.

This photo really gives you an idea of the size of those mountains. Ben Nevis is nearby, which, at a mere 4,409 feet, is the highest mountain in the entire British Isles.

This was one more place that we would have liked to spend more time and when I look at the photos I fall in love with it all over again.