Category Archives: Musical notes

Gratitude, Beach Boys-style

Pandora keeps me guessing.  Every now and then, random rock songs slip into the lineup of Broadway anthems on the Showtunes channel (one of my current faves), and just like that, we’ve gone from  Idina Menzel to The Beach Boys.

Specifically, we go to this song from The Beach Boys, which I’ve heard at least ten times in the last few days:

I can’t complain about the mixing of genres, because I really do love this song. (You’ve heard it before, right?)  God only knows what I’d be without you say the lyrics, over and over and over. God only knows what I’d be without you.  Simple, but effective.

Because somewhere around the fifth time I heard this song last week, I started to think that maybe there’s an opportunity for mindfulness here.  If I were going to dedicate this song to someone, whom would I choose?  Who are the “God only knows what I’d be without you” folks in my own life?

The choices just kept rolling in.

My folks, for unconditional love for forty-one-plus years.

My husband, for proving that good guys do exist and are interested in me  (and for always solving my technology problems).

A doctor of my past, for catching something before it turned into something very very bad.

My writing friend, who encouraged me to take my personal scribblings to a wider audience.

My sister, for a lifetime of laughs that have sustained me through any number of challenges.

A terrific therapist, for helping me finally take on  my OCD several years ago.

My kids, for pulling me out of myself and for stretching me in ways that I need to be stretched.

Some key friends over the years, who have helped me sift through all of my questions about faith.

What’s great is that I could keep going and going.  But I’ll stop here, because now it’s your turn.   Who are the “God only knows what I’d be without you” people in your own life?

If you have a minute, try making a list.   It’s a revealing exercise, and — to use a Beach Boys-inspired metaphor — a surefire way to find yourself surfing a tidal wave of gratitude.

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Why this mom loves “Let it Go”

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The song “Let it Go” has grown on me.

When I first saw “Frozen” in the theatre, I thought “Let it Go”  was a visually impressive number.  I loved the images of Elsa gliding through  the bluish snow and the ice palace rising around her.   But for some reason the song itself didn’t grab me, though I did mentally applaud the singer for her impressive range. (I also thought, “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard the word ‘fractals’ in a song lyric.”)

But since then, I’ve heard it many times.  I’ve had an increasingly hard time getting it out of my head.  Just a few days ago I heard it playing in the pediatrician’s office, and I started singing along, which caused my seven-year-old to say politely, “Mom, could you stop singing?”

Because while he enjoyed the movie, he is sick of the song.  “The girls ALWAYS sing it at recess,” he complained.  I’m sure he’s right, because from what I hear from my friends who have girls, they love this movie with a passion that goes beyond the popularity of most Disney films

I’m a forty-one-year-old girl, and I can relate.  This song gets me; it really does.  And here’s my theory: Females understand this song in a way that guys don’t.

What’s the song about?  It’s about a girl with a unique power she’s been told not to use.  She’s different and her power can cause problems, so she learns to hide it.  Then her gift accidentally comes out, and it’s scary and upsetting, but then she finally says the Disney equivalent of “Screw it. I’m tired of holding back.  I’m going to let it rip.”

It’s a far cry from the Little Mermaid who, as a college friend of mine  once memorably explained, gives up her voice to have the perfect body so she can get a man. “Let it Go”  is about female empowerment.  You actually hear a Disney princess singing, “That perfect girl is gone,” and it’s a good thing.

I love that.

We women have come a long way, but it’s still so easy to get into a “don’t rock the boat, don’t be a troublemaker”mode.    I’m not saying women should stop  being sensitive and compassionate, because sensitivity and compassion are qualities that I wish more people (men included) possessed.  I’m saying that you can be sensitive and compassionate and cause trouble.  (In fact,  compassion for others is probably the catalyst for most social justice work.)  

A lot of the positive change in this world has come about through women who did cause trouble, who grew tired of being someone else’s  idea of what it means to be perfect.  You see this in the suffragettes, in the women of the Civil Rights movement, in so many places in history.   These women probably each had to have their own “Let it Go” moment where they realized that they could no longer live the careful, fearful life they’d had before.  I’m grateful they had the courage to smash through the expectations that held themselves and others back.

Now that I think about it, maybe boys can relate to this song more than I thought at first.  My kids are so young that they haven’t yet started expressing pressure to be “the perfect male,” but I’m know that pressure does exist, especially as they reach the teenage years.   But as a former girl,  I know why this song is so popular with Matthew’s female peers.  Even at a young age, girls can sense the need to fit into a narrow definition of “perfect,” be it in their behavior or their weight or their dress.  I think there’s something in Elsa’s liberation from that that touches a chord, and powerfully.

Just recently, Matthew and I attended a birthday party for one of his female classmates.  An hour or so in, two costumed and bewigged young women arrived, one dressed as Elsa and the other Anna.  They gathered all the kids together and played the soundtrack and invited them to sing along to “Let it Go.”  (they also supervised a fake snowball fight and painted faces.)  I sang along too, and loved it, and  I noticed several other moms doing the same.

It’s a message we can’t hear enough: When the perfect girl is gone, the real woman can come out.

Music as caffeine: My top picks

End-of-the-quarter is always a rough time for teachers.  You find yourself  grading vast quantities of student work under the pressure of an unyielding deadline, plowing your way through stacks of essays while your spouse kindly shoulders both the childcare and your frequent complaints about how you really should have chosen a career in which you didn’t have to get so much done, such as a career as a member of the United States Congress.

Even if you’re not a teacher, you’ve surely had those days when you rely on sheer dogged drive and determination to get going and make it through your to-do list.  Coffee and prayer are helpful in times such as those.

Music is good, too.   In fact, I’ve found that certain tunes never fail to get me energized, no matter how exhausted I am.  Here, in no particular order, are my Tired Working Mom Survival Songs.  (I warn you: it’s a really eclectic list.)

1.  Any fast-paced Irish folk song, such as “Hills of Connemara.”  Gaelic Storm does a great rendition of this.

The only downside is that if you listen to it repeatedly in the car, your child will eventually ask, “Mom?  What is this song about?”   Then you have to decide whether you really want to say, “Well, it’s a sympathetic ballad about brewing illegal alcohol and then running like mad to avoid the tax men.”

2.  I’m a child of the ’80s, the era known for having terrible hair and good rock.  And “Take On Me” by A-ha,  or “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure, or “A Little Respect” by Erasure always get me smiling and singing along and wanting to dance like I’m at  my high school prom again.

3.  “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay.  I don’t know what it is about this tune, but it gets me energized every time.

4.  Aretha Franklin and “A Little Respect.”  (Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me …)

5.   For a little calypso flair, there’s “Jump in the Line” by the incomparable Harry Belafonte.  (I told you the list was eclectic.)

6.  Glenn Miller and “In The Mood” makes me smile and want to dance, except that I’m a child of the 80s, and I can’t dance swing.  (My parents can, and it’s always fun to see them cut the rug to this song at weddings.)

7.  Speaking of weddings, Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything” is the song that was playing as Scott and I danced our way into the reception hall.   Maybe it’s the happy memories of this song that inspire me at least as much as the song itself.

8.  Any fast song by ABBA.  “Waterloo” fits the bill perfectly.  (And if the 80s were the era of bad hair, the 70s were clearly the era of bad fashion, as evinced by this video which I just had to share, it is so stunning in its kitschy awesomeness.)

Those are my energy songs.  I’d love to hear yours!  Share away.

A writer’s retreat right where you are

Online Writing Retreat

If you are a writer, or if you’ve ever found yourself thinking “Gee, I really should do some writing someday,” here’s an opportunity you won’t want to miss.
Starting Monday, September 30th, author and editor Vinita Hampton Wright is doing a free online writing retreat on her blog Days of Deepening Friendship.  Every day she’ll have writing prompts, thought-provoking readings, and short prayers to get you going.    (She’s already got some “pre-retreat” posts that are worth a look, including a collection of helpful quotations about spiritual writing.)

I  was lucky enough to have Vinita  edit my latest book, and I’ve read several of her own books, and I regard her as a real spiritual writing rockstar.   (She’s every bit as wise and wonderful  in real life, too, as I discovered at last year’s LA Congress.)   I can’t think of a better person to create an online space where people can explore their gifts.

See you on retreat!

Gratitude in the greenhouse window

My kitchen may not have granite countertops, but it does have a nice greenhouse window.   It looks out on the palm tree (the tree of squirrel fame) and over the years, I’ve filled it with various tchotchkes.

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This is all well and good until you look in the corners and notice the cobwebs lurking behind the pitchers and bowls and you realize that cleaning the window is not going to be a quick process with all that bric-a-brac in the way.  This is why the cobwebs tend to stay put until something like summer vacation arrives and I have  time to do things like, say, clean house.

A week or so ago, on a quiet Sunday evening when the boys were playing with Scott, I decided to tackle the cobwebs.  And I thought: Maybe if I do this mindfully, really reflecting on each little knicknack and what it means, the whole experience might end up feeling something like a prayer.

So that’s what I did … starting with the Mary statue.

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I’m a bit of a Mary fan (she’s the mother of Jesus; what’s not to love?), and this particular statue has been in my window for about a year.  She reminds me to be calm, and to breathe, and I often tuck a handwritten list of prayer intentions under her base, just so I remember to pray for them.  Even better, she came from a secondhand shop where my grandmother used to volunteer years ago; with her in my window, Grandma’s spirit feels closer.

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This is the Gurgling Cod I got from my friend Trish at my wedding shower back in 2002.  Trish’s wedding was about six weeks before mine; at her California  shower, her family back in Boston sent her a Gurgling Cod pitcher (apparently it’s a pretty famous thing back there).  She demonstrated how it does really gurgle when you pour water out of it, and I was so enthralled with it that Trish surprised me with one at my shower a few weeks later.  So this pitcher reminds me of Trish, and what a great friend she is, and how I tend to forget to schedule time with friends into my insanely busy life, and how much I miss that.

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The clock on the left was a present from my mom years ago.  I adore it; it has that cute retro look and it is a perfect fit in my 194os kitchen.  The little angel on the right was a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law last year, and it is a reminder of our visit to beautiful  snowy upstate New York.  Both of these remind me of how fortunate I am, both in my mother and in my mother-in-law.  Both are gracious, sweet,  generous women; both are the kind of women I hope to be like someday.

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This little whisk was a gift (Easter?) from my mom ages ago.  I love the expression; goodness knows there are plenty of times when I’m in the kitchen thinking,  How the heck did I go to the store and manage to forget Ziploc bags?  when I look much like this.  Happily, I don’t have a wire whisk protruding from my skull, which makes a difference.  But this little guy always makes me smile.

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Ah, roses.   Few things in life instantly jack up my spirits like having roses in the house.   (The vase, by the way, belonged to my grandparents — it’s from the forties? Fifties?).

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In the summer of 2006, hugely pregnant with Matthew, my dear friend Mary snapped some pregnancy photos of me.   We stood on a hot grassy hillside at a Buddhist meditation center in Marin, me wearing far less than I usually do and with my huge pregnant stomach out on display.   It was ever-so-slightly awkward, especially as we were technically trespassing, but in the pursuit of art Mary was fearless.  And luckily, if you are shooting Mama-Earth style photos on a hillside, you aren’t going to catch much flak from the Buddhist meditation crowd.  Afterwards I put on a few more clothes and we went out for lunch in downtown San Anselmo, where I found this adorable bowl in a gift shop.  It reminds me of that fun and crazy day, and of Mary, who brought so much to my life.

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And here we have Lukey’s bean plant.  Is there anything sweeter than a four-year-old planting a bean at preschool?  I do believe my younger son has a green thumb.

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Here’ s a cute vintage plate of my home state.  As I dusted it, I thought about how much I love and have been shaped by northern California.  If I hadn’t been born and raised here, would I have some of my defining characteristics, like a mad love for Peet’s Coffee and a predilection for foggy windswept beaches?   It’s hard to say.   Regardless, it was a moment to think fondly of my home and to appreciate its beauty and diversity.

So did the task of cleaning the window feel like a prayer?  It actually did.  And though there is something to be said for a minimalist lifestyle and for downsizing, I realized just how much each one of these little knicknacks reminds me of the blessings in my life and encourages me to find  God in all things.

I couldn’t find a blessing in the cobwebs, though.   Maybe that comes with practice.