Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday traditions

A college friend of mine posted on facebook that she was archiving her family holiday traditions, and then posed the question, "What are yours?"

Most of my holiday traditions from my adult life were either carried over from my childhood (cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve) or are a function of my cantoring job (multiple masses to sing on Christmas Eve and/or Day.) But there are a few things that don't fall into those categories:
  • Stockings for the grown-ups, as well as the kids
  • Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning -- only the Pillsbury-in-a-can kind will do. But now that I think of it, we may have had them when I was a kid.
  • Christmas breakfast casserole -- a make-ahead dish that just needs to be popped in the oven in the morning
  • Church for the whole family on Christmas Eve or Day, depending on when I'm singing
  • Santa leaving some presents unwrapped
  • Earl reading "The Night Before Christmas" to the kids on Christmas Eve -- something that his dad always did when Earl and his sister were younger
  • Gingerbread or eggnog wreath cake
  • A new tradition: the Christmas Donut
  • Another new tradition: the "green" (e-mailed) Christmas card
  • Yet another new tradition: Family carol-singing. The kids are old enough to know the words now, and I accompany on piano. It warms my musician's heart.

I'm hoping that the various illnesses that made their way through our family a couple of weeks ago will not become a new holiday tradition.

And now, it's time to get started on another personal tradition: the impossible New Year's Resolution list. You know, the one that specifies I'll be in the best shape of my life by the summer; I'll never speak crossly to my children again; I'll exercise 6 days out of every 7 and will get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.

Maybe it's time for a new tradition to replace the old: making a resolution or two that I can actually keep. Stay tuned.

Timmy the charmer

We had a former student and babysitter of mine, who is now in college, over for a visit yesterday. Lauren brought a friend and Timmy turned on the charm the whole time the girls were here. Making funny faces, doing his dance class routines, explaining all about Star Wars Legos, declaring that he was going to bring Lauren's Christmas gift of a stuffed giraffe to bed with him -- he did his best to endear himself to them both.

Timmy loves people, and has a particular weakness for pretty girls. Last night, when Earl was tucking him into bed, Timmy told him that his favorite part of the day was eating bagels with Lauren. Lunch with a pretty girl even trumped opening unexpected presents and watching "Martha Speaks" on PBS.

All this is lovely when Timmy is three years old, but I wonder how it will play out in his school years and beyond. Will he try to be the class clown? Will he be so busy talking with his friends that he won't get his work done? Will he go through high school and college, leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake?

For now he can just be my charmer, my funny boy, my sweetheart.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The accidental Jesuit

Part of the stress of the holidays for me is wanting everything to be perfect. The house, the food, the kids. Not fancy; just perfect. You won't mistake my house for Martha Stewart's, and I serve no flaming desserts. But I want things how I want them, and that includes smiling children on Christmas morning.

We did have lots of smiles. The kids had a nice Christmas, and are enjoying their new games and toys. But there was also an element of uncertainty, particularly with Abby.

She had been sick and missed the last two days of school before vacation. She still wasn't feeling 100% healthy on Christmas morning, and the aroma of my traditional egg-and-sausage Christmas breakfast casserole didn't help matters. When I left to sing the first of two Christmas morning masses, there was some doubt about whether Abby would be able to come to church with the family, as planned. Earl told me that even if she could go, she'd most likely not be wearing the beautiful Christmas dress I'd laid out for her, since the collar came close to her neck and she was extra sensitive to that, feeling sick and all.

Earl is a wonderful husband and father with many talents, but choosing clothes for our daughter is not one of them. He warned me not to comment on the outfit if I didn't like it. This did not bode well. I left the house with a cloud of thwarted control over my head.

On my way to church, I realized that this was a Christmas lesson in detachment, that Jesuit principle of surrendering control and accepting things as they are. I first learned about detachment as a concept from the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author whom I interviewed last year for the Patriot Ledger. It's a way of unloading emotional baggage attached to life, of accepting that we're not in control. A simple concept, but a hard practice for a control freak like me.

By the time I got to church, surprisingly, I had detached myself from the situation. If Abby could come, great. If she couldn't, I'm sure my father-in-law would stay with her at home. If she could wear the beautiful dress, terrific. If she couldn't, well, I'd just be glad she was there.

I sang the first mass without even thinking about Abby too much. After coffee in the rectory, I returned to the church, and, to my joy, there was my whole family, including Abby. She wasn't wearing the Christmas dress, but her shirt matched her jumper, her hair was brushed and she even had a faint smile on her face.

I congratulated myself on my detachment efforts. And then, I realized that a better measure of my detachment success would have been if Abby hadn't been at church.

I'm still a control freak, but at least I recognized an opportunity to practice detachment, and it wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. We'll see what happens the next time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Clearing and excitement

Tuesday: Things are looking up, as the song goes. Abby announced a little while ago that she was starting to feel "perky." She looks much better, and has some color back in her cheeks.

All three kids are getting very excited about Christmas. I just helped Brian wrap his present for Earl, and when I suggested he put it under the tree, he smiled and said, "I'm like Santa!"
Timmy has notified me of an eleventh-hour addition to his list: a telescope. I'm not sure whether this is due to an actual interest in the heavens or the cool gadget factor. I've explained to the junior astronomer that Santa has probably already figured out everyone's presents by now, and last-minute orders are tough to fill.
Abby informed me that Timmy's telescope wish was brought on by the Diego Christmas special. I guess it's better that he wants a telescope than a llama or something.
Wednesday: All I want for Christmas is some willpower. I have eaten so many Christmas cookies that I'm sure I have gingerbread where my brain should be. I'm looking forward to/dreading the new year, when I Am. Getting. Serious. About. Losing. Weight.
Just a few last minute things to do today: some wrapping, making dessert for tomorrow (says the gingerbread brain) and one mass to sing. Then I'll have the rest of Christmas Eve at home, for the first time in many, many years. I've never really been with the kids on the night before Christmas, because I've always been running out to sing a later mass. But my only cantoring obligation is at 4:00 today, so I'll get to help leave out cookies for Santa and tuck in my little dears, probably a few times. Tomorrow morning will be a little hectic -- I'll be singing two masses -- but tonight will be fun.


Remember, gingerbread brain, those cookies are for Santa.

Although it's been said many times, many ways:

Merry Christmas to you.

Monday, December 22, 2008


We've had an avalanche of snow and illnesses in our neck of the woods over the past few days.

It started snowing on Friday and didn't let up until it turned to rain yesterday evening. All that rain was ice when I got up today and the thermometer read 11 degrees. Earl wins the husband of the year award for not only keeping up with the snow removal, but for scraping and warming up the van in plenty of time for me to take the boys to school this morning.

At least the boys were well enough to go to school. Poor Abby has a stomach bug, which started last night and is still sticking around. She's fine if she doesn't eat anything, if being unusually pale and subdued is fine. She's bummed about missing school again tomorrow but it's not bothering her as much, in terms of a schedule change, as I thought it would. Which just proves she is a pretty sick little girl.

Earl is still sniffling, sneezing and coughing. I'm mostly over that but am feeling pretty queasy, myself. At this point I am just hoping we're all well by Christmas.

And on that note, I'm making it an early night. I'll leave the visions of sugarplums to those whose digestive systems are in working order. Hmmm, what would be a good nighttime vision for me? Ah, yes...spring. Green leaves. Flowers, even. I'd welcome a little spring fever, after dealing with the real kind for the past several days.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Handel and Haydn review

My review of the Handel and Haydn Society's Bach Christmas program ran in today's Patriot Ledger.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snowy prescription

It's Friday. I'm hunkered down with a sick Timmy and a recovering Brian, waiting for the snow to start. It's been a busy week, and I don't mind having to stay at home while Mother Nature gets cranky outside.

This week, I taught my last lessons until 2009, sent out my "green" (emailed) Christmas card, printed and mailed a few others, and finally got my Christmas treat list organized with a spreadsheet. (I just realized I forgot to send a treat with Abby today for her school-based occupational therapist. Spreadsheets are great but one actually has to read them.) I need to make another batch or two of cookies and I'll be all set.

Brian has been fighting a cold for a week or so, and complained of ear pain on Tuesday night and the next morning, so doctor appointment #1 was Wednesday. No ear infection, but he was pretty uncomfortable yesterday, too, so I kept him home from preschool. Timmy had also had a cold, and yesterday while I was teaching his eye became so swollen that he could hardly open it, so doctor appointment #2 was last night, at the urgent care clinic. Meanwhile, I had to attend a concert I'd been assigned to review, so while Earl was dealing with sick, crying, barfing three-year-old, I was listening to Bach in Jordan Hall and worrying about the sick, crying, barfing three-year-old and the daddy who was taking care of him.

The concert was enjoyable, but poor Timmy was put on a strong antibiotic and an antibiotic ointment for an ear infection, sinusitis and cellulitis. Doctor appointment #3 this morning, a follow-up for Timmy with our own pediatric practice, revealed that there's an ear infection, sinusitis and conjunctivitis, but no cellulitis. He seems to be improving every hour and was very relieved that there were no shots or blood tests involved. He did tell me during the appointment this morning, "Mommy, I am not shy of you, but I am shy of the doctor." The doctor -- who also saw Brian on Wednesday and thought he looked much better -- got a kick out of that.

So now, we're all home, save for Abby, whose school is letting out at 12:30. Earl will pick her up and hopefully I can persuade him that what we really need on a cold, snowy, blustery day is a nice fire in the fireplace. I'll make cookies, try out some fancy hot chocolate from one of my students, and we'll have a family snow day. And when we tire of that, there are always movies-on-demand.

We're all warm, cozy and on the mend. A little forced hibernation before Christmas week: just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mood lifting

I was pretty grumpy this morning. Make that awfully grumpy. Yelling at the kids, grousing about the house, stressing about the holiday things I have to do.

The grumpiness continued as I shepherded the kids to the van and made my way out into the sleet. Getting chewed out by a crossing guard because I misjudged how much room I needed to get the van off the street and into the drop-off circle didn't help, either. Nor did things improve when Abby, noticing the crossing guard's badge, asked if I were going to be arrested.

Testily explaining that crossing guards didn't have the authority to throw mommies in the slammer, I finally pulled into the drop-off circle, dispatched the boys and headed to Abby's school. We walked to the gym, where the kids wait until it's time to go to their classrooms. I hugged Abby goodbye and hung back for a few minutes, watching her.

She took her place in line, and immediately was greeted by two friends. Soon she was smiling and talking energetically, her ponytail bobbing with each nod of her head. She was happy to be there.

She looked so, well, normal, in her interactions, that it put a smile on my face, despite the morning's less than optimistic start. Her teachers told me she had a good day yesterday, in contrast to last week's tough times.

I hope has another good day today. She certainly helped mine get back on the right track.

Green Christmas Card

Merry Grinchmas
Happy Holidays from the Fay Family
Julie, Earl, Abby, Brian and Timmy

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tuckered out

Here is Timmy, snoozing Friday evening before dinner. He had a cold over the weekend but seems better today.

Many of my students (and students' parents) can vouch for the sleep-inducing comfiness of the white chair. Not too many of them put their teddy bears on their heads, though.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chorus pro Musica

My story about the upcoming Chorus pro Musica holiday concert ran on Thursday in the Patriot Ledger.

Our own private autism

I got an email from Abby's teachers yesterday, expressing concern about her behavior in school this week. She had been defiant, making inappropriate noises, and even mean to a new girl in her class, telling her she didn't want to sit next to her. Abby's very caring and perceptive teachers wondered if we'd noticed any changes in her behavior at home, or if we had any ideas about what might be causing the changes at school. They theorized that two unusual events -- an early dismissal on Monday for a doctor's appointment and the lockdown drill yesterday -- might have thrown her off.

This is new. In the past, it's been Earl and I who have sent emails to Abby's teachers, alerting them that Abby was going through a rough patch and asking about whether there were any behavior problems at school. Abby's been fine at home, so the email yesterday came as a bit of a shock.

We printed the email and brought it to Abby's therapy appointment yesterday. We already had decided that the early dismissal and the lockdown drill, plus all the changes at home due to the holidays -- Christmas tree in the living room, Advent calendar on the wall -- might have been responsible, at least in part. We wanted to hear what Abby's wonderful therapist had to say about it.

Abby's therapist said that all of the changes in schedule and routine might have had something to do with it, but pointed out that the meanness to the new student was probably due to the very fact that there was a new student. For a child with social difficulties, the introduction of a new person into the stable, safe, figured-out classroom environment could have been pretty upsetting. Her thoughts probably ran something like: How does the new girl fit in? Is she my friend? How do we relate to her? How do I relate to her?

Abby was pretty receptive to talking with me about her week yesterday, so I knew something was up before I even got the email from her teachers. Abby volunteered that she had a tough week and mentioned the lockdown drill (where they were only pretending there was a skunk in the school, not a real skunk, she informed me.) She said the drill was hard, but that she got through it, and then mentioned being mean to the new girl. She couldn't articulate why she was mean, but for her even to recognize the meanness and associate that with having a tough week because of the drill was a breakthrough for her. And to be able to talk calmly about it, too, was a big deal.

She told me she was all better, since she was home. And she was. We had a very smooth evening last night. She was happy and cooperative. I would never have known she had a tough day, let alone a tough week.

I think I'll try to talk with her about the new student today. I may even write a social story for her about it. Sometimes I forget, because of how far she's come, that she still needs help navigating certain situations.

It's situations like these that make me wonder how activist autism mothers do what they do. Where do they find the energy to deal with autism as a cause, when they undoubtedly have situations like Abby's, and many more besides, in their own lives? How do they tackle Autism with a capital A, while simultaneously dealing with their own private, family autism?

I'd love to hear from you, autism moms. You amaze me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pops review

I reviewed opening night at Holiday Pops for the Ledger. It's up on the Taunton Gazette website with a few cuts. If the whole review runs in the Ledger tomorrow, I'll post that link.

What a fun concert. If you need a dose of Christmas spirit, treat yourself to a ticket.

Mum's the word

Sometimes I feel like I'm not a very good autism mother. This is different from feeling like I'm not a very good mother, which I also sometimes feel, but that's another -- several other -- blog posts.

Autism mothers are different. They schlep their kids here and there for therapy and social groups. They have their state reps on speed dial and march on the State House whenever there's important autism legislation in the works. They become advocates in the best sense of the word -- fighting not only for their children, but for the larger, more noble cause of improving the lot of those with autism, raising money, educating, finding a cure.

Some autism moms do all that and write passionately and eloquently about it, too, like Susan Senator and Judith Ursitti, both of whom I admire very much.

I've done my share of schlepping. I've even emailed my government representatives now and again. But it is beyond my capability and strength -- and truthfully, beyond my interest -- to take on Autism with a capital A.

It's not that I don't care. I want to make the world a better place, too. I even have a bit of a platform, with the writing opportunities I've gotten over the past year or so. But I can't seem to throw all my energies into Autism with a capital A. I just don't have it in me to write consistently about the big picture.

Of course, because autism is part of my life, it does find its way into my writing. I welcome the opportunity to educate and even to inspire, if my words can do that for someone. I guess I'm just struggling with feeling like I ought to do more for the cause, and I'm resistant to that.

Maybe if I mostly write about my family as if it's normal, it will feel more normal to me. Maybe if I don't acknowledge the autism elephant in the room, it won't really be there. Maybe if I crack a joke about it or pass off some of my kids' behaviors as mere idiosyncrasies, others will let it slide and not think that there's anything different about my children, or me.

The truth is that I just get tired of it. When it's a part of my day-to-day existence, it becomes too hard to read every single issue of the Schafer Autism Report. I don't want to take my children to a special community outing for kids on the spectrum. I cannot bring myself or my children to participate in yet another research study.

I just want autism to leave me alone.

Thank goodness there are other autism moms out there who won't leave it alone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Surrender and stretch

Over the weekend, I sang as a guest at a parish in Boston. During the homily, the pastor mentioned that he had been asked by the Cardinal to move to another parish. Clearly, this priest did not want to go, but he explained the move to the congregation as follows:

"I'm a diocesan priest. Obedience is my life."

And then, later,

"Life is surrender."

I had coffee with a friend yesterday, who is going through some tough times. Although my friend's situation is different than the priest's, she is having to cope with something -- a big something -- in a way that is not natural or easy for her.

I was struck by the similarities between the two situations. Both the priest and my friend are denying themselves and their wants, maybe even their needs. They have very little choice in the matter, and it's clear that it's hard for both of them.

I think this gets to the heart of the concept of "dying to self." Life's changes -- the end of a relationship, a major career change, an unforeseen family situation -- can feel like a part of us is dying, especially when the situation is out of our control.

Maybe that's why I had such an incredibly difficult time after my first child was born. I've described the months after Abby's birth -- while being very joyful and exciting -- as a sort of dying and reemergence as another person. My whole identity changed, and it wasn't easy, fun or pretty. It felt like a little death. Truthfully, a big one.

How interesting, the ending of one life and the beginning of another. Maybe that's why people say things like "When God closes a door, he opens a window" -- to reassure themselves that things will work out, that they're not really trapped, that what feels like the end now is just the intermission.

I now realize the painful identity change I endured when becoming a mother was necessary. The love and compassion and attachment and protectiveness and all the other emotions that go along with being a mother, had to be stuffed into my heart, and there was some major stretching that had to happen to fit them all in. It hurt.

The priest will end his time at one parish and begin with another. My friend will continue to cope, relying on support from others who have lived through similar situations.

My heart continues to be stretched; by my children, my husband, my students and friends. Someday, maybe it will be big enough to take it all in without aching.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking forward

When I was in high school, I played a little game to help myself get out of bed in the morning. I'd turn off the alarm, and then lie there and think of something to look forward to during the day ahead, to motivate myself to get moving.

It's the evening, not the morning, and I need to go to bed, not get up. But here are some things I'm looking forward to, anyway, both sooner and later:
  • Coffee with a friend tomorrow morning
  • Reviewing the Boston Pops concert on Thursday evening
  • Maybe some cookie-baking and A Christmas Story-watching with my sister over the weekend
  • Christmas Eve at home, for the first time in 15 years
  • A girls' weekend in January with Steph

What are you looking forward to?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Early morning conversation

It's still dark. I look at the clock. 5:47. No wonder I have a headache. I'm late for my first dose of caffeine.

Earl says, "What time is it?"

Me: "Almost six o'clock."

"Almost six o'clock?"

"Yes. Almost six o'clock. I didn't set the alarm."

"You didn't set the alarm?"

"No. I'm not getting up."

Earl, surprised: "You're not getting up?"

"No, I'm not getting up. I'm sick."

"You're sick?"

"Yes, I'm sick. I have a little cough. Are you getting up?"

"I'm getting up."

Me: "You'll have to make the coffee, but just push the button."

Wait for it..."I'll have to make the coffee?"

"Yes. Just push the button."

"But it's all made?"

"Yes. Just push the button. The dishes in the dishwasher are clean."

"The dishes are clean?"


He gets up. I lie there in the bed, hating my headache, coughing, and giggling like a fool.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just a Minute family column

My latest Just a Minute family column ran in today's Patriot Ledger.


We're in the process of decorating our Christmas tree. Right now, all we have on it are the lights and the angel at the top.

The boys got up this morning, and were delighted with the tree already. Timmy, in particular, was fascinated by the angel.

"I wish I looked like an angel," said Timmy.

"But Timmy, you are an angel," said Brian.

"Yeah, I am," Timmy replied.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Kvetch as kvetch can

There's a grumpy mommy in my house.

I have the sweetest children in the world, and all I could think about tonight was putting them to bed and getting them out of my hair. Brian wanted me to help him do "his" homework (actually, photocopies of Abby's) but just then, I needed to clean up the kitchen before I could even dream of making dinner. This was after teaching until 6:00 and then packing up the kids to take the babysitter home.

All during the cooking of dinner, Brian was very needy. Abby and Timmy pretty much kept to themselves but Brian was enough to drive me up the wall and onto the ceiling. Then, after dinner, there was more clean-up, followed by the bedtime routine that went as smoothly as any other night but for which I had absolutely no patience this evening.

The poor kids were asking me if I was mad at them. Abby kept saying "Oh, you're not angry with me." I wasn't angry with any of them. Just grumpy, and for no good reason.

I suppose I'm allowed to have a grumpy evening without justification now and again. And at least I didn't yell. Well, not too much. And only clenched my teeth a little bit. I still came through with the bedtime stories and lots of hugs and kisses, too.

As I felt I needed to inform a friend today, I really do love my children. They were just a little much for me tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


A few random things, none of which merits its own blog post. Or maybe I'm just feeling lazy.
  1. "Feelin' Alright" has to be added to the list of perfect music. I'm not generally a Joe Cocker fan, but I love piano and percussion and this song has both in abundance. I even sat down at the piano and figured out how to play it. Me, with absolutely no non-classical ear training! But I figured it out -- just two chords, really -- and can do a decent job with it. Now all I need is a conga player. And Joe Cocker.
  2. Lots to add to the list by Marvin Gaye, too: "Mercy, Mercy Me," "What's Goin' On," "Let's Get it On," even "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Good, good stuff.
  3. I got myself out of a stressful situation on my own terms. Can't elaborate but it's all good.
  4. Abby is going to have a "lockdown drill" next week at school. A support person who works with Abby at school has asked me how we would like her to prepare Abby, and I'm stumped. It sounds like a pretty intense experience: police there, kids in a designated area of the room, door locked, lights and computers off, and kids silent for up to 20 minutes. At least it won't feature any alarms or flashing lights, which would be big problems for Abby. I just need to think about how best to prepare her (with the support staff) for this event, without getting too much into why the drill is important for student safety. How can you explain that to any child, let alone one with anxiety problems?
  5. Suddenly, Earl is into basketball, too. Sigh.
  6. As I wrote today to a long-lost college friend, facebook is the best and worst thing to happen to me in a long time. Best, for renewing old friendships and making new connections; worst, for the insane amount of time I spend logged onto the thing.
  7. Having good work to do is a blessing. How very lucky I am, that I get to do what I love and get paid for it, too.
  8. I finally started my Christmas shopping today.
  9. I'm feeling more and more Christmas-y all the time. I haven't sprung this on Earl yet, but I want to put up our tree this weekend. It's time.
  10. I still have "Feelin' Alright" in my head. Can barely sit still to type.

Celestial sighting

I see the moon,
and the moon sees me.
God bless the moon,
and God bless me.
-- Children's prayer

Monday evening, Abby and I were driving home from her violin lesson around 5:15. I was thinking of the above prayer, when suddenly, we came up over a hill and there, low in the sky, was the moon, seeing all of us, with Jupiter and Venus looking down, too.

The conjunction was so big, so bright, so beautiful, it took my breath away. I felt blessed for having seen it.

Time was, as a little girl, when I wanted to be an astronaut. Carl Sagan was my hero. Perhaps it's not so unusual, for one born just weeks after the first moon landing. That dream of going into space died down as I got older, due in no small part to my difficulty wrapping my head around the mathematics involved in physics class, as well as a sudden inability to ride anything at an amusement park when I reached my late teens. I figured, if I can't handle the teacups, I'll never handle multiple g-forces.

But for a few minutes on Monday evening, my inner astronaut gazed upwards in wonder, knowing that anyone who saw what I saw was blessed, indeed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

El universo y la música latina

As I've written in this space previously, I've been making an effort to reconnect with an earlier incarnation of myself, especially where music is concerned. Years of children's and country music, the preferences of those with whom I share my home, had dulled the memory of music I had enjoyed. I'm getting back into my own preferences, and have been having a great time.

Now, a blip: I've been in touch with not one but two college classmates, both of whom are into Latino music in one way or another. One has a degree in ethnomusicology and is now living in Colombia, his mother's native country; the other is someone I barely knew in school, but whose father was Venezuelan and who now salsa dances and plays conga drums professionally, to boot.

They've both written about various forms of Latino music, and I find it very interesting that two people I barely knew in college are both in touch with me these days, and are passionate about a genre of music I know nothing about. My entire exposure to Latino music is the Buena Vista Social Club, plus one outrageously fabulous arrangement of Feliz Navidad on one of my GRP CDs.

The universe is giving me a nudge to go learn something. iTunes, here I come.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Goodbye, Thanksgiving; Hello, Advent

Most of the turkey leftovers are gone, as are my houseguests. Outside, a nasty mix of rain and ice is falling. I'm procrastinating starting dinner because I spent the last four days in my kitchen and I'm all cooked out.

Thanksgiving is over, all right.

We had a wonderful time with my mom, my brother and his family. We ate and drank and stayed up too late and laughed and ate and drank some more. It was fun.

The kids enjoyed playing with their cousin, who is almost four. She introduced the kids to Star Wars, and they're downstairs right now watching it with Earl.

I have a lovely pork tenderloin in the fridge, and I'm thinking of letting it continue to chill out there and calling Domino's instead. I love, love, love to cook, but after Thanksgiving Day, various other assorted meals and a brief stint this morning as a short-order cook (a pancake breakfast to send the travelers off with happy tummies) I'm just not into it tonight. And I should mention that my sister-in-law made dinner on Friday, too, so I really didn't cook for four days straight. It just seems that way.

I think I'm just pooped. Ready to go to bed early; ready for the kids to go back to school so I can get some work done and start my Christmas shopping, weeks after I wish I had started it. Ready to put together the little Advent calendar for the kids so it will be waiting for them when they get up tomorrow. Maybe even ready to listen to some Christmas music, although I didn't find the CDs in my first pass through the attic while looking for the Advent calendar.

Earl just agreed to Domino's. That's music enough to my ears for now.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

ENC Messiah concert article

Here is my article about next weekend's free concerts of highlights from Messiah. The concerts will be at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pilgrim Festival Chorus concert advance

Here is my advance article on Sunday's concert by the Pilgrim Festival Chorus, published in today's Patriot Ledger.

Thanksgiving Day chez Fay

Here are a few photos of Thanksgiving Day at my house. Hope yours was wonderful!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


All week, we've been telling the kids about the guests we're having for Thanksgiving: my mom, my brother and his family, all coming from Rochester; and my sister and her husband, who live locally. The kids have been very excited about it, especially about playing with their cousin.

Yesterday we got a call from my mom with some bad news: they had a flat tire, just outside of Syracuse. Fortunately, they were able to get not only one but two new tires, and replace a tie rod, and get back on the road. Unfortunately, the delay meant they wouldn't be here for dinner, as planned.

Abby, who already was revving a little higher than normal because of the half-day at school, had a really hard time coping with the change. She had heard Earl talking with my mom, and we casually mentioned the delay to all three kids. We later noticed that Abby was getting more and more agitated, and saying the types of things she often does when upset:

"I don't want them to come."

"I'll make Thanksgiving dinner myself."

"I don't even like Mairi (her cousin)."

"I hate Thanksgiving. I don't want to see Grammie."

Of course, none of these things are true. We couldn't really talk her down very well, either, so I decided the direct approach might work better. I sat all three kids down on the couch.

"OK, kids, I want to tell you about a change. Are you ready? Here comes a change."

("OK, it's just a little change," said Abby.)

"First of all," I continued, "here's what is NOT changing. Our guests are still coming. They will be here for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. We will still see Grammie, Uncle Keith, Auntie Jen and Mairi. They will be here.

"Now, here's what's different. They thought they would be here for dinner tonight. They are later than they thought they would be. They are still coming but they won't get here until after you are in bed. You will see them tomorrow morning."

They all thought about that for a minute. Timmy nodded, shrugged and slid off the couch. Brian asked a couple of follow-up questions, but seemed okay, too.

But poor Abby. She understood what was happening, but still had such a hard time. She didn't throw a tantrum or anything like that, but she did more perseverative behavior than usual, and was hovering a couple of inches off the ground until bedtime.

It's not clear to me whether it was the change itself that caused this behavior, or (more likely) dealing with the disappointment that came with the change. Abby is much better at handling negative emotions than she used to be, but it's still a struggle sometimes.

The strangest thing was that Abby initiated a conversation with Earl on the way home from school yesterday -- before she knew about the change -- about how she doesn't do the "back and forth" type of talk any more. This refers to the "I want to/I don't want to" perseveration, and also her penchant for saying exactly the opposite of what she really means.

So we wonder: why did she decide to talk about that, out of the blue? My theory was that she was feeling a little unsettled from the change in the school schedule, and maybe she felt the "back and forth" urge coming on and was trying to talk herself out of it.

She's becoming more self-aware all the time, and we're really proud of her for that. But sometimes, changes are just too much. Hopefully, today she'll feel better, and will be able to enjoy our guests and move beyond yesterday's challenges. We'll all be thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A note from Abby

Here is a note Abby wrote to me a few weeks ago, while I was at church for a Sunday afternoon mass. It says:

Dere Mom, We are having hot-dogs. Love, Abby.

Thanks for the update, sweetie. I won't keep the paper forever, but I'll preserve it for posterity on my blog.

In praise of girlfriends

I got in touch with my best friend and roommate from college yesterday. Steph and I were once very close, but after we left college (and before the magic of the Internet) we lost each other, busy with grad school, husbands, children and jobs.

We're still busy with all that (well, not the grad school) but we reconnected yesterday. As we chatted, the years dropped away. Even now, there are so many similarities in our lives. It was great to be in touch with her again.

We're making plans for a girls' weekend getaway after the holidays. Can't wait!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Preschool boy dancers wanted

Brian and Timmy are in a preschool boys' dance class at InSync Dance Company, here in Milton. The teacher is looking for a few more boys to fill out the group -- ages 3-5. The class meets on Tuesdays from 11:15 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

If you've got a little boy who's got rhythm in his soul, I'd encourage you to check it out. My boys have a blast.

Mr. Muddle and the Beatles

One communication thing Abby struggled with when she was younger was pronoun confusion. She would say "you" when she meant herself. She doesn't do that any more, thanks to a pretty intense period of nagging a couple of years ago.

Her therapist has spoken to her about a character named Mr. Muddle, who, from what I can get out of Abby, has a similar pronoun problem. Abby relates a Mr. Muddle telephone conversation like this:

"Hello? Is this me? This is you. Good-bye!"

I don't sit in on Abby's sessions, so this is all I know. But she clarified a bit for me this morning in the car.

In keeping with my latest thing of listening to music I like, I had an old Beatles cassette playing on the way to school: Hello, hello! I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello!

Abby piped up from the back of the van: "I think this is a Mr. Muddle song. Hello! Goodbye! "

I guess that was a text-to-real-life connection, as she's studying in school.

The rest of the story

Below is the final paragraph of the review I wrote about the Plymouth Philharmonic's Saturday concert, which never made it into the paper. It wraps up the review in a more satisfying way and talks about the conductor, who got short shrift in the rest of the article.
Karidoyanes showed himself as an educator in the pre-concert talk and in remarks from the podium during the concert. His verbal exposition on symphonic form before the concert gave the uninitiated a framework on which to hang their listening, and he even returned to the stage after the concert to answer audience questions. The only misstep was cueing the audience to clap following the Bartók; appreciation would have flowed naturally from the audience, had it been given another moment to pull itself together. But Karidoyanes is a teacher, and wants to help listeners get the most from their experience. His generous presence, combined with solid, enjoyable music-making from the orchestra, created a warm, satisfying musical evening on a cold night in Duxbury.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Plymouth Philharmonic review

Here's the link to my review of Saturday's Plymouth Philharmonic concert. I was disappointed to see that the entire last paragraph was edited out; I must have spaced on the word count. I don't like the way it ends so abruptly. Ah, well, live and learn.

Silly sleep

I woke myself up last night, laughing. The dream was silly and really wouldn't make any sense here; it was one of those "you had to be there" things. But there I was, laughing like a fool, shaking the bed with my laughter, at 1:25 in the morning.

Poor Earl thought I was crying. He was all concerned until I told him I was laughing. I then proceeded to laugh some more and had to make a serious effort to calm down so we both could get back to sleep. I'm still snickering this morning.

I've woken myself up talking before. I sleepwalked as a child. Once I even started to sing in my sleep -- the night before the concerto competition in college. I was very, very worked up about the competition. I started my aria right on pitch, and probably startled my roommates.

I've never giggled myself awake before, though. That's a new one.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ella knows best

Like the song says, I'm just a lucky so-and-so.

I've already had my Thanksgiving column published, but here are a few other things that make me feel like a lucky girl, indeed.
  1. Writing, writing and writing. I was looking at a bit of downtime, and then two new assignments happened along. Both are music-related and will be fun to do.
  2. It's fireplace time! I came home from the 5:00 mass and Earl had the fire going in the living room. I guess cold weather isn't so bad if I can get cozy by the hearth.
  3. Sleep dost not leave me any more. I had a couple of weeks, there, where I wasn't sleeping well. I shut off the alarm this morning and snoozed for another hour. Not a problem.
  4. I'm connecting with lots of old friends. I just got in touch with my dearest friend from high school, who suggested we try to meet before things get too crazy with the holidays. She lives about 30 minutes from me -- amazing, considering we went to high school together in another state.
  5. Potpourri: workouts on the rowing machine and stairmaster with my favorite tunes on the iPod; pumpkin pie coming soon; a week off from teaching; Abby telling me she loved me tonight; figuring out a complex bass line on piano on the first try; thinking maybe I really do have a book in me, after all; hearing an amazing new piano talent and getting to write about him; lots of other stuff, but the fire is warm and I'm getting sleepy so that's enough for now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Just a Minute: Thanksgiving column

Here's today's Just a Minute column. I put the electric blanket on the bed right after I submitted it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Breugger's introspection

Here I am, squinting at my screen because of the brightness, hoping no one notices that I haven't bought a thing yet, waiting for my friend, with whom I'm having coffee this morning.

I'm glad to have the time and the flexibility in my schedule to meet friends like this once in a while. After several years of all-mommy, all-the-time, it's really a gift to have a couple of child-free hours every morning while the boys are in preschool.

That extra time and breathing room is wonderful, but it's led to a crisis of sorts. I blogged about it a couple of weeks ago, too. I'm feeling much better now than I did then, and some interesting things have started to happen:
  • I've started listening to music I like again. Not the kids' CDs; not Earl's incessant country; not music that's "good" for me or that which I "should" be listening to. Just stuff I like.
  • I think -- and it may be premature to write this -- that I may be finally settling into a reasonable, realistic way of dealing with weight and body-image issues. I'm not perfect, but I may be getting comfortable, and that is progress.
  • I'm taking the long view a bit more. Yes, I want things to happen, professionally and personally, but they don't all have to happen right now. Just moving in the right direction is enough, most of the time.

I feel like I'm recovering some of myself that has somehow gotten lost in the last 20-odd years of living. It's a good feeling to re-make my own acquaintance.

Don't say mid-life crisis, please. As my mother says, it's just a mid-life episode.

Sarah Brightman article

Here it is, at long last. Mostly intact.

Ms. Brightman was really lovely on the phone; very generous with her time, serious about her craft, and willing to answer anything I asked her. Of course, it's in her interest to be cooperative with the media, but I really liked her. She came across as someone who understands her position as an entertainer, and who has a very strong work ethic to make that entertainment experience as wonderful as she can for her audiences.

I was pretty nervous about the interview, and glad when it was over. But that's a reflection on me and my trouble with talking with new people, even when I have "license" to do so as a reporter. She was a peach.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Abby's first concert tour

"Music Share Day" at school on Tuesday went very well for Abby. Over the past couple of days, I've learned that not only did she play for her own class during music time; she also took the show on the road to her former first grade classroom and the principal's office.

Abby played the first Twinkle variation as planned. She then proceeded to play Happy Birthday, Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb for her own class, but stuck to the program for the tour.

I asked her how she liked performing for people, and her pleased-but-shy smile crept onto her face. I've heard through the grapevine that she got a lot of positive feedback from all who heard her.

I'm so proud of her; for being able to perform for her peers and teachers, and for doing a good job and feeling proud of herself for it. I wonder when the next music share day will be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Perfect music: correction

It's not "Stay" by Jackson Browne. It's "The Load-Out," which is usually played with "Stay." Stay is OK but is nothing compared to the poetry of the first part.

I've always loved this song. There's something about about picturing a lone singer and pianist, performing on a darkened stage, singing about how much he loves to sing while the crew packs up the rest of the equipment because the concert is over and he just can't bear to stop performing.

It very nearly breaks my heart every time I listen to it. I'd better be careful not to listen to it too much!

The letter of the law

Yesterday, Timmy and I were in the van. Upon seeing a sign similar to this one, he solemnly intoned from behind me, "No arrows allowed."

Puppy love

My beautiful daughter has a beau.

He hasn't declared himself; not in so many words. But every day at school, there he is, eyes bright, big smile, and with a joyful "Hi, Abby!" he gives her a good morning hug.

Abby smiles, greets him in return and hugs back. It's very sweet.

This morning, Abby brought her violin to school for "music share day" in music class. She plans to play the first Twinkle variation, as well as any other variation she might have time for. She's dressed in her concert black, with a big black bow in her hair (a relic from my college days, when such things were actually considered fashionable.)

Her little friend, T., was all excited to see her as usual. And then, he said, "Abby, let me carry this for you, so you don't have to," and gently took her violin case out of her hand.

She looked at me, questioning. Was it OK if she let someone else carry her violin for her?

I told her that it was a very nice thing for T. to offer to carry it, and that it was OK as long as everyone involved was careful.

She's completely oblivious to his affection, of course, or perhaps she does understand but doesn't let on. I think it's adorable and am very glad that she can always look forward to an enthusiastic greeting every morning.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November in New England

Saturday night, it was balmy. Tropical, even. Low 60s, humid, quite breezy. We felt a hurricane somewhere.

Sunday, it was sunny, windy and chilly. Water came over the seawall and sprayed my car.

Today it was 32 degrees when I got up.

That's more like it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ten minutes of fun

Brian, Abby and Timmy with their Oreo and candy-corn turkeys.
I'm not owning up to which one was mine.

Laffin' at duh kittehs

Once opon a time, I heard about the lolcats website. I checked it out, and it didn't do anything for me.

But today, I was reading an article on Salon, which explained the phenomenon a bit.

Now I'm laughing. Hope you will, too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Physician, heal thyself

Lately, I've been telling Brian when he gets "stuck" on a topic. The clinical word for this behavior is perseveration, and it's a common behavior among people with high-functioning autism.

Most of the time, when I need to remind Brian to talk about another topic, we're in the van, and he's thinking about the Cars movie and starts talking about losing tires, wanting to make a pit stop, wondering if I'm going to squeal the tires, etc. I usually let him ask a few questions and then say, "Hey buddy, don't get stuck" and change the subject.

He turned the tables on me today. There we were in the van, and he started talking about pit stops, and I told him he was getting stuck.

"You're getting stuck!" he shouted at me.

"Me?" I replied, in surprise.

"You're stuck on telling me I'm getting stuck!"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Second webzine article

Here is a link to my second article for Suite101.com, finally published today: Top Five Techniques to Strengthen Your Marriage.

Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben

I've been having trouble sleeping. This is most unusual. I've always needed more sleep than the average person; certainly way more than Earl. But lately, I find myself bathing in the green glow of the bedside clock until nearly midnight. Then the alarm goes off at 5:00 and I'm ready to roll.

This would be useful if I could somehow use the extra awake time constructively, but I'm not really motivated to do that.

Kathleen, my ever-wise and practical friend, suggested that maybe I should cut down on caffeine. Like a true junkie, I dismissed her concerns; I've been having two cups a day for years and it's what I need to operate at more or less serviceable levels. Besides the cup in the morning, when it's still dark and the house is quiet, I look forward to my mid-day break around 1:00. It's part of my schedule, I like it and I don't want to change it.

And then, at 5:03 this morning, I was thinking about yesterday:

one cup in the morning
another big cup Breugger's later in the morning (I'm becoming a regular, it seems)
diet Coke with lunch
and my customary afternoon cup, a little later than usual

Whew. I don't need to give it all up. Just the extra. I can do that.

I'll probably fall asleep before the kids, but I can do that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Youth, wasted on the young

I never went dancing.

My roommate used to come home and tell me tales of dancing on the speakers at McDuff's, knowing she and her sisters would never die young like the good ones in the song.

I never went "downtown."

In my tiny, frozen college town, the biggest -- maybe the only -- draw was the few bars (don't call them "clubs") on Friday or Saturday nights. Or any other night, come to think of it. But I didn't really drink; didn't (and still don't) like beer, and my budget didn't allow for mixed drinks at Maxfield's. Not that I was of age or prone to get a false document stating that I was.

What did I do in college? Studied, practiced; improved my French and learned some German. Learned a little art history, studied acting, did some performing. Edited term papers. Dated the same guy for nearly the whole four years.

And I feel cheated, like I somehow missed out on a whole lot of living, while I was young and unencumbered enough to do it.

What would I have done differently? I can't say I would have gone dancing. I love to dance, and like to think I'm reasonably adept, but cannot stand loud music. Loud anything, really.

I certainly wouldn't have gone downtown. I hadn't discovered wine yet, and every place would have had loud music, anyway. Plus I wouldn't have known what to say to anyone, even if I could have been heard.

I wouldn't have changed any of my studies. I would still have edited friends' writing. (This could have told me something, had I been ready to listen.) I would still have performed and practiced.

But if I could do it all over again, I wouldn't be afraid to be alone, instead of in a relationship that I knew, even at the time, could not be the answer. I would have liked to date other men, perhaps, but I like to think I would have been strong enough and secure enough and confident enough and happy enough to be on my own and be satisfied with that. Maybe even to thrive.

I know this does not matter; I was who I was, and would not change my life now, nor any of the happy encumbrances that are part of it.

But I still wonder what might have been.

Perfect music

I want you back, ABC -- Jackson 5
Baby I love you -- Aretha (actually, nearly anything by Aretha)
Yester-me, yester-you, yesterday -- Stevie Wonder
We are family -- Sister Sledge
A whole bunch of Ella Fitzgerald stuff

And, totally different:
Stone in Love -- Journey (I know, I'm an old fogey)
Love Shack -- B-52s, only because it's just so funny, and I really do have a Chrysler that seats about twenty
Solsbury Hill -- Peter Gabriel
Stay -- Jackson Browne
Cherry, cherry -- Neil Diamond (!)

I've moved my iTunes library from the PC to my laptop, and am enjoying it immensely. Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two exciting discoveries

Earl and I had a long-overdue date night last night. Since Tullio's, our favorite restaurant, closed, we had to find another Italian place. We tried Alfredo's in Quincy, but the wait was too long. We ended up at Alba, on the recommendation of a friend, and it was wonderful.

We started off with a bottle (a bottle!) of sauvignon blanc, my new favorite. We never buy bottles in restaurants, but they were offering them at cost, so we decided to splurge. I reached my limit after two glasses, as usual (well, maybe a touch more.)

Earl had the seafood fra diavolo, and I had a yummy lobster and spinach pasta dish. I am beginning to think the three most beautiful words in the English language are "sherry cream sauce." It was divinely delicious and we had a wonderful time. Our waitress was very attentive without hovering, and although it was pretty loud there, we were tucked into a corner, where it was much quieter.

It was a great time -- even better for the uninterrupted adult conversation, something Earl and I don't get to have very often. There's nothing like a night out. I heartily recommend it.

And then, another discovery: when we came out of Alba, there was a storefront we hadn't noticed on the way in. "The E String" is a string instrument sales and rental shop right in Quincy Center -- much closer than Johnson Strings over in Newton. The blinds were closed, but I peeked around them and saw violins, cellos and bows in a range of sizes.

Abby is all set with her 1/4 size violin for now, but when she needs a half-size, I definitely want to check out The E String. I wonder if they could re-hair my bow. Guess I'll have to call tomorrow and find out.

Food and music. Two of my great loves, close to home. Life is good.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Turkey time!

Well, almost. I did buy a 23-pounder yesterday, which is resting comfortably in my freezer. But today's turkey tidings took the form of yet another simple craft for the kids. Here are the proud crafters with their creations.

That gash on Timmy's forehead isn't real. Apparently the markers got wiggly during the coloring phase of the project.

Latest family column

My family column, Just a Minute, ran in today's Patriot Ledger and a few other GateHouse papers. Here's a link to the Carthage Press, a Missouri paper that picks up my columns and features pretty regularly.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Dear Readers,

Effective immediately, I will no longer publish anonymous comments on my blog. I stand by everything I write, and welcome comments from those who hold the same standard for themselves.

Anonymous comments will henceforth be rejected out of hand -- good, bad or indifferent.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Busy at Breugger's

I decided this morning that I was going to take my office on the road, specifically to Breugger's. I figured I'd have breakfast there and get some work done in a place where I couldn't hear the Halloween candy calling to me from the kitchen.

I've gotten a lot done this morning, although I do have a bit of eye strain. It's really bright in here, and my laptop screen only goes so bright, so I keep losing my cursor. I'll need to find a wi-fi-enabled coffee cave somewhere when I do this again.

Anyway -- I brought my to-do list and was able to cross off several items, including brainstorming interview questions for a couple of upcoming assignments, querying a magazine editor (well, really just following up on an introduction by a PR contact) and nudging another PR person who is arranging one of those interviews.

I may seem like I live and die by my to-do list, and I guess I do. I can be very organized but I have to have it in writing; if I rely on my memory to tell me what needs to be done, I'll often draw a blank. I'm very motivated by the prospect of crossing items off the list.

It's been a good morning. Off to pick Timmy up from school. That one wasn't on the list, but I'll do it anyway.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A glaring omission, rectified

How could I have forgotten to include my friend Erik in my remembrance of those who have died? If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be writing.

He encouraged me to start a blog. He gave everything I wrote a read and sometimes a pretty hard edit. I could always count on him for encouragement, and some laughs, besides.

He and I both were better friends in writing than we were in person, but that may be how it is with writers, at least some of us.

Erik has been gone since May. Rest in peace, dear friend. I'm remembering you in my thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November again

Oh, it's November again. I wrote last year of how I love this month, and it all holds true.

Today is All Souls' Day. So many souls to remember: Grandma Ruth, dearest Camille, Aunt Sandy, Beth Krenek. And others I've loved and lost: Uncle Howard and Aunt Charlene; Lou; Grandpa Fay; Grandma and Grandpa Moshier; Sherri; Grandma Abbott; Brian Campbell and Ken Cottrell.

I miss them, and others, but I'm not too sad anymore. I remember them, and pray for them, and feel connected to them. It helps me feel connected in general. I often struggle with faith, but something about the month of the Holy Souls helps me get plugged in again.

I'm not particularly excited about all the school vacation days this month, however. Election Day, Veteran's Day, school conferences, in addition to half of Thanksgiving week (well, that one's OK.) Invariably, some students won't show up, even though I've made it clear since September I'd be teaching on the first three days off. Then I've got my own kids to contend with, two of whom will be perseverating on why we have the day off.

I'll just keep focused on giving thanks and staying connected. November is the calm before the storm, after all.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Photos

Follow this link to see Halloween at the Fay household (it will bring you to my photo album on facebook. You should be able to see it even if you're not on facebook, yourself.)

Quincy Symphony article

I had a front-page Entertainment section article on the Quincy Symphony Orchestra in yesterday's Patriot Ledger.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

So proud

Abby is developing into a very good little violinist. She can play all of the Suzuki Twinkle variations, plus the A major scale and arpeggio, and a few other pieces.

She likes to practice, too. I told her the other morning that she could have some free time when she was done practicing, and she said, "Playing violin is my free time."

It makes me happy to see her enjoying it so much, and making such progress. It makes me even happier to see her so engaged. She is on when she's playing, taking direction and making corrections virtually instantaneously. I have never seen her so connected to an activity (that wasn't perseverative) or to another person -- me -- as when she's concentrating on making music.

She has "Music Share Day" in a couple of weeks, in her general music class at school. I hope she'll want to play for her peers, who know she studies violin.

I am resolved not to be a stage mother about this. If she doesn't want to play, that's OK. But I hope she will.


It was a technical problem! The problem wasn't me! It was the website!

Tech help got back to me yesterday, telling me that there was a problem with the website that had been fixed, and that I should be able to upload photos without a problem. Skeptical, I didn't want to try it until I felt able to handle another round of image problem hijinks.

This morning, fortified by coffee and with a calmer demeanor, I tried it. And it worked!

On to the next assignment. Hooray.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blowing off steam

Gaaaaaaaahhhhh! Bang bang bang.

That was my primal scream of frustration, followed by a little light head-banging, brought on by my continuing and storied inability to manipulate visual information in any form.

I can't draw.
Or paint.
Can't estimate sizes or distances.

And now, I cannot even download and subsequently upload a stock photo to go with my ezine article. Help can't help me. Tech support can't help me. I'm helpless.

The editor asked me to find an image. Imagine my surprise; I thought I had set the article to publish with an image. No dice.

He asked me to find an image yesterday, and I've found several. I've been trying off and on all day long to get one to publish with my article. I finally just sent him an email, telling him that I'm not ignoring his request, just that I'm having huge technical difficulties.

I did not tell him that I believe there's a vast conspiracy to keep me from ever achieving anything in the visual realm.

Words, good. Pictures, bad. Who or what can help me?

Monday, October 27, 2008

First webzine article

My very first article written exclusively for the web (not including this blog, of course!) was published today. It's an introduction to Suzuki piano, and it's essentially the information I communicate to prospective students and their families when they contact me about piano lessons. Read it here.

A shocking lack of discipline

Everyone is at school or work, the house is quiet, and I'm supposed to be writing an article that's due tomorrow. I'm just not motivated to do it.

This is quite possibly the only chance I'll have today to write in peace and quiet. I'm not interested.

Restlessness, thy name is facebook.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Peace in the morning

The house is dark, save for the one lamp shining onto the computer screen from over my shoulder. This is my time.

I've been making an effort to get up extra early for the past couple of weeks, and it has made such a difference in my outlook. Sure, a few more minutes of sleep would be nice, but it's more important to me to have some time alone in the morning, before the kids get up and it's mommy-on-demand all day long.

I check my email; I peek at facebook and see what the night owls were up to while I was asleep. I do a little editing, search the web for my posted articles, maybe jot down a column idea or two. Sometimes I just sit, sipping my coffee and thinking about the day ahead.

Soon the kids will come downstairs, and there will be hugs and breakfast and our busy weekend will begin. But until then, I'm enjoying my solitude, stocking up on the peace I will need during the busy day ahead.

Debt reduction seminar article, column

My religion feature about a church-sponsored debt reduction seminar ran in today's Ledger.

It's Just a Minute weekend, too. Watch for the next installment in two weeks.

Added in the afternoon: I just noticed that Just a Minute is a featured story on the GateHouse News Service website. Cool.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Crisis = danger + opportunity

GateHouse Media, the parent company of The Patriot Ledger, is going to be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. The stock is practically worthless, having declined 95% since its initial offering in 2006. The Ledger is cutting positions and pages, and this writer is getting nervous, having put most of her eggs in the GateHouse basket.

I've decided it's time to diversify. I'll write for the Ledger for as long as they'll have me, but I need to do more writing for other outlets, and soon. I've submitted a column to a particular magazine, not sure if I'd like them to remember me or not from the time they threw me a line earlier this year. (I did nothing to jog the editor's memory in my pitch.) I've also sent out a query to another magazine, and am considering writing for an e-zine, although I doubt that will bring in much money.

Writing is easy; finding opportunities is harder. They're out there, even in tough economic times. I'll find them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I've been thinking lately about how I don't miss performing as much as I thought I would.

I spent about 15 years of my life working toward one goal: to be a professional, classical singer. To that end, I earned two degrees in music, did endless auditions, learned to write a good resume and cover letter, spent a fortune on headshots and demo tapes (tapes!), spent another fortune on traveling for all those auditions, endured at least five thousand rejection letters, attended countless operas, and practiced during every free minute. Oh, and did get to do some performing, too, in operas, operettas, one concert appearance and a few self-produced recitals.

It was a hectic way of life, and not all that rewarding. The rejections far outnumbered the gigs, and even when I won an audition, and truly enjoyed myself during the rehearsals and performances, it was a stressful experience. I was always second-guessing my sound, my technique, my appearance; always having uncomfortable interactions with colleagues (hello, social relatedness issues); and always glad when it was over and I could go home.

So a few years ago, I stopped auditioning. Of course, that move roughly corresponded with the births of my children, but I did do some performing when Abby was small, and still had the same old issues. Even the one concert appearance a couple of years ago -- I was so grateful for the opportunity, but didn't really, really enjoy it the way I thought I would. It was a thrill to make music with some fantastic colleagues, but overall I just remember it being a stressful experience, loaded with thoughts about whether I was good enough and how I would really just rather be home.

It's been more than two years since that concert, and I've done zero performing since then. The exception is my church work, where I sing three masses at three different churches most weekends. But that's less of a performance and more of a ministry (although at a couple of the churches, the dear people usually applaud after mass, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but what can I do?) I've adopted the thought that the cantoring is enough performing for me right now, and it is.

So why don't I miss the actual performing more? Can it be that I was never meant to go down that road very far? Did I not have the big career I strove for because I wasn't talented enough, or because my heart just wasn't in it? Maybe a bit of both, and it saddens me to think I spent so many years chasing after something that I'd never catch, and which probably wouldn't have made me happy, even if I had.

I'm actually quite content, but I feel like somehow I shouldn't be. I tell myself I have other talents, and that I'm putting them to good use. I love to teach, and I'm good at it. And writing, which had been a means to support myself during the audition years (via corporate communications jobs) has now turned into the main gig somehow. Well, one of the three main gigs, with cantoring and teaching being the other two.

I feel like I've somehow betrayed my younger self. Did I give up, or just grow up?

I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, with all the force of unfulfilled dreams. No sign of it yet.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Babysitting problems solved!

Oh, the Internet is a wonderful thing. Thanks to the magic of instantaneous mass communication, I have found a babysitter who can do Wednesdays and Mondays, has her own car, can pick up Brian from school, is a music education voice major in college, has lots of experience with child care, lives locally even when school isn't in session, is organized enough that she brought her planner with her to our interview yesterday, and can start tomorrow!

Actually, I left the boys with her yesterday while I took Abby to her violin lesson. They're in love already.

Thanks again to the Internet and referrals from friends, I also have a few potential babysitters in the queue, with whom I'll follow up in the next few weeks.

Another item off the list. Whew.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Well, the Sox came so close, but just couldn't do it in the end. Ah, well. Two rings in five years isn't so bad.

Yesterday was most productive. I made a list and actually did everything on it. Well, I delegated the corn muffin-baking to Earl and the kids. But I did everything else, including finally ordering a chord method book for some of my students who really need a systematic approach to reading chord symbols. I've been procrastinating on that one for weeks.

I have an annoying little cold, but at least it's little. I was able to sing all three masses this weekend (plus a wedding on Friday) with no major coughing incidents. I've been in touch with lots of old friends from college this past week, and it got me thinking: I owe my ability to sing with all but the most grave illnesses to four years spent in the airless underground bunker known as the Crane School of Music.

I need to get cracking on the kids' Halloween costumes. We have ideas for all three, but not too many practical details. This is not my favorite task. As Abby would say, I'll give it five phooeys: phooey, phooey, phooey, phooey, phooey.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Boat ride

When we were in the Berkshires last weekend, our hosts' friend, Hal, took us out on his boat. Timmy, Brian and I, captain Timmy, and Auntie Kathy with Abby.

Brian's fish

A couple of weekends ago, the kids and I went for a walk to collect leaves, and then came back home and made pictures with them. Brian has been waiting patiently for me to extract the photo of the fish he made with his leaves. I couldn't find the cable to connect the camera to the computer, so I finally broke down and bought a new one today. (This means the old one will turn up soon.)

Here's the fish, a masterpiece on my pantry door.

An evening out

I went to see most of the concert by A Far Cry last night. I arrived late, due to a suddenly sick Timmy, whom I couldn't leave with my poor babysitter. Once Earl came home, I sped over to Quincy just in time to catch the end of the first half.

The orchestra plays really, really well, both technically and musically. I hope they pack the house at Jordan Hall tonight, and get a good review. I'd write one, myself, but the Ledger isn't interested in classical reviews, and besides, my review would be missing the whole first half of the concert.

Afterwards, Earl and I watched the slaughter of the Red Sox, and turned off the game in the 7th inning. And this morning I learned that the Sox came back with a huge rally in the 9th, winning 8-7. O me of little faith!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's so much easier now

When I was working on that article about A Far Cry, I was amazed at how easy it was to get the ear of a couple of local conductors for their takes on a conductorless orchestra. It really struck me how receptive they were to my inquiry, and how generous they were with their time and thoughts.

Contrast this to my auditioning-for-everything days, when it seemed like there were at least 14 layers of protective obfuscation around every music director in the world.

Yet one more confirmation that I'm supposed to be doing the writing thing more than the performing thing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Entertainment article

Here's a short article I wrote about A Far Cry, a conductorless chamber orchestra playing in Quincy on Thursday evening.

Pure love

Is there any better smell than ground beef browning with onions and garlic? How about chocolate chip cookies baking? My poor students are going to be overcome with olfactory input when they walk in the door. Spaghetti with meat sauce (a taste of my childhood) is for dinner, and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I'm in heaven.

For the curious, here's the chocolate chip cookie recipe. I have no butter in my house today, other than what's on the butter dish, so I looked for a recipe that uses oil instead. I had my doubts, and the cookie dough was sticky and not very yummy. But the cookies! Lovin' from the oven.

I've really got to find another way to nurture myself besides food.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Columbus Day weekend column

Here's the link to this weekend's Just a Minute. I submitted this column weeks ago, before my editor at the Ledger went on vacation. I've noticed several columns in the paper about surprise pregnancies since then, including Dianne McDonald's Everyday Feminist column at the Ledger, and also a few Dear Abby items. It must be due to the upcoming election, and the fact that Sarah Palin's daughter is pregnant out of marriage. Maybe that's why everyone's writing about it!

On another note, we had a wonderful, relaxing, perfect-weather weekend in the Berkshires with our friends Ralph and Kathy. They're Earl's godparents, and they are the personification of gracious hospitality. I'll write more, with photos, assuming I can ever find the little cable that will release my photos from my camera. That's a project for tomorrow morning.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Procrastination overcome!

I did about half of the article during commercials last night, and finished it up this morning. It's amazing what sleep and subsequent coffee do for my compositional skills.

Maybe it's really the added pressure of a same-day deadline that finally gets my writing self in gear when I leave it until the morning.

At any rate, it's done, and now I'm on vacation for a few days. Catch up with you next week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A few thoughts

I'm procrastinating on a writing assignment, and sometimes it helps me get started if I get other things out of my system first. So here goes:
  1. Three children at the dentist's office is just too much. Earl and both went this morning, but it was still a very anxious time for all three kids. Abby held herself together very well, actually, but Brian and Timmy were in tears the whole time. They didn't even have any cavities or anything; they were just nervous about the experience. On the other hand, making separate trips to the dental clinic at Children's Hospital for each kid might cause just as much anxiety for me.
  2. We're getting ready to head to the Berkshires for the weekend -- the whole family this time, not just Earl and I. Earl's wonderful godparents will be there, and they say they're really looking forward to it. I am, too, especially if the weather holds. Today's is perfect.
  3. Clothes that actually fit make me feel like a million bucks. Yes, I'm carrying 15 or 20 more pounds than I'd like, but at least I can feel somewhat snazzy in clothes that fit.
  4. I've become obsessed with LinkedIn, and have decided I really only need to check it once a day. Otherwise I'm spending way too much time looking at people's connections.
  5. I'm so thankful my laptop is fixed. I've really come to depend on it for my teaching and my writing, and a week without it was tough. My brother-in-law is a miracle worker, I'm sure of it.
  6. I really want to eat a brownie. There are just a few left out there in the kitchen, and I need to save them for the kids. Or make another pan.
  7. I will not make another pan of brownies. That's ridiculous.
  8. I think a Republican win in the presidential election is a long shot.

And now, I'd better get cracking on that assignment, or I'm going to have to miss Ugly Betty and/or Grey's Anatomy tonight. They are the only TV shows I watch and I look forward to them at the end of my teaching week. Here I go.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Help wanted

I've Craigslisted. I've asked around. And now I'm appealing to you, dear readers.

I'm in a childcare pinch. I need a mature, responsible babysitter, with his/her own transportation, to watch my kids on Wednesdays 2:30 - 8:00 p.m. while I teach music lessons in my home.

Responsibilities, besides the obvious of keeping all three kids safe, occupied, happy and relatively quiet while I teach:
  • Take Timmy with you to pick up Brian at his preschool at 3:00
  • Help me get everyone fed during the very quick dinner hour
  • Help Abby with her homework as needed


  • Dinner provided -- no chicken nuggets for grownups, I promise
  • Seeing the "Just a Minute" crew up close and personal
  • Paid time off at the holidays

You obviously need to be nearby -- let's say south of Boston -- and we'll have to talk about rates, too.

If you love kids and can help me consistently on Wednesdays, leave me a comment with the best way to reach you. Many, many thanks!

I'm linked!

I joined LinkedIn yesterday. I've resisted social networking websites in the past; what does a married mom like me need with Facebook or MySpace? But I've been thinking I'd like to get more writing work, specifically marketing or corporate communications work on a freelance basis. LinkedIn is a professional networking tool, so I figured, it couldn't hurt.

I found some friends, colleagues and former colleagues who are already on LinkedIn. I'm hoping that by getting back in touch, I'll be able to drum up some consulting work, based on my varied background in communications, health care, the arts, education, etc. Of course, with the economy the way it is, my timing is not great, but I'm giving it a go, anyway.

What got me thinking about all of this was the foam insulation piece I wrote. I realized that I can write about nearly anything, if I understand the audience, the business and what the client is trying to accomplish.

Joining LinkedIn is one of two concrete steps I am taking to get more writing work. The other is submitting magazine queries on a regular basis. I was initially thinking weekly, but the research involved (as well as the initial brainstorming) makes that timeline too aggressive. I think I'll aim for twice a month.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Oh, the humiliation

I like being a cantor. It keeps me singing every week, and I enjoy helping people worship and pray. Cantoring has the power to teach spiritual lessons, too, sometimes even to the cantor.

Those lessons often come from a new understanding of Scripture as I'm proclaiming it in the Psalm or a hymn. But sometimes, there's another kind of lesson that teaches me in a far more practical way.

Last night at the 5:00 mass, there was a substitute pianist. She and I have worked together before, and I enjoy the chance to sing with her. She had made some changes to the music selections earlier in the week via email, which I never printed, but figured we'd have the chance to go over them before mass, which we did.

Everything was going swimmingly until I took my place on the ambo for the Psalm, "The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel." Imagine my surprise when the introduction she played was for another psalm altogether.

Now, I recognized the tune for this other psalm. Panicked, I flipped through the pages of my hymnal. I thought I would just sing the refrain, bring the assembly in to repeat it as usual, and hopefully God would help me find the verses before it was time to sing them.

Alas, 'twas not to be. I sang the refrain and the assembly repeated it, full-throated and confident. And then all the air went out of my balloon as I stood there, helpless, blushing, nearly choking in my inability to find the verses.

In the end, I just repeated the refrain and walked down the ambo steps. I was humiliated, because even though the pianist had made the mistake -- she just somehow played the wrong thing, she later admitted -- it appeared as though I had, since I was the one who was unable to perform, so to speak.

In my fog of embarrassment, anger and confusion, I didn't even hear the second reading. As I continued to fume, I had a thought: yes, that was an awful situation, but Jesus suffered far more humiliation on the cross.

I finally was able to laugh about it last night, in a cringing sort of way. I wouldn't care to repeat the experience, but remembering that others have suffered far more at least put it into perspective.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Decluttering article

My article about decluttering ran in this weekend's Patriot Ledger. It was called "Outer order, inner peace" in the print version, but it's running in Gatehouse papers as It's time to declutter your space.

I noticed that it ran in Norwich, CT; Carthage, MO; and even popped up as an "around the web" feature at the Washington Post's website.

I also noticed that last week's Just a Minute was picked up by a few out-of-town papers, too. Now that my laptop is back in working order (thank you, Dave!) I can actually look around online in a reasonable amount of time again.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I know I'm not Jewish, but...

I'm really enjoying our new family routine of a nice dinner at home on Friday nights.

Friday is really the only night of the week when we're all guaranteed to be home, and I'm not either coming from church or rushing to get ready to teach.

Tonight's menu is roasted pork tenderloin, roasted butternut squash, cauliflower (for Abby, who loves it), salad and rolls. I'm also going to make applesauce to go with the pork. We have a little apple cake left, too, so that will be dessert later.

Our dinner on Fridays is always a little later than usual, since Abby and Brian have therapy until 6:30. It's nice, though; we eat and then it's not long before it's bedtime for the kids. It's a cozy little way to end the week.

I think I'll get a tablecloth out. If I weren't worried about fire, I'd get some candles, too. I think that would be tempting fate, though, with wiggly kids at the dinner table.

Time to get the applesauce started. Wishing you a cozy Friday evening, too. Go Sox!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Good news, bad news, more good news

The good news: my fabulous brother-in-law, Dave, was able to retrieve all my files off my laptop.

The bad news: he may have to totally rebuild the thing.

More good news to make the bad news easier to take: at least he's a professional.

And let us not forget to be thankful that I still have a computer in working order. Slow, but working.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Computer problems

My laptop is having trouble. Big trouble.

It's too long and painful to go into detail, but here are some things I have learned from this experience:
  1. Never, ever, allow Windows to run automatic updates when a deadline is looming.
  2. Never, ever, touch a computer when Windows is updating, or even thinking of updating.
  3. Backup everything.

I'm posting from old reliable, sweating it out to see whether my laptop will be able to pull through. We're not out of the woods yet.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fruitful weekend

We had a pretty good weekend. All the kids had their first swimming lesson of the fall. It was Brian and Timmy's first lesson ever, and Abby's first in a year and a half. Everyone did pretty well -- Brian got very cold toward the end and got upset -- but other than that they were fine. Abby spent a fair amount of time afterwards telling me how she hated the pool, she didn't want to come back for another lesson, and besides, she already knew how to swim. Then she proceeded to tell the babysitter Saturday evening how much she loved it and can't wait to go back.

Abby also had her first CCD (religious education) class of the year. I mentioned to her this morning that it's a big year for her, since she'll be preparing for her first communion. She got all panicked and asked if she were going to have her first communion today. No, no, pumpkin, not until after Easter, in the spring.

Earl was out at a town event all afternoon. The kids were reasonably OK; Brian helped me cook and then he and Timmy played trains for a while. We all got excited when we saw that Veggie Tales was going to be on TV at 12:30, and then we were disappointed when an infomercial was on instead. This, despite the TV book and the cable guide listing Veggie Tales.

Things looked up for Brian when NASCAR came on. He's so into car racing these days -- of course from Cars, the movie. Abby and I worked on a craft together -- a "wish pillow" kit she got for her birthday. She did a great job, with some help from me. She did most of the stitching and all of the stuffing. It turned out pretty well.

Tomorrow we're back into another week. Hopefully it will be as smooth as last week.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two items

I had a short religion story in the Patriot Ledger today, about St. Mary of the Hills School's 50th anniversary.

Just a Minute also ran this weekend. Watch your mouth, all you parents out there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday night contentment

Apple crisp is the food of the gods.
Seafood chowder is right up there, too.
Clean sheets make going to bed even better.
Chatty children make me happy.
Clean floors do likewise.
Ditto for organized closets.

And now, it's off to bed in my clean sheets, where both McCain and Obama will be waiting for me. Should make for an interesting evening, since my personal financial adviser will be there, too.

(Oh, come on, now. I'm married to the guy.)

Confidential to Swinn: I rejected your comment by mistake. Sorry.

Cruising along

This has been a rather ordinary week. The kids went to school, Earl went to work, I taught all my lessons. I more or less kept up with all my Flylady stuff, so the laundry is done and the house is in good order. I've got ideas for next week's dinner menus and will cook ahead this weekend, for the nights I can't do it when I'm teaching next week. All is quiet and calm.

Perhaps it's this sense of order in the universe that made me override my resolve to say "no" as much as possible. Abby brought home a somewhat desperate note from school yesterday. Apparently, no one had signed up to be a room parent. I thought of Abby's poor teachers, with no one to help them. The class list that wouldn't get done! The field trips with no chaperones! The bulletin boards in need of snazzy educational displays! I couldn't stand by and let my daughter's second grade experience suffer because no one else wanted to help.

So, against my better judgment, I volunteered. And in the 12 hours since I did, I've received several emails about planning the first event for the second grade classes.

This is manageable, for now. So maybe I'd better do all my volunteering right away, before things get too crazy. But I've already told people I won't be setting foot near a bulletin board. I wouldn't want to inflict my utter lack of visual-spatial intelligence on anyone, let alone a classroom full of unsuspecting second-graders.