Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good night, sweet prince

I learned yesterday that a childhood friend of mine has died. Erik Ray, computer genius, all-around genius, trike enthusiast and bird-lover, was struck by a car a couple of weeks ago while he was riding his recumbent tricycle. He later died from his injuries, leaving his wife, Jeannine, and several pet birds.

His funeral was last week, and I didn't know any of this until after the fact. He lived in Saugus, just north of Boston. Close enough for me to have paid my respects, had I known.

Erik and I weren't best friends as kids. I think much of that had to do with the boy-girl thing; I hung out with the girls, he with the boys. I always thought him a little odd, but there were a lot of us in the Delphi program that were that way. He was always kind to me, most notably when he volunteered to play the part of Prince Charming to my Snow White in our 5th-grade play. When the cast list was announced, no other boys wanted to be the prince, making for one very embarrassed and upset princess. He gallantly stepped forward and didn't seem to care what anyone thought. And I was eternally grateful, not only for his saving me from being a prince-less Snow White, but also for his careful pantomime of the kiss that broke the spell of the poison apple. My ten-year old reputation was safe with him.

We lost touch after 6th grade, but found each other around the time leading up to the Delphi reunion, two years ago this month. He didn't attend the reunion, but he and Jeannine did come for a visit last summer, when Kathleen and her family were here. It was great to see him again.

Over the past year or so, Erik and I had corresponded fairly regularly. He was very encouraging of my writing, and I trusted his instincts completely when he made comments and suggestions. He once told me that a lede I wrote was the best opening sentence he'd ever read.

I hadn't been in touch with him much lately. I had been thinking about sending him an email about some new writing developments, but I hadn't done it yet. And now I can't.

Thirty-nine is too young to die, to leave a widow behind. I hope wherever Erik is, he's riding a fast, flat course with no cars or potholes. And a bird or two on his shoulder.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A short list

I was tagged by Naomi to document three things I do right as a mother.

It's a lot easier to think of the things I do wrong, or almost do right. But here we go:
  1. I encourage a love of learning in all three kids, especially for reading and pre-reading, and music.
  2. I set appropriate limits and follow through.
  3. I tell them I love them all the time, with words and cuddles and tickles and laughter.

And I'll stop there, before I'm tempted to add a caveat.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

One more article

And here is my profile of mezzo-soprano Clarissa Ocampo, who is giving a concert in Scituate on Sunday. From today's Patriot Ledger.

Editorial on music cuts

Jon Prestage, the editor of the Milton Times, wrote this editorial about the cuts to the elementary music program in Milton, based on my article. This also is in this week's Milton Times.

Elementary music cuts article

Here is my article in this week's Milton Times about the cuts to the elementary music program in Milton over the past few years. I don't think it's possible to link to it directly with the new Times website -- the link will just take you to the home page, where my article is the second one down.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cautious optimism

I'm almost afraid to blog about this, but I think (oh how I hope) that the case of the computer that wouldn't shut down has been solved. The antivirus folks helped me install a new version (specifically for Dell computers, who knew?) and I was able to shut it down three times this afternoon without incident. Glory!

I'm going to attempt to shut down again, as soon as I publish this. And if it continues to be able to do so for a day or two, I'll be confident enough to move some applications and files from my old desktop to Adele. And I really should figure out how to get her to print, too.

In other news, Abby seemed pretty anxious about violin again after school today. I asked her if she was worried about getting her own violin, and she said yes. I asked if she thought looking at my violin would help, and she perked right up. So I got it out, and she identified all the parts that her teacher taught her the other day. And she seemed much less anxious for the rest of the night.

I wish I was better at figuring out software problems and Abby's anxiety issues in general. But for now, with things relatively calm on both fronts, it's shutdown time.

Hopefully Adele will give me no cause for anxiety -- just a big turnoff.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The glitch is back

Adele still isn't working properly. Supposedly the problem lies with the antivirus software, but now that I'm finished teaching for the night, and the kids are in bed, the company that produces this problematic antivirus software is closed. No support for me, beautiful or otherwise.

For now, the computer will shut down, no problem. But what happens when this antivirus glitch is "fixed?"

I'll tell you. If there's one more problem, it's good-bye Adele; hello Mac the Knife.

Oh Adele is pretty pink dear
And she thinks at the speed of light
But this problem makes me think, dear,
That an iMac would be out of sight.

Stay tuned...

Support can be beautiful

I've been holding back on sharing some awesome news because there was a little glitch. But the glitch is fixed and now I can share: I am the proud owner of my very own, brand new laptop computer!

I've been wishing for a laptop ever since I started interviewing people for articles last year. I've relied on my digital voice recorder up until now, which means I've recorded interviews and then had to transcribe them -- an extra step that wasn't justified by the payout for the final product. So now, I can just bring my lovely pink computer with me, set it up and type away!

And pink it is. There's no doubt this is a woman's computer. It's nail-polish glittery metallic flamingo pink. I'm calling it -- her -- Adele. After the saucy little maid in Die Fledermaus. Her laughing song was the first aria I learned in college, which set me on a lyric-coloratura path for many years. This new Adele is making her debut fairly early in my writing career, and I hope I'll be laughing with her royal pinkness for many years to come.

Of course, nothing is perfect in this world, and soon after I unpacked Adele last week, I could tell something was amiss. The little workaholic wouldn't shut down. I contacted Dell on Friday, again last night and finally was on the phone and in an online chat session with a supervisor for over an hour today. I'm reasonably confident that the problem is solved. After a factory restore utility and manual windows and antivirus updates (done by that very patient supervisor off in Dell-land) Adele seems to be fine. She shuts down without protest or foot-dragging.

So here's to Dell technical support; it took them a while, but they figured it out. Now on with the show!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Music to my ears

Abby had her first violin lesson today. I wrote several weeks ago about the violin lesson that wasn't, when we scheduled it and she had such a meltdown on the day of the lesson that I cancelled it. She was too anxious about it and with all the other stressors in her life, I decided I wasn't going to put her through it at that time.

Since then, she's been listening to the Suzuki violin CD (which arrived on the day of the cancelled lesson.) She has been talking more about playing violin over the past two weeks, and even acting out playing the violin, with a violin puzzle-piece from one of Brian's wooden picture-puzzles.

Finally, I agreed yesterday to contact the teacher again. And, bless her heart, the teacher agreed to see Abby today.

When I told Abby this morning, she was initially very happy and excited. She then proceeded to be unable to get dressed because she couldn't decide what to wear, despite two choices, as is our routine every morning. There were many tears for the 45 minutes before we left for school. Finally, in the car on the way, I told her that if we were going to commit to going today, we were not going to call the teacher and cancel at the last minute again. She agreed.

She had a good day in school (making it all the way up the good behavior ladder!) and was fine after school until we started talking about the lesson (she brought it up.) There were more tears and much, much anxiety. It broke my heart to see her like this.

I reminded her that we agreed we were not going to call the teacher to cancel. Through tears and wailing, Abby told me she WANTED to cancel. Somehow I got her to listen long enough to say that we could cancel, but she was going to get in the car with me and go tell the teacher in person.

And then, the actual problem came out: "I don't know what her apartment looks like!"

"Well, Abby," I said, "neither do I. But I bet we can think about some things it will have." This strategy was a tip from a workshop on Executive Function disorders, which Earl attended several weeks ago.

In very short order, Abby was able to decide the apartment probably had a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom ("even though it's gross," she said.) And it was amazing how that knowledge calmed her down.

She wasn't worried about the teacher, or the actual lesson. It was all about a new environment, as it so often is for her.

We found the teacher's house, and Abby was exceedingly polite and calm. She did a great job with some pretty complicated stuff, from identifying the parts of the violin to learning the beginner's bow grip. We ran into a bit of a snag when the teacher put a peppermint life saver on the tip of the bow as Abby was holding it vertically, to test her grip and ability to balance the bow. Actually, that part was fine -- it was just when she offered Abby the life saver afterwards, and Abby wanted to be polite, so she took it, even though she hates peppermint. She ended up spitting it out and rinsing her mouth out with water, and she was fine.

Abby was pleased with herself with the lesson, overall. I was beyond pleased -- so proud of her I could have burst. I want to take her to get a rental violin within the next couple of days so she can practice her bow grip and holding the violin in playing position before we go back for her next lesson in a week.

I was very, very pleased with the teacher, too. She is so calm and quiet -- just the thing for Abby. She was full of encouragement and fun, and allowed Abby to find success at her own pace. I'm looking forward to Abby's next lesson, too.

Several more beautiful words

Abby is on a roll. Last night at dinner, Earl asked her if she needed help cutting something on her plate. Her reply: "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I don't really need you to help me."

I think something has clicked. She's never been concerned about hurting anyone's feelings before. Earl and I exchanged a little glance and he thanked her for telling him so nicely.

This progress is especially gratifying, because Abby's behavior has been extra intense for the past few weeks. Maybe it was the storm before the calm.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The two most beautiful words

Everyone knows the three most beautiful words in the English language. "I love you" is what we all need to hear, and hear it often. But I've discovered another phrase that speaks to me even more these days.

"I'm sorry."

Abby has apologized for yelling, twice in as many days. I don't recall her ever apologizing to anything calmly, sincerely, and without prompting before yesterday.

But there it was: "I'm sorry I yelled."

It wasn't the hurried, panicked, oh-no-I've-really-made-her-mad-now, gasping apology she usually does. It was a few minutes after the incident, and she just looked at me calmly and apologized for behavior she knows is wrong, but can't always control.

So of course, I had to apologize, too, because I yelled back. Both times.

I spend more time being frustrated with Abby's behavior than I do enjoying her. And there's plenty to be frustrated about. But steps like this give me hope.

She had to have thought about the behavior.

She had to have realized it was wrong.

She had to have recognized that it hurt my feelings.

She had to have decided to try to fix the hurt.

Abby is beginning to develop empathy. I couldn't be prouder of her if I tried.

Monday, May 5, 2008

In the eye of the beholder

I was in Stop & Shop with Timmy earlier today, picking up some groceries for the week. The woman ahead of me in the checkout line was eyeing my produce on the belt. Then she gestured toward my cauliflower, turned to me and said in a soft voice tinged with an eastern European accent, "It's beautiful."

Well, cauliflower is a flower. And flowers are beautiful.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Phantom music lessons article

Well, my article about private music lessons is on the front page of the Family section of this weekend's Ledger, but I can't find it online. I'll post the link when it comes up!

Friday, May 2, 2008


My brother Keith's surprise 30th birthday party last weekend went off without a hitch. That was the reason my sister Chris and I were in Rochester, and it was so much fun. Among other festivities, I tried karaoke for the first time, after serious prodding by Chris. My first selection was "I Will Survive," part of the soundtrack from my childhood. I'd like to think I looked like an American Idol, but I looked like a suburban mom, which I guess is OK because that's what I am.

Chris is a karaoke force to be reckoned with. She owned the room. Besides being a terrific singer, she has such stage presence and charisma. Her "Son of a Preacher Man" was better than the original.

But the highlight of the evening for us was Chris, Keith and I performing the B-52's "Love Shack." So funny. Chris can sing about anything, but I'm all-classical, all-the-time, and the sound might have been a little top-heavy because of it. But Keith nailed his part, and we just about killed ourselves laughing. That's Keith, me (next to the fallout shelter sign) and Chris.
Somehow I don't think this was what Mom had in mind with all those years of music lessons for the three of us.