It Took a Village to Give Me My Day of Rock Stardom

(Sorry for the lack of postings for a while; life intervened. Here’s just one of the ways in which it did…)

I have come to realize that in order for me to grow as a person, I need to do things that aren’t necessarily comfortable. I find that while this process may be good for me, it’s really hard for me to do. It’s so easy to not challenge myself and be complacent. But there was this one nagging idea I’d had that wouldn’t go away….

About 2 years ago, I had a wild (delusional?) idea that to celebrate my 50th birthday, I wanted to have one moment in the spotlight – where I could be a rock star. Clearly this idea occurred during one of my less-than-lucid moments; how do you transform from a meek, middle-aged housewife to a rock star? (I may be about Sheryl Crow’s age, but I sure don’t look anything like her…)

The other fundamental problems with this plan are: 1) this is completely out of character for me; I’m not a performer. 2) I’m definitely not a singer, and 3) I haven’t regularly played the piano in 35 years.

I mentioned all of this to my friend, Chantelle, who is a gifted music teacher/choral director/all-around awesome person, and she didn’t even bat an eye. She just replied, “Count me in!” I was encouraged, but then I proceeded to do virtually nothing about this for the next year and a half.

By Spring, 2012, I started to wonder if this was really an endeavor I could pull off. I had a tentative set list of songs that I liked (some of which had special meaning for me), and asked Chantelle if I was being completely nuts in even thinking about this. She thought I wasn’t nuts (!!) and then proceeded to line up backup singers, accompanying musicians and even tentative rehearsal dates within a matter of about 20 minutes. I was blown away.

Then I realized I needed a venue. I had waited too long to book our local synagogue and discovered that I had waited too long to book a LOT of places. Panic began to set in.

The more I thought about what I needed to do, and all the logistics involved, the more I thought about backing out. It all seemed way beyond what I could do; I didn’t have a venue, and it just seemed to cause undue stress. But that’s when my friend, Lucille, stepped in.

Lucille and I have been friends since we built a sugar cube castle together in 3rd grade. We know each other far too well, and when she realized I was completely thrashing, she suggested that we have the party at her house. Her comments were, “Just have it here. Parties are easy. The only part you have to figure out (besides the music) is how to get people up and down the driveway.”

You see, the driveway isn’t trivial. It’s 1/3 mile long, and the house sits atop a fairly sizeable hill. But there was plenty of room on the property, so we just had to figure out logistics of getting guests up and down the hill. Enter younger daughter, who called up some of her friends and they graciously agreed to form a shuttle service (as well as help out with food).

Various friends also stepped up to help out with providing chairs/tables, schlepping all sorts of items, baking my birthday cake, etc. My friend Kent agreed to photograph the event (and even provide backup videography). My family continued to be amazingly supportive. (I am still in awe of elder daughter’s organizational lists.) Both of my girls agreed to sing with me – and younger daughter even wrote a song. Even my sister-in-law, Ilene (a professional singer) agreed to sing while I attempted to play the piano.

But I still felt grossly inadequate to the task. Because it really was all about the music, and my skill set was at best incredibly rusty. It doesn’t help that when it comes to music, I am a perfectionist. I may not have that great a voice, but my ear is good enough so that I can tell exactly when I go off key. The 35-year-hiatus in playing the piano regularly made me feel like I was using someone else’s hands on the keyboard. And there was always the underlying worry of embarrassing myself in front of all of my friends. What was I thinking, trying to be a performer when I’d never really done so before?

I had voiced some of my concerns to my friend, Grant, who also happens to be a professional musician. He reminded me that I needed to acknowledge that the journey is just as much a part of the reward as the concert itself, and to just appreciate each moment as it occurs. If any mistakes occurred, it would just be part of the process and I needed to just go with it and move on. These words of wisdom sounded great, but I wasn’t sure if I could actually implement them.

And so the day came. Rehearsals had gone well (and had been a LOT of fun), but I had barely rehearsed with Ilene and realized that playing the piano with an audience was much different than practicing on my own. Mother Nature also decided to throw a monkey wrench into the mix by having the one heat wave of the year occur then. (The temperature had been in the low ’80s, and that weekend hit the upper 90’s. Heatstroke, anyone?)

It really did end up being all about the music. Despite the extreme heat (and my melting in the sun), the attack of nerves that made my hands shake uncontrollably during the piano pieces I played, and even missing the right notes vocally, it was glorious. And what an amazing thing it was, to look out at the audience and know that every single person there wanted me to succeed. I am still incredulous at the love and support I experienced that day, let alone the fact that we’d all pulled this off.

Who knew that a 50-year-old middle-aged housewife could be a rock star for a day? Apparently my friends and family did, even when I didn’t.

Maybe next I’ll try archery.

Too Old to Dream vs. Reinventing Yourself

I went to see Kenny Loggins at the Mountain Winery a few nights ago. His opening act, of which he was a part, is called Blue Sky Riders. Really good music, beautiful harmonies, but I was fascinated by the lyrics of one song, and Kenny’s description of how the band came to be.

Apparently a couple of years ago, Kenny hooked up with two Nashville-based songwriters (Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman) and their musical styles meshed so well that they talked about forming a trio. When Kenny told one of his buddies about this, that person replied, “you’re too old to form a new band.” This concept put Kenny into a tailspin, and when he told Gary and Georgia, not only did they disagree, they put together a song called “Dream.” Needless to say they’re now touring, and the song is a prominent part of their set.

The song resonated with me because the lyrics say, “Leave me in the rain, send me out to sea, lock me up in chains, throw away the key, the day I ever get too old to dream.” Those of us in midlife crisis can find that idea really appealing. But a passing comment Kenny made as he introduced the song strikes a dissonant chord with me. He stated something to the effect that you’re never too old to reinvent yourself. This bothered me on a couple of levels.

First of all, I can’t equate the notion of “reinventing yourself” with a man who has been in the music business for over 40 years and continues to record. He’s not becoming someone else, he’s not changing careers, he’s building on his existing skill set, popularity, and experience to set out on a new venture. (I happen to like this venture, but it doesn’t seem like he’s reinventing himself to me.)

Second, the notion of “reinventing yourself” to me typically means coming with a high price. I have seen plenty of people forced into “reinventing” themselves when their jobs disappear and they have to completely switch gears and find something entirely different to do. I see people who go from being a couple to being single (for a litany of reasons) who have to find out how to live differently both emotionally and financially. I see people with serious illnesses grappling with how Cancer, or disability, or other awful stuff try to figure out what inner strength they can draw upon to get them through their ordeals with grace and bravery. I see empty nesters trying to figure out what to do now, since everything they had spent so many years doing is suddenly gone. While reinventing yourself can mean changing your life for the better, it still seems largely like it’s born out of pain and struggle.

I suppose you could say that dreaming with a goal can equal reinventing yourself, but that seems like a gross oversimplification.

Those of us who have changed careers multiple times would argue that in some cases, you CAN be too old to reinvent yourself. I’ve done it five times. And it’s hard to measure the success of reinvention. Do you base it on a higher salary? (I’d epically fail there.) Do you base it on overall happiness level? Do you base it on how your life is enriched? What if you reinvent yourself and find that it doesn’t improve your life as you’d hoped? What is the cost in emotional energy for multiple reinventions/life changes? In this regard, you CAN be too old.

There are clearly exceptions to this concept; I know Grandma Moses started painting at age 80 and look where it got her. That’s great. But how many of us have that sort of success? How should we quantify success?

Maybe a better way to think about all this is not in “reinventing” yourself, but perhaps to “rediscover” yourself. I’m equating this to playing the piano regularly again after a 35 year hiatus. I’m not the same person I was when I took lessons all those years ago. I feel like I’m playing with someone else’s hands, which are far less agile than I ever imagined they could be. But there’s an amazing rush when I can get through a song without stumbling through it.

Maybe it’s really all about the journey. This is a tough concept for those of us who are goal oriented. But trying to recreate that feeling as you go through life is really the goal. And that’s an amazingly good dream.

 

The Healing Properties of an English Bulldog Puppy…and Other Things…

It never ceases to fascinate me what sorts of things make people feel better. For my daughter, who has wanted a dog for years, it’s my neighbor’s English Bulldog puppy. He’s one of those dogs who is sweet, friendly, lovable, and adorable with all those wrinkles. When a really bad day occurred earlier in the year, Puppy was just what my daughter needed to feel better. (It didn’t hurt that Puppy fell asleep in her lap. That bonded her to him for life.) When one of her friends had a really bad day, my daughter took her friend over to see Puppy. Something about having a cute furry little thing being overwhelmingly happy to see you makes any day better. Puppy even makes me happy when I pull into my driveway, and he comes bounding over to say hello. And now that he’s gotten a lot bigger, his adolescent awkwardness (and gigantic paws!) makes him even more endearing.

I wish I had a picture of Puppy. I managed to find a similar picture from the web so you can get the idea of why he’s near and dear to our hearts.  (Image found at http://www.prlog.org/10348572-molly.jpg)

I’m just as bad if not worse when it comes to cute babies. Sometimes holding an adorable (non-screaming/puking/stinky) baby who gazes at you with unconditional love just makes awful things seem less so. When I visited my cousin back east and helped take care of her new baby, it helped me in endless ways. But probably the most significant way that being around Miriam helped me was in dealing with the impending loss of two friends: one to Cancer, one to reasons I may never know. When a beautiful little baby cuddles in your arms, the bad things in the world seem to diminish a little. I’m sure some Psychologist somewhere could explain why this is so, but all I know is that I really need to see that little girl a lot more often…

 And then there’s food. It may not be politically correct to eat when you’re hurting and just want to feel better, but if it weren’t at least marginally effective there wouldn’t be so many people in this world who do this. For some folks, chocolate has magical mood-enhancing properties. I have friends who make mashed potatoes when they’re having a bad day. I’ve inherited the Damsky gene for noodle-mania (bad day? How about some spaghetti?). But the one food that always works to help me deal with stress or bad things happening is…anything with soy sauce. Chocolate may be great, but soy sauce simply works better for me. It’s always been this way too; in fact early in my marriage, my husband knew that if I’d had a bad day, he would stop off and get takeout Chinese food for dinner on his way home. (I think I’ll keep him.) Obviously it doesn’t make the problems go away, but it relaxes me enough to be able to cope.  If whatever endorphin-enhancing properties of soy sauce could be put into pill form, I would bet the need for Prozac would go way down in our population.

What do you use to feel better when you’re having a bad time? I’d love to hear about them…(and in the immortal words of Huey Lewis, “I want a new drug…”).

 

Top 10 “Plan B” Dinners

I had this grand plan when I got home from my latest east coast trip that I was going to cook a nice dinner for my family the following day. I went to the store, bought all sorts of groceries, even did some of the prep. Then I took a nap since I was jet-lagged. And woke up at 7 PM.

So much for the nice dinner. Hence the need for a Plan B.

This sort of thing happens a lot around here. Something always comes up – I might get home really tired and not feel like doing much. I might be so busy during the day even when I’m at home that I don’t have much time to prepare dinner. Going out to eat or getting takeout food is always an option, but after a while that just gets expensive. (And having to go out again when all I want to do is curl up on the couch isn’t necessarily a viable option.) That’s why we have a list of Plan B dinners.

I keep certain foods around the house just for this purpose, so that I can throw something together at the last minute and not have to resort to a bowl of cereal for dinner. (I personally find a bowl of cereal for dinner incredibly unsatisfying.) So when you’re having One of Those Days, see if something from this list might be of help!

1. Hot dogs and fries.

I always keep a couple of packages of hot dogs (my favorite: Hebrew National, yes I’m a snob) in the freezer. My husband is very particular about his fries, so I  always have a package of Extra Crispy Crinkle Cut Fries in the freezer. (I prefer Tater Tots, but hey, use whatever floats your boat.) We don’t bother keeping hot dog buns around; they just end up getting freezer burn. I roll the hot dogs up in a regular piece of bread – something that’s always here in the house. If I’m feeling gourmet, I’ll cook an Aidell’s sausage and have it with grainy mustard. (I have a monopoly on any and all mustards in my house; my family hates it. Their loss.)

2. Chicken Patty Parmiagiana with Spaghetti

This is actually one of my younger daughter’s favorite meals. This version is NOT for purists. Making real chicken parmiagiana takes time and care. This version is when you don’t have time and really don’t care. But it’s remarkably edible anyway. Make spaghetti. Use your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce. Heat up some frozen chicken patties. Top those with some sauce and some mozarella cheese during the last couple of minutes of cooking. Add a little steamed broccoli (we’ve always got broccoli around) and you have a complete meal that’s remarkably satisfying despite the lack of effort you’ve put into it.

3. Tuna Melt

I particularly like this when fresh tomatoes from my garden or the farmer’s market are available. Take your favorite canned tuna, mix in some mayonnaise and your favorite seasonings. Spread the tuna mixture on a piece of bread, top with sliced tomatoes and American cheese. Place the bread in the toaster oven and toast until the cheese melts. Ridiculously easy.

4. Pizza Bagels

I’ve always got bagels in the freezer. Just defrost however many you need in the microwave, split them apart, top with pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce, and top with mozarella cheese. Heat in the toaster oven until the cheese melts.

5. Caprese Salad

This is the perfect meal when the weather is so hot you don’t want to turn on the oven. Alternate layers of sliced tomatoes and mozarella, tear some fresh basil and scatter that on top, and drizzle with a little olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Just don’t tell anyone you’re really being lazy.

6. Fried Rice

Actually I usually end up taking this for lunch to work as well. I make this anytime I have leftover rice, usually from Chinese takeout or if we’ve done a stir fry for another meal. I usually add some chicken apple sausage (broiled), some scrambled eggs, and some frozen mixed vegetables. Mix everything together in a large frying pan with a little oil, add soy sauce to taste, and stir fry the whole thing together. Bombproof. It’s also a great way to use up leftover vegetables.

7. Mac and Cheese and Tuna

I learned this one from my husband. You take your favorite boxed macaroni and cheese (we use the fluorescent orange-colored stuff). Cook as directed, but instead of adding milk, add enough mayonnaise to make it creamy. Then add a can of tuna, and something to add some crunch (e.g. chopped apple, celery, or onion). It’s another easy meal for hot days when you don’t feel like cooking.

8. Quesadillas

Who doesn’t love quesadillas? You can customize them with whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. We’ve always got shredded cheese around, and I like to add vegetables, or leftover sliced chicken, or even cooked shrimp. The possibilities are endless. Put a tortilla in a skillet that you’ve sprayed with non-stick spray, top with your favorite toppings, and add a second tortilla on top. Smoosh together with a spatula. If you’re gifted or brave, flip the whole thing over to cook on both sides. (Makes for good entertainment value too.)

9. Baked Potatoes

When my elder daughter was on her high school dance team, one of the best aspects of going to the football games was not only getting to see her dance, but having the amazing baked potatoes that were sold by the music boosters. They must have sprinkled magic on those potatoes. Mine are never that good, but adding toppings to a baked potato can form a really satisfying dinner. Try butter, sour cream, bacon bits, chili, cheese, broccoli….be creative!

10. My Version of Scott’s Friday Night Dinner

My friend, Scott, has a family tradition of putting together whatever’s on hand or easily attainable and somehow turning it into a gourmet meal. My version varies depending on what I have around, but tends to consist of: dry salami or  broiled Aidells sausage, cheddar or Havarti cheese, a baguette or crackers, some fruit (even canned pears will do in a pinch), and some raw or pickled vegetables. Add a nice glass of wine or a beer and you have a lovely dinner. No real cooking required.

Think about a Plan B dinner before bailing and going out to eat. You’ll save money, and you might like it just as well. And you can have it in your pajamas.

 

 

Make the Most of Now

This morning began a nightmare of a day. I found out that my dear friend, Erica (a.k.a. Jane from my ranting-to-the-insurance-company blog posting) passed away yesterday.

(While it may not technically be appropriate to light a Yahrzeit candle for a friend who has just passed, I needed to light one in honor of my father anyway, and having it represent both of them just felt right.)

Erica and I had been friends since college; her dorm room was right across from mine. I waited to move to California until AFTER her wedding. She was IN my wedding party. We’d sporadically kept in touch after we’d both moved away from Maryland, and when I found out she was especially ill, I made a point to stop to see her last month during the Great College Tour trip. Little did I realize that visit would be the last time I’d get to see her.

Erica had battled Pancreatic Cancer (the same kind Steve Jobs had) for years. A couple of weeks ago, she finally got the liver transplant she so desperately needed. And she actually felt better than she had in a long time! She even got to go home, although it was a brief stay since complications from the surgery developed.

We had a lot in common. We both were science fiction geeks. She became a science librarian; I used to work as a programmer in a library. She was a Botany major; I should have been a Horticulture major. We both loved oddball weirdnesses in language and taxonomy. And Elton John’s music. And flowers.

Erica had written to me a while back asking if I could send her pictures of my rose garden so she could look at something pretty since she couldn’t get outside anymore. I sent a few. I wish I’d sent more.

If there is anything I could impart to my loved ones, it’s to make the most of The Present, and to not solely think about The Future. We don’t have a clue of what the future holds, and it’s vital to cherish every moment we have with our loved ones while we have them. Make the time to see or at least talk to those you care about. Make amends with those with whom you might be estranged. Going to their funerals is too late.

RIP my friend. I’ll miss you terribly.