Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Magical moment 299, "Welcome, Gabby"

Eddie and I are the proud Aunt and Uncle of a new baby niece! This is what our 4 year old nephew said of his new baby sis...

Admiration and wonder filled the air.
All gathered round the new baby with care.

Brand new were her feet, fingers, and toes.
Delicate and small were her eyes, mouth, and nose.

“She looks like an angel,” cried mom with delight.
“A beautiful doll, so perfect and right.”

“She looks like her daddy,” another one said.
“The spitting image, from her feet to her head.”

Big brother looked at the bundle of pink,
And somebody asked him, “What do you think?”

He crinkled his nose and thought for a bit.
Being an honest young boy, he had to admit,

He knew she would change once she got big,
But right now he said, “She’s pink, like a pig!”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Magical Moment 298, "Hiking with Style"

Sarah (left) and I

We spent Thanksgiving with family in the mountains of North Carolina, just a stone’s throw away from the Great Smoky Mountains. In this small town, rare is the occasion (other than church) for dressing up. This comes much to the dismay of my 20 year old cousin-in-law, Sarah, who like me has an interest for trying the latest fashions and feels more at home in a nice pare of heeled, leather boots than in old, worn tennis shoes. So whenever we’re together, we make an effort to dress up and find something in town to do.

We got dolled up, did our hair, put on our nice jeans, new boots, and best coat with the intention of going shopping in the nearest “big” town. On the way, Sarah’s mother suggested a slight change of plans. “I’ve always wanted to visit Crowder’s Mountain, which is only a few miles further.” Shrugging our shoulders, we agreed to the idea and soon found ourselves at Crowder’s Mountain State Park, a scenic landscape with a wildlife exhibit and an endless selection of hiking trails. And with nothing else to do but hike, we chose a moderate trail to follow.

There we were, tramping through the wet, thick leaves in heels. Sarah adorned her trendy jewelry and I sported my glamorous sunglasses, bought from none other than Tiffany and Co. We both wore our tailored coats, hardly worn and fit for the streets of New York City. On the path, we passed serious hikers, equipped with heavy-duty boots, backpacks, and walking sticks. What a sight we must have been.

Finally we made it to our destination, a beautiful lake framed with a mountain backdrop. We never made it shopping that day, or anything else. We showed off only for the squirrels, birds, and other critters we passed along that hiking trail. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Magical Moment 297, "A Beautiful Picture"

I've written this blog 297 days consecutively. It has become a part of my daily routine and a source of thoughtfulness, reflection, and pride when I craft a thought into words and relay it in a way that is meaningful to myself and others. I feel uplifted and fulfilled when it hits me suddenly and spontaneously, a joyful moment in my day when I think, "That's going to be my blog today."

The holidays are exciting and happy as well as stressful. Eddie and I drove 10 1/2 hours to our nearest family in the mountains of North Carolina for Thanksgiving. I knew we would be busy with the trip and festivities so I pre-planned some of my blogs. However, on our trip back home (that turned into 12 hours with holiday traffic), I grew restless in the car as the sun dipped below the hills of the country side. I needed to post my blog by midnight, and I hadn't pre-planned this one.

In the beautiful, vast landscape of Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania (our route), one of the most beautiful pictures of scenery is that of grazing cattle on a steep, green hill surrounded by trees and painted with the endless colors of a setting sun. It reminds me of the old hymn, "He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills." And that's when I dubbed that my "magical moment of the day." I only needed to get home in time to post it. And of course, I needed a picture.

As I drove, I frantically threw the camera at Eddie who was sound asleep in the passenger seat and demanded, "Get a shot of those cows for my blog!" Although dazed, he sensed my urgency and did his best to capture the fleeting shot. It was a struggle from a moving car going 65 miles per hour. Okay, 70. Okay Okay! 80.

But we passed hill after hill, one just as beautiful as the last and Eddie diligently tended to his assigned task with his whole heart. He rolled down the window so the photo would be clear, suffering through the  bitter cold and powerful wind in his face. With a less than superior camera, exhausted from the trip, and dealing with ridiculous conditions, he made it his priority to satisfy my urgent request without question or complaint.

Again I'm reminded how blessed I am to have such a husband. And as he stuck his head out the window of a moving vehicle on I-81 among 18-wheelers and crazy drivers, shivering cold, and zooming in on a cow a half mile away, I thought, "That's my blog for today."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Magical Moment 296, "Hound Dog"

This video was taken at Rufus King Park in Queens, NY. I was shooting for "Hound Dog," boogie-woogie style. We were so tired from piano hunting at this point. I think this was number 54ish, and I was reaching into the dark corners of my mind to play another song by memory. What a great experience this was though - 60 pianos, throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC, in about 6 days. Whew! Enjoy.

To see photos from the Play Me, I'm Yours project, click here.
To see more videos, click here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Magical Moment 295, "My Picky Eater"

Don't let the title of this blog fool you, it's not about a toddler or small child. My husband is one of the most low-key people that I know in all but one aspect, food. I was astonished after we were married when I realized how picky of an eater he truly was. And since he finds the title "picky eater" offensive and inaccurate (eye roll), we now lovingly say he has a "sensitive pallet."

I wonder just how many lugies I've eaten at restaurants after he's given specific instructions about the food to the waiter, or sent the food back when it didn't meet the standard. He despises leftovers and if he has to eat them, they have to be heated in the oven, not the microwave. He has a Monk-like compulsion about his food touching each other, and it's not unusual to see him carry 3 or more plates of his separated dinner so that the tastes aren't intermingled. He likes 2 ice cubes in his milk. Two percent.

Needless to say, it's quite different from the way I was raised when we lived for a week off an enormous pot of chili, reheated for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But after 3 1/2 years of marriage, I've got his strange habits learned pretty well. When in doubt if he'll eat something, either cover it in cheese, douse it with salt, or deep fry it. That usually does the trick.

When we first started dating, all we could do for a "date" was make dinner for each other and eat in. We couldn't go out in public because of our forbidden love (click here for a loooong story). So whoever got done with work first would go to my apartment and cook supper for both of us. One of my first dinners I made was BLT sandwiches (bacon, lettuce, and tomato). I was quite proud of this as I rarely cooked and my knowledge of recipes was extremely limited. I served the sandwich on toasted wheat bread with mayonnaise, bacon, lettuce and tomato. 

He ate every bite. Being the kind, gentle, but finicky soul that he is, he approached me later and explained that he didn't want to hurt my feelings, but also knowing we would be together for a very long time and I should know something, "I hate wheat bread, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato."

Another funny "Eddie" story:
My Bum

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Magical Moment 294, "Delicious Target"

Hello, little turkey. Thank you for giving your life in honor of our celebration. You are a beautiful and noble creature. Delicious too.

A few years ago, back in the Army, I was in charge of running a firing range. We did our marksmanship training on outdoor shooting ranges in the wide-open spaces of Fort Bragg, NC. Part of this duty included arriving at the range before the other Soldiers, to prepare everything.

I’ll never forget pulling up to that empty range, in the early, North Carolina haze. For there in the morning twilight, walking along the firing line, were 8 wild turkeys. My driver and I stayed aloof in our HMMWV for fear of scaring them off. They must have found something to eat, because they stayed for a long time.

What a humorous and ironic picture that left in my mind. Eight hunted birds known for their tastiness, calmly walking across a live-fire range with brightly painted targets just over their heads. “X” marks the spot. But now that I think about it, it was probably the safest place for those little guys to be, for even with fully-loaded weapons and live ammunition all around them, it would be a crime to discharge a round at anything other than the targets. Soon they flew off into the sky to tempt their fates.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our rural ancestors, with little blest,

Patient of labour when the end was rest,

Indulged the day that housed their annual grain,

With feasts, and off'rings, and a thankful strain.

~Alexander Pope

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Magical Moment 293, "Baking Day Comes but Once a Year"

And on the 328th day, she did bake. And it was good.

It’s that time of year when we excitedly anticipate special things that are just around the corner, then suddenly in one short day, they're over. For me, it’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I’m baking.

I never understood it, even as a child. The women make a turkey, gravy, stuffing, dessert, set the table, decorate the house, and serve a grand meal while the men eat it. I never fell into the traditional role of domestic tasks such as this. My aversion to cooking came as a young girl when I tried to make pancakes for my family and instead, started a fire. I never really had the patience to follow a recipe, create from scratch, and make a huge mess in the process, when I could go to the store, buy the same thing, and keep the kitchen spic and span.

However, I do concede to the tradition for Thanksgiving and do my best to contribute to the feast. I bake 2 things: banana bread and apple pie (I suppose I haven't graduated to helping with the actual meal yet). It’s all from scratch, even the crust. If you don’t believe me, just look at my kitchen, it looks like it snowed flour all over the counter tops and floors…and me.

Eventually I may branch out. Maybe give pumpkin pie a shot. One day, I may even cook my own turkey. Ha ha ha ha! Okay, I couldn’t write that with a straight face. One day, I may help Eddie cook a turkey. But for today, I’m enjoying with pride and satisfaction the warm cinnamony smell of my homemade apple pie – with no fires set to my kitchen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Magical Moment 292, "My Sweet Little Duch"

This Thanksgiving season marks the one-year passing of one of my oldest friends in the world, my dog Duchess. We got her as a puppy when I was 12 years old. She came with me when I moved out of the house for college, and stayed with me throughout 3 state-to-state moves. When she passed, I had her for over half of my life.

Duchess started out as a family pet, but she became my dog. I couldn’t walk from one room to the next without her following at my heels. When her arthritis kept her from climbing stairs, she would follow me to the bottom step, lay down, and wait patiently for my descent. She went on 4-mile runs with me until she was 12 years old. When she began losing her hearing, I only needed to stretch my hand out to her and she knew that meant, “come.”

I’ll never forget as she grew older, dreading the day I knew would inevitably come. If I thought about it too much, I would even begin to cry. She would just stare at me, then come over and lick my hand. I could sense that it would soon be her time because she began sleeping nearly all day and all night. I dreaded to disturb her sleep, so I would tip toe around her because I knew if she heard me go into another room, she would struggle to her feet and follow me. And I just wanted her to rest.

It was on a day much like today when I discovered her in the living room, panting uncontrollably and in a trance. I knew this was the moment I had always dreaded, but I couldn’t give up. Eddie and I frantically rushed her to the animal emergency room and on the way, she died in my lap. I kept my hand over her rib cage and felt it slowly rise and fall. “Hurry Eddie, please!” I pleaded. Her breathing got slower and slower until I felt her heart beat for the last time.

So today, I’m thinking about my sweet little Duch and giving thanks for the 14 years I had her with me. My faithful old friend. I picture her running across a field, with the strength and energy she had when she was a puppy, chasing squirrels and barking at the wind. I truly hope that old movie is right and “All Dogs go to Heaven,” because I miss her so very much and I hope I see her again. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Magical Moment 291, "One Expected the Unexpected"

I surprised everyone by moving here to be near New York City with the intent of becoming a professional musician, performer, and songwriter. I look back now and I understand their shock. Leaving the financial security of our dual military income, a beautiful house, and comfortable life for the uncertainty of unemployment, a career change, and life in the big city must have seemed crazy to most people. After all, we had no family here, no friends, no prospects, and no idea what we were doing.

Friends and family's first response was generally something like, "Do you know how much rent is there?!" or "It's so crowded!" As if we weren't aware of this already. But we did our best to explain our reasoning and I learned to appreciate my husband Eddie even more for helping me follow my crazy dreams.

We considered several cities that had good music reputations from Austin, to Nashville, to Atlanta, even LA. But New York was always the ultimate to me, and settling for less was something I knew I would always regret. And while most thought our actions were spontaneous, outlandish, even irresponsible or diluted, there was a response from one that reassured me. And it was all I needed.

When I announced to my dad, and number one fan, of our decision to move to New York City, he simply said with no trace of surprise or shock in his voice, "You've always chased your dreams and reached for the stars. I would expect nothing less from you."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Magical Moment 290, "Waiting for Snow"

It’s nearly Thanksgiving and I’m still waiting for snow. I’m a Nebraska girl and have always felt right at home with snow at my feet. Before my husband and I moved outside New York City a year ago to try out this crazy music business thing, we lived in North Carolina for 3 ½ years, where snow is a rarity. Stationed at the Army base of Fort Bragg, we decided that we didn’t want to live in the military town of Fayetteville, and instead bought a house in the next town over, Raeford. One of the best things about living in Raeford was the drive to and from work. Yes, we were forced to wake up earlier and it took longer to get home at the end of a long day, but the driving route was through some amazing scenery.

Fort Bragg is geographically the largest Army post in the US because of the massive area of firing ranges and parachute drop zones. Our route to the Fort Bragg gate entrance took us right through these wide-open spaces. And while driving in the morning at sunrise, and the evening at sunset (typical work hours for the military), the view was even more beautiful.

The first autumn we lived there, I drove to work and passed a blooming cotton field. The next day, I remembered to bring my camera and pulled over to take pictures. The expansive white, evenly-spread fluff, reminded me of a Nebraskan snowfall. It satisfied my longing to see white covering the ground at the beginning signs of winter.

Not more than a few weeks later, I got my wish! Several inches of snow fell, shutting down the area for 2 days. Of course, the military still had to work. My husband drove us to the base and as the car was moving, I rolled down my passenger window and snapped this photo of tall, North Carolina pines dusted with a sparkling layer of snow.

Here in New Jersey, I keep looking up at the sky, wondering when this year’s first snow will come, wondering what’s accumulating in those white clouds. And that’s when I noticed. The purest, whitest, thickest, never-ending blanket imaginable. Not below my feet, but above my head!

*I found some other amazing snow pictures at this blog, Puzzle Pieces, click here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Magical Moment 289, "Murphy's Law Applies to Mustangs"

I had a harrowing experience the other day. It was a dramatic episode of continuous chaos and stress, in which I was left to my own devices to conquer. With no other choice but to use adrenaline-fueled presence of mind and unrelenting focus, I soon learned just what a true battle this would be. The task? I had to drive my husband’s stick shift to the Airport during rush hour.

You laugh, you snicker, but it is no easy thing. First of all, I am no wuss, okay? I’ve jumped from a military aircraft with 90 pounds of combat equipment in the dead of night. I’ve rucked 12 miles at a time with 40 pounds on my back. I’ve gone without sleep for 36 hours and still executed my duties with thoroughness and alertness. But if I’m ever asked to drive a 5-speed mustang through northern New Jersey traffic again, I’ll go AWOL. In the Army, you can expect Murphy’s Law, which allows you to take it in stride when everything falls apart, but I was not prepared for this nightmare ride.

I had to pick Eddie up from Newark Airport and my car’s engine light had just come on that day, leaving me no choice but to drive his mustang when my shifting skills are… not as proficient as I’d like them to be. Not a mile from home I found myself skidding on slippery, dark pavement and that’s when I remembered, his tires are nearly bald and it's raining, adding a new layer to my anxiety. At nearly every red light, I killed the engine. Once, I forgot what gear I was in and tried to go from second to fourth. The toll booths were the worst, inching closer and closer through the gate with angry cars behind me screaming and honking while I jerked back and forth, gears grinding. Not to mention, his plates are still fro Texas, so that made these New Jersey road-ragers love me even more.

I made it to the airport right on time. Eddie's flight landed at 6:30, and it was 6:45. He should be waiting at the passenger pick-up curb by now. I pulled over in the pick-up lane, but didn’t spot him. Airport security guards paced up and down the curb dismissing cars who abused the pick-up lane for too long. Other cars impatiently hovered beside me, trying to squeeze in wherever they could and paying no attention to the concept of safety, turn signals, or space allotment and the laws of physics. Soon I had about 3 cars angrily honking at me and one security guard screaming at me to leave, so I decided I better just go the parking garage. In my frenzied haste, I killed the engine again. Only, when I turned the key to re-start it, nothing happened.

Feeling the eyes of an ever increasing number of exasperated drivers, I fumbled with the key, pushed in the clutched, and willed the car to start. To no avail. I called Eddie’s cell to tell him to hurry the heck up and get out here, but no answer. He must still be in the air and have his phone off. I searched the unfamiliar dashboard for the hazard lights, but couldn’t find them. I was officially panicked.

Suddenly a blue light flashed and sharp siren blared behind to me. Great. Excellent. The officer walked to my window and bent down. Making a conscious effort to keep my cool and remain calm, I rolled down my window, “THE CAR WON’T START! It’s my husband’s car! I don’t know how to drive a stick shift! I can’t move it!” The officer smiled a little at my hysteria and offered to give it a try. After a few more minutes, we both gave up on trying to move it and the officer offered to call a tow truck for me. I reluctantly admitted that I had no other choice and patiently waited while the angry mob glared at me and the mustang, occupying coveted space in the pick-up lane. Finally the tow-truck arrived and we discovered that the car only needed a jump. 

When Eddie finally found me, he explained that he had an unexpected delay. No kidding! We threw his suitcase in the trunk and I handed him the keys. This was a battle I willfully surrendered, “You’re driving home!”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Magical Moment 288, "A Gift of Song"

I’ve never been a huge fan of opera music. I’ve seen 2 operas in my entire life, O Pioneers (based off the book by Nebraskan author Willa Cather) on a 6th grade field trip, and Phantom of the Opera, the movie (does that count?). But something happened recently that made me want to give it another chance and reminded me that music of any genre can be one of the most cherished and powerful gifts. 

It was on a hospital visit with a charity called Sing for Hope, where I and two other volunteers prepared music to serenade the patients. One of the performers was an operatic soprano. The evening was filled with poignant and sentimental moments, as music often brings out emotion in the most unsuspecting people. And in a hospital setting, a place most dread to be, it was amazing to see the smiles and appreciation on the faces of those we sang to.

We entered a room of two older ladies who had been placed together as roommates. From the very start, we could tell they would be characters. In high spirits and smiling, these ladies weren’t going to let anything keep them down. A fellow vocalist made the introductions and asked the patients, “Is there anything special you would like to hear? Do you like opera music?” To my surprise, one lady nodded with an enthusiastic “yes.” She adored opera music and began rattling off arias in Italian.

The soprano looked pleased and asked how she knew so many.
“When I was little, I used to clean the house every Saturday listening to the Metropolitan Opera with my nut-job mother!”
The room erupted in laughter. Soon, the soprano poised herself and began to sing.

As soon as she opened her mouth, it was as if the room went completely calm. The machines stopped beeping. Everyone relaxed. Our breath was longer, our heads tilted in attention. Her voice rose and fell with ease and though we couldn’t understand the language, her facial expression helped tell the story. Her brow was furrowed with anguish, her eyes moistened with longing, her arms and hands reached out, pleading with an invisible partner.

I was so surprised by how much I was enjoying the song, that I had to suddenly remember where I was. I looked around the room and noticed that the patient was crying. Her good-natured teasing spirit had quieted, and now she was in a different world. I remembered what she said about her mother, most likely deceased by now, and wondered what memories were flashing through her mind.

The end of the song was met with heartfelt applause. The patient wiped tears from her face and composed herself to speak. She made several attempts, but was too overwhelmed to reply for a minute. We all waited patiently as we could sense that she really wanted this to be known. And then, after a final tear was wiped away, she said in a shaky tone,
“That was a gift from my mother, up in Heaven.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Magical Moment 287, "A Grown Up's Lesson from a Children's Book"

I’m currently recording an album of original songs with Modern Vintage Recordings in New York City. Every step of the professional recording process in the studio is absolutely foreign to me, since the most state of the art equipment I’ve used before is Garage Band that came with my Mac.

We’ve done the foundation instruments, drums, bass, guitar, even some strings. And we have much more to accomplish before I take my place behind the fiber glass wall and sing into a fancy, breakable-looking microphone to lay down the final vocals. This is something I dread. I’ve been wondering just how badly my pain-staking self-critique and neurotic perfectionism will hinder the process and drive me and everyone else totally crazy. Well, today I got a preview.

We bought a recordable Christmas book for my nephews (sh, don’t tell them). You know, the one where you record your voice reading the story and it automatically plays when you turn the pages. We thought that would be a great way to stay somewhat connected long distance since phone conversations at this point consist of “What does a cow say?” Followed by silence. We decided to alternate reading the pages. Eddie recorded his pages in one take. It took me an average of about 10 tries each.

I would read a page then play it back, “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…” Then exclaim with frustration, “I sound like I have a lisp!” So I’d try it again. Nope, the inflection was all wrong on that one. I pronounced a word funny there. Maybe I should whisper this line. What exactly is the rhyming scheme here? Do I sound like I have a cold? Meanwhile Eddie passed out on the couch waiting for me to finish my page.

I tried to make Eddie understand the importance of the recording, “This is going to be on here FOREVER!” He rolled his eyes and pointed out that the kids will love it no matter what it sounded like.

So maybe the lesson here is this, so that my producers don’t end up quitting the music business and moving to Guam, or develop some kind of permanent nervous tick. I’ll just picture my nephews face when they open their present and hear the familiar voice of their far away Aunt Beth and Uncle Eddie. I’ll imagine what they care about in that moment. It's the story that's important to them. Focus less on me, and more on the listeners. Hmmm. That seems simple enough. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Magical Moment 286, "The Decision to Stay"

My Great-Grandma (top right) and 9 of her 10 children

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man [or woman] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [s]he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”
-Robert Francis Kennedy

I watched a single rain droplet slide off an orange leaf, and into a giant puddle that formed on the sidewalk. The puddle flowed into a crevice in the pavement and created a stream of rainwater that made its way down a muddy hill and trickled into a creek below. I watched the waves and ripples spread like an outstretched hand until I lost track of which one came from where. I wonder if that first drop knew what it would become a part of.

My maternal grandmother is the most patriotic person I’ve ever known. She is the human embodiment of yellow ribbons, American flags, military parades, and Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful.” Though her blood is 100% Mexican, her heart is 100% American.

There is possibly one other person who has ever existed, that has more passion for the U.S. of A than my Granny, though I never had the pleasure of meeting them. Maria Loreto Alonzo Valencia, her mother. I’ve only heard stories of her, making tortillas from scratch, hanging clothes out on the line, and learning English. And with my own pale skin, green eyes, and freckles, her amazing story of immigration seems as far away and fictional to me, as a movie on the big screen.

She was from Leon Granojuato, Mexico and married Francisco Cohenete Valencia from Michoacan, Mexico. Together they moved to America and had 10 children (my grandma being the second youngest). They ended up in Lincoln Nebraska of all places, in a narrow 2-story house where my Grandma lives to this day. In an unfortunate accident with the Union Pacific Railroad, where Francisco worked, he was blinded and decided to return to his Mexican village. And this is where Mrs. Valencia never ceases to amaze me, even decades after her passing. For when I think of courage, ambition, and hope, I think of this. She decided to stay.

Before the convenient help of the internet, support groups, daycare, or washing machines, she chose to remain here with little education, in a foreign country, as a single mother of 10. Why? I don’t know. I wish I could ask her, interview her. But using my deductive reasoning skills, I can only conclude that she loved her children more than anything in the world, and wanted to give them every opportunity to succeed. She fell in love with this country and became a volunteer and activist in her community. I’ve even heard it said that she is credited with getting Peach Street paved, the street they lived on. She became a naturalized citizen in 1943, her 2 sons became World War II Veterans, and the rest of her children followed in her patriotic footsteps, a trait I never scientifically believed could be inherited, but in this case must be.

One day, I saw my grandma gaze upon a framed picture of her dear mother that hangs on the old walls of her childhood home. She looked at it with such pride, love, and admiration, and still refers to her as "Mama." That’s when I realized I may never know just how remarkable of a person Maria Loreto Alonzo Valencia truly was, but somehow, there is a piece of her in me, my sisters, my cousins, their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…. Her hard work, turmoil, heartache was not in vain. I would never exist, never have the privilege of knowing my grandma, my husband. I become overwhelmed when I begin to think about all the people and lives affected, and I will forever be appreciative and thankful for this one woman’s brave decision to stay. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Magical Moment 285, "Live Like Royalty"

I awoke to the gentle song of birds outside my window, like a cartoon Disney princess.

After I laced up my tennis shoes and went outside, I found that golden leaves had been laid out at my feet, like a royal carpet lining my running route.

At work, I found that the 5-year old ballet class had come to entertain me, like court jesters, and I smiled at their silliness all through class.

And when I arrived back at home, I found that a grand meal had been prepared in my honor.

What a majestic life I lead! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Magical Moment 284, "My Anthem"

This is a video taken at Riverside State Park in New York City's West Side. I always liked the song "Lodi" by CCR, but when I moved to northern NJ to be a struggling musician in NYC, it took on a brand new meaning. I now refer to it as my anthem.
"If I only had a dollar for every song I sung. Every time I had to play while people sat there drunk!"
The whole song applies to my life here so far but I sing the words with pride. The hard work is a badge of honor, and someday it will all pay off! Enjoy the video!

To see more videos from the Play Me, I'm Yours project, click here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Magical Moment 283, "Joy's Flock"

Our dog, Joy, is a Shetland sheep dog, which means she can’t possibly run or chase enough. She attempts to herd anything that moves, which includes squirrels, blowing leaves, and our cat. I always joke that one day, we’re gonna get some sheep so that our dog can finally do the job she was bred to do.

When we got her a year ago, the neighbor children were nearly as thrilled with her as we were, and became her pseudo family and best playmates. Often when I walk with Joy by the neighbor’s window, I hear a tiny, little voice yell with delight from her second floor bedroom, “JO-EE!” (she has trouble with the “oy” sound and has taken to calling the dog “Joey” instead). This is generally followed, thirty seconds later, by a storm of children racing out of the house and oodling over Joy while she lays on the ground, basking in the love fest.

Once, the five children begged me to take her to the back yard and let her run and play without the leash on, which I obliged. They squealed as they raced up and down the lawn with Joy close at their heels, proudly running like a prize-winning sheep dog.
One boy asked, “Why does Joy like to chase so much?” I did my best to explain in terms the young children would understand.
“Well, her job is to chase sheep. And she thinks that you’re all sheep.”

This explanation seemed to please the children very much. And soon, they all began “baaaa-ing” like sheep as they continued to run from Joy. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight. Joy finally got her flock.

Other Canine Inspired Posts:
A Little Joy
Joy and the Easter Bunny
Two Fools
My Little Nerd
Where Joy Lies
The Cutest Thing Ever

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Magical Moment 282, "A Dose of Song"

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the orthopedic wing of a New York City hospital. I volunteered, with an organization called Sing for Hope, to spend about 2 hours going from hospital room to hospital room, serenading patients. Two other girls volunteered as well, and we took turns choosing a song to sing to an audience of one.

We were told that the average age for the orthopedic wing was about 65 or older…my specialty as it happens, from years of playing for retirement communities and nursing homes. I brought my guitar so I wouldn’t have to drag a keyboard around and found that most patients were extremely pleased with the impromptu concert. Some clapped along, some dozed off, but most simply smiled with sincere appreciation and delight. I prepared titles such as “Pennies from Heaven,” “Tennessee Waltz,” and “Walkin After Midnight.” But I saved the best song until I found that one person who would appreciate and love it the most. And soon I found her.

She was an older, frail woman who lay in her reclining hospital bed with her adult daughter by her side. She was awake, but her head rested firmly against her pillow and her eyes remained tightly shut, as she dealt with the intense pain coursing through her body. But what struck me most when I stepped through the doorway, was her concerned daughter, who did not take her eyes off her mother for even a moment.
“She’s going to play a song for you now, mom,” the daughter whispered gently without glancing up at me.
She sat with one hand tenderly holding her mother’s, while the other stroked the gray, fine hair that fell around the woman’s wrinkled face. She never took her eyes away, even though her mother did not return her gaze. The scene struck me so poignantly and unexpectedly, that I had to swallow the lump I felt rising in my throat.

I began to strum softly, then sang,
“Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease. Gonna take a sentimental journey to renew old memories.”
I watched the daughter, barely even listening to myself. Her eyes remained locked on her mother, adoringly, in empathy, and with fervent care. I had no idea what this woman’s prognosis was, but I had the dark feeling that it was not good. Suddenly, I felt my voice begin to crack and had to shut my own eyes to escape the intense emotion in the room as I sang the bridge,
“Heaven. I’ll be waiting up for Heaven.”

I finished the song and stood up to leave. I wondered what I would say, Feel better? Have a good night? It seemed so shallow. But before I opened my mouth, the daughter broke eye contact with her mother for the first time since I was there. She wiped a tear from her cheek.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” And I left.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Magical Moment 281, "The Double Bass!"

We recorded something double special for a few songs on my album with Modern Vintage Recordings. Not just an electric bass, but the double bass. That acoustically wonderful instrument was just what we needed for about 5 of my tracks. Good double bass players are hard to come by, but we got lucky with musician, Chris Morrison and his expertise. He played each song without ever having heard them before and managed to read through my scribbled, unorganized lead sheets with style.

From the first pluck of those thick, deep strings, I knew we had the right sound. I was thrilled at the end of the session and still can't believe how well everything is coming together. Here is a short video of the session. Disclaimer....pay no attention to the voice singing or piano playing, as those sessions are still far ahead! But please enjoy the video!

"Dimples and Brown Eyes" and "Mary's Lullaby" written by Elizabeth Grimes, Copyright 2009

Here are my blogs in order, as I chronicle my process to record an EP with Modern Vintage Recordings:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Magical Moment 280, "The Eleventh Hour"

The Veterans Day Parade, NYC

On July 29, 2001, five exceptional men were honored by the President of the United States for their remarkable military service. They were involved in a top secret mission that required unfathomable intelligence and as a result, literally won a battle which was instrumental in winning the war. Not the war that was happening in 2001, not even the Gulf War. It was World War II, and they were the Navajo Code Talkers who were largely responsible for winning the bloody battle of Okinawa. The only problem with the ceremony was that just 5 remained of the original 29. Our country was too late in thanking the other 24, and nearly too late in thanking those 5 men.

On March 10, 2010, three hundred women won the Congressional Gold medal for their outstanding war service. Unfortunately, 800 received the award posthumously. These were the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, who devoted themselves to flying military aircraft like the B-26 and B-29 Bombers - an idea that was absolutely unheard of for women at that time. Our country gave them no ceremony, no thank you, and did not even pay for the funerals of the ones who were lost during their service. And we were nearly too late to thank these 300 ladies.

In 2006, a girl hugged her friend goodbye one night before he left for Iraq in the morning. He was eager to serve and quite willing to go. "See you when you get back," she said as he walked away into the night. But she never said "thank you." And for this young man, it was too late. In the final hour before First Lieutenant Kevin Gaspers left for war, I missed the chance to express the gratitude he deserved and took it fore granted that he would come home. He was killed April 23, 2007.

In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed of the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month (Armistice Day, later known as Veterans Day):
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

Today, don't let it be too late to thank the Veterans you know.
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Magical Moment 279, "Où Sont les Bananes?"

They say the best way to learn a new language is to be completely submerged in the culture. Be forced to hear and speak only that language. And before you know it, you'll be asking where the bananas are in that foreign tongue!

I was shocked to learn this is true for the world of ballet as well. After almost 2 months of playing for ballet rehearsals, I'm finally catching on to what in the world they're talking about. As an accompanist, I have to pay very close attention to the words (mostly French) and demonstrations of the instructor in order to choose an appropriate song to play for the combination. There have been several times when I've played an introduction and the instructor stopped me, "Nope, wrong kind of rhythm for tendu..."

Yesterday, I walked down the hall to my living room and suddenly had the urge jump up onto one tip-toe with my arms rounded in front of me and finger tips touching. Eddie looked up from the computer, puzzled at the abrupt motion. I sheepishly realized what I had absent-mindedly done and explained, "That's a relevé sous-sus in first position." He still looked puzzled. I found myself continuing, "This is how you open to second, plié down, stretch, and finish." He nodded like he was humoring a small child. 

Oh yes. I know all about dégagé, grand battement, jeté, and posé. I know when you put them together in different ways, they mean different movements...I suddenly feel like a Von Trap child learning all about do, re, mi! (Cue the music) "When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!" When I know what the French words are, I can play much better by far!

Other ballet inspired posts:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Magical Moment 278, "That's All"

I love to write. I love to creatively put together words that tell a story or describe a vivid moment in time. Today as I practiced guitar (something I rarely do), I came across this old song and it made me so happy I wanted to share it. There are no words for me to come up with or type, only music. That's All.

Written by Bob Haymes and Alan E. Brandt

Monday, November 8, 2010

Magical Moment 277, "Play it by Ear"

There is a small theatre in lower Manhattan with all the charm and character of a dying breed of New York City theatres. The 13th Street Repertory Company was founded 38 years ago by Edith O’Hara and has remained a firm off-off Broadway venue through its constantly changing and updating surroundings. These small, underfunded theatres are where future Broadway plays are born. Now 94 years old, Edith O’Hara proudly continues to run plays and musicals in her theatre.

I’m proud to be a pianist in a new, old musical called “Touch.” It ran years ago under the same director and is making its second debut in January. The director explained to me that there is no sheet music, no lead sheets, just an old recording of the 14 songs. I would have to come up with all the music 100% by ear.

I play by ear, but the internet has made me lazy. It’s too easy to google chord charts and lead sheets for nearly every song fathomable, saving time and work. However, that’s impossible with this musical. Today I spent the day with the CD of rough, past recordings on repeat, grinding the melody and chord changes into my head until I was comfortable enough to start plunking them out on the piano. Before I knew it I had the first song finished.

What a feeling of pride that I’ve not felt in much too long, to have the complete music to a song, all derived from my own ear. No, internet, no cheating, no crutch. The rawness of it all fits in perfectly with the theme of the theatre. From the musicians to the actors to the directors, we all want to be there, we all have hopes and aspirations, and we’re all willing to put in the time and work to make it happen. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Magical Moment 276, "An American Girl"

When I was a little girl, the only thing I wanted for my 10th birthday was Samantha, the American Girl doll. Back then, the dolls were relatively new and all the rage for girls my age. The only problem was, they were $80 each and that was more than I could possibly hope for in our middle class family. So I saved all my birthday money that year, $40, and my mom agreed to pay the other half for the doll. Finally, Samantha arrived in the mail and I remember brushing her silky dark hair and dressing her up in white pinafore dress with all the excitement and delight that a young girl could possibly possess.  

Today as I dusted my house, I thought about the few childhood knick knacks, books, clothes, and stuffed animals that have made it with me through 3 out of state moves, and a severe space down grade from a 4 bedroom house with attic and garage, to a 2 bedroom apartment with barely a front closet.  Samantha was one of the lucky few that made it all this way. 

She actually sits in my music room on my sheet music shelf. Someone pointed out to me recently in a youtube comment, that Samantha appears in many of my home-made music videos because she's in direct view of the built-in computer camera. If I would have known back then what a beloved, cherished, and long-term possession she would turn out to be, maybe $80 wouldn’t have seemed so bad. She, and the memories she gave, are priceless.

Me, my sister, and my best friend having an American Girl Party
...in the not so distant past
Top: Erica, Elizabeth, Deb
Bottom: Josefina, Samantha, Felicity

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Magical Moment 275, "Weight of the World"

I spent my drive home from work measuring the events of my day, placing them on a figurative scale and adding them up like Weight Watchers points. Let's just say that one side of the scale had a whole lot more stuff on it than the other.

First, it's drill weekend with the Army so my husband has been out of town for 2, going on 3 days. Next, I woke up late this morning and  rushed off to work without so much as a cup of coffee or breakfast. I also didn't have time to pack anything, so that meant I would go without a morsel of food all day until almost 5 pm. Then let's see. Oh yes, I got  pulled over. And then, oh right, I had an expired insurance card (by 6 days). Which inevitably led to me being late for work.

I had a monstrous 7 hours playing for ballet rehearsal today. I let my own self doubt and paranoia get the better of me again. It seemed like every song I played was the wrong style or tempo, and soon I felt like the walls were closing in on me and I didn't deserve to be there as a pianist. By the time I was finished, I had a pounding headache and my hunger was so strong I thought I might faint.

I dreaded driving home (being careful not to speed) to an empty house with no food. So 10 minutes from my drive way, I ordered Chinese take out from the place across the street from our apartment. I parked my car and walked over to pick it up. The smell of that sweet and sour chicken went on the other side of the scale. I walked in my front door to find the mail man had slipped the mail through the door slot. Netflix. That also went on the other side. Then Joy met me on the stairs with an insanely hyper greeting and I think that was the first time I smiled all day. And finally, after not hearing from Eddie for almost 2 days, he called.

I sat on the couch eating my crab rangoon, enjoying a movie, with Joy sitting quietly at my feet. I guess at the end of the day, it all evens out.