Musical Chairs

My parents really tried to get me to be a musician. Five years of piano lessons, but the truth is I’m just not that musical and I hated playing.

I can’t believe how different the kids are in that regard-they’ve gotten Eric’s musical talent (thank goodness) and actually enjoy playing. Today the boy disappeared for a while and when I went to check on him, this is what I found him doing:

Not sure how I got so lucky to have such a great and talented kid, but I’m grateful every day.


The Girl has been famously bad at following directions in a group setting.  This has significantly limited her participation in extracurricular activities.  We tried enrolling her in a dance class, and while all the other little girls obediently sashayed across the stage, she ran back and forth at top speed, cackling all the time.  The instructor sighed at her. We tried enrolling her in karate, and while all the other kids walked across the floor, practicing punches, she sat on the ground and cackled at Sensei. She took piano for a while and despite the teacher’s best attempts at various ways to get her to comply, it was all for naught.

So it was with some degree of surprise when, seemingly out of nowhere over last summer, she announced that she wanted to learn to play the violin. Eric rented a violin and found her an instructor, a 6′ 1′ tall Chinese woman named Hong who is a lovely person and a good instructor. At the first lesson, we told her that this would probably last a couple weeks and not to expect too much-we certainly didn’t. But the Girl has surprised us-she loves playing, usually is good about practicing and is dedicated to improving.  It’s been a few months now and I think it’s going to stick, at least for now.

Here she is at her first recital! A bit squeaky for sure, an extra few measures that don’t belong, but overall I think she did great!


This summer we spent 5 days in Nebraska. I’ve apparently been in Nebraska before, as Eric insists that we drove through and even stayed in the state on our drive out from Michigan, but I have no memory of it.

One of our friends, Chris, grew up in Nebraska and his mother lives on 5 acres out somewhere in the middle. His family goes every year to visit and also for his boys to run around in the woods and creek and make things out of found objects, like time from summers past.  So different from city summers which are spent, for us, with pools and parks and the occasional camp.  We don’t have sheets of corrugated aluminum and bricks lying around our woodshed for kids to create forts out of.

So we piled into our minivan and headed East.  My two kids, his two kids, Eric, Chris, and myself.  Chris’ wife was off on a retreat and couldn’t join us. I’ve driven across areas of the Midwest before, once when crossing the continent to go from San Diego to Michigan, and once again when we drove from Michigan to Denver ten years ago. I’d just returned from a month in Ecuador and had missed the last 10 or so episodes of “24,” and a friend had taped them for me.  Every night when we decamped to a hotel, I’d pull out the VCR and watch a few episodes. I can get a little obsessed like that.

The most amazing thing about driving across the midwest to me has and still is the big sky. No buildings, no mountains, just sky as far as you can see in a 180 degree horizon. For miles and miles and miles. And grasses, and some trees, and then more of those.  I don’t know how the early pioneers didn’t get bored at some time.  Maybe that’s why so many of them stopped in Kansas or Nebraska when they headed out.  It was like, enough is enough.

big sky nebraska

big sky nebraska

We arrived in Franklin, Nebraska in the evening, and the kids immediatlely set out to finding random things in the yard and shed and began trying to make a tractor out of them.  At some point we heard a loud clanging and figured we should remove the large hammers from the play space, but otherwise let them play unhindered.

running girl

running girl

The next day we headed out to Red Cloud, Nebraska, to visit some of Chris’ other relatives.  His aunt used to be a teacher in a one-room school house and several years ago, her husband bought her an old one as a present and she had it refurbished and now gives tours.

one room schoolhouse

one room schoolhouse

Her first order of action was to gather all the kids around the flagpole and ask them, “Do you know the Pledge of Alllegiance?” in a tone that one would use to ask something like, “Do you know how to walk?”  All four children looked at her blankly. “Don’t you say it before class?” she tried again.  Crickets. Utterly horrified at the state of education these days, she instructed the kids to put their hands over their hearts (which also wasn’t really done that successfuly) and led them in the chant.



The siding is original and you can see the signatures and other writing on the  wall from times past.  I love seeing things like this when people try to say that kids used to be much better behaved-I mean, it’s just another version of graffiti, right?


Inside was the communal cups and washbasin (aka dysentery transmission module) and then the little classroom itself. It was remarkable to see something completely from another era and get a piece of life back then.

washbasin & cups for washing and drinking

washbasin & cups for washing and drinking

Are you ready to recite?

Are you ready to recite?

We then went to the town center of Red Cloud  and did a tour given by the Willa Cather historical society, as it was her home and many of the characters in her books were based on real people and houses.  In preparation for the trip I had just read “My Antonia” and it was unbelievable to see places and houses that she described in the book.

We visited the old bank

door handle of bank

door handle of bank

inspection notices from the safe

inspection notices from the safe

and then her home. Eric commented that it’s a weird sort of hagiography to preserve living residences for people like authors, instead of knowing them through their work. I disagree-I think that seeing where someone lived and understanding their enviroment gives you a different perspective on their works, and helps you to picture who they were, where they came from, and what was happening in the books.

The day before and after this we actually just spent wandering around creeks and railroads and campfires and getting good and muddy, at least for the kids.



backyard campfire

backyard campfire

Saturday we headed for Omaha, given that the real reason that Eric was even excited about this trip was to see the Flaming Lips in Omaha. Something I’ve been thinking about ever since this trip is the experience of being brown in rural America.  These were small, small towns we were in.  Everyone knows everyone and if aren’t from there, regardless of skin color, people stare at you, as even Eric can attest to.  Somehow, though, it felt different for me-more aggressive, unfriendly, and unwelcoming.  (This excludes, of course, all the people in Chris’ family who we met who were just lovely, wonderful people. I’m just talking about walking around.) In Denver, especially near where we live, I’m pretty used to going to restaurants and being the only non-white people there. Something I didn’t appreciate before this trip, though, is that Denver is cosmopolitan enough that I’m not unusual, or at least no one seems to stare at me. It was so uncomfortable in small town Nebraska to just be walking around. Maybe I’m making this up, but I don’t think so.

The other thing that struck me was the food. Whenever we ate at home the food was delicious-Chris’ mom is a wonderful cook and eats very healthy and largely vegetarian, which was great. Anytime we went out though, the options were entirely cheese/fried/meat. Even the salads all had meat or cheese dripping on top of them.  The healthiest place we could find to eat out was Subway. When we finally got near Omaha, we found a little Vietnamese place that was utterly delicious and fresh and wow! a green vegetable. How can people eat healthy if there isn’t any way to do so?

At any rate, I never thought I’d be saying this, but it was a relief to get to Omaha and not feel like we were in a small town anymore. There is a weird inclusivity in being ignored, or at least not feeling like you’re an exotic zoo creature. We stayed with Chris’ cousin, Travis and his family, who were all wonderful people. I hope we get to spend time with them all again!

That night we went to the Maha festival at the Askarben amphitheatre.  “What is ‘Askarben’?” asked Eric at one point.  It’s written on everything, much the way that everything here is named, “Mile High” something or other. Travis looked at us and said, “Well, it’s ‘Nebraska’ spelled backwards!” and then started laughing at the ridiculousness of it.  I mean, really? Let’s not make this a nationwide trend.

The festival was great! I’m usually not a music festival type of person, but this was awesome. It’s not commercial at all, it’s entirely run by volunteers, they had tons of community involvement and other tents and such with displays. First up was Bob Mould, who Eric was excited to see as he knew Husker Dü, who I don’t know at all. Then he started playing all these songs I knew by Sugar! Took me back to the early 90s and listening to “Helpless” over and over again in my dorm room my freshman year at college. Then came Matt and Kim who played very little actual music but were so entertaining and fun that I was smiling the entire time.


matt & kim

Last, but most for Eric, was the Flaming Lips, who did their usual megalomaniac Flaming Lips show. Eric insists that plebians like myself “Just don’t get them,” and dear readers, I have to say that I’m fine with that. Just fine.

lips, doing their lippy thing

lips, doing their lippy thing

The next day was a long 7 hours home, listening to books in the car, playing games, giving into ipads, and finally getting back to Denver, where we were all happy to be home.

Happy New Year

Every year we throw a small NYE party that I like to call “Feral Child New Year’s Eve.” Basically, we let the kids run around the basement and watch movies while the adults have grown up time upstairs. It’s always a fun time and each year the kids stay up later and later. This was the first year without any injuries to any of the children! Woo-hoo! (I’m kidding people, stop dialing CPS.)

This year people brought over their musical instruments and just about everyone took turns playing or singing to the best (or worst, sorry Jimmy) of their abilities.

Here’s a little video of the night, though there’s a lot of people missing as I only started taking pictures after midnight; was having a bit too much fun earlier. What better way to ring in the New Year, than to be with friends and make our own music?

School of Rock

The other day, on a walk, the boy looked up at me and asked, “Hey, Mom, what’s ‘misery’?”

“Well,” I said, “It’s when you’re very, very sad about something. Why do you ask?”

“’Cause it’s in that song, you know,” and here he began to sing, “‘Put me out, put me out, put me out of misery.’

And then today, while having breakfast, another one.

“Hey, Mom, what’s an owner?”

“Well, an owner is when you have something that belongs to you, you are it’s owner. Like you are the owner of your shirt because it’s yours.  Why do you ask?” I’ve learned to ask that as a followup question for basically everything.

“‘Cause it’s in that song.”

“What song?” I asked.

And here he broke into song again, “Jojo was a man, who thought he was an owner.”  After I stopped laughing, I gently corrected his lyrics.

All I know is I can never listen to “Blinded by the Light” with him in the car again.


Eric had had a tradition of watching “The Last Waltz,” The Band’s last concert, on Thanksgiving and chose to resurrect it this year.

We watched it downstairs with the boy.  The girl had long since fallen asleep in our bed in her monkey-print fleece footie  jammies.  After the second interview segment in which band members talked about their lives in the 60s (think sex, drugs, rock and roll) we skipped the spoken bits and went straight to the musical performances.

The boy loved watching Van Morrison high kick around the stage in a sparkly purple jumpsuit.  He got a bit tired after that and laid down with his head in my lap.

Then The Band started to sing “Forever Young,” and, looking down at my bigger-than-I-thought-possible son, I realized that I’m not really all that young anymore.

(May God Bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true)

The lyrics have a poignancy when you’re a parent.

(May you always do for others and let others do for you)

It’s the wishes I think every parent would have for their child.

(May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung)

I looked down at the 5 year old nearly asleep in my lap, and think about all the love he brings to my life.

(May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true.)

I think of  how he wants to be a “scientist and learn everything about everything.”

(May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you.)

How the girl loves to touch noses, and insists on “Cheers!” and glass clinking at every meal.

(May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong)

How proud the boy was of himself at not crying when he got his latest shots.

(May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift)

The mayhem on a daily basis as the kids run from the “zoo” to the “toy store,” both populated with stuffed animals.

(May you have a strong foundation when the wind of changes shift)

How the girl would scoot over to me when I went to bed and touch foreheads with me as we slept.

(May your heart always be joyful and may your song always be sung)

She wakes up with a big smile in the morning, looks at the sunrise and excitedly chirps, “Wainbow, Mommy, Wainbow!”

(May you stay forever young.)

May they both stay forever young.

May I never forget how much I have to be thankful for.

Singin’ in the Car

The girl does the most adorable thing these days when you drive with her.

No matter what’s on the radio (usually some depressing tale of suffering, anguish, or political misconduct on NPR) she will sing at the top of her lungs whilst slapping her knees and waving her little head back and forth like an Indian raga singer. Her hands reach up as high as they can go before coming down onto her knees one at a time, and she only pauses if she sees a dog, bird or train and has to show you the sign for it.

She’s very tuned into music (pun NOT intended, but there nonetheless) even more so than her brother was.  Some of her favorites are Wilco, the Flaming Lips, Old 97’s and more recently even Garth Brooks.  The boy got a mix CD from a friend of his for his birthday of all of his favorite songs.  It’s mostly a Country mix, and it includes some good stuff like Johnny Cash, but we’ve also had to sit through countless repetitions of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”  I kid you not. Really, though you put any music on and she starts dancing and swirling around, utterly delighted.

I know some of you have seen the dancing video before, but it’s too cute not to repost here.



Here’s one where she’s singing and doing her little head bobble. It’s a bit older, so she “sings” more nowadays, but you get the picture. Yes, she’s sitting in a tupperware and yes, the boy is “playing” a helicopter.