Monday, July 21, 2014

Group buys send me to the theater

I was tortured by the "On Broadway" station on SiriusXM. They play beautiful songs from shows that are touring -- that want at least $100 for a decent seat.

I was tortured, that is, until I discovered the beauty of THE GROUP BUY.

If I can find 19 other people to go to a show with me, I can scam cheap tickets, at least $20 less than retail.

The other benefit, I have learned, is that the tickets you get with a group buy are better than the normal seats you buy at retail. The retail seats are just the leftovers after the group buyers have had their way with the seating charts. And now, that's me!

Luckily I belong to a spunky local chorus called the Berkeley Broadway Singers, theater lovers all. When I stood up at a rehearsal and announced a group buy for "Peter and the Starcatchers" and
suddenly I had 19 friends to buy tickets with me!

Logistically it has been annoying. I have to collect people's money, and their seating druthers, then track down the people who haven't paid me. I have to pay for the whole block ahead of time, then frantically deposit checks before the credit card bill comes through while carefully distributing tickets to the right people. BUT, for example, it was freaking awesome to go see "Peter and the Starcatchers" surrounded by friends, at a steep discount.

I just did another group buy for "Once," but I carelessly bought far more tickets than I needed, and was stuck hawking them on Craigslist in the weeks prior to the show. It worked out because everyone likes cheaper-than-retail seats with a great view, so I made some new Craigslist friends in the process. But it was nervewracking for a few weeks there.

I am currently scurrying around to get commitments for "Pippin" now too, and I found out that the SF Ballet will manage group buys for me, so a whole herd of us are going to The Nutcracker.

There is an unexpected side benefit to all of this group buy activity, other than carpools and cheap tickets. Sometimes when I am in a theater, packed with other people, I find that some of them think too loud and give off annoying vibes.

I'm not just talking about the obvious texters and chatty people who are annoying -- it's that once people are packed next to me in a darkened theater, I find it hard to tune out some of their mental energies. And if it's friendly people I know surrounding me, I can better handle that level of psychic buzz emanating from the crowd.

So if you're local, join the fun of our next group buy!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Billy Joel

I've only just realized how much Billy Joel's songs are engrained into my very being.

Our satellite radio, SiriusXM, is featuring a 24-hour-a-day Billy Joel station. I can't listen to enough of it, and I've been amazed to discover that I remember almost every single lyric -- songs I haven't heard for twenty years I can now perform (for my children, in my kitchen, with a wooden spoon microphone) down to every last nuance.

From the age of 10, I listened to Billy Joel most of my waking hours, popping tape after tape into my "boom box" while I was in the shower or getting ready for school, in my car, in my room, anywhere.

I would regularly wear out his tapes and I would have to save up and drive to the record store to replace it. The replacement tapes always sounded so rich and wonderful compared to the tapes I'd worn out.

My mother had the entire "Piano Man" album and I would look at that spooky picture of Billy Joel while listening to the scandalous "Captain Jack" or "Travellin' Prayer" -- "Piano Man" wasn't even my favorite of those songs. The rich piano sounds and Billy Joel's voice resonated so deeply with me, I tracked down the sheet music (I have never been able to learn music by ear) and memorized everything I could on my own piano, singing my heart out all the while.

My first memory of listening to Billy Joel was a tape I had of "Cold Spring Harbor." This was the first version of "Cold Spring Harbor" in which Billy Joel sounds slightly like a Chipmunk (a remastered version with his real voice was released in the mid-80's, but with some untoward changes).

Soon I discovered all of the rest of the albums he had released when I was growing up (My favorites were "Songs in the Attic" and "52nd Street"), and I collected all of them, wearing them down, wearing out my friends' patience, learning every lyric to every song. By high school I was waiting in line for Billy Joel concert tickets at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and losing my mind when he took the stage.

I knew every lyric, every key change, and memorized every small musical variant within the songs, comparing the live versions when I could find them, and dissecting the meaning of lyrics. When I wrote my first real journal, for a teacher in 10th grade, I featured large swaths of Billy Joel lyrics as inspiration for my writing.

I covered the bathroom walls in my father's house with the names of every Billy Joel song ever written, including the ones from his terrible old duo "Attila." (Love that meat locker photo!) 

My favorite song is "Summer, Highland Falls" (
-- this is also Billy Joel's favorite song, so I may have been unduly influenced by my subscription to the "Root Beer Rag," the fanzine about my favorite singer. I read every word of that fanzine, and scoured it for information about his USSR tour, the changes he made with his band, and the details of his suicide attempt (he explained, for example, that drinking all that furniture polish just made him shine chairs when he farted). He spoke frankly in the "Root Beer Rag" and I dearly wish I'd kept my copies of it as I can't find much of it online anywhere other than here:

Hearing this SiriusXM Billy Joel station has been a salve to my soul. I hadn't known that I was wounded until I heard these songs and felt the positive effects of his music, which is incredibly enjoyable, emotional and medicinal for me -- just as it was when I was 10 years old.

When I saw Billy Joel at the Palace in Auburn, MI in 1990, I had a wonderful seat overlooking the stage from the first balcony, facing his face as he sang so many of my favorite songs.

I knew the words to everything, of course, even the most obscure tune that he trotted out. "Zanzibar" or "Falling of the Rain"? No problem. I already had the lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire" down pat as well.

Near the end of the concert, he stopped playing the piano for a moment and pointed directly at me, nodding his head and smiling wide. I got it. I got him. It was a huge highlight for me, that acknowledgment.

On an interview aired on the SiriusXM station, he was asked about "We Didn't Start the Fire" and he explained that the lyrics were hard even for HIM to remember during performances. And he said that during concerts he would find someone in the audience who knew all of the words so he could follow their mouth and be sure that he was on track.

I'm glad to know that, if pressed into service now in 2014, I could still provide that assistance to my favorite singer of all time.

Finally, a marvelous demo I'd never heard until it was aired on SiriusXM. So many great things to say about this -- his notes in the midst of the song, how many other songs sound similar, and the chords. Whew. Thank you, Billy Joel, for providing the soundtrack to a tough time in my life. I'm moved yet again.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

My annual Lenten reminder

"Nobody gets the moose,” I growled, pulling the toddler roughly from a rocking stuffed moose she had commandeered from my daughter.

I snatched the moose and put it up on a table, far away from their reach.

Moments before, this girl had shoved my daughter from atop the moose, knocking my girl's head on the sharp bricks protuding from the nearby fireplace.

I was very angry, and it showed. After removing the moose, I hugged my daughter and checked her head for bleeding while silently condemning the other child who seemed smug.

“They don’t know what they’re doing at this age,” the other mother told me from across the room.

“Like hell they don’t,” I thought bitterly.


I have gone over this old memory so many times that it’s become a very smooth pebble in my pocket. I had enjoyed a wonderful friendship with the other child’s mom, and after the moose incident it began to fall apart.

I have spent too many hours in the intervening years puzzling over WHY

Did this other mother see some out-of-control person in me, losing her temper when children were simply playing and “not knowing what they’re doing?”

That other mother distanced herself from me over the next few weeks, eventually not calling at all anymore. It shouldn’t have been as much of a problem as it was, but I hadn’t gone to the trouble of making any back-up friends when I had kids. She was my main friend. Between her and the other four women in our playgroup, that was it for me.

She had called me the night after I took the moose away from our children.

“Are we OK?” she asked.

I was perplexed. I hadn’t given the incident another thought since my daughter stopped crying, but to her the Moose Incident seemed to be a big deal. Had she heard my evil thoughts about her daughter?

Then over the next few months she stopped communicating at all with me.


Soon afterwards, there seemed to have been some kind of agreement that I was no longer a part of our playgroup -- they reorganized without me. One of the other women closed a door directly in my face walking into preschool and made no attempt to hide her disdain when in my presence.

That madness was exactly seven years ago. I remember the approach of Easter, I sat in playgrounds by myself, feeling hollowed out by loneliness. I thought I had the best mom-friends a woman could possibly hope for and they all simultaneously dumped me.

It broke my heart. And yes, it allowed for what would eventually become the REAL best mom-friends a woman could hope for. (Shout out to my soul sisters...)

And I have written repeatedly about the playgroup that dumped me, and sat ruminating about it for silly amounts of time. I have spotted one or another woman from that group, particularly the mother of the moose-girl, and I felt like a giant awkward ass, sweating and running away.

It’s this time of year that kicks me most in the gut. And so I vow to be a good friend.

This doesn’t mean I’m never going to rip a moose from underneath another toddler, or that I won’t think evil thoughts about kids who hurt my kids (daily).

It means that I’m going to be about mom-love. I’m going to reach out to the lonely mom in the park and give her the love she needs, immediately and without judgement. Because I have been hollowed out by women who treated me horribly. There is no “crime” that could justify their behavior. I hereby renew my vow to be the one with the casserole, the one with reassurance, love the mom-sisters.

And it is what I teach my daughters now: Be gentle with one another, don’t break hearts, life is brutiful and it’s a rotten thing to cast a friend aside. This painful time of year is my reminder to love the sisters and share the moose.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In which we cross the line into public school

Tomorrow is Gigi's first day of kindergarten.

It looks wildly different from Chebbles' first day of kindergarten.

On Chebbles' first day of kindergarten, we sat her in front of an advanced video of Khan Academy math and videotaped her while she watched it. She didn't understand the topic, but we snickered with glee... it was the first day of kindergarten -- homeschool-style!

Kindergarten generally looked like this for us: Chebbles and I would sit together at the kitchen counter after her sisters went down for their naps, and we would first tackle a series of math problems, then some handwriting and grammar, then after a trampoline break we would run back inside, or sit on the hammock, and read history and science together.

It was cozy. Only occasionally would she resist a lesson, and she would soon get back on track, particularly if I gave her a little snack for brain food.

And you know what? Kindergarten was awesome like that. She learned so much, so quickly, and she still had plenty of time to read her books and play. But eventually both she and I were starting to feel a little lonely.

I found some homeschool groups, and made some connections, but homeschooling people like us were difficult to find, and none of them were local. We were homeschooling because Chebbles is very gifted, and the local school was not prepared to take her on, in my opinion, as they had 31 kids and one teacher in the kindergarten classroom.

We were not homeschooling because we were Christian and we were not homeschooling because we were idealists. It was a default choice for a kid who turned 5 in September yet was reading very advanced material.

We tried to send Chebbles to public school for the second half of first grade, but it was not a success for our wildly asynchronous child. When she wanted to read something other than the Berenstain Bears, she was restricted from more complex literature -- super-frustrating for all of us as she began to regress in her main subjects and start to get really bored and sad at school -- so I went back to homeschooling.

Second grade at home was a grind for both of us, leading me to sign her up for a lot of classes and outsource the maximum amount of classwork I could. She became more resistant to my teaching and I started getting bored with homeschooling. We were an increasingly combustible combination when the time came to actually show she was working (which she commonly wasn't).

We'll see how third grade goes for Chebbles, now that her lessons are mostly in others' hands (thank you, Quantum Camp Microschool), but Gigi?

Gigi is starting public kindergarten tomorrow. And I may be completely deluded but I think it's a really good idea. She even has the same teacher that Chebbles had in first grade, and I also think that will be a really good match!

Today I took her to "Welcome Day" where we signed up for various programs (Spanish!) and met more of the parents and kids at our local school. The whole thing suddenly seems like such a good idea. Gigi is such a different kid than her sister. She's bright, but she's not reading. She loves playing with numbers, but doesn't really "get" how they come together. (She is particularly vexed by the idea that 99 cents is less than one dollar. I mean, REALLY, how can that be?)

Gigi will be heading into a classroom that is filled with kids a lot like her. We are lucky in that we live in a neighborhood where the demographic is basically a lot of kids who are much like our G. And a teacher who sails on a very even keel is exactly what our middle girl needs.

And you know what Gigi doesn't need? A bored/stressed-out mother trying to muster enthusiasm for teaching D'Nealian handwriting again.

I am having further fantasies that I can put both Chebbles AND Birdy in public school with Gigi next year. I have this vision in which I walk them all down to the bus stop at 7:15 in the morning and then they all get on it.

Then what!? I will probably go home and take a five hour bath the first day, with a cocktail and a stack of Sunday New York Times Magazines.

And then in the ensuing days I will write short stories and nonfiction. Because Alice Munro just officially retired, North America needs a new mom writing short stories between loads of laundry. Then perhaps I will consult for companies who need public relations, or edit something fascinating. Some activity that involves other grown-ups, perhaps?

So often during my homeschooling career, people would say, "Oh, public school is just state-sponsored day care."

And I would totally agree.

And now I'm thinking, waaaaait a minute. The state sponsors day care? Why am I not taking advantage of this?

I am ready to do something a little different with my life next year, when a few hours of childlessness might stretch before me. I am ready to stop gestating babies, and possibly to stop micromanaging their education. I am not saying I would abdicate their entire education to the State of California, but I am saying I am ready for the State of California to start helping with the load.

And I felt so strident about homeschooling several years ago, with my five-year-old genius and her sleeping sisters. But my babies have grown up, and all of them know how to roll their eyes, and it's time for all of us to do something a little different.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The video blog that features extreme close-ups of Slinky the corn snake

This one was fun to make! In the future though, I will do the blogs before I have wine, so I don't end up calling the snake a "rodent."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Flowers for Algernon in Reverse

Once I discovered that the cause of my increasing idiocy was physiological, it was a snap to fix.

Why didn't anyone tell me this EIGHT YEARS AGO before I spent the better part of a decade bumping into the walls in a fog?

This is the story of my before and after with anemia.

Shaken Video

I've posted my first video blog!

It's here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pushing my buttons

I keep thinking of something Glennon said last night about mothering.

She said it much more eloquently than I can paraphrase, but basically that she doesn't believe that women should stop their entire lives when their children are born in order to be a servant to that child for the rest of her life... her point was, "Where does it stop?" ... or who gets to work toward something even greater? She wouldn't want her daughters to stop their entire lives in order to raise their children.

I hadn't heard it said quite this way before, and I'm surprised that it rang true to me.

OK, I don't agree 100%, because I can't imagine that my life has just stopped since I decided to stay home with our girls. It certainly felt that way at first, but the more I wrote about things and then got paid to write about things and then took over the Girl Scout troop then started singing my heart out with the Berkeley Broadway Singers, the more I felt that I was using a crucial part of my brain.

In the meantime, I don't feel like a servant to my kids since I'm home with them all the time... or do I? And what is the alternative? Having a full-time live-in nanny? I worked so hard to get these kids into my life, I am afraid that if I had the option of handing them over to the care of a full-time helper, I would do that all the time.

What I think is this: my girls' childhood will ultimately be fleeting, so I am choosing to stare at them for the maximum number of hours before they escape from me. But Glennon's comments freed me from feeling like I had to judge working moms harshly.

You know why I did that? I was afraid they knew something I didn't, that they were having some kind of life I was missing out on. For example, working moms get to go onto elevators, possibly with pantyhose on, and push the elevator buttons themselves. What is that even like?

Because I felt insecure that I had made a silly choice on some level by giving up my PR career whole hog, I felt like I had to figure out a way to not like women who got to continue their careers. I had to figure out some way to take a righteous position on this issue.

And you know what, people? That is exhausting, living up on some ridiculous pedestal. It's also no way to live. When Glennon said that, about women not somehow being obligated to sacrifice their lives to the servitude of their children, it snipped a big cord between me and my desire to be righteous about what mothers should do.

Because ultimately, I don't have any idea what the hell I'm doing. I mean really, do you?