29 August 2015

Crazy Talented

Yeah, this pretty much nails it!
When I was growing up, one of the never to be unbroken laws of the land was music lessons, staring at age eight with the piano. This was required because A) two very musically gifted parents and B) Mormon. I mean how could I be a card-carrying member of the Church and NOT be able to pound out "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" on the piano shortly after turning eight? That's a thing, by the way, a real song.

So shortly after I turned eight, my mom loaded me into our (faux) wood-paneled Ford Country Squire station wagon and we drove into the wilds of east Phoenix to the home of one fearsome Mrs. Kramer. She was a legendary (terrifying) piano teacher who, given her demanding nature, seemed more apt to have been an angry prison matron than a children's piano teacher. Being her student was a study in "Damned if you do, damned if you don't." You were terrified not to practice because you didn't want to show you weren't improving and you were terrified to practice because you didn't want to show you weren't improving. This dance of the damned, for me, went on for four years. By the time I was twelve, my relationship with Mrs. Kramer and the piano came to a merciful end. It was clear that none of us were happy with how this was going, so we all walked away with a sense of relief.

Fast forward nearly five years. I'm seventeen and at the height of my teen-age awkwardness (I've had the testicular fortitude to post some pictures here in the Den from those hideous years so you know what I'm talking about) and I, in yet another moment of teen-age delusion, determined that if I took up the piano again, I'd get me a lady. By this time, our family had moved on from Mrs. Kramer and our go to piano teacher was a bearded, which apparently made him hip, professional guy in Scottsdale. So with the easy learning music book of Journey's Escape album in hand, ready to master 'Open Arms,' I made my way to his house and took up lessons again. Suffice to say, Escape was an appropriate choice, as I did exactly that a few months later. My formal relationship with the piano was over and in case you were wondering, it was the only relationship that it yielded me. Piano - one; ladies - zero. Shocking, I know.

Why the piano nostalgia? Last night, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I and a few friends made our way to Tanglewood to see the Piano Guys in concert. If you are not familiar with them, the down and dirty is that they are a couple of exceedingly white, Utah Mormon dads who play the piano and the cello and they have mashed up modern hits and classical music in a crazy, stupid (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) talented way. During one the 'cheesy witty banter' breaks, Jon Schmidt, the pianist, talked a bit about what drove him to the piano. It was eerily similar to my experience as a seventeen year old. He described himself as an "ugly" (his words) teenager and he'd heard the lie story that playing the piano would get him the girl. He then went on to play the song that he'd learned to impress a girl. It worked for him. For two weeks. He did better than me then, that's for sure. He got a girl for two weeks. Me? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It was a great night for a concert. Tanglewood, which is the storied summer home of the Boston Symphony, is a beautiful venue and Our Lady of Perpetual She Hags, Mother Nature, could not have behaved better. The incredible talent that Schmidt and Nelson as well as their two other collaborators demonstrated was only heightened by the surroundings. They put on an excellent show. One of the highlights was when Nelson, the cellist, was soloing and demonstrating flawlessly just how amazing and emotive an instrument is the cello. As he played, he was joined by eight teenage violinists, whom he later described as some of the finest violinists in the country and he was right, and they absolutely nailed it. It was one of those moments that reminds you of just how powerful music is. It literally made my spirit soar.

It was great to wrap my arm around the mighty fine SML as we enjoyed the music. It was a lot different than one of the last big concerts we went to wherein she was nine months pregnant with our firstborn and I somehow thought dragging her into a mosh pit at B52's concert was an excellent idea but that is a story for another day. During the concert, in a moment that defined us as solidly middle-aged, she leaned over to me and said, jokingly, 'Do you have a lighter to hold up?' To which I said in all seriousness, 'Um, that's what my phone is for.'

Did I leave the concert last night determined that I'm going to go for round three and take up the piano again? Absolutely not. Did I come away with a renewed appreciation for the beauty and power of music? I did, indeed.

Oh, and I still can't play "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" on the piano.

I'll leave you with this from the Piano Guys:

24 August 2015

On laughter

Getting his Betty Crocker on
As you've seen from the last couple of posts recapping our hijinks in both outside and behind the Zion Curtain, we were TMFKATB-adjacent for a few days. Unlike the last time, when I cried like a little girl at the sight of the freeway exit sign to the town he's in, I managed to shed not a tear. This was not done intentionally, as if I was trying to protect that last vestiges of my shredded man card. No, it's because I was enveloped with a tremendous sense of peace as I saw that sign off the I15 on Saturday. I was grateful more than I was emotional.

Getting his letter today so soon after we'd been not far from him was more fodder for my gratitude. It was a challenging week. That's how it is when you are teaching people. Some times, it goes really well and some times, life gets in the way. That can be hard when you are nineteen year old, fully committed to serving as a missionary. It can be hard to understand why life gets in the way for those you are teaching. TMFKATB had a chance to learn a bit about that according to what he shared in his letter. As he weathered some of those challenges, he came away with this simple understanding:

"Best thing I learned this week is laughing throughout the day is the best thing ever. If we don't do it, we are just going to fall into a "meh" mood."

As TMFKATB went through some challenges this past week, he was able to see a way though them. One of those ways was, and is, laughter.  It's a simple, age-old concept. I believe that the Reader's Digest cornered the market on that column, right? If you're of a certain age, like mine or order, you may remember reading that very column at your grandparents' house. Perhaps in between "Hee Haw" and "The Lawrence Welk Show." C'mon, you know exactly what I'm talking about...I'm proud of him for connecting laughter with happiness and staying positive. He threw me for a loop though when in the same letter he sang the praises of Sizzler. Yes, Sizzler. He ate there for the first time, which was more terrifying for me than any of the places or things he may have eaten while in Mexico. To the credit of his palette, he only had this to say, "Well, their garlic bread is to die for."

Now that made me laugh and it's a review I can live with.

On Mr. Spud, Geysers, and Summer Tourist Season

Me and Mr. Spud

As a part of our faux Parents Weekend, we were determined to get reacquainted with the area in which CAL has been living. This meant road trips to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.

In the winter, Jackson Hole is a Mecca for skiers. In the summer, it is a Mecca for tourists (more on them later) looking for deals on bad Western art, cheesy Western-themed outerwear, and crappy t-shirts. Once you step away from the throngs and look up at the mountains that surround the town, their beauty reminds you to slow down and take it in. In spite of the fact that much of the view was hampered by haze from the forest fires in neighboring states, it was easy to take in the beauty of the area.

With 'Take it in' as our theme, I did something I rarely do - pulled over to take a photo of something sublime in its ridiculousness. When you blow by an enormous potato on the bed of an old pickup being 'driven' by a couple of smaller potatoes, of course you pull over. Hence, my photo with Mr. Spud at the finest drive-in movie theater in all of Driggs, ID. Awesome!

While Jackson Hole and its environs were beautiful, they paled in comparison to Yellowstone National Park. Words can't describe the stark beauty and awe-inspiring wonder of this place. The earth simply does not fool around here. The hot pots, the falls, and the geysers were each a testament to the beauty of this earth. 

Now, while the Old Faithful geyser was cool, it proved, much like creepy Josh Duggar to be less than faithful. The geyser  was 45 minutes late to its scheduled 'eruption.' The better geyser was the Beehive, just across the way from Old Faithful. It erupted like the angriest bidet on the planet. My favorite geyser, though, was the Spasm Geyser. Not because it's eruption was the most spectacular, but because of its name. Seriously, the Spasm Geyser is the best name ever. To top the Spasm, we took an easy 5.2 mile hike to Fairy Falls. It was worth the chafing I'm dealing with now...

Here's a collection of photos from Yellowstone:
Suffice to say, it was amazing. This earth, this incredible creation, is a gift.

Based on the hordes of tourists at both Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, lots of people are wanting to see this all too. Some observations:

When pretty much every store in Jackson Hole now accepts China Union Pay, you know the Chinese tourism moment is far from over.

When the Eastern European girl working in one of the stores is driven to near tears by yet another Chinese tourist cutting the line, you simply smile, and tell her, "Honey, it's only going to get worse."

Why do Europeans insist on wearing  winter coats as they trudge through a national park on a warm summer's day?

The National Park Service would be wise to ban the scourge that is the selfie stick.

And, finally, lest anyone think the bus tour is dead, it is not. However, based on the average age of their participants, it is not long for this earth. The location of the nearest bathroom should not be the key topic of discussion in a stunning national park.

That said, I'm glad I could share the beauty of this earth with CAL and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. It's been great. I like this DIY Parents Weekend thing.

21 August 2015

Making our own 'Parents Weekend'

Because the BYU-I has sought diligently to differentiate itself from its Overlord nestled to the south behind the Zion Curtain in Provo, UT, the BYU, things are a little different in Rexburg, ID.

For instance, there is no official 'Parents Weekend' in Rexburg. This is, in my opinion, a travesty. During Our Lady of Awesome's four years at the BYU, I did four years of Parents Weekend shenanigans and it was great. The first year, back in 2008, spawned a picture featuring me, my daughter, and one Cosmo the Cougar that is in its sixth, yes sixth, year of being used by the University to pimp Parents Weekend. Without a 'Parents Weekend,' no such photo op existed for CAL.

So a few months ago, we decided we'd do our own 'Parents Weekend,' and hence, here we are in Rexburg. A few highlights:

It's summer break here in what is a tiny college town. Without the students, it is a ghost town.

You would think the management of the local Albertsons, a grocery store, would take advantage of the break time to clean up their store. You would be horribly wrong in that assumption.

The owner of the Great Harvest Bread store is my new BFF. We went in the store yesterday afternoon for one of their cookies and they were sold out. This was a devastating blow. She asked me what I was hoping to get and she offered to have it made for me. I will have a dozen cookies waiting for me this morning. All is right in the world.

The campus is beautiful. It would appear the cash I've been sending here the last four years has been well spent. 

Having CAL show us around her workplace in Word Nerd Heaven, the campus library, was great. Did you know that it is someone's job to vacuum the books? Well, it is. I saw them in action yesterday. I was oddly jealous. I want that job.

Because Rexburg is a small town and it's break time, there's not a lot to do. But when you are a quick drive away from Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, you've got options. 

More to come on those stops on the DIY Parents Weekend Tour. Stay tuned!