Saturday, September 26, 2020

Kalaloch 2020: The Year Of Perseverance

Gracie at Kalaloch...

...on the world's longest leash. 

Well, first we stared down a global pandemic. 

Then, once we decided back in April that a summer camping trip could be Covid-safe, we:
  • Cross-checked a matrix of schedules to negotiate one week in the entire summer where we could line up all six members of the family - five to camp, one to cat-sit - for a trip to the coast.
  • Fought a week-long battle with the online reservations system to lock down a campsite at one of the most coveted campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest. 
  • Encouraged the long-distance daughter through the many hoops of traveling safely across the country and joining our quarantine bubble. 
  • Faced the reality of a rainy forecast for our week at the beach, packing bathing suits and sunscreen as well as fleece and rain gear. 
And just when we thought we had covered every possible contingency that can be thrown at a simple camping trip, massive wildfires broke out along the west coast and blanketed our destination with smoke, devastating the air quality at levels qualifying as not just Unhealthy but Hazardous. 

We ended up opting out of the first day of our reservation, but thankfully, by the next morning, coastal rain was knocking the smoke out of the skies and we decided to head off. 

So when we finally arrived at our beloved Kalaloch Campground on the Pacific Coast, we strutted into Site A36 like conquering heroes and settled into a few delicious and well-fought-for days of beach bliss. 

* * * * *
When I see my bird dog staring down a gigantic flock of gulls, I can all but see her synapses firing with primitive genetic messages, programmed into her hunting-bred brain. She is literally filled with trembling and joy. 

Day 1: Tide Pools 

Lucky us. On the first afternoon of our visit, minus tides pulled the waves far back from shore and left exposed a series of often-underwater rocks. 

Around those rocks lie tide pools full of 

sea stars, 
acorn barnacles, 
skittering little hermit crabs,
and occasionally big red dogs. 

Those tide pools are deceptively deep, and Gracie has a naughty little habit of falling in.

* * * * *
Technically, Gracie does not like to swim. No water on the belly, thank you very much, that's more than she cares for. But she is a huge fan of stalking through the shallow waves while stealthily moving in on some sea birds, and that's her preferred water sport. 

Day 2: Sea Stacks

Hike the beach north for a half hour and come upon a heap of tumbled down rocks, Once they were sea stacks, proud towers of stone, but erosion takes her toll and now they break and fall into the water. 

This oversize stone-age playground presents perfect opportunities for climbing, jumping, wandering and exploring.

And if you happen to be a big red dog, perhaps some swimming too. 

Side note: As we were hiking along the beach, Gracie took off after a bird in flight. As she neared the end of the slack in the leash, I was suddenly possessed. There were no other humans or dogs anywhere in sight, so in an instant's decision, I tossed my end of her 100 foot leash into the air and let her run to her heart's content. 

She ran. And ran. And ran and ran and ran. 

My dog shrunk down to a tiny dark smudge in the distance, at least a quarter mile away. 
Having chased my share of bolted Setters across hill and dale for many years of my life, my blood suddenly ran cold. What had I done?!

As I watched, I saw the smudge turn from a dot to a small line and then back into a dot. 

She had turned around.

The dot grew larger. And larger. 

I squinted my eyes just to be sure, but it was true. My wonderfully obedient dog was hauling down the beach, sprinting at absolute top speed, on a beeline straight back to me.

She didn't waver until she was upon me, circling around my legs, pink tongue askew, absolute delighted with herself for her independent journey.

And I was well pleased with my girl.
"Mom! Come back inside and let's have more snacks!"

Day 3: Beach Time

Now, I'm not about to complain about the weather. Yes, the skies were still smoky from the wildfires, and we definitely did not enjoy the golden summer sunshine that often lingers here well into September.

At least it didn't rain.

Just the same, we gamely set up our sun shelter, then climbed inside to read our novels and nibble on our beach snacks as if our very lives depending on this all-important layer of UV protection. 

Our big red dog bravely faced the elements head on. She's rugged like that. 

* * * * *
In the fierce winds, Gracie's coat flows back like a sleek red river, and everyone who sees her can't help but smile. Me too. 

Day 4: Heading Home

Saying goodbye to the beach for another year is always a heartbreak, and my family could tell you stories for as long as you'd care to listen about the patience they must muster as I slowly tear myself away at the end of that last-minute, the-car's-all-packed-but-let-me-run-down-just-one-more-time beach walk. 

I hate leaving the beach.

But my anguish is assuaged by our beautiful ride home around the top of the Olympic Peninsula, and best of all, by a delicious hop across Puget Sound on the ferry.

I love water.
I love boats.
I love standing out on the car deck as the gale force winds attempt to blow me to kingdom come.

And I love that my big red dog enjoys the crossing just as much as I do.

* * * * *

In countless ways, 2020 has been a year for the record books, and our annual trip to Kalaloch was just as nutty as every other thing that's happened since Covid descended upon us. Honestly, it's a miracle that we made the trek at all. Despite all the complications and unpredictable complexities, we enjoyed a perfectly lovely trip to the beach, and I'm glad we persevered. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Our Family
"You don't chose your family. 
They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." -Desmond Tutu

* * * * *

Once upon a time there were four little girls.

Well, technically this story begins when there was only one, but it continues on as one after another joined the first.

Now these little girls had a mommy and a daddy who loved them very much.

And they also had grandparents, aunts and uncle, and a growing fleet of cousins who loved them too.

Which was lovely.
Uncles who barbecue.
Uncles who hold you on their lap.

The one small flaw in this beautiful story is that all the relatives lived far, far away from the little girls. And while the mommy and the daddy took them visiting as often as possible, even just a few months' separation can feel like a long time to little ones. So the mommy came up with an idea to help them remember the names and faces of their faraway family. 

Quite a simple idea, really. She gathered up some photos of the family in action, and glued them down on cardstock. To make things as easy as possible for those little baby hands to turn the pages and look at all the faces, she covered the pages with clear adhesive paper, punched holes, and clipped them together with metal binder rings
Cousins who wear paper suits of armor.
Cousins who feel bashful when they are the center of attention.

It was quite an indestructible little photo album, and the little girls spent many happy moments flipping through the pages, listening again and again to the stories about their family, and remembering everyone who loved them so much.

Years passed. New cousins came along faster than the mommy could add photos to the book. After all, she was rather busy keeping up with her own little girls. They still talked about their faraway family, and remembered all the names and faces and funny stories of times together, but the little book could not keep up with this busy life, and eventually fell by the wayside.
Cousins who patiently pose for pictures and try their best to smile.
Kitty cousins who eat from each other's bowl. 

Years passed. New cousins came along faster than the mommy could add photos to the book. After all, she was rather busy keeping up with her own little girls. They still talked about their faraway family, and remembered all the names and faces and funny stories of times together, but the little book could not keep up with this busy life, and soon fell by the wayside.
Grandparents who give you beautiful dress-up clothes to model and tart green apples to eat.
We love them, one and all. 

* * * * *

This weekend, I came across this sweet old collection of photos and decided a bit of tender loving care was in order. I reorganized the pages, made new covers, and secured the lot with a proper new binding. 

And now, along with our full-size photo albums, digital collections, and social media stockpiles, our newly revamped baby-friendly photo album will always remind us of the gift of our family. 

* * * * *

Want to see some other journals I've finished? Check them out here:

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


I considered doing some painting of my own, but by the time I'd wrapped up my work for the day around 2 a.m., I didn't feel inclined to start something new. 

Tonight I am in a quiet, reflective mood. After a long day spent on getting organized for my new algebra classes and solving more creative problems in my mega garage makeover, I felt the need for sweet, restful, relaxing energy.

And I knew just the ticket for my meditative mood. I watched this precious video.

If you might care to see a beautiful page of hand-drawn flowers spring to life from the capable hands of a young woman using a handful of elegant markers accompanied by piano music playing a soft melody line, then you are in for a treat. 

As for me, I'm purring with contentment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Piano For Sale

Charming vintage piano for sale. 

This is a perfect instrument for family singalongs, a budget-minded maestro, or a youngster taking lessons. After many happy years in our home, it's ready to move on. Beautiful dark wood original  cabinetry. In need of a a tune but otherwise excellent condition. 

$150 OBO

* * * * *

Living inside me, I'm entirely convinced, is an as-yet undiscovered pianist of considerable competency and passion. 

How do I know this?

Because my mother possessed remarkable skill as a pianist, and I do believe she passed the gift on to me.
My mother's early training focused on the classics, and she cut her teeth on all the masters. In the later years of her life, Chopin brought her great peace. 

Now to be sure, her journey played out a bit differently than mine. She was born, like me, as the daughter of a passionate pianist, but her mother - my grandmother, Clara - took up her daughter's burgeoning musical aptitude at an early age. 

By the time she was three years old, my mother was reading music and playing three-part pieces with her mom and older sister on the family piano. 

Yes. Three years old. 

My mom's childhood was a blur of piano lessons down in South Bend, Indiana, the closest cultural center to her sleepy southwest Michigan hometown. Thanks to her mother's urging and her father's hard work, my mom also studied the violin and later, the trombone. She was a prominent vocalist in the local churches, and along with her sister, gained admission to several prestigious summer music programs in Chicago. But it was the piano where my mom's musicality found its best expression.
As a typical teenager, my mom's tastes turned to the avant garde and George Gerswin was at the top of her list. 

According to my father, she turned down a career as a professional pianist. 
And my mom told me more than once that, at my dad's urging, she'd used her savings toward a baby grand to provide the down payment on their first home. 

My father had a profoundly deleterious effect on my mother's musical expression, and stole it from her life for decades. 

And maybe all of those factors add up to an explanation as to why my mom didn't encourage me toward the piano. 

But in any case, that's how my story unfolded. Piano lessons were never an option for me.

When I hit middle school, Mom did suggest that I join the band. So I decided to try the B flat cornet. For three years, I enjoyed learning to read music and was only beginning to understand the process by which one coaxed true music from such an instrument when the social implications of my school's band culture cut against my carefully cultivated self-image. 

So I quit band and laid my cornet aside. My tenure as a musician came to an abrupt end. 

* * * * *

Years passed. Once her kids were raised and her discretionary income grew, my mom finally bought herself that long-awaited piano. For the first time, I witnessed her playing. Fascinated, I realized that my mom was one of those musicians who can sit down at a piano, poise her fingers above the keys, and simply begin to play.

If sheet music was at hand, she could sight read her way through pretty much anything, and make it look easy.

And from memory, she could pull up endless compositions, and play with flawless style. 

This came as quite a shock to me, and I was duly impressed.
This is the music my mom played for her elders at the nursing home. 
To my eyes, this book reads hopelessly old-fashioned and laughably obsolete, 
but to her listeners, it was the soundtrack of their lives. 

My mom took her rejuvenated talents to work. 

As an elementary school teacher in an era of endless so-called extra curricular cut-backs, my mom became the music lady at Spencer Road Elementary and soon led generations of kids in all-school sings; annual productions of the 1970s anti-gender-stereotyping artistic movement, Free To Be...You and Me; and rousing choruses of the school fight song, which she had penned herself. 

A choral director friend who knew of her gifts recruited my mom to accompany her group's holiday performance of the Messiah, which jump-started a decade of church performances. Breezily tossing off cantatas right and left, my mom's classical foundations and technical gifts roared all the way back into life.

And in a sentimental turn of fate, during my grandmother's brief stint in a nursing home - she was 96 years old when she moved in but felt guilty about enjoying this life of leisure because surely someone else who was 'older' needed the help more than she did - my mom became the resident pianist for weekly singalongs. She took requests for all the old standards, and played back the happy memories of years gone by for the delighted residents. Even after my grandmother peacefully passed, Mom kept up her weekly song fests until her own battle with Lewy Body Dementia took away this joy.

* * * * *

When my own daughters came along, I was determined to open some musical doors for them.

We started out with the Kindermusik program, which introduces music appreciation, theory, basic instruments, and songs from around the world in a playful format to a handful of young children at a time. These were wonderful times, and the best way I could ever have imagined to introduce my girls to the joys of musicianship.

When my eldest was seven years old, she wanted to try piano. Happily, we tracked down a well-used and much-loved instrument and sent her to lessons. She enjoyed it for a time, as did two of the other three daughters, but in time, their passions faded and the piano fell into disuse.

We moved it to the garage. 

And we began to talk about selling the piano. 

The rationalizations filled my ears: What's the point of having a piano if no one plays it, right?  In order to make it fit back in the house, you'd have to rework the furniture in an entire room. Someone else would truly appreciate it. You should just let it go.

But whenever I seriously consider selling that piano, deep inside me, a powerful voice keeps rising up. 

Keep the piano and learn to play, it tells me. You were born to play. 

And so, for at least fifteen years, the piano has been waiting for me to make up my mind. 

* * * * *

Today, at long last, I struck a deal with myself and it goes like this:

I'm ready to pass the piano along to someone who can put it to immediate use. I'm putting it up for sale. 

When I'm ready, I'll buy a basic, portable, easy-to-store electronic keyboard and learn to play.

And then, if I really do locate and free my inner pianist, I 'll give myself full permission to buy her the lovely new piano that she deserves.