Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mid-summer doldrums...

It's been a good summer so far, yet I've been feeling a tad deflated of late.

I couldn't quite pin down the reason why. Maybe it was the incredible heat. Maybe it was the fact that the rat is still living in our garden, and in our attempts to kill the thing we mistakenly murdered a chipmunk instead. Maybe it's because I'm the only person I know who gains weight instead of losing it during the hottest months of the year. Maybe it's because we were thinking about trying to move to the country, but then, with Todd starting a new job and then being out of town for a week, we've missed the search-and-sell window of time that we'd need to change schools before the new year. Maybe it's because I'm yet again disappointed in the way my church handled a sticky personnel change. It could be any of those reasons...

But then I figured it out. The real reason for my slump is that late July is the mid-life crisis of summer. It's the point when you look back at what has transpired thus far, and ahead to what remains. Late July is when you begin to realize you may have squandered much of June, what with alternately thinking "we have all summer" and running around too much instead of truly appreciating the fresh green world around you. Late July is the reality check, when you start to actually number the remaining weekends in the season. It's the time of summer when you begin to understand that you won't fit in all the fun experiences and events you'd hoped to, simply because there's not enough time, or money, or both. It's when you glimpse the first back-to-school sales ads, and remember all the educational activities you planned to tackle each week with your kid... and didn't.

But it's okay. For all those things I'm reluctantly crossing off the list, the things I'm planning to put on next year's summer list, I'm also examining the list of fun things we have managed to fit in: picking berries, visiting museums and downtown, running through fountains, swimming, taking hikes, playing with friends, visiting with family, cooking out, sitting on the porch, reading and telling great stories, eating ice cream—lots of ice cream (hence the weight gain)... We haven't squandered too much, now that I think about it. We've had a pretty good balance. I even got the kid to paint with me this morning, "plein air." I lasted much longer than he did, but he made sand souffle in his sandbox until I was ready to break for lunch, and a light breeze was blowing, and the sun shone beautifully but not directly on us, and all was unbelievably well.

Coming to the 40-something point of summer is a lot like living to that point of your life: there are regrets, and there is also rejoicing. There is ever-increasing thankfulness, and an effort to strive for joy, with the growing understanding that it is a choice.

I suppose I was just feeling the mortality of summer pressing down on me a bit. Happily, we still have a few weeks left. And if I'm looking through the long lens, we hopefully have next summer, and maybe even the next after that. Life is like that; you can't dwell on the haven'ts. You have to acknowledge them, but only so you can work them into the next list. I'll try to spend much more time reveling in the Have Done category than grumbling through the Haven't Yet list. I strongly encourage you to do the same.

That said, however, don't sleep too late, or get stuck in front of the stupid TV. Those guys are summer thieves for sure.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A class act? Del yeah!

One evening last week, the husband, the kid, and I made our hurried, scrambling way to the South Hills to witness a bluegrass legend: the Del McCoury Band. Del and the boys were playing in one of a string of giant stone churches atop Washington Road; the event was a fund-raiser for both a youth organization that began at our church, and for a group for kids based in Dormont, I think.

Anyway, for days before making a decision, we went back and forth about whether to go. Todd loves this guy and his music, I like him too, he's known all through the music industry as the guy who brought back and re-energized bluegrass music, other artists laud and revere him, etc. But the timing couldn't be much worse for us, both schedule-wise and spending-wise. Still, it was for a good cause, and we both knew we might never get such an opportunity so close to home again.

So we scarfed down dinner and jumped into the car. We just made it, tickets were still available, and we got decent seats. The huge, beautifully appointed church was warm and getting warmer, but no one cared too much. We parked ourselves near a fan standing in an outer walkway and waited with anticipation. I took a quick look around at the crowd, a mostly middle-aged to older gathering with a smattering of young adults, a number of families, and a handful of small children sprinkled here and there (ours among them).

Then the lights dimmed, the resident pastor addressed the crowd briefly and told us no video was permitted, and the show began. McCoury and his crew walked onto the small stage, all dressed in suits with ties, carrying their beautifully shined, perfectly tuned instruments.

Del himself addressed their audience at first and many times throughout the show. He was a white-haired, well-groomed man with a kind-hearted, quirky sense of humor; he explained at one point that he'd worked with Bill Monroe (father of bluegrass music) in the early 60s, so I figured Del had to be at least 70. He joked several times about his mind and how it's not what it used to be, but then would tease us that he could only remember the songs that he liked best or the ones that weren't as challenging to play. He spoke to the crowd often, affably and comfortably, telling anecdotes about his past experience, other performers, and the history of the genre. I got the feeling that whether playing a small show inside a church, or performing at Carnegie Hall (which they have), this guy would be the same. In a word, he was delightful.

The other members of the group were clean-cut, well-spoken men, two of whom happened to be named McCoury as well (Del's sons, I'm sure); the youngest appeared to be no more than 30. Each of them was a consummate musical genius, bringing forth unbelievably complex, blisteringly fast melodies from their strings with ease, then switching to quieter, slower tones, then back to traditional driving bluegrass rhythms. The topper, of course, was that in addition to their unbelievable mastery of their instruments, they all could sing fabulously well, and in perfect harmony. While they played.

Even if you abhor this type of music (and I used to really despise it, I'll confess), you could not argue that these fellows are amazingly talented, multi-faceted musicians. Remember this type of entertainer? The dancers/singers/musicians of yesteryear? The type of groups and individuals who looked nice and respectable, who had layers of talent, humility, and good manners on stage to boot? Del and his band covered a couple of tunes, talked about some of the songwriters whose work they'd covered at other shows, and in every instance the man had only good things to say about each of those artists. How refreshing is that, eh? I'll bet I will never read a stupid news story about Del twittering some unkind statements to a competitor, or posting something unflattering on his Facebook wall about another musician. And the band played a long time, two sets, plus a few more songs as an encore. With the suits and ties on the whole time, mopping their sweaty foreheads while they thanked us all for coming. For a charitable show that I'm certain could not have been too profitable for them, if they saw any profit at all.

At one point, Del asked for the mikes to be shut off, and they performed an amazing, quietly moving song about getting down on your knees and praying. There was no pretense, no drama, just heartfelt rendering of words and notes. These folks were, and are, the real deal, or putting on such a good show that they bamboozled me—a scathing skeptic—with ease.

I am so, so glad we went to the trouble to attend. It was rushed, it was hot, my boy got weary before it all ended, but I left that show with hope for the future of entertainment. There are still class acts in the world, even in America. You won't often find them in the headlines, but you can find them.


Here's a little sampling of Del and the boys. Sorry you missed them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The bold and the hideous

Ah, the sights and sounds and smells of summer. Sunshine warming your shoulders, bright blooms in every direction, colors that only God could dream of... that is July here in lovely western Pennsylvania. Except you might get a few very unwelcome visitors in your happy little utopia...

See the pretty flowers? (Note the great color combination of the first; remember my favorite shades of dandelion yellow and wine red? These beauties are perfection, no?)

See the last picture? That sneaky, pink-nosed beast stealing the birds' discarded sunflower seeds? I got a good look—the brown/gray fur, the long skinny tail...

Definitely not a chippy.

Last night, the hus and I worked on a shared mission. He took his trusty machete and obliterated the full, lush hostas (a.k.a. rodent hideout), while I drove with purpose
to the nearest Home Depot. Guess what I purchased?

I hope I don't poison the wrong critter by accident, but I simply cannot and will not tolerate dirty rats. Yeeeech.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Second-hand furry goods

I am a big proponent of buying second-hand items, especially with big things like furniture and cars. I've tried to instill this mindset in my son. Perhaps with too much success...

We talk here and there about getting a dog. Our neighbor dog is a sweet little pup that we sometimes help care for, as I mentioned here. And since the loss of our kitty, I rather miss the soft, furry presence of a pet in our home (although I don't miss the hair, nor the messes and strange behaviors).

We were discussing a pet, the boy and I, and he said he might want a puppy. I reminded him that puppies can be a lot like babies. "They whine more, and also poop and pee more often, not in the appropriate places," I said. "Besides, we should adopt an adult dog—puppies are always more successful at finding homes, because they're small and cute. They're way more likely to be adopted."

"Would we get a big dog?" he asked.

"Not necessarily big, just full-grown. Those dogs are less likely to find homes," I told him. "Plus, you don't want to buy puppies from a pet store. Some of those puppies aren't healthy." I didn't mention the horrors of puppy mills that I've read about. Sadly, some of them in our very own beloved Pennsylvania... There are some pretty cruel people in this world.

"So where would we get one?" the kid asked me.

"At an animal shelter, Honey."

"Oh, we could get a used dog," he replied, with sudden understanding. I burst out laughing. A used dog. Then we both started giggling.

"Well, they're not used." Then I considered it again. "I guess they are used dogs. But that's okay. We like used stuff, right?"

"Yeah." We chuckled some more. I was picturing the animals, from like-new to lightly loved, all the way to heavily adored, looking wan and worn. It made me a little sad even though we were laughing about it, because it's just another example of how people get a new thing, then lose interest or don't find immediate satisfaction in the thing and dump it somewhere. Except sometimes the thing is alive.

So, yes, if we get a pet, it'll be used. Which is just up our alley.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

America, America

Hey, All you nice people! All two or three of you who actually read this!

I want to wish you a delightful Independence Day. If you are American, then hopefully you'll recognize this adorable little Lego scene. I must give credit to Carl's Jr. (a restaurant chain that apparently is not popular where I am? since I never heard of them?) but they did the honors. In homage to the many Legos littering my world, courtesy of my sweet boy, I'll allow our favorite building blocks to depict one of America's finest moments.

There were many. There are many still to come. I hope you'll take some time to ponder some of those moments that shaped our country in the next 48 hours. I also hope that if you are American, you'll proudly display a flag on or near your residence.

If you want to feel concern for America's future, as I do, perhaps you'll watch this:

If Blogger is being stupid and the link is not showing up, then copy/paste this:


The vid is courtesy of my sis. Thanks, sis!